Solomon's eyes opened slowly. As he blinked he saw green emerald sparkles, like the stained glass in the steepled cathedral. There was a flash in his vision and he saw a young boy with brown hair playing with sticks in the sand. "Siwvah and wed," the boy said. The boy looked up at him. "What's your name?"
Solomon saw one of his own dry palms extend out to him, "Solomon." Where was the voice coming from? "And you?"
"Aniah," the boy said. He looked shyly down.
"What are you drawing?" Solomon heard his own voice ask.
"Blood of all."
The scream of a woman, black. Solomon shook, startled – he had never seen a black woman before. Then a baby.
Then, the sound of rushing water in his ears, like a waterfall, and through the fall, the voice of an angel, calling his name. Solomon, Solomon… hey buddy wake up… It was a woman, then a man, calling Solomon, Solomon. Is that you?
The topsy image of a wife swirled into view. He breathed in, new life.
"Solomon, is that you?"
His body shuddered. He felt Judy's hands clenching his. Hers were warm. Her hair was red. Her eyes were green like forest diamonds; she was beautiful.
His voice was dry, as he tried to say, "You are… you are…"
She smiled, a bright white tear dropping down to touch his face.
"Yes, I'm here."
Their hands clasped tightly against his chest. Judy lay her cheek on top of them, as though in silent prayer.
"I don't mean to interrupt," Williams cut in, "but my orders were to notify Lieutenant Davis as soon as Mr. Solomon 'came out of faze'."
"Abrahim," Solomon corrected, his dark eyes staring confidently into Judy's. She was beaming. "It's Mr. Abrahim."
"Alright Mr. Abrahim, and then it's my mission to aid Lieutenant Davis in returning to Pureside." He shifted in his boots. "So I'll be leaving then."
The two battled lovers looked up at him.
"Take us with you."
Judy gasped. She looked down at the man in her arms who had uttered the phrase right from her heart. He, this loyalist who had defended the Abolitionists all his life, with his life, who would've died for his principles, was ready to leave. And so was she.
"Oh, uh, no can do, sir," Williams stammered, stepping back. "It's the Line you know. People can't just cross it."
"You did," Judy retorted. "And you made it seem pretty darn easy."
Williams smiled uncomfortably. They really wanted it. They were like kids, asking for something they didn't even understand. He thought about his brother, all the kids killed in the collapse, all the violence and the waste… He looked out through the tall bright windows to the trees shimmering in the breeze, peaceful and calm.
"Was it? Was it easy?" Judy pressed him. "Is it true that there's nothing defending it?"
Williams nodded. Silent awe hung in the air.
"There's nothing there," Judy cooed. "Isn't that incredible? It's really just a thought. An idea. A stupid principle."
She felt Solomon's grasp tighten in her hand. "It's a choice."
Williams looked bashfully down at his own hands and found himself thinking of Sandy. Of the newborn baby she hadn't let leave her arms. Come to think of it, that baby looked an awful lot like these two, if they ever had one. Williams let his hands drop. It was time to go home.
"Alright," he said, adjusting his bullet belt. "Then let's go."
Barb sat nervously on the bed. As soon as she heard the go command in the comm Adams had given her, it'd be her turn.
She thought about Dirth in the other room. She had never seen him like that before. She couldn't imagine how the Diggers would feel if they saw him like that. Their fearless leader. He had hardly recognized her… She heard a sound on the comm.
"Dirth, is that you?"
"Get off the comm, Barb," came Adams voice.
"Trust me, Barb, he can't hear you anyways," assured Lisa. "He's still in faze."
"What is 'faze' again?" Barb asked.
"Get off the comm, Barb," Adams repeated.
"It's the period after you've been stunned," Lisa replied.
"Or burned – " Adams added.
"Or burned…" Lisa acknowledged, hesitantly.
"And what's the difference again?" Barb inquired.
Lisa paused. "Getting stunned is just like a shock to your cognitive system. Your brain forgets how to tell you what to do, so you shut off. But when you come back online, you're the same. All the same memories, all the same cognitive functioning. But when you get burned, your memories get permanently degraded, and in rare situations you can lose complete cognitive function."
"Jesus Christ," Barb said, "That is so fucking cruel."
"Well it's rare," Lisa defended. "it's only when they –
"I mean, you're basically killing them then, right?" Barb lashed.
"Actually we don’t believe in the death penalty, unlike you –"
"Guys," Adams cut in, "get off the comm –"
"Oh that's such bull," Barb ignored him, "It's the same thing! What's the point of being 'alive' if you can't even function?"
"It's only in rare cases, accidents –"
"You have accidents with this stuff??" Barb found herself shouting. "Good to know. So what you're saying is that Dirth MIGHT be a total vegetable right now, or he might not, no way to know –"
"I'm saying at least he's ALIVE," Lisa shouted back, "Meaning at least we don't KILL people –"
"Oh get off your high horse," Barb fired back, "We got rid of the death penalty ages ago."
"Well you still have…" Lisa searched for the word. "Prisons, right? Like you physically detain people, behind bars? Like, actual iron bars?"
"Yeah, so what, isn't Dirth being 'physically detained' right now as we speak?"
"SPEAKING OF," Adams cut in forcefully, "Can you guys shut up? I can't hack his binds with all of this yammering."
Barb quieted. She looked down at the black boots hanging off her feet. She tucked the loose strands of her hair into her new cap. The uniform was nice. It was the smoothest fabric she'd ever –
"Bravo, Go –" came the order from Lisa, with a tint of resentment in it.
Crap, Barb thought. The Go command meant someone was heading towards Dirth's room. And Barb's job was to distract them. By… acting like an Outsider.
She took a deep breath and stepped through the door.
A tall, good looking guy walked towards her.
"Oh great," came Lisa's voice, "It's Graves. He will definitely notice you."
Just then Graves caught her glance, a pleasant look of surprise on his face.
"Maybe this'll work out great after all," Adams said, muffled. "Don't worry, Barb, he is literally attracted to anything that moves. Just nod your head and he'll be interested."
"Wow, Adams, jealous much?" Lisa jeered, "One trip to the med room not enough for you?"
"No, I'm good – in one right now," Adams replied, "And I just need another minute or two –"
"Hi." Graves was talking to her.
"Hi," Barb replied, taking a big step forward to put herself between him and Dirth's door.
Graves nodded towards the door she'd just emerged from. "Are you looking for Adams?"
"Who?" Barb did her best to keep her face blank. She'd never been good in drama class. She wasn't sure why her instinct was always to play dumb. "Adam?"
"Yeah, the monitor in that med room? Adams?" A grin broke across Graves's face. "He got hurt fighting me, actually."
"Oh my agatha," Adams muttered.
"Oh, no, I've uh never heard of him before," Barb bumbled. "I'm just looking for something I…lost." She rushed to fill the silence. "What are you doing?"
Graves straightened like he was on a very important mission. "I'm checking on the Pure."
Barb felt the blood drain out of her face.
A strange expression came over Graves, like he was just becoming aware of the dewy whiteness of her skin. "I haven't seen you around before…" he said slowly, with an edge of suspicion in his voice. "Are you new or something?"
"OK Barb," came Lisa's voice. "Time to work it."
"Uh… yeah!" Barb said as charmingly as she could. "God, I'm so glad you asked! Yeah, I'm new. And I'm so confused about where everything is." She flashed a big smile. "Is there any way you can show me where we go to, uh, eat?"
"You wanna eat now? It's midnight," Graves answered, a steady look in his eyes.
"Yeah, I just need a… break, I guess." Barb felt herself tripping over her words, and no one seemed interested in catching her.
"Oh yeah? Break from what?" Graves shifted his stance. "What unit are you in?"
Lisa's voice rifled through like a life saver. "Say MRD. Ask him what he does on break."
"MRD," Barb repeated. "What…do you do on break?"
Another suspicious second passed before Graves broke into a big, beaming smile. "I play whirball. Our team's really good you know, not everyone knows that. And I'm going out for first captain soon, think I'm gonna get it." Barb tried to look like any of what he was saying meant anything to her. He seemed to buy it. "You know we've got one of the best courts in the world too – most people outside the EIU are surprised when I tell them that. It's really cool, got titanium sheeting and EM radar scanning – plus it's just really fun to watch a game there, have you been?"
"No! Not yet, but it sounds… like I should!!" Barb felt the impulse to brush her hair out of her face. Suddenly she became intensely aware of the fact that all her hair, all her dark, blackish-brown, definitively un-10-colored hair was tucked up into her cap, and if her cap was to fall... Well that would basically do it. Her little game of passing as an Outsider would be over.
"I can show you," Graves said, gaining confidence. "Even as second captain, I get late night access."
"Yeah, look, I'll totally show you. Just wait here a sec while I check on the Pure and then I'll take you."
She jolted. Shit! Fuck! Why was she born without the powers of charm? Without knowing what she was doing, Barb reached up, turned Graves in place, and pulled his face towards her, kissing him. She hadn't kissed anyone since Tommy Tanner in 8th grade.
"Um, Adams, you better go," came Lisa's voice. "You do not have a ton of time, based on how this is going."
"K, I'm out." Out of the corner of Barb's eye, she saw Adams slip out of the room and shut the door silently behind him.
She let go of Graves, his eyes filled with confusion. "What the hell?"
She tried to keep the panic out of her voice. "Sorry, I just… I've… I've actually… really liked you for a long time. Like a long, long time. And I'm not new here, actually, I just lied cause I got nervous. You know?" Then she giggled. Who was she right now? "I guess I just wanted to say I was new because I knew that you haven't, like, noticed me, obviously, and I didn't want you to feel embarrassed or like bad about it or anything. Not like you should be though, cause I'm a nobody. But yeah, I've been here a while." She saw the glint in his eyes, and got scared he'd start to ask specifics, so she went on. "I know, it was like, totally dumb of me to lie, but the truth is that… I've seen… all your whizball games. Like all of them."
"Whirball!" she quickly corrected. "You're like, so, so good, at, whirball."
Graves grinned. "Wow. All of them, huh?" Barb nodded enthusiastically, praying he wouldn't ask her anything about a game. Or the sport, for that matter, like how to play, or score points, or anything. He seemed to decide something. "Hey, you know what? Thanks. And sorry I've never noticed you before. How about we meet officially huh?" He stuck out his hand. "I'm Match. But people call me Graves."
"Match?!" Lisa and Adams said simultaneously.
Barb stayed focused on the hand at hand. "Uh, nice! Nice to meet you, Graves. Or, Match. Officially that is!" She shook his hand, aware of her cap bobbing loosely on her head.
"And… you are?" Graves asked.
"Oh, me?" Barb smiled pathetically. "I'm Cindy. Duck…bill."
"Duckbill, huh? That's a weird name. Sounds like it might actually mean something!"
"Hah!" Barb laughed. "Well it doesn't!"
"Yeah, of course not." He gave a winning smile. "Well nice to meet you Cindy. I'll be right back. Let me just check on this one thing and then I'll show you the courts, or the behind-the-scenes stuff that even diehard fans like you don't get to see, cool?"
"Uh, ya! Cool." She gave a weak wave of her hand as Graves stepped around her and disappeared into Dirth's room. Barb leaned her head against the wall. What was she doing.
"Quite the charmer," came Lisa's voice sarcastically. Barb wasn't sure which of them she was referring to.
"OK Barb," came Adams' voice, "Hate to rain on la-la-land, but you should get outta there. Graves might not be top in class, but he's no tree stump either. He's probably looking you up as we speak."
"And go where?" she whispered desperately. "I don't know if you've noticed but I stick out like a sore thumb around here."
"Hey, you got through it, didn't you?"
"Well barely might just be enough to get you and your friend outta here. Remember the stairs we took down? Get back up those as fast as you can. Get in the glider. When we get Dirth free, he'll join you there and then you'll go."
Just then Barb heard a monstrous cry come from inside the med room. Dirth. The door burst open, and suddenly Dirth was standing there, hospital gown open, looking like a trapped bear. His eyes locked onto hers. "Barb," he said softly. He remembered her. Barb's whole body filled with warmth.
"Dirth!" she ran over and hugged him. His arms folded around her, familiar.
"You know my name," he murmured quietly.
"Hooboy, someone's out of faze," Lisa announced.
Dirth pulled away from Barb and looked urgently into her eyes. "Barb, I saw your father."
"Yes, Bob. He was in a room like this. I don't remember where… or how… I told him I'd save him." He took her hands in his. "But I couldn't." His eyes met hers. "I… couldn't."
Barb looked regretfully up at him. "It's OK Dirth. I left him for good, remember? For the Diggers?" She squeezed his hands. "To join you."
Dirth smiled sadly and squeezed her hands in return. "He made me promise to find you."
She sought out his eyes. "Well, you have."
Without realizing it, Barb's glance slid into the med room. Graves lay unconscious on the floor. What had Dirth done? He looked at her apologetically. "He was trying to stick me with something."
Barb couldn't help but laugh. "Dirth, do you know where we are? We're Outside!"
His eyes widened. She could see every emotion in his face – fear of the unknown, the determination of a Digger, a sudden protectiveness over her.
Adams' voice came over the comm again. "Barb, seriously, you guys need to get up to the roof."
Barb grabbed Dirth's hand and pulled him towards the stairwell. "Come on. It's your turn to trust me."