Chapter 42: Olsen

Today brings us Olsen’s third point of view chapter and the final chapter in book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, An Almost Tangent. Read on here to see how Olsen deals with the consequences of what she’s done for the Human Family, and don’t forget to pick up the full copy of An Almost Tangent through this link or check back right here on the blog to see when book three, Dividing by Ø, gets published in the coming weeks.

Thanks for joining us thus far, dear readers. Enjoy:

< XLI. Guy     [Table of Contents]     Book III >

XLII. Olsen

Her feet carried her, and for once, they didn’t lead her astray. When she let her subconscious do the work, she never got lost. Not even with this strange new world that had crashed into hers, marring and mangling everything in existence.

She was not a murderer, she kept reassuring herself. She was not a murderer. She was not a murderer. She was not a murderer. The mantra took time with her steps, slowing as she slowed to a jog, exhausted from too much.

Too much what, though? Violence. Lies. Panic. All of it. She was exhausted from too much, period. She was so exhausted that she didn’t even realize where her feet had taken her until she was up the stairs and opening the door.

“Olsen, dear?” her mom asked, sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, not even turning to look or expending the tiny effort required to scan her peripheral vision. “Is that you?”

“Yes, mother.” Olsen sighed. “I’m standing right here, aren’t I?” She plopped on the couch next to her mom who groaned and nudged her over.

“You get the entire couch every night,” her mom complained, eyes still on the show. “At least give me some room during the day. It is my couch after all.”

Olsen rolled her eyes. “My day was pretty terrible actually, thanks for asking,” she said sarcastically.

That was enough to get her mom’s attention. “You didn’t get fired again, did you?” she asked, shaking her head. “You know, sometimes it seems like you want to fail, dear. Do you do it so you can go on sleeping on my couch all day? You know I can’t afford that, child. Do you want your mother to have to live with that burden until the day she dies?”

Olsen scoffed. “First,” she said, “I didn’t get fired. And second, of course I don’t want to fail. Who would? And as soon as I can afford it I’ll get out of here because this stupid couch sucks to sleep on!”

Her mom shook her head. “Now I’ve heard that before,” she said. “Haven’t I? And yet here you still are after all this time. You know Aaron’s boy, Aldo, never has a problem getting work. I don’t know why it’s so hard for you.”

Olsen scoffed. “I’m not Aldo,” she said. “And I have a job, a terrible, shitty job that makes me miserable, which I’m pretty sure is ruining my life.”

“Welcome to the real world, honey.” Her mom chuckled. “It’s called work because you hate to do it. You’re not unique in that respect.”

“What do you know?” Olsen said. “You have no idea what my job entails, Mom.” She thought about what she had just done, about killing that actor, and swallowed the vomit that was forcing its way out of her throat. “I think I can lay claim to a unique version of Hell more than you might expect.”

Pffft.” Her mom laughed. “Everyone does, child. And they all can in their own way, but who’s to say whose Hell is worse than whose?”

Olsen was getting angry, or frustrated, or something. She just wanted to talk to someone who would console and comfort her, and her feet had taken her home in search of that. Maybe this was why she didn’t let her feet do the thinking after all. “Mom,” she said. “Do you even have any idea what’s going on in the world around you? In the worlds—plural—around you?”

“Don’t try to tell me about the world, child,” her mom said, shaking her head. “Now, I’ve been in it for a lot longer than you have, and those years of experience have taught me more than you could ever know.”

“Then you must have heard about what happened in the streets today,” Olsen said. “You weren’t worried that I might have been injured?”

Her mom shook her head and squinted. “What are you talking about now?”

“We were handing out food and clothes when the protectors came and gassed us then started shooting people,” Olsen said. “Hundreds of people died, Mom, and I was right there when it happened.”

Her mom chuckled and half-grinned like she didn’t believe it. “You’re kidding, right,” she said. “This is a joke or something.”

No, Mom,” Olsen complained. “That’s why my day was so horrible. That’s my unique Hell.”

“No.” Her mom shook her head some more and chuckled. “I would have heard something about that.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t,” Olsen said.

Olsen,” her mom said. “If that had actually happened, there would be riots in the streets. The protectors are the only thing keeping order around here, and if faith in them is lost, society would devolve into chaos. You don’t know what that’s like. The desperation erupting into violence. I’ve been through it, and that’s nothing to joke about.”

“Well I’m not joking,” Olsen said. “And you’re going to have to live through it again because that’s what’s going on right now. I’ve been through it, too, you know. Only for a day or so now, but I can see it’s only getting worse, and I never imagined it could be as bad as it is already in the first place.” She had to fight to keep her voice from cracking and hold back her tears.

Olsen.” Her mom grabbed Olsen’s hand and patted her back. Olsen couldn’t stop herself from embracing her and sobbing on her shoulders for what could have been half an hour before she controlled herself. Her mom kept patting her back and brushing her fingers through Olsen’s hair the whole time she cried.

“Olsen, dear,” she said after Olsen had gathered herself, sniffling and puffy-faced. “Whatever happened, if you got fired, or you need me to cover a loan, or—whatever—just tell me. But this, this is too much, dear. This is too far, even for you. So just go ahead and tell me the truth, and Momma will make it all better.”

Olsen stood up fast, appalled. She wanted to cry again, but this time in anger. She thought she had gotten through to her mom. She thought she had found someone she could take comfort in, confide in. Then her mom had to go and ruin it by accusing her of lying. Why would she lie about something like this?

“Why would I lie about something like this?” Olsen demanded.

“I don’t know, dear,” her mom said. “That’s why I need you to tell me the truth.”

“I wouldn’t. That’s what I’m telling you.”

“Then why haven’t I heard about it? That would be big news.”

“I don’t know,” Olsen said. “Maybe because you sit on your ass in front of this TV all day. If they don’t talk about it on here, you have no way of learning about it. Do you?”

Her mom was mad now. She gave Olsen the death stare Olsen knew too well from her childhood. She probably still thought of Olsen as that same little girl she used to be able to stare into submission, but that wasn’t Olsen anymore. How her mom still didn’t know that, she would never understand. No, Olsen was changed now. Her experiences had made her into a whole new person, the type of person who wouldn’t take this kind of verbal abuse without doing something about it.

“Get. Out. Of my. House,” her mom said, fuming.

Gladly,” Olsen said, curtsying and opening the door. “I don’t want to be here anyway.” She slammed the door behind her and ran down the stairs outside.

Well that was a fucking waste. And how could her mom not have heard about what had happened out there? That woman really was lost in her own world. That was just another world to add to the list of new ones Olsen had to get used to. Thinking of worlds, she thought of Sonya, and when she looked up, she was standing at Sonya’s door. Maybe those feet of hers had actually made a good decision this time.

Olsen rang the bell and waited for a reply. There was no answer so she rang it again, knowing it was futile if the first ring wasn’t answered. She sighed and turned around, and there was Sonya, jogging up the street toward her.

“Olsen, you’re alive!” Sonya said, grabbing her in a hug.

Olsen squeezed her tight and took a whiff of Sonya’s hair. Finally, someone to find comfort in.

“I can’t believe what happened,” Sonya said, holding Olsen at arm’s length so she could better look at her. “Wasn’t that right by where you work?”

“You heard about it?”

“Of course I did.” Sonya laughed. “It was disgusting. So many people died. How could I not?”

Olsen chuckled, thinking about her mom. “You’d be surprised,” she said.

“Well, not in my line of work at least. I hear every bit of gossip, and there was no way something like that was getting past me. I tried to reach you as soon as I heard, but your mom said she didn’t know where you were.”

Olsen shook her head, more about where she was and what she was doing when Sonya had tried to find her than the reminder that even her mom didn’t believe what had happened. “I was still in the thick of it,” Olsen said, shaking her head with a sigh.

“Tell me all about it,” Sonya said, grabbing Olsen’s hand and leading her to sit in the field across the street. “It must have been terrible. I can’t imagine.”

Olsen nodded then shook her head. “Yeah—I mean—No. I don’t know,” she said. “We were out there, you know—”

“The Human Family?” Sonya cut her off.

Olsen couldn’t help but notice the tinge of disgust in Sonya’s voice. “Yeah,” she said. “My employers and me. We had a printer and we were—”

“A printer?” Sonya’s eyes grew wide. “A 3D printer? Where’d y’all get that?”

Olsen shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “They had like five of them. I don’t know where they got them, and I’m not going to ask.”

Yeah, that’s not suspicious at all,” Sonya said, rolling her eyes. “But go on.”

Olsen tried to hold it in, but she couldn’t help scoffing. Go on? How was she supposed to go on when Sonya was being so sarcastic and dismissive? “Well, anyway,” Olsen said, trying to regain her train of thought. “We took it out to the street corner and offered anyone who passed by whatever they wanted.”

Sonya nodded. “That’s nice,” she said.

“Yeah, well, as you can imagine, people started crowding around fast, and before we knew it, there were thousands and thousands of them, and you couldn’t see the end of the crowd.”

“It’s easy to attract people when you give them what they want,” Sonya said, unimpressed.

Olsen felt a slight sense of Déjà vu. She shook it out of her head and said, “Well, we attracted the predators, too. I mean protectors—”

“What’s the difference?” Sonya scoffed.

“—and they killed people,” Olsen went on. “A lot of people. And gassed the rest. And some guy pointed a gun at me—not even a protector—and I was pretty sure I was going to die before Rosa and Anna saved me.”

Sonya sneered at the mention of their names while at the same time bringing Olsen in for a hug. “No, no, dear,” she said. “It’s okay. I’m here for you now.”

Olsen let her tears go again, but they didn’t last as long. She pushed away from Sonya’s embrace, sniffling and wiping her nose, to say, “You believe me, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Sonya laughed. “How couldn’t I? I’ve heard the same story from so many sources already. Why wouldn’t I believe it when my best friend was the one saying it happened?”

Olsen blushed and picked at the grass. “I didn’t believe you when you told me about the other worlds,” she said. “Not at first, at least.”

Sonya smiled. “How could you have? At that point I could barely believe in them myself.”

Olsen looked at her. “But I know it’s true now,” she said. “And there are more than two worlds.”

Sonya looked more interested than ever. “Tell me,” she said, leaning in closer.

“There are like seven of them,” Olsen said. “Or—six now. You were right about the merging of two of them.”

“Who told you this?” Sonya asked.

“Anna and Rosa,” Olsen said, and Sonya cringed. “And I went to one of the other worlds myself,” Olsen added.

“No way!” Sonya said, slapping Olsen’s arm. “How? Tell me.”

Olsen looked away again. She wanted to tell her about the other worlds, but she wasn’t ready to tell the whole story yet. “I saw a movie being filmed,” she said. “Or a TV show, I’m not sure, but I saw that guy who’s always the star. What do you call him?”

Big head,” Sonya said, smiling. “You met him? What was he like? Was his head as big in person? How did you get there?”

Olsen laughed. “I don’t know,” she said. “But it was another world, I’m sure of it. The people looked as different from us as the otherworlders we’ve already met. More so even.”

Sonya shook her head. “It’s good to know you finally believe me,” she said. “But I still don’t understand how you got there. C’mon. Tell me.”

“I—well…”

“It can’t be that bad,” Sonya said.

“I don’t know,” Olsen said. “You might think it is.”

“You can let me decide.”

“Anna and Rosa sent me,” Olsen said. “They have this thing in their basement, a big ring that opens doors that can teleport you places.”

“Like the elevators?” Sonya asked.

Olsen nodded. She thought it would be harder to explain. “Yeah,” she said. “Right. But instead of elevators taking you down to where you want to go, you step through these ring things like a door.”

“And that’s how you got to this other world?” Sonya asked.

“Yeah,” Olsen said. “I stepped into this costume closet or something, right out of their basement, then I went through a long, dark hall to a huge room where they had brought the inside outside. There were spotlights, and cameras, and special effects, and whatever they were filming looked like nothing that had ever played on any TV I’ve ever seen.”

Sonya nodded. “That’s probably because it hasn’t,” she said.

“It was crazy,” Olsen said. “I can’t believe I was there.”

“Why were you there?” Sonya asked.

A knot grew in Olsen’s stomach. She tried to swallow it down. Now was the time of reckoning. Could she admit what she had done? “Well…” she said.

“You can tell me, Olsen.” Sonya took Olsen’s hand in one of hers and patted it with the other. “I know you meant well.”

Olsen shook her head, trying not to cry. “We were feeding people in that street,” she said, “and clothing them. We were giving them tools, even, a way to produce for themselves. We were doing good. I’m certain of that.”

“I know,” Sonya said, pulling Olsen closer. “I know you were.”

“Then why’d the protectors do what they did?” Olsen asked, ripping her hand away from Sonya’s.

“Because they’re not here to protect us.”

Olsen gave her a look. It wasn’t like Sonya to speak out against the order of things—make wild predictions about the order of things, sure, but speak against it, never.

“What did you do when you were over there?” Sonya asked. “I know they didn’t just send you to meet a celebrity.”

“No.” Olsen shook her head. “But who are you to know that?”

Sonya smiled. “I’ve been living just the same as you have,” she said. “I’ve experienced my fair share of change and learned from it since Christmas. It just so happens that my experience is from the opposite perspective as yours.”

“Opposite perspective?” Olsen gave her a look. “What are you talking about?”

“Pro-android rights,” Sonya said. “The opposite of your Human Family. We’ve started our own coalition.”

Olsen shook her head. “Wait, what?” she said. “You didn’t tell me—”

I did,” Sonya said. “I warned you from the beginning that I didn’t trust those people. I told you to get a different job.”

“But you didn’t tell me you were starting a…a coalition—or whatever,” Olsen said.

Sonya scoffed. “Because you’ve been too busy with your family,” she said. “You’ve been too busy doing something you can’t even tell me about.”

“I—” Olsen sighed. “I thought I was helping people,” she said. “Just like with the printers on the streets.”

“But you weren’t?” Sonya asked.

Olsen shook her head. “I don’t know how they could make me do that,” she said. “I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now that I did.”

“I still don’t know what you did,” Sonya said with a shrug. “And I can’t help you until I do.”

“I put some cheese on a table,” Olsen said. “That’s it. The rest wasn’t me.”

Sonya’s jaw dropped. She shook her head. “No,” she said. “You didn’t. Olsen, poison?”

“I didn’t!” Olsen said defiantly.

“You can’t work for them anymore,” Sonya said. “Not after that.”

“What else am I supposed to do?” Olsen complained. “My mom said she’ll kick me out, even with my job.”

“I don’t blame her,” Sonya said. “I wouldn’t want someone who did that for them living with me, either.”

“I didn’t know what they were doing!” Olsen complained, standing from the grass.

“Yeah, well I told you,” Sonya said, standing, too. “But you didn’t listen to me.”

“You didn’t tell me this,” Olsen said. “You told me they were anti-robot. There’s a difference.”

“I told you they were immoral,” Sonya said. “I may have gotten the degree of their depravity wrong, but I warned you.”

Olsen groaned. “You’re no better than my mom,” she said. “You’re both lost in your own worlds. Her in her TV, and you with your robots.”

“They’re androids!” Sonya stomped her foot. “It’s good to know you’re picking up the racist rhetoric from your bosses.”

“I’m not a racist!” Olsen said.

Well you could have fooled me,” Sonya said. “Why else would you have assassinated a pro-android celebrity?”

“I didn’t know he was!” Olsen protested. “And I didn’t kill him!”

“Sure, Olsen.” Sonya shook her head. “Tell yourself what you want to, but I tried to warn you.” She started to stomp away.

“What, that’s it?” Olsen called after her.

“It is until you’re willing to admit what you did,” Sonya said, crossing the street to go into her apartment.

Olsen flopped back on the grass. She let out a big huff of air. First her mom and now Sonya, the only person she thought she could count on to trust and comfort her. She was not a killer!

Was she a killer? Anna and Rosa had said that she wasn’t, that it was Rosa who did the killing even though Olsen was the one to cut the cheese. What if Olsen had eaten a slice? She could have died. They could have killed her. Her heart beat faster at the thought of it even though the danger was long gone.

How could they do this to her? How could they do that to the actor she—no, they had killed? How could she stop thinking about it?

She stood up and brushed herself off. Her mother was no help. Sonya was no help. Rosa and Anna were the problem. There was no one left for her to turn to. There was nowhere left to go but home. She took her time walking to the elevator, not wanting to see her mom again so soon. When she stepped inside, she said, “Home.” not giving the street or address in the hopes that the elevator would mistake her voice for someone else’s and get her lost somewhere strange where no one knew what she had or hadn’t done.

When the doors slid open again, her eyes grew wide. She was in a stranger place than she could ever have imagined. Not even outside anymore, she was in a long hall, and an old woman in a white coat stood smiling at her.

Home. Back home,” Olsen begged, looking at the roof of the elevator and urging it to close its doors.

The woman in the white coat chuckled. “Calm down, dear,” she said. “You have nothing to be afraid of here.”

“Where am I?” Olsen asked. “Who are you?”

“All will be explained, dear,” the old woman said. “Come. Sit with me.” She crossed the hall and opened the door at the end of it to show Olsen through.

Olsen hesitated. “Doors close,” she said. “Take me home.” The elevator didn’t respond, and the woman just held the door at the other end of the hall, smiling. Olsen had no choice but to follow her through it.

The room was a big office with a view of a wilderness scene out of a wall-sized window. The woman in white sat in one of the puffy chairs by the window and indicated for Olsen to do the same in the seat across from her.

“So where am I?” Olsen asked as she sat down.

“In my office,” the woman said. “Or rather, in an office in my building. I don’t use this one much.”

“And you are?”

“The Scientist.”

“That’s a name?” Olsen raised an eyebrow.

The woman smiled. “It’s what people call me,” she said. “What is a name? A sewer by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Olsen shrugged. “Sounds more like a job to me,” she said.

“Lots of people have jobs for names,” the woman said. “Especially extinct jobs. They’re usually surnames like McKannic, Server, or Sous, but the Scientist just so happens to be a first name. What can I say?”

Olsen looked at the Scientist suspiciously. Did she know that Olsen’s last name was Sous, or was that a coincidence? “What do you want with me?” she asked.

The Scientist chuckled. “Oh, no, dear,” she said. “The question isn’t what I want with you. The question is what do you want from me?”

Olsen eyed her again. This was starting to smell like the same shit Rosa used to attract her flies. Olsen didn’t respond, instead waiting for the woman to go on.

“You see,” the Scientist said. “I’m in a position of privilege here. And from that position, I can see many things.” She looked through the window at the green wilderness for a moment. “And not just the beautiful things we have in front of us here. No, sadly, there’s much more ugliness to see in these worlds than there is beauty, and I have seen it all.”

“What do you know about the worlds?” Olsen asked, forgetting her suspicions for a moment.

“Oh, dear, everything.” The Scientist grinned. “Every little thing. You know, I was the architect who oversaw the creation of the worlds. I was their mother and midwife. I have overseen their maturation, raising and rearing them where I can here and there, but these worlds are as independent and willful as teenagers these days, and I have little control anymore. But I still have my eyes turned firmly on them, and I still know every little detail of their existence. Any questions you have I’d be more than happy to answer.” She smiled.

Olsen didn’t know what to think. Those were some grandiose claims, and this woman would have to be older than humans could be in order to have done what she claimed to have done. “How am I supposed to believe you?”

The Scientist didn’t stop smiling, even while she spoke. “Well, that’s for you to decide, dear,” she said. “What evidence would it take to convince you?”

Olsen had to take a moment to think about it. “Show me,” she said.

“Show you what, dear?”

“You said you keep your eyes on them. Show me how you watch the other worlds.”

The Scientist smiled and nodded. “Very well,” she said. “Come with me.”

They went out into the hall again, and when the Scientist reopened the door they had just passed through, it revealed another office entirely, one with a different view. Olsen gasped and crossed past the desk to look out the wallwindow at the lines and lines of slip, snap, clickers. “I know her,” she said. “Her brother works with me. Or did… But I know her. What is this?” she asked, but the Scientist had sat at the desk and began typing and clicking on the computer.

“That’s one way I keep an eye on the worlds,” she said, not taking her eyes off the screen. “Though it’s really more of a reminder. This computer here is where I do most of the real monitoring. Right…there.” She leaned back in her chair and smiled, watching the screen.

“A reminder?” Olsen asked, walking around behind the Scientist to see what she was doing. “A reminder of what?”

“A reminder of what we’re fighting against. A reminder of who I do this for. A reminder of why I wake up every morning. You name it.”

Olsen groaned. She was not ready for another “Family”, and she was starting to regret encouraging this woman on by asking her to prove herself. What she really wanted was to go home. Then she looked at the screen.

There were seven different frames, each cycling through shots of streets and bars and restaurants and bedrooms. She recognized the look of some, but others seemed so lavish and outlandish to her that she didn’t know what they were or where they could be. “What is this?” she asked.

“These are the worlds,” the Scientist said. “You wanted to see them so here they are. These two—” She pointed at the screen. “Are Five and Six. Technically one world now. Your world. You’ve noticed the differences since the merger by now, I’m sure.”

Olsen nodded. Dumbstruck.

“And here is Four,” the Scientist said. “That’s technically where we are now, though we’re really in a world of our own if you want to get picky. Then Three, where the actors and musicians and artists live. You’ve been there, I think.”

Olsen swallowed her nerves.

“Then Two, with the managers, and the lawyers, and the other rabble. And One, where all the protectors live. Which brings us to the best for last—or worst depending on which end of the hierarchy you happen to be on—we have Inland, our owners, the magnets of wealth and rulers of all our fates. These are the worlds, dear. Do you believe I know about them now?”

Olsen wiped her face. She shook her head and shrugged. She tried to say, “I don’t know.” but the words wouldn’t come out.

“Now, dear,” the Scientist said. “You’ve seen our capabilities—some of them at least. I can give you anything your heart desires, and I ask of you nothing in return. So what do you say? What is it that Olsen Sous wants?”

Olsen pictured all the things she could ask for that would make her life better: A well-paying job, an apartment of her own, both probably futile no matter what this Scientist knew about the worlds. A printer, maybe more plausible, but what would she do with it? Haul it up to her mom’s apartment and attract a swarm of protectors to attack them there? Then she thought about Rosa and Anna and their “Family”, about everything she had just been through and wanted to avoid experiencing ever again at all costs. And she shook her head. She said, “No. I don’t want anything from you. I don’t want anything I can’t get by myself.” And she ran out into the hall and into the elevator then yelled at it to close the doors and take her home.

The Scientist came out into the hall slowly, a sad—but not angry—look on her face. “Are you sure this is what you want?” she asked when she had finally made it across the short hall.

Olsen nodded, not wanting to open her mouth and say something stupid.

“Well, if that’s what you want, I can’t argue.” The Scientist shook her head. “I’ll be watching you, and I’ll be waiting for you to change your mind, child. Just ask an elevator for me and you’ll be here. Good bye, then.”

The elevator doors slid closed and the floor dropped out from underneath Olsen, leaving her to careen toward whatever may come.

 End of Book Two

< XLI. Guy     [Table of Contents]     Book III >

And there it is. Book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy in its entirety. If you’ve made it this far with us, you’ve made it to the halfway point in the Infinite Limits story. In the next few weeks I should be publishing book three, Dividing by Ø, so stick around the blog here in order to keep up with the story. Until next time. Have a great weekend, dear readers.

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