Chapter 25: Ansel


Today, chapter four of An Almost Tangent brings us back to the story of Ansel, the only point of view character who carries over from the first book of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, The Asymptote’s Tail.

When we last left her, Ansel was with the Scientist, mourning her mother and still eager to search for her father. Let’s find out where the worlds take her now, and if you want to find out the entire story, pick up a copy of the full novel through here. Thanks for joining us, readers, and enjoy.

< XXIV. Rosa     [Table of Contents]     XXVI. Jonah >

XXV. Ansel

After three days now of it being no more than an elevator ride away, Ansel still wanted to brush her fingers through the cool grass she was kneeling in, but even the slightest movement would send her prey running. How long would that urge last?

She could hear Pidgeon’s breathing behind her. In those same short days he had become a much better hunter. He only sounded like a human when he walked now, not a lumbering giant who was intentionally breaking every branch it walked by. His aim with the slingshot was getting better, too—he could take out a target set up on a branch, at least, even if he still couldn’t sneak up close enough to anything living for him to be able to hit it—but that aim still wasn’t anywhere near good enough to hit the target she had in sight.

She raised up the slingshot, arm muscles flexed solid with the effort of pulling the elastic band, and sighted along it to the eye of the giant, horned, four-legged beast, eating grass in the clearing in front of them. She heard Pidgeon hold his breath with her while she aimed, and when she thought he couldn’t hold it any longer, she let go of the heavy rock, allowing the sling to hurl it toward her target.

The beast made a shrill bleating sound, shook its multi-pronged head, and ran in the opposite direction through the trees.

“Shit!” Ansel yelled, hitting the soft ground with a closed fist then taking the chance to ruffle the grass. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“I thought you had it,” Pidgeon said.

“Shut up, Pidgeon. What would you know?” She stood up and Pidgeon did the same. They were out in the woods they had first seen through the Scientist’s office window. Surrounded by grass, trees, animals, and sky it would be easy to assume that Ansel had nothing in the world to worry about, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t enjoy herself. “You can’t hit a pine cone from five feet away,” she went on, taking her frustration out on Pidgeon.

“Well, I was just saying, I think you hit it.” He plucked a needle off a nearby tree and tore it to bits. “I mean, didn’t you see the way it shook its head and screamed like that?”

“Yes, Pidgeon.” Ansel groaned. “Of course I did. I was the one who shot it. Did you think I had my eyes closed?”

“No. Well, of course not. But you did hit it, then. Didn’t you?”

“I’m about to hit you if you don’t shut up.” She reared her hand up like she was going to do it.

“You don’t have to be mean,” Pidgeon said, tearing another needle to pieces. “I just thought that you might—”

“I know, I know,” she said. “I need a bigger weapon. It was worth a shot, anyway. Wasn’t it? Now c’mon. I’m getting hungry and it’s about time for the Scientist to get off work. Let’s go.” She stuffed the slingshot in her back pocket and started the hike back to the elevator.

“I’m getting hungry, too,” Pidgeon said, hurrying to keep up and getting back to his normal volume of walking.

One day, Ansel was going to run ahead of him and hide behind some bush to see if Pidgeon could find his own way back to the elevator—which was surprisingly difficult even for Ansel sometimes—or if he would get lost and cry alone in the forest. But right now, she didn’t have the time. She had more important business to tend to. She chuckled aloud about the idea anyway.

“What?” Pidgeon asked through a huff of breath, tired from all the hiking.

“Nothing, Pidg. Watch your step on the root, though, we’re almost there.” As she said it, he tripped and fell into the grass, face-first. Ansel laughed. “I tried to warn ya.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Pidgeon said, brushing his knees off, red-faced. “Let’s just get something to eat.”

The elevator was hidden behind bushes and trees with vines growing all over it. Except for the metal doors, it looked like an old one-room wooden shack which had been left out to rot. When she had first gone out there with Rosalind and Huey, Rosalind laughed while Ansel tried to find some way to open those doors, prying at the crack between them with her fingers.

“Elevator open,” Ansel said this time. She felt strange talking to an elevator, though, even if it did respond to her. The doors slid open to reveal a mirror-lined cube. Ansel and Pidgeon stepped in, and Ansel said, “Office. Or—er—the lab. Whatever.” The doors closed, and the floor fell out from underneath them, forcing a surprised gasp out of Ansel. She still hadn’t gotten used to elevator travel.

“This is so cool,” Pidgeon said, unphased by the unnatural motion. “I still can’t believe we’re actually riding in one. It’s just like the protectors’ transport bays!”

Ansel shrugged. “It gets us from here to there,” she said.

“Yes, well, how far is it between here and there though?” Pidgeon asked as the doors opened, revealing a short hall with a door at the end of it. “And look, we’re already here. Amazing.”

Ansel huffed and stomped down the hall. She pushed the door open to reveal an empty kitchen. “No!” she complained, stepping back into the hall and slamming the door. “How does this stupid thing work?”

“You just have to think about the room you want before you open it,” Pidgeon said. “Here, like this.” He opened the door and there was the kitchen again.

“I wanted the office,” she said.

“Oh.” Pidgeon closed the door and opened it to reveal the office. “Or you can just say the room out loud if that helps.” He smiled.

Ugh. Whatever.” Ansel stomped past him, bumping his shoulder with hers as she did, into the spacious, high-ceilinged office. It was bigger than any house Ansel had ever lived in and lined with a soft carpet on top of which sat a desk and a few puffy chairs and side tables around a larger table. Sitting in two of the puffy chairs, looking out the ceiling-high, wall-length window onto the rolling hills and greenery that Ansel and Pidgeon had just come from, were Rosalind and Huey.

“Having more trouble, girl?” Rosalind asked, laughing, as Ansel struggled up onto one of the tall puffy chairs. Everything was made to Rosalind and Huey’s size, and they were giants compared to anyone that Ansel had ever met. Well, except for Tom, of course, but she wasn’t thinking about Tom anymore.

“I’m not a girl!” Ansel said when she had positioned herself comfortably on the seat.

“That’s not what your boyfriend says.” Rosalind laughed some more.

“I’m not her boyfriend!” Pidgeon said. He had chosen to sit on the floor with his back to everyone, leaning on one of the chairs to get the perfect view of the world outside the window.

“I say you’re both in denial,” Rosalind said. “Or at least one of you is.”

I’m not a girl!” Ansel repeated.

“Leave them alone, Roz,” Huey said. “They’re just children. Let them decide for themselves. They have plenty of time for it.”

“Don’t you Roz me, Mr. Douglas,” Rosalind snapped, standing from her chair. “You really are getting to be too good at your job, you know. You won’t even let me have the least bit of fun when we’re at home. You’re just like an owner these days.” She stomped from the room.

“I apologize, children,” Huey said, wiping his monocle with his handkerchief. “You shouldn’t have to see that. It really is my fault, though. She’s right, you know. I find it hard to come out of my character sometimes.”

“Oh, no,” Pidgeon said from behind his chair. “You’ve always been great to me. You brought me food that one time, remember? Speaking of which…”

“What do you do as an owner?” Ansel asked, scrunching up her nose. All she knew was that he wore tuxedos, top hats, and bow ties to go to Feasts—which she understood from experience to be a bunch of fat guys huddling up together in a giant circle and crying like babies.

“Oh, well, dear… That’s a hard question to answer. I… Honestly, I don’t do much but order Rosalind around, to tell you the truth. I think that’s why she hates it so much.”

“Well, no wonder,” Ansel said.

“Yes, well, we can’t change the roles we were given now, can we? It was easier for Rosalind to get close to Haley than it would have been for me, anyway. If the roles had been reversed, we might not have Haley with us today.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to treat Rosalind like you own her,” Ansel said.

“Yes, well…” Huey thought about it for a second. “No. You’re right about that. But I do have to treat her like I own her when I’m at work. That’s why they call me an owner.”

“Yeah, well, this isn’t work. Is it?” Ansel said.

“No. You’re right about that, too. But—”

“Then don’t treat her like you own her,” Ansel said. “Simple as that.”

“I guess you’re right, dear.” Huey chuckled. “You’re so wise for such a young gir—er—child.”

“Yeah, well, I’m old for my age.” Ansel crossed her arms. “Now where’s the Scientist? We have some business to tend to.”

“Oh, well.” Huey shook his head, frowning. “I’m sure she’s off with Haley somewhere, you know. You understand why, don’t you?”

Ansel nodded. She understood that the Scientist was supposed to be Haley’s mom, but she still didn’t understand how someone so old could have given birth to someone so much younger and larger in comparison. “Family stuff,” she said.

“Yes, but more than that dear,” Huey said. “Haley was the Scientist’s first born daughter. Those two have been separated for longer than you could imagine. So of course they’re spending every second together.”

“Right.” Ansel shrugged. She still thought it was creepy that such an old lady was supposed to be Haley’s mom, though. But they could believe whatever it was they wanted to believe. It was their life, after all, not hers. “So, do you know when they’ll be back?” she asked.

“Oh, there’s no telling,” Huey said, shaking his head and frowning some more. “They left hours ago, but who knows how long they’ll be gone for. Like I said, they’ve been separated for longer than you could imagine.”

Ugh.” Ansel sighed. Maybe she shouldn’t be trusting this Scientist after all. Ansel really had no idea who the woman was. She was probably lying like everyone else. Ansel knew that the Scientist was too sure of herself, and it was probably to hide the fact that she had no way of actually getting Ansel’s dad back. But if she didn’t, then who did? Pidgeon was still trying to get her to go back to Anna and Rosa for help, but Ansel trusted them less than anyone, so that wasn’t an option at all. Which only left Tom. Who was God knows where. And even if Ansel knew where he was, how was she supposed to get to him? No, Tom was a last resort at best. She had to count on the Scientist to be true to her word for now and hope it didn’t come to the Hail Mary after all.

“You know what we should do while we wait,” Pidgeon said, standing up from the view. “We should get something to eat.”

“You always want to eat, Pidgeon.”

“Hey, you just said you were hungry, too.”

“Yeah, well, I guess…” She looked at Huey.

“Oh, no,” he said, waving his hands. “You two go ahead. Order anything you want. You know how it works, right?”

Oh, yeah,” Pidgeon cheered, jumping up from his seat on the floor and looking to Ansel for confirmation.

Ansel shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Let’s do it!” Pidgeon rushed to the door and ran out into the hall. Ansel took her time getting there, though, and when she was, Pidgeon closed the door and opened it right up to the kitchen. Pidgeon ran to put the stepstool the Scientist had made for them under the 3D printer then stood back and said, “So what you gonna get?” He was smiling and looking back and forth between Ansel and the machine. He looked like he was going to burst into laughter, or cry, or both at the same time. But Ansel could only stare past him, out the window above the sink, looking out onto those lines and lines of people doing who knows what. It was so weird to have that in a kitchen, she thought, but no one else even seemed to notice.

“Well?” Pidgeon asked again, proving her point and breaking her away from the strange view out the sink window.

“Uh, I don’t know.” Ansel shrugged. In the few days that they had been there, Pidgeon had ordered more kinds of food than Ansel knew existed, but every time she stood in front of the printer, Ansel had trouble deciding what she wanted. Her mind kept going back to the one thing it seemed to want to think about: how to get her dad back, but the printer couldn’t give her that.

“Well, you have to pick something,” Pidgeon said. “You can choose anything you want, Ansel. Anything. But it won’t give it to you until you ask.”

“I don’t care,” she said, stepping up onto the stool and pressing the 3D printer’s little red voice activation button. “Lunch,” she said, and again she cringed at talking to a robot.

Lunch?” Pidgeon groaned as a sandwich and a bowl of soup popped out of the printer’s big hatch.

“A sliced meat sandwich and soup,” Ansel said, taking it to the shorter table they had set up in the kitchen for the kids to eat at. “Now that’s a meal.” She took a big bite of the sandwich—turkey—and savored the taste.

Boring,” Pidgeon said, stepping up onto the stool. “You have anything you can imagine at your fingertips, and you ask for lunch, you let the printer decide for you. Well, not me, you see. I hold my fate in my own hands. And I choose…”

He tapped his chin as Ansel dipped the sandwich in the soup and took a soggy bite. “This is good,” she said. “You should try some.”

“No. No… I want…” He pressed the voice activation button. “Chicken! And spaghetti. No, chicken spaghetti. And cheesecake with ice cream. The ice cream on top!”

The food kept coming as he talked. By the time the machine was done printing, he was carrying a tray of chicken, spaghetti, chicken spaghetti, cheesecake, ice cream, and cheesecake with ice cream on top to the table. Ansel thought he should have taken two trips, and he almost lost the tray on the way, but he made it to the table with everything intact, breathing heavily and eyes wide at the piles of food. “You’re gonna have to help me with this,” he said as he set to eating.

“No I’m not,” Ansel said, finishing her own meal. “But I will anyway.” She took the ice cream and started in on it.

Pidgeon was still eating, and Ansel was staring in awe at how much he could put down, when Haley came into the kitchen.

“Oh, hello,” Haley said, curtsying with a smile then walking over to the printer. “How was your day?”

Ansel stood from the table as soon as she heard Haley’s voice. “You’re home,” she said.

“We just got back. We were going to eat some lunch. Do you two want anything?”

“Where’s the Scientist?” Ansel demanded.

“She’s in the office. I was jus—”

“Thanks.” Ansel rushed out of the kitchen into the hall. She closed the door and opened it but still got the kitchen. “Shit,” she said, closing it and opening it to the kitchen a second time. “Shit shit shit.” After a few more tries, she finally said, “Office.” and the door opened to the room she wanted.

The Scientist was sitting on one of the puffy chairs, looking out onto the view. “I love this view,” she said, turning around. “Oh. It’s you. I thought you were Haley.”

“Yeah,” Ansel said, climbing into a chair. “It’s me. Don’t sound so let down.”

“Oh, no, dear. I didn’t mean to—”

“When are we going to get my dad out?”

“Yes, well… About that, dear.” The Scientist looked out the window again, avoiding eye contact with Ansel. “It’s only been a few days, you know. These things take time.”

“Every day we waste is another day closer to them taking him from me, just like they did with my mom. I don’t have time.”

“Yes, dear.” The Scientist shook her head. “I mean, no. Well, that would be true if it wasn’t. You see, we’ve got their computers confused. They’re not sure if he’s in prison or not right now. That buys us the time we need to determine the most efficient method of breaking him out.”

“But what happens when they realize he is there? What then?”

“By then we’ll have him out, you see. I assure you, dear. These things take time to be put properly into motion, but the balls are rolling and it’s picking up steam. I promise you that.”

“I don’t know,” Ansel said, shaking her head. “That’s hard to believe with what I’ve been through.”

“I know it is, dear. But you have to believe we’re doing everything we—”

The door opened and in came Haley, pushing a cart stacked high with more food than Ansel had ever seen in one place.

“Oh, dear,” the Scientist said. “You didn’t have to go through all that. A sandwich and some soup would have done just fine.”

“Yes, well,” Haley said, stacking the food on the table until Ansel couldn’t see the Scientist’s face anymore. “I couldn’t decide what I wanted so I ordered a little bit of everything. The printer doesn’t do a little bit of anything, though, so here we are.” She sat down and started in on some of the food.

“So when do you think we will get him?” Ansel asked. “My dad.”

“What’s that?” Haley asked, chewing on some food Ansel didn’t recognize.

“Oh, nothing, dear,” the Scientist said. “And soon,” she added for Ansel. “Within the week. I promise.”

“Within the week what?” Haley asked.

“Within the week your mom,” Ansel said, “will finally get my dad back—like she promised.”

“Oh, right,” Haley said. “On Christmas Feast Day. Where is he anyway?”

“The protectors took him,” Ansel said.

“Oh, well, that’s easy. Just tell them to—oh wait… I don’t work for Lord Walker anymore.” She frowned.

“No,” the Scientist said. “You don’t. And you should be glad for that. And we’ll get your father out in due time, Ansel dear. Without asking the protectors for permission. I promise you that. You just have to wait until the time is right. Your dad’s not the only political prisoner we’ll want to free if we’re going in there, so we want to make sure we have everything planned to the last detail.”

“Yeah, but—” Ansel started, but Haley cut her off.

“Here, Mom. Try this,” she said, holding out a plate to the Scientist, and it was still odd for Ansel to hear her call the old lady Mom.

Ansel huffed and stomped out of the room. They weren’t going to listen to her. The Scientist had her daughter and she didn’t care about anything else anymore. She was going to be no help in getting Ansel’s dad back, and that was clearer than ever. All she had been doing was distracting Ansel, and Ansel had lost too many days because of it.

She slammed the hall door closed behind her, and when she opened it again, she got the kitchen on the first try. The lines of workers were still doing whatever it is they did through the sink window, and Pidgeon was still eating at the table, though the pile of food in front of him had gotten considerably smaller.

“Oh, Ansel,” he groaned when she walked in and sat at the table across from him. “You have to help me with this. I can’t bring myself to throw any of it away.”

Ansel looked at what he had left on the table. It was mostly chicken and spaghetti or chicken spaghetti. “No,” she said, shaking her head and crinkling up her nose. “I have more important things to discuss.”

Oghmnoghmugh. What could be more important than this right now?”

“My dad, Pidgeon. The only thing I care about. Remember.”

“Yeah, well.” He set his fork on the plate with a clank and leaned back in his chair, unbuttoning his pants. “What are you gonna do about it?”

“I don’t know. But I have to do something, don’t I? I can’t sit here and wait anymore.”

“Okay, but what are you going to do? I mean, unless you plan on taking the elevator to wherever the protectors are, but that would be stupid. You know what they’re like now, don’t you?”

“There has to be something I can do, Pidgeon. I know there does.”

“What about Rosa and—”

“No! I told you. I won’t work with them. You weren’t there, Pidgeon. They convinced Tom to kill someone in my name. I never asked anyone to kill anyone, okay. And I won’t ask anyone who has for help.”

“Yeah, well, I know they can help you, Ansel. They can do the same thing the Scientist can but without elevators. How else do you think you’re gonna get him out?”

“I don’t know. But I think I have a plan.”

“Oh yeah?” Pidgeon took a slow, groggy bite from the pile of chicken spaghetti in front of him. It must have been a third or fourth wind for him by now. “And what’s that?” he asked through a full mouth.


Pidgeon dropped his fork. “You can’t be serious.”

Ansel nodded. “He’s the only other person I know who can get through.”

“Ansel, he killed your mom. He killed that person at the Feast. I mean, you won’t work with Rosa and Anna when they asked him to do it, why will you work with him when he literally did it?”

“It’s not the same,” Ansel said. “They made him do it. It wasn’t his idea. He wanted to protect me. They’re the ones that twisted it.”

“I keep trying to tell you, they’re the ones that have the ability to help you. Not Tom. He admitted as much.”

“Well, I have to try, don’t I? I have to do something. I’m not going to sit here and wait for the Scientist to decide when the time’s right.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t care what you think.” She stood and stomped out of the kitchen into the hallway. Who was Pidgeon to say anything? He had no idea what she was going through. She would find a way to get her dad back no matter what.

She opened the hall door to find Rosalind, sitting behind a lab table, surrounded by glassware that was filled with various colored liquids. She was playing cards at an emptied table with the big mechanical arm they called Popeye.

“I see you creepin’, girl,” Rosalind said. “Come on in or get on out.”

Ansel walked up to the table and watched as Rosalind and Popeye pick up cards and laid them down at what looked to be random.

“Alright, girl,” Rosalind said. “Spit it out. What do you want?”

“I’m not a girl.”

“Whatever. Tell me what you want or leave. Popeye and I were enjoying ourselves before you came along to interrupt us.”

Ansel looked at the mechanical arm, who was still intent on the card game she could somehow tell. “How does it know what cards it has without any eyes?” she asked.

“Is that what you came here for?” Rosalind replied. “A lesson on the anatomy of Popeye?”

The metal arm waved at Ansel as if it were excited for the prospect.

“No—I—No…” Ansel shook her head, shuddering.

“I didn’t think so. So spit it out then.”

Ansel hesitated. This was a Hail Mary if there ever was one, and she wasn’t sure it was time to throw it up just yet, but she really had no other choice except for doing nothing, and that wasn’t a choice at all.

“It’s about my dad,” she said.

You don’t say.” Rosalind chuckled. “Is the Scientist taking a little too long for your liking?”

“Yeah, well, I have my own plan.”

“Your own plan, huh?” Rosalind laughed, laying a card on the table. “Did you hear that, Popeye? Her own plan. Well then. Out with it. What is this plan of yours?”

Ansel blushed. She was afraid to share it now, but she wasn’t about to let that stop her. “I want to see Tom,” she said

“Tom?” Rosalind set all her cards on the table, finally intent on what Ansel was saying.

“Tom,” Ansel repeated. “You know who I’m talking about. The protector who I gave you information on. I want to talk to him.”

Ohhh. Tom,” Rosalind said, nodding. “You mean the man who shot my sister?”

“Your sister?”


“Oh, yeah. Well… I know he—”

“And why would you want see this Tom?”

“I don’t know. I just… I think he can help me get my dad back.”

“And you don’t think the Scientist is going to do that?”

“I—I just can’t sit here and do nothing anymore.”

“And you’re sure this is what you want to do instead of nothing?”

“I—I don’t know. I think so. Yes.”

“There might be something I can do for you, then.”

#     #     #

< XXIV. Rosa     [Table of Contents]     XXVI. Jonah >

Thanks again for joining us, and thanks for keeping up for so long. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Please do think about picking up a full copy of the novel right here, and we’ll see you again next Saturday for another chapter in An Almost Tangent.


Chapter 24: Rosa


Another Saturday brings us another chapter in book two of Infinite Limits, An Almost Tangent. Today we join Rosa, in Outland Six, and her attempts to unite the Human Family. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far and don’t want to wait for the rest of this novel, or if you want to give some monetary support for future stories, please do pick up a copy of the full novel in print or ebook format through this link.


< XXIII. Huey     [Table of Contents]     XXV. Ansel >

XXIV. Rosa

The conference room was empty when she had rushed back into her office to scribble out a few more lines for her latest pamphlet. Grumbling and unsatisfied with anything she had managed to get down on paper, she decided to take another look and see if it still was. It was getting along time for another assembly, anyway, and with the world changed as it was, their attendance had only continued to accelerate in growth.

The conference room was a dilapidated gray with mold on the walls and tiled ceilings. Rosa knew it smelled musty, but she was long beyond noticing. She knew her guests would notice, though, but that only until enough of their sweaty bodies piled in to produce an altogether different smell—which Rosa would notice, too. There was a short wooden podium at the front of the room, and the rest of it was packed full with foldable chairs. There were a few people sitting in the central chairs, but Rosa knew they would have to scoot toward the wall as the room filled. There was only one aisle and no room to pass through a row if someone was sitting in it.

Rosa took in the faces that were there and smiled, waving at the familiar ones who smiled and waved backed. She walked up to the podium and stood behind it with her hands on the cool wood, closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths, imaging the task before her. She pictured herself convincing the entire room of the truth she told, sending them into a bout of uncontrollable applause and cheering. The sound of it was still echoing in her ears when Anna roused her from the dream. Rosa jerked her eyes open with a start. “My God!” she said. “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?”

“If I didn’t do it, you’d stand there daydreaming until the entire Family got bored and left,” Anna said, crossing her arms and grinning.

Rosa looked around. The room was full now, standing room only and not much of that. How long had she been daydreaming for? “Oh, well. Alright then,” she said. “Should we get started?”

Anna laughed. “What would you do without me? You see the door? Those are our Family members who want to come in but can’t fit. What should we do about them?”

There were people standing in the door and more that Rosa could see huddled around outside, trying to peek in. More and more brothers and sisters every day. It was a blessing. “Do we have speakers?” she asked.

Anna shook her head. “Nope. You sold ‘em paying for the ring. Microphones, too. I’m surprised we haven’t sold the podium yet.”

Ugh.” Even now it was worth it, but they did need some new speakers and microphones ASAP. “Well, we’ll just have to hold the meeting outside, then. Won’t we?”

“It’s pretty cold.” Anna looked unsure.

“Look at all the bodies we have.” Rosa smiled. “We’ll warm each other. We’ll warm ourselves. We’ll set the example of mutual self-sufficiency that we must follow into our bright new future. It’s a good metaphor. Come on.”

Rosa turned to the expectant faces. “Family,” she boomed over them. She saw the surprise on the new faces who didn’t expect such a strong voice coming from such a frail old woman. “Friends. Lend me your ears. It seems that our Family has grown so large that our meager home can no longer house it. If you will forgive us some inconvenience, some small individual discomfort, and only a bit of cold air which we will fight back with our own body heat, then I would ask that we take this assembly outside where there is room for the entire Family. For if one of our brothers or sisters is left in the cold, then all of us are left in the cold, and we will not have that here. Not tonight.”

Scattered applause morphed into a room full of clapping.

“Good, then,” Rosa said with a smile. “Very good. Let’s go.”

She stood at the head of the room and watched her herd as it shepherded itself through the door into the cool night air. Anna was already outside, passing around the clipboard, no doubt, getting everyone’s address so they could be hailed in times of need. How big that pyramid had become was awe inspiring to finally witness.

When everyone had filed out, leaving Rosa alone in the still rank conference room, she followed them outside. Where before Christmas the door of the Family Home had opened onto an alley near the Green Belt, as a result of the miracle that night, their door now opened onto a big patch of green grass, spotted with cypress trees and crepe myrtles. It was a blessing from above to have such a fine gathering area literally dropped on their front porch. She took a deep breath of the cool air, thanking God for everything good in her life, then joined the Family where it had already huddled together in the field, standing closer than they would normally stand, taking advantage of each other’s warmth. It was beautiful to see them all cooperating so well already: emergent order among chaos. Rosa stepped closer to the group and the subdued mumbling silenced.

“My friends,” Rosa boomed. “My Family.” Some passersby, in their torn rags and holey shoes, stopped to see what was going on. Others stared as they passed but kept on walking. All were sure to leave with a flyer in hand, given to them by one of the five or six lovely young children Anna had passing them out as Rosa spoke. “Human beings. What brings you out here with us today?”

“The world’s ending!” a scared voice called.

“I need to eat!”

“They took our jobs!”

More voices grew brave enough to speak as others paved the way for them. Rosa gave them some time to vent to one another then raised her hand to quiet them. The venting had attracted more onlookers and the group numbered well above a hundred when she was ready to finally speak.

“Yes, Family,” she said. “Yes. Let it out of you.”

“I hate them! I just hate them!” someone yelled, and the entire crowd cheered along.

Rosa smiled and nodded. “Yes. Good. Very good. Hate them. Use that emotion to further your own interests, to further the interests of your Family, the interests of your species against an enemy who cannot rightly be said to even be alive.”

The crowd both cheered and booed, unsure of how they were supposed to react but sure that they were supposed to.

“What is it that makes us a Family? Hmm? What makes us human? That is the age old question. Some philosophers claim it’s impossible to answer, that they cannot find a hard line between human and other. Well, let me ask you. Let me ask you humans standing in front of me here today. What do you think? Huh?”

Now they all knew to boo.

“Which is exactly what I think. Shame on them. Shame on those philosophers. Shame on them for taking a question which should be simple to answer and obfuscating it beyond all meaning, making it inaccessible to the common human, for making it so complex and esoteric as to be meaningless except as an ensurer of their own jobs as philosophers, and all while we—living breathing human beings—lose our jobs to the other itself. We cannot wait for the philosophers to describe the world, we must instead work for ourselves to change it!”

The yelling grew angrier and there was more than just boos. Rosa raised her hands to quiet them again.

“Now, I was born and raised right here on the Belt in what used to be Six.”

Some of the crowd started to look concerned. They didn’t know what she was talking about, or they did know and didn’t want to listen to a Sixer. Either way she had to go on.

“Now, now, now,” she said. “I know what you Fives are thinking, but you have to see that we’re all Family here. Fives and Sixes alike. We all breathe and eat and feel. We all have souls. And we all have one thing that they, the true enemy, those who are taking our livelihoods and our resources from us, those who are responsible for all the turmoil in your life, can never have. We have been blessed by our God in Heaven who created us in His human image, and we will use that blessing to take back what is rightfully ours.”

The Sixes in the crowd started clapping first. The Fives were reluctant, Rosa knew, but they soon joined in, too.

“We are humans, friends. Fives and Sixes alike. We have already seen our productivity falling, and it has been but a single week since the miracle. Jobs grow scarcer and resources harder to come by, but why? Who tore our worlds apart? Who slammed them back together again? Who pits Fives against Sixes? Who profits from it? The robots and their employers. That’s who. The robots take the jobs and the owners give them away. So what are we going to do about it?!”

The crowd cheered and yelled nothing intelligible.

“We will find an owner who employs only humans!” Rosa called over them. “We will demand human made products and human made products alone! We will refuse to work alongside robot labor, and we will tear down any automated shops on sight!”

The crowd was really riled up now. They had a purpose, a goal, directives. They had everything they ever wanted: someone to tell them what to do. Rosa was overjoyed to be the person to finally offer them their deepest desires.

“Our family continues to grow,” she said. “More and more of us have decided to exert our free will and open our eyes to the propaganda we’ve been fed our entire lives. Soon we will be so large that they have no choice but to listen to our demands!”

The crowd cheered and stomped and clapped, hooped, and hollered. Rosa could only smile in elation.

“Our God has blessed us, friends. And the Day of Atonement has come! Now I want you to shake hands with everyone you see here and give each other big hugs. Get to know one another. Become familiar with the faces around you. These are your brothers and sisters. This is your Family. We will love you and protect you forever.”

They all started hugging one another and shaking hands. Rosa scanned the group, but Anna was nowhere to be found. She and her clipboard were probably off doing something important. Rosa made her way into the warm crowd and shook her own hands and hugged her own—still sweaty despite the cold—bodies. She smiled at faces as they tried to ramble off questions, but they never had time to finish before she broke off and shook the next hand. She felt like a prophet with everyone reaching out to graze her hair or feel her ragged clothes with their dirty fingers. She was in Heaven for that moment, and she could have stayed there forever if it hadn’t been for the little flyer girl who tugged at her shirt.

Rosa blinked herself out of the dream. “What is it, child?” she asked.

“Anna wants you in her office,” the little girl said with a sniffle, wiping her nose.

“What for?”

The little girl shrugged and scampered off between the legs of the crowd. Rosa sighed then smiled at a few more faces and shook a few more hands before making her way back through the musty conference room to the mold speckled office. No, to her mold speckled office. What was she saying? She opened the door, about to say something about it being her office not Anna’s, when she noticed the tall young man wearing a mostly new polo shirt that had been torn and dirtied only recently. He looked comical sitting in the small chair with his knees up to his chest. Rosa stifled a laugh and glared at Anna who was sitting in Rosa’s chair behind Rosa’s desk. “Anna, dear. You wanted me,” she said, not trying to hide the annoyance in her voice.

“As you see,” Anna said, ignoring Rosa’s tone and remaining in the seat. “Our Mr. Bamford here has returned from his assignment with some startling revelations.”

“Oh, Northwood, ma’am,” the lanky clown in the too tiny chair said. “Woody if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, well, Woody,” Rosa said, walking behind Anna and grabbing the back of her chair. “Tell me, then, what news do you bring?” His eyes were red and puffy, and by the looks of his clothes, the protectors were taking notice of those children acting up in Two.

“He says the protectors came,” Anna said, looking around at Rosa.

“Yes, well, I can see that.” Rosa tried to give her a look that said move, but Anna ignored it.

“Well,” Northwood said. “I was there, right. When the protectors came, or whatever. And the leader lady—”

“Emma,” Rosa said.

“Right, her… Well, she tells us all to lock arms and they won’t do anything. So we all do it, right. And, well…”

“Go on,” Rosa said.

“Tell her what you told me,” Anna said, leaning over the desk.

“Well, this guy—I don’t know if he was one of yours or not—but he yelled that he wanted the protectors dead or something, then they went off. I mean, damn. Look at me. Tear spray. Pepper gas. Bean bags. They were at such close range, I wouldn’t be surprised if they killed somebody. I was lucky to get away looking like I do.”

Rosa swallowed her anger. She started massaging Anna’s back. “How many were there?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “More than a hundred.”


“Oh—uh—not even thirty.” He shrugged. His eyes reddened like he was going to cry again.

“A hundred protectors for thirty children,” Rosa said. She squeezed Anna’s shoulders too hard and Anna yelped, shrugging Rosa away and standing from the chair.

At least,” Northwood near whispered, staring through his bent up knees at the ground.

Rosa took the now empty seat behind her desk. “Imagine the force they would have sent at us if they knew of our meeting tonight,” she said.

“Imagine the force they will send when they finally notice us,” Anna said.

“Very good, Northwood,” Rosa said. “You’ve done your duty beautifully. Do you think you’ll be able to continue with us? I know that what you went through today must have been taxing.”

He looked between the two of them. “Um—Well… I didn’t know I would be attacked like this…”

“Yes, the attack was uncalled for,” Rosa said, trying to console him. “But your reaction was admirable. I doubt their response will be as extreme the next time anyway. This was a fluke.”

“I—I don’t know…” He hesitated.

“Aw, c’mon, Woody,” Anna said, walking over to massage his shoulders. “Look at you. You’re a big guy. You can handle it.”

“Oh, Well, I…” He shrugged.

“C’mon,” Anna said, grabbing his arm to pull him up from the chair. “Let me feed you a little and we’ll talk about it some more.”

He shrugged and followed Anna through the door. Rosa sighed. Thirty people wasn’t a lot—and maybe half of them were her plants or the protectors’—but it was a good number for Two. Two was so insulated from the rest of the worlds it was surprising to have a single rabble rouser, much less a group of followers along with her. This particular rabble rouser Rosa had been following for some time now. Rosa knew that the girl somehow had a hand in the miracle event that connected Five and Six together again, but what hand that was she had no idea. Still, Anna would undoubtedly convince Northwood to continue on with his mission—Anna could convince a mother to sacrifice her only child—and they would soon find out what this Emma was capable of.

Rosa sighed again and read over the slogans she had jotted down earlier. They were just as bad as she remembered them, if not worse. She scribbled all over the page and flipped to a clear one. There had to be something, some combination of words she could put on the paper to convince her Family of the truth she knew to be, but what were they? “Human minds human feats,” she scribbled and quickly scratched out when a musical knock came at the door.

Rosa flipped to an empty page and called, “Hello?”

“Oh, uh…” The voice was muffled and barely audible through the door. “I was told that…”

“Yes? Come in,” Rosa said. “I can’t hear you.”

The door opened and in crept a greasy haired young woman wearing the dirty t-shirt and jeans common to all the inhabitants of both the now connected worlds, giving Rosa no indication of which she came from. The woman looked at her feet as she shuffled in, nearly knocking the chair in front of Rosa’s desk over.

“Please, child,” Rosa said “Take a seat. How can I be of assistance?”

The woman tumbled awkwardly into the seat and stared intently at her lap, messing with something Rosa couldn’t see through the desk. When she still didn’t say anything, Rosa said, “My name’s Rosa, friend. What’s yours?”

The woman looked at Rosa and whispered, “Olsen.” then went back to playing with whatever she found so interesting behind the desk.

“Olsen,” Rosa said with a smile. “That’s a pretty name. Olsen, what can I do for you today?”

“Well,” Olsen said, not looking up, “there is something. I don’t know if you can help me, though.”

“It’s okay, child,” Rosa said. “Even if I can’t, I’m sure someone in the Family will be able to assist you in some way. But we can only do that if we know what it is that’s bothering you in the first place. So please, tell Momma Rosa and let her make it all better for you.”

Olsen looked up from her lap reluctantly. Rosa could see the battle playing out behind her eyes as she tried to decide between staying and going. “Well, I—uh…”

“Go ahead, child. You’ll feel better for it.”

“I was fired!” Olsen slouched down deeper in her chair and sunk back into whatever it was that interested her about her lap.

Everything became clear to Rosa. Olsen was from Five. She wasn’t a young woman at her age. By Five’s standards, she was practically still a child. She was a child who—as a result of the destruction of the walls between Five and Six—had been fired from the career she had trained for since she could walk. Now, with the cheaper labor from Six and the free labor from robots, poor Olsen was left with no avenue available by which she could support herself. This was a situation which Rosa and all the inhabitants of Six were all too familiar with, but that meant that she could help.

“I’m sorry to hear that, child,” she said in her most comforting motherly voice. Rosa had consoled many a lost soul in her time. “Do you mind my asking where you worked?”

Rosa could see tears welling up behind Olsen’s eyes even though the girl tried to hide them. “F—Food production,” she stammered. “I was g—going to be a chef. But now—n—now I’m—” She couldn’t fight the tears any longer.

“A chef?” Rosa said.

Olsen perked up and stopped crying all at once. “Yeah, well, you know,” she said. “A chef. I’d be a machine calibrator really, but I’d be calibrating the machines that cook food. I would be a chef.” She smiled with her red puffy eyes.

“Is that the job you want?” Rosa asked.

“More than anything,” Olsen said in earnest. “I was so close, too. I had nearly finished my internship and was about to be put on the line when they sacked me.” She started to cry again and went back to playing with her lap.

“What if I told you that you could still be a chef?” Rosa asked.

Olsen perked up to listen but didn’t stop silently sobbing. “Sounds—impossible,” she said.

“What if I told you that you could be a real chef and not just a machine calibrator?”

Now Olsen smiled and chuckled and shook her head, her face still red and puffy. “No,” she said. “That is impossible. I don’t know how to cook.”

“But you’re willing to learn, aren’t you? Or do you think you’re not capable?”

“Oh, no!” She sniffled and wiped her nose. “I can do it. I know I can. But who would pay me to learn? Who could teach me?”

“Well, child, we will. Anna’s the best cook on the Belt, and we’ve been planning on setting up some food charity programs as it is. We could use the extra help.”

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Of course, child. We’re Family here. That’s what Family’s for. Isn’t it? You want to be a part of the Family, don’t you?”

“I—uh—well…” Olsen went back to playing with her lap. “To be honest,” she said. “I don’t know what family you’re talking about. I—well—you see, I only just lost my job, and I was on my way home to tell my mom the news when I saw you talking to that big group outside. One of them got to asking why I was upset, and she said you might be able to help. So here I am.” She shrugged with a sigh.

Ah,” Rosa said. “I see. Well, let me see…” She sifted through her desk drawers for a pamphlet or two. “Here, take these. You read one, and there’s one there for your mother, too. There you are.”

Olsen took them and read the cover of one. “The Human Family?” she said.

“Yes, child. We humans must stick together in these turbulent times, like the Family we all are. You are a human, aren’t you?”

“Oh, of course.” Olsen nodded in earnest. “Of course, but. Well…”

“Go on, child.”

“What’s so wrong with robots? I mean, they make our jobs easier, right?”

“They make our jobs pointless, child. Obsolete. Monotonous. Soul crushing. These days the machines use the humans more than the humans use the machines. Take your dream of becoming a chef as an example. You come from Five. No one in Five can afford to pay others to cook for them, so the only way you can reach your goal is to calibrate the machine that cooks for you. Well that’s not being a chef, now is it? Is that what you really dream of doing?”

“I—well—uh…” She hesitated and looked confused. “I—well—I don’t know what Five is. I come from New Orleans and I want to be a chef. I want to cook.”

Rosa sighed. She kept forgetting that most everyone had no idea still that the other worlds existed—even with everything she did, day in and day out, to spread that message. “Well then, child,” Rosa said, “by joining the Human Family—which you are already a de facto member of by being a human—you will be closer to that dream than you have ever been before. Even before you lost your internship. In fact, I think you’ll come to see that losing that job was the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“Oh, well, I don’t know about that.”

“But I do know, child. I do. And I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that what I say is true. Now, it’s getting late here, and I’m sure your mother’s wondering where you’ve gotten off to. You go on home to her and tell her the good news then read up on those pamphlets with her. I’ll see you right here bright and early tomorrow morning to get started on your training. What do you think?”

“Oh, I, well…” Olsen sunk into herself again.

“What is it, child?”

“Well, ma’am. It’s just that my mom will want to know the pay. She’s got so few tokens per week as it is…”

“Oh, of course!” Rosa said. That was another sign of the gap between her and the Fives. They loved those tokens of theirs. Having bread to fill their stomachs wasn’t enough, they needed children’s play toys that they could trade. “Of course. How could I forget that?” Rosa dug through the desk for the ledger and opened it. “Now, what were you getting before?”

Olsen looked extra sheepish. “Twenty-five tokens a week, ma’am.”


Olsen nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, that won’t do, now will it? No, not nearly. Hmmm.” She scanned the numbers, not understanding what she was looking at. “How does fifty a week sound?”

“Fifty!?” Olsen laughed. “You’re kidding.”

“Oh, no, child. I wouldn’t joke around about your livelihood. You’re like a daughter to me now. You’re a part of the Family. Now, don’t get me wrong. You’ll be earning those tokens. It’s not all fun and games here, you know. We have important business to tend to, and you’re becoming a vital component of that business. But fifty tokens a week is what we can pay you.”

“Oh, no, ma’am. I mean, yes, ma’am. Of course, ma’am. I understand, ma’am. You won’t regret it.” Olsen stood clumsily from the chair, as if she wanted to leave before Rosa could change her mind. “I guarantee it. I work hard and learn fast. You’ll see.”

“Good. Very good, child. I expect greatness from you. Don’t let me down.”

“No, ma’am. I won’t, ma’am. I will not. Don’t you worry. And… Thanks again. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay. Bright and early.” She slipped out of the room before Rosa could respond.

Rosa sighed. The time for pulling one or two people into the Family at a time was quickly passing, but it still carried with it a great sense of accomplishment, as if her own soul had reached out and changed the soul of another for the better. This even more than stopping the robots from ruining her own life was why she did what she did, why she stood up in front of the masses every day in the attempt to convince them of the reality of the worlds. This was why she loved her Family, and this was what she was created to do.

She smiled to herself, closed the ledger and put it away, and scribbled down the flood of slogans that had invaded her head. She was still scrawling them all through the notebook when the door opened and Anna sat in the chair across the desk from her. Rosa finished one more line before setting her pen down and looking up with a smile. “Hello dear,” she said.

“Don’t you hello dear, me,” Anna said. “Well…”

“Well what?” Rosa asked.

“Well who was that who just left your office too happy to be alive?”

“Oh, uh… Her name’s Olsen.”


“And she lost her job.”

“Who hasn’t in Five? So what did you tell her?”

“I, uh, well… I might have offered her a job.”

“A job?”

“Just a little bit. Besides, she needed it, Anna. You didn’t see the look on her face. I mean, she is a part of the Family, isn’t she?”

Ugh. The Family, the Family, the Family. What about your family, Rosa? What about me? What job did you even offer her?”

Rosa slunk back in her chair, getting as far from Anna as she could. “She wants to be a chef,” she whispered.

Of course.” Anna huffed. “And at what pay?”

Rosa slunk further back, almost losing sight of Anna over the desk. “Fifty tokens a week,” she whispered.


“I—Yes, but I had t—”

“Where are we supposed to get fifty tokens a week, Rosa? Do you have any concept of money? You know we’re already broke, don’t you? If you don’t start doing some fundraising with your little speeches, we won’t have tokens to last through the next few days. So how do you propose we pay your new chef fifty tokens a week when we can barely support ourselves?”

“Our income has been growing exponentially,” Rosa said, trying to stick up for herself a little bit.

“Yeah, from shit to a slightly bigger pile of shit that still doesn’t cover our costs.”

“But it will,” Rosa said, sitting straighter in her chair. “Soon. If our income continues to grow. Won’t it?” She stood from the desk and walked around behind Anna to massage her shoulders.

If it does,” Anna said.

Rosa could feel Anna’s resistance dissolving under her fingers. “When it does, dear,” she said. “And I know exactly the way to ensure that it never stops growing. Just you wait and see.”

#     #     #

< XXIII. Huey     [Table of Contents]     XXV. Ansel >

Thank you for your time, dear readers. Don’t forget to join us next Saturday for the next chapter in Ansel’s story, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of An Almost Tangent through this link here.

Have a great weekend.

Chapter 23: Huey


Today brings us the second chapter of book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy. This one is told from the point of view of Huey Douglas, giving us a new glimpse into the world of the owners of Inland. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, think about picking up a copy in print or ebook format through this link. Thanks for following along, dear readers. Here’s the chapter:

< XXII. Tillie     [Table of Contents]     XXIV. Rosa >


Huey sat—as he preferred to do any moment he could find for himself—drinking sweet tea in the office and staring out of the wall-sized window at the wilderness scene beyond. He wished to join the animals as they bounded and played along the rolling green hills, freer than anything he had ever known. But alas, that wasn’t the life for Huey Douglas. Huey Douglas was designed for acting a part well enough to convince the owners that he was one of them and nothing more. Sometimes he thought he was designed too well.

He sighed, sipping his tea. He longed for Mr. Kitty—such a stately cat—to give him some news of the free world, but as always, he was alone—until the office door opened, that is. “Mr. Douglas,” came the voice of Rosalind.

“Please, Roz,” Huey said. “Call me Huey when no one else is around. You know I hate it when you call me Mr. Douglas.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Douglas,” she said.

She did it to grind his gears, and he knew it. She always resented the fact that he was the owner and she was the secretary. He couldn’t help that, though. It was the way they were built. Or—no—Rosalind would say it was what society demanded, not the way they were built, but what did she know? She was only a secretary.

“You’re right, sir,” she went on. “But your meeting’s in ten minutes, sir,” she added with a curtsy.

Huey cursed himself as she left. What could he do? They were given their roles by the Creator and they were forced to fulfill them, whether they liked it or not. He finished off his tea and made sure to wash the glass himself before joining Rosalind in the hall to take the elevator to his meeting.

“I wish you wouldn—” He tried to say, but Rosalind cut him off.

“The elevator’s on its way,” she said. “They’ll probably want to talk about the wall. And our operations in Two should be well under way so they’ll bring that up, too. Are you ready for this, Mr. Douglas?”

“Preparing for this is all I’ve done since—”

“You’re lift’s here, sir. Should I accompany you?” she asked as the elevator opened.

Huey sighed. “Is it a feast?”

“It is New Year’s Day, sir. And isn’t every day a feast with you owners?”

“Well I can’t very well be seen at a feast without my secretary, can I?”

“No, sir.” She curtsied and stepped into the elevator. “I guess you couldn’t. Could you, Mr. Douglas, sir?”

Huey followed her in and the doors closed behind them. The elevator was gold-trimmed and regal, lined with mirrors. The only thing it contained—other than their bodies—was a purple suede couch that never got used. “I know you hate this,” Huey said, staring at his own reflection.

“I’m no—”

“No.” Huey cut her off. “I know, okay. It sucks. For me, too. But it won’t be much longer, right? Let’s just get this over with.”

Rosalind nodded and the elevator door opened, revealing a red-carpeted dining room, full of white-clothed tables, the walls of which were almost imperceptibly concave windows, indicating that the building was round. The elevator opened onto a view of a snowy mountain range, but Huey knew they were slowly spinning and, if he stayed in the elevator door there, he would next see a beach, a meadow, the jungle, and a cityscape as the room rotated. The tables were all large enough to seat the largest people in existence, and they were all filled with owners who were drunkenly stuffing their faces with food. Huey and Rosalind took a hover platform up to the central balcony where a single table held four fat men in tuxedos who were already eating and laughing together. From up there, they could see any view they wanted simply by turning their heads.

“I’m sorry, sirs,” Huey said, bowing to them. They all looked up at him, and most of them scowled. “Am I late?”

“Oh, no no. Ho ho ho,” Lord Walker, the fattest and richest of the four at the table, said. “We’re early. We always are, you see. The early owner gets the profit, you know. Ho ho ho!” The rest of the three laughed with him.

“Yes, sir,” Huey said with a bow. He turned to Rosalind. “Drink, please,” he said. “Strong.”

Yes, sir.” Rosalind curtsied and left down the hover platform to the kitchen.

Huey took his seat on the far side of the table from Lord Walker. As the second richest owner in Inland, he was entitled to sit at Lord Walker’s right hand, but Huey preferred the side of the table where he didn’t have to smell the disgusting fat pig.

“So,” Huey said, trying to force a smile, but his top hat was too heavy and his monocle was slipping out of his eye. He didn’t know why they had to wear such ridiculous uncomfortable nonsense every time they had a meeting—which was pretty much all the time, as it turned out. “Is there anything specific today or just the usual beginning of the year business?”

“There is the little issue of the wall in Five being down.” Mr. Smörgåsbord sneered.

“Oh, Hand, the wall.” Mr. Loch took a swig of his drink. It was pink and fruity.

“Yes, yes,” Lord Walker said. “Let’s get the numbers out of the way first. Smörgåsbord?”

“Yes, well, with the influx of low wage work from Six, our costs of production have bottomed out across the board. We’re paying half as much for labor and getting twice the work done. That’s not to mention the fact that there are still ignorant saps desperate enough to line up for any menial task we’ll throw at them. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that we should be bringing the wall back up at all…”

“Now, now,” Lord Walker interrupted. “We’ll save that discussion for later on in the feast. Anything else?”

“R&D is asking for more money, as usual. And… Well…”

“Spit it out Smörgy,” Lord Walker bellowed.

“The protectors are eating up a lot of money, sir. They’ve had to increase activities across all Outlands. There’s just no—”

“Alright, Boardy Boy,” Lord Walker said. “That means protectors are in high demand, am I right?”

Right-o, Lord,” Mr. Loch said, raising his glass. “Right-o!”

“Enough,” Huey said with a sigh. Where was Rosalind with his drink? “We can get all of this information ourselves, we don’t need a meeting to discuss it. There are more important things at hand. Let’s get to the wall.”

“Yes, the wall,” Mr. Angrom said, speaking up for the first time since Huey had arrived. It almost surprised Huey, though the change wasn’t at all unwelcomed or uncalled for. Finally, the old man seemed a bit defiant of Lord Walker for once.

“Alright, alright you two. Settle down,” Lord Walker said.  “Mr. Smörgåsbord, I guess you can continue with what you were on about before now. Go ahead.” He waved him on.

“Well.” Mr. Smörgåsbord took a sip of his drink. “As I was saying, the influx of a reserve army of labor into Outland Five has decreased the cost of production by half. Even taking into account the extra protector costs we’re seeing, none of our profits have ever been higher. Sure, we have more troubles in Five now, but who cares about that? Five’s worlds away, and as a consequence, it’s of no concern to us.” They all laughed together, but Huey didn’t join them.

“Yeah, well, half cost sounds good to me,” Mr. Loch said, chugging his drink. “Isn’t there supposed to be some food soon?”

“Talk to your secretary about that,” Lord Walker said. “Now, Mr. Angrom, Mr. Douglas, do you agree with Loch Ness and our Scandinavian buffet’s plan? Shall we leave the wall down and reap the profits while we can?”

Mr. Angrom nodded, sipping his drink without a word. He didn’t seem too sure about it, but who could argue against half costs?

“Do I agree with their plan to make me more money?” Huey said with a straight face.

Lord Walker smiled behind his shaggy white beard. “Well do you?”

“I eat a lot of those protector costs,” Huey said, looking Lord Walker in his twinkling eyes.

“I eat most of them,” Lord Walker said, nodding. “But the difference is that I have a healthy appetite. Ho ho ho!”

“A tiny majority.” Huey said, ignoring what was supposed to be an insult.

“Yes, well, I agree with the idea,” Lord Walker said, looking around at the group. “What do you say, comrade Douglas? Are you in it with us?”

Oh, Creator. Huey went back in his head over Rosalind’s story about punching one of the owners in the face at Christmas Feast and imagined that it was he who got to do it. That would probably be the most satisfying thing for Huey right now, to punch Lord Walker square in the jaw and end this charade once and for all.

“Well?” Lord Walker said, tapping his glass with a heavy platinum ring.

“Profits before all. Right?” Huey sighed.

A secretary who looked exactly like Haley came up on the hover platform, carrying two drinks. “Ah,” Lord Walker said. “Haley, dear. My old fashioneds. Just in time. Bring them here, please.”

“Well it’s settled then,” Mr. Smörgåsbord said. “We’ll leave the wall down and reap the rewards we deserve for our genius.”

“To the profits!” Mr. Loch said, raising his glass.

Everyone else but Huey clinked their glasses to Mr. Loch’s and took a big gulp of their drink.

“So,” Huey said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them. “Is that it?”

“Oh, no no,” Lord Walker said. “No ho ho. Now we get to the real business.”

Huey sighed, but Rosalind finally returned with his drink. “Real business?” he asked after taking a long draught of the scotch, finishing it.

Outland Two,” Lord Walker said with a smile. “Mr. Loch.”

“Huh?” Mr. Loch looked up from his drink, smacking his lips and rubbing his face with one fat hand, then shook his head. “Oh, right right. Of course,” he slurred. “Well, as you all know—of course how couldn’t you, we’ve just discussed it—but that’s all said and done anyway, so… As you know, the walls between Five and Six have come down.”

They’ve been torn down,” Mr. Angrom muttered too quietly for anyone but Huey—and maybe the secretaries—to hear.

“What was that, Angry?” Lord Walker asked with a chuckle.

“I said, We all know this already,” Mr. Angrom snapped. “Let us get to what we really came here for. Or is it the company you’re after, Lord Wally?” He raised his glass and sneered. Huey—and he was sure everyone else, too—could hear the disdain in Mr. Angrom’s voice.

“The likes of you have never been in better company, Angrom my boy. Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker patted Mr. Loch on the back, sending his fat jiggling the same way Lord Walker’s did as he laughed. “Right, boys?”

Mr. Loch and Mr. Smörgåsbord laughed with him. Huey tried to sip his drink before he remembered he had already finished it. He scanned the secretaries behind their owners, stopping at Haley’s doppelganger. If he didn’t know that Haley, the real Haley—or should he say the first Haley?—if he didn’t know that his Haley was back at the lab with the Scientist, he, too, would be fooled like everyone else at the table into believing that this was her.

“You know, Lord Walker,” Huey said when their laughter had died down. He sipped his empty drink to build the tension. “Your Haley there is looking as good as new after that heinous attack at the Christmas Feast. I never had a chance to mention it before now, but it’s nonetheless true.”

Lord Walker put his drink down and eyed Huey. “Yes, well…” He coughed. “I was fortunate none of her vital systems were damaged, you see. She even stayed awake throughout the entire ordeal, bless her little robotic heart. As for looking as good as new—well…she looks better than new. Like a fine aged wine. Isn’t that right, dear?” He turned and reached his hand out to her, but she wasn’t paying attention. She was looking through Lord Walker, off into the distance. “I said, isn’t that right, dear?” Lord Walker repeated.

Haley shook her head. “Sorry, sir,” she said. “I mean, Lord. Excuse me, but—”

“Spit it out, dear!” Lord Walker demanded. “What’s gotten into you?”

Maybe she’s not as right as you thought,” Mr. Angrom mumbled.

“It’s just—sir, I’ve received notification from the protectors.” She looked around the table as if she weren’t sure she should say what she had to say in this company.

“Is it about this reclaim the grounds nonsense in Two?” Lord Walker demanded. “Spit it out, dear. We don’t have all day.”

“Yes, sir. Well, they’ve started gathering, sir. There’s at least fifteen already. The protectors want to know what to do about it.”

Lord Walker looked around the table. “This is what we’re here for today, comrades,” he said to them, glancing from face to face. “While the destruction of the walls between Five and Six, and the intermingling of the lowest classes in all of Outland, has proven itself a blessing in disguise, Five and Six are not the only worlds that have intermingled. We saw the first signs, even before the terrorists struck, when our friend Russ Logo met with that Sixer on the streets of Three.”

“Our friend Russ Logo whom you own,” Mr. Angrom reminded him.

“Yes, but only since after his transgression,” Lord Walker went on, waving the criticism away. “Under my ownership, he has done nothing but further the interests of our economy, and none of you can argue against that. I’d like to see you try, in fact.” He looked around, challenging them to respond. When no one did, he went on. “That’s what I thought. Now, what we are seeing at present in Two—which the always lovely Haley just alerted us to—is another example of the leaks between the worlds. After all, my brothers, we are all living in a submarine, and every tiny leak is an assault on the safety of our vital systems. There’s a reason you separate your bulls from your cows and your chickens from your garden. There’s a reason a submarine is air tight. And we must do everything there is in our power to stop these leaks before they start, or we will face an unending torrent the result of which would only spell our demise.”

Lord Walker took a deep breath, full of himself. “Let me ask you, my friends, my comrades, my brothers, do we put an end to this threat the old-fashioned way and kill it before it grows, or do we sit on our hands and wait for the competition to come to us?”

Even Mr. Angrom raised his glass at that. Huey didn’t, though. He let them cheer themselves on before he spoke.

“Have you had enough of your circle jerk to get off?” he asked when they all started to notice that he hadn’t joined in their mirth. “By all means,” he went on. “Don’t let me interrupt your fun, boys.”

C’mon Douggy poo,” Lord Walker cooed in a babying voice. “What’s with you? You don’t think we should kill this threat while it’s still in the cradle?”

“How exactly do you propose to do that, Lord Walker? For all your talk, you sure have managed to avoid saying anything of value or substance.”

“How do we propose to do it?” Lord Walker said, raising his eyebrows and looking around at the others. “Why didn’t you just hear me? The old-fashioned way, Doug. How else would we do it? We send the protectors to shoot them down, and we hold them up as an example of what happens when little nothing twerps like them try to spread fraudulent libel about the existence of other worlds.”

“And who will you punish?” Huey asked with a scoff. “Do you know who’s responsible for this leak or are you at yet another dead end? I hear your search for the terrorists responsible for the Christmas bombing isn’t going very well.”

Lord Walker stared hard at Huey. Mr. Loch looked away from the table, ordering another drink from his secretary to get away from the tension between them. Huey thought he heard Mr. Angrom stifling a chuckle. Mr. Smörgåsbord didn’t make a noise.

“We’re closer than ever to finding those inhuman beasts,” Lord Walker growled through gritted teeth. “I can assure you of that. No one is more interested in finding them than I am, either. Me, Mr. Douglas, the Lord of Inland, the very one of us whom those cowardly terrorists attempted to assassinate. Or do I need to remind you? Our protector force is doin—”

Ah. Ha ha.” Huey chuckled. “So it’s back to being our protector force again now that we’re talking about their failures.”

Our protector force,” Lord Walker went on, his face red with embarrassment and anger. “The protector force that protects everyone here at this table no matter who of us owns them, is ready to free all of us from this particular thorn in our side. All it takes is one word, my word. Now, I’m bringing this to you as a gesture of cooperation, not because I’m obliged to. So can we all agree that the protectors should be used as they were originally intended to be used by ordering them to destroy this threat to our property?”

“Crush them!” Mr. Loch cheered, raising his glass.

Mr. Smörgåsbord grunted and raised his glass, too.

“Angry? Do the Dougy?” Lord Walker said. “What do you two say?”

They looked at each other. Mr. Angrom shrugged and drank his drink. It didn’t really matter what they wanted anymore, anyway. Lord Walker already had the majority, and the Lordship.

“Do what you will,” Huey said. “But know that you’re not the only one investigating this particular threat. The protectors respond to more than one word, and at some of my words, they’ve embedded themselves in the crowd in Two already. They are some of your body count. So when your old-fashioned approach inevitably fails, Lord, don’t worry. My people will be there to pick up the pieces.”

Lord Walker sneered. “Hopefully they’re not too far undercover, friend. We wouldn’t want one of your boys mistaken for a criminal and beaten themselves. Ho ho ho!” He looked around at the table to make sure the others were laughing too then turned to Haley’s doppelganger. “You hear that, dear? Send a couple hundred men. Make sure that no one who hears what happens today ever steps out of line again. Ho ho ho!” He raised his glass over the table and waited for everyone to clink theirs against it. “To the safety of Inland,” he said when he was satisfied.

To the safety of Inland,” they all mumbled together.

“Well then.” Huey stood from the table and rubbed his hands together. “If that’s all the business we have to cover today, I really should be going.”

“Yeah, yeah, Dougy,” Lord Walker said. “Some other business to tend to, I’m sure. You always have to be up to something if you want to catch up to the best.” He smiled wide.

“We’ll see who the best is yet, Lord and sirs.” Huey bowed to the table. “Good feast to you.”

Rosalind was waiting for him down at the elevator. He didn’t know how she always got out of there so much faster than he did. It was like she had an eighth or ninth sense for it, depending on how you classified android senses.

“You didn’t have to tell them that much,” she said when he walked up.

“What are you talking about?” He frowned. He hadn’t told them anything, really.

“The agents in the protest today,” she said.

Ah.” Huey nodded. “Well, Wally won’t even remember that by the end of the night.”

“It’s not him I’m worried about, Mr. Douglas, sir.”

“Well, who are you—”

“Mr. Angrom, sir,” Rosalind said with a curtsy and a smile, looking past Huey who turned to find Mr. Angrom’s flabby mushroom frame being carried over by his pneumatic pants.

“Mr. Angrom.” Huey bowed.

Mr. Angrom wiped his face with a handkerchief as he lumbered ever nearer. “Oh, sonny boy,” he said. “I’ll never get used to these pants. You’re blessed not to need them.”

Huey nodded, thinking it would only take a better controlled diet and some exercise for Mr. Angrom to get out of his pants—no blessing needed—but he didn’t say anything.

“Well, sir.” Mr. Angrom looked behind himself. He was nervous, Huey could tell. “I have something important to discuss with you,” he said. “Do you mind?”

“Go ahead, sir.” Huey bowed again.

“Well, uh…it’s about Mr. Walker…and his lackeys.” Mr. Douglas looked around again at the motion of a server out of the corner of his eyes.

“What about them, my lord?” Huey asked, bowing. He knew that Mr. Angrom had been slowly separating from the others in the Fortune Five—had urged Mr. Angrom to do just as much, even—and now seemed like as good a time as any for the old man to make that obvious. With things mixing up like they were, Mr. Angrom probably thought he could climb a few rungs on the ladder.

“Oh, no no.” Mr. Angrom chuckled. “I’m no Lord. It’s just… It’s how they’re handling this leak business, you know. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind leaving Five and Six together. I’ll take a profit as quick as the next man.” He chuckled.

“Yes,” Huey said. “And you eat none of the protector costs.”

“Yes—well… Exactly, sir. Exactly what I mean. We should be working together, right? Sharing costs. Strategizing our economic decisions. And with the protectors—with the protectors especially—we should be utilizing our resources in the most efficient manner possible. Now wouldn’t you agree with that, Mr. Douglas?”

“I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying, Mr. Angrom. I’m afraid, however, that the devil is in the details. Isn’t he?”

“Well then,” Mr. Angrom said, wiping his face which had grown sweaty from the conversation. “Let’s take their response to this ordeal in Two for example. How do they want to handle it? The old-fashioned way, as Mr. Walker says. Beat the problem into submission with a big stick. Now, would you say that theirs is the most efficient method of approaching this particular obstacle in our path?”

Huey shook his head. No. He did not. But he had assumed that Mr. Angrom was with them on this much at least. Mr. Angrom did very little talking so it was difficult to know what was actually going on inside his head.

“No, you don’t,” Mr. Angrom went on. “As evidenced by the fact that you’ve already embedded protectors in this…movement—or what have you. Your way is the more efficient way, Lord Douglas. Them? They’re fighting a gasoline leak with fire, and they’ll still be surprised when it blows up in their faces. But us—you and me—we’ll be there to pick up their pieces, just like you said. Or should I say ashes to keep the metaphor consistent? Oh, it’s too late now. You get the point. But first we have to agree to cooperate with one another. So what do you say?”

Huey took another look at the flabby form in the tuxedo and top hat in front of him. He looked exactly like all the other owners. There was nothing to set him apart. Huey read Mr. Angrom’s every heartbeat and eye dilation before he said, “What did you have in mind, sir? I mean, I know why you would want to work with me, Mr. Angrom. I own a forty nine percent share in the protector force.”

“Forty eight point nine percent, sir,” Mr. Angrom said, raising a finger.

“Yes.” Huey smiled. “And your major holdings are in—”

“Food and energy, sir. The laws of physics dictate that there will always be a demand for food and energy.” Mr. Angrom smiled and buffed his monocle with the same handkerchief he had wiped his sweat with earlier. “And you know who eats tons of food and uses more electricity than anything but the walls?” he asked, smiling wide. Huey wouldn’t give the old man the satisfaction of a response so Mr. Angrom went on. “So I was thinking,” he said. “I’m full owner of some private subsidiaries. I’m sure you are, too. So why don’t you let me eat some of your costs with discounted food and electricity, and in turn, you share any intelligence you gather with me, taking care to ensure special protection of P.J. Angrom Corp. and subsidiaries. Do we understand each other?”

Huey smiled. His long hard work in poking and prodding Mr. Angrom away from the rest of the Fortune Five was starting to pay off. He had been building up to this moment for so long that he didn’t want to hurry his answer and muddle it all now. He buffed his own monocle with his pocket square then took his time folding it and putting it back in his pocket. “I think we understand each other,” he almost whispered when he was done.

“Very good,” Mr. Angrom said, smiling wide and clapping. “Then it’s agreed. You’ll have your secretary give mine the names of the firms which you want to receive the discounts, and I’ll be waiting for word from you on any new intelligence from your side. Right, my Lord?” He bowed and tipped his hat.

Huey nodded, surprised Mr. Angrom could bow so low, even with his pneumatic pants.

“Very well. Ta ta, then.” Mr. Angrom waved, heading back toward the hover platform. “I have some feasting to get to. Until you have some news, adieu.”

Huey could hear his steps as the pants stomped away, carrying Mr. Angrom with them. He turned to Rosalind who huffed and stomped into the elevator. When he followed her in, she said, “Yeah. I know. I heard. I was standing right there. You don’t have to tell me.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Huey said, shaking his head and shrugging.

“But I know what you were going to say.” The doors closed and the elevator fell into motion.

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Sure you weren’t.” When the doors opened again, she stomped through the short hall and slammed the door behind her.

When Huey opened the door, she wasn’t in the office behind it, but Haley was. His Haley. The real Haley and not some doppelganger. She was sitting on one of the puffy chairs with her feet up on another of them, looking out onto the wilderness scene below. She didn’t notice Huey until he sat on the chair her feet were resting on, brushing her shoes as she jerked them to the floor.

“Mr. Douglas!” she said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t notice you.”

Huey, dear. Please.” He smiled.

“Oh. Of course.” She hit herself in the head. “I’ve been here so long and I still can’t get that right.”

“It hasn’t been that long. You’ll get used to it yet.”

“I don’t know.” Haley shook her head. “I mean, everything has been great, you know. But I don’t know. Just—Creator, I don’t know what I’m saying. There are so many words. Have you ever noticed that?”

Huey laughed. “I know all too well what you mean.”

And bacon,” she went on, leaning closer and smiling. “Have you had it yet?”

Huey shook his head. “I don’t eat pork.”

“Oh. Well… The food’s great, though. You know that, right?”

Huey nodded. He was never a big fan of food. Being around owners stuffing their faces so often had turned him off to it. Eating to him was simply a necessity to go on living. But he understood why Haley would be so excited to taste all kinds of food she had prepared for someone else for so long without ever getting to eat it herself.

“And Ansel and Pidgeon,” Haley said, chuckling. “Oh. I just love those two. They have so much to teach me.”

Huey smiled. He hadn’t spent much time with the new boarders, but he did admire Ansel’s ferocious will.

“But still…” She looked a little nervous to go on.

Huey thought he knew what she was hinting at from his own experiences in finding freedom. “You’re bored,” he said.

“Bored?” Haley looked confused, tilting her head like Mr. Kitty when he didn’t understand something. “What do you mean, bored?”

“Well, you’ve tried all the foods you wanted to try, and the kids can only spend so much time with you, and now you have nothing left to work toward. You’re bored.” He shrugged.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t be bored. I’ve never been bored before. Not even sitting in my closet, playing with Springy, and waiting for the next meal to cook.”

“That’s because you’ve never had anything to do but Mr. Walker’s work for him,” Huey said. “You had to put his clothes on for him and even clean his body for him.” He shook his head, cringing. “Your life was filled with boredom. You were bored all the time. All you knew was boredom and you had nothing else to compare it to.”

“No, well—” Haley started.

“Now you have TV and food and the kids and countless other things to make you forget you’re bored, but most of them are boring, too. But there are a select few of those activities that you actually do enjoy. You haven’t quite figured out which ones those are yet, though, so you’re still bored. It’s as simple—or as complicated, I guess—as that.”

Haley thought about it. “I guess you’re right,” she said, nodding. “What can I do about it, though?”

“Well, that’s difficult to answer,” Huey said. “The only thing you really can do is live through a lot of boredom until you find the thing you really love. But once you get through that, you can devote your every waking moment to that one thing that’s actually not boring.” He shrugged again. He didn’t really know what he was talking about. He had never said things like that to anyone else before, only thought them in his head. “That’s the only successful method I know of for fighting boredom anyway.”

“But how do you know when you love something?”

“That,” Huey said, “is a question I can’t answer. I’m sorry.”

“What do you love?” Haley asked, looking in his eyes.

“Well, I… Hmm.” He knew how to answer that, but he wasn’t ready for Haley to know the answer. “That’s another question I don’t think I can answer,” he lied. “Maybe I’m bored, too,” he added to try to cover it up.

“Bored?” Haley chuckled. “You? But you’re so busy.”

“Busy’s one thing,” Huey said. “Bored’s another. If you’re busy with boring work then what’s the point?”

Haley scrunched up her nose and nodded. It was the face that Huey had come to learn meant she was trying to understand but couldn’t quite. He smiled. “You’ll find what you love,” he said. “As long as you don’t stop looking.”

“But what if I don’t find it?”

“Well, I’ll help you,” Huey said. “There’s no way you’ll fail.”

#     #     #

< XXII. Tillie     [Table of Contents]     XXIV. Rosa >

Thanks again for reading, y’all. And thanks for following along this far. If you’re enjoying the experience, please do purchase a copy of the full novel through this link. And have a great weekend.

An Almost Tangent


If you follow me on Facebook or are subscribed to my email newsletter (sign up for that here) you probably already know that book two of Infinite Limits, An Almost Tangent, is live for sale in ebook and print formats. (If you subscribe to the newsletter you were offered a free copy of the ebook, too. ;) Just saying.) If you don’t follow me in either of those manners, you should, and now you know.

So, being the good commie I am, I won’t make y’all spend your hard earned money by purchasing a copy through Amazon right here (though I do encourage it, I have to make money in this capitalist system in order to survive). Instead, as I did with book one, The Asymptote’s Tail, I’ll post one chapter per week here on the blog, starting today with the first chapter, from the point of view of our old friend Tillie Manager.

Without further ado, here it is dear readers. Enjoy, and if you do, think about purchasing a copy in support of my future works. We do nothing alone.

An Almost Tangent






For you.






Table of Contents

22. Tillie
23. Huey
24. Rosa
25. Ansel
26. Jonah
27. Guy
28. Olsen
29. Tillie
30. Huey
31. Rosa
32. Ansel
33. Jonah
34. Guy
35. Olsen
36. Tillie
37. Huey
38. Rosa
39. Ansel
40. Jonah
41. Guy
42. Olsen






“Don’t tell me that I can’t.
Oh Lord, don’t tell me that I can’t.
I need this so damn bad.”

The Crane Wives






XXII. Tillie

Tillie could taste the change in the air. She could feel it on her skin. Every time she thought about what they had done it sent shivers up her spine, but still, she wasn’t satisfied. She thought that they would have made a much bigger difference by now. She thought that something would have changed, anything. They did do what she thought they did, didn’t they?

She paced in the living room of her dorm, watching the TV as it flipped through every news station’s broadcast, looking for any sign that their little escapade had been noticed, when the door opened and in came her black cat, Mr. Kitty, followed by her roommate, Emma, who was carrying a big stack of colorful flyers and smiling from ear to ear.

“Mr. Kitty!” Tillie said, scooping him up then sitting on the couch to put him on her lap and pet him. The TV kept flipping through the channels and Emma kept smiling.

“There’s still nothing on the news,” Tillie said, ignoring Emma’s too good mood. Emma didn’t seem to be taking the lack of results as hard as Tillie was. Then again, Emma’s family had been involved with this kind of thing since she was born so she was probably used to failure by now.

“No,” Emma said, taking a seat next to Tillie and still smiling. “They probably won’t ever show anything. They don’t want people to know what we did.”

“But nothing? Not even a leak? If we…” She lowered her voice. “Blew up the walls between five and six, someone had to notice it by now. Right?”

“Oh, they noticed.” Emma smiled. “Don’t you worry about that. There are signs that they noticed, too. If you know what you’re looking for.”

“But I do know what I’m looking for,” Tillie said. “And it looks to me like business as usual.” She pet Mr. Kitty’s head, frustrated, and he purred in response.

“You didn’t notice the shortages?” Emma asked, frowning.

“What shortages?”

“There wasn’t any pineapple at the fruit bar when I went to breakfast this morning. Did you get any?”

“No. I had to eat grapes. But what does that have to do with anything?”

“It’s one of the effects of the operation, a sign that we affected things.”

Pineapples?” Tillie scoffed. “I mean—I hate grapes as much as the next girl, but a shortage of pineapples isn’t changing anything. And we didn’t bomb their pineapple farms. That wasn’t us. Someone else did that. I want to see the results of what we did.”

“It is a result of what we did, though,” Emma said. “We were part of a larger whole. We contributed. We’ll see the results, but we have to be patient. The time would go by faster if you came out and helped me rather than sitting there staring at the TV all day. A watched bond never matures.”

Tillie chuckled. Mr. Kitty purred on her lap and she pet his head. Emma was probably right. Tillie had been sitting in front of the TV almost nonstop for probably a week now, and she hadn’t seen a single thing suggesting that anyone anywhere knew what they had done. Maybe they hadn’t done anything after all. Maybe Emma had lied and those discs were nothing more than stickers they had defaced the central hub with, little clock stickers counting down to zero.

Yeah right.

Emma, on the other hand, hadn’t been sitting in front of the TV for a week. She had barely been home at all since the operation. Her eyes were always set on the future and that was probably why she still had a smile on her face, staring at Tillie, practically begging Tillie to ask her why she was so happy.

“Alright, alright,” Tillie relented. “Go on then. What’s with the grin? Did you win the lottery or something?”

Ugh. No.” Emma scoffed. “You know I don’t play.”

“I know, I know. Can’t you take a joke? But I’m sure it has something to do with the flyers you’re holding, right?” Tillie took one off the stack in Emma’s lap and read it while Mr. Kitty sniffed it. It was printed on neon pink paper and had a big black fist surrounded by blocky black words that read: “RECLAIM THE GROUNDS! / Jan 1: 5 PM / Parade Grounds / Reclaim your life!”

“I’ve been trying to tell you about it,” Emma said, “but you’ve been hypnotized by the news. This is the next step—for our world, at least.”

“What is it even?” Tillie asked, putting the flyer back onto the pile in Emma’s lap. “What next step?”

“Well, Outland Five and Outland Six know about each other now, right,” Emma said, nodding. “I mean, after what we did, they have to. But now I think it’s time for us to tell our own world the truth. That’s what these are for.” She held the stack of flyers up, still smiling.

“And that’s why you’re so happy? I mean, the flyers look great and all—don’t get me wrong—but that’s it?”

“No. I’m happy because I just got—wait for it—two people to agree to come out and help tomorrow. That makes—”

“Wait… Tomorrow?”

“Yes, tomorrow. New Year’s Day. You really have been lost in here all week, haven’t you?”

“So today is New Year’s Eve?” Tillie asked, standing and pushing Mr. Kitty down onto the floor. He jumped up onto Emma’s lap and licked his coat. “There have to be some parties tonight, right?”

“Yeah, that’s what I was about to—”

“And I haven’t gotten a single invitation yet.” She paced the room again. “You know what. I bet it was Shelley. She thinks I’m crazy now. I’m telling you. She’s probably spread rumors to all our mutual friends—which is pretty much all of my friends—telling them not to invite crazy Tillie and her sick hallucinations to any of their New Year’s celebrations.”

“Or maybe it’s because you’ve been sitting—”

“Do you know of any parties tonight? Would you mind if I tagged along?”

“Well, yeah,” Emma said, nodding. “There are a bunch I was planning on going to. I was going to ask you—”

Good. I’m gonna go get ready. I’ll be back before the elevator.”

Emma tried to say something else as Tillie left, but she wasn’t listening. She was going through her closet in her head, trying to pick out the dress that would best show Shelley that Tillie didn’t care if she tried to spread dirty rumors about Tillie’s sanity that weren’t anywhere near the truth. She stood in front of her closet and wished she was back home with her 3D printer. Something new and shiny would be perfect for this situation. Everything here had been worn before.

Ugh. How could Shelley do this to her? And it had to be Shelley, too. Why else would no one invite her to a New Year’s party? Not a single person. Not a single party. Shelley was spreading rumors. There was no other logical explanation.

But one person did invite Tillie out: Emma. What kind of party would Emma go to? She said she knew of a bunch. How could she know about so many parties and Tillie so few?

Well Emma was always out there in the quad or wherever, talking to people and handing out fliers and all that, but what had Tillie been doing? Sitting in front of the TV as it flipped through hundreds of news stations, all talking about the same nothing. But still, what kind of party would Emma go to?

Tillie chuckled to herself and picked out a green floral sundress—with pockets, of course—and some big black boots. Whatever crazy thing she was going to do, she wanted to do it in style. She sat in front of her vanity mirror and debated whether or not she would prefer having her automated battle station from back home. Here she had to put her makeup on manually, but there if she even breathed while the battle station made her up, she would end up with her lipstick on her eyelids.

Dressed and made up, she went out to the living room where Emma was still sitting on the couch, petting Mr. Kitty on her lap, and watching the TV flip through the news channels.

“So,” Tillie said, striking a pose in front of her bedroom door. “What do you think?”

Emma turned and smiled wider. “Beautiful,” she said. “Perfect for the parties.”

Tillie blushed. “You’re too kind,” she said. “Now…these parties. Where are they? When do they start? Who’s gonna be there?”

“Oh, well…” Emma looked at the TV to check the time. “It’s not even seven yet, you know. We still have a while. Come sit down for a bit.”

Ugh. Really?”

“Yeah, well, it is New Year’s Eve and all. The parties have to go all night. If they start now, there won’t be enough energy to make it into the New Year, and that’s pretty much the entire point.”

Tillie chuckled, plopping on the couch next to Emma. Mr. Kitty crawled from Emma’s lap to Tillie’s. “Yeah, yeah,” Tillie said. “I get it. But how long do we have to wait?”

“A few hours,” Emma said. “Then we’ll go to so many parties you’ll wish you were back here sleeping. I promise.”

Tillie shrugged and pet Mr. Kitty on the head. She lost herself in the TV like she had been doing for the entire week. The channel changed to a different news station every few seconds, but they were all so in sync, telling the same “news” stories, that she could still make out the general news of the day even as the channels constantly flipped.

“…Production numbers suggest…”

“…some shortages in luxury items, but…”

“…Russ Logo is at it again with his new…”

“…Overall, managers are reporting more…”

“…bang for your buck, at Buck’s Fine…”

“…the cost to produce is lower than…”

“…a dress like a shadow play…”

“…As it gets closer to midnight we’ll…”

“…protector costs have gone through the…”

“…Lobbyist Peterson claims the only solution is cutting…”

“…the weather looks as nice as ever today…”

Ugh! Off!” Tillie yelled, and the TV flipped off. Mr. Kitty jumped from her lap onto the coffee table to lick himself. “I can’t take it anymore. These soundbites are starting to drive me insane.”

“I was about to lose it myself,” Emma said, grinning like she wasn’t sure if she should laugh. “I don’t know how you’ve listened to it for so long as it is.”

Tillie stood and paced the room. “I don’t know either. Can’t we just go already? I don’t care about being fashionably late.”

“Yeah, well, it’s still too early to go to any of the parties, but I was going to meet with some people beforehand if you want to come.”

“Anything but more news. Let’s go.” Tillie crossed to the door, her skirt sweeping behind her, and when Emma stood up, still carrying the flyers, Tillie asked, “Are you bringing those with you?”

Emma looked down at the brightly colored stack in her hands. “Uh, yeah,” she said. “That’s the entire point.”

“Oh. Duh.” Tillie palmed her face. “Your uh—the people you’re meeting with before the parties. It’s for them, right?”

“Well, yeah. But it’s for the parties, too. That’s why I plan on going to so many.”

Tillie sighed. Emma’s idea of a party was handing out flyers. She wondered if Emma had even gotten invited to any of the parties or if she was just going to show up with flyers in hand and crash them all. That wasn’t Tillie’s idea of a party. That was activist work. “So you’re gonna hand those out at the parties?” she asked to make sure she had heard correctly.

“Of course I am,” Emma said. “The General Assembly’s tomorrow. This is the last chance we have to tell people about it. We need as many people to come out as possible or it won’t be effective.”

“Do you really think they’re going to listen to you when they’re trying to celebrate the New Year?”

“Some of them will.” Emma shrugged. “A bunch will probably take the flyers just so they have an excuse to hit on us, and most of them will throw the flyers away before reading our message, but at least a few people will wake up tomorrow to see a little neon slip of paper on their nightstand, and maybe they’ll decide that they actually do want to join us in doing something good for the world. Believe me, Tillie. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Every one of them that we hand out helps, and every one of them is worth it.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not getting me to hand out any flyers,” Tillie said. “I’m gonna celebrate with everyone else. It’s New Year’s Eve, girl. Woooo!” She laughed.

“Well, you don’t have to. And I won’t ask you to. I just don’t want to see you sitting here in front of the TV alone again tonight. But you are coming to the GA tomorrow, right?”

“Oh, yeah.” Tillie hadn’t actually thought about the fact that she should go until just then. She didn’t even know what a GA was or what the flyers meant by “Reclaim the grounds!” but she had to support Emma. Emma was the one person who had supported Tillie when everyone else thought she was crazy, and if Tillie knew people as much as she thought she did, they were going to think that whatever it was that Emma was doing was batshit insane. “Yeah. Of course I am,” Tillie said, nodding. “Six PM, right?”

Five,” Emma said. “At the parade grounds.”

Tillie chuckled. “Sarcasm,” she said with an unbelievable grin. “Five o’clock. I know. I’ll be there.” She repeated the time in her head so she wouldn’t forget in the future. “Now didn’t you have some people to meet before these parties? I’m dying to see what they’re like.”

“Oh, you’ll get to know them well, I hope,” Emma said with a smile. “We’re supposed to meet at the library. Let’s go.” She opened the door, and Mr. Kitty jumped off the table and zoomed out ahead of them.

“After you,” Tillie said, letting Emma out first.

The library was a short walk from their dorm. It took them under oak trees covered in Spanish moss and cypress trees straight out of a swamp. They passed between two ancient mounds of earth and into the quad where Emma waved at two people who seemed to be staring expectantly at everyone who passed.

Emma went up and hugged each of them individually. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said.

“Oh, of course—”

“No problem, I—”

Oh,” the two said together.

The three of them laughed, and Tillie kind of regretted her decision to come with Emma. Then she remembered that she could be sitting in front of the TV watching news still and tried to find some way to enjoy herself.

“So y’all,” Emma said. “I’m so glad you’re here. This is my roommate, Tillie. Tillie, this is Rod.”

The guy with short blond hair who was wearing an American flag t-shirt waved. “Hey,” he said. “Rodney. Well, Rod works. Whatever.”

“And Nikola,” Emma said.

Nikola had long mousy hair and she was wearing glasses. She smiled and waved.

“What’s with the glasses?” Tillie asked.

Nikola blushed. “Oh, well…my parents don’t believe in using android labor,” she said. “They think they’re slaves. So…” She pushed her glasses up onto her nose and shrugged.

Tillie looked at Emma then back at Nikola. “Riiight,” she said. “No robots. And is that a—uh—Russian name?”

“That’s what I was wondering,” Rod said, crossing his arms to reveal the words “American Made” tattooed in red, white, and blue on his forearms.

“No. Well…yeah, technically—but my parents named me after a scientist,” Nikola said. “He did something with electricity. I don’t know. I’m not Russian, though. Okay. I was born and raised in Louisiana.” She smiled.

“Woah, y’all. Woah woah. Wait,” Emma said, handing them each a stack of flyers, even Tillie who didn’t think before taking them. “Now we’re all on the same team here. It wouldn’t matter if anyone here was from Russia or anywhere else for that matter. The point is that we’re all people, right? Even the robots who do our work.” She looked to Nikola who nodded. “And especially those people on the assembly lines day in and day out. They need us to stick together because they have no way to fight for themselves and no one else who will fight for them. So are y’all with me?”

“Yes!” They cheered together, even Tillie, but afterwards she looked around embarrassed at the students in the quad who were starting to stare.

“Okay. Good.” Emma checked her phone. “Well then, it’s getting to be about time that we get going. I was thinking we could get to more people if we split up and took the parties separately. That way we’d—”

“I’m not going anywhere without you,” Tillie said. That was the entire point of going to the parties together in the first place. To go together. Even if Emma was going to be handing out flyers. Tillie looked down at the flyers in her own hand which she had forgotten taking in the first place. How did she even get them? “Ugh. And I’m not handing out any stupid flyers.” She waved them in Emma’s face who added them back to her own pile.

“Right, right. I forgot.” Emma looked at the others. “What about you two? What do y’all think?”

Rod kind of looked at Nikola to urge her to talk first. Nikola pushed her glasses up on her nose again. No wonder laser surgery was so common. Glasses sucked. Rod finally said, “Ladies first.” leaving Nikola with no choice but to respond.

“Oh—uh…” she said, kicking at nothing on the ground. “Well, you see, it’s just that I—well… I’ve never really done this before, and I don’t really feel like I should go alone. So…”

“No,” Emma said. “You shouldn’t. I was thinking that you and Ro—”

“You know what,” Tillie said, cutting Emma off there. Though Emma seemed to know a lot about many things, there were some parts of the world that she didn’t apparently understand. “I think we should all go together, right?” Tillie looked around at the ragged group. “It woul—It would be a learning experience or something. I don’t know. Like a team building exercise. It might help get us to work together as a more cohesive group for tomorrow’s—uh—assembly or whatever. What do y’all think?”

Nikola smiled, and Emma smiled, and Rod nodded.

Great,” Emma said, clapping her hands together and dropping a few flyers. “Okay then,” she added, picking them up. “That settles it. We’ll spend a little less time at each party this way, but we’ll still hit the same number of people. Are y’all ready to do this?’

Less time at each party? What had Tillie done? Well, it was done now anyway so she could only ride the wave.

They walked to the elevator in silence. Emma started passing out flyers to people waiting in line. Most of them took a flyer to shut her up, but none stopped to talk to her. Nikola and Rod stared at her in awe as she did it, though, hiding behind Tillie as if they were afraid of being yelled at for simply holding flyers on campus. When it was their turn to get on the elevator, Emma told it where to go—some apartment complex Tillie didn’t recognize—and the floor fell out from underneath them.

“So, that was good,” Rod said nodding at Emma. “You handed out like a ton already.”

“You think any of them will come?” Nikola asked.

Tillie scoffed and everyone shot her the same look.

“You never know,” Emma said. “You can’t be afraid to ask anyone. You’d be surprised at the people who respond positively. It’s a numbers game really. The answer’s always no if you never ask.”

Nikola and Rod nodded in earnest. Tillie chuckled to herself, shaking her head. They thought they were doing something. Soon enough they’d see that it was pointless, that no one ever notices anything. The elevator doors opened to reveal the courtyard of a tall apartment building. It must have been thirty stories high, at least, and the courtyard was filled with grass and oak trees and little paths cracked one way by the falling foundation and the other by the thickening tree roots pushing up from underneath.

“This way,” Ellie said, taking one of the hilly paths. “This is where all the AmeriCorporation kids live. We’ll find plenty of activists here for sure. It’s a good place for you to get your feet wet.”

Tillie heard laughter and music from above and looked up to see the overflow of what she assumed was the party they were going to on a balcony five floors up. When they had climbed all the way up to the eleventh floor—everyone huffing and puffing except for Emma—she knew she was in for some other strange “party” instead.

Emma knocked on the door and it opened almost immediately. The room was dark except for the light of the news on the TV. Five shadows took up the couch and chairs around the room, and it didn’t look like there were any more seats.

“Hey, Kara,” Emma said, hugging the girl who had answered the door.

“Hey, girl. I see you brought some friends.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Nah, it’s cool. We’re just doing what we do, you know. Come on in, y’all.”

Rod sat on the floor in front of one of the couches and stared at the TV with the rest of them, Emma went to talking with a group of people in the kitchen, handing them flyers and giving them her spiel, and Nikola looked around the dark room then went out to the balcony. Tillie did not want to watch any more news—that was exactly what she was trying to avoid, in fact—and she wasn’t ready to listen to Emma go on again about the assembly, or whatever, so she followed Nikola out onto the balcony.

The two of them were the only people out there, and Nikola looked surprised to see Tillie, trying to hide the pungent smoke that obviously came from behind her back. Tillie laughed. “It’s alright, you know,” she said. “I’m not a narc.”

Nikola took a long drag and blew out a dense hazy cloud. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and said, “Oops. You caught me.” She took another drag then held the joint out to Tillie. “You want some?”

Tillie chuckled then took it, brushing Nikola’s fingers as she did. “You’re a mystery, aren’t you?” she said.

“What do you mean?” Nikola asked, innocently.

“Well, you don’t use robot labor and yet you’re out here smoking a joint, for starters.”

“Not mutually exclusive,” Nikola said. “Grow it yourself and there are no slaves required.”

“Okay. Fair point. But what does no robot labor even mean to you? Like, can you watch TV?”

“I—well…” Tillie could see Nikola blushing even though it was dark and getting darker. “My parents don’t watch it but not because they think TVs are slaves, okay.”

“So TVs aren’t, but other robots are. Is my phone a slave?” Tillie took her phone out and held it over the edge of the balcony. “Maybe I should free it now.”

Nikola took the joint back with a huff and inhaled a long drag, killing it. She held the smoke in for a while then blew it all out into Tillie’s face. Tillie coughed in response. “You know,” Nikola said. “You’re not the first person to ask me these questions.”

“Oh. No no.” Tillie shook her head. “Of course not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know the answers.”

“Well, I can use phones, computers, and TVs,” she said. “Okay. And I would get laser eye surgery if my parents wouldn’t freak out. But I do kind of like my glasses.” She pushed them up on her nose. “They’re cute, right?”

Tillie smiled. “They are.”

And right then the balcony door flung open to let Rod the interrupter out. Nikola fanned the air, trying to get the smoke away, and Tillie giggled. “Oh, uh…hey,” Rod said, looking between the two of them. “What are y’all up to?”

“Oh, nothing,” Nikola said.

“Just talking,” Tillie said, still smiling and trying not to giggle.

Ooohhhkaaayy,” Rod said, nodding but obviously not believing them. “Well, we were gonna go ahead to the next party and all if you antisocial outcasts are okay with that. Or if y’all want to stay here instead, we can just see you later. Okay, bye.” He waved and went back inside.

“Well, shall we?” Tillie asked.

Nikola nodded and pushed her glasses up on her nose then followed Rod inside, but it still took Emma another fifteen minutes to say goodbye to everyone before they could all climb back down the eleven flights of stairs.

“That went well,” Emma said as they did. “I think most of them will probably show up tomorrow.”

“Awesome,” Rod said.

I’m sure they will,” Tillie said, but no one heard.

The next party they went to had more people and none of them were watching the news. There was food and drinks and music. Tillie was surprised to be at a real party. While Nikola and Rod followed Emma around like lost puppies, sometimes interjecting in her conversations but mostly just smiling and nodding on the fringe, Tillie got a drink, danced, and mingled. They moved from party to party and place to place, and soon, Tillie was drunk. Before she knew it, she was looking around and neither Nikola, Rod, nor Emma were anywhere to be found. She checked her phone and realized it was three in the morning. Had she even counted down to midnight? Wait, she did kiss someone, though. Didn’t she? Or, no… She saw some people kissing each other and wished she had someone to kiss.

Ugh. Did it matter? Her head was pounding, her stomach was gurgling, and her feet hurt to walk on. She stumbled to the nearest elevator and had to repeat “parade grounds” a few times before the microphone could recognize her drunken slur. It finally fell into motion, and when the doors opened, Tillie stumbled out and puked in the grass under a tree.

Wiping her face, she stumbled the rest of the way home and clanged her keys loudly getting into the door. When she finally made it in to slam the door behind her, she called, “Hellooooo!” at the top of her lungs. “Emma! You home?” She plopped onto the couch and the room spun around her. “Okay, goodnight!” Her mind drifted off into a groggy restless darkness.

#     #     #

Tillie woke with a start. She grabbed her head and groaned. It was still beating from the previous night. Why had she stayed out so late? She blinked her eyes against the burning sun coming in through the window. Not even the closed curtains could keep it from setting her head to pounding harder against the inside of her skull. She smacked her dry lips together, wishing she were dead. Yay New Year.

She groaned again and reached for her phone on the table then threw the blanket she didn’t remember getting over her head to block out the evil sunlight. The faint glow of the phone’s screen telling her it was four thirty was enough to set her brain off on another wave of pain, even despite the comforting darkness of the blanket over her head.

Four thirty!

She threw the blanket off herself and sat upright, blinking away the blinding heat. How could she sleep for so long? Couldn’t she sleep for just a little while longer?

No. She had promised Emma. She had to go.

A quick shower would boost her willingness to get up and out of the house, she knew, but she also knew that, in her state, no shower would be quick. She settled for brushing her teeth, washing her face, and changing her clothes—she was still wearing the same dress from the night before and it reeked of alcohol and smoke. After chugging a few glasses of water, peeing, and chugging one more, she sprinted—or probably jogged is a better word, but she was running as fast she could—out to the parade grounds, making it with still a few minutes to spare.

She was surprised by the turnout. There must have been thirty or so people there—including Nikola and Rod—but only a few of them were from the lame news party. Emma was walking between them, handing around a clipboard that everyone was writing on, and everyone else was just standing there, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Tillie walked up to Nikola, who was standing with Rod under the flag pole a little way apart from the rest of the crowd, staring at everyone in awe, and said, “Hey, y’all.”

Nikola smiled and fixed her glasses. “Hey.”

“Sup,” Rod said.

“It’s a pretty good turnout, huh?” Tillie said

“Yeah, buoy. When do we get started?” Rod asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never been to one,” Nikola said with a shrug.

“Yeah. Me neither,” Tillie said. “What are we supposed to be doing anyway?”

Nikola shrugged.

“A General Assembly,” Rod said. “You know—”

But Emma cut him off by clapping and yelling over the crowd. “Okay! Okay!” she called. “Thank you all for coming out, and welcome! Now. First of all. I want all of you to go ahead right now and give yourself a round of applause.” A few people laughed, but no one clapped. “No, but seriously. You all came out here today to reclaim control of your lives. You took the first step, and you’re one of the brave few pioneers because of it. I think that’s a cause for admiration, so even if you don’t do it, I’ll just clap for you. Come on, now. Join me.” She started clapping, and soon, the whole crowd was clapping with her—even Tillie.

“Good,” she said. “Good. But now I want to say that we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve only just begun. And we won’t accomplish anything if we don’t keep at it. Do you hear me?” She clapped again and everyone joined in.

“I hope you all want to continue to stand with me to reclaim our lives together. Now. Before we go on. Is there anyone else that has anything they want to say? Are there any questions? Don’t be afraid.”

A hand rose in the crowd and Emma pointed it out. “What are we doing here?” the hand’s voice yelled, and a few people near it laughed.

“Good question,” Emma said. “That’s exactly where I was going next. So, if no one else objects…” She looked around and got no response. “I’m here to tell you that everything you’ve been taught up until this point in your life has been a lie.”

“Including this?” came the same voice as before, followed by the same laughs.

Up until this point,” Emma repeated, unphased by the heckling interruption, “you were led to believe that 3D printers rearrange matter and androids work on assembly lines. I’m here to tell you that neither of those things are true. I’m here to tell you that what you all no doubt saw on Logo’s Show was not a hoax. Humans work on assembly lines, and we exploit them every day.”

The crowd was stunned speechless. Tillie was, too. She didn’t think that Emma would just come out with it like that, especially knowing what the protectors had done to Russ—a famous star—when he had talked about it. As if on cue, Tillie heard the sound of stomping boots and saw a white-clad platoon of maybe fifty to a hundred protectors in their terrifying helmets—facemasks made to look like screaming almost-humans—plated armor vests, and cargo pants, marching toward the assembly from the elevators. Everyone else had seen the same thing, too, and they were all cowering closer together in a panicked group.

“It’s alright,” Emma said, holding strong at the front of the assembly. “Link arms. They won’t initiate force if we stick together. We just have to remain calm and peaceful and everything will be okay. Now everybody link arms with your neighbor.”

Tillie joined in, linking arms with Emma on one side and Nikola on the other. Together, the group of thirty or so students formed a curving chain curled up tight into a little ball of frightened animals.

“This is an unauthorized use of the parade grounds, citizens,” a protector whose facemask was adorned with a bushy black mustache said in a deep modulated voice, teeth glowing neon red, yellow, and green as it talked, pointing its gun at the assembly of students. The other protectors fanned out in formation, aiming their own guns, too. “Disperse peacefully or face justice.”

“We’re students here,” Emma said.

Tillie could feel her heart beating out of her chest. She didn’t know how Emma found the courage to turn air into words when Tillie was having so much trouble simply breathing. Emma went on nonetheless.

“We’ve done nothing wrong,” she said. “We aren’t bothering anyone. We have the same right as any student does to use these parade grounds.”

“This is the last warning,” the protector said. “Disperse or face justice.”

Tillie wanted to leave. She could feel Nikola’s grip weakening and Emma’s tightening. She wondered if anyone had left yet, then she heard the voice who had asked all the questions during the assembly yell, “I hope you die, piggies! Oink! Oink! Oink!”

At the lobbed insult, chaos erupted. Tillie heard footsteps and laughter as the jokesters ran away, and at the same time, her eyes filled with fire. Every breath she took burned, and wiping her eyes or coughing only made the fire burn brighter in her pores and in her lungs. There was screaming, maybe even Tillie’s own, and soon, even Emma’s grip on her arm gave way. Tillie was alone in a cloud of gaseous flames. A few loud bangs went off—pow pow pow—before the blow to her chest knocked the air out of her lungs and the cold concrete of the sidewalk, caressing the back of her head, put her to sleep.

#     #     #

< XXI. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     XXIII. Huey >

There it is, dear readers, the exciting continuation of Infinite Limits that you’ve been waiting for. Join us again next Saturday for the next chapter, or if you can’t wait, purchase a copy of the full novel right through this link. Have a great weekend, and happy Halloween.

-Bryan “With a Y”

Author’s Note on Murder in “Utopia,,


Another Saturday comes and still no new chapters to post for Infinite Limits. Sorry, dear readers. But I do have the print proof now so I can say for sure that next Saturday will mark the return of the Infinite Limits universe to this blog with the first chapter in book two, An Almost Tangent.

In the meantime, I took some time this morning to write an author’s note for my absurd novella Murder in “Utopia,, which you can purchase (or read for free if you have kindle unlimited or Amazon prime) through this link.

Here’s that author’s note to give you a better idea of what’s going on in the novella, and don’t forget to sign up for my email newsletter, with updates on new releases and offers for free books, right through here.

Murder In Utopia Cover JPEG

Author’s Note on Murder in “Utopia,,

For this novella my main goal was to produce a work that was at the same time absurdist and decidedly literary. I think I’ve succeeded in both aspects.

Murder in “Utopia,, was written without the use of quotation marks to distinguish dialogue from narration, much like you would find in a Cormac McCarthy novel. I however, unlike McCarthy who uses the same format for all his works, only wanted to forgo the use of quotation marks if it was for a purpose in the story that went beyond stylistic preferences. With Murder in “Utopia,, I found that purpose.

The story takes place almost entirely inside a priest’s confessional office. Chapters alternate between a psychiatrist giving her confessions to the priest and the confessions of the very patients mentioned by the psychiatrist in her sessions. Every sentence that is written in the past tense is spoken aloud to the priest or by her, and every sentence that is written in the present tense is one of the priest’s thoughts or an action she experiences.

I think you can see now why I found the quotation marks to be unnecessary, even without my having to spoil the plot-based reasoning found in the final chapter of the novella. I think you can also see why Murder in “Utopia,, may be a difficult read the first time through. There are no quotation marks to set off dialogue, the tense of the writing changes based on whether the words are spoken or experienced, and to top it all off, no names are mentioned for any of the characters, each being referred to only by their occupation or the pronouns her, she, etc.

But fear not, dear readers. Continue on despite your confusion. Confusion is part of the experience. And by the end, I think you may realize that you’ve found more clarity than you thought possible in such a jumbled, messy “utopia”.

Thanks for reading along. I hope you enjoy the work and join me for more stories in the future.

We do nothing alone.

-Bryan Perkins 10/24/15

An Almost Tangent eBook and Author’s Note


Well people, it’s official. The ebook for An Almost Tangent is live and available for purchase through Amazon. Now, before you start reading though, this is technically a beta version. I’m still waiting on the proof of the print edition, and when I get it, I’m going to read through the novel one more time and put in some last minute edits. I won’t change much, I’m sure, but there will certainly be at least some differences.

Still, if you can’t wait, go ahead and order your electronic copy through here. And in the meantime, here’s my author’s note for An Almost Tangent.

And so arrives book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, adding more points of view onto an already hefty cast of characters. I hope I’ve been able to properly communicate their development in such a way that you’ve enjoyed their company so far.

For book two, An Almost Tangent, I use the same basic structure that I used for book one–as suggested by China Miéville, which you can read about in my author’s note for The Asymptote’s Tail. I follow again seven points of view, all from different worlds, giving each POV character three five thousand word chapters with which to tell their story. And while this novel follows a similar three act structure for its individual story arc, one could also consider book two to be the first half of the second act of the tetralogy as a whole, an act which will give us time to further explore the worlds as they stand in the Infinite Limits universe.

In this book we follow six new points of view, those of characters we’ve already met in The Asymptote’s Tail and those of characters who have not yet been introduced alike. We also return to Ansel, still in search of her family, acting as the lynchpin between the various perspectives represented in Infinite Limits so far.

This novel in particular was fun to write because I was able to draw more from my real life experiences as an organizer for Occupy Baton Rouge. I have personally gone to parties with the sole intention of handing out flyers for political events. I was taught to yell tiny soundbites on repeat, creating the people’s mic that helped us be heard in places where megaphones were banned. I joined general assemblies, and I took to the streets with my fellow community members.

I very well could have been living in Outland Two, just like Tillie who goes through many of the same experiences in this novel. After all, that’s the point of literature in my opinion, and speculative fiction specifically: To illuminate the darkness in our present society so we can better find a method of fixing those problems together.

I hope I have illuminated some small part of our society for you at the same time that I have crafted believable characters and an enjoyable story. Thank you for giving me your time. Thank you for giving me a chance. I sincerely hope you join us again for book three.

We do nothing alone.

-Bryan Perkins 10/19/15

Thanks for reading, y’all. Click here if you want email updates on all my new releases. And click here to order your copy of An Almost Tangent today.

About An Almost Tangent


Hello readers. I’m sorry to say that there will be no new chapters from Infinite Limits again this week. But that should all change next Saturday because I’m well on my way to publishing book two, An Almost Tangent. I have my proof copy for the print version ordered already, and I’m just left to format the eBook version. That should be published sometime this next week and the print version not long after that. If you want to keep up to date on when exactly they come out, sign up for my email newsletter right here.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one last sneak peek of An Almost Tangent before full publication. This time it’s the back of the book blurb. Now, if you haven’t already read book one of Infinite Limits, The Asymptote’s Tail, there are some spoilers in this blurb, so don’t read on if you don’t want to read them. You’ve been warned. :)

An Almost Tangent

The walls between Outlands Five and Six have been destroyed, forcing the two to merge into a third, new world. In An Almost Tangent, book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, we follow six new points of view and one old as they each deal with unique consequences of that merger.

The owners of Inland face a choice. Would it be more profitable to resegregate Five and Six or to allow the two worlds to continue to intermingle? Lord Walker has his opinion on the matter, and the other members of the Fortune Five have theirs, but in the meantime, they all still have the chaos of riots and protests throughout all the Outlands to deal with.

In Outland One we experience firsthand the life of a protector in training. In Two we follow Tillie, a university student, as she unwittingly joins a protest movement on campus. In Three we meet a no name movie crew, attempting to become famous with their first independent film. While Five and Six bring us one never before introduced character’s point of view and that of an old friend, both to explore life in the poorest worlds—now world—of Outland.

Leaving us with none other than Ansel Server. Having lost her mother to the wrath of the protectors, she’s left only to fight for the life of her father—who was imprisoned by those very same protectors. The Scientist promised she’d help, Ansel’s dead set on making sure they get to him in time, and the only way to find out what happens is to join us for An Almost Tangent.

I hope you’re as excited about the release as I am, readers. Less than two weeks to wait. Until next time.