23: Short Trips (part 6)

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23.11 Sign Of A Signature

Hyde Park: 20 May 2128

Alin Yan opened his eyes, and then squeezed them shut almost immediately.

"Oooh," he groaned, holding his head in his hands. "Well, I was right about the headache."

"Are you okay?" Ellie asked, as Yan rubbed at his temples, trying to dispel the thumping that echoed throughout his head.

"As much as I can be after having my consciousness purloined for a task that appears to have been a complete and utter waste of time."

"You mean they haven't found Rick yet?" Ellie said, unable to let loose the worried frown that adhered to her face.

"No," Yan said. "But Garter was looking for the wrong thing."

"What do you mean?" Long asked.

"They have been looking for him as if he was still here. They should have been looking for evidence of where he last was. There may be echoes of how he left. Right, give me a hand, will you. These old legs of mine are definitely a bit wobbly."

"Where are we going?" Jenny said, as she and Long helped to haul Yan's bulk out of the chair.

"Outside," Yan said. "It's less crowded out there, both physically and mentally."

With Jenny and Long on either of side of him, Alin Yan led them back out into Hyde Park. Once they were more than fifty yards from the Tree, Yan called for them to stop.

"What are you looking for?" Long asked, as Yan slowly circled around.

"I was never that good at this sort of thing. What the others could do in an instance always took me more time. I was an engineer long before the disaster, you know. Always used to precise measurements, and a bit of a bane on those who thought they'd get away with sloppy workmanship. However, it does mean that I've got the patience to get to a goal in my own time, by my own methods."

"What's that got to do with Rick?" Ellie asked.

"Well, with a bit of luck, I might be able to ferret out the point from which he took off. And he might have left – well, maybe you could call it a signature. If he has, then we might have a better chance of detecting where the source of that signature is right now."

Yan slowly turned in a circle three more times and then stopped.

"That way," he said, pointing towards the northern edge of the park.

23.12 Memories

Alternate Four: 21 May 2128

Rick stayed with AI until it no longer had the ability to communicate. Many of the individual AI units from which it had constructed itself were still working, but their interconnections were now too fragmented. Rick remained until he was convinced that AI itself no longer inhabited the circuitry. It had gone without a whimper.

He reluctantly extracted himself from the electronics and slowed down to normal speed. Walking out of the building he was surprised to find night had fallen and that it was past midnight. It had been late afternoon when he's gone to find AI.

He looked up into the darkness. The stars were hard to pick out, though the glow from the half-Moon could just be seen penetrating the dust kicked up from ongoing tremors.

He was in the eastern part of London, where tall monoliths dedicated to finance had once towered. Many of the remaining towers had crashed to the ground. More since he'd connected with AI a few hours ago. The understanding of these buildings usage had been a recent addition to his memory.

"I have no idea which memories are mine now," he murmured, his mind awash with clashing thoughts, experiences and ideas, most of which had originated elsewhere.

"How can I save them?" he asked.

There was no answer.

"I promised. But how can I keep that promise?"

He sat on a low wall, staring out across a broken world. He could sense small bands of people cowering in various locations dotted about the globe. There were thousands of them. Here in London he found the twins again, along with Holls and now joined by others. He also located Matty near Cambridge. All the Cambridge NewGen had moved to relative safety outside the city, and camped barely a mile away from the tumbling walls.

How could he save them all?

And that wasn't all. With AI's demise the old Ghosts were dying in their thousands as their twenty-four hour care had been abruptly halted. The few still mobile were starting to spread out of the cities as well, wandering wherever their famished minds would lead them. Rick reached back to the solution that had been executed on 'one' – he shuddered – those memories stained him in a way he might never be able to erase.

How could he save anyone? None of the worlds were now safe. But where else was there?

The dusty clouds parted for a second and Rick looked up at the Moon.

There are supposed to be people up there, he thought, and tried to look closer. But something blocked his access.

He examined the barrier. It lay between the pockets that the multiple Earths occupied and what he thought of as the 'real' universe. For a moment he had no idea how such a thing could be bypassed. It somehow let light and other frequencies through. Then he detected traces of something else that had traversed it. From AI's memories was the discovery of a probe that had been accidentally crushed before analysis had revealed its lunar origins.

Rick studied the memory and found a way around the barrier.

Then he looked at the Moon clearly, and recoiled as he sensed people on the Moon looking back at him.

Well, not him exactly, but he could feel a tiny but strong concentration of interest in an area hidden below the floor of one of the many craters.

And, with an idea forming in his head, he initiated the longest jump yet.

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