Dear readers, this Saturday, for chapter 39 in the Infinite Limits tetralogy, we join Ansel for her third and final point of view chapter in An Almost Tangent. All she wanted to do is save her dad from the protectors, but instead, she finds herself caught and held by them just the same. Read on to find out what the protectors do to her and how she tries to escape, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel right here or sign up for the email newsletter subscription list to continue your support of future works in the Infinite Limits series and beyond.
Ansel awoke suddenly and thrashed against the straps holding her arms, legs, and head tight to a cold metal board. Her feet were raised a little above her head, and the blood was rushing up her body, into her brain. She felt like, without the straps, she might slip right off the face of Earth. Her heart beat faster at the thought of it.
There was a cloth or something laid over eyes. She flinched to try to shake it off, but her head strap was so tight she couldn’t move. She could feel herself starting to cry, but she tried to hold it back. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. Rosalind would find some way to get her out of this. She knew it. She wiggled her hand and the bracelet was still there. She tried to bend her wrist around to press the button but only ended up hurting herself with the effort. She resorted to trying to use the strap holding her wrist down to press it, squirming frantically and getting nowhere, when the door whined open and more than one pair of boots stomped in. She couldn’t see with the cloth over her eyes, but she could hear their heavy footsteps.
“Do you care yet?” the voice of the protector who had questioned her before asked.
Ansel spit at the protector, but the saliva only ended up landing in her own nose—and probably on her face, but she couldn’t see or feel for the rag.
The protector laughed. “You are a feisty one, aren’t you,” she said. “Though that will only work to your detriment in here.”
“Fuck you!” Ansel yelled. She figured she was already so deep into it that there was no making things worse now, so why not?
“Oh, child,” the protector said. “Watch your mouth. At least until we really get started with you. Then you can get as dirty as you’d like. I know we won’t hold back.”
Ansel didn’t answer. She struggled against her restraints, and the protector laughed.
“Well, girl,” the protector said. “You get one last chance, now. So tell us: What were you doing going into the holding cells?”
“I’ll never tell you!”
“We already know, though, child. We found out where your dad’s been hiding. He might be strapped up in a room close to here. What do y’all think?” The protector laughed.
“You took him!?” Ansel cried.
“Why were you at the feast?” the protector demanded. “Who sent you?”
“No one sent me!”
“Then how did you get there?” The protector sounded short on temper.
“I—I don’t know,” Ansel said, struggling against her straps. “I just did. Let me go!”
“You know more than you’re telling me, little girl,” the protector said. “And we’re going to find out. Your chances have all run dry.”
Ansel felt a cool stream of water wetting the cloth that covered her forehead, weighing it down tighter on her face. She tried to shake it away again, but the restraints seemed to tighten with her effort.
“Now,” the protector said, the cloth slowly lowering over Ansel’s nose and mouth, “let’s see if this helps remind you of what we need to know.”
The spout of water moved down to her mouth, and Ansel held her breath against it. The weight of the water held the rag flat against her face. It kept pouring and pouring and pouring, and she couldn’t hold her breath any longer. She tried to suck in air, but all she inhaled was clothwater, filling her throat and nostrils. She gagged and tried to hold down her vomit. She was dying. She couldn’t hold her breath anymore. They were killing her. She was about to gag again when the liquidrag lifted from her nose and mouth. She coughed up water and bile and insides and sucked in three quick breaths of air before the rag came down again and the water poured and poured.
Her body jostled and rolled against inevitable death. She felt shooting pain through all of her extremities, but that didn’t stop her from fighting against the restraints that held her down. They gave her a few more breaths of air before lowering the rag and pouring more water on. When they had done the same thing five, or seven, or infinite times, Ansel couldn’t hold her vomit in anymore. Someone had to stick their fingers into her throat to dig it out and prevent her from drowning on the insides of her own stomach. After that she blacked out.
She woke to the protector saying, “Little giiiirl, do you care now?”
“Fuck—cuh cuh—you,” Ansel spit out before puking and passing out again. She was still unconscious when the rain of death continued. She had given up. She was dead. They were killing her, sure, but they hadn’t gotten anything out of her. Even if there was nothing left in her to get. And there was still a chance that her dad was alive. That was all she cared about in the end. She smiled at the thought of it, lost control of her breath, and vomited into the damp cloth.
She was retching and losing consciousness again when the stream of ragwater abruptly stopped. A fighting commotion sounded around her. She wanted to believe that she was being saved, but all she could do was spew the last acidic contents of her stomach into the rag, only for the rag to force them back down her throat for her to choke on again. She was certain she was dead when a new set of fingers cleared her airways for her.
The rag was ripped away from her eyes, and Ansel saw her father’s face. She blinked a few times, not sure if she was dreaming or dead, when he pulled her close and hugged her. “I never thought I’d see you again,” he said, kissing her all over her face, over and over.
Ansel coughed and shook her head as the restraints were removed from her legs. She still wasn’t sure this was real. “Dad?” she said.
“Yes, sweety.” He was crying. “It’s me, and I’m never leaving your side again.”
“I came to save you,” Ansel said, her head pounding. She still wasn’t sure if this was real, but she didn’t care anymore.
Her dad chuckled, whether he was real or not. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “It’s my job to—” He slouched down on top of her, limp.
Ansel tried to lift herself up to do something, but his weight was too much. She heard a scuffle and a yelp, then her dad’s limp body fell off of her and Rosalind lifted her off the bed.
“I—uh—you…” Ansel said.
“Yep,” Rosalind said. “I told you I’d make sure you got home safely.”
“But my dad,” Ansel said.
“And I told you you should have waited,” Rosalind added, hefting Ansel up onto her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “But now we have to get out of here.”
“But I—” Ansel protested, but she was still so weak and disoriented that she passed out.
# # #
She woke with a start, but this time, she wasn’t tied down. She lashed out anyway and tossed the blanket off her body to the floor before she realized where she was, surrounded by beakers, vials, and Bunsen burners, she was back in the lab. Rosalind had saved her from the protectors after all. But did that mean that her dad was dead, too?
She pushed herself up—still exhausted though most of the pain had gone—and had to catch her breath before jumping off the high table. As she did, the door opened and in came Pidgeon. He ran over to hug her and help her stand. “Ansel, are you alright?” he asked.
“I—uh—” She didn’t know what to say.
“You should have told me where you were going. I could have helped you. I could have…” He played with the hem of his shirt. “I don’t know. Something.”
“Where’s my dad?” Ansel asked.
Pidgeon blushed and looked like he was trying to hide it. “I—uh—I don’t know,” he said.
“Pidgeon! Tell me. Did I see what I think I saw?”
The door opened and in came Rosalind, the Scientist, and Haley. Rosalind walked right up to Ansel while Haley stayed back with the Scientist, looking at the floor.
“My dad?” Ansel asked.
“I told you you should have waited,” Rosalind said.
“What did you think you were doing, child?” the Scientist demanded.
“W—Was that him?” Ansel asked, holding back her tears.
“We got him out of his cell before we went to save you, but he insisted on helping us get your sorry self out,” Rosalind said. “He didn’t make it back, though.” She shook her head.
Ansel couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She tried to swing at Rosalind, and the Scientist, and anyone in reach, but they were all too far away, and she was just too weak to do anything right. She buried her face in her hands and cried. “No!” she said. “It’s not real.”
“I’m afraid so, kiddo,” Rosalind said.
“You shouldn’t have been over there in the first place,” the Scientist said. “Then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Mom!” Haley said, crossing to Ansel to rub her back.
Ansel stopped crying and looked at the Scientist with a sneer. “If you would have gotten him out sooner—like you had promised—then this wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
“I never said I’d do it soon,” the Scientist said. “I said I’d do it when the time was right. You need to learn patience, dear.”
“Patience?” Ansel scoffed. “This coming from the woman who can go anywhere or get anything she wants on demand. What do you know about patience?”
“More than you can imagine, child,” the Scientist said. “Do you see these wrinkles on my face? You thought I was too old to be Haley’s mother. Well, how old do you think she is? How old does that make me? I waited for a quarter of a millennium to get my daughter back. Don’t you try to tell me about patience.”
Ansel blushed. She was embarrassed but still angry, and she didn’t know how to show it without her voice cracking or her starting to cry again. She swallowed down her tears, and was about to say she didn’t know what to say, when Haley saved her from having to answer.
“Mom,” she said. “Go easy on her. She’s just a little girl, and she just lost her dad.”
“I—uh…” the Scientist mumbled.
“Mother,” Rosalind said, “why don’t you go out and check on some of our other refugees. Let Haley and I take care of Ansel.”
“But—” the Scientist said, and Haley took her hand in one hand and that elbow in the other to lead the Scientist out the door before coming back to stand in front of Ansel.
“Sorry,” Haley said. “She doesn’t really know how to interact with humans. Sometimes it’s like she’s more of an android than any of us.”
“It’s her fault my dad’s d—my dad’s not here,” Ansel said.
“He’s dead,” Rosalind said. “And it’s not her fault any more than it’s yours. If anything, it’s your dad’s fault for following us instead of coming back here to wait like we told him to do.”
“But she—” Ansel protested.
“She was keeping him alive in there,” Rosalind said, “hidden in plain view. He wasn’t in danger until you got caught. After that, it was only a matter of time before they got it out of you that you were looking for him, and that information would let them know he hadn’t been executed yet—despite what their computers told them. So we had to jump the gun in getting him out, and even that would have been successful, but your dad couldn’t leave without making sure you got out first.”
“I wouldn’t have told them why I was there,” Ansel said, sniffing and wiping her nose.
“You were telling them when we got there,” Rosalind said. “You told us until we got you back here and sedated you, then you kept muttering about it in your sleep. You were already broken, Ansel. No human can resist torture like that.”
“I don’t believe you,” Ansel said.
“It’s true, dear,” Haley said, patting her back. “I sat by you while you slept. You kept saying that you had come for your dad, that’s all you wanted, no one had to send you. It was sad to hear.”
Ansel shrugged her off. “I don’t care,” she said. “It wasn’t my fault.” Though she was saying that to convince herself more than anyone.
“No. It’s not,” Rosalind said. “I’m not saying it is. Trying to lay fault on someone is useless. We know who pulled the trigger that ended his life, and maybe that’s not even enough. Not even your father is to blame. It’s the protectors who are responsible for this, and the system that props them up.”
“Well fuck the protectors,” Ansel said.
“Creator.” Haley gasped, putting her hand to her mouth.
“That’s exactly our mission here,” Rosalind said. “To fuck the entire system. The protectors and the owners who tell them what to do. We are your only avenue to getting the revenge you want. You’ll have to join us for your best chance at that.”
“Revenge?” Ansel asked. “What good is revenge? That won’t bring my parents back. If I wanted that, I would have killed Tom in the alley and been done with it.”
“No,” Rosalind said. “What about justice then? What about protecting others from facing the same wrath that you’ve faced at the hands of the protectors?”
“Pssssh.” Ansel laughed. She knew that no one cared about anyone but themselves. All her experiences had proven that, including those with Rosalind and the Scientist. There was no one out there looking out for Ansel, and she had no reason to look out for anyone else. “No one stopped them before they killed my family,” she said. “Or Pidgeon’s family.” She nodded at him, hiding behind a table piled high with glassware, his face shaded with different colors from the chemicals in the flasks in front of him. Ansel had almost forgotten he was there. He ducked under the table at the mention of his name.
“Nope,” Rosalind said. “And no one will ever stop them if everyone else in the worlds takes the same attitude you are right now.”
Ansel jumped to her feet. “So what am I supposed to do then?” she asked. “Just sit here and wait until the Scientist thinks the time’s right for me to do something?”
“Yep,” Rosalind said, nodding. “Pretty much. And learn everything you can to make yourself useful in the meantime.”
“Oh, great,” Ansel said. “School.” She sighed, crossing her arms.
“No.” Rosalind shook her head. “We don’t have any teachers so I don’t think it can rightly be called school. You would have to pursue what you wanted to learn on your own. No one has time to direct you.”
“I can—” Haley started, but Rosalind shot her a look and shushed her.
“What do you say?” Rosalind asked.
“I don’t know what you’re asking me,” Ansel said. “You want me to sit here and do whatever I want until the Scientist finds me useful?”
“I don’t know if I can,” Ansel said, tapping her foot.
“But—” Pidgeon called out, tipping over the table he was hiding under and knocking a few flasks to the floor—which Popeye came out of nowhere to clean up.
“And you, too, boy,” Rosalind said. “I didn’t forget you were there.”
Pidgeon came around to stand next to Ansel, blushing. “You mean it?” he asked, playing with the hem of his shirt.
“Of course I do,” Rosalind said. “We wouldn’t send you back to that orphanage. We know what’s going on there.”
Pidgeon nudged Ansel. “C’mon,” he said. “Why not?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I need time to think about it.”
“Take all the time you need,” Rosalind said. “Staying here to think and saying yes to my proposal are the same thing.”
“Uh, yeah. Okay,” Ansel said, grabbing Pidgeon’s arm and dragging him with her. “We’re gonna go discuss this. We’ll talk to you tomorrow or something.” She waved as she closed the hall door behind her.
“What are you doing?” Pidgeon asked, breaking away from her grip.
“Just follow me,” Ansel said. “Bedroom.” She opened the door to the room she and Pidgeon had been sleeping in. It was bigger than any of the houses she had ever lived in, and had two beds on opposite walls, each with their own dresser and mirror combo. Ansel went to her dresser, thinking to change her clothes, then changed her mind. The jeans and t-shirt she was already wearing were comfortable and non-restricting, exactly what she needed. She did grab her floral dress, though, the one her parents had given her when they still lived on the Green Belt, and she bundled it up in a ball to stuff in her rucksack—which still contained most of the rest of her belongings. She checked her back pocket but the protectors had taken her slingshot. They did leave her bracelet, though. She thought about dumping it but was distracted when Pidgeon asked, “What are you doing?”
Ansel looked at him. “Pidgeon,” she said, “do you trust me?”
“I—uh—yeah,” he said. “I guess. But why?”
“I don’t want to stay here anymore,” she said. “I don’t know why, but I feel restricted here, trapped.”
“But we can go anywhere with the elevators,” he said.
“Not really,” Ansel said. “We can go anywhere the Scientist lets us go. That’s not everywhere, though. Is it?”
Pidgeon shook his head. “Well, no, but…” He played with the hem of his shirt.
“Don’t you want to see the worlds, Pidgeon?” Ansel asked. “There’s so much out there beyond everything we’ve ever known.”
“I don’t know,” Pidgeon said. “I’ve seen a lot of what the world has to offer.”
“But you haven’t seen everything,” she pled with him. She could feel that she was losing him. “I went to another world entirely, Pidgeon, the one where the protectors come from. I met these kids who lived there, and they were no different from you or me. How am I supposed to fight against them, huh? They don’t know what they’re doing. They have no more control over their lives than we do. And they tried to help me.”
“Yeah. So?” Pidgeon said. “That doesn’t mean we should leave. We can stay here without fighting those kids.”
“But don’t you see?” Ansel said. “All the protectors were those kids at some point in their lives. They were funneled into it, and now, they can’t do anything else but what they’re told.”
“Then we won’t fight any protectors,” Pidgeon said. “I still don’t want to leave.”
“Do you really think they’ll let you stay here and do nothing for their cause?”
“I do,” Pidgeon snapped. “That was the deal, wasn’t it?”
“The deal was for them to get my dad back, too,” Ansel said. “But we can see how that turned out.”
“No, Pidgeon,” she stopped him. “I’m sorry. I know I dragged you into this in the first place, but I have to live by my standards. I have to be self-sufficient. I know you don’t understand that, which is why I’m not making you come with me.”
Pidgeon looked hurt. He avoided eye contact with her.
“Pidgeon,” Ansel said. “I’d rather you came than that you stayed here, but I’m leaving tonight. What time is it? I’m leaving now. I’m gonna get as far away from here as I can before they notice I’m gone, and to do that, I have to be quick. So you don’t have time to think about this. It’s now or never.”
“But they’ve taken such good care of us,” Pidgeon said, groaning. “We can eat all the food we want, and we each get our own bed. What more could we ask for?”
“Independence,” Ansel said. “I told you I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
“I don’t,” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “And neither do you. You don’t understand what it’s like to have nothing and no one, Ansel. We have a good thing here.”
“I’ve had nothing all my life,” Ansel said. “Don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like.”
“Right,” Pidgeon said. “Nothing. Except for a mom and dad to provide food and shelter for you. Now that is nothing.”
“I had to provide my own food most nights,” Ansel said.
“And yet still you knew that they’d always be there to give up their food if you couldn’t find anything. You knew that they’d always have a warm bed waiting for you afterwards. You never had nothing, Ansel. You always had them.”
“Not anymore,” Ansel said. She could feel the tears coming back. “Now I have nothing.”
“But you still don’t,” Pidgeon said. “You have me. And if you would stay here, you’ll have Haley and Rosalind and the Scientist and this bed to sleep in.” He jumped up onto her bed, bouncing up and down. “We have everything we need here.”
“No,” Ansel said. “We don’t. I told you, Pidgeon. I need my independence. That’s that. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.” She grabbed her rucksack and made for the door, but Pidgeon jumped off the bed to stop her.
“Where do you even plan on going?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Ansel shrugged. “Away. Anywhere I want to. I’ll never see the end of the Belt so maybe I’ll go try to see the end of the wilderness here instead. You did want to do that with me once. Remember?”
He looked away from her, blushing. “Yeah, I wouldn’t make it out there, though,” he said. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d probably just get you killed.”
“And as I’ve said before, I’ll teach you everything I know,” Ansel said. “I know what I’m doing out there, Pidgeon. And you can, too.”
“But do you really?” he asked. “It’s not the Belt out there, Ansel. This is something you’ve never experienced before.”
“Yeah it’s not the Belt,” Ansel said. “There are more animals here and they’re less afraid of humans. They’ll be easier to catch because of it. If anything, this should be easier than living on the Belt. And we won’t have to worry about protectors out there.”
“We don’t have to worry about them in here, either,” he said. “And what if there’s something out there that’s worse than a protector?”
“Psssh. Worse than a protector?” Ansel laughed. “I doubt that.”
“What about that big animal with the horns that you couldn’t kill?”
“That thing runs away every time it hears us. And it only ever eats grass.”
“What if there’s something else that won’t run?” Pidgeon said. “Something that taught that thing to run? God. You just don’t get it. There are some things out there that you don’t know about, Ansel. You know what. Whatever. Go.” He went and sat on his own bed, with his back to her, in a huff.
“I will, Pidgeon,” Ansel snapped. “You just stay here in your cozy, safe jail. I always knew you would leave me behind in the end.” She slammed the door behind her before he could respond.
She took a few deep breaths in the hall, bracing herself on the door jamb. Stupid Pidgeon. She should never have trusted him to begin with. He was, and had always been, a fresh faced flower from the Garden of Eden. No wonder he was too scared to leave this…whatever it was. She had enough trouble convincing him to leave the orphanage he said had treated him so poorly, there was no way she was going to convince him to leave a place where he had printer access whenever he wanted it and no one to abuse him or call him names. One day that would all run out, though. Then he’d wish he’d come and learned how to be self-sufficient with her. She chuckled to herself at the thought of it.
“Kitchen,” she said and opened the door. The step-stool was already in front of the printer. She stepped up, trying not to stare at the line of slip, snap, clickers through the sink window, and pressed the button to say, “Slingshot.” First thing was first. She had to be able to hunt.
The slingshot that came out was made of metal where her old one was made of wood. The sling was tighter, too, harder to pull back, but she could get used to that. She would have to or die trying. She stuffed it in her back pocket, ordered a pouch to keep rocks in, a few cans of beans—it came out in bowls at first, before she specified cans—and some string to help make traps. She brought it all down to the table and packed her rucksack full, then she stared at the printer, trying to think of anything else that might be useful.
The kitchen door opened and in came Rosalind. She took a look at the full rucksack then said, “Planning on going somewhere?”
Ansel shrugged. “What’s it matter to you?”
“I was being sincere when I spoke earlier,” Rosalind said. “I meant every word.”
“I know how much your words mean,” Ansel said.
Rosalind looked offended. “I haven’t lied to you once,” she said.
“You didn’t get my dad back.”
“I did,” Rosalind said. “You talked to him. He was free.”
“But not anymore.”
“Maybe now more than ever, dear.” She shook her head.
“Pffft.” Ansel scoffed. “Well I plan on freeing myself.” She picked up the rucksack and threw it over her shoulder.
“So you’ll be joining our cause then?” Rosalind smiled.
“Does it look like I will?” Ansel asked, hefting the bag further up on her shoulders to emphasize the sarcasm.
“It looks like you’re going camping,” Rosalind said.
“Camping?” What was she talking about now?
“Yes, camping,” Rosalind said, crossing to the printer. “You know: sleeping outdoors in the wilderness, under the stars, among the other animals.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.” Ansel shrugged. “You can call it that if you want to.”
“Well, dear,” Rosalind said. “Let me give you some supplies before you go, then.” She pressed the printer’s voice activation button and said, “Pop-up tent, lighter, and Swiss Army knife, please.”
“What are those?” Ansel asked, dropping the heavy sack.
“Well, this is a lighter. You just—”
“Yeah, yeah. I know that one,” Ansel said, snatching it out of Rosalind’s hand.
“And this is a pop-up tent.” Rosalind handed her a small rectangular something that fit in the palm of her hand. “Don’t press the button until you’re outside, and be ready to get out of the way when you do. You got that?”
“What is it?” Ansel asked, turning the thing over in her hand.
Rosalind flinched and took it away, ordering a case to put the tent in before handing it back. “It’s for you to sleep in.”
“Sleep in that?”
“It gets bigger,” Rosalind said. “Trust me.”
“Okay, what about the Swiss knife or whatever?” Ansel asked.
“This is your general all-purpose tool,” Rosalind said, pulling out all the little gadgets. “You have here your can opener, knife, compass—”
“Right right,” Ansel took it and had some trouble folding everything back into place. Rosalind chuckled and helped her, and it only made Ansel angrier. She stuffed her gifts into the rucksack, forcing a smile, and said, “Well, thanks. See you never.”
“Be safe,” Rosalind said. “We’ll be eagerly awaiting your return.”
“Ugh.” Ansel stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind her. She didn’t stop until she was in the elevator, waiting for the floor to fall out from underneath her.
It was as if Rosalind didn’t listen. Or she did listen and didn’t care what Ansel said. Ansel would show her. If Rosalind thought Ansel was going to be going back to that little jail anytime soon, she had another thing coming. Ansel was never going back there ever again, and Rosalind and Pidgeon would just have to deal with it.
The elevator doors opened to reveal the pine trees and other evergreens whose names Ansel had not yet come to know. She stepped out onto the grass and took a deep breath of the fresh cool air. This was right for her. This was exactly what she needed. No more Scientist. No more protectors. No more Pidgeon or Rosalind. She was free to do whatever she wanted, and right now, she wanted some food. So she set off to get exactly that.
# # #
And there you have it, dear readers, Ansel’s final point of view chapter for book two in the Infinite Limits series. Only three more weeks until An Almost Tangent is completely posted on this blog here, and in the meantime I’m working toward finishing the final edits of book three, Dividing by 0, so I can get that published, hopefully in time to continue the Infinite Limits story here on the blog with no empty Saturdays in between. We’ll see. I’m working hard to make it happen, but only time can tell.
Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. Have a great weekend.