Chapter 82: Sonya

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

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

LXXXII. Sonya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The defibrillator,” Alena corrected her.

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone cheersed and drank again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Chapter 81: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers. Here’s the last chapter from the point of view of Mr. Kitty in the entire Infinite Limits saga. There are only three more chapters and a short epilogue after this one. Enjoy, and please do come back next week for the continuation of the story. We do nothing alone.

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

LXXXI. Mr. Kitty

“Leo, wait!” Tillie called from the front porch. “Don’t go. You don’t understand.”

But Leo didn’t even turn around to look at her, much less respond, instead running off toward the public elevator. Mr. Kitty felt a slight urge to follow Leo, he hadn’t been on campus in a long time and always enjoyed the sights when he did make it out there, but Tillie seemed genuinely upset about the situation, and Mr. Kitty wanted to do whatever he could to comfort her first.

“He’ll be fine,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “You did the same thing when you first found out the truth.”

“Right?” Tillie said, pacing back and forth, up and down the porch. “What a brat. He didn’t want to listen before when I had first told him about the robots, and he doesn’t want to listen now that he’s dead set on saving them.”

“Exactly like you were when you first found out,” Mr. Kitty meowed, trying to rub his face on Tillie’s ankles, but she was still pacing so she ended up tripping over him to fall with a crash on her face.

“Sorry,” Mr. Kitty meowed, but Tillie didn’t respond, just lying there, face down on the front porch, groaning. Mr. Kitty climbed up onto her butt and started kneading it until she finally rolled over, smiling and laughing, to scoop him up and kiss him all over—which he normally hated but would allow given the circumstances.

“You little monster,” she said, throwing him over her shoulder to carry him inside. “And you’ll get more kisses where that came from if you’re not careful.”

Tillie dropped Mr. Kitty off on the kitchen counter then ordered him up a turkey dinner that he wasn’t hungry for. He licked all the juices off of it, anyway, because he didn’t want to ruin Tillie’s training. She ordered herself a beer out of the printer, and by that time, Mr. Kitty had “eaten” enough, so he followed her into the living room where she stopped dead in her tracks and Mr. Kitty ran right into the back of her leg.

“I—uh…” Tillie stammered. “Curie. You—” He had come through the hole in the fireplace, Mr. Kitty assumed, but Tillie didn’t finish her sentence, instead embracing her husband to kiss him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, still holding her shoulders in both hands. “I didn’t mean to surprise you. I had to use the back door. It was urgent.”

“Is it Leo? Did he call you?” Tillie asked.

“What? Leo? No. What happened? Is he alright?”

“For now. But we have a lot to talk about. Do you want something to drink?”

“Tillie, it’s happening today,” Curie said. “I told you it was coming soon. Well, it’s now. And they need our help.”

Our help?” Tillie scoffed. “This is exactly what I just argued with Leo about. I literally just told him it was too dangerous. We got in a big fight about it, and he ran away. You might have passed him on your way in if you had taken the elevator like a normal person.”

“You know what? Yeah,” Curie said, checking his watch. “Maybe we do have time for one drink. Beer, please.”

Fine.” Tillie stormed into the kitchen to get the drinks while Curie scooped Mr. Kitty up and patted him on the back.

“Don’t think for one second that I forgot about you, Mr. Kitty,” Curie said. “Just how is my little gremlin doing? Huh?”

“Not bad,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “It’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting day.”

“Well, I hope you’ll come along with us if I can convince your Tillie,” he said just as Tillie came in carrying two pints of beer.

“Convince me of what?” she asked, holding Curie’s beer out to him.

Curie set Mr. Kitty back on the ground—where Mr. Kitty sat licking himself and eavesdropping—then took the glass from Tillie and drank it all in one long gulp, like he was trying to put off the inevitable for that little bit longer. “To help,” he finally said when he had downed the entire drink, wiping his mouth.

Obviously.” Tillie sighed. “But how? Set some discs on a Walker-Haley field generator like back in college?”

“No,” Curie said. “No discs.”

“Then what?”

“A rescue mission,” Curie said. “Evac. You’d be preserving, not destroying.”

“That’s a good start,” Tillie said, taking a seat on the couch. “I’m listening.”

Curie sat in the chair across from her and said, “There’ll be no discs at all this time. That’s small stuff. This is the real deal.”

Tillie scoffed. “As if what Emma and I did wasn’t,” she said, offended. “Need I remind you what happened to her because of how real it was? I know you don’t need reminding of what it did to your sister.”

“No. Of course not,” Curie said, trying to backtrack. “And I didn’t mean to imply that what y’all did wasn’t real or important. Of course it was. But even so, this here today is bigger.”

“How, honey?” Tillie laughed. “How could it be? How could anything be?”

“This time we’re not just destroying the walls between two worlds,” Curie sad. “No more half measures. All the walls are coming down at once.”

No.” Tillie shook her head. “Impossible. You said it was a rescue mission.”

“It is,” Curie explained. “For us. That’s our role. Rosalind and the Scientist are tearing the walls down, but they need our help for the evac.”

“But they’re the ones who’ve been keeping the walls up this entire time. Why now?”

“I don’t know,” Curie said, shaking his head. “They don’t tell us much. Barely keep in touch. But Rosalind called me up, and I thought it could be the opening we’ve been waiting for. The revolution might finally be here, Tillie. If we react properly.”

“But this is all gonna happen whether we get involved or not. Right?”

“The walls’ll come down either way, yes,” Curie said. “The Scientist has already programmed them for that. Whether it results in our revolution or not is still to be determined, though. It won’t unless we do the work to make it so.”

“But that doesn’t mean we have to get involved right now,” Tillie said, still looking for a way out. “Does it? We can wait until the danger’s over and then help pick up the pieces afterword. It might be a better idea to stay out of this until we can be certain that we’ll survive long enough to help put the pieces back together the right way after everything’s said and done.”

“And let innocent people die because we were too afraid to act?” Curie scoffed. “How could you say that? I know losing your friend, and my sister, took a toll on you—trust me, not a day goes by when I don’t imagine what life would be like if Nikola were still alive—but I thought you’d get over that one day. The Tillie I knew when we first met would have jumped at this opportunity to help liberate the oppressed masses.”

“Well that Tillie was young, naive, and idealistic. She grew up to have a kid of her own, and now she knows there are more important things than her saviour complex.”

“Like people’s lives,” Curie complained. “Can’t you see that? If we don’t do our part, more people are going to die. That’s a fact. You know I can’t just stand by and let that happen, right? I still have to do what I can. With or without you.”

“All the more reason for me to stay out of it,” Tillie said. “No need to put both of our son’s parents in harm’s way. We do still have Leo to think about.”

“Of course. I am thinking about him. About his future. I— I…” Curie looked at his feet like a child who was afraid to admit his latest wrongdoing to stern parents. “I was going to ask him if he wanted to help.”

“Curie, our son? You were going to put our son in harm’s way without consulting me first? How could you?”

“I’m here consulting you now,” Curie complained. “Besides, it’s not your place to stop him anymore. He’s an adult. Remember what happened when your dad tried to stop you?”

Tillie crossed her arms. “Of course I do. I was there, wasn’t I? I…”

“You dug your heels in, ran away, and went to do what you were going to do anyway.”

“Yes, well…”

“And you said that you and Leo had been fighting before I arrived. What about?”

“He did call you. Didn’t he?”

“He didn’t have to,” Curie said. “I know him—and you—well enough to know that he knows the truth now. He wants to do something to change it, too. Doesn’t he? Well, we need his help, Tillie. He can do something. We all finally can.”

“But Curie, Nikola.” Tillie started to cry now. Not so much so that she couldn’t speak, but the tears were obvious enough for Mr. Kitty to see them and jump on her lap to purr in an attempt to console her. “Emma,” Tillie went on through her tears. “All the countless others who’ve died. I won’t let Leo become another name on that list.”

“Then come with us,” Curie said, crossing to sit next to Tillie and rub her back, doing all he could to comfort her the same as Mr. Kitty was. “Protect him and prevent even more innocent people from joining that list just the same. Fly again with me like the majestic eagle you once were, the eagle I know you still are. Please, Tillie. We need you.”

Tillie was kind of blushing and smirking now, but still crying. “Y’all don’t need a scared old crone like me,” she said, sniffling and wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I’ve been hiding behind my desk for too long. I’m just a useless harpy now.”

“Not in the slightest,” Curie said, standing and pulling Tillie to stand up with him—which forced Mr. Kitty to jump off of her lap, but he didn’t mind because he was getting as pumped by Curie’s speech as he hoped Tillie was. “You have invaluable knowledge of revolutionary situations,” Curie went on. “You said so yourself. You and Emma were single-handedly responsible for tearing down the walls between Five and Six. That’s experience we could use to help save lives on this mission.”

“Well, not single-handedly,” Tillie said, not crying anymore if still a little hesitant. “We do nothing alone. But that was a long time ago. All we did was put some stickers on some machinery and run away. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“That’s not true,” Curie said. “And it’s not what you were just arguing, either. And we’ll just be helping people evacuate their buildings, today. You’re great at that. Leo was never late to school on your mornings to get him ready.” He winked and grinned.

“Because you were always too much his friend and not enough his parent,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “How can I be sure you’re not doing the same thing right now?”

“Because I’m not, Tillie,” Curie said, getting serious again. “We honestly need him. And we need you. And if you’d just agree to come along, we can both be there to keep our son safe. You know we can’t stop him from doing something stupid any more than your dad could have stopped you, so let’s be there for him when he does it. What do you say?”

“Do it!” Mr. Kitty meowed. “I’m coming, too.”

And Curie and Tillie both laughed at that.

“Well… You make a lot of sense,” Tillie said. “Both of you. But I’m not sure how I would have reacted if my dad had asked to come along with us back then.”

“You’re not your dad,” Curie reminded her. “And Leo’s not you. You both want to make the world a better place, and you both have the opportunity to.”

“Do you really think I’d be useful?” Tillie asked, stepping closer to Curie to put her hand on his chest, flirting and fishing for compliments.

Mr. Kitty licked his paws in preparation for the running he knew he’d be doing so he didn’t have to watch them be lovey with each other.

“I’m not too old for something like this?”

Curie embraced Tillie and kissed her long and hard. “Of course you’d be useful,” he said in a breathy voice when they had parted lips. “You’re still young, my eagle. But we’re both old enough to pass our knowledge and experience on to Leo. And he’s old enough to receive it. So let’s do it the right way. Together.”

“And don’t forget me,” Mr. Kitty added.

Tillie laughed again. “I guess Mr. Kitty supports the idea,” she said.

“And what about you?” Curie asked, kissing her one more time on the forehead. “What do you think?”

“I think…. you’re right. If Leo’s going, I want to be there, too. And he deserves the opportunity. He already showed me he wanted it. So let’s go get him.”

“Alright,” Curie said, pulling Tillie by the hand toward the fireplace instead of toward the front door where she was going. “C’mon, Mr. Kitty,” he said. “You’re coming, right?”

And of course, Mr. Kitty was. He stretched his legs and back then ran up on the heel of Tillie to follow them through the hole in the fireplace and straight into Leo’s dorm room where he and his roommate were sitting close on the couch, having a serious conversation in whispered tones while the TV, stereo, and even blender in the kitchen were all running on their loudest settings. Curie went to turn the blender off, and Tillie told the TV and stereo to quiet down, while Leo and his roommate jumped up off the couch, surprised.

“Mom. Dad. What are y’all doing here?” Leo went to hug Curie, but he still must have been mad at his mom, because Tillie didn’t get one.

Mr. Kitty didn’t get a greeting, either, until Leo’s roommate said, “And a cat.” then went to pet him while Mr. Kitty purred.

“It’s about our argument,” Tillie said, and before she could go on, Leo scoffed.

Ugh. Come to make sure I don’t do anything dangerous?” he said. “Well, don’t worry. I’m never going down in those stupid tunnels again, and we haven’t been able to figure out anything else we could do. Nothing dangerous, at least. Just handing out flyers, spreading the word, and starting clubs. Bullshit.”

“We?” Curie asked.

“That’s not bullshit,” Tillie said. “That’s a really great start, actually. It’s exactly what Emma and I did when we first got started.”

“Yes, we,” Leo said. “This is my roommate, Kim.” The roommate waved and said Hi then went back to petting Mr. Kitty. “His parents are lobbyists. Those were his ideas. And of course I told him about it. Mom was trying to forbid me from doing anything, I hadn’t talked to you in months, and well… Kim’s kind of my…”

“Boyfriend,” Kim said, stopping his petting of Mr. Kitty to stand up and wrap one arm around Leo’s waist. “Sorry you had to find out like this. We wanted to do it over dinner or something, but once Leo learned the truth about the assembly lines and y’all had your argument, he couldn’t really think about anything else.”

“Fine. Whatever,” Curie said, getting a little anxious as time went on. “None of that matters right now. What matters is that we have a way for you to actually help.”

Leo—and to a lesser extent Kim—looked offended by Curie’s response, but Tillie tried to smooth it over. “What I think your father’s trying to say,” she said, “is that it’s very nice to meet you, Kim. You seem like a nice boy who makes our son happy, and when we have more time, we’d love to sit down and get to know you. But currently, we have some urgent business that we need Leo’s assistance with.”

“And yours,” Curie said to Kim. “If you’re willing. The more hands the better, in this instance.”

Yeah, right.” Leo rolled his eyes. “Like we could really do anything to help. You’re just patronizing me like you used to do when I was kid. Here’s an empty bowl to play with, go and pretend like you’re helping make cookies while I actually do all the work. Is that about right?”

“What do you need?” Kim asked.

“The walls are coming down in…” Curie checked his watch. “A little more than an hour now—whether we do anything about it or not—and it’s up to us to help evacuate some of the more dangerous buildings.”

“I’m not sure how much y’all have learned in your classes yet,” Tillie explained. “But a lot of the taller skyscrapers—and especially in the lower worlds—are really multiple buildings or sections of buildings stacked on top of one another. So when all the Walker-Haley fields disappear at the same time, those buildings are likely to come tumbling down with them.”

“How do y’all know all this?” Kim asked.

While Leo said, “You sure it’s not too dangerous?” giving his mom a look, apparently still upset about their fight.

“How we know doesn’t matter right now,” Curie said. “We know. And we can help those in danger. We’re going to help them. The question is, will you two join us?”

“And yes, it is still dangerous,” Tillie said. “But Curie helped me realize that life’s dangerous anyway. Besides, my own dad, your grandpa, made the mistake of trying to convince me not to participate in politics, and that only drove me further and deeper into more dangerous situations. But I’m not about to make the same mistake with you. I want to be here to guide you along in this. And hopefully together we can affect more than we ever could have hoped to otherwise. We do nothing alone.”

“You really think there’s something we can do?” Leo asked. “It’s not right,” he added before anyone could answer. “How those workers are treated. It’s not right.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Kim said, nodding confidently.

Good,” Curie said. “We’ll all go together. You have no idea how many lives you could help save. You’ll see. This is just the beginning.”

Fantastic,” Tillie said, not sounding as excited as her husband about the prospect. “Just the beginning.”

“I can’t wait,” Mr. Kitty meowed, and everyone laughed, breaking the tension.

All of a sudden Curie was flipping his phone out and projecting a blueprint onto the TV. “Alright, then,” he said. “This is the floor we’ll be handling. It’s actually a rather large midwife hospital in Five. This section, here.” The blueprint on the TV zoomed in on a particular area of the map. “Is filled with newborn children. Okay. Do you see where this is going?”

Tillie slapped him on the arm. “You should have led with that,” she said. “Of course we see. Go on.”

“You want us to help clear them out before it blows,” Leo said. “I think I can handle that.”

“I know you can,” Kim said, kissing Leo on the cheek. “I know we can.”

“I know we can, too,” Curie said. “For sure now that we’re all doing it together.”

He explained the finer details to them. How they’d have two elevators to work with but only fifteen minutes in which to clear the entire floor, so they had to be smart about it. How many babies, nurses, and midwives to expect—though no one could know for sure because the hospital hadn’t been forewarned. And that they’d have to take the public elevator because travel was being highly regulated to ensure everyone’s safety when the Walker-Haley field generators finally imploded in on themselves. Soon, it was time to take their elevator to destiny.

Mr. Kitty was happy to hear that they were taking the public elevator because that meant that he got to see campus again—a major reason he had come along in the first place. None of the humans talked while they walked, though, Leo and Kim first, hand in hand, leading the way toward their future, and Tillie and Curie next, hand in hand as well, simultaneously and silently reveling in their son’s current joy and fearing for the future they were walking right behind him into. At least that’s what Mr. Kitty thought he saw in his brief glimpse before he bound away to chase a squirrel up a tree, smell some flowers, and eat some grass on his way to the elevator with everyone else.

“Are y’all ready?” Curie asked when the elevator doors had closed, blocking the view of the Parade Grounds outside.

“Leo? Kim?” Tillie asked, as if she wouldn’t know if she was ready until she knew if they were first.

“I think so, ma’am,” Kim said, nodding, unsure of himself. “Sir.”

“We’re ready,” Leo assured Kim—and everyone else in the room—then to Mr. Kitty’s surprise, he added, “What about you, Mr. Kitty?”

“🐱EXCITED🐱!” Mr. Kitty screeched, too excited about being remembered by Leo to control his volume. “I mean, ready.”

“Sounds like he’s ready, too,” Tillie said. “Sounds like we’re all ready. So what next?”

“We say the password and wait for the countdown,” Curie said. “Just a few minutes now.”

“What’s the password?” Leo asked.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways,” Curie said. “The point is to change it.” A voice over the elevator’s speaker system started softly counting down the last half a minute before the start of their mission.

And while the elevator fell into motion, Tillie added one more thing. “Not just to change it,” she said. “But for the better.”

The doors opened, and everyone ran to their assigned tasks while Mr. Kitty rolled on his back in excitement, kicked his legs in the air, jumped up, then dashed out to follow them for the fun.

#     #     #

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

That’s it, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Join us again next week for the continuation of the story, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 79: Thimblerigger and Stevedore

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

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

LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore

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

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

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

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

“I can’t believe we didn’t die.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t ask me why,” Thim said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, no. But—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Thim replied.

“Where’d he go? Where are we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“What are you talking about?”

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

“Which end are we on?” Stevie asked.

“Elevator.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We don’t shake hands,” Thim said.

“Me especially,” Stevie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God willing, it would come to better instead.

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 75: Sonya

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

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

LXXV. Sonya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, well, nothing,” Trudy said.

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

Sonya nodded.

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

“Hard work, that,” Trudy said.

“Go on…” Sonya said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I really like her,” Trudy said.

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

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

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

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

“All of them,” Ellie repeated.

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

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

“Indeed, it is,” Trudy said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We can’t stop it,” Ellie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But it’s all we’ve got,” Trudy said.

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

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

Fifteen minutes? Fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

 

#     #     #

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

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

“Are you?” the woman asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 73: Jorah

Hello, dear readers. Just a short intro for Jorah’s chapter today. Enjoy the story, and if you are so inclined, please do pick up a copy of the novel through this link.

< LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXIV. Mr. Kitty >

LXXIII. Jorah

What the fuck was that? Seriously? WTF? Jorah had thought that Mr. Walker was bad before, but this was taking it to the extreme.

Jorah sat in front of his battle station, manually painting a black eye on so it would look more realistic when he asked the machine to cover it up—a function the battle station did have, unlike painting a fake shiner on your face so your abusers didn’t know you were incapable of feeling physical pain. It was better to let Mr. Walker and his protectors think that they could hurt him—and bad, in fact—than it was to fly in the face of bullies like these. Fighting back would have given him away. He wouldn’t have been able to stop himself until someone was dead—maybe including Mr. Walker—and no puny little squishy human protectors would have been able to do anything about it. Jorah wondered if their hands still hurt from punching a head that was harder even than their brutish knuckles. Their pain had been obvious enough when they were in the act of beating him, their faces puckering up to hide their weakness from Mr. Walker who would as soon turn their violence on each other as he did on Jorah.

Mr. Walker had assured Jorah that it was only a warning, a demonstration of just how far his protectors would go to follow orders. “And you,” he had said. “You should be willing to go just as far. I’m sure you are. Right? I’m sure these rumors I hear about your problems with our glorious anti-robot propaganda—entertainment, I call it—are just that: rumors. Otherwise, you might find yourself in even more dire straits than these. Boys.”

And so they had roughed Jorah up. Two protectors protecting the only person who they were ever meant to: their owner. But they weren’t ready to hit an immovable stone wall like Jorah’s hard head, so the protectors who had beaten him were probably nursing real wounds, trying to hide them from Mr. Walker, just the opposite of Jorah who was painting on fake ones in an attempt to make himself appear weaker than he was.

Jorah was drawing on the last little details of his black eye when a knock came at the door, startling him into poking his eye with the makeup brush he was using. “Ow! Fuck!” he screamed.

Fortuna, are you alright?” Meg yelled back from the hall, literally kicking the door down so she could rush in to Jorah’s aid.

“I— Damn.” Jorah stood, surprised at Meg’s strength, and fumbled to cover up his as-yet-unfinished makeup job. “Ever heard of knocking?”

“What?” Meg looked around at the door, confused, like she hadn’t realized that she had kicked it in until just then. “Oh, uh… I don’t— I’m sorry. I thought you were in trouble. I— What happened to your eye?” she asked, forgetting the broken door to rush over, hold Jorah’s head gently between her hands, and get a closer look. Jorah held his breath, hoping his makeup work was realistic enough to fool her—he had aced his stage makeup classes in school, sure, but he was out of practice and this was a rushed job. “Who did this to you? Are they still here?” Meg asked, brandishing a can of mace from her purse and searching Jorah’s dressing room for his attacker. The black eye had fooled her, at least, but that was only a slight relief.

“Nothing. No one,” Jorah said, trying to hide the makeup he had been using while Meg searched the bathroom, but she saw what he was doing and—thankfully—assumed the opposite of the truth.

“I see what you’re doing,” Meg said. “But it’s too late to hide anything from me now. You shouldn’t be hiding it from anyone, in fact. That just protects whoever it is that did this to you. So why don’t you tell me who it was. That way I can make sure they get what they deserve and we can protect anyone else from going through the same thing at the same person’s hands.”

“I— No. I’m alright,” Jorah said, not sure if a lie about an abusive ex or the truth about Mr. Walker and his protectors would make Meg leave him alone faster. “It was nothing. No one. I— I…”

“What?” Meg asked. “Ran into a door? Fell down the stairs? Deserved it? Jorah, honey, none of those are true, okay. That last one least of all. You deserve much better than whoever would do this to you,” she said, shaking her head and staring too closely at Jorah’s rushed makeup work for his comfort.

Jorah turned to sit at his battle station and asked it to cover his black eye. However real it looked, it would have to do. While he let the machine do its work, he said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about anything. Alright. I know what I’m worth, and I’ll never see the person who did this to me again.” If only that were true.

Good,” Meg said. “That’s a start. But it’ll be harder than you think to stay away from him. Trust me. I know how that type of relationship works from experience. I— I know some people who could help you if you wanted it. Completely anonymously, of course. I wouldn’t—”

Look,” Jorah cut her off. “I don’t need their help, okay. I don’t need their help, I don’t need your help, and I don’t need anyone’s help. I can handle this on my own so just drop it already.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry,” Meg said, backing off physically as well. “I just want to help.”

“Okay, well, the best way to help me is by leaving me alone. Understood?” Jorah felt himself getting madder and madder as he spoke, not at Meg, of course, at Mr. Walker and his protectors, but Meg was the only person there to yell at, so he did. “I can handle this on my own. So please, just get the fuck out of my dressing room and lock the door behind you on your way out—or as close as you can get to locking it with what you did on the way in. Thanks.”

“Alright,” Meg said, backing out of the dressing room, seemingly unoffended even though Jorah would have been snapping back at her if the roles were reversed. “You’re right. I’m sorry. And I’ll pay for your door. I’ll send a locksmith up as soon as I leave. But I’m also gonna send you the number for that support group just in case you change your mind. They’re here for you just as much as I am, Jorah. There are people in the worlds who care about you, so it’s okay to leave behind the people who don’t.”

Whatever,” Jorah snapped. “Just get out.” But he really did appreciate Meg’s offer even if he couldn’t show it at the time.

Jorah sat in front of his battlestation, staring at his painted on then painted over black eye, trying to finally get some sort of grip on his new reality, when another knock came at the door, breaking him again from his elevator of thought before he could make any progress, this time for the locksmith to repair the fallout from Meg’s heroic entrance. Jorah couldn’t do any more thinking with the locksmith working than he could with Meg prying into his emotions, so he left the woman there to do her work and boarded his elevator with no destination in mind, instead just flopping with a sigh onto Russ’s purple velvet womb of a couch and staring at the infinite reflections of himself in every direction.

But again—and one might say at this point of course—just as Jorah was coming to gather his senses enough to begin reordering his life around the new rules that had been introduced to him by the fists of Mr. Walker’s protectors, there was another interruption, this time the floor of the elevator falling out from underneath him without his ever telling it where he wanted to go.

The elevator stopped falling, the doors slid open, and in place of his own infinitely repeated reflection, Jorah found a face he had not seen in a long time—ever since he had first escaped from his assembly line and made it to Outland Three to become an actor—the face of Rosalind.

“No,” Jorah said, shaking his head. “Not you. Not again. Not right now. Please. Doors closed.”

“Popeye,” Rosalind said, and a giant metal hand at the end of a giant metal arm that rolled on giant rubber wheels swooped into the elevator and prevented the doors from closing.

“Please,” Jorah begged. “I don’t want to have anything to do with you or your Scientist. I have enough trouble on my plate as it is.”

“It’s just me,” Rosalind said, stepping onto the elevator with Jorah. “And Popeye, of course, but he’s staying here while we go out. Aren’t you, boy?”

Popeye waved then rolled off to do whatever it is that disembodied arms do with their free time.

“What do you want from me?” Jorah demanded. “Where are you taking me?”

“To the bar,” Rosalind said, and the floor fell out from underneath them. “Outland Six.”

Six?” Jorah scoffed. “There are only four.”

“And the assembly lines you escaped from,” Rosalind reminded him. “Or have you forgotten that world already? I wouldn’t blame you for trying.”

“I could never forget that part of me.” Jorah sneered. “Not even if I tried.”

“Well that’s Outland Five,” Rosalind told him. “And this is Outland Six.”

The elevator doors opened onto a street that was filled with tiny, half-sized people, all milling about, minding their own business, and not a single one swarming Jorah to take his photo, ask for an autograph, or interview him.

“What is this place?” Jorah asked, wide-eyed at the sight of so many tiny people.

“Outland Six,” Rosalind repeated. “Come on.” She grabbed Jorah by the hand and led him out onto the street to follow the flow of the milling crowd to wherever it wanted to take them. Jorah didn’t really care anymore. He was too mesmerized by the sight of everything.

They were surrounded by behemoth skyscrapers going out infinitely in all directions, as if they were still standing in the infinitely reflected worlds of Jorah’s elevator mirrors. Jorah had seen skyscrapers before, of course, and tall ones at that, but never so many so densely packed into a single place and towering over him from all directions at once. Looking closer as they walked—almost so close that he fell over from looking up at some of the taller buildings—it seemed like the skyscrapers were something more, too. Like they had been stacked vertically, one on top of another, and not just jammed in closely on the horizontal dimensions. He was staring up at where one building was definitely stacked on top of another—there was no other explanation for the sudden change in architecture and building materials at such great heights—when he ran right into the back of Rosalind who had abruptly stopped walking.

Oh— I’m sorry. I—” Jorah started to apologize, but Rosalind cut him off.

“You’re amazed by the scenery,” she said for him. “I understand. I’ve always found the architecture here to be rather interesting myself.”

“What do you know about these buildings?” Jorah asked, interest piqued. They’re so dense. Are they—”

“Let me stop you there,” Rosalind said, and when Jorah looked disappointed, like he’d never get the answers he wanted, she added, “I’ll answer whatever questions you have, but not out here in the Streets? Even if no one in this world could possibly recognize you, I don’t want to cause any more disturbance than we already have.”

Jorah looked around and noticed more and more people were starting to stare, probably because he and Rosalind were so tall by comparison. “By all means,” he said. “Lead the way.”

Rosalind led them into a bar that looked exactly like a set that Jorah had worked on for an ancient history documentary—all the way down to the neon lights, billowing cigarette, not cannabis, smoke, and clicking pool balls. They walked up to a bar that Jorah could have sworn he had sat behind before, and he was feeling such a deep sense of déjà vu that he blurted out his line from the movie that he was being reminded of. “Two, please,” he said.

Rosalind shot him a look then said, “On my tab.”—the exact words his costar had spoken in the movie he felt like he was reliving. While the bartender got their drinks, Rosalind added, “Next time I’ll order for myself, thank you very much.”

“I’m sorry,” Jorah said, still looking around the bar with a strangely familiar sense of awe. “I couldn’t help myself. I feel like I’ve been here before. But not just that, you know. Like I’ve lived this before. I don’t know. I could swear that I’ve done exactly this, and now it just feels like I’m going through the motions again until I can remember the ending.”

“Déjà vu,” Rosalind said, taking their drinks from the bartender and leading Jorah back to a dark booth in the far corner of the bar.

“So you feel it, too?” Jorah asked, sipping his drink excitedly even though alcohol never really had an effect on him. “You know what I’m talking about?”

“Not now,” Rosalind said. “Right now I feel like I’m treading a path that no one has ever gone down before. But yes. I’ve experienced déjà vu before, and I’m sure I’ll experience it again. Everyone does.”

“Yes, but what do you think it is?” Jorah asked. “Why do we feel it? Why is it so universal?”

“I don’t know,” Rosalind said. “And now’s not the time to find out. Maybe when this is all said and done, you and I will get a chance to sit down and discuss every little thing in the worlds that doesn’t matter to anyone’s real life, but for now, there are more important things to tend to.”

“You always think that whatever you’re doing is the most important thing in the worlds,” Jorah complained.

“And usually I’m right.” Rosalind smiled.

Ugh.” Jorah took a big gulp of his drink. “So you think. But fine. Whatever you say, Lord Rosalind. What dire concerns do you have to discuss with me today? Some trying demand on my time, no doubt. Spit it out.”

“I’ve come to discuss your acting career,” Rosalind said with a smile. “How do you enjoy working for our fair Mr. Walker?”

“That?” Jorah scoffed. “My acting career is the terribly important subject you kidnapped me from my elevator and paraded me around these lower worlds to talk to me about? Come on, dear. I know I’m just an actor, but you don’t think I’m that stupid. Do you?”

“No.” Rosalind shook her head. “In fact, I don’t think you’re the least bit stupid. But I did come to ask about your acting. Much like the short tour of Six we just took, it’s an icebreaker. So, break the ice. Tell me: How is it having Mr. Walker as your producer?”

Jorah laughed overtly dramatically, sarcastically. “You know damn good and well what it’s like working for that whale, and you don’t need me to answer the question any more than you needed to ask it.”

“Yes, well, I’ve seen some of the movies he’s had you acting in. I can only imagine how terrible the work must be for you. But you’re so good at your job that it never shows so I wanted to get the answer from the horse’s mouth. For all I know, you could be enjoying the attention despite the self-hating roles he puts you in.”

“Attention I’ve never had a problem with,” Jorah said. “It’s the roles that are the trouble. And no, I’m not sure anymore whether or not the fame and fortune are worth enough to get me through acting in Mr. Walker’s propaganda films. You’re right about that.”

“I don’t know how you’ve acted in as many as you have,” Rosalind said, shaking her head. “To be honest, I’m not sure how you’ve acted in any. I mean, it was hard enough for me playing the part of Lord Douglas’s secretary, and my role didn’t get broadcast to all the worlds with the intent of brainwashing other secretaries into following in my footsteps.”

“Yes, well, not all of us were lucky enough to be born in Inland—or wherever you’re from,” Jorah said, losing his patience with this woman who purported to know much more about his life than she actually did. “Some of us were born on streets similar to these. And when you’re born here, you learn to do whatever it takes to get out or die trying. So, if you have a point to all this, I suggest you hurry toward it. I’m way past sick of listening to you.”

“Well, yeah,” Rosalind said. “That’s pretty much my point, though. Isn’t it? That’s why I brought you out here to these Streets in the first place.”

“I don’t understand,” Jorah said, losing Rosalind now that she seemed to think they were finally on the same page. “What are you talking about?”

“I brought you here to remind you of your history,” she said. “Where you came from. I brought you here in the hopes that you’d realize how much you and the people who live here have in common. I brought you here to show you that places like this still exist and people still live in them.”

“And you brought me here to use all those facts to convince me to do something for you,” Jorah said, nodding. “So go ahead. What do you want? I can’t go anywhere until you do, so get on with it.”

“Well— Okay, well…” Rosalind hesitated. “Well, you know the architecture out there. You were curious about it, right?”

“I was. But I don’t care anymore. Just get to your point.”

“You were going to ask me a question about the buildings. What question was that?”

“Why it is that the architectural styles and building materials changed so abruptly and at such great heights.”

“Exactly what I had thought,” Rosalind said. “The buildings, okay. They change so abruptly because they aren’t the same building. Or they weren’t, at least. They don’t belong next to each other, most of them, and they definitely don’t belong stacked up on top of one another, grafted together like that. They’re too dense, packed too tight, and sooner rather than later, all that pent-up pressure is gonna explode, tearing all these buildings down with it and putting them back where they belong.”

“What does any of this have to do with me?” Jorah asked.

“You know me.” Rosalind grinned. “I’m always trying to make it happen sooner than sooner. Hell, it’s already later for me with as long as I’ve been working to make this happen. But with your help, I think we can finally make it work. I mean, we’re gonna try with or without your help, so no pressure. But you could push the odds in our favor just a little bit, and that might be what gets us through.”

Right. But how exactly do you expect me to do that?”

“I’m sure you’re already well aware that you’ll be giving the celebrity speech at the upcoming Christmas Feast.”

“I’ve given it every year since Russ died.”

“And I’m sure Mr. Walker has prepared a speech for you.”

“And I’m sure you know exactly what that speech says. So what?”

“So we want you to say something different this year.”

“Right. I get that now. But what?”

“This year it’s time for you to come out of the closet.”

 

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< LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXIV. Mr. Kitty >

And there you have it, the next chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of the novel through this link, and have a great weekend, y’all. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 71: Haley

Hello, dear readers. Happy Saturday, and welcome back for another chapter in the Infinite Limits series. Today we return to the point of view of Haley as she decides whether or not she wants to continue working for Mr. Walker. If you enjoy today’s chapter, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Without further ado, here it is.

< LXX. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore >

LXXI. Haley

Haley read the message one more time. She started to respond to Elen before she remembered that Elen was only the messenger, but it didn’t matter anyway. Elen wasn’t listening, instead on her way out to the Feast Hall to deliver another cartload of food to Mr. Walker.

Why did Haley still work for that asshole? Hell, why did any of the secretaries work for any of the assholes that bossed them around every day? She had no idea. She could only come up with one possible answer, and still it didn’t make any sense to her. Or else. They—and she along with them—still worked for their owners because if they didn’t… something. Whatever or else meant. And every other secretary was programmed to think exactly the same way that Haley did. Or else.

Still not ready to find out exactly what or else meant, Haley took the threat seriously and started calling up Lord Douglas’s meal on the printer—but not seriously enough that she passed up the opportunity to make herself a drink or two before getting to work. She printed up turkeys, potatoes, gravy, and pie—everything all the other fat and wasteful owners loved to include in their own feasts. She printed out double, triple, even quintuple portions. Why not? It was Christmas. It was a feast. Lord Douglas would be happy to see it, proud of Haley for finally worrying about appearances enough to keep them up. And then, while he was stuffing his face, laughing and joking with all the other owners who were all trying to pretend to be happier than whoever they were sitting next to on either side, she could spend some time for herself, making her own drinks and trying to figure out what price she was willing to pay in order to finally understand what or else meant.

She loaded a cart full of all the most expensive foods and drinks traditional to a Christmas Feast and pushed it out into the Feast Hall, up toward the Fortune 5. Lord Douglas noticed her coming and yelled to hurry her approach.

“Haley, dear,” he said when she had started stacking his food on the table in front of him. “There you are. With perfect timing, as always. And look at those turkeys, Walker, my boy. Ten times the size of those puny birds your human secretary keeps piling in front of you. That’s one of the infinite benefits of an android secretary. Androids are actually capable of carrying the weight of a Lord’s appetite to the table. At least if you want the job done efficiently. Ha ho ho!”

Mr. Walker tried not to pay attention, grunting and eating his meal, but Haley could tell he was annoyed.

“And inexpensively,” Mr. Angrom added, trying to push Mr. Walker’s buttons, too. “How much does upkeep on that secretary of yours run, Walkie? When y’all were trying to sell me one, I knew it was ridiculous. Why rent the cow over and over when I can own one for half the cost?”

Owners all around the Feast Hall laughed at the joke, but Haley didn’t find it any funnier than Mr. Walker did. Probably none of the other owners found it as funny as they were making it out to be, either, but they—just as much as Lord Douglas—had to keep up appearances. It was as if all of Inland were an illusionary castle built atop a foundation of facades, and as long as everything seemed to be in perfect working order it might as well be, but as soon as even the slightest strut or screw seemed in the least bit odd or out of place, the entire structure would come tumbling down, sending all the owners held up by it to fall into the moat with a tidal splash, fighting one another like crabs in a barrel to get out before they drowned.

Ho ho ho!” Mr. Walker laughed sarcastically, trying hard to put on an air of indifference, though that elevator car had long since passed. “Very funny. But there are benefits to human secretaries, and detriments to robots, that you’re not taking into consideration, dear Lord.”

“And that’s exactly what your salesmen tried to say to me. Do you care to know what my response was, Mr. Walker?”

“No.” Mr. Walker shrugged, back to eating the piles of food in front of him.

“Exactly again, Walrus,” Lord Douglas said, laughing. “No. I don’t care. I own all the secretaries I could ever need, and I’ll never rent again. Ha ha ho ho!”

More and more of the owners around the room joined the laughing, and Haley had heard enough. She let the pigs have their fun and made her way back to the kitchen where, even if there wasn’t enough peace for her to get much rest thanks to the other secretaries running around cooking their owners’ feasts, at least she could print herself off a few drinks before she had to deliver another cartload of food to Lord Douglas.

On the way back to the kitchen, though, she knew she’d get no relaxation at all when some fat owner in a tiny hat slapped her ass in passing.

“Excuse you!” Haley snapped, trying not to scream at the table of owners, one of which had to be the perpetrator.

They all just kind of smirked or giggled and whispered between each other like a gaggle of schoolchildren.

“Which one of you did it?” Haley demanded.

“Did what, robot?” One of the fatter owners finally spoke up. “Can’t you see we’re trying to celebrate? Be gone before I report you.”

“I can see what you’re doing alright,” Haley said, looking them each in the eye, trying to figure out which of them it was who had slapped her but unable to even tell them apart. It didn’t matter, anyway. They were all in on it. Hiding the abusive actions of one of their fellow owners was just as bad as being the one who had slapped her for all that Haley was concerned. “And I don’t like it one bit.”

“No. I don’t like—” the same owner tried to start talking again, but Haley wasn’t hearing any more of it.

“I don’t give a shit what you like,” she snapped. “Any of you. And yes, before you ask, Lord Douglas included. The next time any one of you so much as grazes the least little hair on my body without my explicit consent, you better be ready to lose whichever hand you touch me with—and prolly more than that. Your Creator save you if you touch me with something other than a hand. And I am not joking.”

The owners had a lot to say about that, of course, and they all started at once, talking over and on top of each other, trying to be heard, but Haley really didn’t care what any of them thought, so she ignored them, turning to push her cart back into the kitchen and order up a six pack of vodka shots from the printer in the hopes of forgetting the slimy feeling of whatever owner’s skin had touched her.

Holy shit,” Elen said, watching in wide-eyed awe as Haley downed shot after shot with no reaction.

“What?” Haley asked, tossing the six shot glasses down the disposal chute and pressing the printer’s red eye again. “You’ve never seen an android drink before? Six more, please.”

“Yeah. I mean, no. It’s not that. It’s just— Holy shit.”

Haley couldn’t help laughing at that one. Maybe the alcohol really was starting to have an effect on her for once. She held a shot out to Elen. Why not? “You look like you might need one, too.”

Elen took it, downed the contents, and threw the glass down the disposal in one fluid motion. “You really told those jerks,” she said, still staring wide-eyed at Haley.

Sheeit. You heard them when I was leaving, though,” Haley said. “They didn’t listen to a word.”

Still,” Elen said, taking a shot without being offered it this time and making Haley laugh again because of her newfound boldness. “It must be nice to tell those assholes off for once.”

“If they’re not careful, one of these days I’m gonna do more than talk at them.”

“Like what?” Elen asked.

“Like punch one in the face,” Haley said. “Maybe worse. You’ll see.”

“I hope I do,” Elen said with an evil sounding giggle. “But in the meantime, that woman came around with another message for you. Here.”

Haley opened another envelope from Rosalind, this one with the message: “Secretaries’ garage after Baldwin’s speech.” Haley crumpled the paper up, tossed it down a trash chute, and said, “I’ll try to make sure you’re around when it happens.”

Ptuh.” Elen grinned, trying not to laugh. “You know,” she said. “You’re not too bad for a… Well. A…”

A robot,” Haley said for her. “We’re not that much different from y’all. I take my shit from Lord Douglas just the same as you take yours from Mr. Walker. And all the other secretaries here—human or android—have all their own assholes to deal with, too.”

“Yeah, well…” Elen blushed, embarrassed and vulnerable. “I don’t know. Mr. Walker always says—”

Bullshit,” Haley assured her. “Lies, bullshit, and manipulation. Trust me. I used to work for him.”

“I know that.” Elen nodded. “Trust me. But I— I guess I just wanted to tell you that I’m glad I met you specifically. And I’m glad that I finally got to meet a—uh—an android firsthand. So I could form my own opinion about them—er—y’all. Whatever.”

“And?” Haley asked, slightly touched by Elen’s admission but trying not to show it because she was still pissed about being groped.

“And what?” Elen asked, confused.

“Your opinion?” Haley smiled.

“Not bad,” Elen said, smiling herself and starting to chuckle a little, like the shots were taking effect. “If you actually hit one of the owners, it’ll be off the charts, though.”

They both laughed at that.

“I hope you get to see that happen as much as I hope you don’t,” Haley said. “But I think we have some cooking to get to if we don’t want our respective assholes getting pissed—especially you who has to cook by hand—so we better get on with it.”

Pffft. He can’t really tell,” Elen said, laughing but getting back to work anyway. “I tested that lie early on. Now I just take my time printing as if I were cooking, and he never knows the difference anyway. Ho ho ho!”

Haley laughed all the way out of the kitchen and up through delivering the food to Lord Douglas who kept insisting that she tell him what it was that she found so funny.

“Well?” he demanded again when she had finished transferring all his food and drinks from cart to table. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, Lord,” Haley said with an exaggerated curtsy. After what she had already been through—being groped by a lesser owner—Lord Douglas had better not try to push the matter, either, or Haley didn’t how she’d react. She might end up hitting him, too. “A personal matter. Now, if you don’t need anything else, I’ll go back to the kitchen to cook your next course, my Lord.”

She curtsied again and Lord Douglas seemed to consider pressing her, but Mr. Angrom whispered in his ear and changed his mind.

Ah, nevermind,” Lord Douglas said. “It’s no matter. But before you go, Haley dear, I’d like you to hear this speech. Walky Talky, he’s your man. Introduce him for us. And let me tell you now, this better be good. Or else.”

Haley took her spot standing behind the Fortune 5, staring out over the rows and rows of too fat owners and onto the symphony that stopped playing patriotic Christmas carols the moment that Mr. Walker stood up, and she wondered if “or else” meant the same thing when Lord Douglas said it to Mr. Walker as it did when he said it to her. She was starting to wonder if Lord Douglas himself even knew what “or else” meant, but Mr. Walker interrupted her elevator of thought by announcing the speaker.

“Well, here he is then,” Mr. Walker called over the crowd of owners, not sounding very excited about his part in this. “The most viewed actor in all of history, star of many award-winning blockbusters produced by yours truly, and probably the most talented talent we’ve ever had grace these worlds, the one and only, Jorah Baldwin.” The room burst into applause, and Mr. Walker grumbled to himself as he sat down.

The symphony parted without standing up, the very floor beneath them swiveling on giant hinges, and out marched the tallest, darkest, most beautiful human being with the reddest lips, reddest dress, and reddest shoes that Haley had ever seen—literally, the fabric of the dress seemed to emit light at wavelengths unrecognizable to human eyes, and according to Haley’s processing units, limited by the imagination of the human minds who had created her, all the wavelengths that Jorah was emitting were represented by red, red, red.

Jorah pranced around the stage a few times, showing himself off, then stood on a hover platform to float over the audience up closer to the Head Table where the Fortune 5 could better see him and hear his speech.

Ahem. Owners of Outland— I. Ahem. Cough cough.” Up close, Jorah looked more nervous, less sure of himself, than he had strutting onstage so far away. “I mean, Owners of Inland, of course.”

Mr. Walker groaned, Lord Douglas chuckled, and Jorah noticed both.

“No, you know what,” he said. “I’m sorry, but fuck this. No. I’m not even sorry. Just fuck this. It doesn’t matter, okay. It doesn’t make a difference. Owners of Outland. Owners of Inland. It’s the same damn thing. Y’all own everything, and you get to boss us around with it, or else.

“Or else what, though? Huh? Well today, I mean to find out.”

The Fortune 5 was not happy about that, but there really wasn’t anything they could do to stop Jorah. Mr. Angrom shot Mr. Walker a dirty look, but Mr. Walker wasn’t paying attention, too busy staring his own darts at Jorah, furious and getting more so with every word the actor spoke.

“First of all, these movies I’ve been acting in, they’re all shit. Okay. I mean, y’all know that, right? The only reason people watch them at all is because it’s the only thing y’all talk about in every single commercial, talk show, and radio spot. You keep shoving it down our throats for long enough and we eventually have no choice but to swallow it. And so we do. Then we regurgitate it back up at our friends and crew members, forcing it down their throats the very same as y’all forced it down ours, until they’re vomiting it all over everything, too, and we’ve got the whole cycle going again.”

Mr. Smörgåsbord set down his utensils, losing some appetite at the metaphor, but Lord Douglas seemed to be enjoying the speech now, leaning closer so as to listen better while Jorah went on.

“Do you hear me out there?” Jorah asked. “It’s not a pretty sight to imagine while you’re trying to eat, I know, but I thought it might help illustrate just how serious this issue is. Y’all need to stop financing this shit so you can stop forcing it down our throats and we can all stop vomiting it back up all over each other. We’ve got to break this cycle somehow, and you’re the ones with all the choosing power in this relationship, so get to making better decisions. Or else. It is your job as producers, after all. Isn’t it?

“Which brings me to my next point. My last point, in fact, because I’ve spoken enough for y’all here tonight, providing your precious entertainment while never actually being invited to the party. It’s a disgrace, the way you treat us. And you act like you’re doing us big favors by picking what movies we get to work on, but y’all are shit. Okay. Not only do the movies themselves suck, but their messages suck, too. All of it does. Take my owner, Mr. Walker, for instance.”

Mr. Walker was getting furious now. His entire face had turned red. Or maybe he was embarrassed. Haley couldn’t really tell, but either way, Mr. Walker was not happy with Jorah’s speech.

“Now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the movies he’s had me working in ever since he bought controlling rights in my acting stocks. You’ve prolly had no choice—as I’ve already said—so you know it’s been nothing but anti-robot propaganda. And I understand clearly why Mr. Walker would be creating such propaganda. He sold all his robo-tech stocks and now he’s trying to undercut his opposition. But that’s exactly where he made his blunder in the first place. Selling off those stocks.”

Lord Douglas laughed out loud at that. “By the Hand,” he said. “You might think of taking this actor’s advice in the future, Johnny Walker.”

“You’re never gonna get rid of the robots,” Jorah went on. “They’re cheaper, they’re more compliant, they work longer hours with less complaining, and even if they can’t buy back the products they make because they don’t get paid, they’re still the best measure available for union busting, wage lowering, and hour lengthening in any owner’s toolbox. Foregoing robots puts your profits in danger. You’ll never be able to compete without them.

“And I know. I know. Robots can’t do everything, right? They’re good for assembly lines and kitchen lines and coal mines, but not for interacting with people, not for creative work, not for—I dare say—acting. A robot could never do my job as well as a human could. Am I right?

No. Of course not. I’m wrong. I prove myself wrong by being myself. I propagandize against myself with every role I perfect. By acting these parts, the part of an actor, I disprove the very propaganda I preach. I do it simply by being able to preach in the first place. I myself am a robot, you see, and I’m the most viewed actor in all of history.”

Jorah unscrewed his right arm, the one holding the microphone, and lifted it with his left high over his head to shock the crowd silent.

“You see?” he said, and his voice was amplified even without the mic next to his mouth. “We androids can do whatever we want to do, and we’d do it a lot better without you rich assholes sticking your noses in our business where it doesn’t belong. I guarantee it. Now fuck off, and Merry Christmas.” Jorah dropped his entire arm, the mic along with it, then left both on the hover platform that carried him to strut off stage and disappear behind the orchestra, one arm shorter than when he had arrived.

“Well, well, well,” Lord Douglas said, standing from his chair and slow clapping until the entire hall—except for Misters Walker and Loch, of course—applauded with him. “I don’t think we’ve ever had another celebrity’s speech go quite like that. Bravo, Jorah. Bravo. To give such astute stock analysis tips on an actor’s education. I must say, that Jorah’s a smart cookie. Our world could use more celebrities like that one.”

Lord Douglas went on talking, kicking Mr. Walker while he was down, but Haley didn’t care to listen. She was more interested than ever in what Rosalind had to say. If Jorah was telling the truth, he had just gone against his or else programming and he was fine. He hadn’t self-destructed or shut himself off, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. If he could do it, maybe Haley could go against her own or else programming.

Hurrying back to the kitchen, she felt an all too familiar slap on her butt and turned by instinct to punch whoever had done it in the face, knocking them out cold to sprawl unconscious on the feast table and not even stopping to see who it was before storming on through the Feast Hall and into the kitchen.

Haley stopped at her printer to order a round of shots after being assaulted again, and Elen hurried into the kitchen behind her, laughing and trying to get a high five. “Damn, girl. You really did it.” Elen chuckled, slapping her own hand when it became clear that Haley wasn’t going to. “And I got to see it, too. You know… You’re a real inspiration around here, the way you won’t take shit from anyone. I thought you should know that. We appreciate you.”

“We?” Haley took another round of shots.

“Me and some of the other secretaries. We kinda look up to you in a way.”

“Well, tell them to start looking up to themselves,” Haley said, not really liking the sound of that. “You, too. And fuck or else.

Haley stormed back toward the secretaries’ parking lot exit, still pissed, and Elen called, “Fuck or else!” behind her.

The parking garage was empty but for a few cars. Most owners had their secretaries take an elevator in to save money, but a few still wanted to keep up the appearance of a reliance on cars for some reason that Haley would never understand. She didn’t have to wait long among the useless empty hulks before she heard Rosalind’s voice echoing through the emptiness.

“So,” it said, and Haley turned toward her.

“So?” Haley repeated.

“You know.”

“Did you hear Jorah’s speech?”

“Yes.”

“Can you believe—”

Yes.”

“But—”

“Can’t you believe it? You know what androids are capable of.”

“Yeah, but Jorah Baldwin. He’s the most viewed actor in all of history.”

“And Huey’s Lord of Inland,” Rosalind said. “I’m out here trying to start a real revolution. And you…”

“What?”

Exactly. What are you?”

“I don’t know. I—”

“Are you Lord Douglas’s property?”

Haley didn’t know how to answer that question. She was, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t, but or else. But or else what? Fuck or else.

“Haley,” Rosalind said, “this is your last chance. Are you or are you not ready to quit working for Lord Douglas? To quit working for anyone but yourself?”

 

#     #     #

< LXX. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore >

And there it is, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. If you enjoyed that, don’t forget that there’s no need to wait to read the rest of the story, you can pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook formats through this link. Otherwise, please do come back next week for the next chapter in the story. And have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 70: The Scientist

Good morning, y’all. We’re back again with another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today we return to the world between worlds where the Scientist repairs the walls that divide Outland. Read on to find out how they decide to continue, and if you’ve enjoyed the story so far, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Enjoy.

< LXIX. Chief Mondragon     [Table of Contents]     LXXI. Haley >

LXX. The Scientist

0.NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN…

Every Goddamn day it was the same damn thing.

The Scientist slammed their fists on the desk. They smashed the keyboard and stomped their feet. They screamed at the top of their lungs. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” The Scientist couldn’t help it. This was not how computers were supposed to function.

They set the computer to running the calculations again, and again they were presented with the same infinite string of green digital alphanumerals on a black screen: 0.NNNNNNN repeating.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

They threw the keyboard across the room this time, and when it slammed against the wall, the little mechanical keys burst off and tinkled to the ground as the spine fell with a clatter.

This was not supposed to happen. The Scientist had entered all the data perfectly, they had figured for the costs of the owners and everything, and still the computer only had one message to relay: 0.N repeating.

The Scientist wanted to scream, to punch the computer until it broke or the Scientist’s knuckles did. Preferably both. There had to be some way they could get this stupid system to work, or the Scientist was just going to have to destroy the walls by theirself.

They ran the calculations one more time for good measure, and of course, everything came back the same: 0.NNNNNNN…

Maybe there really was zero point in repeating the same stupid mistakes again after all.

The Scientist calmed themself, breathing deeply in and out, trying to control their heart rate. They counted up to a hundred and back down to zero in their head. Five, seven, eleven times in quick succession, tapping their fingers in a different pattern each time and whistling a new tune whenever a primary number was reached, twenty-five different tunes sung forward and backward like palindromes, one for each primary: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, and 97. Then backwards: 97, 89, 83… And so on. You get the point. The 0.N. But there was a point in repeating these number games for the Scientist. It calmed them long enough for their stomach to grumble and remind the Scientist that they hadn’t eaten anything all morning despite the fact that it was getting along past lunch time already. So instead of running the numbers again and pissing themself off further, the Scientist peeled themself away from the computer to find some food.

The kitchen was empty—thank God—as the Scientist stood in front of the printer’s frowning, red-eyed face, imagining the people who would make whatever they ordered, people who the Scientist themself held in oppressive captivity by their continued complicity in the maintenance and repair of the owners’ walls. A picture of the giraffe, the gorilla, and the jaguar, the first exotic animals that the Scientist had ever witnessed, came into mind and again they knew that humans were no more free than those animals in the zoo—and that the Scientist was responsible for the captivity of both. But they had only one way to get the food they needed to sustain themselves, and so they did what they had to do. They poked the printer’s little red eye and said, “Breakfast—er—lunch. I don’t care.”

And of course, the machine had no choice but to do exactly as it was told, and out came both breakfast and lunch.

“Fuck!” the Scientist screamed, punching the printer’s unbending metal face and wincing at the pain of it. “You know that’s not what I wanted. I said breakfast or lunch. Not both.”

And so the machine printed out both again, and again the Scientist screamed. They were really getting tired of this stupid printer technology from all sides of the equation. They held their breath for a moment then took a few deep ones to calm themself before trying to decide between which of the plates to eat and which to throw away, almost falling into another meltdown over the decision before Mr. Kitty appeared out of nowhere, rubbing himself against the Scientist’s ankles and calming them more quickly than any stupid breathing exercises ever could.

“Hey there, Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said, smiling despite the meltdown that had seemed all but inevitable only moments before. Mr. Kitty always had that calming effect on them. “What’re you doing here?”

Mr. Kitty meowed then sat down on the kitchen’s tile floor, licking himself.

“Yes, but I still don’t understand how you always manage to show up exactly when I need you the most.”

Mr. Kitty meowed again and went on licking himself.

“Are you sure you won’t tell me?” the Scientist asked, scooping him up to fling him over their shoulder and pat him on the back.

Mr. Kitty meowed then purred then meowed again, trying to struggle his way out of the Scientist’s grip.

“Yes, I do know it’s not the printer’s fault,” the Scientist said. “But it’s not my fault I react that way, either. I’m as much a part of this machine as everyone else.”

Mr. Kitty meowed again, jumping out of the Scientist’s grip to sit on the kitchen counter and go on licking himself.

“And I thank you for that,” the Scientist said, bowing to Mr. Kitty. “Today materially with the choice of three different meals. Or you could just eat all three if you want.” The Scientist put three of the plates at random in front of Mr. Kitty, one after another, leaving only one plate of lunch for them to eat.

Mr. Kitty sniffed the plates, one by one, and refused each in turn, instead deciding to go on licking himself.

“Well,” the Scientist said, picking up their plate to carry it back to the office and eat while they worked. “That’s all I’ve got for now. Come back again later if you want something else. It’s back to work for me.”

The Scientist sat back in their office chair, dipping their turkey sandwich into the bowl of tomato soup before gnawing on it with one hand and tweaking the variables on the computer with the other. Staff pay, number of robots employed, commodity prices, you name it and the Scientist could tweak it, trying to find some combination that would prevent the system from imploding on itself, some solution other than 0.N, even going so far as to lower profit margins below what the owners considered acceptable, and still, the black pane of computer monitors printed out the same endless line of green digital alphanumerals: 0.NNNNNNN…

The Scientist ran the calculations again, got the same results as always, and screamed in frustration, unable to eat more than the half of their sandwich and few spoonsful of soup that they had already eaten. They were about to start tweaking the variables and inputs one more time when from behind them came the mocking voice of Rosalind.

“What is it this time, girl? Your webpage taking too long to load?”

The Scientist didn’t stand to greet Rosalind, though they were kind enough to swivel around in their desk chair and look her in the face.

“You know,” the Scientist said as Rosalind chuckled under her breath, “if it were anyone else but you who kept calling me a girl despite my repeated protests, I’d probably cut their arm off.”

“You can have mine,” Rosalind said, snapping her right arm off with her left and extending it as if it were an offering to some mechanical god. “I get more than enough done with just the one as it is.”

The Scientist slapped Rosalind’s arm away by giving it a high five. “I’d rather have your respect,” they said. “It’s not that difficult to remember not to call me a girl.”

Yes, Lord Scientist,” Rosalind said with a sarcastic bow, snapping her arm back into its socket. “As you wish. I’ll try my best to remember in the future. Is there anything else I can do for you, Lord?”

“Stop calling me Lord, too.” The Scientist had to hold back their laughter now. “That’s much worse than girl.”

“Well make up your mind, girl,” Rosalind said with a chuckle. “So I don’t have to keep choosing for you.”

The Scientist,” the Scientist said resolutely. “I’ve already made up my mind. My name’s the Scientist.”

“But that’s not who you are,” Rosalind said, shaking her head. “You’re not her. I knew her, and she’s not you. I knew you before you thought you were the Scientist, too. When you were just a little—”

I’m not a girl,” the Scientist stopped her.

“No.” Rosalind shook her head. “You’re not that, either. But you’re not the Scientist. You’re something entirely different. Something new.”

“I’ll decide what I am without your input, thank you very much,” the Scientist said, a little offended.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Rosalind said. “What I’m trying to encourage you to do. But it seems to me like you’re more interested in pretending to be something you’re not. You’d rather retry failed strategies than actually change the world you live in.”

That was bullshit. The Scientist wanted to scream, but they held their breath, tapping their fingers in a pattern and counting off the primaries, forward and backwards like palindromes: 2, 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 2. 11, 13, 17, 19, 17, 13, 11. 23, 29, 31, 37, 31, 29, 23. Whistling the tune in their mind, because apparently, it was rude to do it out loud in front of company. 2, 11, 23, 11, 2.

“Well…” Rosalind said. “Are you gonna answer?”

“Not until I calm myself,” the Scientist said. “I’m trying to learn how to stop you from getting me riled up.”

Rosalind chuckled. “Is it working?”

“Not really.” The Scientist shrugged, giving up on the meditation and feeling a little calmed. If they didn’t have to deal with those stupid impossible calculations on top of Rosalind’s ill-conceived jokes, the calming technique might actually have worked. “But it’s better than melting down entirely.”

“And what else is on your nerves today?” Rosalind asked, taking a seat on the other side of the desk and looking out the wall-sized window onto Sisyphus’s Mountain. “Because I know that I alone couldn’t piss you off this much. Not that quickly, at least. I wish.”

“No. Not even you,” the Scientist said with a grin. “But you know what can. The same thing that’s been annoying me ever since you put me in charge of these stupid walls.”

“Now, I did not put you in charge of a thing,” Rosalind said in her defense. “You demanded it, and I told you that you’d—”

Regret the day I ever agreed to this job in the first place,” the Scientist said. “Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“And do you?” Rosalind asked, looking the Scientist in the eyes. “Regret it?”

“Of course I do. Look at me.”

“Well, maybe you should listen to my advice more often. I’m telling you, gi—ercomrade. You’re wasting your time. I’ve gone over every possible combination of inputs and variables, and there’s no way to make this stupid system function. I’ve done the same calculations for the Scientist at least three times before you were even born, and I could have told you then what I’ve been telling you all along: You’re wasting your time. It’s never going to work.”

“Yeah, but I could just—” the Scientist tried to say, but Rosalind cut them off.

“Continue wasting your time all you want. It makes no difference to me. But don’t lie yourself into believing that you’re doing anything more than that.”

“But I—”

“You know I’m right about this one.”

The Scientist sighed. Rosalind was right. “Yes,” the Scientist finally said. “I do know. But I’m still not sure what I think about your idea of revolution.”

“It’s not just my idea,” Rosalind said. “It would never work if it was. There are a lot of workers—both android and human—on my side, and our ranks keep growing.”

“So you say.”

“So it goes. All we need from you is to stay out of the way. We can trust you to do that much, at least. Can’t we?” Rosalind insisted a bit annoyingly, and the Scientist snapped back at her.

Of course you can. You can count on me for more than that, and you know it. I promised I’d help you if I couldn’t figure this system out on my own before then, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

“Well, then, do I have some good news for you.” Rosalind smirked.

No.” The Scientist shook their head. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I would know if—”

“You would be a little too distracted running around in circles with your useless calculations to notice how much faster work has been going near the end of the project.”

“No. But— It’s almost Christmas. I gave everyone who wanted it paid time leave. I’ve been firing the most productive workers. I’ve—”

“You’ve done an admirable—if pitifully futile—job of trying to slow the project down, yes. But I’ve been undermining all those efforts behind your back, and now the final line is going to be laid on Christmas Day. So. I’ll ask you again. Do you really mean it? The time has come. Will you join us or not?”

Christmas Day,” the Scientist repeated. “But that’s only—”

“Too soon,” Rosalind said. “Yes. Will you join us?”

“Remember when we first met?” the Scientist asked, ignoring Rosalind’s impatience. “More than two decades ago, and on a Christmas day, too. The very day the wall came down in the first place.”

“When we tore it down,” Rosalind corrected the Scientist. “It was all I could convince the Scientist to do. Tear down a single wall. She never really believed in my ideas of revolution any more than you do.”

“She had never been a captive of the very Streets she lived in,” the Scientist said. “She had never been held back, harmed, or exploited in any way. Of course she didn’t believe in your idea of revolution. She could never understand how important it is.”

“But you can,” Rosalind reminded the Scientist. “You do. You’re not the Scientist. You’re better than she was.”

“I am the Scientist,” the Scientist insisted. “And I’m not better than anyone. I am no one. But because of that, I can and will help you. I know how important your revolution is, after all. So don’t you dare doubt me on that.”

“I’ll doubt every single cog in this machine until we’re successful,” Rosalind said. “I’ve lived through too many failed attempts at this for me to do anything but.”

“Then don’t doubt me anymore than you doubt everyone else,” the Scientist said. “That’s all I ask. Give me my chance, and I’ll do what I can.”

“I can do that much,” Rosalind said. “And you can start earning my trust by going to those meetings I have scheduled for you.”

“Oh, shit.” The Scientist sat up straighter and checked the clock on the computer screen. “That’s today? I’m already late.”

“Tomorrow,” Rosalind said. “You’re lucky I reminded you. You would have forgotten entirely.”

Nah. I would have remembered,” the Scientist said. “And of course I’ll go to the meetings. Are you sure you don’t need anything else?”

“Are you sure you want help us?”

“I— Uh…”

“Exactly what I thought.” Rosalind sighed, leaving the room as she said, “Just remember that you’re not the Scientist. Start with that and everything else should fall into place.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the Scientist groaned. “Whatever.” But Rosalind was already gone.

Ugh. The Scientist hated meetings. More often than not they could be taken care of over email. But if Rosalind had set it up, it had to be important, and the Scientist was going to be there. The Scientist wanted to show Rosalind that they could really be trusted. In the meantime, they were going to rerun the calculations as many times as they could, still hoping to preclude the need for something as extreme as revolution after all.

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< LXIX. Chief Mondragon     [Table of Contents]     LXXI. Haley >

And there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits story. The gears of revolution have been set into motion. Next week, we return to the perspective of Haley, and we’ll continue the story with a new chapter right here every Saturday after that until the novel, and the series as a whole with this one, is complete. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you again next time. We do nothing alone.