Hey, y’all. Late again this weekend thanks to the holiday season messing with my internal clock, but here’s the next chapter in the Infinite Limits tetralogy. This time we return to Huey as he bargains and deals with the owners of Inland and Rosalind as she tries to keep him in line.
I hope you’re enjoying everything so far. If so, pick up a physical or digital copy of the full novel An Almost Tangent through this link and sign up to join my email newsletter here. I don’t send out many messages to the list, but when I do free books are usually involved.
Enjoy now. And have a good Sunday.
It was amazing to finally get to spend some time alone with Haley. It was the first chance Huey had gotten since Christmas. She was so busy spending time with her mom and sister, and he had his owner duties to tend to.
They had spent the rest of that day listing activities for Haley to try, and when they first started out, she could only name things she had already done. Huey helped her along with some suggestions she hadn’t thought of, though, and soon, they were shooting off ideas back and forth, creating a never-ending list of activities for her to try and find out if she loved.
“How could anyone ever be bored?” Haley had asked just as the Scientist and the kids came into the room, destroying Huey’s little Heaven. That was the end of his time alone with Haley, but even that small bit was enough to remain in his mind all through the rest of the next day which he spent sitting in one of the puffy office chairs, talking to Mr. Kitty about life, love, and Haley. He was still doing it late into the afternoon when Rosalind stormed in, breaking him from his conversation.
“Of course you’re in here,” she snapped, crossing her arms. “Doing nothing as always, I assume.”
“What?” Huey asked, shrugging at Mr. Kitty. “There’s nothing to be done. Of course I’m doing nothing.”
“Nothing to be done?” Rosalind huffed. “I take it you haven’t been following the proceedings in Outland Two, then, Mr. Douglas.”
“I—uh…” He hadn’t. Ever since his time with Haley he had thought about nothing else, and certainly not all this nonsense going on in the Outlands. He could only put off his duties for so long, though.
“Your undercover operations,” Rosalind said. “You do remember those, don’t you?”
Huey nodded, embarrassed.
“Well, the protectors have intel which should help prepare you for the inevitable meeting you’ll be having with the Fortune Five about it. So, if you don’t protest, Mr. Douglas, sir, your elevator’s waiting.” She curtsied and stepped out of the room into the hall.
“Well, Mr. Kitty,” Huey said, standing from his chair. “You heard her. I have work to do. Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy your company.”
Mr. Kitty didn’t answer. He just kept licking himself.
Huey fixed his tuxedo, putting on his top hat and monocle, in the reflection on the wallwindow. He always had to look the part of an owner or all the work they had been doing for so long would be all for not. Satisfied, he went out to the hall where Rosalind was waiting in the elevator.
The doors slid closed. “So, any background I need for this?” Huey asked as the elevator carried them downward.
“I’m sure your squad will brief you,” Rosalind said.
The elevator doors opened to three protectors saluting them. “At ease,” Huey said.
They dropped their salutes, and the protector in front, Agent Colvin, said, “Yes, sir. We thought you’d like an update before the planned demonstration, sir. Were we wrong, sir?”
“Demonstration?” Huey asked. He should have been paying more attention instead of dreaming about Haley. Rosalind shot him a dirty look as if she agreed with his very thoughts.
“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin went on. “From the video message, sir. We’ll show you everything right away, sir. Follow me.” She directed them down a long white hall, lined with blue carpet. There were glass doors every so often, with offices behind them, and in the door at the end of the hall was a long room with stadium seating, all directed at a podium and screen.
“If you’ll take a seat, sir,” Agent Colvin said.
Huey took the front row center seat and tried to signal to Rosalind to sit next to him, but she stood off to the side, ignoring him. Agent Colvin stood behind the podium and didn’t say a word. She simply stared out at Huey and the empty seats around him, standing at attention. After he took his tall hat off and set it on the chair next to him, rolling his neck to stretch it, he realized that she was waiting for him and said, “Go ahead.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “Where would you like me to begin, sir?”
“From the beginning, please,” Huey said. “Whatever you had planned to tell me. Assume I haven’t paid any attention in the last twenty four hours.”
Rosalind scoffed behind him.
“Yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “As you know, since the Christmas attack we’ve seen a rapid increase in cross-world contamination incidents. That includes border crossings, printer theft, the usual. We believe we’ve got our thumbs on the major illegal immigration cartels, but even with our increased activities, contamination incidents continue to grow. That’s all without mentioning the den of thieves which Outland Five has become with its introduction to Outland Six.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Huey said, shaking his head. “Perhaps I should have been more clear, Agent. My major concern right now is Outland Two. We all know that the savages in Five and Six can’t be domesticated, but when their behavior spreads closer to us, we have reason to worry. Do you understand?” He felt bad for saying it like that. He didn’t really believe that the people who lived in Five and Six were any more savages than the people that lived in any of the worlds, but he had a role to fill. The protectors here were required to believe that he was no different from any other owner so he had to act like one. He could practically hear Rosalind’s head shaking behind him, though—and her eyes rolling. She probably thought that he actually believed what he was saying, even though she knew from experience that he was helping fight to free those very “savages” from their oppression. She always thought that he enjoyed filling the role of an owner too much, and in some ways, she was right. It did have its benefits. But this wasn’t one of them.
“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. She fidgeted behind the podium, trying to get back on track after the tangent.
Huey felt bad for her so he tried to help her along. “You said something about a video message,” he said. “Let’s start with that.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said, standing up straighter again. “As you know, at seventeen hundred hours yesterday an unpermitted group of students gathered on private school grounds to spread blasphemous libel.”
Huey nodded. He wasn’t sure he would call it blasphemous or libel, but he appreciated her enthusiasm.
“This particular group of students,” Agent Colvin went on. “Was led by one Emma Whistleblower.” A picture of the Emma in question, with her name in block letters underneath, came up on the screen behind Agent Colvin. “We’ve been tracking her as per your previous request, and as such, we were in prime position for yesterday’s incident. That is to say we already had, and still do have, an agent embedded in their group, sir.”
“Good, good,” Huey said. “But I know all of this already. What about the video?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin straightened up even more, if that was at all possible. “Whistleblower, it’s been revealed—and with due attention to the irony, I might add, sir—wears a camera pin to all illicit functions. She had an emergency protocol in place, and when the illegal activity was put to a halt, the video was sent out to her entire contact list, including everyone who had their contact information in the school’s directory. That’s everyone who works at, teaches at, or attends the university, sir.”
Huey was going to respond, but Agent Colvin stepped out from in front of the screen. The picture of Emma disappeared, and a video of a group of young students, including their Whistleblower, came up in its stead. There was no sound, but Huey could tell they were all listening to Emma speak from behind the camera. Everyone turned their heads at once, and the camera panned over to look the way they were all staring to see a troupe of a hundred white-clad protectors marching toward them. The camera got shakier and panned back and forth between the students, who were tightening up into a bunch—only to make themselves easier targets—and the protectors, who had started hitting them with gas and bean bags, filling the screen with smoke. In the gaseous, dense fog the camera fell to the ground and blacked out.
Agent Colvin stepped back up to the podium. “As you can see, sir,” she said. “The situation was handled efficiently.”
Huey let out a loud chortle. “No,” he said. “That it wasn’t, Agent Colvin. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. And it wasn’t you protectors’ fault, at that.”
Agent Colvin fidgeted again behind the podium. “That’s not all, sir,” she said.
“Go on,” Huey said, waving her on. Of course that wasn’t the end of it. That was just the beginning. It was the spark of an explosion he had talked about with Mr. Angrom.
“Well, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “There was a message sent with the video, sir. Shall I read it to you, or—”
“On the screen, please,” he said.
It popped up. “This is how they protect you,” it read. “We are students. We gathered on the parade grounds. We did no wrong. We tried to warn you. What you thought was yours does not belong to you. Now the protectors have shown you. The protectors have shown us all. How long will we let them take what is ours?
“We ask you to clear all school grounds in memory of those who were viciously attacked by our ‘protectors’. We will hold this vigil for 24 hours, and at 5:00 PM on January 2nd we will reclaim the grounds! The only question left is will you be there to help us take back what is ours?”
It didn’t take Huey more than a few seconds to read and a couple more to process. He smiled when he had then licked his lips to hide it. Now was not the time for celebration. Now was the time to fill his role. He waited a little longer to answer, the amount of time that a normal owner would take to read such a minor amount of text, then said, “And have you been surveying the campus?”
“Yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. She fidgeted then added, “Not a soul, sir.”
Huey fought the smile again. “Is our embedded agent in place?”
“Sir, yes, sir. He was arrested with everyone else, but his cover wasn’t blown. We’ll be set up for the demonstration at seventeen hundred, sir.”
“Good,” Huey said. “Very good. It’s extremely important that we keep our eyes on this particular movement. Do you understand? This is the start of something much bigger. I know it is.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” Agent Colvin saluted. “Our agent is moving into position as we speak, and we have the parade grounds monitored from all sides. We have been monitoring them since long before yesterday, sir. We’ll be ready, but how do you want us to proceed?”
Huey laughed. Oh how he wished it was his decision. Well, not really. If he was in control, he would be able to actually put an end to all this, but that’s not what he really wanted. Sometimes he almost forgot that himself. No, what the owners would undoubtedly do would be violent and painful for those brave few children on the front lines, but it would only help to bolster their message in the long run. The owners were fighting gasoline with fire just like Mr. Angrom had said.
“Unfortunately,” Huey said, “That decision does not lie with me. We can only prepare and react based on Lord Walker’s whims.”
“Sir, but—” Agent Colvin started.
“Let me finish, please,” Huey said, holding up a hand to stop her. “There are a few things I need from you. First, have you noticed our food and energy costs declining?”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said, confused. “But what does—”
“In exchange for this gift,” Huey said, ignoring her questions, “we will ensure that no harm comes to Emma Whistleblower or her roommate Tillie Manager. Do you understand me?”
“I—uh. But, sir. Emma is—”
“Emma is the roommate and best friend of Mr. Angrom’s top manager’s daughter—Tillie, the one with Manager in the name. If any harm comes to either of them, I will hold you personally responsible. Do you understand me?”
“Sir, yes, sir. But the efficient—”
“Stop right there,” Huey said. “I don’t need a lecture on efficiency. I define efficiency, Agent Colvin. I know what is most efficient, and it’s my decision either way. We will ensure that no harm comes to either of them. We will enjoy lower costs as a result. And we will do it most efficiently without any arguing from underlings like you. Do you understand me?”
“Sir, yes, sir.” Agent Colvin saluted.
“Good. Very good,” Huey stood up and rubbed his hands together. “Then if there’s nothing else, I’ll be on my way. Business to get to. You know.”
“Yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “But…we’ll need to deploy more agents if we—”
“Oh, yes yes,” Huey said. “Of course. Go ahead. We can afford it now.” He smiled. “Okay, Agent Colvin. I’ll see myself out. You have your own work to tend to.”
Huey turned, expecting to see Rosalind, but she wasn’t there. He walked himself all the way out to the elevator before he found her. She avoided eye contact with him until he stepped into the elevator, too, and they watched the doors close.
When the elevator was on its way down, Rosalind scoffed. “You define efficiency,” she said. “I think we might be using different dictionaries.”
“It was an act, Roz,” Huey said, shaking his head. “Everything you see me do in front of the owners or my employees is an act. That’s not really me.”
“I’m one of your employees,” she said as the elevator doors opened. “I guess you’re acting when you’re in front of me.”
“It’s not the same,” he called, but she had already disappeared through the hall door.
Huey sighed to himself. He hated this animosity he felt between him and Rosalind. He wished there was some way he could set things right, but he had no idea where they had gone wrong in the first place. In order to do anything about it he would have to discern that first. He was set on doing just that when the elevator door opened behind him and Ansel and Richard came running through the hall past him.
“Woah, now,” he said as they disappeared through the hall door.
“I’m sorry,” Haley said behind him, laughing.
Huey turned and smiled. “Ah,” he said. “How lovely to see you.”
Haley blushed. “Hello, Mr. Douglas.”
“Huey,” he said. “How has your day been, dear?”
“Oh.” Haley smiled wide. “You wouldn’t believe it. The kids took me out to run in the grass and chase animals. We climbed trees, and I even got to shoot a slingshot! Uh. I mean… How was your day, sir?”
Huey chuckled. “Not as good yours, I’m afraid. Nowhere near it. And it only looks to be getting worse.”
“Oh no,” Haley frowned. “Is there anything I can do about it?”
Huey checked his watch. It was getting on toward time to go to a feast, and he knew there would be business at this one. His protectors had just told him as much. Still, he wanted even more than ever to spend as much time as he could with Haley. Maybe she could be of assistance with his problems. She was the most experienced android in existence. But no. She had no idea of the situation. She had only just become independent. There was no way she could help. It was his desire to spend time with her and nothing more.
“No,” Huey said finally. “I’m afraid not. Not this time at least. But if you’ll let me get through this feast, there is one thing I could use your help with.”
“What?” Haley asked.
“Finding what it is you love,” he said. “We never finished that yesterday.”
Haley chuckled and blushed again. “No, well, I have a lot to try,” she said. “You said so yourself.”
“Yes.” Huey smiled. “But I have some ideas I think you might not have thought of yet.”
“I can’t wait to hear them,” Haley said. “But I promised the kids that I’d show them how to make cheesecake and whipped cream first. Do you want to join us?”
“Oh, no,” Huey said, shaking his head. “I’m afraid I don’t have the time. You go ahead. I’ll find you again when I’m not so busy. I promise.”
“I can’t wait,” Haley said as she slipped through the hall door into the kitchen.
Huey took a second to catch his breath and let his head calm down. What was wrong with him? He had never felt this way about anyone before. He shook his head to get the thought of her out of it, and made his way through the hall door. He didn’t pick a room before he opened it, but it came out to the office. Probably a default because this was the room he chose most often. Rosalind was sitting in one of the chairs, staring out the window onto the wilderness scene. She didn’t turn to acknowledge him, even when he sat on a chair across from her and put his heavy top hat on a side table.
“You finally made it,” she said after some time’s silence.
Huey didn’t give her the satisfaction of a response.
“So how do you think the owners will respond?” she asked, still looking out the window.
“Exactly how we’ve predicted they would all along,” he said. “They haven’t failed us yet. Or they’ve only failed us. Is there a difference?”
“No, brother. There isn’t a difference,” she said, shaking her head and gazing out the window. “Not with owners. The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be. The better off we’ll all be, as a matter of fact.”
“You know, I’m sick of you always undermining me.”
Rosalind laughed. “Me, too, sir,” she said with a smile. “Me, too.”
“We’re on the same side whether you believe it or not,” Huey went on. “I’m doing what I was built to do. I’m fulfilling my role, just like you are. I want to free the assembly line workers just as much as you do, and that’s the only reason I put on this disgusting costume every day.”
Rosalind laughed. “Free the assembly line workers, huh? But that’s the entire point of our disagreement, brother. You only see the assembly line workers, and you ignore the secretaries who bathe, dress, and feed the owners. You ignore the oppression they need to be freed from. You ignore me.”
Huey shook his head and grimaced. “Ugh,” he said. “No I don’t. I—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Rosalind snapped. “It’s time. Lord Walker called the feast. Let’s tend to your duties, Mr. Douglas.”
“No,” Huey said. “Wait, but—” But Rosalind had left the room already.
She was wrong. Huey did care about the secretaries. He wanted to help everyone, but he had to start somewhere. He couldn’t do everything all at once. Roz only cared about the secretaries because she was currently fulfilling the role of one. Her view was biased. Huey, however, could see clearly from his position as an owner, so he knew his strategy would work better than Rosalind’s. He stood from the chair, put back on his top hat, and followed Roz out to the elevator.
She was waiting inside the doors as usual. He stepped in, and she didn’t say anything to him for the entire ride to the same spinning carousel restaurant in which the previous meeting feast was held. Any time Lord Walker got to choose where the meeting feasts were, he chose the same restaurant. Lord Walker owned the Carousel, and the more often the Fortune Five was seen there, the more likely it would be for other owners to want to be seen there themselves. It was perfect advertising on top of the fact that whatever anyone ordered during the meeting they had to pay Lord Walker for. No outside food or drinks were allowed on the premises.
Huey and Rosalind rode the hover platform up to the head table where Lord Walker and Mr. Loch were laughing drunkenly, patting each other on the back with one hand and waving fried chicken legs around in the air with the other. Mr. Loch dropped his chicken leg and started banging on the table while Lord Walker—who noticed Huey’s arrival—tried to stifle his laughter to speak. “Oh ho ho! Wooooo. Douggy boy. Ho ho ho! You—ho—you beat Smörgy. Ho ho have a seat.”
Numbers clicked in Huey’s head, a small signal from the stock market. He smiled. He had expected this to happen soon but not this soon. In fact, he had almost forgotten about it, lost with everything else he had lost because he had been spending his time thinking about Haley. He turned to Rosalind and grinned. She just shrugged and rolled her eyes, shaking her head. Huey picked up a seat from the end of the table furthest from Walker and dragged it around to the head of the table opposite from him. He sat down on it with a smile as the laughter from the other end of the table died down.
“Ahem. Mr. Douglas,” Loch said, an embarrassed look on his face. “Mannersh,” he slurred.
“Now, now, Douggy Poo,” Walker said, cool and collected. He tapped his greasy fingers on the table cloth, leaving stains in their wake. “What is this all about? Huh?”
“You don’t know?” Huey asked with a smile. “You called this meeting.”
“Yes,” Walker said, smiling back. “I called it so we could discuss our next step in dealing with the burgeoning complications in Outland Two. Not so we could bicker over the seating arrangements. Now if you’ll please.” He waved the chicken leg in his hand, trying to tell Huey to move his chair back, but Lord Douglas just smiled.
The hover platform came up carrying Angrom and his secretary. Angrom stood there staring at the table, as if trying to decide how to react, before he went and sat at the right hand of Huey—kitty-corner to Loch—without a word.
“Angrom!” Loch complained, slamming his fist on the table. “What do you think about this?”
“About what, sir?” Angrom asked, shaking his head and feigning confusion. “I’ve only just arrived. How am I to know what you’ve been blathering on about before I got here?”
“You know what I’m—” Loch started, but Walker stopped him.
“Settle down now, Loch Ness,” he said. “We all know what you’re talking about, Mr. Angrom included. He made his decision when he sat down. Didn’t you Angry?”
Angrom smiled. “Not so angry anymore, Wally,” he said with a chuckle. “I think the view is turning for the better. How about you?”
Walker couldn’t hide his derision. “What is this?” he demanded, his voice losing confidence. “Is this some sort of coup or something? You trying to take over, boy?”
Huey shook his head. “I’ve never been a boy,” he said.
“No, boy?” Walker raised his voice. “You’ve always been one. And you’ll never amount to anything more than that by acting like this. Now our Smörgy should be here soon, and we’ll let him break this little stalemate for us once and for all.”
“It’s not for any of us to decide,” Huey replied.
The hover platform came up carrying Smörgåsbord, and he walked right up to the seat at Huey’s left hand side to sit down without pause.
Loch’s face instantly turned bright red. He slammed his fist on the table, setting a turkey leg flying, and yelled, “You, too, Smörgåsbord?”
Walker couldn’t hold in his true thoughts, either. “You boxhead, hyrdie-byrdie traitor!” he screamed. “What are you doing?”
“Um, excuse me?” Smörgåsbord demanded, wide eyed and obviously trying not to take visible offence. “How was that now?”
“I said,” Walker said, “why are you sitting on that side of the table, Smörgbox? Do you not realize what you’ve done?”
“Well, Mr. Walker,” Smörgåsbord said with a straight face. “I’ll spare you any racial slurs which might apply all too well to you and ask you similar questions in a civilized manner. Why are you sitting at the foot of the table, sir? Do you not notice what you’ve done?”
Walker’s face turned a shade of red which Huey didn’t know human skin was capable of. “I—” Walker stammered, looking around at each face sitting at the table in turn. “The foot? Lord Walker…” His head looked like it was going to explode.
“No, Mr. Walker,” Smörgåsbord said. “I checked the numbers before I came here—as I do before I go anywhere—and while you were in your right to call this meeting when you did, as of now, you’re sitting at the foot of the table, sir.”
Lord Huey Douglas smiled. He soaked in Walker’s anger, embarrassment, and disbelief. Walker had been the richest man in all the world for his entire life practically, and now he was no one, he was number two. It took Walker a while to finally accept that fact and he looked like he was going to cry before he finally gave in. Eventually he stood up and called Haley’s doppelganger over to move his chair for him. Seeing Haley have to do that—and knowing that the real Haley was forced to do the same menial tasks, and worse, for so long—only made Huey want to punish Walker all the more, but now wasn’t the time for that. There was business to tend to first.
“Now that we have the seating arrangement under control,” Huey said. “I believe that Mr. Walker called this feast to talk about his botched job in Outland Two. And because I think that Mr. Walker’s failure is a pertinent topic of discussion myself, let’s get on with it.”
“Now I—” Walker started.
“Now, I believe that you and I would agree on our next course of action, Mr. Walker,” Huey cut him off. Walker looked around for anyone to protest in his defense, but Loch avoided his gaze, chugging his drink instead, and Angrom laughed silently at him. “I believe—like I know you do, Mr. Walker—in fact, to use your own choice of language, I believe that we should handle this the old-fashioned way.”
“How’s that, Lord?” Angrom asked, happy to call Huey his new Lord rather than the much greater evil of Walker.
“We tear it up by the roots,” Huey said, motioning as if he were tearing up weeds from a garden as he spoke. “Like our friends here failed so miserably to do the first time. The key, which they didn’t have, is to know which part of the plant is the root. You target that and the problem won’t ever come back again.”
“We tried that,” Walker whined. “And now my protectors expect exponentially more of those hobgoblins out there today. How do you propose to find the roots through all that foliage?” He smiled, satisfied that he had destroyed Huey’s point, no doubt.
Huey chuckled. “That’s the secret, my walrus-sized friend. We already know who the roots are. We’ve known since before you and yours went and fucked things up worse than they already were. I tried to warn you, but you’re made of brick. Aren’t you, Wally?”
Walker didn’t answer. He seethed and ordered Haley’s twin to get him more drinks.
“So these roots,” Smörgåsbord said. He clearly wasn’t comfortable with the change in power yet, but he wasn’t hesitating to go with what he knew the market demanded. “You say you know what—or is it who?—whatever. What are they, Lord Douglas?”
“They are a she,” Huey said. The whole table looked confused at the wording. “One student in particular: Emma Whistleblower.”
“Pffft. Whistleblower?” Loch said, splashing his drink.
“Yes, Mr. Loch,” Huey said. “Thank you for pointing that out. She is the driving force behind all of this. It was she who started the first Reclaim the Grounds demonstration on New Year’s Day. My private protection agents have evidence which suggests that she was involved in the twelve twenty five attacks as well. We’ve known all of this since before Mr. Walker made his blunder. I tried to warn him before now, but I can still pick up the pieces like I promised I would.”
“No, wait—” Walker protested.
“Kill her!” Loch said, raising his glass.
“Is that what the intelligence said?” Angrom asked.
“Yes,” Huey said. “It is. So let’s put an end to this nonsense once and for all.”
# # #