This lovely Saturday brings us the third and final chapter from Tillie’s point of view in book two of the Infinite Limits series, An Almost Tangent. Today Tillie and friends brave a second General Assembly on campus even after the first was so violently dispersed. Will they be the only students with enough courage to continue their protest, or will the campus support them. To find out, read on here and now or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. And don’t forget to sign up for the email newsletter to keep up to date on all my new book releases.
Thanks for joining us. Happy reading.
They waited a little while longer, letting the clock get past five to see if anyone would brave going out on campus before they did, but when they went out themselves at five-oh-one the campus was still empty. They could see eyes peering through dorm windows and heads poking out of doors, but there were no actual bodies on the campus with them. Tillie tried to hold her head high, to show the onlookers that she wasn’t afraid as she walked along, while Emma kept her eyes straight ahead, dead set on getting to the parade grounds. Rod kept staring back and forth at the people in the windows and doors, a big smile on his face, waving at them and trying to get them to join. And Nikola followed behind, meek and hunched over, pushing her glasses up every few steps as if she were offended by everyone watching her walk.
When they got to the parade grounds, they were empty, too. Emma led the group straight to the flagpole in the center of the field and stood up on its cement base, holding the pole for support, trying to get a better view of the campus. She shielded her eyes with her hands and scanned the horizon.
“Why won’t they follow us?” Rod asked. “They were all looking.”
“They’re afraid,” Tillie said. She knew it from the beginning. She would be, too, if she didn’t have Emma to inspire her on.
“They’ll come,” Emma said, still scanning the campus from her vantage point on the flagpole. “If only to see who else does.”
“I don’t know,” Nikola said with a shrug.
“I do,” Emma said. “Look. Over there.” She pointed in the opposite direction from which they had come. There were people coming alright, a band of ten or so of them, and they didn’t need to see anyone else doing it before they were brave enough to come. “It’s the Americorp. kids,” Emma said.
They were the news nerds who Tillie had met at the first party on New Year’s Eve. One came up and hugged her, saying, “We saw the video. I can’t believe it wasn’t on the news. Sorry we weren’t here to support you. We’re here now, though. Solidarity.”
Tillie shook her head, blushing. She didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t sure that this Americorp. kid was actually talking to the right person.
“We’re glad to have you,” Emma said, hugging each of them in turn. “Where’s Jason? He was here yesterday.”
They all kind of shook their heads and frowned, looking at the ground or kicking dirt. “They still have him,” the one who had hugged Tillie said. “He had no insurance, money, or parents to bail him out. There’s no telling how much time he’ll get. That’s when we knew we had to help y’all fight. For him.”
“That’s right,” Emma said. “I completely agree. And I—”
“I think some other people agree, too,” Rod said, pointing toward a new group of students on their way to join the assembly.
People were streaming out now, each made braver and more curious by every new person that joined. Soon they were coming from every direction, hundreds of them, and when the parade grounds was packed and spilling out between the stone-faced buildings, it felt like the entire student body was there with them.
Emma gathered the Americorp. kids around her and said, “Go up to as many people as you can and tell them that we’ll get started soon, they should discuss what happened yesterday among themselves, and to pass it on. Alright?”
Everyone nodded and fanned out into the crowd. The message spread like waves through the masses. Tillie took the chance to stand up on the flagpole and look out at the mass of them. There was no end to the people, whichever direction she looked in. The crowd wrapped around all the buildings in sight, and some of the attendants went so far as to climb trees so they could watch everything from above. Tillie didn’t realize there were this many people who lived on campus. How did they all fit? She was lost thinking about it when Emma pulled her down off of the flagpole.
“I told you they’d come out,” Emma said with a smile.
“Since when did this many people go to this school?” Tillie asked.
“My address book extends to the local community,” Emma said. “They care about what happens to us, too.”
“Well, you were right,” Tillie said. “What do we do now?”
“I’m going to get the assembly started. I need you to stay up on the flagpole and look for any signs of protectors. They’ll be out here for sure. There’s no telling how long we’ll have.”
“How will I know when they’re coming?” Tillie asked.
“Don’t worry, you’ll know. They won’t be subtle about it.”
Tillie shrugged. “Okay, I guess,” she said, and she climbed back up onto the flagpole.
“Wait,” Emma said. “Bend down here for a second.”
Tillie bent down close to her, and Emma pinned the American flag camera onto Tillie’s shirt.
“You’ll have a better view,” Emma said with a shrug and a smile.
“I’ll give it back to you when we’re done,” Tillie said.
Emma smiled and nodded then turned to the crowd. “My friends,” she called as loud as she could. Not many could likely hear her, though, with all the chatter going around. “Please repeat everything I say.” No one answered.
“My friends!” she yelled louder. “Please repeat everything I say!”
A few members of the crowd who were close to her responded, but their chorus was broken and incoherent. The whole crowd started to quiet down and listen now, though. Something was finally happening.
“Good try,” Emma yelled. “In unison now.”
She paused and indicated for them to repeat that, too. And no one did at first, but then a few caught on and yelled it back incoherently at her.
“My friends,” she called one more time, stopping and indicating for them to repeat that.
“My friends,” a chorus started to emerge from the crowd.
“Please repeat everything I say,” Emma added with a smile.
“Please repeat everything I say,” the crowd repeated, and it was so catchy that even Tillie found herself yelling it from the flagpole.
“This is the people’s mic,” Emma went on.
“This is the people’s mic.”
“We will use it so everyone can hear.”
“We will use it so everyone can hear.”
“Can you hear me?”
“Can you hear me?”
“We are here today.”
“We are here today.”
“To reclaim these grounds.”
“To reclaim these grounds.”
“We’ve paid our dues.”
“We’ve paid our dues.”
“This is our school.”
“This is our school.”
“And we will not be scared away.”
“And we will not be scared away.”
“Now do you stand with me?”
“Now do you stand with me?”
“No answer that one.”
“No answer that one,” some of them yelled while others just whooped and whistled and cheered.
“Mic check!” Emma yelled after the cheering had died down.
“Mic check,” a few yelled back.
“Mic check,” she called again, and soon the chorus was back in sync.
“Mic check,” they said.
“That is how.”
“That is how.”
“We will acknowledge.”
“We will acknowledge.”
“Who’s at the mic.”
“Who’s at the—”
The rest of the snippet was only finished by part of the crowd. There was yelling and screaming coming from all directions. Tillie remembered she was supposed to be the lookout and scanned the crowd all around her. Everyone was pushing inward. What little clearance there had been around the flagpole closed and Tillie stood nearly on top of the crowd. She had lost everyone she had come with in the chaotic masses, but she could still hear Emma yelling, “Mic check! Mic check!” to no response.
They were surrounded by the same pepper gas cloud that they had been sprayed with only yesterday. Tillie knew burning pores were in her future. Gunshots rang out over the crowd. Not beanbag air shots, but bullets, accompanied by more and louder screaming and further stampeding of bodies which had no way to go but toward the center of the parade grounds, where Tillie was standing alone, sliding off the flagpole where the human currents were roughest.
She almost fell off when Emma jumped up to join her, grabbing Tillie and holding her tight to the pole.
“What the fuck is going on?” Tillie asked.
“A more drastic response than last time,” Emma said.
“Well, no shit,” Tillie said. “But what—”
“Shhh.” Emma held a finger to her mouth. “There’s no time,” she said. She pressed the tiny flag pin to Tillie’s chest and looked straight into it. “This is how they respond to a threat to their power,” she said. “They fear us for good reason, and they will silence us at all costs. We will win as long as we never sto—”
Emma’s head jerked back, exploded. Her hand let go of the flagpole. Her body slouched into the stampeding crowd. It happened in slow motion. Tillie reached down to grab her, almost losing her own grasp on the flagpole, and missed Emma’s hand by an inch. She jumped down and tried to push the crowd away but it didn’t matter. If Emma had been trampled already, it wasn’t clear. The damage to her head was such that Tillie couldn’t see anything else. Nothing was left on Emma’s shoulders but raw ravaged neck.
Tillie turned and leaned on the flagpole, vomiting burning acidic bile into oncoming footsteps. No one noticed. They just trampled and splashed through what was once the contents of her stomach, as they no doubt aslo did through what was once Emma. Tillie took a few deep breaths and fought the urge to lie there on the ground, to give up, letting happen whatever happened, letting the stampeding masses trample over her and turn her into the same nothingness that Emma had become. She fought the urge to look back at Emma’s obliterated face, at the destruction the protectors had rained down on them for doing nothing that was not within their rights. She didn’t want to throw up anymore, and there was nothing she could do for Emma now.
Her first instinct was to get to an elevator and go to her dad’s house, but she knew there was no chance of getting an elevator in this nonsense. She jumped back up onto the flagpole to see what was going on. The cloud of pepper gas was getting closer, it surrounded her. No matter which way she went, she’d have to go through it, but the sooner she went the thinner the cloud would be. If she couldn’t get to her dad’s, her only choice was her dorm so she jumped down off the flagpole and fought her way through the crowd in that direction.
She pushed her way through bodies going this way and that and made slow progress. When she hit the wall of gas, she had to stop to cough and wipe her eyes, but that only made things worse. She pushed and fought blindly against the mass of bodies surrounding her, holding her eyelids closed tight against the fire gas. She had no idea anymore if she was even going in the right direction, but she wasn’t going to stop fighting. Those were Emma’s last words, and Tillie would live up to them or die trying. She would never sto—
The thought was driven out of her mind with the familiar pressure of a beanbag in her chest. Apparently they were still using some. She was bent over, trying to catch her breath, when another hit her in the head and knocked her unconscious.
# # #
This time she knew where she was when she woke up. She recognized the cold bed and the harsh white walls. Pulling herself up to lean on the wall, groaning, she wondered if it was the same cell she was held in before. She was in a lot more pain this time, though, longing for the little gray shot that would make her all better.
The heavy door whined open. A protector in full gear came in. “Come with me, citizen,” it demanded in its glowing modulated voice.
“I can’t move,” Tillie groaned. “Give me my shot.”
“No shot,” the protector said, walking over, lifting Tillie up like a baby, and marching out of the room, down the hall, and into another door. Tillie let out a loud groan when the protector plopped her down on the ground in front of a tall table and stomped out without another word.
Somehow this room was even brighter than the room they had taken her from. She had to close her eyes against the light, and even that wasn’t enough. She bumped her head hard on the table, fumbling blindly for anything to block out the white heat, and groaned at the pain all throughout her body. Her eyes felt like they were going to pulse out of her head. She managed to find a stool and pull herself up onto it to flop her head down on the table in front of her, using her arms to finally block out the light. The cool black relief didn’t last long, though, because the door opened, another protector walked in, and they yelled, “Look at me, citizen!”
Tillie didn’t budge. She didn’t want to be blinded again. The protector didn’t care, though, grabbing a clump of Tillie’s hair to pull. “You’re in it deep, now,” the protector hissed. “Not even daddy’s platinum plan can save you. You do understand that, don’t you?”
“I didn’t do anything!” Tillie yelled, and the protector let go of her hair. Tillie’s head slammed on the table from the momentum, and she screamed as her pain only grew.
“Didn’t do anything?” the protector said. “Ha! Lights.”
The lights dimmed. Tillie could feel it, even with her arms blocking out the light. She blinked her eyes in her arm cave, relishing the dark comfort for one more second, before slowly raising her head. Across the table, in the white, white room, was a protector with no helmet on and a big black mirror behind her.
“So you weren’t at the center of the riot on LSU’s parade grounds?” the protector asked.
“That wasn’t a riot,” Tillie said.
“No?” The protector frowned. “Then it didn’t end in violence and bloodshed? That must have been my imagination.”
Tillie pictured Emma and her stomach grumbled. She choked back vomit and fought the urge to jump over the table and attack this pro. That would probably work out poorly for everyone, especially Tillie.
The protector grinned. “No, girl,” she said. “It wasn’t your imagination, either. It did end in bloodshed.”
“Not until you got there.” Tillie sneered.
“Well, we wouldn’t have been there if you weren’t,” the protector said. “Would we? What did you expect after the previous day’s outburst? We’d let you bring out more of your little thug friends to disrespect the sacred rights of private property?”
“We own those parade grounds as much as anyone,” Tillie protested. “We pay to go to that school.”
“Yes,” the protector said. “You pay to attend the school. You pay to learn and sleep and eat, not to own the school grounds. You’re merely a tenant. The school belongs to Mr. Smörgåsbord, and you’ve trespassed on his property too many times for us to let it slide.”
“It’s not his!” Tillie yelled, then she groaned and hunched over the table in pain. She had forgotten her injuries in her anxiousness to deal with this protector, and now the pain of them all rushed back at the same time.
The protector laughed. “No, dear,” she said. “As long as he can afford the guns to protect it, it belongs to Mr. Smörgåsbord.”
“As long as he can afford you,” Tillie groaned.
“Well.” The protector laughed some more. “Not just me, girl,” she said. “The whole force. You think you can afford that?”
Tillie shook her head, sobbing silently at the pain.
“No. That’s right. And that’s why the school belongs to him and not you. That’s why you’re here with me now. Do you understand yet? No more demonstrations on our property or our responses will continue to get more drastic. Do you understand?”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Tillie asked. She wasn’t any leader. She didn’t plan any of this. She just happened to take part in it. Why was she getting all the blame?
“Because you wear the pin now.” The protector nodded at it.
Tillie looked down. The little American flag camera was still pinned to her shirt. She wanted to cry at the sight of it, at the memory of what they had done to Emma, but she fought that back. She looked up at the protector and said, “But—”
“Of course we know,” the protector said. “Why do you think she still had it yesterday?” She chuckled. “We’re not as ignorant as y’all hope we are.”
“Then why didn’t you take it?” Tillie asked, fumbling to get the thing off but failing.
“Because we want you to have it,” the protector said. “We can track it, download what it uploads, we see everything it sees, child. Why would we want to take that away from you when we would be taking it away from us?”
Tillie shook her head. She didn’t even notice her pain anymore. It was covered by a fierce anger and hatred, directed at the protectors in general, sure, but at this protector especially. “Then why give away your capabilities?” she asked.
“Because you wear the pin,” the protector repeated. “Because it doesn’t matter if you know, you need that technology in order to be effective. Because you’re powerless against us, and I want you to know that fact. More than that, I want you to feel it deep inside of your bones and all throughout your nervous system. I know you do, child. I know you’re still hurting from the beating we gave you. That, dear, is why we did this: To show you that we’re the big bad wolf and the boogie monster and all your childhood nightmares all rolled into one, and you’re just a little girl with nothing to do about it.”
“I—” Tillie protested.
“No. Listen, girl. You have it good. I know who your father is. I know what kind of life you’re living. What I don’t know is why you would throw that life away for something like this. I mean, what are you even doing it for?”
Tillie shook her head, trying not to cry. She wasn’t sure how to answer that question anymore. She came into all this because she wanted to fight to give robots a voice, but when she learned it was really humans on the assembly lines, she went to fighting to free them instead. But now what was she doing it for? It was more than that now, more than giving robots a voice or freeing humans from sweatshop labor. When she watched the only friend she had left in the world die right in front of her eyes, the protectors had made it personal. “Fuck you,” she said.
The protector looked taken aback. “What was that?”
“Fuck. You,” Tillie repeated, sitting up taller.
“You do understand the situation you find yourself in, don’t you?” The protector chuckled.
“I do,” Tillie said. “I understand you’re questioning me without first giving me a medical examination. I know you haven’t even scanned my insurance level yet. I know that you are required by law to follow certain regulations, too. And I know that my lawyer, Mr…” She couldn’t remember Rod’s last name. “Roderick, will have a field day taking the protectors—and you especially—for everything you’re worth in court.”
The protector grinned. “Is that so?”
“Well, there are a few ways to find out,” Tillie said. She held her breath and tried to calm her beating heart while waiting for a response. She had no idea what those few ways might be.
“Have it your way,” the protector said, standing from her chair. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Tillie fought the urge to call the protector back and apologize as she walked out. She slouched down onto the table and covered her head again when the door closed.
What the fuck did she just do? How could she talk to a protector like that? But the protector did leave. Maybe Tillie had said the right thing. She hoped so. She didn’t know how much worse it could get.
The door opened, and she looked up, groaning, to find the face of the protector who had given her the shot before. She sighed in relief.
“You again,” he said with a smile, crossing around the table to her and fumbling through his pockets.
“And you,” Tillie groaned. “I need my shot.”
“I—uh—well…” The protector avoided her gaze, fumbling through his pockets still. “I can’t right now,” he said.
“But—” Tillie protested.
“I’m sorry,” he said, holding his tablet out to her. “I’m on orders, but I’ll do what I can for you.”
Another let down in a long line of them. The worlds kept getting worse and worse. Tillie pressed her thumb to his little tablet, and when he read the screen, he frowned.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Well, you’re not gonna like this,” he said.
“I already don’t,” she said, groaning and rubbing her head. “I need my shot.”
“Yes, you do. But…”
“This is a second felony in two days,” the protector said, “both on campus. The school contract has a clause which overrides your insurance policy. I’m sorry. I…” He looked at his feet, avoiding eye contact with her.
“What? So what is that supposed to mean?” she begged, holding back tears.
“Well, it means—”
The door swung open and in came two protectors, pointing their guns at her. “Hands on your head, citizen,” one of them said.
Tillie tried to stand, but the stool fell out from underneath her, and she fell to the floor. “No,” she said, crab crawling backwards on the cold floor.
“This is your final warning, citizen.”
“No!” She backed into the wall behind her and there was nowhere left to go. One protector grabbed her, and when Tillie fought away, trying to escape, the other hit her in the back of the head with a gun, knocking her out cold.
# # #
Tillie woke to shadows towering over her. She panicked, jumping up and flailing her arms, groaning from the pain, but the shadows gently restrained her, and when she came to, Tillie realized that it was Nikola and Rod who were looking down on her, and a whole crowd of others who she didn’t recognize. The room looked like it used to be white but now it was dirtied gray. She groaned some more and tried to sit up but couldn’t do it without their help. How had she lived through so much pain?
“Where am I?” she asked when she had gathered herself enough to speak.
“This is general holding,” Nikola said.
“And my dad’s gonna have a field day with it.” Rod chuckled. “Disregard Rod Swadson’s Platinum Plan and see if you’re not bankrupt in the morning.”
“How long have we been here?” Tillie asked. She noticed the crowd was still silently staring at her. There must have been twenty or more of them. It was hard to count from her vantage point on the small room’s floor, especially with a pounding headache.
“We were already here for hours before they tossed you in with us,” Rod said. “Haven’t seen a protector since—unless they were tossing someone else in. And they’ll hear about that from my dad, too. You can be sure of that.” He huffed.
“They killed Emma,” Tillie said. The whole crowd gasped. She had forgotten they were listening, but now that she remembered, she didn’t care. They should all hear this, too. They were probably all out there when it happened. The same thing could have happened to any one of them. “I saw it,” she said. “Her head exploded in front of me. Look…” She wiped her shirt, but it wasn’t sticky anymore, just stained red. “That’s her blood on my shirt.”
“That’s her blood on their hands,” Nikola said.
Tillie forced herself to stand, against all the advice of every nerve in her body. “You people don’t understand yet,” she groaned. “They killed her because she wanted to tell you something they didn’t want you to know. That’s it.”
“That humans work on the assembly lines,” Nikola said, urging Tillie on.
“No,” Tillie protested. She wasn’t trying to encourage them. She was trying to illustrate the reality of their situation. “That’s not important,” she said. “What she said doesn’t matter. What they did because of it does.”
“Because they’re afraid!” Nikola said.
The crowd cheered. Nikola was making everything Tillie said have the opposite meaning from what she intended. “Because they want to make us afraid,” Tillie said. “And we should be. I was interrogated by one of them before they dumped me in here. They thought I took over for Emma because I wear her pin. They ensured me that their responses would get more drastic if we continued doing what we’re doing, and I believe them. I’m scared.”
The huddled mass of prisoners didn’t know how to respond to that. They looked back and forth at each other, hoping one or another of them could tell the rest what to do. Tillie thought she might have actually gotten through to them until Nikola said, “And we must use that fear. We must not run away from it. We must not let them win by default. Together we can prevail!”
The cheering grew so loud it had to be heard by the guards. “No,” Tillie pleaded. “That’s not what I mean. I meant—”
The door of the cell swung open and a column of white-clad protectors made their way in, packing the room tighter than it already was. “Quiet citizens,” one of the protectors ordered. “Break this meeting up or every one of you will be placed in solitary confinement.”
The crowd stomped and protested, Nikola and Rod especially. Tillie turned her back to the protectors and waved her arms, shaking her head. “No,” she said. “No no no. I told you. Be afraid.”
“And use it!” they replied.
“For Emma!” Nikola said.
“For Emma!” they repeated.
“And Tillie!” Nikola said.
“And Tillie!” they repeated.
“No!” Tillie said, and the protectors crashed down on them. Tillie couldn’t fight. She couldn’t run. She couldn’t do anything. She tried to give up, crumpling to the floor where she would probably be stomped to death, but as she let go of herself a bag went over her head and she was lifted by strong arms to be thrown over a broad shoulder.
She didn’t resist or struggle as she was carried away from the sound of the riot in the cell. She didn’t care anymore. She had nothing left in her, no energy at all. She would certainly never break another law again as long as it meant that she never had to interact with another protector in her life.
Then she thought she heard someone whispering her name. “Tillie Manager,” it said. “Psst. It’s me—uh—” It was the protector who was carrying her. “Well, the guy who processed you last time. And gave you your shot. Get ready for another one.”
She felt the sting of a needle in the back of her thigh and sighed at the instant relief.
“That should make this a little easier,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He hefted her off his shoulder and laid her down in between two tight walls, pushing her forward into even deeper darkness. She tried to move but there was no room, only inches before she hit a hard surface in every direction. She banged on the walls of the tiny space around her, breathing heavily. The hood was still on her head so she kept inhaling cloth. She felt like she was going to suffocate, like they were going to scare her to death.
She tried to calm herself. She stopped struggling and laid as still as she could. At least she had gotten a shot so she wasn’t hurting anymore. She slowed her breathing and managed to keep the cloth out of her mouth. Maybe Nikola was right. Maybe they should use their fear. They should become stronger by overcoming it. But how was she supposed to do that now? Stuck in here, in a drawer, with a limited air supply.
Her heart beat faster. She lost control of her breath again until she remembered where she was. They wouldn’t let a prisoner die in their custody. Would they? They di—
The drawer slid open. She tried to move, to stand, but she was grabbed by two pairs of hands and lifted out of her resting place. “Come with us,” a voice she didn’t recognize said. “We’ll get you out of here.”
“But—” she protested, and someone flung her over their shoulder, with the hood still on her head, to run on their way to she had no idea where.
# # #
That’s it for Tillie’s point of view in Almost Tangent. To find out who has her and where she’s going you’ll have to read on in the Infinite Limits series. If you’d like to support the creation of further works from me, Bryan “with a Y” Perkins, please do pick up a full copy of each novel on the page linked here before joining my email newsletter through this link.
Thanks again for reading me, friends. Have a great weekend and happy Mardi Gras.