Angels Among Us

By
C.E.Barrett



Chapter One


The force of his landing drove the air from his lungs in a great 'whoosh'. He lay, stunned and disoriented, for a long moment before pushing himself up onto his hands and knees. He stared without comprehension at the bent and crumpled long grass where he had lain. It should have been the icy concrete of the streets of Montreal.

Hmmmm, he thought. I must have hit my head on something when I fell. I'm dreaming, I suppose. I hope someone calls an ambulance soon. Maybe I'm already on my way to the hospital. He felt his head for a bump and laughed to himself. That's silly. I wouldn't have a bump in my dream. But I've lost my hat. He shrugged philosophically. Dreams were like that sometimes.

He stood upright and looked around. The grassy meadow stretched to the horizon in all directions but one. To his right, a road ran along the side of a hill. A brilliant sun shone high in the sky. He removed his gloves and put them in his coat pocket as he began to walk towards the road.

* * * * *

What the heck is this? She rose, somewhat unsteadily, to her feet and essayed a cautious look around. This is not at all right! Of her car, the parking lot, the grocery store, her entire town, not a shred, not a speck remained to be seen. Even the contours of the land didn't match Weymouth's topography.

Over there! A road, perhaps? Something, anyway, that made a straight horizontal line along the hillside in that direction. All else was a seemingly endless field of grass, tall, yellowing and waving gently in the warm breeze. She turned in a slow circle, straining her eyes for a glimpse of anything she considered 'civilization'. Nothing.

She remained perfectly still for a moment, letting the scene sink in. There was an almost dreamlike quality to her surroundings, and she was more than a little disoriented. Then she shook herself mentally and decided that, dream or not, there was no point in standing here.

To the road it would be, then. She picked up the grocery bags she had dropped when she hit the ground. She had tripped over a pebble in the Foodland parking lot on her way to her car, and had thrown out her hands to catch herself. Now, though, she had no idea where she was, and did not intend to abandon her purchases, even if a lot of it was junk food.

She waded through the grass, the hillside slowly looming larger. The horizontal line was somewhere above the top of her head, but the slope to it wasn't too bad. She should be able to make it in one trip, even with the groceries. She would just hang them all on one wrist and use her free hand as needed.

As she got closer, she could see that it was, indeed, a road. Quite a way in the distance were small groups of people. Some were heading this way, some resting, some apparently milling about aimlessly. Halfway up the hill she paused to rest, and realized she hadn't been alone in the field, either. Dotted here and there were other lone figures with paths behind them leading from sudden flat spots. Her own trail through the grass looked just like theirs.

What the heck? She wondered. It looks like we were all just 'dropped off'. But...never mind right now, Seren. Just get up to the road, and take it from there. She resumed her climb. For miles in either direction, others were doing the same.

The road, when she reached it, proved to be a two-lane blacktop with the familiar yellow lines down the middle. She looked left and right, wondering which way to go. Off to her left, the road turned away, disappearing behind the breast of the hill, only to reappear further on, continuing its journey. To her right, it ran straight, disappearing in the distance.

She crossed the road, dropping her bags to the level shoulder. Sighing, she sat with her back to the uphill slope, much steeper than the one she had just climbed, and considered her situation. Paved roads meant civilization somewhere, preferably not too far away. But no vehicles had passed, and there were far too many pedestrians, most of whom, even from a distance, appeared to be as lost and confused as she was herself.

"I hate dreams like this," she murmured to herself, knowing she often recognized dream states and was frequently a lucid dreamer. "I hate thinking it's real, and getting sucked in until I wake up. I don't want to be here...so, TIME TO WAKE UP!" she yelled at her subconscious. "WAKE UP!! I have to get up and go shopping." She waited. "Dammit all!" She tried every trick she knew to control the dream, to restart it in the parking lot, to fly, anything - everything. Nothing worked.

Maybe I'm not dreaming, she thought, and on the heels of that, thought, Oh, yeah. Like when you think the flying dreams are real, too, and then you wake up.

She opened a grocery bag. She knew that in her dreams small tangible items tended to be distorted or senseless - written words that could not be understood, or remembered, that changed every time she read them. Everything in the bag looked real enough. She pulled out a box of cereal. The name was right, and the ingredients made as much sense as a mouthful of chemical compositions could. And the polysyllabic words were the same when she reread them.

She tapped the box with her fingertips and returned it to the bag. "But what if...?" she asked herself. She smiled to herself wryly. She had read enough Science Fiction to entertain the idea that she had dimension-hopped, or quantum-leaped, or some such thing. How come it couldn't happen when she was out camping and had a bunch of survival gear on hand? Of course, she hadn't actually gone camping in about four years, but still...

The possibility that she really had traveled to a parallel world or something equally improbable began to sink in. Panic nibbled at her mind. She didn't know where she was or how to get home from here, and her children were waiting for her. She stepped on the panicky thing that was struggling to overwhelm her. I don't have time for you right now! You're not helping.

A sudden alternative popped into her mind. Maybe I'm dead, she thought. Maybe I smucked my head on the fender when I fell, and this is the afterlife. She pondered this possibility for a few moments. But why would I be carrying groceries, or ghost-groceries to Purgatory or wherever? That just doesn't make sense.

Oh, and being in Dimension X or on Planet Wheretheheck does, replied her sarcastic side.

"Either way, sitting here is getting me nowhere, and if I want to find a town or something, I better get going." The sound of her voice gave her courage. Once again, she gathered her plastic bags and set off down the road, taking the long straight route that disappeared in the distance. To her right, the people scattered through the meadow were slowly approaching. Just ahead, a man was climbing onto the roadway.

His heavy overcoat was much too warm for the weather. His balding head gleamed with perspiration, which trickled down his temples and face into his neatly trimmed beard. He reached the top and rested, bent over with his hands on his knees, to catch his breath. As Seren drew closer, he straightened to his full height.

He was easily over six feet tall, and was quite stoutly built, firm rather than flabby, and well dressed. His blue eyes regarded her with wary curiosity. This woman in front of him was not what he had expected to see. He studied her briefly, noticing little details; the deep pockets of her shorts, the bulge in one where something wallet-sized sat, her bare ankles above the leather of her sneakers. He wondered what she represented. Weren't people you met in dreams supposed to have some meaning? He was somewhat bemused by the whole situation, and was more than half-convinced he was hallucinating after having hit his head when he fell.

Still, there was no point in being rude. His voice, when he spoke, was pleasant and cultured, with a hint that it could become supercilious and snobbish at the drop of a hat. He merely smiled politely and said, "Excuse me...but are you from around here?" He indicated the grocery bags. "I see you've been shopping and I was wondering if you would direct me..." His words trailed off as she shook her head.

"Sorry. I came from out there, too." She jerked her chin at the field behind him. He turned, and for the first time realized the situation as he noticed all the people making paths from nowhere. Most were moving toward the road, but some were wandering in seemingly random directions.

"Where did they all come from?" he murmured and looked back at her with a quizzical expression. She shrugged. "Well, then, I don't suppose there's any point in asking if you know where we are, or how, indeed, we got here."

She shook her head. "Nope. I know as much as you. One minute I was in the Foodland parking lot, I tripped over something and BANG! landed here."

"I was running for a taxi, and stumbled over the curb." He frowned and looked back over the field. This isn't real, he thought. I'm hallucinating. I must be hurt worse than I thought. Maybe I'm dying. He felt a momentary pang of regret for the symphonies he would never direct, the pain his family would feel at his death. Then he pulled himself together. He was not a man who fell apart easily. He had spent too many years developing the control for which he was well-known. He reached into an inner pocket of his coat and pulled out what appeared to be a tiny cell phone. She watched as he pushed a button with his thumb, and held the phone to his ear.

"Nothing," he said. "Not even static." He switched it off and returned it to his coat pocket. "It was worth a try," he said.

"Too bad it didn't work," she said sympathetically.

They looked at each other. He indicated their clothes, his heavy overcoat, her T-shirt and walking shorts. "It would appear we're from different latitudes," he said. "Where, exactly, were you?"

"I was in a small town in Nova Scotia," she said, and added automatically, "Canada."

"Really? I was in Montreal. There'd been a heavy snowfall just a few days ago."

"In June? That's hard to believe, even for Montreal."

"No. January the fifteenth." He looked at her clothing more closely. "You were in June?" An eyebrow lifted as he considered this. He wondered if she meant the June past or the one coming up. "What year?"

"1999. You?"

"2008."

They stared at and then through each other. He began slowly to think he might actually be awake and aware. He couldn't explain how or why they were here, but the reality was sinking in.

"Oh good. We're not only from different 'wheres' but different 'whens', too," she said. She focused her eyes on his face. "This can't really be happening. I bet I hit my head when I fell and I'm in a coma in the hospital and pretty soon, I'll come to, and everything will be okay again."

He made a tentative gesture, as if to pat her shoulder reassuringly, but withdrew his hand, wiping it across his forehead instead. "I rather doubt we are sharing a coma dream, Ms..."

"Baker," she supplied the name automatically. "Seren Baker."

He held out a hand. "Daffyd ap Owen."

"Pleased to meet you," she shook his hand and then laughed. "I can't believe we're doing this...acting like we've met at the mall or something. I mean...LOOK!" and she dissolved into laughter. He chuckled quietly with her. She was right. The situation was insane, and their reaction possibly moreso, for all it seemed so 'normal'. She regained her composure, but with occasional snorts of suppressed giggles.

"Well, Mr...Owen or ap Owen?"

"ap Owen."

"Mr. ap Owen...no sense standing here. I think I'll keep moving along."

"Do you mind if I join you? I can carry a couple of those for you." He didn't relish the idea of being alone in this place. It made him uneasy, which he successfully hid under his confident demeanor.

She shrugged. "Sure. I don't mind." He seemed nice enough; not really the ax-murderer type. She grinned inwardly, thinking she had written one horror novel too many. But she supposed there were worse things than having company in this strange world, especially when the company in question was this pleasant.

He took off his heavy coat and draped it over his arm. "I'd hate to be returned to Montreal without it," he explained, relieving her of a pair of grocery bags. They headed down the road in companionable silence. Occasionally they passed a lone person sitting or wandering on the side of the road. No one responded to their greetings, so they didn't bother to stop. There was enough weirdness going on today without their going out of the way to add to it.



Chapter Two

The sun beat down steadily. Seren and Daffyd took turns carrying his overcoat. To their right, the field of grass stretched to the horizon. To their left, the hillside rose precipitously, covered with scrub brush and evergreen trees. The road stretched on before them. In the distance, there appeared to be trees and a building of some sort overlooking the grassy plain below.

"What do you suppose that is?" Seren asked.

Daffyd squinted in the afternoon sun. "Hard to say from here, but it looks like a house. Those big trees make it hard to be certain, though."

"And it sure doesn't seem to be getting any closer. I feel like 'Alice Through the Looking Glass', running like mad to stay in the same place."

A brief smile touched his lips. "Most people would have said 'Alice in Wonderland', " he said.

She glanced up at him. "Yeah, well, I know my 'Alices'." She moved to the shoulder of the road, overlooking the meadow below, and put down her bags. She opened and closed her hands to relieve the cramp that was building in them. He joined her and followed suit. She continued to speak, "Anyway, let's take a break. I could use a bit of something to drink and I'm hungry. Somehow, I don't think I'm going to get these groceries home today and there's some stuff that won't keep in this heat."

Daffyd spread his coat on the ground where they could look out over the grass. The road hugged the rising hillside, as it drifted to the left, and the ground opposite was getting wider between the road and the descending slope. It was here they sat: Daffyd gazing at the people below them while Seren rooted through her groceries. She pulled out a package of kaiser rolls, some sandwich meat, and a 2-liter bottle of cola.

"I don't suppose you carry a pocket knife?" she asked hopefully. He shook his head. She tore the package of sandwich meat open with her teeth. "Pardon my rudeness," she said. He merely smiled and opened the bottle. "Hang on a sec -- there should be some plastic cups in one of those bags. We were going to have a picnic-barbecue kind of thing today..." she trailed off, and looked across the field, a troubled expression on her face.

He regarded her as she stared out into nothing. Her hair was dark, liberally threaded with silver, and pulled back into a short tail at the base of her neck. She was pleasantly curved, perhaps with a little extra weight, but she had struck him as somewhat athletic and fit. She had kept stride with him easily, although she was quite a bit shorter than he was. Even when carrying his heavy coat, she hadn't seemed out of breath or struggling to keep up. Her face was oval, with expressive dark eyes and a ready smile that brought out dimples. When she frowned, vertical lines appeared between her eyebrows in a way that suggested she was not a woman to tangle with.

She brought herself back from wherever she'd been and looked at him. He almost flushed at being caught examining her so closely. It would not do to have her think him some kind of pervert. He enjoyed her company and didn't want her to run from him.

"So...let's eat. Did you find those cups?" He hadn't even looked for them, to his chagrin, but he did so now and quickly found them. After he poured them drinks and took a kaiser from Seren, he eyed the meat dubiously.

"What IS that?" he asked. It appeared to be thin slices of square bologna with little pieces of cheese and white morsels he couldn't begin to guess at.

She laughed. "It's macaroni meat. My kids love this stuff. It looks disgusting, I know, but it's not THAT bad." She peeled off a slice. "Here. Try it."

The almost horrified expression on his face as he examined it nearly sent her into gales of laughter, but she controlled herself by concentrating on tearing her roll open. She only succeeded in tearing it apart and decided eating the bread and meat separately wouldn't kill her.

In the meantime, Daffyd had nibbled experimentally at the meat and decided he'd had worse things in his life. They ate and watched people wandering by.

"You notice everyone seems to be alone? Even when a group goes by, they don't seem to be really together."

He nodded and swallowed. "Yes, I have. I also haven't seen a single person who seems to be from 'here' and 'now'. They all appear to be like us - displaced. I wonder..."

"What?"

"Hmmm?"

"You wonder...what?"

"Oh. I wonder what other times and places everyone is from. What they do for a living, what we have in common, if anything." He stopped again, considering, then looked directly at her. "Why US, in other words."

"Tell you something else to wonder. Why are we the only ones talking to each other? I mean, isn't it natural to seek company, some contact after something like this? Don't survivors of earthquakes and tornadoes talk to each other, help each other out, turn to each other for comfort? This is just...weird." She waved at the silent drifters-by.

"Perhaps they all think it's a dream. I did, at first." He sipped thoughtfully at the warm cola and grimaced. "Now, I don't know what to think. The afterlife? I just don't know."

"I thought of that, too, but I pretty much ruled it out. I don't think groceries die and go to hell or wherever with you." She pulled her kaiser apart even more and nibbled at the pieces. "Hey! Maybe we'll run into Amelia Earhart, or Judge Crater!" She laughed. He puzzled over that. He was familiar with the names; she had been the first woman to fly around the world, and Judge Crater was largely known for his unexplained disappearance. He could see why she'd mention the judge, but why Seren thought Amelia Earhart might be here eluded him.

"I wonder what the people back home think," she said softly. "I wonder what it looked like from that end. Any idea how long we've been gone?"

He looked at his wrist, and shook his head. "My watch stopped when I got here." He showed her. It said 10:53.

"Was that morning or night?" she asked, more from idle curiosity than anything.

"Morning. What time was it for you?"

"Around five in the afternoon. How long do you think we've been walking? About an hour or so?"

He nodded again. "That sounds about right."

"And we've been sitting here for another fifteen or twenty minutes. My kids must be frantic by now!"

"How many 'kids' do you have, Seren?" He was unfamiliar with the usage of the word, but suspected it referred to her children.

"Four. Karina's nineteen. I know she can watch out for the others, but she must be worried about me. I know I'm worried about them."

"How old are the others?" He had never heard of one person with that many children, and he was intrigued.

"Theo and Matt are sixteen, and Meggie is eleven."

He nodded his head. "Do they not have another parent to look after them?"

Seren shook her head, staring at the roll she was demolishing. "No. Terry was killed in a car crash a long time ago. It's just been the five of us ever since." She shook off impending sadness and looked at her companion.

"How about you, Daffyd? You have any children? Anyone special worrying about you?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No. Well, my family - my father, my sister and her daughter and granddaughter. That would be about it for me." He brushed breadcrumbs from his vest. "And now, shall we be going?"

"Sure. Just let me repack and clean up here," she suited her actions to the words and in a few moments they were back on the road.

The afternoon sun was warm, the breeze soft and gentle but lacking somehow. Generally, country air always seemed fresher, more alive, with the aromas of hayfields and wild flowers or the ranker odor of newly fertilized fields. But this was curiously devoid of smell. Even when the breeze flowed down across the evergreens on the hillside above them there was no tantalizing tang of pine or spruce. Just bland currents like those wafting out of ceiling vents in an office building. It wasn't unpleasant but neither was it the invigorating stuff Seren expected from country air.

As they walked along, Seren surreptitiously studied her new companion more closely. He carried himself with a quiet confidence, bordering on arrogance that suggested to her whatever it was he did for a living, he was good at it and knew it. It also said that he didn't need to hear about it from others; that his own opinion of himself was enough.

His three-piece suit and his overcoat appeared to be of high quality, expensive, but he hadn't hesitated to throw down the coat for a seat, or to care much if the suit got wrinkled from his sitting on the ground so casually. She inferred from this that he was at least moderately wealthy, since he could afford to treat good clothes somewhat cavalierly. Overall, he seemed quite distinguished, the silver streaks in his beard adding to this impression. He seemed solid and reliable somehow, Seren thought, and trustworthy.

She laughed inwardly at herself. She'd only known the fellow for a few hours, and she already had him sorted and filed. She decided he was probably a banker or a lawyer, something along those lines. She wondered what he made of her, or if he'd even given her more than a cursory thought.

They started seeing others who seemed to have joined company, most often in pairs, sometimes a group of three would walk by, talking quietly among themselves. From time to time they would nod to each other, these small groups, but no one, Seren and Daffyd included, was inclined to stop and make a larger group.

The building in the distance began to take form. They could clearly make out the huge shade trees surrounding what appeared to be a farmhouse. They were still too far away to see if anyone was in the yard. It stood on the hilltop overlooking the plain below. Here the land had widened considerably. The road was still following the contour of the upper hillside. It made a sharp turn to the left at the house, and went on to meander away to unguessable destinations. For reasons they didn't understand, no one else was approaching the house. Surely, it only made sense to knock at the door, ask for help, but it seemed they were the only two so inclined.

A driveway led from the road around the far side of the house, under the tall trees, which cast cool shadows over the house and yard. A tire swing hung from a branch of a tree to the left of the drive, the bare patch of dirt below it testifying to its popularity with someone. A tricycle lay on its side nearby, speckled with rust and a heavy coat of dust. It seemed somehow forlorn and pathetic as if it had been suddenly abandoned. A porch swing hung motionless on the wide verandah. Beside it, an open window allowed lace curtains to sample the view. Seren shivered suddenly, perhaps affected by the drop in temperature as they moved into the shade.

"This is creepy," she said, looking at the tricycle, the flapping curtains. He nodded his agreement but continued down the driveway around the side of the house. The side yard was almost gloomy in the shade cast by the trees and the house itself. It was quite a bit cooler here. Seren followed Daffyd closely.

"I really, REALLY don't like this," she said quietly.

"I can't say I'm very keen, either," he replied. "But we need to know where we are, and the people who live here should be able to tell us something."

"Personally, I don't think anyone lives here, anymore," she said. "Didn't you see the dirt on the trike...and that curtain flapping out the window? Who's going to let their best curtains flap out the window? NOBODY, that's who." She cut herself short, realizing she was starting to babble, something she often did when nervous or distressed.

"Let's just find out, all right? Even if there's no one here, perhaps we can find a vidphone, or something...a newspaper, anything that might help. Stay here, if you like. I'll be back soon."

"No, thanks. I'm coming with you."

They stepped up into a dark back porch. Daffyd knocked at the inner door. There was no answer and no sound from inside. He knocked again with the same result. He tried the doorknob. The door swung open into the house.

Seren peered past Daffyd's shoulder. A large country kitchen opened up before them. The remains of a meal sat on the table. On the right, a hand pump looked quaintly out of time on the counter beside a big double sink. A full load of dirty dishes sat in one side. A loaf of bread was turning quietly green in its wrapper, and other food items were scattered around.

Straight ahead, a doorway led to what appeared to be the formal dining room, the kind used for special occasions. A layer of dust covered everything, most notable on the polished oak dining table. Even here in the kitchen the food mouldering on the plates was covered with dust.

Daffyd stepped into the kitchen, Seren close behind him. Seeing him open his mouth as if to call out to the house's inhabitants, Seren took his arm and shook her head.

"Don't," she pleaded.

He looked into her eyes for a moment, studied what he saw there and acquiesced.

"I'm going to explore the house," he said. "Are you coming with me?"

She shook her head. "No, thanks. I'll just poke around here. Maybe there's something we can use, one way or another. You go right ahead." She couldn't explain to him that she was afraid they might encounter the former homeowners mouldering in their beds, like the food on the table. The whole place gave her the willies but she preferred to keep the feeling to a minimum. Right now, staying put seemed the best way to accomplish that.

Daffyd went into the dining room while Seren surveyed the kitchen. To the left of the door they had come in was another door that led to a pantry. This door was half-open and she could see the shelves and counters along one wall. She made a mental note to check it out later.

She turned back to examine the rest of the kitchen. A window over the sink looked out on the sideyard. The old-fashioned hand pump was on the right side of the sink, and a small jug stood nearby, presumably used to prime the pump when necessary.

A large wood cookstove was farther up the outer wall, its flue pipe leading to a brick chimney. It had a good size water heating tank on one end, and was very solid-looking. She could remember her gramma cooking on a stove like that. However, over the middle of the table hung an electric light fixture. She saw the wall plate near the door to the dining room. It gave her something more to wonder about. As if today needed more weird, she thought.

The table looked as if it could comfortably hold ten or twelve people, with benches lining both sides. Heavy chairs with ornately carved arms stood at each end. Places were set for five. One set of dishes was obviously for a young child, with smaller utensils and colorful pictures on the sides of the cup and bowl. Seren didn't care to examine whatever the meal had been too closely. The fur and fuzz of green and yellow, even blue, mold kept her at bay.

Footsteps overhead startled her before she realized Daffyd must have gone upstairs by now. She hoped Daffyd had gone upstairs. With a quick glance at the ceiling, she resumed her examination of the kitchen.


Chapter Three

"All right, Mr. Gaudet," said Constable Sylvie Muise of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "Just tell me what you saw."

"Well, now," began the older gentleman. "I was just driving in to go to the store and, uh, I saw Seren. Mrs. Baker, that is. Well, I wove to her, you know and she kind of just nodded back. Her hands was pretty full with grocery bags, you know. Well, sir, I just parked my truck, when I saw her fall pretty hard. I thought, well, maybe she skun herself pretty bad, or maybe even hit her head. So I run over, but she just wasn't there." His pleasant, earnest face showed concern for the missing woman. There was nothing to indicate he had been drinking, or was lying. Muise finished writing and sighed.

"Did anyone else see anything?" The tired Mountie asked.

A young man put up his hand. "I did, Constable. Like, I was walking right towards her, eh? And she was going towards that car? And it was like, y'know, like, she tripped and POOF, she was just gone. It was like, weird, eh?"

Constable Muise rubbed her temples. This was the fifth person to tell her that Seren Baker had popped into nothingness. It had started with a frantic phone call from a Foodland employee who had hysterically reported an abduction in the parking lot. Ms. Baker's children had been notified, and Constable Muise was doing her best to put the pieces of this puzzle together. She really didn't relish the idea of having to tell the Baker children that their mother had sidestepped into the Twilight Zone. She wished she'd called in sick this morning.

* * * * *

"I told you our equipment didn't malfunction!" Proto-Leader Gerri Reznik said in exasperation.

"I'm sorry I didn't believe you, but REALLY! What else could I think? I mean, look at this!" The little man waved a dramatic hand to indicate the waving fields of grass.

"I just want to point out that we've never made a trans-space jump WITHOUT OUR SHIP!!" She shouted down at him, her fists planted firmly on her hips.

"No, but we DO have teleporters. I thought we'd just popped down to the holo-arena on Base 36-Delta." He looked at the people straggling through the grass, and continued, "I have NO idea where we are."

"Well, my dear Rapsim, neither do I." They looked around for a few moments.

"Any suggestions on a course of action, Proto-Leader Reznik?"

The young woman shrugged and shook her head wearily. "I don't even know where to start," she said. "I haven't got a clue where we are, how we got here, or how to get home. What's the multi say?"

She watched him fiddling with a small device he had removed from his belt. He frowned, shook it and fiddled some more. Then he looked up at her.

"We seem to be nowhere, and nowhen," he stated simply. She stared.

"How do you go NOWHEN?" she asked.

He made a complicated gesture that meant, "I haven't the faintest, but we did it anyway."

She interpreted this correctly and sighed.

"That's great. Just peachy keen. Neato-Guido," she said, and brushed her bangs off her forehead with a weary hand. "We're nowhere, nowhen, with no way back and no one knows where we are or how to reach us. I'm not going to ask what else can go wrong. I don't want to know."

Rapsim was still studying his device. "I might be able to send a signal," he said. "But we need a power source. This isn't enough by itself." He waved the hand-held unit.

;Gerry Reznik looked around. "Well, Rap, it's not likely to fall on us here. Let's get going."

They climbed to the road, turned left and started walking.

* * * * *

Mykal's aura shimmered in confusion and dismay. He had intended to transport only the male Dral, not the female Human as well. This would certainly count against his grade, but perhaps it would work out for the best. Sometimes, seeming errors turned out to be serendipitous happenings. He would wait and see. Restoring her now to the place of origin would only serve to confuse the Dral, and he might not perform as needed. He checked the rest of his project. The first two had just made contact with each other; only one more remained. He found the Earth he wanted, and pinpointed the last element. He waited for a propitious moment to transport it to his work area.

* * * * *

Blagdur scratched himself idly and yawned in boredom. Graz lifted his head suddenly, his eyes narrowing. He poked a talon into his companion, who grunted in response.

"Wha'?" Blagdur muttered.

"Feel that?" Graz said. He grinned suddenly, revealing a mouthful of sharp teeth. "They're at it again." He chuckled then, a hideous sound. Blagdur flared his nostrils and twitched his ears. His laughter was no more pleasant than the other's.

"So they are!" He bounded to his feet, the tiny distortions in the multiverse tickling his awareness. Finally, something to play with. "I think we should take a peek around, don't you?" he said, beginning to focus his attention on the alternate space where their opponents performed their experiments.

* * * * *