Otis wakes with a start. His arm lies over a pillow, the sheets crumpled around him. Milada is gone. He gropes through the sheets, tosses the pillow aside, but she isn’t there. He flips, falls out of bed onto his knees and staggers to his feet, eyes still hazy.
“Where is she?” he asks, his hand performing the often repeated question without thought.
“On the balcony,” says the app’s scrawl.
Otis swivels, his head twists toward the wall opposite the bed. Through the glass he sees Milada standing at the railing of their balcony, peering down toward the street below. She leans forward, knees straight, hair blowing in the lofty breeze.
Otis shoves off the bed, bounding headlong across the space until he almost slams into the glass door. He waves it open hastily, feels the rush of cool air, and reaches out desperately. One hand on the doorjamb, he grasps Milada’s arm with the other and leans back, pulling her with him in a pivoting turn that ends with his back to the wall, his arms wrapped around Milada, her face against his chest. He gasps, shivers at the wind, and feels himself begin crying. Squeezing her tight, he leans his head down against hers.
Then he feels her head moving, her hair rubbing against his skin, then her flesh. Then there is a burst of warmth on his cheek and he realizes she just kissed him. He lifts his head, looks down at her. She is watching him, her eyes distantly apologetic. Without another thought he leans down and kisses her full on the mouth.
Milada pulls back, pushing his arms aside and turning her face away. She stands with a strange fragility, tense to the brink of snapping. Her face is mostly hidden by her loose hair, but he can see the pain it bears. He steps forward.
Milada’s hand comes up between them. Without looking at him again, she gestures out three words, “Thanks for worrying,” and then she returns to the bed, tucking her legs up and wrapping the sheets tightly around herself. Otis lowers his face, squints against the tears, but he doesn’t move to join her. Instead he turns, pivots back around the corner and swings out onto the balcony. A flick closes the door, shutting him out in the open air, and a second polarizes the glass against light and sound. Placing his hands on the railing, metal cool against his fingers, he rocks back and forth slowly, head bobbing, and then he screams. Not with sound, but with his whole being. His neck tenses, he opens his mouth, and he screams with his mind. Eyes watering, nearly blind, he screams silently at the cloud dotted sky. He unscreams at the blue haze of the ocean, at the quilt of buildings below. Elbows bent, back tight, stomach knotted, he pours out of himself until he chokes dryly. There are no letters, no gestures, no words, no sound or thought fit, so he just turns himself inside out until he is numb.
But then Otis realizes he’s not alone. As he gasps for breath, throat dry, his vision clearing, he hears something on the wind. He looks behind him, to the side, and finally down over the edge of the balcony. Below is a sight he’s never seen before: a massive crowd gathered around the base of the tower, and they’re talking. Otis can’t make out words, but their cumulative buzz reaches even to his height. Otis waves back up his ticker and highlights the crowd. A single phrase slides in multiplicity across his vision: “Raise the wall!”
What the hell is going on? He was only asleep for an hour! Otis turns, depolarizes the door, then stops short of entering. Milada is asleep again, sprawled amid the sheets and more peaceful than he’s seen her since morning. In days, actually. She’s been so worried, even before it happened. Otis waves and the balcony slides, gliding smoothly along the flat wall to the large living room window. He enters there, returning to the couch and calling back up the Cloud window. The top view at that moment is of Jeremy Amorth at the outer edge of the crowd around the tower. Facing toward the congregation, he gestures broadly as he speaks.
“What they are calling for is nothing short of surrender!” Applause reverberates, vibrating the lower windows of the tower. “Lowering the firewall now will mean death for us all!”
Lower the firewall? Damn, what did Otis miss? He flips through the other top views, soon coming upon one of Virginia and Leslie, still with their own gathering, their camp. “Forward!” says Leslie. “We must continue to move forward! All these years, every day someone new discovered the Ghosts. Thanks to Virginia we’ve reached critical mass; now we all know! That’s why the firewall was a mistake. I was too scared, too confused to say so at the time, but it never should have been built. That was a step back, an attempt to hide, but we have to keep moving forward!”