Chapter 14: The Scientist

Today brings us the Scientist’s second chapter, and it marks the day that two thirds of the novel are available on the website. Next week we’ll start reading the final chapters from each character’s point of view, and at the end of week seven, you’ll all get to know the conclusion of book one of the Infinite Limits series. Or you can find out sooner by purchasing the novel on Amazon.

Today I’m including an illustration I did of Popeye the mechanical arm, who you might remember from the Scientist’s earlier chapter. I hope you’ve enjoyed everything so far, now go and enjoy this one too.

Popeye< XIII. Pardy     [Table of Contents]     XV. Haley >

XIV. The Scientist

Every day different. Every day the same. Only change is constant. Reality is contradiction.

She stood in front of the printer—as she did every meal—and imagined the people who grew, reared, harvested, and collected her food, the ones who built the things to make it all possible, and those who sent it along so she could consume it. She ordered everything as raw as it came, but that meant that she had to order the sandwich she wanted fully made. Still, they were forced to do as little of her work as she could help, and soon she would be helping in a more efficient manner. It was Christmas Feast Eve, and Mr. Kitty should be on his way.

She carried the plate of food into her office, and when she opened the door, he was there. “Mr. Kitty!” she said, setting her plate on the desk next to the cat who went over to eat the meat out of her sandwich. “Finally, Mr. Kitty. Red! Eat all you want. I’ll make you more if you’re here when I’m done.”

The cat meowed.

“Oh. You have no idea, Mr. Kitty. Sic bo shines down on you. I’ve been waiting for you to come in with that beautiful red collar for you don’t know how long.”

He meowed again.

“Alright, Mr. Kitty. I’m gonna get to work,” she said. Mr. Kitty went off on his way, ignoring the rest of the meat in her sandwich, and she started the macros going which would set the work schedules across all the Outlands as needed for the operation. She moved the repair bots around to fix only the holes she didn’t need and set a few to creating some holes that might come in handy in emergency situations. With everything she could do before her lunch meeting done, she went to ride the elevator to the bar and get on with her meeting.

Trudy was already in the corner booth with two beers. The glasses were still frosty, and Trudy’s drink was mostly full, so she hadn’t been there long.

“Trudy, dear,” the Scientist said, sitting down and taking a sip. “You know me all too well.”

“More than anyone in the worlds, I’d say.” Trudy smiled.

The Scientist loved her smile, it was so genuine. “I didn’t keep you waiting long, did I?”

“Oh, no no,” Trudy said. “Just sat down. You’re as punctual as ever, dear. Don’t you worry.”

“Good,” the Scientist said. “I was a little distracted, you know. The roses are red.” She smiled.

“No kidding,” Trudy said, sipping her drink.

“Would I kid about this?”

Trudy shook her head. “That you wouldn’t.”

“Trudy, you do trust me, don’t you? I could tell you more, but it would only put you in more danger.”

“And I’m not in danger now?” Trudy said, shaking her head.

“No. Of course you are. I didn’t—I didn’t mean that. I meant that you’d be given added danger for no need.”

“Not me, dear. I know enough already. I’m in plenty of danger no matter what else you tell me. The more I know, the more danger for you, though.”

“No. Well…I—Not just me.”

“Right, right,” Trudy said, smiling and nodding. “Back to the circular argument. It’s not just you, it’s the plan, it’s too dangerous to tell me about a plan that I’m a part of.”

“It would put you in—”

“I’m already in danger, dear.” Trudy laughed. “We’re going around in circles. That’s why they call it a circular argument. Let’s end it here before I get dizzy. I know you’re not going to tell me everything, and you know I’m not going to stop asking, so let’s just get on with what really brought us here.”

The Scientist sighed and took a sip of beer. Trudy was right. She couldn’t be put in any more danger, but it would put the operation as a whole in danger if the protectors could get more information out of her. Still, Trudy deserved to know more. She had been with them for so long, and her work was so valuable, that she had a good argument for it. An argument which she never pushed too far. The Scientist promised herself that, as soon as this operation was over, she would tell Trudy everything. Well, at least she would tell her more.

“Trudy,” the Scientist said. “You deserve to know more.”

“I know it.”

“You’ve done more for this revolution than anyone has. Myself included.”

“Oh, now don’t say that,” Trudy said, blushing. “That’s not what we’re about and you know it, dear. Solidarity. Without any of us, none of this would be possible.”

“Solidarity, dear,” the Scientist said, raising her glass.

They took a drink in unison.

“Trudy, sometimes I think—no—I know that you know more about the revolution than I do, even if I know more specifics about what plans are in action.”

“Oh, honey,” Gertrude said, shaking her head. “Now I know you’re wrong on that. I know more specifics than your computers could hold. Who’s infatuated with who, and which coworkers are possibly parents of the same children, Hell, I could tell you what most of the workers in my hall eat for every meal every day of the week, but you try to tell me you know the specifics.”

The Scientist shook her head. Trudy was right again. The Scientist knew what food they received, how often, and in what proportions, but she didn’t know how they cooked it or who they ate it with. She knew nothing in comparison to Trudy. “Like I said,” she said. “I know you know more about the revolution than I do.”

“Not so fast, dear,” Trudy said, raising a finger. “We know different parts of the struggle. You know as much as you know, and I know as much as I know, but together we know what we both know. We do nothing alone, remember. Without any of us, none of this would be possible.”

“Again you prove your worth,” the Scientist said, smiling wide. “Day after day. You will get what you deserve, Trudy. Mark my words.”

“I hope you’re right, dear,” Trudy said, shaking her head. “If it’s not too late for that already. Either way, the worlds don’t seem that just to me.” She sipped her beer.

“No. They don’t,” the Scientist said, taking a sip of hers. “Which is why we have to make them that way. Right, Trude?”

“Right as rain, dear. Just you and me. Huh huh huh.”

“Now tell me,” the Scientist said, ready to get down to business now that the pleasantries were out of the way. “Do you trust Ellie?”

“I trust her to do what she wants.” Trudy shrugged. “You said that’s what you wanted.”

“Yes. Yes yes. That’s what I said. But sometimes I wonder if that’s what’s really for the best.”

“For whose best, dear? Your best? Ellie’s best? My best?”

“Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. All of them. The best for all of them.”

“All of us, dear. You are included in that. You’re one of us, aren’t you?”

“Am I?” the Scientist said. “I created the Walker-Haley fields that keep us apart. I created the printers you fill with commodities. I created the androids who forced all the service workers of Inland into Outland 6. I am responsible for all of that, Trudy, responsible for propping up the entire system that keeps you down. How am I supposed to be one of you if I’m the one doing this to you?”

“Now, now, sweetheart,” Trudy said. “We all do what we have to do to survive, and sometimes that ends up in some of us keeping others down. That’s not you, dear. That’s the system. As long as you recognize what you’re doing, and you do all you can to stop it, you’re one of us. And who’s done more to bring down the system than you?”

“Well, you, Trudy. I just said that.”

“And I just said that’s not true. You keep talking us in circles, dear. Is there something you’re getting at, or are we just here for a drink and a ring around the rosies?”

Trudy always knew when there was something. But first there was business. All play and no work made Jill a happy jerk. “You know there is, Trudy,” the Scientist said. “But first let’s get back to Ellie. You say you trust her. How far does that trust go?”

“As far as anyone I’ve ever brought to you,” Trudy said. “She won’t tell anyone anything. I can guarantee that. She never tells anyone anything. Which leads me to suspect that she might take the opportunity to drop out if you give it to her, but she’ll be sure to do what you ask of her first. She wouldn’t want to live knowing that she owed you.”

“And you’re sure of all that from having talked with her so little?”

“It doesn’t take much,” Trudy said, taking a sip of her drink. “Like you’ve said before, they usually tell you everything they want with their first words. Well, with me, one conversation reveals a person’s entire character. I couldn’t tell you how I do it, I just know that I do.” She took another sip. “And I’d say that you know it, too, with what you have me doing for you.”

“What I ask you to do for us.” The Scientist winked. “But I do know it works, and every day it amazes me more.”

Trudy blushed. “So what do you have in store for her?” she asked. “Info finding mission? Meet her favorite propaganda star? One-on-one with an owner so she can show him how she feels? What did she ask for?”

“The beach,” the Scientist said.

Ugh.”

They both drank at that.

“I told you I trusted her to do whatever she wanted,” Trudy said. “But that’s not where it stops. I know better than that, dear. There are always conditions. So what are they? What did she say?”

“Well, I…” The Scientist sipped her beer and looked around the bar.

“You haven’t told her yet, have you?”

“The roses only just turned before I came to see you,” the Scientist said. “I had to set the scheduling macros. I have more still to set. I thought I had more time.”

“With the Christmas Feast tomorrow, you thought you had more time?” Trudy said, shaking her head. “Be ready for the blooming every day, dear. That’s what you taught me. It’s what you taught all of us. Especially with the field yellow as it is. Or rather, as it was.”

“Yes, well,” the Scientist said. “There was more to do. Besides, there’s plan B…”

Trudy rolled her eyes and took a big gulp of beer.

“You.”

“Yeah yeah,” Trudy said, waving her on. “Well now you have to tell me what you have in store for her. Is that the bush you’ve been beating around?”

No. It wasn’t. “Well, yes and no,” the Scientist said. “But, Ellie. You think she would be willing to use a disc?”

Trudy looked around the room then sipped her beer. She leaned in close and said, “A disc?”

“More to the point, would she be willing to use a dozen discs?”

“That many?”

“Her entire hall,” the Scientist said, nodding. “She’ll put one on each door, and I’ll direct the belts so the explosions target specific locations. Two birds with one stone. We have the misdirection of bombing the QA hall, and we render key printers in Bourgeoisville inoperable.”

Trudy laughed, spitting some beer up onto the table.

“What?” The Scientist didn’t get the joke.

Bourgeoisville,” Trudy repeated, mimicking the Scientist’s voice and adding an extra snobby accent. “You sound so bourgeois when you say it.”

“Yeah, well, would you rather I called it Inland like they do? Or Earth 2.0?”

“Now, now,” Trudy said. “Don’t get mad. I just thought it was funny. You can call it Donkeybuster for all I care. Soon we’ll see that it’s all the same anyway. Right?”

She wasn’t right this time. What you called it did matter. The name you gave it affected how you thought about it, if you believed you could change it, but how could the Scientist sit and argue against someone who knew the oppression of the system firsthand? “No,” she said, shaking her head, not wanting to argue the point any further with so much work still on the horizon. “You’re—You’re right.”

“Stop that,” Trudy said. “Now I’m not right. We both are. And Ellie will use the discs just fine. But what are you giving her?”

“The beach,” the Scientist said. “Like she asked for.”

“For how long?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

“Fifteen minutes?”

“Fifteen minutes during the operation,” the Scientist said. “Those are fifteen completely secure minutes. But after fifteen we need the holes to give other workers what they want. It’s the best I can do.”

“Fifteen minutes?”

“Fifteen minutes,” the Scientist said.

“I don’t know if that’ll be long enough.” Trudy shook her head.

“It has to be. That’s all we have.”

“You couldn’t send her over there then move the door back when she’s done?”

The Scientist shook her head. “Not on such short notice. And we need the operating power, anyway. Fifteen minutes for a beach trip is a lot, all things considered. She’s not the only one going to the beach, either. She’s just the most likely to return. Whether she does or not, though, she gets fifteen minutes to decide.”

“And discs,” Trudy said. “One on each door?”

The Scientist pulled a pouch out of her coat pocket and put it on the table. Trudy scooped it up and put it in her own pocket.

“Rip, stick, press?” Trudy asked.

“Rip, stick, press,” the Scientist said. “One on each door. If they’re activated, they’ll explode twenty-five minutes after her shift ends. That’s fifteen minutes on the beach, then ten minutes to set the discs and get out of there. She can do either, or both, or neither, and whatever she decides, I’ll be willing to meet with her again. You know the deal.”

“And when she blows up her own workplace?” Trudy said. “When she blows up my workplace. How do we support ourselves then?”

“She—and you—will be moved to another building,” the Scientist said. “There are empty QA buildings waiting for just such an emergency. Don’t worry. I know. Her, nor your, job are in any danger, only the owners’ infrastructure on one side and their party on the other.”

“And when they realize that she was the only one working before the building blew up, won’t they know she had to be the one to do it?”

“Technically she’s not scheduled to work.” The Scientist smiled. “Someone else is. And they’re already dead. The protectors will assume a corpse did it, and Ellie will be in the clear.”

“But if she does lose her job…”

“She won’t,” the Scientist assured her. “But if she does, then she’ll be added to the distribution list. Have you ever known me to let anyone I could help go helpless?”

Trudy shook her head. “You do everything you can.”

“And I will continue to do so.”

“So when do I tell her?”

“Tonight. At the bar. Her bar. She has to do it tomorrow or wait. The roses are red, Trudy. The roses are red.”

“They are, dear,” Trudy said with a smile. “And I’ll be sure Ellie knows it, too. But what are you going to do about it?” She sipped her beer.

Trudy knew what was really bothering the Scientist. She knew everything. “I’m going to help everyone, then get what I want,” the Scientist said.

“Everyone?” Trudy said, raising an eyebrow.

“I get what I want every day. I have a printer for that. It’s not my turn. I have to let the others get a chance before I take more.”

“It’s not anyone’s turn, dear,” Trudy said. “It’s all of our turn. If it wouldn’t take more than an elevator ride to get fifteen minutes of what you want, then it wouldn’t stand in anyone’s way, would it?”

“No. I—”

“And this is about getting everyone what they want, right?” Trudy said.

“Yes, but—”

“And you are a part of everyone, aren’t you?”

“Well, but—”

“But you deserve to get what you want, too, dear,” Trudy said, slapping her hand lightly on the table. “As much as any of us. You’re not like the owners, you know. You’re helping us, and you deserve the same window of happiness that you’re offering everyone else.”

“Fifteen minutes?” the Scientist said.

“Fifteen minutes,” Trudy repeated.

“I don’t know if it’s enough.”

“It’s all you can get.”

“It’s all I can afford.”

“It’s all we can afford, dear.” Trudy smiled and winked.

The Scientist shook her head. “But what if she doesn’t believe me?”

“If you never tell her, she’ll never have a chance to decide.”

“How could she trust me? I let this happen. It’s my fault.”

“It’s the system, dear. Let’s not get back on the merry-go-round. Without you, she wouldn’t be alive. You deserve to see her. For fifteen minutes at least.”

“I’m going to do it, Trudy,” the Scientist said.

“You should.”

“What do I say?”

“You say what you’ve been waiting to say. You’ve thought about it. I know you have. You already know what to say. Say that.”

“I know nothing, Trudy.”

“No one does.” Trudy shook her head.

“Right again,” the Scientist said. “Right again.” She sipped her beer.

“I always am, dear.” Trudy smiled. “You should get my advice for everything.” She winked and finished her beer.

“Oh. I do. Don’t worry.”

“Well,” Trudy said, standing from the booth. “I think you’ve got some work to do, then. I know I do, and I should be off to it.”

“You’re more productive than anyone, Trudy.”

“Oh. I know, dear,” Trudy said with a smile. “I know.” She laughed as she left, waving over her shoulder.

The Scientist sipped her beer. She had some time before her next meeting. She could play a game of pool. Trudy suggested that she attend to her own desires, too. But the game would go long. She was so out of practice it would have to unless the other player ran the table. Either way, her second meeting would likely be kept waiting, and there was still so much work to get done before the Feast.

No. Who was she kidding? She didn’t have time for that. Not even fifteen minutes. Did she have fifteen minutes to take what she really wanted, though? Her beer was empty, so she got another and sat back at the booth to watch the other patrons play. Her time was tomorrow if she wanted it. Just like everyone else. What was safe for them, was safe for her. If she ever wanted to see her daughter, Christmas was the time to do it.

The door to the bar opened and in came Anne, dressed in her coveralls still. She skipped the bar and sat in the booth with the Scientist. “What?” Anne said with a smirk. “Nothing for me?”

“I didn’t know you were off the wagon,” the Scientist said. “You can have some of mine if you want.”

“And get your cooties?” Anne said with a cringe. “I think not.”

“Cooties? What year is this? Are you a child?”

“We’re all kids compared to you.” Anne laughed.

The Scientist laughed, too, and took a drink of her beer. “You don’t know how true that is, dear. You have no idea.”

Anne looked around the bar and leaned in close. “I don’t know…” she said. “There are rumors,” she added in a whisper.

The Scientist chuckled. She leaned in close, too. “That I’m a robot!”

“How’d you know?” Anne laughed.

“I’ve heard them all, dear. I’m no robot, though. I’ll tell you that much. But I’m older than any robot that could pass for me. So there’s some truth to it.”

“But, how?” Anne said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“That’s not what we’re here for, dear. The roses are red.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Anne said, sitting up straighter in her seat.

“You know what you’re to do, then.”

“Yes, ma’am. I know.”

“Tell me.”

“First, I alert the other operatives in my sector, they have work of their own to do. Then I work my shift as normal. At the end of my shift, I set the discs and get out of there, ensuring the building is clear on my way.”

“Very good,” the Scientist said. “Very good. Are you ready for this?”

“I don’t know, ma’am,” Anne said, looking at the table. “After th—after the operation, when it’s all said and done, there are gonna be shortages, you know. I mean, how do w—how do we deal with that?”

“We’ll be working to direct the food to those who need it,” the Scientist said. “And to keep it out of the owners’ hands. There is a risk of shortages, but we’ll do everything we can to relieve those in need.”

“It won’t be enough,” Anne said.

The Scientist didn’t answer. She sipped her beer.

“It never is.” Anne took a deep breath, shaking her head. “Not even when there aren’t shortages. It’s gonna stay like this forever, isn’t it?”

“Unless we do something about it,” the Scientist said.

“And this is something? This will give us more food?”

The Scientist shook her head. “No. Probably not. Not right away, at least. You’ll have to fight for what you deserve. They’ll never hand it over without a struggle.”

“And this is how we struggle? By bombing our own food supply?”

“It’s not food, though. Is it? You work there, Anne. Coconuts, pineapples, saffron…Do you ever eat any of that? Do you know anyone who does?”

Anne shook her head.

“No. You don’t. Because it’s not food you’re growing. Those are luxuries, and you’re growing them for someone you’ll never meet, someone who does nothing for you in return but keep you at the bare minimum you need to survive so you can continue to grow their luxuries. You won’t be creating shortages. There will be more work than ever to get those luxuries up and running again. They’ll be desperate to be the first to do it. But the explosions also go through the transport tubes, and that will take out printers the owners can’t live—or steal what you create—without. This is just the beginning, Anne. There’s so much more to come. Can you help us get it started?”

“I can,” Anne said. She pounded her fist on the table then looked around self-consciously.

We can, dear,” the Scientist said. “None of us alone. And after this phase of the operation, we’ll move to getting those in need what they need, just like you want to do.”

“But why don’t we do that first? Instead of bombing the luxuries.”

“We have to do this tomorrow in order to do that in the future. This is only for you to know, but we’ll be retrieving a stockpile of printers for exactly that purpose. We’re using the explosions around different sectors as a distraction to collect the printers and take them to a safe distribution point where they can be given to those most in need.”

Anne nodded. Her hand motioned as if to grab for a glass that didn’t exist, and when she realized that there was nothing there, she brushed the hair out of her face instead. “That’s the only way to do it?”

“That’s the only way to do it with as few people as we have. The best thing we could do would be to stop producing for them altogether and start keeping everything for ourselves. But we’re all too comfortable in our jobs to do that.”

“You, too?”

“Me especially.”

“You’re really not that different from us, are you?”

“I eat better,” the Scientist said. “I eat every day. And I know I’ll sleep in a big, comfortable bed every night. In that sense, I’m different. But they exploit me the same as they do you. And I know that enough to do everything I can to help you stop them.”

“But who are they? How could they be so evil?”

“They’re mostly inheritors of wealth,” the Scientist said. “They were born into a role which they fulfill all too well. As much as they know what they’re doing, they have no idea what they’re doing. No more idea than anyone in any of the Outlands really. They’ve never experienced hunger or alienation, and they don’t interact with any humans who ever have. They literally live in their own world, in complete ignorance of what day-to-day life is like for the vast majority of people. They commit evils, yes, but not because they are evil. It might be more accurate to say that they’re possessed. Or possessive.” The Scientist shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m saying, though. Do you?”

Anne shook her head.

“No,” the Scientist said. “No, of course not. How could you when I don’t? Contradictions. Contradictions everywhere and I don’t understand them. But I won’t stop until I tease them out, you see. Do you understand that?”

Anne nodded and grabbed again for her non-existent drink.

“Good,” the Scientist said. “Because that’s the real point of all this. Even if you don’t agree with my methods and you want to walk away today without doing anything for the operation, you’re free to do that—I hope you won’t, of course—but if you do, you have to keep struggling to tease out those contradictions for yourself, you have to do it your own way.”

“You know I’m not walking away.” Anne shook her head. “I would have done that a long time ago.”

The Scientist smiled and sipped her beer. “Yes.” She nodded. “I know. But it’s important to remind you that you can, and that you’ll still be looked after, even if you do.”

“I know, ma’am,” Anne said, nodding. “I’m in it for the long haul.”

“Good,” the Scientist said, clapping her hands together. “Good good good. That’s good to hear, Anne. Thank you.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Now, I’ve got a lot of work to do before tomorrow, and I think you do, too.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Anne said, standing up and holding out her hand. “I won’t let you down.”

The Scientist took her hand and shook it. “I know you won’t, dear. Hopefully I won’t let you down, either. Now be careful out there. This is the real thing. These discs will be live.”

“I understand, ma’am. I’ll keep everything under control.”

“You do what you can, Anne.” The Scientist smiled.

Anne shook the Scientist’s hand one more time then went out into the world. The Scientist watched the rest of the pool game, finishing her beer in the booth. This was it. No more meetings. No more real work besides setting a few more macros before the operation was underway. Still, she did have to do that.

She set the empty glass on the bar and the bartender said “All’s well in the world.”

“Is it ever?” The Scientist didn’t know if it was a question or a statement.

“No” The bartender shook his head, thinking about it. “Well, the world’s a big place.”

“And there are so many of them.” The Scientist laughed.

The bartender eyed her with a squint. “You come in here with your white coat, and you order your beers and sit in your corner booth, and I know there’s something more to you.”

“Is that so?”

“It is.” He nodded.

“And how do you know that?”

“No one tips well,” the bartender said, tapping his head with a rag. “No one wears white coats. My customers don’t pay attention because they don’t want any attention paid to them, but I do, ma’am. I own the place. I rule here. That means my rules. And you follow them well enough—no questions being one of those rules—but I needed you to know that I know there’s more to you than that. That’s all.” He went back to cleaning glasses.

“That’s very observant of you,” the Scientist said. “Mr.—Uh…”

“Bartender.”

“Mr. Bartender.” She smiled. “And I appreciate your discretion.”

“Discretion’s the rule, ma’am. Be assured of that. But it’s more than that. My customers aren’t all as unconcerned as I make them out to be. You understand? If I noticed you, then they did. That’s all I’m saying.”

The Scientist nodded and signaled for another beer. “I appreciate that Mr. Bartender.”

“It’s called customer service, ma’am,” he said, getting her another drink. “I find it helps to keep my customers coming back.”

“Yes,” the Scientist said, nodding. “I’ve noticed it’s mostly the same people in here when I come in.”

“Mostly, ma’am,” the bartender said. “Especially when you come in.”

Huh.” She sipped her beer. “I see. And you wouldn’t tell them anything that could lead them to me, would you?”

“I don’t know anything to tell them, ma’am. I just aim to tell you that they come in every time you come in.”

“I won’t even ask who they are, sir. Thank you.” She left a hefty tip and didn’t finish her beer.

She knew they’d find the bar eventually. They always did. But so soon? And why did she have to learn about it just as the roses bloomed? Not that it mattered whether she knew about it now or not. There was no worrying anymore. The only thing she could do now was prepare for tomorrow.

The elevator took too long to get back to her lab even though it took only half a minute. She knew it was exactly thirty seconds because she oversaw the operation of every elevator in existence. She opened the door to her office and Popeye was typing on the computer. The big metal arm turned around in surprise at the sound of her entrance.

“Not today, Popeye,” she said. “The roses are red. The roses are red!”

Popeye waved and gave a thumbs up, then rolled out through the hall door to do who knows what.

“First things first,” she said out loud, even though Popeye had left the room. She set the last few macros and the computer went to work. She typed in the command to send Ellie’s conveyor belt to the beach for fifteen minutes, then she thought about her own wish.

Fifteen minutes with her daughter. That was worth at least as much as seeing the beach or meeting a famous celebrity, wasn’t it? Or was it worth more? Did she deserve it? But who was she to say that what they wanted was worth less than what she wanted?

No. Fifteen minutes of time through the holes was fifteen minutes of time through the holes, no matter where you went or what you did while you were there. That was the question, then, wasn’t it? Did she deserve the same fifteen minutes she offered the workers?

She thought she did. She was a worker, too. Technically. And fifteen minutes wasn’t much to ask. She had fought longer than anyone and had never taken her fifteen. Now was the time. This was
a major operation. There were so many distractions she could probably come up with a couple of extra fifteen minute blocks through the holes. Trudy was offered time that she didn’t take, she wanted the Scientist to take it instead. She typed out one more direction for the Walker-Haley fields to follow the next day and went straight to bed, trying to go to sleep like a child on Christmas Eve.

#     #     #

The day was long, longer than any day she could remember and she remembered a lot a lot of days. Christmas was never a thing that Fours looked forward to, but she had studied the history of the holiday and she knew the stories about how the children would react. She never understood it, though. Any Christmas she had as a child was too long ago to remember, and ever since she had discovered printer technology, anything she ever wanted was at the touch of a button. What presents could there be? But now she was about to get something a printer couldn’t give her. Well, technically it was the same technology making it possible, but it was something entirely different.

The Feast didn’t start until late into the afternoon and the operation until a little way into that. She spent her time waiting by going over every bot assignment and all of the hole placement timings and disc countdowns, imaging everything that could go wrong, any actors who would take what she offered and not do what she asked. She set redundancies for those who she thought might fail, and when she was satisfied the strategy would work as best as it could, it was time for her to take her fifteen. Or maybe she was only satisfied because she had to be, because she had no more time to obsess over every possibility. Either way, control was out of her hands now.

She left the computer to guide the process and went out into the hall. Mr. Kitty was there waiting for her. He meowed.

“Hello, Mr. Kitty,” she said. “Would you like to meet my daughter?”

He meowed again.

“Good,” the Scientist said. “She’s just an elevator ride away. There’s no time to waste.”

The elevator doors opened, Mr. Kitty meowed, and they both walked in for her fifteen minutes.

#     #     #

< XIII. Pardy     [Table of Contents]     XV. Haley >

Thanks again for joining us. I hope you enjoyed it. And if you want to read the full novel without waiting another seven weeks, just click through here to purchase it on Amazon.

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