The Tree, London: 20 May 2128
Ellie screamed at Mila, "Let me see him, now! I don't give a dango about anything you say. Let me out of here – he needs me!"
Mila, unused to such anger, even from Alec Garter, finally relented. "All right, Miss Ellie. But I must warn you. He is still in a delicate state and we are shielding him."
"Now," Ellie demanded, raising her fists.
Mila looked at Ellie's hands hovering a few inches from her nose. She could hit the woman with a mental blast that would knock her out for hours but, given the importance of the one called Rick, both he and his companions were to be treated as respected guests.
So, Mila nodded agreement and Ellie was finally allowed to leave the room in which she had awoken nearly twenty hours previously. Since then several people wearing full-length robes had visited to ask her questions and to feed her. She had been compliant at first but had become slowly more desperate and angry at being prevented from joining Rick who, she had been readily told, was located in one of the rooms above.
Mila led her along a winding passageway that circled continuously clockwise and upwards. The structure looked as if it had been grown instead of built, the wood of the corridor walls still living and, in places, near the small unglazed windows, sprouting leaves from small twigs. It gave the impression of being both new but at the same time, felt old and unearthly.
"What the hell is this place?"
"The Tree. Our hub and headquarters. Also, a centre to reach out from as well as to be alone with yourself."
"That tells me absolutely nothing," Ellie snapped.
They passed simply furnished rooms, each of which was occupied by a solitary figure sitting cross-legged upon the floor."
"What are they doing? Sleeping?"
"What do you mean? You said something about shielding before?"
"The worlds are pressing together."
"Yes, I know all that. What's it got to do with Rick?"
"This pressure of this world on one from outside is tremendous."
"I'm from outside, aren't I? Why don't I feel it? Why only Rick?"
Mila stopped and faced Ellie. "You do not have the talent." Then Mila continued upwards.
Ellie grunted, feeling as if she had just been insulted, though not exactly sure of it. She stared at the back of Mila's head. How dare this woman, who was probably a couple of years younger than herself, treat her like this? Does she think I'm a kid or something?
They approached a door. Outside it two others sat cross-legged. One, who could have been either male or female, Ellie couldn't make out which, remained motionless. The other, definitely female, opened her eyes.
"It is allowed?" the girl asked.
"Maybe," Mila said and then turned to Ellie. "He may not be as he was, as you remember."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
The door was opened and Ellie was left to enter on her own.
Rick lay on the centrally located bed. Ellie rushed up to him, "Rick, oh Rick."
His eyes opened and locked onto hers. She recoiled in shock. It was as if something had stabbed her through the temples.
"Sorry," he said. "I don't know why or even how I did that. You woke me, although somehow, I already knew you were coming."
"What have they done to you?" Ellie whispered, her anger replaced by fear. She tried to halt the tears that flowed.
"They haven't done anything to me."
"I think I've always been like this."
"No! This isn't you. It can't be you."
"You remember when I was a child, how I used to have nightmares about being lost in the dark and those dreams about the distorted world? Sometimes I would see the creatures in it that used to be human. Then AI put something in my food to stop the dreams."
"Yes, I remember. Anyway, what's that got to do with all this? And what you just did to me?"
"Ellie, it's amazing. I can see beyond myself. Back on our world it was rare, it happened but I always thought it was a trick of the light or something like that. But this world makes it easy and completely real. I can see all the worlds. I can see into me. Look at my hand, Ellie."
He held up his left hand. Ellie frowned. "Oh Rick. How?"
"I fixed it."
"I looked into it and could see what was wrong. Then it came to me that I not only saw what was wrong, I saw how I could make it right. So I did."
With a lop-sided grin, Rick shrugged. "I don't really know. I can't describe it. There aren't any words to say what I did. Somehow I can just look into things. Into my own head, even. I've stopped the synaesthesia as well."
Ellie, mouth open, shook her head. This was madness.
"I can step outside myself as well and see all over this strange tree, at the people in it, and inside them. I can see into all of them as easily as I can see into myself. I can see into you, too. Oh."
He stared at Ellie's torso and she felt naked.
"Don't do that, Rick. Please. You're really scaring me."
"I hadn't realised."
"Realised? Realised what?"
He stared harder and Ellie took a step back. Then he smiled.
"I think it's going to be a girl," he said.
She stared down at herself, hands upon her stomach. Her eyes finally raised and sought his.
"No. How?" she whispered.
"We both made it."
"But... We don't make babies."
"We do now."
"Really?" He nodded in answer.
"How... how long has it been there?" she asked.
He frowned and stared into her again. It was like he was dissecting her – she was unable to suppress a shiver in the warm air. What had happened to the Rick she remembered? The version before her was no longer the man she knew.
"Must have been in Long's shack."
Thank you for reading Splinters. Do please vote and/or leave a comment to tell me what you think.
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