An Almost Tangent

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

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

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

An Almost Tangent

 

 

 

 

 

For you.

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Crane Wives

 

 

 

 

 

XXII. Tillie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What shortages?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait… Tomorrow?”

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

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

“Yeah, that’s what I was about to—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh. Really?”

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

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

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

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

“…Production numbers suggest…”

“…some shortages in luxury items, but…”

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

“…Overall, managers are reporting more…”

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

“…the cost to produce is lower than…”

“…a dress like a shadow play…”

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

“…protector costs have gone through the…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, of course—”

“No problem, I—”

Oh,” the two said together.

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

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

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

“And Nikola,” Emma said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola smiled, and Emma smiled, and Rod nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Tillie scoffed and everyone shot her the same look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I didn’t think you’d mind.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tillie smiled. “They are.”

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

“Oh, nothing,” Nikola said.

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

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

“Well, shall we?” Tillie asked.

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

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

“Awesome,” Rod said.

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

Four thirty!

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

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

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

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

Nikola smiled and fixed her glasses. “Hey.”

“Sup,” Rod said.

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

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

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

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

Nikola shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re students here,” Emma said.

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

< Book I     [Table of Contents]     XXIII. Huey >

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

-Bryan “With a Y”

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