This Saturday brings us Jonah’s third and final point of view chapter in An Almost Tangent. After this one there are only two more chapters left in book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy. If you’d like a physical copy of the book, pick it up right here, and to make sure you know when the next book in the series is released, join my email newsletter subscription list right here. Thanks for joining us thus far, dear readers, and enjoy the story.
“What? Where am I?” Jonah demanded.
“You’re in my lab,” the woman in the white coat said.
“And who are you?”
“The Scientist. As I said. That’s my name.”
“That’s not a name,” Jonah said.
“It is.” The woman smiled. “It’s my name. Now, do you want to argue about what constitutes a name, or do you want to get down to why you’re actually here?”
“Where am I?” Jonah asked again, looking around at the short hall.
“Come with me,” the woman said, crossing it to open a door at the other end and show him through.
They went into a big office with a desk, puffy chairs, and a view of a green, hilly wilderness, similar to the view in the Captain’s office but with less snow and smaller mountains.
“Please. Sit,” the Scientist said, indicating one of the puffy chairs.
Jonah hopped up into it as she took the seat across from him. “I still don’t know where this is,” he said.
“This is my home.” She looked around. “Or, it’s one office in my extensive house. This, dear, is Outland Four. Do you know what that is?”
Jonah scoffed. He didn’t need to be patronized. “Of course I do,” he said. “I’m not a housekeeper.”
“Well, that’s where you are,” she said. “Technically.”
“And why?” Jonah asked.
“That’s what I wanted to ask you, dear,” the Scientist said. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” Jonah complained. “I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know where here is, other than Outland Four which doesn’t narrow it down much. So how am I supposed to know why I’m here? You tell me.”
“You’re here because you want something.” The woman smiled.
“What is it that you want, Jonah?”
He paused to think about it. “I want to save Ansel,” he decided.
“We’ve taken care of that already,” she said.
“Sure,” Jonah said, nodding and giving a sarcastic thumbs up. “Then get rid of Liz’s demerits.”
The Scientist chuckled. “Sadly, your schooling is one of the few areas I don’t have control over,” she said. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“Then you can’t get me anything,” Jonah said. “So why am I here?”
“There’s nothing else you want?” the Scientist asked. “No one else you could ask a favor for?” She eyed him.
“Why do you care?” Jonah asked. “What are you doing this for anyway?”
“You tried to help Ansel,” she said. “You ended up putting her in danger, but that was her choice, not yours. Ansel is a part of my family now, and if you help her, you help me. I want to help you in return.”
Jonah scoffed. “Yeah, right,” he said. “What can you do anyway? You already said you can’t give me what I want.”
“I told you we’re already saving Ansel,” she said. “We’re already giving you what you want without your asking for it. I’m giving you another opportunity to ask for something that we’re not doing for you already.”
“My dad, then,” Jonah said, not thinking. “He needs to get out of the house. Make him a protector again.”
She shook her head. “Are you sure you want to bring that down upon him?”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.” Jonah scoffed.
“Maybe it is for your father,” the Scientist said. “Have you asked him if he would want to go back?”
Jonah chuckled. “Of course he would. Everyone in One dreams of being a protector, and he had that dream taken away from him before he ever got to experience it. He would do anything to get it back.”
“And he told you this directly?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I—well—no… But it’s common knowledge,” Jonah said, shrugging.
“You’ve never met anyone who wants to be a housekeeper?” the Scientist asked.
“What? No.” Jonah laughed. “Housekeeping is for the weak and cowardly. No one wants to be weak and cowardly.”
“You know,” the Scientist said, tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair. “One of the most relaxing things to do—I’ve found—is to cook a nice meal for yourself. Have you ever tried it?”
“Cooking a meal?” Jonah frowned. “Why? That’s why we have printers.”
“True,” the Scientist said, nodding. “I guess you’re right about that. Though I still think you should try cooking some time.”
“Maybe when I’m old and retired,” Jonah said.
“Maybe.” The Scientist shrugged. “If you live long enough to retire. The way things are going in the worlds now it looks like a lot less of you protectors are going to be reaching the age of natural death. And you’re sure you want to send your dad back into that?”
“He wants it,” Jonah said. “I guarantee.”
“Did you know that there are riots breaking out across all the worlds?” the Scientist asked. “The job of a protector is becoming more and more dangerous every day. You’ll risk losing him if you send him back out there.”
Jonah shrugged. “A protector’s job is always dangerous,” he said. “And the more dangerous it is the more likely the protector is to go down in history.”
“History has a good way of forgetting things.” The Scientist shook her head.
“Listen lady,” Jonah said, standing from his chair. “He can handle it. He’s my dad, and he’s meant to be a protector. So are you going to do it or not?”
“Frankly,” the Scientist shrugged, “this is another one where it doesn’t really matter what I do. I told you, dear: riots across the worlds. There’ll be a draft soon, and I wouldn’t doubt that your dad is at the top of the list. You’ll get what you say you want with or without me.”
“So again, you can’t help me,” Jonah said, crossing his arms. “I still don’t understand why you brought me here.”
“Only to say thank you, apparently,” the Scientist said, standing. “You tried to help our Ansel, and we appreciate that. So: Thank you.” She held out a hand.
Jonah looked at it. “Uh… Okay I guess,” he said, shaking it. “So can I go now?”
“Are you sure there’s nothing else you want?” she asked.
Jonah shook his head.
“Then let me give you a little bit of unsolicited advice,” she said, walking close to him and patting his back as she led him out into the hall. “Being a protector’s not the only way to make a name for yourself, and being a housekeeper is nothing to laugh at. So maybe think about cooking yourself a meal once or twice. Just try it. But even if you don’t, I’ll be watching you, and I’ll be there when you inevitably need my help in the future. You got it?”
“Yeah, sure.” Jonah shrugged. “Can I go now?”
“Of course, dear.” The Scientist smiled. She opened the elevator doors. “I’ll be there for you like you were for our Ansel,” she said. “You will be repaid.”
Jonah nodded and stepped into the elevator. “Whatever.”
“And stay out of trouble until then,” the Scientist said as the elevator doors closed between them.
When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, Jonah sprinted to his house then snuck into his room, hoping his dad wouldn’t hear. He took off his shoes and jumped into bed fully clothed. Tomorrow was going to be a shit day at school, but maybe he would take off sick. All his muscles ached, and his eyelids grew heavy. He hadn’t realized how tired he was until he was lying in bed. He couldn’t help but to drift off into a deep, restful sleep.
# # #
Reveille went off, dragging Jonah into wakefulness. He laid in bed until after the Protector’s Alma Mater played, and he had to choose between not showering, not eating, or being late for class. It’d prolly end up being all three after yesterday.
What was he thinking? And who was that white-coated woman at the end of the night? She had said she’d be there to help him in the future, but why? She didn’t even know him. She did know Ansel, though. Hopefully she was able to save Ansel like she had promised.
“Joonaaaah!” his dad called from the other room. “It’s time to wake up, son. Do you need me to call in an excuse for absence?”
Jonah scoffed. “Do you need me to call in an excuse for absence,” he mimicked in a mocking tone, doing a little dance in his bed. He got up and started to dress, unable to stop blaming his dad for most—if not all—of what had happened to him and his partner in the past few days. White jeans and white t-shirt on, he took a deep breath before opening his bedroom and heading into the kitchen where his dad had every breakfast food imaginable piled on the table.
“Are you sure you’re feeling up to it?” his dad asked, guiding Jonah to sit at the table and pouring some milk for him. “It’s completely understandable if you need a day off after what you went through.”
“No.” Jonah shook his head. “I promised Liz I’d be in class.”
His dad nodded thoughtfully, taking a bite of bacon. “Of course,” he said, still nodding. “You’ve gotta be there for your partner. Of course you do. I understand.”
Jonah took a few quick bites of toast then stood from the table. “Well, I should get going,” he said. “Already late.”
“You didn’t even eat,” his dad said. “You need energy for class.”
“I’m fine,” Jonah said. “I’ll eat a big lunch.” He started to leave.
“Wait!” his dad said. “Son… I’m sorry about how I acted last night, about yelling at you in front of your partner and ordering you to stay away from Ansel.”
Jonah shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.
“No,” his dad said, shaking his head. “Not whatever. I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I’m sorry.”
“So you think there is something I can do to help her?” Jonah asked, perking up for just a second.
“No.” His dad shook his head, deflating Jonah’s hopes. “I’m not saying that either. I stand by what I said, and I do think keeping your head down and following orders is the best thing you can do for yourself—and for Liz—but I shouldn’t have said it the way I did.”
“But you did exactly the opposite of that when you were a protector,” Jonah snapped. “You’re such a hypocrite!”
“I know,” his dad said, shaking his head. “I did. That’s why I know it’s not the right path for you to take. From experience. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. You’ll throw your—”
“Don’t worry, dad,” Jonah said. “I won’t shoot any owners.” He stomped out of the house and slammed the door behind him.
Ugh. That pissed Jonah off so much, his dad’s holier than thou, do as I say not as I do bullshit. And how was Jonah supposed to do what his dad ordered when his dad ordered something contradictory every time he spoke? Nope. His dad didn’t get a say in what Jonah did anymore. He had already said everything and nothing, and all he did was confuse things more. Jonah would have to try to forget everything his dad had taught him if he wanted to make any kind of sense out of the worlds.
His whole body was sore, and his head pounded as he walked. Maybe he should have taken the opportunity to have a day off, but then he would have had to spend it with his hypocrite father. Which one would be worse? It didn’t matter now, he was well on his way to school, past the point of no return.
The bell sounded as he entered the Academy doors. He sprinted to his classroom, and Ms. Bohr had already started teaching. “That’s two this month, Pardy,” she said as he snuck in, his head down. “One more and it’s a demerit for you. Now. Take your seat, please.”
Jonah sat at his desk near the center of the room, and Ms. Bohr went on lecturing about the various criminal codes and their applications. Jonah tried to get the attention of Liz who sat next to him, but she kept her eyes firmly locked on the teacher, diligently taking notes. Jonah knew it was just an act, though. Liz had memorized all the basic codes before they ever joined the Academy. She didn’t have to write any of this down. He also knew why she was putting the act on and stopped trying to get her in trouble again, choosing instead to focus all his attention on not nodding off while Ms. Bohr droned on and on. He didn’t get a chance to talk to Liz until lunch when they were sitting alone in the corner of the mess hall, eating their “nutritionally balanced” fish sticks and tater tots.
“You will never believe what happened to me,” Jonah said, popping a tot in his mouth.
“After what we did last night, I think I’ll believe anything,” Liz said.
“Yeah, well.” Jonah laughed. “Not this.”
“Well tell me then,” she said, kicking his shin under the table.
“Ow!” Jonah yelped. “Maybe I won’t if you’re gonna act like that.”
“Yeah right, partner,” she said, biting a fish stick in half. “As if you’re one to talk about manners after getting me six demerits.”
“Whatever.” Jonah frowned. “What was I talking about anyway?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “You said I wouldn’t believe it.”
“Oh yeah. Of course. Duh. Well, last night you know, after I left you, I went on that walk, right.”
“Well, I was lost in thought, strolling around, when I looked up, and I was in a hall all of sudden—like, not outside.”
Liz chuckled. “What?”
“See. I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Liz said, shaking her head. “It’s that I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Yeah, well, me neither, really,” Jonah said. “But there was a woman there who was dressed in a white coat, right. And she started asking me if I wanted anything, okay—and I mean anything—like she was going to give me whatever I asked her for or something.”
“Tuh.” Liz spat out a little food with her laughter. “What, like a genie or something?”
“I don’t know.” Jonah shrugged. “She called herself the Scientist for some reason. Like it was her name. It was really weird.”
“The Scientist?” Liz thought about it for a second. “What did you ask for?”
“Oh, well…” Jonah shrugged.
“C’mon,” Liz said. “You can tell me.”
“Well, first I asked her to save Ansel, you know,” Jonah said, blushing.
Liz nodded. “And what did this scientist say to that?”
“She said she was already gonna save her then asked me if I wanted anything else.”
“Of course,” Liz said, nodding. “That’s probably why she wanted to help you in the first place. She must be connected to Ansel somehow. All this nonsense has been. Why else would she care to give you anything anyway? Ansel or your dad.”
Jonah shrugged. “It still doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
“Well, what did you ask for after that?”
Jonah blushed again. “To get rid of your demerits.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Liz said, blushing and talking more to her fish sticks than to Jonah.
“Yeah, well,” Jonah said, shrugging. “It doesn’t matter anyway. She said she couldn’t do it.”
“Of course.” Liz sighed. “At least you tried, though,” she added, forcing a smile. “And we found something she can’t give you, so she’s no genie.”
“No,” Jonah said, shaking his head. “She’s not that.” But he still didn’t know what she was.
“Well,” Liz said. “Did you ask for anything else?”
“Yeah. For my dad to be a protector again.”
“You didn’t,” she said.
“Did you ask your dad if he wanted to be one again?”
“No.” Jonah scoffed. “Of course I didn’t. Why wouldn’t he?”
Liz shrugged, shaking her head. “You never know.”
“It didn’t matter, anyway, because she said he would already be—”
The bell rang. The mess hall was already empty around them. Liz looked around, wide eyed, like she hadn’t noticed it either. They both jumped up and threw away their trays, running to sit in their seats just as Ms. Bohr went on lecturing again. Jonah wanted to beat his head on the desk by the time the bell for the end of the class rang.
In the locker room he managed to keep away from Stine and get changed and out to the dark standoff entry chamber without one insult being hurled at him.
“Pssst.” Liz came up from behind and elbowed him in his padded rib. “What were you saying at lunch?” she asked.
“About what?” Jonah said, trying to focus on his strategy for the standoff but losing his train of thought.
“About your dad becoming a protector again,” she said. “You said the scientist said she wouldn’t have to do anything. What did you mean by that?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “She said there were—”
The opening bell rang, and the huge metal hangar doors in front of them creaked open to reveal the alley where they would fight the standoff. A flurry of movement went on around Jonah as his teammates—Liz included—raced to dive behind dumpsters or into alleyways. He didn’t have time to think. His legs took him zig zagging back and forth from dumpster to dumpster, advancing quickly. He yelled at the top of his lungs and blindly fired shot after shot as he ran. He could feel bullet after bullet whizzing past him, but none landed until he was halfway up the alley. Then his entire visor was covered in red. He fell to his knees and rolled over on his side, thankful for the rest.
The standoff didn’t last long after that. Not long enough to get any real rest. Soon he heard the cheering of the winning team, but he didn’t bother to get up and see that he had lost. He was sure he did. His crazy, dumb full frontal attack wasn’t really regulation strategy, and there was no way he hadn’t thrown the game for his team again. He couldn’t wait to hear what Stine and her lackeys had to say about it in the locker room later.
He felt a tug on his arm, and someone pulled him up. No, it was two someones. Another someone took off his helmet for him, and the entire blue team was gathered around him, cheering. They had won! Everyone took their chance to pat him on the back and congratulate him before filing back to the locker room to shower and get dressed. Even Stine gave him a terse, “Good hunting.” if not a pat on the back.
When everyone else had gone back into the locker room, Liz walked up and smiled, nodding, to say, “Good job, partner.”
Jonah scoffed. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said.
She shrugged. “It worked out though, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, well, it’s not something I would recommend,” he said. “Did I even get a hit?”
Liz laughed. “Yeah,” she said, shaking her head. “Like half their team. Now come on. Let’s get changed so you can finish telling me about this scientist.”
Jonah showered and changed, and Stine and her lackeys stared, mad that it was him who had made it happen but relieved to finally have the blue team’s losing streak broken. They looked so confused, as if they had no idea whether to hit Jonah in the face or shake his hand. He dressed fast and got out of there so they wouldn’t have a chance to decide on the former. Liz took a little longer to get dressed, but thankfully, she was done before Stine and them, and they were out and walking home without a locker room incident to speak of.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Liz said as they strolled along the grass-lined sidewalk at a leisurely pace.
“What are we talking about now?” Jonah asked. His mind was jumbled and confused with the lecture, his victory at the standoff, and everything else that had happened in the previous day running into one lumpy mess.
“The standoff this time,” Liz said. “You were a crazed maniac out there.”
“Honestly,” Jonah said, “I think I might be going crazy.”
“No.” She patted his arm. “Don’t say that. The worlds have gone crazy. There’s no sane way for a person to react to that.”
Jonah shrugged and walked on without responding. No one else was reacting the way he was. If it was really the world that was crazy and not him, then why did no one else seem to notice?
“Now tell me,” Liz went on, “what did this scientist say about your dad? He’s going to be a protector again?”
“Uh, yeah, well—that’s what she said. She said there were riots breaking out across the worlds.”
“My dad told me about that,” Liz said. She looked at her feet. “They’re keeping Mom busy out there.”
“Yeah, well,” Jonah said. “I don’t know what that has to do with my dad being a protector again.”
“You don’t?” Liz said, looking at him like he was stupid. “Ms. Bohr talked about it all day in class.”
Jonah scoffed. “I was a little distracted,” he said.
“Well, they’re probably planning a draft,” Liz said. “It’s been done before, when things got out of hand and a surge of protectors was needed.”
“But my dad’s not a housekeeper by choice,” Jonah said. “He was dishonorably discharged. They wouldn’t want him back after that, would they?”
Liz shrugged. “It depends on how many protectors are needed,” she said. “I don’t know. Ms. Bohr didn’t go into that much detail.”
“Well, that Scientist seemed to be pretty sure about it,” Jonah said. “I wonder how she knows.”
They walked on in silence, trying to work it out in their heads. When they had gotten to the point where their paths home diverged, Liz stopped and said, “Welp, I gotta go. See you tomorrow? It’ll be Friday!” She put on a fake smile and did a sarcastic dance.
“You don’t want to come and hang out?” Jonah asked hopefully.
Liz scoffed. “Of course I do,” she said. “But I can’t. My dad heard about my demerits so I’m on lockdown for a while. I’ll probably have to do housework all weekend. Blarg.”
Jonah winced. “Ouch,” he said. “Sorry. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.”
“Don’t go getting kidnapped by any more mad scientists,” she said with a chuckle and a wave as she left.
Jonah made his way to his house, trying to make sense of something, anything—a task he was finding surprisingly difficult in recent memory. How would a scientist know if the protectors were going to hold a draft? How would the Scientist know everything she knew? She was probably wrong about his dad becoming a protector again, but she didn’t want to admit to being unable to get what Jonah wanted for him for the third time in a row. She probably couldn’t even save Ansel, either. He would have to keep searching for his own way to do that.
His dad was in the kitchen, piling snack foods on a tray, when he got home. “I made some food,” he said, carrying it into the living room where Jonah had plopped onto the couch without even turning on the TV. “Your partner isn’t joining us today?”
Jonah shook his head. “She’s on disciplinary detail.”
“Ah. Of course.” His dad sat down on the couch next to him. “Her parents weren’t as understanding as I was, I imagine.”
“You know, sometimes I wish you weren’t,” Jonah said. “Maybe that would be a little less confusing.”
“Do you want me to punish you?” his dad asked with a smirk. “I have some floors that could use scrubbing. And there are always the toilets.”
“What?” Jonah cringed. “No! You know that’s not what I mean.”
“What then?” His dad chuckled. “You wanna give me some laps or pushups? I can do that, too. Drop and give me twenty!”
“No, Dad.” Jonah sighed. “You’re not funny so stop trying, okay. I mean that I wish you would give me just one order without contradicting yourself. I’m just a kid, you know. I need you to tell me what to do in life.”
His dad chuckled. “And if I had ordered you to stay away from Ansel, would that have prevented you from trying to protect her?” he asked.
“No.” Jonah shook his head.
“And if I had ordered you to protect her, would I not have contradicted my previous orders?”
“Well, yeah,” Jonah said. “You’d be ordering me to break the law.”
“So either way, you would have wanted me to do something else.” His dad smiled.
“No—but— You could have—”
“Punished you?” his dad asked again. “Who’s contradicting themself now?”
Jonah sighed in frustration. His dad seemed to get more and more difficult every day.
“Jonah, you have to understand that life isn’t black and white, okay. Most of the time we’re bound by our actions in the past, by the traditions of all the dead generations even, to be able to act in one way and one way alone. Now for both of us that way just so happened to be protecting Ansel however we thought we could. And for both of us that was a terrible decision. But not doing it was equally impossible. So why am I giving you impossible orders? you ask me. Well, how can I give you any orders that aren’t impossible? I ask in response.”
Jonah shook his head. “You’re making less sense all the time,” he said.
“The world doesn’t make sense, son,” his dad said. “I don’t know how to make sense of it. I’m just telling you what I think I know. It could all be wrong. Everything I know has already been shown to be wrong once, so why not this, too? Huh?”
“But you’re supposed to be an adult, Dad. You’re supposed to be my dad. How can you not have this figured out already?”
“None of us do, son,” his dad said. “Me, your mom, your teachers, anyone you’ve ever met. The surer they are that they do have it all figured out, the more likely they are to be wrong. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, but I didn’t know how to say it.”
Jonah laughed. He wanted to cry, too, but he laughed instead. This couldn’t be true. It had to be some cruel joke. If it was true, then half the superior officers who gave him orders every day knew less about the world than he did. Maybe more than half. “No,” he said. “Just because you don’t understand the world doesn’t mean that no one does.”
“Who could? How could you? It’s impossible. We get bits and pieces at best, and that’s it. Some of us might get more bits and pieces than others, but who’s to say whose version is better?”
Jonah groaned. “I don’t know, Dad,” he said. “I’m just a—”
The TV flipped on, playing the Protector’s Alma Mater. Jonah and his dad jumped in their seats then stared at the screen wide eyed. The burly, pock-marked face of the Chief Commissioner came on screen.
“Citizens of Outland One,” he said, his tone all business. “It is my duty to notify you that emergency staffing procedures have been activated. All academy attendants will have their training accelerated, and new recruits will be drafted from the existing housekeeper pool on a lottery basis. We’ve grown fat and lazy, people. More than a decade of peace has domesticated us. Now we must return to our wild roots. Any housekeepers with less than three dependents will be eligible for the lottery. If need arises, that pool will be expanded, but I trust we can handle the situation as is. A list of randomly selected identification numbers will be read and repeated twice after my broadcast. If your ID is called, you will be expected at your nearest recruiting station at oh six hundred hours tomorrow. Good luck out there, citizens. And may the protectors’ creed always ring true: Property, liberty, life.”
The Chief’s face disappeared, and the protector logo came up on the screen: two crossed guns held by a bald eagle. A mechanical sounding voice read out a list of what must have been hundreds of nine digit strings of numbers. Jonah and his dad sat staring at the emblem in silence, his dad waiting to hear if his ID was called, and Jonah not listening at all. Jonah didn’t know his dad’s ID. All he knew was that the Scientist was right, his dad was probably about to be on the force again. His dad moved a little at one point, and Jonah thought that he was reacting to hearing his number, but his dad didn’t react further until the voice had read through the entire list for the third time. It didn’t seem like his dad even noticed when the voice stopped and the TV flicked off. He just sat staring at the black mirror of the TV screen in silence.
“So?” Jonah asked.
His dad shook his head.
Jonah choked back tears. He didn’t know why he was so sad. This is what he wanted for his dad. It was what he thought his dad would want. So why was he crying all of a sudden?
“I don’t want you to go, dad,” he said, hugging him.
“I’m sorry.” His dad shook his head, brushing Jonah’s hair out of his face with trembling fingers and watery eyes. “I’m sorry for everything.”
# # #
So ends Jonah’s third and final POV chapter. Keep reading along to find out what happens to him, his family, and the rest of the cast of Infinite Limits. And if you’d like to support the project monetarily, pick up a copy of any of my novels or novellas through this link. Have a great weekend, everyone.