This Saturday brings us the second chapter of book three in the Infinite Limits tetralogy, Dividing by Ø. Today we join Laura and her crew in Outland Three as they begin production on Rosa and Anna’s anti-robot propaganda film. See how that project comes along as the story progresses, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of Dividing by Ø through this link if you want to support future releases in the Infinite Limits series.
Also, if you haven’t heard already, I’ll be releasing an audio book for my novella Murder in “Utopia,, in the next couple of weeks, and if you want the chance to win a free copy of that when it’s released, you’re going to have to subscribe to my email newsletter through this link because I’ll be sending the opportunity out through that method alone.
Thanks again for following along this far, dear readers. I hope you enjoy the continuation of the story here. We do nothing alone.
Two girls played dominoes on a dirty carpet. One was supposed to be the other’s daughter, but Laura thought they looked more like sisters. No one cared what Laura thought, though.
The girls laughed and bantered. Nothing scripted, just simple improv, most of which wouldn’t make it into the final product anyway. If Laura had her way, none of it would. Laura wouldn’t have her way, though. Laura never got her way.
They were shooting b-roll. It’s called b-roll because it’s not A grade work. It’s not scripted. It may not even be used. Those crucial shots of roadside flowing by in all the most famous movies, that’s pretty much the epitome of b-roll. Laura hated shooting b-roll for the projects she enjoyed working on. For this particular project, it was Hell.
She had been standing there, watching them for hours now, statuesque and silent. She hardly even breathed. Her only movements were to lift a finger, press a button, and drop the finger. Lift a finger, press a button, and drop the finger. Watching the two play dominos, do each other’s hair, or some other nonsense until her phone rang and one of the girls screamed, causing Laura to jump and almost knock over the camera.
“Fortuna, Jen!” Laura yelled. “It’s a fucking phone and you’re a fucking adult. Act like one.”
“Oh, uh—sorry,” Jen said, standing from the floor and brushing herself off. “I was so deep into character I couldn’t help it.”
Laura scoffed. “Whatever.” She answered the phone. “We’re working on it, Cohen.”
“Shut it down,” Cohen said on the other end of the line. “Shut it down now. We need you and Jen here ASAP.”
“We’re not done yet,” Laura said, both because she wanted to piss Cohen off and because she didn’t want to do what she knew came next. “We’re only at dominoes. We still have to go through—”
“I don’t care,” Cohen said, cutting her off. “You can do that any time. We’ve got a conveyor belt and not for long. So grab your shit and get your asses over here.”
“Ugh. Fine. Whatever.” Laura hated when he tried to boss her around. Stupid fucking directors. If only it was him they needed out of the picture instead of Emir, that she wouldn’t have any qualms about. “Where is here?” she added for cover’s sake even though she knew the answer already.
“Loch Ness Studios. Lot 37. And hurry.”
Cohen hung up before Laura could respond. “Well fuck you, too,” she said anyway.
“Hey!” the other girl—not Jen, but Laura couldn’t remember the poor extra’s name—gasped, holding her hand to her mouth.
“Shut up, kid,” Laura snapped. “You’re off the clock. Get out of here. I’ll call you when we need you again.”
“But—” she squealed.
“Go!” Laura stomped her foot at the girl who scurried away.
Jen chuckled. “Dude,” she said. “You don’t have to be so mean. The poor girl’s just trying to do her job. We don’t pay her enough for all that.”
“Yeah, well.” Laura scoffed. “We don’t pay me enough for all this, either. Shit. We don’t pay me anything.”
“Alright, alright.” Jen waved her hands defensively. “I get it. Me neither. So what does the slave driver want now?”
“We’re to go to Loch Ness Studios,” Laura said, mocking Cohen’s stupid voice. “We’ve got a small window of time in a studio with a conveyor belt.”
“Just fucking great,” Jen said, pulling out her phone then sliding and tapping on the screen. “The only lines I haven’t practiced yet. Of course we get a shot at it today.”
“Well, I have some gear to pack up,” Laura said, getting to it. “You can go over your lines while I do it.”
“Sure,” Jen said, getting exasperated. “I could memorize them on the elevator ride over there, too, but that wouldn’t give me the time I need to perfect my part. I mean, I understand the script is a piece of shit, like Guy—wherever he is, Fortuna protect him—tried to warn us, but I don’t want my performance to play down to it. Okay.”
Laura scoffed, hefting a bag of gear onto the anti-grav carts. “You’re telling me,” she said. “You think I enjoy rigging and shooting this crap? We’re all on the same crew.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah.” Jen waved Laura’s concerns away. “It’s not the same, though. They’ll see my face up on that screen. Everyone will know for sure that it was me. You can put a pseudonym in the credits, but I can’t wear a mask through my performance. My face is my tool.”
“It is all the same,” Laura said, packing the last little bit as she talked. “And it doesn’t matter anymore anyway. We’re off to the Loch. Let’s go.”
She pushed the cart out through the hall and into an elevator. Jen followed close behind, not paying attention to where she was walking because she was reading the script on her phone. She bumped right into the back of Laura when they entered the elevator, then complained about it as if Laura were responsible.
“It’s not my fault you don’t watch where you’re going,” Laura said. Then, “Loch Ness Studios. Lot 37.”
The elevator doors slid shut and the floor fell out from underneath them. When they slid open again and Laura pushed the cart out, it took Jen some time to follow, still reading her script. They walked through a long hall, with a cement floor and steel walls, into what appeared to be an assembly line. Cohen was deep into a lecture while Emir sat at the conveyor belt, listening to the director drone on and trying to snap little bits of whatever was on the line together at the same time. He wasn’t very good at either task, though, so he kept messing up at both.
“There you are,” Cohen said, finally breaking away from his lecture some time after Laura had already gotten to setting up the lights and cameras. “What took you two so long?”
“We came right here, dude,” Jen said. “We’re not your fucking on call slaves, ready to bow to your every whim and whimsy.”
“You are my crew though, aren’t you?” Cohen asked with wide eyes, feigning offence as he always did. “Emir was here on time. He didn’t have any trouble. I don’t see why it took y’all so long.”
“We were shooting your fucking b-roll!” Laura snapped. She stopped what she was doing for a second, took a few deep breaths, then went back to rigging the lights like she hadn’t said a thing.
Jen gasped at Laura’s attitude, putting one hand to her mouth but still holding her phone so she could read the script with the other.
“Well we’re here now so let’s get to it,” Cohen said, flustered. He clapped his hands together. “Emir are you ready?”
“Muahahaha!” Emir laughed, standing from the conveyor belt and pushing his chest out. “I am a robot. I am always ready.”
“If only you were,” Cohen said with a grin, turning to Jen. “What about you? I see you’re still going over the script. And is that the right costume for this scene? Where’s Steve?”
Jen scoffed. “You tell me, director. And I wouldn’t be reading the script right now if you had given me a little warning that we were going to do this scene today.”
Cohen took out his own phone and pulled up the script. Emir laughed at them and did the robot. “Silly humans,” he said in a monotone voice. “I am a robot. I already memorized—”
“Yeah, yeah. We get it,” Cohen said, waving him away. “You’re in character. Way to do your job. Now, Jen. No. This isn’t the right costume. I need you to find Steve and get changed.”
“Find him?” Jen said, dropping her phone from her face for the first time since they had left the other set. “Where the fuck is he?”
“I don’t know,” Cohen said. “Probably in the green room. Just go.” He waved her away.
“Ugh. But—” Jen tried to complain.
“I said go!”
Laura stopped her work and Emir stopped doing the robot so they could both turn around and gawk at Cohen’s attitude.
“Whatever, dude” Jen said, flailing her arms and storming out of the room.
Laura went back to work, wishing again it was Cohen instead of Emir that was the star of the show.
“Fuck,” Cohen said, pacing the room and brushing back his already slicked-back hair. “I can’t deal with divas right now. Do y’all hear me? We don’t have time for this shit, okay. We only have this lot for—” He looked at his phone. “—a few more hours and we have plenty of shots to get to while we’re here. So if y’all could just fall the fuck in line for once in your pathetic lives, that would be fan—fucking—tastic. I’m under a lot of pressure here. So let’s all do our part to relieve a little bit of it today.”
Emir nodded. “I am a robot,” he said. “Your wish is my command.”
Cohen took a deep breath then chuckled. “Good,” he said. “What about you, Laura? You gonna give me shit when I tell you to set the lights and cameras—”
“Exactly where I have them,” Laura stopped him, crossing her arms and giving him the evil eye.
“I—well…” Cohen looked back and forth between his phone’s script and the rigging a few times. “Uh… Yes, actually. Exactly that.”
“Good,” Laura said. “Now maybe you can stop giving me shit for no reason.”
“Oooooohhhh. Damn, buoy,” Emir said, finally breaking character to snap his fingers together three times in a zigzag pattern. “She told you.”
“Shut the fuck up, Emir,” Cohen said. “No one asked you.”
“There,” Jen said, coming back on set and striking a pose. “Is this better?” Laura thought she looked almost exactly the same as before, though—maybe a little dirtier.
“Is that what Steve gave you?” Cohen asked, stepping toward her to get a closer look.
Jen nodded, holding her pose.
“Then, yes. It’s better,” Cohen said, clapping his hands together too loudly for Jen’s taste. “Places everyone. I think one take should be good for this. The scene’s not difficult. We’re starting from Alice’s entrance and going through Adam’s attack. We’ll cut right before he puts her on the conveyor belt. Y’all got that?”
Everyone nodded, taking their places. Emir sat at his seat, stretching his fingers in preparation for snapping pieces together. They’d be able to speed it up in post production but he would have to give them something they could work with if they wanted to make it look at all natural. Well, not really, in the end, but he didn’t know that yet. Watching him, Laura almost felt sorry for what she had done, for what she had to do, but he would be okay in the long run and she had no other choice.
“Laura, what about you?” Cohen asked, breaking her away from her reservations.
She shook herself out of them. “I—uh. Yeah,” she said. “Sure. This is just a long shot anyway. Set it and forget it.” She chuckled to hide her apprehension. Emir’d be alright, she assured herself over and over again. Emir’d be alright. Emir’d be alright. Emir’d be alright.
“Okay. Good,” Cohen said, looking around at everyone again to be sure they were in their places and ready. “On my count then.” Laura’s heart skipped a beat and her palms slickened up. There was no stopping what had been set into motion now.
“Lights!” Cohen called.
Laura flipped a switch, turning off all but the camera lights.
She pressed a button and the conveyor belt hummed into motion.
Emir set to piecing together bits of nothing. Jen gave him a few seconds to do it before slowly walking on camera, surveying the empty seats around Emir.
“No,” Jen said, her voice only slightly trembling, not her best acting.
Emir ignored her. He kept piecing together bits of nothing.
“It can’t be you,” Jen said, voice cracking a little bit.
Emir turned his head to look at her but kept on with his work. He was going slower now, but again, post-production would remedy that.
“Yes,” Emir said in his monotone robot voice.
“But…” Jen held her hand to her mouth. “But you’re—”
“A robot,” Emir said. “Muahahaha.” He threw his head back in laughter, still piecing together nothing.
“But my family,” Jen said. “My coworkers. They’ll—”
Emir stopped working. He stood slowly and turned to face Jen, smiling wide. “I am a robot,” he said. “I don’t—”
But he couldn’t finish the sentence. A heavy, hard light fell from above, landing on his head and knocking him to the ground. Jen screamed, Cohen rushed to Emir’s side to see if he was okay, and Laura simply flipped the camera off, calm and collected. She had expected everything. She had rigged the light to fall in the first place. So, naturally, it came as no surprise to her when what had been planned ended up happening.
“Shit! What the fuck was that, Laura?” Cohen demanded, holding a limp and bleeding Emir in his arms.
“I—I don’t know,” Laura said, mustering all of her acting abilities for this one scene. Sure she was a grip now, but she had gone through the same school system as everyone else, and she couldn’t help but pick a few things up along the way. “That wasn’t one of my lights,” she said, which was true even though she had rigged the light to fall. She knew better than to commit a crime with one of her own babies. “You’ll have to ask the studio owner about it.”
Cohen looked around wide eyed at Laura, then at Jen, then back to Emir who still lay lifeless—the trickle of blood from his forehead slowly and alarmingly turning into a stream. “Yeah, well,” Cohen said. “I—I guess I’ll take care of that.”
“What about Emir?” Jen’s voice cracked as she said it. “Is—Is he…dead?”
“What? No,” Cohen said, looking back at Emir and trying to shake him awake. “Of course not. He can’t be. Right, buddy? You’re not dead, are you?”
Laura was starting to worry that he might be. That wasn’t part of the plan. She had just wanted to put him out of commission for a while, not forever. This couldn’t be happening when she was so close to being free of her chains. She was not about become a murderer, even for that freedom. “I think we should—” she started to say, but Emir blinked his eyes open.
“Emir. Emir, baby,” Cohen said, still on the ground and holding him, brushing his hair like a child. “You’re alright, aren’t you?”
Emir shook his head, still groggy.
“We need to get him to a doctor,” Jen said.
“No!” Cohen snapped. “We can’t. They’ll ask too many questions. We weren’t— Just trust me.”
“Well what the fuck are we supposed to do then?” Jen started to cry.
Emir blinked a few times and shook his head. “I am a robot,” he said in a weak voice. “I don’t care.”
“There,” Cohen said. “There, you see. He’s fine. He doesn’t care.”
“I don’t think—” Jen said.
“No,” Cohen cut her off, standing now that Emir could hold his own weight—though only barely. “It has to be this way. Laura, take him to the green room and get him some water. I need to—”
“I don’t think—” Laura said.
“I don’t care what you think! Do it!”
“Ugh. Fine. Whatever.” Laura went to help Emir up while Cohen brought Jen to a far away corner of the set, whispering angrily at her. Laura hefted Emir’s arm up over her shoulder and had to carry most of his weight all the way through the halls to the green room.
Steve gasped when she pushed the door open. “Fortuna!” he said, holding a hand to his mouth. “What happened?”
“I—uh—” Laura heaved Emir onto the couch next to Steve who went to comfort the injured actor. “I don’t know,” she said, breathing heavily. “A light fell on him.”
“A light?” Steve shot her a look and went back to comforting Emir.
“Not one of mine,” she said. “A studio light.”
“A studio light?” Steve crossed the room to get some water for Emir. “No way.”
“Yes way. Why? Do you think it was my fault?”
Steve put his hands up in defense. “Now I didn’t say that.”
“It sounded like that’s what you were implying.”
“Well it’s not. I was just saying—”
“Alright, alright,” Cohen said, coming into the room with hands clapping. Emir flinched at the sound of it. “How’s our star doing?”
Jen scoffed as she came in behind him. “I’m fine,” she said under her breath.
“I am a robot,” Emir said, louder this time at least.
“He doesn’t look good,” Steve said. “I think he needs a doctor.”
“No!” Cohen and Jen said together.
“That is,” Cohen added, chuckling and rubbing his hands together. “He looks alright to me. What do you say, Jen?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jen nodded, giving a thumbs up. “Sure thing, boss. Right as rain.”
“You see.” Cohen smiled.
Steve dabbed a wet rag on Emir’s bloody forehead. “Right as rain, huh?”
“I am a care,” Emir said. “I don’t robot.”
“That sounds right as rain to you?” Steve scoffed.
“Well he’s a little dizzy,” Cohen said, chuckling and trying to avoid eye contact with both Steve and Laura. “But nothing too serious. Right, Jen? Tell them.”
Laura scoffed. “He doesn’t look like he’ll be able to act any time soon,” she said, hoping they’d see that at least. “It seems pretty serious to me.”
“Fuck, fuck, shit, fuck,” Cohen repeated, pacing the small room. “You’re right about that.”
“Well, why don’t we complain to the studio manager, then?” Steve asked. “It is their responsibility, isn’t it? Maybe they can send a doctor for us.”
Cohen shot him a look then turned to Jen. “No, I don’t know,” he said, urging Jen to say something. He obviously didn’t want the studio managers alerted to the fact that they were using the lot.
“You know what,” Jen said, putting on a fake smile. She never really was that great of an actor. She had a pretty face, though, so she got work. “I think I’ll go and alert them myself. I’m pretty sure—no—I’m certain that I saw someone with a Loch Ness monster on their shirt on my way in here. I’ll—I’ll go alert them to the problem, and we’ll get to the bottom of this in no time.”
“Yes,” Cohen said, clapping his hands together as she started to leave. “That exactly.”
“You know,” Laura said, holding her phone over her head. Jen stopped in her tracks, and Cohen stared at Laura, annoyed, while Steve went on dabbing Emir’s forehead with a wet rag and Emir kept mumbling about being a robot. “I happen to have the studio manager’s direct line. I could save you the trouble.” Laura smirked.
“Oh, no, no,” Cohen said, looking to Jen for help. “Nonsense.”
“It’s no trouble at all,” Jen said. “Really. I’ll just go out and—”
“Por que no los dos?” Steve said, shrugging.
Cohen shot him a look. “Yes,” he said. “Of course.” He chuckled nervously, rubbing his no doubt sweaty hands together. “Both. Great idea, Steve. Top notch.” He shot a big fake smile at Jen, nodding. “Go ahead, then.”
“Oh, well…” Jen said. “Okay, I guess. I mean. Yeah. I’ll just be on my way then.” She walked out as slowly as she could, but even with all that time Cohen couldn’t come up with a way to keep her from leaving.
“And I’ll just make that call, then,” Laura said with a chuckle, trying to stall a bit herself. She did have a direct line to someone in the ownership line of Loch Ness studios, but she wasn’t really supposed to call him until after all this dirty deed was done, not right in the middle of it. “I’ll let them know they’re dealing with Cohen Martin,” she said, “the soon to be biggest director on any TV set in the entire world.”
“No—well—” Cohen stammered.
“Do it,” Steve said. “Can’t you see this man’s injured?” Emir nodded off again as if to illustrate the point. “And tell them to send a doctor.” Steve went back to dabbing Emir’s still bleeding head with an already bloody rag.
“Alright, then,” Laura said, hitting send and putting her phone to her ear. “I’ll tell them what’s up.”
“Good,” Steve said with a single curt nod.
“No,” Cohen said, stepping closer to Laura and trying to tear the phone out of her hand. “No, you can’t— You don’t understand.”
Laura held tight, though, and took a step back. The phone had rung three times and there still wasn’t an answer. She was starting to worry that no one would answer when he finally did.
“It’s about time, sweetheart,” came the sickening voice from the other end of the line, the voice of the man who had kept her in the chains she was trying to free herself from for so long now. Cohen tried one more time to grab the phone away, but Laura took a quick step back and dodged his advance.
“It’s done,” she said as she did.
“You can’t!” Cohen complained.
“Good,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “Very good.”
“Yes,” Laura said. “I’m calling about Loch Ness Studios, lot thirty seven. This is Laura Concierge.”
Cohen gave up, slouching on the couch next to Steve and rousing Emir who groaned, failing to sit up despite trying. “Wha—Where am I?” he said.
“See, he’s fine!” Cohen said.
“Yes,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “Very good, child. Keep up the charade. Tell me what happened.”
“Yes, sir,” Laura said, turning her back to her crew as she spoke. “Lot thirty seven, sir. We were filming a shoot when one of the studio lights fell on top of our star. He was knocked unconscious, sir. We’re not sure he’ll ever act again, and we only had the lot for a limited time at that. This is your responsibility, and we demand a refund and credit for more time in the studios as reparation.”
Cohen held his face in his hands, shaking his head, probably crying. Emir seemed a little better already—which Laura was happy to see—he was sitting up now, at least, and Steve was crossing the room to get him some more water.
“Very good, child,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “I assume you mean Emir when you say star, of course.”
“Yes, sir,” Laura said, nodding even though the voice couldn’t see it. “He… He doesn’t look good. We need a doctor. Someone to tell him just how bad it is, sir.”
Emir still looked dazed on the couch—though he was drinking water by himself now—when Jen returned to be furiously updated by Cohen who really did start to cry.
“I’ve sent someone already,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “My personal doctor. She’ll give you the diagnosis you seek. And I expect to see you shortly, dear. In my office as soon as you’re done there. You know the way.”
“Yes, sir,” Laura said, nodding. “And we expect a full refund on our rent for the day. Nothing less.” But the second part she said to a dead line.
“So?” Cohen and Jen asked at the same time, both with red puffy eyes.
“They said they’d—”
The green room doors burst open and a young woman in a long white coat rushed in with a black bag over her shoulder. “Where’s the patient?” she demanded, setting her bag on the coffee table in front of the couch.
“Oh—uh…” Everyone kind of pointed at Emir whose head still seemed to be too heavy for his neck to hold up.
“Alright, then,” the doctor said, grabbing some tool from the bag to examine him with. “Let me just see here.”
Emir blinked his eyes against the light that the woman’s tool emitted, shaking his head. “I am a robot,” he said. “I don’t care.”
The doctor kind of chuckled then shook her head, like she realized that laughing was poor bedside manner only too late. “What was that?” she asked when she had gathered herself. “He’s a robot?”
“It’s one of his lines,” Cohen said, talking too close to the doctor. He looked like he wanted her out of there before she could cause any trouble for him. “He has a hard time getting out of character. That’s nothing out of the ordinary for him.”
“It’s true,” Jen said, nodding.
“Still, I don’t like it,” the doctor said, shaking her head. She put her tool back in the black bag and got a bottle of pills out. “A glass of water, please.”
Emir held the glass he was still drinking from up to her and said, “I am a robot. Your wish is my command.”
“Oh, well…” The doctor shook her head, pushing the glass back to him and handing him two pills. “It was for you anyway, dear. Drink up and take those. They’ll have you feeling better in no time.”
“I am a robot,” Emir said, swallowing the pills and the rest of the water. “I don’t care.”
“Well,” the doctor said, grabbing her bag and crossing back to the door. “I’m afraid that’s all I can do. He should be better soon, but not today. Probably not tomorrow, either. Just don’t let him go to sleep for the next twenty four hours. Wake him up every fifteen minutes, at least. Otherwise he may not wake up ever. And then give him some rest after that. A few weeks of it, in bed, with no work. That’s the only thing that’ll make him well again. Okay, then. Ta ta.” She slammed the door closed behind her as she left, apparently in a hurry to do something somewhere else.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Cohen said, standing in Laura’s face.
“What?” Laura asked, stepping up to him. “Get Emir medical attention?”
“Calm down you two,” Steve said, standing between them to push them apart.
“I was just trying to help,” Laura said, shrugging. “I would hope that one of you would do the same if it was me about to die like that.”
“You were being defiant,” Cohen said. “I had everything under control.”
“I don’t know,” Jen said. “Nothing bad happened, right? Emir should be fine, I mean. That’s what the doctor said, isn’t it?”
“That is what she said.” Steve nodded.
“Still,” Cohen said, pacing the room. “What the fuck? What are we supposed to do now? We don’t have a star.”
“Wait until he’s better,” Steve said. “What else?”
“We don’t have time to wait,” Cohen said. “Our time’s almost up here. Not to mention the investors…”
“What about them?” Jen asked.
“Yeah,” Laura said. She still didn’t even know who these mystery investors were. “What about them?”
“They want their product,” Cohen said. “What else? They’re investors. What the fuck do you think?”
“I think you need to calm the fuck down,” Laura said.
“Yeah,” Jen nodded. “Settle down, dude.”
“Well we need a fucking star or we don’t have a movie,” Cohen said.
“And Emir should be fine again soon,” Steve reminded him.
“I am a robot,” Emir said, groaning.
“We need him sooner than soon,” Cohen said, flailing his hands in the air. “We need him right now. Fuck it. Fuck this. I’m out of here.” He stomped out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him.
“Fortuna!” Jen said when he was gone. “What an ass.”
“Right?” Steve nodded. “You need some more water, honey?”
Emir nodded. “I don’t care.”
“What an ass,” Laura repeated, packing up her lights and cameras. “Y’all can take care of Emir, though, right? I have some pretty important business to see to right now.”
“Uh…” Jen looked to Steve, obviously not wanting the responsibility herself.
“Yeah, sure.” Steve nodded and shrugged, rinsing his glass—of everclear, probably. “I have some sewing to do anyway. What the fuck? I’ll make it an all nighter.”
“Great,” Laura said. “Awesome. I hope he’ll be alright.” And she knew he would be but not soon enough. The wheels had been set in motion.
# # #
There it is, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed another chapter in the story. Don’t forget to pick up the full novel here and don’t forget to subscribe to my email newsletter for your chance to win a free copy of the Murder in “Utopia,, audio book upon release. Have a great weekend, y’all.