23: Short Trips (part 3)

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23.5 Strength

The Tree: 20 May 2128

"Is he all right?" Jenny asked.

"Pulse is normal," Ellie confirmed, holding Alin Yan's wrist. "Breathing a bit shallow."

"He did warn us this was going to happen," Long said, as he crammed another canapé into his mouth. "Damn, I could live on this stuff for the rest of my life. All this time and we never knew AI was such a lousy cook."

"You sure it's not due to the time you spent in the woods cooking for yourself?" Jenny asked. "One day you must tell me everything about that."

"For goodness sake," Ellie shouted. "Rick's missing, you two are stuffing your faces and this... this whatever he is, has passed out on us. Don't you think we should be doing something?"

"I am," Long said. "I'm, er, what did he call it? That's it – building up my strength."

Ellie let out a squeal of frustration.

"Look, Ellie," Long said. "This place is falling apart, just like AI in our own world. Whatever has happened to Rick is beyond anything we can do right now. Who knows what's going to happen in the next few hours or days. Whatever it is, I don't intend facing it on an empty stomach."

"Hmm. Good point," Jenny said, selecting a handful of grapes along with a banana.

23.6 Riding the Wind

Alternate Everywhere: 20 May 2128

Rick hopped to 'two'. After deciding he wanted to go there and, without any effort, he made the transition. One moment he was in his personal pocket universe and then he wasn't. If asked, he wouldn't have been able to describe the process in any meaningful way.

On 'two' there was evidence that the earthquake had wreaked more destruction than on 'one'. The time of day had almost equalised as well. There had been nearly two hours difference two days ago and now it was down to little more than an hour. Each world was influencing those around it. No wonder there had been earthquakes.

Instead of hopping directly to 'three' he first viewed it remotely, as he had done earlier when he had first awoken in the blue room. It had changed.

Then, hoping he was doing the right thing, he jumped there directly, enveloping himself in a protective shield to filter out the radiation. He had to adjust it quickly to cocoon himself from the raging onslaught of a hurricane.

He gazed out at the darkness remembering the fear that had gripped him when the machine had accidentally landed them here. But this time it was not the darkness of night and a lack of atmosphere. Instead, the planet was shrouded in dense fog that was being whipped around at lethal speeds. If the machine had landed here now it would have been smashed to pieces within seconds.

He let his consciousness expand to fill the air from the blackened and now soaked ground right up to the furthest reaches of the returning atmosphere. Where had that atmosphere been for twenty-one years? Then he saw it. Not just five. There had been a sixth pocket.

His mind explored the history of those on 'one' he had raided. It was like a complete encyclopaedia opening up before him. He reached back to the day of the asteroid, experiencing the fragments of memory from that time; coming to terms with what they had attempted to do: the failures, the losses, and, finally, the splintering.

They couldn't move the asteroid so they'd moved the planet. But the splintering had resulted in five worlds, or so they thought. That sixth pocket had somehow sucked the air and water away from 'three' and contributed to the higher rate of devastation 'three' had experienced. And, now, that extra pocket was fading fast and most of what it had contained had returned.

Well, he thought, I suppose that might make things a bit easier. The returning atmosphere was already countering the uplift of the land. He concentrated and felt his way through the layers of the whirling atmosphere. In the upper reaches, the wind thrashed about, changing direction almost on a whim as the differing pressures sought to equalise themselves across the battered globe. He compared them to the flows on 'two' where the jet stream could be measured in the low hundreds of miles per hour. Here on 'three' it was topping a thousand in places.

He spent several hours cajoling the tempest, moderating it, pushing here and stalling there until the speeds dropped slowly down to under five hundred, then three hundred and finally, he set in motion a route for them to coincide with those on 'two'.

At ground level the wind had reduced in strength down to a mere gale.

So, feeling somewhat pleased with himself, he hopped to 'four'.

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