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Toller had earned it up to get back to Genesee. A lot had changed for him, and he knew a lot had changed for the home planet, too. That first sense of exterrestrialism, or interterrestriality, transformed into feeling like the planet had become a friend instead of a mother – a being he could keep in touch with to remember who he was and how far he’d come. He knew he might not feel as much like he belonged after the time away, but he’d found another kind of belonging that spanned the stars.

It was just him and his backpack. Toller was backtracking. He hadn’t gotten all the way to Meriada – still might be too soon, still – but he went ahead and faced the pain of Anzi’s destruction. There might be someone who could use a hand. The city and the people who remained of it had moved to the outskirts untouched by the lava flow. Toller was making his way around the lopsided crescent. The whole landscape here was in early remediation phases, where life could be sustained, but it was also bursting. It was space pioneer life out here right now, but the surge of regenerative resiliency laid a cheerful tone over the struggle. There was a lot of cottage food and microfarming from neighborhood to neighborhood. This next one up the road had just gotten a mural on the facing outside wall, and Toller was definitely going inside.

He didn’t know what hit him, he didn’t know what just happened, but there was a time warp and he was looking at a beloved ghost. Her hair was short now, though. Cheli was making a drink for someone at the counter, behind the fresh sprouts growing all along the top and the bowls of fresh vegetables. He watched her pour it into a worker’s cup, who thanked her and left. A little dazed, Toller walked up and asked with a gesture to the jar against the wall, “Are you actually making spiced powder apple?”

“Um, Yeah!” she exclaimed with recognition, throwing her arms open. They hugged tightly over the counter. “There might even be some that you made in there. I seriously grabbed and ran with that huge jar, and it kept me alive. There’s no one else in here right now, I’ll just sit down with you.”

The day was mostly sunny right now through the screen window, where there were two chairs. They sat, each with a warm cup in their hands. “I turned thirteen,” said Toller as the first order of catch-up.

“I’m the big 1-7.”

“A lot has happened.” They both sat there, nodding and sipping. “I made some friends. I feel like I have some options.” Cheli smiled wordlessly, looking around her and through the window with some measure of wonder. “I have a newsrag. Care to have a look?”

“Yeah, actually. It’s been a little while. Give me the big stuff, news from another world.”

Toller shook the inkcloth and got an item that was new within minutes. “Plexus Signs Package to InnerG Transport. Hmmm. I might even know something about that,” he started before stopping awkwardly, unsure if it was even safe information. Cheli looked sidelong at the tone in his voice and shook her head, smirking. She was proud of him but didn’t really need to know, even though she could guess. “But that story would take a long time to tell, and might still be happening.” As he talked, Cheli looked as though she was figuring something else out while she listened. Toller shook up another headline, also brand new. “Twilight’s Arrow Reported Missing. A dragonslayer sword. It’s actually really old.” Cheli craned over to look at a picture of the sword.

A woman came in through the door with a basket of jars. As she rose from her chair, Cheli leaned over to Toller for another hug and said, “Ask me later if you think you might want a spot of work around here.”

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