24 Recombination (part 4)

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24.5 Footloose

Alternate One / The Moon: 21 May 2128

Ellie gasped and spun around.

"Rick!" she shouted.

"I've found somewhere safe for you and the others."

"What are..."

"Hold on," he said, wrapping his arms around her as the room around them vanished.

There was a sensation of speed and movement that she tried to blank out, and then it was over. She looked around in bewilderment. Where on earth were they? The room, a hall with chairs and tables, was a total contrast compared to the organic Tree. It was bathed in a harsh white light, yet lacked windows of any sort. Several people, dressed strangely, watched from the sides. Some of the chairs nearby were already occupied and she recognised familiar faces, though all looked far from comfortable. She had trouble keeping anything in focus.

"Oh," she said, "I think I'm going to be sick."

Rick encircled her head with his hands and the nausea passed. But that didn't help as she still felt as if she were about to float away.

"Sit down," Rick said, gently lowering her into a chair. Seated, her vision settled down and she stared about herself. Her eyes picked out Jade and, behind her, Jasmine. Jade raised herself to her feet and, with a strange, unsure gait, made her way over. Ellie stared up at her.

"Where are we?" Ellie asked. "Which world is this? How can you be here?"

"Fill her in, Jade," Rick said. "I'm off to get Long and Jenny."

"No, Rick," Ellie shouted, "don't lea..."

But he was already gone.

As Jade sunk uneasily into the chair beside her, Ellie looked past her. Over there she was amazed to spot Holls and Matty clasped in each other's arms. Around them were a few others she didn't recognise. No, wait, that guy talking to Phil was with them in Cambridge, wasn't he? She struggled to remember his name. Jack – it came to her suddenly.

"Okay, brace yourself for a surprise," Jade said, holding Ellie's hand. Her face was as pale as Ellie felt.

"Ah, you must be Ellie," said a red-haired woman coming towards them. She bounced unnaturally as she walked.

"Uh, yes," Ellie said, unsure of what else to say.

"I realise this has all been a bit of a shock," the woman said. "It's probably best if you stay seated until your balance has had a chance to get used to things. I'll get some water or something else to drink for you, if you feel up to it yet. My name is Janet Davidsen, by the way. Oh, and welcome to the Moon."

"Moon?" Ellie said. "You mean the thing in the sky?"

Janet Davidsen grinned, "You better believe it. Ah, here come some more."

Ellie turned her head as, several yards away, Rick reappeared with Long and Jenny. Both of them were wide-eyed, their mouths hanging open, as they struggled to keep their balance before sinking into chairs. They were wrapped in blankets and looked embarrassed. Rick dumped their clothes down beside them before disappearing once more.

Long's eyes drifted around the room until they alighted on Ellie and Jade. His mouth formed a word, "Where?"

"Moon," she said, shrugging and spreading her arms open wide, still unable to believe it herself.

24.6 Strays

Alternate Four: 21-22 May 2128

Locating all of Earth's NewGen outside of London wasn't easy given how many had escaped from the once enclosed but now broken cities. In addition, the constant tectonic shifts were screwing up Rick's ability to hone in on them. London had been easy – he knew everyone and they recognised him, even if they were initially perplexed by his new-found abilities.

Cambridge hadn't been too bad, either, once he'd located Phil. Jack he'd recognised and, with Phil vouching for him, the others were only too willing to escape from a world that seemed to be tearing itself apart.

In England, he'd found groups of NewGen in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and York. Coastal towns and cities were devoid of NewGen, though many of those still possessed Ghosts. In Wales only Caerphilly held a small contingent while Scotland had two centres in Glasgow and Perth.

Initially, he'd tried to explain what was going on hoping they would see sense and allow him to transport them to safety. But the main reaction, where they actually stopped to listen was disbelief, despite the tremors and destruction taking place around them. Many of them accused him of killing AI or being the source of the ongoing devastation.

In the end he gave up on diplomacy as a waste of time. He considered trying to insert an explanation as new memories but there were just so many people and too little time. So, reluctantly, he resorted to locating as many as possible in each area, blasting them temporarily unconscious with a mental knockout and popping them up to the Moon, leaving them for Janet Davidsen and her colleagues to sort out.

After several hours of attempting to round up strays from all over Europe, he was exhausted and the earthquakes were getting worse. In Reykjavik he was too late to save anyone. Iceland had transformed itself into one gigantic volcano, and ash covered everything. He spread his consciousness around the world and detected similar problems around Japan, and there was something bad about to blow in the west of North America.

In a few hours he had transported nearly nine-hundred people and there were still over four thousand to go. He knew he was going to fail to keep his promise to AI. He needed a better plan and a bigger source of power.

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