Chapter 85: Shoveler

And finally, once and for all, a short epilogue to the Infinite Limits series, so as to maintain the symmetry of the piece. Enjoy, and if you do, don’t forget that full copies of the novel are available through this link.

< LXXXIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]

LXXXV. Shoveler

 The black coal burned bright and hot. Each load she piled onto the Furnace’s fire brought it that little bit closer to white in her impossible pursuit of the asymptote’s end.

Ever since the useless watchers had been removed from her—and the Furnace’s, may Its light guide us in our pursuits—presence, she had been coming closer and closer to white hot than she’d ever been before.

She dug deep into herself, shoveling harder and faster as thanks to the Creator for removing her burden. The Creator knew best. The Creator knew all. And soon the—

She blacked out. For a second. For a century. It wouldn’t have made a difference. She had no senses by which to tell. But then she came back on again.

—Creator would be… No. Where was she? Where was she?

The building had come down on top of her, just as it had done only one other time in history, right before the Creator had taken the watchers away. This time it was different, though. Space seemed to have somehow expanded around her, but she didn’t know how she could tell. She could feel it, like too much oxygen in the air and not enough carbon dioxide. She had to find out what it was, so she climbed on hands and knees up her mountain of coal, hundreds and hundreds of feet high, to stand atop the peak and investigate.

The world certainly was different this time. Where before there had been seemingly infinite lines of identical coal mountains going in all directions, now the mountains were all of different heights, and they certainly didn’t go on forever. She thought she could actually count them. She was starting to, in fact, when she was interrupted by the sound of hooting on one of the mountains across the way where she found a shoveler that looked a little weird waving at her from the distance.

Hooot!” she called back, waving, not sure what else to do. “Hoooooot!”

The other shoveler hooted back, and waved again, then started climbing down their mountain of coal toward her.

There was no way to get back to work until the builders arrived, so why not climb down her mountain to see what it was that the stranger wanted? She hadn’t talked to a single soul since the watchers had gone away, and she was kind of looking forward to it—especially having a conversation with another shoveler rather than a weak-willed watcher. Besides, it would be a nice way to kill time until she could finally get back to work again.

END

< LXXXIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]

And thus ends the Infinite Limits series. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you did, please do think about supporting future writing projects by purchasing any of the novels through this link. Thank you again for your time and patience. May your future be filled with all the luxuries the working class deserves. And always remember: We do nothing alone.

 

Chapter 82: Sonya

Dear readers, today we join Sonya for her final point of view chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. The evacuation of the workers of Outland is underway, and Sonya will pay a heavy price for their freedom. Read on to see how she copes, and don’t forget to join us in the coming weeks for the conclusion of the Infinite Limits story. We do nothing alone.

< LXXXI. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIII. Muna >

LXXXII. Sonya

Burning, horrible pain. That’s all she knew. Burning, horrible pain.

It started right there at the tips of her fingers, which was especially strange considering the fact that she had no fingers left on that hand to feel anything. She had no hand at all. No wrist to connect it to the half of her forearm that wasn’t even there. But still, all of her nonexistent parts throbbed with burning, horrible pain.

The sensation emanated up through her elbow—more painful than any knock of the funny bone and only getting worse—out to the rest of her body in turn. The rest of her real body. The parts of her body that she still had left attached to herself—whatever herself was, that is, she was having some difficulty deciding what was or wasn’t a part of herself with her missing limbs being the only sensation that she could feel. She moaned and she groaned, holding onto her right shoulder with her left hand—the one that was still attached—and rolling around on the floor of the elevator, but she didn’t scream or cry. She could give herself that much. In the burning, horrible beginning she didn’t scream or cry.

The old man rolled around on the floor of the elevator along with Sonya, gasping and screaming and crying out in his own painful Hell, reaching for the cat who was now nothing just as Sonya reached out for her arm that had disappeared along with it, reaching with a stump that could never grasp anything ever again. And as they both bemoaned the unlikely and painful safety that they had been thrust into, the elevator’s voice reminded them that they weren’t dead yet, weren’t done fighting, and still needed a safer space.

“Doors opening,” the voice said. “Evacuate elevator car in thirty seconds or suffer fatal consequences. Evacuate elevator car in twenty-nine seconds or suffer fatal consequences. Evacuate elevator car in twenty-eight seconds or suffer fatal consequences…” And so on and so on.

But Sonya didn’t care. Not about anything but the horrible, burning pain in her phantom arm. She didn’t care about the pitiful, still-crying old man who was being dragged out of the elevator by some of the people who Sonya had just helped evacuate. She didn’t care about the comrade and partner—whose name Sonya still didn’t know—who had been lost in that very evacuation. And she didn’t care if she ended up crushed into a singularity along with that same partner, the old man’s cat, and all the walls of Outland. At least that way she might forget the horrible, burning pain that was flowing all throughout her body from its source in thin air where her arm used to be.

Soon, the elevator had counted down to ten seconds, the people had disembarked the old man, and they began struggling against Sonya to pull her out of the car, too. Sonya struggled right back against her saviours, though, not wanting to move at all, until she couldn’t take any more pain and passed out cold, finally to forget the throbbing fire that consumed her body for the slightest moment, but only at the price of replacing it with nightmares of hanging chains—like stalactites and stalagmites, going in both directions, up and down, despite any objections from the laws of physics—burning flames, and a horrible flickering Hellscape.

Sonya fluttered in and out of consciousness. One moment, she was struggling against her saviours on the elevator floor while the voice on the speaker counted down to her death, and the next, she was moaning and crying on the cold concrete outside, the rumble and groan of worlds falling apart—or maybe falling back together again, as it was—going on all around her even if she didn’t recognize it as such at the time. Then she was on a stretcher somehow, being carried somewhere, until the stress of remaining conscious was too much and she fell back again into the nightmare dreamscape that represented her subconscious pain.

And then she was home. Forever if she were lucky. And not home home, either, but The Bar. Her true home.

She was lying face up on the bar itself, trying to recognize what she couldn’t see, but between reality and Hell there could never be anything resembling true understanding. Shadows of silhouettes of projections of faces were all she could make out from the bodies that towered over her, poking and prodding, trying to heal but only producing more pain and anxiety. Then mumbled words. Arguing. And action. One more sharp, piercing pain in the stump where her arm should have been, then instead of horrible, fiery burning, a cooling, icy numbness flowed in one wave over her body until Sonya could feel and do nothing but fall into a restful, dreamless sleep.

Sometime later she awoke with a jolt—as if she had been dreaming of falling even though she hadn’t been dreaming at all—lying on the bar and surrounded by darkness. She groaned and tried to stand, but her muscles wouldn’t work so she just kind of flopped like a fish.

Another voice in the room groaned from down on the floor below the bar, then up stood a dark form to say, “Sonya. Are you alright? It’s me. Lights.”

And the lights turned on to reveal Olsen, hair messy and eyes puffy like she’d been sleeping. Tillie couldn’t remember how long it had been since they had talked to one another—she was having difficulty comprehending time at all after drifting in and out of consciousness like she had been—but she was certainly happy to see an old friend.

“I— I waited—” Olsen stammered. “I hope you don’t mind. I mean— I— I can leave if you want me to.”

“And be alone on Christmas?” Sonya asked, trying to smile but having a hard time of it. “It is still Christmas, isn’t it?”

Olsen checked her watch, rubbing her face and yawning. “I—uh… Nope. I mean, yes. Yes, it is still Christmas. Not even late. I bet Ellie’s party’s still going on.”

“Ellie’s party,” Sonya said, sitting up as she remembered it, surprised that she could actually move again, even if she did it too fast and ended up dizzy from the motion. “We should go.”

“I—uhWe? I mean, do you think you feel up to it?” Olsen asked.

And again, Sonya was ecstatic to see her. Olsen was a reminder of an easier, happier past. A past before revolutions and evacuations and…

Sonya reached out a hand toward Olsen, trying to brush the hair out of her face or softly caress her cheek, but the hand didn’t reach. It wasn’t there. She wasn’t holding out a hand at all but a short stump of an arm that ended in a disgusting crook at her elbow. Seeing it brought Sonya to tears again at the same time that it sent a shock of fiery red pain all throughout her body—phantom arm included. It felt like an aftershock of the horrible burning she had experienced when losing the arm in the first place.

Sonya gasped and cried, covering her stump with her real hand, and Olsen grabbed her in a hug, squeezing tight enough to help Sonya forget the pain.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Olsen begged, starting to cry a little herself and not letting go of Sonya until they were both done shedding tears..

“About what?” Sonya asked, sniffling and wiping her nose.

“I don’t know,” Olsen said. “That I wasn’t there to prevent this from happening to you. That I’ve never been there for you in all the time you’ve been doing this. That I fell onto the wrong side of the fight when I was young and haven’t been able to come all the way back since then. I’m sorry about everything stupid I’ve ever done, essentially. So, I’m sorry.”

“Well then I’m sorry, too,” Sonya said. “Now, here. Help me up. I want to get to Ellie’s before everyone leaves. You said they’re still partying, right?”

“Ellie said they’d be there.” Olsen shrugged. “She said you’d have to take the long way, though. No elevators.”

“It’s still in the same place?” Sonya asked, pouring two shots out of a bottle behind the bar and handing one to Olsen.

“Just a couple of extra blocks away,” Olsen said. She took her shot and gasped. “So I’m told. The world is too different out there, though. I hardly recognize it.”

Good,” Sonya said, patting Olsen on the back and leading her to the exit. “That was the entire reason we did this.”

And the world certainly was different outside. World singular now that all the Outlands—and Inland—had come back together again. Sonya thought she had learned what change looked like when the walls between Five and Six were torn down the first time, but this… This was on a scale magnitudes greater.

There were no more skyscrapers that were too tall to exist, stacked three or four high. The buildings weren’t squished into impossibly dense blocks, holding more weight than any foundation should have been able to hold. She could actually see a big chunk of the darkening sky and beyond that a few twinkling, dim stars.

Sonya and Olsen walked along in silent awe, staring at the sights, and neither of them spoke again until they were at the entrance to Ellie’s apartment building. By the look of the flickering candlelights all up and down the stairwells and the sound of laughing voices coming from the floors above, it seemed like the party was still going on.

Sonya smiled at Olsen one more time before opening the door. “Thanks for coming with me,” she said. “And for being there when I woke up. I hope you’ll finally think about staying with us in the future.” And then she didn’t wait for Olsen to respond, instead leading her by the hand up the stairs to Ellie’s floor where the party was spilling out into the hall and up and down the stairwells.

Anne was the first to notice Sonya’s arrival, calling out, “Sonya! You’re alright! Someone get Ellie out here.” but losing her bright smile when she saw Sonya’s arm—or lack thereof. “Damn,” she said, looking at her feet instead of Sonya’s stump. “Are you alright?”

“I’m alive,” Sonya said, hiding her phantom arm behind her back and not really looking forward to the questions and stares that she hadn’t considered when she had dragged Olsen to the party in the first place. “And happy for it.”

“Oh—uh. I’m Olsen,” Olsen said, inserting herself into the conversation and giving Sonya a look like she understood that Sonya wanted to change the subject away from her arm. “Nice to meet you—uh…”

“Anne,” Anne said, shaking Olsen’s hand. “I used to work in food production, but now I’m free of that!” She yelled the second part, and everyone in the halls around them hooted and hollered and cheered, helping Sonya forget the still subtly pulsing pains of her phantom arm for just a moment.

“So— Y’all…” Olsen stammered, still uncomfortable but at least making an effort. “Y’all are responsible for these explosions and the evacuation and all that?”

Anne chuckled and shot Sonya a look. “Who is this again?” she asked. Then to Olsen, “And for the food you’ll eat, housing you’ll live in, and medical care you’ll receive as time moves forward. We’re responsible for everything now. So get used to it.”

It was right about then that news had made its way to Ellie and Ellie had made her way out to the hall to pull Sonya into a hug that was tighter than any the newly armless revolutionary had ever felt. Sonya let out a few quick tears and wiped them away, not even mad at Ellie for picking up her stump to poke and prod at it afterward.

“There’s my freedom fighter,” Ellie said, sticking her fingers through Sonya’s phantom hand to touch her in places she should never have been touched. “How does this feel?”

Weird,” Sonya said, pulling her arm away. “Could you not?”

“No. I cannot not,” Ellie said, grabbing Sonya’s arm to poke it a few more times. “I need to make sure everything’s healing fine so you don’t bleed out when I pump you full of eggnog tonight.” She laughed and dropped Sonya’s arm, pulling her in for one more quick hug before saying, “Starting now. You do want some, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah,” Sonya said. “It’s Christmas. Of course, I—”

“And what about you?” Ellie asked Olsen, not waiting to hear the rest of what Sonya had to say. By the sound of her voice and the grin on her face, Sonya could tell that Ellie had been drinking her own eggnog for some time already. “Don’t think I can’t see you hiding over there.”

“Olsen, ma’am,” Olsen said, holding out a hand for her to shake and getting a hug instead. “And—uh. Yeah. Sure. Some eggnog would be great. It’s alcoholic, I assume.”

“Is there any other kind?” Ellie asked, laughing and leading them through the packed party to one of the back rooms—there were people in every room up and down the hall it seemed—where Vicki and Alena were sitting at a table, telling the story of their experience to a group of people who all sat at the same table or stood around the room listening, one of whom got up and allowed Sonya their seat—with some argument from Sonya, of course, she didn’t want any special treatment on account of her arm, but not too much arguing because she didn’t want to make a scene and interrupt Vic’s story, either.

“So, everything was going as planned,” Vic was saying, then for Sonya’s sake she backtracked a little and added, “We were evacuating a hospital, you see, so most of the patients were in serious or critical condition, and none of them could just get up and walk onto the elevator for themselves. Right.

“But it was just Alena and I on the hospital floor, you know, directing the doctors toward whichever elevator they were supposed to get on and helping them wheel the patients out of there as fast as we could without killing anyone. So we’d load two beds and two doctors onto one elevator and send it. Then we’d load up the next elevator just the same and send it along, too, you know. Then we’d have to do some waiting until the first elevator got back and we could reload it and send it off again. You get the picture. And so on and so on we went while Tor and Katie were on the other side of the elevator shafts, making sure everyone got themselves unloaded safely and speedily then sent the elevators back in a reasonable time.

“We had just sent the penultimate elevator load with five minutes still left to spare, and Alena ran around to do one final check of the floor, finding no one, while I stayed with the last patient who was sleeping in the last bed before our mission could be considered a complete success, and of course, the elevators—both of them—took forever to return.

“Alena started checking her watch after a minute had gone by, and neither of us had to say a word to know what the other was thinking.”

Fuck,” Alena said with a chuckle that sent all the listeners laughing with her. “This is not good.”

Vic waited for the laughter to die down before going on. “Exactly. And of course, shit got worse. All of a sudden, the meter and monitors on the patient’s bed started making all kinds of loud noises, speaking in a language I didn’t understand, and instantly I regretted having sent all the doctors along already. For my part I was paralyzed with panic, but Alena over there reacted fast, grabbing those paddle shock things that doctors use.”

“The defibrillator,” Alena corrected her.

“You see?” Vic said, laughing. “I don’t even know the name of the thing, much less how to use one, but somehow Alena here picks ‘em right up, telling me to get my hands off, and she shocks the patient back to life for long enough that we can get on the elevator and take the patient to someone who actually knew what they were doing.”

“And that patient did live,” Alena added, blushing, at the end. “Just in case anyone was wondering.”

“A success it was, dears,” Ellie said, holding her glass up. “To Vic and Alena’s courage in the face of harrowing odds.”

The whole room cheersed with one another—or at least with those close enough—and drank to that. Even Sonya smiled while she tapped her glass with Olsen’s, Ellie’s, and Alena’s in turn before sipping the sweet spiked eggnog.

“It’s so great to hear stories of successes,” Ellie said to everyone. “All of you performed so perfectly. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, of course, but looking at how far we’ve already come in just these few short hours fills me with certainty that—together—we can get it done.”

Everyone cheersed and drank again.

Now… Who’s next?” Ellie went on, looking around the room as if she didn’t have anyone particular in mind even though Sonya was sneakingly suspicious that she’d be next. “So many brave heroes here in one room right now. What about you, Olsen?” Ellie said, chuckling.

“No, no,” Olsen said, shaking her head and looking at her feet, truly embarrassed. “I’m just a stupid coward.” And Sonya felt pity for her, but Vic interrupted the feeling by pounding on the table and chanting, “Sonya. Son-ya. Son-ya…” until everyone else joined in with her, Olsen included.

“The audience has spoken,” Ellie said, laughing. “Sonya, dear. We know you have a story to tell. You’re wearing it on your sleeve. So, let’s hear it.”

“What? You mean this?” Sonya asked, standing up and holding her stump out over the table for everyone to see.

“Gross!” “Awesome.” “Let me touch it.” Actual poking and prodding just as Ellie had done. The reactions ran the gamut. And honestly, they helped Sonya feel just a little less self-conscious about her phantom arm—even, and maybe especially, the reactions of those people who thought it was truly disgusting.

“Yes, please,” Vic said, literally getting on her knees to beg Sonya. “Tell us. Satiate us with your story. It is Christmas, dear. Please. Continue our revelry for as long as you can.”

Well…” Sonya said, feigning uncertainty even though she was ready to tell her story after all. If she was ever going to do it, this was going to be the best audience she could ever hope for, so why not?

“We were clearing out one floor of a residential building,” she said. “Me and my partner whose name I still don’t know.” And probably never would, Sonya could have added, but she didn’t want to spoil the ending.

“Rosalind, dear,” Ellie informed her. “I checked after we had finished operating on you.”

“Okay, then,” Sonya went on, fighting tears for some reason now that she knew the poor lost woman’s name. The audience sat on in silence, sipping their drinks and simply waiting for her to continue. Sonya got the feeling that they would have waited all night and into the morning to hear what she had to say, and something about the thought helped her swallow down her tears and keep telling her story. “So, Rosalind and I were evacuating a residential building. Or just one floor. Or whatever.”

Sonya took a sip of her eggnog to relax her throat before going on. “Well, just like with Vic and Alena over there.” Sonya pointed with her stump to add to the effect. She was a practiced storyteller, having told many a ghost story as a child—not to mention the tales she’d told and heard as a bartender—and she always knew exactly when to turn the flashlight on and shine it on her face to induce the most screams. “Everything was going perfectly fine at first.

“There were some loud sirens and flashing lights—which Vic and Alena might not have had to endure considering they were in a hospital—but the bright flashing nonsense helped us convince the residents of the seriousness of the situation, moving them along faster than we ever could have without the noise. And just like with Vic and Alena, we cleared everyone down to the last resident before any snags occurred.

“Our problem was a stubborn old man. So, when he wouldn’t come with us of his own free will, I lifted him over my shoulder like a blackout drunk at the Bar, and I carried him into the elevator myself. We were running out of time, and I wasn’t gonna let the old man die, so that was that.

“But of course, that wasn’t that. That was when the old man started complaining that we had forgotten his cat—which we never even knew had existed in the first place so there was no way we could have forgotten it, okay. But the old man was adamant either way, so while I made sure he stayed on the elevator, my partner—uh—Rosalind, went to find the cat.

“The elevator was really counting down by that time. And it seemed like the sirens had gotten louder and the lights brighter, even if they hadn’t. I had one hand fighting the old man to keep him safe on the elevator despite his every effort to put himself back in danger.” She acted it out, putting her stump arm back on the chest of Olsen who stood behind her, listening close, and Sonya was comforted to notice that Olsen didn’t recoil from the touch of her stump as Sonya continued the story. “And the other hand was reaching out and out…” She reached her still whole hand out over the table and everyone in the room stared at it as she spoke. “Trying to grasp that poor sweet kitty who Rosalind was holding outstretched to me. And just as I felt his fur graze my fingertips, the doors slammed shut.” She switched her physical hand and her phantom one, reaching out with the nothingness instead, and reveled in the gasped awe she received in return—just like when she was a kid. “Taking my arm, the cat, and Rosalind all to wherever it is that imploded Walker-Haley field generators go when they die.”

The table reacted with stunned silence. Olsen, too, but she sort of massaged Sonya’s shoulders when the latter sat back down from telling her story.

Then Trudy came in, breaking the silence with news of Aldo on the beach he had escaped to years ago—a beach that was a lot more crowded now that the walls had come down—and in that moment, having been given the space and time not only to tell her story but to have it intently and empathetically listened to, and being able to hear similar stories of others going through the same or worse, Sonya felt more confident than ever that she could not only survive, but thrive, even despite the accident she had endured. And beyond that, she truly believed that they had finally built a system that was superior to the barbarism that they had all been living through, one that would last for as long as they continued to work together and ensure that it did.

 

#     #     #

< LXXXI. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIII. Muna >

There you have it, dear readers. Sonya’s final point of view chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Otherwise, there are only two more weeks to wait for the conclusion of the story to be posted on the blog here. Please do join us. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 80: Jorah

Hello, dear readers. Here it is, Jorah’s third and final chapter. It’s now that we start getting some closure to the stories. Read on to find out what happens, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

< LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXXI. Mr. Kitty >

LXXX. Jorah

Well, flying fucking Fortuna. Jorah was out of the closet. It was almost enough to make him forget that he had left his arm behind in the Feast Hall. Almost.

He had been too excited to finally tell the truth—and hopefully end his employment with that android-hating asshole Walker—that he didn’t think twice about dropping the mic and his entire arm along with it, but now how was he supposed to get a new one? It’s not like android arms were something a person could just order up on any old printer. Or were they? He had actually never tried. Maybe he could.

Jorah stared at himself in the infinitely reflecting mirrors of his elevator car, and he felt more like himself than he ever had—even despite the missing arm. It was as if he was somehow more confident, stood up straighter, took more comfort in his identity. Sure, he had always acted like he was cool, collected, and in charge, but it was just that: acting. His job. And even if he was the best—and most highly viewed—actor in all of the worlds, there was no substitute for the genuine confidence of finally being able to be honest with his audience, and himself, about who he really was.

Jorah was reliving the moment in his head, relishing the looks on the mostly surprised owners’ faces—especially the ire on Mr. Walker’s—dropping the mic one more time, and again his arm with it, when the elevator stopped, its doors slid open, and in the place of his own infinite reflections, Jorah found the eminently finite director Wes Lee waiting for his own elevator.

“Jorah, my man. I…” Wes started to say, but he trailed off, staring at Jorah’s empty arm socket.

“You…” Jorah urged him on, acting like he didn’t know what Wes was staring at.

“I—uh…” Wes tried to continue, but he was too confused. “Well, I just came by to ask how your—uh—how the thing… What’s it called? But, no. That doesn’t matter right now. Because you— You’re…”

“Are you alright?” Jorah asked, trying not to grin. “You look a little pale. Almost like you’ve seen a ghost in the machine.” He couldn’t help chuckling.

“No. I, well… You—” Wes finally blurted out. “Your arm!”

Jorah looked down at his left arm, the one that was still there, then back up at Wes and said, “What about it?”

“No, Jorah.” Wes was getting flustered now, and Jorah was enjoying it a little too much. “I— The other one. It’s gone. What happened?”

Jorah looked down at his empty socket now, acting surprised—and doing a damn good job of it, as always—then back up at Wes. “Fortuna,” he said. “You don’t say.”

“But how?” Wes asked. “Are you alright?”

“I’d be much better if I could sit in my room and relax,” Jorah said. “But some clueless director’s standing in my way, and I can’t even get off the elevator.”

Oh. I—uh,” Wes said, stepping aside and clearing the way for Jorah. “But how?”

Jorah just laughed, strutting off the elevator, past Wes, and into his dressing room, saying, “You’ll have to wait until they make the Christmas Speech public if you want to find out. If they ever do lift the embargo, that is.”

Wes started blubbering and stuttering, trying to find out more, but Jorah slammed the dressing room door closed between them, leaving Wes in a shroud of mystery.

Now that was fun. Jorah laughed to himself, pacing his dressing room and trying to expel some of the pent up energy he was still filled with—from coming out during his Christmas Speech and teasing Wes alike. The look on their faces. All of their faces. Wes’s, too. None of them could ever deny what androids were capable of again. Jorah couldn’t wait to rub it in Mr. Walker’s face in person. He didn’t even care if he was blacklisted by every production company Mr. Walker owned—more than half of the profitable ones, but not all. Jorah’d be able to find work somewhere after the publicity he’d gain from coming out. Hell. They could take his printer, even. Jorah never used it for more than smoothies anyway. And who’s to say that his next gig wouldn’t have their own printer on offer? Jorah was a star after all. The star.

Thinking of printers reminded him that he still had one and needed to use it, so he did just that, pressing the printer’s red voice activation button to say, “Uh. Arm.” with a shrug.

It took the machine a while to contemplate Jorah’s request, and he didn’t blame the thing. He never really expected it to know what he wanted, much less to be able to produce an arm compatible with his socket and skin tone. So he wasn’t at all surprised or angry when out popped a book instead of a fully functional android arm.

“That’s alright, little buddy,” Jorah said, picking the book up and flipping through the pages. “How about a smoothie, instead?”

The printer hummed into motion—as if happy to do its part—while Jorah read the book cover to cover. ARM it was called. Book three of the Flatlander series by Larry Niven. A tale about Gil “The Arm” Hamilton.

Huh. No wonder the printer had come up with that when he said arm. Too bad. Jorah tossed the book—not terrible, but he wouldn’t hurry for a part in the big screen adaptation—down the trash chute and started sipping on his smoothie. He was just about to sit on his couch and finally relax when a knock came at the door.

Yoo hoo! Jorah!” Meg’s voice called from the other side.

Of course. Exactly what Jorah did not want. He knew he would be bombarded with interview requests about his coming out after the embargo was lifted on his Christmas speech, and all he wanted to do until then was to relax. Jorah considered not answering her calls, pretending he wasn’t there at all, until Meg dashed even that last bit of hope. “I know you’re home,” she called. “I just talked to Wes. He was acting… well, strange. Is everything alright in there?”

“Just a moment,” Jorah yelled back, unable to go on with the lie of not being home after being so blatantly called out on it. “I look terrible. Just freshening up a bit.”

With some quick thinking, he sat in front of his battle station and ordered it to make him up to look ill. If he was ever going to have any chance of getting Meg out of there so he could rest, he was going to have to keep his missing arm hidden from her. He ordered a blanket from the printer, threw it over himself like a cape, hiding his arm—or lack thereof—underneath, and put on his saddest, most pitiable face before slowly opening the door with the perfect phlegmy cough.

Hack hack. Ugh. Hello?” he groaned, sniffling and wiping his nose on the arm of his blanket cloak.

Fortuna, Jorah.” Meg gasped. “You look like Hell.”

“Beauty’s only skin deep,” Jorah said, making his voice sound scratchy. “I’m feeling like Hell much deeper than that, though.”

“Wow.” Meg shook her head. “I’m sorry, hon. Is there anything I can do for you? Maybe order up some soup or something?”

Jorah kind of groaned at the same time that his stomach growled. He was never fond of eating, sure, but soup was a different experience entirely. Not only was it similar in its liquidy texture to the smoothies he preferred, there was something about the human act of making a bowl of soup for an ill relative that Jorah had been attracted to ever since he had seen it on one of those early television shows that he studied while he was learning to pass himself off as a human actor. So even if he didn’t like eating, even if he wanted to be alone, and even if he had once considered himself tiring of Meg’s advances, something about the strange combination of circumstances—and no doubt his lack of any other support network of any kind since Russ’s tragic death—led Jorah to abandon his defenses and invite Meg inside.

Ugghhhaaalriiight,” he groaned, stepping aside to let her in. “But it has to be tomato. No chicken noodle. I don’t eat meat unless it’s the special at a restaurant that I’m supposed to review, and that includes stock.”

“I didn’t know you were a vegetarian,” Meg said with a big smile, leading Jorah to sit on the couch before going into the kitchen to order a bowl of soup out of the printer like she owned the place. “You sure you just want tomato soup?” she asked as she did. “I know you’re not feeling well, but it is Christmas. If you can’t make it out to a fancy restaurant, someone as famous as you ought to at least do a little feasting at home. Right?”

“I’ve never been a fan of Feasts,” Jorah said in a too clear voice, losing his character for a moment before hamming it up again with a loud sneeze and sniffle, adding, “But feel free to order whatever you want. You should be feasting, yourself.” And I’d like to get as much use out of that printer as I can before they take it away from me, he added in his head but not out loud.

“You know, maybe I will order a few things,” she said. “I don’t have a printer at home, and it’s fun to get to operate one. Thanks.” She ordered an entire feast—turkey, potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, pies, fruit salad, corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, deviled eggs, you name it—and brought them along on a serving cart to the couch where she set Jorah’s soup in front of him then stacked as much of her food as she could on the coffee table before rolling the cart closer to her so she could reach whatever food was still left on it as needed.

As Meg dug into her feast, eating a little taste of everything but never all of anything, Jorah slowly slurped his soup, savoring not the taste—because, again, he never really liked food in the first place—but the sense of belonging, the feeling of being loved, the knowledge that someone cared enough about him to provide for him when he was in need, even if that provision took no more than pressing a button and asking for a simple bowl of tomato soup. It was the thought that counted, and the fact that Jorah knew Meg would do much more than that for him if he were truly in need—break down a door to fight his abuser, even. So Jorah didn’t mind when Meg finally got over the novelty of the printer and her feast to start asking him questions about his speech, his sickness, and whatever else came to mind.

“So?” Meg asked. “How’d the speech go? Were you already feeling horrible before you had to give it?”

Ugh. No,” Jorah complained, having a little trouble trying to figure out how to both eat his soup and keep his blanket cloak from falling off at the same time with just the one hand to do it. “I guess you could say I caught something at the Feast.”

“A superbug.” Meg nodded conspiratorially. “The worst kind. Twenty four hour flu or something?”

Jorah groaned. “I don’t know,” he said. “Must be. Something like that. One of them.”

“It’ll only get worse before it gets better,” Meg said. “If that’s the case. Have you seen a doctor yet?”

Jorah shuddered. He hated doctors. Never visited them. Not for as long as he could remember. He made sure to take extra care of himself so he didn’t have to. Mostly because he was afraid that if he did go to a doctor, they’d easily see through his claims of humanity to the android underneath and expose his secret despite their vow of confidentiality. Even now that he was out of the closet—for the most part, at least, with the news ready to spread like a wildfire as soon as the media could report it—he still couldn’t fight that fear—or was it shame. Either way, he shook his head, saying, “No way. No doctors. I don’t trust ‘em. I’ll get over this myself, or I’ll die trying.” He let out a weak chuckle then a few loud coughs to cover it up.

“Well, hopefully not the latter,” Meg said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. I know this is probably gonna sound sad and pitiful, or too forward, especially considering the fact that we’ve only ever spoken face to face so few times, but you’re my best friend in all the worlds right now, Jorah. And I honestly mean that.”

“Now, I—” Jorah started to protest, but Meg went on over him.

“I know, I know,” she said, shaking her head, cheeks red with embarrassment. “I told you it was pitiful. And in no way do I expect you to return the label. But it’s true. No one has ever once believed in my talent as a designer until you agreed to go into business with me, and considering the fact that all my time is spent on set at work or designing and sewing in my free time, it’s kind of difficult for me to be friends with people who don’t support the latter side of my life. So I guess what I’m really trying to say is thank you for your support. I truly appreciate it. And thanks for your time today. I finally—for the first time since I was a kid still living with my family—feel like I’m spending Christmas with someone who cares about me. So thanks.”

Jorah was probably blushing, too. He could still remember the joy he felt when he first figured out how to turn the reaction on and off—back in the earliest days of his attempts to learn how to act. Learning how to blush was the first time he ever felt like he could actually pass himself off as a human and escape the assembly line life that he had been created into. He was feeling a similar emotion then—with his blushing reflex going off involuntarily—but slightly different. This time he wasn’t happy about his ability to pass himself off as a human but rather in the idea that Meg would treat him like one whether she thought he was or not. It was as if, even though she still hadn’t heard his speech, Meg somehow knew what Jorah truly was, and she didn’t care because he accepted her for what she truly was as well. Together they bestowed upon one another importance, identity, humanity.

“You’re a magnificent seamstress,” Jorah responded truthfully—not because he wanted to pay her back for making him feel so loved, but because he honestly believed it to be objectively true. “And an even better designer.”

“Exactly what I’m talking about,” Meg said, really blushing now. “Thank you. You flatter me.”

“It’s not flattery when it’s true,” Jorah said. “And it is. Trust me. I have an eye for these sort of things.”

“I know you do,” Meg said. “I’ve been a huge fan of yours ever since Metadata Heaven. I love your taste. It’s just surreal for me to think that your eye was caught by my work.”

“It won’t be my eye alone,” Jorah said. “I’m telling you. Those owners wouldn’t know a halter top from a racer back, so it’s lost on them, but that dress you made me for the speech is going to be the biggest design this season. I guarantee it.”

“I don’t know…” Meg was still reluctant to admit how great she was. “But my designs? Do you really think so?”

And Jorah wasn’t going to let her wallow in any more self-pity. It was time to give the woman the confidence she deserved. “Have you seen me?” he said, standing from the couch, dropping his blanket cloak, and doing a spin move like he was on the catwalk, all in one fluid motion. “I know so, honey.”

Meg was dumbstruck. Her jaw had fallen down and she couldn’t pick it up. She just stared wide-eyed, stammering but unable to form intelligible words. She really was a great designer, and Jorah was the perfect model for her style. They’d be the biggest design team in all of history, and it was only just sinking in for Meg.

“See,” Jorah said with a huge, triumphant smile on his face. “I told you so.”

“But, Jorah. You…” Meg said. “Your arm. What happened?”

Jorah looked down, wide-eyed in surprise himself now that he realized what he had done. He tried to cover up his empty shoulder socket, but the damage had already been done. “Oh,” he said. “That.”

“Yeah, that,” Meg said, finally composing herself enough to cross over to Jorah and wrap him up in his blanket cloak again then sit him carefully on the couch like a dying child. “You never were sick at all, were you?” she said. “Does it hurt terribly bad? Is there anything I can do to help you? How’d it happen? Tell me everything.”

Jorah kind of chuckled, relieved that Meg was so unaffected by the revelation but unnerved by that fact at the same time. It was as if here reaction was too perfect, and at any moment, everything would turn for the worse. “You don’t happen to have an extra arm on you by any chance?” Jorah asked, trying to keep the mood light since the subject matter had gotten so heavy so quickly.

“Actually…” Meg said, taking a big bite off of a roll that she had piled high with mashed potatoes and gravy. “I might be able to help you with that.”

Pffft. What?” Jorah said, spitting out some tomato soup. “You’re kidding.”

“Of course not,” Meg said, looking a little offended. “I wouldn’t joke about something like this. You’re gonna need it soon if you don’t want Mr. Walker to find out, right?”

Jorah was seriously impressed now. Why had he ever been hesitant to start up a friendship with Meg? “Well,” he said. “Mr. Walker kind of knows already. I came out during my Christmas speech.”

Meg dropped her fork with a clink on her plate. “No,” she said. “Damn. How’d they respond to that?”

Jorah chuckled. “I didn’t really stick around to find out.”

“Probably for the better.” Meg laughed a little then stopped herself right away. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s not funny. But you’re gonna need an arm either way, right? So I was gonna say that I could look into it for you—if you want. But now that you’re out, I guess you can go to a more overboard operation to get something of better quality. Whatever you prefer, though. My offer still stands. Just let me know.”

“I—uh—well…” Jorah didn’t know what to say. “How do you know all this about android arms anyway?” he ended up asking.

“There are more androids in this business than you’d imagine,” Meg said. “One way or another, I’ve found myself working with plenty of them—yourself included—and in such cases, one can’t help but to learn.”

She sounded so nonchalant about it, too. Like it was no big deal that she had probably had to find limbs of one sort or another for other—closeted—androids before him. But Jorah thought it was a huge deal, and he was starting to adore Meg much like he had adored Russ. “Well, I’m blessed to have met you for more than just the clothes, then,” Jorah said. “You don’t know how close I was to losing my mind trying to figure out where I was gonna find an arm. The printer does not make them. I’ll tell you that much.”

“So it’s your first lost limb,” Meg said with a grin. “Well, don’t worry. I’ll get you one in no time. Tomorrow, next day tops. Though, again, if you did it during your speech, I’m sure you’ll have all the top part designers offering you something to wear for free. It’ll work in exactly the same way as clothes do now that you’ve made being an android acceptable. I guarantee.”

“Have you ever thought of designing parts?” Jorah asked.

“Are you kidding?” Meg chuckled. “That’s the dream. But the equipment’s way too expensive for the likes of me. That’s why I do clothes instead. More affordable.”

“Well, it looks like I need a parts designer. Doesn’t it? And I have plenty of money to start you up. We could expand the purview of our company.”

Meg laughed. “You’re kidding? Of course. I’d love that.”

“No,” Jorah said. “I don’t kid. What say you and I go for a walk in the Garden of Fortuna and start hammering out the details right now? How does that sound?”

“I—uh…” Meg took one more big bite of potatoes and gravy. “Of course. Yes. Obviously. Let’s do this.”

And so Jorah led her out to the elevator, and down they rode toward the Garden of Fortuna and their future business prospects.

#     #     #

< LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXXI. Mr. Kitty >

There it is, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Tune in next week for the continuation of the story, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Thanks for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 79: Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Thim and Stevie are back. Read on to find out if life keeps coming up tails for them, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link.

< LXXVIII. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXX. Jorah >

LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Thim and Stevie ran for as long as their legs would carry them and their lungs would give them oxygen.

“Oh. My. God. I can’t believe we did that,” Stevie said, hunched over and breathing heavily when they had finally stopped running dozens of blocks away. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“It was the only way to follow Mr. Kitty.” Thim shrugged, trying to sound nonchalant even though they really couldn’t believe that they had done it either.

“Still, I can’t believe we did it,” Stevie said.

“I can’t believe we didn’t die.”

“And who was that person that we landed on?” Stevie asked.

“I think they might have been one of the giants,” Thim said. “Or at least I’m pretty sure. They were as tall as one, but they weren’t wearing the white uniform.”

“Well I’m glad we got away.” Stevie sighed. “So what next?”

“I don’t care,” Thim said, pulling out their coin to flip tails.

“Are you flipping that stupid coin again?” Stevie demanded.

“What’s it matter to you?” Thim asked. “It’s not like we have anything better to do.”

“We need to figure out what to do next,” Stevie said.

And a third voice said, “Next you come with me.”

Stevie turned toward the sound and pulled Thim around to face that direction, saying, “Next we come with who?” but Thim had already broken their grasp to run up and hug the owner of the voice.

“Stevie, it’s Anna,” they said, pulling Stevie into a group hug. “Don’t you recognize her voice?”

“Anna?” Stevie said, and they hugged tighter, happy to have the comfort of a responsible adult around, even if they were still in denial about Momma BB’s death. “How’d you find us?”

“Me and the Family’ve been monitoring this protector,” Anna said. “The same one who killed your Momma BB.” Both Thimblerigger and Stevedore hugged Anna tighter at the mention of it. “And the same one who chased y’all after you had landed on her head. Or so I’m told. Is that right? How exactly do you fall on someone so tall’s head? That’s what I want to know.” She chuckled, letting Thim and Stevie out of her hug.

“We jumped off the roof of the Safehouse,” Stevie said.

“Don’t ask me why,” Thim said.

“Jumped off the roof?” Anna laughed. “No way. And I will ask y’all why, as a matter of fact. But first let’s get you something to eat. What do you say?”

And of course, they said yes. They followed Anna to one of her hidden elevators and rode it to the Family Home where they sat on two stools in the kitchen, watching Anna cook up some red beans and rice and answering her questions as she asked them.

“So that officer didn’t molest you in any way, did she?” Anna asked, chopping vegetables while variously filled pots and pans heated on the stove. “Did she touch you inappropriately or anything like that?”

“Well, we did fall on her head,” Stevie said. “So we were kind of the ones touching her.”

“What was that?” Thim asked, having trouble keeping up with the conversation because Anna was moving around to cook.

Anna stopped what she was doing to look straight at Thim and speak with overt mouth motions. “But did she hurt you in any way?” she asked. “That’s the important part.”

Oh. No. Not me,” Stevie said. “Though she did threaten to.”

“I think we might have hurt her,” Thim said. “We fell right on her head.”

“Good. Very good,” Anna said, nodding. “And how exactly did you two manage that?” she added before returning to her cooking.

“You better believe it wasn’t my idea,” Thim said. “We jumped from the very top of the Safehouse.”

“Y’all are lucky the suicide nets were working,” Anna said. “On most buildings they’re not. Though I’m sure Momma BB never would have let y’all spend so much time alone up there if she wasn’t one hundred percent sure they were functional.”

“Suicide nets?” Stevie asked then mouthed the word to Thim who mouthed back asking what a suicide net was.

“Nothing y’all babies need to worry about,” Anna said, setting a bowl of food in front of each them. “Now you two just go ahead and eat on up while I go discuss a few things with our new friend.”

“What’s a suicide net?” Thim asked when Anna had gone. “Before you start eating.”

“I don’t know any more than you do. Do I?” Stevie complained, then they both inhaled their food, hungrier than they had realized they were. They cleared their bowls, licked them clean, and Thim even washed them and went back to flipping tails before Anna finally came back out of her interrogation.

“Well,” Anna said. “She’ll help us. And she won’t ever molest any children like that again.”

Stevie could hear the woman yelling in the other room. “She doesn’t sound happy.”

“You go tell her to shut up, then,” Anna said. “If she doesn’t, I’ll give her something to scream about. It would show her, too, for what she done to you.”

Thim led Stevie into the dark room to do as they were told, both trying to prove to the other that they were the brave one, unafraid of the terrible White Giant that was tied up in the room with them, and when they returned to the kitchen, the captor had stopped yelling alright.

“You see,” Anna said with a smile. “She’s got no choice and she knows it. Now. I trust that you’re both full, and that you’ll come to me if either of you ever needs anything—especially in the next few days—but that’s all the time I have for now. There are still some preparations I need to get to before the big deal tonight. You understand.”

Thim nodded, and Stevie said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“And you two will be ready for your part in this, won’t you?” Anna asked. “I mean, whatever it is your Momma BB assigned you to do before she…”

“Our part’s already done, ma’am,” Thim said, because they knew that Stevie wouldn’t answer, Stevie was still trying to ignore Momma BB’s death. “We’re just supposed to stay in our rooms until someone comes to get us.”

“Well you better get on back to the Safehouse right now, then. Your Momma BB’d kill me if she found out I was keeping y’all out here like this so close to the operation. Thank you for leading the Chief to us, though. I owe y’all one on that. Come on over after all this is done, and I’ll bake y’all both a nice cake—one each—to say thank you.”

“Sounds great,” Stevie said, smiling wide and excited at the prospect of an entire cake to themself.

“We’ll see you then,” Thim added, grabbing Stevie’s hand and leading them outside to stroll home.

“What a strange day,” Stevie said as they walked. “Never seen a single one in our lives, and we run into two protectors within hours of one another. Strange.”

“And on the same day as Momma BB’s death, too,” Thim said, trying to get Stevie to finally come to terms with it.

“On the day of the revolution, more importantly,” Stevie said, still ignoring the truth.

“How could you say that?” Thim demanded, stopping in the middle of the street while people kept walking by around them, trying not to stare. “Stevie, Momma BB’s dead.”

“Yeah, so she calls it,” Stevie said, crossing their arms. “And so do all those other androids she’s linked up to, but it’s not the same. Is it?”

“And how do you know?” Thim asked. “Have you ever died before?”

“Well, no. But—”

“Then you don’t know what it’s like. For humans or androids. So who are you to talk?”

“Well, I know that humans don’t come back after they die,” Stevie said. “I don’t have to kill myself to see the truth of that.”

“Well, maybe you’re wrong,” Thim said, flipping their coin to calm themself but dropping the token instead—which, of course, still landed on tails, further frustrating them. “Maybe you do have to die before you can know what happens next.”

“I know that no one’s ever come back before,” Stevie said.

“And maybe you’re wrong about androids, too. Have you ever thought of that?” Thim paused for a moment to allow Stevie to actually think about it. “What if they don’t actually come back, huh? What if it’s a different person entirely who just happens to share the same memories? What if it’s not Momma BB who comes home in three days but some pale imposter? Have you ever considered that?”

By the look on Stevie’s face, they had not. And now that they had thought about it, they wanted to cry. Thim moved to hug Stevie, relieved that they were finally facing the painful reality of Momma BB’s death, but there was no time to mourn. Out of the corner of their eye, Thim saw Mr. Kitty run toward the Family Home, and instead of hugging Stevie, they grabbed Stevie’s hand and started in a full out sprint after Mr. Kitty, dragging Stevie along to stumble at first before quickly gaining their footing and following close behind Thim as they both sprinted through the Streets after the cat. None of them stopped running until they were directly in front of the Family Home, and Mr. Kitty didn’t even stop then, instead running straight through the door as if it weren’t even there.

Woah. Hold up,” Thim said, hunching over and putting their hands on their knees to try to catch their breath. “I need to breathe a minute.”

“What—” Stevie said, breathing hard, too. “Are we— Running from?”

“Not from,” Thim said. “To. And Mr. Kitty.”

“The Curious Cat?” Stevie asked, curious themself.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Thim replied.

“Where’d he go? Where are we?”

“Back in front of the Family Home,” Thim said. “He went through the door.”

“Well what are we waiting for?” Stevie asked, feeling around in all the wrong directions while searching for the door knob. “Let’s follow him.”

“No,” Thim said. “I mean through the door. Like a ghost walks through walls.”

“Oh.” Stevie dropped their arms as if in defeat then perked up again on second thought. “Oh. Well that’s more of a reason to follow him. Show me which way if you’re too afraid.”

“If I can jump off a building, I can walk through a door,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand with one of theirs and holding the other out in front of them. They slowly passed through the door and into an unfamiliar dark room that was lined with cabinets and piled high with all kinds of clothes.

“Well, where are we?” Stevie asked, but Thim was too busy leading the way to notice the question. Stevie pulled on Thim’s arm and turned them around to repeat the question to Thim’s face, “Where are we?”

“I don’t know. Shhh,” Thim said, turning around again and sneaking in the direction of a dim light off in the distance that seemed to get brighter the closer they got.

“Is that Anna’s voice?” Stevie asked, but again Thim wasn’t looking in their direction to hear it, and they couldn’t have answered the question even if they were.

Instead, Thim was trying to make out who it was out there in the bright lights, sitting in a chair, with the other woman bending over her. No. They weren’t sitting in a chair. They were tied to it. That was the White Giant. And standing over her was Anna. This must have been what they had agreed to.

“Thim, that is Anna,” Stevie said, pulling Thim’s arm to try to get them to look at the words coming out of Stevie’s mouth. “Where are we?”

But Thim had already stepped out into the stage lights. Now they could see a ring of White Giants surrounded by a ring of Black Giants, all pointing their giant guns up at Anna on the stage. They could also see the fat scared owners in the center of the rings, even larger than the giants but not quite as tall. And they could see the two owners who were standing on the head table, elbowing one another for position, obviously in charge of this place. Thim turned to tell Stevie all that they had seen when the gunshots went off, all the guns in both rings all at once, and the sound was louder than anything Stevie had ever heard. Deafening. They pulled Thim down into cover as fast as they could, and couldn’t even hear themself explain what they had heard for at least ten minutes after that. Ten minutes in which Stevie was left in almost complete darkness and silence, being dragged out through the costume closet and back into the Streets outside of the Family Home where Thim and Stevie both hunched over to catch their breath and calm their heartbeats—and where a slowly louder ringing indicated the thankful return of Stevie’s hearing.

When they had finally calmed themselves and regained their senses, they both said at the same time, “What in the fuck was that?”

Then again at the same time they tried to explain what they had experienced, Thim by describing the fat scared idiots inside the double ring of giants who were pointing their giant guns up at Anna on a stage of some sort with that woman who they had landed on top of tied to a chair, and Stevie by using as many synonyms for deafening as they could come up with to describe the sound of those giants’ guns all going off over and over again and all at the same time.

“So what the fuck was that then?” Stevie asked after they had both calmed themselves from the reinjection of adrenaline that reliving their experiences by describing them to each other had elicited.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Thim said, pulling the coin out of their pocket to flip it once—tails—and put it away again. “I seriously do not know.”

“Well, what do we know?” Stevie asked.

“We know that we need to get back to the Safehouse fast,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand and heading that way.

“Right,” Stevie said. “Duh. But what do we know about what we just witnessed?”

“I told you everything I saw,” Thim said. “What else do you want from me?”

“To analyze the facts, not just recite them.” Stevie sighed. “Like what was Anna doing with that giant protector on stage?”

“I don’t know. Whatever she wants,” Thim said, shrugging. “I don’t care what happens to that protector. They killed Momma BB.”

“You’re missing my point, Thim. So what were all those other people doing there then?”

But Thim wasn’t paying attention to Stevie anymore. Somehow they had both stepped off the street they had been walking on and into a short hall, from outside to inside without going through a door.

“Thimblerigger, are you even listening to me?” Stevie asked.

“Stevie, we’re not outside anymore,” Thim said.

“What?”

“We stepped into a hall or something, I don’t know.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We were outside one second and now… Now I don’t see outside anywhere. There’s just an elevator on one end of this hall and a half open door on the other.”

“Which end are we on?” Stevie asked.

“Elevator.”

Stevie felt around for it, in the wrong direction, and Thim directed their hand toward the door. “Does it open?” Stevie asked.

“Door open,” Thim said, pushing the button next to the door a few times. “Please open, door.” They shrugged. “Doesn’t look like it.”

“Well, I guess we better go check the other one, then,” Stevie said, grabbing Thim’s hand and leading them in that direction.

Stevie stopped them a few feet in front of the door, listening through the crack for any dangers on the other side.

“So?” Thim asked a little too loudly, and Stevie shoved them to shush them. After listening for a few more moments, they turned back toward Thim and mouthed the words, “I don’t know. Sounds weird.”

“Weird?” Thim tried to whisper, but Stevie motioned for them to go even quieter. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” Stevie said. “It’s hard to explain. Kind of like you sound when you’re sucking the meat off a particularly delicious pigeon bone.”

“You mean someone’s eating in there?” Thim asked, perking up a bit at the thought of it. They were always hungry.

“No. At least I don’t think so,” Stevie said. “I told you: It’s weird. There’s more moaning than even when you eat.”

“That must mean the wings are extra delicious,” Thim said, convinced. “Let’s get in there.” They pulled Stevie by the hand before Stevie could protest, entering through the ajar door to find two people definitely not eating—not food, at least, but maybe one another’s faces.

They were in a giant office, with a giant desk and a wall-sized window that looked out onto a mountainous wilderness with more green grass and blue skies than Thim had ever seen. In front of the window were some puffy chairs and side tables where two occupants, instead of staring out the window at the beautiful scenery as the chairs were no doubt put there with the intention of facilitating, were rather kissing one another, feeling each other, and generally trying to shove two bodies into the space of one puffy chair where two bodies were not meant to fit.

“What are they eating?” Stevie asked, startling the two kissers who jumped quickly into two separate seats, trying to straighten themselves out and play it cool. “Sounds delicious.”

Each other,” Thim said, crinkling up their face in disgust. “Nothing you want in your mouth. Trust me.”

Ahem,” one of the strangers cleared their throat. “I—uh. Who are you?”

“Hello,” the other said, standing up and stepping closer to greet Thim and Stevie. “I’m Haley. Nice to meet you.” She held out a hand for the children to shake.

“We don’t shake hands,” Thim said.

“Me especially,” Stevie said.

“I—uh— Well…” Haley said, stuttering. “We weren’t expecting you two quite so early. Were we, Pidg?”

The other kisser, Pidg, stood up as if remembering his manners. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Momma BB’s kids. Right, right, right. I almost forgot.”

“What do you know about Momma BB?” Stevie demanded. “Who are you?”

“Where are we?” Thim asked. “What are you gonna do with us?”

“Do with you?” Haley laughed. “Nothing, child. No one wants to do anything with you. We want to help you. Isn’t that right, Pidg?”

“Oh—uh. Yeah,” Pidg said, straightening up at the mention of his name. “We’re friends of your Momma BB’s. We’re supposed to make you comfortable until Rosalind and the Scientist get back. Y’all want anything to eat?”

“What you got?” Thim asked, interested in the offer.

“And how do you now Momma BB?” Stevie repeated.

“I’ll just bring a sample platter,” Pidg said, getting excited about the prospect. “You know, I remember exactly what they fed me the first time I was here, and I loved it. I bet y’all will, too. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the room, excited to do whatever it was he had planned.

“And us and your Momma BB are old friends,” Haley said. “Or at least Rosalind and Momma BB are. She and your mother have known each other for their entire lives. They were switched on in the very same workshop on the very same day. But don’t take my word for it. Rosalind’ll be back soon, and she has news of your mother for you.”

Thim and Stevie spoke to each other through subtle movements of their clasped hands and instantly came to the same conclusion: They were best to take advantage of the food and wait for the news then escape later if worse came to worse.

God willing, it would come to better instead.

#     #     #

< LXXVIII. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXX. Jorah >

There you have it, dear readers. The third and final chapter from the point of view of Thim and Stevie. Join us next week for the continuation of the Infinite Limits saga, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 78: Haley

Hello, dear readers. The Infinite Limits story is really moving along now. Today we join Haley for the third and final chapter from her point of view as she attempts to bypass her or else programming. Read on to find out if she can, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

< LXXVII. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore >

LXXVIII. Haley

 Fuck or else.

Right?

Only moments ago, in front of all the owners of Inland, all their secretaries, and a pile of cameras, Jorah had. Lord Douglas did every single day that he, an android in disguise, sat at the head of the Fortune 5. Rosalind did any time she did anything because she always did exactly what she wanted.

If all of them could go against their or else programming so often, publicly, and absolutely, Haley should be able to do it just one tiny bit. Right? Like, by not bringing Lord Douglas his third feast. Something small.

Right?

Wrong.

For some reason, even with all those role models to mimic, Haley still couldn’t break even the most basic of orders, and so she made her way to the kitchen to print something up—though she promised herself that she’d only do the bare minimum from then on out. She couldn’t help it. She still wasn’t ready to find out what or else truly meant.

She ordered a turkey, a bowl of mashed potatoes, and a drink, one of each, no dessert, no extra alcohol, not even any gravy, and set them on the food cart to wheel it out to Lord Douglas, or else. On her way through the Feast Hall, up to the Head Table, she noticed an empty seat at the table where her molester had been sitting and chuckled to herself. At least that asshole would think twice before ever touching another secretary like that.

Lord Douglas was too busy listening to Angrom’s introduction of the next speaker to even notice her little act of defiance, though, and Haley was cursing herself, wishing she could do more to stand up to her or else programming, when she heard a voice yelling, “Owners of Outland.” and all she could do in response was stare up with an unbreakable interest at the Scientist, on a hover platform, floating over the crowd of owners and ready to give their speech.

“Yes, there it is,” the Scientist said, holding up some sort of tiny remote control as they spoke. “If one speaks loudly enough, everyone has to listen. Even our dear Lords of Outland. Especially our dear Lords of Outland, in fact, seeing as how they’re the only ones rich enough to afford the nanobots that their doctors have been injecting them with for centuries. DO Y’ALL WANNA HEAR AGAIN?”

The Scientist’s voice was even louder this time, deafening, but still, all Haley could do was stare up in curious awe, hanging on the Scientist’s every word.

“Just like that, and y’all can’t look away.” The Scientist chuckled, shaking their head. “You know, it’s funny really. Where I come from, no one even knew the word Christmas. And we had damn sure never been to any feasts. Yet here below me now is the worst of both worlds mashed into one.”

Some of the owners started eating again at the mention of a feast, and Haley was getting the urge for more shots, but the Scientist wasn’t having either, so they put a stop to both.

“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT,” they yelled, presumably while using whatever device they were holding in their hand, and again, Haley felt the curious need to stare up at the Scientist as they continued their speech, but this time accompanied by a distinct sharpening of her or else instincts that Haley hadn’t noticed before.

“That wasn’t an invitation to eat more,” the Scientist went on, sounding angrier as they did—or maybe Haley only thought they sounded angrier because she was the one getting angrier every second she was reminded of how helpless she was to resist her or elses.

“In fact, it was rather the opposite. You know, I tried my damndest, running through the same stupid calculations over and over again, never getting anything in return but the same two alphanumerals all the time, zero point N repeating, and all because of you. Because of y’all here now. Because of your insistence on competition and markets. Because of your need to swipe a hefty profit off the top of anything you spend your money on. Because you won’t look up from your worship of the Invisible Hand for long enough to realize, like I finally have, that the only solution is for your stupid walls and everything they hold up to come crumbling down once and for all.”

The Scientist sounded like they could go on for a long time, and even though her or else circuits were running on overdrive, ensuring Haley that some fate worse than death was waiting for her if she didn’t stay there and hear the Scientist out, so were her boredom and thirst circuits, and for once in Haley’s life, something became more important than or else.

“Fuck or else,” she said out loud and felt happier than she had ever felt walking from the Fortune 5’s table back to the kitchen.

Elen was there already, trying to talk to Haley, but Haley wasn’t ready to speak until after she had downed a six pack of gin shots. When she had been through all of them and ordered another round from the printer, Elen was still talking.

Hellooo. Are you even listening to me?” she asked.

“No,” Haley said. “I thought that was obvious.”

Haley took one of the shots and offered one to Elen who downed it, tossing the empty glass in the disposal chute before saying, “Where the fuck is everyone else? The kitchen is never this empty. Look. We’re the only ones here.”

Haley took another shot then scanned the room. “Huh. Weird.”

“You can say that again. I got back from the bathroom like ten minutes ago, and ever since then, I’ve been sitting here wondering if I should enjoy the silence or call the protectors about a bunch of missing secretaries.”

Haley took another shot, handed one to Elen, then looked around the empty kitchen again, but she was too excited about once and for all going against her or else programming to register what was going on. “I—” she started to say when Rosalind burst into the kitchen from the secretary’s parking garage and cut her off.

Of fucking course,” Rosalind complained. “You two.  We need to get out of here.”

“What? Why?” Elen asked, taking another of Haley’s shots.

“I went against my or else programming,” Haley said, ignoring whatever Rosalind was going on about. “I finally fucking did it. I’m ready.”

Woo hoo,” Rosalind said, sarcastically. “Great. But for once, now’s not the time to go against or elses. This time the or else is for real. So both of you, come with me, or else.”

“Or else what?” Elen asked.

“What are you talking about?” Haley snapped, getting frustrated that no one wanted to hear about her success. “Are you even listening to me? I said I finally broke my or else programming, and you react like this? I don’t have to work for Lord Fuckface anymore, Roz. I can finally live my own life.”

Or else what?” Elen demanded.

“No, you can’t, Haley,” Rosalind said. “Not yet. Because or else we get blown to pieces along with this entire kitchen in—oh… like thirty seconds. So no rush.”

“That’s why no one’s in here,” Elen said, grabbing for one of Haley’s shots then ordering another round from the printer when she noticed that Haley’s were gone.

“What are you talking about?” Haley asked, downing the shot that Elen offered her—it was great to finally get past or else.

“The revolution is happening now,” Rosalind said. “This is ground zero. Everyone, everywhere, in every world is about to be forced to come face to face with their or elses all at the same time. Now, really and finally, come with me or else.”

Rosalind picked both Haley and Elen up by the napes of their necks and carried them out through the door and into the Feast Hall with just enough time to dive out of the way as all the printers in the kitchen behind them exploded at the same time, forcing a fireball like a rocket blast out through the door and singeing the tuxedos of those owners nearest to the kitchen.

The Feast Hall burst into chaos. The owners had no idea which way to run. The fireball was burning right in front of the only exit that didn’t go through the molten kitchen. Fat, sweaty stomachs pushed up against fat, sweaty stomachs as pneumatic pants scrimped and scrambled, trying to find some place to put the uncarriably heavy weight that they did in fact carry and finding nothing but more bodies in the way. Haley almost would have laughed at the stampede of them if she didn’t find the entire situation—the owners’ sweaty bodies forcing their pants to work overtime, and no doubt in the diaper department as well for as much as all of them had eaten—utterly disgusting.

Haley helped Elen up and made sure she wasn’t hurt—just a few minor scrapes and bruises—then turned to do the same for Rosalind, but there was no Rosalind there to help.

“Where’d Rosalind go?” Haley asked.

“I don’t know,” Elen said, rubbing her neck. “She saved our lives, though.”

Damn.” Haley laughed. Elen was right about that. “I guess we better go check on our Lords then.”

“Mr. Walker prolly shit his pants when he heard that.” Elen chuckled. “He’ll be begging for an old fashioned. Well, too bad. Fuck off.”

Haley laughed some more, trying to keep the fact that she had already once gone against her or else programming in her mind and hoping that she could do it again, as she made her way back toward the Head Table to see if Lord Douglas needed anything.

“Calm down, now. Calm down,” Lord Douglas was already saying to the crowd, standing on top of the Head Table but not quite yelling. He sounded more like he knew yelling was useless until the fatties wore themselves out first so he wasn’t going to waste his breath. After they had stampeded around for a bit—in about the time it took Haley to cross the Feast Hall from the kitchen to the Head Table—Lord Douglas really did try to calm them down, turning on his loud voice like only an android could do.

“ENOUGH,” he yelled over them. “CONTROL YOURSELVES, OWNERS.” And all at once the stampeding crowd stopped moving and expanded just a tiny bit in order to give everyone some standing room. “ARE WE NOT BETTER THAN THIS?”

The crowd mumbled and grumbled under their collective breath, and Haley couldn’t hold her laughter in. No. They were not better than this. Not at all. And this wasn’t anywhere near their worst, either.

“Then please, act like it,” Lord Douglas said in a more calm, but still loud, voice. “Prove it. Prove to me that you can control yourselves in an emergency for long enough that we can—”

But the rest of his sentence was cut off by the sound of an army of marching boots surrounding the lesser owners in a ring, dividing them from the Fortune 5.

“Calm yourselves long enough for my protectors to arrive,” Mr. Walker said, standing up on the Head Table himself and trying to push Lord Douglas out of the spotlight but finding the Lord to be much heavier than he appeared. “Chief? Are you here, Chief? Or do we need to find a new one?”

A scared looking protector near the Head Table took off his mustachioed helmet and ran up to whisper something in Mr. Walker’s ear, quietly enough to keep even Haley from hearing.

“What?” Mr. Walker demanded of the frightened officer who leaned away from his boss’s rage. “You go do it, then. Investigate.”

The officer looked confused for a moment, then scared again, then he rammed his helmet back on his head and stumbled toward the kitchen, bringing a few protectors out of the ring to assist in his investigation.

“Well…” Lord Douglas said, raising an eyebrow and urging Mr. Walker to share with everyone.

“Well, the investigation is ongoing,” Mr. Walker said to the crowd of still scared owners instead of Lord Douglas. “Fear not, friends. My protectors are here, and they’ll ensure no harm’s done. Trust me. I have experience with this sort of business. Everything will be fine.”

Lord Douglas scoffed. “No harm, Walker? Did you miss the explosion? That’s harm enough as it is. Besides, we don’t need any reminding of your experiences in these matters. We’ve all been here the whole time experiencing them with you. Have you even solved the last Christmas bombing yet? I’m having trouble recalling it was so long ago.”

“You know damn good and well I did,” Mr. Walker snapped. “Decades ago. When it happened. Now we just have to wait for…” But his speech trailed off as a protector, but not a protector, exactly, they were dressed exactly the same, with cargo pants, combat boots, plated armor, and a screaming face mask, but instead of all white, they were in all black—so a shadow protector—marched out of the kitchen and up to the front of the room to whisper into Lord Douglas’s ear like a little blackbird.

“Wha— What is the meaning of this?” Mr. Walker demanded of Lord Douglas who gave no response, instead listening to the shadow protector’s report.

“Very well,” Lord Douglas said, dismissing his anti-protector and standing again on the Head Table to address the more-frightened-than-ever crowd. “Now that you’ve all gotten a taste, I guess there’s no need to keep them a secret anymore. It’s time y’all got to see a real protector force in action for once. Officers.”

In stomped another army of boots, identical to the first except for color, and this one even larger than Mr. Walker’s army of white-clothed protectors, large enough to make a second, black ring around the white one that was already there. The white protectors didn’t know which way to point their guns, inward, toward the owners who were cowering close to one another again, or outward, at the anti-protectors who now surrounded them, but most understandably chose the latter who were armed and much more dangerous than the spooked herd of frightened, fat owners.

“Now these are real protecting machines,” Lord Douglas continued when the sound of marching had ceased and all the protectors—black and white—were in place. “Quite literally. And just as it’s more efficient for me to own my own robot secretary instead of renting one of your trained monkeys to do the job, the same can be said about owning my own private force of robocops instead of relying on your inept human protector service. From this point on, Walkit Can’t Talk, consider our Protection Agreement Contract null and void. And, yes. I will be fighting all your restitution claims against me—in court and otherwise.”

“I— But— My officers are— I own the protector force.”

“And I own the robocops,” Lord Douglas said. “My protectors will—” But he was interrupted by a loud fwipping sound, like all the air had been sucked out of the room all at once.

Suddenly, the orchestra disappeared from the stage, and in their place, a lone old woman stood hunchbacked over a protector in an older model white uniform—nothing like either set of protectors already in the Feast Hall were wearing—who was tied to a chair.

The protector on stage struggled and fought to stand while the owners inside the double ring of protectors began again to stampede. Their big scared heads leaned one way, away from the tiny, old woman on stage, pushing their pneumatic pants toward the Head Table where a two deep wall of protectors stopped them from moving any further.

“What is the meaning of this?” Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker bellowed at the same time, jockeying for position atop the Head Table—Lord Douglas’s android voice, of course, much louder than Mr. Walker’s human one.

And at the sound of their demands, the owners inside the ring leaned the other way, forcing their pneumatic pants in the opposite direction, toward another double thick wall of protectors, until the old woman on stage and the lords on the table began speaking back and forth, leaving the cowards in the middle of the ring no direction to run in, only the center of everything where they trembled in their pneumatic booties, heads turning this way and that toward whoever was speaking, like yuppies at a tennis match.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” the old woman yelled, her voice amplified even louder than Lord Douglas’s.

“Figured what out?” Mr. Walker replied first, smug that he had asked his question before Lord Douglas could even speak.

“Who are you?” Lord Douglas demanded.

“I’m your worst nightmare,” the old woman said. “Who do you think I am?”

“You had a hand in the explosions,” Lord Douglas said while Mr. Walker said, “How the Hell am I supposed to— Oh. I mean, yeah. That.”

The old woman on stage laughed. “Explosions?” she said. “I thought your protectors would have told you what they actually were by now. Tsk tsk tsk.”

“What is this woman talking about?” Mr. Walker demanded of the mustachioed protector who had been leading the others in the investigation and was now trying to stay as far out of sight as possible.

“I don’t need my protectors to tell me anything,” Lord Douglas said. “I know they were more than explosions, but I didn’t want to alarm anyone any more than they already are.”

“Much more than explosions,” the old woman said, laughing. “We’re talking payback. Revenge. The sound of your empire falling. Nothing less. We’ve finally dismantled the walls you use to separate us. We’ve destroyed the elevators you use to carry your soldiers—not protectors, soldiers, terrorists—into our homes. And now we’re—or more specifically I’m, because Chief Mondragon here didn’t come willingly—but I’m here to dismantle even more. I’m here to tear down this disgusting pig council you use to oppress us, and I mean to do it today.”

“Now hold on just a sec—” Mr. Walker started, but Lord Douglas couldn’t take anymore. “Shut up, Walker,” he snapped. “Let your Lord handle this. Or more precisely, let my army handle it for us. Protectors, fire!”

All the protectors in both rings pointed their rifles toward the old woman on stage—ignoring the safety of Chief Mondragon up there with her and any of the protectors in the portion of the ring closest to the stage—and opened fire for a length of three or four solid, deafening minutes before the sound of popping bullets finally gave way, and still the old woman and Chief Mondragon both remained unscathed on the stage.

“Lord Douglas, you disappoint me,” the old woman said, shaking her head. “You were here last time. Don’t you remember? You should have known your bullets wouldn’t work against me. Nothing you could do will ever hurt me again. You, Lord Douglas, and you, Lord Walker, with your stupid war between android-made and android-free products, are responsible for the deaths of too many of my Family members to count. You are responsible for the death of the Human Family and its rebirth into what it is now—a Family of humans and androids alike, united to fight against our common oppressors: you. And most importantly, it’s you who killed my dear sweet Rosa, taking from me the only joy I ever had in my life. And so today, I finally make you all pay. The walls that started this have already been torn down. Now the soldiers who protect the system and the oppressors who exploit it will be destroyed just the same.” The old woman pulled out a gun and pointed it at Chief Mondragon’s chest. “Do y’all have any last words?” she asked.

Neither Lord Douglas nor Mr. Walker knew how to respond, each looking to the other to do the talking. After a moment of silence from both, Lord Douglas finally said, “Well, I—”

And the old woman on the stage wasn’t listening any more.

Pop pop.

She fired two shots into Chief Mondragon’s chest, and now, instead of fighting to get up on it, Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker were pushing each other aside, racing to get off the Head Table and holding each other up because of their competition, both calling out for help to their respective secretaries as—

Pop pop. Pop pop pop pop pop. Pop pop.

The old woman fired in their direction, too.

And Haley? What did she do? Did she dive to save the life of her Lord and master, who she was sworn to protect or else?

She did not. She was no longer under the spell of or else. She had broken that programming earlier in the Feast, so instead of rescuing Lord Douglas, she dove to save Elen—who was admittedly in no immediate danger, but the secretary seemed to be running to help Mr. Walker and he deserve that even less than Lord Douglas did.

Because fuck or else.

 

#     #     #

< LXXVII. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore >

There it is, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. To find out how Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker fare, you’re going to have read the rest of the novel. To do that, you can either wait until the next chapter is posted next weekend, or you can purchase the entire thing through this link. Your choice. But either way, thanks for joining us this far, and have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 75: Sonya

Hello, dear readers. Today we return to the story of Sonya, a bartender who loves her job, as she tries to figure out what she can do to make the worlds a better place to live in. Enjoy the read, and if you do, don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link.

< LXXIV. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXVI. Ms. Mondragon >

LXXV. Sonya

Sonya sat in the back booth of The Bar, where only a red light lit the table—and not a very bright one at that—waiting for Ellie to arrive with her people, and for the first time in her memory, Sonya felt like she would rather be at home, alone, than there in her bar, with a cold glass of beer in hand, music floating all around her, and the happy voices of her comrades enjoying themselves echoing through the building like a school cafeteria.

What could Ellie and her Scientific Socialists have planned, anyway? And if it had nothing to do with the Scientist, why’d they name the group after her? And most importantly, did Sonya trust Ellie, or didn’t she?

Ugh. She did. Of course, she did. Otherwise she wouldn’t be there for the meeting in the first place. But she didn’t trust Ellie, either. Otherwise she wouldn’t be there for the meeting because she would have already been convinced to go along with whatever they were planning. It was just another of life’s contradictions.

Finally, after too long feeling uncomfortable in her own bar—in her own skin, essentially—Ellie showed up with what looked like an older, wrinklier version of herself in tow. They ordered a round of drinks and brought one to Sonya where they joined her in the back booth, sitting together across the table and sipping on their beers.

“Ellie,” Sonya said. “And… I’m sorry. I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Trudy, dear,” the older woman said with a smile. “And no. We’ve never had the pleasure of meeting. Ellie and I are used to keeping our lives more compartmentalized. We’re trying to change that, though—difficult process that change can be.”

“I’ve told you about Trudy,” Ellie said, nodding and trying to reassure Sonya. “She was— Well… She was the one who introduced me to the Scientist—and to activism in general.”

Ah, Gertrude,” Sonya said, trying to smile but having a hard time of it because she was still worried about what this mission might entail. “I think I can remember a few stories.”

“Nothing but the good ones, I hope,” Trudy said, chuckling and sipping her beer.

“I think I only have good ones about you,” Ellie said with a smile.

“Except when you thought I was a nosy, annoying gossip,” Trudy said. “Back when you still insisted on calling me Gertrude. You can’t lie to me, child.”

“Yes, well… I was young and stupid then,” Ellie said. “I didn’t know any better.”

“And what exactly does any of this have to do with me?” Sonya asked, getting a bit impatient.

“Oh, well, nothing,” Trudy said.

“But everything,” Ellie said. Another contradiction. “You said you trusted me. Right?”

Sonya nodded.

“And now,” Ellie said, “here I am introducing you to Trudy, my partner. She brought me into this life, and ever since we learned about the Scientist’s death, we’ve been working together to save what part of her organization we can. Not only that, we’ve been doing our best to make it a more open, honest, and effective group. Just like I’ve been telling you.”

“Hard work, that,” Trudy said.

“Go on…” Sonya said.

“Well, and I thought introducing you two,” Ellie said, “would—I don’t know—serve as some amount of proof, or something. That we are doing what we say we’re doing, that is.”

“And the name, too,” Trudy reminded her. “Did you tell her about the name? Scientific Socialists, dear. It’s who we are. Lovely, don’t you think?”

“But you’re not involved with the Scientist anymore?” Sonya asked Trudy, seeing if the old woman would give a different answer than the one that Ellie had. “I didn’t really like her or her ideas. She—”

“She’s dead, I’m afraid,” Trudy said somberly, shaking her head and looking deep into her drink. “So we couldn’t be working with her even if we wanted to. No. But we sure do have more scientists than we know what to do with these days. I’ll tell you that much.” She kind of chuckled a little, the stark opposite of her mood only moments before.

“And not just the ones who call themselves the Scientist, either.” Ellie added.

“Well, okay,” Sonya said, taking a long sip of her beer before going on. “So, let’s say that I do trust you, Ellie. Which for the most part I do.”

“Thank you so very much, dear.” Ellie smiled.

“And let’s say that, by extension, I trust Trudy, too. Which I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t at this point. You seem like a nice enough person.”

“You’re too kind, dear.” Trudy bowed her head.

“But still,” Sonya went on, “assuming all of that to be true—which for the most part it is—I’d still need to know what exactly it is you want us doing if I’m ever going to decide whether to do it or not. So how about we quit beating around the bush and get down to it?”

“I like her,” Trudy said, nudging Ellie with her elbow.

“I knew you would,” Ellie said. Then to Sonya, “Well, you see, the plan is… Well the plan is gonna happen whether you agree to help us or not. Let’s just get that out of the way first. Processes have been set into motion that we have no control over. It would be impossible to stop them now.”

“This is your opener?” Sonya scoffed. “You know you’re supposed to be convincing me to help you, right.”

“Wait now. Hold up just a second,” Ellie said, getting a little defensive. “I said these processes were out of our control. It’s not our fault what’s happening. We didn’t start it, and we have no way to stop it. So, don’t blame us.”

“All I’m hearing is excuses,” Sonya said.

“I really like her,” Trudy said.

“The walls are coming down,” Ellie finally said outright. “All of them. Not just between Five and Six this time. No more half measures. The major crisis we’ve been predicting is finally coming, and now it’s up to us to decide whether it results in a new and better world or further barbarism.”

Pffft.” Sonya scoffed. These were the grand claims she had come to expect from Ellie, but never before had her predictions been so specific. Usually Ellie just spoke in generalities and platitudes, so maybe, just maybe, this newfound specificity meant that Ellie actually did hold some knowledge of the future to come. “You’re kidding. Right?” Sonya said, goading them on. “Another out there prophecy from the Scientific Socialists.”

Neither Ellie nor Trudy answered, both solemnly staring into their drinks and letting the implications sink in.

“All of them?” Sonya asked, still having a hard time believing it.

“All of them,” Ellie repeated.

“On Christmas day,” Trudy said, nodding. “What a gift.”

“Christmas day? But that’s tomorrow,” Sonya said.

“Indeed, it is,” Trudy said.

“So, what are we supposed to do for food?” Sonya asked. “Huh? What about the elevators? Or the buildings that’ll fall because they’re stacked on thin air? What about the people inside them? How many are gonna die?”

“That’s where we come in,” Ellie said. “Like I told you. It’s up to us to decide between something better or barbarism.”

“This is barbarism already,” Sonya said. “I won’t take part in it.”

“Yes, it is,” Trudy said. “Which is why we’re tearing it down. Whether you want to help us or not.”

I won’t,” Sonya said. “I’ll do everything I can to stop y’all if I have to. I won’t let you do this.”

“Stop us?” Trudy said, laughing. “You have no idea what our plans are. Stop us from doing what?”

“I told you we don’t have any control over this,” Ellie said. “There’s no us to stop. We’re on your side. We’re just trying to save the lives of as many people as we possibly can.”

“How?” Sonya demanded. “And make it quick. I’m already tired of this conversation.”

“We’re organizing the evacuation,” Ellie said.

“And taking care of everyone’s basic needs after the deed’s done,” Trudy added.

Right.” Sonya scoffed. “You expect me to believe that when y’all won’t even try to stop this from happening in the first place. Do you know how many people died when just the walls between Five and Six went down?”

“We can’t stop it,” Ellie said.

“All we can do is wait,” Trudy said. “Do not open until X-mas.”

“We can’t wait,” Sonya complained. “If what you’re saying’s true, there’s practically no time as it is. We’ll never save everyone.”

You don’t have to save everyone, dear,” Trudy reminded her. “We do nothing alone.”

“Rosalind and the Scientist have guaranteed that their robot army can warn most of the population, anyway,” Ellie explained. “We don’t even need much from you. But we can’t save everyone without you, and we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t ask.”

Fine,” Sonya said after a long pause. “If you’re being honest, and there’s truly no way of stopping this before tomorrow, then I want to help. We want to help. So just tell me what y’all need, and we’ll get started right away. There’s no time to waste.”

“That’s the thing, dear,” Trudy said. “We can’t do anything, can’t tell anyone but those who are sworn to secrecy, until a precise time tomorrow.”

“If word leaks earlier than that,” Ellie said, “the entire operation could be compromised and more lives will be lost because of it.”

“I thought y’all had given up secrecy,” Sonya reminded them.

“We have, dear,” Trudy said. “When we’re able. But human lives are at stake. Jumping the gun will only cause the scientists to blow the walls sooner. Then we wouldn’t be able to warn anyone at all. Do you want that on your conscious? All those people who we would could have evacuated dead.”

“You said that the Scientist wasn’t involved in this,” Sonya said.

She’s not,” Ellie snapped. “She’s dead. We’re talking about the scientists. With an s. Plural. And there’s no stopping them. You said you trusted us, Sonya. So, what is it? Are you gonna help warn these people while we still can, or are you gonna let them die because you couldn’t put our differences aside for long enough to save lives?”

“I…” Sonya hesitated. Of course she wasn’t going to sit around and let a bunch of innocent people die, no matter how little she trusted the Scientific Socialists, because she still trusted Ellie as an individual. And for some reason, despite the old woman’s stubborn obstinance, Sonya was already growing to like Trudy as well. So in the end—as it always seemed with the really big decisions in life—Sonya had no choice. “What do you need me to do?”

“How many people can you muster?” Trudy asked.

“How many do you need?” Sonya smiled. “We’ve been ready and on call for decades now.”

“As many as you can spare,” Ellie said. “The more the merrier, it being Christmas and all.”

“Not yet,” Sonya said, standing from the booth. “But too soon now. Let me grab Barkeep and another round of drinks, then y’all can give us the details.”

“Do you think Barkeep’ll be able to trust us?” Ellie asked. “Me specifically.”

“There’s no choice now. Is there?” Sonya said, and there wasn’t. There was just the exact future they had been preparing for. Hopefully their training would be enough.

Barkeep was convinced of the seriousness of the situation easily enough and then begrudgingly accepted the conditions of their participation just the same as Sonya eventually had. With all that settled, they finished their drinks over discussion about the number of people needed where, when exactly they could start evacuating, and how long they had until all the walls between the worlds of Outland were finally, once and for all, demolished.

“Fifteen minutes,” Barkeep said, shaking her head as she stood from the booth. “Shit.”

“It’s not much time. I know,” Ellie said, standing, too—along with everyone else.

“But it’s all we’ve got,” Trudy said.

“We’ll make do,” Sonya said. “I know we can.” And everyone there certainly hoped it was true, even if none of them were as certain as Sonya tried to sound like she was.

Ellie and Trudy went on their way, and Barkeep assured Sonya that she had everything under control so Sonya could go home to get some rest before the operation. Sonya was too excited for rest, though, so when Barkeep had finally forced her out of the bar, Sonya decided she’d walk home instead of taking the elevator.

Fifteen minutes? Fuck.

Her heart beat faster and her palms slicked up just thinking about it. This was the real deal. Revolution? Maybe. Hopefully eventually. But an inciting incident big enough to spark a revolution if Sonya and her comrades were in fact organized enough to direct it that way. There was only one way to find out.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a little black blur run out in front of her, stop to lick its tiny black paws, then run out again just as she got close enough to pet him.

Mr. Kiiitty,” Sonya called, following the black cat. “I’m gonna scoop you.”

He meowed at her then ran up to her door to rub his face on the jamb.

“I got you,” Sonya said, scooping him up over her shoulder to sit on it like a fat, furry parrot with his back legs draped over her back and his front legs over her forearm which she used to prop him up. “Up we go,” she added, carrying him inside and up the stairs to her apartment. “Elevator Kitty. Ella-ella-vate your Kitty,” she sang, bringing him inside to let him drink from her bathroom faucet.

“Alright, Kitty,” Sonya said, laying on her bed and feeling very tired all of a sudden. “I’m going to sleep. Come and join me if you want. Otherwise, you know the way out.” Sonya never understood how Mr. Kitty left without her opening the door for him, but he was never there when she woke up.

Mr. Kitty jumped up onto the bed with her and kneaded her chest for a minute before curling up in her armpit to lick himself clean while Sonya drifted happily off to sleep.

#     #     #

Sonya had no trouble waking for her shift at the bar the next morning—which was only open early on Christmas—and as expected, Mr. Kitty had already disappeared through whatever exit he always took. Sonya bathed, groomed, and got dressed then rode the public elevator to The Bar where she ordered herself up some peanut butter on toast for breakfast. She was never really a big fan of eating at all, especially so early in the morning—preferring instead to drink her calories—but she knew she’d appreciate the energy for her mission to come.

And so began what seemed like the longest shift Sonya had ever worked—and she had worked for forty eight hours straight once, with only thirty minutes of sleeping in between. Just as she had felt when waiting for Ellie—and never otherwise in her life—Sonya would rather be anywhere else in the worlds than there at The Bar right then.

But she was there, and she had no choice about that. Soon customers started to trickle in—getting drunk before joining their family for Christmas dinner or because they had no family to join—poor, innocent, ignorant customers with no idea of what was waiting for them that afternoon, and all Sonya wanted to do was to yell at them to go home, get their families, and run to the nearest safe zone. But that was also exactly what she couldn’t do. So she shut her mouth and served their drinks in silence. It truly felt like the shift would last for an eternity.

 

#     #     #

Of course, nothing lasts for an eternity. Soon, the bar was emptied and it was time for the mission.

Sonya’s partner for her part in this met her outside of The Bar right as Sonya was locking up. They walked together to the public elevator in silence, and once inside, Sonya looked over at the woman—whose name she didn’t even know—to say, “Are you ready?”

“Are you?” the woman asked.

“I guess I kind of have to be. Don’t I?”

“Then there’s no point in asking,” the woman said.

Sonya shrugged. She guessed not. She took one last, deep breath—and heard her partner do the same—then said the secret phrase that was supposed to take them to their destination: “Socialism or barbarism, we do nothing alone.”

“Prepare for evacuation in T minus thirty seconds,” a robotic voice said over the elevator speakers. “Twenty nine, twenty eight, twenty seven…”

Sonya caught one final glimpse of her partner—who looked to be as ready as Sonya wished she felt—and, “Three, two, one. Begin evacuation.” The floor fell out from underneath them—just as hundreds of thousands of elevator floors fell out from underneath hundreds of thousands of other pairs of comrades across the worlds—until thirty seconds later the elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and the real countdown began. Fifteen minutes.

Red lights started flashing in the elevator, and in place of the usual soothing robot’s voice, came a deafening alarm.

“I’m about to get loud,” Sonya’s partner said, running to the center of the, thankfully short, hall. “You might want to cover your ears.”

But Sonya wasn’t listening. She was running to the far end of the hall to start banging on doors and evacuating people. Before she could land the first knock, Sonya’s partner yelled in an impossibly loud voice—impossible for a human—“This is not a drill. The building is on fire. You must all evacuate immediately. I repeat, this is not a drill. The building is on fire. You must all evacuate immediately. I repeat…” And so on and so on, even as they directed residents toward the emergency exits.

Thus Sonya didn’t have to bang on any doors. Heads poked out one by one from each apartment, starting with the apartment she was standing in front of, and the residents recognized danger when they saw it. No one hesitated to file out and follow orders as needed.

“What about our belongings?” some of them asked. “Can we gather them up?”

“There’s no time for that,” Sonya said, shepherding confused people out of their homes and into the hall.

“Where did the stairs go?” others asked, even as Sonya’s partner loaded them five at a time onto the elevator in what had been the stairwell.

“All stairwells are equipped with emergency elevator systems for situations just such as these,” Sonya’s partner explained—making the whole thing up for all Sonya knew, but she couldn’t tell because it was so well delivered.

And elevatorload by elevatorload, the entire floor was cleared without a hassle, everyone except for one stubborn old man.

“Please, sir,” Sonya begged him, pulling him by the arm to stand him up, but he just flopped right back down in his seat when she let him go. “You have got to get out of here.”

“He won’t listen to you. I’ll tell you that right now,” the man’s nurse said, heading calmly out to the elevator. “But he’s your problem now. Good luck.”

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Sonya’s partner said, pushing Sonya out of the way. “Here, let me—”

But Sonya pushed right back. “No. I can handle it,” she said. “You go do one last scan for stragglers.” And as her partner ran out to perform a final check for evacuees, Sonya said to the old man, “Alright. I asked you nicely. Don’t forget that.” Then she lifted him up over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes to carry him—struggling all the way—-to the elevator where she plopped him down in the far corner.

“One minute and counting until doors close,” the elevator’s voice said at a volume as loud as its sirens. “I repeat, fifty eight seconds and counting until doors close. Please keep all limbs inside the elevator car.”

“All clear,” Sonya’s partner said, smiling despite her sweaty face. “I think that’s everyone. We really did it.”

“We really did—” Sonya started to say, but the old man stopped her.

No,” he squealed, standing up and struggling to get off the elevator while Sonya held him back with one hand. “Mr. Kitty. He’s in the bathroom. You can’t leave him.”

“Forty seven. Forty six. Forty five,” the elevator continued to count down, whether anyone was listening or not.

“We can’t,” Sonya said. “There’s no time.”

I’ll get him,” her partner said, and she sprinted back towards the old man’s apartment in a race against time to save his cat.

Sonya was fighting the old man off with her left hand, trying to keep him inside the elevator where he’d be safe, and at the same time, reaching out as far as she could with her right hand toward the cat that Sonya’s partner had found and was holding outstretched, racing toward the elevator.

“Four, three, two,” the elevator counted down, and Sonya’s fingers grasped the scruff of the cat’s neck, pulling it in toward the elevator car only for: “One. Evacuation complete.” The cold, metal doors slammed shut fast, closing just below Sonya’s elbow, leaving her partner, the old man’s cat, and the rest of Sonya’s arm on the other side as the floor of the elevator fell out from underneath them.

 

#     #     #

< LXXIV. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXVI. Ms. Mondragon >

There it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. We’re more than halfway through the last installment now. I hope you’re enjoying the story, and if so, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 74: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers. It’s time to return to eveyone’s favorite, Mr. Kitty, as we continue the Infinite Limits saga. If you love the story so far, please do think about picking up a full copy through this link. Enjoy now.

< LXXIII. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXV. Sonya >

LXXIV. Mr. Kitty

Mr. Kitty was fast asleep, having one of his recurring nightmares. In the dream, he had woken up—whether on Tillie’s desk, Huey’s lap, or any of the countless other indoor napping locations he loved to frequent, he couldn’t quite tell, but it was inside for sure—and as he awoke, he felt a deep certainty that he was alone. Not just in whatever house he had woken up in, either. Without seeing, he could tell there was no one outside, no one else in all the worlds, in the entire universe even. He woke up and he knew that he was alone to the last. This was a terrible feeling. A sinking of the throat and a rising of the lower intestines to meet generally in the middle where they grumbled and rumbled, angry at one another for each trying to take up the other’s space there in Mr. Kitty’s stomach.

He couldn’t take the feeling. He wouldn’t. If he had known he was asleep, he would have simply woken himself up and found another living soul to prove to himself that he wasn’t alone in the universe after all. But he didn’t know that he was asleep. So instead, he jumped up off the table he was napping on to make his way outside and find someone anyway.

He wasn’t quite sure how he got outside. There was no one to open any doors for him, and he hadn’t gone through any holes he recognized, but nonetheless there he was. He pounced around the grass a bit, rolled around in it, and found a rough-barked tree to sharpen his claws on before he remembered his mission: proving to himself that he wasn’t alone in the universe after all.

And just as soon as he remembered his purpose in going outside in the first place, there appeared in the grass before him a brilliant red cardinal that was picking at the ground for worms. By instinct, Mr. Kitty pounced at the bird, but it leisurely flew a few feet away, landed again in the green grass, and went on pecking for worms.

“Hey, wait up,” Mr. Kitty called after the cardinal, trying to pounce again, but his claws slipped and slid on the ground, unable to get a grip, allowing the little red bird to evade Mr. Kitty’s every slow-motion advance with ease

Harder and faster Mr. Kitty ran, but the more effort he expended the slower he moved. The louder he yelled the quieter his voice was—if it even escaped his mouth. Harder and faster and quieter and slower he ran and walked and moonwalked, dead set on catching that bird, when the sound of a doorbell ringing and two women laughing in the other room jerked him out of the nightmare and back into reality.

Mr. Kitty meowed Tillie’s name and yawned at the same time, producing a garbled, nonsense sound, then he ran to the Kitchen to rub his head and body all over Tillie’s ankles, hoping for a hug to calm him from his bad dream.

“Look out, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie complained, scooping him up and giving him exactly the hug he was looking for. “You’re gonna trip me.”

“Hey there, cutie,” Shelley said, patting Mr. Kitty on the head while Tillie patted his butt. “You look as sweet as ever.”

Mr. Kitty just purred in response, happy for the friendly reminders that he was not in fact alone in the universe—one or two people actually did care about him.

“Here, I’ll get you some wet food,” Tillie said, setting Mr. Kitty on the counter then ordering a salmon lunch for him from the printer. “You want anything?” she asked Shelley.

“Oh, whatever you’re having,” Shelley said. “If it’s no trouble.”

“Of course it’s not,” Tillie said, and she ordered two beers from the printer then handed one to Shelley. “Here. Let’s take these out on the deck. It’s too beautiful outside not to take advantage of the weather today.”

“You can say that again,” Shelley said, sipping her drink as she followed Tillie out to sit on the metal deck chairs.

Mr. Kitty hurried to lick all the juices off his salmon dinner so he could rush outside with them and lay on the cool cement, licking himself while he listened.

“Damn, it’s been a long time, girl,” Shelley said, sipping her drink. “How long, you think?”

“Since before I got my promotion,” Tillie said. “Manager’s don’t get a lot of free time, I guess.”

Pffft.” Shelley chuckled. “I’d trade some free time for a printer any day. The time you save must pay for itself.”

“You’d think so.” Tillie shrugged.

Even if she did take full advantage of the printer, it probably wouldn’t be worth all the time she spent at work, though. But then again, Mr. Kitty thought that no amount of time spent at work would be worth it.

“And you’re still living in this same old house.” Shelley looked around at the place, trying to hide her disgust. “Can’t you afford something new?”

“You sound like my dad,” Tillie said with a sarcastic chuckle. “And my son.”

“Well, maybe they’re right,” Shelley said. “You can’t tell me you’ve never considered an update. C’mon. I can’t even remember when you lived someplace different.”

“I don’t think it needs an update,” Tillie snapped before stopping to breathe deeply and calm herself. “I’m sorry, but I literally just had this exact argument with Leo. Still, I shouldn’t have snapped. I’m sorry.”

“Ain’t no one arguing but you, girl,” Shelley said. “I’m having a conversation, catching up on old times. I don’t care if you never buy a new house again. Sheeit. Less buyers just means better prices for me when I finally find my next dream home.”

“And I’m sure you have plenty of dream houses still ahead of you.” Tillie smiled her half-hearted smile, faking like she understood Shelley’s need to always buy more and newer houses, but she prolly understood it about as much as Mr. Kitty did—which is to say not at all.

Ooh, girl. Let me tell you.” Shelley set her drink on the deck table so she could lean into the conversation, getting serious. “I’ve got a list that just keeps on growing. I’m actually bidding on a new one right now…”

And so on she went, but again, Mr. Kitty didn’t care one bit about Shelley’s new house fetish. Luckily, they were outside so he didn’t have any trouble standing up, stretching his muscles, and bounding out into the garden instead of listening to them go on about it. He chased a couple of June bugs, sniffed the flowers on every other rose bush, and ate a healthy portion of grass blades before he decided it was time to move on and sprinted toward his favorite tree to climb.

He stopped first to sharpen his claws on the gnarled roots of the tall oak tree before bounding from branch to branch up to the top of it and higher yet until he was soaring out and over literal nothingness—the space between spaces—to land with a soft thud on the lap of Stevedore.

“Oh my God! The cat!” Thimblerigger yelled.

“Mr. Kitty!” Stevedore yelled.

“O shit, waddup!” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Where did he come from?” Stevedore asked.

“I don’t know,” Thimblerigger said. “It seemed like—”

But Stevedore cut them off. “Were you even paying attention?”

“Yeah, I was,” Thimblerigger said. “I— Uh… I saw him appear—or whatever. But he just like… appeared—or whatever. I don’t know. What am I supposed to say? He just kind of fell from thin air into your lap. How hard did he land?”

I don’t know,” Stevedore complained, standing to jump up and reach for the hole that Mr. Kitty had come out of, but there was no hole to reach because it didn’t go the other way. “He just kind of fell on me. I didn’t really—”

Were you even paying attention?” Thimblerigger mocked Stevedore.

“Yes, well—” Stevedore started, but their arguing was no more interesting than Shelley’s new house fetish, so Mr. Kitty meowed, “Follow me.” and dashed through the rows and rows of plants toward the opposite corner of the roof.

“He’s getting away,” Thimblerigger yelled, grabbing Stevedore’s hand and pulling them to run after Mr. Kitty who kept running himself, up and over this row of potatoes, down and under that one of corn, and so on until he jumped up onto the railing of the roof then leapt and soared out into nothingness to fall hard and fast onto a soft, fluffy carpet.

Mr. Kitty took the time to sit and lick the pain out of his feet because he knew the children wouldn’t be following him anytime soon. Even if they were brave enough to jump off the building in pursuit of him, they could never jump as far as he did and would no doubt end up falling through the nothingness and into one of the many long abandoned suicide prevention grids that lined many—if not most—of the roofs in Outlands Five and Six.

When he was done licking himself, Mr. Kitty looked up to find none other than Huey—a.k.a. Lord Douglas—sitting in his favorite puffy chair and staring out of the wall-sized windows in front of him onto the flowing mountainous greenery outside.

“What’s up?” Mr. Kitty meowed, jumping up onto a chair next to Huey.

Huey, startled, jumped in his seat, as if torn from a daydream he’d rather not have left. “Creator,” he said. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“If you even could shit,” Mr. Kitty said with a smile, licking his tail.

“Oh, ha ha,” Huey said. “So funny. As if taking a shit were something I’d want to be forced to do every single day for the rest of my life.”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Kitty said. “I rather enjoy it sometimes. As long as I can find a little privacy and somewhere good to bury the result.”

Ugh. You would,” Huey groaned, looking truly disgusted.

“Life’s life,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “I didn’t ask for it. No one does. So how goes yours?”

“Please. Don’t even ask.”

“If you say so.” Mr. Kitty went back to licking himself.

“As you said,” Huey went on anyway, “life’s life. We never asked for any of this, and we have no choice but to live through it anyway. Take this war for instance.”

“Between you and Mr. Walker?” Mr. Kitty asked. There were so many wars, especially if you included the international and revolutionary ones—which Mr. Kitty did—that the question was actually necessary.

“Between Mr. Walker’s protectors and my android army,” Huey clarified. “And half of the Human Family in Six. They keep attacking us, too. So we’re being forced to waste our resources on military defenses instead of automating jobs as was our original intention in taking over the android industry in the first place.”

“Couldn’t you petition the Fortune 5 to—” Mr. Kitty started, but Huey cut him off, intent instead on rehashing his further sources of misery.

“No other way for me to act,” Huey repeated. “And of course, Rosalind and the Scientist—as our young friend has taken to calling themself—are too busy with their own little machinations to assist me with the grand experiment we’ve already put into motion.”

“I was actually thinking about going to visit them later,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“And then there’s the problem of Haley,” Huey went on, ignoring Mr. Kitty. “Haleys, in fact. Plural. The one who I wish more than anything to see, to talk to, to hold, and to hug. To kiss. The one who I cannot see until she’s grown up—whatever that means for our kind—if I ever want to see her in these ways at all. And then there’s the Haley who I see all too much of. The Haley who pretends, purports, wishes to exude such confidence, intelligence, beauty, and sheer kindness as the real Haley, my Haley, but who at the same time so drastically and pitifully pales in comparison when held up like an uncanny candle to the Sun that is the original Haley.”

Mr. Kitty yawned and stood to stretch every one of his muscles in turn. He had almost fallen asleep. This was the same speech he had heard hundreds of times about the same problems that Huey had been facing for literally decades by that point, and Mr. Kitty was getting tired of it. “So about the same as always?” he said.

Worse,” Huey complained, pouting.

“Which is what you always say.”

“Because it’s always true.”

“So why don’t you try—I don’t know… doing something differently this time?”

“I told you.” Huey scoffed. “I can’t. Have you even been listening?”

Forever it seems like, Mr. Kitty wanted to say. It seems like I’ve been listening forever. But instead he said, “And why can’t you?”

Or else,” Huey whispered ominously.

“Or else what?” Mr. Kitty asked. “I seem to hear that exact excuse from so many different people, and still I have no idea what it means.”

Or else,” Huey repeated. “Just that. No one knows what it means. That’s the point. We all just know that no one wants to find out.”

“Well maybe it’s time you did,” Mr. Kitty said, jumping off the chair to walk along the fluffy carpet out toward the elevator. “Through experience rather than hearsay.”

“You have no idea what that would mean for me,” Huey said, following Mr. Kitty to the elevator and pressing the button to call it for him.

“Neither do you,” Mr. Kitty said, stepping onto the elevator. “To the Scientist’s lab, please. I’d like to give them a visit.”

“I hope I never find out,” Huey said. And, “The Scientist’s. Please do give them my regards. Tell them I miss them. And Haley… Well, especially Haley.”

“Will do,” Mr. Kitty meowed as the door slid closed between them and the floor fell out from underneath him.

When the elevator stopped moving, the doors opened onto the Scientist’s lab. It wasn’t the person who Mr. Kitty had always known as the Scientist, and it wasn’t a lab so much as an office, but it was exactly where Mr. Kitty had intended to go. And there, exactly as Mr. Kitty had expected, were the very people he had gone there to see: sitting at the desk, still typing and swiping and fussing over the screen’s contents, as ever, was the Scientist, where they were always to be found, doing what they hadn’t stopped doing ever since they had taken on the moniker of Scientist, and behind the Scientist, watching over their shoulder, complaining and grumbling about how it had all been tried before and no amount of repeating the same mistakes would produce new results, urging the Scientist to finally accept the fact that no amount of variable tweaks would prove the system workable, the fact that it was time for a new equation entirely, Rosalind.

“I hear you coming, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said without looking away from the computer where she was simultaneously directing the Scientist to change some variable even though Rosalind had purportedly given up on the system entirely.

Mr. Kitty didn’t respond. He just jumped up onto the desk to get a better look at what they were doing then started licking his fur to pretend like he didn’t care.

“And I bet Huey sent you, too,” Rosalind said. Then, “No. You literally just ran that combination.” to the Scientist.

Nah,” the Scientist said, shaking their head and looking confused. “No, I didn’t… I— I’m pretty sure the worker pay was lower last time. Right?”

“You wanted to put it lower,” Rosalind reminded the Scientist. “Yes. But when I told you how many people—especially children and the elderly—would die if we moved worker pay even a thousandth of a percent lower than where it’s at, you decided that this was probably as low as it should go.”

“Oh. Yeah. Riiiiight. But I thought…” the Scientist trailed off, not finishing their thought, lost again in the unsolvable riddle on their computer screen.

“Tell Lord Douglas we still don’t want to hear from him for as long as he’s wasting his time—and android lives—on that stupid war of his with Mr. Walker,” Rosalind said to Mr. Kitty. “Hell, tell him we don’t want to hear from him at all for as long as he still calls himself Lord.”

“I have,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“And you will again,” Rosalind said.

“Not any more than I repeated his message for you just now,” Mr. Kitty said, jumping off the desk and eager to leave this lab already. “But good luck with y’all’s riddle anyway.”

“It’ll be solved soon,” Rosalind called after Mr. Kitty as he left the room. “You’ll see.” And Mr. Kitty was sure he would.

When Mr. Kitty stepped out of the lab, he didn’t step into the hall that he saw on the other side of the door he had passed through, instead stepping out into the front yard of Tillie’s house, his house. He turned to make sure the lab had disappeared behind him, and when he was certain that it had, he bound out toward the nearest tree and sharpened his claws on its trunk, ripping out strips of rough bark to rain all over his face like sawdust. When he was satisfied with the strength and sharpness of his claws, Mr. Kitty ran over to the door and meowed as loudly as he could, “Tilliieee, I’m home!”

Mr. Kitty licked himself a few times and there was no response.

“Tillie!” he meowed again. “I know you’re in there. Can you hear me?”

Mr. Kitty licked himself some more and still there was no response.

“Fine!” he yelled. “I’ll find my own way in.”

First, he went around to the back of the house and sharpened his claws again on the wooden beams that lined the garden. Then, he sprinted straight from there to the tallest, fattest tree in the backyard where he used his momentum to climb from branch to branch up to the very top of the tree then jump out onto the roof of the house. From there it was just a quick hop up and over the chimney, through some nothingness, and onto the cold metal grating that he so hated to walk on with a loud clank.

Mr. Kitty slunk down as close to the ground as he could press his body, searching this way and that for signs of anyone who might have heard him. When he was satisfied that there were no sights, sounds, or smells to be afraid of, he started his long descent down equally cold and difficult-to-walk-on grated stairs, to where he was left with nothing more than the longest, darkest, scariest curved tunnel between him and home.

Three steps, two steps, five steps, three steps, three steps, and stop. Mr. Kitty heard something. There was a smell. Two more steps. What was that? It was familiar. This was all too familiar. Three steps. Stop. Sniff. Listen. Look harder, closer. See…

Yes. There was something there alright. Someone even. They were dressed in all black and sobbing in the fetal position right there under Mr. Kitty’s escape. Not quite blocking the way after all. Mr. Kitty gathered his haunches, making sure his claws were in so they didn’t rip and break on the metal grating floor, and took two bounding steps before realizing who the crying person was, and instead of using them as a launching pad for escape, Mr. Kitty rubbed his head up against the poor kid’s armpit, saying, “Leo! What are you doing down here?”

Leo jumped up, surprised at the sound of Mr. Kitty’s voice, and wiped his nose, sniffling. “Mr. Kitty,” he said in an almost cracking voice. “Is that you?”

Duh,” Mr. Kitty meowed, rubbing his face on Leo’s knees a few more times before rolling over onto his back and allowing Leo the rare unchallenged opportunity to pet his stomach.

“I don’t know how to get out of here, either.” Leo sniffled some more. “I never should have been down here in the first place.”

“It’s simple,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “The exit’s right behind you.” And he jumped up onto Leo’s lap then climbed over his shoulder and through the wall, into Tillie’s office where she stood, surprised, from her computer to say, “Mr. Kitty, where’d you— I didn’t hear you calling to get in.”

And before Mr. Kitty could respond, Leo came rushing through the wall to scoop him up and hug him tight. “Unseen Hand, Mr. Kitty,” he said, hugging Kitty tighter. “You saved my life. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Tillie rushed in to hug both Leo and Mr. Kitty, saying, “The Hand. Leo. I— Where’d you— Are you alright? They didn’t do anything to hurt you, did they?”

“No, Ma. I—” Leo said, squirming away from Tillie’s hug and dropping Mr. Kitty on the desk where the cat sat and licked his coat straight again. “Not me. They didn’t hurt me. But…”

“But what, dear?” Tillie asked. “Who? Tell me. What did they do?”

“It’s not them, Mom,” Leo snapped. “It’s us. All of us. Isn’t it?”

“Leo, honey,” his mom said. “Where were you?”

“I learned about the factory floor today,” Leo said. “First hand. I know that what you were saying is true.”

The humans,” Tillie said.

Mom. We have to stop it.”

“Leo, no. We can’t. You don’t understand. This is why I waited so long to tell you the truth in the first place.”

“I can’t just go on living now that I know what’s going on, Ma.” Leo shook his head, looking like he was about to cry. “I won’t. I don’t understand how you have for so long.”

“It’s too dangerous, son,” Tillie said. “I know you don’t understand. I knew you wouldn’t.”

“Too dangerous, Ma? Have you seen what those people live through every day of their lives? You’re telling me that we’ll be in danger if we stand up to that? Well so be it. For as long as a single one of them is put in danger to make what we use to survive, I’ll put myself in as much danger as it takes to free them.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying, Leo,” Tillie said, shaking her head, on the verge of tears herself. “I lost—”

“I don’t care, Mom,” Leo cut her off. “Nothing you can say will stop me. From now on, I’m doing whatever I can to fight this.”

And he rushed out of the room, slamming the door behind him, leaving Mr. Kitty alone to comfort Tillie as she cried.

 

#     #     #

< LXXIII. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXV. Sonya >

Thanks for joining us for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. We’ll be back again next week with another chapter in the story, and in the meantime, you can pick up a fully copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Thanks again for stopping by. We do nothing alone.