26: One

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26.1 Ellie

Cambridge: 21 January 2129

Phil wiped the sweat from Ellie's forehead after the baby finally forced itself into the world.

"Damn and fuck," Ellie gasped. "I didn't think the bloody thing would ever get itself out of me."

Outside the window the countryside was covered in a layer of snow, but a rare winter sun glinted off the occasional house that had managed to survive recombination. Most of the land surrounding them seemed to have come from 'four' so, while they were outside the shattered remains of AI's Cambridge wall, the odd remnant of worlds 'one' and 'two' dotted the landscape. This place, which had been converted into a hospital of sorts, was one of those that had come through the ordeal relatively intact. At least Cambridge was manageable – the mess that had been London had been abandoned as requiring too much effort. It would be left for future generations to sort out.

The baby, in the hands of midwife Jacqueline, gurgled, coughed and then used her lungs in the loudest possible manner to announce her arrival. Jacqueline, from world 'one', inspected the child. As she did so, she explained each point to Jade, now learning the trade after her interest in medical matters had been rekindled. Finally, Jacqueline pronounced the baby fit and healthy and handed her to Jade, who wrapped the baby in a towel before placing her in Ellie's arms.

"Go on," Jade prompted, "let her drink."

Ellie looked scared, as if unable to understand what she had to do.

Phil kissed her hair and encouraged her to hold her daughter to her breast. Jade watched how Phil seemed to act far more fatherly to a baby he hadn't fathered than Ellie was motherly. The baby latched on and the screaming stopped.

"What are you going to call her?" Phil asked, as the baby took her first meal.

Ellie shook her head. Part of her wanted to name her after Rick, maybe as Rickie, but something about that didn't feel right. She didn't want the child to be a constant reminder of what she had lost.

Jacqueline arranged a larger towel around Ellie's shoulders, leaving a small opening at the front so that they could all see the child.

A few more people filed into the room, which was becoming crowded.

"Hey, sis, Matty, Holls," Jade said, greeting Jasmine with a hug. She placed a hand on Holls' stomach, saying, "You'll be next." Holls grinned while Matty in turn looked worried. "And you'll be a great father," Jade laughed, poking Matty in the chest with a finger.

"I've heard from Long and Jenny. They send their love," Jasmine said. "Jenny will be giving birth in a couple of months as well."

"I wonder if they'll ever decide to come back to Earth," Phil said.

Matty shook his head, "Not for a good while. Long's too involved in lecturing about our history now and Jenny won't risk her baby on a ship."

There was a popping sound in the corridor outside the room. Seconds later Alin Yan's smiling face peeped around the doorway.

"Is it okay to come in?" he asked.

"Alin, I thought you were still down south," Phil said.

"What, and miss this occasion? Ah, I see I am already too late and the child is born."

"You managed to teleport here?" Jacqueline asked.

"Several hops," Yan said, with a pained look across his face. "Very exhausting. But it's nice to know the old body and mind are still up to it."

"More than I can," Jacqueline tutted.

Alin Yan approached Ellie and peered down at the baby. "Oh, what a content little flower of beauty she is. And her name?"

Phil made a face and shrugged.

"Hmm. Names are important. She shouldn't go long without one," Yan said.

"Any ideas?" Phil asked.

"Yes," Ellie said. "Please suggest something, Alin. Nothing I've thought of seems quite right."

"Well, maybe Meiying, she should be," Yan continued. "It means what I said before – a beautiful flower."

All the others looked at Ellie.

And then, for the first time in a long while, Ellie broke into a proper smile.

Meiying. Yes, she liked that. She wasn't sure if it was completely right. But it felt appropriate. The child was the flower who had grown out of love. Despite AI's drugs, tricks and deviousness, she had beaten the odds.

She smiled again, and gazing down at the small red face suckling at her breast, it started to feel like an ending and a new beginning at the same time.


26.2 Mila

An unknown place and time

"So, I wasn't as alone as I thought, then," Mila said without speaking. "You put the idea in my head and used me as a conduit."

"Let's just say you were in the right place at the right time."

"Neither back on Earth nor fully here, you mean?"

"That's one way of putting it."

"Who are you, exactly, now? You feel like Krista speaking."

"Part of what was once Krista is here. As are Alec Garter, Charles Moore and thousands of others."

"Here? Where is here? Is it the source?"

"It is far beyond what you call the source. It will become clear once you join."

"Join? Join to what? Just what are you?"

"We are all around."

"Doesn't make sense. And Rick? Is he here too?"

"Him, too. It was his concern for Earth that led to using you. It was your own concern that linked you to us and enabled a channel through which we could work."

"When I burned?"

"That enabled the initial connection. But you needed to rest, to build strength for the healing to come."

"Can I speak to Rick?"

"You are speaking to Rick."

"No, the Rick that was."

"Not in the way you still imagine, but you can speak to all of us in a much better way if that is what you desire."

"How?"

"Observe."

And Mila finally saw it and her heart revelled.

Her reservations slipped away, and she joined to become one with all of them.


The end.


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