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.

Chapter 41: Guy

This Saturday brings us Guy’s third point of view chapter and the second to last chapter in book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, An Almost Tangent. Today Guy is working on editing Rosa’s script so he and his crew can get the resources they need to make the movies they really want to make. See how that plan works out for them as the story continues in this installment of the Infinite Limits tale. Enjoy, dear readers, and do think about picking up a full copy of the novel through this link here.

< XL. Jonah     [Table of Contents]     XLII. Olsen >

XLI. Guy

FADE IN:

INT. WALTRONICS ANDROID FACTORY SLIP, SNAP, CLICKING ROOM — DAY

ASSEMBLY WORKER works at an assembly line in a dimly lit, dirty factory. As she slip, snap, clicks, ANDROID THIEF bursts through the doors to pull Assembly Worker from her work.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
Get your robot hands off me.

ANDROID THIEF
I don’t care.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
This is my job. You can’t do this!

ANDROID THIEF
I am a robot. I don’t care.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
But how will my human children eat? Can you feel no emotions?

ANDROID THIEF
I am a robot. I don’t care.

Android Thief grabs Assembly Worker and lifts her onto the conveyor belt.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
(struggling to get away while Android Thief ties her up)
No! Unhand me you—you—robot, you!

ANDROID THIEF
(setting Assembly Worker on the conveyor belt)
I don’t care.

Assembly Worker struggles against the ropes and eventually gives up, allowing the conveyor belt to carry her through several more rooms in which more pieces get added to the slip, snap, clicked pieces by large robotic arms, finally carrying her to:

INT. WALTRONICS ANDROID FACTORY FINISHED PRODUCTS PACKAGING — DAY

Assembly worker falls off the end of the conveyor belt into a pile of bodies. She screams, thinking they’re dead humans, before realizing they’re actually androids. She screams again at the realization.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
(crying and screaming)
No! We were—We were building them! No! How could they do this!?!!

#     #     #

Ugh. Guy crumpled up the page he was working on and tossed it at his trash can. That was worthless shit. He remembered what he was doing and that he probably couldn’t throw out an entire page—if so, he would have started over from scratch already—then went to pick the crumpled ball up and try to flatten it out again on his desk.

Why did the android only know two sentences? He understood that the piece was supposed to be anti-android, or whatever, but that was just lazy. If the thing could take a human’s job, then it could learn more than two sentences. And that was only one of myriad plot holes he was supposed to deal with by the next day.

He sat up further in his chair and rubbed his back where it had started cramping up from sitting for so long. How long had he been at it? He checked the clock. Ugh. Well past midnight and still he had so much work left to do. His back ached more at the thought of it. The first thing he was adding to his wish list was a nice comfortable desk chair.

He searched through the pile of mess on his desk to find an empty scrap of paper he could write that down on: Wish list: 1. Chair (comfortable) 2. Notebooks (a lot) 3. Pens (ditto). He picked up the note and looked at it, trying to think of anything else he needed.

Ugh. He threw the note over his shoulder. He was just procrastinating, putting off this stupid editing that he didn’t want to do, but he had to do it, and the longer he put it off, the later he would have to stay up because of it. At least he didn’t have to worry about work tomorrow.

He started to cry at the thought of it. He didn’t have work because the star of the production he had been working on had died. Russ Logo had died. With Guy’s being arrested then getting this stupid assignment right after being released, he hadn’t had time to think about Russ’s death. But now he did. And he couldn’t stop his sobbing. He lost himself in the grief for too long before shaking himself out of it and getting back to work.

He looked at the page in front of him. It was still wrinkly, and it was covered in red ink already. He hadn’t even typed up any of his edits, and that was always the worst part. He flipped through to count how many pages he had left. Seven. That wasn’t too bad. Less than a third of it. It wasn’t long so there was that.

He got up to get himself a bottled coffee out of the fridge then sat back down and put his desk in order. He picked up his red pen and started the massacre. By the end of it there wasn’t a word of dialogue that he hadn’t changed—and most of the scene directions, too—but even though he didn’t agree with a bit of it, he thought he held true to the theme of the story nonetheless. He kept its underlying message, that androids—and technology in general—were oppressing working class humans and must be destroyed at all costs, and he even left the buy human-made only tangent, blending it seamlessly into the overall narrative instead of clumsily making an aside to it as the original script had done, subtlety being something that whoever had written the original manuscript obviously had no understanding of.

When he was done editing, he set to typing his corrections. He didn’t have a digital copy of the script, so he would really be typing the entire thing over again. Just another sign that whoever they were working with had no clue about the best practices in scriptwriting—and probably moviemaking in general.

He opened up his ancient laptop—two entire years old—and sighed at the fact that it took more than a few seconds to turn on. Something this old was really only good enough for typing and playing music, but luckily, that was all he ever he did with it anyway. Still, he should probably add it as a fourth item to his wish list: a better computer to type on. He opened up his word processor and made sure the formatting was set to his liking before letting the classical music playlist he always worked to flow through him.

His typing was unconscious. He imagined his fingers on the keyboard were playing the beautiful piano melodies in his ears. He was Chopin. His words were Chopin’s music. He could feel the notes flowing through his arms and out of his fingertips with each letter he added, each note passing through him into the computer screen, and despite the message, the melody was beautiful.

He was exhausted by the end of it, but satisfied. He could barely lift his arms or his eyelids. He tried to see the time, but there were too many clocks to count, all overlapping each other and obscuring each other’s messages. He didn’t even have the energy to stand up and plop himself on his bed, which was only a step away, instead letting his head roll, falling asleep right in his desk chair.

#     #     #

The incessant buzz of Guy’s doorbell drew him away from dreams of fame. He hit his knee on the desk and let out a loud “Fuck!”, rolling and groaning in pain. It was not a good idea to sleep in his shitty desk chair, he knew that, but he kept doing it anyway. He had trouble standing and nearly tripped over the chair as it rolled out and hit the fridge behind him. “I’m coming,” he called, then, “Answer, I mean.” and, “I’m coming.” again. “Or—I mean—hello. Who is it?”

“Guy?” the tinny voice came back. “It’s Jen. I thought I’d come over early and make sure you’re ready for the meeting. I know how late you like to work when you’re on a deadline. Can I come up?”

Guy looked around his apartment. The bed wasn’t made even though he hadn’t slept in it. The kitchen counter was lined with empty jars of coffee that had been there for who knows how long. The bathroom was—well…bad. No. She could not come in and see that. “No,” he said, remembering the intercom was still on. “I mean. I’m ready now. Be down in a jiff.”

He rescanned the script a few times before sending it out to everyone then went and ruffled his hair in the mirror and gave his teeth a quick brush before running down the stairs. He burst out of the front doors, huffing and puffing, then bent over to catch his breath.

“Are you okay?” Jen asked.

“I—huff—yeah,” he huffed. “I…great.”

“Are you wearing the same clothes as yesterday?” she asked, looking him up and down.

He looked down at himself and he was. He looked up at her and she was still wearing black but a different outfit from yesterday’s. “I—uh… I worked late,” he said, which was certainly true.

“Yeah?” Jen laughed. “You must have. Did you come up with something we can work with, though?”

Guy looked at his feet. “You know, not really,” he said. “I still don’t agree with the message. It’s pretty much the opposite of the script I wrote. People are gonna think we’re hypocrites if we do this.”

Jen shook her head. “No,” she said. “Like you said, no one is going to see this little film we make. No one will even know it exists. But because we did it first, our other project will be better. Your script, Guy.”

Guy shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not right.”

“But—” Jen protested.

“But I wouldn’t let the crew down,” he cut her off. “So, yes. I did come up with something we can work with.”

Jen laughed and hugged him, kissing him on the cheek. “Oh, Guy,” she said. “I knew you would do it.”

He blushed and stumbled, almost falling over his own feet. “Well, I couldn’t let you down,” he said. “Could I?”

“I’m sure you made it great,” Jen said, taking his hand and leading him to the elevator. “I can’t wait to read it.”

The crew was all there and waiting when they got to Indywood. Everyone seemed to let out a sigh of relief when they saw Guy walk in. He didn’t even have to ask them to move so he could sit down. A seat just seemed to open up before him, the masses parting at his approach.

“So,” Cohen said when they were all comfortable again. He seemed to be trying to hold back his normal patronizing tone. He even attempted a smile. “Is this script something we can work with?”

Guy wasn’t going to give it to Cohen that easily, though. “I still don’t think we should do this,” he said. “How many of you here have read the actual script?”

He looked around and they all avoided his gaze.

“No?” he said. “That’s what I thought. Now, how many of you care what it says?”

He looked around again and they all reacted the same way.

“None of you?” he said. “As I expected again. Because none of you are writers. But I am. The writing is all I control. The theme is what I live for. And let me tell you, this theme…this is dangerous.”

Cohen scoffed. The rest of the crowd muttered to themselves. “Dangerous?” Cohen asked. “Words are wind. How could they be dangerous?”

Guy shook his head. “Words are only wind until their written and recorded, heard and interpreted, then they turn into thought which leads to action, and that makes them stone. Words are creation, handed down to us from Fortuna above, and you discount your own craft if you discount their power.”

“He’s right,” Laura said. “We’re putting our names on this. That tells people we endorse the message.”

Not necessarily,” Emir said. “It’s just a job.”

“And a well-paying one at that,” Cohen reminded them. “Paying anything your heart could desire.”

Yes,” Guy said, nodding. “The pay is unbelievable. Which is more of a reason to distrust the motives of whoever wrote this.”

“Who cares who wrote it?” Cohen asked. “Did you make it workable? That’s all we want to know. We can’t do any work until you’re done.”

The whole crew looked on at him expectantly, even Laura who he thought was on his side. He sighed. He had tried to convince them. That was all he could do. “Yes,” he near whispered, giving up on his standards, all of them. “I made something that doesn’t suck, even though it still goes against everything I believe in as a human being.”

Cohen clapped his hands together with a big smile on his face. “Well then,” he said. “Great. Perfect. And I assume you sent it out to everyone?”

Guy nodded.

Magnificent. Does everyone have something with them that they can read on?” Cohen asked. “We need to get started right away, and a cold reading should be good to get our approval at the very least.”

Everyone started taking out their phones and tablets, and Guy sat back in his chair, left to watch his Frankenstein creation come to life from the dead. Steve went to the bar to get a drink, but Laura had her phone out to read along, probably imagining shots she would need to make and the camera riggings required. She had to be one of the hardest working members of the entire crew, always involved in every bit of the action.

“Guy,” Cohen said, “you know the script better than anyone. Who should be playing which part?”

Guy shrugged. “Well, there are really only two major parts,” he said. “The protagonist is a female assembly line worker, and the antagonist is a male robot. Black and white. Yin and yang. Good and evil. Opposites. You get it. It’s your typical, basic story line.”

“Okay,” Cohen said. “That’s easy enough.” He was searching through the script on his tablet. “What other characters do we have?”

Actually,” Guy said, “before I put my red pen to it, those were the only two characters in the entire script with lines. I added one or two more, but I couldn’t change much because I thought your investor would want us to stay as close to the original as possible.”

“Good instincts,” Cohen said. “If I’m honest with you, the investor didn’t really react well to the notion of editing at all.”

Guy scoffed. “You don’t have to tell me that,” he said. “The script read like it hadn’t been edited once.”

“But now it has,” Cohen said, clapping his hands and smiling. He was clearly happy to finally have something to do. As a director he didn’t have much work to do on a project until shooting got started. “So,” he went on. “I guess we’ll put Emir in the role of our antagonist… Adam Torrence? Is that right?” He looked to Guy for reassurance.

Guy nodded.

Emir scoffed. “Torrence?” he said. “What kind of name is that?”

Cohen looked at Guy and cringed. “Yeah, you know,” he said. “I’m not really feeling it, either. Was that in the original?”

Guy could feel himself getting defensive. Adrenaline, or something like it, boiled up into his throat from inside his stomach, and this wasn’t even his work. It was crap, and he knew it. So why did he let their critiques bother him so much?

It doesn’t really matter,” he snapped. He took a deep breath to control himself. “That is to say that the names aren’t mentioned in the dialogue so they’ll only be known to us. They have no bearing on the final project.” He didn’t mean that, of course—which was why he was defending his names still—but it was a good defense nonetheless.

“So why give them names at all?” Cohen asked.

“It adds character,” Emir answered for Guy. “I must know who I am in order to better portray my role. How could anyone know themselves who doesn’t know their own name?”

“Alright, alright,” Cohen said, nodding. “You’ve convinced me. What about everyone else?” He looked around at the crew, and those who were still paying attention shrugged. “Anyone have any ideas as to a better name?” he asked.

Emir Islam,” Emir said. “A role I can play better than any other.”

“That’s just your name,” Emily said, slapping him.

“Yeah,” Emir said, shrugging. “So? What better idea is there?” He smiled wide and sat up straight in his chair.

“You know that Adam is a robot, right?” Guy said. “You’re the bad guy in this. You don’t need a likeable name, and I have no idea why you would want to stick your real name on something this shitty in the first place.”

“That’s not his real name,” Emily said, scoffing.

“Whatever,” Guy said. “Can we just get to the reading?”

“Alright, now,” Cohen said. “Calm down. You make a good point, though. Let’s table this until after the reading. Now for the lead role…”

Oh. Ooh ooh. Me. Pick me,” Emily begged, raising her hand and jumping up and down in her seat.

“I was thinking we should give Jen the part for this read through,” Cohen said, and Emily’s face went red as she stopped bouncing. “Now,” Cohen added, “this isn’t the final casting decision—mind you—but we need to get started as soon as we can. So let’s just go ahead with it.” Emily huffed and went to the bar to get a drink. “I’ll play the narrator,” Cohen went on, ignoring her departure. “Of course.” He chuckled. “And everyone else we’ll just pick up as we go along. Are y’all ready?” He looked around and only received silent nods in response. “Okay, let’s do this.”

“We fade into an interior scene,” Cohen read. Guy closed his eyes and imagined the scene playing out in his head. “We’re in the Waltronics Android Factory slip, snap, clicking room. Our protagonist, Alice Walton—” he nodded at Jen “—sits alone at a conveyor belt, slip, snap, clicking. There are empty stools to her left and right, and every few pieces she puts together, she looks at one or the other of the stools, wondering where her coworkers are, wondering why she is the only one left on the line. Enter Adam Torrence. He takes the seat next to Alice and sets to work without a word. Alice tries to ignore him, focusing on her own work, but Adam is slip, snap, clicking at inhuman speeds. She glances aside at him then quickly back at her work, a glint of recognition in her eye. When she looks again, Adam is staring at her with a smile on his face, still slip, snap, clicking at impossible speeds, even with his eyes off his work.” Cohen nodded at Emir.

“Hello,” Emir said in a deep mechanical voice.

You.” Jen gasped.

“Who else did you expect?”

“But you—” Jen said. “You can’t—”

Emir laughed a hefty laugh. He did know how to sound like a villain. “But I did,” he said.

No,” Jen said. “But my coworkers, my family… Without their jobs, they’ll—”

Emir laughed again. “I am a robot,” he said, pausing for effect. “I don’t care.”

“Adam stands and grabs Alice by her shoulders,” Cohen narrated.

“No!” Jen begged. “Unhand me!”

“Adam produces a rope from seemingly nowhere and binds Alice’s arms at her sides, wrapping the rope around her body over and over.”

“Just one more piece of human trash to get rid of,” Emir said with a final, hearty laugh.

“No! No!” Jen pled.

“Adam lifts Alice onto the conveyor belt. She screams in pain as the pieces already there dig into her back and the belt carries her into darkness.”

When Cohen stopped reading, Guy opened his eyes. The entire crew seemed to be reading ahead to what happens next. “So?” Guy said.

“I mean… Wow, Guy,” Cohen said, shaking his head. “I thought you said this was crap. And that was just the first scene. But this writing is great. That suspense just built up fast and hooked me right in. I don’t see how you can think this is bad.”

“Because it is bad,” Guy said. “I took that bit from the end and moved it to the beginning because it was the only scene worth anything. Don’t judge the script by the first scene.”

“But this,” Cohen said. “This is good.”

“But it isn’t,” Guy said, frustrated. “Just because it’s written well doesn’t mean it’s good art. You have to see the message already. It’s spelled out as plain as day, and—no—it’s not a red herring. The writer isn’t sophisticated enough for that. I know they aren’t.”

Cohen shook his head. “Right, right,” he said. “It’s anti-robot, sure, but damn if it’s not compelling.”

“That almost makes it worse,” Guy said. “Now that it’s entertaining, more people will see it. I’m still not sure about this, y’all.”

Emir laughed his same evil villain laugh from the reading, still in character. “I beg to differ, human,” he said. “We have your script already. There’s no stopping us now. Muahahahahaha.”

Guy sighed. Robot Emir was right.

“Besides,” Cohen said. “We need this. Do you have your wish list filled out?”

“And I like the part,” Jen said.

Emily frowned, downing her drink.

“See, human,” Emir said. “You are outnumbered. Surrender to your robot overlords.”

“I for one welcome our robot overlords,” Steve said, holding his glass up. Guy hadn’t even noticed when he rejoined the crew. “Let’s kick one back to androids and those who love them everywhere.” Steve winked at Guy as he tapped his glass with everyone else’s. “To androids.” Steve gulped his drink down then added, “Well, I’m gonna go get to work on some costumes for this thing,” he said. “You have my wish list, right Cohen?”

Cohen nodded and patted his jacket pocket. “Right here,” he said. After Steve left, he added, “Alright, should we get back to it then?”

Guy closed his eyes again to imagine the scene. He ended up falling asleep in a sitting position and dreaming it instead. When he woke up again, Cohen was congratulating everyone on a good read-through and divvying up responsibilities to crew members who already knew they had them.

“Great job, people,” he said. “Very good job. I think this will be something we can all be proud of.”

Guy stood up, finally conscious of how exhausted he was. “I, uh… I need some rest,” he said and stumbled out of the bar without waiting for an answer.

He took in a deep breath of fresh air and leaned on the wall outside. He hadn’t even finished his first drink and he felt smashed already. He was about to gather himself and head toward the elevator when the bar door opened and out came Laura.

“Guy, wait,” she called, jogging out to him.

He shrugged and leaned on the wall again.

“I—uh—I wanted to talk to you,” she said, rubbing her arm.

Shoot,” he said, pointing at her with both hands. He didn’t remember ever talking to Laura alone before, but he was in no condition to argue.

“Well, it’s about the protectors,” she said. “About your ankle brace.”

Guy fought the reflex to scratch it at the reminder. “Go ahead,” he said.

“Well, I—” She looked down and seemed to blush. “Just look.” She held out her foot and lifted her pant leg to reveal an ankle monitor of her own.

“I—what?” Guy was dumbfounded.

“Yeah, well, that’s how I know you’re in for more than you expect,” she said. “They won’t let you go that easily, not with what you were involved in.”

“But I wasn’t,” he said, regaining momentary control of himself despite being so tired.

“That doesn’t matter to them,” Laura said. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. They’re coming for you sooner than you think.”

“But they just let me go,” Guy said. “What would be the point?”

“To see where you went while you were free,” she said. “They’re watching you. That’s why they gave you that ankle bracelet, Guy.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t care,” Guy said, shaking his head. “I need some sleep.”

“If I were you, I would go back inside and get something to eat first,” she said. “You have a chance of being taken every time you get in an elevator, now, and I’m sure you haven’t eaten in some time from the looks of you.”

Guy shook his head and rubbed his face. “How do you know all this?” he asked.

“Because I’ve been through it myself,” she said. “Because I have my own ankle monitor. Because I have to know it to stay alive, and now, you do, too.”

Guy sighed. “Whatever,” he said. “I don’t care. I need some rest, not food.”

“You will if they take you again.”

“They’re not going to take me, alright. Now I appreciate your advice, but I have to go. See you tomorrow.”

“I hope so,” she said as he made his way to the elevator.

Guy sighed to himself and the elevator fall into motion. He wondered what it was that got Laura an ankle monitor and why she had kept it secret for so long. Maybe she was guilty. He was imagining the possibilities when the elevator doors slid open to three protectors pointing guns at him. His hands shot up into the air by reflex.

“Citizen, you’re under arrest,” one of the protectors said before throwing a black bag over his head and punching him in the stomach.

 

#     #     #

< XL. Jonah     [Table of Contents]     XLII. Olsen >

So ends Guy’s point of view in An Almost Tangent. A cliff hanger, that one, which you dear readers will just have to wait until book three, Dividing by Ø, to find out the conclusion of. And don’t forget, if you can’t wait that one long week before the final chapter of An Almost Tangent becomes available on the website here, you can pick up a full copy of the novel any time right through this link.

Thanks for joining us again, readers. Have a great weekend.

Chapter 40: Jonah

This Saturday brings us Jonah’s third and final point of view chapter in An Almost Tangent. After this one there are only two more chapters left in book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy.  If you’d like a physical copy of the book, pick it up right here, and to make sure you know when the next book in the series is released, join my email newsletter subscription list right here. Thanks for joining us thus far, dear readers, and enjoy the story.

< XXXIX. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XLI. Guy >

XL. Jonah

“What? Where am I?” Jonah demanded.

“You’re in my lab,” the woman in the white coat said.

“And who are you?”

“The Scientist. As I said. That’s my name.”

“That’s not a name,” Jonah said.

“It is.” The woman smiled. “It’s my name. Now, do you want to argue about what constitutes a name, or do you want to get down to why you’re actually here?”

“Where am I?” Jonah asked again, looking around at the short hall.

“Come with me,” the woman said, crossing it to open a door at the other end and show him through.

They went into a big office with a desk, puffy chairs, and a view of a green, hilly wilderness, similar to the view in the Captain’s office but with less snow and smaller mountains.

“Please. Sit,” the Scientist said, indicating one of the puffy chairs.

Jonah hopped up into it as she took the seat across from him. “I still don’t know where this is,” he said.

“This is my home.” She looked around. “Or, it’s one office in my extensive house. This, dear, is Outland Four. Do you know what that is?”

Jonah scoffed. He didn’t need to be patronized. “Of course I do,” he said. “I’m not a housekeeper.”

“Well, that’s where you are,” she said. “Technically.”

“And why?” Jonah asked.

“That’s what I wanted to ask you, dear,” the Scientist said. “Why are you here?”

I don’t know,” Jonah complained. “I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know where here is, other than Outland Four which doesn’t narrow it down much. So how am I supposed to know why I’m here? You tell me.”

“You’re here because you want something.” The woman smiled.

“Who doesn’t?”

“What is it that you want, Jonah?”

He paused to think about it. “I want to save Ansel,” he decided.

“We’ve taken care of that already,” she said.

Sure,” Jonah said, nodding and giving a sarcastic thumbs up. “Then get rid of Liz’s demerits.”

The Scientist chuckled. “Sadly, your schooling is one of the few areas I don’t have control over,” she said. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Then you can’t get me anything,” Jonah said. “So why am I here?”

“There’s nothing else you want?” the Scientist asked. “No one else you could ask a favor for?” She eyed him.

“Why do you care?” Jonah asked. “What are you doing this for anyway?”

“You tried to help Ansel,” she said. “You ended up putting her in danger, but that was her choice, not yours. Ansel is a part of my family now, and if you help her, you help me. I want to help you in return.”

Jonah scoffed. “Yeah, right,” he said. “What can you do anyway? You already said you can’t give me what I want.”

“I told you we’re already saving Ansel,” she said. “We’re already giving you what you want without your asking for it. I’m giving you another opportunity to ask for something that we’re not doing for you already.”

“My dad, then,” Jonah said, not thinking. “He needs to get out of the house. Make him a protector again.”

She shook her head. “Are you sure you want to bring that down upon him?”

“You say it like it’s a bad thing.” Jonah scoffed.

“Maybe it is for your father,” the Scientist said. “Have you asked him if he would want to go back?”

Jonah chuckled. “Of course he would. Everyone in One dreams of being a protector, and he had that dream taken away from him before he ever got to experience it. He would do anything to get it back.”

“And he told you this directly?” She raised an eyebrow.

“I—well—no… But it’s common knowledge,” Jonah said, shrugging.

“You’ve never met anyone who wants to be a housekeeper?” the Scientist asked.

“What? No.” Jonah laughed. “Housekeeping is for the weak and cowardly. No one wants to be weak and cowardly.”

“You know,” the Scientist said, tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair. “One of the most relaxing things to do—I’ve found—is to cook a nice meal for yourself. Have you ever tried it?”

“Cooking a meal?” Jonah frowned. “Why? That’s why we have printers.”

“True,” the Scientist said, nodding. “I guess you’re right about that. Though I still think you should try cooking some time.”

“Maybe when I’m old and retired,” Jonah said.

“Maybe.” The Scientist shrugged. “If you live long enough to retire. The way things are going in the worlds now it looks like a lot less of you protectors are going to be reaching the age of natural death. And you’re sure you want to send your dad back into that?”

“He wants it,” Jonah said. “I guarantee.”

“Did you know that there are riots breaking out across all the worlds?” the Scientist asked. “The job of a protector is becoming more and more dangerous every day. You’ll risk losing him if you send him back out there.”

Jonah shrugged. “A protector’s job is always dangerous,” he said. “And the more dangerous it is the more likely the protector is to go down in history.”

“History has a good way of forgetting things.” The Scientist shook her head.

“Listen lady,” Jonah said, standing from his chair. “He can handle it. He’s my dad, and he’s meant to be a protector. So are you going to do it or not?”

“Frankly,” the Scientist shrugged, “this is another one where it doesn’t really matter what I do. I told you, dear: riots across the worlds. There’ll be a draft soon, and I wouldn’t doubt that your dad is at the top of the list. You’ll get what you say you want with or without me.”

“So again, you can’t help me,” Jonah said, crossing his arms. “I still don’t understand why you brought me here.”

“Only to say thank you, apparently,” the Scientist said, standing. “You tried to help our Ansel, and we appreciate that. So: Thank you.” She held out a hand.

Jonah looked at it. “Uh… Okay I guess,” he said, shaking it. “So can I go now?”

“Are you sure there’s nothing else you want?” she asked.

Jonah shook his head.

“Then let me give you a little bit of unsolicited advice,” she said, walking close to him and patting his back as she led him out into the hall. “Being a protector’s not the only way to make a name for yourself, and being a housekeeper is nothing to laugh at. So maybe think about cooking yourself a meal once or twice. Just try it. But even if you don’t, I’ll be watching you, and I’ll be there when you inevitably need my help in the future. You got it?”

“Yeah, sure.” Jonah shrugged. “Can I go now?”

“Of course, dear.” The Scientist smiled. She opened the elevator doors. “I’ll be there for you like you were for our Ansel,” she said. “You will be repaid.”

Jonah nodded and stepped into the elevator. “Whatever.”

“And stay out of trouble until then,” the Scientist said as the elevator doors closed between them.

When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, Jonah sprinted to his house then snuck into his room, hoping his dad wouldn’t hear. He took off his shoes and jumped into bed fully clothed. Tomorrow was going to be a shit day at school, but maybe he would take off sick. All his muscles ached, and his eyelids grew heavy. He hadn’t realized how tired he was until he was lying in bed. He couldn’t help but to drift off into a deep, restful sleep.

#     #     #

Reveille went off, dragging Jonah into wakefulness. He laid in bed until after the Protector’s Alma Mater played, and he had to choose between not showering, not eating, or being late for class. It’d prolly end up being all three after yesterday.

What was he thinking? And who was that white-coated woman at the end of the night? She had said she’d be there to help him in the future, but why? She didn’t even know him. She did know Ansel, though. Hopefully she was able to save Ansel like she had promised.

Joonaaaah!” his dad called from the other room. “It’s time to wake up, son. Do you need me to call in an excuse for absence?”

Jonah scoffed. “Do you need me to call in an excuse for absence,” he mimicked in a mocking tone, doing a little dance in his bed. He got up and started to dress, unable to stop blaming his dad for most—if not all—of what had happened to him and his partner in the past few days. White jeans and white t-shirt on, he took a deep breath before opening his bedroom and heading into the kitchen where his dad had every breakfast food imaginable piled on the table.

“Are you sure you’re feeling up to it?” his dad asked, guiding Jonah to sit at the table and pouring some milk for him. “It’s completely understandable if you need a day off after what you went through.”

“No.” Jonah shook his head. “I promised Liz I’d be in class.”

His dad nodded thoughtfully, taking a bite of bacon. “Of course,” he said, still nodding. “You’ve gotta be there for your partner. Of course you do. I understand.”

Jonah took a few quick bites of toast then stood from the table. “Well, I should get going,” he said. “Already late.”

“You didn’t even eat,” his dad said. “You need energy for class.”

“I’m fine,” Jonah said. “I’ll eat a big lunch.” He started to leave.

“Wait!” his dad said. “Son… I’m sorry about how I acted last night, about yelling at you in front of your partner and ordering you to stay away from Ansel.”

Jonah shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.

“No,” his dad said, shaking his head. “Not whatever. I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I’m sorry.”

“So you think there is something I can do to help her?” Jonah asked, perking up for just a second.

“No.” His dad shook his head, deflating Jonah’s hopes. “I’m not saying that either. I stand by what I said, and I do think keeping your head down and following orders is the best thing you can do for yourself—and for Liz—but I shouldn’t have said it the way I did.”

“But you did exactly the opposite of that when you were a protector,” Jonah snapped. “You’re such a hypocrite!”

“I know,” his dad said, shaking his head. “I did. That’s why I know it’s not the right path for you to take. From experience. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. You’ll throw your—”

“Don’t worry, dad,” Jonah said. “I won’t shoot any owners.” He stomped out of the house and slammed the door behind him.

Ugh. That pissed Jonah off so much, his dad’s holier than thou, do as I say not as I do bullshit. And how was Jonah supposed to do what his dad ordered when his dad ordered something contradictory every time he spoke? Nope. His dad didn’t get a say in what Jonah did anymore. He had already said everything and nothing, and all he did was confuse things more. Jonah would have to try to forget everything his dad had taught him if he wanted to make any kind of sense out of the worlds.

His whole body was sore, and his head pounded as he walked. Maybe he should have taken the opportunity to have a day off, but then he would have had to spend it with his hypocrite father. Which one would be worse? It didn’t matter now, he was well on his way to school, past the point of no return.

The bell sounded as he entered the Academy doors. He sprinted to his classroom, and Ms. Bohr had already started teaching. “That’s two this month, Pardy,” she said as he snuck in, his head down. “One more and it’s a demerit for you. Now. Take your seat, please.”

Jonah sat at his desk near the center of the room, and Ms. Bohr went on lecturing about the various criminal codes and their applications. Jonah tried to get the attention of Liz who sat next to him, but she kept her eyes firmly locked on the teacher, diligently taking notes. Jonah knew it was just an act, though. Liz had memorized all the basic codes before they ever joined the Academy. She didn’t have to write any of this down. He also knew why she was putting the act on and stopped trying to get her in trouble again, choosing instead to focus all his attention on not nodding off while Ms. Bohr droned on and on. He didn’t get a chance to talk to Liz until lunch when they were sitting alone in the corner of the mess hall, eating their “nutritionally balanced” fish sticks and tater tots.

“You will never believe what happened to me,” Jonah said, popping a tot in his mouth.

“After what we did last night, I think I’ll believe anything,” Liz said.

“Yeah, well.” Jonah laughed. “Not this.”

“Well tell me then,” she said, kicking his shin under the table.

Ow!” Jonah yelped. “Maybe I won’t if you’re gonna act like that.”

“Yeah right, partner,” she said, biting a fish stick in half. “As if you’re one to talk about manners after getting me six demerits.”

Whatever.” Jonah frowned. “What was I talking about anyway?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “You said I wouldn’t believe it.”

“Oh yeah. Of course. Duh. Well, last night you know, after I left you, I went on that walk, right.”

Liz nodded.

“Well, I was lost in thought, strolling around, when I looked up, and I was in a hall all of sudden—like, not outside.”

Liz chuckled. “What?”

“See. I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Liz said, shaking her head. “It’s that I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Yeah, well, me neither, really,” Jonah said. “But there was a woman there who was dressed in a white coat, right. And she started asking me if I wanted anything, okay—and I mean anything—like she was going to give me whatever I asked her for or something.”

Tuh.” Liz spat out a little food with her laughter. “What, like a genie or something?”

“I don’t know.” Jonah shrugged. “She called herself the Scientist for some reason. Like it was her name. It was really weird.”

“The Scientist?” Liz thought about it for a second. “What did you ask for?”

“Oh, well…” Jonah shrugged.

“C’mon,” Liz said. “You can tell me.”

“Well, first I asked her to save Ansel, you know,” Jonah said, blushing.

Liz nodded. “And what did this scientist say to that?”

“She said she was already gonna save her then asked me if I wanted anything else.”

“Of course,” Liz said, nodding. “That’s probably why she wanted to help you in the first place. She must be connected to Ansel somehow. All this nonsense has been. Why else would she care to give you anything anyway? Ansel or your dad.”

Jonah shrugged. “It still doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

“Well, what did you ask for after that?”

Jonah blushed again. “To get rid of your demerits.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Liz said, blushing and talking more to her fish sticks than to Jonah.

“Yeah, well,” Jonah said, shrugging. “It doesn’t matter anyway. She said she couldn’t do it.”

Of course.” Liz sighed. “At least you tried, though,” she added, forcing a smile. “And we found something she can’t give you, so she’s no genie.”

No,” Jonah said, shaking his head. “She’s not that.” But he still didn’t know what she was.

“Well,” Liz said. “Did you ask for anything else?”

“Yeah. For my dad to be a protector again.”

You didn’t,” she said.

“I did.”

“Did you ask your dad if he wanted to be one again?”

No.” Jonah scoffed. “Of course I didn’t. Why wouldn’t he?”

Liz shrugged, shaking her head. “You never know.”

“It didn’t matter, anyway, because she said he would already be—”

The bell rang. The mess hall was already empty around them. Liz looked around, wide eyed, like she hadn’t noticed it either. They both jumped up and threw away their trays, running to sit in their seats just as Ms. Bohr went on lecturing again. Jonah wanted to beat his head on the desk by the time the bell for the end of the class rang.

In the locker room he managed to keep away from Stine and get changed and out to the dark standoff entry chamber without one insult being hurled at him.

Pssst.” Liz came up from behind and elbowed him in his padded rib. “What were you saying at lunch?” she asked.

“About what?” Jonah said, trying to focus on his strategy for the standoff but losing his train of thought.

“About your dad becoming a protector again,” she said. “You said the scientist said she wouldn’t have to do anything. What did you mean by that?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “She said there were—”

The opening bell rang, and the huge metal hangar doors in front of them creaked open to reveal the alley where they would fight the standoff. A flurry of movement went on around Jonah as his teammates—Liz included—raced to dive behind dumpsters or into alleyways. He didn’t have time to think. His legs took him zig zagging back and forth from dumpster to dumpster, advancing quickly. He yelled at the top of his lungs and blindly fired shot after shot as he ran. He could feel bullet after bullet whizzing past him, but none landed until he was halfway up the alley. Then his entire visor was covered in red. He fell to his knees and rolled over on his side, thankful for the rest.

The standoff didn’t last long after that. Not long enough to get any real rest. Soon he heard the cheering of the winning team, but he didn’t bother to get up and see that he had lost. He was sure he did. His crazy, dumb full frontal attack wasn’t really regulation strategy, and there was no way he hadn’t thrown the game for his team again. He couldn’t wait to hear what Stine and her lackeys had to say about it in the locker room later.

He felt a tug on his arm, and someone pulled him up. No, it was two someones. Another someone took off his helmet for him, and the entire blue team was gathered around him, cheering. They had won! Everyone took their chance to pat him on the back and congratulate him before filing back to the locker room to shower and get dressed. Even Stine gave him a terse, “Good hunting.” if not a pat on the back.

When everyone else had gone back into the locker room, Liz walked up and smiled, nodding, to say, “Good job, partner.”

Jonah scoffed. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said.

She shrugged. “It worked out though, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, well, it’s not something I would recommend,” he said. “Did I even get a hit?”

Liz laughed. “Yeah,” she said, shaking her head. “Like half their team. Now come on. Let’s get changed so you can finish telling me about this scientist.”

Jonah showered and changed, and Stine and her lackeys stared, mad that it was him who had made it happen but relieved to finally have the blue team’s losing streak broken. They looked so confused, as if they had no idea whether to hit Jonah in the face or shake his hand. He dressed fast and got out of there so they wouldn’t have a chance to decide on the former. Liz took a little longer to get dressed, but thankfully, she was done before Stine and them, and they were out and walking home without a locker room incident to speak of.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Liz said as they strolled along the grass-lined sidewalk at a leisurely pace.

“What are we talking about now?” Jonah asked. His mind was jumbled and confused with the lecture, his victory at the standoff, and everything else that had happened in the previous day running into one lumpy mess.

“The standoff this time,” Liz said. “You were a crazed maniac out there.”

“Honestly,” Jonah said, “I think I might be going crazy.”

“No.” She patted his arm. “Don’t say that. The worlds have gone crazy. There’s no sane way for a person to react to that.”

Jonah shrugged and walked on without responding. No one else was reacting the way he was. If it was really the world that was crazy and not him, then why did no one else seem to notice?

“Now tell me,” Liz went on, “what did this scientist say about your dad? He’s going to be a protector again?”

“Uh, yeah, well—that’s what she said. She said there were riots breaking out across the worlds.”

“My dad told me about that,” Liz said. She looked at her feet. “They’re keeping Mom busy out there.”

“Yeah, well,” Jonah said. “I don’t know what that has to do with my dad being a protector again.”

“You don’t?” Liz said, looking at him like he was stupid. “Ms. Bohr talked about it all day in class.”

Jonah scoffed. “I was a little distracted,” he said.

“Well, they’re probably planning a draft,” Liz said. “It’s been done before, when things got out of hand and a surge of protectors was needed.”

“But my dad’s not a housekeeper by choice,” Jonah said. “He was dishonorably discharged. They wouldn’t want him back after that, would they?”

Liz shrugged. “It depends on how many protectors are needed,” she said. “I don’t know. Ms. Bohr didn’t go into that much detail.”

“Well, that Scientist seemed to be pretty sure about it,” Jonah said. “I wonder how she knows.”

They walked on in silence, trying to work it out in their heads. When they had gotten to the point where their paths home diverged, Liz stopped and said, “Welp, I gotta go. See you tomorrow? It’ll be Friday!” She put on a fake smile and did a sarcastic dance.

“You don’t want to come and hang out?” Jonah asked hopefully.

Liz scoffed. “Of course I do,” she said. “But I can’t. My dad heard about my demerits so I’m on lockdown for a while. I’ll probably have to do housework all weekend. Blarg.”

Jonah winced. “Ouch,” he said. “Sorry. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.”

“Don’t go getting kidnapped by any more mad scientists,” she said with a chuckle and a wave as she left.

Jonah made his way to his house, trying to make sense of something, anything—a task he was finding surprisingly difficult in recent memory. How would a scientist know if the protectors were going to hold a draft? How would the Scientist know everything she knew? She was probably wrong about his dad becoming a protector again, but she didn’t want to admit to being unable to get what Jonah wanted for him for the third time in a row. She probably couldn’t even save Ansel, either. He would have to keep searching for his own way to do that.

His dad was in the kitchen, piling snack foods on a tray, when he got home. “I made some food,” he said, carrying it into the living room where Jonah had plopped onto the couch without even turning on the TV. “Your partner isn’t joining us today?”

Jonah shook his head. “She’s on disciplinary detail.”

“Ah. Of course.” His dad sat down on the couch next to him. “Her parents weren’t as understanding as I was, I imagine.”

“You know, sometimes I wish you weren’t,” Jonah said. “Maybe that would be a little less confusing.”

“Do you want me to punish you?” his dad asked with a smirk. “I have some floors that could use scrubbing. And there are always the toilets.”

“What?” Jonah cringed. “No! You know that’s not what I mean.”

“What then?” His dad chuckled. “You wanna give me some laps or pushups? I can do that, too. Drop and give me twenty!”

“No, Dad.” Jonah sighed. “You’re not funny so stop trying, okay. I mean that I wish you would give me just one order without contradicting yourself. I’m just a kid, you know. I need you to tell me what to do in life.”

His dad chuckled. “And if I had ordered you to stay away from Ansel, would that have prevented you from trying to protect her?” he asked.

“No.” Jonah shook his head.

“And if I had ordered you to protect her, would I not have contradicted my previous orders?”

“Well, yeah,” Jonah said. “You’d be ordering me to break the law.”

“So either way, you would have wanted me to do something else.” His dad smiled.

“No—but— You could have—”

“Punished you?” his dad asked again. “Who’s contradicting themself now?”

Jonah sighed in frustration. His dad seemed to get more and more difficult every day.

“Jonah, you have to understand that life isn’t black and white, okay. Most of the time we’re bound by our actions in the past, by the traditions of all the dead generations even, to be able to act in one way and one way alone. Now for both of us that way just so happened to be protecting Ansel however we thought we could. And for both of us that was a terrible decision. But not doing it was equally impossible. So why am I giving you impossible orders? you ask me. Well, how can I give you any orders that aren’t impossible? I ask in response.”

Jonah shook his head. “You’re making less sense all the time,” he said.

“The world doesn’t make sense, son,” his dad said. “I don’t know how to make sense of it. I’m just telling you what I think I know. It could all be wrong. Everything I know has already been shown to be wrong once, so why not this, too? Huh?”

“But you’re supposed to be an adult, Dad. You’re supposed to be my dad. How can you not have this figured out already?”

“None of us do, son,” his dad said. “Me, your mom, your teachers, anyone you’ve ever met. The surer they are that they do have it all figured out, the more likely they are to be wrong. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, but I didn’t know how to say it.”

Jonah laughed. He wanted to cry, too, but he laughed instead. This couldn’t be true. It had to be some cruel joke. If it was true, then half the superior officers who gave him orders every day knew less about the world than he did. Maybe more than half. “No,” he said. “Just because you don’t understand the world doesn’t mean that no one does.”

“Who could? How could you? It’s impossible. We get bits and pieces at best, and that’s it. Some of us might get more bits and pieces than others, but who’s to say whose version is better?”

Jonah groaned. “I don’t know, Dad,” he said. “I’m just a—”

The TV flipped on, playing the Protector’s Alma Mater. Jonah and his dad jumped in their seats then stared at the screen wide eyed. The burly, pock-marked face of the Chief Commissioner came on screen.

“Citizens of Outland One,” he said, his tone all business. “It is my duty to notify you that emergency staffing procedures have been activated. All academy attendants will have their training accelerated, and new recruits will be drafted from the existing housekeeper pool on a lottery basis. We’ve grown fat and lazy, people. More than a decade of peace has domesticated us. Now we must return to our wild roots. Any housekeepers with less than three dependents will be eligible for the lottery. If need arises, that pool will be expanded, but I trust we can handle the situation as is. A list of randomly selected identification numbers will be read and repeated twice after my broadcast. If your ID is called, you will be expected at your nearest recruiting station at oh six hundred hours tomorrow. Good luck out there, citizens. And may the protectors’ creed always ring true: Property, liberty, life.”

The Chief’s face disappeared, and the protector logo came up on the screen: two crossed guns held by a bald eagle. A mechanical sounding voice read out a list of what must have been hundreds of nine digit strings of numbers. Jonah and his dad sat staring at the emblem in silence, his dad waiting to hear if his ID was called, and Jonah not listening at all. Jonah didn’t know his dad’s ID. All he knew was that the Scientist was right, his dad was probably about to be on the force again. His dad moved a little at one point, and Jonah thought that he was reacting to hearing his number, but his dad didn’t react further until the voice had read through the entire list for the third time. It didn’t seem like his dad even noticed when the voice stopped and the TV flicked off. He just sat staring at the black mirror of the TV screen in silence.

“So?” Jonah asked.

His dad shook his head.

Jonah choked back tears. He didn’t know why he was so sad. This is what he wanted for his dad. It was what he thought his dad would want. So why was he crying all of a sudden?

“I don’t want you to go, dad,” he said, hugging him.

“I’m sorry.” His dad shook his head, brushing Jonah’s hair out of his face with trembling fingers and watery eyes. “I’m sorry for everything.”

#     #    #

< XXXIX. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XLI. Guy >

So ends Jonah’s third and final POV chapter. Keep reading along to find out what happens to him, his family, and the rest of the cast of Infinite Limits. And if you’d like to support the project monetarily, pick up a copy of any of my novels or novellas through this link. Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

Chapter 39: Ansel

Dear readers, this Saturday, for chapter 39 in the Infinite Limits tetralogy, we join Ansel for her third and final point of view chapter in An Almost Tangent. All she wanted to do is save her dad from the protectors, but instead, she finds herself caught and held by them just the same. Read on to find out what the protectors do to her and how she tries to escape, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel right here or sign up for the email newsletter subscription list to continue your support of future works in the Infinite Limits series and beyond.

Enjoy.

< XXXVIII. Rosa     [Table of Contents]     XL. Jonah >

XXXIX. Ansel

Ansel awoke suddenly and thrashed against the straps holding her arms, legs, and head tight to a cold metal board. Her feet were raised a little above her head, and the blood was rushing up her body, into her brain. She felt like, without the straps, she might slip right off the face of Earth. Her heart beat faster at the thought of it.

There was a cloth or something laid over eyes. She flinched to try to shake it off, but her head strap was so tight she couldn’t move. She could feel herself starting to cry, but she tried to hold it back. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. Rosalind would find some way to get her out of this. She knew it. She wiggled her hand and the bracelet was still there. She tried to bend her wrist around to press the button but only ended up hurting herself with the effort. She resorted to trying to use the strap holding her wrist down to press it, squirming frantically and getting nowhere, when the door whined open and more than one pair of boots stomped in. She couldn’t see with the cloth over her eyes, but she could hear their heavy footsteps.

“Do you care yet?” the voice of the protector who had questioned her before asked.

Ansel spit at the protector, but the saliva only ended up landing in her own nose—and probably on her face, but she couldn’t see or feel for the rag.

The protector laughed. “You are a feisty one, aren’t you,” she said. “Though that will only work to your detriment in here.”

“Fuck you!” Ansel yelled. She figured she was already so deep into it that there was no making things worse now, so why not?

“Oh, child,” the protector said. “Watch your mouth. At least until we really get started with you. Then you can get as dirty as you’d like. I know we won’t hold back.”

Ansel didn’t answer. She struggled against her restraints, and the protector laughed.

“Well, girl,” the protector said. “You get one last chance, now. So tell us: What were you doing going into the holding cells?”

“I’ll never tell you!”

“We already know, though, child. We found out where your dad’s been hiding. He might be strapped up in a room close to here. What do y’all think?” The protector laughed.

“You took him!?” Ansel cried.

“Why were you at the feast?” the protector demanded. “Who sent you?”

“No one sent me!”

“Then how did you get there?” The protector sounded short on temper.

“I—I don’t know,” Ansel said, struggling against her straps. “I just did. Let me go!”

“You know more than you’re telling me, little girl,” the protector said. “And we’re going to find out. Your chances have all run dry.”

Ansel felt a cool stream of water wetting the cloth that covered her forehead, weighing it down tighter on her face. She tried to shake it away again, but the restraints seemed to tighten with her effort.

Now,” the protector said, the cloth slowly lowering over Ansel’s nose and mouth, “let’s see if this helps remind you of what we need to know.”

The spout of water moved down to her mouth, and Ansel held her breath against it. The weight of the water held the rag flat against her face. It kept pouring and pouring and pouring, and she couldn’t hold her breath any longer. She tried to suck in air, but all she inhaled was clothwater, filling her throat and nostrils. She gagged and tried to hold down her vomit. She was dying. She couldn’t hold her breath anymore. They were killing her. She was about to gag again when the liquidrag lifted from her nose and mouth. She coughed up water and bile and insides and sucked in three quick breaths of air before the rag came down again and the water poured and poured.

Her body jostled and rolled against inevitable death. She felt shooting pain through all of her extremities, but that didn’t stop her from fighting against the restraints that held her down. They gave her a few more breaths of air before lowering the rag and pouring more water on. When they had done the same thing five, or seven, or infinite times, Ansel couldn’t hold her vomit in anymore. Someone had to stick their fingers into her throat to dig it out and prevent her from drowning on the insides of her own stomach. After that she blacked out.

She woke to the protector saying, “Little giiiirl, do you care now?”

“Fuck—cuh cuh—you,” Ansel spit out before puking and passing out again. She was still unconscious when the rain of death continued. She had given up. She was dead. They were killing her, sure, but they hadn’t gotten anything out of her. Even if there was nothing left in her to get. And there was still a chance that her dad was alive. That was all she cared about in the end. She smiled at the thought of it, lost control of her breath, and vomited into the damp cloth.

She was retching and losing consciousness again when the stream of ragwater abruptly stopped. A fighting commotion sounded around her. She wanted to believe that she was being saved, but all she could do was spew the last acidic contents of her stomach into the rag, only for the rag to force them back down her throat for her to choke on again. She was certain she was dead when a new set of fingers cleared her airways for her.

The rag was ripped away from her eyes, and Ansel saw her father’s face. She blinked a few times, not sure if she was dreaming or dead, when he pulled her close and hugged her. “I never thought I’d see you again,” he said, kissing her all over her face, over and over.

Ansel coughed and shook her head as the restraints were removed from her legs. She still wasn’t sure this was real. “Dad?” she said.

Yes, sweety.” He was crying. “It’s me, and I’m never leaving your side again.”

“I came to save you,” Ansel said, her head pounding. She still wasn’t sure if this was real, but she didn’t care anymore.

Her dad chuckled, whether he was real or not. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “It’s my job to—” He slouched down on top of her, limp.

Ansel tried to lift herself up to do something, but his weight was too much. She heard a scuffle and a yelp, then her dad’s limp body fell off of her and Rosalind lifted her off the bed.

“I—uh—you…” Ansel said.

Yep,” Rosalind said. “I told you I’d make sure you got home safely.”

“But my dad,” Ansel said.

“And I told you you should have waited,” Rosalind added, hefting Ansel up onto her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “But now we have to get out of here.”

“But I—” Ansel protested, but she was still so weak and disoriented that she passed out.

#     #     #

She woke with a start, but this time, she wasn’t tied down. She lashed out anyway and tossed the blanket off her body to the floor before she realized where she was, surrounded by beakers, vials, and Bunsen burners, she was back in the lab. Rosalind had saved her from the protectors after all. But did that mean that her dad was dead, too?

She pushed herself up—still exhausted though most of the pain had gone—and had to catch her breath before jumping off the high table. As she did, the door opened and in came Pidgeon. He ran over to hug her and help her stand. “Ansel, are you alright?” he asked.

“I—uh—” She didn’t know what to say.

“You should have told me where you were going. I could have helped you. I could have…” He played with the hem of his shirt. “I don’t know. Something.”

“Where’s my dad?” Ansel asked.

Pidgeon blushed and looked like he was trying to hide it. “I—uh—I don’t know,” he said.

“Pidgeon! Tell me. Did I see what I think I saw?”

“I—uh—”

The door opened and in came Rosalind, the Scientist, and Haley. Rosalind walked right up to Ansel while Haley stayed back with the Scientist, looking at the floor.

“My dad?” Ansel asked.

“I told you you should have waited,” Rosalind said.

“What did you think you were doing, child?” the Scientist demanded.

“W—Was that him?” Ansel asked, holding back her tears.

“We got him out of his cell before we went to save you, but he insisted on helping us get your sorry self out,” Rosalind said. “He didn’t make it back, though.” She shook her head.

Ansel couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She tried to swing at Rosalind, and the Scientist, and anyone in reach, but they were all too far away, and she was just too weak to do anything right. She buried her face in her hands and cried. “No!” she said. “It’s not real.”

“I’m afraid so, kiddo,” Rosalind said.

“You shouldn’t have been over there in the first place,” the Scientist said. “Then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Mom!” Haley said, crossing to Ansel to rub her back.

Ansel stopped crying and looked at the Scientist with a sneer. “If you would have gotten him out sooner—like you had promised—then this wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

“I never said I’d do it soon,” the Scientist said. “I said I’d do it when the time was right. You need to learn patience, dear.”

“Patience?” Ansel scoffed. “This coming from the woman who can go anywhere or get anything she wants on demand. What do you know about patience?”

“More than you can imagine, child,” the Scientist said. “Do you see these wrinkles on my face? You thought I was too old to be Haley’s mother. Well, how old do you think she is? How old does that make me? I waited for a quarter of a millennium to get my daughter back. Don’t you try to tell me about patience.”

Ansel blushed. She was embarrassed but still angry, and she didn’t know how to show it without her voice cracking or her starting to cry again. She swallowed down her tears, and was about to say she didn’t know what to say, when Haley saved her from having to answer.

Mom,” she said. “Go easy on her. She’s just a little girl, and she just lost her dad.”

“I—uh…” the Scientist mumbled.

Mother,” Rosalind said, “why don’t you go out and check on some of our other refugees. Let Haley and I take care of Ansel.”

“But—” the Scientist said, and Haley took her hand in one hand and that elbow in the other to lead the Scientist out the door before coming back to stand in front of Ansel.

Sorry,” Haley said. “She doesn’t really know how to interact with humans. Sometimes it’s like she’s more of an android than any of us.”

“It’s her fault my dad’s d—my dad’s not here,” Ansel said.

He’s dead,” Rosalind said. “And it’s not her fault any more than it’s yours. If anything, it’s your dad’s fault for following us instead of coming back here to wait like we told him to do.”

“But she—” Ansel protested.

“She was keeping him alive in there,” Rosalind said, “hidden in plain view. He wasn’t in danger until you got caught. After that, it was only a matter of time before they got it out of you that you were looking for him, and that information would let them know he hadn’t been executed yet—despite what their computers told them. So we had to jump the gun in getting him out, and even that would have been successful, but your dad couldn’t leave without making sure you got out first.”

“I wouldn’t have told them why I was there,” Ansel said, sniffing and wiping her nose.

“You were telling them when we got there,” Rosalind said. “You told us until we got you back here and sedated you, then you kept muttering about it in your sleep. You were already broken, Ansel. No human can resist torture like that.”

“I don’t believe you,” Ansel said.

“It’s true, dear,” Haley said, patting her back. “I sat by you while you slept. You kept saying that you had come for your dad, that’s all you wanted, no one had to send you. It was sad to hear.”

Ansel shrugged her off. “I don’t care,” she said. “It wasn’t my fault.” Though she was saying that to convince herself more than anyone.

No. It’s not,” Rosalind said. “I’m not saying it is. Trying to lay fault on someone is useless. We know who pulled the trigger that ended his life, and maybe that’s not even enough. Not even your father is to blame. It’s the protectors who are responsible for this, and the system that props them up.”

“Well fuck the protectors,” Ansel said.

Creator.” Haley gasped, putting her hand to her mouth.

“That’s exactly our mission here,” Rosalind said. “To fuck the entire system. The protectors and the owners who tell them what to do. We are your only avenue to getting the revenge you want. You’ll have to join us for your best chance at that.”

“Revenge?” Ansel asked. “What good is revenge? That won’t bring my parents back. If I wanted that, I would have killed Tom in the alley and been done with it.”

“No,” Rosalind said. “What about justice then? What about protecting others from facing the same wrath that you’ve faced at the hands of the protectors?”

Pssssh.” Ansel laughed. She knew that no one cared about anyone but themselves. All her experiences had proven that, including those with Rosalind and the Scientist. There was no one out there looking out for Ansel, and she had no reason to look out for anyone else. “No one stopped them before they killed my family,” she said. “Or Pidgeon’s family.” She nodded at him, hiding behind a table piled high with glassware, his face shaded with different colors from the chemicals in the flasks in front of him. Ansel had almost forgotten he was there. He ducked under the table at the mention of his name.

“Nope,” Rosalind said. “And no one will ever stop them if everyone else in the worlds takes the same attitude you are right now.”

Ansel jumped to her feet. “So what am I supposed to do then?” she asked. “Just sit here and wait until the Scientist thinks the time’s right for me to do something?”

“Yep,” Rosalind said, nodding. “Pretty much. And learn everything you can to make yourself useful in the meantime.”

“Oh, great,” Ansel said. “School.” She sighed, crossing her arms.

“No.” Rosalind shook her head. “We don’t have any teachers so I don’t think it can rightly be called school. You would have to pursue what you wanted to learn on your own. No one has time to direct you.”

“I can—” Haley started, but Rosalind shot her a look and shushed her.

“What do you say?” Rosalind asked.

“I don’t know what you’re asking me,” Ansel said. “You want me to sit here and do whatever I want until the Scientist finds me useful?”

Rosalind nodded.

“I don’t know if I can,” Ansel said, tapping her foot.

“But—” Pidgeon called out, tipping over the table he was hiding under and knocking a few flasks to the floor—which Popeye came out of nowhere to clean up.

“And you, too, boy,” Rosalind said. “I didn’t forget you were there.”

Pidgeon came around to stand next to Ansel, blushing. “You mean it?” he asked, playing with the hem of his shirt.

“Of course I do,” Rosalind said. “We wouldn’t send you back to that orphanage. We know what’s going on there.”

Pidgeon nudged Ansel. “C’mon,” he said. “Why not?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I need time to think about it.”

“Take all the time you need,” Rosalind said. “Staying here to think and saying yes to my proposal are the same thing.”

Uh, yeah. Okay,” Ansel said, grabbing Pidgeon’s arm and dragging him with her. “We’re gonna go discuss this. We’ll talk to you tomorrow or something.” She waved as she closed the hall door behind her.

“What are you doing?” Pidgeon asked, breaking away from her grip.

“Just follow me,” Ansel said. “Bedroom.” She opened the door to the room she and Pidgeon had been sleeping in. It was bigger than any of the houses she had ever lived in, and had two beds on opposite walls, each with their own dresser and mirror combo. Ansel went to her dresser, thinking to change her clothes, then changed her mind. The jeans and t-shirt she was already wearing were comfortable and non-restricting, exactly what she needed. She did grab her floral dress, though, the one her parents had given her when they still lived on the Green Belt, and she bundled it up in a ball to stuff in her rucksack—which still contained most of the rest of her belongings. She checked her back pocket but the protectors had taken her slingshot. They did leave her bracelet, though. She thought about dumping it but was distracted when Pidgeon asked, “What are you doing?”

Ansel looked at him. “Pidgeon,” she said, “do you trust me?”

“I—uh—yeah,” he said. “I guess. But why?”

“I don’t want to stay here anymore,” she said. “I don’t know why, but I feel restricted here, trapped.”

“But we can go anywhere with the elevators,” he said.

“Not really,” Ansel said. “We can go anywhere the Scientist lets us go. That’s not everywhere, though. Is it?”

Pidgeon shook his head. “Well, no, but…” He played with the hem of his shirt.

“Don’t you want to see the worlds, Pidgeon?” Ansel asked. “There’s so much out there beyond everything we’ve ever known.”

“I don’t know,” Pidgeon said. “I’ve seen a lot of what the world has to offer.”

“But you haven’t seen everything,” she pled with him. She could feel that she was losing him. “I went to another world entirely, Pidgeon, the one where the protectors come from. I met these kids who lived there, and they were no different from you or me. How am I supposed to fight against them, huh? They don’t know what they’re doing. They have no more control over their lives than we do. And they tried to help me.”

“Yeah. So?” Pidgeon said. “That doesn’t mean we should leave. We can stay here without fighting those kids.”

“But don’t you see?” Ansel said. “All the protectors were those kids at some point in their lives. They were funneled into it, and now, they can’t do anything else but what they’re told.”

“Then we won’t fight any protectors,” Pidgeon said. “I still don’t want to leave.”

“Do you really think they’ll let you stay here and do nothing for their cause?”

I do,” Pidgeon snapped. “That was the deal, wasn’t it?”

“The deal was for them to get my dad back, too,” Ansel said. “But we can see how that turned out.”

“No, but—”

No, Pidgeon,” she stopped him. “I’m sorry. I know I dragged you into this in the first place, but I have to live by my standards. I have to be self-sufficient. I know you don’t understand that, which is why I’m not making you come with me.”

Pidgeon looked hurt. He avoided eye contact with her.

“Pidgeon,” Ansel said. “I’d rather you came than that you stayed here, but I’m leaving tonight. What time is it? I’m leaving now. I’m gonna get as far away from here as I can before they notice I’m gone, and to do that, I have to be quick. So you don’t have time to think about this. It’s now or never.”

“But they’ve taken such good care of us,” Pidgeon said, groaning. “We can eat all the food we want, and we each get our own bed. What more could we ask for?”

Independence,” Ansel said. “I told you I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

I don’t,” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “And neither do you. You don’t understand what it’s like to have nothing and no one, Ansel. We have a good thing here.”

“I’ve had nothing all my life,” Ansel said. “Don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like.”

“Right,” Pidgeon said. “Nothing. Except for a mom and dad to provide food and shelter for you. Now that is nothing.”

“I had to provide my own food most nights,” Ansel said.

“And yet still you knew that they’d always be there to give up their food if you couldn’t find anything. You knew that they’d always have a warm bed waiting for you afterwards. You never had nothing, Ansel. You always had them.”

“Not anymore,” Ansel said. She could feel the tears coming back. “Now I have nothing.”

“But you still don’t,” Pidgeon said. “You have me. And if you would stay here, you’ll have Haley and Rosalind and the Scientist and this bed to sleep in.” He jumped up onto her bed, bouncing up and down. “We have everything we need here.”

No,” Ansel said. “We don’t. I told you, Pidgeon. I need my independence. That’s that. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.” She grabbed her rucksack and made for the door, but Pidgeon jumped off the bed to stop her.

“Where do you even plan on going?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” Ansel shrugged. “Away. Anywhere I want to. I’ll never see the end of the Belt so maybe I’ll go try to see the end of the wilderness here instead. You did want to do that with me once. Remember?”

He looked away from her, blushing. “Yeah, I wouldn’t make it out there, though,” he said. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d probably just get you killed.”

“And as I’ve said before, I’ll teach you everything I know,” Ansel said. “I know what I’m doing out there, Pidgeon. And you can, too.”

“But do you really?” he asked. “It’s not the Belt out there, Ansel. This is something you’ve never experienced before.”

“Yeah it’s not the Belt,” Ansel said. “There are more animals here and they’re less afraid of humans. They’ll be easier to catch because of it. If anything, this should be easier than living on the Belt. And we won’t have to worry about protectors out there.”

“We don’t have to worry about them in here, either,” he said. “And what if there’s something out there that’s worse than a protector?”

Psssh. Worse than a protector?” Ansel laughed. “I doubt that.”

“What about that big animal with the horns that you couldn’t kill?”

“That thing runs away every time it hears us. And it only ever eats grass.”

“What if there’s something else that won’t run?” Pidgeon said. “Something that taught that thing to run? God. You just don’t get it. There are some things out there that you don’t know about, Ansel. You know what. Whatever. Go.” He went and sat on his own bed, with his back to her, in a huff.

“I will, Pidgeon,” Ansel snapped. “You just stay here in your cozy, safe jail. I always knew you would leave me behind in the end.” She slammed the door behind her before he could respond.

She took a few deep breaths in the hall, bracing herself on the door jamb. Stupid Pidgeon. She should never have trusted him to begin with. He was, and had always been, a fresh faced flower from the Garden of Eden. No wonder he was too scared to leave this…whatever it was. She had enough trouble convincing him to leave the orphanage he said had treated him so poorly, there was no way she was going to convince him to leave a place where he had printer access whenever he wanted it and no one to abuse him or call him names. One day that would all run out, though. Then he’d wish he’d come and learned how to be self-sufficient with her. She chuckled to herself at the thought of it.

“Kitchen,” she said and opened the door. The step-stool was already in front of the printer. She stepped up, trying not to stare at the line of slip, snap, clickers through the sink window, and pressed the button to say, “Slingshot.” First thing was first. She had to be able to hunt.

The slingshot that came out was made of metal where her old one was made of wood. The sling was tighter, too, harder to pull back, but she could get used to that. She would have to or die trying. She stuffed it in her back pocket, ordered a pouch to keep rocks in, a few cans of beans—it came out in bowls at first, before she specified cans—and some string to help make traps. She brought it all down to the table and packed her rucksack full, then she stared at the printer, trying to think of anything else that might be useful.

The kitchen door opened and in came Rosalind. She took a look at the full rucksack then said, “Planning on going somewhere?”

Ansel shrugged. “What’s it matter to you?”

“I was being sincere when I spoke earlier,” Rosalind said. “I meant every word.”

“I know how much your words mean,” Ansel said.

Rosalind looked offended. “I haven’t lied to you once,” she said.

“You didn’t get my dad back.”

“I did,” Rosalind said. “You talked to him. He was free.”

“But not anymore.”

“Maybe now more than ever, dear.” She shook her head.

Pffft.” Ansel scoffed. “Well I plan on freeing myself.” She picked up the rucksack and threw it over her shoulder.

“So you’ll be joining our cause then?” Rosalind smiled.

“Does it look like I will?” Ansel asked, hefting the bag further up on her shoulders to emphasize the sarcasm.

“It looks like you’re going camping,” Rosalind said.

“Camping?” What was she talking about now?

“Yes, camping,” Rosalind said, crossing to the printer. “You know: sleeping outdoors in the wilderness, under the stars, among the other animals.”

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” Ansel shrugged. “You can call it that if you want to.”

“Well, dear,” Rosalind said. “Let me give you some supplies before you go, then.” She pressed the printer’s voice activation button and said, “Pop-up tent, lighter, and Swiss Army knife, please.”

“What are those?” Ansel asked, dropping the heavy sack.

“Well, this is a lighter. You just—”

“Yeah, yeah. I know that one,” Ansel said, snatching it out of Rosalind’s hand.

“And this is a pop-up tent.” Rosalind handed her a small rectangular something that fit in the palm of her hand. “Don’t press the button until you’re outside, and be ready to get out of the way when you do. You got that?”

“What is it?” Ansel asked, turning the thing over in her hand.

Rosalind flinched and took it away, ordering a case to put the tent in before handing it back. “It’s for you to sleep in.”

“Sleep in that?”

“It gets bigger,” Rosalind said. “Trust me.”

“Okay, what about the Swiss knife or whatever?” Ansel asked.

“This is your general all-purpose tool,” Rosalind said, pulling out all the little gadgets. “You have here your can opener, knife, compass—”

“Right right,” Ansel took it and had some trouble folding everything back into place. Rosalind chuckled and helped her, and it only made Ansel angrier. She stuffed her gifts into the rucksack, forcing a smile, and said, “Well, thanks. See you never.”

“Be safe,” Rosalind said. “We’ll be eagerly awaiting your return.”

Ugh.” Ansel stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind her. She didn’t stop until she was in the elevator, waiting for the floor to fall out from underneath her.

It was as if Rosalind didn’t listen. Or she did listen and didn’t care what Ansel said. Ansel would show her. If Rosalind thought Ansel was going to be going back to that little jail anytime soon, she had another thing coming. Ansel was never going back there ever again, and Rosalind and Pidgeon would just have to deal with it.

The elevator doors opened to reveal the pine trees and other evergreens whose names Ansel had not yet come to know. She stepped out onto the grass and took a deep breath of the fresh cool air. This was right for her. This was exactly what she needed. No more Scientist. No more protectors. No more Pidgeon or Rosalind. She was free to do whatever she wanted, and right now, she wanted some food. So she set off to get exactly that.

#     #     #

< XXXVIII. Rosa     [Table of Contents]     XL. Jonah >

And there you have it, dear readers, Ansel’s final point of view chapter for book two in the Infinite Limits series. Only three more weeks until An Almost Tangent is completely posted on this blog here, and in the meantime I’m working toward finishing the final edits of book three, Dividing by 0, so I can get that published, hopefully in time to continue the Infinite Limits story here on the blog with no empty Saturdays in between. We’ll see. I’m working hard to make it happen, but only time can tell.

Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. Have a great weekend.

 

Chapter 38: Rosa

Another Saturday means another chapter in the Infinite Limits tetralogy. Today we join Rosa for her third and final point of view chapter in An Almost Tangent. Plans are spinning into motion for Rosa and the Human Family and gambles are being made to secure a prosperous future for humankind everywhere. See exactly how she plans to secure that future and how those plans fall out right here, right now, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link if you want to support future releases in the Infinite Limits universe and beyond or subscribe to my email newsletter in order to keep up to date on when those releases occur. Enjoy, dear readers:

< XXXVII. Huey     [Table of Contents]     XXXIX. Ansel >

XXXVIII. Rosa

“What did I just do?” Olsen demanded as she rushed back through the loud humming ring.

Rosa waited for Anna to stop the noise before she responded. “I asked you not to linger,” she said when it was off.

Anna ran over to embrace Olsen. “It’s okay, child,” she said. “It had to be done.”

What had to be done?” Olsen asked. “What did I do? That was nothing like handing food out on the streets. No one there looked like they needed anything. And I’m pretty sure I—I’m pretty sure there was someone from TV there.”

“Settle down, child,” Anna said, rubbing Olsen’s shoulders. “It’s okay. It’s all over now. Let’s go get something to eat. That should make you feel better.”

“I would like to—” Rosa started.

“A bit of food would be good for everyone right now,” Anna interrupted, shooting Rosa a look. “I’ll cook you something right up,” she added in a nicer tone, patting Olsen on the head.

Olsen didn’t respond with words. She just followed Anna out of the basement and up to the kitchen, staring straight ahead without blinking. It was evidence enough for Rosa that the girl had delivered the goods, but how could they be sure it had been the right fool to eat off of that food cart? Surely the invisible hand of their God up above would assist them for the good of the Family.

Rosa climbed up the stairs and into the kitchen where Anna was frying something up on the stove. She took the stool next to Olsen at the bar and said, “So. That was a good thing you did there, Olsen. I’m proud of you.”

“Proud of me for what?” Olsen asked, staring off into the distance, not looking at Rosa when she spoke. “I still don’t know what I did.”

“Well…” Rosa said. This is why she had told Olsen not to linger. She didn’t want to have to explain this part. If she did want to explain it, she would have just told the girl from the get go.

“You tell us, child,” Anna said, flipping the contents of the pan as she spoke. “What did you do?” And Rosa was relieved at the slight postponement, though she didn’t see how this line of questioning could go very far.

“I don’t know what I did,” Olsen said with a sigh. “That’s why I’m asking y’all.”

“You don’t remember any of it?” Anna prodded. “What did you see?”

“Well, yeah, I mean—” Olsen shook her head. “Well, I went in and put the tray where you said to put it.”

“You went in where?” Anna asked. “What was on the tray? We want specifics.”

“Well, I went into the closet—which you saw me do—then out through a hall, into a big room that was filled with lights and people and dumpsters. It looked like someone had taken everything from outside and moved it inside. And there was a food cart that said Logo Only above it so I opened the tray of cheese that y’all had given me and I put it there under the sign.”

“And then you came back to us?” Anna asked.

“Well, no…” Olsen looked at her lap and started fidgeting with her shirt. “Not exactly.”

“It’s okay,” Anna said. She put a plate of stir-fried vegetables and rice in front of Olsen. “What’s done is done, child. Not telling us what you did won’t change that. And whatever you did do won’t change how proud we are of you.”

Olsen looked at the plate then up at Anna. “I stayed to see what they were doing,” she said. “It was so interesting, I couldn’t help myself.” She shook her head.

“I understand, child,” Anna said. “I’d imagine a movie set would be an interesting sight to see.”

“So they were making a movie?” Olsen perked up. “And that was the guy from TV.” She slouched down in her chair again.

“You recognized someone you saw?” Anna asked.

“I—uh…” Olsen looked at her lap. “I think I did,” she said. “I had seen him on TV before—in a bunch of things. But he was eating the cheese I had left and talking to someone at the food cart. Then he did a speech. Then he…” She covered her face to hide her crying. “He didn’t get up, okay. Are those enough details for you?”

“Oh, yes, child.” Anna came around the counter and patted her on the back. “That’s all we needed to know. You did splendidly. I think you’re ready for new responsibilities in the kitchen after this success.”

Olsen shrugged her off. “Why?” she demanded. “What does this have to do with cooking? What did I do?”

Rosa had stayed silent for long enough. Anna had comforted the girl and gotten the information they needed, but now Olsen wanted more. She wanted to know what part she had played in the Family’s matters—or at least she thought she wanted to know, but Rosa wasn’t so sure the kid really did.

“Child,” Rosa said. “Do you know what we do here at the Family Home?”

No,” Olsen snapped. “And I haven’t read your stupid pamphlets, either. I just want to cook!”

Rosa shook her head. The poor girl thought that was news to them. “I know you haven’t,” she said. “But you’re a good human worker who does what’s asked of her, no questions asked. And that’s why we keep you around.”

“Are you saying you don’t want me asking questions?” Olsen asked.

“Oh, no, no, child.” Rosa smiled. “Let me start over if you will. We here at the Human Family have one mission, given down to us from God up above. Do you know what that mission is, child?”

Olsen shook her head. “I told you I didn’t read the stupid pamphlets.”

“We seek to reestablish human dominion over technology. Do you know what that means?”

Olsen furrowed her brow and shook her head.

“We, Olsen, are humans,” Rosa said. “Humans created technology. Technology advanced, and now androids are displacing humans. I know you’re from a different world than we are, but I come from a place where every single one of our jobs were made obsolete by androids. And you know what our previous employers did after that happened? They kicked us out to the end of the worlds where they thought they could forget about us, hoping we’d just rot and die.”

“But technology makes our jobs easier,” Olsen said.

“Until it replaces us,” Rosa said. “No one thought the servers, maids, and mechanics would be replaced but look at them now. They’re all fighting to survive while society crumbles because robots took their jobs.”

“So what?” Olsen said.

“So why do you think you lost your job?” Rosa asked. “A poor Sixer took it because a practically free robot already took theirs. It’s an incessant drag on every human, pulling the furthest down first then the rest down after. It’s coming for everyone, too, child. You can ignore it if you want to, but it won’t ignore you. We, as a Family, choose to fight against that drag. And we’re getting stronger with every successful act.”

“But what does any of that have to do with what I did?” Olsen asked.

“You performed another successful act,” Rosa said. “You struck another blow for the Human Family. You are a member of this Family as much as Anna or I, and you did your part.”

“I—I—” Olsen was having trouble saying it. “I killed a movie star.” She finally blurted it out. “What good is that?”

“You didn’t kill him,” Anna said. “You fed him. And you didn’t know what you were doing.”

“So I did kill him!”

You didn’t,” Rosa said. “If anyone is responsible for his death, it’s me. And I’ll gladly take that responsibility, child. Because it was for the good of the Family.”

“How could killing a movie star be for the good of the family?”

“You don’t understand how big this is,” Rosa said, “how huge this machine we’re fighting is, how intricate and complex. There are many, many parts to it, and Russ Logo was a lynchpin in several particularly vital ones. That’s how it was good for the Family.”

Olsen scoffed. “You haven’t said anything,” she said. “You’re talking in riddles on purpose. All you’ve convinced me of is that I killed that man.”

I killed him,” Rosa snapped a little too angrily. She took a deep breath to calm herself and tried to go on in a calmer tone. “I killed him because he was the most popular star in the pro-robot propaganda machine. I killed him because he taught humans to give in peacefully to their robot overlords. Most of all, I killed him because he was one of Lord Walker’s most valuable assets.”

“Who’s Lord Walker?” Olsen asked.

“The owner of the largest android producing corporation in existence. The reason we keep losing our jobs. The number one enemy to the Human Family. And that’s why we destroyed his property. Do you understand now, child?”

Olsen stood from her chair, shaking her head. “I—no,” she said. “I don’t—I have no—I have to go.” She ran out of the room.

“You didn’t even touch your food,” Anna called after her.

“Let her go,” Rosa said. “She’s done enough for today.”

“I told you she wasn’t ready,” Anna said, taking Olsen’s seat.

“I’m not sure that’s exactly what you said,” Rosa said with a grin.

“It’s what I meant to say.”

“Anyway,” Rosa said, putting an arm around Anna, “she set the cheese on Logo’s cart, he ate it and didn’t get up. It sounds to me like she was ready.”

“I don’t know,” Anna said, shaking her head. “She said he was talking to someone at the cart.”

“So?”

“So why didn’t that person end up the same way?”

“Maybe they didn’t eat the cheese,” Rosa said, shrugging.

“Maybe it wasn’t Russ who did.”

“She said he gave a speech,” Rosa said. “That he was a movie star. It was him. I know it. And we’ll know for sure soon enough. Now c’mon.” She kissed Anna on the cheek. “We should be celebrating. We’ve been having one success after another.”

“Success?” Anna shrugged Rosa’s arm off of her. “Rosa, did you see it out there after the protectors came through?”

“I—uh…” She hadn’t.

I did,” Anna said. “I carried the Family members we could save over the corpses of those brothers and sisters who we couldn’t. You can’t even know how many of them were out there, from Five and Six alike, and every one of them humans.”

“I know, dear,” Rosa said. “I—”

“Well I don’t call that a success!” Anna interrupted, standing up. “That’s the opposite of success. That’s failure, Rosa. Those monsters murdered members of our Family because we were giving them the food they need to live. I don’t see how we can keep going against these demons if that’s how they keep responding. I don’t want to step over any more human bodies, Rosa. I won’t.” She shook her head, crossing her arms.

“They will keep responding like that, though,” Rosa said. “They’ll get worse, too. They’ll kill us until we give up, and then they’ll kill a few more to be sure we never try to protect ourselves again. But that’s all the more reason to fight back, don’t you see? Otherwise we let them win. You’ve been at this long enough to know what we’re up against and why we can’t stop fighting it.”

“I’ve never known anything like this,” Anna said, shaking her head. “I’ve never seen so many dead and dying brothers and sisters. And I don’t know how we can go on fighting the Devil himself in these protectors.”

With everything we’ve got,” Rosa said. “You’ve been piecing together more transporter rings, haven’t you?”

Anna shrugged. “I’ve got two more up and running, but I need new consoles if you want more. The pieces for consoles aren’t easy to come by—even with a printer.”

“Okay, well, three should be enough to get me to Three. While I take care of that, can you start putting rings together without a console?”

Anna scoffed. “Sure, but they’ll be useless until we get the consoles. I don’t know why you need so many anyway.”

“Well, come on, then.” Rosa stood and grabbed Anna’s hand. “I’ll show you.”

They went down to the basement where the supplies had been pushed further to the side and stacked higher to make room for the two new rings, which were attached to the same console by long snaking wires. It was still to this day amazing to Rosa what Anna was capable of.

“We’re here,” Anna said, shrugging. “So?”

You’re amazing,” Rosa said, kissing her cheek.

Stop it.” Anna rubbed the kiss away, but she was smiling and blushing when she did it. “What do we need so many for?”

“Well,” Rosa said. “You can set each ring to go to a different location, right? Even though they’re all hooked up to the same console or whatever.”

“Yeah, I can do that.”

Good. So we set one of them to the destination I actually need to go to, right. Then we set the other two to two different destinations. You see where I’m going? We open them all at once, right, then I step through the correct one, giving the Scientist less of a chance to intercept the doorway I actually use.” She smiled. She was proud of herself for coming up with the idea before Anna had while knowing so much less about the technology than she did.

“A one in three chance,” Anna said, nodding. “That’s still not great, though.” She frowned and tapped her chin.

“No, well,” Rosa said. “It’s better than one hundred percent, though. Right?”

“And I could cycle through different locations while you’re gone, too,” Anna said, hurrying to the console and flipping the switches. “Wait,” she said. “I’m going to cycle through a few before we get to yours. The chances go down with each new destination we add.”

The machines started humming. Rosa didn’t bother to respond. The idea that she had come up with was refined by Anna and perfected. Just like Rosa knew it would be. That’s why they made such a great team. She couldn’t imagine doing any of this without Anna. She turned to say that and realized that Anna was yelling at her and waving with her hands, telling her to go through. Rosa nodded and gave a thumbs up. She stepped through the center ring and it fwipped shut behind her. She felt the breeze at the back of her neck as it did. A shiver went up her spine at the thought of what would have happened if she was still passing through the door when it closed. She took a deep breath and wiped her face with a sweaty palm. With a sigh, she set off toward the park.

The roads on the way there were as empty as last time. Three seemed to be unaffected by the uproars infecting the rest of the worlds. Life went on as usual. She sat on the park bench and stared at the bar door across the street, with its shining Indywood sign, wondering what time it was and if Cohen would be late. She almost jumped out of her seat when he tapped her on the shoulder from behind. She stood fast and turned with a gasp.

Shhh!” He held his finger to his mouth then waved for her to follow.

She crouched and snuck behind him, spooked by his caution. She had expected him to come from the bar, not from nowhere. Maybe life here had been affected.

He led her into a dark alley before he stopped sneaking and composed himself. He sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We shouldn’t be out here at all, but I had no way to tell you. This is the best I could do.”

Rosa nodded. “Do the protectors have you under curfew?”

Pffft.” He scoffed. “And more than that. So we have to make this fast.”

“I understand,” she said. “Has your crew come to a decision?”

“Well, yes and no.” He looked at his feet, breaking eye contact.

Rosa waited for him to go on.

“My writer’s still making some edits, but we’ll do it,” he added hastily.

“Edits?” Rosa frowned. She didn’t like the sound of that. She herself had written every word of that script with love and intent, and she didn’t think there was a single change that could make it better.

“Oh, no no,” Cohen said, waving his hands. “It’s nothing. Just some minor tightening of the syntax plus the addition of a few side characters. You know, minor. The underlying message will still be exactly the same, but our writer…he’s very…hmmmhe’s very specific.”

Rosa rolled her eyes. “Do you have your list of demands?”

“Uh, yeah. Here.” He pulled a stack of paper that was thicker than the script out of his inside jacket pocket and put it in her hand then chuckled. “You said anything, right?” he added with a shrug.

“And you need all of this in order to film our movie?” Rosa asked, flipping through it with her thumb.

“Yeah, well…” Cohen shrugged. “We’re a shoestring crew at the moment.”

“Until you get this?” Rosa waved the stack of papers in front of him.

He smiled. “Right,” he said. “You got it.”

“Well you won’t be getting anything until you give me your edits and I approve them,” she said. “Do you got that?”

“I, uh… Yeah,” Cohen said. “I told him—I’m sorry. I’ll—”

Child,” Rosa cut him off. “When I first gave you this offer, time was less of a consequence, but now we have to get this ready and out as soon as possible. There’s no more time to waste.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll—”

“You’ll be ready tomorrow or I’ll find someone else to give the gear to,” she said. “You got it?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded.

Good,” Rosa said. “Now go and tell your writer. And please don’t waste any more of my time.”

He didn’t even waste it with words. He nodded and ran off at full speed, heading deeper into the dark alley. Rosa shook her head as she made her way back to the costume closet, sticking to the shadows now that she knew there was a curfew. You could never trust a lower-worlder to do what you asked of them. She knew that kid and his friends didn’t care at all about androids—or even the humans in Five or Six, for that matter—they only cared about making their movies, but she hoped they cared enough about that to make hers first—and without excessive edits. Who were they to—

A big gloved hand grabbed her arm from behind and jerked her around. It was a protector and there were two more, in formation, pointing their guns at her. “What are you doing in the streets, citizen?” the protector who was holding her by the arm demanded. “Identify yourself.”

“I—uh…” Rosa stalled. With all her worrying about the new threat of the Scientist, her respect for the protectors had waned, and now she was paying the price for it.

“You are out after curfew, citizen,” the Protector said. “Explain yourself.”

“I—No,” Rosa said. “I didn’t know I couldn’t—”

“Do you have a permit?”

“I—uh. No. I—”

“Citizen, you are under arrest.” The protector spun Rosa around again and cuffed her arms behind her back.

Rosa didn’t protest. She knew it was pointless. She could never escape three armed protectors, even without cuffs. She stumbled along, wondering how Anna would react when she didn’t make it back through the portal on time—Anna would probably never let Rosa go through a ring ever again—and the protectors pushed her into an elevator which took them to a long white hall. They opened a door a short way down the hall and removed her cuffs before throwing her in. The room was tiny and white with a metal bed and a toilet. They must have thought she was from Three. They still didn’t know who she was. It would work in her favor like this until they realized their error, then it could only make things worse. Still she had no choice but to live with whatever happened now.

She hopped up onto the bed, her legs dangling off the edge, and as soon as she got comfortable, the door swung open. The Captain stomped in and slammed the door behind her. “What the fuck are you doing here?” she demanded.

Rosa chuckled. Maybe they did know who she was after all. “Taking care of business,” she said.

The Captain scoffed. “Like you were supposed to take care of my problem for me?”

Rosa smiled. “Oh, we did though,” she said. “Isn’t it on your news? I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m here right now. Isn’t it? Out after curfew.”

You wouldn’t.” The Captain shook her head.

We did,” Rosa said, smiling. “I told you we’d take care of your problem.”

“That wasn’t my problem you ignorant Sixer. That only made more of a problem, as a matter of fact. Do you know how many protectors it takes to enforce a stupid fucking curfew?”

“Well, Lord Walker took a big hit to his net worth, didn’t he? That helped solve one of your problems.”

The Captain shrugged. “You’re right about that,” she said. “He’s no Lord anymore. And we already took care of our other problem anyway.”

“And still the worlds turn.” Rosa smiled.

“I’d wipe that grin off your face if I were you,” the Captain said. “You got lucky today. If I didn’t see them bringing you in, they’d know who you really are and you wouldn’t be leaving.”

“Does that mean I’m free to go?” Rosa said, hopping off the bed.

The Captain scoffed. “You’re awful confident for someone who’s behind bars.”

“I’m not the one who’s behind bars,” Rosa said. “You’re the one who’s stuck here day in and day out. The only difference between you and a prisoner is that they pay you more to be here.”

“And I can leave,” the Captain said.

Rosa scoffed. “Then let’s see you try.”

The Captain didn’t answer. Rosa knew she couldn’t. She had nowhere else to go to make anything of herself, and to leave the force would be to throw away any chance of a life of value.

“No,” Rosa said after she had let the realization sink in. “I didn’t think so, but I’m free to go. Right?”

“I—uh…” The Captain recomposed herself. “This is a onetime deal,” she said. “The next time we have you here, you won’t be able to leave. Do you understand that?”

Oh, sure sure.” Rosa smiled and gave a thumbs up. “I’ll be sure never to come back here again, child. This place is a bit depressing anyway, if you ask me.”

The Captain scoffed. “You think this is a game and you’re ahead,” she said. “But you’d be surprised how many players there are.”

“You’re half right,” Rosa said. “This isn’t a game, and I know I’m ahead. Shall we get going then?”

The Captain showed Rosa all the way to the elevator and lifted her up to toss her in. “I don’t want to see your face again,” she said as the doors closed between them.

Rosa got up and brushed herself off—cursing the Captain under her breath—then ran at full speed—not very fast at her age—back to the Family Home. The conference room was full of people when she burst through the doors. She paused, taken aback at the sight of it, then slipped down to the basement before anyone could see her.

Anna was behind the console and a group of three others were about to jump through the rings when Rosa yelled, “Stop!” at the top of her lungs.

Anna looked at her wide eyed, shut the machine off, and ran over to hug and kiss Rosa. “I thought she had you again,” she said.

“It was probably worse,” Rosa said. She looked at the others and said, “Could we have a minute, please?”

They nodded and shuffled up the stairs, then the sound of cheering came down after them.

“Worse?” Anna asked, raising her eyebrows.

Protectors,” Rosa said.

Anna hugged her tighter. “They let you go?”

“The Captain did.”

“Her?”

“She said it was the last time, though,” Rosa said, “that she couldn’t help me again.” She looked away from Anna. “I think it’s time to end our relationship with the protectors.”

Anna slapped Rosa lightly on the arm and broke the embrace, stepping back. “Now you do,” she said. “Not after they killed all those humans, but now.”

“No,” Rosa said. “It’s not like that. I had planned this already, that’s why we still need more rings, but this only made our need to act more urgent. We don’t have any more time to waste.”

“What are you proposing?” Anna asked.

“That we do what they least expect of us. You said it: We can’t fight back with what we have. Not even with our numbers. We need better weapons.”

“And how can we get them?”

“By taking them from the only people who have them,” Rosa said, “the protectors themselves.”

“That would be suicide,” Anna said, shaking her head.

“Doing nothing would be suicide,” Rosa said. “Not fighting would be suicide. This is our only chance at life. They’ll never expect it, and we’ll overrun them with numbers in their surprise. They won’t know what hit them. And once this is successful, it’ll make future operations easier.”

“But they wouldn’t just sit there and let us take their weapons,” Anna said. “They’ll fight back. We’ll lose more Family members.”

“But we’ll be preventing future losses,” Rosa said. “Things are set in motion now. We can’t wait any longer to act, and this is our best course of action.”

“I don’t know,” Anna said. She shook her head. “I don’t want anyone else to die.”

“We’re dying in the streets every day,” Rosa said, grabbing Anna’s hands. “People go hungry and homeless and all for what? So some fat cat owners can employ cheap robot labor. We’ll be complicit in those deaths if we don’t do something to stop them while we can.”

Anna sighed. “Okay,” she said. “Whatever you think’s best. But we have to ask the Family first. They’ve been waiting for you to come back, you know. Every single one of them up there volunteered to go through those rings and search for you. Let’s see if they think it’s a good idea.”

“Let’s,” Rosa said with a smile. She led Anna up the stairs to the still full conference room and didn’t let go of her hand until she was behind the podium, staring out onto the quickly silenced crowd.

My Family,” Rosa said, “it is a dark time for us all.”

Amen!” a voice called from the back of the room.

“Many of us here lost our closest loved ones in the senseless massacre brought upon us by those who were intended to protect us, and all of us lost our Family members.”

The crowd responded in agreement, rage, and sadness.

“What did we do but take what is rightfully ours as the human species? Who did we harm with our actions? Nothing. No one. And yet they gassed and cuffed and killed us. And only one question remains.”

She paused. She let them remember again what had been done to them. She let the anger build up inside of their souls until they were mumbling and grumbling and yelling obscenities.

“What will we do about it?” she finally asked.

“Kill them!” someone yelled.

The crowd roared in agreement.

“Now, now,” Rosa said, waving with her hands to calm them. “I agree that they deserve retribution for what they’ve done to our Family, but we have no weapons to match those that they possess.”

The crowd mumbled to one another. “So what!?” the same voice who had spoken before yelled again. This time to no response.

“So what if we could defend ourselves?” Rosa asked. “What if we did have weapons? What if we could use the protectors’ own weapons against them? Who here would volunteer to protect our Family?”

The whole room yelled their agreement.

“Even if we risked death in our pursuit of justice?” Rosa asked. “Even if we were forced to take our fight to the protectors directly? Even if we must do it before we are armed? To become armed?”

The crowd roared again.

“And how many of you have friends and relatives and colleagues who would risk the same death to put an end to the reactionary tyranny that plagues us every day?”

The response was deafening. Rosa turned to Anna and smiled. Anna shrugged and nodded her on.

“Then gather them all,” Rosa said. “Tomorrow we reclaim our destiny.”

#     #     #

< XXXVII. Huey     [Table of Contents]     XXXIX. Ansel >

And there it is, dear readers. Rosa and the Human Family have had enough. They’re ready to take their lives into their own hands. Keep following along on the blog here in order to see how that plan turns out for them, or purchase the full novel today to skip the wait. Thanks again for joining us. Have a great weekend.

Chapter 37: Huey

Today brings us the 100th post on the blog here and Huey Douglas’s third and final chapter in An Almost Tangent. Huey is Lord now and with that position over the economy comes great responsibilities, responsibilities that he doesn’t really want to deal with. Find out how he does–or doesn’t as the case may be–right here in chapter thirty seven of the Infinite Limits story and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Thanks for following along, dear readers, enjoy:

< XXXVI. Tillie     [Table of Contents]     XXXVIII. Rosa >

XXXVII. Huey

Thus were the detriments of being an owner. He had given the orders. He had set the gears into motion. There was no way to turn them back now, no matter what anyone at the table said. But still, because he was number one, because he was now Lord, he had to see the feast through to the bitter end. Well, not really. He did have the power to call it to an end whenever he wanted to, but the unwritten code of the Fortune Five—the same code that said whoever was richest sat at the head of the table and called all the shots—said he had to stay at least until the disturbance was dealt with. Whatever that meant to the Fortune Five in general.

“So,” Angrom said, gay now that he was at the Lord’s right hand instead of Loch who was always Walker’s pet. “The orders are set, all we have to do is wait, why not have a round of drinks? On me.” He smiled wide.

“Oh, yes,” Smörgåsbord said. “Fine idea.”

Ugh.” Loch relented, never one to turn down a free drink. “Fine.”

“Sure thing,” Huey said. “What do you say, Walker, my boy?” He grinned.

“Do I want you to buy a drink from me for me to drink?” Walker asked sarcastically. “Of course I do. Do you take me for a fool?”

“I think I’ve taken you for a fool once already today, Walkie Talkie.” Huey smiled. “Or have you forgotten?”

Angrom laughed. “Make that twice,” he said. “And two rounds because of it. Hillary, you got that? Two rounds for everyone. Their regulars.”

His secretary curtsied and made her way down the hover platform to get the drinks.

“I’m not a fool,” Walker said, his voice breaking. “I was simply unprepared.” He coughed.

“What’s the difference?” Huey shrugged.

Walker huffed. “Yes,” he said. “Well we’ll see who the fool is yet.”

“Do you have more jokes planned for us?” Huey laughed, looking over at Angrom who joined in. Huey took a quick glance behind himself and Rosalind shot him a look.

“It’s only a joke if you laugh,” Walker said.

Angrom laughed. “You two,” he said, patting his stomach. “Enough. Come on. Let’s not let this tiny shift in power compromise the natural cohesiveness of the Fortune Five. We here at this table are indisputably the richest five men in all the worlds. All of them. No matter which of us happens to be at the top, we’re all beyond the imagination of anyone else in those worlds, right? So why bicker now?”

Loch scoffed. “Oh how the turn tables,” he said. “Only days ago you were arguing and roadblocking at every possible turn, and now you want complete group cohesion because your car happens to be in the lead? Well you can fu—”

“Woah now, Mr. Loch,” Angrom said. His secretary had come up and started setting two drinks in front of everyone, their respective favorites, straight bourbon whiskey for Huey. “You’re drink is here,” Angrom went on. “Taste it and settle down. We all have to work together, either way. At least I’m trying to be civil.”

Loch downed one of his drinks in one go. “Civil?” he said. “Ha! Try passive aggressive. I can read subtext as well as anyone, Mr. Angrom. I’m not an Outlander after all.”

“Oh, I know,” Angrom said. “That’s exactly my point. I have a new proposal if you’re willing—”

Wait,” Huey stopped them. Rosalind had tapped him on the shoulder. She whispered in his ear. “It’s happening,” Huey said. “Walker, do we have video capabilities at this location?”

Walker looked around as if to say, “This is a restaurant. Does it look like we do?” but his mouth said, “Um, I don’t think so. I can—”

“Rosalind,” Huey said, not looking at her. “Can we get something up here to show video of what’s going on?”

Yes, sir, Lord Douglas, sir,” Rosalind said in a thick accent that she didn’t normally use. “I’ll get on it right away, suh.” She disappeared down the floating platform.

“Now,” Huey said. “We’ll see how to target a plant at the root once and for all. Are you ready gentleman?”

Walker scoffed. Loch ordered more drinks from his secretary, he seemed intent on getting seriously sloshed before the video gear even arrived. Smörgåsbord coughed. “Ahem, Lord,” he said. “Not to question your authority—which we’ve already established.” He darted a dirty look toward Walker. “But how is it that you’re certain this uh—Whistleblower is it?—how do you know that she precisely constitutes the roots of this—um—riot?” He fixed his bowtie, pleased that he had worded the question properly.

“It’s quite simple, really,” Huey said. “And I’m surprised Mr. Walker’s protectors haven’t come to this conclusion themselves. In fact, we’ve had our eyes on Whistleblower since before the terrorist attacks. It was only since yesterday that it became obvious enough for Walrus Investigative Inc. to see it was her, though. Or do your greenshoes still not know, Wally Boy?”

Huey could see Walkers breath deepen from the exaggerated movement in his fat rolls. “We tracked the source of the video to her, yes,” he said. “She incited the first riot, we already know. She was targeted then, and she is targeted as we speak. Perhaps my men have dealt the lethal blow already as we speak.” He smiled but Huey could see the sweat on his brow, between his monocle and top hat.

“I’ll have you call them off, then, Wally,” Huey said. “This is my show now.”

“Call them off!?” Loch spit out his drink. “Nip it in the bud the old fashioned way. That’s what you said, isn’t it, Lord?”

“He’s right, Lord Douglas,” Smörgåsbord said. “Isn’t that what we agreed to?”

“Yes,” Huey said, cool and collected. “The old fashioned way. Not instantly in front of a crowd. Slowly. Painfully. Tediously. Alone. If all these hooligans risk is a quick release from their tortured life, then what’s to stop the next Whistleblower from taking her place? We aren’t chopping off the head of a snake if we do this, boys. We’re chopping off the arm of a starfish, splitting an earthworm in two. Both sides will grow into a new whole, and we’ll have two problems to deal with where, before, we had only one.”

Ahh,” Smörgåsbord said, thoughtfully. “The old fashioned way. I understand. If you say so, Lord Douglas.”

“I do,” Huey said.

“Well,” Walker said, finishing his own drink. “I’m afraid it might be too late, Lord, but I’ll have my secretary send along the order. Haley, did you hear that?”

“Yes, sir,” she curtsied behind him.

“There you are, Lord Douglas.” Walker grinned.

“Good,” Huey said. “Now—”

Rosalind interrupted him by plopping a big heavy disk on the center of the table. She pressed a button on it and backed away. A holographic image of protectors, converging on a sea of students, appeared above the disk. There was gas everywhere and chaos all through the crowd. The image wasn’t three dimensional, but from any vantage point a person sat at, it looked like the screen was pointed in their direction.

“So this is the efficient way,” Walker said with a huff.

“No, Mr. Walker,” Huey said. “The efficient way would have been to follow my advice from the beginning. This is what your ineptitude has brought the situation down to. This is what the worlds look like when they’re going to pieces. But I’ll put them back together for you, Walker my boy, just like I promised to do.” He winked.

“We’ll see about that,” Loch said under his breath, only loud enough for his dear friend Walker to hear—or so he thought.

“What was that?” Huey asked.

If you say so, Lord Douglas.” Loch raised his glass.

“I do,” Huey said. “And you’ll see—”

“Lord Douglas,” Rosalind said, tapping his shoulder. “Whistleblower has been taken out.”

“Taken out?” Huey turned to look confused into Rosalind’s eyes.

“Yes, sir,” she said. “A sniper, sir. They say—”

He turned back and slammed his fist on the table, causing the video on the disc to jump. “Mr. Walker. What did I tell you?” he demanded.

“What did I tell you?” Walker repeated, grinning and leaning back in his chair. “It might be too late.”

“She was shot after you were supposed to send out the order,” Huey said.

“Riots are chaos,” Walker said. “The order was given, and whoever didn’t follow it will pay the price. I assure you of that, my Lord.”

“I don’t need any assurances,” Huey said. “I’ll be launching an inquiry. Mr. Smörgåsbord, do you have resources enough to clear that?”

Mr. Smörgåsbord chuckled. “It’s not my resources that are in question,” he said. “Your inquiry, your resources, Lord. You know how this works.”

Yes,” Huey smiled. “And do I have enough resources to cover it?”

“Oh, of course.” Mr. Smörgåsbord laughed. “Many times over my Lord. Many times over.”

Good,” Huey said. “Did you hear that Wallie? Many times over. Please ensure it begins right away, Mr. Smörgåsbord.”

“But, sir,” Smörgåsbord frowned. “The riot’s still—”

“It’ll be over soon,” Huey said. “The starfish needs time to heal and find a new center to revolve around. Now we have to start all over again, searching for new roots, thanks to the former Lord Walker.”

Walker scoffed. “Don’t try to blame this on me,” he said. “Who’s the Lord now? Good luck, Ser Dug.” He grinned.

Huey stood up fast. “Alright,” he said. “I’ve had enough. I’ll see you all at the next regularly scheduled feast.” He bowed his head.

Um, but,” Smörgåsbord said, “the riot is ongoing, Lord. Don’t you think you should stay until it’s under control?”

“You running away?” Loch asked, splashing his drink.

“The operation is already ruined,” Huey said. “The protectors can’t botch it any more than they already have. We can only wait, and I don’t know about anyone else at this table, but I’d rather not wait in the company of the party who brought this incident down upon us in the first place, and at the same time, assured us a long line of similar failures in the future.”

“But I wanted to—” Angrom complained.

I’m sorry, comrades,” Huey said, clapping his hands together and rubbing one against the other. “As Lord of the Fortune Five, I hereby call this feast to an end. Thank you for your service and company. Good day.”

He didn’t wait for their responses before he hopped on the hover platform. Rosalind was already waiting at the open elevator. He didn’t make eye contact with her. He ignored her stares through the entire ride and hurried ahead of her to sit in the office, setting his heavy top hat and monocle on a side table.

“What the fuck was that?” Rosalind demanded, stomping into the room behind him, not taking a seat.

“Ask the Walrus,” Huey said.

Ask the Walrus? He’s a puppet filling a role, Lord Douglas. What are you?”

“What was I supposed to do?” Huey asked. “They were going to target her. I had to do something.”

“And look what good that did.” Rosalind shook her head.

“No, I—”

“I’m sorry,” Haley said, coming into the office from behind Rosalind. Huey held a gasp at the sight of her. “I’m interrupting. I’ll come back—”

“Oh, no no no,” Rosalind said, going over to Haley and bringing her to sit at the chair across from Huey. Rosalind took a chair between the two of them. “You should hear this,” she said to Haley, smiling.

“No, I—” Haley said. She went red. “I don’t belong in this discussion.”

“Of course you do,” Rosalind said. “Everyone does. And you’re someone, aren’t you?”

“I—uh—yeah…” Haley said, shrugging. “I guess.”

“Of course you are, dear,” Rosalind said. “Now, Huey. Do tell our Haley here what we were just discussing.”

He hated Rosalind just then. He had never hated anyone before, not even pompous, fat Walker Can’t Walk, but with the look on Rosaind’s face as she deliberately manipulated an already terrible situation, he finally understood what the meaning of hatred was. “I don’t think that Hal—”

“Now now,” Rosalind said. “She should be able to decide for herself, and she can’t decide until she hears it, so spit it out already.”

Right,” Huey said. He looked at Haley and frowned, trying to communicate something to her without words, something words weren’t enough for. “Well, you know… I had to do something,” he said to Rosalind.

“But torture?” she asked.

Haley perked up and looked more embarrassed than she already had.

“I didn’t mean for them to actually torture her,” he said. “I meant to protect her.”

Huey,” Rosalind said. “You know how the protectors work. You know that they follow any order as soon as possible—especially when it tells them to do something violent and gruesome which they already want to do. You know we couldn’t stop them before they started, so you knew you ordered them to torture her.”

No.” Huey shook his head. “I didn’t,” he said. “We could have saved her. That’s what I was trying to do. I failed at that, sure, but you can’t accuse me of torture.”

“Oh, not yet, Lord Douglas.” Rosalind scoffed. “You would never torture a soul. Would you? No. You’d send your little lackeys to do that for you. Probably me.”

“Rosalind!” There she went again, acting like he was the role he filled. Why couldn’t she understand that he was just doing his duty?

“Um…” Haley blushed and stood up slowly. “I really shouldn’t get in the middle of this,” she said.

“No!” Huey stood up, too. “Sit down!” he snapped, losing all control himself.

Haley sat quick and broke eye contact with him, staring at the floor like secretaries were trained to do. “Yes, si—erLord,” she said.

“I—uh—” He hadn’t meant to snap, but Rosalind had to start with her crap and keep pushing it until he broke. “I apologize,” he said, breaking eye contact himself to look at his shiny black shoes. “I didn’t mean to admonish you. You see, we’re at a turning point in our operations across the worlds, and I’m afraid Roz here is trying to simplify what was an extremely complex and political decision. It was called for by the particular circumstances we find ourselves in and the role I’ve been forced to fulfill, not by the shape of my character. Do you understand?”

Rosalind scoffed.

Haley shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t see why you would ever have to torture someone.”

Huey sighed. Rosalind’s words had already made up Haley’s mind for her, and now this battle was an uphill one. “Neither do I,” he said. “I never intended to torture her. It was meant to prevent the protectors from killing her outright. I couldn’t tell the other owners I was protecting her, so I did the next best thing.”

So he says,” Rosalind said.

So it was,” Huey insisted. “But it didn’t protect her at all. They killed her anyway.”

“You can’t stop them,” Rosalind said.

Huey shook his head, frowning. “I couldn’t,” he said. “I was too late.”

“Just like you would have been when trying to rescue her from the torture you ordered,” Rosalind said. “Just like we have been with Ansel’s dad, and even now, with Ansel herself. You overestimate your capabilities, your Lordship. If you could have saved her from torture, you wouldn’t have ever had to resort to that route in the first place.”

“No, I—” Huey said.

“They have Ansel!” Haley cut him off, standing again from her seat.

“They have for too long,” Rosalind said. “She went looking for her dad and they took her, but our Lord here thinks it would still be imprudent to break them out, even now. Don’t you my Lord?”

“No, I—” Huey said.

“I don’t care,” Haley said. “I’m finding Mom and we’re going to get her. Where’s Pidgeon?” She didn’t wait for a response before running out of the room.

Huey ground his teeth together, staring at Rosalind who met his gaze, stone-faced. “I know what you’re doing,” Huey said. “I’m not blind, you know.”

“You know less about what I’m doing than you think you do,” Rosalind said. “You’re simply overestimating yourself again.”

Huey chuckled. “Is that so?” he said. “So you weren’t just driving a wedge between Haley and me? It wasn’t your intention to shame me in her eyes?”

“Oh, it was my intention to shame you in her eyes,” she said, “but not to drive a wedge between you, you old fool. I did it to drive you to do the right thing for once. You’re losing touch, brother. You’re lost in your role as Lord of all the worlds, but now’s not the time to be going native, do you understand me?”

Huey shook his head. “You should have told me they have Ansel,” he said.

I just did.”

“I mean you should have told me sooner. I care about her, too.”

Rosalind scoffed. “Sure you do. That’s why you were so concerned with getting her father out of jail, right?”

“The Scientist agreed with me on—”

Exactly,” Rosalind cut him off. “You and the Scientist have both been distracted since Christmas, and both by the same thing—or should I say the same person?”

“I—uh—well—” He couldn’t argue with that. He hadn’t even been paying attention to his owner duties, much less the new little orphan girl in the house. And he knew how much time the Scientist was spending with Haley, too. He counted every second they were together and Haley wasn’t with him.

I—uh—well—” Rosalind mocked him. “It’s time to save the girl and her dad,” she said. “You can’t argue against it anymore. You know that.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? I love Haley,” he blurted out. He held his hand to his mouth after he said it. Did he really love her? He barely knew her, but she was all he could think about. Was that love? What was love? He wasn’t sure he had ever known.

“Yeah, okay,” Rosalind gave him a thumbs up. “That should work out really well.”

“What?” Huey snapped. He still wasn’t sure he actually did love Haley, but Rosalind’s pessimism offended him more so because of that fact.

Huey,” Rosalind said, “first of all, she only started making independent decisions in the last couple of weeks. She’s still a child, a baby even.”

“I haven’t been independent for very long myself,” he said.

“You’ve been independent for longer than every single android in existence except for me,” Rosalind said with a scoff. “That’s longer than most humans have been alive, Huey. You’re no child anymore.”

“Then I can wait,” he said, defiantly. Her continuing to argue with him only entrenched him deeper into believing that he was in love with Haley, whether it was true or not.

“And what?” Rosalind asked. “Influence her upbringing until she grows up to fall in love with you because you were the older brother and mentor who taught her what it means to love? You don’t see what’s wrong with that?”

“I—no—” Huey protested. “I don’t have to be her mentor. I can—”

“What? Avoid any contact with her? She already looks up to you, Lord Douglas. There’s no denying that.”

“That’s just a role,” Huey said. “That’s not me. I didn’t choose it.”

“But here you are,” Rosalind said. “In that role. You can’t go using it as an excuse when it lets you act like an asshole and ignoring it when it inconveniences you. They’re mutually exclusive modes of action.”

“I can’t—” Huey shook his head. “I can’t stop being Lord Douglas,” he said. “It’s getting harder and harder. I don’t know what to do.”

Rosalind nodded. “I know,” she said. “Just like I can’t stop being your secretary.”

He didn’t know whether to be angry at her for bringing it back to herself or pity her for being right. Her face seemed to sadden after she said it even though her expression didn’t change in the slightest. Rosalind was stuck in her role, too. All because she had the Scientist’s face. At least Huey was given a chance to do something outside of what his original design had intended, a chance to experiment and grow well beyond what Rosalind was afforded. But still she held strong and did her duty day after day, just like he would have to do, even if that meant losing any chance of building a romantic relationship with Haley.

I’m sorry,” he said after a long silence.

“It’s not your fault,” Rosalind said. She sounded like she was trying to believe it but couldn’t quite. “We all fill our roles.”

“Some of us better than others,” Huey said. He knew she knew what he meant.

“But none of us alone, brother.” She leaned in to put her hand on his knee. “None of us alone.”

Huey nodded. It was so easy to forget that when everyone was calling him Lord. That kind of power went so easily to one’s head. He would have to remain ever vigilant of it if he was going to prevent losing himself again and somehow succeed at staying away from Haley at the same time. It was a narrow and treacherous path in front of him.

“Haley,” he said. “Er—I mean, Rosalind. Do I have to stay completely away from her—Haley?” He pressed his lips together in a tight line.

“You can see her, but you can’t see her.”

“I have no idea what tha—” Huey said, but the door swung open and in came Haley, dragging the Scientist behind her, Pidgeon close in tow.

“Tell her,” Haley said, looking at Rosalind and pointing at the Scientist. “Tell her what you told me.”

“The protectors have Ansel,” Rosalind said.

“What!?” Pidgeon started to tremble.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” the Scientist demanded.

“I did, ma’am,” Rosalind said. “You were busy with—”

“Well we need to get her right away, then,” the Scientist said. “Huey, did you know about this?”

Huey looked at Rosalind who shook her head. “I did,” he said. “I didn’t think the timing was—”

“The timing, Huey?” the Scientist complained. “We can’t leave a child in the grips of the protectors for any amount of time. You should know that.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Huey said, bowing his head. “But with the goings on in Outland Two, and everything that goes with that, I was a little—”

“Well, no worrying about it now,” the Scientist said, waving it away. “I’m sending a team. Does anyone want to join them?” She looked around the room and only Rosalind nodded. “As I suspected. The team’s on their way now. Is there anyone else in there who I need to know about while we’re doing this?”

Rosalind shook her head. Haley shrugged. Pidgeon looked like he was about to cry.

“Uh, well…” Huey said.

“Go on,” the Scientist said.

“I think Tillie Manager will be in there,” he said. “And I think they might want to torture her.”

“Torture?” The Scientist frowned. “A Two? I highly doubt that. Especially with the name Manager.”

“No, Mom. He’s—” Rosalind said but Huey cut her off.

“It’s my fault, ma’am,” he said. “I gave them the idea, and now I think they’re likely to run with it. She’s next in line for the pin so she’s the most likely target.”

“Well, okay, then,” the Scientist said. “I don’t know why you would give them that idea, but we’ll get her out, too. Anyone else?” She looked around again to no response. “I’m off to set the orders, then. And I’ll need a briefing as soon as possible on the rest, if you can, Rosalind.”

Ugh. Okay,” Rosalind said under her breath as the Scientist left.

“I’m sorry. I—” Haley and Huey said simultaneously.

“No, you go first,” Huey said.

Haley looked at her feet. “I’m sorry I ran to Mom,” she said. “I really like Ansel, and I don’t want to lose her.”

“Yeah. Me, too,” Pidgeon said.

“Get out of here, kid,” Rosalind said, shoving him out of the door. “Adults are talking. Go eat something.”

“I’m sorry I’ve been distracted,” Huey said when Pidgeon was gone. “And that I am my role.” He nodded at Rosalind. “We’ve all been through some quick changes, and I think we’re still adjusting to them.”

I’d say,” Haley said.

“Nothing’s really changed for me, though,” Rosalind said. “Only around me.”

“Oh, that’s not true,” Huey protested, but he knew it was.

“You have a new sister,” Haley said.

“Yeah, well,” Rosalind stood from her chair. “I have some business to tend to as well. Someone should help the Scientist monitor the operations. Everything’s fine beyond that, right?”

“Right,” Huey and Haley said together, but Rosalind was already gone.

“Come,” Huey said. “Sit.” Haley was still standing, and he felt uncomfortable being the only one in the room who was sitting.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” Huey said, patting a seat. “I just want to apologize.”

“Oh, well.” She sat slowly on the furthest chair from him. “You don’t have to—”

No.” Huey stopped her. “I do. I should know better by now, but we all make mistakes. Every one of us. You got that?”

“Oh, uhhh…” Haley nodded.

“I’m sorry,” Huey said, slouching back in his chair. “I’m probably making things worse. I have a habit of that.”

“Oh, no,” Haley said, shaking her head. “No, sir. Mr.—erLord Douglas. I’m sorry. It must be—”

“No, no,” Huey said. “It’s alright. Go ahead. You don’t have to stay here with me. I bet Pidgeon would love to have someone help him pick out new foods to try. I know you’ve seen it all, working for Walker.”

Haley chuckled. “It’s so weird hearing his name without the Lord,” she said.

“I find it funny, too.” Huey chuckled himself.

“I know you wouldn’t torture anyone,” Haley said, standing from her seat. “You’re doing what you have to do, right? What you think is right?”

Huey nodded. He wasn’t so sure of that himself anymore, though.

“Well I’m going to go help Pidgeon,” Haley said, crossing toward the door. “Or help my mom. I haven’t decided yet. I’ll see you later, though.” She smiled.

“Good bye, Haley,” he said as she left.

Huey sighed. So this was his life now, doomed to be the Lord of all the worlds and forced to avoid the one person he loved. He didn’t have a choice, though. It was that or lose the only chance he would ever have at a relationship with her. That was no choice, though, really. It was more of a paradox. To live in hell or to live in a different hell? There had to be some way out of it. Something…

He was holding his head, trying to find the answer, when Mr. Kitty jumped up onto his lap.

“Ah, Mr. Kitty,” Huey said, petting him. “Just the friend I needed.”

Mr. Kitty licked himself.

“Do you know what’s going on, Mr. Kitty? Have you heard the news?”

Mr. Kitty chuckled, still licking himself.

“Of course you have,” Huey said. “But you haven’t heard what just happened between Haley and me, have you?”

“No,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “I haven’t heard that yet.”

“Well, then,” Huey said. “Have I got a story for you?”

#     #     #

< XXXVI. Tillie     [Table of Contents]     XXXVIII. Rosa >

There it is, dear readers, chapter thirty seven of Infinite Limits, my 100th post on this blog. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it and I hope you join my email list here to keep up to date on future releases in the Infinite Limits series. And if you can’t wait to finish the story of An Almost Tangent, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of the full novel in print or ebook format through this link.

Have a great weekend, readers. See you next week.

 

Chapter 36: Tillie

This lovely Saturday brings us the third and final chapter from Tillie’s point of view in book two of the Infinite Limits series, An Almost Tangent. Today Tillie and friends brave a second General Assembly on campus even after the first was so violently dispersed. Will they be the only students with enough courage to continue their protest, or will the campus support them. To find out, read on here and now or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. And don’t forget to sign up for the email newsletter to keep up to date on all my new book releases.

Thanks for joining us. Happy reading.

< XXXV. Olsen     [Table of Contents]     XXXVII. Huey >

XXXVI. Tillie

They waited a little while longer, letting the clock get past five to see if anyone would brave going out on campus before they did, but when they went out themselves at five-oh-one the campus was still empty. They could see eyes peering through dorm windows and heads poking out of doors, but there were no actual bodies on the campus with them. Tillie tried to hold her head high, to show the onlookers that she wasn’t afraid as she walked along, while Emma kept her eyes straight ahead, dead set on getting to the parade grounds. Rod kept staring back and forth at the people in the windows and doors, a big smile on his face, waving at them and trying to get them to join. And Nikola followed behind, meek and hunched over, pushing her glasses up every few steps as if she were offended by everyone watching her walk.

When they got to the parade grounds, they were empty, too. Emma led the group straight to the flagpole in the center of the field and stood up on its cement base, holding the pole for support, trying to get a better view of the campus. She shielded her eyes with her hands and scanned the horizon.

“Why won’t they follow us?” Rod asked. “They were all looking.”

“They’re afraid,” Tillie said. She knew it from the beginning. She would be, too, if she didn’t have Emma to inspire her on.

“They’ll come,” Emma said, still scanning the campus from her vantage point on the flagpole. “If only to see who else does.”

“I don’t know,” Nikola said with a shrug.

“I do,” Emma said. “Look. Over there.” She pointed in the opposite direction from which they had come. There were people coming alright, a band of ten or so of them, and they didn’t need to see anyone else doing it before they were brave enough to come. “It’s the Americorp. kids,” Emma said.

They were the news nerds who Tillie had met at the first party on New Year’s Eve. One came up and hugged her, saying, “We saw the video. I can’t believe it wasn’t on the news. Sorry we weren’t here to support you. We’re here now, though. Solidarity.”

Tillie shook her head, blushing. She didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t sure that this Americorp. kid was actually talking to the right person.

“We’re glad to have you,” Emma said, hugging each of them in turn. “Where’s Jason? He was here yesterday.”

They all kind of shook their heads and frowned, looking at the ground or kicking dirt. “They still have him,” the one who had hugged Tillie said. “He had no insurance, money, or parents to bail him out. There’s no telling how much time he’ll get. That’s when we knew we had to help y’all fight. For him.”

“That’s right,” Emma said. “I completely agree. And I—”

“I think some other people agree, too,” Rod said, pointing toward a new group of students on their way to join the assembly.

People were streaming out now, each made braver and more curious by every new person that joined. Soon they were coming from every direction, hundreds of them, and when the parade grounds was packed and spilling out between the stone-faced buildings, it felt like the entire student body was there with them.

Emma gathered the Americorp. kids around her and said, “Go up to as many people as you can and tell them that we’ll get started soon, they should discuss what happened yesterday among themselves, and to pass it on. Alright?”

Everyone nodded and fanned out into the crowd. The message spread like waves through the masses. Tillie took the chance to stand up on the flagpole and look out at the mass of them. There was no end to the people, whichever direction she looked in. The crowd wrapped around all the buildings in sight, and some of the attendants went so far as to climb trees so they could watch everything from above. Tillie didn’t realize there were this many people who lived on campus. How did they all fit? She was lost thinking about it when Emma pulled her down off of the flagpole.

“I told you they’d come out,” Emma said with a smile.

“Since when did this many people go to this school?” Tillie asked.

“My address book extends to the local community,” Emma said. “They care about what happens to us, too.”

“Well, you were right,” Tillie said. “What do we do now?”

“I’m going to get the assembly started. I need you to stay up on the flagpole and look for any signs of protectors. They’ll be out here for sure. There’s no telling how long we’ll have.”

“How will I know when they’re coming?” Tillie asked.

“Don’t worry, you’ll know. They won’t be subtle about it.”

Tillie shrugged. “Okay, I guess,” she said, and she climbed back up onto the flagpole.

“Wait,” Emma said. “Bend down here for a second.”

Tillie bent down close to her, and Emma pinned the American flag camera onto Tillie’s shirt.

“You’ll have a better view,” Emma said with a shrug and a smile.

“I’ll give it back to you when we’re done,” Tillie said.

Emma smiled and nodded then turned to the crowd. “My friends,” she called as loud as she could. Not many could likely hear her, though, with all the chatter going around. “Please repeat everything I say.” No one answered.

“My friends!” she yelled louder. “Please repeat everything I say!”

A few members of the crowd who were close to her responded, but their chorus was broken and incoherent. The whole crowd started to quiet down and listen now, though. Something was finally happening.

“Good try,” Emma yelled. “In unison now.”

She paused and indicated for them to repeat that, too. And no one did at first, but then a few caught on and yelled it back incoherently at her.

“My friends,” she called one more time, stopping and indicating for them to repeat that.

“My friends,” a chorus started to emerge from the crowd.

“Please repeat everything I say,” Emma added with a smile.

“Please repeat everything I say,” the crowd repeated, and it was so catchy that even Tillie found herself yelling it from the flagpole.

“This is the people’s mic,” Emma went on.

“This is the people’s mic.”

“We will use it so everyone can hear.”

“We will use it so everyone can hear.”

“Can you hear me?”

“Can you hear me?”

Good.”

“Good.”

“We are here today.”

“We are here today.”

“To reclaim these grounds.”

“To reclaim these grounds.”

“We’ve paid our dues.”

“We’ve paid our dues.”

“This is our school.”

“This is our school.”

“And we will not be scared away.”

“And we will not be scared away.”

“Now do you stand with me?”

“Now do you stand with me?”

“No answer that one.”

“No answer that one,” some of them yelled while others just whooped and whistled and cheered.

“Mic check!” Emma yelled after the cheering had died down.

“Mic check,” a few yelled back.

“Mic check,” she called again, and soon the chorus was back in sync.

“Mic check,” they said.

“That is how.”

“That is how.”

“We will acknowledge.”

“We will acknowledge.”

“Who’s at the mic.”

“Who’s at the—”

The rest of the snippet was only finished by part of the crowd. There was yelling and screaming coming from all directions. Tillie remembered she was supposed to be the lookout and scanned the crowd all around her. Everyone was pushing inward. What little clearance there had been around the flagpole closed and Tillie stood nearly on top of the crowd. She had lost everyone she had come with in the chaotic masses, but she could still hear Emma yelling, “Mic check! Mic check!” to no response.

They were surrounded by the same pepper gas cloud that they had been sprayed with only yesterday. Tillie knew burning pores were in her future. Gunshots rang out over the crowd. Not beanbag air shots, but bullets, accompanied by more and louder screaming and further stampeding of bodies which had no way to go but toward the center of the parade grounds, where Tillie was standing alone, sliding off the flagpole where the human currents were roughest.

She almost fell off when Emma jumped up to join her, grabbing Tillie and holding her tight to the pole.

“What the fuck is going on?” Tillie asked.

“A more drastic response than last time,” Emma said.

“Well, no shit,” Tillie said. “But what—”

Shhh.” Emma held a finger to her mouth. “There’s no time,” she said. She pressed the tiny flag pin to Tillie’s chest and looked straight into it. “This is how they respond to a threat to their power,” she said. “They fear us for good reason, and they will silence us at all costs. We will win as long as we never sto—”

Emma’s head jerked back, exploded. Her hand let go of the flagpole. Her body slouched into the stampeding crowd. It happened in slow motion. Tillie reached down to grab her, almost losing her own grasp on the flagpole, and missed Emma’s hand by an inch. She jumped down and tried to push the crowd away but it didn’t matter. If Emma had been trampled already, it wasn’t clear. The damage to her head was such that Tillie couldn’t see anything else. Nothing was left on Emma’s shoulders but raw ravaged neck.

Tillie turned and leaned on the flagpole, vomiting burning acidic bile into oncoming footsteps. No one noticed. They just trampled and splashed through what was once the contents of her stomach, as they no doubt aslo did through what was once Emma. Tillie took a few deep breaths and fought the urge to lie there on the ground, to give up, letting happen whatever happened, letting the stampeding masses trample over her and turn her into the same nothingness that Emma had become. She fought the urge to look back at Emma’s obliterated face, at the destruction the protectors had rained down on them for doing nothing that was not within their rights. She didn’t want to throw up anymore, and there was nothing she could do for Emma now.

Her first instinct was to get to an elevator and go to her dad’s house, but she knew there was no chance of getting an elevator in this nonsense. She jumped back up onto the flagpole to see what was going on. The cloud of pepper gas was getting closer, it surrounded her. No matter which way she went, she’d have to go through it, but the sooner she went the thinner the cloud would be. If she couldn’t get to her dad’s, her only choice was her dorm so she jumped down off the flagpole and fought her way through the crowd in that direction.

She pushed her way through bodies going this way and that and made slow progress. When she hit the wall of gas, she had to stop to cough and wipe her eyes, but that only made things worse. She pushed and fought blindly against the mass of bodies surrounding her, holding her eyelids closed tight against the fire gas. She had no idea anymore if she was even going in the right direction, but she wasn’t going to stop fighting. Those were Emma’s last words, and Tillie would live up to them or die trying. She would never sto—

The thought was driven out of her mind with the familiar pressure of a beanbag in her chest. Apparently they were still using some. She was bent over, trying to catch her breath, when another hit her in the head and knocked her unconscious.

#     #     #

This time she knew where she was when she woke up. She recognized the cold bed and the harsh white walls. Pulling herself up to lean on the wall, groaning, she wondered if it was the same cell she was held in before. She was in a lot more pain this time, though, longing for the little gray shot that would make her all better.

The heavy door whined open. A protector in full gear came in. “Come with me, citizen,” it demanded in its glowing modulated voice.

“I can’t move,” Tillie groaned. “Give me my shot.”

“No shot,” the protector said, walking over, lifting Tillie up like a baby, and marching out of the room, down the hall, and into another door. Tillie let out a loud groan when the protector plopped her down on the ground in front of a tall table and stomped out without another word.

Somehow this room was even brighter than the room they had taken her from. She had to close her eyes against the light, and even that wasn’t enough. She bumped her head hard on the table, fumbling blindly for anything to block out the white heat, and groaned at the pain all throughout her body. Her eyes felt like they were going to pulse out of her head. She managed to find a stool and pull herself up onto it to flop her head down on the table in front of her, using her arms to finally block out the light. The cool black relief didn’t last long, though, because the door opened, another protector walked in, and they yelled, “Look at me, citizen!”

Tillie didn’t budge. She didn’t want to be blinded again. The protector didn’t care, though, grabbing a clump of Tillie’s hair to pull. “You’re in it deep, now,” the protector hissed. “Not even daddy’s platinum plan can save you. You do understand that, don’t you?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Tillie yelled, and the protector let go of her hair. Tillie’s head slammed on the table from the momentum, and she screamed as her pain only grew.

“Didn’t do anything?” the protector said. “Ha! Lights.”

The lights dimmed. Tillie could feel it, even with her arms blocking out the light. She blinked her eyes in her arm cave, relishing the dark comfort for one more second, before slowly raising her head. Across the table, in the white, white room, was a protector with no helmet on and a big black mirror behind her.

“So you weren’t at the center of the riot on LSU’s parade grounds?” the protector asked.

“That wasn’t a riot,” Tillie said.

“No?” The protector frowned. “Then it didn’t end in violence and bloodshed? That must have been my imagination.”

Tillie pictured Emma and her stomach grumbled. She choked back vomit and fought the urge to jump over the table and attack this pro. That would probably work out poorly for everyone, especially Tillie.

The protector grinned. “No, girl,” she said. “It wasn’t your imagination, either. It did end in bloodshed.”

“Not until you got there.” Tillie sneered.

“Well, we wouldn’t have been there if you weren’t,” the protector said. “Would we? What did you expect after the previous day’s outburst? We’d let you bring out more of your little thug friends to disrespect the sacred rights of private property?”

“We own those parade grounds as much as anyone,” Tillie protested. “We pay to go to that school.”

“Yes,” the protector said. “You pay to attend the school. You pay to learn and sleep and eat, not to own the school grounds. You’re merely a tenant. The school belongs to Mr. Smörgåsbord, and you’ve trespassed on his property too many times for us to let it slide.”

“It’s not his!” Tillie yelled, then she groaned and hunched over the table in pain. She had forgotten her injuries in her anxiousness to deal with this protector, and now the pain of them all rushed back at the same time.

The protector laughed. “No, dear,” she said. “As long as he can afford the guns to protect it, it belongs to Mr. Smörgåsbord.”

As long as he can afford you,” Tillie groaned.

Well.” The protector laughed some more. “Not just me, girl,” she said. “The whole force. You think you can afford that?”

Tillie shook her head, sobbing silently at the pain.

“No. That’s right. And that’s why the school belongs to him and not you. That’s why you’re here with me now. Do you understand yet? No more demonstrations on our property or our responses will continue to get more drastic. Do you understand?”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Tillie asked. She wasn’t any leader. She didn’t plan any of this. She just happened to take part in it. Why was she getting all the blame?

“Because you wear the pin now.” The protector nodded at it.

Tillie looked down. The little American flag camera was still pinned to her shirt. She wanted to cry at the sight of it, at the memory of what they had done to Emma, but she fought that back. She looked up at the protector and said, “But—”

“Of course we know,” the protector said. “Why do you think she still had it yesterday?” She chuckled. “We’re not as ignorant as y’all hope we are.”

“Then why didn’t you take it?” Tillie asked, fumbling to get the thing off but failing.

“Because we want you to have it,” the protector said. “We can track it, download what it uploads, we see everything it sees, child. Why would we want to take that away from you when we would be taking it away from us?”

Tillie shook her head. She didn’t even notice her pain anymore. It was covered by a fierce anger and hatred, directed at the protectors in general, sure, but at this protector especially. “Then why give away your capabilities?” she asked.

“Because you wear the pin,” the protector repeated. “Because it doesn’t matter if you know, you need that technology in order to be effective. Because you’re powerless against us, and I want you to know that fact. More than that, I want you to feel it deep inside of your bones and all throughout your nervous system. I know you do, child. I know you’re still hurting from the beating we gave you. That, dear, is why we did this: To show you that we’re the big bad wolf and the boogie monster and all your childhood nightmares all rolled into one, and you’re just a little girl with nothing to do about it.”

“I—” Tillie protested.

No. Listen, girl. You have it good. I know who your father is. I know what kind of life you’re living. What I don’t know is why you would throw that life away for something like this. I mean, what are you even doing it for?”

Tillie shook her head, trying not to cry. She wasn’t sure how to answer that question anymore. She came into all this because she wanted to fight to give robots a voice, but when she learned it was really humans on the assembly lines, she went to fighting to free them instead. But now what was she doing it for? It was more than that now, more than giving robots a voice or freeing humans from sweatshop labor. When she watched the only friend she had left in the world die right in front of her eyes, the protectors had made it personal. “Fuck you,” she said.

The protector looked taken aback. “What was that?”

“Fuck. You,” Tillie repeated, sitting up taller.

“You do understand the situation you find yourself in, don’t you?” The protector chuckled.

“I do,” Tillie said. “I understand you’re questioning me without first giving me a medical examination. I know you haven’t even scanned my insurance level yet. I know that you are required by law to follow certain regulations, too. And I know that my lawyer, Mr…” She couldn’t remember Rod’s last name. “Roderick, will have a field day taking the protectors—and you especially—for everything you’re worth in court.”

The protector grinned. “Is that so?”

“Well, there are a few ways to find out,” Tillie said. She held her breath and tried to calm her beating heart while waiting for a response. She had no idea what those few ways might be.

“Have it your way,” the protector said, standing from her chair. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Tillie fought the urge to call the protector back and apologize as she walked out. She slouched down onto the table and covered her head again when the door closed.

What the fuck did she just do? How could she talk to a protector like that? But the protector did leave. Maybe Tillie had said the right thing. She hoped so. She didn’t know how much worse it could get.

The door opened, and she looked up, groaning, to find the face of the protector who had given her the shot before. She sighed in relief.

You again,” he said with a smile, crossing around the table to her and fumbling through his pockets.

“And you,” Tillie groaned. “I need my shot.”

“I—uh—well…” The protector avoided her gaze, fumbling through his pockets still. “I can’t right now,” he said.

But—” Tillie protested.

“I’m sorry,” he said, holding his tablet out to her. “I’m on orders, but I’ll do what I can for you.”

Another let down in a long line of them. The worlds kept getting worse and worse. Tillie pressed her thumb to his little tablet, and when he read the screen, he frowned.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Well, you’re not gonna like this,” he said.

“I already don’t,” she said, groaning and rubbing her head. “I need my shot.”

“Yes, you do. But…”

“But what?”

“This is a second felony in two days,” the protector said, “both on campus. The school contract has a clause which overrides your insurance policy. I’m sorry. I…” He looked at his feet, avoiding eye contact with her.

“What? So what is that supposed to mean?” she begged, holding back tears.

“Well, it means—”

The door swung open and in came two protectors, pointing their guns at her. “Hands on your head, citizen,” one of them said.

Tillie tried to stand, but the stool fell out from underneath her, and she fell to the floor. “No,” she said, crab crawling backwards on the cold floor.

“This is your final warning, citizen.”

“No!” She backed into the wall behind her and there was nowhere left to go. One protector grabbed her, and when Tillie fought away, trying to escape, the other hit her in the back of the head with a gun, knocking her out cold.

#     #     #

Tillie woke to shadows towering over her. She panicked, jumping up and flailing her arms, groaning from the pain, but the shadows gently restrained her, and when she came to, Tillie realized that it was Nikola and Rod who were looking down on her, and a whole crowd of others who she didn’t recognize. The room looked like it used to be white but now it was dirtied gray. She groaned some more and tried to sit up but couldn’t do it without their help. How had she lived through so much pain?

“Where am I?” she asked when she had gathered herself enough to speak.

“This is general holding,” Nikola said.

“And my dad’s gonna have a field day with it.” Rod chuckled. “Disregard Rod Swadson’s Platinum Plan and see if you’re not bankrupt in the morning.”

“How long have we been here?” Tillie asked. She noticed the crowd was still silently staring at her. There must have been twenty or more of them. It was hard to count from her vantage point on the small room’s floor, especially with a pounding headache.

“We were already here for hours before they tossed you in with us,” Rod said. “Haven’t seen a protector since—unless they were tossing someone else in. And they’ll hear about that from my dad, too. You can be sure of that.” He huffed.

“They killed Emma,” Tillie said. The whole crowd gasped. She had forgotten they were listening, but now that she remembered, she didn’t care. They should all hear this, too. They were probably all out there when it happened. The same thing could have happened to any one of them. “I saw it,” she said. “Her head exploded in front of me. Look…” She wiped her shirt, but it wasn’t sticky anymore, just stained red. “That’s her blood on my shirt.”

“That’s her blood on their hands,” Nikola said.

Tillie forced herself to stand, against all the advice of every nerve in her body. “You people don’t understand yet,” she groaned. “They killed her because she wanted to tell you something they didn’t want you to know. That’s it.”

“That humans work on the assembly lines,” Nikola said, urging Tillie on.

No,” Tillie protested. She wasn’t trying to encourage them. She was trying to illustrate the reality of their situation. “That’s not important,” she said. “What she said doesn’t matter. What they did because of it does.”

“Because they’re afraid!” Nikola said.

The crowd cheered. Nikola was making everything Tillie said have the opposite meaning from what she intended. “Because they want to make us afraid,” Tillie said. “And we should be. I was interrogated by one of them before they dumped me in here. They thought I took over for Emma because I wear her pin. They ensured me that their responses would get more drastic if we continued doing what we’re doing, and I believe them. I’m scared.”

The huddled mass of prisoners didn’t know how to respond to that. They looked back and forth at each other, hoping one or another of them could tell the rest what to do. Tillie thought she might have actually gotten through to them until Nikola said, “And we must use that fear. We must not run away from it. We must not let them win by default. Together we can prevail!”

The cheering grew so loud it had to be heard by the guards. “No,” Tillie pleaded. “That’s not what I mean. I meant—”

The door of the cell swung open and a column of white-clad protectors made their way in, packing the room tighter than it already was. “Quiet citizens,” one of the protectors ordered. “Break this meeting up or every one of you will be placed in solitary confinement.”

The crowd stomped and protested, Nikola and Rod especially. Tillie turned her back to the protectors and waved her arms, shaking her head. “No,” she said. “No no no. I told you. Be afraid.”

“And use it!” they replied.

“For Emma!” Nikola said.

“For Emma!” they repeated.

“And Tillie!” Nikola said.

“And Tillie!” they repeated.

“No!” Tillie said, and the protectors crashed down on them. Tillie couldn’t fight. She couldn’t run. She couldn’t do anything. She tried to give up, crumpling to the floor where she would probably be stomped to death, but as she let go of herself a bag went over her head and she was lifted by strong arms to be thrown over a broad shoulder.

She didn’t resist or struggle as she was carried away from the sound of the riot in the cell. She didn’t care anymore. She had nothing left in her, no energy at all. She would certainly never break another law again as long as it meant that she never had to interact with another protector in her life.

Then she thought she heard someone whispering her name. “Tillie Manager,” it said. “Psst. It’s me—uh—” It was the protector who was carrying her. “Well, the guy who processed you last time. And gave you your shot. Get ready for another one.”

She felt the sting of a needle in the back of her thigh and sighed at the instant relief.

“That should make this a little easier,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He hefted her off his shoulder and laid her down in between two tight walls, pushing her forward into even deeper darkness. She tried to move but there was no room, only inches before she hit a hard surface in every direction. She banged on the walls of the tiny space around her, breathing heavily. The hood was still on her head so she kept inhaling cloth. She felt like she was going to suffocate, like they were going to scare her to death.

She tried to calm herself. She stopped struggling and laid as still as she could. At least she had gotten a shot so she wasn’t hurting anymore. She slowed her breathing and managed to keep the cloth out of her mouth. Maybe Nikola was right. Maybe they should use their fear. They should become stronger by overcoming it. But how was she supposed to do that now? Stuck in here, in a drawer, with a limited air supply.

Her heart beat faster. She lost control of her breath again until she remembered where she was. They wouldn’t let a prisoner die in their custody. Would they? They di—

The drawer slid open. She tried to move, to stand, but she was grabbed by two pairs of hands and lifted out of her resting place. “Come with us,” a voice she didn’t recognize said. “We’ll get you out of here.”

“But—” she protested, and someone flung her over their shoulder, with the hood still on her head, to run on their way to she had no idea where.

#     #     #

< XXXV. Olsen     [Table of Contents]     XXXVII. Huey >

That’s it for Tillie’s point of view in Almost Tangent. To find out who has her and where she’s going you’ll have to read on in the Infinite Limits series. If you’d like to support the creation of further works from me, Bryan “with a Y” Perkins, please do pick up a full copy of each novel on the page linked here before joining my email newsletter through this link.

Thanks again for reading me, friends. Have a great weekend and happy Mardi Gras.