The young woman at the top of the hill didn’t move. She simply watched them while leaning against a massive white oak that must have been several hundred years old. Caucasian, light brown hair, tall, twenty year old or younger and quite attractive, despite an air of gang-member hardness. She had worn her bedraggled outfit a very long time. She reminded Jack of a castaway in a movie.
Some garments seemed to be just barely attached. The tattered remnants of a fancy blouse clung tenuously to her. A fragile designer belt that should have run through the belt-loops of her jeans instead wrapped around her waist as the only thing keeping the buttonless blouse closed. Considerable portions of a worn out but fashionable bra showed through gaping rips in the fabric. Sneakers completed the sorry ensemble.
The belt was needed almost as much by the jeans that were clinging together without its assistance. They were a popular style that had an opening that ran the entire length of the outer seams, closing the legs with buttons and loops rather than stitches and leaving a narrow strip of bare skin showing from belt to cuff. Many of those buttons were missing here, leaving the pants legs partly loose and much of her legs showing.
It dawned on him at last, everything the girl wore was recent Earth fashions. His daughter even owned a pair of jeans in the same style. He had objected to them, only to get teasingly ridiculed as a ‘prude’ by his ex.
Jack stood. Forced to concentrate on his balance, with strangeness continuing to happen in the fringes around him and the world still unclear on concepts like ‘up’ and ‘down’, he started up the hill toward her. His companions watched him uncertainly.
She blinked at him, appearing to recognize him, and began walking forward as well. When they had closed most of the distance, she said, in a wondering voice, “You’re… a policeman…”
He understood the need for caution, the reason his companions hung back, but something about this girl drove him to get closer, to get a better look. Her speech had already confirmed one suspicion, and he put it into words. “You’re American.”
Things around the girl glowed with strangeness as well, odd glows and glints that told of unseen energies flowing, the same as he could see in Nam and Rogan, the same as he saw far out in the woods. He realized he was once more mixing up flux and vision, and forced them apart.
His companions had begun moving up from behind. Probably in reaction, the girl stopped advancing. She shook her head. He couldn’t tell if she was gently laughing, or crying. “Hah… someone actually came to rescue me…”
She shook her head again, growing a troubled smile.
From behind, he heard Rogan clearing his throat. “Ah… Jack…”
He decided he was close enough and stopped. In a moment, Rogan and Nam stopped as well, a few paces to each side. They had spread out, avoiding clustering together the same way soldiers would. In the corners of his vision, Rogan drew his knife, and Nam her dagger. He could sense energies dancing within both blades.
His companions sensed the same unnatural undercurrent that he did. It wasn’t something clear, like before. This girl was doing something to disguise the things, but there were definite ‘flux’ sources within her. He saw them like the glowing ember he had seen before, in the monster. There. In her head. And in her chest, in the same place the ‘ethen’ had entered him.
He double-checked that the flap on his holster was unsnapped and reminded himself that he was already on his spare magazine.