Chapter 7

Cheviot didn't take long to shoot down Theora's plan to pay Bryce through her own pocket.

"Since you can afford to pay other people a salary," he told her, "I'm cutting your pay ten percent. And before you say it's unfair, I want to remind you that you have behaved in the past in a way that would've gotten most controllers fired from their jobs. Running off while your reporter is in the field is a serious offense in television."

Ten percent wasn't much. But it was just enough to prevent her from doing what her boss didn't want her to do.

"It's not fair, Edison," she said at the cafe where her brother worked.

"What's wrong, Theo?" Shawn asked.

Theora looked up at her brother. "A good friend just lost his job because our boss doesn't like the girl he married."

"Can't you sue?"

"No," Theora shook her head. "The boss is a network chairman and..."

"...and the networks control the courts."

"And if we pay him out of our pockets, we get punished for it. Poor Bryce."

"Bryce?" A girl sitting across the aisle at a booth with two other teen girls and a teenage boy raised an eyebrow. "Surely you don't mean Lynch?"

"You know him?"

The entire teenage pack gawked at Theora, stared at each other in amazement, exclaimed "Married?!" and then mock-fainted, one boy lolling his tongue.

"Yeah. You know him."

"I should hope so," the tongue-loller said, recovering from his mock faint. "We were in the same class as he was at ACS."

The girl who'd first spoken drew the others into a huddle. When they came out of it, she had a serious look on her young face.

"We'll pay him," she said. "You can consider it our wedding present to him.

"I can't ask you to do that," Theora said, though she was grateful to her friend's former classmates.

"You didn't," the girl said. "By the way I'm Jenny. Head of R&D at Network 66. This is William, he's with World One."

"Nice to see you again, Theora," William said. "I've seen you many times, though you never saw me."

"That's really creepy, Billy,"Jenny pointed out.

"Never mind that," Theora said. "Thanks. All of you. It'll really help Bryce out."

"We're not stopping there, Theora," Jenny said. "We know a little place on the edge of town. I'm sure that they'll love it. It's big enough for at least five people, so they can easily grow into it."

"So, what is it you wanted to show us?" Paula asked as she and Bryce sat together in the passenger seat of Theora's truck the next morning.

Theora had seen the little old house that Jenny had mentioned the day before. It was a bit of a fixer-upper, with a few holes in the inner walls that would require some serious patching. But it did have potential.

When the three of them saw the house on this morning, Theora's jaw nearly dropped. The exterior at least had been been transfigured. The old paint had been chipped away and a warm bluish white paint had replaced it. The shutters were painted a complementary shade of robin's egg blue.

Theora wondered what they did about the holes. A concern that vanished as soon as they walked inside.

The biggest of the holes had been in the kitchen. The wall couldn't be taken down, since it was a supporting wall. Instead, Jenny and her group had smoothed the edges and, with the help of a glassworker, had built one of the house's three aquariums.

Mouse-hole sized knick-knack cabinets at varying levels from eye-high to waist level, a parrot cage with Bryce's old parrot, and a rotating TV set filled in the rest of the holes. The walls had been painted a soft cream that was the color of lightly browned meringue.

"What is this place?" Paula asked, wondering why she and Bryce had been brought there.

Bryce picked up a card and looked at it. "Welcome home, Bryce and Paula. ACS class of 2000."

"It's our home," he whispered, "My old classmates have fixed it up for us."

"They did a wonderful job," Paula said. "Everything here is beautiful."

Opening the refrigerator, Bryce found it already included the regular staples of milk, butter, eggs, and bread. There were also three fully-loaded credit tubes.

"Looks like you've got enough to buy groceries and get some decorations for the house." Theora told them.

"Well, after you and Edison get out of work tomorrow, why don't the four of us do a little shopping?" Paula suggested. "It'll be fun."

"Sounds okay to me," Bryce agreed.

"We'll see you tomorrow," Theora said as she departed.

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