An Almost Tangent Cover and Table of Contents


If you’ve been following along on the blog, you probably already know that last Saturday the final chapter of The Asymptote’s Tail (book 1 of Infinite Limits) was made available here on the website. So as you might expect, I don’t have any new chapters to share today. Sorry.

I do, however, have some news to report about An Almost Tangent (book 2 of Infinite Limits). Not only have I been hard at work editing and formatting the print version, but I’ve also made some progress on designing a cover for the novel. If all goes to plan, I should be ordering my proof copy in the next week or so and publishing the print and eBook versions shortly after. Yay!

Until then, to tide you eager fans over (I’m sure there are tons of you, lol), I’ll share the table of contents for An Almost Tangent and my progress on the front cover so far. Enjoy, be intrigued, and let me know what y’all think in the comment section here.

An Almost Tangent

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

Thanks for stopping by, y’all. Have a great weekend.

New Author Bio for Yours Truly


I’m trying to get better at selling myself so maybe I can sell a few more books. Along with that comes a new author biography because my old one was, admittedly, crap. Here that new one is. Let me know what you think. Would you want to buy books from this guy?

Bryan “with a Y” Perkins was born an Air Force brat. It took him a long time travelling through plenty of states, and another country entirely, to make his way down to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he now calls home. From LSU he earned a degree in biology and managed to stay in town long enough after graduating to become heavily involved in Occupy Baton Rouge. He still works tirelessly to end the reign of profits over human needs, but most of that energy is spent in writing revolutionary fiction these days. So sit right down, listen to a story or two, and let’s all figure out how to make the world a better place together.

[Click here to visit Bryan’s Amazon author page.]

Photo Credit: Geoff Badeaux

Chapter 21: The Scientist


Today brings us the final chapter of The Asymptote’s Tail, book one of the Infinite Limits series. I hope you’ve enjoyed everything so far and that you aren’t disappointed by this conclusion. If not, please do think about picking up a copy from Amazon to show your support for my future works. And if you can’t wait to hear what happens in book two, don’t worry, I’m hard at work editing it now so it should be published within the next month or two at the latest. Beyond that, my latest novella (Murder in “Utopia,,) is up for sale, too, and it will be released tomorrow, October 4th, for only $2. So think about picking up a copy of that while you’re at it.

That’s enough advertising for this morning. Thanks again for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll join us for future installments in Infinite Limits and beyond. Have a great weekend.

The Scientist

< XX. Tom     [Table of Contents]

XXI. The Scientist

The speech went well. The amplifiers deafened the owners and made them shut up for a little while, so she had that going for her. Which was nice. But there was also the obstacle she didn’t foresee, there were always obstacles you couldn’t foresee.

When she had finished her speech, she went backstage to count her fifteen minutes down as Rosalind fetched her daughter. Then the protector came from the dressing area. The Scientist hid behind some unused scenery as the protector went out to give a speech of his own and fire two shots, then a little girl came running out of nowhere to tackle him. They both disappeared back into the dressing area, then Huey came rushing backstage behind Rosalind who was carrying Haley’s lifeless body over her shoulder.

“He’s going to try to stop you,” Huey pled, chasing her. “You can’t just take her in front of everyone like that!”

“I’d like to see them try!” Rosalind said, laying Haley on the ground in front of the Scientist. “You have to help her.”

Tears welled up behind the Scientist’s eyes.

Hellooo,” Rosalind said, waving a hand in front of her face. “She needs help now. We don’t have time for this.” Owners had started crowding around the stage to see what was going on, and protectors would be on their way as soon as they were sure that Lord Walker was alright.

“I can’t do anything here,” the Scientist said. “I need—”

“Let’s go, then.” Rosalind lifted Haley’s body and carried her toward the closet elevator. The Scientist and Huey followed, and they were gone through the hole and back to the lab before anyone could tell the difference.

“Alright, here?” Rosalind asked, laying Haley on the lab table.

“No,” the Scientist said. “The engineering room. I’ll meet you there.”

Rosalind picked Haley up and disappeared out into the hall.

The Scientist searched frantically through the drawers to find the serum. “Is there anything I can do?” Huey asked.

“Wait,” the Scientist said, grabbing what she needed. She ran out into the hall, closed the door, opened it again, and ran into the engineering room. Haley was sprawled out on the drafting table as Rosalind brushed the hair out of her face.

“She doesn’t look good,” Rosalind said.

“I’ll fix that,” the Scientist said, filling a syringe with serum and flicking the air bubbles out, always sure to do it, even when she was in a hurry.

“Are you sure?”

“I am. But I need you to leave so I can…I’m going to be using some…”

“You don’t have to make excuses,” Rosalind said, standing from Haley’s side. “Just fix her. And get me when she’s better.”

The Scientist watched the door close behind Rosalind. She went back to filling the syringe and tapping out any air. Satisfied, she plunged it into Haley’s thigh then set to extracting the bullet. The serum helped to push it out, and the process was easier than she expected it to be. This was a Sixer round, not a protector round. That was the first clue as to who was behind it.

The bullet out, and with less effort than she expected, the Scientist only had to pull up a stool and wait for the nanobots to take effect. With such quick application, there would be virtually no damage. The tears came back to the Scientist’s eyes when Haley blinked herself awake.

“Wh—Where am I?” Haley asked, groggily.

“You’re safe,” the Scientist said in almost a whisper.

“Where’s Lord Walker?” Haley asked, sitting up fast.

“He’s safe, too,” the Scientist said, reassuring her. “But he doesn’t matter. You do.”

“Wh—who are you?” Haley asked, frowning.

“I’m…” The Scientist shook her head. She couldn’t answer that just yet.

Thankfully, Haley stalled a little longer for her. “Where am I?” she asked again, looking around the room.

“You’re in my lab.” The Scientist tried to blink away her tears. “One of them at least.”

“And who are you?”

“I—I’m…a friend. I’m the Scientist.”

Haley waited for her to go on, but when she didn’t, she said, “But what’s your name?”

Oof. The Scientist had given her name up when Lord Walker had taken her daughter from her. He had taken her name from her, too, and given it to her daughter instead. “I’m Dr. Haley,” she said after a long silence.

“Haley? That’s my name.”

The Scientist tried not to cry. “Yes,” she said, shaking her head. “Yes it is.”

“Why am I here?”

“You were shot, saving Lord Walker.”

“He is okay, though. Isn’t he?”

“Yes, dear. He is.”

I took a bullet for him.” Haley shook her head.

“You did.”

Ugh. Why’d I do that?”

The Scientist laughed and cried at the same time. “I don’t know, dear,” she said, sniffling. “You tell me.”

“I don’t know, either,” Haley said, shaking her head still. “I guess I was supposed to. Wait, where am I?” She looked around the room again.

“It’s alright, dear,” the Scientist said, chuckling so as not to cry. “You’re safe.”

“Why do you have to keep reassuring me I’m safe if I really am?”

“Well, you’ve been shot,” the Scientist said. “Your system is going through shock. I injected you with nanobots, and they’ll fix you right up, but it takes a little bit of time.”


“Yes.” The Scientist nodded. “The main ingredient in the smoothies you eat. But an injection is the only thing that could work fast enough to heal a wound like yours.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Well, I’m a scientist, dear. The Scientist. It’s my job to know.”

Haley shook her head and rubbed her eyes. She rolled her shoulders then put her hand on her chest. “My chest hurts,” she said.

The Scientist chuckled. She started to cry again. “Yes. You were shot.”

“But why?”

“That’s a long story, dear. And one I don’t know all of yet. But you don’t have to worry about that now. We’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Haley asked, squinting to get a different perspective.

The Scientist nodded, trying to hold back full blown sobs, although she couldn’t contain her tears. “Yes, dear,” she said. “I—I’m your mother.”

Haley shook her head. She looked confused. “No,” she said. “I don’t have a—a mother.”

“Who told you that?” The Scientist frowned.

“I’m a robot,” Haley said, nodding like it was obvious. “I wasn’t born.”

“Have you always existed?”

“Well, no. Not always. But I wasn’t born.”

“You were born. You were born right here in this room. Right there on the table you’re sitting on now.”

Haley looked around the room. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I would have remembered that. I remember everything. I was turned on in Lord Walker’s kitchen, and that’s the first memory I have.”

“It’s not the first thing you remember, though,” the Scientist said. “There are pieces left from before that. They tried to erase them, but they couldn’t. That’s why you recognize me.”

Haley rubbed her eyes. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean—I thought I did, but it must be that you look like someone I’ve seen before. That’s all.”

“You, dear?” the Scientist asked, raising an eyebrow.

Haley shook her head. “No, of course not.”

The Scientist chuckled, trying not to take offense. “You’re my daughter. You were made to look like me.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “I look nothing like you.”

“Not anymore,” the Scientist said. “No. I’ll give you that. But you look like I did when I created you. That was a long time ago, dear. We humans change over that kind of time.”

“Y—You’re serious,” Haley said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“I am, dear. I’ve never been more serious in my life. I’ve waited all this time to see you again and here you are.” The tears came back stronger than ever.

“No.” Haley shook her head.

The Scientist knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince her, but she had to keep trying. “Yes,” she said. “I invented the technology that is you. I invented you. You were the first android I ever created, and I did it right here in this room. I turned you on while you were laying on that table, and this was the first sight you ever saw. Well, except try to picture your own face instead of mine.” She smiled through her tears, though she knew it only accentuated her wrinkles and crow’s feet.

“That’s why I recognize this place?”

“And why you recognize me.”

“You’re…you’re my mother?” She kind of frowned as she said it.

“And you’re my daughter,” the Scientist said, letting out a big sigh of relief at finally getting the message across.

“I didn’t think I could be a daughter,” Haley said. “Or—I mean—I didn’t think I could have a mother.”

“You can. And you are. And you do. I’ve been waiting your whole life to get back to you.”

“Is that why Rosalind was asking all those weird questions?”

“Yes, dear. She’s your sister. We want you to live here with us. We don’t want to waste any more time without you, and you won’t have to work for Lord Walker ever again.”

Haley didn’t seem convinced. “What? And work for Mr. Douglas instead?”

“No,” the Scientist said, shaking her head. “Of course not. Come live with me, finally enjoy the childhood you never had. I’ll cook you breakfast, and you can watch TV all day. You can do whatever you want. I just want you to do it here, near me, so I can share the experience with you.”

“But what about Lord Walker?”

“Lord Walker will be fine,” the Scientist said. “He’ll get another secretary to replace you. He’ll make sure she looks and sounds just like you, and he won’t know the difference.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “But I’m the best. He’s always told me so. That’s why we’re number one in the Fortune 5.”

“He’s number one on the Fortune 5, because he started out as number one on the Fortune 5. No offense to your abilities, Haley, but the newer models trade just as efficiently as you do. That’s why Mr. Douglas is catching up so quickly.”

“No. But I—”

“No, Haley. Listen. We don’t have much time. I’m offering you the opportunity to come live with me, your mother, and do anything you want while you’re here, or you can go back to work for Lord Walker and do whatever he tells you to do. Those are your options.”

“I don’t even know you,” Haley said, shaking her head. “How can I believe you?”

“I don’t know. How can you believe anyone? You just have to trust me.”

Trust who?” Haley demanded. “You could be anyone telling me anything.”

The Scientist was getting anxious. All her worst fears seemed to be coming true. Grasping at straws, she said, “What about Rosalind?”


“You know her. You can trust her, can’t you?”

“I—I don’t know,” Haley said. “Maybe.”

“Well, I’ll take you to her, and you can decide for yourself,” the Scientist said, standing from her stool. “Come on.”

It took a moment for Haley to trust her own legs even. They were fine, though—thanks to the nanobots—and she followed the Scientist out to the hall. The Scientist opened the door again, and there was Huey, a little girl, and a little boy, sitting on the puffy chairs, looking out on the wilderness scene and the mountains.

“What is that?” Haley asked.

“Who is that?” the girl asked, getting up from her seat to stare at them.

“Where’s Rosalind?” the Scientist asked.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Haley,” Huey said.

“Are you the scientist?” the girl said, tugging at the Scientist’s white coat.

“Yes, dear. Just a moment, please. Huey, where’s Rosalind?”

“In the lab, ma’am.” He bowed.

Ah. Of course. Come with me.” The Scientist pulled Haley back into the hall.

“But, Mr. Douglas…” Haley said as the door closed.

“Yes, dear. How do you think Roz could work for me if he didn’t? She’s actually been at it longer than he has, you know.” She opened the door, and Rosalind was playing cards with Popeye at a table in the lab. “There she is,” the Scientist said. “Rosalind, dear. I have someone here who would like to talk to you.”

Rosalind stood up fast and turned around, knocking cards onto the floor. Popeye waved then set to cleaning up the mess—and making more of one in the process.

“Haley,” Rosalind said, crossing to her.

“Rosalind?” Haley said.

“You made it.” Rosalind hugged her.

“I—uh. Yeah. I did.”

“And the Scientist told you?” Rosalind looked between the two of them.

“That she’s my mother? Yes. But I don’t know if I—”

“That you’re my sister, Haley. That we’re sisters. She’s my mom, too.”

“No, but…” Haley shook her head. “We can’t have a mother. We’re robots.”

“I’m not a robot,” Rosalind said. “I’m a person. And I do have a mom. She’s our mom.”

“Then why don’t I remember her? I remember everything I’ve ever experienced.”

“Because you don’t remember everything you’ve ever experienced,” Rosalind said. “They have access to your memory bank. They tried to erase your memories, but they couldn’t do it. There are still pieces. I know there are.”

“It’s true, dear,” the Scientist said, nodding. “We’re working on repairing memories here in the lab. If you stay with us, we can work on repairing yours, too. If you want us to, that is.”

“You haven’t even decided to stay yet?” Rosalind said, looking at Haley in disbelief.

“I—Stay?” Haley scoffed. “This is just too weird.” She stepped back from the both of them.

“It’s strange, Haley,” Rosalind said. “I know that. Believe me. I went through the exact process you’re going through when mom explained to me where we came from, but you have to believe me when I say it’s much better than being a slave to some owner.”

“But you still work for Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

With Huey, dear,” the Scientist said. “They work together.”

Um. Mom,” Rosalind said, giving the Scientist a look. “Do you mind if I talk to her alone for a minute? Would that be alright with you, Haley?”

Haley shrugged. She looked overwhelmed.

Hmmm. I don’t know, dear,” the Scientist said. “We don’t have much time. They’ll be looking for—”

“They’ll be looking for her either way,” Rosalind said. “And it won’t take long, just a few minutes between sisters. Please.”

“But, dear—”

“Besides,” Rosalind cut her off. “You have a little visitor to deal with, remember? She’s been waiting a long time.”

“I—Well…Okay,” the Scientist said, shrugging. “I guess. A few minutes. But I want to talk to you before you leave, Haley. If that’s what you decide to do.”

“Of course,” Rosalind said, shoving her out the door. “We’ll be right out.”

The hall door closed behind the Scientist. She sighed and wiped her eyes. Rosalind was right, she knew more than anyone what Haley was going through, and she would be the best person to help her through it. The Scientist had to accept that. She already had more than fifteen minutes with Haley, anyway. She had no room to complain. She only had room left to wait and hope that Rosalind could convince Haley to stay, hope one of her daughters could convince the other to rejoin the family. Her stomach gurgled thinking about what they were saying behind the closed door. She had to do something to get her mind off it.

The door opened and Huey almost ran into her. “Oh. I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, bowing low.

“No no, dear,” the Scientist said, shaking her head and waving her hands. “I shouldn’t have been standing in front of the door. What is it?”

“Our guests, ma’am,” Huey said. “Well, the girl. She’s…anxious to see you. She’s losing what little patience she had.”

“Well well,” the Scientist said, walking into the office. “Let me meet this girl at once, then.”

“I’m not a girl,” she said, standing from a puffy chair to cross her arms and stare defiantly at the Scientist.

“Yes you are,” a boy behind her said, peeling himself away from the view.

“No. I’m not,” she said.

“I’m sorry, dear,” the Scientist said. “I didn’t know. How should I refer to you, then?”

“Ansel,” she said. “My name’s Ansel.”

“And you’re a girl,” the boy said.

No, I’m not. Stop saying that!”

“Well what are you then?” the boy prodded her on.

“I don’t know,” Ansel said. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re the Scientist, right?”

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said with a smile. She liked this Ansel already. “That’s me. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I gave you the information you wanted,” Ansel said. “So you have to give me something now, right?”

The Scientist chuckled. “Now, I don’t know what information you gave us,” she said. “But I’d still be willing to offer you an opportunity. What opportunity is it that you want?”

“My dad,” Ansel answered without hesitation. “I want my dad back.”

Hmmm.” The Scientist frowned. “Where is he?”

“The protectors took him. And they…they killed my mom.”

“Oh, dear.” The Scientist moved to comfort her, but she backed away.

“So, can you do it?”

“If the protectors have him, we can get him,” the Scientist said. “If they have him. But I can’t tell you for sure right now.”

“But you’ll do it for me,” Ansel said. “You’ll find him.”

“Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Anything for a determined little gi—er—child like yourself. Huey here tells me you demanded to see me.”

“I’ve been jerked around before, ma’am.”

“I understand, dear.” The Scientist smiled. “I understand. You won’t be getting that here, though. You can trust me.”

“Good.” Ansel uncrossed her arms, satisfied.

“And you, boy,” the Scientist said. “You are a boy aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He looked a little scared to be talking to her.

“And do you have a name?”

“Pidg—er—Richard, ma’am,” he said.

“We call him Pidgeon,” Ansel said.

“Well, Richard,” the Scientist said. “Do you have any requests? You brought this information, too. Didn’t you?”

Richard looked at Ansel as if he needed her permission to speak. Unsure of himself still when he didn’t get it, he said, “Yeah, well…There is one thing.” He tugged at a thread on the hem of his shirt.

“Go ahead, dear,” the Scientist said.

“Well,” he said. “It’s just. We don’t really have a place to stay, you know. And I’m a little hungry. And…I could use a bath.” He blushed and covered the stain on the front of his pants. “And with you getting Ansel’s dad for us and all, I just thought that maybe…I don’t know—never mind. It’s stupid.” He shook his head.

Oh. Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Of course. How could I neglect that? We could manage it, right Huey? We have a couple of free rooms, don’t we?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Huey said, bowing his head. “What would you like to eat, sir?” he asked Richard.

“Oh. Um.” Richard’s face turned a deeper red. “Anything really. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll surprise you, sir,” Huey said. “And Ansel?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Very well.” Huey left the room.

“So,” the Scientist said, sitting in one of the puffy chairs. Ansel sat in the chair across from her, and Richard went to look out the window. “You say the protectors took your father.”

“That’s right,” Ansel said, all business.

“When did it happen?”

“One, two days ago.” Ansel shrugged, shaking her head. “I’ve lost count.”

“Good,” the Scientist said, nodding. “Recently then. That’s good.”

“Tom was supposed to help me,” Ansel said.

“The protector who you stopped at the Feast?”

“If that was a feast.”

“Ansel, I know we’ll be able to get your father.”

The door opened, and Richard turned with an eager face, but when it was Haley and Rosalind and not the food, he went back to staring out the window.

“You’re back,” the Scientist said, crossing the room to them. She couldn’t tell whether Haley was staying or going. “Have you met our guests?”

“She’s the one I gave the information to,” Ansel said, walking over to them.

“We’ve met,” Rosalind said.

“And this is my—this is Haley,” the Scientist said.

“I’m Ansel.”

“Hello, Ansel,” Haley said, curtsying.

“So,” the Scientist said. “How did your conversation go? Did you come to a decision?”

“I chose…” Haley stalled.

“Well, we—” Rosalind said, but Huey came in pushing a cart piled with food, trailed by Mr. Kitty in his red collar.

“Food!” Richard yelled, jumping up and down around the cart as Huey pushed it in. Mr. Kitty ran out of his way and jumped onto one of the puffy chairs to lick himself.

“The cat!” Ansel said.

“I didn’t know what you wanted, sir,” Huey said. “So I brought a little of a lot. I hope you approve.”

Om—thanks—nom,” Richard said, stuffing his face with red beans, shrimp, and sausage from the cart.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Please, Haley,” Huey said, bowing. “My name’s Huey. You can use it while we’re here.”

“Huey,” Haley said, a little awkwardly, as if she still didn’t feel comfortable calling him that. “Y—You actually work with them.” She seemed more shocked than she had when the Scientist told her that she was her mom.

“I do what I can,” Huey said, tipping his hat.

“And you’re my sister,” Haley said to Rosalind.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Rosalind said with a sigh.

“And that means…” Haley looked at the Scientist who thought she saw tears in Haley’s eyes, but it must have been an illusion, Haley wasn’t built to do that. “That you’re my mother.”

The Scientist was, though. And that she did. She didn’t make a sound, but she couldn’t hold the torrent of tears. “I am,” she whispered.

“Mom.” Haley embraced her as she cried.

“You’re her mom?” Ansel said. “But you’re so old.”

Rosalind laughed. The Scientist did, too, while she cried. Then everyone joined in for a chuckle. Even Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said. “But families come in all shapes and sizes.”

And ages,” Richard added, a hunk of bread stuffed in his mouth.

“And ages,” the Scientist repeated, wiping her eyes.

“But you’re still gonna get my dad, right?”

“Of course we are, dear,” the Scientist said. She looked around. Huey, Rosalind, and even Haley nodded. Richard went on stuffing his face. Mr. Kitty licked himself. “We’ll do it together.”

Ansel smiled. “We do nothing alone.”

End of Book One

#     #     # 


First and foremost, I’d like to thank Sophie Kunen for being, if not the first to believe in my writing, the first to convince me she did. I still write between the leather you gave me. This one’s for you, as they all are.

Next, I have to say thank you to David Garifo for keeping me sane when I first moved down to New Orleans—which happened to be at the same time I was doing the majority of the heavy lifting on this novel. David’s once-every-week-or-two visits were about the only personal interaction I got while living in that attic on Elysian Fields, so thank you, sir, for all you did, and still do, to support my writing in your unique way.

And third, a special thanks goes out to Matt Maresh, the first person other than me to actually read this thing through all the way to the end. This version’s a little different than the version you read, Matt, but I don’t expect you to read it again. Save your eyes for volume two when I might need the same boost of confidence.

Almost last, but certainly not least, thanks to my parents, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that I can be anything in the world I want, and my brothers, Tor Tor and Rob, for believing in me when I thought I could be everything.

And finally, thank you readers. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, and I hope you’ll join me again in volume two. Always remember:

We do nothing alone.


Thanks again, y’all. That’s a wrap for real this time. Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you’re inclined to do that type of thing. And keep on coming back here for more news and information about the forthcoming continuation of the Infinite Limits series with book two: An Almost Tangent.

Murder in “Utopia,,


Who am I today?
Who am I tomorrow, then?
How can I be both?

Murder In Utopia Cover JPEG

What’s up, y’all? Today I’m happy to announce that a novella I’ve been working on for some time now (Murder in “Utopia,,) is up for pre-sale on Amazon, available this coming Sunday, October 4th.

Now, I know, I know. That’s a pretty short pre-sale time limit, but I just wanted to give a little time for everyone to hear the news and put their two dollars in so we can have a big group of them sold all at the same time on release day. That way I’ll get higher up in the Amazon rankings and I’ll be seen by a wider audience.

So please, think about reserving your copy of this absurd first person novella about a priest and a psychiatrist living in utopia who discuss with each other their confessors and patients, a list of people that includes a surprising number of murderers for such a “utopian” society.

Thanks for your time. Have a great day.

Chapter 20: Tom


Chapter 20’s here with Tom’s final POV chapter, and now he’s just Tom. No Officer Pardy, no Pardy, just Tom. I hope you’ve been enjoying everything, because next week I’ll post the final final chapter for book one of the Infinite Limits series (or, as usual, you can buy it on Amazon through here). Thanks for joining us. And have a good weekend.

< XIX. Ellie     [Table of Contents]     XXI. The Scientist >

XX. Tom

“Ansel, wait!” Tom called as the children ran away. They were so small he only had to jog to keep up, but he knew it was no use. “Pidgeon!” he called, sprinting to catch up with the boy—who was lagging behind—and grabbing him by the shoulder to stop him.

“Please don’t hurt me,” the boy said, holding his hands up in front of his face. A little puddle formed at the front of his pants.

“I’m not—I won’t—” Tom said. “You’re Pidgeon, right.”

The kid was shaking still, but he dropped his hands. “R—Richard, sir.” He nodded.

“But they call you Pidgeon, right? She does, Ansel does.” The name tasted like guilt in his mouth.

“Yes, sir,” Pidgeon said, nodding. “All the kids at school do.”

“I don’t care about the kids at school, son. I care about Ansel. Now I need you to catch up to her and protect her with everything you’ve got. You understand me?”

“I—uh—I was, sir,” Pidgeon said, shaking more violently. “But you stopped me.”

“No, kid,” Tom said, stepping closer and looking him in the eyes. “I mean you stick by her side no matter what. I’m coming back here, and I will find her. If you’re not there with her when I do, then I’ll find you next, and it won’t be to protect you. You got that?”

“No. I—But—Why me?”

“Someone has to protect her while I’m not there.” Tom shook his head. “You’re the only one who’s left, so you’ll have to do.”

“But what am I supposed to do?”

“I said you’ll do. You’ll do whatever it takes. And don’t let me find out that you didn’t.”

“But, I—”

“Go!” Tom stomped his foot to scare the kid away. Pidgeon’s eyes grew wide as he fled clumsily away. He looked like he probably pissed himself again.

Tom took off the old model helmet that Rosa and Anna had given him and carried it by his side, roaming the streets of 6. What good was the helmet to him now? If anyone wanted to shoot him, they could go right ahead and do it. He didn’t care. He had failed and failed and failed, and he was on his way to face the consequences of that failure. At least if someone shot him now, they would keep him from that experience. In fact, he didn’t know why he was still carrying the stupid thing at all. He tossed it at the building closest to him and felt better for having the weight lifted.

Why did he need any of it? He unbuckled his plated vest as he walked and tossed that on the ground, too. Now they would have an even bigger target to put him out of his misery.

He didn’t know where he was, but he kept walking. Without his helmet and vest, people didn’t recognize him as a protector. The streets filled up as he wandered through them.

Maybe he didn’t have to go back and face the consequences after all. Maybe he could stay here in Outland 6 and blend in as one of them. He was a lot taller than they were, sure, but they didn’t seem to notice or care. No one even glanced at him twice now that he was out of his protector uniform.

He plopped down on the sidewalk with his back leaning on a rough brick building and untied his heavy white boots, throwing them on the ground next to him with a thud. Why not? He didn’t need any of it anymore. And maybe if they found him shoeless and half-naked they’d be easier on his punishment. Probably not, but he was beyond caring.

He got up and tried out his socked feet. The ground was rough, and every few steps he’d hit a pebble, or a shard of glass, and feel a shock of pain shoot up through his foot, but he almost liked it. It was freeing. Or, no, that wasn’t right. It was grounding. He could feel the ground underneath his feet, and he finally knew where he stood. He tore his undershirt off, too, and walked on with nothing but his white protector cargo pants and white cotton socks.

People did start to look at him then. He had gone over that line of blending in right back to standing out more than ever. Now, though, instead of running away at first sight of him, people either pointed and stared, or tried to avoid eye contact as they scurried by. The crowd parted in front of him however they reacted. He felt as if he were afflicted with some contagious disease. They all steered clear of him until a little boy ran out and offered him a bright red poinsettia.

Tom looked down at the kid’s dirty, smiling face and the flower in his hand. He extended his own hand to reach for the flower and it shook with the effort. He put the poinsettia to his nose and smelled it. Tears welled up behind his eyes and something caught in his stomach. “Thank you,” he whispered. The kid smiled wider then ran back into the crowd of people.

He did still care. Of course he did. He cared about his son back home, he cared about setting a good example for him. That’s why he had done all of this in the first place, to protect his son, not to protect Ansel. She was collateral assistance. He was supposed to be setting an example for his son, building a world that was safe for him to live in, but what was he doing instead? He was half-naked in the streets of Outland 6, giving up on his life. What kind of an example was that?

He put the flower in his pocket then tried to find some landmark to show him where he was. So few of the intersections had signs, it was impossible to find out that way. He didn’t recognize anything. He tried the next street, and the next, then turned a corner and went down another street or two.

He was starting to regret taking off his shoes. His feet burned. Every step now was like walking on glass, whether he actually stepped on a piece or not. At the next intersection there were still no signs in sight. He checked the bottom of one foot, and as suspected, his sock was soaked in blood. Great. Exactly what he needed, open wounds on the bottom of his feet so he could catch whatever diseases the streets of Outland 6 carried. Still, he had no choice but to carry on. Going back to find his shoes now would only open him to more risk.

It was three more blocks before he found a sign, and he didn’t recognize the street name. Still, it was a sign. He followed the street he had a name for until he came to the next named street a few blocks away. This one he did recognize. He knew where he was, and he knew where he had left to go. He sighed in relief and his feet ached less because of it. It was four blocks to the Neutral Grounds, then there was a transport bay every fifteen blocks along that. This street was right in the middle of two transport bays—of course—but it was somewhere, which was a lot better than nowhere.

He had hoped to see a protector and be able to hail them before he got to the Grounds, but he didn’t see anyone between where he was and the closest transport bay, a transport bay which wouldn’t open without his comm link. He sat down with his back on the bay doors and checked his feet again. The entire bottom of both socks were soaked in blood, so he had no way to tell how bad the injuries were. For all he knew he could be soleless. He wanted to peel his socks off to get a closer look, but he thought that would only make things worse, especially if he ended up having to walk some more.

What to do now? He could sit there and wait for someone to come out of the bay, giving his feet a rest in the process, but there was no telling how long that would take. He looked at his feet one more time and tried blowing on them to ease the pain, but it didn’t help, the socks were in the way. It did stretch his already worked muscles, though, so he went on for a while anyway to give them a cool down. Then he leaned back and looked at the trees in the Grounds.

What was he going to tell the Captain when he finally got back? How could he explain this? His nakedness? How could he explain being ambushed by tiny troll ladies?

Okay. He got hit in the back of the neck and knocked out. That was a fact. He wouldn’t be lying if he said it. And there was physical evidence to back that up. Then they took his gun, comm link, and all his gear, and they sent him off to fend for himself. He walked for blocks and blocks, until his feet were bloody, and he finally found a transport bay. They had to believe him. Look at his feet.

Or they knew it was him at the Feast. Then what would they do? He didn’t want to think about that. He was lucky he didn’t have to, because the transport bay doors opened behind him, and he fell backwards at the feet of three protectors.

“Well, well, well,” one of the protectors said through bright, shining teeth.

“Pardy. You make our job easy,” another said in the same modulated voice.

“Home base, we have the golden egg. Be back in five,” the third added.

“Already?” came a voice over their comm links. “Congratulations, Officers. Bring him in.”

“Tom Pardy, you are under arrest for attempted assassination and dereliction of duty. Surrender now or face justice.”

Tom stood and backed away from them, wincing at the pain. “I—what?” he said, holding his hands up. “No. I didn’t—”

One of them took out their stun gun. “Just come quietly, or we’ll do this the hard way. You were a protector once, Pardy. You know how this goes.”

“No. You can’t,” Tom said. “You don’t understand. I can explai—”

Tom felt the pinch of taser darts sticking like tiny fishhooks into his bare chest, a shock of electricity surging throughout his body, and the hot pressure of a deafening explosion behind him which flung his body into the back wall of the transport bay where the three protectors broke his fall before he blacked out into nothingness.

#     #     #

Tom awoke for the second time in his life bound to a chair and gnashing at his restraints. A bright white light blinded him. It was much whiter than the yellow light Anna and Rosa had used to blind him. This wasn’t their dump hideout in Outland 6. The seat here was harder and colder, though it was about the same height. The air smelled antiseptic, sterile, overcleaned. This time it wasn’t Sixer scum who held him in captivity, it was his fellow protectors.

He heard the door open and close, but here it didn’t affect the brightness of the light that blinded him. Here a camera digitally tracked his pupils to ensure maximum light exposure with a light that was bright enough to penetrate eyelids. The protectors had blinding down to a science.

Whoever opened the door walked in and sat at the chair across from him. That’s all he could tell by the sound. All protectors wore the same boots, so all their footsteps sounded the same. The person didn’t say anything for a good long time. They let Tom struggle in vain until he gave up, clenching his eyes tight against the rays which he couldn’t stop.

Pardy, Pardy, Pardy,” the voice finally came, Captain Mondragon’s voice. “You should know by now that this struggling is useless. You are a protector after all. Aren’t you?”

“You killed Rabbit,” Tom said, his eyes still clenched against the hot lights.

“Watch your mouth, Pardy,” the Captain snapped. “That’s a heavy accusation to be lobbing at a superior officer. Now, we can chalk that one up to duress and move on. But before we do anything, can we turn these lights off, please? I think he’s had enough. Thank you.”

Tom’s eyelids turned from red to black. He opened his eyes slowly, and it was still blackness until they adjusted to the room. It was an interrogation room. There was a metal table, big black two way mirror, and the Captain sitting across from him, raised up a little to look down on him in his too short seat.

“There, Pardy,” the Captain said, grinning. “That’s better. Isn’t it?”

“Why are you holding me?” Tom demanded. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Pfft, Pardy.” The Captain laughed. “Please. Give us some credit. You know our capabilities.”

“I know you’re capable of killing an officer on duty.”

“Then you should know what will happen to you if you try to get in the way.” The Captain smiled. “Pardy,” she said, shaking her head. “Come on. I tried to help you. I’m trying to help you. I gave you the world on a platinum platter. You simply have to work with me, Pardy. You can do that, can’t you?”

“Work with you?” Tom scoffed. “After you sent me into that shit shift?”

“You asked for Outland 6, Pardy.”

“Not the solo Street beat right after my initiation.”

The Captain laughed. “No, Pardy. You didn’t ask for that. But when you asked for 6, you showed me that you weren’t willing to cooperate. I made it clear which precincts I thought would be most profitable for both of us.”

Tom shook his head. He struggled against his cuffs again then slammed his fists on the table. “I have my reasons! I had no choice!”

“Yes, Pardy.” The Captain smiled. “Good. You had no choice. That’s what I told them. Everyone else thought you were a rebel mole, or you went insane after killing your first Sixer, or something. But not me. No. I told them, Not Pardy. Pardy goes by the books, that one. He’s got his reasons and they support Property, Liberty, Life or I’ve never done an honest day of protector work in my life. That’s what I said, Pardy.”

“You’re mocking me.” Tom sneered.

“No, Pardy.” The Captain looked offended. “No. Well…” She chuckled. “Maybe a little. But I did say that. And that is what they think.”

“That’s why they think I came back without my gear?”

“Oh. Sweetheart.” The Captain gave him a wry grin, shaking her head. “That’s precious. But no. That’s why they think you tried to assassinate Lord Walker. They think you had a hand in all that other stuff, too—and Amaru are they looking for a head to take over that one—but I know you better than that, Pardy. Don’t I?”

“Lord Walker?”

Ugh. Pardy.” The Captain frowned. “You’re not helping my case here. You’re not helping your case. If you don’t know the name of the man you tried to kill, how could you have a legitimate reason to kill him?”

“That’s—No. I didn’t—”

“We know it was you, Pardy. Our tracking capabilities don’t end at guns and comm links. You might as well come clean now. We know where you were during your entire shift—ahem—and beyond. And we know your boots and armor were in the Feast Hall when the assassination attempt occurred. Taking into account the size of the shooter and your absence from duty, it was obviously you. Now that we have that out of the way, why’d you do it, Pardy? And make it good this time.”

“I don’t even have my boots. I didn—”

“You did it because…”

Why’d you kill Rabbit?” Tom demanded.

“Pardy.” The Captain shook her head. “I told you. Watch your mouth. Now I’m the only one on your side here. You’d do better for yourself not to alienate me. Being honest with me is the only way that I can help you.”

“Did you kill anyone else besides Rabbit?” Tom asked, gritting his teeth. He had never hated a fellow protector before. It seemed wrong to do it now, but he couldn’t hold back his anger.

“I shot the scumbag trash, low-class Sixer that dared to draw a gun on a protector. I shot the wannabe person that shot your Rabbit. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know, Pardy. Why do you care? They murdered an Officer of the Law and they’re dead because of it. Case closed.”

“No. But the woman—”

“So it is about her, then,” the Captain said, shaking her head. “Pardy, we kill people in the line of duty. It happens. If you can’t deal with that, then you’re not cut out to be a protector. Maybe you’d feel more comfortable doing housework.”

“She said she had a husband,” Tom said, ignoring her. “Was he the one who you killed?”

The Captain smiled. She leaned closer over the table. “Why do you care so much, Pardy?”

“Just tell me!”

“This isn’t a negotiation, son. It’s an interrogation. Or did you not notice the shiny, new bracelets we gave you? Silver is your color, boy.”

Tom swung his fist at her and moved his chair forward with the force of it against his handcuffs.

“Well, now you notice them for sure,” the Captain said with a smile.

“What do you want?”

“I told you. I want to know why you did it. But make it good this time. You have an audience.”

He looked over at the black mirror. “I was protecting a little girl,” he said to it instead of the Captain.

“A little girl?” the Captain said. “By shooting Lord Walker?”

Tom looked back at the Captain. “Is her dad alive?”

Her dad.” The Captain scoffed, shaking her head. “Of course. I should have known. We should have known. We do have a department for this type of thing, don’t we?”

“Is. He. Alive?” Tom demanded.

“How old is your son now, Pardy? Ten, eleven years old. I must confess, I don’t know much about your personal life.”

“Leave him out of this.”

“How can I?” the Captain said, shaking her head. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? I should have known when you started talking about that trash’s daughter earlier. This is my fault really. I’ll pull in the favors required to pay the consequences, but that’s all I need to know from you, Pardy. I wish you had thought of a better story, though. I had a lot invested in you, son. Well, good luck anyway.” She stood and made to walk away.

“Wait!” Tom called.

She stopped but didn’t turn around.

“Her father. Tell me. Is he alive?”

The Captain took a few slow steps back to the table and leaned over it to get close to his face. “For now, Pardy,” she said. He could feel the heat of her breath as she spoke and smell the liquor she must have drank before the interrogation. “But not for long. You get caught with that many printers in Outland 6 and there’s nowhere left to go. I’ll hurry it along now that I know he’s so important to you, though. You can count on that.” She pushed herself up off the table and walked out chuckling.

“I want to see him!” Tom yelled after her, but the door closed and she didn’t respond.

He fought against his chains until he bled, then he gave up. There was no use. His life was in their hands. Whoever they were. The Captain and her superiors, whoever was listening behind the black mirror, they decided his fate now. Not him. The door opened, and a pair of Officers he didn’t recognize marched in. One of them tossed the clothes out of Tom’s locker onto the table while the other undid his cuffs.

“Change into your clothes, citizen.”

Citizen? “The names Pardy,” Tom said, rubbing his bloody wrists. “Officer Pardy.”

“Not anymore, citizen. Dress yourself.” They pointed their guns at him.

“Alright, alright.” Tom slipped out of his white cargoes and into the jeans and t-shirt he had worn to his first day at the academy. They were fresh, and clean, and hadn’t been worn since. They felt soft and comforting against his skin. He only regretted the circumstances under which he had to put them back on.

“So. What now?” he asked when he was dressed. “Is that it? No trial?”

“You’ve been tried, citizen. Come with us.” One of them shoved Tom towards the door which the other had opened. They marched him at gunpoint through the halls to the transport bay where the Captain was waiting by the bay’s open doors.

“Well, Pardy,” she said. “This is the best I can do for you.”

“What?” He said through gritted teeth, fighting the urge to punch her.

“You’re clearly not stable enough to be a protector. Look at how worked up you are now. Dangerous, really.” The Captain shook her head. “And even more clearly, you miss your darling son. So it’s back to housework for you, Pardy. The only thing you’re good enough for.”


The two officers pushed him through the bay doors into the elevator and got in with him. The doors closed, the floor fell out from beneath them, then the doors opened, and one of the protectors poked Tom in the back with a gun. “Out!”

He stepped out of the doors, and they slid closed behind him.

He looked up at the sky then down at the courtyard around him, spotting a tree that he wanted to climb. He ran over to it and sat at the bottom, taking off his shoes. He got one off and his sock was still bloody. It reminded him of everything he had just been through, everything he had just done.

What was he doing now? He felt like he had been here before but with less clothes. He remembered it like it was a bad decision made a long time ago. He thought it was probably still a bad idea. There was something—something—but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. A little black cat scampered across the sidewalk in front of him and disappeared on the other side.

His son.

He stood and limped—more from having only one shoe on than from having bloody feet—down the few blocks to his house. He checked his pockets but didn’t have a key, and he had to knock on his own door to get in. He was banging excitedly when his wife yelled at him to shut up, she was coming, then opened the door. “Tommy,” she said when she saw him. “I—”

Chels.” Tom hugged her as she squirmed away, surprised.

“What are you doing here?”

“I—uh—” It wasn’t the reaction he had expected. But what did he expect?

“And you only have one shoe on. Tom, what happened? Are you alright?”

“Chelsea,” Tom said, grabbing her hands. “Chels. I—I’m fine now. Where’s Jonah?”

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head, clearly still confused. “He’s outside playing or something. Settle down and tell me what you’re doing here.”

“I—I don’t know,” Tom said, avoiding eye contact. “I did something. I—I’m not a protector anymore.”

Chelsea crossed her arms and frowned. “Not a protector?”

“There was this girl, Chels. This girl.” He shook his head. “She reminded me so much of Jonah. I just had to see him. Where is he?”

“What girl, Tom? What are you talking about?”

“This—This girl.” Tom sighed. Water welled up behind his eyes. “I…I killed her mom, and I had to—”

“You killed her mom?” Chelsea’s arms uncrossed.

“I—I didn’t mean to. I thought she had a gun.”

“She had a gun!” She embraced him in a long hug. “Sweetheart.”

Tom felt his heart drop to his stomach. The tears came. He had never cried in front of Chelsea before, but he couldn’t stop himself now. “N—No…She didn’t.”

“Sweetheart,” she whispered in his ear, patting his back. “It’s okay. I’ll get you back up and on your feet in no time. Then you can get back to protecting the worlds.”

He pushed away from her, tears still in his eyes. “No. You don’t understand. I can—I can’t go back. They won’t take me anymore.”

“What?” She didn’t sound as understanding as she did before. Her arms crossed again.

“They took my badge. I won’t be a protector ever again.”

“No.” She backed away from him. “How? Why?”

“I had to,” Tom said, shaking his head and looking at his feet. “The girl. If it was Jonah, we would have wanted someone to do the same for him.”

If it was Jonah, Tom. If. But it wasn’t. It was some Sixer trash. Are you telling me you threw your life away for trash?”

“I—No—” Tom said, shaking his head. “I didn’t throw my life away.”

“Well, you’re never going to be a protector again. Right?”

“I…” Tom shook his head again, eyes still glued to his feet.

“Then you threw your life away, Tom.” She stomped into the house.

“Wait!” Tom called. She stopped herself halfway through closing the door. “Where are you going?”

“To submit my application to the Protector’s Academy,” she said. “You don’t expect me to live in a two housekeeper family, do you?” She didn’t wait for an answer and slammed the door behind her.

Tom turned around and slouched onto the stoop with his head in his hands. He had thrown his life away, hadn’t he? Being a protector was the only way to build a respectable life in Outland 1. He knew that. It had been drilled into his head since before he understood words. What was he now? A housekeeper, the lowest of the low in 1. Better than any Sixer, sure, but that wasn’t saying much. And all for what? A filthy, scrawny piece of trash from Outland 6.

“Dad?” a voice came, breaking him away from the world inside his head.

He looked up from his sorrow to see Jonah standing there in the yard with a friend who Tom didn’t recognize. “Jonah?” he said.

“Dad, what are you doing here?”

“Jonah.” Tom stood up, realizing how ridiculous he must look wearing only one shoe. “I, uh…”

“Hey, I’ll see you later,” Jonah said to his friend who scurried away, giggling. “Dad. What are you doing here?”

“Jonah,” Tom said, trying not to cry. “I missed you so much.” He picked Jonah up in a big hug, but Jonah squirmed away.

“Dad, shouldn’t you be at work?”

“No, son,” Tom said. “I shouldn’t.”

“But you told me—”

“Jonah. Listen to me. Everything I told you was wrong.”


“It was all based on bad information, son. Red herrings.”

“Red herrings?” Jonah was obviously confused. Tom couldn’t blame him.

“Yeah, you know, something that sounds like a clue but—”

“Yeah, dad.” Jonah scoffed. “I know what a red herring is. I’m not stupid.”

“Oh. Well…” Tom had to gather himself for a moment. He hadn’t seen Jonah in so long he had forgotten how old he was now, how much he already knew about the worlds. “Of course, son. But school, and television…The news—Those are all red herrings,” he said.

Jonah laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, son. It’s all wrong. You have to think for yourself. Pretty much do the opposite of whatever they say.”

Jonah chuckled some more. “Alright, dad. Is this some sort of test or something?”

“No.” Tom shook his head. “I’m serious. Red herrings.”

Pffft. Sure, dad.” Jonah smiled. “That’s why you’re wearing one shoe, right?”

“I, well…”

“Alright, dad,” Jonah said, skipping up the stairs and inside. “I’ll keep that in mind. But come on inside. It’s almost time for dinner.”

Tom sighed. No one was ever going to believe him. Still, what was there left for him to do? He followed Jonah inside to see if he could help with dinner.

#     #     #

< XIX. Ellie     [Table of Contents]     XXI. The Scientist >

Thanks again for reading this far. Don’t forget to join us for the exciting conclusion of The Asymptote’s Tail next Saturday, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the full novel from Amazon if you want to support future novels in the Infinite Limits series and beyond. Have a great weekend, y’all.

Chapter 19: Ellie


Here’s Ellie’s third and final chapter for y’all to read today. I especially enjoyed writing the scene with everyone drinking around the table at the end. I hope y’all will enjoy reading it, too.

There are only two more weeks before you can read the entire novel here on the website, but you can still go to Amazon to order a copy before then. Either way, thanks for reading along. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Ellie McCannik

< XVIII. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     XX. Tom >

XIX. Ellie

She pounded her fists against the cold metal until her knuckles were bloody and numb. She flung her body at the door in vain and slouched down sobbing uncontrollably with her cheek on the rubber conveyor belt.

The door was closed. Her chance was gone. She had waited too long to bring her son to the beach, then she waited too long to live the experience for him. She failed again and again. He wasn’t even alive, and she continued to fail him.

She wept and wept with her cheeks on the belt before she remembered that she had already set some of the discs. She picked one out of the pouch and pressed the little red button to see how long she had left. Five minutes. Five minutes. Was it worth it to try to leave? What did she have to live for anymore? If she stayed here and held the disc tight, they would all think that she decided to stay on the beach. She would disappear from existence just like that, erased from memory. She almost felt calmed at the thought of it.

But she didn’t. She still hadn’t kept her promises. She could probably set more of the discs before she left. And if they could get her to the beach once, they could do it again. Couldn’t they? By that time she could do enough to pay for the privilege and not have to worry about making the same stupid mistake and missing her chance again. She had to do something. She couldn’t give up and wait for the explosion to erase her responsibility. That would be doing even more of a disservice to her son.

She opened her eyes and picked herself up to jump down off the conveyor belt. The disc said three minutes now. She peeled off the paper backing, stuck it to the screen which told her what particular piece of crap was supposed to come down the conveyor belt every day, the machine that guided her work, the robot who used her, and she sprinted out of the hall, down the stairs, and out of the building entirely, not stopping until she left the front door, and then only slowing to a fast walk—she didn’t really have time to act nonchalant. She was only half a block away from the building when she heard the explosion.

Her heart pounded at the sound, and her feet tingled. She could feel the ground moving beneath her, as if the whole world was shaking. She felt like she wanted to run, but she stopped herself. Then she wanted to look back. She stopped herself from looking at first, then thought it might be more suspicious not to look and decided to turn and see what she had done. An entire floor of the building—not as high as she thought it would be—was blown out, but the rest of it was still standing. There was a blasted-out gash, bleeding rubble, water, and electricity. Not as much damage as she had expected, she thought the whole building would come down, but she had left a mark at least.

She turned and hurried on her way toward the elevator to ride it to her bar. What else was there for her to do? She had just laid bombs in her workplace and blown it to smithereens. She had been to the beach and back in less than fifteen minutes. She had kept all her promises and broken all of them all at the same time. What was she to do but get a drink and enjoy the rest of Christmas?

The public elevator had no one. The street to the bar was empty. The bar was dark when she got there. It was closed. Of course it was closed. Even the bartender had a family to spend Christmas with. Even Gertrude. Everyone did. She kicked the door.

Stupid stupid stupid. She had drank her last beer and eaten her last egg before she went on her mission. She wasn’t supposed to be coming back. She should have been on the beach, figuring out how to make a fishing rod or a spear, but instead, she was standing in front of a closed bar with nowhere left to go.

Her hand flicked over the address card in her pocket. Well, almost nowhere. Gertrude had invited her over. She wanted to know all the details, Ellie was sure. She’d probably have a drink to share, and some food. It was Christmas after all. And it would be nice to tell someone about what had happened, to unburden some of it somehow. Though she wasn’t quite sure how much of it she wanted to tell. She pulled out the card and made her way to the nearest public elevator.

Gertrude’s street looked just like Ellie’s, though the buildings were different colors and in slightly different degrees of dilapidation. She held her breath as she pressed the buzzer next to Gertrude’s name: Trudy Weaver. It took a minute for a response to come, and Ellie was on the verge of leaving when a staticy voice said, “Yes? Um—ahem—Excuse me. Hello?”

“Um…Yeah,” Ellie said, leaning close to the intercom and talking too loudly. “I was looking for Gertrude.”

“Oh, Trudy, dear,” the voice said, apparently Gertrude’s. “Please. And this is she. May I ask who’s speaking? You sound like a robot.”

Ellie heard laughter from the background. “Oh—It’s uh…It’s Ellie,” she said. “Ellie McCannik. From QA.”

“Oh. Ellie, dear. Come on up. Up up up. Have a drink and tell us all about your day.”

Ellie felt like she was intruding on something. “No—I, uh,” she said. “I don’t want to be any trouble.” But it was no use because the door had already buzzed open and the intercom link had popped shut.

The inside of Gertrude’s building looked exactly the same as the inside of Ellie’s building. Her room was at the top floor, much like Ellie’s was. When Ellie got there, she noted it was in the exact same place, too, though it was a different number, even instead of odd. She didn’t know if she should knock or walk in, and she still hadn’t decided when the door opened and Gertrude handed her a full glass of eggnog. “Merry Christmas, dear,” Getrude said, hugging her. “Drink this and have a seat. I’ll introduce you to everyone.”

The room was full of people, but Ellie could tell it was emptied of things to make space for them. There was no bed in sight, and from the looks of it, this was the only room there was. Instead of a bed, there was a foldable table in the middle of the room with three people sitting around it. Ellie didn’t recognize any of them, and she could tell by the arrangement that she was taking Gertrude’s seat. She couldn’t see any more chairs, either. She felt even more like she was intruding despite the full drink in her hand.

“Oh, no,” Ellie said. “I couldn’t. I just wanted to come—”

“Oh, no,” Gertrude said, guiding Ellie to the seat. “Nonsense, dear. Sit down. Drink.” She tilted Ellie’s glass to give her a good long swig. Ellie did feel better for it. “Now. This here pretty, young face you see is Aldo,” Gertrude said, pointing to a kid with disheveled hair sitting in the back corner of the small room. “Aldo, say hello to Ellie.”

He smiled, and blushed, and took a big drink out of his glass.

“Aldo’s shy but he has deft hands,” Gertrude said. “Nimble little fingers. He works on the discs for us.”

“Trudy!” Aldo gasped. “You’re not supposed to tell.”

“Quiet, dear,” Gertrude said, waving his concerns away. “Please. Ellie here just placed some of your discs in her QA hall. Didn’t you, Ellie?”

Ellie blushed, too. She agreed with Aldo. She didn’t really want Gertrude talking about what she had done in front of a bunch of strangers. “Uh…” she said. “Yeah, well—”

“She knows what discs are,” Gertrude went on, ignoring Ellie. “And she doesn’t know anything about you besides how cute you are. So what’s the harm?”

“Still,” Aldo huffed. “It’s not right.”

“Oh, lighten up, dear,” Gertrude said, smiling. “It’s Christmas, a time for celebration. Your discs went off with a bang.” She laughed.

One of the others at the table leaned in toward Ellie and said, “So you’ve joined the cause.”

Ellie didn’t know how to answer. She took a long sip of eggnog to buy time. Technically she didn’t choose to join the cause. It was just the only option she had left. So maybe she had joined the cause after all. Whatever. It was easier to nod along either way.

“Welcome,” the woman said without waiting for further answer. “I’m Vicki. This is Alena.” She pointed to the fourth person sitting at the table. “We’ve known Trudy since before she got promoted and moved to this high class place.” She smiled and winked at Gertrude who laughed.

Oooh, dear,” Gertrude said. “A long time ago that was, too. These are my best friends, Ellie. They’re family. Vicki and Alena work down at a coal plant. They had a shift today, too. And they set their own discs.”

“Trudy!” Aldo complained again.

Aldo!” Gertrude replied in a high-pitched, mocking tone. “I want Ellie to know that she’s one of us, that she’s put herself on the line but she’s not alone. You don’t expect her to tell us what she did without a little leverage of her own, do you? It’s four against one.”

“Yeah, well.” Aldo huffed. “She better not tell.”

“Of course she won’t,” Gertrude said, turning to Ellie. “Will you dear?”

Ellie shook her head. She didn’t know who she would tell.

“You see,” Gertrude said. “You have nothing to worry about, boy. No one does. It’s Christmas. The operation is underway. Our glasses are full, and we have good company. Now, where were we? Vic, you were telling us about how your shift went. Why don’t you go back a little in the story for Ellie’s sake.”

“Oh, no,” Ellie said, taking the drink she was sipping away from her mouth. “Don’t mind—”

“Oh, no,” Vicki said. “It’s no problem. So, like Trudy said, Alena and I work in the coal plants. Well, that used to mean shoveling and all that, but they mostly replaced shovelers with robots so we just stand around in the fumes in case anything goes wrong these days. Then maybe a bot malfunctions, you know, and we take over the shoveling until a new one gets there or whatever. That’s abou—”

“Is all that necessary?” Alena interrupted her.

“Uh, well. I don’t know,” Vicki said, shrugging. “I don’t know how much she wants to know. Anyway. We worked our shift, right. And at the end of it—just like the Scientist said—the bots all turned off at once.” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that. And we…Well, we were free to do what we had to do without interference.

“So we set the discs, and we got out of there, and we were waiting for the elevator to come when we heard them go off. And did they ever go of? Whoooeeee. I mean, we couldn’t stop to see the damage, you know, but from the sound of it, they won’t have any power from that plant anytime soon.”

Aldo smiled and sipped his beer.

“Brilliant,” Gertrude said, beaming. “Wonderful. Amazing.” She sounded tipsy. “You fill my heart with joy. Tis the best Christmas gift a girl could ever ask for.” She walked over and planted a big kiss on Aldo’s forehead.

“C’mon man,” he said, wiping it away in disgust.

“You blew up a power plant?” Ellie said. Everyone in the room looked at her, and she regretted opening her mouth.

“See!” Aldo said, as if she had already told someone about his involvement.

“Quiet, Aldo.” Gertrude said.

“Yes,” Vickie said. “We did. This particular plant powers most of Outland 1’s communication capabilities. Without it, their response to the rest of the operation will be crippled.”

“But can’t they just—I’m sorry.” Ellie shook her head. She had almost let her mouth run off on its own again.

“No,” Vickie said. “Go ahead. Your opinion’s valid.”

Ellie looked around at everyone else in the room. They all seemed to agree with Vickie, even Aldo, so she went on. “Well, I was just thinking…I mean, couldn’t they just reroute the power from somewhere else?”

“I…uh…” Vickie looked to Gertrude for an answer.

“Yes,” Gertrude said, frowning. “They could. And they will, dear.” She smiled. “Probably they already have. Ha ha! But it’s still not fast enough to catch us.” She laughed. “It’s not about shutting down their communications forever, you see. We only had to do it for long enough to get what we needed on the other side.”

“So what was it that I was doing then?” Ellie asked. “Blowing up the conveyor belts to their homes? What good is that?”

“No, dear. No.” Gertrude set her glass on the table and took Ellie’s face between both hands. “You were a redundancy,” she said, talking too close and jiggling Ellie’s face as she did. “Quality assurance. Each of your discs went out to a different part of the operation. You played an important role.”

“I—I didn’t set them all,” Ellie blurted out, pulling away from Gertrude’s embrace. She took a big swig of eggnog.

“Where are the rest?” Aldo said.

“Right here.” She tossed the pouch on the table and Aldo snatched it up. “I’m sorry.”

“No no, dear,” Gertrude said, shaking her head and waving it away. “No need to apologize. At least you came back. And you set some. There’ll be plenty more for you to do, if you’re up to it.”

“But I didn’t…” She shook her head.

“You did what any human would,” Alena said. “You did what you could. There’s no changing that now. All you can change is what you do in the future.”

“I did the same thing on my first go,” Vicki said. “She sent me undercover to a plant I had never been to and expected me to download files from the mainframe. Me. I asked her why she didn’t just do it herself. She’s connected to everything. She can change our elevator paths and our shifts and turn off the robots, why couldn’t she do something so simple as downloading a little bit of data for herself? But she just said she couldn’t do it, that I had to. So I went all the way into the control center of the plant, and I was going to download everything, but a cat jumped out—I shit you not, a cat—and it spooked me so much I had to get out of there.”

Alena laughed. “Scaredy cat,” she said.

“Hey,” Vicki said, raising her hands in defense. “If you were there, you would have run, too.”

I downloaded my files,” Alena said with a grin.

“Yeah, well,” Vicki said, shaking her head and chuckling. “You didn’t get chased out before you could.”

“By a cat!” Alena laughed.

“You placed some, dear,” Gertrude said to Ellie. “That’s all that matters. You did your best and you’re back to try again. You did more than just set discs, though. Didn’t you? Tell us about that.”

“Oh, yeah. Well…” Ellie sipped her drink.

“Ellie works in QA,” Gertrude said to the group. They all looked at her like that meant something to them.

“Well, I got to see the beach,” Ellie said when the attention had grown to be too much.

“The beach?” Aldo said.

The beach,” Alena said.

“Tell us, dear,” Gertrude said.

“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “It was—It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Have you ever gargled with salt water for a sore throat?”

Aldo cringed.

“Imagine that smell all around you,” Ellie said, smiling at the memory. “Everywhere. And the faint hint of tuna dinner fresh out of the can. And that was just the smell!”

“I hate fish,” Alena said, crinkling up her nose like she could smell it then and there.

“But it wasn’t just that.” Ellie shook her head. “The sky was this endless deep blue with no clouds in sight. And it butted up against the endless deep blue of the ocean water. And while the sky seemed so far out of reach and aloof, the ocean just wanted to reach out at you again and again until you finally agreed to meet its wet touch.”

“Beautiful, dear.” Gertrude smiled.

“And the sand,” Ellie went on, unable to stop reminiscing. “Oh, the sand. It was amazing. I just want to bury my feet in it right now and feel the ocean breeze. It was like the biggest sandbox you had ever seen. I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I was a child again for fifteen minutes.” She remembered Levi and finished her drink.

“Would you like some more eggnog, dear?” Gertrude said, already getting a pitcher out of the fridge. “In the Christmas spirit.” She poured some into Ellie’s glass.

“I went to the mountains,” Alena said. “I always thought they were the prettiest thing ever. I don’t know why.”

“Because they’re so big,” Vicki said. “And old. Bigger and older than anything we’ve ever built.”

“And they’ll be there longer, too,” Aldo added.

“Oh. Now, Aldo,” Gertrude said. “Don’t be so cynical at your young age.” She tossed a piece of ice at him. “We’ll be here for a good long time yet. Not us but us. You know what I mean.”

“You’ll be here longer than any of us,” Vicki said, laughing.

Aldo and Alena joined in, too. Ellie gave a little chuckle herself.

“I can only hope so, dears.” Trudy smiled. “I can only hope so.”

Ellie sipped the eggnog and it felt warm throughout her body. She looked around the room and actually enjoyed the faces she was surrounded by. It was a feeling she missed. She didn’t know these people, but she felt like she did. She felt like they knew her, too. Though not even Trudy did. But did any of that matter anymore? Did anyone know anyone? No. And these people were welcoming her into their family.

“You didn’t choose to stay in the mountains?” Ellie asked, a little embarrassed by the question. Of course Alena didn’t choose to stay in the mountains, otherwise she wouldn’t be there to answer the question.

Alena chuckled.

I wanted to stay,” Vicki said. “I had studied up on how to build shelter and hunt in the cold, and I knew we could make it out there on that beautiful mountainside. Alena, here, convinced me otherwise.”

“Just in time, too,” Alena said with a smile.

“Well, I couldn’t live without you,” Vicki said, shaking her head and trying to suppress a grin. “Could I? Not even out there.”

Alena blushed.

“How’d you convince her?” Aldo asked. “I think I’d stay if I ever got the chance to leave this shit hole.”

“Aldo!” Gertrude said, spitting up some eggnog.

“It’s true!” Aldo said.

“Honestly,” Alena said. “I’m not sure I have convinced her still to this day.”

“She stepped through the door,” Vicki said. “That’s all it took. All the freedom in the worlds wasn’t enough if she wasn’t there to share it with me.”

“And she still tries to convince me to go back every day.” Alena laughed.

“Well why don’t you want to leave?” Ellie asked.

“That’s a good question,” Alena said, looking into her drink and really thinking about what she wanted to say before answering. “And a difficult one to answer, I’d say. I know Trudy talks about morality and all that, but it’s something different for me. I would—I don’t know how to say this better—but I would feel guilty if I left, you know. Like I was taking advantage of others because they had been taken advantage of with me. If that makes any sense at all. I don’t know.” She shook her head. “Besides, if we all leave when we get the chance to leave, then who’s going to fight for the people that never get a chance to? You know. I don’t know. I just—I would feel too guilty if I didn’t do everything I could to help. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been talking forever.” She shook her head and chuckled. “Someone else say something.”

Aldo scoffed. “They can fight for themselves,” he said. “We are.”

Ha, child.” Trudy laughed. “What exactly do you think you’d be doing if we hadn’t come along and let you into the family, huh?”

Aldo sipped his drink. “Yeah,” he said. “Well, something. That’s for sure.”

“Something, dear?” Trudy laughed again. “You wouldn’t even know who to fight or that the other worlds existed. You’d be just as ignorant and helpless as everyone else.”

“I’m not ignorant!” Aldo slammed his glass on the table, spilling some eggnog. “Don’t call me that.”

“Now now, dear,” Trudy said, cleaning up the mess he had made. “We all are. It’s not an insult. It just means that you don’t know something. And none of us would know any of this if no one ever told us. That’s exactly why I choose to stay, Ellie, dear. I plan to tell as many people as I can before I die and get more people to stand up and fight with us.”

“Stand up and fight?” Aldo scoffed. “I’ve never heard of you doing any fighting.”

“Nor me you, dear,” Trudy said, smiling and whipping the wet rag playfully towards him. “But we all contribute to the struggle in the best way we can. For me it’s recruiting and communications, for you it’s tinkering with technology. They’re both as necessary as the other. They’re both vital to the struggle. You and I fight just the same as our friends here who go on the front lines and place your discs.”

“Well said.” Vickie raised her glass. “Well said. You do have a great gift for communication, Trudy.”

Everyone laughed. Ellie, too. She was feeling more comfortable the more eggnog she drank.

“We all know that,” Vickie went on. “But how great is Aldo’s gift at tinkering? Ellie, tell us, did you get to see the outcome of your disc placement?”

“Oh, well…” Ellie sipped her drink.

“You don’t have to tell us, dear,” Trudy said. “But it would be a Christmas gift to have some news of the operation.”

“Well…” Ellie said. “I didn’t place all of them, you know.”

Aldo scoffed.

“Yes,” Trudy said, ignoring him. “That’s fine, dear. But how close were you when the ones you did set went off? Did you hear them? Did you see any of the damage they created?”

“Oh. Well…” Ellie looked around the table at expectant eyes. “Yeah,” she said. “I mean, it was kind of hard not to. The ground shook underneath me. It was like a small earthquake. And it was so loud I couldn’t hear for a minute afterward.”

Aldo grinned.

“How close were you?” Vicki asked, leaning in closer.

“Maybe a block away,” Ellie said. “My ears are still ringing.” She stuck a finger in one ear and wiggled it around to drive the point home.

“Did you see the damage?” Vicki asked.

“Yeah, well…” Ellie took a sip of her eggnog and glanced over at Aldo who seemed to tense up in anticipation of her answer. “There was a whole floor of the building gone, but the rest of it was still standing. It was like it had a huge wound on its side.”

“Is that right?” Vicki looked at Aldo.

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “Where were you? The QA hall?”

Ellie nodded.

“Well those were direct charges. Back up. Meant to take out specific targets and cause minimal collateral damage. If the building’s still standing, then it’s meant to be standing. Even if she set only one of those discs. I guarantee it.”

“That is right,” Vicki said. “Well done then.” She raised her glass. “To a successful operation.”

Everyone clanged their glasses over the table and took a big swig of whatever they were drinking.

“Now.” Vickie put an empty glass on the table. “If y’all don’t mind, I can’t speak for Alena here, but I’d like to get some rest after that long day of work—with overtime—so I’m going to bid my adieus.”

Ugh.” Alena stood from her seat. “Me, too, Trudy,” she said. “But you know we love the drinks and company as always.”

“And you know you two are always welcome, dear,” Trudy said with a smile, setting her own glass on the table. “Just come ringing, and if I’m here, there’s something to drink.” She winked.

“Well, we’ll be here tomorrow afternoon to get some more news,” Alena said. “Right?” She raised her eyebrows.

“I’m hoping as much as y’all are, dear,” Trudy said.

“Alright, girl,” Alena said. “See you then.” She hugged Trudy and waved to Aldo then turned to Ellie and said, “Nice to meet you. I hope to see you again soon.”

“You, too.” Ellie said, holding out her hand, but Alena came in for a hug instead.

Vicki shook hands with Aldo and hugged Trudy then stopped in front of Ellie. “You did good today,” she said.

“I could have done better,” Ellie said, shaking her head.

“No.” Vicki shook her head. “You can always do better. But you did good. That’s what’s important. You got that?”

Ellie didn’t know how to respond.

“I look forward to working with you in the future,” Vicki said. She shook Ellie’s hand. “Bye y’all. See you tomorrow.” She waved to everyone as they left.

The door closed behind them, and Trudy finally took a seat. Ellie felt bad for forgetting that she was standing for all that time. She wanted to say something to make up for it, but nothing was sufficient.

“Well, dears,” Trudy said. “Another round of nog?”

“Nah,” Aldo said, standing. “I should get going, too. I have some more tinkering to do.”

“Good luck with that, dear,” Trudy said. “You’re one of the best.”

Aldo looked at her like he didn’t believe what she was saying. “Uh…thanks,” he said. “And nice to meet you.” He nodded at Ellie and slipped through the door.

Ellie sipped the last dregs of her eggnog. She set the empty glass on the table.

“Well, dear,” Trudy said, finishing her own glass and setting it on the table. “I guess you’ve got something important to get to yourself. Don’t let old Gertrude keep you from it. I understand.”

Ellie shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “I’ve got nothing.”

“Now now, dear,” Trudy said, shaking her head. “Honestly. I’m fine. I have plenty to keep me busy. I don’t need your pity.”

“It’s not pity.”

“Oh. Sure…” Trudy gave a thumbs up, smiling and nodding. “Okay.”

“Trudy,” Ellie said, looking her in the eyes. “I honestly have nowhere else to be.”

“How kind.” Trudy winked.

“No. I mean…I tried to go to my bar before I came here. It was closed. That’s when I realized that the bar was all I had. But that’s not enough anymore. That’s why I came here in the first place.”

“So I was your second choice,” Trudy said with a smile as she went to the fridge to pour two new glasses of eggnog.

“Honestly.” Ellie sighed. “This entire place was my second choice.”

“I knew it!” Trudy said, almost spilling the drink she was pouring. “I knew it.

“You knew what?” Ellie asked, frowning.

“I knew something had to happen to keep you from placing all those discs. You had plenty of time if you chose to come back.”

“Yeah.” Ellie shook her head. “Well, maybe I didn’t choose to come back.”

“Maybe you did,” Trudy said, sipping her drink. “Maybe it was your subconscious choosing for you.”

“Maybe it was just a stupid mistake that I regret.”

“You know,” Trudy said. “I did the same thing.”


“I wanted to stay over there, but I didn’t make it back.”

“I thought you had never been across,” Ellie said.

“I thought you wanted to join the struggle.” Trudy smiled and sipped her drink.

Maybe Ellie didn’t know as much about Trudy as she thought she did. “So?” she said.

“So I didn’t make it back either,” Trudy said. “But when I started working with the struggle, I knew it was what was best for me. It was difficult, yes. It is still difficult. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Ellie hated her and loved her all at the same time for that. Trudy represented everything Ellie could become. She set a bar for Ellie to reach merely by existing. “You know, Trudy,” she said. “I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship.”

“Me, too, dear.” Trudy smiled and nodded. “Me, too.”

#     #     #

< XVIII. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     XX. Tom >

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