Today, chapter four of An Almost Tangent brings us back to the story of Ansel, the only point of view character who carries over from the first book of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, The Asymptote’s Tail.
When we last left her, Ansel was with the Scientist, mourning her mother and still eager to search for her father. Let’s find out where the worlds take her now, and if you want to find out the entire story, pick up a copy of the full novel through here. Thanks for joining us, readers, and enjoy.
After three days now of it being no more than an elevator ride away, Ansel still wanted to brush her fingers through the cool grass she was kneeling in, but even the slightest movement would send her prey running. How long would that urge last?
She could hear Pidgeon’s breathing behind her. In those same short days he had become a much better hunter. He only sounded like a human when he walked now, not a lumbering giant who was intentionally breaking every branch it walked by. His aim with the slingshot was getting better, too—he could take out a target set up on a branch, at least, even if he still couldn’t sneak up close enough to anything living for him to be able to hit it—but that aim still wasn’t anywhere near good enough to hit the target she had in sight.
She raised up the slingshot, arm muscles flexed solid with the effort of pulling the elastic band, and sighted along it to the eye of the giant, horned, four-legged beast, eating grass in the clearing in front of them. She heard Pidgeon hold his breath with her while she aimed, and when she thought he couldn’t hold it any longer, she let go of the heavy rock, allowing the sling to hurl it toward her target.
The beast made a shrill bleating sound, shook its multi-pronged head, and ran in the opposite direction through the trees.
“Shit!” Ansel yelled, hitting the soft ground with a closed fist then taking the chance to ruffle the grass. “Shit, shit, shit.”
“I thought you had it,” Pidgeon said.
“Shut up, Pidgeon. What would you know?” She stood up and Pidgeon did the same. They were out in the woods they had first seen through the Scientist’s office window. Surrounded by grass, trees, animals, and sky it would be easy to assume that Ansel had nothing in the world to worry about, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t enjoy herself. “You can’t hit a pine cone from five feet away,” she went on, taking her frustration out on Pidgeon.
“Well, I was just saying, I think you hit it.” He plucked a needle off a nearby tree and tore it to bits. “I mean, didn’t you see the way it shook its head and screamed like that?”
“Yes, Pidgeon.” Ansel groaned. “Of course I did. I was the one who shot it. Did you think I had my eyes closed?”
“No. Well, of course not. But you did hit it, then. Didn’t you?”
“I’m about to hit you if you don’t shut up.” She reared her hand up like she was going to do it.
“You don’t have to be mean,” Pidgeon said, tearing another needle to pieces. “I just thought that you might—”
“I know, I know,” she said. “I need a bigger weapon. It was worth a shot, anyway. Wasn’t it? Now c’mon. I’m getting hungry and it’s about time for the Scientist to get off work. Let’s go.” She stuffed the slingshot in her back pocket and started the hike back to the elevator.
“I’m getting hungry, too,” Pidgeon said, hurrying to keep up and getting back to his normal volume of walking.
One day, Ansel was going to run ahead of him and hide behind some bush to see if Pidgeon could find his own way back to the elevator—which was surprisingly difficult even for Ansel sometimes—or if he would get lost and cry alone in the forest. But right now, she didn’t have the time. She had more important business to tend to. She chuckled aloud about the idea anyway.
“What?” Pidgeon asked through a huff of breath, tired from all the hiking.
“Nothing, Pidg. Watch your step on the root, though, we’re almost there.” As she said it, he tripped and fell into the grass, face-first. Ansel laughed. “I tried to warn ya.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Pidgeon said, brushing his knees off, red-faced. “Let’s just get something to eat.”
The elevator was hidden behind bushes and trees with vines growing all over it. Except for the metal doors, it looked like an old one-room wooden shack which had been left out to rot. When she had first gone out there with Rosalind and Huey, Rosalind laughed while Ansel tried to find some way to open those doors, prying at the crack between them with her fingers.
“Elevator open,” Ansel said this time. She felt strange talking to an elevator, though, even if it did respond to her. The doors slid open to reveal a mirror-lined cube. Ansel and Pidgeon stepped in, and Ansel said, “Office. Or—er—the lab. Whatever.” The doors closed, and the floor fell out from underneath them, forcing a surprised gasp out of Ansel. She still hadn’t gotten used to elevator travel.
“This is so cool,” Pidgeon said, unphased by the unnatural motion. “I still can’t believe we’re actually riding in one. It’s just like the protectors’ transport bays!”
Ansel shrugged. “It gets us from here to there,” she said.
“Yes, well, how far is it between here and there though?” Pidgeon asked as the doors opened, revealing a short hall with a door at the end of it. “And look, we’re already here. Amazing.”
Ansel huffed and stomped down the hall. She pushed the door open to reveal an empty kitchen. “No!” she complained, stepping back into the hall and slamming the door. “How does this stupid thing work?”
“You just have to think about the room you want before you open it,” Pidgeon said. “Here, like this.” He opened the door and there was the kitchen again.
“I wanted the office,” she said.
“Oh.” Pidgeon closed the door and opened it to reveal the office. “Or you can just say the room out loud if that helps.” He smiled.
“Ugh. Whatever.” Ansel stomped past him, bumping his shoulder with hers as she did, into the spacious, high-ceilinged office. It was bigger than any house Ansel had ever lived in and lined with a soft carpet on top of which sat a desk and a few puffy chairs and side tables around a larger table. Sitting in two of the puffy chairs, looking out the ceiling-high, wall-length window onto the rolling hills and greenery that Ansel and Pidgeon had just come from, were Rosalind and Huey.
“Having more trouble, girl?” Rosalind asked, laughing, as Ansel struggled up onto one of the tall puffy chairs. Everything was made to Rosalind and Huey’s size, and they were giants compared to anyone that Ansel had ever met. Well, except for Tom, of course, but she wasn’t thinking about Tom anymore.
“I’m not a girl!” Ansel said when she had positioned herself comfortably on the seat.
“That’s not what your boyfriend says.” Rosalind laughed some more.
“I’m not her boyfriend!” Pidgeon said. He had chosen to sit on the floor with his back to everyone, leaning on one of the chairs to get the perfect view of the world outside the window.
“I say you’re both in denial,” Rosalind said. “Or at least one of you is.”
“I’m not a girl!” Ansel repeated.
“Leave them alone, Roz,” Huey said. “They’re just children. Let them decide for themselves. They have plenty of time for it.”
“Don’t you Roz me, Mr. Douglas,” Rosalind snapped, standing from her chair. “You really are getting to be too good at your job, you know. You won’t even let me have the least bit of fun when we’re at home. You’re just like an owner these days.” She stomped from the room.
“I apologize, children,” Huey said, wiping his monocle with his handkerchief. “You shouldn’t have to see that. It really is my fault, though. She’s right, you know. I find it hard to come out of my character sometimes.”
“Oh, no,” Pidgeon said from behind his chair. “You’ve always been great to me. You brought me food that one time, remember? Speaking of which…”
“What do you do as an owner?” Ansel asked, scrunching up her nose. All she knew was that he wore tuxedos, top hats, and bow ties to go to Feasts—which she understood from experience to be a bunch of fat guys huddling up together in a giant circle and crying like babies.
“Oh, well, dear… That’s a hard question to answer. I… Honestly, I don’t do much but order Rosalind around, to tell you the truth. I think that’s why she hates it so much.”
“Well, no wonder,” Ansel said.
“Yes, well, we can’t change the roles we were given now, can we? It was easier for Rosalind to get close to Haley than it would have been for me, anyway. If the roles had been reversed, we might not have Haley with us today.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to treat Rosalind like you own her,” Ansel said.
“Yes, well…” Huey thought about it for a second. “No. You’re right about that. But I do have to treat her like I own her when I’m at work. That’s why they call me an owner.”
“Yeah, well, this isn’t work. Is it?” Ansel said.
“No. You’re right about that, too. But—”
“Then don’t treat her like you own her,” Ansel said. “Simple as that.”
“I guess you’re right, dear.” Huey chuckled. “You’re so wise for such a young gir—er—child.”
“Yeah, well, I’m old for my age.” Ansel crossed her arms. “Now where’s the Scientist? We have some business to tend to.”
“Oh, well.” Huey shook his head, frowning. “I’m sure she’s off with Haley somewhere, you know. You understand why, don’t you?”
Ansel nodded. She understood that the Scientist was supposed to be Haley’s mom, but she still didn’t understand how someone so old could have given birth to someone so much younger and larger in comparison. “Family stuff,” she said.
“Yes, but more than that dear,” Huey said. “Haley was the Scientist’s first born daughter. Those two have been separated for longer than you could imagine. So of course they’re spending every second together.”
“Right.” Ansel shrugged. She still thought it was creepy that such an old lady was supposed to be Haley’s mom, though. But they could believe whatever it was they wanted to believe. It was their life, after all, not hers. “So, do you know when they’ll be back?” she asked.
“Oh, there’s no telling,” Huey said, shaking his head and frowning some more. “They left hours ago, but who knows how long they’ll be gone for. Like I said, they’ve been separated for longer than you could imagine.”
“Ugh.” Ansel sighed. Maybe she shouldn’t be trusting this Scientist after all. Ansel really had no idea who the woman was. She was probably lying like everyone else. Ansel knew that the Scientist was too sure of herself, and it was probably to hide the fact that she had no way of actually getting Ansel’s dad back. But if she didn’t, then who did? Pidgeon was still trying to get her to go back to Anna and Rosa for help, but Ansel trusted them less than anyone, so that wasn’t an option at all. Which only left Tom. Who was God knows where. And even if Ansel knew where he was, how was she supposed to get to him? No, Tom was a last resort at best. She had to count on the Scientist to be true to her word for now and hope it didn’t come to the Hail Mary after all.
“You know what we should do while we wait,” Pidgeon said, standing up from the view. “We should get something to eat.”
“You always want to eat, Pidgeon.”
“Hey, you just said you were hungry, too.”
“Yeah, well, I guess…” She looked at Huey.
“Oh, no,” he said, waving his hands. “You two go ahead. Order anything you want. You know how it works, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Pidgeon cheered, jumping up from his seat on the floor and looking to Ansel for confirmation.
Ansel shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Let’s do it!” Pidgeon rushed to the door and ran out into the hall. Ansel took her time getting there, though, and when she was, Pidgeon closed the door and opened it right up to the kitchen. Pidgeon ran to put the stepstool the Scientist had made for them under the 3D printer then stood back and said, “So what you gonna get?” He was smiling and looking back and forth between Ansel and the machine. He looked like he was going to burst into laughter, or cry, or both at the same time. But Ansel could only stare past him, out the window above the sink, looking out onto those lines and lines of people doing who knows what. It was so weird to have that in a kitchen, she thought, but no one else even seemed to notice.
“Well?” Pidgeon asked again, proving her point and breaking her away from the strange view out the sink window.
“Uh, I don’t know.” Ansel shrugged. In the few days that they had been there, Pidgeon had ordered more kinds of food than Ansel knew existed, but every time she stood in front of the printer, Ansel had trouble deciding what she wanted. Her mind kept going back to the one thing it seemed to want to think about: how to get her dad back, but the printer couldn’t give her that.
“Well, you have to pick something,” Pidgeon said. “You can choose anything you want, Ansel. Anything. But it won’t give it to you until you ask.”
“I don’t care,” she said, stepping up onto the stool and pressing the 3D printer’s little red voice activation button. “Lunch,” she said, and again she cringed at talking to a robot.
“Lunch?” Pidgeon groaned as a sandwich and a bowl of soup popped out of the printer’s big hatch.
“A sliced meat sandwich and soup,” Ansel said, taking it to the shorter table they had set up in the kitchen for the kids to eat at. “Now that’s a meal.” She took a big bite of the sandwich—turkey—and savored the taste.
“Bor—ing,” Pidgeon said, stepping up onto the stool. “You have anything you can imagine at your fingertips, and you ask for lunch, you let the printer decide for you. Well, not me, you see. I hold my fate in my own hands. And I choose…”
He tapped his chin as Ansel dipped the sandwich in the soup and took a soggy bite. “This is good,” she said. “You should try some.”
“No. No… I want…” He pressed the voice activation button. “Chicken! And spaghetti. No, chicken spaghetti. And cheesecake with ice cream. The ice cream on top!”
The food kept coming as he talked. By the time the machine was done printing, he was carrying a tray of chicken, spaghetti, chicken spaghetti, cheesecake, ice cream, and cheesecake with ice cream on top to the table. Ansel thought he should have taken two trips, and he almost lost the tray on the way, but he made it to the table with everything intact, breathing heavily and eyes wide at the piles of food. “You’re gonna have to help me with this,” he said as he set to eating.
“No I’m not,” Ansel said, finishing her own meal. “But I will anyway.” She took the ice cream and started in on it.
Pidgeon was still eating, and Ansel was staring in awe at how much he could put down, when Haley came into the kitchen.
“Oh, hello,” Haley said, curtsying with a smile then walking over to the printer. “How was your day?”
Ansel stood from the table as soon as she heard Haley’s voice. “You’re home,” she said.
“We just got back. We were going to eat some lunch. Do you two want anything?”
“Where’s the Scientist?” Ansel demanded.
“She’s in the office. I was jus—”
“Thanks.” Ansel rushed out of the kitchen into the hall. She closed the door and opened it but still got the kitchen. “Shit,” she said, closing it and opening it to the kitchen a second time. “Shit shit shit.” After a few more tries, she finally said, “Office.” and the door opened to the room she wanted.
The Scientist was sitting on one of the puffy chairs, looking out onto the view. “I love this view,” she said, turning around. “Oh. It’s you. I thought you were Haley.”
“Yeah,” Ansel said, climbing into a chair. “It’s me. Don’t sound so let down.”
“Oh, no, dear. I didn’t mean to—”
“When are we going to get my dad out?”
“Yes, well… About that, dear.” The Scientist looked out the window again, avoiding eye contact with Ansel. “It’s only been a few days, you know. These things take time.”
“Every day we waste is another day closer to them taking him from me, just like they did with my mom. I don’t have time.”
“Yes, dear.” The Scientist shook her head. “I mean, no. Well, that would be true if it wasn’t. You see, we’ve got their computers confused. They’re not sure if he’s in prison or not right now. That buys us the time we need to determine the most efficient method of breaking him out.”
“But what happens when they realize he is there? What then?”
“By then we’ll have him out, you see. I assure you, dear. These things take time to be put properly into motion, but the balls are rolling and it’s picking up steam. I promise you that.”
“I don’t know,” Ansel said, shaking her head. “That’s hard to believe with what I’ve been through.”
“I know it is, dear. But you have to believe we’re doing everything we—”
The door opened and in came Haley, pushing a cart stacked high with more food than Ansel had ever seen in one place.
“Oh, dear,” the Scientist said. “You didn’t have to go through all that. A sandwich and some soup would have done just fine.”
“Yes, well,” Haley said, stacking the food on the table until Ansel couldn’t see the Scientist’s face anymore. “I couldn’t decide what I wanted so I ordered a little bit of everything. The printer doesn’t do a little bit of anything, though, so here we are.” She sat down and started in on some of the food.
“So when do you think we will get him?” Ansel asked. “My dad.”
“What’s that?” Haley asked, chewing on some food Ansel didn’t recognize.
“Oh, nothing, dear,” the Scientist said. “And soon,” she added for Ansel. “Within the week. I promise.”
“Within the week what?” Haley asked.
“Within the week your mom,” Ansel said, “will finally get my dad back—like she promised.”
“Oh, right,” Haley said. “On Christmas Feast Day. Where is he anyway?”
“The protectors took him,” Ansel said.
“Oh, well, that’s easy. Just tell them to—oh wait… I don’t work for Lord Walker anymore.” She frowned.
“No,” the Scientist said. “You don’t. And you should be glad for that. And we’ll get your father out in due time, Ansel dear. Without asking the protectors for permission. I promise you that. You just have to wait until the time is right. Your dad’s not the only political prisoner we’ll want to free if we’re going in there, so we want to make sure we have everything planned to the last detail.”
“Yeah, but—” Ansel started, but Haley cut her off.
“Here, Mom. Try this,” she said, holding out a plate to the Scientist, and it was still odd for Ansel to hear her call the old lady Mom.
Ansel huffed and stomped out of the room. They weren’t going to listen to her. The Scientist had her daughter and she didn’t care about anything else anymore. She was going to be no help in getting Ansel’s dad back, and that was clearer than ever. All she had been doing was distracting Ansel, and Ansel had lost too many days because of it.
She slammed the hall door closed behind her, and when she opened it again, she got the kitchen on the first try. The lines of workers were still doing whatever it is they did through the sink window, and Pidgeon was still eating at the table, though the pile of food in front of him had gotten considerably smaller.
“Oh, Ansel,” he groaned when she walked in and sat at the table across from him. “You have to help me with this. I can’t bring myself to throw any of it away.”
Ansel looked at what he had left on the table. It was mostly chicken and spaghetti or chicken spaghetti. “No,” she said, shaking her head and crinkling up her nose. “I have more important things to discuss.”
“Oghm—noghm—ugh. What could be more important than this right now?”
“My dad, Pidgeon. The only thing I care about. Remember.”
“Yeah, well.” He set his fork on the plate with a clank and leaned back in his chair, unbuttoning his pants. “What are you gonna do about it?”
“I don’t know. But I have to do something, don’t I? I can’t sit here and wait anymore.”
“Okay, but what are you going to do? I mean, unless you plan on taking the elevator to wherever the protectors are, but that would be stupid. You know what they’re like now, don’t you?”
“There has to be something I can do, Pidgeon. I know there does.”
“What about Rosa and—”
“No! I told you. I won’t work with them. You weren’t there, Pidgeon. They convinced Tom to kill someone in my name. I never asked anyone to kill anyone, okay. And I won’t ask anyone who has for help.”
“Yeah, well, I know they can help you, Ansel. They can do the same thing the Scientist can but without elevators. How else do you think you’re gonna get him out?”
“I don’t know. But I think I have a plan.”
“Oh yeah?” Pidgeon took a slow, groggy bite from the pile of chicken spaghetti in front of him. It must have been a third or fourth wind for him by now. “And what’s that?” he asked through a full mouth.
Pidgeon dropped his fork. “You can’t be serious.”
Ansel nodded. “He’s the only other person I know who can get through.”
“Ansel, he killed your mom. He killed that person at the Feast. I mean, you won’t work with Rosa and Anna when they asked him to do it, why will you work with him when he literally did it?”
“It’s not the same,” Ansel said. “They made him do it. It wasn’t his idea. He wanted to protect me. They’re the ones that twisted it.”
“I keep trying to tell you, they’re the ones that have the ability to help you. Not Tom. He admitted as much.”
“Well, I have to try, don’t I? I have to do something. I’m not going to sit here and wait for the Scientist to decide when the time’s right.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t care what you think.” She stood and stomped out of the kitchen into the hallway. Who was Pidgeon to say anything? He had no idea what she was going through. She would find a way to get her dad back no matter what.
She opened the hall door to find Rosalind, sitting behind a lab table, surrounded by glassware that was filled with various colored liquids. She was playing cards at an emptied table with the big mechanical arm they called Popeye.
“I see you creepin’, girl,” Rosalind said. “Come on in or get on out.”
Ansel walked up to the table and watched as Rosalind and Popeye pick up cards and laid them down at what looked to be random.
“Alright, girl,” Rosalind said. “Spit it out. What do you want?”
“I’m not a girl.”
“Whatever. Tell me what you want or leave. Popeye and I were enjoying ourselves before you came along to interrupt us.”
Ansel looked at the mechanical arm, who was still intent on the card game she could somehow tell. “How does it know what cards it has without any eyes?” she asked.
“Is that what you came here for?” Rosalind replied. “A lesson on the anatomy of Popeye?”
The metal arm waved at Ansel as if it were excited for the prospect.
“No—I—No…” Ansel shook her head, shuddering.
“I didn’t think so. So spit it out then.”
Ansel hesitated. This was a Hail Mary if there ever was one, and she wasn’t sure it was time to throw it up just yet, but she really had no other choice except for doing nothing, and that wasn’t a choice at all.
“It’s about my dad,” she said.
“You don’t say.” Rosalind chuckled. “Is the Scientist taking a little too long for your liking?”
“Yeah, well, I have my own plan.”
“Your own plan, huh?” Rosalind laughed, laying a card on the table. “Did you hear that, Popeye? Her own plan. Well then. Out with it. What is this plan of yours?”
Ansel blushed. She was afraid to share it now, but she wasn’t about to let that stop her. “I want to see Tom,” she said
“Tom?” Rosalind set all her cards on the table, finally intent on what Ansel was saying.
“Tom,” Ansel repeated. “You know who I’m talking about. The protector who I gave you information on. I want to talk to him.”
“Ohhh. Tom,” Rosalind said, nodding. “You mean the man who shot my sister?”
“Oh, yeah. Well… I know he—”
“And why would you want see this Tom?”
“I don’t know. I just… I think he can help me get my dad back.”
“And you don’t think the Scientist is going to do that?”
“I—I just can’t sit here and do nothing anymore.”
“And you’re sure this is what you want to do instead of nothing?”
“I—I don’t know. I think so. Yes.”
“There might be something I can do for you, then.”
# # #
Thanks again for joining us, and thanks for keeping up for so long. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Please do think about picking up a full copy of the novel right here, and we’ll see you again next Saturday for another chapter in An Almost Tangent.