Another Saturday brings us another chapter in the Infinite Limits tetralogy. Jonah just wanted to help Ansel where his dad couldn’t and now look where that got them. To find out what kind of punishment he and his partner are going to face for their attempts at protection, continue reading the story right here, right now, or think about picking up a full copy of the novel right through this link. And if you want to keep up to date on new releases and deals on books, don’t forget to join my email update list right here.
Thanks for joining us, dear readers. Enjoy this week’s chapter.
They sat side-by-side in the bright white room, trying not to look at each other. Jonah had never been more scared in his life. Not when he first got shot in a standoff. Not that night they had stayed up late watching horror films and his mom came in the room to scare them. Not even standing up to Stine in the locker room at the academy. But this? He couldn’t handle this.
He wiped his hands on his jeans and looked around the room, breathing heavily. Liz moved like she was going to comfort him then stopped herself. They both knew they were being watched, judged, made to wait and worry. School had taught them exactly the process they were being put through, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying for Jonah. He was so scared he didn’t even want to look over at Liz to see if she was as afraid as he was.
The room was tiny. There were four metal stools along the back wall—two of which they occupied—and a door across from them. That was it. That and the white, white walls, floor, and ceiling. The lights were bright enough to reflect back off everything and give him a headache. His whole body started to sweat, not just his hands.
He couldn’t take it any longer. He broke. “Is it hot in here?” he asked, fanning himself by pulling on his shirt over and over. “I can’t handle this.”
“Shhhh.” The sound of her shush told Jonah that Liz was afraid, too.
Jonah, however, decided that he had already started talking, so why not continue? It would help ease his nerves, and it might help calm Liz a little, too. “You know,” he said. “They make it hot in here so we’re uncomfortable. That’s why it’s so bright, too.”
“Shut. Up!” Liz demanded. Apparently his talking didn’t calm her.
That wasn’t going to stop Jonah, though. “Yeah, well,” he said. “I don’t care if they are listening. I don’t think them knowing that I think it’s—”
The door swung open and in stomped a fully clad protector. “You,” it said, pointing at Liz. “Come.” Liz jumped up and followed the protector out, and the door slammed closed behind them.
“Great,” Jonah said out loud to the empty room. “More waiting. There’s nothing I love more than waiting alone in a hot bright room.” He chuckled to himself and noticed the lights getting brighter. The reflections off the shiny floor were too bright to look at so he squinted his eyes. A bead of sweat rolled down his eyebrow. He wiped it away with a sigh.
“Woof,” he said. “Nothing like a good sauna.”
The door swung open, and this time, the protector didn’t ask him for compliance. It lifted Jonah up by the arm—taking no notice of his struggles—and carried him out through a set of empty halls to open a door and throw him inside.
Jonah stood and brushed himself off. “Thanks,” he said to the door which had already been slammed shut.
“You’re welcome,” a voice said behind him.
He turned to see a big desk, and behind it, a wide window, looking out onto a snowy mountainscape. Sitting at the desk was a woman in protector dress uniform with her arms crossed on the table. “Please take a seat,” she said, indicating the stools across the desk. They looked too small even for Jonah, and he was just a kid.
“I think I’ll stand,” he said.
“That’s an order, son,” the protector said. “Do you see this?” She turned to show the rank insignia on her arm, but Jonah should have known by her collar that she was a Captain. He was getting too cocky too soon, just like his dad had done, and if he wasn’t careful, he might never be a protector himself.
“Yes, sir,” he said, taking the short stool. He had to sit up as straight as he could to see the Captain over the desk.
“Sir, yes, sir,” the Captain said.
“Sir, yes, sir,” Jonah repeated.
“And just because you’re not a protector yet doesn’t mean I’m not your superior,” the Captain said. “Every citizen of Outland is outranked by every protector. You got that?”
Jonah couldn’t help but notice the “yet” in what she had said and take some hope as to what it meant for his future. “Sir, yes, sir,” he said.
“Good,” the Captain said. “Now, Jonah—that is your name, isn’t it, citizen?”
“Jonah Pardy, sir.”
“Yes… Pardy.” The Captain smiled. “As I suspected. Now tell me: What were you doing with this…Sixer girl in our transport bay?”
Jonah shrunk down into his seat so the Captain couldn’t see his face through the desk. His heart beat faster. He heard a mechanical whirring as the Captain’s seat raised up so she could see him.
“Pardy,” she said. “There’s no hiding from this. Tell me what you were doing, or we find out the hard way. You do know what the hard way is, don’t you?”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“Well?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Well, sir…” Jonah hesitated. What was the point of lying? They had already gotten Ansel, and they would be able to get any information out of her that they wanted. Then he remembered Liz and his promise to her. He was so stupid. Of course she was scared in there. Hopefully he could help her just a little bit. “First of all,” he said. “Liz, my partner, she had nothing to do with it, okay. I made her come. She said it was a stupid idea.”
The Captain laughed. “She was right about that. So, what? You dragged her out there with your tiny little hands?”
Jonah blushed. “Well… No, sir. But by going, I made her go. She’s too loyal to let her partner go on a mission alone.”
“As every protector should be,” the Captain said. “But why did you want to do it?”
Now Jonah didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to say anything about his dad and lead him into any more trouble than he had already had to deal with, but he had to come up with something. They would get some explanation out of Jonah, one way or another. He ended up falling back on his reliable, go to excuse. “I wanted to protect her.”
The Captain smiled. “Just like your father,” she said. Jonah could tell she meant more than she said by the sound of her voice. “Hopefully not just, though,” she added.
Jonah didn’t answer. The Captain obviously knew who his dad was so he didn’t have to tell her. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to pay for his dad’s sins, though.
“You know why he was discharged, don’t you,” the Captain said.
Jonah shook his head. “Sir, no, sir,” he said. “I was ordered not to question him about it, sir.”
“And you expect me to believe that you follow orders, Pardy? Why would you be sitting in front of me right now if you followed orders?”
“I had to protect her, sir,” Jonah said. “That’s my duty, si—”
“It’s your duty to uphold the protector’s tenets, Tiny Pardy. What are they?”
“Property, liberty, life, sir,” Jonah recited.
“Very good,” the Captain said. “And how can you protect property when you’re invading ours, Pardy? Now, I don’t want you to end up like your father. You hear me?”
“It was the same girl that got him fired, too, you know,” the Captain said. “It’s a bit suspicious, you showing up with her in particular. As if your father’s an accomplice.”
“He doesn’t know I’m here, sir,” Jonah said. “He thinks I’m in bed, sir. You can—”
“Oh, we’ll see,” the Captain said. “Don’t you worry. He’s already been contacted and given all the details of what you and your little girlfriend have been up to tonight.”
“But like I said,” the Captain went on. “I don’t want you going down the same path your father did. I can see a bright future for you, son. Do you know that?”
Jonah didn’t trust her quite yet, but he wanted to hear about this bright future of his. He sat up straighter in his seat.
“For any of that to come true, though, you’re going to have to start toeing the line of decency. But I don’t think we’ll see any more little rebellions out of you in the future. What do you think, Pardy?”
Jonah shook his head. “No, sir,” he said.
“You know, I had high hopes for your father, too,” the Captain said. “I thought he would surpass even me in the ranks. But he failed. He went by the books until he killed that little girl’s mother, then he couldn’t handle his duties anymore.”
Jonah tried not to gasp, but the Captain could see his surprise.
“He didn’t tell you then,” she said with a smile. “No, he probably wouldn’t have. He did more than that, too, but that much is classified. If you want to know that, you’ll have to ask him yourself—or work up the ranks until you gain the proper clearance. But you’ve wasted enough of my time already, son. Get out of my sight. And don’t let me catch you breaking another regulation, or you’ll be punished far worse than you already have been. Do you understand me?”
Jonah nodded. “Sir, yes, sir,” he said. “Is that all, sir?”
“Yes, Pardy. Now git.” She turned around in her chair to look out the window. “And close the door on your way out. If you forget that…” She trailed off as if he had already left.
Jonah crept out of the room and closed the door as quietly as he could behind him. He looked up to find the hall empty and realized he had no idea how to get out of this place. He went down the hall, checking each door he passed, but none of them were open or unlocked. A few had windows, but even if he jumped, he wasn’t tall enough to see into them. He was doing just that—jumping up to try and see through one of the tall windows—when a door opened behind him. He turned around quick, thinking of an excuse, and breathed a deep sigh of relief when it was only Liz.
“Amaru,” he said. “You spooked me.”
Her face was red and puffy. It looked like she had been crying. She brushed past him and hurried down the hall to call the elevator at the end of it—where it always was in long halls like this one. Jonah ran to catch up and just made it inside before the doors closed and the elevator fell into motion.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
Liz sniffed and looked away from him to wipe her nose. “Of course I’m not alright!” she snapped. “We were just arrested. That’s not an alright thing to happen.”
“Oh, no, well… I mean, of course.” That was stupid, but what was he supposed to say? He did all he could do in there. He had tried to take the blame, but the Captain saw straight through him. Nothing else was in his power.
“Are you alright?” she asked. The elevator doors opened and she stomped out before he could answer.
Jonah ran to catch up with her. “Liz, wait,” he called, but she didn’t stop. “I’m sorry,” he said, trailing along beside her. “I told her I made you do it. I tried t—”
“I told you that wouldn’t matter,” she said. “But you had to go on this stupid mission and drag me along anyway. You know what my punishment is? Six demerits, Jonah. Six. With no chance of rehabilitation.”
Jonah stopped in his tracks. Six demerits with no working them off. That was a sentence to living on a knife’s edge for the rest of the Junior Academy, and Liz still had so many years ahead of her. It seemed cruel and unusual as a punishment, especially considering that Jonah himself—after admitting to all the blame—only received a stern warning.
Liz had kept walking while he thought about it so Jonah had to run to catch up again. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said when he did. “Six with no parole? That’s harsh.”
Liz stopped and stared at him. Her face was red again but not from crying this time. It was anger in her eyes. “Why?” she asked. “What sentence did you get?”
Sentence? She was acting like she had a trial. Jonah didn’t remember getting any sentence. He only remembered getting a lecture and a warning. It was more like talking to his mom than facing Court Martial.
“Well…” she said.
“Well,” he said, “the Captain never really gave me a sentence.”
Liz looked like she didn’t know whether to hit him or ask more questions. She stomped her foot and huffed and said, “Captain?” through gritted teeth.
“Yeah, well,” Jonah said. “That’s where they took me—uh, after they tried to blind me with light and heat me out,” he added to try make it seem like he had suffered, too.
“They didn’t give you a sentence. They took you to the Captain. Next you’re going to tell me they made you a protector, too.”
“Well…” Jonah smiled.
She hit him on the arm and started walking again. “That I won’t believe. I can barely believe that they didn’t punish you. Now why do you think that is, Jonah Pardy?”
“I don’t know.” Jonah shrugged. “Because of my boyish charms and the honor I showed in trying to take the fall for you?”
Liz stopped. “Ugh. Take the fall for yourself, you mean,” she said, walking again—and a little faster.
“Well, it’s not my fault,” Jonah said. “Do you want me to go back and ask for a punishment? Make sure she didn’t forget? Would that make you feel better?”
“Stop being so dense,” Liz said, stopping and grabbing his arm to stop him, too. “This is bad even for you. Let me walk you through it. I got the most severe punishment they could lay down on a first time offender. You got a warning from a Captain, the least harsh punishment I’ve ever heard of. If anything, it was an honor to meet her face-to-face, and now she knows your name when you get out of the Academy.”
“Yeah, for breaking the law,” Jonah said. “What’s your point?”
“That’s even more evidence,” she said with a scoff. “Don’t you see?”
Jonah shook his head.
“I bet she even asked you about your father, too,” Liz said. “Didn’t she?”
“How could you know that?”
“It’s simple.” She smiled. “First—and most obviously—it was Ansel who we were bringing in there.”
Jonah remembered Ansel. He hadn’t even thought about what had happened to her since they had gotten caught. He wondered now where she was and what they were doing to her. “Yeah,” he said. “So what?”
“So she’s the one who your dad got fired trying to protect. You don’t think the Captain would see some connection there?”
Jonah wanted to hit himself in the head. He had been dense. He hadn’t been taking this whole thing seriously. It was just another game to him, another standoff like at the end of every school day. But now he was remembering that this was way more important than school, this was real life.
“And,” Liz said, obviously aware of the fact that she had made Jonah realize how dumb he had been. “That’s likely why she gave you such a lenient—or should I say non-existent?—punishment compared to mine.”
“But why?” Jonah said. “Wouldn’t that call for more punishment, not less? Oh, he’s breaking the law trying to protect the same Sixer his father got sacked protecting, let’s be lenient on the poor kid. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“You don’t have to be an ass,” Liz said. “Did she say anything to you? Did she mention your dad?”
“Well, uh…” Of course she did, but Jonah wasn’t ready to bring up the whole part about his dad murdering Ansel’s parents just yet. So he chose to play it stupid instead. “Yeah, I think so,” he said.
“You think so?” She tried to hit him, but he dodged it. “You were talking to the Captain, and you think she mentioned your dad. You weren’t even paying attention! Maybe you did get demerits but you just don’t remember.”
“No,” he said. “I definitely didn’t get demerits. And she did mention my dad, but I still don’t understand why she wouldn’t punish me.”
“I’m not entirely sure, either,” Liz said. “But it has something to do with your dad and that girl. Maybe she’s watching you. Or maybe she wants to hold it over your head. But all I know is I can’t help you find out.”
She started to walk away, but Jonah stopped her. “What?” he complained. “C’mon. We’re partners. You can’t just di—”
“Six demerits, Jonah. You know what that means. I can’t get another one.”
“Yeah, but…” He couldn’t argue with that. “Partners.”
“You’d ask your partner to risk that? To risk everything?”
“What? No. I wouldn’t ask that. I’m not asking you to do anything illegal. Just come help me ask my dad about it. That’s all. You can’t get a demerit for that, can you?”
“With your dad, I don’t know.” Liz grinned.
“Yeah, well, you’re right about that.” Jonah smiled.
“I can’t believe we just did that, Jonah.”
“I can’t believe we got caught.”
“I can. But not that you weren’t punished. Now let’s go find out why. I’ll race you!”
They sprinted the short distance left to Jonah’s house. It wasn’t until they burst through the door, yelling, “Daaaad, I’m hoooome!” and, “Mr. Paaaardy!” simultaneously that they both realized it was late at night—or early in the morning maybe—and Jonah’s dad was probably sleeping. He wasn’t, though, luckily. He called in from the kitchen, “Hoooome, I’m daaaad!” and came out carrying a tray full of random foods to greet them.
“Come, come,” he said, leading them to the living room and setting the tray on the coffee table. “Sit down. I’m sure you’re both exhausted.”
Liz seemed happy to have someone to finally commiserate with. She hopped up onto the couch and grabbed a cookie and a glass of milk then set to dunking the cookie in the milk and chewing the soggy bits. Jonah joined her on the couch, but he didn’t eat anything. He wanted to know now more than ever why exactly his dad had been discharged.
“So,” his dad said, sitting on a chair across from them. “I got a call that said you two had an interesting night.”
“Ugh.” Liz sighed and plucked another cookie off the tray. “Some of us more interesting than others,” she said.
“Tell me,” his dad said. “I want to know everything.”
“Dad, did you kill someone?” Jonah blurted out. He didn’t know where it came from.
Liz dropped her cookie in her cup of milk with a splash, and Jonah’s dad just stared at Jonah for a second. “Where did you hear that?” he asked.
“I talked to the Captain. She—”
“You talked to Captain Mondragon directly?” his dad asked.
“I—well—she didn’t even give me her name. But she mentioned something about—”
“You shouldn’t have found out that way,” his dad said, shaking his head and lowering his eyes.
Liz dropped the cookie she had just fished out back into the milk again.
Jonah scoffed. “What? So it’s true? You killed Ansel’s mom.”
This time Liz choked on the cookie. “Ach—cha cha cha—sorry,” she said, still trying to cough it up. “Sorry.”
“I thought she had a gun,” his dad said. “I was on the streets of Six, in plain clothes, with no body armor. My partner had just been shot. I chased the suspect away from the scene of the crime, and she made a move. So I made a move back. I reacted. That’s what a protector’s supposed to do, son. Or are they teaching you something different in the Junior Academy these days?”
Liz shook her head, wide eyed and in shock.
Jonah couldn’t hide his sneer. How could his dad talk to him like this when his dad was the one admitting to killing Ansel’s mom? “You thought she had a gun,” Jonah said.
His dad tried to look away from them. “She didn’t, though,” he said, shaking his head.
Liz put down her milk and cookies to sit on the arm of Jonah’s dad’s chair and pat his back. Jonah looked away. He didn’t want to see his dad crying.
“I made a mistake.” His dad coughed and straightened up. He guided Liz back to her seat. “And you’re the only people who know. Now you see why I wanted to protect Ansel, why I had to protect her. I had to make up for that mistake.”
“It was the right thing to do,” Liz said.
“But what did you do?” Jonah asked. “They wouldn’t fire you for killing a guilty Sixer. I know that much.”
His dad looked away again. “No,” he said. “That’s not why I was discharged. It was the way I went about trying to protect her.”
“What was it?” Liz asked.
“Dad,” Jonah said. “Liz got six demerits, no parole, and I didn’t get any punishment at all today because the Captain knew I was your son. What did you do?”
Liz looked like she wanted to yell at Jonah, but she didn’t want to interrupt the conversation at the same time. Jonah’s dad looked at his lap then shook his head and looked at Jonah to say, “I shot an owner.”
Liz’s jaw dropped. She looked like she was going to hyperventilate. She was looking this way and that, as if, by saying what he had done, Jonah’s dad had called protectors to come arrest them all.
“You did what?” Jonah asked, shocked.
“I did what I thought was in her best interest.” his dad said. “In your best interest, really. I did this all for you, after all.”
“I never asked you to do anything for me,” Jonah said.
“You didn’t have to ask,” his dad said. “I did it for you because I love you and I thought it was what was best for you.”
“Killing an owner was best for me?” Jonah scoffed. “I don’t see how it could be.”
“That’s because it was a stupid mistake,” his dad said. “We all make stupid mistakes. We’re just human. My stupid mistake happened to be bigger than most people’s. That’s all.”
“Both of yours,” Jonah said. “If you hadn’t killed Ansel’s mom, you would never have had a reason to shoot that owner.”
His dad looked hurt. “I know I was wrong. What can I do to change that now, though?”
Liz looked at Jonah and nudged him. She mouthed, “Go on.”
“Dad,” he said. Jonah could let him off the hook and try to help his father through this, sure, but one of them was supposed to be an adult, and it wasn’t Jonah. “You have to do something. Tonight, we…” He looked away. “Ansel was with us when we were arrested. They took her, too.”
“I know, son,” his dad said. “But there’s nothing we can do about that. I had to realize that was true of her father before I was free to throw my life away.”
“No!” Jonah complained. “Don’t tell me that. Don’t tell me that I can’t. I’m responsible for this. If it wasn’t for me, Liz never would have gotten her demerits and Ansel never would have been taken. I need to do something to make up for that.”
“You can’t, boy!” his dad snapped.
Liz slowly set her cookies and milk on the table and backed deeper into the couch, embarrassed. Jonah just stared at his dad, wide-eyed. His dad hadn’t yelled at Jonah since before he left for the Academy, and the red hot anger in his face was a little frightening.
“Nothing you can do is going to change the fact that the girl was taken,” his dad said. “Nothing will change what they do to her now that they have her. Not one thing. And you can’t help Liz work off her demerits, either. So the best thing you can do to make it up to her is to leave this thing alone and go about your schooling with your head down, making sure your partner doesn’t get dishonorably discharged before she even has a chance to enlist.” He took a deep breath.
Jonah shook his head. “That’s not true,” he said under his breath.
“What was that?” his dad asked.
“I said, just because you couldn’t think of anything better than shooting an owner, doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“It does mean that,” his dad said. “And even if there was something you could do, I would order you not to do it. In fact, I am ordering you. Jonah, I order you to get any idea you have of saving that girl out of your mind and focus on becoming a protector before you go and throw your life away like I did.”
“No!” Jonah stood from the couch. “You can’t even say her name.”
“Ansel,” his dad said with a cold expression on his face.
“It’s your fault she’s an orphan,” Jonah said. “It’s your fault the protectors have her now. You told me to ignore the orders that are stupid so I’m doing just that.” He turned and stormed out of the house.
“I order you to come back right this moment,” his dad yelled after him, but Jonah ignored it, slamming the door shut behind him. He sat down on the stoop, breathing heavily and furious.
His dad was being impossible. First he tells Jonah to ignore orders, everything he’s been taught is a red herring lie, then he tries to give Jonah orders with the next breath. He can have it one way or the other, and he didn’t get to decide anymore. Jonah did. There had to be something he could do to help save Ansel, no matter what his dad said.
The door opened and closed behind him, and Liz slapped the back of his neck as she sat on the stoop next to him. “Thanks,” she said.
“What?” Jonah snapped.
“That totes wasn’t awkward at all. Especially the part where you left me alone with your dad after yelling at him right in front of me.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t exactly at the shooting range myself.”
“You know, Jonah… Your dad might be right.”
Jonah scoffed. “About which contradictory position?”
“It’s not contradictory,” she said. “He’s just trying to protect you. Like he has been doing all along.”
“Yeah, well, he has a funny way of showing it.”
“At least he does show it.”
They stared out at the yard and trees in silence. Everything was lit with the eerie white streetlights so only the brightest stars and planets were visible in the sky. A little black cat ran across the sidewalk.
“I mean,” Liz said. “What can we do?” Jonah couldn’t help but smile at the fact that she used “we” instead of “you”, at least she still wanted to be his partner. “Is your plan to go through the elevator and get arrested again? Because they might not be as easy on a second offender, Pardy or not.”
Jonah blushed and shook his head. “No,” he said. “Of course not. That was a stupid idea from the get go.”
“Tah-yeah!” Liz scoffed.
“Well, I don’t see you coming up with anything better,” Jonah said, standing from the stoop, offended.
Liz shook her head. She looked hurt by what he said, or his tone of voice, or something else he had done—he could never tell what exactly. “Because maybe there isn’t a better idea,” she said. “Maybe there really is nothing we can do.”
“No,” Jonah said. He stomped his foot. “I won’t believe it. There’s something I can do, I know it.”
“But, Jonah. You’re dad said—”
“I don’t care what my dad said. My dad told me not to follow orders blindly. He told me to protect the weak. He told me I can do anything if I just believe in myself. I know what he said, Liz, he’s my dad, and that’s why I have to do this. Can’t you see that?”
“No,” Jonah stopped her. “I need to go for a walk, clear my head. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay.”
Liz shook her head. She looked like she wanted to say something more but couldn’t think of what, a rare occurrence for her.
“Don’t worry,” Jonah said, trying to ease her tension just a little. “I won’t do anything before I put it past my partner.”
She smiled. “You better not.” She stood from the stoop and wiped off her pants. “And think about what your dad said.”
Jonah nodded, not wanting to respond and drag the argument out further than it had already gone. He needed to be alone with his thoughts for a while before he even knew his own opinion on the matter himself.
“And get some rest, too,” Liz said over her shoulder as she made her way toward her house. “We still have class in the morning, you know.”
“Ugh.” Jonah sighed loud enough for her to hear it then made his way absent-mindedly along the winding sidewalks, letting his feet take him wherever they wanted to go.
He couldn’t believe that Liz agreed with his dad. But then again, he couldn’t blame her. She had just gotten six demerits for following him on his stupid plan so of course she would want to be more careful in the future. But he hadn’t gotten a single demerit. He had no reason to be careful. He had broken the law and gotten away with it scot free. Now he felt like he had the responsibility to do something for those who hadn’t. But what? What could a little kid who hadn’t even passed through the Junior Academy do in the face of all odds?
He was about to give up on everything and go back home when he ran into some person and fell to the ground. It felt weird though. He didn’t land on sidewalk or grass. He looked around himself, and he wasn’t even outside anymore. He was in a grey hallway. And the person he had bumped into wasn’t wearing a protector’s white uniform, she was wearing a long white coat. The woman extended a black gloved hand to help him up.
“Where am I?” he asked, standing with her assistance.
“My name’s the Scientist,” she said. “I understand there’s something you want.”
# # #
Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. I hope you’re enjoying the story of An Almost Tangent and the Infinite Limits tetralogy so far. If so, pick up your copy of the novel here and join my email update list right here. Have a great weekend readers. See you next Saturday.