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Freedom

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Freedom

"Just forget about him, Bobby," Tess suggested to Bobby as she watched him tinker with his personal flying vehicle.

Patsy handed him the wrench he needed when he waved his hand around by his hip. "Cheer up, he's not worth it."

He carefully withdrew his head out of the engine compartment, ignoring the smudge of grease he could feel on his cheek. "Yeah, who knew he had such big feet?"

"Hello, Bobby." Irene's voice interrupted their laughter, souring the mood.

"Irene, hi." He turned to her with a falsely bright grin.

She showed no amusement in return. "Say good night to the ladies, Bobby."

"Oh, now wait a second!" Just because they were engaged didn't mean she had any say in who he spent time with. It's not like either Tess or Patsy was interested in him, anyway.

Tess stopped him before he could say something he'd regret, her smile sad and understanding. "We gotta go anyway. Good night, Bobby."

"Night, Bobby," Patsy added as she followed her friend from the room.

Bobby waved, glancing at the flyer thoughtfully. "Night, Girls!"

"Bobby!" Irene's voice was sharper now that they were alone. "It's time you gave up this whole personal flying vehicle nonsense and settled down."

He turned to her with a disbelieving stare. "Nonsense!"

"Your uncle is getting impatient for us to marry," she reminded him as he turned back to his vehicle. There'd been one little malfunction earlier. If he could just figure it out, Zangler would agree to manufacture these babies and they wouldn't be stuck in one place anymore. "Not to mention the fact that your mother would like to see some grandchildren soon."

Bobby was glad he had his back to Irene because he knew she was wrong about that last part. His mother was privately encouraging him to delay the arranged marriage to Irene. "Her family may be as wealthy as ours, but she's not a good match for you. Keep delaying until you find the right woman and I'll burn the papers arranging the match between you and Irene."

"Bobby, are you even listening to me?" Irene's voice intruded on his thoughts.

Before he could answer, another voice did for him, "Of course he isn't. He's too busy fiddling with that contraption of his."

"Lottie, I'm talking to Bobby, not you," Irene retorted as Bobby finished his work for the evening and shut the engine cover.

He moved to the sink in the corner to wash his hands as his mother responded, "I thought I'd save Bobby the trouble of answering the question."

"He hasn't answered my other question, however." Irene turned to him expectantly as he finished cleaning the grease off his hands and wiped them dry. "Well, Bobby?"

He tossed the towel aside and moved to stand before her, gazing at her steadily. "You know my answer already, Irene. I don't know yet."

"You soon will," she practically snarled at him. "I'll talk to your uncle tonight and he'll make you set a date!"

With that, she flounced out of his workshop. Mother and son exchanged worried looks. "Perhaps you should make a test flight without a backer, Bobby."

"Are you sure, Mother?" He knew as well as she did that Irene's parting comment hadn't been an idle one. Though only related to Bobby through his marriage to Lottie's sister, Eugene still had seniority and could use it to do what Irene wished.

She took his hands in hers. "If your father were alive, this wouldn't be an issue. He'd have wanted you to marry for love, just as I do. However, this is the only way you're going to find someone. You need to get out."

"I'll try to stay in touch," he told her, hugging his mother tightly.

Lottie returned the hug just as tightly, blinking back tears. "Just stay safe and come back when you find the right girl."

"I will." He kissed her cheek and turned to ready the transport for flying. He just had to get it to fly to another location and back. Then his troubles were solved! His mother moved to watch from the control booth, sealing it off before cycling open the windows, letting in the sickly green gas that kept everyone trapped in the towers unless they were fully encased in their protective body suits.

The vehicle itself was sealed from the gases and Bobby slowly maneuvered it up from the floor and out the window. A look of fierce joy appeared on his face as he gained speed and altitude, rising above the clouds. He was free!

* * *

"Hey, fellas. Why are we all standing here?" Polly Baker asked the group of men gathered by the doorlock leading to the roof of the building they all lived in.

Junior, her brother, answered the question for all of them. "We heard something land on the roof a few minutes ago."

"And none of you thought to go investigate?" she asked, exasperated, as she shook her skinsuit down over her hands. If any skin came into contact with the sickly green clouds that filled the air, a nasty rash developed.

Her brother smiled sheepishly as the other men shifted uneasily. "We were just discussing that."

"Of course you were." Polly rolled her eyes before pulling the hood of her 'suit up over her head and face, settling the air filter over her nose and mouth. Understanding her intention, the men moved away from the door.

Nodding her thanks, she stepped into the doorlock and waited for it to close behind her before she activated the door leading onto the roof of the building. Some sort of vehicle sat a few yards away and she approached it carefully. There was one figure inside it, slumped over the controls. She couldn't see him or her very well because there was gas inside the vehicle. Must have a leak somewhere... Moving around the vehicle, she found an opening at the back and slipped inside. Pressing a button, she waited patiently as the outer door shut behind her and the machine cycled out the gas. Once the blue light flashed, she activated the inner door and slipped into the vehicle. Hmm, no gas. Maybe they forgot to pull up their hood? Though wouldn't they have pulled it up already? Shrugging off her thoughts, she moved to the figure and noticed that their skinsuit was brown, with white stripes, each one outlined in blue. What's a Richie doing here? With some effort, she pulled the person out of their seat and checked that whoever it was had their hood up and sealed, air filter positioned properly. So far so good... Pulling him or her over her shoulders, she carried the stranger out of the vehicle and to the roof door.

Polly didn't pull her hood down until the inner door open to reveal the men still waiting on the other side, with an addition, "Polly!"

"I'm all right, Dad," she assured him as Junior and his friend, Harry, helped her lower her burden to the floor. "I had my hood up the whole time, but our visitor probably didn't."

Jimmy, the medical expert, had pulled the stranger's hood down, revealing that the stranger was a young man, a few years older than Polly, brown hair streaked with white and each streak tipped with blue. Wyatt, watching over his twin brother's shoulder as Pete assisted, whistled low. "Damn! He must be filthy rich."

"Not in my ear, Wyatt," Pete retorted, gently nudging his brother back a step or two.

Billy, standing on Wyatt's other side, addressed Jimmy, "Will he be okay, Jimmy?"

"He breathed in some of the gas," Jimmy answered shortly, glancing at Pete. "Help me with his shirt and 'suit. I need to inject the counter agent directly into his heart." Nodding, the bespectacled twin helped his friend remove the stranger's shirt and peel down the 'suit to his waist. As she stood with her father and brother, Polly couldn't help noticing that the stranger had muscular shoulders and chest, with a light dusting of brown hair across his chest and down his stomach, narrowing as it disappeared under his 'suit. Jimmy prepared a syringe as Pete felt for the man's heartbeat. Exchanging a nod with his friend, the brunette stabbed the needle into the stranger's heart, pressing the plunger down quickly. "That should do it."

They all waited, watching the stranger for any signs that he was recovering. More than one of them breathed a sigh of relief when the man's breathing seemed to ease. "Good job, Jimmy."

"It wasn't much," Jimmy answered modestly as Pete got up and turned to Wyatt and Billy. The two friends nodded without a word and disappeared down the hall. "I've certainly treated enough people for it already. It's become routine."

Polly nodded and moved back when the two young men returned with a stretcher. With some effort, the stranger was loaded onto it and carried to Jimmy's rooms. "We'll be by later to see how he's doing."

"Thanks, Everett." Jimmy nodded to the others and followed his patient down the hall.

Slowly, the others dispersed, Polly walking with Everett and Junior back to their rooms. "What do you suppose a Richie like him is doing here?"

"Hopefully we'll be able to ask him ourselves," Everett answered firmly, stopping his son and daughter from speculating. "Please don't discuss this among yourselves."

Polly pretended to pout, though she understood why her father would prefer that they didn't, "The others will, you know."

"We have to set an example, Polly. You know that." He kissed her forehead.

She smiled and squeezed his hand. "Yes, Dad."

"Yes, Dad," Junior echoed his sister.

Together, the trio went into their rooms to wait until they could go see how the stranger was doing. Polly in particular was intrigued by the stranger. He could be the solution to her problem. She just had to wait and see what sort of man he was. "Hey, Polly!"

Speak of the devil... They all stopped and turned to face the man coming towards them. Tall and slender with his shaggy black hair pulled back into a ponytail, he came to a stop in front of her. "Hi, Lank. What's up?"

"Can I talk with you in private?" he asked, nodding briefly to Everett and Junior.

She glanced at her father and brother. "Could you two give us some privacy, please?"

"Of course, Polly." Everett took his son's arm and firmly steered him towards their rooms.

Polly turned back to Lank, steeling herself for what she knew was coming. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Well, you know I've asked you to marry me fifteen times," he reminded her, hazel eyes intent.

She stifled a groan. I knew it! "So ask somebody else."

"You're the only woman worth asking," he replied, reaching out to take her hand in his.

Polly snatched her hand back, subtly wiping it on the trousers she wore over her skinsuit. "I'm sorry, Lank, but my answer is still the same: No."

"Come on, Polly, who else are you going marry?" He scowled at her. Lank never did like being told no, by anyone.

She shrugged even as her thoughts went to the stranger in Jimmy's rooms. "I don't know, but certainly not you."

"Polly!" Junior's voice was a welcome interruption. "Lunch is ready!"

She turned to wave to him, grateful that he'd given her a reason to get away. "I'll be right there!" Turning back to Lank, she told him, "Sorry, Lank, but I'd better go."

"This discussion isn't over," he reminded her, pushing a loose lock of his hair back from his face. "You have to give in eventually."

She shook her head. "You keep telling yourself that, Lank." Patting his shoulder, she turned and headed off to the rooms she shared with her dad and brother. If I like this stranger, maybe I can marry him instead of Lank...

End