24: Recombination (part 3)

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24.3 Distraction Tactics

The Tree: 21 May 2128

Long couldn't sleep. He lay on the bed, his mind racing over all that had happened since he had awoken. Every so often he felt the Tree move as another minor aftershock stirred things up.

Also, his face itched. The manual razor he'd used to shave his beard off a few hours earlier had been sharp enough, but was no match for the electric devices AI had supplied. At least the baths here were more than adequate. He felt the cleanest he'd been since first becoming exiled eight months ago.

So, he thought, I'm finally looking and smelling good just in time to celebrate the end of the world. He sighed and rolled over.

A few minutes later he became conscious of movement outside his door and sat up.

The door opened and Jenny's voice whispered, "Long, are you awake?"

"Yes," he said, relieved it was her. "What's up?"

"I can't sleep."

"You're not the only one. This place is getting way too unstable to relax, isn't it?"

"It's not just the earthquakes, though."

"Know what you mean," he replied.

Jenny sat on the edge of the bed. Long shifted to give her room and placed an arm around her waist. She gave a grunt of approval and then lay down beside him.

"Sorry, not much room," he said.

"Well, let me in then."

He raised the blanket and she slid underneath. There was another rumble and the room swayed for a couple of seconds.

"Looks like it has no intention of stopping," he stated.

"You want to do something to take your mind off it?"

"Like what?"

"This maybe," she said and kissed him on the lips, at first lightly and then with more force and passion.

"Mmm," she said, "that beard is much better gone."

After a few minutes they parted only to discard their clothes and then made urgent love. It might be both the first and last time they would have the opportunity to do such a thing.

Later on, they lay in each other's arms listening to the sounds of the Tree.

"Do you think we'll get through this?" Jenny said.

"What do you want me to say?" Long replied. "Give you false hope or just admit that I have as much idea about it as you?"

She chuckled.

"It's no laughing matter," he said and then started laughing as well.

Long felt as if he was laughing in the face of what the future could bring, good or bad. It felt good to laugh; to abandon himself to a small bit of lunacy within the greater madness in which they found themselves. And he was extremely happy that Jenny was here to share that lunacy.

It was several minutes before they could stop. She held him close and he wished he had found her years ago. She was probably right – it was very likely there was very little time left to them.

"Maybe we should just stay here in bed until the sky comes crashing down," he said.

"That's as good an idea as anything I can come up with," she replied.

"Well, then," he said. "Let's go for it."

They embraced even tighter, clamping their lips together daring the world to tear them apart.

The world took up the dare as, barely two minutes later, they both broke away realising they were no longer alone.

24.4 One Step Behind

The Tree: 21 May 2128

Mila inwardly cursed her inability to teleport, the main skill she had never manage to develop. However, as she ran through the corridors to Ellie's room, her mind issued commands to other adepts whose abilities included that particular attribute.

Three others reached the room before her but, she was informed, it had been empty when they'd arrived.

She immediately went to the window.

"The signature is strongest here," she said. "Where did he go?"

"The woman is gone, too," said an adept.

"I am aware of that. Do we have any trace of her? Anywhere?"

There was silence for a few seconds.

"She was talentless."

"No hope of a signature, then," Mila said. Then her eyes opened wide as she felt it. "No, wait, below us. He's back. With the one named Long."

She pointed at two of the adepts. "His room, now." Then to the third, "You, to Jenny's room. Go!"

While her legs took the long route down the spiral, she reached out with her mind. "Rick," she called. "Don't leave us. We need you."

She felt his mind brush hers.

"Please," she transmitted.

"Not now," came the response, but that was all, and then he was gone again.

By the time she reached Long's room, gasping with the effort of running, Garter was also there.

"I felt him as well," he said. "The other woman was here with the man. He took both."

"He kept us out," said one of the adepts she had ordered directly to this room. "We were forced to materialise in the corridor outside and couldn't penetrate his shield."

Mila sunk to the bed, which was now missing its blankets.

"Damn it," she spat. "I tried to talk with him. He dismissed me."

She raised her head to find Garter staring at her.

"Got to you, has he?" Garter said with a smirk, before winking out of the room.

"Fuck you, Garter!" Mila spat, cursing verbally for the first time in her life.

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