22.5 Rough Riders
The Tree: 20 May 2128
Ellie sat on the bed beside Rick. She held her hands over belly, unable to believe what he had told her.
The door opened and Mila stepped in. Ellie raised her eyes to the girl who walked across but stopped half way between the door and the bed.
"You must leave now. He needs to preserve his strength." she said.
Ellie looked at Rick and back at Mila. She stood and faced the girl. "Just what do you mean 'preserve his strength'? What does he need this 'strength' for? Why the hell don't you ever give me any straight answers?"
Mila looked perplexed. "Recombination. It..."
"Stop," Rick shouted. "Both of you. Down on the floor now."
They both turned to look at him.
"Do it, now!" he screamed.
Mila felt something and dropped to the floor. Rick threw himself flat on the bed and wrapped his arms around his head. Ellie lowered herself until she was crouched next to Mila.
Then it hit. The whole room shook and noise reverberated all around them. Ellie found herself tumbling towards the door. Mila's arm snaked out and Ellie found her ankle gripped in the girl's hand. She twisted around and grabbed at Mila. They clasped at each other trying to prevent further movement.
Rick started groaning.
"The shield around him is failing," Mila gasped, clenching her eyes tight shut. "All. Hold. We must not break formation. Do not let it get to him. Do not let him get to us!"
Ellie realised she wasn't addressing herself.
Then a violent tremor detached Mila's grasp and Ellie rolled across the floor. She grabbed at the doorway and clung on tightly. There was no longer any sign of the other two who had been outside the door.
Mila looked back at Ellie and then crawled across to the bed, hauling herself up beside Rick who was thrashing around, screaming and clutching his head, screaming, "No, no, no!"
Ellie watched Mila sit astride him, fighting the swaying to wrap her legs around Rick's torso. It was almost obscene but, obviously, there was nothing sexual about Mila's position – she hoped.
The girl's hands enclosed Rick's skull and she pushed down. Ellie was relieved to see his writhing lessen. He seemed to completely relax but, suddenly, his hands shot up and held Mila's head.
"Show me how to do that," he shouted. "I need to learn."
"I can't. It takes years," Mila shouted over the commotion of creaking wood and snapping branches. The swaying renewed and Ellie feared the whole Tree would shatter and fall to the ground if it continued. "Sorry, but I really can't teach you this," Mila cried.
"Yes. You. Can," Rick barked back. His hands encircled her cranium, and she screamed and fell back as if dead.
"Rick, what have you done to her?"
Ellie tried to crawl towards the bed but another tremor threw her sideways. Mila slid from the bed to land on the floor, her arms and legs splayed, bouncing with the quake.
"Oh," Rick said, sitting up. "I see. I see even more."
He looked at Ellie and his face was calm. A smile spread across his face. "I really do see, Ellie. It's amazing."
Ellie looked from Rick to the woman lying on the floor near his feet.
"It's not amazing. It's crazy. Everything's crazy. Is she okay? Oh hell, Rick. I'm so scared."
"Right," he said, "I think I can probably do something about this." He shut his eyes.
Almost immediately the tree stopped swaying, though the rumbling sound persisted. Ellie, legs still quivering in fear, crawled towards the bed.
She stopped beside Mila, relieved that the girl was still breathing. She'd feared that Rick had killed her.
"What are you doing, Rick?"
Then the rumbling died away and Rick's eyes opened.
"They're getting closer," he said.
"The worlds. Nothing can stop them rejoining. It's only a few days away now, and there are going to be more earthquakes. And probably things that are worse than earthquakes."
Tears streamed down Ellie's face – she couldn't stop them. She felt the whole world had gone completely and utterly mad.
Rick stood up and walked towards the door.
"Where are you going?"
He stood in front of the doorway as if reluctant to walk through it. "I need to see everything, to understand everything," he said.
He turned, his eyes initially fixed upon his hand. Then they flicked in her direction and bored into her own.
"So I can fix it," he said.
"Rick! No, please come back." Ellie jumped to her feet but a hand restrained her.
Mila, conscious again, gasped, "Don't stop him. He is right, but he needs to be guided."
"Oh, are you okay?"
It was obvious to Ellie that Mila was far from 'okay'. The calm exterior previously portrayed by the girl had gone. Now she looked panic-stricken, her eyes darting all over the place.
"He took it. He reached into me and took it all. Not only me. All those shielding him. He reached through me into all of them."
Suddenly, Mila's face was also wet with tears.
"He took everything we had. I had no idea it was even possible," she cried.
Mila looked directly in Ellie's eyes. There was fear there, but also something else – something brighter.
"What do you mean? Tell me. What have you done to him?" Ellie said, her eyes on Rick's back as he stared out of the doorway.
"Nothing he wasn't capable of doing for himself. If he had been born on this world I think he would have been able to do all of this a long time ago."
Ellie shook her head. She just wanted the old Rick back.
Mila continued. "He can shield himself now. He doesn't need us to do it for him. It's possible he has a talent that exceeds that of Morton Fisk, maybe even greater than Professor Rayburn himself."
"Who?" Ellie said, facing the girl again.
"He needs to understand what's going to happen. He might be the only way we can get through this."
"What do you..."
There was a popping noise from the direction of the doorway. Their eyes swung back towards the doorway.
But Rick was no longer there.
Thank you for reading Splinters. Do please vote and/or leave a comment to tell me what you think.
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