Another Saturday brings us another chapter in book two of Infinite Limits, An Almost Tangent. Today we join Rosa, in Outland Six, and her attempts to unite the Human Family. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far and don’t want to wait for the rest of this novel, or if you want to give some monetary support for future stories, please do pick up a copy of the full novel in print or ebook format through this link.
The conference room was empty when she had rushed back into her office to scribble out a few more lines for her latest pamphlet. Grumbling and unsatisfied with anything she had managed to get down on paper, she decided to take another look and see if it still was. It was getting along time for another assembly, anyway, and with the world changed as it was, their attendance had only continued to accelerate in growth.
The conference room was a dilapidated gray with mold on the walls and tiled ceilings. Rosa knew it smelled musty, but she was long beyond noticing. She knew her guests would notice, though, but that only until enough of their sweaty bodies piled in to produce an altogether different smell—which Rosa would notice, too. There was a short wooden podium at the front of the room, and the rest of it was packed full with foldable chairs. There were a few people sitting in the central chairs, but Rosa knew they would have to scoot toward the wall as the room filled. There was only one aisle and no room to pass through a row if someone was sitting in it.
Rosa took in the faces that were there and smiled, waving at the familiar ones who smiled and waved backed. She walked up to the podium and stood behind it with her hands on the cool wood, closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths, imaging the task before her. She pictured herself convincing the entire room of the truth she told, sending them into a bout of uncontrollable applause and cheering. The sound of it was still echoing in her ears when Anna roused her from the dream. Rosa jerked her eyes open with a start. “My God!” she said. “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?”
“If I didn’t do it, you’d stand there daydreaming until the entire Family got bored and left,” Anna said, crossing her arms and grinning.
Rosa looked around. The room was full now, standing room only and not much of that. How long had she been daydreaming for? “Oh, well. Alright then,” she said. “Should we get started?”
Anna laughed. “What would you do without me? You see the door? Those are our Family members who want to come in but can’t fit. What should we do about them?”
There were people standing in the door and more that Rosa could see huddled around outside, trying to peek in. More and more brothers and sisters every day. It was a blessing. “Do we have speakers?” she asked.
Anna shook her head. “Nope. You sold ‘em paying for the ring. Microphones, too. I’m surprised we haven’t sold the podium yet.”
“Ugh.” Even now it was worth it, but they did need some new speakers and microphones ASAP. “Well, we’ll just have to hold the meeting outside, then. Won’t we?”
“It’s pretty cold.” Anna looked unsure.
“Look at all the bodies we have.” Rosa smiled. “We’ll warm each other. We’ll warm ourselves. We’ll set the example of mutual self-sufficiency that we must follow into our bright new future. It’s a good metaphor. Come on.”
Rosa turned to the expectant faces. “Family,” she boomed over them. She saw the surprise on the new faces who didn’t expect such a strong voice coming from such a frail old woman. “Friends. Lend me your ears. It seems that our Family has grown so large that our meager home can no longer house it. If you will forgive us some inconvenience, some small individual discomfort, and only a bit of cold air which we will fight back with our own body heat, then I would ask that we take this assembly outside where there is room for the entire Family. For if one of our brothers or sisters is left in the cold, then all of us are left in the cold, and we will not have that here. Not tonight.”
Scattered applause morphed into a room full of clapping.
“Good, then,” Rosa said with a smile. “Very good. Let’s go.”
She stood at the head of the room and watched her herd as it shepherded itself through the door into the cool night air. Anna was already outside, passing around the clipboard, no doubt, getting everyone’s address so they could be hailed in times of need. How big that pyramid had become was awe inspiring to finally witness.
When everyone had filed out, leaving Rosa alone in the still rank conference room, she followed them outside. Where before Christmas the door of the Family Home had opened onto an alley near the Green Belt, as a result of the miracle that night, their door now opened onto a big patch of green grass, spotted with cypress trees and crepe myrtles. It was a blessing from above to have such a fine gathering area literally dropped on their front porch. She took a deep breath of the cool air, thanking God for everything good in her life, then joined the Family where it had already huddled together in the field, standing closer than they would normally stand, taking advantage of each other’s warmth. It was beautiful to see them all cooperating so well already: emergent order among chaos. Rosa stepped closer to the group and the subdued mumbling silenced.
“My friends,” Rosa boomed. “My Family.” Some passersby, in their torn rags and holey shoes, stopped to see what was going on. Others stared as they passed but kept on walking. All were sure to leave with a flyer in hand, given to them by one of the five or six lovely young children Anna had passing them out as Rosa spoke. “Human beings. What brings you out here with us today?”
“The world’s ending!” a scared voice called.
“I need to eat!”
“They took our jobs!”
More voices grew brave enough to speak as others paved the way for them. Rosa gave them some time to vent to one another then raised her hand to quiet them. The venting had attracted more onlookers and the group numbered well above a hundred when she was ready to finally speak.
“Yes, Family,” she said. “Yes. Let it out of you.”
“I hate them! I just hate them!” someone yelled, and the entire crowd cheered along.
Rosa smiled and nodded. “Yes. Good. Very good. Hate them. Use that emotion to further your own interests, to further the interests of your Family, the interests of your species against an enemy who cannot rightly be said to even be alive.”
The crowd both cheered and booed, unsure of how they were supposed to react but sure that they were supposed to.
“What is it that makes us a Family? Hmm? What makes us human? That is the age old question. Some philosophers claim it’s impossible to answer, that they cannot find a hard line between human and other. Well, let me ask you. Let me ask you humans standing in front of me here today. What do you think? Huh?”
Now they all knew to boo.
“Which is exactly what I think. Shame on them. Shame on those philosophers. Shame on them for taking a question which should be simple to answer and obfuscating it beyond all meaning, making it inaccessible to the common human, for making it so complex and esoteric as to be meaningless except as an ensurer of their own jobs as philosophers, and all while we—living breathing human beings—lose our jobs to the other itself. We cannot wait for the philosophers to describe the world, we must instead work for ourselves to change it!”
The yelling grew angrier and there was more than just boos. Rosa raised her hands to quiet them again.
“Now, I was born and raised right here on the Belt in what used to be Six.”
Some of the crowd started to look concerned. They didn’t know what she was talking about, or they did know and didn’t want to listen to a Sixer. Either way she had to go on.
“Now, now, now,” she said. “I know what you Fives are thinking, but you have to see that we’re all Family here. Fives and Sixes alike. We all breathe and eat and feel. We all have souls. And we all have one thing that they, the true enemy, those who are taking our livelihoods and our resources from us, those who are responsible for all the turmoil in your life, can never have. We have been blessed by our God in Heaven who created us in His human image, and we will use that blessing to take back what is rightfully ours.”
The Sixes in the crowd started clapping first. The Fives were reluctant, Rosa knew, but they soon joined in, too.
“We are humans, friends. Fives and Sixes alike. We have already seen our productivity falling, and it has been but a single week since the miracle. Jobs grow scarcer and resources harder to come by, but why? Who tore our worlds apart? Who slammed them back together again? Who pits Fives against Sixes? Who profits from it? The robots and their employers. That’s who. The robots take the jobs and the owners give them away. So what are we going to do about it?!”
The crowd cheered and yelled nothing intelligible.
“We will find an owner who employs only humans!” Rosa called over them. “We will demand human made products and human made products alone! We will refuse to work alongside robot labor, and we will tear down any automated shops on sight!”
The crowd was really riled up now. They had a purpose, a goal, directives. They had everything they ever wanted: someone to tell them what to do. Rosa was overjoyed to be the person to finally offer them their deepest desires.
“Our family continues to grow,” she said. “More and more of us have decided to exert our free will and open our eyes to the propaganda we’ve been fed our entire lives. Soon we will be so large that they have no choice but to listen to our demands!”
The crowd cheered and stomped and clapped, hooped, and hollered. Rosa could only smile in elation.
“Our God has blessed us, friends. And the Day of Atonement has come! Now I want you to shake hands with everyone you see here and give each other big hugs. Get to know one another. Become familiar with the faces around you. These are your brothers and sisters. This is your Family. We will love you and protect you forever.”
They all started hugging one another and shaking hands. Rosa scanned the group, but Anna was nowhere to be found. She and her clipboard were probably off doing something important. Rosa made her way into the warm crowd and shook her own hands and hugged her own—still sweaty despite the cold—bodies. She smiled at faces as they tried to ramble off questions, but they never had time to finish before she broke off and shook the next hand. She felt like a prophet with everyone reaching out to graze her hair or feel her ragged clothes with their dirty fingers. She was in Heaven for that moment, and she could have stayed there forever if it hadn’t been for the little flyer girl who tugged at her shirt.
Rosa blinked herself out of the dream. “What is it, child?” she asked.
“Anna wants you in her office,” the little girl said with a sniffle, wiping her nose.
The little girl shrugged and scampered off between the legs of the crowd. Rosa sighed then smiled at a few more faces and shook a few more hands before making her way back through the musty conference room to the mold speckled office. No, to her mold speckled office. What was she saying? She opened the door, about to say something about it being her office not Anna’s, when she noticed the tall young man wearing a mostly new polo shirt that had been torn and dirtied only recently. He looked comical sitting in the small chair with his knees up to his chest. Rosa stifled a laugh and glared at Anna who was sitting in Rosa’s chair behind Rosa’s desk. “Anna, dear. You wanted me,” she said, not trying to hide the annoyance in her voice.
“As you see,” Anna said, ignoring Rosa’s tone and remaining in the seat. “Our Mr. Bamford here has returned from his assignment with some startling revelations.”
“Oh, Northwood, ma’am,” the lanky clown in the too tiny chair said. “Woody if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, well, Woody,” Rosa said, walking behind Anna and grabbing the back of her chair. “Tell me, then, what news do you bring?” His eyes were red and puffy, and by the looks of his clothes, the protectors were taking notice of those children acting up in Two.
“He says the protectors came,” Anna said, looking around at Rosa.
“Yes, well, I can see that.” Rosa tried to give her a look that said move, but Anna ignored it.
“Well,” Northwood said. “I was there, right. When the protectors came, or whatever. And the leader lady—”
“Emma,” Rosa said.
“Right, her… Well, she tells us all to lock arms and they won’t do anything. So we all do it, right. And, well…”
“Go on,” Rosa said.
“Tell her what you told me,” Anna said, leaning over the desk.
“Well, this guy—I don’t know if he was one of yours or not—but he yelled that he wanted the protectors dead or something, then they went off. I mean, damn. Look at me. Tear spray. Pepper gas. Bean bags. They were at such close range, I wouldn’t be surprised if they killed somebody. I was lucky to get away looking like I do.”
Rosa swallowed her anger. She started massaging Anna’s back. “How many were there?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “More than a hundred.”
“Oh—uh—not even thirty.” He shrugged. His eyes reddened like he was going to cry again.
“A hundred protectors for thirty children,” Rosa said. She squeezed Anna’s shoulders too hard and Anna yelped, shrugging Rosa away and standing from the chair.
“At least,” Northwood near whispered, staring through his bent up knees at the ground.
Rosa took the now empty seat behind her desk. “Imagine the force they would have sent at us if they knew of our meeting tonight,” she said.
“Imagine the force they will send when they finally notice us,” Anna said.
“Very good, Northwood,” Rosa said. “You’ve done your duty beautifully. Do you think you’ll be able to continue with us? I know that what you went through today must have been taxing.”
He looked between the two of them. “Um—Well… I didn’t know I would be attacked like this…”
“Yes, the attack was uncalled for,” Rosa said, trying to console him. “But your reaction was admirable. I doubt their response will be as extreme the next time anyway. This was a fluke.”
“I—I don’t know…” He hesitated.
“Aw, c’mon, Woody,” Anna said, walking over to massage his shoulders. “Look at you. You’re a big guy. You can handle it.”
“Oh, Well, I…” He shrugged.
“C’mon,” Anna said, grabbing his arm to pull him up from the chair. “Let me feed you a little and we’ll talk about it some more.”
He shrugged and followed Anna through the door. Rosa sighed. Thirty people wasn’t a lot—and maybe half of them were her plants or the protectors’—but it was a good number for Two. Two was so insulated from the rest of the worlds it was surprising to have a single rabble rouser, much less a group of followers along with her. This particular rabble rouser Rosa had been following for some time now. Rosa knew that the girl somehow had a hand in the miracle event that connected Five and Six together again, but what hand that was she had no idea. Still, Anna would undoubtedly convince Northwood to continue on with his mission—Anna could convince a mother to sacrifice her only child—and they would soon find out what this Emma was capable of.
Rosa sighed again and read over the slogans she had jotted down earlier. They were just as bad as she remembered them, if not worse. She scribbled all over the page and flipped to a clear one. There had to be something, some combination of words she could put on the paper to convince her Family of the truth she knew to be, but what were they? “Human minds human feats,” she scribbled and quickly scratched out when a musical knock came at the door.
Rosa flipped to an empty page and called, “Hello?”
“Oh, uh…” The voice was muffled and barely audible through the door. “I was told that…”
“Yes? Come in,” Rosa said. “I can’t hear you.”
The door opened and in crept a greasy haired young woman wearing the dirty t-shirt and jeans common to all the inhabitants of both the now connected worlds, giving Rosa no indication of which she came from. The woman looked at her feet as she shuffled in, nearly knocking the chair in front of Rosa’s desk over.
“Please, child,” Rosa said “Take a seat. How can I be of assistance?”
The woman tumbled awkwardly into the seat and stared intently at her lap, messing with something Rosa couldn’t see through the desk. When she still didn’t say anything, Rosa said, “My name’s Rosa, friend. What’s yours?”
The woman looked at Rosa and whispered, “Olsen.” then went back to playing with whatever she found so interesting behind the desk.
“Olsen,” Rosa said with a smile. “That’s a pretty name. Olsen, what can I do for you today?”
“Well,” Olsen said, not looking up, “there is something. I don’t know if you can help me, though.”
“It’s okay, child,” Rosa said. “Even if I can’t, I’m sure someone in the Family will be able to assist you in some way. But we can only do that if we know what it is that’s bothering you in the first place. So please, tell Momma Rosa and let her make it all better for you.”
Olsen looked up from her lap reluctantly. Rosa could see the battle playing out behind her eyes as she tried to decide between staying and going. “Well, I—uh…”
“Go ahead, child. You’ll feel better for it.”
“I was fired!” Olsen slouched down deeper in her chair and sunk back into whatever it was that interested her about her lap.
Everything became clear to Rosa. Olsen was from Five. She wasn’t a young woman at her age. By Five’s standards, she was practically still a child. She was a child who—as a result of the destruction of the walls between Five and Six—had been fired from the career she had trained for since she could walk. Now, with the cheaper labor from Six and the free labor from robots, poor Olsen was left with no avenue available by which she could support herself. This was a situation which Rosa and all the inhabitants of Six were all too familiar with, but that meant that she could help.
“I’m sorry to hear that, child,” she said in her most comforting motherly voice. Rosa had consoled many a lost soul in her time. “Do you mind my asking where you worked?”
Rosa could see tears welling up behind Olsen’s eyes even though the girl tried to hide them. “F—Food production,” she stammered. “I was g—going to be a chef. But now—n—now I’m—” She couldn’t fight the tears any longer.
“A chef?” Rosa said.
Olsen perked up and stopped crying all at once. “Yeah, well, you know,” she said. “A chef. I’d be a machine calibrator really, but I’d be calibrating the machines that cook food. I would be a chef.” She smiled with her red puffy eyes.
“Is that the job you want?” Rosa asked.
“More than anything,” Olsen said in earnest. “I was so close, too. I had nearly finished my internship and was about to be put on the line when they sacked me.” She started to cry again and went back to playing with her lap.
“What if I told you that you could still be a chef?” Rosa asked.
Olsen perked up to listen but didn’t stop silently sobbing. “Sounds—impossible,” she said.
“What if I told you that you could be a real chef and not just a machine calibrator?”
Now Olsen smiled and chuckled and shook her head, her face still red and puffy. “No,” she said. “That is impossible. I don’t know how to cook.”
“But you’re willing to learn, aren’t you? Or do you think you’re not capable?”
“Oh, no!” She sniffled and wiped her nose. “I can do it. I know I can. But who would pay me to learn? Who could teach me?”
“Well, child, we will. Anna’s the best cook on the Belt, and we’ve been planning on setting up some food charity programs as it is. We could use the extra help.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Of course, child. We’re Family here. That’s what Family’s for. Isn’t it? You want to be a part of the Family, don’t you?”
“I—uh—well…” Olsen went back to playing with her lap. “To be honest,” she said. “I don’t know what family you’re talking about. I—well—you see, I only just lost my job, and I was on my way home to tell my mom the news when I saw you talking to that big group outside. One of them got to asking why I was upset, and she said you might be able to help. So here I am.” She shrugged with a sigh.
“Ah,” Rosa said. “I see. Well, let me see…” She sifted through her desk drawers for a pamphlet or two. “Here, take these. You read one, and there’s one there for your mother, too. There you are.”
Olsen took them and read the cover of one. “The Human Family?” she said.
“Yes, child. We humans must stick together in these turbulent times, like the Family we all are. You are a human, aren’t you?”
“Oh, of course.” Olsen nodded in earnest. “Of course, but. Well…”
“Go on, child.”
“What’s so wrong with robots? I mean, they make our jobs easier, right?”
“They make our jobs pointless, child. Obsolete. Monotonous. Soul crushing. These days the machines use the humans more than the humans use the machines. Take your dream of becoming a chef as an example. You come from Five. No one in Five can afford to pay others to cook for them, so the only way you can reach your goal is to calibrate the machine that cooks for you. Well that’s not being a chef, now is it? Is that what you really dream of doing?”
“I—well—uh…” She hesitated and looked confused. “I—well—I don’t know what Five is. I come from New Orleans and I want to be a chef. I want to cook.”
Rosa sighed. She kept forgetting that most everyone had no idea still that the other worlds existed—even with everything she did, day in and day out, to spread that message. “Well then, child,” Rosa said, “by joining the Human Family—which you are already a de facto member of by being a human—you will be closer to that dream than you have ever been before. Even before you lost your internship. In fact, I think you’ll come to see that losing that job was the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“Oh, well, I don’t know about that.”
“But I do know, child. I do. And I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that what I say is true. Now, it’s getting late here, and I’m sure your mother’s wondering where you’ve gotten off to. You go on home to her and tell her the good news then read up on those pamphlets with her. I’ll see you right here bright and early tomorrow morning to get started on your training. What do you think?”
“Oh, I, well…” Olsen sunk into herself again.
“What is it, child?”
“Well, ma’am. It’s just that my mom will want to know the pay. She’s got so few tokens per week as it is…”
“Oh, of course!” Rosa said. That was another sign of the gap between her and the Fives. They loved those tokens of theirs. Having bread to fill their stomachs wasn’t enough, they needed children’s play toys that they could trade. “Of course. How could I forget that?” Rosa dug through the desk for the ledger and opened it. “Now, what were you getting before?”
Olsen looked extra sheepish. “Twenty-five tokens a week, ma’am.”
Olsen nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Well, that won’t do, now will it? No, not nearly. Hmmm.” She scanned the numbers, not understanding what she was looking at. “How does fifty a week sound?”
“Fifty!?” Olsen laughed. “You’re kidding.”
“Oh, no, child. I wouldn’t joke around about your livelihood. You’re like a daughter to me now. You’re a part of the Family. Now, don’t get me wrong. You’ll be earning those tokens. It’s not all fun and games here, you know. We have important business to tend to, and you’re becoming a vital component of that business. But fifty tokens a week is what we can pay you.”
“Oh, no, ma’am. I mean, yes, ma’am. Of course, ma’am. I understand, ma’am. You won’t regret it.” Olsen stood clumsily from the chair, as if she wanted to leave before Rosa could change her mind. “I guarantee it. I work hard and learn fast. You’ll see.”
“Good. Very good, child. I expect greatness from you. Don’t let me down.”
“No, ma’am. I won’t, ma’am. I will not. Don’t you worry. And… Thanks again. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay. Bright and early.” She slipped out of the room before Rosa could respond.
Rosa sighed. The time for pulling one or two people into the Family at a time was quickly passing, but it still carried with it a great sense of accomplishment, as if her own soul had reached out and changed the soul of another for the better. This even more than stopping the robots from ruining her own life was why she did what she did, why she stood up in front of the masses every day in the attempt to convince them of the reality of the worlds. This was why she loved her Family, and this was what she was created to do.
She smiled to herself, closed the ledger and put it away, and scribbled down the flood of slogans that had invaded her head. She was still scrawling them all through the notebook when the door opened and Anna sat in the chair across the desk from her. Rosa finished one more line before setting her pen down and looking up with a smile. “Hello dear,” she said.
“Don’t you hello dear, me,” Anna said. “Well…”
“Well what?” Rosa asked.
“Well who was that who just left your office too happy to be alive?”
“Oh, uh… Her name’s Olsen.”
“And she lost her job.”
“Who hasn’t in Five? So what did you tell her?”
“I, uh, well… I might have offered her a job.”
“Just a little bit. Besides, she needed it, Anna. You didn’t see the look on her face. I mean, she is a part of the Family, isn’t she?”
“Ugh. The Family, the Family, the Family. What about your family, Rosa? What about me? What job did you even offer her?”
Rosa slunk back in her chair, getting as far from Anna as she could. “She wants to be a chef,” she whispered.
“Of course.” Anna huffed. “And at what pay?”
Rosa slunk further back, almost losing sight of Anna over the desk. “Fifty tokens a week,” she whispered.
“I—Yes, but I had t—”
“Where are we supposed to get fifty tokens a week, Rosa? Do you have any concept of money? You know we’re already broke, don’t you? If you don’t start doing some fundraising with your little speeches, we won’t have tokens to last through the next few days. So how do you propose we pay your new chef fifty tokens a week when we can barely support ourselves?”
“Our income has been growing exponentially,” Rosa said, trying to stick up for herself a little bit.
“Yeah, from shit to a slightly bigger pile of shit that still doesn’t cover our costs.”
“But it will,” Rosa said, sitting straighter in her chair. “Soon. If our income continues to grow. Won’t it?” She stood from the desk and walked around behind Anna to massage her shoulders.
“If it does,” Anna said.
Rosa could feel Anna’s resistance dissolving under her fingers. “When it does, dear,” she said. “And I know exactly the way to ensure that it never stops growing. Just you wait and see.”
# # #
Thank you for your time, dear readers. Don’t forget to join us next Saturday for the next chapter in Ansel’s story, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of An Almost Tangent through this link here.
Have a great weekend.