Hello, dear readers. Another Saturday means it’s time for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today we join Sonya Barista, who you might remember from Olsen’s adventures in book two, An Almost Tangent. Read on to see what she’s been up to since we last left her, and if you enjoy that, don’t forget that you can pick up a copy of the book in print or ebook format on Amazon. If you purchase a copy of the print book, we’ll even throw in an ebook version for free. Enjoy, now.
Sonya loved her job. She spent more time at work than she did anywhere else—including her own home. These people were her family, and she’d rather spend time with no one else.
She was there, behind the bar, at The Bar—what the regulars called it even before the long forgotten name on the sign had faded out of existence—cleaning a dirty glass and listening to a story she’d heard too many times before, a story she would no doubt come to hear again and again with the way the worlds were turning.
“I mean, shit,” Annie Painter complained, gulping down another drink and slamming the empty glass on the table. “I’m the best damn worker on that entire construction site. And I’m not bragging or nothing, either. That’s a verifiable fact based on the way they determine our pay. I do more work faster than anyone else, and now I’m being fired because of it.”
Sonya shook her head, setting another beer on the bar so Annie didn’t have to ask for it.
“You know I can’t pay for this one,” Annie said, drinking it anyway.
“And you know I wouldn’t ask you to, given the circumstances,” Sonya said. “Consider it on the house.”
“Well, thank you.” Annie took another big gulp, draining half the glass, and Sonya set a full pitcher on the bar next to her, nodding for Annie to go on.
“Like I said,” Annie did, “I’m being fired because I’m the fastest worker out there. I wasn’t always. I used to be stuck around fourth place, never even on the winner’s podium at the end of the week, but it seems like the closer we get to finishing this stupid Wall the more they try to slow us down.”
While Annie gulped her beer, Sonya said, “You’re not the first to tell me that.”
“I bet not.” Annie chuckled a little before scowling again. “I bet not. You prolly got my predecessors coming through here. The three that were fired before me. Did they run up a tab, too?”
“No tabs for the recently unemployed,” Sonya reminded her. “Including you. But yes, I talked to your friends, and they told me the same story you’re telling me now.”
“Well you know then,” Annie said, taking a swig of beer and topping off the glass. “First each of them were fired, one by one in turn, and now it’s me. And old Lenny Sexton’ll prolly be next, too. But fire us all they want, there’s no stopping it. Even with the slowest of us, they’ll finish that Wall eventually. Hell, it’s almost done as it is.”
“Do you have any idea why they’d be trying to stall construction?” Sonya asked. “That’s what I don’t understand in all this.”
“Why are they even rebuilding the stupid thing in the first place?” Annie asked with a scoff. “Why do they do anything? Who the fuck are they? You’re telling me that’s the only part of this shit show that you don’t understand?”
“Well, no. You’ve got a point there. But do you have any opinion as to why they’d be slowing construction?”
“Whoever decided to build the shit is having second thoughts. I don’t know. Maybe someone hasn’t paid for it yet. How the fuck am I supposed to know? I’m just trained to lay line.”
“And you’re damn good at it,” Sonya said, topping off Annie’s pitcher one more time. “The best in the business from what I heard.”
“Until they fired me,” Annie said, holding her drink over her head like she was giving a toast. “I have no idea what the fuck job I’m supposed to find now. Y’all need any help around here?”
“Sheeit,” Sonya said with a chuckle, thinking about all the work they could use help with. “We got more work than you’ll ever know, but nothing we can afford to pay you for so it wouldn’t be helping you at all.”
“Hey, I’m here to help,” Annie said. “I mean to pay for these drinks somehow. Even if I can’t pay for them. So you don’t be shy about asking me to do anything—for you or the bar.”
“Only thing I need you to do is get another job. That way you can take care of your family and get back to frequenting our fine establishment here like you used to. In the meantime, don’t worry about your drinks. They’re on the house. You worry about your family first. We’ve got your back on that.”
“Ugh.” Annie groaned, stumbling sloppily off the barstool. “Speaking of which. Guess I better go break the news to them now. Wish me luck.”
Annie finished her half pint of beer and stumbled out of the bar while Sonya called after her, “Good luck! I’ll keep my ears open for any work that might be good for you.”
It was a shame, really. Annie’s story. But nothing new. Nothing new under the Sun. Sonya had thought it was bad when the walls between worlds Five and Six were torn down, she had thought that unemployment, hunger, and desperation were at their worst, but now that the wall was almost back up again, she was coming to realize that the worlds could get shittier if they wanted to, and from the looks of things, there was a shit circus in store before anything would ever get better. More people were going to lose their jobs, and with that, more people would grow drunk and desperate until inevitably all that pent-up energy had to be released somewhere. Sonya didn’t look forward to it, per se, because she knew a lot of innocent people would be hurt in the process, but Tillie and others like her had been preparing for just such an occasion since before the walls went down, and with any luck, they would be able to guide that energy release toward building a better society and not just tearing down the old one.
As Sonya cleaned up what was left of Annie’s mess, in came one of those people who also organized toward that same better future which Sonya was working toward, her coworker Barkeep.
“How’s the shop treating you today, Barista?” Barkeep asked on her way in. “Lovely as always, I imagine.”
“The bar never disappoints me,” Sonya said, hanging up a clean pitcher to let it dry. “It’s the worlds outside that always seem to let me down.”
“They let us all down,” Barkeep said, taking inventory of the incidentals in preparation to relieve Sonya as the next bartender on duty. “So don’t think you’re special. But tell me, what’s got you bothered this time?”
“Annie Painter’s tab’s on the house.” Sonya sighed. “Until further notice.”
“Annie, too? Sheeit. It’s only gonna get worse before it gets better. Honestly, she’s prolly lucky to be looking for a new job now, before the rush really starts. We all know a mass layoff’s coming at the end of this fucking super project border wall bullshit they have going.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
“There ain’t no reason to be afraid of something you know’s gonna happen. Only thing we can do is—”
“Be prepared,” Sonya finished for Barkeep, knowing that she had done her best to prepare, but only hoping that she—and all the rest of them, cogs in a giant revolution machine that they were—were ready for what was to come. “I know. But I’m not sure anyone could ever be prepared for something they’ve never experienced. Especially something as big as this.”
“You experienced it plenty enough when that wall came down,” Barkeep said. “And you’ve been preparing with us ever since. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. That’s more than enough. More than most people can say, at least.”
“I don’t know. I—” Sonya started, but this time Barkeep cut her off.
“I do know, Sonya. I believe in you. I believe in all of us. We’re gonna be prepared the next time they need us. Trust me.”
“Yeah, well, I really hope you’re right.” But Sonya wasn’t sure that she could believe in everyone—herself most of all—as much as Barkeep did.
“I’m sure I’m right,” Barkeep said. “But before we can get there to find out, I need you to check the bathrooms, refill the freezer with ice, and clean the last few glasses from your friends who are leaving right about… now.”
“Have a good one, Sonya,” a group of regulars called from the front of the bar as they left. “Put it on my tab. And Merry Christmas.”
Sonya cleaned their table, did their dishes, scrubbed and mopped the bathrooms, and refilled the freezer with ice before her shift was finally over and she could sit on the other side of the bar to drink a beer served to her by Barkeep.
“Don’t you ever get tired of this place?” Barkeep asked while filling up a pitcher for another customer. “After my shift, I’m out of here as soon as I can. But you? Look at you.”
“Don’t know where else I’d go,” Sonya said, sipping her beer.
“Home, for starters.” Barkeep laughed. “Anywhere but here.”
“Only thing I want to do after work is drink a beer and rest my feet. I’d rather not drink alone, and it’s easier to rest when I don’t have to walk to the elevator and beyond, so what better place could I be than right here right now?”
“And besides,” a scratchy voice said behind Sonya who turned to find Ellie McCannick’s wrinkly-faced smile. “Here, everyone knows exactly where to find you.”
“Which can sometimes be dangerous,” Barkeep said, laughing loudly, though Sonya knew she was only half joking. Barkeep didn’t trust Ellie and the people who she worked with, and so Barkeep didn’t like it when the old woman came around. Sonya didn’t really trust the resistance group that Ellie worked with, either—they were highly secretive, even to insiders, and all their actions seemed to end up buffering the system instead of destroying it like their rhetoric promised—but Sonya had no problem with Ellie as a person, and even liked the old woman. Ellie had been working hard, doing her best to help her fellow workers despite the obstacles in her way, for decades, and Sonya hoped that she could be as enthusiastic about the struggle as Ellie still was when she was that old.
“Thankfully, this time it’s not dangerous,” Sonya said, patting Ellie on the back. “It’s always nice to see my friend Ellie. Why don’t you get her a drink, please. On my tab.”
“Now, you don’t have to,” Ellie said, bowing her head. “I can afford my own drinks. I’m just here for the company.”
“I insist,” Sonya insisted. “Make that an entire pitcher, Barkeep. It’s almost Christmas. We should all be in the spirits.”
“Well, if you’re gonna twist my arm about it…” Ellie smiled, taking a glass and filling it from the pitcher that Barkeep had set on the bar in front of them.
“So how’s the activist life treating you?” Barkeep asked. “Y’all make enough in donations to support a few full-timers by now, don’t you?”
“We do nothing alone,” Ellie said, taking a sip of her beer. “I’m blessed to be working with a good crew. And my pity promotion netted me an early retirement, so I don’t really require anything more than meals and expenses from the organization. I’m blessed, though. I’ll never forget that. We do nothing alone.”
“Expenses like this bar tab here?” Barkeep asked, obviously annoyed as she continued the interrogation.
“Well…” Ellie said, not letting on that she had noticed Barkeep’s attitude—whether she had or not. “Thankfully, the lovely Sonya here has graciously offered to pay for this round. But I did come here expecting to buy at least one myself. And yes, that would be done with our organization’s expenses. Building working relationships like this one here is one of the major reasons we raised these funds in the first place. Buying a round of drinks with the money’s exactly what’s expected of me.”
“We do nothing alone,” Barkeep said sarcastically. And then, “Including drink. But I’ve gotta go take some more orders. Enjoy, you two.”
“She does not like me one bit,” Ellie said when Barkeep had left down the bar to serve some other patrons.
“She doesn’t know you,” Sonya tried to explain, though it was hard to deny what Barkeep’s actions suggested. “That’s all. It’s not that she dislikes you or anything. She just doesn’t trust people she doesn’t know.”
“Yeah, well, she’s had plenty of time to get to know me better. I’m pretty sure it goes beyond simple ignorance at this point.”
Sonya didn’t respond to that. She had no way to, really. There were no arguments. Barkeep didn’t trust Ellie and she had no intention of altering that fact. There was no point in talking further about it. They drank on in silence for a while—each thinking about how to trust the other—before Sonya broke it to say, “So, how’s life been treating you?”
“Oh, fine, fine,” Ellie said. “I can’t complain any more than I ever have. Plenty of food on the table. Warm bed to sleep in—even if it’s not too soft. And I’ve got a whole host of friends and family whose company I actually enjoy. So, no. There’s nothing new for me to personally complain about. Just the general unfairness of life under the oppressive system we’re forced to abide by. You know. Oh. Wait. Also, we’ve got our Christmas party planned. You’ll be there, right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sonya nodded. She looked forward to Ellie’s Christmas party every year and wouldn’t miss it for the worlds. “I’ve got a special surprise dish I plan on serving. You’ll see. I’ll be there with bells on.”
“You better be.” Ellie winked. “This year the guest list’s so long that we’re expanding to four apartments instead of our usual two. Ol’ Tanner and Kitchens have finally offered to give up their homes for the day. So I promise you, this one will be a Christmas for the legends.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Sonya said, chuckling at the mere thought of the celebration. “But I know that’s not the only reason you came out here. So spill it.”
“Oh, well…” Ellie looked around at everyone in the room, suspicious now that it was time to get down to business. “I don’t know. Maybe we should take a booth. This particular matter’s a little more… private.”
“Ah. Of course.” Sonya nodded. “But first, Barkeep, an order of table fries, please.”
Barkeep printed an order of fries, then Sonya and Ellie carried that, their drinks, and the half-full pitcher of beer to the deepest, darkest corner booth in the bar where Ellie scanned the room suspiciously one more time before speaking a word.
“So, dear,” she finally did say, pausing there as if Sonya should be able to decipher some meaning out of those two words alone. Sonya never could.
“So…” Sonya said.
“The worlds are changing,” Ellie said, frowning in a particular way that seemed to accent her wrinkles and crow’s feet. “The worlds are changing.”
“Don’t they always,” Sonya said. Not a question. A statement of fact.
“That they do, child,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “But they don’t usually turn for the worst this fast. And when they do, we know for sure that something big’s coming.”
“And for how long have y’all been predicting that something big’s gonna happen? Huh? Long as I’ve known you, it seems like you’ve been making the same prophecies.”
“And the change I predict’s still coming along, ain’t it? Quicker than ever now. You’ll see. I’m sure you already do. You can feel it in the air, but you don’t quite understand it yet.”
Sonya sipped her drink and nodded. She couldn’t argue against what Ellie was saying and there was no point in trying to. Sonya had been discussing exactly that with Annie and Barkeep before Ellie’s arrival.
“You see?” Ellie went on. “You can’t even disagree with me now. I know you don’t like the way our organization prepares for what’s to come, but you definitely think there’s something to prepare for. Am I right?”
“You’re not wrong,” Sonya said, still not wanting to cede the point.
“It’s not often that I am.” Ellie smirked. “And on the off chance that I do make a mistake, I never repeat it. Do you understand me?”
“I’m not sure you do, okay. But we’ve changed. All of us. The entire organization from bottom to top—including myself. We’re a different beast entirely. We’ve even settled on a name for ourselves. We’re going public. No more secrecy.”
“Oh yeah?” Sonya nodded, not too impressed. “And how long have y’all been arguing over a name?”
“C’mon, now. That’s not fair,” Ellie complained. “You know we’ve got a lot more on our plate than this. And it’s more than a name when you get down to it. We’re putting words to our organization. That makes it real. Those words will reflect what our organization does, and our actions will reflect our name. I’m telling you, we’re serious.”
Sonya was starting to believe that maybe they were. “So what’s this name then?” she asked.
“The Scientific Socialists,” Ellie said, sitting up straighter in her stool and refilling both of their beers with a proud smile.
“Scientific Socialists?” Sonya repeated, not liking the sound of that. “Are y’all still working with that Scientist woman? She was willing to open up about her secrets with you?”
“Well, not exactly. No,” Ellie said, sipping her beer and thinking about what to say next. “The Scientist is dead. She never would have opened up to us. You’re right about that. But there is no her anymore. So she’s nothing to worry about.”
“But you still call yourselves scientific,” Sonya said.
“Yes. Because we use the scientific method to determine our course in political life. We’re scientists of history.”
“So you are still working with the Scientist, then?”
“No. Well, yes. Sort of… We’re all scientists now. And some of us literally call themselves the Scientist still, but it’s nothing more than a meme anymore. The Scientist is gone. I assure you of that.”
“Is this all you came to talk about?” Sonya asked, suspecting it wasn’t. “If so, let’s go play some darts. I need to get out of this booth and stretch my legs a bit.”
“No—n—n—no, no,” Ellie said, stopping Sonya from getting up. “Now, I’d love to beat you at darts when we’re done here, but we haven’t even started.”
“I’m all ears,” Sonya said, waiting.
Ellie gulped down a half a glass of beer and sighed before she went on. “Okay, well… Now, I know you don’t trust the organization that I work with for one reason or another. And I respect your opinion, okay. I’m not asking you to change anything about it. But I do want to know if you trust me as an individual. Do we even connect at that level?”
“I— Wha— Yes,” Sonya stammered, caught off guard by Ellie’s admission of vulnerability and feeling vulnerable herself because of it. “Of course I trust you. I really do consider you a friend despite our political differences. I wouldn’t be drinking with you now if I didn’t.”
“Exactly. Okay,” Ellie said, setting her beer down to take Sonya’s hand in her cold, clammy ones. “You trust me and I trust you. We trust each other. We’re friends, and friends trust each other, right? And now I know that you, Barkeep, and dozens of others—at least, probably more—are all already planning your robot revolution—or whatever—with Momma BB. Okay. You’re not secretive about it. Right? And we’re trying to learn from you, trying not to trick people into doing things for us, okay. Instead we’re convincing them that it’s actually in their best interests. Right. Which is why—”
“Get on with it,” Sonya cut her off. The more Ellie beat around the bush, the less Sonya wanted to hear what she had to say. “Just ask your question already.”
“Well…” Ellie smiled half a smile, more of a pathetic, pitiful grin. “Do you think you could trust me enough to at least meet with my people? We need y’all’s help for an operation on Christmas day.”
# # #
And there you have it, dear readers: another chapter in the Infinite Limits universe. If you enjoyed that, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the full novel through this link. Have a great weekend, enjoy yourself, and we’ll see you right here again next Saturday.
We do nothing alone.