This Saturday we return to the story of Ansel. She’s tired of waiting for the Scientist to save her dad for her, so Ansel’s about to set out and try to do it on her own. She’s willing to do anything, even talk to Tom again, and with Rosalind’s help Ansel does just that.
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“You going hunting?” Pidgeon asked when Ansel came into the office wearing a new t-shirt and pair of jeans. “Can I come?” He stood from his seat on the floor where he had been staring out the window.
Huey was sitting on one of the puffy chairs, petting Mr. Kitty on his lap, and he looked at Ansel expecting an answer, too.
“Uh—no,” she said. “I’m not hunting.”
“Not with those new clothes on, you aren’t,” Huey said.
Mr. Kitty meowed.
“Where you going then?” Pidgeon asked. “Can I still come?”
“Uh…” Ansel shook her head. “I just need a little time alone.” She rushed out of the door and leaned on the hall side, breathing deeply.
Huey knew something was up. There was no doubt about that. She could tell by the look in his eyes. But even though she had told Pidgeon where she was going, he still didn’t expect a thing. He’d probably just sit and sulk because she didn’t invite him, stuffing his face with food to drown his sorrow.
She huffed and resolved herself, pictured the lab in her head, said “lab” out loud just to be sure, then opened the door.
Rosalind was there as promised, playing cards with Popeye. She looked like she hadn’t moved since Ansel had left her last.
“Are you ready for this?” Rosalind asked, not looking up from her game.
Ansel checked her back pocket for her slingshot, made sure she had a pouch of rocks tied to her belt loop, and sighed. “I’m ready,” she said.
“And you’re sure you don’t want to bring your boyfriend? He may be more help than you know.”
Ansel shook her head. She remembered Rosalind wasn’t looking at her and said, “I’m sure. This is one thing I have to do alone.”
Rosalind looked up from her game with a smile. “If you say so. It’s your decision.”
“Well, let’s get to it, then. Shall we?” Rosalind tossed her hand down and stood up, but Popeye went on laying cards on the table anyway. Ansel followed her out into the hall to stand in front of the elevator.
“Now, you studied the map I gave you, right?” Rosalind asked.
“Take this.” Rosalind held out a silver band. Ansel took it but didn’t know what to do with it. “Put it on your wrist,” Rosalind said, tapping her own wrist.
Ansel fiddled with the thing but couldn’t figure out how to fasten it on.
“Here, let me.” Rosalind snapped it on in one fluid motion and turned it for Ansel to look at. “It’s made simple so even a little girl can understand.”
“I know, but do you see it? Look at it.”
Ansel looked at it again. It was just a silver band with a black rubber button on it. “Yeah. I see it,” she said, jerking her hand away. “So what?”
“When you get back to an elevator and you want to come home, you press that button and I’ll make sure you get back here. But don’t take long, you hear me? I have better things to do than sit around waiting on a little girl like you.”
“Uh huh.” Rosalind nodded. “You get one chance. I still recommend that you wait for the Scientist instead of doing this on your own, but I can’t blame a girl for wanting some adventure.” She smiled.
“I’m not stopping the Scientist from doing what she promised to do,” Ansel said, ignoring the “girl” this time. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t do something myself instead of just sitting and waiting for a savior who may never show up. Or maybe I’ll save him before the Scientist gets a chance to, save her the trouble.”
Rosalind grinned. “Alright then,” she said. The elevator doors slid open behind her. “It’s your choice, your decision to make. Just press the button when you’re ready to come back home.”
Ansel stepped onto the elevator. She looked at the bracelet then nodded. “I’m ready.”
“Good luck.” Rosalind turned to walk away as the doors slid closed.
Ansel’s heart beat harder. She wiped the sweat from her palms on her thighs and waited for the elevator to take her away. Her heart skipped a beat when she felt the floor fall out from underneath her. She still wasn’t used to the sensation and thought she never would be.
The doors opened and it was nighttime beyond them, but the sidewalks were lined with pristine streetlights that shone bright white. They were too white. Ansel shielded her eyes from them as she took in the trees, walkways, and sparse buildings. The place was practically abandoned. With so much grass and trees she couldn’t understand how it hadn’t been settled already. This was even better than the Belt. It was almost like the Belt mixed with the wilderness outside the office’s wallwindow. This she could get used—
The elevator doors slid closed, interrupting her thought, and she only barely had time to slip out of them. She gathered herself fast and ducked behind the nearest bush. What was she doing taking in the scenery? She had business to take care of.
Rosalind had given her a path to take to Tom’s house—and it was a pretty good one—but Ansel made some alterations of her own—there were bushes Rosalind would never think of hiding behind because she was too big. Ansel dipped and dashed, and the further she got, the less she felt like it was worth it to spend so much energy hiding. There was no one outside. She could see the light flooding from all the windows of the sparse houses, indicating there must be people inside them, but there was no one on the streets. She didn’t see a single person before making it to the house which was supposed to be Tom’s.
She crouched behind some bushes in the backyard, realizing that what she had been thinking of as small buildings weren’t actually small because they were meant for only a single family at a time. The place seemed even emptier with the realization.
She crept up to the back door—unlocked, as Rosalind had said—to let herself into a kitchen the size of her old house. This must be why Tom didn’t care about helping her find her dad anymore. He had a good life and a huge house, why would he care about anyone else?
The kitchen door swung open and in came a kid that looked like he was about Pidgeon’s age. He looked a lot like Pidgeon, in fact. He put his fists up in front of his face, like he wanted to fight, when he saw Ansel. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing here?”
“I, uh—” Ansel stammered, not sure of what to say now that she was there.
“Jonah, who’s—” Tom said, coming in with a pink apron on. “Ansel? What are you—”
“Ansel?” Jonah said, dropping his arms and staring between her and Tom. “Are you serious?”
“Go to your room,” Tom said, pointing. “I need to speak with our guest alone.”
“That’s an order,” Tom snapped, giving him a look.
“But you told me—”
“Pick your battles or you might end up like me,” Tom said. “Now pick.”
“Yes, sir.” Jonah lowered his head and sulked out of the room.
“What are you doing here?” Tom asked, turning to Ansel.
“Didn’t think you’d ever see me again, eh?” Ansel sneered.
“No. I—well—no,” Tom said. “How’d you get here?”
“You said you’d help me get my dad back,” Ansel said. “Are you gonna keep that promise, or was it just another lie?”
“No. Well, I’d keep the promise if I could,” he said. “But what am I supposed to do? Look at me. I’m a housekeeper. I’m weak, powerless.”
Ansel scoffed. “So you give up, then. Is that it? You’re not called a protector anymore so you can’t help anyone. You can only protect people if you have a silly white costume and a big black gun. Is that it?”
“No, I can—”
“Then protect me!” Ansel stomped her foot. “Help me. Tell me where my dad is at least.”
Tom lowered his eyes. “I’m not—I’m not sure I can.” He shook his head.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“When I left… Captain Mondragon…she said…”
“Spit it out!” Ansel was getting tired of his games again already.
“She said she would speed up his execution because he meant so much to me.” Tom stared at the floor instead of making eye contact.
Ansel flung herself at him and tried to hit him, but he held her at arm’s length until she gave up.
“I never should have trusted you,” she said, breathing heavily and trying to find entry to attack him again. “I shouldn’t have come here, either. You’re too weak to do anything for me.”
“I’m not weak,” Tom said. “I’m powerless. I could storm the holding cells, then what? I’d be useless to you the second I tried to help.”
“Then you’re useless to me now,” she said, stomping her foot again and crossing her arms.
“No, but I—”
“No,” Ansel stopped him. “I’ve had enough. Just remember what you did to me, protector.” She scoffed and stomped out the way she had come in, bursting out into to the cool dark air.
That was a bust. Just like Rosalind had said it would be. But Ansel had to prove to herself that there was nothing left for her to do but wait for the Scientist. She started on her way to do just that when she heard a whisper behind her.
“Psst. Hey,” the voice said. “Over here.”
Ansel turned and didn’t see anyone. “Who’s there?” she asked the darkness.
“Over here.” The little boy from inside stepped out of the bushes.
“And you’re Ansel,” he said with a smile. “I’m so glad to finally meet you.” He extended a hand for her to shake, and she took it reluctantly.
“How do you know my name?” she asked as she shook it.
“Well, my dad—uh—Tom… He’s told me about you and what he did for you.”
“About what he did for me?” Ansel scoffed. She made to walk away, but he called to stop her.
“Wait,” he said. “I can help you even if he can’t.”
Ansel stepped up to him and grabbed him by his shirt. “You don’t even know what you’re talking about, kid,” she said, putting her face close to his.
“Alright, alright,” he said, breaking away from her grip. “Settle down now. I know you’re angry. And you should be. But I want to protect you.”
Ansel scoffed. “I don’t need protecting. Especially the kind of protecting you and your dad offer. I need to know where my dad is and how to get to him. That’s it. You can’t help me with that so you’re no use to me.”
“But I can help you with that,” Jonah said.
Ansel chuckled. “Your dad can’t even help me. How do you think you’re going to be able to?”
“My dad’s old,” Jonah said. “He’s retired. He doesn’t know what the worlds are like these days.”
“Oh, and you do?”
“I know Outland One better than you ever will,” he said, puffing his chest out and looking proud of himself.
“I don’t care about Outland One,” Ansel said. “I want to know where my dad is.”
“Well he’s here,” Jonah said. “That’s the point. He’s in the holding cells. Dad doesn’t know this, but I’ve seen them. I know where they keep the prisoners, and I can get us there.”
Ansel laughed. “Yeah, right,” she said.
“Yeah. It is right. But if you don’t want to see your dad, I won’t take you to him. I was just trying to help you out, you know.” He made to walk away, but Ansel stopped him.
“Wait,” she said. “Can you take me to him right now?”
“Of course I can. That’s what I was trying to say.”
This was her only hope. She had to use this trip for something productive, even if Tom was a useless idiot. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s go.”
“Alright. Follow me,” Jonah said, walking out to the sidewalk.
“Uh,” she said, not following him.
He stopped and turned around under the bright light of one of the streetlamps. “What?” he asked, waving her on. “Come on. It’s this way.”
“Are you serious? I can’t walk around in the open like that. Get over here.”
“What?” he said, not moving. “Come on.” He waved her on again.
“No, get—” She ran over and dragged him back into the shadows of some bushes. “Look. I’m not supposed to be here, okay. You get that, right? That means no one can see me. I can’t just walk around the streets like you do, especially when they’re as brightly lit as y’all got ‘em down here.”
Jonah looked around. “It’s not that bright,” he said. “Pretty dark, in fact. I think that light’s out.” He pointed, but Ansel couldn’t see through the bright white in front of them.
“Whatever,” she said. “Look. Just stay out of the lights, okay. Pretend like you can’t be seen either. Can you do that?”
Jonah put his fists up again like he wanted to fight. “I got you,” he said. “Follow me.” He did a somersault out across the lit path to hide behind a shaded bush.
Ansel thought it was a bit flashy, but it served the purpose of keeping Jonah hidden so she didn’t say anything. At least the kid seemed like he understood what she was saying now. And after talking to him, he was definitely a kid, younger than Pidgeon and probably younger than her. Her previous age estimate was way off.
They crossed this way and that, and Ansel memorized landmarks on the way. She would have to be able to find her way back to the elevator for any of this to be worth anything. They had gone some distance, and Ansel was about to say something about it, when Jonah came to an abrupt stop under a big oak tree.
“Wait,” he said, holding up a hand.
“What?” Ansel asked.
“We just gotta… I’m waiting for someone.”
“Waiting for someone?” Ansel stepped back.
“What are you talking about? Who?”
“Don’t worry. It’s just my partner. I wouldn’t go into this mission alone, you know. Are you crazy?”
Ansel huffed. She kind of missed Pidgeon. She wondered what he was doing. Probably eating or looking out the window. Probably eating and looking out the window. She should have brought him with her. Rosalind was right again. We do nothing alone.
“Yeah, alright,” Ansel said. “But whoever it is, they better hurry up. I don’t have any more time to waste than we already have.”
“Here she is now,” he said. “Liz, over here!”
Ansel didn’t see her until she was right next to them. “What is it, Jonah?” Liz demanded when she was. “Who is this? Why’d you call me out here so late? It better be a real emergency this time.”
“This is Ansel,” Jonah said with a big grin. “The Ansel.”
Liz looked at Ansel, then Jonah, and back again. “No,” she said.
Ansel blushed. She was glad it was too dark for them to really see her face, even with all the lights. “If y’all’re done,” she said. “I need to get to my dad.”
Liz grabbed Ansel’s hand and shook it too vigorously. “I can’t believe we’re actually meeting you,” she said. “Jonah’s dad, or, Mr. Pardy, he—”
“Alright, Liz.” Jonah slapped her on the arm. “Be cool. I wouldn’t have told you to come if I knew you were going to act like a fangirl.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I—” Liz finally let go of her hand, and Ansel wiped it on her pants. “It’s just, I’ve never met a real life Sixer before, you know. Is it true that you have to steal everything you own?”
Ansel scoffed. “I ain’t no Sixer. I’m from the Belt, and I’ve never stolen anything in my life. I hunt for my food.”
“Hunt? But—” Liz said, but Jonah cut her off.
“Liz,” he said. “Enough. We don’t have time. We’re going in.”
“You mean… No.” She shook her head.
“Yes,” Jonah said, “She wants to see her dad. He’s in the holding cells, or he’s not alive. Do you have any other ideas?”
“No, but… This?” Liz said. “What if she was lying?”
“Then we’ll find out when we go through with it, won’t we?” Jonah said. “Look. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. I just thought it would be better to have my partner with me when I went.”
Liz blushed. Even in the dark, Ansel could see it. She wondered if they had seen her embarrassment, too. “I—well…” Liz said, hesitating. “You’re right. I couldn’t leave my partner alone. But even if we get on the elevator and to the cell block her dad happens to be in, I still don’t know how you expect to get him out.”
“If I can see him,” Ansel said, “or even hear his voice—anything to let me know he’s still alive—that’s enough for me.”
“See,” Jonah said. “It’s nothing. We can do that. Just get in, see him, and get out. No one will ever know we were there. What do you say?” He put on a big smile.
“I don’t know,” Liz said. “I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as you’re making it out to be. What if we get caught?”
“We won’t get caught,” Jonah said. “And if we do, I’ll take all the blame for it. I’ll tell them I forced you to come.”
Liz laughed. “Oh, I’m sure they’ll believe that,” she said. “Are you gonna say you tied me up and dragged me all the way out there? Do you have some rope?”
Ansel chuckled. She kind of liked this Liz.
“No, well,” Jonah said, looking embarrassed.
“I didn’t think so,” Liz said. “And I already said I’m coming, anyway. This is Ansel you’re talking about. Now come on.”
Liz knew to sneak without being told, unlike Jonah. They became a caravan of three cockroaches creeping through bushes, scurrying fast through the light, remaining as much out of sight as they could while they made their way through the deserted landscape to some place that could have been any place for all Ansel knew. There grew to be less and less houses as they went until there was only grass and still-lit streets. Then they got to a big square building that was painted stark white. It looked more like it belonged near the Belt than here with all the single family houses, but here it was, waving proud white flags, still lit with spotlights in the night. They stepped behind a bush on the outskirts of the shell of light which surrounded the building, and Ansel asked in a whisper, “Where are we?”
“This is our school,” Jonah said at a normal speaking volume.
Liz elbowed him. “This is the Junior Academy,” she whispered. “It’s where we learn to be protectors.”
Ansel looked over at the two, wide-eyed. These kids were going to grow up to be giants in white just like Tom was. They didn’t look so big now. She sneered.
“Are you alright?” Jonah whispered, although he still spoke too loud. “You still want to do this?”
Ansel scoffed. “What’s the plan?”
“Okay, well,” Jonah said. “In there they have an elevator that we use for training scenarios and all that. That’s not important. What’s important is that I—” Liz nudged him “Well, we, got access to a code to send us to the holding cells. We plug it in, it takes us there, we see your dad, and then we get out. Just like that. What do you say? Great idea, huh?”
Liz rolled her eyes. “We’ll go in through the locker room,” she said. “No one’s ever in there after hours, and it’s pretty much right next to the elevator. They trust us too much.” She shook her head with a grin.
“They trust their brainwashing too much,” Jonah said, getting loud again. “Isn’t that right partner? Wubba lubba dub dub!”
This time it was Ansel who hit Jonah, but she didn’t do it playfully. She hit him as hard as she could, square in the stomach. He huffed and doubled over, and Liz got into a defensive stance, bent down just a little bit with fists in front of her face.
“I understand that this all fun and games for you two,” Ansel said, “but I’d be fucked if I was ever found, and I don’t need you yelling out, telling people exactly where we are.”
Liz dropped her defenses and looked embarrassed. Jonah caught his breath, stood up, and wheezed. “Got it.”
“Sorry,” Liz said. “We’ll be serious, though. They can’t catch us, either. Right, Jonah?”
“Ok. Let’s do this then,” Ansel said.
Jonah did his somersault out from behind the bushes again, and Ansel was starting to think it was getting old. She looked at Liz who shrugged and jogged out after him, crouching even though there was nothing to hide behind. What was Ansel thinking following these kids? It was too late for her to change course now, though. This might be her only chance at seeing her dad ever again.
They went in through a side door—painted as white as the rest of the building—into a white-washed locker room. The lights weren’t on and Ansel could still see the white reflection off the walls.
“This way,” Jonah whispered, trying to roll again and hitting his head on a bench with a loud, “Ow!”
“Shhhh,” Liz and Ansel shushed him in unison.
Jonah got clumsily up, rubbing the no doubt growing knot on his head, and followed them out the next door, around a corner, and down a hall to stop in front of a pair of elevator doors. “Here it is,” Liz said.
“Alright, here’s the code.” Jonah pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “Four three, four f, four four, four five,” he read off as Liz pressed the numbers on the keypad. The doors slid open and a bright, white light flooded over them.
“There it is,” Jonah said, squinting.
Ansel shielded her eyes with her hand as she stepped in. Jonah followed, but Liz hesitated.
“C’mon,” Jonah said. “There’s no going back now.”
Liz sighed and stepped in, too. The doors slid closed, and the floor dropped out from underneath them. A few seconds of silence and fidgeting later and the doors slid open to three giants in white screaming facemasks pointing big black guns at them.
“Halt, citizens,” one of the protectors demanded in a deep modulated voice, teeth glowing neon yellow, green, and red with every word.
“Fuck,” Jonah said.
“You two, come with us.” Two of the protectors dragged Liz and Jonah off, and the third stepped onto the elevator, grabbing Ansel by the shoulder. Ansel fought to free herself, but the giant’s grip was too tight and the doors closed. The floor fell out from underneath them again, and the elevator doors opened to reveal a long white hall lined with metal doors.
The protector pushed her out with the barrel of a gun and said, “Go on, now. Git.”
Ansel took a step out and looked at the doors, thinking that her dad might be behind one of them. There were no windows, though, so she had no way to tell. As she stumbled along, taking as much time as she could to walk through the hall, she remembered her bracelet and pressed the button over and over, knowing it was useless. They got to the end of the hall before the protector stopped and opened one of the metal doors.
“In,” the protector demanded, poking Ansel with the gun. Ansel slipped in and the doors closed behind her.
She was in a tiny room, smaller than any room she ever lived in. It took only two steps to get from one side to the other, and the entire thing was painted white.
She banged on the metal door. “Let me out!” she called. “You can’t do this! Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!”
There was no answer. She banged and banged until her knuckles were bloody and her fingers numb, and still, no one came.
She slouched in a corner, holding her knees up to her chest. This wasn’t happening. She had pressed the button. Rosalind and the Scientist would come looking for her and everything would be okay.
She shook her head. No. That probably wasn’t true. She was supposed to press the button when she was near an elevator, and she wasn’t anywhere near an elevator. She was locked up in a tiny cell.
Her heart beat faster. She took a few deep breaths to try to calm it. She was here now. She had to decide what she was going to do.
She heard footsteps through the metal door. She stood up and got the slingshot out of her back pocket. They hadn’t even searched her. She loaded up a rock and aimed it at where she thought the protector’s head would be—it was a pretty big target. When the doors opened, she let it go. The rock pinged off the protector’s facemask and Ansel felt a blow to her jaw which caused her to black out.
# # #
She opened her eyes and they filled with pain. She closed them and it wasn’t any better. She tried to move, but she was tied down with cold metal chains. So this was the end.
There were sounds and pain, sounds and pain, then her eyelids turned from red to black, sweet, cool, comforting black. Even when the sounds started making sense again, she clenched her eyes tight, trying to hold onto that welcoming blackness until, finally, she had to respond by opening her eyes.
A big white protector loomed over her. The protector smiled like she had won simply because Ansel had opened her eyes. She had won nothing. Ansel would give her nothing.
“So,” the woman towering over her said, the protector. “We meet at last. I’m so glad to finally have the honor.”
Ansel scoffed. She could smell bullshit when she heard it, and this stunk.
“Well, dear. I want to ask you what it is that you’re doing here.”
“Fuck you,” Ansel said, trying to spit on the woman but only managing to dribble spittle on the floor.
The protector chuckled. “Oh dear,” she said. “I’m not sure you understand where you are right now.”
“I’m not sure I care,” Ansel said with a smile.
“Well, you will. In due time, girl. You will.”
# # #
And so ends another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. To find out what happens to Ansel you’ll have to wait a few more weeks or pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon right here.
Thanks for joining us, dear readers. Have a great weekend.