Something had obviously gone wrong with the worldgate.
Everything had started out perfectly normal. Carmela had just finished the last of her college applications, and as a little treat to herself, she'd been planning an intergalactic shopping spree. She'd dressed her best, kissed her mama, and told her pop she'd be back in a few hours with some absolutely fabulous clothing. Then she'd dashed on up to her bedroom and activated the worldgate in her closet, setting it for a jaunt to the Crossings, where her credit was still impeccably good (though she had packed a bar of chocolate just in case things went awry, as a way of sweetening the deal). The gate had crackled and fizzed a bit, but that had been happening lately--something about disruptions to Earth's magnetic field, Kit had said, nothing that would actually derail her gating, though would she please remember to be careful? She had rolled her eyes and flipped her hair over one shoulder at that comment, because obviously he was the one who needed to be a bit more careful. She was just going shopping.
Carmela was very glad that Kit wasn't here now to make her eat her words, big time.
On the bright side, the air was breathable. In fact, as Carmela scanned her surroundings, she was surprised and relieved to find how Earth-like they seemed. She was in a small park, surrounded by several mid-size high rises in a kind of art deco design that wouldn't have been out of place in some parts of New York. She had landed hard upon arrival and was now slumped against the base of one of the park benches. It was winter here, judging from the leafless trees, just as it had been at home, and she was glad of her jacket as a sharp wind gusted around her, likely channeled by the blocks of tall buildings.
A pair of figures walked past--two human women, in floor-length skirts and glamorous coats, their perfectly coiffed hair protected from the elements by neat little hats. They both cast scandalized looks in her direction, and Carmela looked at her own attire in comparison to theirs: skinny jeans, combat boots, and a long-sleeved shirt under a leather jacket. Okay, she thought, Earth-like, human inhabitants, not a twenty-first century dress code.
She got shakily to her feet, only to sink down onto the seat of the park bench, feeling sore like she'd just lost a fight. She was still rather conspicuous, but at least she wasn't on the floor. Now all she needed was to find the remote, figure out what had gone wrong on this jump, and reprogram it to take her home. Her eyes scanned the ground around where she had fallen.
"Looking for this?"
Carmela's head whipped around, as much surprised by hearing someone speak to her in English as she was by being spoken to at all. The girl who addressed her was about her age. She wore the same general style of clothes as the two ladies Carmela had seen before, but this girl wore her dress and coat and leather ankle boots with a kind of flair that those other women had utterly lacked. She had olive skin and lustrous dark hair, which was pinned up under a hat perched at a jaunty angle to match the slim curve of one raised eyebrow. In one hand, she held the television remote, scraped up a bit from Carmela's fall.
"Yes," Carmela said, reaching out for the remote, "thanks"--but just as she was about to take it, the girl pulled it back out of her reach with a grin.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Uh," Carmela said, suddenly and uncharacteristically at a loss for words. If the dress code wasn't twenty-first century standard, what about the technology?
"Something mechanikal?" the girl prompted her.
"Uh, yeah," Carmela said, glad to be given an option.
"And what's a young lady like you doing with mechanikal bits and pieces?" the girl asked, sounding curious this time.
"None of your business," Carmela said, making a sudden grab for the remote and succeeding in snatching it from the girl's loosened grip.
Carmela had expected the girl to be shocked or wary, but instead she laughed. "I like you," she said. "I'm Lilit." And she held out her hand.
"Uh, hi. I'm Carmela," Carmela responded, shifting the remote so she could shake Lilit's hand. "Nice to meet you." And against her will, she realized she meant it. There was something about Lilit, something she couldn't quite place, that made her think getting to know this girl better might not be a total waste of time. "Thanks for finding this for me," she said, "but I should probably be going."
"Oh?" Lilit asked, her lips quirked up in a smile. "And where exactly might a young lady like yourself be going without an escort?"
Carmela raised an eyebrow. "I could ask you the same question."
"Being unescorted doesn't matter, if you don't mind being a scandal," Lilit said with a shrug. "Though I haven't found many other ladies who feel the same..." Her voice, so confident just a moment before, now sounded almost wistful.
If Kit was here, he would tell Carmela to stop making small talk with the locals. Even without her younger brother's voice offering unsolicited advice in the back of her head, Carmela knew that the smart thing to do was to leave Lilit behind, fix whatever was wrong with the remote, and use it to gate back home. But beneath Lilit's bravado, Carmela thought she caught a glimpse of a deeper longing for companionship that was eerily similar to an emotion she'd found herself feeling on and off over the years. It was the sound of a girl who was different, and who didn't mind it, but knew that other people did--the sound of a girl who needed to be reminded that there was nothing wrong with the person she was. The sound of a girl who needed a friend.
Carmela knew what she ought to do, but those last words of Lilit's had made up her mind for her. "Well, you've found me," she said. "And to answer your first question, I'm going shopping. Care to join?"
Lilit smiled, her teeth bright against her skin, and Carmela thought for an instant that she would take a smile like that over new clothing any day. "Only if you tell me where you found such a fabulous ensemble!" she said, looking Carmela up and down appreciatively. "Those shoes seem much more sensible than mine."
"Oh, Lilit," Carmela said, standing and linking arms with the girl and grinning all the while, "I think we are going to be very good friends."