23: Short Trips (part 7)

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23.13 On The Scent

Hyde Park: 20 May 2128

"Here," Alin Yan said.

"What is?" Jenny asked.

"There is something here. A scent, a residue maybe."

"Rick left from this point?" Ellie said.

Yan nodded. "As far as I can tell. There has been some sort of expenditure of energy that I can still feel. An expenditure, I may add, that far exceeds that of the little bit of hocus pocus that Garter just tried to use to find him. Whatever your Rick has tapped into, he's definitely making the most of it."

"How did he learn it so quickly?" Jenny asked.

Yan shrugged and changed the subject. "So, is this area familiar to you on your world?"

"Absolutely," Ellie said. "Many of us lived around the park. That one was Phil's place, and the twins were over th... oh no, Long, look. Their house is in ruins. I hope they're okay."

"The earthquake may not have happened on your world," Yan said. "And, even if it did, the chances of it causing the exact same effects are probably slim."

"Yes, but you don't know for sure, do you?" Long said.

"Indeed, no. Sometimes, I don't think I can be sure of anything," Yan chuckled, leaving the others perplexed.

"So, what can we do now?" Long asked.

Yan smiled and said, "Nothing."

"You mean we can't find Rick or follow him?" Ellie said.

"No, neither of those things. All we can do is show the others what we've found and maybe they can detect if they register the same signature anywhere..."

There was a familiar popping noise.

"What are you up to, Yan?"

"Ah, Alec, nice of you to join us. Pleasant afternoon for a stroll in the park, isn't it?"

"Are you ever serious? Why have you brought them here? They were to be kept at the Tree."

"Oh, were they indeed? I hadn't realised they were supposed to be prisoners. No one thought to inform me of that little detail, or anything much, as ever. Anyway, while you were recovering from mentally gallivanting all over the planet – and giving me a damned thumping headache in the process, I may add – I was using my own meagre skills to do something that was actually useful."

"What are you talking about?" Garter snapped.

Alin Yan's face turned stony, he stabbed one finger towards the ground. "Right here, you arrogant fool, can't you feel it?"

The frown on Garter's face deepened.

"Oh yes, you finally see it. Our newly powerful young friend jumped directly to another world right from this spot."

Jenny had trouble suppressing a giggle at Yan's change of manner. Then she jumped as Mila Galanis, Krista Hartmann and Charles Moore appeared.

Several meaningful looks passed between Garter, Yan and the newcomers.

"Oh, yes," Mila said. "Thank you, Alin. Why didn't we think of this?"

Yan sniggered and Garter growled.

"I'm recording the patterns," Hartmann said. "We should be able to recognise him quickly when he returns."

"If he returns," Jenny muttered.


23.14 The Longest Trip

The Moon: 21 May 2128

Anusha gasped, Melissa squeaked, and Andrew jumped to his feet. Everyone's eyes were on the newcomer.

Janet addressed him directly, her voice sounding far calmer than she felt inside, "Okay, so you obviously didn't come through the secure door. Mind telling us who you are, and just how you got in here?"

"Feels weird," he said. "First time I've experienced low gravity. You really could fly here, couldn't you?"

"Name, please?" Janet persisted, embarrassed that it came out as a squeak.

"Rick," he said.

"Is that all? Rick what?"

"Just Rick. No other name. Never needed more than one. As for how I got here. Well, it was like this, but took slightly longer due to the distance."

There were two popping sounds as Rick disappeared and reappeared across the room to stand directly beside Melissa. Andrew rushed to place himself between the stranger and his wife.

"Okay," Rick said, backing away. "I think I'd better explain. Hopefully, this won't hurt, but I'm pretty new to this sort of stuff. So, apologies if it does – it will certainly save hours of talking."

There was a concert of gasps around the room as memories were inserted directly into heads. Multiple mouths hung open as each of them analysed what they had been forced to receive.

"Wow, real magic!" Melissa said, to no one in particular.

Janet was the first to say anything directly to Rick. She whispered, "xMind?"

"Not really, even I only found out about them a few hours ago. And all their other names, like Progenitag and Cognizant."

"Oh, just like those L-Squared women?" Melissa said.

"Apparently I've got a lot in common with those people," Rick said.

"But you're from Robot World? Not Paradise?" Janet said. "And you got through the shield?"

"It's pretty weak now," Rick replied, after extracting their alternate references to 'four' and 'one' from their memories and residual thoughts that, now, he found he could read easily.

"And, you're going to try to fix things when the recombination occurs?" Andrew asked.

"If I can. If it's possible."

"You don't know?" Andrew said.

"I doubt there's a handy book of instructions around," Melissa said, poking her husband in the ribs.

"How dangerous will it be?" Andrew asked.

"Sorry, but I really don't know," Rick replied.

"Are we safe here?" Anusha said.

"Probably far safer than down there," Rick said.

A look of relief passed around the room.

"And it's given me an idea," Rick said. His eyes took on a look as if he was no longer seeing the immediate surroundings, but focussed on something far more distant. "You're pretty cramped for living space but I can see that there's some spare room dotted around here and there."

"What are you going to do?"

"Back soon."

And, with a pop, he was gone.


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