Rosie had waited on a tabletop boulder on a windswept mountaintop of Prescient Dimension where she went when she needed to contact Kellareal for longer than usual. She explained that she wanted a change of environment, where she could take a break from her life and rethink the direction of things.
She knew she’d pushed things with Glen, but she also knew that, despite her feelings and desires to the contrary, the relationship wasn’t serious and wasn’t going to be. Not for a while. He’d made his decision. He was going wherever Z Team went and at least she had enough pride to know she wasn’t going to follow along like a camp whore. Even if he’d let her. Which he probably wouldn’t.
So she’d take a lesson from that and maybe look for a little adventure of her own while she was young. While she was young.
The breeze that blew her wild hair back from her face grew a little softer. Kellareal appeared to float down from the sky wearing a long white robe that billowed around him, arms outstretched as if inviting embrace, and landed in front of her soundlessly. She knew he would want to be congratulated on the theater, so she clapped. He bowed.
“Lally. How long do you think I’m going to live?”
“You called me for that?” He picked up a pebble, sat down beside her, and threw it out over the canyon overlook. “We may have to rethink your summoning privilege if you’re going to abuse it, young lady.”
“No, that’s not why I called, but since you’re here…”
“Well, your elemental side is very long lived, meaning eons. Your human side is cursed with short life under the best of circumstances. Then there is the issue of fragility, the moment to moment uncertainty, the… risk, if you will, of being human. I tell you, it causes me to marvel constantly at their courage. Living under those circumstances, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t just curl into a ball and hope for sudden death to put an end to the suspense.”
“If they only knew how cynical real angels sound, you would never get your own TV shows.”
“Hmmm. No doubt.” He grinned. “But a few feather sightings would bring them right back around.”
Rosie giggled. “You’re hopeless.”
“And is that why you wanted to see me?”
“No. I need to get out of town for a while, change of scenery. Maybe I need to broaden my experience.”
“Get out of town,” he repeated drily. “What does your mother think of this?”
“She thinks she can get in touch with you if there’s an emergency and that you’ll know where to find me.”
The angel pursed his lips, stood and paced for a while. “Vacations are fun. Sabbaticals are informative. Quests are enlightening, sometimes cathartic. Retreats are rejuvenating. Treks are adventurous. This?” He stopped and looked at Rosie. “This sounds like running away. Hard to put a noble spin on running away.”
“I’m not necessarily asking for your blessing, Lally. Just a place to…”
Rosie flushed. “It’s a favor.”
Kellareal looked at her for a long time. “I can’t decide without hearing the whole story. I want to know exactly what it is you’re running from and what you’re hoping to gain.”
By the time Rosie finished spelling it out, she was sorry she had started the whole thing. Spelling out what had brought her to that mountaintop sounded spoiled, selfish, childish and silly, even to herself as she said it. She supposed that was one of the angel’s goals in having her connect the dots out loud. She hoped that the worst of it, humiliation-wise, was over.
“Have you thought about how long you want to be away?”
She hadn’t thought about it.
“Do I have to decide that now?”
“No. I suppose you can do a pay-as-you-go plan.”
“Wait. What do you mean pay-as-you-go?”
The angel took her elbow and pulled her to her feet. Standing several inches taller, he looked down into her face. “You’re right, Elora Rose. It is time for you to learn something of the world. First lesson, nothing’s free.”
A few minutes later they were standing on the periphery of an enclosure – a crude, gray stone wall. From what Rosie could see, there were homes and buildings built around a park-like commons area with sparse gas lighting, but the overall impression of the place was of a fort. Through a break in the wall that formed a gate with iron bars, she could see that they were on a hilltop overlooking the lights of a large town.
The air was scented with the welcoming smell of wood burning fires releasing white smoke into the atmosphere. The prominent feature of the compound was a long row of motorcycles, some of which had parts shiny enough to reflect in the cold moonlight.
“Where are we?” Rosie asked.
“It’s a project of mine, Rosie. A secret. You can’t ever tell anyone.”
“They’re what’s left of Telstar.”
“Telstar? Isn’t that one of those worlds that went crazy with genetic engineering?”
“I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘went crazy’.”
“Okay. Let me put it this way. You start out with a wolf. You end up with a Shih Tzu or a Pug. You start out with a human, you end up with a …”
“The flaw in your argument is the owners of dogs like that would say they’re an improvement on the prototype.”
Rosie blinked. “So you’re saying you’re taking me to a place where I should be prepared for…” She left the end of that sentence for him to fill in the blank.
“Okay. Consider this your briefing in a nutshell. There were some experiments that went on for a couple of generations. People became concerned and even invoked religious invective to fuel a movement to eradicate all the produce of the experiment.”
“Produce?” He nodded. “You mean the people?”
“That is what I mean and I, ah, intervened. I saw an opportunity to solve two problems. There was a group of people here in need of protection, which is one of the ways Telstar skills might be used. This group was under threat of genocide. I knew the Telstar survivors would relate. So I paired them with the humans that needed them. “
He waved his hand at the darkness. “It’s pretty here. This dimension hasn’t been ruined yet. Lots of everything. Gives them a chance.” He looked at Rosie. “You know?”
“Wasn’t that against some rule?”
The angel pursed his lips and heaved a big sigh. “Rules need to be placed in the context of knowing the rule makers. And their agenda.”
Rosie studied his face in the darkness. “Lally, you’re an anarchist.”
“Guess that depends on who you talk to.”
“Are there others?”
“Other elementals who think like I do?” She nodded. “Yeah. Anyway. They’ve been here for a while now. Some have started families. Their own take on culture is starting to emerge. Interesting to watch. The one in charge of the place is a nice fellow with a nice family. Owes me a favor. Simple as that.”
“Does everybody in the multiverse owe you a favor?”
His mouth twitched at the corner as he looked down at her. “Working on it.” His eyes drifted back to the settlement. Rosie thought she saw a hint of pride. Proud sponsor perhaps.
“This could be a good place to get your thoughts sorted out. They’ll give you a job and who knows? Maybe a new perspective. So welcome to the EC. That’s what they call it, short for Exile Camp. By the way, don’t mention Telstar. They don’t like to be reminded. I don’t blame them. They left that behind to start a new life.” He turned to face Rosie. “A new world really.”
She looked around again. “What’s with the motorcycles?”
His expression was definitely sheepish. “Oh, they, the Telstar, like them. A lot. So they became part of our arrangement. I made an adjustment to the engines so they’ll run on water and threw tools and maintenance stuff in with the deal.”
“Are you saying that they’re weren’t motorcycles here before?”
“No. Every dimension develops differently. You know that.”
“Well, yes… So how did you get motorcycles here?”
He laughed. “Rode them.”
“You did not.”
He nodded, grinning. “One at a time.”
“I didn’t know you could ride a motorcycle through the passes.”
“For all I know, I’m the only one who knows it. Let’s keep it that way. Okay?”
She shrugged. “Okay. What do they look like?”
“Look like?” Kellareal laughed out loud. “Oh, sweet baby.”