24: Recombination (part 1)

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24.1 Abandoned

The Tree: 21 May 2128

Ellie couldn't sleep. She paced incessantly around the small room she had been allocated within the Tree. She stopped at the glass-less window. Only when she got close to it could she feel the night air on her skin. Move a few feet away and there was no hint of a breeze at all.

It was spooky.

The people of this world were beyond her experience. She couldn't help resenting them for what they were and what they could do. Mostly, she hated them for what they had already done to Rick. She wished she could accept it in the same way that Long and Jenny appeared to have already come to grips with all this strangeness. But they had each other, whilst she was beginning to believe that Rick had abandoned them, and her.

She felt lost.

And what of the transformations within Rick himself? To her, they were the most frightening part. First, by the way this world had initially seemed to cripple him far more than the physical damage that 'five' had inflicted upon him. Secondly, and more surprisingly, the speed at which he had overcome all this. Ellie's mind pictured that Mila girl sitting astride Rick's chest. The thought made her grind her teeth together and clench her fists.

A few short weeks ago it had all seemed so simple. She'd had it in her mind that she and Rick were going to become a couple for the rest of their lives. Despite the problems of having to deal with the increasingly cranky AI and their perceived lack of freedom, she'd thought she saw the most likely path into their future. And now all that had been irretrievably lost.

Worse – she had absolutely no idea about what she could do about it.

Her pacing had returned her to the window again. She was glad she couldn't make out how high she was, though it was obvious her room was way above the rooftops of the buildings surrounding Hyde Park. Those buildings were merely darker shapes set against the backdrop of clouds and the occasional star. There were few lights to be seen. Those that were visible glowed only dimly and flickered constantly.

Candles, she thought. There's probably no electricity here at all. How the hell did they manage without electricity?

In many ways, lives here were very primitive compared to the comforts they had enjoyed under AI's care. But the strange abilities of the people went a long way to even up the balance. Long and Jenny had told her of their experiences with the farmer who had driven them from Cambridge to London. From the way they had described it, she was glad she'd been forced to take the short cut, though she wasn't sorry she hadn't been conscious to experience it directly.

There was a rumble in the distance and she gripped the intertwined branches that made up the rough window frame. A few moments later the slight swaying of the Tree made her dizzy and nauseous.

Another damned earthquake. Nowhere near as strong as before, thank goodness. Oh, but she'd had enough. She tried to be strong but tears welled up yet again.

"Rick," she whispered. "Where are you?"

She leaned out the window slightly and tried to make out the ground below, but it was lost in darkness.

"It would be so easy to slip away and fall," she thought. And, for a long moment, she had to fight the urge to throw herself out into the night. Her breathing came heavily. Maybe she should do it.

But she hesitated – there was more than herself to consider. She placed her hands on her stomach. She didn't feel any different, physically. Could Rick have been wrong? How could he have seen inside her? Part of her wanted to believe, but the rest couldn't take it in. We don't make babies, she had said. She no longer knew what was real and what wasn't. She had always considered herself strong, sometimes far more determined than many of the others. But, right now, in this place that was so wrong, she sensed it eating away at her strength, demolishing the resolution that had been with her for nearly all of her life. Nothing here was right or rational and she ached to turn the clock back.

She leaned out of the window again. It would be so easy to just slip away.

But then, there was a hand upon her shoulder, and a familiar voice said, "No, Ellie."


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