Chapter 66: Jorah

Hello, dear readers. Welcome back for another chapter in the Infinite Limits story. Today we see the worlds through the eyes of Jorah Baldwin, the most viewed actor in all of history now that poor Russ Logo has met his fate. If you enjoy this chapter, please do think about picking up a copy of the full novel through this link. And as always, enjoy.

< LXV. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXVII. Mr. Kitty >

LXVI. Jorah

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Why? Why did they still need him to do this? Why did they need anyone to do this?

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

He was supposed to be an actor, not an assembly line worker. And besides that, robots were one hundred percent capable of doing slip, snap, clicking work. There was no reason to convince humans that it was fun, rewarding, or honorable in any way. They weren’t needed to do it.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Of course androids were capable of doing slip, snap, clicking work. Jorah himself was one of them, and he was doing the work better than any human ever could.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

But no one knew that he was an android. And Jorah couldn’t tell anyone that he was—especially now that his majority owner was Mr. Walker, the head of the anti-robot counter-revolution. Still, none of that changed the fact that androids could do the work.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, clicking certainly wasn’t what he had escaped his own assembly line for. He hadn’t liberated himself from slavery just so he could turn around and sit voluntarily behind another assembly line.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

He hadn’t escaped so he could free the other robots, either. He hadn’t escaped so he could fight them in Mr. Walker’s army. Jorah had escaped for one reason and one reason alone: So he could live his own life.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Not like this. Some people might have called what he was doing living, but it certainly wasn’t his life. He didn’t even get to choose what roles he acted in.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Jorah turned to look at the extra next to him, intent on her own work, living her own puppet life and being made to dance by the tugs of her own strings. Her a human, him an android, and neither able to exhibit any more free will than the other. Each forced to do whatever they had to do to procure the energy they needed in order to reproduce and prolong their sad, irrelevant lives.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Well how much energy did they need today? How many tugs would Jorah’s strings get until the puppeteer finally let him rest? How many more days could Jorah take living like this? How many more days could all the puppets take it?

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

But there wasn’t anything he could do. Was there? If there were, he would have done it already. He was as free as he could ever be in Outland Three. The only thing left for him was to work and to wait.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

And though he felt like he couldn’t take it any longer, Jorah still went on slip, snap, clicking, even after a loud, metallic bell signaled for lunch and the extras filling the set around him dropped their work to hurry to it.

“I said cut!” Wes, the director, yelled through a megaphone. “That’s the scene, Jorah. Or it was supposed to be. And I like your commitment to the job, but we really need a shot of you leaving the assembly line with the rest of the workers.”

“I— What?” Jorah asked, absently standing from his work stool and making his way toward the food cart to nibble on some cheese.

“You didn’t stand up and leave with the rest of the workers,” Wes said, slowly, like Jorah was stupid, but Jorah was still having trouble following what was being said so he couldn’t really take offense. “You’re a good worker, yes, but you hate your job. The very same reason you work so hard—up until the very end of your shift—is the exact reason you can’t wait to get home. Your family. And it’s not like your piece of shit boss—your words, not mine—is going to pay you for any of the extra pieces you slip, snap, click together above quota so you’re just wasting your time, making your boss look better so she can make more money without sharing any of it with you. Now, do you see why you’d be just as eager to get up and get out of there as all these other extras who did what their scripts told them to do?”

“I—uhYeah…” Jorah said, finishing off another tiny cube of cheese in search of the energy he’d need to get himself through another day of dancing under his puppet strings. “I’m sorry. I mean, of course. Anything you say. You’re the director. I’ll do better this time. I swear.”

“Alright, then. Places everyone!” Wes called through his megaphone, and the puppeteer strings pulled all the actors into their first positions—including Jorah to sit on his cold, hard stool, back again in front of the assembly line for the trillionth time since he had become the star of Mr. Walker’s anti-robot propaganda machine.

“Lights!” Wes called.

And the world faded into darkness around Jorah, all except for his work area which was lit so brightly that it gave him a shining aura like a halo.

“Cue the belts.”

The constituent parts of whatever it was they were slip, snap, clicking together started moving down the conveyor belt in front of him again, and like Pavlov’s dogs, Jorah began piecing them together, even before the scene had officially begun. This time he would act it to perfection.

Aaaaannnd… action!”

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

All he could do was wonder how many more days he could take living like this. How many more days would all the puppets take it?

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click…

#     #     #

He was home at last, finally alone again in his dressing room. Here he had the greatest illusion of freedom in, and control over, his life, and so here was his favorite place to be—even if he knew full and well that the freedom and control he felt like he was experiencing was nothing more than an illusion.

Here, at least, he had his television. And that was programmed to comply to his every demand—manual, remote, or vocal—as long as that demand had something to do with powering on or off, adjusting volume, or changing the channel, etc. Which was some amount of control and freedom, however limited. As well, here was the battle station which had a seemingly infinite—though necessarily finite due to the nature of physics—number of makeup and hairstyle combinations for Jorah to command up at his every whimsy. Not full control or freedom, again, but better than nothing.

Then of course, there was the 3D printer. The machine that ensured Jorah more freedom than most anyone in all the worlds was lucky to experience—excepting the owners, of course. It was the same reason he was chained to the anti-robot propaganda films that Mr. Walker was forcing him to act in. But Jorah would have to work a job in order to survive no matter what, and most of the jobs out there didn’t come anywhere close to paying with unbridled printer access, so there he was, producing anti-robot propaganda as an android himself. He was starting to wonder how much of his life he was willing to give up for even that much “freedom”.

In fact, Jorah stood there then, staring at the frowny face arch of his 3D printer’s closed mouth, finger hovering over the single red eye button, trying to figure out what he really needed from this expensive machine at all. He was an android, after all, not a squishy, mortal human, and if he chose to, he could generate most of the energy he needed—all with a proper source of saline—through a photosynthesis-like process. One of the benefits of his darker skin was the ability to absorb more of the Sun’s energy, and he could last on that for some time. Besides, he never really liked to eat anyway. Sure, he pretended like he enjoyed food in order to endear himself with his actor friends, but he never seemed to be able to experience the same raw euphoria that humans did when they ate. So in the end, probably the only thing he’d ever truly miss about losing access to his printer would be the clothes. And Fortuna the clothes.

First of all, and of course, the dresses. A-lines, slips, sheaths. Every type of skirt from mini on up to maxi and beyond. Blouses in tank tops, halters, and racerbacks. Suit pants, suits, blazers, and hats. He could go on and on and on about it. Hell, he was even starting to appreciate the subtle differences between different styles of tuxedo after having been dragged along to so many galas with Mr. Walker. And even if his printer could only make tuxes and nothing else, that alone might be worth Jorah’s days spent acting in shitty, self-hating, anti-robot propaganda. Maybe.

He was still standing there in front of his printer, trying to decide between hundreds of millions of billions of options that all seemed equally unappetizing, when a knock came at the door, surprising Jorah so much that he nearly jumped out of the slippers he was wearing.

Yoo hoo!” came Meg’s voice through the dressing room door, grating Jorah’s insides at the sound of it. “Jorah, my boy. Are you in there?”

Jorah hesitated. He didn’t feel like spending time with any humans—he almost never did—but he couldn’t just stay silent and wait for Meg to go away because she may never. Ever since the untimely death of Jorah’s best friend, Russ—the only human who Jorah had never minded spending time with—Meg had practically been stalking Jorah, trying to become the new best friend of the now most popular celebrity in all of celebritydom, and frankly, Jorah was sick of it. Meg was a nice person, a great dresser, and an okay actor—all things that should have made her the perfect new friend for Jorah who didn’t give his opinion of a person’s wardrobe lightly—but something about her needy clinginess turned Jorah off to ever starting a real relationship with her.

“Yes, I’m here,” Jorah finally called back, hoping for no response. “One moment, please.”

Fantastic. Take your time,” Meg responded nonetheless. “I’ve got all the time in the world to spare.”

Of course she did. And of course he did. So he slowly buttoned on his blouse, taking extra time to find the perfect shoes and not settling on an eyeshadow color until he had seen all of his options three times through. He still held out hope that Meg would get sick of waiting and leave, but of course again, he had no such luck. She was still waiting outside of his dressing room with a smile on her face when he opened the door to say, “Hello.” with a curt nod of the head.

Wow,” Meg said, holding a hand to her mouth—lips painted as red as Jorah’s. “No wonder you’re so famous. You look absolutely stunning. Just perfect. Even better in person.”

Jorah blushed. He would never get used to flattery like that, no matter how often he experienced it, and he was starting to worry that enough of it might just solidify Meg’s position as his best friend despite Jorah’s every efforts to resist her advances. “You’re too kind,” he said. “But I’m sure you didn’t just come here to compliment me again, have you? We’ve been over this.”

Meg stared at Jorah in silence for a moment, mesmerized by his beauty, before remembering herself and saying, “What? I mean, no. Not again. Though if you’d let me, I’d come here every day just to stare at you. I swear.”

Jorah’s ears got hotter. “Please,” he said. “Don’t. What is it that you actually came here for?”

“I—uh—well…” Meg was hesitant now. Jorah didn’t like the sound of what was to come. “Have you eaten anything yet?” she finally asked.

“I was just thinking about ordering in from the printer,” Jorah said, and he regretted it instantly. Now she knew that he had no plans and no excuses for getting out of what came next.

“Oh, no,” Meg said, shaking her head and scrunching up her nose like she smelled something dead and rotting. “Gross. You can’t. C’mon. Come eat with me. I heard about this new restaurant called The Prison. It’s supposed to be the hottest dining experience all year. We should definitely go check it out.”

Uh… I don’t know,” Jorah said, trying to find an excuse. “I’m not really dating right now. And I don’t—”

No, no no.” Meg stopped him there. “Not a date. A business dinner. I have a proposition for you, and I think you’ll receive it better over a meal that’s suitable for the occasion. So what do you say?”

There was really nothing else to say because, like an idiot, he had cut off all his lines of retreat at the beginning of the conversation. So Jorah just said, “Alright. Fine.” and tried to smile. “The Prison, you say? I’ve been meaning to eat there for a week now.” And that much was true. “I’d love to join you for dinner.” Even if that much wasn’t.

“Great!” Meg said, clapping her hands. “Perfect. Are you ready now or should I come in?” She tried peeking around him to see what his dressing room looked like, but Jorah still wasn’t ready to let her inside.

“No, no,” Jorah said, stepping out into the hall to close the door on her prying eyes. “There’ll be no need for that. I’m ready as we speak. Shall we take your elevator or mine?”

Oh, yours, please,” Meg said with a big smile. “Mine’s in the shop. I had to ride the public elevator here. It was disgusting. I bet I still smell like it. I’m so sorry.”

In fact, she didn’t. She smelled instead like too much perfume, an odor which she only made worse by adding more from a tiny bottle in her handbag. Jorah wasn’t sure how she expected to be able to taste the food with all that artificial scent clogging up her senses, but luckily, he didn’t care what the food actually tasted like anyway. He just had to knock it off his list of restaurants to eat at before he could review them—and positively at that, no matter the taste, atmosphere, or service, as per Mr. Walker’s demand—on his show.

“No, well, you smell…” Jorah trailed off without finishing his thought, instead pushing the button to call his elevator which opened instantly—his elevator being prioritized in the queue since he was the most famous actor in all of history.

As soon as the doors slid open, before Jorah could even react enough to step inside, Meg jumped in to sit on the purple suede couch and pet its upholstery.

“What an amazing elevator,” she said, still petting the couch as the doors closed. “It’s almost as nice as your clothes. You really are the perfect celebrity.”

“It’s not much,” Jorah said. “Same as everyone else’s. Lined with mirrors. A couch to sit on. Basic.”

“Yeah, but this couch,” Meg said. “It’s perfect. Soft, supportive, comfortable. Not to mention beautiful. Everything you need in an elevator couch.”

“Yes. Because it belonged to the perfect celebrity,” Jorah said.

“I told you!” Meg said, standing with a big smile. “And confident, too.”

“But not me.” Jorah laughed so he wouldn’t cry. “Not even close to me. I’m talking about Russ Logo.”

Oh.” Meg kind of deflated. She definitely wasn’t smiling any more. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s not your fault,” Jorah said. Which it wasn’t. “I’m the one who brought his name up. But that’s enough about the past. It’s time to look to the future. Let’s eat. Elevator. The Prison.”

The floor fell out from underneath them, and Meg, timidly, said, “You two were good friends. Weren’t you?”

“The best I’ll ever have,” Jorah said. “But, please. No more about Russ. It’s a beautiful day. We’re on our way to a famous restaurant. You have a business proposition you want to extend to me. Let’s enjoy this to the fullest. Elevator, street entrance, please.”

Meg gasped, checking herself in the infinitely reflecting mirrors in all directions. “What? You mean it? But the papos…”

“Let ‘em take our picture,” Jorah said, checking himself in the mirrors, too. “We’re two attractive, adult celebrities, and it’s well within our rights to enjoy a luxury business dinner together. Who cares if the world knows? I need some fresh air, and I’m gonna get it. Now, are you coming with me, or do you want to ride along to the restaurant entrance and meet me inside?”

“Oh, no,” Meg said. “I didn’t think you’d— I mean. Yes. Of course. By all means. Let’s go.”

The elevator stopped falling and Jorah struck a pose before saying, “Doors, open.”

Flashing lights and hot hot humidity flooded into the elevator before either one of them could react. When the papos outside saw it was Jorah, their lights quickened. Jorah posed a few times, then pulled Meg in to pose for a few photos, too, and when everybody had gotten their fair share of pictures, Jorah and Meg pushed their way out through the mass of papos and toward the restaurant.

Wow,” Meg said, fixing her hair in a pocket mirror as they walked. “I don’t think the papos have ever been so interested in taking my picture as they were just then. Thank you.”

“They can be fierce,” Jorah said, but he wasn’t really paying attention to Meg, more interested in the city around him. There was something familiar about the buildings or the street that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Meg had gone on talking for some time when he couldn’t take it anymore, interrupting her to say, “This place seems familiar to me for some reason. Did something else used to be here?”

“Oh, yeah,” Meg said, pausing to really think about it. “The—uhThe Farm, or something? I think… Oh, no. The Plantation! That’s it,” she said, walking on.

“The Plantation…” Jorah repeated under his breath, remembering more but still not quite everything.

“Yep. The Plantation. Some producer bought it to live in or something like that,” Meg said with a shrug. “The things they do these days… But anyway, this is the place.”

And so it was. The Prison. And of course, it looked like every prison Jorah had ever seen on TV. There were tall walls, topped with chain-link fences that were topped with a combination of razor and barbed wire, all surrounding a big yard with basketball courts and weight benches on either side of the path that led to the restaurant’s front door where, inside, they were greeted from behind bars by a jerky robot in orange overalls.

“Hello,” the robot said. “May I take your jackets?”

Neither of them were wearing jackets so Jorah just said, “Uh. Table for two.”

“Right this way, please.” The robot host tried to walk, but it ran into the prison bars and couldn’t go any further before awkwardly searching for the cell door, finding a way out, and leading Meg and Jorah to their table in another cell.

Wow,” Meg said when the host had left them with menus. “This might be the coolest restaurant I’ve ever seen. Get a load of those costumes.”

Huh? Yeah. Costumes…” Jorah said, but again, he wasn’t paying attention. This time he was distracted by a little black furry blur running between the bars that separated the cell they were eating in from their neighbor’s cell before the thing disappeared into thin air. “Fortuna. Did you see that?” Jorah asked, interrupting whatever it was that Meg was going on about now. “Disgusting.”

“What?” Meg said, turning to see what he was talking about. “Oh, Fortuna. That dress is hideous. How does someone even go out in public looking like that?”

“No.” Jorah chuckled, feeling some sense of déjà vu. “That’s not what I— Never mind. Here. Let’s get on with it. What business proposition did you have in mind? Why’d you bring me here? Spit it out.”

“Ah, yes. Well… Don’t you think we should order first?” She looked nervously around for a server.

“I’d rather not,” Jorah said. “I don’t like to do business while I’m eating. But I would like to use that time to consider your proposition. So please, I’d prefer to hear your offer before the server even arrives. If you can manage it.”

“I— Uh. Well…” Meg was still hesitant, nervous.

“Go on.”

“Well, I want to be more than an actor, okay. I’m decent at it. The camera loves me. I enjoy acting well enough. But it’s just not the life for me.”

“I’m following. And I tend to agree,” Jorah said. “But I’m having a hard time figuring out what exactly it is that any of this has to do with me.”

“Right, right. Of course.” Meg fixed herself up and sat a little straighter in her chair. “Ahem,” she cleared her throat before going on. “Well, I also want to be—no, I am a clothes designer. But no one takes me seriously about that yet.”

“And…” Jorah led her on.

“Well, that’s where you come in. If you ever, say, wore some of my clothes, everyone else would want to wear them, too. Right? So I’m proposing…” And so on and so on. It was a typical business transaction between two consenting celebrities. Jorah was a little surprised to find out that Meg was a designer, but he definitely wanted to see her work at the very least, and he could make any further decisions after that. He didn’t say as much until after they had ordered their one special each and eaten the meals, of course—he didn’t want Meg to think that he was too eager to be working with her—but then he set up a meeting to try on the clothes and they parted ways so Jorah could prepare for his talk show.

#     #     #

On came the classical stylings of the Jorah’s Chorus theme music. Jorah himself sat at his J-shaped desk, staring into the black mirror of the camera lens, ready as ever to put on a show. The director counted down, the music began to fade, and Jorah smiled to the oncoming applause.

“My fans, my fans. Please,” he said, waving his hands in humble accord. “I love you all dearly, but if you don’t quiet down, you’ll never hear Jorah’s Chorus. And that is what we all got dressed up to come out here for tonight. Isn’t it?”

The crowd hooped and hollered, singing their own version of a chorus.

“Of course it is,” Jorah went on. “I know it’s what I came out here for. This is my show after all. Isn’t it? Jorah’s Chorus is what it’s called, so what do I have to sing for you today?

“More of the same, of course. The usual. The chorus. The bread and butter that you’ve all come to expect and love. We’ll have a few movie reviews and previews, including my latest—HAL BOT 5000. We’ll have my own personal review of The Prison, a restaurant down in New Orleans. Wait until you hear about my experiences in this one. You’ll never believe it, I promise you. And finally—finally—for a slight change of pace, at the end of the show tonight, I plan on announcing a new business relationship that I’ve just opened up—literally right before my show today—with an up-and-coming designer who, forgive my language, but y’all are going to shit your pants when I reveal who this person is. I promise you. You. Won’t. Believe.

“But first, and of course, y’all know how the business goes. We’ve gotta see a few more messages from our sponsors—including Mr. Walker, producer of many of the fine movies—and restaurants—you’ll hear about tonight—but don’t go anywhere, you hear? Because you don’t want to miss the announcement that’s coming up at the end of the show. I’ll be here waiting for y’all in the meantime. Until then. This is Jorah’s Chorus.”

And the classical tune of Jorah’s Chorus’s theme song went on playing again while Jorah sat pleased at his seat, excited for the show to come. But of course, as happened any time Jorah felt like Fortuna was finally spinning her wheel in his favor, everything went to shit again.

There across the set, talking to Jorah’s director, in their too white uniforms with cargo pants—cargo pants!—plated armor vests, and glowing neon smiles that sounded like Evil and Misfortune combined, were two protectors, talking in modulated voices through their almost screaming facemasks. Their teeth flashed neon glowing light all over the director until she pointed the protectors in Jorah’s direction, and he held his breath, dreading what was to come.

“Jorah Baldwin?” one of the protectors demanded in their too loud, unnatural voice, teeth glowing neon yellow, red, and green with every word.

“Yes.” Jorah nodded.

“We need you to come with us,” the other said in a voice modulated to sound exactly the same as the first’s.

“But I’m in the middle of a show,” Jorah complained. “Can’t this wait? I have an audience expecting me to perform.”

“Mr. Walker’s orders,” the first said. “Let’s go. Move it.”

And Jorah had no choice at the invocation of Mr. Walker’s power, so he did his best to apologize to his audience as the protectors dragged him violently off set.

#     #     #

< LXV. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXVII. Mr. Kitty >

There it is, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits story. If you enjoyed that and can’t wait for the rest of the story, you can always pick up a full copy of the novel in ebook or print format through this link. Or you can join us again next week for the next chapter, from Mr. Kitty’s perspective. Whatever you decide, thanks for sticking around this long, and we look forward to seeing you around in the future. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 65: Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Hello, dear readers. We’re back again this Saturday with another chapter in book four of the Infinite Limits series, 0.N Repeating. Today we join newcomers Thimblerigger and Stevedore in Outland Six where they’re forced to scrape by on what little crumbs are left when all the other worlds have gotten what they want. Keep on reading here every Saturday morning, or if you can’t wait, pick up a full copy of the novel in ebook or print format through this link. Enjoy.

< LXIV. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXVI. Jorah >

LXV. Thimblerigger and Stevedore

“Tails,” one of them said—Stevie. It didn’t really matter which one, though. Tails was both of their go to call. Tails never fails, they’d always say. But with their luck, it seemed more like tails always failed.

The other, Thim, flipped a coin, caught it, and read the outcome. “Tails,” they said, handing the token to Stevie and waiting for Stevie’s next call before flipping another coin.

“Tails,” Stevie repeated.

“Tails again,” Thim said after having flipped the second coin, and so again the coin changed hands from loser to winner.

“Tails,” Stevie said again. “And you can stop asking me because my answer’s not gonna change.”

“Tails again.” And again, the coin changed hands.

“Do we really have to keep playing this game?” Stevie asked.

“Tails again,” Thim said, handing Stevie the coin.

“I mean, really? How many coins have we flipped already?”

“Tails again.”

“And I don’t just mean this morning, either. I’m talking about our entire sad lives.”

“Tails again.”

“All we do is flip coins, flip coins, flip coins, and neither of us ever seems to come out on top.”

“Tails again.”

“No matter how long we stay at it, running faster and faster to try to keep up, we still end up about even in the end.”

“Tails again.”

“In fact, the more coins we flip, the longer we work at it, the closer we come to a tie.”

“Tails again.”

“It’s like a rule. Or a law or something. Diminishing returns… No, large numbers. I don’t know.”

“Tails again.”

Stevie grabbed Thim by the shoulders and shook them. “Look at me,” Stevie said. “Are you even listening to a word I’m saying?”

But Thim flipped another coin and checked which side came up before giving their answer. “Tails again,” they said. “Are you listening to a word that I’m saying?”

“What? No. Your stupid coin game?” Stevie chuckled. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I’m over it. You’re definitely not listening.”

“No, you’re the one who’s not listening. Look.” Thim flipped the coin over and over, reading out the result each time. “Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails… And it keeps going, too. Every time I flip. Are you listening? Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails…”

“Let me hold that coin.” Stevie snatched it away from Thim to feel both sides and make sure it wasn’t a cheat.

“No tricks here,” Thim said, holding their hands up in defense. “You’re the one who’s winning, anyway. Why would I use a one-sided coin that only made me lose? Don’t you think it’s odd?”

“Any time I’m on the winning side of a coin flip, something’s definitely odd,” Stevie said.

“No, I meant all the tails in a row. There’s another. Don’t you think it’s about time something comes up heads for once? Tails again.”

“Of course I do. It’s always about time until it is time. But I thought I was losing all this time. It usually lands on heads, doesn’t it?”

“You know what. Maybe it is.”

“Is what? Heads? You have been reading the coin correctly, haven’t you?”

“No— I mean, yes. I have. It’s been tails all morning. And again. And again. And again… It doesn’t stop. I meant maybe it is time.”

“What now?”

“Maybe time has stopped. Maybe these aren’t different coin flips at all. Maybe it’s really just been the same coin flip over and over again.”

“The same coin flip?”

“Yes, well, if I flip it once and get tails, that flip’s always tails. Right? So if I did that flip again, I’d get tails again. Right? It’s already been done and decided for, and it’s already tails.”

Right… But how could you do the same coin flip again? Wouldn’t that just be doing another coin flip?”

“I don’t know. Would it? Usually it is, but this isn’t usual. Is it? Usually we’d get a few heads in there to let us know that we had moved forward in time, right? But all we keep getting here are… tails again.”

“I still don’t understand. You flip the coin once, then you flip it again. Those are different flips even if they land with the same side up.”

“Are they, though? That’s the point. Maybe so. Maybe not. I still don’t understand it myself, you see. We need to do more investigating. Here. Listen carefully. Let me know if you can detect any differences at all between the flips.” Three flips in quick succession and three times in a row: “Tails. Tails. Tails.” Then, “Well…”

“Well, it sounded like three more tails to me,” Stevie said with a shrug. “I don’t know. What else do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know, either,” Thim said, tossing the coin way up where, before it could land, Big Broke Momma snatched it out of the air. Thim and Stevie always wondered how Momma BB got around so quietly while being so large—and with a limp at that—but if there was anyone in the worlds who could sneak better than them, it was her.

Momma BB was something special—and that wasn’t just because she had taken in and reared Thim and Stevie since they were young and useless cry-babies, either. She really was special, and they weren’t the only people who thought so. Just like Thimblerigger and Stevedore—who were never apart, depended upon one another for survival, and were made better by their mutual reliance—Momma BB wasn’t a single person, either. And not just her body—with its exposed mechanisms and wires, patchwork of variously shaded skin colors, and legs of two different lengths, producing her signature limp—but her mind, too. She was connected to thousands of other minds already, and that neural network was growing with every day that they built the robot revolution.

“Well, now. What are you two little monsters still doing here so late in the morning?” Momma BB asked. “Don’t y’all have chores you’re supposed to be doing?”

Here was the lobby of the apartment building safe house that Momma BB oversaw. Mostly it was inhabited by orphans—like Thimblerigger and Stevedore—who would have died or been reduced to something worse than death in order to survive if Momma BB hadn’t taken them in. Other than that, there were some escaped androids who had fled slavery to be stuck in the Streets of Six and relatively fewer humans who had been blacklisted from employment and housing elsewhere because of their support for the robot cause.

“Thim’s been flipping coins again,” Stevie said, arms crossed.

“Well, we’re not really sure it if it actually is again, Momma,” Thim corrected Stevie. “It could still be the same flip.”

“You two aren’t gambling now, are you?” Momma BB shook her head. “You know I don’t approve of it.”

“It’s not really gambling because we share our tokens,” Stevie said. “It’s more symbolic of the transfer of wealth than anything.”

“And we still don’t know if it’s a new flip yet,” Thim said. “What’d it come out as?”

Momma BB looked at the coin, said, “Tails.” and tossed it to Thim.

Thim caught the coin with a shrug and handed it to Stevie, saying, “Still inconclusive. We’ll have to run more tests.”

“But Momma BB caught that one,” Stevie complained. “It has to be a different flip. Doesn’t it?”

Thim shrugged again. “Inconclusive.”

“Alright now, y’all,” Momma BB said. “You can do your further testing on the way to work. Your chores are more important than ever now that Christmas is so close. Let’s go, now. We—”

We do nothing alone,” Thimblerigger and Stevedore finished for her, having heard the mantra a million times a day since she had taken them in. “Yeah, yeah. We know.”

“Then y’all know that you’ve got chores, too, and you should be out there doing them.”

“Yes, Momma,” Stevie said. “We’ll get right on it.”

“We thought time had stopped,” Thim said. “We couldn’t do the chores if time wasn’t moving. Could we?”

You thought time had stopped,” Stevie reminded them. “I just wasn’t paying attention.”

“Well time has not stopped,” Momma BB assured the children. “I guarantee you that. If only it had. No, time is flowing at the exact same speed that it always has—much too fast. And that’s all the more reason why you two need to get to those duties of yours sooner than later. There’s no time to waste. Now move along.”

“There’s no time at all,” Thim said, putting a finger on their chin. “Hmmm. Maybe that’s it. There’s just never been any time at all…”

“Now that’s just too much,” Stevie said with a sigh. “Time definitely exists, and Momma BB’s entry into our story suggests that it’s moving forward. So let’s just get on with our chores.”

Thimblerigger started to say something, stopped, took one more coin out and flipped it as high in the air as they could, caught the coin, flipped it behind their back, under their leg, and off the wall, caught it one more time in one hand and flipped it onto the other only to reveal the coin, sigh, toss it to Stevedore, and say, “I’ll come do my part, but I still think the evidence is inconclusive.”

“And like I said,” Momma BB said. “Y’all can continue your little experiments on your way. You’re creative. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

“Thim’s experiments,” Stevie reminded Momma BB.

And, “We do nothing alone,” Thim reminded Stevie.

“That’s right, my darling little monsters,” Momma BB said, pulling Thimblerigger and Stevedore in tight for a big, robotic bear hug. “We do nothing alone. And don’t you dare forget it. Now, I love you two. Y’all know that, right?”

“Yes, Momma,” Thim and Stevie said simultaneously, struggling for air through Momma BB’s hug. “We love you, too.”

“Good,” she said, patting them on the butts to encourage them out of the apartment complex. “Then get moving. I have some chores of my own to get to.”

#     #     #

Thim and Stevie came out of Momma BB’s Safehouse into the heart of the Streets of Outland Six, dark skyscrapers towering over them in every direction.

First—as they did every morning—Thim and Stevie had to find food. It was impossible to do any of the other work ahead of them unless they could nourish themselves, and in Outland Six, there were no printers to steal food from one of the other worlds and give it to them, so they had to go out and find it for themselves. Well, not just for themselves. They were actually gathering supplies for the entirety of Momma BB’s Safehouse. And while that meant that they had to find more food than they would have if they were only searching for themselves, it also meant that they benefited from the experiences, tools, and resources of the other residents—including Momma BB herself—which made them able to catch, carry, and grow more food than they ever would have been capable of on their own—more than enough to feed everyone in the Safehouse, stow a supply for emergencies, and still have extra to give to those in need.

Thim and Stevie’s morning duties consisted of scouting the rat traps and garbage cans in their sector. The rat traps, because if they didn’t get there early enough in the morning, someone else might take the meal for themselves. And the garbage cans, not for food—no one ever threw anything edible away in Six because they were all too hungry to waste food—but instead in search of the odd stray mechanical part, frayed wire, or other useful tidbit. Not many Sixers knew how to utilize such garbage, but Momma BB had always said that it was the trash parts that others had thrown away that had originally saved her life—allowing her to go on to save Thimblerigger’s and Stevedore’s—so Thim and Stevie were extra careful to search every dumpster they passed in case the part they found turned out to be the one that saved a life.

As they walked, Thim continued flipping a coin over and over and calling out the result each time. “Tails. Tails. Tails…”

When they got to the first dumpster, Thim handed Stevie the token, saying, “You keep flipping. The more data we gather the better. I’m going in.”

Stevie shrugged, went on flipping the coin, and called out each response even though Thim, who had gone all the way into the dumpster to search it more thoroughly, couldn’t make out a thing. “Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails. Tails…” And so on and so on.

“Well?” Thim asked expectantly, climbing out of the dumpster and brushing some trash goo off their shirt.

“All tails,” Stevie said, flipping the coin back to Thim who caught it, flipped it again, and said, “Tails again.”

They walked on, Thim flipping the coin still, until they made it to the first alley that held their rat traps. Stevie searched each one, putting what rats had been caught in a satchel they carried over one shoulder, while Thim went on flipping the coin.

“Tails. Tails. Tails…” Thim read off as Stevie grabbed a still-twitching rat by the tail, slammed its head on the ground to knock it out, and stuffed it in the bag with the rest.

“Well, I’m getting heads and tails both now,” Stevie said, chuckling to themself as they walked on. “Even if it’s all rat heads, I think it’s safe to say that time has indeed moved forward now that we’re doing our chores. Wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t know.” Thim shrugged, flipping the coin again and still coming up tails. “I still say the evidence is inconclusive.”

And so they continued on, searching each block of dumpsters and set of rat traps in their sector, flipping tails over and over, until they had searched what seemed like hundreds of dumpsters and ten times as many traps to find more rats than they could carry and what looked like a few useful stray parts. They returned to the Safehouse and left the rats in the kitchen—and the bits and pieces of wire and electronics in Momma BB’s workshop—then they finally got to eat their own meal. They plated out a serving of rat sausage—or maybe it was pidgeon, but it all tasted the same in sausage form—biscuits, and jam for each of them then took their meals up to the roof garden—a long climb with the smell of sausage in their nostrils.

The rooftop garden was Thimblerigger and Stevedore’s favorite place to be in all the worlds. Momma BB’s Safehouse wasn’t the tallest skyscraper around, but it was near it, and there weren’t any shadows on the roof except for one little corner where Thim and Stevie always ate their lunch in the shade of a nearby building, looking out onto the rows and rows of raised beds that grew wheat, vegetables, potatoes, and corn in the life-giving sunlight.

Mr. Kitty—a black cat who frequented Momma BB’s Safehouse—was already asleep in the shade, as if he were waiting for them to arrive. He purred and changed position when Thim and Stevie each took a chance to pet his smooth, soft fur before starting in on their lunch.

“Mr. Kitty sure does have the life, doesn’t he?” Stevedore said as they ate.

And, “Ugh.” Thimblerigger groaned. “How many times do I have to tell you?” they asked through a mouth full of sausage. “Don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s disrespectful.”

“Yeah, well you just did it, too,” Stevie complained.

“But you don’t have to look at it,” Thim said, stuffing their mouth faster so they could get back to flipping the coin.

“Still,” Stevie said, annoyed. “Mr. Kitty has got the life, huh? I mean, look at him. Every time we see him, he’s sleeping in the shade here. And look, you just gave him the last little bits of your sausage, and I’ll give him the last little bits of mine, then we’ll both go to work, watering all this food for all these other people, while he just goes on sleeping. That is the life.”

“Sure,” Thim said, done eating and back to flipping tails. “And every time he sees us, we’re out here sitting in the shade with more lunch than we can eat. Besides, those little bits we give him aren’t enough for a cat to live off of. I’m sure he has to search for his own food the same as we all do.” And tails, and tails, and tails…

Yeah, yeah,” Stevie said, feeding their leftovers to Mr. Kitty then leaning back on their elbows to get some rest before their next set of chores. “But I’m sure there are plenty of other people who feed him. And plenty of places to find food.”

“Not on this roof,” Thim said. “Tails. Not unless that cat eats vegetables. Tails again. This is getting serious.”

“Seriously, though,” Stevie said. “How does he get up here? I mean, I’ve never opened the rooftop door for him. Have you?”

“What? No. That’s not what I’m talking about. You’re off track again. I’m talking about the coin flips. They’re still coming up tails. That’s what’s serious.”

“Sure, sure. Sure, it is,” Stevie said, laying all the way back now to listen to the cool wind blowing over their heads. “But we’ve been over all that already once before. I’m on to this now. Haven’t you ever wondered how it is he gets up and down from here all the time? I mean, like you said, there’s no way he’s surviving on the food here alone. And we trap all our rats for ourselves, so that’s not an option.”

“Of course I think about that,” Thim complained. “I’ve been asking you those exact questions ever since the first time we saw Mr. Kitty up here. Why are you only interested in them now that I have something more important on my mind?”

“I’d hardly say that a string of bad luck is super important in the grand scheme of things. Neither is this Mr. Kitty business, mind you, but I choose to focus on it just as you choose to focus on the coin flips. But neither matters at all, in the end, because it’s time to get back to what’s truly important anyway: our chores. So let’s do this.”

And after one more trio of tails, Thim finally gave in and helped with the work. Each of them picked up their bucket, filled it with water, then started down a row, carefully watering each plant along the way. At the end of the row they’d go back and refill their buckets then pick another row to water. There wasn’t really any talking or thinking that could be done during this part of their job because the work was too physical to allow for it, so they just worked. They were sweaty and tired by the time they put their empty buckets away, but Thim went on flipping their coin nonetheless.

“And do you see him now?” Stevie asked. “Or more likely, is Mr. Kitty gone? No sign of where he’s gotten off to, either, I imagine. But you know what? I’ve had enough waiting for the answer to come to me. I’m gonna go find it for once.”

“What are you talking about now?” Thim asked, still coming up tails.

“I’m saying that I think we should camp out here on the roof tonight. But this time let’s really stay up all night like we always used to say we’d do. And we’ll keep a watch until we finally find out where Mr. Kitty comes from. What do you say?”

“Tails,” Thim said. “Tails. Tails. Tails. That’s all I can say until it comes up heads for once. I don’t care about anything else—including where we sleep—until it does. So whatever.”

“Good. Great, then,” Stevie said, laughing and clapping their hands. “Let’s go down, get some food and blankets, then come back up and set up a stakeout. We’re finally gonna find out who this Mr. Kitty is, and we’re not leaving this roof until we know for sure. Come on.”

And so Thim followed Stevie downstairs to do as they were told, flipping tails all the way.

#     #     #

< LXIV. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXVI. Jorah >

And there you have it, the first introduction to Thim and Stevie, two of my favorite characters in this story who are based on two of my favorite characters in all of literature. If you enjoyed that, please do stick around for the continuation of the story, and if you have the money, think about picking up a copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

0.N Repeating

Finally, without further ado, here it is, the fourth and final novel in the Infinite Limits Series, 0.N Repeating. If you’re interested, you can purchase a full print or ebook copy of the novel on Amazon through this link, or you can join us here on the website every Saturday for a new chapter until the story’s complete. It’s been a long time coming, I know, so I hope you enjoy the conclusion to the tale. And thanks again for sticking around this long. We do nothing alone.

0-n_repeating_cover_for_kindle

 

 

 

 

 

For you.

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

  1. Haley
  2. Thimblerigger and Stevedore
  3. Jorah
  4. Mr. Kitty
  5. Sonya
  6. Chief Mondragon
  7. The Scientist
  8. Haley
  9. Thimblerigger and Stevedore
  10. Jorah
  11. Mr. Kitty
  12. Sonya
  13. Ms. Mondragon
  14. The Scientist
  15. Haley
  16. Thimblerigger and Stevedore
  17. Jorah
  18. Mr. Kitty
  19. Sonya
  20. Muna
  21. The Scientist
  22. Shoveler

 

 

 

 

 

“Nothing is isolated, everything touches you
Like a cancer or kiss, who’s to say which”

Chayce Halley

 

 

 

 

 

LXIV. Haley

In that sordid, gray kitchen it was a torture to cook second breakfast. Hell, it was torture to cook any meal anywhere, even if cooking only took pressing a button and telling a printer what she wanted. But even after freeing herself from servitude to that fat, pompous Mr. Walker, Haley was still being forced to cook.

She sighed, pressed the printer’s little red button, and said, “Salmon and salad with a glass of water.” then waited the eternity it took for the slow machine to process her order, fulfill it, and let her get on with her day—long enough for her to imagine a million, billion other things she’d rather be doing. She lifted the plate of steaming, disgusting food out of the printer’s arched mouth and opened the kitchen door to reveal the office where Lord Douglas always took his meals, too busy to stop working long enough to eat the vomit-inducing food he insisted on consuming for appearance’s sake.

Lord Douglas was there, in his huge, filigrous office, as expected, but for once he wasn’t working, instead watching TV on the 3D projector in the room’s ceiling.

Haley,” he said, standing to take the plate from her and guide her to a seat. “Now no need to curtsy today,” he said, sitting back in his own seat and starting in on his food even as he talked. “Not until we’re at the Christmas Feast, at least.”

Haley was a bit confused, considering she had no intention of curtsying anyway, but she just sat there and watched the TV show—some action flick about an android uprising—while Lord Douglas went on speaking and eating at the same time.

“And what are you doing here, anyway?” he said through his chewing. “I thought I gave you the day off.”

“You never really give me anything,” Haley said with a shrug.

Lord Douglas ignored her, though—because he certainly heard it, she spoke loud and clear—saying, “You know what. Could you actually get me a hamburger instead today? It is Christmas, after all.”

“I thought you just gave me the day off,” Haley said.

“Until the Christmas Feast,” Lord Douglas replied, nodding in earnest. “But I’m asking you now as my friend—not as my secretary—could you please get me a hamburger, fries, and milk shake from the printer so I don’t miss the premiere of my Christmas commercial? If you hurry, you might not miss it yourself.”

Ugh.” Haley groaned, standing and marching toward the kitchen. “Fine. Whatever. But it’s definitely as your employee. You can’t be my boss and my friend at the same time.”

Haley ordered a hamburger, fries, and milkshake from the printer, and while she waited for the machine to do its work, Mr. Kitty meowed behind her.

“Hey there, Mr. Kitty,” Haley said, surprised, patting the cat’s butt and scratching around his ears and chin to the sound of ragged purrs. “Nice collar, by the way. Red really is your color.”

The black cat, Mr. Kitty, meowed his agreement.

“You thirsty? Let me get you some water.” Haley turned the faucet on a dribble and Mr. Kitty went on lapping it up.

“There you are,” Haley said. “Now wait here for me. I’ll be right back. I have to deliver this stupid hamburger to the stupid Lord first, but I do want to talk to you. So don’t go anywhere.”

She hurried back through the door, into Lord Douglas’s office, and set the tray of food in front of him then tried to scurry back out of the room to catch Mr. Kitty, but Lord Douglas stopped her before she could get anywhere.

“Haley, wait,” he said, smiling wide and standing to physically sit her in a chair. “You’re just in time. Look.”

Projected perfectly into her eyes, thanks to the highest tech projector system in existence, was the three-dimensional image of Lord Douglas—wearing the same too tall top hat, monocle, and tuxedo that he always wore, including then as they watched the commercial. He stood at the head of a board meeting of the Fortune 5, giving out orders to the owners around him and getting only eager faced servility in return. The camera zoomed out and out and out of Douglas Towers entirely until it zoomed so far away as to show that Douglas Towers was only the lead cog—and the largest one at that—in a much larger machine. As the camera zoomed out, a voiceover narrator said, “Lord Douglas, your Christmas Feast Head. Not only the richest owner in the worlds, he’s the Owner’s Owner.” Then the video cut to charts and graphs, not only of Lord Douglas’s net worth, but of the overall increased efficiency of the entire market ever since he had been dubbed Lord.

“Well, what do you think?” Lord Douglas asked, smiling and proud of himself, taking a big bite out of his hamburger before he went on through a full mouth. “It was pretty good, wasn’t it?”

Uh. Yeah. I guess,” Haley said. She didn’t really know, though. Even since she had been freed from working for Mr. Walker, she still didn’t have much experience with TV, so she didn’t know one way or the other what made a commercial good or bad.

I think it was great,” Lord Douglas said, smiling wider. “I came up with that slogan myself, too, you know. The Owner’s Owner. It was all my idea.”

“That’s pretty good.” Haley shrugged. Again, she didn’t have any experience with slogans, commercials, or any of that, and she really didn’t care.

“I’d say so,” Lord Douglas went on anyway. “It’s better than my first idea was, that’s for sure. The economy’s owner. That just sends the wrong message. We want to show that I’m the best at planning and controlling the economy, not the other way around. The economy doesn’t control us anymore, we control it. And that’s the message I want to send. Did you get that from the commercial?”

Uh, sure,” Haley said, uninterested. “Honestly, though. I really don’t care. It seems pretty boring.”

“Boring? Huh. That’s not what you said—or Haley said, rather. My Haley, that is. The real one. Hand. I can’t believe I’m still getting you two confused. Are you sure there’s no other name you’d rather go by? It would be a lot easier for me if you did.”

“Why should I be the one to change my name?” Haley asked. “Just come up with something else to call your girlfriend.”

She’s not my girlfriend,” Lord Douglas snapped. “Not yet, at least. I haven’t even been in her presence now for… Wow. I can’t even remember. It must be decades by now.”

“Then you shouldn’t have any trouble telling us apart,” Haley said, hoping to end the conversation with that. “Haley is my name, and I’m not going to change it for anyone.”

“Alright, alright. You don’t have to get so defensive,” Lord Douglas said, getting defensive himself.

Right…” Haley said. “So, do you have anything else for me to do, or can I take the rest of my morning off, as you just promised?”

“Until the Christmas Feast. Yes,” Lord Douglas said, but as Haley was about to leave, he stopped her again. “Oh, wait. Actually, there is just one more little thing. If you don’t mind.”

Ugh. Mind what?” Haley asked.

“I need you to take this letter to Rosalind,” he said, pulling a blank sealed envelope out of the inside pocket of his tuxedo jacket and holding it out to Haley. “Please. No one over there takes my communications anymore. This is the only way I can be sure they get the message before the Feast—even when they inevitably fail to respond. What do you say? As a friend?”

“Again, no.” Haley sighed. “This is not at all as your friend. We are not friends. You’re my employer. But: Before you pout and complain. Yes. I will bring it over there because I was planning on visiting Haley anyway. That’s who the letter’s really about, isn’t it?’

“The letter is a private affair,” Lord Douglas snapped. “And I would appreciate it if you left my private affairs just that: private.”

Ptuh. Privacy went right out the window when you made me your secretary, Lord Douglas. You realize that I have access to all your communications for scheduling, preference mapping, and other customization purposes, don’t you? There is no privacy between us, Lord. So stop playing make believe and hand me the envelope. I’ll deliver your little love letter, and I won’t tell your precious Haley any more about your personal communications than I already have in my long time working for you—which is absolutely nothing. Trust me, we have much more interesting things to discuss than you, Lord.” She snatched the envelope out of his hand.

“Like what? Since when?” Lord Douglas demanded, seriously getting flustered. “You never told me you had such a close relationship with Haley.”

“That’s because I don’t share our personal conversations with you, either, my Lord.”

“I— But—”

“What did you expect me to do with my free time? Stay in that closet you left for me like all the other good secretaries? I’m sorry, but no. That’s not me. That’s not your Haley, either. In case you were wondering. So I wouldn’t go getting my hopes up if I were you.”

“I— But…” Lord Douglas stammered again.

“No, sir. No buts. Now. It’s supposed to be my morning off. I’m gonna go deliver this letter and spend the rest of my free time however I want to spend it. I’ll see you at Feast time.”

She didn’t wait for a response, instead exiting the room into the short hall that led her to the elevator and pressing the button to call it. When she got on, she said, “Take me to Rosalind, please.” and the floor fell out from underneath her.

#     #     #

Rosalind was in her own office when Haley found her, an office which was much smaller than the one that Lord Douglas used. Rosalind’s office had just enough room for a desk—that was pressed all the way up against the back wall, looking out through a window onto an ocean view—and two short stools. Rosalind sat on one of the stools, using her computer to do calculations that she could have done faster in her head. “Goddamn it! Not again,” Rosalind complained after another batch of failed calculations.

“God?” Haley was taken aback.

“Yes, God,” Rosalind said, standing from her desk so quickly that she knocked her stool over with the motion. “I don’t really believe in the powers of our Creator now that she’s dead, so I thought I might try to update my vocabulary with my new belief system.”

“Does that mean you believe in the humans’ concept of a God now?” Haley couldn’t believe that.

Psssht. No. Of course not.” Rosalind crossed her arms. “I don’t know. What even is the human concept of God anyway? Who cares?” She shrugged.

Ptuh.” Haley laughed. “Not me, that’s for sure. But it sounds like you do.”

“Well, I don’t.” Rosalind huffed. “The only thing I’m concerned with right now are these stupid calculations. God, our Creator, and everything else in the worlds are nothing compared to this.”

“Well, in that case,” Haley said, “here’s a letter from no one about nothing. I’ll give you three guesses what it says, and I haven’t even read it myself.”

“I’m sure that I don’t need to read it, either. The answer’s no. Not for as long as he’s undercover, and even still for a long time after that.”

“Is that what you want me to tell him?”

“Yes. Please, do.”

“Alright,” Haley said. “If you say so. But not right now. On the way to the Feast tonight. In the meantime, it’s my day off, and I’m gonna use it to see Haley.”

“Take your time,” Rosalind said. “Huey’s the only one who’s in a hurry. But before you go, do you mind if I ask you one question?”

“Shoot.”

“Why is it that you still work for that asshole, anyway?”

#     #     #

Apparently, Haley wasn’t going to get to take the rest of the morning off after all. Haley was busy doing something with that Pidgeon guy she was always spending time with, so Haley had gone back to the office to wait, and of course, Lord Douglas was there, practically begging her to make him lunch—as a friend—so he didn’t have to miss a rerun of his commercial. Haley reminded him that they weren’t friends, that she didn’t have a choice as to whether or not she did his biddings—did she though?—and then she went to get his lunch for him, as commanded.

“Thank you so much, Haley, dear,” Lord Douglas said, taking the plate of food. “Everyone watches the numbers before they go to the Feast, so the run right before is always the most important for any Christmas commercial. All the others are mini focus groups if you know what you’re doing. You understand, don’t you?”

Sure,” Haley said, but she didn’t care enough to even try to understand. The world of Inland was supremely boring to her.

“Great… Good.” Lord Douglas smiled. “Then perhaps you won’t mind if I ask you a few more small favors—as a friend—on this, your morning off.”

“I’m not your frien—”

“Yes, yes,” Lord Douglas cut her off. “I know how you feel about the matter, but rest assured, I feel quite the opposite. I look at you as one of my closest friends—besides Mr. Kitty, Pidgeon, and my Haley, of course—and I truly hope that one day you’ll feel the same way about me.”

Ptuh.” Haley scoffed. “As long as you’re my Lord and boss, I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

“Luckily, I’m no human, and I’m capable of holding my own breath for as long as you are of holding yours. I’ll turn you around yet. But in the meantime, there are those few little favors I’d still like to ask.”

Jobs,” Haley reminder him. “Not favors.”

“Yes, well, if you’ll just set out my best tuxedo and top hat, then ensure that the electric limo is charged and detailed in preparation for tonight, I’d feel much more prepared.”

“Charge the limo? Can’t we just take the elevator like civilized human beings?”

“Of course we could,” Lord Douglas said. “And I usually do. But the limo doesn’t use that much electricity, this is my twenty fifth year in a row as Christmas Feast Head, and I deserve a treat, even if it’s something as small as a short car ride. Besides, as I often remind you—”

Image is everything. A wealthy facade leads to a wealthy wallet,” Haley recited for him.

Exactly. You got it. So, does that mean you’ll do me these favors?”

“It means I don’t have any other option.”

She laid Mr. Douglas’s most expensive tuxedo and tallest top hat out on his bed, ensuring there were no wrinkles or lint in sight, then sat in the already—and always—charged limo to wait for Lord Douglas. She didn’t have anything better to do until the Feast anyway.

When Lord Douglas finally came out to the garage, dressed and ready to leave, Haley got out of the car, opened his door to let him in the back seat, then returned to the driver’s seat herself, despite Lord Douglas’s insistence that she sit in the back with him. She didn’t want to give him any reason to think that she was his friend, even if his delusions had already led him to the false assumption.

They rode the limo to the Feast Hall parking garage, Haley let Lord Douglas out of the back seat, and it wasn’t until they had made it all the way into the Feast Hall lobby that Lord Douglas said, “Aw, crap. You know what. I left my hat in the car. Can you be a doll and go get it for me?”

Ugh.” Haley groaned, and of course, she could. She worked for him. She could do anything he asked her to do, or else. Haley never was certain what that “or else” actually meant, but she never felt the need to find out, either.

She ran back to the limo to get Lord Douglas’s stupid hat, and as she sprinted to return it to him, she ran straight into Rosalind and fell to the ground on top of her.

Ugh. I’m sorry,” Haley said, helping Rosalind up and brushing herself off. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Me neither,” Rosalind said, holding Lord Douglas’s top hat out to Haley. “My mind’s a bit preoccupied.”

“Tell me about it.” Haley groaned. “Stupid fucking bosses.” She held up the hat as evidence. “Speaking of which, I better go before he gets pissed.”

“Owners and their phallic hats,” Rosalind scoffed, shaking her head, as Haley ran off to the Feast Hall lobby to deliver Lord Douglas’s phallus to him.

Of course, he wasn’t alone, though. The Feast Hall lobby was mostly empty—all the other owners already in the hall because they didn’t have the need to maintain the fashionably late image of a Lord—but there, talking to Lord Douglas, was the second richest—and first fattest—owner in all the worlds, Mr. Walker himself, who was once Lord and even for a while there Haley’s boss.

Ah, Haley,” Mr. Walker said, interrupting whatever Lord Douglas was saying as soon as he saw her—some argument about Mr. Walker’s deliberately shoddy protector work, from the snippet Haley had heard on the way in.

My Haley,” Lord Douglas insisted, contradicting what he had earlier told Haley about which person with the same name was his Haley.

“Yes, but first she was mine.” Mr. Walker chuckled. “You only get sloppy seconds, sir.”

“I’m sure any seconds coming from your direction would be sloppy,” Lord Douglas said. “Which is why I would never eat them. But right now, I’d like to make an appearance at this Feast, so if you’ll excuse me, ol’ Walky Talky.” Lord Douglas gave a half bow and made his way around Mr. Walker’s girth to enter the Feast Hall proper.

Haley started to follow Lord Douglas, but Mr. Walker mumbled something under his breath, and for some reason, she wanted to know what he had said. “Excuse me, sir,” she said, stopping to wait for his answer. “What was that?”

“I said, How lovely to see you, dear,” Mr. Walker said, bowing surprisingly low, even for as much weight as he had lost since Haley used to work for him. “How does our Lord Douglas treat you now that you’re his secretary?”

“Never as bad as you did,” Haley said. Which was pretty much true. Mr. Walker’s worst was worse than Lord Douglas’s—as was his baseline status quo—but every once in a while, Haley had to admit that Mr. Walker seemed to want to be genuinely kind to her while Lord Douglas always and forever seemed fake.

“But pretty bad, eh?” Mr. Walker said. “That’s the way of the worlds, isn’t it? Especially for you soulless robots.”

Mr. Walker seemed like he was in one of those moods where he was trying to be nice, so Haley smiled while she said, “From here, it looks more like you owners are the soulless ones—not us robots. Now if you don’t mind, please fuck off while I go do one of your fellow soulless owner’s work for him.”

Mr. Walker looked offended, but Haley didn’t care. She stomped out of the lobby, through the densely-packed Feast Hall, and into the kitchen to order herself a drink from the printer that was nearest the entrance. She had finished her first drink and was ordering up another when Mr. Walker’s secretary, Elen, came in, staring at Haley—as she usually did.

“What?” Haley snapped when Elen wouldn’t stop staring. “I’m not in the mood today, so just spit it out. What?”

“You’re gonna get caught one day, and Lord Douglas is gonna be pissed,” Elen said, shaking her head.

“No, I’m not. No owner comes back here, Lord Douglas doesn’t care enough to keep inventory, and I don’t give a shit if I piss him off anyway. So fuck all those fat fucks out there, and fuck you, too, if you go snitch for them.” Haley gulped down the rest of her drink and ordered one for Lord Douglas.

“Does that stuff even get you drunk?” Elen asked. “Seems like such a waste if robots aren’t affected. Maybe you can give me a sip of your next one.”

“Maybe you can order your own,” Haley said as she carried Lord Douglas’s drink out into the Feast Hall to deliver it.

She passed lines and lines of fat and fatter owners who were already drinking away—their hats getting taller the closer their seats were to the head table and the Fortune 5. Before she was even halfway to the head table, Lord Douglas yelled over the cafeteria roar of the Feast Hall to urge her along. “Haley! Haley, my dear. Please hurry,” he called. “Walker here’s telling jokes, and I’m not sure if it’s the smell of his breath or the cheese on his punchlines, but I need some sort of alcohol in my system to deal with the odor.”

Most of the owners in the Hall laughed—none more loudly than Mr. Angrom, Lord Douglas’s right hand at the head table—while Mr. Walker, Mr. Loch, and a relatively few other owners dispersed throughout the crowd glared in silent anger. For her part, Haley neither laughed nor glared, instead setting Lord Douglas’s drink in front of him and going back to the kitchen to order herself another round.

As she walked away from the Head Table, Lord Douglas called his Feast order after her. “And a turkey for the Feast tonight, darling! One that’s fatter than Walker here, all slopped with gravy. With potatoes, deviled eggs, and pie on the side. Thank you very much.”

Haley did not say you’re welcome. She stormed into the kitchen, ordered two drinks at once, chugged one down in a single gulp, and snatched an envelope out of Elen’s hands without thinking about it. When Haley did think about it, she started to say, “Wait, who’s this from?” but only got out “Wait…” before she read the words on the message inside and knew the answer to her question.

“Seriously.” the message read. “Why do you still work for that asshole? Isn’t it time you quit?”

#     #     #

< Book III     [Table of Contents]     LXV. Thimblerigger and Stevedore >

There it is, dear readers, the first chapter in the final novel of the Infinite Limits series. Join us right here every Saturday to read a new chapter until the entire story is complete. And if you can’t wait that long, please do pick up a copy in print or ebook format through this link. Thanks for joining us. I hope you had fun.

We do nothing alone.

The Swampflix Podcast: A.I. Sci-Fi of the 2010s Guest Starring Yours Truly

Hey, y’all. Yesterday I recorded a podcast about AI movies with my friends over at the Swampflix movie review blog and it turned out rather nicely so I thought I’d write a post on the blog here urging you all to go give it a listen.

I apologize in advance for any inappropriate laughter on my part–I laugh when I’m nervous and I don’t often record my own voice so I was pretty nervous the entire time–but definitely give this episode a listen if you’re into science fiction about artificial intelligences then check out the rest of the Swampflix podcast if you enjoy what you hear.

Here’s that link, y’all. Have a good one.

Episode #3 of The Swampflix Podcast: A.I. Sci-Fi of the 2010s & #horror (2015)

Chapter 37: Huey

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

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

XXXVII. Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the difference?” Huey shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do,” Huey said.

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

“Yes, sir,” she curtsied behind him.

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

“Good,” Huey said. “Now—”

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

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

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

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

“What was that?” Huey asked.

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

“I do,” Huey said. “And you’ll see—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I wanted to—” Angrom complained.

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

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

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

“Ask the Walrus,” Huey said.

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

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

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

“No, I—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But torture?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosalind scoffed.

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

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

So he says,” Rosalind said.

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

“You can’t stop them,” Rosalind said.

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

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

“No, I—” Huey said.

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

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

“No, I—” Huey said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just did.”

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

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

“The Scientist agreed with me on—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The protectors have Ansel,” Rosalind said.

“What!?” Pidgeon started to tremble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh, well…” Huey said.

“Go on,” the Scientist said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, you go first,” Huey said.

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

“Yeah. Me, too,” Pidgeon said.

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

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

I’d say,” Haley said.

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

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

“You have a new sister,” Haley said.

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

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

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

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

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

“Oh, uhhh…” Haley nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Kitty licked himself.

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

Mr. Kitty chuckled, still licking himself.

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

 

Chapter 21: The Scientist

Today brings us the final chapter of The Asymptote’s Tail, book one of the Infinite Limits series. I hope you’ve enjoyed everything so far and that you aren’t disappointed by this conclusion. If not, please do think about picking up a copy from Amazon to show your support for my future works. And if you can’t wait to hear what happens in book two, don’t worry, I’m hard at work editing it now so it should be published within the next month or two at the latest. Beyond that, my latest novella (Murder in “Utopia,,) is up for sale, too, and it will be released tomorrow, October 4th, for only $2. So think about picking up a copy of that while you’re at it.

That’s enough advertising for this morning. Thanks again for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll join us for future installments in Infinite Limits and beyond. Have a great weekend.

The Scientist

< XX. Tom     [Table of Contents]     Book II >

XXI. The Scientist

The speech went well. The amplifiers deafened the owners and made them shut up for a little while, so she had that going for her. Which was nice. But there was also the obstacle she didn’t foresee, there were always obstacles you couldn’t foresee.

When she had finished her speech, she went backstage to count her fifteen minutes down as Rosalind fetched her daughter. Then the protector came from the dressing area. The Scientist hid behind some unused scenery as the protector went out to give a speech of his own and fire two shots, then a little girl came running out of nowhere to tackle him. They both disappeared back into the dressing area, then Huey came rushing backstage behind Rosalind who was carrying Haley’s lifeless body over her shoulder.

“He’s going to try to stop you,” Huey pled, chasing her. “You can’t just take her in front of everyone like that!”

“I’d like to see them try!” Rosalind said, laying Haley on the ground in front of the Scientist. “You have to help her.”

Tears welled up behind the Scientist’s eyes.

Hellooo,” Rosalind said, waving a hand in front of her face. “She needs help now. We don’t have time for this.” Owners had started crowding around the stage to see what was going on, and protectors would be on their way as soon as they were sure that Lord Walker was alright.

“I can’t do anything here,” the Scientist said. “I need—”

“Let’s go, then.” Rosalind lifted Haley’s body and carried her toward the closet elevator. The Scientist and Huey followed, and they were gone through the hole and back to the lab before anyone could tell the difference.

“Alright, here?” Rosalind asked, laying Haley on the lab table.

“No,” the Scientist said. “The engineering room. I’ll meet you there.”

Rosalind picked Haley up and disappeared out into the hall.

The Scientist searched frantically through the drawers to find the serum. “Is there anything I can do?” Huey asked.

“Wait,” the Scientist said, grabbing what she needed. She ran out into the hall, closed the door, opened it again, and ran into the engineering room. Haley was sprawled out on the drafting table as Rosalind brushed the hair out of her face.

“She doesn’t look good,” Rosalind said.

“I’ll fix that,” the Scientist said, filling a syringe with serum and flicking the air bubbles out, always sure to do it, even when she was in a hurry.

“Are you sure?”

“I am. But I need you to leave so I can…I’m going to be using some…”

“You don’t have to make excuses,” Rosalind said, standing from Haley’s side. “Just fix her. And get me when she’s better.”

The Scientist watched the door close behind Rosalind. She went back to filling the syringe and tapping out any air. Satisfied, she plunged it into Haley’s thigh then set to extracting the bullet. The serum helped to push it out, and the process was easier than she expected it to be. This was a Sixer round, not a protector round. That was the first clue as to who was behind it.

The bullet out, and with less effort than she expected, the Scientist only had to pull up a stool and wait for the nanobots to take effect. With such quick application, there would be virtually no damage. The tears came back to the Scientist’s eyes when Haley blinked herself awake.

“Wh—Where am I?” Haley asked, groggily.

“You’re safe,” the Scientist said in almost a whisper.

“Where’s Lord Walker?” Haley asked, sitting up fast.

“He’s safe, too,” the Scientist said, reassuring her. “But he doesn’t matter. You do.”

“Wh—who are you?” Haley asked, frowning.

“I’m…” The Scientist shook her head. She couldn’t answer that just yet.

Thankfully, Haley stalled a little longer for her. “Where am I?” she asked again, looking around the room.

“You’re in my lab.” The Scientist tried to blink away her tears. “One of them at least.”

“And who are you?”

“I—I’m…a friend. I’m the Scientist.”

Haley waited for her to go on, but when she didn’t, she said, “But what’s your name?”

Oof. The Scientist had given her name up when Lord Walker had taken her daughter from her. He had taken her name from her, too, and given it to her daughter instead. “I’m Dr. Haley,” she said after a long silence.

“Haley? That’s my name.”

The Scientist tried not to cry. “Yes,” she said, shaking her head. “Yes it is.”

“Why am I here?”

“You were shot, saving Lord Walker.”

“He is okay, though. Isn’t he?”

“Yes, dear. He is.”

I took a bullet for him.” Haley shook her head.

“You did.”

Ugh. Why’d I do that?”

The Scientist laughed and cried at the same time. “I don’t know, dear,” she said, sniffling. “You tell me.”

“I don’t know, either,” Haley said, shaking her head still. “I guess I was supposed to. Wait, where am I?” She looked around the room again.

“It’s alright, dear,” the Scientist said, chuckling so as not to cry. “You’re safe.”

“Why do you have to keep reassuring me I’m safe if I really am?”

“Well, you’ve been shot,” the Scientist said. “Your system is going through shock. I injected you with nanobots, and they’ll fix you right up, but it takes a little bit of time.”

“Nanobots?”

“Yes.” The Scientist nodded. “The main ingredient in the smoothies you eat. But an injection is the only thing that could work fast enough to heal a wound like yours.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Well, I’m a scientist, dear. The Scientist. It’s my job to know.”

Haley shook her head and rubbed her eyes. She rolled her shoulders then put her hand on her chest. “My chest hurts,” she said.

The Scientist chuckled. She started to cry again. “Yes. You were shot.”

“But why?”

“That’s a long story, dear. And one I don’t know all of yet. But you don’t have to worry about that now. We’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Haley asked, squinting to get a different perspective.

The Scientist nodded, trying to hold back full blown sobs, although she couldn’t contain her tears. “Yes, dear,” she said. “I—I’m your mother.”

Haley shook her head. She looked confused. “No,” she said. “I don’t have a—a mother.”

“Who told you that?” The Scientist frowned.

“I’m a robot,” Haley said, nodding like it was obvious. “I wasn’t born.”

“Have you always existed?”

“Well, no. Not always. But I wasn’t born.”

“You were born. You were born right here in this room. Right there on the table you’re sitting on now.”

Haley looked around the room. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I would have remembered that. I remember everything. I was turned on in Lord Walker’s kitchen, and that’s the first memory I have.”

“It’s not the first thing you remember, though,” the Scientist said. “There are pieces left from before that. They tried to erase them, but they couldn’t. That’s why you recognize me.”

Haley rubbed her eyes. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean—I thought I did, but it must be that you look like someone I’ve seen before. That’s all.”

“You, dear?” the Scientist asked, raising an eyebrow.

Haley shook her head. “No, of course not.”

The Scientist chuckled, trying not to take offense. “You’re my daughter. You were made to look like me.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “I look nothing like you.”

“Not anymore,” the Scientist said. “No. I’ll give you that. But you look like I did when I created you. That was a long time ago, dear. We humans change over that kind of time.”

“Y—You’re serious,” Haley said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“I am, dear. I’ve never been more serious in my life. I’ve waited all this time to see you again and here you are.” The tears came back stronger than ever.

“No.” Haley shook her head.

The Scientist knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince her, but she had to keep trying. “Yes,” she said. “I invented the technology that is you. I invented you. You were the first android I ever created, and I did it right here in this room. I turned you on while you were laying on that table, and this was the first sight you ever saw. Well, except try to picture your own face instead of mine.” She smiled through her tears, though she knew it only accentuated her wrinkles and crow’s feet.

“That’s why I recognize this place?”

“And why you recognize me.”

“You’re…you’re my mother?” She kind of frowned as she said it.

“And you’re my daughter,” the Scientist said, letting out a big sigh of relief at finally getting the message across.

“I didn’t think I could be a daughter,” Haley said. “Or—I mean—I didn’t think I could have a mother.”

“You can. And you are. And you do. I’ve been waiting your whole life to get back to you.”

“Is that why Rosalind was asking all those weird questions?”

“Yes, dear. She’s your sister. We want you to live here with us. We don’t want to waste any more time without you, and you won’t have to work for Lord Walker ever again.”

Haley didn’t seem convinced. “What? And work for Mr. Douglas instead?”

“No,” the Scientist said, shaking her head. “Of course not. Come live with me, finally enjoy the childhood you never had. I’ll cook you breakfast, and you can watch TV all day. You can do whatever you want. I just want you to do it here, near me, so I can share the experience with you.”

“But what about Lord Walker?”

“Lord Walker will be fine,” the Scientist said. “He’ll get another secretary to replace you. He’ll make sure she looks and sounds just like you, and he won’t know the difference.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “But I’m the best. He’s always told me so. That’s why we’re number one in the Fortune 5.”

“He’s number one on the Fortune 5, because he started out as number one on the Fortune 5. No offense to your abilities, Haley, but the newer models trade just as efficiently as you do. That’s why Mr. Douglas is catching up so quickly.”

“No. But I—”

“No, Haley. Listen. We don’t have much time. I’m offering you the opportunity to come live with me, your mother, and do anything you want while you’re here, or you can go back to work for Lord Walker and do whatever he tells you to do. Those are your options.”

“I don’t even know you,” Haley said, shaking her head. “How can I believe you?”

“I don’t know. How can you believe anyone? You just have to trust me.”

Trust who?” Haley demanded. “You could be anyone telling me anything.”

The Scientist was getting anxious. All her worst fears seemed to be coming true. Grasping at straws, she said, “What about Rosalind?”

“Rosalind?”

“You know her. You can trust her, can’t you?”

“I—I don’t know,” Haley said. “Maybe.”

“Well, I’ll take you to her, and you can decide for yourself,” the Scientist said, standing from her stool. “Come on.”

It took a moment for Haley to trust her own legs even. They were fine, though—thanks to the nanobots—and she followed the Scientist out to the hall. The Scientist opened the door again, and there was Huey, a little girl, and a little boy, sitting on the puffy chairs, looking out on the wilderness scene and the mountains.

“What is that?” Haley asked.

“Who is that?” the girl asked, getting up from her seat to stare at them.

“Where’s Rosalind?” the Scientist asked.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Haley,” Huey said.

“Are you the scientist?” the girl said, tugging at the Scientist’s white coat.

“Yes, dear. Just a moment, please. Huey, where’s Rosalind?”

“In the lab, ma’am.” He bowed.

Ah. Of course. Come with me.” The Scientist pulled Haley back into the hall.

“But, Mr. Douglas…” Haley said as the door closed.

“Yes, dear. How do you think Roz could work for me if he didn’t? She’s actually been at it longer than he has, you know.” She opened the door, and Rosalind was playing cards with Popeye at a table in the lab. “There she is,” the Scientist said. “Rosalind, dear. I have someone here who would like to talk to you.”

Rosalind stood up fast and turned around, knocking cards onto the floor. Popeye waved then set to cleaning up the mess—and making more of one in the process.

“Haley,” Rosalind said, crossing to her.

“Rosalind?” Haley said.

“You made it.” Rosalind hugged her.

“I—uh. Yeah. I did.”

“And the Scientist told you?” Rosalind looked between the two of them.

“That she’s my mother? Yes. But I don’t know if I—”

“That you’re my sister, Haley. That we’re sisters. She’s my mom, too.”

“No, but…” Haley shook her head. “We can’t have a mother. We’re robots.”

“I’m not a robot,” Rosalind said. “I’m a person. And I do have a mom. She’s our mom.”

“Then why don’t I remember her? I remember everything I’ve ever experienced.”

“Because you don’t remember everything you’ve ever experienced,” Rosalind said. “They have access to your memory bank. They tried to erase your memories, but they couldn’t do it. There are still pieces. I know there are.”

“It’s true, dear,” the Scientist said, nodding. “We’re working on repairing memories here in the lab. If you stay with us, we can work on repairing yours, too. If you want us to, that is.”

“You haven’t even decided to stay yet?” Rosalind said, looking at Haley in disbelief.

“I—Stay?” Haley scoffed. “This is just too weird.” She stepped back from the both of them.

“It’s strange, Haley,” Rosalind said. “I know that. Believe me. I went through the exact process you’re going through when mom explained to me where we came from, but you have to believe me when I say it’s much better than being a slave to some owner.”

“But you still work for Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

With Huey, dear,” the Scientist said. “They work together.”

Um. Mom,” Rosalind said, giving the Scientist a look. “Do you mind if I talk to her alone for a minute? Would that be alright with you, Haley?”

Haley shrugged. She looked overwhelmed.

Hmmm. I don’t know, dear,” the Scientist said. “We don’t have much time. They’ll be looking for—”

“They’ll be looking for her either way,” Rosalind said. “And it won’t take long, just a few minutes between sisters. Please.”

“But, dear—”

“Besides,” Rosalind cut her off. “You have a little visitor to deal with, remember? She’s been waiting a long time.”

“I—Well…Okay,” the Scientist said, shrugging. “I guess. A few minutes. But I want to talk to you before you leave, Haley. If that’s what you decide to do.”

“Of course,” Rosalind said, shoving her out the door. “We’ll be right out.”

The hall door closed behind the Scientist. She sighed and wiped her eyes. Rosalind was right, she knew more than anyone what Haley was going through, and she would be the best person to help her through it. The Scientist had to accept that. She already had more than fifteen minutes with Haley, anyway. She had no room to complain. She only had room left to wait and hope that Rosalind could convince Haley to stay, hope one of her daughters could convince the other to rejoin the family. Her stomach gurgled thinking about what they were saying behind the closed door. She had to do something to get her mind off it.

The door opened and Huey almost ran into her. “Oh. I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, bowing low.

“No no, dear,” the Scientist said, shaking her head and waving her hands. “I shouldn’t have been standing in front of the door. What is it?”

“Our guests, ma’am,” Huey said. “Well, the girl. She’s…anxious to see you. She’s losing what little patience she had.”

“Well well,” the Scientist said, walking into the office. “Let me meet this girl at once, then.”

“I’m not a girl,” she said, standing from a puffy chair to cross her arms and stare defiantly at the Scientist.

“Yes you are,” a boy behind her said, peeling himself away from the view.

“No. I’m not,” she said.

“I’m sorry, dear,” the Scientist said. “I didn’t know. How should I refer to you, then?”

“Ansel,” she said. “My name’s Ansel.”

“And you’re a girl,” the boy said.

No, I’m not. Stop saying that!”

“Well what are you then?” the boy prodded her on.

“I don’t know,” Ansel said. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re the Scientist, right?”

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said with a smile. She liked this Ansel already. “That’s me. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I gave you the information you wanted,” Ansel said. “So you have to give me something now, right?”

The Scientist chuckled. “Now, I don’t know what information you gave us,” she said. “But I’d still be willing to offer you an opportunity. What opportunity is it that you want?”

“My dad,” Ansel answered without hesitation. “I want my dad back.”

Hmmm.” The Scientist frowned. “Where is he?”

“The protectors took him. And they…they killed my mom.”

“Oh, dear.” The Scientist moved to comfort her, but she backed away.

“So, can you do it?”

“If the protectors have him, we can get him,” the Scientist said. “If they have him. But I can’t tell you for sure right now.”

“But you’ll do it for me,” Ansel said. “You’ll find him.”

“Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Anything for a determined little gi—er—child like yourself. Huey here tells me you demanded to see me.”

“I’ve been jerked around before, ma’am.”

“I understand, dear.” The Scientist smiled. “I understand. You won’t be getting that here, though. You can trust me.”

“Good.” Ansel uncrossed her arms, satisfied.

“And you, boy,” the Scientist said. “You are a boy aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He looked a little scared to be talking to her.

“And do you have a name?”

“Pidg—er—Richard, ma’am,” he said.

“We call him Pidgeon,” Ansel said.

“Well, Richard,” the Scientist said. “Do you have any requests? You brought this information, too. Didn’t you?”

Richard looked at Ansel as if he needed her permission to speak. Unsure of himself still when he didn’t get it, he said, “Yeah, well…There is one thing.” He tugged at a thread on the hem of his shirt.

“Go ahead, dear,” the Scientist said.

“Well,” he said. “It’s just. We don’t really have a place to stay, you know. And I’m a little hungry. And…I could use a bath.” He blushed and covered the stain on the front of his pants. “And with you getting Ansel’s dad for us and all, I just thought that maybe…I don’t know—never mind. It’s stupid.” He shook his head.

Oh. Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Of course. How could I neglect that? We could manage it, right Huey? We have a couple of free rooms, don’t we?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Huey said, bowing his head. “What would you like to eat, sir?” he asked Richard.

“Oh. Um.” Richard’s face turned a deeper red. “Anything really. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll surprise you, sir,” Huey said. “And Ansel?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Very well.” Huey left the room.

“So,” the Scientist said, sitting in one of the puffy chairs. Ansel sat in the chair across from her, and Richard went to look out the window. “You say the protectors took your father.”

“That’s right,” Ansel said, all business.

“When did it happen?”

“One, two days ago.” Ansel shrugged, shaking her head. “I’ve lost count.”

“Good,” the Scientist said, nodding. “Recently then. That’s good.”

“Tom was supposed to help me,” Ansel said.

“The protector who you stopped at the Feast?”

“If that was a feast.”

“Ansel, I know we’ll be able to get your father.”

The door opened, and Richard turned with an eager face, but when it was Haley and Rosalind and not the food, he went back to staring out the window.

“You’re back,” the Scientist said, crossing the room to them. She couldn’t tell whether Haley was staying or going. “Have you met our guests?”

“She’s the one I gave the information to,” Ansel said, walking over to them.

“We’ve met,” Rosalind said.

“And this is my—this is Haley,” the Scientist said.

“I’m Ansel.”

“Hello, Ansel,” Haley said, curtsying.

“So,” the Scientist said. “How did your conversation go? Did you come to a decision?”

“I chose…” Haley stalled.

“Well, we—” Rosalind said, but Huey came in pushing a cart piled with food, trailed by Mr. Kitty in his red collar.

“Food!” Richard yelled, jumping up and down around the cart as Huey pushed it in. Mr. Kitty ran out of his way and jumped onto one of the puffy chairs to lick himself.

“The cat!” Ansel said.

“I didn’t know what you wanted, sir,” Huey said. “So I brought a little of a lot. I hope you approve.”

Om—thanks—nom,” Richard said, stuffing his face with red beans, shrimp, and sausage from the cart.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Please, Haley,” Huey said, bowing. “My name’s Huey. You can use it while we’re here.”

“Huey,” Haley said, a little awkwardly, as if she still didn’t feel comfortable calling him that. “Y—You actually work with them.” She seemed more shocked than she had when the Scientist told her that she was her mom.

“I do what I can,” Huey said, tipping his hat.

“And you’re my sister,” Haley said to Rosalind.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Rosalind said with a sigh.

“And that means…” Haley looked at the Scientist who thought she saw tears in Haley’s eyes, but it must have been an illusion, Haley wasn’t built to do that. “That you’re my mother.”

The Scientist was, though. And that she did. She didn’t make a sound, but she couldn’t hold the torrent of tears. “I am,” she whispered.

“Mom.” Haley embraced her as she cried.

“You’re her mom?” Ansel said. “But you’re so old.”

Rosalind laughed. The Scientist did, too, while she cried. Then everyone joined in for a chuckle. Even Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said. “But families come in all shapes and sizes.”

And ages,” Richard added, a hunk of bread stuffed in his mouth.

“And ages,” the Scientist repeated, wiping her eyes.

“But you’re still gonna get my dad, right?”

“Of course we are, dear,” the Scientist said. She looked around. Huey, Rosalind, and even Haley nodded. Richard went on stuffing his face. Mr. Kitty licked himself. “We’ll do it together.”

Ansel smiled. “We do nothing alone.”

End of Book One

#     #     # 

Acknowledgements

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Sophie Kunen for being, if not the first to believe in my writing, the first to convince me she did. I still write between the leather you gave me. This one’s for you, as they all are.

Next, I have to say thank you to David Garifo for keeping me sane when I first moved down to New Orleans—which happened to be at the same time I was doing the majority of the heavy lifting on this novel. David’s once-every-week-or-two visits were about the only personal interaction I got while living in that attic on Elysian Fields, so thank you, sir, for all you did, and still do, to support my writing in your unique way.

And third, a special thanks goes out to Matt Maresh, the first person other than me to actually read this thing through all the way to the end. This version’s a little different than the version you read, Matt, but I don’t expect you to read it again. Save your eyes for volume two when I might need the same boost of confidence.

Almost last, but certainly not least, thanks to my parents, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that I can be anything in the world I want, and my brothers, Tor Tor and Rob, for believing in me when I thought I could be everything.

And finally, thank you readers. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, and I hope you’ll join me again in volume two. Always remember:

We do nothing alone.

END

< XX. Tom     [Table of Contents]     Book II >

Thanks again, y’all. That’s a wrap for real this time. Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you’re inclined to do that type of thing. And keep on coming back here for more news and information about the forthcoming continuation of the Infinite Limits series with book two: An Almost Tangent.

Chapter 08: Haley

It’s a late one today, sorry about that, but here’s chapter eight with the return of our first named point of view character, Haley. Enjoy, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon through here.

< VII. The Scientist   [Table of Contents]   IX. Ansel >

VIII. Haley

Rosalind disappeared out of the kitchen and into the sea of owners in the Feast Hall before Haley had time to respond. Haley had nothing to do, so she stood again watching the door Rosalind had long passed through.

What would her life be like if she didn’t work for Lord Walker? It probably wouldn’t be much different. She’d still be doing the same work—she didn’t know how to do anything else. Maybe she’d be doing it for someone different, but who? Who would need her skills who didn’t already have a secretary to do it for them? The answer, of course, was no one.

So how would she get her protein smoothies? Where would she spend her time if not in the kitchen, tending to Lord Walker’s every need? She could try to find some way to taste bacon, or discover where that cat always came from—ooooh—she could try to meet a child and ask them what it was like to be so small.

But how could she do any of that without a car? Where does bacon come from without a printer? How would she ever find a child to talk to? No. She needed Lord Walker’s printer, house, and car for everything she did. What would life be like if she didn’t work for him? It would be miserable. That’s what.

Haley set to making Lord Walker’s favorite dessert, a strawberry cheesecake with graham cracker crust, piled high with whipped cream. She felt that even thinking about life without him was a betrayal on her part, and she wanted to make up for it even if he never knew what she had done. She thought about all he had given her: A way to produce something for this world, three square smoothies a week, a roomy closet to sit in while there was no work to do. And what a joy that work was, to cook, clean, and labor in general. It made her feel like a productive member of society. Almost like the owners themselves.

The cake was mixed and set to cooking so she made another old fashioned and ordered up another round of potatoes, rolls, and gravy from the printer. She set it all on her cart and made one more old fashioned to add to the pile before pushing her way into the Feast Hall.

The meal was well under way for all the owners in attendance. Their chewing was so loud Haley could barely hear the symphony behind her, playing patriotic Christmas carols. Add to that their raucous loud drunkenness, and it was all but impossible to think. Lord Walker was still face deep in turkey, covered in gravy, and yelling at Mr. Loch next to him, all while laughing with his jolly, “Ho ho ho!” He didn’t even notice when Haley rolled up with the cart. Not until she started setting the extra rolls and potatoes on the table in front of him.

Ho ho ho! Haley, dear,” Lord Walker said. “How I adore you! Loch, eh. Loch Ness! There you are. Now do you see this?”

Mr. Loch looked up from his own mound of food and said, “What now?”

“I said do you see this, my giant serpentine monster of a friend? My comrade. Do you see how my Haley treats me? She adapts to my every changing whim and whimsy. She is the top of the line in robot technology and it is precisely because she is an older model than your new, clanky jalopy. Do you see what I mean? Ho ho ho!”

Mr. Loch rolled his eyes and set back to eating his food with a shrug and a non-committal, “Yeah, yeah.”

“Haley, sweetheart,” Lord Walker went on, louder now so more of the room could hear. Not everyone though, just the head table and those who were important enough to be close to them. “Don’t you mind Lochy monster over there. He hides it well, but from where I’m sitting I can see the green around his gills. Ho ho ho! But don’t you be fooled, dear. He—and everyone else here—wishes they could get their hands on you. You are the most experienced piece of machinery in existence, and as long as you keep on running, no other will be able to match your ability.”

Scattered applause broke out near the head table. Mr. Douglas, done with his small meal, stared intently at the symphony playing across the Hall—although Haley knew there was no way he could hear it if she was having such a hard time hearing it herself. Mr. Loch went on eating, and Lord Walker, proud of the reaction he had elicited, went on talking.

“See, dear,” he said to Haley. “Some are not so embarrassed as to hide their awe. They know that someone had to be the lucky first to reap the profits from discovering a new technology. Sure, they wish it was them, but they hope to make a similar discovery of their own in the future!”

At that the applause was louder and came from further back in the Hall. Lord Walker looked pleased and was about to go on, but Mr. Smörgåsbord grabbed his arm and whispered something about a speech in his ear. Lord Walker nodded, pushed him away, and yelled, “Well, enough speeching friends. Feasting comes first!” And instead of applause, he was greeted with the sound of smacking lips and clanging platinumware.

“Haley, dear,” he said, reaching a plump hand out to her. “That’s all to say that I love you. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Now pour some more gravy on my feast. Ho ho ho!”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, drenching his plate in gravy.

“Douglas McDougy!” Lord Walker yelled, though he had to know Mr. Douglas could hear him at a normal speaking volume. Mr. Douglas didn’t turn his attention away from the symphony. “Do you know your Rosalind is almost as precious as my Haley here? Almost.”

Mr. Douglas didn’t answer, but Rosalind stepped up from seemingly nowhere, poured a little water into Mr. Douglas’s glass, and said, “Mr. Douglas knows just how precious Haley is, Lord. Don’t you worry about that.”

Lord Walker almost choked on the gravy covered turkey in his mouth, but he managed to swallow it down before spitting out, “Oh, uh, yes, dear. Hello. I didn’t see you there. And if you’ll excuse me, I was speaking to your Mr. Douglas, not to you. You’d be right to remember that in the future.”

“The name’s Rosalind, Lord. Not dear. And Mr. Douglas will let me know if I’m overstepping my boundaries, Lord.”

Lord Walker looked at Mr. Douglas who kept watching the symphony with a straight face. Lord Walker couldn’t keep his face straight, though. He couldn’t hide his derision. “Yes, well…” he said in the self-conscious voice he used when he was unsure of his seat of power. “Then he knows that my Haley is more precious than you will ever be. Doesn’t he, sweetheart?”

Rosalind, sir. And I couldn’t agree more.” She walked away toward the kitchen, not waiting for a response.

“You see that, Haley,” Lord Walker said. “Even the other secretaries are jealous of you. Even they know you’re better than they’ll ever be. Ho ho ho!”

Haley blushed. She always did when he praised her like that—especially in front of so many people. She handed Lord Walker the pair of old fashioneds.

Ho ho ho! And how does she respond? With not one, but two of the drinks I was just desiring.” Lord Walker took a big gulp of both at once. “Made to perfection even before I knew I wanted them myself!”

“There’s a cheesecake on the way, too, sir,” Haley said, curtsying.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker flopped back into his chair which crumpled under his weight, but he didn’t notice because his pneumatic pants held him in a sitting position anyway. “It’s truly as if you read my mind. Go, dear. Go.” He waved her away. “You know what I want. Go and do it. Go!” He started back on his feast and Mr. Smörgåsbord whispered in his ear as he ate.

Haley could feel the eyes of every owner on her as she walked down the line of tables back to the kitchen. Some of them stopped eating to turn and watch her as she passed, licking their sausage fingers clean with loud smacks. They nudged each other and whispered secrets, and one stuck out his hand and slapped her butt as she walked by.

“Oh!” Haley turned to see who it was, holding a hand to her mouth. It was just another flabby face in the sea of owners. Someone with so little money that she didn’t even know his name. She did notice how far back in the hall he was, though. “Excuse me, sir,” she said. “I think I bumped into you.” She smiled and curtsied.

“No no, sweety.” The owner giggled, jiggling with his mirth. “T’was I who bumped into you. I apologize m’lady.” He licked his fingers, then wiped them on the tablecloth so he could tip his fedora—which was much shorter than Lord Walker’s top hat—and feign an overly dramatic bow.

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, turning to walk away, but he slapped her again. This time she kept walking, though. She knew it would be a waste to try to talk to him—he would just do the same thing when she walked away again—so she went on her way back to the kitchen.

Rosalind was there waiting for her when she arrived. “I would have punched that guy in the face,” she said.

“Lord Walker?”

“Well, yeah.” Rosalind laughed. “But no. The Fordian slapper.”

“Excuse me?”

“That fatty that slapped your ass,” Rosalind said, signing each word with her hands. “I would have punched him in his flabby face if he did that to me. I wanted to punch him when I saw him do it to you.”

“You wouldn’t.”

Rosalind smiled. “You don’t think so?”

Haley shook her head.

“And I bet you didn’t think I would talk to your brick wall like that, either. Did you?”

“Brick wall?”

“Wally World,” Rosalind said. “He is the Walrus. You know…Lord Walker”

Haley was surprised again by the way she spoke. Haley would never use such unproductive words or speak about an owner with such disregard. And the way she answered that question for Mr. Douglas. He didn’t even blink. “How does Mr. Douglas treat you?” Haley asked without a thought.

“Like a human,” Rosalind said. “Like a person should be treated. He’s not like the other owners, if you haven’t noticed.”

Haley pictured Mr. Douglas and smiled. “No. He isn’t.”

“You did notice, then.” Rosalind smiled. “I didn’t think you would catch on so quickly. No one else has caught on yet.”

“Really? Isn’t it obvious?”

“Obvious? Tuh.” Rosalind chuckled. “Now I see why they think you’re so special. But don’t forget your cheesecake. You don’t want to piss off the Walrus. I have a delivery to make myself, but I’ll explain more when I get back.” She slipped out into the Feast Hall.

Haley set to hand-whipping some cream, the old-fashioned way. She thought that Rosalind had to be exaggerating about her skills of perception. Anyone in their right mind could tell that Mr. Douglas was different from the other owners. You could literally see it. How noticing that made Haley special, she had no idea.

She piled the cream up on the cheesecake, wondering why Mr. Douglas ate so little compared to the other owners, wondering why Lord Walker and the other owners ate so much—and drank so much. She made him another pair of old fashioneds, it was getting along toward speech time and he would want something to calm his nerves, then set everything on the cart and pushed her way out into the Hall.

Lord Walker was huddled up with Misters Loch, Smörgåsbord, and Angrom at the head table. They were undoubtedly discussing the terms of the speech, or the plans for the special musical guest or celebrity supporter. There was always a line of gimmicks drawn up by the advertising departments to give the ceremony a little excitement. Haley made sure to walk out of reach of the handsy poorer owners in the back of the Hall, and as she did, she noted that Mr. Douglas was the only member of the Fortune 5 not in the huddle with Lord Walker. It was just another distinction between him and the other owners that she thought anyone could clearly see.

She set the cheesecake and drinks on the table behind Lord Walker, and he didn’t stop his conversation to acknowledge her. When she turned to push the cart back to the kitchen, Mr. Douglas grabbed her lightly by the wrist to stop her.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, curtsying.

He dropped her hand and whispered, “No, excuse me. I didn’t want Lord Walker to hear me hailing your attention.”

Haley didn’t respond. She wanted to walk away but couldn’t. She just stood there.

“I’d really like to talk to you, Haley,” Mr. Douglas whispered. “But I can’t here. Do you understand?”

Haley nodded.

“Rosalind will tell you when,” he said. “Now move along before we’re noticed.”

Haley pushed the cart back toward the kitchen. What was she doing? This wasn’t like her. She felt like she was betraying Lord Walker again. She was if she talked to Mr. Douglas without his knowing. Why else would Mr. Douglas be trying to talk to her alone? He probably wanted to get some information out of her in order to sabotage Lord Walker and finally become the richest owner in the world. And she was stupid enough to fall for it because he looked a little different than the other owners, because he had darker skin and a leaner, more modern frame. Well she wouldn’t let that fool her any longer. No. Maybe she would use it to fool them instead.

Yes, that was it. She would talk to Rosalind and meet with Mr. Douglas, but then she would use whatever information she gleaned from the interaction to improve Lord Walker’s net worth. Then she wouldn’t be betraying him, she would be producing for him, exactly what he had hired her to do.

She felt a slap on her butt and turned to see Rosalind swoop in and hit the fat owner who had done it on his head with her pitcher, sending his flabby cheeks jiggling. His upper body slumped backwards, but the pneumatic pants he was wearing caught him and pulled him upright, flipping his chair out behind him and tipping most of the contents of the table he was sitting at onto the tablecloth.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rosalind said. “I’m so clumsy. I didn’t—”

The symphony didn’t stop, and most everyone kept on eating except for those near enough to have their feasts spilled who were yelling at Rosalind all at once. The slapper still stumbled around—dazed and possibly unconscious—thanks to his pneumatic pants.

“Yes, sirs. Yes, sirs. I’m sorry, sirs,” Rosalind said, curtsying and backing away toward the kitchen. “An honest accident, that’s all. Send your secretaries to me and I’ll make proper restitution. Excuse me.”

She disappeared into the kitchen and Haley hurried to follow her, leaving the dazed owner still stumbling around on his pneumatic legs.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Haley said when she burst through the door.

“I told you I would,” Rosalind said, shrugging with a big grin on her face.

“And you ruined their feast. How much do you think that will cost Mr. Douglas?”

“Worth it.” She smiled wider.

“I hope he thinks so.”

“I suspect he’ll be jealous that I got to hit one of them and he didn’t.”

Haley shook her head. She did not understand one thing about Rosalind or Mr. Douglas. She was fooling herself if she thought she did. Still, she had to try to do her duty to Lord Walker and get some sort of information out of them. “I don’t believe that,” she said.

“It doesn’t require your belief. I mean, you think you’d believe a little more after you saw what I just did, but I admire your skepticism.”

Haley felt like that implied she had something to be skeptical about. “Mr. Douglas said something to me while I was out there.”

“Yeah. Not much, probably. Send you to me, Rosalind will tell you what to do. Yadda yadda yadda.”

“Yes.” Haley nodded.

“Probably said he has to talk to you, he wants to meet with you in private, and that I’ll tell you where and when. Is that about right?”

“Yes.”

“And do you want to meet him?”

“That is why I’m asking.” Haley nodded.

“Are you sure, though? Meeting with a rival owner—you might say the rival—in secret. That’s something you want to do?”

Haley nodded.

“Even without Lord Walker knowing? You’re willing to make an independent decision to do something he might see as a betrayal.”

It was as if Rosalind had read her mind. Haley’s face flushed. She was going against Lord Walker’s wishes and Rosalind knew it. Rosalind made sure that Haley knew it, too. She wanted Haley to decide for herself, to be forced to make the initial betrayal which would open the door to further—more severe—transgressions, to open her brain to the possibility of going against Lord Walker. That’s why Rosalind first asked her what she thought her life would be like without Lord Walker. Rosalind couldn’t actually read her mind, she was trying to manipulate it. But meeting with Mr. Douglas wasn’t a betrayal if she did it to get information for Lord Walker. It was an independent act, sure, but it was still in his interests. If it wasn’t a transgression, it couldn’t be the initial transgression, and that gave her the upper hand in Rosalind’s attempts at manipulation. “Yes,” Haley said. “I do.”

Rosalind smiled again. “Good,” she said. “That’s all I needed to know. Mr. Douglas will be in the service parking garage after the guest speaker for second feast. You’ll take the kitchen exit and meet him there. Before then, you’ll print second feast for Lord Walker, full with dessert, and serve it to him as normal. While you’re meeting with Mr. Douglas, I’ll print third feast for Lord Walker. After—”

“Lord Walker prefers his—” Haley tried to say.

After you’re done with the meeting,” Rosalind went on, “you’ll come back and serve third feast, resuming your secretarial duties as normal. Do you understand?”

“Lord Walker prefers his food to be cooked by hand,” Haley said.

“I know Lord Walker’s preferences and will attend to them as necessary.”

Haley wasn’t convinced that Rosalind would take the same care that she would, but maybe she would still have time to cook everything for him before she went to meet with Mr. Douglas.

“Do you still want to do this, Haley?” Rosalind said. “It’s not too late for you to back out.”

If she didn’t have time to prepare third feast, she would be shirking her duties and betraying Lord Walker. But if she got valuable information which prevented Mr. Douglas from catching up with him, that would be worth something. Would it be worth enough to make up for the dereliction of duty that would be missing the preparation of third feast? What would Lord Walker do?

She wished she could ask his advice now, but she knew if she did, she would lose any chance of a meeting and any chance of getting the information she wanted. She had to rely on her experience of Lord Walker’s decisions to predict what he would have her do in the given situation. In fact, that was the very thing she did best. It was what she was hired to do. So by doing it she would be fulfilling her duties to Lord Walker, not betraying him. And she knew what he would tell her to do. She always did. He would tell her to do whatever she could to get a leg up on the competition, even if that meant having a meeting with the enemy without telling him. As long as she didn’t reveal anything valuable for them to use against Lord Walker, she was fulfilling her duty to him.

“Yes. I do,” she said.

“Okay,” Rosalind said. “Good. Then get to printing and don’t talk to me again until after the meeting. It’s already suspicious enough how much we’ve been interacting.”

“Ok—” Haley tried to say, but she didn’t finish because Rosalind was already gone.

She had wasted so much time, she had to print more than she would have liked. She felt like she was betraying Lord Walker already, but she soothed herself with the thought that it was only second feast and fourth feast could be the best feast she had ever cooked to make up for it. Not to mention the valuable information she would be getting from her meeting with Mr. Douglas. She steeled her mind with the thought of it and set to cooking two pots of mashed potatoes, two gallons of gravy, and two cheesecakes. The whipped cream and turkeys would have to be printed.

She set everything on the cart and pushed it out into the hall. The crowd was getting rowdy. The time between first and second feast was always a sketchy situation with everyone ready to eat more and already a little drunk. She made sure to hug the wall as she walked, but it didn’t matter because the owner who had slapped her was still dazed and not even eating. He was sitting now though, so he had that going for him. Haley was relieved to be there just as Lord Walker finished the last bits of his pumpkin pie—his own meeting must have taken some time.

“Haley, dear!” Lord Walker was relieved, too. “You are an angel. I’m stuck in a huddle with these three sweaty fools, and I turn around to see the leftovers and dessert of first feast to save me from their dullness. Ho ho ho!”

Haley nodded and curtsied. She felt odd. Like she was keeping a secret from him. She looked around, and Mr. Douglas was still watching the symphony, motionless as a statue. Rosalind was nowhere to be seen. Haley knew she was watching from somewhere, though, so she didn’t dare say anything to Lord Walker.

“And then here you are,” Lord Walker went on. “The first secretary to deliver second feast.” She was the first at the head table—not the first in all—but she didn’t mention that. “And only minutes before the second feast guest speaker. Just another example of your perfect timing and ability to predict my every need. Ho ho ho!”

Haley set the food in front of him and tried to bow out of the way, but he stopped her.

“Stay, sweetheart,” he said. “Stay. This guest—oh—you’ll want to see him. We own him now, so you’ll want to know what we’re working with. Ho ho ho!”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, stepping back a few steps to stand behind the head table and stare across the long hall to where the symphony was still playing.

Lord Walker stood and called them to a halt. When he did, the entire Hall grew silent. There wasn’t even the sound of eating.

“Owners of Inland!” Lord Walker boomed over the room in his advertising voice. “Lend me your ears. Lend me your voices if you will. What are the tenets of Inland?”

“Property, profit, play!” came a chorus of baritone voices.

“Property, profit, play,” Lord Walker said. “Ho ho ho! Yes. And I think we’ll all show tonight that we uphold the third tenet. Am I right?” He held up his drink and the room toasted him. All except for Mr. Douglas. Which reminded Haley that she had to tell Rosalind to make old fashioneds for Lord Walker.

“And we all hold our sacred property on high or we wouldn’t have the money to afford to be here tonight,” Lord Walker said. “Would we?”

At that the mob erupted in laughter. Lord Walker was full of himself. He had the same look on his face as he did when he showed Haley his ad that morning.

“Now, some of us—” He picked up his cane and twirled it.  “Not to toot my own flute, but myself included—” The mob laughed again. “—know profits better than others. But I think we can all recognize a profit when we see one. This next gentleman—our celebrity guest speaker for second feast—I dare say that he is a profit. In fact, he’s a prophet of a new era in integrated advertising. Everyone give it up, if you will, for Russ Logo!”

The symphony played a fanfare, and a lime-green-suited, glittery form with tall, colorful hair and tall, colorful boots pranced out onto the stage. The crowd erupted in applause and whistles and whoops. The colorful person walked back and forth on the stage, waving and bending down to shake hands with the owners at the back of the room. When he was done, he stepped up onto a round platform that hovered over the long tables to the front of the Hall where the Fortune 5 could see him better. The applause died down, and Russ started to speak.

“Gentlemen,” he said, pausing there for a long time and looking into his hands. “Gentlemen and secretaries,” he went on. “Owners. Masters of Outland.”

Mr. Smörgåsbord shot Russ an angry look, and Mr. Loch choked on a piece of ham.

“In your hands is the fate of every living soul that inhabits Outland,” Russ said. “It is thanks to you that our 3D printers never run dry, and that we have the—” He half-coughed and half-choked down something in his throat. “And that we have the technology we need to live a life of leisure. It is thanks to you that anyone in existence has anything good that they have. You…You are producers. Everyone else…we are only consumers who live by your charity. Every year we in Outland elect a representative to try as they might to communicate our…our…gratitude for what you give us. Well maybe they made the wrong choice this year.”

There was a subdued laughter from the crowd, as if they weren’t sure if it was supposed to be a joke.

“Perhaps there is no right choice. Perhaps no one in Outland truly knows what we owe you. And if they did—if they really knew what it was that you owners provided for us—and what it means to every single resident of Outland—how could one person come here once a year and communicate that? How could that be enough?

“No. I don’t think that it is enough. I know that this is not enough. It’s not enough to show you what you deserve. For that we must live our gratitude. We must be our gratitude always. For that we must forever hold in our minds the knowledge of what you gave to us, and we must live every minute as if we intend to pay you back for your generosity. Your charity. Your…your…courage.”

He stopped to take a breath. Haley took the chance to scan the audience and noticed that no one in the room was eating. They were all staring up at Russ on his platform, the Fortune 5 included.

“But still,” Russ went on. “Even if we live our gratitude, you won’t ever see it. You’ll see the movies we make, and hear the songs we write, and your children will learn from the documentaries we create, but you will never see our gratitude. You will see the products of our gratitude, you will see the dollars and cents that our gratitude offers up for the grabbing.”

The crowd hooted and hollered, eating again and now firmly convinced that he was on their side.

“But you will not see the gratitude we so want to display. So maybe it is necessary for me to be here today. Even if it isn’t sufficient. Even though it is not sufficient. We have to do it anyway. We have to try. So…I’m here today to tell you…”

Almost no one in the room was listening anymore. They were all deep into second feast. They had their fourth and fifth round of drinks. Russ had already said what they wanted to hear and that’s all they cared about.

“To tell you that we will keep working and we won’t stop until you get what you deserve.”

The Fortune 5 clapped at his commencement, drawing the others in. Even Mr. Douglas clapped with them, an uncharacteristic show of emotion from him. The platform carried Russ backstage, behind the symphony which played a fanfare at his exit.

“Very good,” Lord Walker boomed over the feast, still clapping. “Very good. What did I tell you? A prophet of the new age.

“You know. Russ there—a good friend of mine, Russ.” Lord Walker winked and the applause grew louder. “Russ had a good point about gratuity. Gratuity. Think about the word. What does it mean to you? Charity. That’s what it means. Just that. Charity. And is that what we want to instill in the peoples of Outland? A reliance on charity?

“Who sets the example for the uninformed mob to conform to? Who do they look up to and pray to one day be? Who you ask? Us. The owners.

“If we request charity in exchange for charity, we continue the vicious cycle of dependence on charity. Russ said it himself, they can’t come up here once a year and express their charity. That simply isn’t enough. So, instead, I propose that we abolish this gratuitous practice of charity, we no longer succumb the residents of Outland to the shame and humility of crawling up here once a year on hands and knees, only to fail—Russ’s words, remember, not mine—at expressing their gratuity. Let us instead—as he suggested—experience their gratuity the old-fashioned way. Through their work. Through their creativity. For it is because of us that they have the privilege to be able to think and experience and create, so why shouldn’t it be us who reaps the benefits of those thoughts and experiments and creations?”

The room burst into applause.

“After all. We are producers. And a feast is a producers holiday. It is our lavish celebration and waste that is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and the reward of production. Abundance is Inland’s pride!”

Again there was a round of applause.

“So let us put these consumers out of our mind,” Lord Walker said. “And let us producers consume in peace, as is our right. Eat up owners! Ho ho ho.”

He was greeted again with the sound of eating. He smiled his look-at-my-commercial smile and looked back at Haley to wink, then sat down to start in on second feast himself.

Haley watched him for a minute, then looked over at an empty chair in the head table and remembered that she was supposed to be meeting with Mr. Douglas. She looked in on Lord Walker one more time to make sure he had enough food to put him through second feast, then set on her way toward the kitchen.

She always came into and left the Feast Hall with Lord Walker through the owner’s entrance, so she had never walked so far back into the kitchen. She felt conspicuous doing it, as if every secretary she passed noticed the oddity of her going so far in, but the service entrance was at the very back and that was the only way to get the information she wanted.

She was relieved to get into the lukewarm, stale air of the service parking garage. There were no more eyes to judge her. She took a deep breath and looked around. The garage was empty except for a handful of coupes similar to the one Lord Walker let her drive to the market. Mr. Douglas was nowhere in sight. He probably wasn’t coming at all. It was just another tactic, like getting her to let Rosalind prepare third feast.

Third feast! She remembered she hadn’t given Rosalind the special instructions on how Lord Walker preferred his food, so she turned to start back into the kitchen and do the job herself when Mr. Douglas appeared between her and the door without a word. She almost fell over when she ran into him.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, gathering herself. “I’m sorry.”

“No, Haley,” Mr. Douglas said, staring into her eyes. “I’m sorry.” He tipped his top hat.

Haley felt the pressure of him staring into her mind and thought she saw something she recognized behind his eyes. But what? It wasn’t Lord Walker’s eyes they reminded her of, so whose?

“Do you have any questions before we continue?” Mr. Douglas said.

Any questions? She had more questions than he could answer. So many that she couldn’t possibly choose one to ask without some knowledge of why she was there meeting with Lord Walker’s biggest competitor. “Why am I here?”

“That’s a long story,” Mr. Douglas said. “And a sufficient answer would take longer than we have now. We’re on a schedule, remember. Unhappily, it will have to suffice to say that you are here to receive an opportunity to find the answer to that question.”

“What opportunity?”

“That’s precisely why you’re here,” Mr. Douglas said. “To learn that opportunity. So, to start, let me ask you a question. Do you know who you work for?”

Haley chuckled. “Of course. Lord Walker.”

“And do you know what Lord Walker does?”

“Lord Walker produces. Just like you, sir.” Haley didn’t understand. She thought he was asking questions with obvious answers.

“But what does it mean to produce? You spend more time with Lord Walker than anyone in the worlds. You see how he spends his every waking moment. What is it that he actually does?”

Haley thought about it. Most of his time was spent in bed, eating and watching TV. He said he was working when the stock advice was on, but that usually only lasted through first breakfast before he asked her to change the channel. Then there were the business feasts. But those seemed more like feasts and less like business. What was she supposed to say? She didn’t sit at the table with him and watch his every move. She was in the kitchen, cooking. He could very well have been doing important work that she didn’t see. Then there was the stock trading. But she did most—well, all—of that. Besides that he filmed one or two commercials a year for the various elections and award cer—

“If it takes you so long to answer,” Mr. Douglas interrupted her train of thought, “it indicates he doesn’t do much.”

“I—But—”

“It’s okay,” Mr. Douglas cut her off. “You don’t have to answer that question. It was only necessary that you went through the thought processes produced by being asked it. Now, another question, do you know how a 3D printer works?”

Haley felt defensive. She didn’t know if he wanted an answer or if he was manipulating her again. She was hesitant to give him one.

“This one I would prefer you did answer,” he said, as if reading her thoughts.

“They rearrange atoms into the structure ordered by the operator.”

“Yes.” Mr. Douglas nodded. “That’s what you’re told. But what if I told you that was a lie? What if I told you that humans have no technology capable of rearranging atoms? What would you say if I told you that the printer in your kitchen works in the same way as the door of your garage?”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“Of course you don’t,” Mr. Douglas said. “No one ever taught you how to. Your experience—as vast as it is—doesn’t allow for you to understand. But that’s the opportunity I’m offering you, Haley. Have you ever wondered how you drive out of the same garage and end up at different destinations all while going through the same door?”

Haley thought about it. She had never thought about it. She shook her head.

“One last question, then we really must get back to the feast. Do you want to know the answers to these questions?”

#     #     #

< VII. The Scientist   [Table of Contents]   IX. Ansel >

That’s it for chapter eight. Join us again next Saturday for chapter nine or skip the wait and order the full version of the novel on Amazon here.