After five minutes of sitting under the shelter that rose up from the ground on command from Sara, watching the sun set, I finally decided to break the silence and speak again.
“Sara, is there any way for us to re-open a door to that middle place, the in-between?”
She looked back at me, her face curled up in a frown. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, or I can’t. Other people went there, but it was just sort of…” She paused for a second. “They say that it was like reaching your arm into a bag that you can’t see inside. You just sort of fumble about for whatever you want.”
For a brief moment, my mind flashed back to those innumerable tentacles, reaching out of the nothingness to try and wrap themselves around our essences. Was that this huge mind, Unity, trying to ensnare us?
“What’s going to happen next?”
I didn’t have an answer for her. I’d lost my team, we’d ended up back on the edge of the United States, and the one survivor we’d managed to find and befriend now apparently had the power of… of a monstrous thing that I still struggled to even try and describe. Whatever plans I’d held in my mind had gone out the window from the moment that we encountered the Blue Diamond facility. My wife was gone, and from what Hobbson had told me, the Unity was working to suborn the rest of the world.
“I don’t know,” I answered after a minute. “We’ll just have to wait and find out together.”
Sara didn’t respond to that, and I fell into a brooding silence as my thoughts chased themselves in circles. Sara was connected to the neural mind, the Unity, but that didn’t mean that she was really in control. She could make it do things, apparently had it spit me out here, back on the coastline, but I doubted that she had full control.
Still, worth asking. “Sara, what’s the rest of Unity doing right now?”
Again, it took her a minute to answer as she closed her eyes and concentrated. “It’s… growing,” she finally said. “It’s reaching deep down, where it’s warmer. It feels nice, kind of. Like getting wrapped up in a blanket.”
“Can you tell it to stop? Can you make it pull back here, not reach out and try to get to the other side of the world?”
She frowned, eventually shook her head. “No. I can talk to it, but it talks back. It tells me that it’s doing what’s best, that this is the right thing to do. I can’t change its mind.”
So much for that idea. “Can you tell when it will get to the other side?”
Another shake of her head. “I don’t know. I can feel it, and I can point to where it is, but that doesn’t tell me how far it has to go.” Sara blinked, suddenly back to just herself, the little girl. “What’s going to happen when it gets to the other side?”
“We’ll figure that out once it’s an issue,” I said, in lieu of a better answer.
She knew that I was bluffing, that I didn’t know, but didn’t say anything. She moved in closer to me as the sun dropped lower towards the ocean’s horizon.
“You could go out there,” she murmured to me as she rested her head against my shoulder.
She pointed towards the water, burned into brilliant reds, oranges, and other hues by the rays of the falling sun. “To the others out there.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant. “What others, Sara?”
“On the boat.” She closed her eyes, yawned, but I was suddenly wide awake as energy dumped itself into my system.
“What boat, Sara?” All I saw was the water, inky black in the spaces where it wasn’t lit by the falling sun. I tried to scan the horizon, but I couldn’t make out any structures rising above the level of the ocean.
“Out there.” She pointed again, her finger wobbling as she battled a second yawn. “It’s a big one, with lots of metal. I can’t see it, but I know it’s there. Unity told me that it’s there.”
A big boat, with lots of metal. My heart raced. That had to be a military ship. If I could get in contact with them… I still didn’t have much of a long-term plan, but maybe, if they could at least collect the information I now held in my head, we could have a chance of surviving. It was a slim chance, to be sure, but still better than nothing.
And in any case, there were likely to be guns on board the ship. They wouldn’t do much good, but they’d make me feel a bit more secure.
“How can I get out to the boat?” I asked, even as my mind, dashing ahead of my mouth, supplied an answer. Just down the hill from us was a town. A town on the edge of the water.
A town like that would certainly have boats.
But this meant that I’d need to either bring Sara, or leave her behind. I looked down at her as she stretched, blinking as she sensed that something was happening inside my head.
“What?” she asked.
“This… attachment of yours, to Unity.” I pointed down at the cord extending out from the back of her head. I still didn’t want to touch the thing. “Can you sever it? What happens if it gets cut?”
She cocked her head to the side for a second, listening. “I can’t cut it, Unity says. It’s got my grrr-salt in it, and I’d be useless without the connection.”
“Grr-salt?” I repeated.
“Yeah. Or guy-stall. Something like that.”
It clicked after a second. “Gestalt. Oh.” That meant, if I remembered the word’s definition correctly, that Sara’s real mind wasn’t in her body any longer. It was inside the Unity, that massive construction behind us, over our heads, and apparently running all throughout the earth. If I cut the cord connecting her to it, it would be like severing the cable of a peripheral.
Or, at least, that’s what the Unity told her. I didn’t know if it could be believed.
“Sara, do you know if there are any boats down in the town?” I asked, pointing down the hill in the fading light.
She frowned. “I can see some. Do you need a boat?”
“I think that I am going to go out and talk to the people on the ship out there,” I said, trying to make my voice gentle. “Honey, if I do that, they might be able to help. But if I go, I can’t bring you with me. You’ll have to stay here.”
“Oh.” Her words were soft, but I saw her lower lip trembling. “Do… do you need to go right away?”
I hesitated. On one hand, I suspected that the proper answer to that question was a firm yes. I didn’t know how much time had passed, exactly – what with one thing and another, I’d lost track of the days in our journey across the nation – but I knew that the situation wasn’t going to get any better.
On the other hand, if the ship wasn’t moving… Sara seemed to be my one remaining connection to the Unity, the one mortal link to this massive monster that was otherwise far beyond anything I’d ever faced, or likely ever would face again. I didn’t want to lose her, and even with this thing plugged into the back of her brain, she was still just a kid.
I closed my eyes, wondering what to do – and I heard Alexis, gently chiding me.
“Of course you can take one more day. You’ll stay with her, and you’ll promise her tomorrow that you’ll be back. And you’ll keep that promise, Brian, if it’s the last thing you do. Because that’s who you are.”
I opened my eyes, smiled down at Sara. “I can stay for tonight, yes. Let’s see if we can scrounge up some food, maybe build a fire and find a couple of blankets for tonight.”
And then, tomorrow, I’d try and return back to civilization.
To be continued…