Baldsmith whistled chummily to himself. The sky sprawled gray and yellow around him as early dawn broke through the tree-lined streets. It was not unusual for him to be the only one out at this time, but this was one of the first mornings that he truly reveled in it. He was free; the world was his. His last encounter with Paltron had been a completely liberating one – it had allowed him to achieve this, this feeling of swinging arms and whistled tunes, this bliss that could only be…insouciance. No matter what happened now, he knew that he had done something. He had not only conquered Paltron's power over him, but he had taken his own course of action back at her.
Pleased as punch, he tucked his thumbs into the waist of his pants and turned through the gate down the walkway to his house.
The humble abode on 212 Marten Lane sat perfectly still, quiet with its two clappered windows and glossy black door. Harold jolly-stepped up the two stairs and rapped the bronze knocker twice, just for fun. The night lamp was still on and reflected the red of the house down on his face. He was flush with excitement and the cold morning air.
Ah, nobody to come to the door, oh well. They were probably all still sleeping. Baldsmith fished for his key and thrust it in the lock, feeling deeply satisfied by the clunk of the bolt as it slid to the side. A secure house. He stepped forward. The foyer was quiet, dark. Strange that Bernard, the cat, wouldn't have come – he was usually careful to sprawl delicately on the entryway carpet as though he'd been there all along, arranged just so.
Harold wriggled out of his scuffed leather shoes and leaned his briefcase rebelliously against the door. Margaret would have his head for that. Or, at the very least, his ear.
Harold smiled mischievously. He thought of his wife Margaret, hair in curlers, likely reposed in bed, just so, asleep with last night's magazine spread across her stomach. Perhaps on this particular morning Harold would wake her with a gentle tip, spread apart her silken lavender robe and help her rise pleasurably to the day's challenge.
As the thought of nibbling on her ear nearly led him up the stairs to their boudoir, he caught a glimpse of the beautiful, staid white sofa in their living room. As with all other living rooms, the Baldsmiths' was one that went thoroughly unlived in. Their three boys, even the oldest at thirteen, had never set their rears on a single cushion of that couch at any time in their lives. Truth be told, Harold couldn't think of a single time he'd dared to sit on one either.
He grinned even more mischievously than before. Everyone was asleep. Surely, she would never know.
Harold tiptoed into the sitting area and turned a light shade of pink as the thought of his rear touching the seat filled him with pleasure. In one deliciously slow motion, he lowered himself… And there he was. And so the couch held him, a devilishly pleased man, as he mentally laid claim to his fiefdom, the entirety of it, for once and, as he felt, finally.
Then for a jarring second, a ghost gray vision of his wife and sons hanging from the rafters tore through him. His pudgy hands stifled a scream. Was that the creak of the ropes that they swung from? But it wasn't real. He blinked twice to be sure of it. No, it wasn't real. The wooden beams were empty, quiet. He hit the side of his head to clear the image from his mind, but it still floated before him hideous and ugly – he nearly wretched. Oh, the blueness of their skin, the blackness of their eyes! Why would he have a thought like that at a moment like this? How could such horrible harm ever come to his family? He lived in Portsby. Bad things didn't happen here. Nothing happened here. That's why he liked it. In a world filled with bad news, he had come to Portsby to avoid as many 'happenings' as possible. And yet, the sight of his family murderously hanging there – a common act of sneer violence, in fact – lurked in the inner chambers of his mind. He may have been leading a discreet life in Portsby, but – and with this he adjusted his seat – he was, after all, one of the most powerful men in all of Pureside. And so, as it followed, in the world. He could never be free from fear.
Harold loosened his necktie as his face filled with sweat. No, he could never be free.
Barb felt slimy and cold. Her palms gripped the console in front of her as the glider slowly hovered down onto the 'EIU' roof in the dark.
"Okay, you made it," came Lisa's voice. "Chungrae and Adams should be up there in a second. Just sit tight."
Barb smiled ironically. She was exhausted. "I'm not going anywhere." She leaned back in her chair. She'd spent the last eight hours suspended over mid-air, talking to a random girl – a stranger – over a speaker, realizing that there was nowhere for her to go. They had flown quickly over the Digger encampment, the cave where Barb had left Sandy, and seen that there was nothing left but rubble. The surrounding Klammath countryside was torn apart – there had to have been a war. Barb had shaken her head in disbelief. There was no way Sandy could be stuck in that mess. She must've made it out. Barb thought of the little prophetic boy and his surrogate mom – Dirth's partner. Oh Dirth. Now his whole family might be gone.
She breathed out shakily. And then somewhere in there, they had crossed the Line. It was dark and the glider had been too high up for her to see down, but it had happened right? Holy shit. Sandy would've killed.
She'd had a nice conversation with Lisa. She seemed nice, normal. So, going 'Outside' couldn't be that big a deal, right? Lisa was normal. Jimmy was normal. But what about her? What if she was the big freak?
She went to wipe her palms on her skirt and remembered that she'd taken it off. She hurried to put it back on.
Two boys came out of a small stairwell that emerged onto the roof. They looked…a lot like Jimmy. Adams was a little stockier and his hair was longer, more straggled, but the color of it was exactly the same. His skin tone was identical to Jimmy's too, except Adams had freckles. His eyes were the same dark brown. One glance into his eyes though, and it was amazing how quickly their different personalities emerged. Adams seemed goofy, kind.
Chungrae trotted assertively in front of him. He was thinner than Jimmy but definitely more athletic. He was cute, serious.
The hatch lifted. Chungrae reached out his hand.
"I'd offer you mine," Adams winced, "but I'm having trouble even moving my face."
Barb smiled. It felt weird. When was the last time that had happened? "It's fine," she said, taking Chungrae's hand in hers. His touch was warm, confident. Not at all like Jimmy's. She stepped down. "Uh… I'm Barb." She waved awkwardly like an alien dignitary.
"We know," Adams smirked. "Ow. My face. Okay, let's get you inside. Er, no pun intended." He made a grand sweep with his right arm. "Welcome to the Outside."