Hello, dear readers. Today we return to the story of Sonya, a bartender who loves her job, as she tries to figure out what she can do to make the worlds a better place to live in. Enjoy the read, and if you do, don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link.
Sonya sat in the back booth of The Bar, where only a red light lit the table—and not a very bright one at that—waiting for Ellie to arrive with her people, and for the first time in her memory, Sonya felt like she would rather be at home, alone, than there in her bar, with a cold glass of beer in hand, music floating all around her, and the happy voices of her comrades enjoying themselves echoing through the building like a school cafeteria.
What could Ellie and her Scientific Socialists have planned, anyway? And if it had nothing to do with the Scientist, why’d they name the group after her? And most importantly, did Sonya trust Ellie, or didn’t she?
Ugh. She did. Of course, she did. Otherwise she wouldn’t be there for the meeting in the first place. But she didn’t trust Ellie, either. Otherwise she wouldn’t be there for the meeting because she would have already been convinced to go along with whatever they were planning. It was just another of life’s contradictions.
Finally, after too long feeling uncomfortable in her own bar—in her own skin, essentially—Ellie showed up with what looked like an older, wrinklier version of herself in tow. They ordered a round of drinks and brought one to Sonya where they joined her in the back booth, sitting together across the table and sipping on their beers.
“Ellie,” Sonya said. “And… I’m sorry. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Trudy, dear,” the older woman said with a smile. “And no. We’ve never had the pleasure of meeting. Ellie and I are used to keeping our lives more compartmentalized. We’re trying to change that, though—difficult process that change can be.”
“I’ve told you about Trudy,” Ellie said, nodding and trying to reassure Sonya. “She was— Well… She was the one who introduced me to the Scientist—and to activism in general.”
“Ah, Gertrude,” Sonya said, trying to smile but having a hard time of it because she was still worried about what this mission might entail. “I think I can remember a few stories.”
“Nothing but the good ones, I hope,” Trudy said, chuckling and sipping her beer.
“I think I only have good ones about you,” Ellie said with a smile.
“Except when you thought I was a nosy, annoying gossip,” Trudy said. “Back when you still insisted on calling me Gertrude. You can’t lie to me, child.”
“Yes, well… I was young and stupid then,” Ellie said. “I didn’t know any better.”
“And what exactly does any of this have to do with me?” Sonya asked, getting a bit impatient.
“Oh, well, nothing,” Trudy said.
“But everything,” Ellie said. Another contradiction. “You said you trusted me. Right?”
“And now,” Ellie said, “here I am introducing you to Trudy, my partner. She brought me into this life, and ever since we learned about the Scientist’s death, we’ve been working together to save what part of her organization we can. Not only that, we’ve been doing our best to make it a more open, honest, and effective group. Just like I’ve been telling you.”
“Hard work, that,” Trudy said.
“Go on…” Sonya said.
“Well, and I thought introducing you two,” Ellie said, “would—I don’t know—serve as some amount of proof, or something. That we are doing what we say we’re doing, that is.”
“And the name, too,” Trudy reminded her. “Did you tell her about the name? Scientific Socialists, dear. It’s who we are. Lovely, don’t you think?”
“But you’re not involved with the Scientist anymore?” Sonya asked Trudy, seeing if the old woman would give a different answer than the one that Ellie had. “I didn’t really like her or her ideas. She—”
“She’s dead, I’m afraid,” Trudy said somberly, shaking her head and looking deep into her drink. “So we couldn’t be working with her even if we wanted to. No. But we sure do have more scientists than we know what to do with these days. I’ll tell you that much.” She kind of chuckled a little, the stark opposite of her mood only moments before.
“And not just the ones who call themselves the Scientist, either.” Ellie added.
“Well, okay,” Sonya said, taking a long sip of her beer before going on. “So, let’s say that I do trust you, Ellie. Which for the most part I do.”
“Thank you so very much, dear.” Ellie smiled.
“And let’s say that, by extension, I trust Trudy, too. Which I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t at this point. You seem like a nice enough person.”
“You’re too kind, dear.” Trudy bowed her head.
“But still,” Sonya went on, “assuming all of that to be true—which for the most part it is—I’d still need to know what exactly it is you want us doing if I’m ever going to decide whether to do it or not. So how about we quit beating around the bush and get down to it?”
“I like her,” Trudy said, nudging Ellie with her elbow.
“I knew you would,” Ellie said. Then to Sonya, “Well, you see, the plan is… Well the plan is gonna happen whether you agree to help us or not. Let’s just get that out of the way first. Processes have been set into motion that we have no control over. It would be impossible to stop them now.”
“This is your opener?” Sonya scoffed. “You know you’re supposed to be convincing me to help you, right.”
“Wait now. Hold up just a second,” Ellie said, getting a little defensive. “I said these processes were out of our control. It’s not our fault what’s happening. We didn’t start it, and we have no way to stop it. So, don’t blame us.”
“All I’m hearing is excuses,” Sonya said.
“I really like her,” Trudy said.
“The walls are coming down,” Ellie finally said outright. “All of them. Not just between Five and Six this time. No more half measures. The major crisis we’ve been predicting is finally coming, and now it’s up to us to decide whether it results in a new and better world or further barbarism.”
“Pffft.” Sonya scoffed. These were the grand claims she had come to expect from Ellie, but never before had her predictions been so specific. Usually Ellie just spoke in generalities and platitudes, so maybe, just maybe, this newfound specificity meant that Ellie actually did hold some knowledge of the future to come. “You’re kidding. Right?” Sonya said, goading them on. “Another out there prophecy from the Scientific Socialists.”
Neither Ellie nor Trudy answered, both solemnly staring into their drinks and letting the implications sink in.
“All of them?” Sonya asked, still having a hard time believing it.
“All of them,” Ellie repeated.
“On Christmas day,” Trudy said, nodding. “What a gift.”
“Christmas day? But that’s tomorrow,” Sonya said.
“Indeed, it is,” Trudy said.
“So, what are we supposed to do for food?” Sonya asked. “Huh? What about the elevators? Or the buildings that’ll fall because they’re stacked on thin air? What about the people inside them? How many are gonna die?”
“That’s where we come in,” Ellie said. “Like I told you. It’s up to us to decide between something better or barbarism.”
“This is barbarism already,” Sonya said. “I won’t take part in it.”
“Yes, it is,” Trudy said. “Which is why we’re tearing it down. Whether you want to help us or not.”
“I won’t,” Sonya said. “I’ll do everything I can to stop y’all if I have to. I won’t let you do this.”
“Stop us?” Trudy said, laughing. “You have no idea what our plans are. Stop us from doing what?”
“I told you we don’t have any control over this,” Ellie said. “There’s no us to stop. We’re on your side. We’re just trying to save the lives of as many people as we possibly can.”
“How?” Sonya demanded. “And make it quick. I’m already tired of this conversation.”
“We’re organizing the evacuation,” Ellie said.
“And taking care of everyone’s basic needs after the deed’s done,” Trudy added.
“Right.” Sonya scoffed. “You expect me to believe that when y’all won’t even try to stop this from happening in the first place. Do you know how many people died when just the walls between Five and Six went down?”
“We can’t stop it,” Ellie said.
“All we can do is wait,” Trudy said. “Do not open until X-mas.”
“We can’t wait,” Sonya complained. “If what you’re saying’s true, there’s practically no time as it is. We’ll never save everyone.”
“You don’t have to save everyone, dear,” Trudy reminded her. “We do nothing alone.”
“Rosalind and the Scientist have guaranteed that their robot army can warn most of the population, anyway,” Ellie explained. “We don’t even need much from you. But we can’t save everyone without you, and we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t ask.”
“Fine,” Sonya said after a long pause. “If you’re being honest, and there’s truly no way of stopping this before tomorrow, then I want to help. We want to help. So just tell me what y’all need, and we’ll get started right away. There’s no time to waste.”
“That’s the thing, dear,” Trudy said. “We can’t do anything, can’t tell anyone but those who are sworn to secrecy, until a precise time tomorrow.”
“If word leaks earlier than that,” Ellie said, “the entire operation could be compromised and more lives will be lost because of it.”
“I thought y’all had given up secrecy,” Sonya reminded them.
“We have, dear,” Trudy said. “When we’re able. But human lives are at stake. Jumping the gun will only cause the scientists to blow the walls sooner. Then we wouldn’t be able to warn anyone at all. Do you want that on your conscious? All those people who we would could have evacuated dead.”
“You said that the Scientist wasn’t involved in this,” Sonya said.
“She’s not,” Ellie snapped. “She’s dead. We’re talking about the scientists. With an s. Plural. And there’s no stopping them. You said you trusted us, Sonya. So, what is it? Are you gonna help warn these people while we still can, or are you gonna let them die because you couldn’t put our differences aside for long enough to save lives?”
“I…” Sonya hesitated. Of course she wasn’t going to sit around and let a bunch of innocent people die, no matter how little she trusted the Scientific Socialists, because she still trusted Ellie as an individual. And for some reason, despite the old woman’s stubborn obstinance, Sonya was already growing to like Trudy as well. So in the end—as it always seemed with the really big decisions in life—Sonya had no choice. “What do you need me to do?”
“How many people can you muster?” Trudy asked.
“How many do you need?” Sonya smiled. “We’ve been ready and on call for decades now.”
“As many as you can spare,” Ellie said. “The more the merrier, it being Christmas and all.”
“Not yet,” Sonya said, standing from the booth. “But too soon now. Let me grab Barkeep and another round of drinks, then y’all can give us the details.”
“Do you think Barkeep’ll be able to trust us?” Ellie asked. “Me specifically.”
“There’s no choice now. Is there?” Sonya said, and there wasn’t. There was just the exact future they had been preparing for. Hopefully their training would be enough.
Barkeep was convinced of the seriousness of the situation easily enough and then begrudgingly accepted the conditions of their participation just the same as Sonya eventually had. With all that settled, they finished their drinks over discussion about the number of people needed where, when exactly they could start evacuating, and how long they had until all the walls between the worlds of Outland were finally, once and for all, demolished.
“Fifteen minutes,” Barkeep said, shaking her head as she stood from the booth. “Shit.”
“It’s not much time. I know,” Ellie said, standing, too—along with everyone else.
“But it’s all we’ve got,” Trudy said.
“We’ll make do,” Sonya said. “I know we can.” And everyone there certainly hoped it was true, even if none of them were as certain as Sonya tried to sound like she was.
Ellie and Trudy went on their way, and Barkeep assured Sonya that she had everything under control so Sonya could go home to get some rest before the operation. Sonya was too excited for rest, though, so when Barkeep had finally forced her out of the bar, Sonya decided she’d walk home instead of taking the elevator.
Fifteen minutes? Fuck.
Her heart beat faster and her palms slicked up just thinking about it. This was the real deal. Revolution? Maybe. Hopefully eventually. But an inciting incident big enough to spark a revolution if Sonya and her comrades were in fact organized enough to direct it that way. There was only one way to find out.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a little black blur run out in front of her, stop to lick its tiny black paws, then run out again just as she got close enough to pet him.
“Mr. Kiiitty,” Sonya called, following the black cat. “I’m gonna scoop you.”
He meowed at her then ran up to her door to rub his face on the jamb.
“I got you,” Sonya said, scooping him up over her shoulder to sit on it like a fat, furry parrot with his back legs draped over her back and his front legs over her forearm which she used to prop him up. “Up we go,” she added, carrying him inside and up the stairs to her apartment. “Elevator Kitty. Ella-ella-vate your Kitty,” she sang, bringing him inside to let him drink from her bathroom faucet.
“Alright, Kitty,” Sonya said, laying on her bed and feeling very tired all of a sudden. “I’m going to sleep. Come and join me if you want. Otherwise, you know the way out.” Sonya never understood how Mr. Kitty left without her opening the door for him, but he was never there when she woke up.
Mr. Kitty jumped up onto the bed with her and kneaded her chest for a minute before curling up in her armpit to lick himself clean while Sonya drifted happily off to sleep.
# # #
Sonya had no trouble waking for her shift at the bar the next morning—which was only open early on Christmas—and as expected, Mr. Kitty had already disappeared through whatever exit he always took. Sonya bathed, groomed, and got dressed then rode the public elevator to The Bar where she ordered herself up some peanut butter on toast for breakfast. She was never really a big fan of eating at all, especially so early in the morning—preferring instead to drink her calories—but she knew she’d appreciate the energy for her mission to come.
And so began what seemed like the longest shift Sonya had ever worked—and she had worked for forty eight hours straight once, with only thirty minutes of sleeping in between. Just as she had felt when waiting for Ellie—and never otherwise in her life—Sonya would rather be anywhere else in the worlds than there at The Bar right then.
But she was there, and she had no choice about that. Soon customers started to trickle in—getting drunk before joining their family for Christmas dinner or because they had no family to join—poor, innocent, ignorant customers with no idea of what was waiting for them that afternoon, and all Sonya wanted to do was to yell at them to go home, get their families, and run to the nearest safe zone. But that was also exactly what she couldn’t do. So she shut her mouth and served their drinks in silence. It truly felt like the shift would last for an eternity.
# # #
Of course, nothing lasts for an eternity. Soon, the bar was emptied and it was time for the mission.
Sonya’s partner for her part in this met her outside of The Bar right as Sonya was locking up. They walked together to the public elevator in silence, and once inside, Sonya looked over at the woman—whose name she didn’t even know—to say, “Are you ready?”
“Are you?” the woman asked.
“I guess I kind of have to be. Don’t I?”
“Then there’s no point in asking,” the woman said.
Sonya shrugged. She guessed not. She took one last, deep breath—and heard her partner do the same—then said the secret phrase that was supposed to take them to their destination: “Socialism or barbarism, we do nothing alone.”
“Prepare for evacuation in T minus thirty seconds,” a robotic voice said over the elevator speakers. “Twenty nine, twenty eight, twenty seven…”
Sonya caught one final glimpse of her partner—who looked to be as ready as Sonya wished she felt—and, “Three, two, one. Begin evacuation.” The floor fell out from underneath them—just as hundreds of thousands of elevator floors fell out from underneath hundreds of thousands of other pairs of comrades across the worlds—until thirty seconds later the elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and the real countdown began. Fifteen minutes.
Red lights started flashing in the elevator, and in place of the usual soothing robot’s voice, came a deafening alarm.
“I’m about to get loud,” Sonya’s partner said, running to the center of the, thankfully short, hall. “You might want to cover your ears.”
But Sonya wasn’t listening. She was running to the far end of the hall to start banging on doors and evacuating people. Before she could land the first knock, Sonya’s partner yelled in an impossibly loud voice—impossible for a human—“This is not a drill. The building is on fire. You must all evacuate immediately. I repeat, this is not a drill. The building is on fire. You must all evacuate immediately. I repeat…” And so on and so on, even as they directed residents toward the emergency exits.
Thus Sonya didn’t have to bang on any doors. Heads poked out one by one from each apartment, starting with the apartment she was standing in front of, and the residents recognized danger when they saw it. No one hesitated to file out and follow orders as needed.
“What about our belongings?” some of them asked. “Can we gather them up?”
“There’s no time for that,” Sonya said, shepherding confused people out of their homes and into the hall.
“Where did the stairs go?” others asked, even as Sonya’s partner loaded them five at a time onto the elevator in what had been the stairwell.
“All stairwells are equipped with emergency elevator systems for situations just such as these,” Sonya’s partner explained—making the whole thing up for all Sonya knew, but she couldn’t tell because it was so well delivered.
And elevatorload by elevatorload, the entire floor was cleared without a hassle, everyone except for one stubborn old man.
“Please, sir,” Sonya begged him, pulling him by the arm to stand him up, but he just flopped right back down in his seat when she let him go. “You have got to get out of here.”
“He won’t listen to you. I’ll tell you that right now,” the man’s nurse said, heading calmly out to the elevator. “But he’s your problem now. Good luck.”
“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Sonya’s partner said, pushing Sonya out of the way. “Here, let me—”
But Sonya pushed right back. “No. I can handle it,” she said. “You go do one last scan for stragglers.” And as her partner ran out to perform a final check for evacuees, Sonya said to the old man, “Alright. I asked you nicely. Don’t forget that.” Then she lifted him up over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes to carry him—struggling all the way—-to the elevator where she plopped him down in the far corner.
“One minute and counting until doors close,” the elevator’s voice said at a volume as loud as its sirens. “I repeat, fifty eight seconds and counting until doors close. Please keep all limbs inside the elevator car.”
“All clear,” Sonya’s partner said, smiling despite her sweaty face. “I think that’s everyone. We really did it.”
“We really did—” Sonya started to say, but the old man stopped her.
“No,” he squealed, standing up and struggling to get off the elevator while Sonya held him back with one hand. “Mr. Kitty. He’s in the bathroom. You can’t leave him.”
“Forty seven. Forty six. Forty five,” the elevator continued to count down, whether anyone was listening or not.
“We can’t,” Sonya said. “There’s no time.”
“I’ll get him,” her partner said, and she sprinted back towards the old man’s apartment in a race against time to save his cat.
Sonya was fighting the old man off with her left hand, trying to keep him inside the elevator where he’d be safe, and at the same time, reaching out as far as she could with her right hand toward the cat that Sonya’s partner had found and was holding outstretched, racing toward the elevator.
“Four, three, two,” the elevator counted down, and Sonya’s fingers grasped the scruff of the cat’s neck, pulling it in toward the elevator car only for: “One. Evacuation complete.” The cold, metal doors slammed shut fast, closing just below Sonya’s elbow, leaving her partner, the old man’s cat, and the rest of Sonya’s arm on the other side as the floor of the elevator fell out from underneath them.
# # #
There it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. We’re more than halfway through the last installment now. I hope you’re enjoying the story, and if so, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.