He checked his chronograph. Two and a half years, almost. Time moved fast when you jumped. No time to settle, no time to put down roots.
He’d brought so little with him. There was always a lag between landing and his stuff arriving. And there was always something missing.
He looked up and down the strange shore. If past experience was anything to go by, he had only a few weeks to assimilate. If he didn’t work out the local culture and customs quickly, if he put a foot wrong, the jumping process would start again. He’d be gone before he could settle in.
A brackish stream ran through the sand to the waves. From somewhere inland, he heard the sounds of a small village. Loud, rambunctious sounds. He knew this could be a celebration, the sounds of everyday life, or something much darker. It wouldn’t be the first time he arrived at a new place in the middle of An Incident. He thought back to the time he’d arrived in the middle of what looked like a riot. The locals were rampaging, throwing things and yelling obscenities and trying to escape. He hadn’t known what to do, but he knew he had to pick a side. He’d never been in a place where you could afford to be alone.
Later that very week he’d jumped again.
The back of his neck prickled. He took a deep breath and walked upstream.
* * *
He’d done well, considering. Usually, the cracks started showing within the first few weeks. He’d been here almost six months. He as getting the hang of it, he was sure. All his belongings had arrived weeks ago. He’d made one or two mistakes, upset the locals a few times. But they didn’t forget. Mistakes led to errors, led to misunderstandings, led to more mistakes. Mistakes were fine, mistakes were expected. His problem was he didn’t know how to correct them afterwards. He tried, he always tried, but every effort made things worse. That was the problem with jumping, the problem with being in a strange land; the rules were always changing. What worked in one place didn’t work in another. How was he ever expected to learn? And now another jump was imminent. Perhaps if he ran away they wouldn’t be able to make him jump.
No. He’d tried that before. They always caught him, and he risked jumping further, or, worse, jumping to a place he couldn’t escape from.
Better to let them take control. Better to let them decide where he jumped to, and try to make the next landing work.
A hand rested on his shoulder. A new pilot, one he didn’t recognise. One he didn’t know. Another person to suss out, another relationship to build and understand before they got sent away. Sometimes he thought it wasn’t worth the effort, but he needed them as much as he resented them interfering ad then leaving.
“Darren? Hi, I’m Laura. I’m your new social worker. I’ll be taking you to your new placement. It’s a long drive, would you like to stop for a coffee on the way? We could get to know each other.”
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