Kristin’s bare legs dangled over the edge of freighter’s deck, her heels thudding against its metal hull. Her chin rested on her folded hands, which were supported by the many-times-painted metal railing. She leaned forward to peer 100 feet down at the swells slapping against the boat. It would be so easy to slip between the bottom rail and the deck. The water would be cold, she figured, so she’d probably go into shock before she drowned. That wouldn’t be so bad.
A shadow fell across her, cutting off the sunlight that had been warming Kristin’s back. The steady west wind carried the scents of beef and salt to her nose. “I figured you must be pretty hungry by now,” a friendly tenor said.
Kristin was too tired or too apathetic—she wasn’t sure which—to turn around. “Nah.” Then her stomach rumbled in protest.
Miguel chuckled. “Uh-huh.” He set down whatever he was carrying behind her, then slid his skinny teenaged frame beside hers. Kristin envied his jeans and jacket. She’d have dressed appropriately if she’d known she’d be hitchhiking across the Pacific. But she couldn’t have, so she was stuck with her T-shirt, shorts, sneakers, and purse—the sum total of her worldly possessions now.
Her stomach spoke up again. “Maybe I am hungry,” she admitted, glancing at Miguel. She immediately wished she hadn’t. He was giving her that look again. Concerned but trying to hide it, like she was a wounded animal who’d spook easily. Six hours ago she’d have assumed it was an act. Now she wasn’t so sure.
“If you eat that—” he nodded behind Kristin “—you’re hungry. I sure was. That salisbury steak is more salt than steak, though.” His grin took the edge off of the complaint.
Kristin twisted around to take a look at the alleged food. Miguel had brought a plastic plate, fork, and a cup of water. The meat patty on the plate looked die-cut and the gravy gelatinous, but her empty stomach didn’t care. She managed a small smile as a thank you, then dug in. She ate so fast that she barely tasted it, then drank the water.
“There’s more in the galley,” Miguel volunteered. “Creamed spinach, too.”
“Oh goodie.” Despite her sarcasm, there was no bite to Kristin’s remark. Maybe food had done her some good. She didn’t feel like jumping anymore, either. Not that she felt any less lost.
Light flashed to Kristin’s left. She yelped as Petra, a thirtysomething African-American woman, materialized. Kristin frowned at her, then faced forward. “I’ll never get used to that,” she muttered as she stared east. Somewhere over the slate gray horizon was home. The city that used to be home, anyway.
“You’ll get used to it,” the petite woman said as she sat to Kristin’s left. Now Kristin was flanked by her would-be rescuers. Fantastic. She wished they’d give her a moment’s peace. It wasn’t like she was going to jump… Oh, right.
Out of the corner of her eye Kristin saw Miguel look past her to his friend. “What did Captain Demopoulos say?” Hearing his Latino accent applied to a Greek name was mildly amusing.
“That we can sleep here tonight, if we want.”
“Cool,” Miguel said.
Kristin blinked, then looked from Miguel to Petra. “On the deck?”
Petra grinned. “No, silly. In one of the cabins. There are bunk beds. Nothing glamorous, but it’s clean.”
“You do this a lot?”
Miguel shrugged. “Occasionally. We’re couriers. We get tapped out sometimes.”
Kristin gulped. She didn’t want to ask, but since she was like them she figured she might as well. “Tapped out from, um, teleporting?”
“Yeah,” he confirmed.
“It takes energy to teleport,” Petra continued. “E = mc2 and all that. And Miguel and I have traveled a long way today.”
“Oh.” Questions swirled in Kristin’s mind. All that came out of her mouth was “I thought we stopped here for food.”
Petra nodded. “Yes, that, and we can’t go any farther in one jump.”
“How far did we go?”
“For this last one?” Miguel asked. Kristin nodded. “About 900 miles.”
Kristin’s eyes went wide. “How much farther is it? To… wherever?”
Miguel looked to Petra, who replied. “We’re going to Strandline. It’s an island about a thousand miles west of here. After the three of us get some rest we’ll get there in one hop.”
“What do you mean ‘the three of us’?” Kristin didn’t bother trying to keep suspicion from her voice.
Petra shrugged. “You helped Miguel and I with the last jump. I know you’ve had a rough day—” She ignored Kristin’s sniff. “—but that’s probably what wore you out the most.” She glanced at the empty plate behind Kristin. “I’m glad to see that you ate something.”
“Let’s get you some more before the galley closes,” Miguel said. “And it’ll get cold fast once the sun—”
He stopped talking, and Petra jumped to her feet. Kristin craned her neck to see what had them on guard in time to catch a flash of light out of the corner of her eye.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebcal/1324689181/