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The half-burnt shell of a house shielded a metal drum fire. It was the deep end of dusk. Sitting on some vehicle seats around the fire were four older teens dressed in darks, and a dog. They shared snacks and drinks and thoughts. They heard someone coming down the side stairs.

Isten had told his mother Leyga that he would be out for while. Acknowledging his new level of earned maturity, she rarely inquired anymore as to where. He was glad he didn’t have to lie; this wasn’t a good kid spot, but his friends weren’t the bad kind. They were the bravest, the tightest. They’d done something hard together, and stood the test. They felt right about what they’d done, but they still weren’t sure if authority would come after them, if it was dangerous for them to see each other – even though right now, they were the only ones who understood what they’d just been through. Whoever else might see the invite probably shared at least some of their experiences. The windows – the puzzles – the net – the hills – the portals – the training – laying down in front of armed forces under Aquarii at full blast – the Vedani – the meadow – and now what?

He threw his arms up when he saw them, and the dog came over to frolic around him a little. “Puppita!” He ruffled the dog’s noggin, and went to sit with a girl on a two-seater who leaned in and gave him a kiss. The group was beatboxing in turn, getting warmed up when another person started coming down the stairs.

They turned and saw a woman, of young teacher age but dressed like they were, with a bandana over her face beneath grey eyes. Pausing a moment, they hailed her, and she waved a black-gloved hand. There was something familiar about her. “Did we see you on the plateau?” asked Isten.

Anonymous Soleil shook her head. “No, I heard about this from the chatposting.”

“Well welcome, we were just about to get started. Pick a spot, Pepita over here is friendly, and feel free to jump in any time you want.”

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