The following was originally the penultimate chapter of Hollow Places, the fifth and final Hawker's Drift novel. If you haven't read those books, this isn't going to mean a lot and if you intend to, then it’s probably best to put this back on the shelf and save it for later. This is a spoiler. If, however, you enjoyed the books and fancy a smidgen more, read on.
I took this chapter out shortly before the book was published, just a few days before in fact, as best I recall. Partly as I wanted a bitter-sweet ending to the story, which I think the preceding chapter, that recounted the two years following the "Battle of Hawker's Drift" from Amos' point of view, did very nicely, but mainly because I didn't want all the "good" characters to live and all the "bad" ones to die. The world doesn't work like that. Even the ones that run on rails...
So, to set the scene. The bombs Cece and John planted in the Mayor's subterranean lair destroyed the Eternal Mechanism, but not before the Mayor discovered them, preventing them from getting clear before the bombs detonated as planned. Cornering the pair of them, the Mayor accidentally killed John, leaving Cece to trigger the bombs, sacrificing herself rather than accepting the Mayor's deal to send her home.
The resulting colossal explosion that destroyed the Eternal Mechanism was something Cece could not possibly survive.
Death appeared to be more agreeable than she’d expected.
Lush green hills undulated towards a lake, shimmering silver in the light of the rising sun. Deep knots of woodland ribboned the valleys between the hills, while snow-capped peaks fringed the horizon to the north. The air was warm and carried the scent of the purple-topped heather coating the hilltop around them.
“Shit…” Quayle groaned and sat up blinking next to her, “…where are we?”
“I have no idea…”
“Much the same answer.”
She looked at him. He rubbed his head and peered at her through bleary eyes. Still, all being told, he didn’t look too bad for a man she’d seen break his neck.
Maybe he’d just smacked his head…
She shook the thought away. No. He’d been dead. Now, however...
“The Mayor. I remember…”
“You smacked your head.” Better to let him think he’d only survived death once. Seemed easier to deal with somehow.
“How’d we get here?”
“Dunno. I detonated your bombs and then… I woke up here. Next to you. You still snore by the way.”
“Where are we?”
“You’ve already asked that?”
“A blow to the head can cause short-term memory loss.”
“So can being blown to smithereens.”
“What does your mapper say?”
She held up the screen, “Unlike us, it’s completely dead.”
Quayle winced untangling himself from his rifle as he struggled to his feet.
“I can tell you where we’re not though.”
She pointed to the west and he swivelled to stare at the sky. His mouth dropped. It wasn’t often he was lost for words.
The sky was cloudless and the moon was still visible. Or, rather, moons. One twice as big as their moon and the other a little smaller.
“This isn’t Earth?”
She shrugged, “We’ll have to wait for nightfall for a proper look at the constellations. Could still be an alternative Earth, just one where something happened in the distant past to give it two moons. Maybe the regular moon got hit and the debris reformed as two separate bodies. The big moon might just be closer the Earth rather than actually being a lot bigger.”
He turned a full circle to look at the surrounding countryside. It was beautiful, but there wasn’t a hint of humanity for as far as the eye could see.
“So…” he eased himself back down next to her “…the bombs exploded, destroyed the Eternal Mechanism… and we wake up here.”
“That’s what we know. Anything else is guesswork.”
“We were sucked into a fissure caused by the explosion and got deposited on another alternate.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“Sure, that could have happened, but the thermic charges would have vaporised our bodies first. I can buy our constituent atoms being deposited here, but not our unscathed bodies. And why no other debris?”
Quayle nodded, looking around some more, “There is another explanation.”
“I think it’s one I’m not going to like.”
“Not liking it…”
“The Adversary imprisoned the Mayor on that alternate, he was trying to escape, the Adversary wanted us to stop him. We did what he wanted and he plucked us from that world and deposited us here. Bingo.”
“I’ve had a blow to the head.”
“So, we’ve got some inter-dimensional alien consciousness to thank for our lives?”
“Think Amelia would have called him God.”
“Let’s stick to inter-dimensional alien consciousness.”
And one that brought you back to life too…
“I know we’re scientists…” he said after a while “…but maybe we should just accept this one without asking too many questions.”
“A lot easier,” she agreed.
“And accept we’ve got a second chance.”
“We’ve got a second chance?”
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, “We may be here a long time. Maybe for the rest of our lives. Possibly alone. If you’re going to carry on hating me…”
“I don’t hate you.”
He reached out and laid his hand on hers. She looked down at it, thought about how it felt and then stood up. His eyes followed her.
“You’re far too old for me.”
“I’m young in spirit.”
“I was never much interested in your spirit.”
“I can still-”
“Let’s get to know each other again. We’ve got plenty of time after all.”
“Ok…” he pulled himself to his feet and stood next to her, “…where should we start?”
“Buy me dinner.”
“Girl’s gotta eat.”
“There,” she pointed towards the distant lake nestling between the hills, “I haven’t had a good fish supper in ages…”
She smiled and started walking, looking back at Quayle as he shouldered the rifle.
“Come on old man, keep up… we’ve got a whole new world to explore…”