In the far off distance, Portsby sat amongst its tree-lined streets. There was literally no one there. What most people did not know about Portsby was that at most times of day, it was an absolute ghost town.
Everyone had left. There were no reasons to visit, and compared to the ravenous urbanity of the bad part and the rural sprawl of Klammath, Portsby was very small land-wise. And now people-wise. Even in its heyday, it had only had a population of 1,800.
MB Davis had been one of those 1,800 – in fact she'd been born in Portsby right in the middle of that heyday. Granted, she was very young in age for having been there from the start – she was just 31. Funny how short heydays can last. 31, of course, was still very young in Pureside, but on the Outside, she was practically a fossil. None of the kids she worked with in the EIU could be any older than 16. Even on the Motherboard, she had to be the third or fourth oldest.
She thought back to how she’d been enlisted as the Outside Man. She’d been in training – in the bad part actually, since Portsby had no concept of war (or enterprise, really) – and she’d been 17 at the time. The military then – as she suspected it was now – was mostly men. After the Divide, Pureside really pulled back from the “gender equality on the frontlines” front, really from gender equality in general. All of its advocates had crossed over, leaving a lot of people behind who believed in God and patriarchy. She still carried a chip on her shoulder from that time, for sure. Being the only woman in a military platoon will do that to you.
It had been the best option for her though – fuck being a housewife. She had seen her adoptive parents play the whole charade through in its entirety and she wasn’t interested in having a family or any of that. She just wanted to be respected.
She was great at what she did. She was insanely bright. Even though she had foregone college, the people around her all knew right away she was special.
Her superior at the time, Sergeant Warren, had slipped into her tent one day. She’d always sensed he was attracted to her, and his presence made her wary. But that day he just reached out his hand and passed her a small slip of yellow paper. It was the Herald’s announcement of their Side-wide search for a new Outside Man. There hadn’t been an opening since she’d been alive.
Everyone in Pureside was contacted – in fact it was probably the most democratic process that still remained after the Divide. Every Pure received the same single yellow slip with the same single question:
PLEASE INDICATE YOUR INTEREST IN BEING CONSIDERED AS THE REPLACEMENT OUTSIDE MAN (OR WOMAN):
Yes [ ]
No [ ]
The attempt at political correctness was absurd to her, a jest at her daily life as a parenthetical. As far as she knew, there had never been an Outside Woman before. But that was besides the point. What she really wanted to do was rule the world.
She had folded the yellow slip in half and spent the next few days creasing and uncreasing it in her pocket, feeling the cheap paper rub and turn to velvet between the rough skin of her fingers.
She knew that she'd apply, but she wanted to go about it carefully. There was the utmost secrecy around everything. All applicants for the Outside Man, after indicating Yes, would then be contacted privately if their pre-screen came back positive, after which they would then be put through a battery of intense physical and psychological tests. Sometimes you didn't even know when the test had started.
Of course, very few people knew what exactly the Herald was looking for. Many speculated that they were just looking for devout Christians. Others thought it might be completely random. It didn’t help that so little was known about any of the previous reporters. The only real clues were hidden in the Herald’s headlines. It was quite the challenge to report on stories without revealing one’s location or identity.
The irony was not lost on anyone that The Christian Herald – an overtly religious organization - brokered the Pures’ main diplomatic relation with the other side. People's passion for news was seemingly universal.
From a business point of view, when the Outside Man went down, the printing presses didn’t stop, but sales definitely did. It was very important to find a replacement quickly.
When MB Davis was contacted, those many years ago, she'd been ready. She had already prepared her alibi – pregnancy – and she had taken a leave of absence from the platoon. There was nothing the Pures loved more than a fertile woman.
When she first met Baldsmith, he still had hair. It was wiry mahogany hair with no luster, but it was obviously hair that had been treasured and doted on. She remembered their entire conversation word for word:
“Do you know why you’re here, Ms. Davis?” Baldsmith had drawled, before even offering her a seat.
“I believe I do, sir,” she’d replied.
“You did an excellent job might I add of getting here within the parameters of your assigned mission. I assume we have your military training to thank for that.”
“I believe so, sir.” She didn’t believe that for shit, but she was not going to blow her only chance at this.
“Well I’m going to tell you why you’re here, okay? Are you listening?”
“Yes sir,” she’d replied.
“You’re here because you have the exact right color hair that we need. And the right color skin, and the right kind of face.” He tossed her a stack of photos across his desk. “You know who those people are?”
“No sir,” she replied, looking down at the faces of strangers.
“They’re your relatives.” Davis looked up to meet his gaze. “Okay I’m kidding!” Baldsmith burst out laughing. “Bad joke for adoptees, got it, bad joke. But in all seriousness," and there he'd paused for dramatic relief – "they’re Outsiders! Don't you recognize them?”
Now Davis was confused.
“I know, I know,” he went on, “they look different than what we put in the pages. Well you know what? I’m gonna tell you something since I’m about to tell you that you got the job anyways.” He leaned his fat chest over the desk. “We doctor the photos. We doctor them because we don’t want people to know how absurdly good looking generations of cross-breeding will get you. We want people to be a little afraid of it, you know?” He looked at her, a wicked twinkle in his eye. “You can keep a secret, can’t you?” He sat back in his chair and threw another thick file at her. “Well, heck, I know you can. That’s what your file says – what all your tests come back with. You’re the best Ms. Davis – physically, mentally, emotionally - you’ve got no living relations and you’ve got the right kind of hair. You’re perfect. So you’ve got the job. As noted in all the initialed clauses, you’ve already agreed to accept the position and have automatically entered into a binding contract with The Christian Herald and the State of Pureside, meaning the Puritan House and the Others themselves – under anonymity of course – stating that you will adhere to the terms of the Perot Treaty and the Divide Agreement and fulfill your duties until termination or dismissal." He took a gasping breath. "Okay! Let’s take a pause.”
He opened a drawer and threw a buzzer onto the table. “This is for you. This is my link to you – you are not to lose it. This is how you will receive my messages and send my stories. If you lose it, it’s over. If you stop using it, it’s over. And by over, feel free to review the clauses, but it essentially means you’re cooked. You’re on your own. You will not be able to return to Pureside under the terms of the Agreement. And of course, if your identity is compromised, you are also on your own. You can return if you can manage it, but I don’t need to remind you what happened to the Inside Man when he was outed. He didn’t make it a mile before being ripped apart like a –"
A short secretary entered the room.
“Lindy! We were just wrapping up. Can you call a car for Ms. Davis please?”
The short secretary left.
“One last thing Ms. Davis, and then I’ll let you ask a few questions.” He tucked his thumbs into his suspenders, sucking in, feeling proud. “This is a first for both of us. This is my first time getting to choose my own Outside Man – the last one was good, but well, without divulging too much information, he just wasn’t good enough. And he was a bit unpleasant too, a bit rough around the edges. So what I’m trying to say to you is… you can make us both proud. As a woman or not.” She couldn’t tell whether to feel inspired or offended.
“Now, everything else should have been covered in your contract and briefing materials. I hear it’s quite the journey crossing over, so you better get some rest.”
She was aware he hadn’t actually let her ask any questions, but she didn’t have any anyways. She had read everything. She was ready. She felt destined for this.