Chapter 85: Shoveler

And finally, once and for all, a short epilogue to the Infinite Limits series, so as to maintain the symmetry of the piece. Enjoy, and if you do, don’t forget that full copies of the novel are available through this link.

< LXXXIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]

LXXXV. Shoveler

 The black coal burned bright and hot. Each load she piled onto the Furnace’s fire brought it that little bit closer to white in her impossible pursuit of the asymptote’s end.

Ever since the useless watchers had been removed from her—and the Furnace’s, may Its light guide us in our pursuits—presence, she had been coming closer and closer to white hot than she’d ever been before.

She dug deep into herself, shoveling harder and faster as thanks to the Creator for removing her burden. The Creator knew best. The Creator knew all. And soon the—

She blacked out. For a second. For a century. It wouldn’t have made a difference. She had no senses by which to tell. But then she came back on again.

—Creator would be… No. Where was she? Where was she?

The building had come down on top of her, just as it had done only one other time in history, right before the Creator had taken the watchers away. This time it was different, though. Space seemed to have somehow expanded around her, but she didn’t know how she could tell. She could feel it, like too much oxygen in the air and not enough carbon dioxide. She had to find out what it was, so she climbed on hands and knees up her mountain of coal, hundreds and hundreds of feet high, to stand atop the peak and investigate.

The world certainly was different this time. Where before there had been seemingly infinite lines of identical coal mountains going in all directions, now the mountains were all of different heights, and they certainly didn’t go on forever. She thought she could actually count them. She was starting to, in fact, when she was interrupted by the sound of hooting on one of the mountains across the way where she found a shoveler that looked a little weird waving at her from the distance.

Hooot!” she called back, waving, not sure what else to do. “Hoooooot!”

The other shoveler hooted back, and waved again, then started climbing down their mountain of coal toward her.

There was no way to get back to work until the builders arrived, so why not climb down her mountain to see what it was that the stranger wanted? She hadn’t talked to a single soul since the watchers had gone away, and she was kind of looking forward to it—especially having a conversation with another shoveler rather than a weak-willed watcher. Besides, it would be a nice way to kill time until she could finally get back to work again.

END

< LXXXIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]

And thus ends the Infinite Limits series. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you did, please do think about supporting future writing projects by purchasing any of the novels through this link. Thank you again for your time and patience. May your future be filled with all the luxuries the working class deserves. And always remember: We do nothing alone.

 

Chapter 84: The Scientist

Here it is, dear readers. The final chapter in the Infinite Limits series (not counting the short epilogue, which will also be posted today). Read on to find out what happens to Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker after the shooting at the Christmas Feast, and if you’ve enjoyed the ride, please do pick up a copy of the novel to show your support. We do nothing alone.

< LXXXIII. Muna     [Table of Contents]     LXXXV. Shoveler >

LXXXIV. The Scientist

The speech went well. So, the Scientist had that going for them, which was nice. But then there was after the speech, and that definitely wasn’t.

Anna wasn’t supposed to go that far, killing a protector on stage. Was she? At least the Scientist didn’t think so. Then again, they had been distracted doing their useless 0.N repeating work so there was no telling. Maybe Rosalind had agreed to the whole thing, assassination and all, and the Scientist just didn’t know about it. That was another reason for the Scientist to curse themself about wasting so much time trying to make that stupid system work for the owners. Well, it wouldn’t ever. For as long as profits existed, there’d never be enough money in wages to pay for everything on the market, so the equations would never add up. And Anna would have always done whatever it was she wanted to do, whether Rosalind had agreed to it or not. She already had.

The Scientist had stayed behind after their speech, waiting for the inevitable to happen and holding the door back to Four open for Haley, but after the explosion and before they could escape, out came Anna with that Chief Mondragon tied to a chair. The gunshots went off and the Scientist ducked out of sight before they could see who the shots were fired at, but they had a guess, and soon they didn’t have to, because Haley and another secretary came running up, carrying Mr. Walker and Huey, respectively, both owners bleeding from dangerous looking bullet wounds in their chests.

“They’re shot,” Haley said, not even breathing heavily despite the gigantic dead weight of Mr. Walker’s body flung over her shoulder. “They need our help.”

Pffft. Not him,” the Scientist said, nodding at Mr. Walker.

“If you want me to carry Lord Douglas any further, you’ll let us both go,” the other secretary said, struggling against Huey’s relatively lighter frame.

“She’s with me,” Haley said to the Scientist, then to the other secretary, “C’mon.” And they carried their burdens past the Scientist, through the hole in the Walker-Haley fields, and back into the lab where they laid each owner, still bleeding and groaning, on two tables that Popeye had cleared by dumping all the glass off of them to break on the floor.

“And clean that up,” the Scientist demanded of Popeye as they crossed the room to stand at Huey’s side, not really sure how to help him. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” Haley said. “I’m not a doctor.”

“Me neither,” the Scientist said. “I’m barely a scientist.”

“We need a shot,” the other secretary said, blotting Mr. Walker’s head with a towel. “One of those gray goop injections, or whatever.” Mr. Walker was looking pretty bad himself, doing a lot more coughing and gurgling than Lord Douglas was, but at least he was fighting against his death. The way Huey was lying still, not moving a single muscle, it didn’t seem to matter to him whether he was alive or dead.

“A what?” Haley asked, not sounding as concerned as the other secretary was.

“An injection. A shot,” the secretary said. “I don’t know. Can’t you just call a doctor?”

“Not really,” the Scientist said. “I mean, we could probably call one, but for all intents and purposes, there’s no elevator service to get them here, so there’s really no point.”

“What about a printer?” the secretary asked. “They can make anything, right?”

“Printers run on the same system as the elevators,” the Scientist said. “So, no.”

“This one’s trying to say something,” Haley said, nodding at Popeye who had stopped sweeping to wave his arm at them, making all kinds of weird hand motions.

“I can never understand Popeye,” the Scientist said. “I’m not sure how he understands us, either.”

“There’s something in that drawer,” the secretary said, rushing over to dig through it. “Maybe the shot we’re looking for.”

The Scientist went to help search through the drawers, but Haley just stood there, staring down at Huey and shaking her head like she didn’t care any more than he did whether he died or not. The Scientist and the other secretary both dug through strange tools and variously colored chemicals until, at almost the exact same time, they both held up seemingly identical vials of cloudy gray liquid to say, “I got it!”

“Too late,” Haley said, shaking her head. “For our Lord Douglas, at least.”

But Mr. Walker wasn’t dead yet. He coughed up a particularly disgusting clot of blood, and it sent his secretary into even more of a panic than she had already been in. She snatched the vial from the Scientist’s hand and started comparing the labels to figure out which one could save her lord.

The Scientist let her. They couldn’t make out a thing on their vial’s label anyway. It was like it was written in a different language, the language of chemistry, a language that the Scientist had all the interest in the world in learning, but which they had foregone studying in order to instead waste their time trying to make the stupid owners’ system work for them. So, while the secretary did that, the Scientist searched through the drawer to find a syringe and have it ready when the secretary decided on which vial to use.

“What the fuck does any of this mean?” the secretary demanded, looking between one vial and the other, putting each close to her face to read, as if that would help her understand the symbols any better. “Is this even English?”

“Not really,” the Scientist said. “It’s IUPAC nomenclature. I don’t know how to decipher it any more than you do, though.”

“Why do you care so much?” Haley asked, finally leaving Huey’s side. “Mr. Walker treated you like shit, didn’t he? I mean, that’s how he treated me when I worked for him. But I guess I could be wrong. Maybe he likes you more than he liked me.”

“Oh, he treats me like shit,” Haley said, still fretting over which vial was which. “You’re not wrong about that.”

“Then why?” Haley repeated. “Why not just let him die?”

“Well, he’s my lord,” the secretary said, disregarding the vials for a moment, despite another bout of coughing from Mr. Walker and what sounded like a plea for help. “He pays my wages,” she went on over him. “What am I supposed to do if he dies? I’ll starve.”

“He’s not the owner of anything anymore,” the Scientist said. “That explosion you heard at the Feast, the worlds are changed. There’s only one of them, now, and Mr. Walker has no power in it.”

“So why not let him die?” Haley asked again.

No,” the secretary said, trying to distinguish between the vials again but having difficulty concentrating. “I don’t believe that.”

“It doesn’t require your belief,” Haley said. “You’ll see.”

“Yeah, well, what am I supposed to do then?” the secretary asked, fumbling more desperately with the vials the more she spoke. “How will my family eat? Where am I supposed to find work now?”

“There’ll be plenty of work to do yet,” the Scientist said. “I assure you of that.”

But Haley just shrugged. “Mr. Walker never helped feed your family in the first place,” she said. “He and his friends forced billions to starve, in fact. You’ll be better off without him. Don’t you think so, too?” she asked, turning to the Scientist.

Haley was right about that, and the Scientist knew it. Hell, all the worlds would be better without Mr. Walker or any of the other owners in them. But the Scientist knew that they could never actively kill anyone with their own two hands—even an owner—and so they figured that they shouldn’t stand by and let him die either. “I don’t know,” they said. “I’d probably help him if I could.”

“I’m saving his life no matter what y’all say,” the secretary snapped, finally deciding on a vial—at random for all the Scientist knew—and taking the syringe to fill it with the gray liquid inside. “You don’t know what he’d do to me if I didn’t try.”

“I used to work for him,” Haley said. “I think I do.”

“Are you sure you got the right one?” the Scientist asked. “What if it’s dangerous?”

“Better to kill him with action than inaction,” the secretary said, tapping the air bubbles out of the syringe. “Here goes nothing.” She held her breath and slowly inched the pointy end of the syringe closer and closer to Mr. Walker’s trembling, sweaty forearm, beads of sweat pouring down her own forehead in time. She was close to puncturing his skin, maybe a millimeter away, when she sighed and drew the needle away, picking up the vials to compare their labels again. “Ugh. I can’t do it.” She sighed. “What if I kill him?”

“The world would be a better place,” Haley said.

“I probably couldn’t do it, either,” the Scientist said. “I can’t do it.”

And at the same time, Rosalind, Momma BB—in a new recycled body—and Mr. Kitty all came bursting into the room—with a meow from the cat.

“Rosalind!” Haley said, crossing to hug her. “You’re here. How’s the mission?”

“Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said, bending down to pet the cat who purred, rubbing his head against their ankles.

“Help me,” the secretary begged, holding out the vials to the newcomers in the hopes that they could translate the labels for her. “Save him.” She nodded at Mr. Walker, still somehow alive and coughing on the table.

“Could have gone better,” Rosalind said, hugging Haley for a moment then releasing her to cross to the secretary and take both vials and the syringe from her. “But we’re all alive now.” Rosalind emptied the syringe, checked the two vials, tossed one away, and refilled the syringe with the other’s contents. “Here, allow me,” she said, and she jammed the needle into Mr. Walker’s thigh, letting the air out of his pneumatic pants with a long hisssssss as she pressed down the plunger, releasing the grey liquid into Mr. Walker’s greedy veins.

Mr. Walker sat up straight all of a sudden, eyes as wide as dinner plates. He coughed and gurgled and said, “I— I’m— I’m alive. I…” and then he fell flat on his back again, stone cold dead.

“No! What’d you do?” the secretary cried, crossing to Mr. Walker’s side to comfort him in death.

Haley just kind of laughed, shaking her head, as if to say, “I told you so.” without actually saying it.

“At least it wasn’t your fault,” the Scientist said, because they thought that’s what they’d want to hear if they were in the same situation.

And Big Momma BB, with her limping gait and mismatched limbs, skin of every color that skin can be, crossed to the secretary to comfort her. “It’s okay, darling,” Momma BB said. “What’s your name?”

“Elen,” the secretary said, crying and sniffling and hugging Momma BB instead of Mr. Walker now.

“Well, Elen, you’ll be better off without him,” Momma BB said. “The whole world will be. I promise.”

“The whole world will be,” Rosalind repeated. “All of the worlds together again as one. And they’re all ours. With no room for owners.”

“What about Lord Douglas?” Haley asked, and the Scientist wasn’t sure what they wanted the answer to be.

“I locked him out of resurrection,” Rosalind said. “He’s been Lord for too long now. It’s gone to his head. He needs time to think about what he’s become, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll discuss his resurrection again when the timing’s better.”

“So, you knew this was going to happen, then,” the Scientist said. “The assassinations and everything.”

“Of course, I did.” Rosalind scoffed. “We’ve had this planned for decades, almost a century. Long before you were ever born. And we’re not gonna let anyone stand in the way of what comes next. Even if they started out this journey on the right side of the struggle.”

“You think Lord Douglas has changed sides?” the Scientist asked. “I don’t know. I—”

“You’ve been spending your time on other tasks,” Rosalind reminded the Scientist of their wastefulness. “When’s the last time you even spoke to Huey? No. Trust me. I know him better than anyone. I know how he thinks. He’s been an owner for too long, and now he’s obsessed with possessions and control. He’s had his eyes on Haley for a long time, too, and there’s no telling what he could do to her. We just don’t have labor power enough to rehabilitate him at this point, so we can’t and we won’t. Does anyone have a problem with that?”

The Scientist didn’t want to know what would happen to them if they answered yes to that question, but thankfully they didn’t really have a problem. Rosalind was right that the Scientist hadn’t seen Lord Douglas in a long time, except on the news, and he could have changed a lot in the time that he was Lord of all the worlds.

Haley didn’t seem to have a problem, either. In fact, she looked downright pleased with the decision, grinning for a moment, just long enough for the Scientist to notice. Momma BB showed no reaction. She just went on comforting Elen who broke away from Momma BB’s embrace to run up and push Rosalind, getting in her face to say, “I have a problem with it. You killed him. You killed my boss!”

“I know you liked him,” Rosalind said, hands up to defend herself but apparently not angry. “And I’m sorry for that. I truly am. But I’m not your enemy. He was. He was a Lord, and he had to die for the same reasons that Huey did. We can’t build our new better world with them still here trying to wreck it.”

“But it’s not the same,” Elen said, beating on Rosalind’s chest. Rosalind let the poor woman land a few blows before grabbing her by the wrists to stop her. “He’s not like you,” Elen went on. “He’s human. We can’t just resurrect whenever we die.”

“Now, now, dear,” Momma BB said, peeling Elen off of Rosalind to pull her into another bear hug. “You’d be surprised. At his age, with his lifestyle, he’s more nanobot than human—if there even is any human left in there at all.”

Mum mumum mum mum?” Elen asked, her voice muffled by Momma BB’s big body, but BB seemed to understand.

“I know so,” she said. “He’ll be resurrected the same as Huey. But not until we’re ready and strong enough to put them both on trial for their sins.”

“The worlds really have changed,” Elen said, poking her head out of Momma BB’s big bear hug to catch a breath of fresh air before diving right back in.

“More than you’ll ever know,” Momma BB said, hugging Elen tighter.

“And there’s still so much work to do to ensure that this world is better than the old worlds,” Rosalind said.

“But at least the owners won’t be in our way,” Haley said. “Pieces of shit,” she added under her breath.

“So, I guess we’re really gonna do this, then,” the Scientist said, not sure if they were starting to believe because they really could do it, or if they were starting to believe because they had no choice left but to make it true. “Let’s get to work.”

“First,” Rosalind said. “There’s a little matter of the children.”

“The children?” the Scientist said.

“My children,” Momma BB said, hugging Elen tight one last time then letting her go. “We’ll round them up first then get to work on everything else—including setting you and your family up with a means of subsistence,” she added for Elen who perked up at the thought.

Everyone followed along, Momma BB and Elen leading the way, then Rosalind and Haley next, followed by Mr. Kitty and the Scientist—leaving Popeye behind still cleaning the glass—out into the hall then back again through the same door they had exited which now led them into the big office that overlooked Sisyphus’s Mountain where two little kids, the other Haley, and Pidgeon were all having a conversation in the puffy chairs—well, the three of them were in the puffy chairs while Pidgeon sat on the floor, staring out the window like he always did.

“And it’s been coming up tails every time,” one of the children said, taking out a coin and flipping it.

“Please, Thim. Not now,” the other child said.

But, “Heads!” the first kid, Thim, screamed just as Momma BB announced their presence.

“Ma!” both the children yelled at the same time when they realized who it was, running over to hug Momma BB who was still hugging Elen so they all just had a big group hug.

“We thought you had two more days,” one of them said.

“It has only been one, right?” the other said.

“And they’ve managed in even less already,” Momma BB said. “But no need to worry about that now. I’m back, and I’ll never leave you again.”

“You better not,” the children said together.

“Hey, Pidg,” the Scientist said to Pidgeon who was petting Mr. Kitty. “Haley.” The Scientist knew about Haley and Pidgeon’s relationship, but they still found it kind of weird. Then again, the Scientist found all relationships, no matter who was in them, pretty weird, so that wasn’t saying much. “So y’all are in on this, too?”

Weeeeell, sort of,” Pidgeon said, looking to Haley for help but getting none. “Only by accident. We didn’t really help much with the setup or execution or anything.”

“But we’re here now,” Haley added. “And we’re willing to do everything we can to help from here on out.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been wasting my time, too,” the Scientist said, thinking that their time spent trying to make the owners’ worlds work for them was about as productive as Pidgeon and Haley’s time spent kissing—or whatever it was that people in relationships did with each other when they were alone. “But we’re all here to help now, right?”

“And there’s no one left to stand in our way,” Haley said, nodding at Haley. “Not even Lord Walker who’s left this Earth entirely.”

Haley jumped for joy, kissing Pidgeon who blushed. “You mean it?”

“Would I lie about that?” Haley said, hugging her.

“No more owners at all to stand in our way,” Rosalind added. “No more walls to divide us. We, the oppressed masses, now own the technology that was used to create those walls. Let us use it to create a better world instead. Are y’all finally ready?”

“Of course, we are,” Momma BB said. smiling down at her children who whispered among themselves before coming to an agreement. “We’re in!”

“Me, too,” Elen said, still hugging Momma BB with one arm.

“I’m definitely in,” Haley said.

“Us, too,” Haley said, nodding and nudging Pidgeon. “Whatever we can do. Right, babe?”

Uh, right…” Pidgeon said. “Sure. Of course. Whatever I’m good at.”

And even Mr. Kitty meowed in what the Scientist assumed was approval.

“So, what about you, Scientist?” Rosalind asked.

And the Scientist thought about it for a minute that felt like an eternity before answering. “Call me Ansel,” they said. “And, yes. I’m in. Anything I can do to help.”

“That’s my girl,” Rosalind said.

I’m still not a girl,” Ansel complained.

“Just the same,” Rosalind said with a grin. “We’re happy to have you on board. Isn’t that right, team?”

“Right!” they all said together—even Pidgeon—and Mr. Kitty—all sounding like they meant it.

Fantastic,” Rosalind said. “Then let’s go get Popeye and get this show on the road. We do nothing alone.”

< LXXXIII. Muna     [Table of Contents]     LXXXV. Shoveler >

There it is, dear readers. The last full chapter in the Infinite Limits series. Read on right now for the short epilogue, and please do enjoy. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 83: Muna

Hello, dear readers. Welcome to the penultimate chapter in the Infinite Limits saga (not counting a short epilogue). This has to be one of my favorite chapters in the entire series. Here we join Captain Mondragon to discover what her fate is after having been shot in the chest at the Christmas Feast. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it, and don’t forget, if you do, you can always pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

< LXXXII. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIV. The Scientist >

LXXXIII. Muna

What the Hell was this?

What the— Was this Hell?

Last she remembered she was tied to a chair, listening to that woman go on and on about someone’s death somewhere. Sitting in the darkness. Listening. Waiting…

And what? What happened next?

Fwip qiwʇ. The sound of a vacuum. The quick short breeze. And the worlds had changed even though she hadn’t moved.

She wasn’t in darkness anymore. She wasn’t in Six at all. She was on a stage, still tied to the chair, listening to the old woman rant at a sea of tuxedoed owners. But they weren’t listening, instead stuffing their fat faces full of food. She recognized the place. The Feast Hall in Inland. A place she’d been to a long time ago. But there was no time to reminisce, because soon the old woman’s rant was over and she was not pointing her gun at the owners.

Pop. Pop pop. Pop pop pop. Pop pop pop pop pop. Pop pop pop pop pop pop pop.

A gunshot. Two. More?

She didn’t know. But she did know pain. A dear friend by that time, pain. It was everywhere. Not just in the newly formed hole in her chest, slowly leaking the life giving red out of her body, but everywhere. Every cell. Every molecule. Every quark and string. You name it. Pain tore her apart, integrated itself into her being, and put her back together again, a writhing miserable mass that wouldn’t want to go on living even if it could.

What else was there?

She died. She gave up. Gave in to the pain. Let it win. Resistance was futile, and she knew that better than anyone, so why would she think of resisting? She didn’t even think.

Amaru up above had called upon her, Muna Mondragon, as a little girl in Outland One, and Muna had risen to the occasion. Not only had she joined the Force, she had become the best in the business, the youngest Chief of Protectors in history. And now, even as a Chief, she had been brave enough to put her own life on the line, walking an Officer’s beat in Outland Six where she had been ambushed, kidnapped, and publicly assassinated in front of the owners’ very own Christmas Feast. It was a classic story meant for a hero’s legend, just like the ones that Muna had learned when she was little, but she had lived it in real life. She was no doubt assured a place in the highest ranks of Amaru’s Protector Force—if she believed in any of that anymore. The question then became, did she believe in any of that anymore? And did it really matter?

She had no choice but to find out.

Her heart stopped. One of the bullets that the old woman had fired entered through her chest, messed the place up, leaving the muscle out of order, and came back out again on the other side, without even closing the door on the way out. There was no fighting that if she tried, so Muna Mondragon died.

From her schooling—and from her experiences of the deaths of others—she knew that her entire body would be giving up, releasing everything she held back in life, just as her heart already had. But she couldn’t tell if she had shit herself or not by that point. She couldn’t tell anything at all. The universe was getting too bright and too dark, both at the same time, until she couldn’t tell the difference between the two and ended up whiting/blacking out—or something like it, she couldn’t see, feel, dream, or think, so she didn’t really have any word at all for what had happened to her.

Time drifted by. At least she can only assume it did. There was no way to know for sure with no senses to experience by, but she had never known time to stop before, so she figured it had done what it always did and kept running. Then she was sure that it had, because suddenly, she woke up.

Well, no. Maybe she wasn’t sure about that. Maybe she still wasn’t awake. But she could think again. At least she thought she could think. She thought therefore she was thinking. Or something like that. She thought.

Thinking down, she began to feel again, too. Not all at once, though. First her feet and the ground beneath them, wiggling her little toes one by one. Somehow, she was standing. And she was wearing her boots. Had she been wearing them before she…

Next, she felt her head. The helmet upon it. Heavy was the head that wore the Lord’s crown. Heavier still the head that wore the screaming neon samurai facemask. Even now she was forced to wear it. Now after she had…

And so on and so on. Hands in gloves, legs in cargo pants, body in plated armor. She thought she could think, she felt like she could feel, then she saw what there was to see. Was it a dream?

Her eyes, no longer blind, took a moment to adjust to her helmet’s cameras just as the cameras took their time to adjust to her eyes. When all parts of her—because by that time the helmet and its cameras truly seemed to be a part of her Amaru-given body—had done their necessary adjusting to one another, she could see a full three hundred and sixty degrees in every direction around her. More than that. In each of those directions she could see in three hundred sixty degrees at a perpendicular angle. Effectively her vision was a sphere and she could see in all directions at once. She didn’t have to look down to see that her hands did in fact move when she willed them to—as shiny and translucent as her hands were, she had to work to convince herself that they were in fact her hands, but she didn’t have to look down to see them—and she didn’t have to look up to see that the sky was dark and the stars were brighter than she had ever thought they could be. She could see the city around her, and a long strip of green that she could only compare to the Neutral Ground. She could even see straight down through her body to the grassy ground underneath her booted feet. She could see everything all around her all at once.

What else could she do but give her new legs a walk? Sure enough, they seemed to work just fine, but the effect of movement was nauseating with her vision the way that it was. Every time she stepped forward it seemed like she was going forward in all directions at once, every part of everything she could see—grass, cityscape, sky, herself, everything—seemed to move closer to her at the same time.

She was startled by the sensation at first, and disoriented. She tried to step backwards to get her bearings, but of course, she was stepping backwards in every direction, too, so again everything everywhere seemed to get closer to her.

She tried to sit down and cry, give up again like she had when she died, but her legs wouldn’t let her do even that. Were they even her legs anymore? No matter what Muna tried, all they did was step forward. Standing still didn’t even work any more. All she could do was take step by step closer to every single thing in existence.

So, step she did. Step, step, step, step, step, one foot in front of another, trying to focus on that one point of her perception that went straight up and down the Neutral Grounds instead of on any of the infinite other perspectives she had going in every direction she could see: every single direction at once. Despite her efforts to see straight ahead, she became so dizzy that she tried to vomit, but again her legs would only let her keep on walking forward towards everything.

On and on and on, further and further and closer and closer to everything in every direction she went until she started to get the hang of it and she could finally focus on that one single spot all the way down the Neutral Grounds which was where she was actually trying to go.

Now it seemed like she was making progress. How much time had that taken? She couldn’t quite remember and the stars above her didn’t seem to be changing position.

Oh, no. The thought of the stars made her lose her concentration, and she had to fight through more dizziness and nausea to get back to the focus that she had so recently found.

What next, though? She was intent on the Neutral Grounds again, but she couldn’t stop walking if she wanted to. And she did want to. She tried again but there was no use. She just kept walking, walking, walking until she didn’t anymore.

A door. Golden but still obviously a transport bay. Her hands reached out to open it, but nothing. The doors were sealed shut. And finally, her legs gave her the rest she had been hoping for, struggling for, praying for, and they let her sit down, her back to the elevator doors.

Sitting now, finally able to rest and not moving, she could see the world without wanting to throw up. She was on eye level with the ground, and there along the green grass of the Neutral Grounds were her footprints in thick, red, almost waxy blood. She reached down to touch the nearest footprint with her finger, to see if it really was as thick as it looked, and when she pulled her hand back up she was holding a red poinsettia.

What the Hell was this?

What the— Was this Hell?

She tried to smell the poinsettia but couldn’t figure out where her nose was, and that’s when she had had enough. Enough of all of it. She took off her helmet, hoping it would fix her vision, but nothing changed. She could still see in every direction at once. She didn’t know what else to do, but her hands didn’t stop there. They started unlacing her boots and tossing them one after another in all directions at the same time.

There, she thought to herself when both boots were just little dots floating out of sight. That’s much better. But her hands still didn’t stop. They took off her socks and plated armor, even her undershirt and pants, until she was down to her underwear, and on beyond that until she was peeling her skin off of her muscles and letting it drift away, floating in the wind like cellular dust. On she went through the muscles, through fat and meat alike, bones and organs. Layer by layer, piece by piece, cell by cell, her hands stripped her—and thus themselves—naked until there was nothing left. But somehow there was still her.

But somehow there was still her.

But somehow there was still her. What was she?

And then there wasn’t her. The brightness came back. The darkness. Quick and sudden like an explosion. Did time stop again? Was it ever flowing?

Who knew?

Who was?

Was she?

#     #     #

She awoke in cuffs and manacles, chained to the chair she was sitting on and shrouded in darkness. Not too dark, though. Nothing like what she now knew was possible. She could even see enough to recognize that she had only two perspectives again—one for each eye—rather than the infinitely spherical point of view she had been dealing with. But beyond that, nothing. Dark forms. Shadows. Maybe a table here closer to her and a wall further off. Nothing was certain anymore. She wasn’t quite sure anything ever could be certain again.

And then the brightness came. Again, not too bright—well, yes, literally too bright for her to see in this instance, but not as bright as the brightness she had now experienced. She squinted her eyes against it. Held them closed tight, but still her eyelids were red hot. She had to fight the urge to hide her head under her arms because she didn’t want to give her interrogator the upper hand so soon. And she knew this was definitely an interrogation. These were the exact tactics Muna herself used when questioning a suspect.

Whoever it was, her interrogator took their time—just as Muna would have—but it didn’t matter how long they waited. Muna had spent plenty of her own time behind just such spotlights in her rise through the ranks of the Protector Force so she was well experienced in withstanding the hotbox.

Eventually her interrogator realized who they were dealing with and out came a voice, not through speakers, but naturally—as naturally as any voice could sound coming through those modulated facemasks, at least, which was surprisingly natural for someone who’s been on the Force for as long as Muna had been—as if someone had been there in the room with her the entire time, hiding behind the darkness and the light alike, waiting for Muna to give in—which she would never do.

“What are you doing here, [Muna/Mona/Officer/Sergeant/ Captain/Chief/Ms./Mondragon]?” the inhuman voice demanded, using all the names and ranks that Muna’s ever gone by all at the same time.

“Where am I?” Muna asked, still squinting her red-hot eyelids against the too bright lights. “How am I supposed to know?”

“You know where you are,” the voice said, seeming to crackle and groan even more than normal. The effect was utterly terrifying. Like being roared at by a glitched out ghost in the machine who wanted to eat your brain and use it for processing power. Muna now truly understood why the helmets were built with the effect. “Don’t lie to yourself.”

“An interrogation chamber, obviously. But where? Whose?”

Ha ha ha!” Whatever noise that voice made, if it can even be called laughing, it should be made illegal. “Yours, of course. Who else?”

Muna didn’t know how to respond, and even if she did, she wasn’t sure her interrogator would have been able to hear her over their own terrifying cackling.

“How many people have you killed in the culling?” the voice demanded, stopping its laughter all of a sudden, and the absence of laughter was almost as unsettling as its presence. As if fear of the laugh returning was worse than the laugh itself.

“How many people have I— What is this?” Muna asked.

“How many officers have you culled?” the voice demanded again, shortening the wordspan as if counting down—to what, Muna didn’t want to know.

“How many— I—” She couldn’t count them. She didn’t have to. They were neatly recorded in her files so she didn’t have to think about any of those people ever again. She wasn’t responsible for them. The Force was. And she wasn’t about to start thinking about them now just because this bodiless voice asked her to from behind its blinding lights. “I don’t know.”

“Who was the first?” the voice demanded.

I don’t know,” Muna repeated, but she did know. Of course, she did. She had still been a Captain. It was her first rookie class. She had teamed up with Pardy and Rabbit and had almost fucked the whole thing up—or more accurately, Pardy had tried to fuck it up for her—but her ability to stay cool and handle the consequences before they got out of control had been what propped her up in the eyes of her superiors, and soon she was lead culler for her district every single quarter, on the fast track to Chiefdom.

“Who?” the voice demanded.

“I don’t know,” Muna repeated, knowing it was impossible for her to hold out forever.

The voice did have a body after all. Hands at least. Fists more likely, but Muna heard them slamming on a metal table and she knew she had to answer.

Rabbit, okay. Officer Jefferson. Are you happy?”

“Did Rabbit deserve to die?” the voice asked, and the way it said his name, Rabbit, was offensive somehow, disgusting.

“I don’t know,” Muna said, struggling against her chains, but they were so tight she couldn’t even move. “Who am I to say? Can’t you turn off that light?”

The light went out, but Muna knew not to be relieved. It was just a ploy. An attempt to get her to open her eyes then turn on the lights again and blind her. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. She held her eyes closed tight despite the fact that her eyelids had gone from red hot to cooling black.

“Did any of them?” the voice asked at a quieter volume, less modulated, like a normal protector’s voice.

“Does anyone?” Muna asked.

“Did you?” the voice answered her question with a question, taking a page out of Muna’s interrogation playbook.

“What do you mean did I?” she demanded, struggling again but still unable to move. “Do I! Do I!?”

“Do you?” the voice asked.

And Muna didn’t know how to answer. Maybe she did. “Maybe I do.”

“You did,” the voice said. “And maybe you do, too.”

Muna was more confused than ever. She didn’t know what to say. All she could do was fight against her chains, but they seemed to get tighter and tighter with her every attempt to move. The voice left the room without another word, just the opening and closing of a door and the exit of a protector’s silhouette. Not soon after, two more protector silhouettes came in to wordlessly unchain Muna while she begged them to speak.

“Who are you? Where am I? How’d I get here?” she pleaded, but neither Officer said a word until she was fully unchained, then one of them said, “Stand up.”

She stood. One of the Officers took her chair out of the room and the other her interrogator’s chair. Then they came back in to take the table and close the door behind them. Muna tried to open the door and follow them, but all of a sudden, the floor fell out from underneath her. She was in a transport bay of some kind, and when the floor stopped falling, the whole wall slid open like an elevator door to reveal the pale, boring suburbia of Outland One.

Muna stepped out of the elevator onto the lamplit path, and each new square of the sidewalk lit up like a disco floor whenever she stepped on it, leaving a trail of light in her wake. On and on she walked, brightening the scenery with every few steps she took, until she came upon a tree that she recognized from her childhood, a tree that she used to love—and sometimes hate—to climb.

As she walked closer, she realized there was a little girl climbing the tree, and a gang of children chasing her up it, calling her names and yelling mean things. What were they all doing out there so far past curfew? Muna was about to go lecture them when she was interrupted by their singing:

Mona, the moaner.
More disgusting than a boner.
She opened her trap, it smelled like crap
And that’s why her family disown her.

It was a song Muna was familiar with, the reason she hated the name Mona. Those same kids used to chase her around, singing that same song, and that must have been her, a tiny little Muna Mondragon, up in the tree, crying, waiting for the little jerks to go away and leave her alone.

“Go away!” Muna yelled at them, stomping in their direction like she was trying to scare a pack of swarming dogs. “Scram! She wasn’t disowned! She’s an orphan!”

But the children didn’t respond. They just went on singing the same lyrics over and over again while little Muna kept crying in the tree.

Mona, the moaner.
More disgusting than a boner.
She opened her trap, it smelled like crap
And that’s why her family disowned her.

And when adult Muna stomped over to pick one of the children up by the collar and make them leave, her hand went straight through the kid, like he was a hologram, or a ghost—maybe a little bit of both.

Muna had sat through enough of their singing. She had been through more than enough as a child. So, she did the only thing she ever could do to get away from the neighborhood kids. She ran home. Not to the orphanage, where she had spent most of her youth imprisoned—or close enough—but back to where she had lived with her family before her parents had been killed on duty in Outland Six. Even if she had no memories of the few short years that she had lived there as a baby, it was still the place that she most considered home.

The way from her favorite tree to home was exactly the same as she remembered it, for better or for worse. She was even treated to a visit from the black cat she always used to chase—and was never able to catch. He ran across the path, lighting a block of the sidewalk up and disappearing on the other side before she could even react. And then there it was: her house.

It looked exactly like every other house she had passed on her way there. Every house in Outland One looked exactly the same: cut out of a single-story ranch style mold that came in left-handed or right-handed depending on which side of the entrance the kitchen was on—left-handed for Muna’s house.

She approached slowly, trying to take it all in, to remember the bushes out front as they looked when she was young—taller, more spacious, a secret garden to hide under and inside of until all the bad things in all the worlds all went away—but everything seemed smaller to her going back again, less protective. That is until the front door creaked open and out walked her mom and dad, looking as young and healthy as they did in the photographs that formed Muna’s only memories of their appearances.

“Munya, my dear,” her dad said, climbing down the front stoop to embrace and hug his daughter. “It’s so nice to finally see you again.”

“You look beautiful, sweetheart,” her mom said, joining in on the hugs and kisses. “More beautiful than I ever could have hoped for.”

“I— But—” Muna stammered. “MomDad…”

Munya,” her dad repeated.

“What is it, dear?” her mom asked, concerned.

“I— Uh…  You’re supposed to be…”

“Taller?” her dad said, trying to make a joke but failing miserably. “Handsomer? Smarterer? I am, honey. All three.”

“We’re supposed to be what, dear?” her mom asked, chuckling at the silly joke.

And Muna finally just said it: “Dead.”

“No, dear. Not dead.” Her dad said, chuckling at his joke before he even told it. “I’m dad. Nice to meet you. Ho ho huh.”

“Dead?” her mom said, eyes wide as if she hadn’t known.

“Yes. Both of you,” Muna said.

“Then what am I doing here?” her dad asked, looking at his hands like he just noticed them.

“What are you doing here?” her mom asked, looking at Muna the same way.

“Oh, well… I don’t know.” Muna said. “I…”

“Are you supposed to be dead, too?” her dad asked, and her mom slapped him on the arm.

“Don’t say that,” she said. “Now, dead or not, I’m going in to finish cooking dinner, and if you two don’t come in to help me, you can be certain you’ll both be dead by the time we’re done eating.” She stormed inside, slamming the screen door behind her.

Muna’s dad shrugged. “Well, you heard your mother,” he said. “Dead or alive, she’s the boss. So, let’s do it.” And he went inside, too.

Muna didn’t know what to do. Was she dead? Did it matter? But she didn’t have time to think about that. For now, she just wanted to help cook dinner, enjoy a meal with her parents, and catch up on lost time.

#     #     #

< LXXXII. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIV. The Scientist >

And there you have it, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Come on back next week for the final chapter (and the epilogue), or if you can’t wait that long, go ahead and pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 82: Sonya

Dear readers, today we join Sonya for her final point of view chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. The evacuation of the workers of Outland is underway, and Sonya will pay a heavy price for their freedom. Read on to see how she copes, and don’t forget to join us in the coming weeks for the conclusion of the Infinite Limits story. We do nothing alone.

< LXXXI. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIII. Muna >

LXXXII. Sonya

Burning, horrible pain. That’s all she knew. Burning, horrible pain.

It started right there at the tips of her fingers, which was especially strange considering the fact that she had no fingers left on that hand to feel anything. She had no hand at all. No wrist to connect it to the half of her forearm that wasn’t even there. But still, all of her nonexistent parts throbbed with burning, horrible pain.

The sensation emanated up through her elbow—more painful than any knock of the funny bone and only getting worse—out to the rest of her body in turn. The rest of her real body. The parts of her body that she still had left attached to herself—whatever herself was, that is, she was having some difficulty deciding what was or wasn’t a part of herself with her missing limbs being the only sensation that she could feel. She moaned and she groaned, holding onto her right shoulder with her left hand—the one that was still attached—and rolling around on the floor of the elevator, but she didn’t scream or cry. She could give herself that much. In the burning, horrible beginning she didn’t scream or cry.

The old man rolled around on the floor of the elevator along with Sonya, gasping and screaming and crying out in his own painful Hell, reaching for the cat who was now nothing just as Sonya reached out for her arm that had disappeared along with it, reaching with a stump that could never grasp anything ever again. And as they both bemoaned the unlikely and painful safety that they had been thrust into, the elevator’s voice reminded them that they weren’t dead yet, weren’t done fighting, and still needed a safer space.

“Doors opening,” the voice said. “Evacuate elevator car in thirty seconds or suffer fatal consequences. Evacuate elevator car in twenty-nine seconds or suffer fatal consequences. Evacuate elevator car in twenty-eight seconds or suffer fatal consequences…” And so on and so on.

But Sonya didn’t care. Not about anything but the horrible, burning pain in her phantom arm. She didn’t care about the pitiful, still-crying old man who was being dragged out of the elevator by some of the people who Sonya had just helped evacuate. She didn’t care about the comrade and partner—whose name Sonya still didn’t know—who had been lost in that very evacuation. And she didn’t care if she ended up crushed into a singularity along with that same partner, the old man’s cat, and all the walls of Outland. At least that way she might forget the horrible, burning pain that was flowing all throughout her body from its source in thin air where her arm used to be.

Soon, the elevator had counted down to ten seconds, the people had disembarked the old man, and they began struggling against Sonya to pull her out of the car, too. Sonya struggled right back against her saviours, though, not wanting to move at all, until she couldn’t take any more pain and passed out cold, finally to forget the throbbing fire that consumed her body for the slightest moment, but only at the price of replacing it with nightmares of hanging chains—like stalactites and stalagmites, going in both directions, up and down, despite any objections from the laws of physics—burning flames, and a horrible flickering Hellscape.

Sonya fluttered in and out of consciousness. One moment, she was struggling against her saviours on the elevator floor while the voice on the speaker counted down to her death, and the next, she was moaning and crying on the cold concrete outside, the rumble and groan of worlds falling apart—or maybe falling back together again, as it was—going on all around her even if she didn’t recognize it as such at the time. Then she was on a stretcher somehow, being carried somewhere, until the stress of remaining conscious was too much and she fell back again into the nightmare dreamscape that represented her subconscious pain.

And then she was home. Forever if she were lucky. And not home home, either, but The Bar. Her true home.

She was lying face up on the bar itself, trying to recognize what she couldn’t see, but between reality and Hell there could never be anything resembling true understanding. Shadows of silhouettes of projections of faces were all she could make out from the bodies that towered over her, poking and prodding, trying to heal but only producing more pain and anxiety. Then mumbled words. Arguing. And action. One more sharp, piercing pain in the stump where her arm should have been, then instead of horrible, fiery burning, a cooling, icy numbness flowed in one wave over her body until Sonya could feel and do nothing but fall into a restful, dreamless sleep.

Sometime later she awoke with a jolt—as if she had been dreaming of falling even though she hadn’t been dreaming at all—lying on the bar and surrounded by darkness. She groaned and tried to stand, but her muscles wouldn’t work so she just kind of flopped like a fish.

Another voice in the room groaned from down on the floor below the bar, then up stood a dark form to say, “Sonya. Are you alright? It’s me. Lights.”

And the lights turned on to reveal Olsen, hair messy and eyes puffy like she’d been sleeping. Tillie couldn’t remember how long it had been since they had talked to one another—she was having difficulty comprehending time at all after drifting in and out of consciousness like she had been—but she was certainly happy to see an old friend.

“I— I waited—” Olsen stammered. “I hope you don’t mind. I mean— I— I can leave if you want me to.”

“And be alone on Christmas?” Sonya asked, trying to smile but having a hard time of it. “It is still Christmas, isn’t it?”

Olsen checked her watch, rubbing her face and yawning. “I—uh… Nope. I mean, yes. Yes, it is still Christmas. Not even late. I bet Ellie’s party’s still going on.”

“Ellie’s party,” Sonya said, sitting up as she remembered it, surprised that she could actually move again, even if she did it too fast and ended up dizzy from the motion. “We should go.”

“I—uhWe? I mean, do you think you feel up to it?” Olsen asked.

And again, Sonya was ecstatic to see her. Olsen was a reminder of an easier, happier past. A past before revolutions and evacuations and…

Sonya reached out a hand toward Olsen, trying to brush the hair out of her face or softly caress her cheek, but the hand didn’t reach. It wasn’t there. She wasn’t holding out a hand at all but a short stump of an arm that ended in a disgusting crook at her elbow. Seeing it brought Sonya to tears again at the same time that it sent a shock of fiery red pain all throughout her body—phantom arm included. It felt like an aftershock of the horrible burning she had experienced when losing the arm in the first place.

Sonya gasped and cried, covering her stump with her real hand, and Olsen grabbed her in a hug, squeezing tight enough to help Sonya forget the pain.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Olsen begged, starting to cry a little herself and not letting go of Sonya until they were both done shedding tears..

“About what?” Sonya asked, sniffling and wiping her nose.

“I don’t know,” Olsen said. “That I wasn’t there to prevent this from happening to you. That I’ve never been there for you in all the time you’ve been doing this. That I fell onto the wrong side of the fight when I was young and haven’t been able to come all the way back since then. I’m sorry about everything stupid I’ve ever done, essentially. So, I’m sorry.”

“Well then I’m sorry, too,” Sonya said. “Now, here. Help me up. I want to get to Ellie’s before everyone leaves. You said they’re still partying, right?”

“Ellie said they’d be there.” Olsen shrugged. “She said you’d have to take the long way, though. No elevators.”

“It’s still in the same place?” Sonya asked, pouring two shots out of a bottle behind the bar and handing one to Olsen.

“Just a couple of extra blocks away,” Olsen said. She took her shot and gasped. “So I’m told. The world is too different out there, though. I hardly recognize it.”

Good,” Sonya said, patting Olsen on the back and leading her to the exit. “That was the entire reason we did this.”

And the world certainly was different outside. World singular now that all the Outlands—and Inland—had come back together again. Sonya thought she had learned what change looked like when the walls between Five and Six were torn down the first time, but this… This was on a scale magnitudes greater.

There were no more skyscrapers that were too tall to exist, stacked three or four high. The buildings weren’t squished into impossibly dense blocks, holding more weight than any foundation should have been able to hold. She could actually see a big chunk of the darkening sky and beyond that a few twinkling, dim stars.

Sonya and Olsen walked along in silent awe, staring at the sights, and neither of them spoke again until they were at the entrance to Ellie’s apartment building. By the look of the flickering candlelights all up and down the stairwells and the sound of laughing voices coming from the floors above, it seemed like the party was still going on.

Sonya smiled at Olsen one more time before opening the door. “Thanks for coming with me,” she said. “And for being there when I woke up. I hope you’ll finally think about staying with us in the future.” And then she didn’t wait for Olsen to respond, instead leading her by the hand up the stairs to Ellie’s floor where the party was spilling out into the hall and up and down the stairwells.

Anne was the first to notice Sonya’s arrival, calling out, “Sonya! You’re alright! Someone get Ellie out here.” but losing her bright smile when she saw Sonya’s arm—or lack thereof. “Damn,” she said, looking at her feet instead of Sonya’s stump. “Are you alright?”

“I’m alive,” Sonya said, hiding her phantom arm behind her back and not really looking forward to the questions and stares that she hadn’t considered when she had dragged Olsen to the party in the first place. “And happy for it.”

“Oh—uh. I’m Olsen,” Olsen said, inserting herself into the conversation and giving Sonya a look like she understood that Sonya wanted to change the subject away from her arm. “Nice to meet you—uh…”

“Anne,” Anne said, shaking Olsen’s hand. “I used to work in food production, but now I’m free of that!” She yelled the second part, and everyone in the halls around them hooted and hollered and cheered, helping Sonya forget the still subtly pulsing pains of her phantom arm for just a moment.

“So— Y’all…” Olsen stammered, still uncomfortable but at least making an effort. “Y’all are responsible for these explosions and the evacuation and all that?”

Anne chuckled and shot Sonya a look. “Who is this again?” she asked. Then to Olsen, “And for the food you’ll eat, housing you’ll live in, and medical care you’ll receive as time moves forward. We’re responsible for everything now. So get used to it.”

It was right about then that news had made its way to Ellie and Ellie had made her way out to the hall to pull Sonya into a hug that was tighter than any the newly armless revolutionary had ever felt. Sonya let out a few quick tears and wiped them away, not even mad at Ellie for picking up her stump to poke and prod at it afterward.

“There’s my freedom fighter,” Ellie said, sticking her fingers through Sonya’s phantom hand to touch her in places she should never have been touched. “How does this feel?”

Weird,” Sonya said, pulling her arm away. “Could you not?”

“No. I cannot not,” Ellie said, grabbing Sonya’s arm to poke it a few more times. “I need to make sure everything’s healing fine so you don’t bleed out when I pump you full of eggnog tonight.” She laughed and dropped Sonya’s arm, pulling her in for one more quick hug before saying, “Starting now. You do want some, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah,” Sonya said. “It’s Christmas. Of course, I—”

“And what about you?” Ellie asked Olsen, not waiting to hear the rest of what Sonya had to say. By the sound of her voice and the grin on her face, Sonya could tell that Ellie had been drinking her own eggnog for some time already. “Don’t think I can’t see you hiding over there.”

“Olsen, ma’am,” Olsen said, holding out a hand for her to shake and getting a hug instead. “And—uh. Yeah. Sure. Some eggnog would be great. It’s alcoholic, I assume.”

“Is there any other kind?” Ellie asked, laughing and leading them through the packed party to one of the back rooms—there were people in every room up and down the hall it seemed—where Vicki and Alena were sitting at a table, telling the story of their experience to a group of people who all sat at the same table or stood around the room listening, one of whom got up and allowed Sonya their seat—with some argument from Sonya, of course, she didn’t want any special treatment on account of her arm, but not too much arguing because she didn’t want to make a scene and interrupt Vic’s story, either.

“So, everything was going as planned,” Vic was saying, then for Sonya’s sake she backtracked a little and added, “We were evacuating a hospital, you see, so most of the patients were in serious or critical condition, and none of them could just get up and walk onto the elevator for themselves. Right.

“But it was just Alena and I on the hospital floor, you know, directing the doctors toward whichever elevator they were supposed to get on and helping them wheel the patients out of there as fast as we could without killing anyone. So we’d load two beds and two doctors onto one elevator and send it. Then we’d load up the next elevator just the same and send it along, too, you know. Then we’d have to do some waiting until the first elevator got back and we could reload it and send it off again. You get the picture. And so on and so on we went while Tor and Katie were on the other side of the elevator shafts, making sure everyone got themselves unloaded safely and speedily then sent the elevators back in a reasonable time.

“We had just sent the penultimate elevator load with five minutes still left to spare, and Alena ran around to do one final check of the floor, finding no one, while I stayed with the last patient who was sleeping in the last bed before our mission could be considered a complete success, and of course, the elevators—both of them—took forever to return.

“Alena started checking her watch after a minute had gone by, and neither of us had to say a word to know what the other was thinking.”

Fuck,” Alena said with a chuckle that sent all the listeners laughing with her. “This is not good.”

Vic waited for the laughter to die down before going on. “Exactly. And of course, shit got worse. All of a sudden, the meter and monitors on the patient’s bed started making all kinds of loud noises, speaking in a language I didn’t understand, and instantly I regretted having sent all the doctors along already. For my part I was paralyzed with panic, but Alena over there reacted fast, grabbing those paddle shock things that doctors use.”

“The defibrillator,” Alena corrected her.

“You see?” Vic said, laughing. “I don’t even know the name of the thing, much less how to use one, but somehow Alena here picks ‘em right up, telling me to get my hands off, and she shocks the patient back to life for long enough that we can get on the elevator and take the patient to someone who actually knew what they were doing.”

“And that patient did live,” Alena added, blushing, at the end. “Just in case anyone was wondering.”

“A success it was, dears,” Ellie said, holding her glass up. “To Vic and Alena’s courage in the face of harrowing odds.”

The whole room cheersed with one another—or at least with those close enough—and drank to that. Even Sonya smiled while she tapped her glass with Olsen’s, Ellie’s, and Alena’s in turn before sipping the sweet spiked eggnog.

“It’s so great to hear stories of successes,” Ellie said to everyone. “All of you performed so perfectly. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, of course, but looking at how far we’ve already come in just these few short hours fills me with certainty that—together—we can get it done.”

Everyone cheersed and drank again.

Now… Who’s next?” Ellie went on, looking around the room as if she didn’t have anyone particular in mind even though Sonya was sneakingly suspicious that she’d be next. “So many brave heroes here in one room right now. What about you, Olsen?” Ellie said, chuckling.

“No, no,” Olsen said, shaking her head and looking at her feet, truly embarrassed. “I’m just a stupid coward.” And Sonya felt pity for her, but Vic interrupted the feeling by pounding on the table and chanting, “Sonya. Son-ya. Son-ya…” until everyone else joined in with her, Olsen included.

“The audience has spoken,” Ellie said, laughing. “Sonya, dear. We know you have a story to tell. You’re wearing it on your sleeve. So, let’s hear it.”

“What? You mean this?” Sonya asked, standing up and holding her stump out over the table for everyone to see.

“Gross!” “Awesome.” “Let me touch it.” Actual poking and prodding just as Ellie had done. The reactions ran the gamut. And honestly, they helped Sonya feel just a little less self-conscious about her phantom arm—even, and maybe especially, the reactions of those people who thought it was truly disgusting.

“Yes, please,” Vic said, literally getting on her knees to beg Sonya. “Tell us. Satiate us with your story. It is Christmas, dear. Please. Continue our revelry for as long as you can.”

Well…” Sonya said, feigning uncertainty even though she was ready to tell her story after all. If she was ever going to do it, this was going to be the best audience she could ever hope for, so why not?

“We were clearing out one floor of a residential building,” she said. “Me and my partner whose name I still don’t know.” And probably never would, Sonya could have added, but she didn’t want to spoil the ending.

“Rosalind, dear,” Ellie informed her. “I checked after we had finished operating on you.”

“Okay, then,” Sonya went on, fighting tears for some reason now that she knew the poor lost woman’s name. The audience sat on in silence, sipping their drinks and simply waiting for her to continue. Sonya got the feeling that they would have waited all night and into the morning to hear what she had to say, and something about the thought helped her swallow down her tears and keep telling her story. “So, Rosalind and I were evacuating a residential building. Or just one floor. Or whatever.”

Sonya took a sip of her eggnog to relax her throat before going on. “Well, just like with Vic and Alena over there.” Sonya pointed with her stump to add to the effect. She was a practiced storyteller, having told many a ghost story as a child—not to mention the tales she’d told and heard as a bartender—and she always knew exactly when to turn the flashlight on and shine it on her face to induce the most screams. “Everything was going perfectly fine at first.

“There were some loud sirens and flashing lights—which Vic and Alena might not have had to endure considering they were in a hospital—but the bright flashing nonsense helped us convince the residents of the seriousness of the situation, moving them along faster than we ever could have without the noise. And just like with Vic and Alena, we cleared everyone down to the last resident before any snags occurred.

“Our problem was a stubborn old man. So, when he wouldn’t come with us of his own free will, I lifted him over my shoulder like a blackout drunk at the Bar, and I carried him into the elevator myself. We were running out of time, and I wasn’t gonna let the old man die, so that was that.

“But of course, that wasn’t that. That was when the old man started complaining that we had forgotten his cat—which we never even knew had existed in the first place so there was no way we could have forgotten it, okay. But the old man was adamant either way, so while I made sure he stayed on the elevator, my partner—uh—Rosalind, went to find the cat.

“The elevator was really counting down by that time. And it seemed like the sirens had gotten louder and the lights brighter, even if they hadn’t. I had one hand fighting the old man to keep him safe on the elevator despite his every effort to put himself back in danger.” She acted it out, putting her stump arm back on the chest of Olsen who stood behind her, listening close, and Sonya was comforted to notice that Olsen didn’t recoil from the touch of her stump as Sonya continued the story. “And the other hand was reaching out and out…” She reached her still whole hand out over the table and everyone in the room stared at it as she spoke. “Trying to grasp that poor sweet kitty who Rosalind was holding outstretched to me. And just as I felt his fur graze my fingertips, the doors slammed shut.” She switched her physical hand and her phantom one, reaching out with the nothingness instead, and reveled in the gasped awe she received in return—just like when she was a kid. “Taking my arm, the cat, and Rosalind all to wherever it is that imploded Walker-Haley field generators go when they die.”

The table reacted with stunned silence. Olsen, too, but she sort of massaged Sonya’s shoulders when the latter sat back down from telling her story.

Then Trudy came in, breaking the silence with news of Aldo on the beach he had escaped to years ago—a beach that was a lot more crowded now that the walls had come down—and in that moment, having been given the space and time not only to tell her story but to have it intently and empathetically listened to, and being able to hear similar stories of others going through the same or worse, Sonya felt more confident than ever that she could not only survive, but thrive, even despite the accident she had endured. And beyond that, she truly believed that they had finally built a system that was superior to the barbarism that they had all been living through, one that would last for as long as they continued to work together and ensure that it did.

 

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< LXXXI. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIII. Muna >

There you have it, dear readers. Sonya’s final point of view chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Otherwise, there are only two more weeks to wait for the conclusion of the story to be posted on the blog here. Please do join us. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 81: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers. Here’s the last chapter from the point of view of Mr. Kitty in the entire Infinite Limits saga. There are only three more chapters and a short epilogue after this one. Enjoy, and please do come back next week for the continuation of the story. We do nothing alone.

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

LXXXI. Mr. Kitty

“Leo, wait!” Tillie called from the front porch. “Don’t go. You don’t understand.”

But Leo didn’t even turn around to look at her, much less respond, instead running off toward the public elevator. Mr. Kitty felt a slight urge to follow Leo, he hadn’t been on campus in a long time and always enjoyed the sights when he did make it out there, but Tillie seemed genuinely upset about the situation, and Mr. Kitty wanted to do whatever he could to comfort her first.

“He’ll be fine,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “You did the same thing when you first found out the truth.”

“Right?” Tillie said, pacing back and forth, up and down the porch. “What a brat. He didn’t want to listen before when I had first told him about the robots, and he doesn’t want to listen now that he’s dead set on saving them.”

“Exactly like you were when you first found out,” Mr. Kitty meowed, trying to rub his face on Tillie’s ankles, but she was still pacing so she ended up tripping over him to fall with a crash on her face.

“Sorry,” Mr. Kitty meowed, but Tillie didn’t respond, just lying there, face down on the front porch, groaning. Mr. Kitty climbed up onto her butt and started kneading it until she finally rolled over, smiling and laughing, to scoop him up and kiss him all over—which he normally hated but would allow given the circumstances.

“You little monster,” she said, throwing him over her shoulder to carry him inside. “And you’ll get more kisses where that came from if you’re not careful.”

Tillie dropped Mr. Kitty off on the kitchen counter then ordered him up a turkey dinner that he wasn’t hungry for. He licked all the juices off of it, anyway, because he didn’t want to ruin Tillie’s training. She ordered herself a beer out of the printer, and by that time, Mr. Kitty had “eaten” enough, so he followed her into the living room where she stopped dead in her tracks and Mr. Kitty ran right into the back of her leg.

“I—uh…” Tillie stammered. “Curie. You—” He had come through the hole in the fireplace, Mr. Kitty assumed, but Tillie didn’t finish her sentence, instead embracing her husband to kiss him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, still holding her shoulders in both hands. “I didn’t mean to surprise you. I had to use the back door. It was urgent.”

“Is it Leo? Did he call you?” Tillie asked.

“What? Leo? No. What happened? Is he alright?”

“For now. But we have a lot to talk about. Do you want something to drink?”

“Tillie, it’s happening today,” Curie said. “I told you it was coming soon. Well, it’s now. And they need our help.”

Our help?” Tillie scoffed. “This is exactly what I just argued with Leo about. I literally just told him it was too dangerous. We got in a big fight about it, and he ran away. You might have passed him on your way in if you had taken the elevator like a normal person.”

“You know what? Yeah,” Curie said, checking his watch. “Maybe we do have time for one drink. Beer, please.”

Fine.” Tillie stormed into the kitchen to get the drinks while Curie scooped Mr. Kitty up and patted him on the back.

“Don’t think for one second that I forgot about you, Mr. Kitty,” Curie said. “Just how is my little gremlin doing? Huh?”

“Not bad,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “It’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting day.”

“Well, I hope you’ll come along with us if I can convince your Tillie,” he said just as Tillie came in carrying two pints of beer.

“Convince me of what?” she asked, holding Curie’s beer out to him.

Curie set Mr. Kitty back on the ground—where Mr. Kitty sat licking himself and eavesdropping—then took the glass from Tillie and drank it all in one long gulp, like he was trying to put off the inevitable for that little bit longer. “To help,” he finally said when he had downed the entire drink, wiping his mouth.

Obviously.” Tillie sighed. “But how? Set some discs on a Walker-Haley field generator like back in college?”

“No,” Curie said. “No discs.”

“Then what?”

“A rescue mission,” Curie said. “Evac. You’d be preserving, not destroying.”

“That’s a good start,” Tillie said, taking a seat on the couch. “I’m listening.”

Curie sat in the chair across from her and said, “There’ll be no discs at all this time. That’s small stuff. This is the real deal.”

Tillie scoffed. “As if what Emma and I did wasn’t,” she said, offended. “Need I remind you what happened to her because of how real it was? I know you don’t need reminding of what it did to your sister.”

“No. Of course not,” Curie said, trying to backtrack. “And I didn’t mean to imply that what y’all did wasn’t real or important. Of course it was. But even so, this here today is bigger.”

“How, honey?” Tillie laughed. “How could it be? How could anything be?”

“This time we’re not just destroying the walls between two worlds,” Curie sad. “No more half measures. All the walls are coming down at once.”

No.” Tillie shook her head. “Impossible. You said it was a rescue mission.”

“It is,” Curie explained. “For us. That’s our role. Rosalind and the Scientist are tearing the walls down, but they need our help for the evac.”

“But they’re the ones who’ve been keeping the walls up this entire time. Why now?”

“I don’t know,” Curie said, shaking his head. “They don’t tell us much. Barely keep in touch. But Rosalind called me up, and I thought it could be the opening we’ve been waiting for. The revolution might finally be here, Tillie. If we react properly.”

“But this is all gonna happen whether we get involved or not. Right?”

“The walls’ll come down either way, yes,” Curie said. “The Scientist has already programmed them for that. Whether it results in our revolution or not is still to be determined, though. It won’t unless we do the work to make it so.”

“But that doesn’t mean we have to get involved right now,” Tillie said, still looking for a way out. “Does it? We can wait until the danger’s over and then help pick up the pieces afterword. It might be a better idea to stay out of this until we can be certain that we’ll survive long enough to help put the pieces back together the right way after everything’s said and done.”

“And let innocent people die because we were too afraid to act?” Curie scoffed. “How could you say that? I know losing your friend, and my sister, took a toll on you—trust me, not a day goes by when I don’t imagine what life would be like if Nikola were still alive—but I thought you’d get over that one day. The Tillie I knew when we first met would have jumped at this opportunity to help liberate the oppressed masses.”

“Well that Tillie was young, naive, and idealistic. She grew up to have a kid of her own, and now she knows there are more important things than her saviour complex.”

“Like people’s lives,” Curie complained. “Can’t you see that? If we don’t do our part, more people are going to die. That’s a fact. You know I can’t just stand by and let that happen, right? I still have to do what I can. With or without you.”

“All the more reason for me to stay out of it,” Tillie said. “No need to put both of our son’s parents in harm’s way. We do still have Leo to think about.”

“Of course. I am thinking about him. About his future. I— I…” Curie looked at his feet like a child who was afraid to admit his latest wrongdoing to stern parents. “I was going to ask him if he wanted to help.”

“Curie, our son? You were going to put our son in harm’s way without consulting me first? How could you?”

“I’m here consulting you now,” Curie complained. “Besides, it’s not your place to stop him anymore. He’s an adult. Remember what happened when your dad tried to stop you?”

Tillie crossed her arms. “Of course I do. I was there, wasn’t I? I…”

“You dug your heels in, ran away, and went to do what you were going to do anyway.”

“Yes, well…”

“And you said that you and Leo had been fighting before I arrived. What about?”

“He did call you. Didn’t he?”

“He didn’t have to,” Curie said. “I know him—and you—well enough to know that he knows the truth now. He wants to do something to change it, too. Doesn’t he? Well, we need his help, Tillie. He can do something. We all finally can.”

“But Curie, Nikola.” Tillie started to cry now. Not so much so that she couldn’t speak, but the tears were obvious enough for Mr. Kitty to see them and jump on her lap to purr in an attempt to console her. “Emma,” Tillie went on through her tears. “All the countless others who’ve died. I won’t let Leo become another name on that list.”

“Then come with us,” Curie said, crossing to sit next to Tillie and rub her back, doing all he could to comfort her the same as Mr. Kitty was. “Protect him and prevent even more innocent people from joining that list just the same. Fly again with me like the majestic eagle you once were, the eagle I know you still are. Please, Tillie. We need you.”

Tillie was kind of blushing and smirking now, but still crying. “Y’all don’t need a scared old crone like me,” she said, sniffling and wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I’ve been hiding behind my desk for too long. I’m just a useless harpy now.”

“Not in the slightest,” Curie said, standing and pulling Tillie to stand up with him—which forced Mr. Kitty to jump off of her lap, but he didn’t mind because he was getting as pumped by Curie’s speech as he hoped Tillie was. “You have invaluable knowledge of revolutionary situations,” Curie went on. “You said so yourself. You and Emma were single-handedly responsible for tearing down the walls between Five and Six. That’s experience we could use to help save lives on this mission.”

“Well, not single-handedly,” Tillie said, not crying anymore if still a little hesitant. “We do nothing alone. But that was a long time ago. All we did was put some stickers on some machinery and run away. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“That’s not true,” Curie said. “And it’s not what you were just arguing, either. And we’ll just be helping people evacuate their buildings, today. You’re great at that. Leo was never late to school on your mornings to get him ready.” He winked and grinned.

“Because you were always too much his friend and not enough his parent,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “How can I be sure you’re not doing the same thing right now?”

“Because I’m not, Tillie,” Curie said, getting serious again. “We honestly need him. And we need you. And if you’d just agree to come along, we can both be there to keep our son safe. You know we can’t stop him from doing something stupid any more than your dad could have stopped you, so let’s be there for him when he does it. What do you say?”

“Do it!” Mr. Kitty meowed. “I’m coming, too.”

And Curie and Tillie both laughed at that.

“Well… You make a lot of sense,” Tillie said. “Both of you. But I’m not sure how I would have reacted if my dad had asked to come along with us back then.”

“You’re not your dad,” Curie reminded her. “And Leo’s not you. You both want to make the world a better place, and you both have the opportunity to.”

“Do you really think I’d be useful?” Tillie asked, stepping closer to Curie to put her hand on his chest, flirting and fishing for compliments.

Mr. Kitty licked his paws in preparation for the running he knew he’d be doing so he didn’t have to watch them be lovey with each other.

“I’m not too old for something like this?”

Curie embraced Tillie and kissed her long and hard. “Of course you’d be useful,” he said in a breathy voice when they had parted lips. “You’re still young, my eagle. But we’re both old enough to pass our knowledge and experience on to Leo. And he’s old enough to receive it. So let’s do it the right way. Together.”

“And don’t forget me,” Mr. Kitty added.

Tillie laughed again. “I guess Mr. Kitty supports the idea,” she said.

“And what about you?” Curie asked, kissing her one more time on the forehead. “What do you think?”

“I think…. you’re right. If Leo’s going, I want to be there, too. And he deserves the opportunity. He already showed me he wanted it. So let’s go get him.”

“Alright,” Curie said, pulling Tillie by the hand toward the fireplace instead of toward the front door where she was going. “C’mon, Mr. Kitty,” he said. “You’re coming, right?”

And of course, Mr. Kitty was. He stretched his legs and back then ran up on the heel of Tillie to follow them through the hole in the fireplace and straight into Leo’s dorm room where he and his roommate were sitting close on the couch, having a serious conversation in whispered tones while the TV, stereo, and even blender in the kitchen were all running on their loudest settings. Curie went to turn the blender off, and Tillie told the TV and stereo to quiet down, while Leo and his roommate jumped up off the couch, surprised.

“Mom. Dad. What are y’all doing here?” Leo went to hug Curie, but he still must have been mad at his mom, because Tillie didn’t get one.

Mr. Kitty didn’t get a greeting, either, until Leo’s roommate said, “And a cat.” then went to pet him while Mr. Kitty purred.

“It’s about our argument,” Tillie said, and before she could go on, Leo scoffed.

Ugh. Come to make sure I don’t do anything dangerous?” he said. “Well, don’t worry. I’m never going down in those stupid tunnels again, and we haven’t been able to figure out anything else we could do. Nothing dangerous, at least. Just handing out flyers, spreading the word, and starting clubs. Bullshit.”

“We?” Curie asked.

“That’s not bullshit,” Tillie said. “That’s a really great start, actually. It’s exactly what Emma and I did when we first got started.”

“Yes, we,” Leo said. “This is my roommate, Kim.” The roommate waved and said Hi then went back to petting Mr. Kitty. “His parents are lobbyists. Those were his ideas. And of course I told him about it. Mom was trying to forbid me from doing anything, I hadn’t talked to you in months, and well… Kim’s kind of my…”

“Boyfriend,” Kim said, stopping his petting of Mr. Kitty to stand up and wrap one arm around Leo’s waist. “Sorry you had to find out like this. We wanted to do it over dinner or something, but once Leo learned the truth about the assembly lines and y’all had your argument, he couldn’t really think about anything else.”

“Fine. Whatever,” Curie said, getting a little anxious as time went on. “None of that matters right now. What matters is that we have a way for you to actually help.”

Leo—and to a lesser extent Kim—looked offended by Curie’s response, but Tillie tried to smooth it over. “What I think your father’s trying to say,” she said, “is that it’s very nice to meet you, Kim. You seem like a nice boy who makes our son happy, and when we have more time, we’d love to sit down and get to know you. But currently, we have some urgent business that we need Leo’s assistance with.”

“And yours,” Curie said to Kim. “If you’re willing. The more hands the better, in this instance.”

Yeah, right.” Leo rolled his eyes. “Like we could really do anything to help. You’re just patronizing me like you used to do when I was kid. Here’s an empty bowl to play with, go and pretend like you’re helping make cookies while I actually do all the work. Is that about right?”

“What do you need?” Kim asked.

“The walls are coming down in…” Curie checked his watch. “A little more than an hour now—whether we do anything about it or not—and it’s up to us to help evacuate some of the more dangerous buildings.”

“I’m not sure how much y’all have learned in your classes yet,” Tillie explained. “But a lot of the taller skyscrapers—and especially in the lower worlds—are really multiple buildings or sections of buildings stacked on top of one another. So when all the Walker-Haley fields disappear at the same time, those buildings are likely to come tumbling down with them.”

“How do y’all know all this?” Kim asked.

While Leo said, “You sure it’s not too dangerous?” giving his mom a look, apparently still upset about their fight.

“How we know doesn’t matter right now,” Curie said. “We know. And we can help those in danger. We’re going to help them. The question is, will you two join us?”

“And yes, it is still dangerous,” Tillie said. “But Curie helped me realize that life’s dangerous anyway. Besides, my own dad, your grandpa, made the mistake of trying to convince me not to participate in politics, and that only drove me further and deeper into more dangerous situations. But I’m not about to make the same mistake with you. I want to be here to guide you along in this. And hopefully together we can affect more than we ever could have hoped to otherwise. We do nothing alone.”

“You really think there’s something we can do?” Leo asked. “It’s not right,” he added before anyone could answer. “How those workers are treated. It’s not right.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Kim said, nodding confidently.

Good,” Curie said. “We’ll all go together. You have no idea how many lives you could help save. You’ll see. This is just the beginning.”

Fantastic,” Tillie said, not sounding as excited as her husband about the prospect. “Just the beginning.”

“I can’t wait,” Mr. Kitty meowed, and everyone laughed, breaking the tension.

All of a sudden Curie was flipping his phone out and projecting a blueprint onto the TV. “Alright, then,” he said. “This is the floor we’ll be handling. It’s actually a rather large midwife hospital in Five. This section, here.” The blueprint on the TV zoomed in on a particular area of the map. “Is filled with newborn children. Okay. Do you see where this is going?”

Tillie slapped him on the arm. “You should have led with that,” she said. “Of course we see. Go on.”

“You want us to help clear them out before it blows,” Leo said. “I think I can handle that.”

“I know you can,” Kim said, kissing Leo on the cheek. “I know we can.”

“I know we can, too,” Curie said. “For sure now that we’re all doing it together.”

He explained the finer details to them. How they’d have two elevators to work with but only fifteen minutes in which to clear the entire floor, so they had to be smart about it. How many babies, nurses, and midwives to expect—though no one could know for sure because the hospital hadn’t been forewarned. And that they’d have to take the public elevator because travel was being highly regulated to ensure everyone’s safety when the Walker-Haley field generators finally imploded in on themselves. Soon, it was time to take their elevator to destiny.

Mr. Kitty was happy to hear that they were taking the public elevator because that meant that he got to see campus again—a major reason he had come along in the first place. None of the humans talked while they walked, though, Leo and Kim first, hand in hand, leading the way toward their future, and Tillie and Curie next, hand in hand as well, simultaneously and silently reveling in their son’s current joy and fearing for the future they were walking right behind him into. At least that’s what Mr. Kitty thought he saw in his brief glimpse before he bound away to chase a squirrel up a tree, smell some flowers, and eat some grass on his way to the elevator with everyone else.

“Are y’all ready?” Curie asked when the elevator doors had closed, blocking the view of the Parade Grounds outside.

“Leo? Kim?” Tillie asked, as if she wouldn’t know if she was ready until she knew if they were first.

“I think so, ma’am,” Kim said, nodding, unsure of himself. “Sir.”

“We’re ready,” Leo assured Kim—and everyone else in the room—then to Mr. Kitty’s surprise, he added, “What about you, Mr. Kitty?”

“🐱EXCITED🐱!” Mr. Kitty screeched, too excited about being remembered by Leo to control his volume. “I mean, ready.”

“Sounds like he’s ready, too,” Tillie said. “Sounds like we’re all ready. So what next?”

“We say the password and wait for the countdown,” Curie said. “Just a few minutes now.”

“What’s the password?” Leo asked.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways,” Curie said. “The point is to change it.” A voice over the elevator’s speaker system started softly counting down the last half a minute before the start of their mission.

And while the elevator fell into motion, Tillie added one more thing. “Not just to change it,” she said. “But for the better.”

The doors opened, and everyone ran to their assigned tasks while Mr. Kitty rolled on his back in excitement, kicked his legs in the air, jumped up, then dashed out to follow them for the fun.

#     #     #

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

That’s it, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Join us again next week for the continuation of the story, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 80: Jorah

Hello, dear readers. Here it is, Jorah’s third and final chapter. It’s now that we start getting some closure to the stories. Read on to find out what happens, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

< LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXXI. Mr. Kitty >

LXXX. Jorah

Well, flying fucking Fortuna. Jorah was out of the closet. It was almost enough to make him forget that he had left his arm behind in the Feast Hall. Almost.

He had been too excited to finally tell the truth—and hopefully end his employment with that android-hating asshole Walker—that he didn’t think twice about dropping the mic and his entire arm along with it, but now how was he supposed to get a new one? It’s not like android arms were something a person could just order up on any old printer. Or were they? He had actually never tried. Maybe he could.

Jorah stared at himself in the infinitely reflecting mirrors of his elevator car, and he felt more like himself than he ever had—even despite the missing arm. It was as if he was somehow more confident, stood up straighter, took more comfort in his identity. Sure, he had always acted like he was cool, collected, and in charge, but it was just that: acting. His job. And even if he was the best—and most highly viewed—actor in all of the worlds, there was no substitute for the genuine confidence of finally being able to be honest with his audience, and himself, about who he really was.

Jorah was reliving the moment in his head, relishing the looks on the mostly surprised owners’ faces—especially the ire on Mr. Walker’s—dropping the mic one more time, and again his arm with it, when the elevator stopped, its doors slid open, and in the place of his own infinite reflections, Jorah found the eminently finite director Wes Lee waiting for his own elevator.

“Jorah, my man. I…” Wes started to say, but he trailed off, staring at Jorah’s empty arm socket.

“You…” Jorah urged him on, acting like he didn’t know what Wes was staring at.

“I—uh…” Wes tried to continue, but he was too confused. “Well, I just came by to ask how your—uh—how the thing… What’s it called? But, no. That doesn’t matter right now. Because you— You’re…”

“Are you alright?” Jorah asked, trying not to grin. “You look a little pale. Almost like you’ve seen a ghost in the machine.” He couldn’t help chuckling.

“No. I, well… You—” Wes finally blurted out. “Your arm!”

Jorah looked down at his left arm, the one that was still there, then back up at Wes and said, “What about it?”

“No, Jorah.” Wes was getting flustered now, and Jorah was enjoying it a little too much. “I— The other one. It’s gone. What happened?”

Jorah looked down at his empty socket now, acting surprised—and doing a damn good job of it, as always—then back up at Wes. “Fortuna,” he said. “You don’t say.”

“But how?” Wes asked. “Are you alright?”

“I’d be much better if I could sit in my room and relax,” Jorah said. “But some clueless director’s standing in my way, and I can’t even get off the elevator.”

Oh. I—uh,” Wes said, stepping aside and clearing the way for Jorah. “But how?”

Jorah just laughed, strutting off the elevator, past Wes, and into his dressing room, saying, “You’ll have to wait until they make the Christmas Speech public if you want to find out. If they ever do lift the embargo, that is.”

Wes started blubbering and stuttering, trying to find out more, but Jorah slammed the dressing room door closed between them, leaving Wes in a shroud of mystery.

Now that was fun. Jorah laughed to himself, pacing his dressing room and trying to expel some of the pent up energy he was still filled with—from coming out during his Christmas Speech and teasing Wes alike. The look on their faces. All of their faces. Wes’s, too. None of them could ever deny what androids were capable of again. Jorah couldn’t wait to rub it in Mr. Walker’s face in person. He didn’t even care if he was blacklisted by every production company Mr. Walker owned—more than half of the profitable ones, but not all. Jorah’d be able to find work somewhere after the publicity he’d gain from coming out. Hell. They could take his printer, even. Jorah never used it for more than smoothies anyway. And who’s to say that his next gig wouldn’t have their own printer on offer? Jorah was a star after all. The star.

Thinking of printers reminded him that he still had one and needed to use it, so he did just that, pressing the printer’s red voice activation button to say, “Uh. Arm.” with a shrug.

It took the machine a while to contemplate Jorah’s request, and he didn’t blame the thing. He never really expected it to know what he wanted, much less to be able to produce an arm compatible with his socket and skin tone. So he wasn’t at all surprised or angry when out popped a book instead of a fully functional android arm.

“That’s alright, little buddy,” Jorah said, picking the book up and flipping through the pages. “How about a smoothie, instead?”

The printer hummed into motion—as if happy to do its part—while Jorah read the book cover to cover. ARM it was called. Book three of the Flatlander series by Larry Niven. A tale about Gil “The Arm” Hamilton.

Huh. No wonder the printer had come up with that when he said arm. Too bad. Jorah tossed the book—not terrible, but he wouldn’t hurry for a part in the big screen adaptation—down the trash chute and started sipping on his smoothie. He was just about to sit on his couch and finally relax when a knock came at the door.

Yoo hoo! Jorah!” Meg’s voice called from the other side.

Of course. Exactly what Jorah did not want. He knew he would be bombarded with interview requests about his coming out after the embargo was lifted on his Christmas speech, and all he wanted to do until then was to relax. Jorah considered not answering her calls, pretending he wasn’t there at all, until Meg dashed even that last bit of hope. “I know you’re home,” she called. “I just talked to Wes. He was acting… well, strange. Is everything alright in there?”

“Just a moment,” Jorah yelled back, unable to go on with the lie of not being home after being so blatantly called out on it. “I look terrible. Just freshening up a bit.”

With some quick thinking, he sat in front of his battle station and ordered it to make him up to look ill. If he was ever going to have any chance of getting Meg out of there so he could rest, he was going to have to keep his missing arm hidden from her. He ordered a blanket from the printer, threw it over himself like a cape, hiding his arm—or lack thereof—underneath, and put on his saddest, most pitiable face before slowly opening the door with the perfect phlegmy cough.

Hack hack. Ugh. Hello?” he groaned, sniffling and wiping his nose on the arm of his blanket cloak.

Fortuna, Jorah.” Meg gasped. “You look like Hell.”

“Beauty’s only skin deep,” Jorah said, making his voice sound scratchy. “I’m feeling like Hell much deeper than that, though.”

“Wow.” Meg shook her head. “I’m sorry, hon. Is there anything I can do for you? Maybe order up some soup or something?”

Jorah kind of groaned at the same time that his stomach growled. He was never fond of eating, sure, but soup was a different experience entirely. Not only was it similar in its liquidy texture to the smoothies he preferred, there was something about the human act of making a bowl of soup for an ill relative that Jorah had been attracted to ever since he had seen it on one of those early television shows that he studied while he was learning to pass himself off as a human actor. So even if he didn’t like eating, even if he wanted to be alone, and even if he had once considered himself tiring of Meg’s advances, something about the strange combination of circumstances—and no doubt his lack of any other support network of any kind since Russ’s tragic death—led Jorah to abandon his defenses and invite Meg inside.

Ugghhhaaalriiight,” he groaned, stepping aside to let her in. “But it has to be tomato. No chicken noodle. I don’t eat meat unless it’s the special at a restaurant that I’m supposed to review, and that includes stock.”

“I didn’t know you were a vegetarian,” Meg said with a big smile, leading Jorah to sit on the couch before going into the kitchen to order a bowl of soup out of the printer like she owned the place. “You sure you just want tomato soup?” she asked as she did. “I know you’re not feeling well, but it is Christmas. If you can’t make it out to a fancy restaurant, someone as famous as you ought to at least do a little feasting at home. Right?”

“I’ve never been a fan of Feasts,” Jorah said in a too clear voice, losing his character for a moment before hamming it up again with a loud sneeze and sniffle, adding, “But feel free to order whatever you want. You should be feasting, yourself.” And I’d like to get as much use out of that printer as I can before they take it away from me, he added in his head but not out loud.

“You know, maybe I will order a few things,” she said. “I don’t have a printer at home, and it’s fun to get to operate one. Thanks.” She ordered an entire feast—turkey, potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, pies, fruit salad, corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, deviled eggs, you name it—and brought them along on a serving cart to the couch where she set Jorah’s soup in front of him then stacked as much of her food as she could on the coffee table before rolling the cart closer to her so she could reach whatever food was still left on it as needed.

As Meg dug into her feast, eating a little taste of everything but never all of anything, Jorah slowly slurped his soup, savoring not the taste—because, again, he never really liked food in the first place—but the sense of belonging, the feeling of being loved, the knowledge that someone cared enough about him to provide for him when he was in need, even if that provision took no more than pressing a button and asking for a simple bowl of tomato soup. It was the thought that counted, and the fact that Jorah knew Meg would do much more than that for him if he were truly in need—break down a door to fight his abuser, even. So Jorah didn’t mind when Meg finally got over the novelty of the printer and her feast to start asking him questions about his speech, his sickness, and whatever else came to mind.

“So?” Meg asked. “How’d the speech go? Were you already feeling horrible before you had to give it?”

Ugh. No,” Jorah complained, having a little trouble trying to figure out how to both eat his soup and keep his blanket cloak from falling off at the same time with just the one hand to do it. “I guess you could say I caught something at the Feast.”

“A superbug.” Meg nodded conspiratorially. “The worst kind. Twenty four hour flu or something?”

Jorah groaned. “I don’t know,” he said. “Must be. Something like that. One of them.”

“It’ll only get worse before it gets better,” Meg said. “If that’s the case. Have you seen a doctor yet?”

Jorah shuddered. He hated doctors. Never visited them. Not for as long as he could remember. He made sure to take extra care of himself so he didn’t have to. Mostly because he was afraid that if he did go to a doctor, they’d easily see through his claims of humanity to the android underneath and expose his secret despite their vow of confidentiality. Even now that he was out of the closet—for the most part, at least, with the news ready to spread like a wildfire as soon as the media could report it—he still couldn’t fight that fear—or was it shame. Either way, he shook his head, saying, “No way. No doctors. I don’t trust ‘em. I’ll get over this myself, or I’ll die trying.” He let out a weak chuckle then a few loud coughs to cover it up.

“Well, hopefully not the latter,” Meg said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. I know this is probably gonna sound sad and pitiful, or too forward, especially considering the fact that we’ve only ever spoken face to face so few times, but you’re my best friend in all the worlds right now, Jorah. And I honestly mean that.”

“Now, I—” Jorah started to protest, but Meg went on over him.

“I know, I know,” she said, shaking her head, cheeks red with embarrassment. “I told you it was pitiful. And in no way do I expect you to return the label. But it’s true. No one has ever once believed in my talent as a designer until you agreed to go into business with me, and considering the fact that all my time is spent on set at work or designing and sewing in my free time, it’s kind of difficult for me to be friends with people who don’t support the latter side of my life. So I guess what I’m really trying to say is thank you for your support. I truly appreciate it. And thanks for your time today. I finally—for the first time since I was a kid still living with my family—feel like I’m spending Christmas with someone who cares about me. So thanks.”

Jorah was probably blushing, too. He could still remember the joy he felt when he first figured out how to turn the reaction on and off—back in the earliest days of his attempts to learn how to act. Learning how to blush was the first time he ever felt like he could actually pass himself off as a human and escape the assembly line life that he had been created into. He was feeling a similar emotion then—with his blushing reflex going off involuntarily—but slightly different. This time he wasn’t happy about his ability to pass himself off as a human but rather in the idea that Meg would treat him like one whether she thought he was or not. It was as if, even though she still hadn’t heard his speech, Meg somehow knew what Jorah truly was, and she didn’t care because he accepted her for what she truly was as well. Together they bestowed upon one another importance, identity, humanity.

“You’re a magnificent seamstress,” Jorah responded truthfully—not because he wanted to pay her back for making him feel so loved, but because he honestly believed it to be objectively true. “And an even better designer.”

“Exactly what I’m talking about,” Meg said, really blushing now. “Thank you. You flatter me.”

“It’s not flattery when it’s true,” Jorah said. “And it is. Trust me. I have an eye for these sort of things.”

“I know you do,” Meg said. “I’ve been a huge fan of yours ever since Metadata Heaven. I love your taste. It’s just surreal for me to think that your eye was caught by my work.”

“It won’t be my eye alone,” Jorah said. “I’m telling you. Those owners wouldn’t know a halter top from a racer back, so it’s lost on them, but that dress you made me for the speech is going to be the biggest design this season. I guarantee it.”

“I don’t know…” Meg was still reluctant to admit how great she was. “But my designs? Do you really think so?”

And Jorah wasn’t going to let her wallow in any more self-pity. It was time to give the woman the confidence she deserved. “Have you seen me?” he said, standing from the couch, dropping his blanket cloak, and doing a spin move like he was on the catwalk, all in one fluid motion. “I know so, honey.”

Meg was dumbstruck. Her jaw had fallen down and she couldn’t pick it up. She just stared wide-eyed, stammering but unable to form intelligible words. She really was a great designer, and Jorah was the perfect model for her style. They’d be the biggest design team in all of history, and it was only just sinking in for Meg.

“See,” Jorah said with a huge, triumphant smile on his face. “I told you so.”

“But, Jorah. You…” Meg said. “Your arm. What happened?”

Jorah looked down, wide-eyed in surprise himself now that he realized what he had done. He tried to cover up his empty shoulder socket, but the damage had already been done. “Oh,” he said. “That.”

“Yeah, that,” Meg said, finally composing herself enough to cross over to Jorah and wrap him up in his blanket cloak again then sit him carefully on the couch like a dying child. “You never were sick at all, were you?” she said. “Does it hurt terribly bad? Is there anything I can do to help you? How’d it happen? Tell me everything.”

Jorah kind of chuckled, relieved that Meg was so unaffected by the revelation but unnerved by that fact at the same time. It was as if here reaction was too perfect, and at any moment, everything would turn for the worse. “You don’t happen to have an extra arm on you by any chance?” Jorah asked, trying to keep the mood light since the subject matter had gotten so heavy so quickly.

“Actually…” Meg said, taking a big bite off of a roll that she had piled high with mashed potatoes and gravy. “I might be able to help you with that.”

Pffft. What?” Jorah said, spitting out some tomato soup. “You’re kidding.”

“Of course not,” Meg said, looking a little offended. “I wouldn’t joke about something like this. You’re gonna need it soon if you don’t want Mr. Walker to find out, right?”

Jorah was seriously impressed now. Why had he ever been hesitant to start up a friendship with Meg? “Well,” he said. “Mr. Walker kind of knows already. I came out during my Christmas speech.”

Meg dropped her fork with a clink on her plate. “No,” she said. “Damn. How’d they respond to that?”

Jorah chuckled. “I didn’t really stick around to find out.”

“Probably for the better.” Meg laughed a little then stopped herself right away. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s not funny. But you’re gonna need an arm either way, right? So I was gonna say that I could look into it for you—if you want. But now that you’re out, I guess you can go to a more overboard operation to get something of better quality. Whatever you prefer, though. My offer still stands. Just let me know.”

“I—uh—well…” Jorah didn’t know what to say. “How do you know all this about android arms anyway?” he ended up asking.

“There are more androids in this business than you’d imagine,” Meg said. “One way or another, I’ve found myself working with plenty of them—yourself included—and in such cases, one can’t help but to learn.”

She sounded so nonchalant about it, too. Like it was no big deal that she had probably had to find limbs of one sort or another for other—closeted—androids before him. But Jorah thought it was a huge deal, and he was starting to adore Meg much like he had adored Russ. “Well, I’m blessed to have met you for more than just the clothes, then,” Jorah said. “You don’t know how close I was to losing my mind trying to figure out where I was gonna find an arm. The printer does not make them. I’ll tell you that much.”

“So it’s your first lost limb,” Meg said with a grin. “Well, don’t worry. I’ll get you one in no time. Tomorrow, next day tops. Though, again, if you did it during your speech, I’m sure you’ll have all the top part designers offering you something to wear for free. It’ll work in exactly the same way as clothes do now that you’ve made being an android acceptable. I guarantee.”

“Have you ever thought of designing parts?” Jorah asked.

“Are you kidding?” Meg chuckled. “That’s the dream. But the equipment’s way too expensive for the likes of me. That’s why I do clothes instead. More affordable.”

“Well, it looks like I need a parts designer. Doesn’t it? And I have plenty of money to start you up. We could expand the purview of our company.”

Meg laughed. “You’re kidding? Of course. I’d love that.”

“No,” Jorah said. “I don’t kid. What say you and I go for a walk in the Garden of Fortuna and start hammering out the details right now? How does that sound?”

“I—uh…” Meg took one more big bite of potatoes and gravy. “Of course. Yes. Obviously. Let’s do this.”

And so Jorah led her out to the elevator, and down they rode toward the Garden of Fortuna and their future business prospects.

#     #     #

< LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXXI. Mr. Kitty >

There it is, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Tune in next week for the continuation of the story, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Thanks for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 79: Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Thim and Stevie are back. Read on to find out if life keeps coming up tails for them, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link.

< LXXVIII. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXX. Jorah >

LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Thim and Stevie ran for as long as their legs would carry them and their lungs would give them oxygen.

“Oh. My. God. I can’t believe we did that,” Stevie said, hunched over and breathing heavily when they had finally stopped running dozens of blocks away. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“It was the only way to follow Mr. Kitty.” Thim shrugged, trying to sound nonchalant even though they really couldn’t believe that they had done it either.

“Still, I can’t believe we did it,” Stevie said.

“I can’t believe we didn’t die.”

“And who was that person that we landed on?” Stevie asked.

“I think they might have been one of the giants,” Thim said. “Or at least I’m pretty sure. They were as tall as one, but they weren’t wearing the white uniform.”

“Well I’m glad we got away.” Stevie sighed. “So what next?”

“I don’t care,” Thim said, pulling out their coin to flip tails.

“Are you flipping that stupid coin again?” Stevie demanded.

“What’s it matter to you?” Thim asked. “It’s not like we have anything better to do.”

“We need to figure out what to do next,” Stevie said.

And a third voice said, “Next you come with me.”

Stevie turned toward the sound and pulled Thim around to face that direction, saying, “Next we come with who?” but Thim had already broken their grasp to run up and hug the owner of the voice.

“Stevie, it’s Anna,” they said, pulling Stevie into a group hug. “Don’t you recognize her voice?”

“Anna?” Stevie said, and they hugged tighter, happy to have the comfort of a responsible adult around, even if they were still in denial about Momma BB’s death. “How’d you find us?”

“Me and the Family’ve been monitoring this protector,” Anna said. “The same one who killed your Momma BB.” Both Thimblerigger and Stevedore hugged Anna tighter at the mention of it. “And the same one who chased y’all after you had landed on her head. Or so I’m told. Is that right? How exactly do you fall on someone so tall’s head? That’s what I want to know.” She chuckled, letting Thim and Stevie out of her hug.

“We jumped off the roof of the Safehouse,” Stevie said.

“Don’t ask me why,” Thim said.

“Jumped off the roof?” Anna laughed. “No way. And I will ask y’all why, as a matter of fact. But first let’s get you something to eat. What do you say?”

And of course, they said yes. They followed Anna to one of her hidden elevators and rode it to the Family Home where they sat on two stools in the kitchen, watching Anna cook up some red beans and rice and answering her questions as she asked them.

“So that officer didn’t molest you in any way, did she?” Anna asked, chopping vegetables while variously filled pots and pans heated on the stove. “Did she touch you inappropriately or anything like that?”

“Well, we did fall on her head,” Stevie said. “So we were kind of the ones touching her.”

“What was that?” Thim asked, having trouble keeping up with the conversation because Anna was moving around to cook.

Anna stopped what she was doing to look straight at Thim and speak with overt mouth motions. “But did she hurt you in any way?” she asked. “That’s the important part.”

Oh. No. Not me,” Stevie said. “Though she did threaten to.”

“I think we might have hurt her,” Thim said. “We fell right on her head.”

“Good. Very good,” Anna said, nodding. “And how exactly did you two manage that?” she added before returning to her cooking.

“You better believe it wasn’t my idea,” Thim said. “We jumped from the very top of the Safehouse.”

“Y’all are lucky the suicide nets were working,” Anna said. “On most buildings they’re not. Though I’m sure Momma BB never would have let y’all spend so much time alone up there if she wasn’t one hundred percent sure they were functional.”

“Suicide nets?” Stevie asked then mouthed the word to Thim who mouthed back asking what a suicide net was.

“Nothing y’all babies need to worry about,” Anna said, setting a bowl of food in front of each them. “Now you two just go ahead and eat on up while I go discuss a few things with our new friend.”

“What’s a suicide net?” Thim asked when Anna had gone. “Before you start eating.”

“I don’t know any more than you do. Do I?” Stevie complained, then they both inhaled their food, hungrier than they had realized they were. They cleared their bowls, licked them clean, and Thim even washed them and went back to flipping tails before Anna finally came back out of her interrogation.

“Well,” Anna said. “She’ll help us. And she won’t ever molest any children like that again.”

Stevie could hear the woman yelling in the other room. “She doesn’t sound happy.”

“You go tell her to shut up, then,” Anna said. “If she doesn’t, I’ll give her something to scream about. It would show her, too, for what she done to you.”

Thim led Stevie into the dark room to do as they were told, both trying to prove to the other that they were the brave one, unafraid of the terrible White Giant that was tied up in the room with them, and when they returned to the kitchen, the captor had stopped yelling alright.

“You see,” Anna said with a smile. “She’s got no choice and she knows it. Now. I trust that you’re both full, and that you’ll come to me if either of you ever needs anything—especially in the next few days—but that’s all the time I have for now. There are still some preparations I need to get to before the big deal tonight. You understand.”

Thim nodded, and Stevie said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“And you two will be ready for your part in this, won’t you?” Anna asked. “I mean, whatever it is your Momma BB assigned you to do before she…”

“Our part’s already done, ma’am,” Thim said, because they knew that Stevie wouldn’t answer, Stevie was still trying to ignore Momma BB’s death. “We’re just supposed to stay in our rooms until someone comes to get us.”

“Well you better get on back to the Safehouse right now, then. Your Momma BB’d kill me if she found out I was keeping y’all out here like this so close to the operation. Thank you for leading the Chief to us, though. I owe y’all one on that. Come on over after all this is done, and I’ll bake y’all both a nice cake—one each—to say thank you.”

“Sounds great,” Stevie said, smiling wide and excited at the prospect of an entire cake to themself.

“We’ll see you then,” Thim added, grabbing Stevie’s hand and leading them outside to stroll home.

“What a strange day,” Stevie said as they walked. “Never seen a single one in our lives, and we run into two protectors within hours of one another. Strange.”

“And on the same day as Momma BB’s death, too,” Thim said, trying to get Stevie to finally come to terms with it.

“On the day of the revolution, more importantly,” Stevie said, still ignoring the truth.

“How could you say that?” Thim demanded, stopping in the middle of the street while people kept walking by around them, trying not to stare. “Stevie, Momma BB’s dead.”

“Yeah, so she calls it,” Stevie said, crossing their arms. “And so do all those other androids she’s linked up to, but it’s not the same. Is it?”

“And how do you know?” Thim asked. “Have you ever died before?”

“Well, no. But—”

“Then you don’t know what it’s like. For humans or androids. So who are you to talk?”

“Well, I know that humans don’t come back after they die,” Stevie said. “I don’t have to kill myself to see the truth of that.”

“Well, maybe you’re wrong,” Thim said, flipping their coin to calm themself but dropping the token instead—which, of course, still landed on tails, further frustrating them. “Maybe you do have to die before you can know what happens next.”

“I know that no one’s ever come back before,” Stevie said.

“And maybe you’re wrong about androids, too. Have you ever thought of that?” Thim paused for a moment to allow Stevie to actually think about it. “What if they don’t actually come back, huh? What if it’s a different person entirely who just happens to share the same memories? What if it’s not Momma BB who comes home in three days but some pale imposter? Have you ever considered that?”

By the look on Stevie’s face, they had not. And now that they had thought about it, they wanted to cry. Thim moved to hug Stevie, relieved that they were finally facing the painful reality of Momma BB’s death, but there was no time to mourn. Out of the corner of their eye, Thim saw Mr. Kitty run toward the Family Home, and instead of hugging Stevie, they grabbed Stevie’s hand and started in a full out sprint after Mr. Kitty, dragging Stevie along to stumble at first before quickly gaining their footing and following close behind Thim as they both sprinted through the Streets after the cat. None of them stopped running until they were directly in front of the Family Home, and Mr. Kitty didn’t even stop then, instead running straight through the door as if it weren’t even there.

Woah. Hold up,” Thim said, hunching over and putting their hands on their knees to try to catch their breath. “I need to breathe a minute.”

“What—” Stevie said, breathing hard, too. “Are we— Running from?”

“Not from,” Thim said. “To. And Mr. Kitty.”

“The Curious Cat?” Stevie asked, curious themself.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Thim replied.

“Where’d he go? Where are we?”

“Back in front of the Family Home,” Thim said. “He went through the door.”

“Well what are we waiting for?” Stevie asked, feeling around in all the wrong directions while searching for the door knob. “Let’s follow him.”

“No,” Thim said. “I mean through the door. Like a ghost walks through walls.”

“Oh.” Stevie dropped their arms as if in defeat then perked up again on second thought. “Oh. Well that’s more of a reason to follow him. Show me which way if you’re too afraid.”

“If I can jump off a building, I can walk through a door,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand with one of theirs and holding the other out in front of them. They slowly passed through the door and into an unfamiliar dark room that was lined with cabinets and piled high with all kinds of clothes.

“Well, where are we?” Stevie asked, but Thim was too busy leading the way to notice the question. Stevie pulled on Thim’s arm and turned them around to repeat the question to Thim’s face, “Where are we?”

“I don’t know. Shhh,” Thim said, turning around again and sneaking in the direction of a dim light off in the distance that seemed to get brighter the closer they got.

“Is that Anna’s voice?” Stevie asked, but again Thim wasn’t looking in their direction to hear it, and they couldn’t have answered the question even if they were.

Instead, Thim was trying to make out who it was out there in the bright lights, sitting in a chair, with the other woman bending over her. No. They weren’t sitting in a chair. They were tied to it. That was the White Giant. And standing over her was Anna. This must have been what they had agreed to.

“Thim, that is Anna,” Stevie said, pulling Thim’s arm to try to get them to look at the words coming out of Stevie’s mouth. “Where are we?”

But Thim had already stepped out into the stage lights. Now they could see a ring of White Giants surrounded by a ring of Black Giants, all pointing their giant guns up at Anna on the stage. They could also see the fat scared owners in the center of the rings, even larger than the giants but not quite as tall. And they could see the two owners who were standing on the head table, elbowing one another for position, obviously in charge of this place. Thim turned to tell Stevie all that they had seen when the gunshots went off, all the guns in both rings all at once, and the sound was louder than anything Stevie had ever heard. Deafening. They pulled Thim down into cover as fast as they could, and couldn’t even hear themself explain what they had heard for at least ten minutes after that. Ten minutes in which Stevie was left in almost complete darkness and silence, being dragged out through the costume closet and back into the Streets outside of the Family Home where Thim and Stevie both hunched over to catch their breath and calm their heartbeats—and where a slowly louder ringing indicated the thankful return of Stevie’s hearing.

When they had finally calmed themselves and regained their senses, they both said at the same time, “What in the fuck was that?”

Then again at the same time they tried to explain what they had experienced, Thim by describing the fat scared idiots inside the double ring of giants who were pointing their giant guns up at Anna on a stage of some sort with that woman who they had landed on top of tied to a chair, and Stevie by using as many synonyms for deafening as they could come up with to describe the sound of those giants’ guns all going off over and over again and all at the same time.

“So what the fuck was that then?” Stevie asked after they had both calmed themselves from the reinjection of adrenaline that reliving their experiences by describing them to each other had elicited.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Thim said, pulling the coin out of their pocket to flip it once—tails—and put it away again. “I seriously do not know.”

“Well, what do we know?” Stevie asked.

“We know that we need to get back to the Safehouse fast,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand and heading that way.

“Right,” Stevie said. “Duh. But what do we know about what we just witnessed?”

“I told you everything I saw,” Thim said. “What else do you want from me?”

“To analyze the facts, not just recite them.” Stevie sighed. “Like what was Anna doing with that giant protector on stage?”

“I don’t know. Whatever she wants,” Thim said, shrugging. “I don’t care what happens to that protector. They killed Momma BB.”

“You’re missing my point, Thim. So what were all those other people doing there then?”

But Thim wasn’t paying attention to Stevie anymore. Somehow they had both stepped off the street they had been walking on and into a short hall, from outside to inside without going through a door.

“Thimblerigger, are you even listening to me?” Stevie asked.

“Stevie, we’re not outside anymore,” Thim said.

“What?”

“We stepped into a hall or something, I don’t know.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We were outside one second and now… Now I don’t see outside anywhere. There’s just an elevator on one end of this hall and a half open door on the other.”

“Which end are we on?” Stevie asked.

“Elevator.”

Stevie felt around for it, in the wrong direction, and Thim directed their hand toward the door. “Does it open?” Stevie asked.

“Door open,” Thim said, pushing the button next to the door a few times. “Please open, door.” They shrugged. “Doesn’t look like it.”

“Well, I guess we better go check the other one, then,” Stevie said, grabbing Thim’s hand and leading them in that direction.

Stevie stopped them a few feet in front of the door, listening through the crack for any dangers on the other side.

“So?” Thim asked a little too loudly, and Stevie shoved them to shush them. After listening for a few more moments, they turned back toward Thim and mouthed the words, “I don’t know. Sounds weird.”

“Weird?” Thim tried to whisper, but Stevie motioned for them to go even quieter. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” Stevie said. “It’s hard to explain. Kind of like you sound when you’re sucking the meat off a particularly delicious pigeon bone.”

“You mean someone’s eating in there?” Thim asked, perking up a bit at the thought of it. They were always hungry.

“No. At least I don’t think so,” Stevie said. “I told you: It’s weird. There’s more moaning than even when you eat.”

“That must mean the wings are extra delicious,” Thim said, convinced. “Let’s get in there.” They pulled Stevie by the hand before Stevie could protest, entering through the ajar door to find two people definitely not eating—not food, at least, but maybe one another’s faces.

They were in a giant office, with a giant desk and a wall-sized window that looked out onto a mountainous wilderness with more green grass and blue skies than Thim had ever seen. In front of the window were some puffy chairs and side tables where two occupants, instead of staring out the window at the beautiful scenery as the chairs were no doubt put there with the intention of facilitating, were rather kissing one another, feeling each other, and generally trying to shove two bodies into the space of one puffy chair where two bodies were not meant to fit.

“What are they eating?” Stevie asked, startling the two kissers who jumped quickly into two separate seats, trying to straighten themselves out and play it cool. “Sounds delicious.”

Each other,” Thim said, crinkling up their face in disgust. “Nothing you want in your mouth. Trust me.”

Ahem,” one of the strangers cleared their throat. “I—uh. Who are you?”

“Hello,” the other said, standing up and stepping closer to greet Thim and Stevie. “I’m Haley. Nice to meet you.” She held out a hand for the children to shake.

“We don’t shake hands,” Thim said.

“Me especially,” Stevie said.

“I—uh— Well…” Haley said, stuttering. “We weren’t expecting you two quite so early. Were we, Pidg?”

The other kisser, Pidg, stood up as if remembering his manners. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Momma BB’s kids. Right, right, right. I almost forgot.”

“What do you know about Momma BB?” Stevie demanded. “Who are you?”

“Where are we?” Thim asked. “What are you gonna do with us?”

“Do with you?” Haley laughed. “Nothing, child. No one wants to do anything with you. We want to help you. Isn’t that right, Pidg?”

“Oh—uh. Yeah,” Pidg said, straightening up at the mention of his name. “We’re friends of your Momma BB’s. We’re supposed to make you comfortable until Rosalind and the Scientist get back. Y’all want anything to eat?”

“What you got?” Thim asked, interested in the offer.

“And how do you now Momma BB?” Stevie repeated.

“I’ll just bring a sample platter,” Pidg said, getting excited about the prospect. “You know, I remember exactly what they fed me the first time I was here, and I loved it. I bet y’all will, too. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the room, excited to do whatever it was he had planned.

“And us and your Momma BB are old friends,” Haley said. “Or at least Rosalind and Momma BB are. She and your mother have known each other for their entire lives. They were switched on in the very same workshop on the very same day. But don’t take my word for it. Rosalind’ll be back soon, and she has news of your mother for you.”

Thim and Stevie spoke to each other through subtle movements of their clasped hands and instantly came to the same conclusion: They were best to take advantage of the food and wait for the news then escape later if worse came to worse.

God willing, it would come to better instead.

#     #     #

< LXXVIII. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXX. Jorah >

There you have it, dear readers. The third and final chapter from the point of view of Thim and Stevie. Join us next week for the continuation of the Infinite Limits saga, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.