Six months have passed since Keith left the Olumina family home for good. He will visit occasionally when his father isn't around, and he regales Lauren with stories of living in the world outside. He lives in a building with his "friends" (whom Lauren knows are violent criminals), and he provides an indispensable but unusual service to them: reading. Most of them are illiterate, and they do not know how to read the directions on the expensive electronics that they steal. Lauren is certain that he is involved with other things - drugs, prostituion - but he makes no mention of these things.
Keith describes meeting a man who was trying to walk to Alaska, then admits that he shot the man and stole tens of thousands of dollars from his backpack. Lauren is horrified. Keith insists that such an act is really quite commonplace in the outside world.
He also tells Karen about the pyros, people who are addicted to a drug that make setting fires feel more pleasurable than sex. They paint their faces in unusual colors, and engage in violent and dangerous activities. They usually don't live past their late twenties.
Keith visits a few more times, once offering Lauren some money for her birthday. She's certain that it's money he must have killed someone to get, so she refuses it.
Not long after, the family is called to the city morgue to identify Keith's body. He was tortured to death, his eyes gouged out, his entire body cut and burned all over. Cory is completed devastated, and the rest of the family is horrified. The police are unable to do anything constructive or find the murderer; all they know is that drug dealers usually kill people in this way.
Lauren wonders if it was Keith's "friends" or a rival gang who killed him. Though she mourns her brother, she also thinks he was a sociopath.
Crime is getting increasingly worse in the neighborhood; thieves sneak over the walls all the time to steal from people. In one attempted robbery, the thieves murder an old woman who had gotten up to make tea.
There is also a new social development - or perhaps a return to an older way of being. Olivar, a city threatened by receding coasts, has allowed a company called Kagimoto, Stamm, and Frampton (KSF) to buy and privatize the town. The citizens of Olivar are now the workforce of KSF, which will build farming and water desalination plants. The people of Olivar are mainly white and upper-middle-class, but their crumbling coastline and desperate economic straits have pushed them to make this deal with KSF.
Many people are unsettled by this new development - they know of early American company towns where corporations abused citizens - but many people are desperate for a chance at a good salary in a safe area. KSF has announced that it is looking for professionals such as teachers and nurses; Cory called the provided phone numbers, but Lauren's father is less optimistic about KSF. The salaries there are so low that it is entirely possible that workers will go into debt, binding themselves to KSF with no hope of escape. Lauren's family discuses the benefits of moving to Olivar, but Lauren's father is not sure Olivar will accept a large black and Hispanic family. However, the Garfields (the family of Lauren's friend Joanne) have applied to work at Olivar.
Lauren decides that when she turns eighteen, she will head north. She will have no prospects in her neighborhood except Earthseed, and establishing Earthseed can only begin when she leaves the confines of the neighborhood. She'll use maps her grandparents left behind, and perhaps she will support herself by teaching people reading and writing. She also decides on a name for her book of Earthseed verses: The Book of the Living.
The Garfields have been accepted to Olivar, and leave next month. Joanne says that she will miss her boyfriend Harry as well as the freedom of having a house with a yard, but that there is no point in staying in the tiny walled neighborhood. Lauren wonders if she's right, if the kind of security offered at Olivar is the only security it's possible to find anymore. Joanne apologizes for her past actions, and Lauren hugs her.
One day in November, Lauren's father does not arrive home after work. He'd biked with coworkers five blocks from the entrance to the neighborhood, but disappeared before reaching home. People from Lauren's neighborhood search nearby alleys; later, they search in the canyons outside the city where corpses are often dropped. They find a man's severed arm, the exact brown shade of Lauren's father's skin, but the fingerprints do not belong to Lauren's father. While in the canyon, the people of the neighborhood hear the sounds of someone being tortured.
On Sunday, Lauren preaches a sermon about the importance of standing together with determination, though she doesn't believe her own words.
Though they have still not found his body, the people of the neighborhood hold a funeral for Lauren's father, calling in a reverend from outside the neighborhood.
The Garfields leave for Olivar - they are picked up in an armored truck. Cory asks the drivers a number of questions about Olivar; without Lauren's father's salary, it will not be possible to support the family for very long. Because Lauren's father's body was not found, the insurance company refuses to pay the family anything.
Lauren talks to her boyfriend Curtis about leaving the neighborhood. He too wants to get out of this dying place, but he is hurt that Lauren was thinking of leaving without him. He says he loves her, but Lauren does not want to split him up from his family. She has never told him about her ability to share pain or her doctrine of Earthseed.
Someone set fire to the Payne-Parrish house on Christmas Eve, and then robbed three other houses as everyone tried to put out the fire. Lauren wonders if it's related to the drug Pyro, which makes people want to set fires. Wardell Parrish was the only survivor from the fire; all of his family members were killed. The thieves also broke into Lauren's house, stealing a thousand dollars and the sewing machine.
Cory has taken over teaching Lauren's father's classes. She'll do the bulk of it from the family computer, but will have to travel outside occasionally. Lauren has taken over running Cory's neighborhood school. Wardell Parrish has recovered enough from the death of his sister and her children to travel back to the house he lived in before, outside the neighborhood.
Early one morning in July 2027, the neighborhood is attacked and invaded. The watchers were killed before they could reach the bell, and Lauren wakes up to gusts of smoke in her house. The attackers had stolen a truck and crashed it through the gate, then poured inside. Lauren sees the brightly painted faces of Pyro addicts in the firelight.
Lauren grabs the emergency pack she has prepared for just such an occasion. Lauren, Cory, and Lauren's three brothers escape the house, but Lauren sees Natalie Moss get shot and falls backward, overcome by her hyperempathy. She grabs a gun from the hand of a dead man, and keeps going. A Pyro addict attacks her, and she shoots and kills him despite the pain it causes her.
She runs for the gate and heads into the darkness outside, trying to get away from the chaos and find Cory. When she is unable to find her, Lauren takes shelter in the garage of an abandoned house to avoid the packs of wild dogs that roam the streets.
Lauren wakes in the morning. She is frustrated that they never developed an emergency plan or a place to meet. She decides that her only chance of finding Cory, Curtis, and her brothers is to head back to the neighborhood.
When she returns, she discovers that every house in the neighborhood was burned and the place is overrun with poor street scavengers digging through the ruins of the neighborhood for anything of value.
On the porch of Lauren's burned-out home is the corpse of a green-faced pyro addict, and inside is a man helping a little boy into a pair of Lauren's brother Gregory's jeans. Most of the items in the house were destroyed, but Lauren manages to procure some clothing and toiletries, enough for Cory and the kids if she is able to find them, as well as the store of money that was buried in the backyard.
In the street, Lauren identifies a number of corpses, including those of Richard Moss, Robin Balter, Russel Dory, and Layla Yannis. All of the women and girls had been raped before they were killed, though many of them were barely more than children. Lauren doesn't see the bodies of Cory, Curtis, or her brothers. Unable to find anyone, Lauren heads back towards her garage shelter when she hears her name called.
Zahra Moss (Richard Moss's youngest wife) and Harry Balter (Robin Balter's oldest brother, Joanne's ex-boyfriend) approach her. Zahra tells Lauren that Cory and her brothers are dead - Zahra's daughter Bibi was shot in her arms, and then Zahra was assaulted by one of the invaders. While he was holding her down, she saw Cory and the three boys dragged back to the neighborhood and killed. Harry attacked the man who was assaulting Zahra, and the two of them killed him, but not before Harry was struck in the head. The three head back to the garage and spend the night there.
Through his attempts to prove his strength and manhood, Keith gets himself brutally killed. On the other hand, Lauren's bother Keith is determined to prove his manhood by being part of the violent gangs outside, but his attempted show of strength just earns him enemies and gets him violently murdered. Lauren mourns him but is also conscious of the role that his own choices played in his death: Keith was violent, cruel, and selfish, and it was through his own actions that he put himself in danger. In a way, it is her hyperempathy that saves her when her neighborhood is attacked: she falls to the ground and is unable to move when she sees someone get shot, but this lack of movement also draws attention away from her.
Lauren references a great deal of history when she notices that Olivar might be the return of something old. Company towns - towns in which the employees of a company lived, in which the company controlled all aspects of life - were a relatively common feature in many parts of America, such as the coal mining regions of West Virginia. These towns became infamous for abuses: underpaying employees so that they went into debt with the company, providing unsafe working environments, and even physically abused workers. In Lauren's world, this old system of governance has been revived in Olivar and other areas. Lauren is rightly suspicious of what it will mean.
In the novel, the loosening of worker protection laws by President Donner is portrayed as a threat rather than a form of freedom or opportunity, indicating the author's political beliefs and her interest in classism and worker's rights. Without laws protecting worker safety or providing a minimum wage, companies will exploit and harm their workers. Octavia Butler notes in an interview that this sort of thing is already happening in American factories located in Mexico.
In her continued but unheeded warnings to prepare for disaster and protect the community, Lauren is like Cassandra, the ancient Greek prophetess who foretold the destruction of Troy, but was ignored. She was blessed by the gods to be able to see the future truly, but cursed to have no one believe her predictions. Like Lauren, she was forced to watch the destruction of her city.
There is also a bit of irony in the role played by the wall that protects Lauren's neighborhood. This wall keeps out thieves, gang members, and drug addicts, but it also attracts their attention. Eventually, the wall is breached by members of a kill-the-rich movement, and most of the people in Lauren's neighborhood are killed. Paradoxically, it was the wall that invited these attacks, even though it was intended to keep them out. Lauren also learns that it is not those are have caused the most massive social inequalities that are punished, but rather those who are simply the most accessible.