Here comes Saturday number eight with the introduction of the last point of view character, the Scientist. We’ll start off with an illustration of her then dive straight into the chapter. Enjoy, and if you do, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the novel, through Amazon here, in order to support my future writing endeavors.
VII. The Scientist
Every day the same. Every day different. The only constant is change. Reality was filled with just such contradictions.
She stood in front of the printer—as she did every meal—and imagined the people who grew, reared, and harvested, built the things to make possible, and sent along the food she was about to consume. She always ordered her meals as raw as they came so those people were forced to do as little of her work as possible. Her personal thrift was only a drop of water on the face of the sun, and she knew it, but it made her feel a little less responsible, a little less complicit, and it wasn’t anywhere near the end of her actions.
One egg, one piece of bread, two strips of bacon. She placed the same order she placed most mornings and it took no more than seconds before each item was in her hands and ready to be prepared. She had done this so many times before that her movements were instinctual. There was no thought in cracking the eggs, cooking everything all at once, and spreading the jam on the pan-fried toast just as the bacon was crisp to perfection. She woke up, and before she knew it, it was done. Just like that. As if she hadn’t woken up until breakfast was cooked and ready even though she was the one who prepared it herself. She was sleepcooking.
With the smell of bacon following her from the kitchen, she brought her breakfast back into her office to start on the day’s security checks. She set the plate in front of the keyboard and bank of monitors on the big oak desk—overlooked by a wall-sized window with a view of a functioning assembly line—and slid into the fluffy, leather chair. She hit the spacebar to wake the computer, picked up her plate, leaned back in the chair, and started on breakfast while the machine warmed up.
The screen flashed “Good Morning” in pale green on a black background before it hummed away, getting down to business. She chewed her toast as the various checks were performed. First the top tier printers of Inland, those which were owned by the owners. They were the most important printers according to company protocol. Of course, being the property of the owners themselves, they were the newest model printers, and as such, the least likely to malfunction. Still, they were the “most important”, and they were to be fixed before any others. The computer went down the list marking every unit green for fully functional as expected.
Then came the printers in Outland 1. Being the center of the defense of property, liberty, and life, Outland 1’s printers were on a tier with the owners’ own. A few were slightly older models in comparison, but even those were from the previous year at the earliest, and all were highly unlikely to malfunction. The computer ran through these, and there was a minor plug in one of the printer streams, but a mechanic bot was already working on clearing it out, and the bot looked to have everything under control.
Then came the Walker-Haley fields. She always suggested that they run this check first, as it was the basis of the entire system and making changes here could affect the printers she had already inspected, but she wasn’t in charge, the owners were. They had the money. They owned the property. They decided that their printers, and their soldiers’ printers, were more important than their walls or her time. She had no choice but to comply, so she did. The computer went down every single Walker-Haley line, checking every square inch of field for proper wave function. There were more miles of Walker-Haley field lines to check than there were miles of roads at the height of the automobile era, and every morning she sat and watched the computer check every single one, inch by square inch.
The holes came next. You couldn’t separate the worlds like that without leaving connections. What would be the point? No, that’s where the holes came in. So many of them. Transport bays, elevator ports, printers, communication portals, heat transfer—to prevent weather aberrations which plagued early attempts—repair hatches, you name it. Those and the holes that formed from the natural wear and tear of the system, holes like the one that was flashing red on the screen to her left.
“Woah now,” she said, spinning in her chair to get a closer look. “Where are you?” She tapped off a few keystrokes. “Outland 2? That’s odd. Let me just…” She typed a few more strokes and touched the screen with her hand then clicked on the mouse. “Ah,” she said. “Well is that so?”
A video came up on her center monitor, surveillance footage from the area where the hole was. A college-aged woman in a black hoodie was talking to someone in the shadows, maybe an assembly line worker who had found a hole, they had been getting more restless in Outland 5. More than likely it was a Sixer, though, left there to rot in a sea of skyscrapers, fighting over the only strip of green. It was brilliant really how the owners handled that problem, and equally disgusting. Made all the worse by the fact that the Scientist was the one who mended the walls that propped their entire system up, by the fact that she had invented those walls without knowing how they would be used.
She let them talk a minute more, finishing her breakfast and cleaning the dishes, before she called the mechanic bot to fix the hole and set the emergency lights to flashing—which sent the conversants running in opposite directions. She watched the video until the bot got there and set to work, then she switched back to the maintenance scan and leaned back in her chair.
The computer started its check over again from the beginning. Exactly the inefficiency she had warned about, but money didn’t care. There was always more. Nothing had changed, so the computer skipped from Outland 1 to Outland 2 and on down the line. There were less and less printers to check as it went, but more and more of them had problems. She sent bots to those she could afford to, but it wasn’t many, and they were mostly in Outlands 3 and 4. Five would have to wait and 6 wasn’t supposed to have any printers. It was a complex job, managing which bots went where, but she had a sixth sense for the triage needs of the system, which was why they still had her doing it instead of a computer.
As she set to deciding who in Outland 3 would be least likely to complain about a short delay in delivery so she could send a few bots to 5, a black cat jumped onto her lap and meowed.
“Mr. Kitty,” she said, clicking a few more times before she looked down at him “Still in yellow I see. Are you sure you don’t want a change?”
He meowed again and jumped onto the keyboard to lick himself.
She scooped him up and brought him into the kitchen. “I know,” she said. “But I have work to do.” She scratched his head and put him on the counter, then thanked the people behind the printer for the cat food. Mr. Kitty ate it greedily as she went back into the office to work.
She really didn’t have much to do but watch the mechanic bots and computer do their jobs, so she leaned back in her chair to get comfortable. It was almost serene watching them fix her creation. Until she remembered how things used to be. She used to spend all her time working with her hands and her mind, creating new inventions that the world had never experienced before, putting machinery into configurations which had never been attempted. She was herself then. Even though she still worked for Wally World Llc, she felt as if she worked for herself. If she had an idea she could follow it and see where it led her. She was free to work on the projects she thought were worth her time.
Then she had made the discovery. She created the Walker-Haley fields. The Walker-Haley fields led to “printers”—a masterstroke of advertising if there ever was one. Printers led to the creation of the Outlands. But still, even with all the work it took to build and maintain such a massive and complex system, still she found time to invent, she found time to create, and she came up with her third great invention, her masterpiece, the customizable, almost-human android with full AI capabilities. And when for the third time Lord Walker ripped her creation from her hands and claimed it as his own, she vowed that she would never invent for him again. But still he needed her to maintain his system, to keep up the status quo, and she needed his printers to reproduce herself. So there she sat, building up his walls for him, biding her time until she could finally tear them all down again.
She flipped the center monitor to a television station and let the repairs run on autopilot for a while. She cycled through the channels. She had access to all of them with her clearance level, and she liked to guess which Outland each show was broadcast to based on what it depicted and who was acting in it.
Protector dramas were almost exclusively for Outland 1. She wondered how many different departments and cities they could plaster onto the names of the “different” shows before the people there realized that they were all the same thing.
There were a few different stock analyzers—all giving mutually exclusive advice—and a few political journalists—all arguing for one of two mutually exclusive positions—obviously directed at Outland 2, but they broadcast all the way to Outland 4 and in between.
Outland 4 was bombarded with documentaries and scientific programming of various levels and branches of study.
Outland 3 had everything because they made everything, but she knew that they only watched the self-indulgent, talking head, who’s who in celebrity culture programming. That was the one thing that talked about what they all loved the most, themselves.
Outland 5’s programming was all about the glory of toil and working hard for the common good in the hopes that you would make it big and become a middle manager. She thought that some of those shows actually carried good messages, but the creators didn’t put any effort into entertaining, just educating. Then again, they didn’t have to entertain. That’s all there was to watch in Outland 5. The Fivers didn’t know any better, so they didn’t ask for any better, and no one was about to tell them otherwise. Well, almost no one.
She stopped flicking through the channels and checked on the repair work. Everything seemed to be in good order. It was about time for her lunch meeting so she set a few bots on standby for emergencies with the owners’ printers and left the rest running on autopilot. She went into the kitchen and Mr. Kitty was gone. She washed his dish, staring out the window above her sink at the line of assembly line workers slip, snap, clicking, and collected herself. She sighed, then went out through the small hall to the elevator and said, “Outland 5, please. Frenchmen entrance.”
She came out of the elevator into the sun between classic New Orleans buildings, the kind with short stoops, sweeping porches, and lots of balconies. She was surprised they were left in Outland 5 but assumed they were too structurally damaged to be worth repairing enough for transport. They were good enough for the Fivers, though.
She walked down a sidewalk that was ravaged by tree roots, climbing up and down the concrete hills. This elevator exit wasn’t the closest to where here meeting was, but she had some time to kill, and she enjoyed the walk. She went through Washington Square Park, down St. Claude, to St. Roch to find the sign she was looking for. It just said “Bar” on it. Nothing else.
The bar was so dark she couldn’t see until her eyes had adjusted. She took in the stale smoke and the sound of pool balls clacking before she saw anything that was going on. She went straight for the bar when she could see, ordered a beer without asking—the bartender knew what she wanted already—and went to the back corner booth to wait.
There were three people at the pool table, two at darts, the bartender, and her. A song she liked came on the jukebox, and she couldn’t help but think that she’d enjoy a game of pool herself, but there wasn’t time for that now. Maybe after everything was under way. That and maybe all the worlds would be put back together in one fell swoop.
She laughed out loud at herself, and no one even glanced in her direction. She laughed again because she could, and while she did, the door opened. A dirty-haired, ragged-clothed worker with dark skin walked in, her chest pushed out for everyone to see. The worker caught the Scientist’s eye and went to the bar to get a beer before sitting at the corner booth with her.
There was a silence. They sat studying each others faces, sipping their beers. The Scientist found it was best to let them talk first. Usually they’d tell her exactly what they were there for with the first words that came out of their mouth. So she learned to wait and to watch, and she already knew what to answer before the worker said, “Are you the—”
“The Scientist,” she said. “Yes, Ellie.”
They drank some more. She knew that Ellie wanted to say the right thing, and she was willing to give her the time she needed to figure out what that was.
“I heard you know what’s on the other side,” Ellie decided on.
“That’s true,” the Scientist said, nodding. “I could tell you how many other sides there are, too. But I don’t think that’s what you really want.”
“I’ll decide what I want. Thanks.” Ellie sipped her beer.
“That’s fair.” The Scientist sipped hers, all part of the game.
“What I mean is…You know where everything goes, right. You know who we make it for.”
“It’s people who aren’t you,” the Scientist said, with a shrug.
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Ellie scoffed.
“What could I tell you about them that would satisfy you? They do less work than you do. Their work is easier, less soul crushing. They have better houses, bigger beds. Many of them own their own 3D printers, their own endless source of anything. And none of their children ever die in factory accidents. You can be sure of that.” She could tell she hit a nerve with that last one from the look on Ellie’s face.
“No,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “They wouldn’t. Would they?”
“No, Ellie. They wouldn’t. And they have property so they don’t have to. So what are you going to do about it now that you know?”
Ellie slammed her fist on the table. “Something, God dammit!” she yelled and still no one turned to look at them.
“I apologize.” The Scientist waved her hands. “I didn’t mean to imply that there was nothing you could do. I literally meant to ask what you specifically would do about it? I know what you want, Ellie. I want what you want. My interests are your interests. I have the privilege to live a life of pampered luxury with access to everything you would ever need to get what you want, to everything that keeps our society running. Don’t get me wrong, I too labor—nothing like you of course, but more than others—but you… I want to do everything I can to help you get what you want. So—if you will—tell me Ellie. You came here. You had no idea who I was. You have no idea who I am beyond the Scientist which means nothing to you. You took a risk coming because you wanted something. I want to know: What do you want?”
“I want to punish them,” Ellie said through gritted teeth. “The people who killed my son.”
“I’m not sure we can find one person and say that they were the one who killed your son.”
“Then I want to punish all of them.”
“It’s not just the people, though.” The Scientist shook her head. “The people are but the heads of a hydra. If you punish one, three will take their place, and those three will be worse than the first. Your son wasn’t killed by people, Ellie, he was killed by the system that puts those people in power. He was killed because he was forced to work in that factory, and he was forced to work in that factory because he lives in Outland 5.”
“I want it all to stop, then,” Ellie said, slamming her fist on the table.
“Do you know what that means, though? Do you know how big they are?”
“I don’t care how big they are! Do you know how big—how important to me—how huge my son wa—is?”
“Good, Ellie,” the Scientist said, nodding. “Good. I didn’t mean to rile you up, but I need you to know that this isn’t something you should undertake lightly. You’ll have to break the law to get what you want, and in doing so, you’ll be risking death or worse as punishment.”
Ellie nodded with a stern face. The Scientist smiled and took a sip of beer. Ellie looked surprised at the change in her demeanor and took a sip to cover it up.
“One more thing,” the Scientist said, still smiling and looking Ellie in the eyes. “Trudy. She’s the one who told you how to find me, right?”
Ellie had to think for a second before she connected Trudy to Gertrude and nodded. There was a hint of fear in her eyes, as if she thought she had done something wrong by giving Trudy away. Or maybe it was shame for revealing a secret.
“That one is a terrific judge of character,” the Scientist said. “And a dear friend of mine. We’ve been working together now ever since she got her promotion. She found me faster than any other, and she’s proven more valuable to our cause than anyone I’ve ever known. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The Scientist laughed. “Oh, I’m sure you don’t. I’m sure I don’t understand what I’m saying half the time. But in time, it always reveals itself. Remember that and you’ll be just fine.” She took a big gulp of beer and finished her glass. “Let me get us a refill and we’ll talk about what you really want to talk about. After all, this is about you. Not me.” She swept off to the bar, leaving Ellie to think about what she had said while she ordered another round. When she sat back down, Ellie looked like she had something to say, so the Scientist took a sip and let her go ahead.
“Did you send that woman through the conveyor belt?” she asked.
“I don’t send anyone anywhere,” the Scientist said. “I force no one. I only give them the information they need to do what they want.”
“But you did talk to her.”
“I gave her some information. Yes. She wanted to meet a celebrity.”
“And you helped her do that?” Ellie scoffed
“Like I said,” the Scientist said, shrugging. “I’m privileged. I want to give back in any small way I can. I want what you want.”
Ellie took a drink of her beer. She didn’t seem to believe what the Scientist was saying.
“She came to me because she wanted to meet an actor,” the Scientist said. “I told her his name, and I directed her conveyor belt to where he was.”
“And that’s it? That was worth risking someone discovering that you had helped her.”
The Scientist chuckled. “Trudy is a fantastic judge of character. Did I mention that? No. I also told her that Russ—the actor she wanted to meet—thought that his clothes were created by androids. Having worked in costume construction before she got her promotion, she was devastated to know that he had no idea she had sewn most of his wardrobe while she was a tailor.”
“He really didn’t know?”
The Scientist shook her head.
“How? How could robots do what we do?”
“That’s the thing. Androids could do all the work that humans do, but humans are cheaper.”
“Then someone knows. They’re not all oblivious.”
“Yes,” the Scientist said, nodding. “But it’s such a small minority who benefits so much from it that they don’t care. In fact, they work as hard as they can to maintain the system as it stands.”
“And that’s why you helped her.” Ellie shook her head. “He’s a celebrity. He could—”
The Scientist nodded.
“What happened to her?”
The Scientist shook her head.
“What?” Ellie said. “Dead?”
“We think not. We hope not. Maybe. Maybe worse. You should know what you’re getting into. She would have stood a better chance if she could have waited, but she grew impatient. Now she’s nowhere to be found. In the end, though, it was her decision, and I can’t blame her for making it the way she did.”
“So if I wanted to go back right now and slip through the conveyor belt to meet a celebrity, you would let me.”
“I would advise against it.” The Scientist shook her head.
“But you would let me anyway,” Ellie said, pushing the point
“Whatever I could do to help you get what you want.” The Scientist shrugged.
“And why would you advise against it?”
“Well, in the near future we will be crossing en masse, and crossing for you would be safer because of it. The more people who go through at the same time, the less likely it is for each one to get caught.”
“Not a bad reason.” Ellie nodded, sipping her beer.
“We don’t know exactly when the operation will occur, though. Mary didn’t want to wait.”
“That was all she was supposed to do, though? Talk to an actor.”
“And tell him she created his clothes, not androids. If he knew, he might spread the word. He has the platform to spread it. He’s privileged in ways that even I am not.”
“Nothing else?” Ellie looked suspicious. Trudy knew how to pick the smart ones.
“A little something else. But its different for everyone, and there’s no requirement that the thing is done for you to get what you want.”
Ellie took a big gulp of her beer. She thought about what she had just heard, shook her head, and said, “And if I want to be put in a room alone with some of these people who know what they’re doing and do nothing to stop it?”
“I can get you close to them, but I can’t promise you’ll be alone. Not to mention I’m not sure that anything you could do alone with them would be of any use to getting real revenge.”
Ellie clenched her fists. She made as if to slam them on the table again but stopped herself. “Dammit. It’s so easy for them. Isn’t it?”
The Scientist nodded. She sipped her beer.
“What can I do, then?”
“What can you do?” the Scientist said. “You’re not personable. You’re no Trudy.”
Ellie laughed, shaking her head. “No. I’m not that.”
“You want to go across, don’t you? You want to see it.”
Ellie looked into her beer and nodded.
“You know, it’s not too different from here,” the Scientist said. “Though they do have all the great natural beauties. Oh, you should see the mountains.”
“Yes. But you’d be doing them a favor. If you drop out, that’s one less person who knows what they’re doing wrong and wants to fight against it.”
Ellie shook her head, sipped her beer, and stared at it for a while. After a moment of silence she said, “You weren’t lying then.”
“I try not to.”
“Do you think there’s a way I can help? A way that I can get revenge?”
“I don’t think it will be easy, and I don’t know how long it will take, but I have a plan, and I know there’s a place for you in it.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“You’re in a position like our friend who wanted to meet Russ was,” the Scientist said. “Quality Assurance is the front line, it’s the perfect position for a revolutionary. I’m sure I can find something for you.”
“Revolutionary?” Ellie scoffed.
“You didn’t think it would take anything less to get what you want, did you? To get the revenge you deserve. To prevent them—or anyone for that matter—from doing to someone else what they’ve done to you and your family. You still have time to walk away if you’re not ready for this.”
Ellie took a long drink to resolve herself. “I said whatever it takes.”
“Good.” The Scientist smiled. “Then how do you feel about losing your job?”
Ellie had to think some more at that point. The Scientist knew it. That was the ultimate test of a worker’s commitment to the revolution, the threat of losing their livelihood. She liked to believe that she knew exactly what was going through Ellie’s mind at that moment. Ellie would be wondering how she would eat without her job, where she would live. Once a person got fired from a pity position they never got hired by anyone ever again. By that time they were too old, not valuable enough, their model was dated. But then she would remember why it was that she had come to this meeting in the first place, what she wanted. She’d remember the day they told her that her son had been killed. How they had waited until the shift was over when the accident had happened in the morning, and all because they didn’t want to risk losing productivity. How they had given her two days off then sent her to QA to do robot’s work. Then she’d remember her son, and the days her stomach roared with hunger because she only made enough to feed him. She’d remember all the blood, sweat, tears, and love she had invested in him, that she has nothing left to lose, that she had already lost everything a long time ago. And then she’d answer, imagining all the people who could lose everything just like her, lose everything for the same reasons, lose everything to the same people, and she’d know that they’re people she could help.
“Anything,” Ellie said.
“Good.” The Scientist smiled. “Very good. Well, dear. This is what you do.”
# # #
That’s all for chapter seven. I hope you enjoyed it. Come back next week to continue Haley’s–and the entire Infinite Limits universe’s–story, or click through here to order the full novel on Amazon.
Thanks again for all your support already. Have a great weekend.