22.2 Sound And Vision
London: 19 May 2128
Rick opened his eyes to a vista of swirling blue and the sound of water. Not the harsh pulsations of noise-generated synaesthesia, this was more like being in a swimming pool on a hot summer's day. The pains in his head were, while not completely absent, at least reduced to a mere annoyance. The constant pressure of the past few days had been replaced by a calmness.
And that was almost a worry in itself.
The last things he remembered were the flashes of consciousness and pain as they had returned, against his instincts, to 'one'. Yet, he felt he was still on 'one'. He could identify the distinct shadows of the other worlds overlaid upon what he could see of this one.
What he did see of this world was that he was in a large bed centred in a circular room that had the ambiance of an underwater bedroom. However, the wavering blue colours around him weren't water. They seemed to be projected onto walls that appeared to be made of wood, or maybe the colours were part of the walls themselves. They were synchronised with the sounds that reached his ears which, he realised, didn't translate into extra visual colours.
Then he wondered if this was merely a dream. But it felt more real than that.
Slowly, he raised himself from the bed and sat up. A couple of tiny transparent yellow sparks floated across his vision as he grunted with the effort. He felt weak, but without the exhaustion that had previously plagued him. He looked around and found himself alone; somehow he had already known he would be.
"Hello?" he whispered. There was no reaction to the sound of his voice either from his own vision or externally. The blue pulsations still washed around the room along with the sound of waves.
In the overlay shadows of the other worlds he felt as if he was flying. If he concentrated he could pick each one and view it exclusively. On 'five' he found himself high above some trees. In the distance buildings that were at once both familiar and weird looking sat at a boundary. That's Phil's place, he thought. But this version was distorted, the windows melted, as if they were sliding down towards the road. He switched to 'four' and saw AI's version of Hyde Park spread below him and, as expected, the buildings there were still intact. He had a mind to explore, to see if he could find Phil, the twins or any of the NewGen. But the other worlds tugged at him. 'Two' was very similar to 'five' though the buildings didn't exhibit any distortions other than those inflicted by natural wear and tear, and from the incursion of uninhibited plant life.
Here on 'one' he couldn't see beyond the room.
In the calmness it was still strange to view 'three'. He hung only a few feet above the blackened ground – so close he felt he could reach out and touch it. It didn't seem as clear as when they had really been there. But then, he had been cowering in one corner of the machine's cabin, eyes shut. But even that hadn't been enough to prevent that world from encroaching upon all his senses. The others, he knew, had merely seen the starkness out the window. He had felt it coursing through his entire being, unable to escape its horror.
From the safety of the calm room on 'one' the blackened world no longer induced the same loathing. Then he noticed that the stars lacked the sharpness of before, as if the world still held atmosphere. He looked closer at the ground, and found there was something between it and himself. Then he saw it, the occasional streak of something falling from the sky.
"Water," he whispered. "It's raining."
He stretched out with a hand and the rain fell straight through it.
He left 'three' and returned his consciousness back to the calm of 'one'. His hand, still raised in front of him caught his attention. He looked closer, at the torn skin and the scars that still marked it. Then he looked far closer than he would have thought possible. It was as if he was diving right down into the flesh of his own hand. What was more, it felt so natural, as if he had always been able to do such things. He gazed in wonder at the intricate arrangements of the bones, sinews, muscles, blood vessels and skin. One section held his attention – there, where the tissue had been burned by the black rocks and then further distorted by the visit to 'five', he could see where the fingers had fused together. Things were still far from right: the bones twisted slightly and exhibited tiny bulges in various places; the tendons were attached askew; and each of the muscles was laced with scar tissue.
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