Chapter 68: Sonya

Hello, dear readers. Another Saturday means it’s time for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today we join Sonya Barista, who you might remember from Olsen’s adventures in book two, An Almost Tangent. Read on to see what she’s been up to since we last left her, and if you enjoy that, don’t forget that you can pick up a copy of the book in print or ebook format on Amazon. If you purchase a copy of the print book, we’ll even throw in an ebook version for free. Enjoy, now.

< LXVII. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXIX. Chief Mondragon >

LXVIII. Sonya

Sonya loved her job. She spent more time at work than she did anywhere else—including her own home. These people were her family, and she’d rather spend time with no one else.

She was there, behind the bar, at The Bar—what the regulars called it even before the long forgotten name on the sign had faded out of existence—cleaning a dirty glass and listening to a story she’d heard too many times before, a story she would no doubt come to hear again and again with the way the worlds were turning.

“I mean, shit,” Annie Painter complained, gulping down another drink and slamming the empty glass on the table. “I’m the best damn worker on that entire construction site. And I’m not bragging or nothing, either. That’s a verifiable fact based on the way they determine our pay. I do more work faster than anyone else, and now I’m being fired because of it.”

Sonya shook her head, setting another beer on the bar so Annie didn’t have to ask for it.

“You know I can’t pay for this one,” Annie said, drinking it anyway.

“And you know I wouldn’t ask you to, given the circumstances,” Sonya said. “Consider it on the house.”

“Well, thank you.” Annie took another big gulp, draining half the glass, and Sonya set a full pitcher on the bar next to her, nodding for Annie to go on.

“Like I said,” Annie did, “I’m being fired because I’m the fastest worker out there. I wasn’t always. I used to be stuck around fourth place, never even on the winner’s podium at the end of the week, but it seems like the closer we get to finishing this stupid Wall the more they try to slow us down.”

While Annie gulped her beer, Sonya said, “You’re not the first to tell me that.”

“I bet not.” Annie chuckled a little before scowling again. “I bet not. You prolly got my predecessors coming through here. The three that were fired before me. Did they run up a tab, too?”

“No tabs for the recently unemployed,” Sonya reminded her. “Including you. But yes, I talked to your friends, and they told me the same story you’re telling me now.”

“Well you know then,” Annie said, taking a swig of beer and topping off the glass. “First each of them were fired, one by one in turn, and now it’s me. And old Lenny Sexton’ll prolly be next, too. But fire us all they want, there’s no stopping it. Even with the slowest of us, they’ll finish that Wall eventually. Hell, it’s almost done as it is.”

“Do you have any idea why they’d be trying to stall construction?” Sonya asked. “That’s what I don’t understand in all this.”

“Why are they even rebuilding the stupid thing in the first place?” Annie asked with a scoff. “Why do they do anything? Who the fuck are they? You’re telling me that’s the only part of this shit show that you don’t understand?”

“Well, no. You’ve got a point there. But do you have any opinion as to why they’d be slowing construction?”

“Whoever decided to build the shit is having second thoughts. I don’t know. Maybe someone hasn’t paid for it yet. How the fuck am I supposed to know? I’m just trained to lay line.”

“And you’re damn good at it,” Sonya said, topping off Annie’s pitcher one more time. “The best in the business from what I heard.”

“Until they fired me,” Annie said, holding her drink over her head like she was giving a toast. “I have no idea what the fuck job I’m supposed to find now. Y’all need any help around here?”

Sheeit,” Sonya said with a chuckle, thinking about all the work they could use help with. “We got more work than you’ll ever know, but nothing we can afford to pay you for so it wouldn’t be helping you at all.”

“Hey, I’m here to help,” Annie said. “I mean to pay for these drinks somehow. Even if I can’t pay for them. So you don’t be shy about asking me to do anything—for you or the bar.”

“Only thing I need you to do is get another job. That way you can take care of your family and get back to frequenting our fine establishment here like you used to. In the meantime, don’t worry about your drinks. They’re on the house. You worry about your family first. We’ve got your back on that.”

Ugh.” Annie groaned, stumbling sloppily off the barstool. “Speaking of which. Guess I better go break the news to them now. Wish me luck.”

Annie finished her half pint of beer and stumbled out of the bar while Sonya called after her, “Good luck! I’ll keep my ears open for any work that might be good for you.”

It was a shame, really. Annie’s story. But nothing new. Nothing new under the Sun. Sonya had thought it was bad when the walls between worlds Five and Six were torn down, she had thought that unemployment, hunger, and desperation were at their worst, but now that the wall was almost back up again, she was coming to realize that the worlds could get shittier if they wanted to, and from the looks of things, there was a shit circus in store before anything would ever get better. More people were going to lose their jobs, and with that, more people would grow drunk and desperate until inevitably all that pent-up energy had to be released somewhere. Sonya didn’t look forward to it, per se, because she knew a lot of innocent people would be hurt in the process, but Tillie and others like her had been preparing for just such an occasion since before the walls went down, and with any luck, they would be able to guide that energy release toward building a better society and not just tearing down the old one.

As Sonya cleaned up what was left of Annie’s mess, in came one of those people who also organized toward that same better future which Sonya was working toward, her coworker Barkeep.

“How’s the shop treating you today, Barista?” Barkeep asked on her way in. “Lovely as always, I imagine.”

“The bar never disappoints me,” Sonya said, hanging up a clean pitcher to let it dry. “It’s the worlds outside that always seem to let me down.”

“They let us all down,” Barkeep said, taking inventory of the incidentals in preparation to relieve Sonya as the next bartender on duty. “So don’t think you’re special. But tell me, what’s got you bothered this time?”

“Annie Painter’s tab’s on the house.” Sonya sighed. “Until further notice.”

“Annie, too? Sheeit. It’s only gonna get worse before it gets better. Honestly, she’s prolly lucky to be looking for a new job now, before the rush really starts. We all know a mass layoff’s coming at the end of this fucking super project border wall bullshit they have going.”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

“There ain’t no reason to be afraid of something you know’s gonna happen. Only thing we can do is—”

Be prepared,” Sonya finished for Barkeep, knowing that she had done her best to prepare, but only hoping that she—and all the rest of them, cogs in a giant revolution machine that they were—were ready for what was to come. “I know. But I’m not sure anyone could ever be prepared for something they’ve never experienced. Especially something as big as this.”

“You experienced it plenty enough when that wall came down,” Barkeep said. “And you’ve been preparing with us ever since. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. That’s more than enough. More than most people can say, at least.”

“I don’t know. I—” Sonya started, but this time Barkeep cut her off.

“I do know, Sonya. I believe in you. I believe in all of us. We’re gonna be prepared the next time they need us. Trust me.”

“Yeah, well, I really hope you’re right.” But Sonya wasn’t sure that she could believe in everyone—herself most of all—as much as Barkeep did.

“I’m sure I’m right,” Barkeep said. “But before we can get there to find out, I need you to check the bathrooms, refill the freezer with ice, and clean the last few glasses from your friends who are leaving right about… now.”

“Have a good one, Sonya,” a group of regulars called from the front of the bar as they left. “Put it on my tab. And Merry Christmas.”

Sonya cleaned their table, did their dishes, scrubbed and mopped the bathrooms, and refilled the freezer with ice before her shift was finally over and she could sit on the other side of the bar to drink a beer served to her by Barkeep.

“Don’t you ever get tired of this place?” Barkeep asked while filling up a pitcher for another customer. “After my shift, I’m out of here as soon as I can. But you? Look at you.”

“Don’t know where else I’d go,” Sonya said, sipping her beer.

“Home, for starters.” Barkeep laughed. “Anywhere but here.”

“Only thing I want to do after work is drink a beer and rest my feet. I’d rather not drink alone, and it’s easier to rest when I don’t have to walk to the elevator and beyond, so what better place could I be than right here right now?”

“And besides,” a scratchy voice said behind Sonya who turned to find Ellie McCannick’s wrinkly-faced smile. “Here, everyone knows exactly where to find you.”

“Which can sometimes be dangerous,” Barkeep said, laughing loudly, though Sonya knew she was only half joking. Barkeep didn’t trust Ellie and the people who she worked with, and so Barkeep didn’t like it when the old woman came around. Sonya didn’t really trust the resistance group that Ellie worked with, either—they were highly secretive, even to insiders, and all their actions seemed to end up buffering the system instead of destroying it like their rhetoric promised—but Sonya had no problem with Ellie as a person, and even liked the old woman. Ellie had been working hard, doing her best to help her fellow workers despite the obstacles in her way, for decades, and Sonya hoped that she could be as enthusiastic about the struggle as Ellie still was when she was that old.

“Thankfully, this time it’s not dangerous,” Sonya said, patting Ellie on the back. “It’s always nice to see my friend Ellie. Why don’t you get her a drink, please. On my tab.”

“Now, you don’t have to,” Ellie said, bowing her head. “I can afford my own drinks. I’m just here for the company.”

“I insist,” Sonya insisted. “Make that an entire pitcher, Barkeep. It’s almost Christmas. We should all be in the spirits.”

“Well, if you’re gonna twist my arm about it…” Ellie smiled, taking a glass and filling it from the pitcher that Barkeep had set on the bar in front of them.

“So how’s the activist life treating you?” Barkeep asked. “Y’all make enough in donations to support a few full-timers by now, don’t you?”

“We do nothing alone,” Ellie said, taking a sip of her beer. “I’m blessed to be working with a good crew. And my pity promotion netted me an early retirement, so I don’t really require anything more than meals and expenses from the organization. I’m blessed, though. I’ll never forget that. We do nothing alone.”

“Expenses like this bar tab here?” Barkeep asked, obviously annoyed as she continued the interrogation.

“Well…” Ellie said, not letting on that she had noticed Barkeep’s attitude—whether she had or not. “Thankfully, the lovely Sonya here has graciously offered to pay for this round. But I did come here expecting to buy at least one myself. And yes, that would be done with our organization’s expenses. Building working relationships like this one here is one of the major reasons we raised these funds in the first place. Buying a round of drinks with the money’s exactly what’s expected of me.”

We do nothing alone,” Barkeep said sarcastically. And then, “Including drink. But I’ve gotta go take some more orders. Enjoy, you two.”

“She does not like me one bit,” Ellie said when Barkeep had left down the bar to serve some other patrons.

“She doesn’t know you,” Sonya tried to explain, though it was hard to deny what Barkeep’s actions suggested. “That’s all. It’s not that she dislikes you or anything. She just doesn’t trust people she doesn’t know.”

“Yeah, well, she’s had plenty of time to get to know me better. I’m pretty sure it goes beyond simple ignorance at this point.”

Sonya didn’t respond to that. She had no way to, really. There were no arguments. Barkeep didn’t trust Ellie and she had no intention of altering that fact. There was no point in talking further about it. They drank on in silence for a while—each thinking about how to trust the other—before Sonya broke it to say, “So, how’s life been treating you?”

“Oh, fine, fine,” Ellie said. “I can’t complain any more than I ever have. Plenty of food on the table. Warm bed to sleep in—even if it’s not too soft. And I’ve got a whole host of friends and family whose company I actually enjoy. So, no. There’s nothing new for me to personally complain about. Just the general unfairness of life under the oppressive system we’re forced to abide by. You know. Oh. Wait. Also, we’ve got our Christmas party planned. You’ll be there, right?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Sonya nodded. She looked forward to Ellie’s Christmas party every year and wouldn’t miss it for the worlds. “I’ve got a special surprise dish I plan on serving. You’ll see. I’ll be there with bells on.”

“You better be.” Ellie winked. “This year the guest list’s so long that we’re expanding to four apartments instead of our usual two. Ol’ Tanner and Kitchens have finally offered to give up their homes for the day. So I promise you, this one will be a Christmas for the legends.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Sonya said, chuckling at the mere thought of the celebration. “But I know that’s not the only reason you came out here. So spill it.”

“Oh, well…” Ellie looked around at everyone in the room, suspicious now that it was time to get down to business. “I don’t know. Maybe we should take a booth. This particular matter’s a little more… private.”

Ah. Of course.” Sonya nodded. “But first, Barkeep, an order of table fries, please.”

Barkeep printed an order of fries, then Sonya and Ellie carried that, their drinks, and the half-full pitcher of beer to the deepest, darkest corner booth in the bar where Ellie scanned the room suspiciously one more time before speaking a word.

“So, dear,” she finally did say, pausing there as if Sonya should be able to decipher some meaning out of those two words alone. Sonya never could.

“So…” Sonya said.

“The worlds are changing,” Ellie said, frowning in a particular way that seemed to accent her wrinkles and crow’s feet. “The worlds are changing.”

“Don’t they always,” Sonya said. Not a question. A statement of fact.

“That they do, child,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “But they don’t usually turn for the worst this fast. And when they do, we know for sure that something big’s coming.”

“And for how long have y’all been predicting that something big’s gonna happen? Huh? Long as I’ve known you, it seems like you’ve been making the same prophecies.”

“And the change I predict’s still coming along, ain’t it? Quicker than ever now. You’ll see. I’m sure you already do. You can feel it in the air, but you don’t quite understand it yet.”

Sonya sipped her drink and nodded. She couldn’t argue against what Ellie was saying and there was no point in trying to. Sonya had been discussing exactly that with Annie and Barkeep before Ellie’s arrival.

“You see?” Ellie went on. “You can’t even disagree with me now. I know you don’t like the way our organization prepares for what’s to come, but you definitely think there’s something to prepare for. Am I right?”

“You’re not wrong,” Sonya said, still not wanting to cede the point.

“It’s not often that I am.” Ellie smirked. “And on the off chance that I do make a mistake, I never repeat it. Do you understand me?”

Sonya nodded.

“I’m not sure you do, okay. But we’ve changed. All of us. The entire organization from bottom to top—including myself. We’re a different beast entirely. We’ve even settled on a name for ourselves. We’re going public. No more secrecy.”

“Oh yeah?” Sonya nodded, not too impressed. “And how long have y’all been arguing over a name?”

“C’mon, now. That’s not fair,” Ellie complained. “You know we’ve got a lot more on our plate than this. And it’s more than a name when you get down to it. We’re putting words to our organization. That makes it real. Those words will reflect what our organization does, and our actions will reflect our name. I’m telling you, we’re serious.”

Sonya was starting to believe that maybe they were. “So what’s this name then?” she asked.

The Scientific Socialists,” Ellie said, sitting up straighter in her stool and refilling both of their beers with a proud smile.

“Scientific Socialists?” Sonya repeated, not liking the sound of that. “Are y’all still working with that Scientist woman? She was willing to open up about her secrets with you?”

“Well, not exactly. No,” Ellie said, sipping her beer and thinking about what to say next. “The Scientist is dead. She never would have opened up to us. You’re right about that. But there is no her anymore. So she’s nothing to worry about.”

“But you still call yourselves scientific,” Sonya said.

“Yes. Because we use the scientific method to determine our course in political life. We’re scientists of history.”

“So you are still working with the Scientist, then?”

“No. Well, yes. Sort of… We’re all scientists now. And some of us literally call themselves the Scientist still, but it’s nothing more than a meme anymore. The Scientist is gone. I assure you of that.”

“Is this all you came to talk about?” Sonya asked, suspecting it wasn’t. “If so, let’s go play some darts. I need to get out of this booth and stretch my legs a bit.”

No—n—n—no, no,” Ellie said, stopping Sonya from getting up. “Now, I’d love to beat you at darts when we’re done here, but we haven’t even started.”

“I’m all ears,” Sonya said, waiting.

Ellie gulped down a half a glass of beer and sighed before she went on. “Okay, well… Now, I know you don’t trust the organization that I work with for one reason or another. And I respect your opinion, okay. I’m not asking you to change anything about it. But I do want to know if you trust me as an individual. Do we even connect at that level?”

“I— Wha— Yes,” Sonya stammered, caught off guard by Ellie’s admission of vulnerability and feeling vulnerable herself because of it. “Of course I trust you. I really do consider you a friend despite our political differences. I wouldn’t be drinking with you now if I didn’t.”

Exactly. Okay,” Ellie said, setting her beer down to take Sonya’s hand in her cold, clammy ones. “You trust me and I trust you. We trust each other. We’re friends, and friends trust each other, right? And now I know that you, Barkeep, and dozens of others—at least, probably more—are all already planning your robot revolution—or whatever—with Momma BB. Okay. You’re not secretive about it. Right? And we’re trying to learn from you, trying not to trick people into doing things for us, okay. Instead we’re convincing them that it’s actually in their best interests. Right. Which is why—”

“Get on with it,” Sonya cut her off. The more Ellie beat around the bush, the less Sonya wanted to hear what she had to say. “Just ask your question already.”

“Well…” Ellie smiled half a smile, more of a pathetic, pitiful grin. “Do you think you could trust me enough to at least meet with my people? We need y’all’s help for an operation on Christmas day.”

#     #     #

< LXVII. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXIX. Chief Mondragon >

And there you have it, dear readers: another chapter in the Infinite Limits universe. If you enjoyed that, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the full novel through this link. Have a great weekend, enjoy yourself, and we’ll see you right here again next Saturday.

We do nothing alone.

Chapter 67: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers, and welcome back again this weekend. Today we return to the character that was probably most enjoyable to write throughout this series, the one and only Mr. Kitty. If you want to read the rest of his story and the conclusion to the Infinite Limits series, you can pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Otherwise, come on back next week to read the next chapter in the story. Until then, enjoy.

< LXVI. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXVIII. Sonya >

LXVII. Mr. Kitty

Mr. Kitty slept, as he often did, spread across the cool, flat top of Tillie’s desk while she worked, typing and clicking, swipping, and swiping in response to the computer screens’ blinking, flashing colors and the various bleeps and blips that accompanied them. For so many hours of every week Tillie sat there, moaning and groaning about whatever it was that the screens were telling her, and for just about as many hours, Mr. Kitty would sleep next to her, dreaming through it all. He was climbing a tree that seemed like it went on forever, one branch after another, higher and higher into infinity, when Tillie’s phone rang, ripping Mr. Kitty out of dreamland with a startled lurch and a garbled meow.

“Settle down, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said with a chuckle, reaching for her phone with one hand and petting Mr. Kitty with the other. “It’s just a phone.” And answering it, she added, “Tillie Manager speaking. Go ahead.”

“I— No. You can’t be serious.”

“No. Not again.”

“No, they’re not! I mean— I—”

Yes. I realize they’re just robots.”

“Yes. I’ll put the work order in, but I—”

“No. I’m sorry. I—”

Bye. Fuck.”

She slammed the phone on the desk and Mr. Kitty jumped again, purring this time.

“Sorry, Mr. Kitty,” she said, wiping her eyes before petting him. “Those assholes have no idea what they’re talking about. I shouldn’t get so upset at their ignorance, it isn’t their fault, but it’s not my fault I get pissed, either.”

“Or mine for being startled,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yes. I should try harder. I know. But so should they.” She patted Mr. Kitty a few times, wiped her eyes again, then went back to typing and clicking on the computer—some kind of reaction to the news she had been given over the phone.

Mr. Kitty licked himself a few times, curling up in a ball to go to back sleep, but the phone rang again, interrupting his plans.

“Tillie Manager speaking,” Tillie answered. “Go ahead.”

“Oh, no. Leo. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was—”

“Yes. Of course I’m working. You know your mother. What else do I do?”

No. Of course. No.”

Definitely. Just like I promised. I won’t touch a phone or a computer for the entire weekend. For as long as you’re here, even, if you want to stay longer…”

“That’s why I’m getting it all done now.”

“Okay. I love you. See you soon.”

She hung up the phone and patted Mr. Kitty with a smile, forgetting whatever news about the robots that had nearly brought her to tears earlier. “Did you hear that, Mr. Kitty?” she asked. “Leo’s running late, but he’s on the way. I’m sure he can’t wait to see you.”

Sure,” Mr. Kitty meowed, but he didn’t really believe that. Leo and Mr. Kitty had never gotten along when Leo was growing up, and going off to college hadn’t changed anything about his attitude toward animals. Still, Leo’s presence made Tillie happy, and Tillie being happy made Mr. Kitty happy, so as long as the kid kept out of Kitty’s way, they wouldn’t have any problems.

Mr. Kitty fell asleep on Tillie’s desk until the doorbell rang and woke him up. He yawned and stretched, then licked himself a few times before jumping off the desk with a thud to follow Tillie out to answer the door. Tillie held her hand on the doorknob for a moment, taking a deep breath and brushing her hair out of her face, before she smiled and opened the door.

“Leo, my boy,” she said as she did. “It’s so good to see you. You look as wonderful as ever.” She pulled Leo in for a hug that he tried to squirm his way out of.

Aw, Ma. C’mon,” he complained, straightening himself out once he had finally escaped his mom’s loving bear grip. “I just saw you two weeks ago. We’re only an elevator ride away from each other. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Yes, well, it’s not really dramatic when I’m genuinely happy to see you. Is it?” Tillie said, sounding offended. “Besides, I’m your mother and your my only son. What do you expect?”

“This is exactly what I expect,” Leo said, brushing past Tillie and almost stepping on Mr. Kitty’s tail as he made his way toward the kitchen. Mr. Kitty hissed, but no one seemed to hear it so he just had to follow along behind them anyway. He was still curious to see how Leo had been even if Leo wasn’t curious in the least to see how he was.

“So you didn’t bring any bags with you?” Tillie asked, still smiling though more nervously now. “You are planning on staying for the full weekend, aren’t you?”

“You do still have a 3D printer, don’t you?” Leo said, pressing the voice activation button. “Tall boy of Pabst,” he added and a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon—which had apparently won the award back in the ancient age of 1893—came out of the printer’s mouth. “And it still works. So, no. I didn’t really need to bring anything with me. Did I?’

“You know you’re not old enough to drink that,” Tillie said, crossing her arms. “Did I give you permission to order alcohol?”

Ugh.” Leo groaned, chugged half his drink, burped, wiped his mouth, and said, “Ma, please. You went to LSU. You know how things work. I’ve been drinking for a long time now. I think I can handle myself.”

Tillie chuckled, shaking her head. “Oh yeah?” she said. “Big ol’ tough guy going to a big ol’ party school. Is that right? I guess you think you know something about the worlds now. Do you?”

“I know I know something about the worlds,” Leo said, chugging the rest of his drink and ordering another along with some chips and dip.

“And you think you can just come in here using my printer however you want to, no questions asked?” Tillie grinned.

“That’s what I’m doing, isn’t it?” Leo pressed the printer’s voice activation button one more time and ordered a pack of Camel Greens to prove his point.

“Well, you can,” Tillie said, bringing Leo in for another hug that he tried to squirm his way out of. “But you gotta share those Greens. C’mon. Let’s smoke one on the porch.”

Tillie ordered her own beer—a pint of something thick, dark, and chocolatey in a glass, not whatever hipster piss water her son was drinking—and Mr. Kitty followed her and Leo out onto the back porch where they sat on metal grated patio chairs at a metal grated table and Mr. Kitty laid on the cool, hard cement, licking himself so he didn’t fall asleep.

After some time of smoking and drinking, Leo broke the silence to say, “Still living in the same old house, I noticed. Don’t you ever get tired of this thing?”

“Tired of it?” Tillie giggled like she only ever did while smoking. “Never. I grew up in this place, you know. Your Grandpa used to own it back when I was in the fifth grade.”

Ptuh. No wonder it looks so old.” Leo laughed.

It does not,” Tillie complained. “You take that back. I take wonderful care of this place. It looks just as good as it did on the day my dad bought it.”

“Which is exactly the problem,” Leo said, putting out one joint to light another. “That was ages ago, and styles change faster than phones are updated. I mean, Grandpa knew as much himself. Which is why he sold the thing off and bought something better with the profits. You could learn a lot from Grandpa.”

Pffft.” Tillie scoffed, stubbing out her own joint and almost reaching for another but thinking twice about it. “I’ve learned plenty from your grandfather, thank you very much. And I don’t think he ever sold a house because it was out of fashion. He never really had any interest in trends and fashionability. No, I’m sure the only thing he ever sold a house for was the profits. Trust me.”

“Still,” Leo said, finishing off his drink and crushing the can under his foot. “That’s as good as the same thing. Better even. If he keeps selling them for a profit, he’s gotta know something about fashion, right? And money can buy stylists to follow all that for you. But only for as long as the profits flow. So maybe profits are more important than fashion in the end.”

“Not to me,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “Not at all. Neither are important. I’m never gonna sell this house. I’m more interested in the history I have here, the history we share here—you and I, me and your grandpa, me and your father, everyone. No amount of money is going to remind me of the time you colored a mural all over those walls right there and we left it up for a week so you wouldn’t cry about it when we covered it up,” she said, pointing in through the glass door to the living room where Leo—and Mr. Kitty—turned to look. Mr. Kitty felt like he could almost see the mural still up there. “Do you remember that?” Tillie chuckled. “I do. It’s still behind the paint on those walls. And what about the time you broke your leg on that trampoline that still stands right over there while I was sitting right here in this very chair watching you. There’s the first night you came home from the hospital after being born, the first night you slept all the way until morning, the first night you spent at a friend’s house when it was my turn to bawl until morning instead of yours.” She almost started crying again, and Mr. Kitty could tell that it made Leo uncomfortable. “This house, as old and out of fashion as you may think it is, reminds me of all those stories, and that reminder could never have a price tag put on it. I’ll never sell this house. And I hope that you might eventually feel the same way about it when I pass it down to you.”

Leo was feeling really awkward now, squirming in his seat. “Alright, alright,” he said. “Enough mushy stuff. And definitely stop talking about death. Sheesh. I only just got here. Can’t I rest a little after that horrid travelling experience before you start grilling me with the heavy stuff?”

“Hey, you’re the one who ordered the Greens,” Tillie said with a chuckle. “You know how I get when I’m high.”

“Now that you reminded me, I do,” Leo said.

“Which should prove to you why reminders are so important.” Tillie laughed, and at the same time an alarm went off on the phone in Leo’s pocket.

“Speaking of which,” Leo said, pulling the phone out to turn off the alarm. “Now, I know we agreed that neither of us would do work or anything like that while I was here, but I have to break that promise for, like… thirty minutes. Okay? This is really important. It’s the finale of my favorite TV show, and— Now wait just a second, okay. I’m not done. I was going to say that it’ll take just thirty minutes, and I have to do it or the internet will definitely spoil it for me when I’m inevitably surfing social media at this boring dinner party you have planned for later. So if you don’t want me to be totally depressed in front of all your upper management friends, you’d do better to just let me sit down and watch this real quick. After that, I promise nothing but family time for the rest of the weekend. So what do you say?”

Tillie didn’t answer for a moment, in which Leo fidgeted, checking the clock on his phone, then she said, “Of course you can watch your show. It’s not like I’m trying to keep you in prison here. But only if you don’t mind me sitting next to you and watching along. That’s all I care about. Spending time with you. No matter what it is we’re doing together.”

Great,” Leo said, standing up and almost stepping on Mr. Kitty again. This time Mr. Kitty meowed loud enough so everyone could hear it. “Oh, sorry, Kitty,” Leo said, patting him too hard on the head to which Mr. Kitty meowed again. “Yes,” Leo went on. “You can watch with us, too. As long as you stay out of my lap and shut up.” He turned to his mom. “But I’m gonna go get some snacks, first. Do you want anything? The shows about to start.”

“Another beer for sure,” Tillie said, standing. “But I’ll come help you.” And Mr. Kitty followed them back into the kitchen where he laid on the hard, cool tile floor, listening to them talk and gather their snacks while he licked his dirty paws clean.

Ooh. White cheddar popcorn,” Tillie said to the printer. Then to Leo, “I love white cheddar popcorn when I’m high.”

“Me, too,” Leo said, nodding and staring off into the distance, as if he were imagining the taste of it. “And some corn chips and bean dip,” he added for the printer and his mother alike.

“Always your favorite,” Tillie said, smiling. “Ever since you started school. How are your classes going now, anyway?”

“Classes are classes.” Leo shrugged.  “I always seem to get by. Peanut M&M’s.”

“Yeah, but you’re doing a little more than just getting by, aren’t you?” Tillie said. “I know you’re only a sophomore, but you should have at least started whittling away some of your options. Right…”

Sure,” Leo said sarcastically. “I whittle every day. But whittling’s a slow process. Pabst tall boy. Two, please.”

“You know, I once thought I wanted to be a lobbyist,” Tillie said with a smile at the thought. “When I was pretty much the same age you are right now, as a matter of fact.”

Pfft. A lobbyist?” Leo laughed, stacking the last little bits of his snackery onto a serving tray. “You? You’ve got to be kidding me. You need anything else?”

“Another beer, please,” Tillie said to the printer. And, “No, I’m not kidding.” she said to Leo. “Your mother was heavily involved in campus activism when she went to LSU. You’ve heard of the Reclaim the Grounds movement, right? That started with us, at LSU.”

Pffft. Yeah right. You’re kidding me. You were one of those hippies? What made you quit and become a manager? Was it Grandpa?”

Tillie paused to think about it. As well as Mr. Kitty knew her by then, he knew that she was picturing Nikola and Emma in her mind and how they had both been so violently stolen from Tillie right in front of her eyes. “Because if you want to do the right thing in lobbying,” she finally said, “it inevitably becomes life-threatening. And I didn’t want to leave you or your grandpa with no one to take care of y’all. The Hand knows you both need it. Now come on. It’s about time for that show of yours to start.”

They carried their snacks into the living room and set everything on the coffee table—exactly where Mr. Kitty had intended to lay—so he tried to jump onto Tillie’s lap instead, but she didn’t like that idea so she pushed him down onto the floor where he had the worst view of the TV out of anyone. Luckily, he didn’t really care about whatever the show was anyway so he just went on licking himself and listening to the sounds.

“Not now, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “I’m trying to eat.” She shoved a big handful of white cheddar popcorn into her mouth, puffing her cheeks out like a chipmunk.

“TV on,” Leo said. “Cartoon Network.”

“The Cartoon Network, huh?” Tillie said. “What sort of show is this that you find so fascinating?”

“Protector Time,” Leo said. “And yes, it’s a cartoon, but it’s something more than that. Okay.”

“So adults enjoy it, too?” Tillie asked, mouth still full of popcorn. “Like anime. Or the Simpsons.”

“I’m not sure if enjoy is quite the right word. Like, it’s more about the cultural phenomenon that the cartoon represents, you know. It’s like— I mean… You’ll see when you watch it, but you can pretty much tell outright from the name of the show that it’s, like, pure pro-cop propaganda. Right? One hundred percent pure ideology, okay. But the thing is that no one can really figure out who exactly the target audience is, you know. I mean, how long has it been since we’ve even had a real protector force? Not since the invention of printers, right? So why are we still wasting resources on producing this nonsense?”

“I— Uh—” Tillie started to say, but Leo cut her off.

“Wait. Shhh. It’s about to start,” he said. Then, “Volume up. Up, up, up. Got it.”

A cartoon came on the screen with an upbeat theme song, and Leo stopped munching on his snacks to lean forward and pay closer attention. Tillie couldn’t resist the lure of the popcorn, but she slowed down, too, putting one kernel in her mouth at a time instead of eating it by the handful. She seemed genuinely interested in what the show held in store for her. Mr. Kitty, for his part, stole glances at the screen out of the corner of his eye as he licked his coat clean—a maintenance project which took up most of his time that he didn’t spend sleeping. The cartoon hadn’t been running for more than a few minutes—no amount of time for an uninitiated fan to pick up any sort of storyline—when it was interrupted by a breaking news segment.

“Pardon the interruption, TV viewers,” a big, sweaty head said on the screen, and Leo groaned.

“Not right now. Fuck!” he complained.

“We interrupt your regularly scheduled content to bring you a breaking news report.”

“We know, we know,” Leo complained. “Just get on with it already.”

“Jorah Baldwin, highest paid and most-viewed celebrity in all of history, has been reported missing.”

The TV screen changed from the reporter’s sweaty bust to a montage of photographs of Jorah in various outfits.

“Fuck that guy,” Leo said, chugging his beer. “All his movies suck, anyway. How can anyone watch him?”

“If you have any information about Jorah’s whereabouts,” the reporter’s disembodied voice went on over the shifting images of Jorah Baldwin. “Please call your local Crimestoppers number or the number on the television screen now.”

A phone number flashed on the screen, then the message repeated itself while Leo complained some more. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “Of course this shitty actor has got to go missing right when my show’s on. I don’t care how popular they try to tell us he is, no one gives two shits about Jorah Baldwin.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Tillie said. “I think he’s a pretty good actor.”

“How can you even tell?” Leo scoffed. “He’s always in such shitty roles. No actor could make them good. I mean, just like this Protector Time propaganda, why do we need all the blatantly Luddite films that Baldwin’s been acting in ever since Russ Logo’s death? Robots already took all those jobs ages ago, and we’re better off because of it.”

“Right, well… Hmmm.” Tillie wanted to say more, Mr. Kitty knew from their conversations together, but she hesitated long enough for the news report to end and the cartoon to come back on—and not where they had been interrupted, either, but further into the show as if it had kept playing while the news report ran.

“Of fucking course.” Leo growled. “Great. TV off.”

“No. What? C’mon.” Tillie complained as if she really had wanted to watch the show. “But I was just getting into it.”

“Yeah, but we missed the setup. It wouldn’t make any sense. Trust me. I’ll just have to try to avoid spoilers tonight. Ugh.” He cracked open another beer and stuffed his face with popcorn. “I think I’m gonna go take a nap before this dinner party. Seven o’clock, right?”

Uh… Yeah. Seven,” Tillie said. “I’ll wake you before then.”

“Alright, Ma. I love you,” Leo said, marching his way off toward his old bedroom—which Tillie had left exactly how it was before Leo had moved to campus.

Tillie finished off her beer, sighed, and stood from the couch, stretching. Mr. Kitty took the cue and stood to yawn and stretch himself.

“Well, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “That was a close one. I almost blurted it out this time.”

“Maybe you should have,” Mr. Kitty meowed, following her into her office where she sat behind the desk and he jumped up onto it.

“You know, maybe I should just tell him,” Tillie said, nodding with imagined confidence.

“That’s what I just said,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“I mean, I was pretty pissed that my dad never told me. And Leo’s gonna find out the truth eventually. Right?”

“Do you even care what I say?” Mr. Kitty asked.

“And what harm could it really do in the end?” Tillie went on. “I mean, he just told me he’s not interested in lobbying. He only seems to care about cartoons. Maybe I could just casually show him a photo of a factory accident and see how he reacts.”

“I’ll take that as a no,” Mr. Kitty said, and he walked around in a circle a few times before finding a comfortable position to lay down in.

“You’re right,” Tillie said. “It’s a risk, for sure, but I think it might just be a risk I’m willing to take.”

Mr. Kitty didn’t respond. Tillie was free to take whatever risks she wanted to take. He had no plan to stop her, especially considering the fact that he had already advised her to do exactly what she was planning to do. Instead, he listened while Tillie clicked and typed, searching for a picture from her archives that she could show to Leo in order to reveal to him the truth. Mr. Kitty fell asleep while she did, not to be woken up again until sometime later by an argument between Leo and Tillie.

“Just tell me what you see, then we can get ready for dinner,” Tillie said, pointing at her computer screen where a picture of several dead children, eaten by the machines they were supposed to be cleaning, their blood retouched black to look like oil, stared back at them.

“I thought you said no work while I was here,” Leo complained, avoiding the image on the screen as if he might actually know the truth of what it held without ever having been told.

“This isn’t work,” Tillie said. “This is more important than work. This is about your education. So please, tell me, what do you see in the picture?”

Uh… I don’t know,” Leo said, looking at the screen for the first time but still only out of his peripheral vision. “Is it like a factory or something?”

“Yes, it’s a factory,” Tillie said. “But you’re not even trying. You have to look. Actually look at it and tell me what you see.”

Leo looked at the picture for real now. There was a flash of recognition in his eyes, a flash of disgust, then nothing. No emotional reaction. No critical analysis. Just regurgitation of what he had always been taught by everyone—Tillie included.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It looks like— It looks like some cleaner bots malfunctioned and were destroyed by the machine. I don’t know specifics, though. I haven’t learned much about the actual factory floor yet.”

“Cleaner bots?” Tillie asked. “They really look like cleaner bots to you?”

“I don’t know,” Leo said, crossing his arms and getting defensive. “I told you we haven’t learned about the factory floor yet.”

“You don’t have to know about the factory floor,” Tillie snapped before correcting her tone. “I mean, just look. They’re not robots, Leo. Those are not robots. Okay. Look.” She pointed again.

Leo chuckled, shaking his head and trying to avoid looking again at the picture on the screen. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “Ma. Please tell me you’re not one of them. A conspiracy theorist?”

“This isn’t a conspiracy theory, Leo. This is the truth. It’s right there in front of your face, plain for anyone to see. You just have to open your eyes and look, son.”

Pffft. Sure, Mom,” Leo said, leaving the office. “That’s what all the conspiracy theorists say. Wake up sheeple! Right? I get it. But isn’t it about time for your dinner party?”

The office was silent for a moment after Leo had left, all except for the sound of Mr. Kitty licking himself. Then Tillie broke the silence by saying, “I should have told him the truth a long time ago. When he was younger. Right off the bat. Now I may not be able to convince him ever.”

“There’s always hope,” Mr. Kitty meowed, and he went back to licking himself, hoping to get his coat clean before he fell asleep.

 

#     #     #

< LXVI. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXVIII. Sonya >

And there you have it, dear readers, the next chapter in the story. If you liked that, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the novel through this link. If you purchase the print version, we’ll even throw in an ebook for free. Otherwise, we’ll be back again next week. Until then, comrades. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 65: Thimblerigger and Stevedore

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

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

LXV. Thimblerigger and Stevedore

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

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

“Tails,” Stevie repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tails again.”

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

“Tails again.”

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

“Tails again.”

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

“Tails again.”

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

“Tails again.”

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

“Tails again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know what. Maybe it is.”

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

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

“What now?”

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

“The same coin flip?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thim shrugged again. “Inconclusive.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

0.N Repeating

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

0-n_repeating_cover_for_kindle

 

 

 

 

 

For you.

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Chayce Halley

 

 

 

 

 

LXIV. Haley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh. Mind what?” Haley asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I— But—”

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

“I— But…” Lord Douglas stammered again.

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

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

#     #     #

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

“God?” Haley was taken aback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. Please, do.”

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

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

“Shoot.”

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

“I’m not your frien—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

We do nothing alone.

Chapter 51: Laura

Laura has done her deed and now she’s on the way to Mr. Walker’s lair to see if it was enough to ensure her freedom. For some reason, though, she’s got a sneaking suspicion that it won’t be. Read on here to find out along with Laura, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy and/or leave a review of the novel through this link, I’d really appreciate it. Enjoy your reading, y’all, and have a great weekend besides that.

< L. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LII. Anna >

L. Laura

Laura did know the way to the voice’s lair, but she had never had a reason to use it. She would be a much happier person, living a better life, if she never had a reason. She was okay with the way things were, never seeing the face that owned the voice on the other end of the phone, slowly, day by day, paying off her debt. But this? This was too much to ask

She stalled for time in her small apartment, staring at her reflection in the ancient battle station—so old it didn’t even have makeup removing capabilities—despite the fact that she knew perfectly well she had no time to spare. ASAP meant as soon as possible, and to the voice on the other end of the phone that meant sooner than possible.

She cringed at the thought of what the voice’s face would look like, at the power it held. That voice controlled every aspect of her life. That voice followed her every move thanks to the ankle bracelet she had been strapped with for longer than she cared to remember. That voice held the key to the same ankle monitor and that was reason enough not to keep the voice’s owner waiting. She sighed and stood from the battle station, surveying her room one last time, surveying the life she had been chained to, imagining the life she would have been capable of living if it weren’t for that anchor weighing her down at the ankle, and seized the moment. It was now or never and never was too late.

The public elevator was only a block away from her apartment complex, but she walked slowly. The end of her debt was supposed to be at the other end of the elevator ride, along with the voice’s face, but Laura had been made promises before, and she was quite certain that she’d be coming home with her ankle monitor still attached. A little part of her couldn’t help hoping she was wrong, that this was the day she was finally going to be set free, and it almost scared her to think about that freedom, so she forced herself back into the defeated cynicism that had been keeping her alive for so long now.

There was a short line at the elevator, but it was orderly and quick. Soon she stepped through the doors and they slid shut behind her. She took a deep breath of odorous air and sighed, hoping the password would work.

“I would tell him to shrug,” she said and the floor fell out from underneath her.

It felt like her heart stopped for the entire thirty second ride, only jumping back into motion after the elevator ceased to move, like some cruel inertial joke. Her breath didn’t start up again until the elevator doors opened, revealing a long, elegant hall lined with red carpet and hung with classical paintings and tapestries. She stood in awe for a moment and only just stepped out of the elevator as the doors slid closed behind her.

She looked around at the brightly lit hall, embarrassed. She didn’t know whether to continue on her way to the big wooden door at the other end of it or to wait there until someone came to greet her. She really wanted to turn around, get back in the elevator, and go home, and she was about to do just that when the wooden door across from her opened and closed with a loud thud. A woman in a lacy, short black and white skirt came scurrying down the hall toward her, saying, “Hello. Hello.” and curtsying every few steps as she walked. “I apologize, ma’am. I should have been here to greet you, but Mist—erLord Walker needed my assistance in his office. But I’m here now. So, hello.” She curtsied one more time when she had finally crossed the long hall.

“Oh—uh…” Laura blushed. She didn’t know what to say. This certainly wasn’t the voice on the other end of the phone, but she couldn’t just ask for a voice, could she? She would sound insane.

“Laura, I’m sorry,” the woman in the black and white skirt said, blushing herself. “I’m so rude. I apologize again and again. Don’t tell Mister Walker I said this, but I’m very new to this secretary business so you’ll have to bear with me.”

Laura nodded as if she knew what was going on. Whoever this person was seemed nice enough and it took some pressure off of meeting this Lord Walker—or whoever—who Laura assumed was the voice she had been talking to.

“My name’s Haley,” the woman went on, curtsying again. “We’ve been expecting you. Mister—ooh, shoot—I mean Lord. I’m sorry. I’ve got to stop doing that.”

Laura chuckled, not sure what she was laughing at.

Lord Walker is waiting in his office. He will receive you there. If you’ll follow me, please.” Haley made her way back up the red carpeted hall she had just come down.

Laura followed, but slowly, examining each picture, tapestry, and painting as best as she could with what little time she had. They all looked pretty much the same to her: fat, tuxedoed white men variously displaying their riches. She shook her head and caught up with Haley who had stopped at the big wooden door which only seemed larger with proximity.

“Now, when we get in there,” Haley said, “be sure to address him as Lord Walker. He wouldn’t want to be called by any other name. Trust me.”

Laura smiled and nodded.. “And what’s your name?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m Haley,” the woman said, shaking her hand. “But that’s not important. You won’t need to address me at all. Only speak to Lord Walker and only after you’ve been spoken to. You got it?”

Laura nodded. It sounded about how she would expect the voice to act from what she knew about its owner already, but she wasn’t sure how this Haley put up with being in such close proximity to the demanding beast for so long. “And you live like this everyday?” she asked.

Haley chuckled. “I get to,” she said. “This is the best job a robot can have. You wouldn’t believe what they’d have me doing if I wasn’t here.”

Laura’s jaw dropped. She had seen androids before but nothing so lifelike as this one. She wasn’t sure she believed Haley when she said she was a robot. She couldn’t be. She looked so…human.

“Well, are you ready then?” Haley asked after a moment’s silence. “Lord Walker doesn’t like to wait.”

Laura swallowed the dried up spit in her mouth. Her diaphragm and vocal chords couldn’t coordinate themselves enough to make speech so she just nodded. Now or never.

Haley opened the door to reveal a room identical to the hall, only wider, and instead of being empty this one had a huge wooden desk with some chairs sitting across from it. Behind the desk, the largest person Laura had ever seen sat wearing a tuxedo and towering top hat. Laura chuckled internally at the sight of it. No offense to Steve, but the costumes they were using on set were nothing compared to the real thing.

Ho ho ho!” the man behind the desk laughed in the voice that Laura recognized from all her phone conversations. The sound sent a chill up her spine. “Haley, dear. Be a good girl and show our company in, please. And Laura, my gem, don’t be shy. Ho ho ho!”

Laura hesitated but Haley guided her in to sit at one of the chairs in front of the big desk. The chair was so puffy and soft that Laura felt like it would eat her up if she didn’t sit right at the edge of it.

“There we are,” the voice said, it’s face fatter and more grotesque than Laura ever could have imagined. “I’m sorry I didn’t stand to shake your hand, dear, but my pants have been acting up today. Ho ho ho!”

Laura smiled, nodding. She didn’t find anything about this funny, but playing along would hopefully hasten the process.

“So,” the voice went on “Laura. It’s good to finally meet you face to face.”

Laura nodded. “Yes—uh—Lord Walker. You, too.”

The voice, Lord Walker, smiled. He chuckled a little then went into a full on guffaw. “Yes, dear,” he said. “Lord Walker. How nice to hear it fall from your precious lips.”

Laura didn’t know how to respond to that. She just smiled and nodded along.

“So, then, girl.” Lord Walker sneered and his face somehow became more grotesque—so much so that Laura had to stifle a gag at the sight of it. “Tell me again how it went.”

“It went exactly as planned, sir,” she said, trying not to vomit.

“Yes, yes. Of course. But humor me. Remind me of the plan. Bring me through it step by step. It’s one of life’s few pleasures, you know, a good story well told.” He grinned.

Laura shook her head. Lord Walker already knew what she had done, why did she have to repeat it for him? It was just some sick show of power on his part. “I did what you asked,” she said. “I knocked Emir out. He can’t act anymore. What do I do next?”

Next,” Lord Walker said, his grin fading, “you bring me through what happened, step by step. If you’re not going to play along, then this isn’t going to be any fun for anyone and I might just have to go find another convict grip who actually wants to live a life free of her ankle monitor. There are plenty of them out there, you know. And besides that, I own the protectors so I have the power to make more whenever I want to.”

Laura swallowed down what she wanted to say—that she didn’t believe Lord Walker would ever take the stupid monitor off her, whether she cooperated or not—because somewhere deep down inside of her she still had some hope that he would. Instead she said, “Well—I… Uh. Where should I start, si—Lord?”

“From the beginning,” Lord Walker said, smiling again and tapping his fingers on the desk. “Go on.”

“Well—-uh…” She still didn’t know how far back he wanted her to go. “Three nights ago, as per your request, I went into Loch Ness Studios—which was unlocked and empty like you said it would be—to set up the rigging on the lights.”

“Tell me,” Lord Walker said, clapping his hands together like an eager child. “What kind of rigging?”

“Oh it was your simple laser disc,” Laura said. “It’s just a ring you can wrap around any object, then with the flick of a switch, red hot lasers instantly saw whatever it’s attached to in half.”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker guffawed, throwing his head back to look at the ceiling as his heaving stomach jiggled. “And that’s just what you did, right? Flicked a switch and kerplow!” He mimed an explosion with his ham hock hands.

“Yes, sir.” Laura nodded. “As soon as he was in position I took the cue and set the effects in motion. I did exactly what you asked me to do and now Emir can’t work for weeks. So please, how do I get rid of this stupid monitor?”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker chuckled. “Slow down now, sweetheart. You’re putting your cart in front of your horse. Do you know what that saying means?”

Laura shook her head. She didn’t know what it meant, but whatever it did mean, she didn’t like the sound of it. It sounded like Lord Walker was trying to weasel out of their deal—again.

“No, you probably wouldn’t,” Lord Walker said. “Not with your education, at least. You know nothing of history beyond the last hundred or so years of art history, and this saying comes from a time well before that.”

Laura was tired of his games but she had no choice but to play along. “So what does it mean then?”

“It means you’re getting things out of order. You’ve got it in reverse. You see, back before elevators, way back even before the automobile era, people used to get around by having horses pull them in carts. So you can see what a problem it would be to put your cart before your horse. It’s not trained to push the thing. All it knows how to do is pull. So you’re not gonna get anywhere that way. Ho ho ho!”

“What does this have to do with me?”

“Oh, not much, probably.” Lord Walker shrugged. “Besides the fact that you’re putting your cart before your horse by asking me to remove your ankle monitor before you’ve finished your services to me.”

“No, but you said—”

“What did I say?”

“You said you would remove my ankle monitor if I—”

If you did something for me.”

“Yes,” Laura said. “Then you told me to rig the lights to fall on Emir and I did just that.”

“And you did a very good job of it, too, dear. Dr. Smith told me you got him right on the head.” He grinned from ear to ear, giving a thumbs up with his sausage finger.

“So you should hold up your end of the agreement, then,” Laura said. What was his problem? This was no way to conduct business.

“I’m afraid not,” Lord Walker said, leaning forward to cross his arms on the desk, getting serious about the conversation finally. “You see, that was only step one in the task I have in mind for you.”

Ugh.” Laura groaned. “And how many steps are there?”

Lord Walker tapped each of his chins with each of his plump fingers. “Hmmm. It’s hard to break the plan into discrete steps like that. Each superstep includes various substeps. No, let’s leave the step counting for later. For now let’s get to step two.”

Laura groaned. There was probably no end to the steps, but no matter how Sisyphean the task was, she had to push the boulder up the hill or be left with no hope at all. “So what do I do?”

“Oh, don’t look so down.” Lord Walker smiled wide. “This step will be a lot easier for you than the last one. And dare I say fun?”

Laura scoffed. “Sure. Whatever.”

“Oh, you don’t believe me?” Lord Walker snapped his fingers, still smiling and staring at Laura. “Haley, dear. Bring our star in now, please. I think it’s finally time for our employees to meet face to face. Maybe we’ll do some ice breaker exercises or something. Ho ho ho!”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, curtsying and exiting through the heavy door.

“Who is it?” Laura asked.

“Oh, you’ll see,” Lord Walker said, pointing at the door. “Patience my dear. You’ll see. Ho ho ho!”

The door opened and in came Haley followed by—

Laura shook her head. She blinked her eyes. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She couldn’t form words or move her legs to stand and greet him so she just sat there, shaking her head and chuckling in disbelief.

“Laura Concierge,” Lord Walker said, “meet Jorah Baldwin.”

The Jorah Baldwin, wearing a black paisley suit and his trademark red lipstick, bowed low and presented a hand to Laura. It took her a while to stand—her legs wouldn’t work at first, like they had fallen asleep—but when she finally got the blood flowing again she managed to shake his hand and squeak out, “Nice to meet you, sir.”

“Oh, ho ho!” Jorah laughed, taking her hand again and kissing the back of it. “Call me Jorah, please. Leave all this sir business for our great and powerful Lord Walker.”

Lord Walker chuckled from behind the desk where he was still seated. “Now now, Jorah, my boy. Take a seat and leave all that flattery for a better time and place. Preferably somewhere more public where we’re surrounded by owners. Ho ho ho!”

Jorah bowed low to Lord Walker before taking the seat that Laura had been sitting in. It took Laura some time to remember how to work her legs and sit in the seat next to him.

“Oh no, my Lord,” Jorah said, shaking his head, stern-faced. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s not flattery. It’s merely a statement of fact. Truths are not flatteries. Only embellishments can be.”

“All the same,” Lord walker said, smiling wider still. “Now is not the time for truths. Now is the time for business. So, shall we get down to it, then?”

“Oh, yes. Of course. Go ahead,” Jorah said, bowing his head.

Laura just nodded, still unable to think, much less to speak.

“Well, now,” Lord Walker said, taking his time after asking everyone else to hurry. “What we have in front of us may seem like an odd decision at first glance, but I want to emphasize the word seems.”

Laura nodded. Jorah nodded more emphatically.

“Let me assure you, however,” Lord Walker went on, “that I have measured and weighed all the possibilities before us and this is the most profitable course of action.”

“Good, My Lord,” Jorah said, bowing his head with every other word. “I trust your judgement.”

“It’s good to hear that, Jorah,” Lord Walker said, beaming. “Because I’m afraid this will seem much more absurd from your perspective than it will from our dear Laura’s here, though I’m sure she never could have imagined this outcome in her wildest dreams.”

“Oh, I’m ready, Lord,” Jorah said, nodding and eager though Laura had some idea of what was coming next—an idea she couldn’t believe, just as Lord Walker had said—and if she was right, Jorah was not going to like the plan.

“You, Jorah Baldwin,” Lord Walker said proudly, “are going to star in the independent film being produced by Laura’s company.” He smiled wide.

Now it was Jorah who was caught speechless. “I—uh…” he stammered.

“He what?” Laura blurted out, covering her mouth after she had realized what she’d done.

“Yes,” Lord Walker said, smiling and nodding. “He will take Emir’s role as the robot in your film. I read through the script, you know. It pissed me off at first—being the inventor of the androids as I am, of course it did—but then it got me to thinking of how I could spin the story to my advantage. So, Jorah—the biggest star in existence—” Jorah acted embarrassed by the flattery, whether he was or not. “—will star in your movie, and I—the greatest owner in all of history—will back it as the executive producer. There’s no way we don’t have a blockbuster on our hands with names like Walker and Baldwin behind it.”

“But why us?” Laura asked.

“Why me?” Jorah asked, shaking his head.

“Now listen here.” Lord Walker slammed his hands on the desk. “You, girl, should be honored. You’re going to have your name on the biggest film this year. Hell, the biggest film ever.”

“But the script sucks,” Laura complained.

“And you, Jorah, are going to be more famous than you thought possible under my ownership. I guarantee it. The only hitch is that you have to act in the roles that I tell you to act in or you’ll end up as nothing more than another extra… Or worse. Got it?”

“But she said the script sucks,” Jorah complained.

I read the script,” Lord Walker said, proudly. “And I found it to be quite entertaining. More importantly, I agreed with the message. And with the worlds’ biggest star on the cast, we’ll be able to spread that message all the way through Outland Six and back again.”

“The message?” Laura scoffed. “That’s the worst part of the script. Why would you want to spread that racist Luddite garbage?”

“Racist?” Jorah said, groaning. “What is she talking about, Lord?”

Lord Walker grinned and nodded at Laura, clearly impressed. “Well, well,” he said, tipping his huge top hat. “It seems your education was a little more thorough than I imagined. Luddite garbage, huh? Now I wouldn’t call it garbage, but I like where you’re going with the Luddite bit.”

“What are you two talking about?” Jorah complained.

“It’s not gonna fix anything, though,” Laura said. “All that buy human-made only crap. It doesn’t change a thing. Everything just costs more so we get less anyway. That’s never going to change unless the entire system changes.”

“It might not solve any of your problems,” Lord Walker said, chuckling. “Other than your little ankle monitor fiasco, of course. But it will certainly do wonders for mine.”

“But, sir,” Jorah said, looking confused. “Human-made only? I’m—I mean, aren’t you— Don’t you—”

“Yes, Jorah, my boy. You heard it right.” Lord Walker laughed, clearly enjoying himself.

“But you own the vast majority of android production plants,” Jorah said. “Why?”

“For now I do,” Lord Walker said, serious faced again. “We haven’t finished the movie yet, though. We haven’t disseminated it to the masses. But I’ll take care of my investments in due time, my boy. I assure you of that. Now you stop worrying about my finances and start preparing for your roll. Haley will make sure you have a copy of the script.”

“I—but—” Jorah hunched over in his seat, giving up. He shook his head. “Yes, sir,” he said, defeated. “When do I start?”

“Now that’s the spirit,” Lord Walker said, clapping his hands together. “I’ve booked a studio for you all starting tomorrow morning, bright and early. You’ll get the shooting schedule along with your script. Is there anything else you need?”

“No, sir,” Jorah said, shaking his head and missing the characteristic twinkle in his eye.

“Good. And as for you, sweetheart.” Lord Walker turned to Laura. “I need you to go tell your crew that you found a replacement for Emir then give them the new shooting schedule. We have a deadline, you know.”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, nodding. “I’ll tell them, sir, but they may not like it. Especially Cohen and the shooting schedule.”

Nonsense,” Lord Walker said, waving her concerns away. “I’m sure they’ll love to have Jorah on board, and as for the rest, they’ll like it or they’ll never work in any business ever again. Ho ho ho!”

“I—uh… I’ll tell them, sir.” Laura shrugged. What else could she do?

“Good,” Lord Walker said. “And while you’re at it, get me in touch with that script writer of yours. Have him call me. I have some projects I’d like him to start working on right away.”

Laura sighed. It was sounding more and more like Lord Walker was planning on stringing her along, never to remove her ankle monitor, just as she had expected. “I’ll try,” she said. “But we haven’t been able to get in touch with him for some time now. And besides, he only really edited the script. Cohen’s the only one of us who’s met the original writer.”

Interesting,” Lord Walker said, tapping his chins. “Well have this Cohen call me then. That way I can find the writer and straighten out any concerns your director has about the new shooting schedule in one fell swoop. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said. She’d love to lay some of this burden on that asshole Cohen. Maybe then he’d finally pull some of his own weight. “I’d be happy to. Anything else?”

“That’s all, dear,” Lord Walker said. “For both of you. Now go get some rest and prepare. You both have important work in front of you tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir,” Jorah and Laura said at the same time, standing to follow Haley out of the big oak door, down the hall, and to the elevator. Laura stepped aside to let Jorah into the elevator first.

“I can’t believe I have to do this,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Dressing room.” The doors slid closed then opened half a minute later to an empty elevator.

“It was nice to meet you,” Laura said when she had stepped into the elevator.

Haley blushed. “You, too,” she said, curtsying. “Good luck.”

The elevator doors slid closed and Laura said, “Indywood.”

The floor fell out from underneath her and she shook her head, still unable to believe anything form the last few hours. First, she actually did rig the lights to fall on Emir, which she had never thought she would do, not even for freedom. Then she met the flabby fat face behind the voice that had been pulling her strings—and how many others’?—for so long. And finally, she met Jorah Baldwin, who—now that Russ Logo was out of the picture—was the biggest actor in all the worlds. Not only that, she found out that she would be working on a film with him.

The elevator doors opened and Laura pushed out past the line of people to vomit in an alley around the corner. Saying it all at once like that made her life almost unbearable to think about. She needed a strong drink—and fast—in order to get the taste of vomit out of her mouth and calm her nerves so she hurried to the bar.

Cohen, Jen, and even Emily were all at one of the normal tables. Guy was still nowhere to be found—she wondered if the protectors finally took him to be tortured like she had tried to warn him would happen—and Steve was presumably still taking care of Emir. Laura went straight to the bar without acknowledging the crew—who were deep in conversation and didn’t seem to notice her anyway—to order a fireball and a Suburban. She took the shot at the bar—not taking it in one gulp but swishing it around in her mouth first to get rid of the barf aftertaste—and thanked the bartender. She needed that.

She carried the Suburban over to the crew’s table and patted Cohen on the back as she sat down. “What’s up?”

“Whoa!” Cohen screamed, jumping from his seat. “Fuck. You scared the shit out of me. Don’t sneak around like that.”

Emily giggled. “You might wanna change your underwear, then.”

“Laura,” Jen said. “When did you get here?”

Laura shrugged, taking a big gulp of her drink. “I don’t know. Just now.”

“And where the fuck have you been?” Cohen demanded, still fuming. “We’ve all been here furiously brainstorming some way to save this production. We’ve got a deadline, you know, and a shit ton of scenes Emir was supposed to lead.”

“I know more than you could imagine,” Laura said under her breath.

“What was that?” Cohen asked, holding a hand to his ear. “Why don’t you speak the fuck up so everyone can hear you?”

Laura had had enough. What did it matter anyway? Cohen wasn’t in charge anymore, whether he liked it or not—whether the entire crew liked it or not. That was just the way the world worked and they would all have to get used to it.

I said, I know more than you could imagine,” Laura repeated.

Daaaaamn,” Emily said, snapping her fingers. “You tell him, girl.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Cohen demanded.

“It means we have a new shooting schedule,” Laura said. “We have new deadlines to worry about that you don’t know about. It means that I know more than you could imagine.”

In yo face,” Emily said.

“Wait, what?” Jen said.

I’m the director,” Cohen said. “I’ll decide the shooting schedules. Nothing has changed until you consult me about it. You got that?”

Laura scoffed. “So y’all found a replacement for Emir, then?”

Cohen looked around the table at blank faces. “Well, no,” he said. “But—”

I have,” Laura said, grinning. “And let me just say that the replacement will probably be better than the real thing.”

Sure.” Cohen scoffed. “You found someone better than Emir who will work for nothing. I doubt that.”

Laura nodded, letting them stew a bit longer.

“Well, who is it?” Emily asked, unable to contain her excitement.

“Jorah Baldwin.”

The entire table, save Laura, laughed.

“Yeah, right,” Cohen said.

“Shit, girl.” Emily chuckled. “You had me goin’ for a minute there.”

Sure,” Jen said, giving a thumbs up. “Nice story. You trying to become a writer?”

“Laugh now if you want to,” Laura said, “but you won’t be tomorrow. You’ll be stupefied probably. That’s when we start shooting. The studio’s booked and it’s big enough for any scene. Look, I’ll show you.” She pulled out her phone and sent them all the shooting schedule.

“Well, this scheduling receipt looks legit,” Cohen said after taking a moment to investigate it. “But you can’t expect me to believe you got Jorah Baldwin to agree to work on this project for free.”

“Has he even read the script?” Jen asked.

“No, I don’t think he has,” Laura said. “But he’ll be there.”

“But— But how?” Cohen asked, still searching through the schedule. “How could you schedule all this? When have you ever met Jorah Baldwin?”

“I didn’t schedule it,” Laura said. “The investor did. And I met Jorah today. He’ll be there. I guarantee.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Emily said, bouncing up and down in her seat. “We’re actually going to get to work with Jorah Baldwin.”

“An investor, huh?” Cohen said. “I’d like to meet this person.”

“Well that’s good,” Laura said, sending him Lord Walker’s contact information. “Because while you probably won’t be able to meet with him in person, he does want to speak with you before tomorrow. I just sent you the number.”

“Lord Walker?” Cohen said, checking the message again. “The Lord Walker? You can’t be serious.”

“Oh. My. Fortuna,” Emily said. “He’s like the richest producer in all of existence.”

“Really?” Jen said.

“I’m serious,” Laura said. “Give him a call and see for yourself, Cohen. He’s how we got Jorah.”

“Alright, one second.” Cohen lifted a finger and went outside to make the call. He was only gone for a few minutes, in which Jen and Emily grilled Laura about Jorah’s appearance and demeanor, before he came back in with a big smile on his face and sat at the table.

“So?” Jen said.

“Is it real?” Emily asked.

Laura just nodded.

“It’s a go,” Cohen said. “Six AM tomorrow. Expect Jorah. This is the real deal.”

Emily squealed, Jen gasped, and Laura breathed a sigh of relief to have some of the burden off her shoulders.

#     #     #

< L. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LII. Anna >

So there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you’re enjoying the story, and I hope you come back for more next week. Until then, have a great weekend and have a great week besides that. And always remember: We do nothing alone.

 

Chapter 45: Anna

Hello again, dear readers. Before I introduce today’s chapter I have some good news for y’all. Yesterday I received the Murder in “Utopia,, audio files for my final approval and the full audio book should be going live in the next week or two. Yay!

If you can’t tell, I’m really excited about this one. I think the voice actor I chose is fantastic and I’m sure the final product will live up to my expectations. So if you’re as excited as I am to hear that finalized audio book–about a psychiatrist and a priest dealing with a bunch of murderers in “utopia”–subscribe to my email newsletter right here and you’ll not only be alerted first when the book is published, you’ll also receive an exclusive chance to win the audio book in your inbox when that release is announced.

But that’s enough about Murder in “Utopia,, for today. Let’s move on to the 45th chapter of the Infinite Limits story, chapter three of Dividing by Ø, with Anna of the Human Family. Anna, Rosa, and their Family are tired of relying on the protectors, who certainly aren’t there to protect anyone from Outland Five or Six, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. Read on here to find out what happens next, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy–or leave a review–of the book on Amazon if you want to support further releases in the Infinite Limits series and beyond.

Thanks as always, dear readers. Enjoy.

< XLIV. Laura     [Table of Contents]     XLVI. Roo >

XLV. Anna

In her tiny little kitchen, it was a pleasure to cook breakfast—a pleasure not many people knew how to enjoy, sure, but a much needed diversion in these tumultuous times nonetheless.

Rosa was off in her study, no doubt. She always woke so much earlier than Anna and set to work straight away. Anna couldn’t do that, though. She had to ease into her day, get prepared for it, test the water with her toe before diving in. And what better way to prepare for the day than to cook and eat a hearty breakfast? This particular breakfast was one of the heartiest in her repertoire. She had already grated the sweet potatoes—specifically chosen to provide as much energy as possible for the day’s inevitable drainage—and pan fried them along with the sausage and bacon before that. She had it all in the wok now, with some diced bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes—already sauteed—when she added a dozen eggs and set the resultant slop to cooking over the gas stove’s heat.

The energy was going to be needed, that was for sure. No. Maybe that wasn’t quite right. The energy was there already, no doubt about that. An outlet was what they needed. The residents of Five and Six were all hot kinetic molecules, bouncing against one another and the walls that were put there to contain them—walls which did contain them, for the most part, but not for much longer. With so many molecules absorbing so much energy in such a small space, it was only a matter of time before some of them found a seam to escape through—or created one themselves. That was the natural order of things.

When all the eggs in the wok had solidified—changing phase from liquid to solid thanks to the kinetic energy they had absorbed from the stove top—Anna turned the burner off and left the frittatas to congeal. When it came to cooking, like many things in life, Anna knew that you had to let things cool down a bit before you could really enjoy the work you had done.

With breakfast cooked, she made her way to Rosa’s office—their office, really, since there was only one in the entire Family Home, but Rosa claimed it as her own because she used it most often. Rosa was there, of course, behind her desk, scribbling furiously on some notepad, just as Anna had expected.

Ahem.” Anna cleared her throat. “Breakfast’s ready, dear.”

Rosa scribbled a few more lines then looked up at Anna absently. “Oh—uh—I’m sorry. What was that?”

“Breakfast,” Anna said, crossing around the desk to massage Rosa’s shoulders. “You need your energy for the long day.”

Ahhh,” Rosa groaned, reacting to Anna’s fingers. “That feels so good.”

“So will some food in your stomach,” Anna said, really digging into Rosa’s muscles. Rosa let out a little yelp that was tinged with pain and pleasure at the same time, a result of the satisfying, painful release of lactic acid build up in her muscles. “I made frittatas,” Anna went on, “the perfect start to an important day.”

“They don’t get much more important than this one, do they?” Rosa stood from the chair to embrace Anna and kiss her.

“No,” Anna said, giggling as she caught her breath. “They don’t. So come on.” She took Rosa’s hand and led her out to the kitchen to sit her in one of the bar stools. “So,” Anna said as she loaded a plate and set it in front of Rosa, “how do you feel?”

Aaaaahhhh.” Rosa yawned, stretching her arms as wide as they would go. “Tired.”

Anna scoffed. “That’s it?”

“I don’t know,” Rosa said between bites, using her fork more like a shovel than an eating utensil. “What did you want me to say?”

Anna shrugged. “I don’t want you to say anything. I want you to say how you feel. It’s a big day today. I thought you would think so, too.”

“Of course I do.” Rosa chuckled, spitting some chewed up slop onto her plate. “But every day is big with our Family. Every day I put everything on the line for our prosperity. Today’s no different. You know that about me.”

Anna cracked a smile. She did know that about Rosa. It was one of the main reasons she loved her: the woman’s indomitable will and incessant optimism. Today really was just another day to her. The inevitable success of the Human Family was just as inevitable as it had always been. Whether they were simply pulling new members one by one, or taking the biggest risk that either of them had ever taken, it made no difference to Rosa, the Human Family would overcome all odds.

“I’m glad to see you’re so confident,” Anna said, kissing Rosa again.

“And why wouldn’t I be?” Rosa asked with a wry grin. “It remains impossible for the Human Family to fail as long as we stand united.”

“But this?” Anna asked, breaking the embrace and taking a step back. “Are you sure it’s the only way? Aren’t the protectors humans, too?”

Rosa scoffed. “You saw what they did to us, honey. When they reacted like that, they showed us that they aren’t human. They aren’t a part of my Family at least. No one who crosses us like that could ever be.”

“I don’t know,” Anna shook her head.

“What then? You’d have us do nothing? Should we just let them murder us en masse again the next time they come around?”

“No,” Anna said. “We have to protect ourselves.”

“Exactly.” Rosa smiled. “We have to protect ourselves. We can’t expect the protectors to do it for us. Our only other option would be to give up on the Family altogether, to get back under their radar by doing nothing to fight back against them. You don’t want that, do you?”

“No way,” Anna said. “Of course not. Not an option.”

Good.” Rosa kissed her on the forehead. “Then why don’t you go on downstairs and get the consoles running. I have a few more things to tend to here, but I’ll be along to help as soon as I can.”

Anna chuckled as she left the room. “Sure thing, dear,” she said, waving and closing the office door behind her. Rosa wouldn’t be down until it was time to go through the rings and Anna knew it. There was no point for her to be. There was nothing Rosa could do in that basement to help prepare for what was to come. She would only get in the way. Anna was one of only a handful of people in all the worlds who knew how to operate that particular model of transport ring, using the control consoles she herself had designed and built, and that handful didn’t include Rosa. Rosa’s strengths lied in other areas—areas where Anna was weak—so it made no difference to Anna  whether Rosa tried to help or not. In fact, it was better if she didn’t.

The transport rings were stored in the basement of the Family Home. Where there used to be piles and piles of boxes containing various supplies—mostly paper and drawing utensils, but a little bit of food here and there, interspersed with the occasional clipboard, there could never be enough clipboards—there were now six giant rings lining the walls and the two consoles in the middle of the otherwise empty room.

Anna’s fingers moved over the consoles’ controls with the deft speed of a practiced musician. The buttons and levers were her piano keys. The music she made was only audible in the clicking and swiping as she worked, but her composition was performed in a medium far different from that of sound. The sounds were only the tip of the iceberg, and the rest of Anna’s symphony spread deep, submerged in the darkness of nameless dimensions, shaping and reshaping her very plane of existence.

This was when Anna felt her best. She could almost see those deeper dimensions of existence as she molded them with her very hands. Here and there were once thought to be separated by a great chasm of nothingness, but that nothingness was not nothing after all. On the contrary, it was something. As she poked and prodded at that nothing that was really something, the very foundations of existence began to untangle in Anna’s hands. These distances weren’t separated by a single path from A to B, they were separated by many paths, infinite paths perhaps, and all of varying lengths. The more she played with this ball of yarn at the heart of her universe the more it unfolded, the more it opened up to her requests, and the more she could control the world around her.

The tricky part—Anna had determined after a not insignificant amount of trial and error—was in finding the path you wanted, the shortest path you could catch with the technology at your disposal, and making sure you ended up with that particular one rather than any of the seemingly infinite other possibilities. Getting the paths to shuffle themselves was the easy part. Getting them to shuffle a royal flush to the top of the deck was where it got hard. But then again, you didn’t always need the flush to win. Sometimes you could get by with two pair—especially when you had six hands, one per transporter ring, to work with—and Anna was getting better at shuffling aces to the top, at least, if not the full flush.

She set the timing patterns and outlet depots for the mission—they weren’t going to any costume closets this time—and by the time she was done, she could already hear Rosa upstairs, riling the crew who had volunteered to go through. She climbed the stairs into the neatly packed conference room, filled with thirty-five of the bravest Family members Anna had ever known and listened to what was left of Rosa’s speech.

“They have brought us to this,” Rosa spoke—almost sang, really, in that commanding tone of hers. “It is their fault!” She slammed her fist on the podium and the group hooted and hollered in response. “We try to feed our Family and what do they do to us? Murder us in the streets. Step over the dead and dying bodies of our brothers and sisters in order to come into our homes and disrespect our rights. I say no more!”

The crowd raged again. Anna was nervous to hear shouts of “Kill them all!” and “Eye for an eye!” but she couldn’t blame them. She couldn’t stop them, either. Hell, she couldn’t even stop herself from helping them if she wanted to. She could only hope that their heads would cool once they finally carried their fate in their own hands. That might be the only way to prevent the apocalypse she thought was probably inevitable no matter what she did.

“Tonight we endure no more,” Rosa went on. “Tonight we take responsibility for our own protection. Tonight we take the fight to their home and we earn their respect. Are you with me?”

Anna joined in with the cheering this time. She couldn’t help it. Rosa had the same effect on everyone.

“You know your assignments. You know your objectives. You’ve studied up on the blueprints and know exactly when and where to go. Don’t let me down. Don’t let yourselves down. But most importantly, don’t let your Family down. Because it’s not only our lives on the line out there, it’s the life and livelihood of each and every one of our human brothers and sisters. We will not fail them!”

Everyone cheered to that, standing from their seats and stomping their feet. Anna’s heart raced at the sound of it.

“Let’s do this. Troops, forward!” Rosa waved her hand and Anna was pushed down into the basement, riding the crest of a wave of soldiers dedicated to protecting the Human Family. Anna took her place behind the consoles, and when Rosa came down—last out of all the Family—she called them to attention. Their excited chaos suddenly dissipated into a steel sense of resolved solidarity. At three words from Rosa, the fluid mass that had seemed too large to be contained by the small basement coagulated into six tight columns, one directed toward each of the transport rings.

“Now is the time for discipline,” Rosa said over the silent and still platoon. “Now is the time for resolve. Together with our Family we cannot fail. Now let us succeed!”

Rosa shot Anna a hand signal and everything around her disappeared. There was no platoon of soldiers, stuffing her basement too full. There was no basement at all and no Rosa inside of it, waiting to guide her platoon through the transport rings. There was only Anna and the music she loved.

Soon the rings were humming into action. Six of them all together in such a tight space must have been deafening to the troop, but Anna couldn’t hear a thing, she was too busy listening to the subtle notes of her song. The strings of creation jumped and jittered as Anna wove them together into the most elegant universal tapestry that any of them there had ever been a part of. Never before had Anna controlled six rings at once. Three she had done, and there was some thrill to it, but nothing like six. Each hand was working a different console, and it became as if half her brain controlled three of the rings and the other half the rest. There was no time for anything else but the music.

Then the humming stopped. Anna shook her head and looked up. The basement was empty. The thirty six brothers and sisters—including Rosa—who had only just filled the room to bursting were now in another world entirely. It took them only three steps to get from the Family Home to Outland One, across six worlds—three steps and Anna’s symphony.

Anna sighed in relief and frustration. This was the worst part about being the Queen of the Consoles: waiting for the action to finish without being able to see it. She wasn’t sure she would go across with them even if they didn’t need her to run the rings, but she had a hard time picturing how it could be any worse over there than it was waiting helpless at Home to see which of them returned alive.

Then she did the worst thing she could do. She started imagining all the terrible possibilities of what could be happening to her Family members in One, to her Rosa and the others who Anna’s own hands had sent into whatever terrible fate that awaited them. She imagined the protectors being there just as her Family stepped through the portals, waiting to gun Anna’s brothers and sisters down before they even had a chance to move. She imagined her Family making it all the way to the guns they were seeking, only to be shot in the back as they lay their hands on salvation. She imagined the look on Rosa’s face as the life left her body, never to be caressed or kissed or loved by Anna again. And she began to weep.

She shook herself out of the crying after only a moment, though, wiping the moisture from her eyes. Those scenarios were all in her head. They weren’t reality. The only way Anna could find out what was actually happening over there was to wait until her now three and a half minutes—still three and a half!—were up and she could let them all back to fill her in on every little detail.

She paced the room as she waited, trying to get her mind back on the path settings she would need to set for her Family’s triumphant return rather than imagining the horrible things that could be happening to them. She kept slipping back into the daymares, though, until she set her hands to work on the consoles, preparing another symphony. There was still more than a minute before an escape was called for, sure, but this way she could distract herself with the music.

Before she knew it, the rings were humming into motion. She didn’t even have to check her watch. She had come to be so in tune with the rhythms of the universe that she probably kept better time than the old ratty thing ever could. The doors opened, her masterpiece finally coming to fruition, but something had gone wrong. One door wasn’t in the right place. The entryway had opened exactly where it was supposed to open, but it didn’t lead home. It led… Where? Where the fuck was it going?

The pace of Anna’s fingers on the console quickened. Who was messing with her strings? Who was trying to play over her? Why were they doing it? And most importantly, how could they?

Voices tried to break through her shell of concentration, but Anna pushed them away. Or rather she let them go and pushed her mind away from the noise, deeper into the fourth dimension. Some of her Family had made it back safely, at least. She could work harder and smarter with that small comfort, but she wasn’t going to stop until all her brothers and sisters were safe again at Home.

At first sight of it, she thought the breach had come from the protectors themselves. Maybe it was some kind of defensive system she hadn’t noticed when she was first planning the pathways. But that wasn’t true. It couldn’t be. There was no activity from One at all, and why would the protectors ever send her people to… Where were they being sent?

It was an eternity in her mind—or three seconds in reality—before she caught the other end of the rope. She had a grasp on both sides now and set all six of the rings alternating between various portals near the location of the missing Family members. She kept shuffling the deck and dealing hands, shuffling the deck and dealing hands, confident that eventually she would hit big.

She didn’t know how long she had been at it when the humming stopped. Did she stop it? Had she done anything to help anyone this entire time, or was she just a waste of effort and life?

Hands patted her back until there was no more rustling in the basement. Everyone had scurried upstairs to run away or been left on the other side, in One with the protectors. Anna didn’t care anymore. The symphony had taken every ounce of her brain power to compose and conduct. She had no energy left with which to worry. She sat straight down on the ground behind her consoles, ready to give in to the world, and cried silently to herself.

Then came the voice, her voice, the only voice which could possibly bring Anna back to reality after all that. “Nanna,” it said. “No more worries in your eyes, now, Nanna. Your Rosie-Posie’s here.”

Anna cried and jumped up and hugged Rosa—all at the same time. “I thought I had lost you,” she said through her tears.

“And I you.” Rosa grinned, kissing Anna. “But you came back to me, and you brought our brothers and sisters with you.”

“I—I could never—” Anna said. She gathered herself and wiped her eyes, remembering how little she actually knew about what transpired in One. “But what happened? How are you— How did it go? Is everything alright?”

Rosa chuckled. “It’s more than alright,” she said. “But there’s plenty of time for that later. Come on.”

Rosa led Anna out of the basement—almost carrying her up the stairs into a frenzy of motion all through the halls, each Family member doing their work with a big black gun strapped over their shoulder—into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Anna’s heart skipped a beat, though, when she saw one body bleeding on the dining room table and another doing the same on the kitchen counter, and she was torn violently back into reality.

Again her muscles seemed to work by reflex. Rosa handed her a glass, and instead of drinking the water, Anna fed it to the injured party on the counter who sipped it up with a groan. “There you are, child,” Anna said. “Let me see what they did to you.”

One of the other soldiers was already snipping off the injured party’s shirt so Anna helped with the last little bit and peeled the shirt off as gingerly as she could. It stuck to the poor woman’s skin, right under her breast, giving Anna a good idea of where the wound was. The injured woman groaned in pain as Anna tried to get a better look. Anna wanted to groan herself at what she saw, but she held it back. This was a pretty bad wound. She lifted one side of the woman’s back and felt around as softly as she could. No exit wound. It was getting worse.

“I’m gonna need some tweezers and bandages,” Anna said. She turned to Rosa. “And some pills, dear. Injections preferably, but I’m not sure we have any at the moment. You’ll have to take a look-see.”

“I—but— Are you sure, dear?” Rosa said, caressing Anna’s lower back with one hand. “You just fainted down there in the basement. I don’t want your health getting any worse than it already is. There are people here who can do this for you.”

I’m sure,” Anna said, kissing Rosa’s cheek at the same time that she took the rags and bucket from some assistant’s hand. “I was worried that I had lost you, but now that you’re back, I’m over it. Just go get those injections.”

“Injections, huh?” Rosa raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure pills won’t do?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Anna snapped, working on getting the shrapnel out of the woman’s abdomen at the same time as carrying on the conversation. If they asked her to cook a meal and write some slogans, too, she might need as much brain power as she had needed earlier to reshape the universe with six rings at once, but reshaping one human body would have to suffice for now. “Either would’ve done,” she said. “Like I said already. But now that you’ve taken so long, pills should be more than enough because…ah.” She held up the bullet which was, luckily, still in one piece. “I’ve got the bullet.”

“Right, right,” Rosa said, kissing Anna on the cheek one more time before heading down to the basement. “I knew my Nanna could take care of everything.”

“You, take care of this,” Anna, stitching the wound closed, said to the soldier that had been assisting her. “Bandage her up and keep her watered. And there are beds in the basement. When you’re done here, go ahead and put two or three of them in the conference room. I don’t think we’ll be having any more public meetings here after all of this so it shouldn’t matter in the long run.”

“But the basement’s clear,” the assistant said. “There weren’t any beds down there a minute ago.”

“Rosa will show you,” Anna said, crossing to the next patient. “Go.” That was the one thing Rosa did now how to use the consoles for, a pre-programmed room change.

“Okay, what do we have here?” Anna asked, looking down on a too young boy who was holding a bloody rag to his own forehead.

“I’m fine,” the boy said.

“I don’t know,” the nurse who had been tending to him said—if she could even be called a nurse she was so young. “You bled a lot.”

“Let me see,” Anna said, taking the rag from his head.

The boy winced in pain.

See,” the nurse said, crossing her arms.

“It doesn’t look too bad,” Anna said, dabbing some more blood away as the boy winced.

See,” he said with a groan.

“Looks like it could use some stitches, though,” Anna said, dabbing the wound one last time.

The boy jerked away from her. “Stitches?” His eyes widened and his face lost that rebellious resolve he was trying so hard to maintain. “I don’t know about that, ma’am. Are you sure?”

“It won’t hurt,” Anna said. “Much. Besides, I thought you were fine.” She grinned.

“I am,” he said, crossing his arms.

“Then lay right down like a good boy so I can stitch you up.”

He hesitated then gave in, probably trying to impress the nurse who, for her part, looked genuinely worried about the boy’s health. “Ugh. Fine.”

“Great,” Anna said when he was on his back. “You,” she said to the nurse, “get a light over here please.”

“Oh—uh.” She ran to the other room and came back holding a floor lamp. “Will this do, ma’am?”

“Yes, yes,” Anna waved her closer “Just put it close so I can see. There you are. Okay. Now this is going to hurt. Are you ready?”

Anna didn’t wait for an answer. The boy winced and groaned and ground his teeth, but he didn’t jerk his head at all, and soon Anna was tying off five stitches.

“There you are,” she said with a smile as he sat up, trying to scratch the stitches. Anna slapped his hand away. “Don’t touch them. That’ll make things worse. Nurse…” She looked to the girl who was still holding the lamp.”

“Oh—uh—Ellen, ma’am,” the girl said, almost hitting herself with the lamp trying to shake Anna’s hand.

“Nurse Ellen will fit you with some gauze. You keep it covered and dry, then come back to me in the morning—after you’ve gotten some rest. You understand me?”

The boy nodded, going to scratch his head again, but Anna slapped his hand away. “And no scratching. I mean it.” Anna looked at Nurse Ellen and gave her a big smile, patting the girl on the back. “You did well, Nurse,” she said. “Just wrap his head up with some gauze and be sure he doesn’t scratch it. If you can handle that, maybe I’ll teach you how to sew the stitches next time.”

Nurse Ellen’s white-knuckled grip on the floor lamp finally loosened. She set it down, her hands trembling, and the lamp rattled. “Yes, ma’am,” she said. “Right away, ma’am.” She took a few steps then turned around, blushing, to go the other way toward where the gauze was stored.

Anna surveyed the room. Two bodies wasn’t bad. She had expected her kitchen to be a morgue after what Rosa had planned. And the mission was definitely a success, the guns on everyone’s shoulders was evidence enough of that. As long as that bullet wound didn’t become infected, they might not—

“I’m here!” Rosa said, storming in with a bottle of pills and a handful of syringes held up over her head. “I got what you asked for, Nannie dear.” She smiled, holding her bounty out to Anna, proud of herself.

Anna chuckled. “Too late again, Rosie,” she said with a grin, shaking her head. She still couldn’t decide if Rosa did these things because she was cheap and didn’t want to waste the supplies, or if Rosa was simply too queasy to witness the blood. Most likely it was the former, but probably a little of both. “But give the kid a pill anyway. And the woman a few.” Anna handed the bottle to Nurse Ellen then turned to Rosa. “Come on.” She held out her hand. “You have to tell me all about what happened now.”

Rosa smiled and took Anna’s hand, kissing the back of it before letting Anna lead the way into their office.

“So,” Anna said, sitting Rosa in the desk chair and taking the seat across from her. “Those injuries weren’t too bad. Everyone else is back safe then? No other injuries for me to tend to?” She smiled wide, hopefully.

Rosa’s smile slowly faded to a frown. She broke eye contact with Anna, fumbling through the desk for nothing in particular. “Well, yes and no,” she finally said. “Yes those are the only injuries for you to treat…” She smiled a fake smile, not going on.

Anna sighed. “But not everyone else is home safe?”

Rosa shook her head, breaking eye contact again.

“Well what then? Who? Go on. It’s not like not telling me is going to change what happened.”

“No…well… A few of us didn’t make it back. And some of those who did make it back aren’t alive to be treated. And that’s just from my squad. I haven’t had reports from the others yet.”

No.” Anna fought tears. “Who?”

“Yujin and Melody were murdered just as we got our hands on the guns. They were so close, but the protectors who did it paid the price. We got Yujin’s body back, but reinforcements came and the protectors took Isha when she tried to retrieve Melody’s. They—they still have her. We’re not sure if she’s alive or dead.”

“No. But they’ll—”

“That’s not all,” Rosa said, stopping her. When she was giving the bad news, Rosa sure liked to pile it on. Why could it never be the same with the good? “One of those doors you sent us to get home didn’t bring us back here like it was supposed to.”

“I know, I tried—”

“I’m not entirely sure where it took us, actually. But wherever that is, Kara’s still there. The rest of us made it to your second door and back home, but she… She didn’t.”

“I know where she is,” Anna said. “That door wasn’t sent by me. There was some kind of interference or something. I don’t know. I had never seen anything like it before.”

“But you know where she is?” Rosa asked, sitting up in her chair and leaning forward on her desk with a big smile. “You can get us back there?”

“Yes,” Anna said, though she wasn’t as sure of herself as she sounded. “Of course I can.”

“Good.” Rosa smiled. “Not now but soon. No Family members left behind.”

“No,” Anna said. “Of course not. That’s why I wouldn’t give up—I didn’t give up—until I got you back from wherever they took you.”

“Whoever they are.”

“I’ll find out.”

Rosa chuckled, standing and crossing around the desk to massage Anna’s shoulders. Anna loved the feeling of those fingers on her skin. “I know, dear,” Rosa said. “Just like I knew you’d get me back from wherever they sent us to. And just like I knew that we couldn’t fail in this mission as long as we worked as a Family.”

Anna rolled her shoulders under Rosa’s massaging fingers, groaning with pleasure. “You think it was a success, then?”

Rosa laughed. “Of course, dear.” She kissed Anna on the cheek. “And now our Family’s invincible.”

#     #     #

< XLIV. Laura     [Table of Contents]     XLVI. Roo >

So there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits story. Pick up your copy of the novel or leave a review of any of the books in the series right here, subscribe to my email newsletter for your chance to win a free Murder in “Utopia,, audio book right here, and enjoy the rest of this lovely weekend.

Thanks again for following along, dear readers. We do nothing alone.

 

Chapter 35: Olsen

This Saturday brings us to the two thirds finished point of An Almost Tangent with Olsen’s second point of view chapter. She’s slowly falling in with the pro-human, anti-robot Human Family because she needs a job to survive and there are no others available now that Five and Six have been connected. To find out how she handles the new responsibilities given to her, continue reading here or pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon through this link. And don’t forget to sign up for my email newsletter through this link in order to keep up to date on new releases and book deals in the Infinite Limits series and beyond. Enjoy.

< XXXIV. Guy     [Table of Contents]     XXXVI. Tillie >

XXXV. Olsen

A 3D printer was a big thing. Olsen had never really seen one up close before. Now that she had, she didn’t think it looked too fancy. It was just a tall, fat metal console with a red button and a sliding door on the front. If it weren’t for the red button, it would look exactly like a trash chute—which Olsen had seen plenty of.

She walked up to one of the printers and rocked it, wondering if two people was enough to carry the heavy thing upstairs. Hopefully Anna was stronger than she looked. She was nice, and smart, and she knew how to cook, but none of that would help them get this hunk of metal up the stairs.

The door opened and Anna came downstairs, smiling at Olsen. “So, child,” she said. “What do you think? Are you ready for this?”

Olsen patted the printer. “I don’t know,” she said. “This thing is pretty heavy. Do you think the two of us can move it?”

Anna laughed. “No, child,” she said. “Not without tools. But that’s no problem now that we have the printer. What I really meant to ask is are you ready to give your Family what they deserve?”

Olsen blushed. She thought all the “family” talk was a little weird, but she didn’t know how to bring that opinion up to the people who were paying here wages. She did what she had been doing and just smiled and nodded along. “I’m ready to cook for people,” she said.

“Oh, child,” Anna frowned. “This won’t be cooking, I’m afraid. We don’t have time for all that. We’ll be printing everything so we can spread our message as far possible.”

“Our message?”

“About the Human Family, child,” Anna said. “You know. You read the pamphlet.”

Olsen groaned to herself. She hadn’t really finished the pamphlet yet. After her conversations with her mom and Sonya, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what the rest of it said. She needed this job, though, and they were teaching her how to cook—even if they wouldn’t be cooking now—so she didn’t want to blow this. “Well,” she said. “I’m ready to help people.”

“Good, child,” Anna said. “Helping humans is exactly what we’re all about. Now, the first thing’s first. We need to get this printer out there to the people. Are you ready?”

Olsen nodded. “But I still don’t know how we’re going to carry it,” she said.

“Just leave that to me, child,” Anna said, walking over to press the printer’s red button. “Anti-grav cart, please,” she said. “Four-pack.”

The metal doors slid open, and Anna reached in to pull out four small discs. “Now,” she said, kneeling down next to the printer. “If you just tip it that way a little bit, I can get this under here.”

Olsen pushed on the top of the console, leaning it over a little so Anna could slide the discs under both corners of the raised side.

“Now the other way, child,” Anna said.

Olsen went around and tilted the printer the other way, and Anna put the remaining two discs underneath.

“There we are,” Anna said, bent down and pressing a button on each disk, making each corner of the machine float up an inch off the ground as she did, until she had activated all four discs and the entire printer floated a few inches over the basement’s cement floor.

“There,” Anna said, standing and brushing herself off. “Light as a feather now. It would really only take one of us to move it, but we’re best to use both for safety’s sake. Come on, now. Help me out, child.”

Olsen got behind the printer with Anna, and they didn’t even have to push, more so just guide it on its way. It was a little trickier when they were bringing it up the stairs, but that was only because the machine was so much lighter than it looked and Olsen kept lifting it so fast that the thing almost fell over onto Anna. They got it up to the top of the stairs without an incident, though—thankfully—and pushed the printer out to the field across the street from the Family Home.

“More room out here when they start showing up,” Anna said with a smile. “Now, this is the tricky part. Do you see the buttons on the discs on that side?”

Olsen bent down to get a closer look. “Uh, yeah,” she said. “I think so.”

“Press them both at the same time. On my count, okay. On three. Are you ready?”

Olsen wasn’t sure she was. Some people walking past were already stopping to see what they were doing, and it only made her more nervous. “Uh—yeah,” she said anyway. She had no choice. It was her job now.

“Okay, then. One…two…three!”

Olsen pressed one then tried to press the other but missed, and three of the four corners of the 3D printer fell to the ground with a loud bang. Olsen hurried to stop the thing from tipping over onto Anna while Anna pressed the last button for her, and the printer smashed to the ground with another loud clang.

“Uh—wow—I—I’m sorry,” Olsen said, breathing heavily.

“You’re fine, girl,” Anna said. “I told you that was the hard part. We’re out here and ready now. That’s all that matters. Look.”

Olsen turned to see people starting to crowd around them. The spectacle of the big metal box was enough to draw their attention. That and the notoriety Anna and Rosa had been able to draw with their nightly speeches in the field.

“Friends,” Anna called over the people. Her voice wasn’t as loud or deep as Rosa’s, but it carried just as far and touched a different part of the soul. “Family. Humans.” Olsen cringed at the last word but kept listening anyway. She knew Anna meant well, even if Olsen disagreed with her methods—or Sonya disagreed with her methods, Olsen still wasn’t sure how she felt about them yet. “We are here today to fulfill one wish for every Family member who has one.”

The crowd started whispering among itself. Olsen couldn’t help but smile. These people were about to get an opportunity to ask a printer for whatever they desired, and Olsen was playing a hand in giving that to them. Still, no brave souls came up to ask for what they wanted. Olsen didn’t blame them, though. She didn’t think she would want to be the first to step up either. She couldn’t even imagine what she would ask for.

“Brothers and sisters,” Anna went on. “Siblings. I know you all have something you need at home. Certainly you don’t have enough food, or your kids need new shoes, or maybe you just want that keg of beer all to yourself for once.” She smiled at what looked to be someone in particular from the bystanders. “We’re not here to judge. We’re only here to make your dreams come true, whatever you wish for. Now, who will be the first lucky Family member to get what they desire?”

“How about a fucking job?” someone called from the crowd, which looked to be about a hundred people by then.

Anna laughed. “Oh, no,” she said, putting on a solemn face like she really meant what she was saying. “Sadly, that can’t be gotten from a printer. But if it fits through those doors, you can have it otherwise.”

“My family hasn’t eaten meat in weeks,” an older woman, who was particularly dirty, at the front of the crowd said. She looked like she was from the other world—or whatever Sonya called it. “I’d like a turkey stuffed with vegetables,” she said, “so my kids can eat right.” She pushed her two little children out in front of her, and they blushed and hid their dirty faces.

That we can do,” Anna said. She pressed the red button. “Turkey, stuffed with fresh vegetables,” she said.

The doors slid open, and there it was, steaming and warm. The crowd let out a collective gasp. The chatter grew louder. The woman and her kids walked up to the printer wide-eyed.

“Help her, Olsen,” Anna said.

Olsen shook herself out of her daze and grabbed the turkey out of the printer’s mouth. It was heavy and awkward to hand off, and probably would have been easier for the woman to take out herself, but Olsen loved the feeling she got from the process, like she had been responsible for giving the woman and her family the meal they so desperately needed.

The woman turned around with a smile and raised the turkey up over her head for the still growing crowd to see. Eyes grew wide and the chatter around picked up. People stepped closer now that they had proof of how the printer worked. There was some jostling and commotion, and a young boy fell over with a yelp near the front of the crowd, producing more ado.

“Now, now,” Anna called over them. “Settle down, please! Settle down.”

The crowd didn’t listen. The fighting over who pushed the boy rippled out like a wave, making everyone more anxious. Olsen was starting to worry. She could see how hungry the faces were, how dirty they were. She could still tell the otherworlders from the locals because they were still dirtier, but it wasn’t by much anymore. No matter which world they were from, they all looked desperate enough to do anything to get their hands on the printer. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought it was. How did Anna and Rosa expect her to respond to this test? How could she respond to it? She looked to Anna for guidance, and Anna shrugged. Olsen had to do something to show the Family she was reliable beyond cooking. She had to demonstrate her value like her mom had told her to do.

“Quiet!” Olsen yelled, and the crowd went silent, staring at her in surprise. She had surprised herself, too. She meant to do something but not that. At least it seemed to work. She looked to Anna who smiled then mouthed, “Good job.”

“Now,” Anna called over the group, which was numbering near a thousand and still growing. “We can’t do anything unless we do it in an orderly fashion. Everyone will get a chance to ask for something, but we can only fulfill one request at a time. We’ll have to stop like this every time we here jostling or arguing, though, and that will only mean a longer wait for everyone. So, for the sake of yourselves and your Family, I implore all of you to keep it calm and orderly. Can we do that?”

The crowd mumbled incoherently, but by the sound of their collective groaning, it seemed like they agreed.

“I said, can we do that?” Anna repeated with more volume.

“Yes,” the crowd responded, somewhat in unison.

Good,” Anna said. “Then one by one, please. And if you can decide on what you’d like before you get here, it will save a lot of time for everyone. Thank you. Who’s first?”

After that it was a surprisingly orderly process. One by one, members of the dirty masses stepped up to ask for whatever their hearts desired. The people who looked like they were from Olsen’s world all seemed to be asking for various food items, some of them necessities, most of them luxuries, and a lot asked for big jugs of alcohol which were some of the heaviest things to lift out of the printer. Olsen couldn’t imagine carrying one all the way home. One old man asked for twenty-four cartons of cigarettes. When exactly twenty-four came out, the later requests started to become more specific and grow in quantity.

The people who were dirtier, like they had come from the other, new world, would sometimes ask for food, too, but never alcohol or other luxuries. They asked for big cans of meat and beans or pounds of rice, but even that wasn’t often. More often they asked for clothes and shoes, things that would last longer, and mostly they asked for tools of various kinds—many of which Olsen didn’t recognize—things that they could use with their own hands to better produce for themselves. Seeing these differences between the two groups, Olsen was coming closer and closer to believing that two worlds had collided—or merged—or whatever Sonya wanted to call it.

The work was exhausting, and it only got more so as time went on and the requesters grew bolder in their demands. But still, Olsen continued to hand gift after gift from the mouth of the printer—it looked like it had one red eye that was the voice activation button, and the doors were arched to make a big frowning mouth—into the hands of the citizens of her world and the other alike. It was beautiful, almost as if they really were a big family sharing in everything they owned, one by one, everyone getting what they needed.

The crowd had grown so big it filled all the space in sight, wrapping around buildings and down alleyways. Olsen thought she would never be done handing out gifts to the people when jostling spread like a wave up one arm of the amorphous, multi-bodied organism, radiating through every other part in turn. When it reached the center, where they were working, Olsen looked to Anna to see what to do. Anna called up a stool out of the printer then stood on it to look over the crowd in the direction the wave had come from. Olsen didn’t like the look on Anna’s face when she could finally see what was going on. Olsen’s heart beat faster and her palms slicked up.

“Anna,” she said. “What is it?”

Anna shook her head. “Trouble. I’m surprised it took them this long.”

Olsen looked over the way Anna was staring but couldn’t see anything through the mass of people. The crowd wasn’t just jostling anymore, it was pushing toward them, trying to escape some danger that was still out of sight. “What do we do?” Olsen asked.

Anna shook herself out of her daze. “You stay with the printer,” she said. “Keep fulfilling requests until you can’t anymore then get out of here as fast as you can. You did well, today, kiddo. We’ll see you tomorrow morning to discuss the details of your next assignment.”

Olsen shook her head. Her voice wouldn’t work for more than a squeak so that was all she did. She wasn’t sure she was ready for this anymore. She wasn’t sure she was ready for anything. She should have listened to Sonya and left this job to someone else. Now she was—now she was—what? She was—

“You can do it,” Anna said, giving Olsen a quick hug then disappearing into the crowd, and Olsen had no choice but to find her voice again. She took a deep breath and said, “Who’s next?”

“Me,” a man said, stepping forward from far back in the line.

“No, me,” another said from closer up. He pushed the first and they started to grapple.

An old woman tugged on Olsen’s shirt. “Me, please,” she said in a scratchy, frantic voice. “Just one ham, please. It’s all I ask.”

“Oh, well, okay. You,” Olsen said, pulling the woman closer and away from the two men who were still fighting. She pressed the big red eye and started to speak when one of the men in the grapple—who had knocked the other out—yelled, “A pistol!”

“No, not—” Olsen said, but the doors slid open, and the man shoved her aside to grab what came out. When she stood up again, he was pointing the gun at her. She held her trembling hands above her head.

“Stop right there,” he said. “This here printer’s mine now. You can just git.”

Olsen said, “But—”

“No!” the man yelled, shaking the gun. “No buts. Go!” He pointed the gun at the crowd, too. “All of you!” They backed away, but people were still pushing from the other direction so there wasn’t far to go. He pointed the gun back at Olsen. “I said git,” he said.

Trembling, her hands up, she had no idea what to do. Anna had told her to work until she couldn’t anymore, and how could she work when someone was pointing a gun at her? But she couldn’t just leave the printer here with him, either. They needed it. The Family needed it. Anyone who waited their turn and didn’t point a gun to steal everything deserved it. Not this thief. Ansel had almost built up the courage to say something when bangs and screams echoed loud through the streets. All heads turned in their direction, the direction the commotion had been coming from all along, to see what it was. All Olsen could see was the crowd pushing harder towards her and a fog rolling in over their heads.

A fog? That wasn’t fog. It was purplish in color and this was the middle of a warm day. She didn’t have time to figure out what it was before more bangs and screams echoed from every direction. The crowd started pushing from all sides now, and neither Olsen nor the man with the gun cared about the printer anymore.

Then Olsen saw the tall dark shadows in the fog—or cloud—or whatever it was. They towered over everyone, and every now and then, a bright light would flash in front of them, and there would be more screams and hysteria. She was shocked, in awe. Were they killing people? Was that gas dangerous?

A child bumped into her and fell away at her feet. “Mommy! Mommy!” the kid pleaded, standing up and running into the crowd. Olsen couldn’t help, though, she had to take care of herself now.

Once she decided she wanted to move, her legs took her toward the Family Home. It was the closest safe space she knew of so it was the first thing her subconscious thought of. She had to fight and force her way through the mass of people running this way and that, and by the time she made it across the street to sit on the floor inside, with her back to the door, her face was bloodied and bruised and her whole body ached.

She took a few deep breaths, sitting on the ground, wiping the blood from her nose. What in the Hell was that? Who were those giants out there shooting people? And most importantly, what had Olsen gotten herself into by getting involved with the people who had started it all?

She wanted to cry. She wanted to stand up and run home, or to Sonya’s, or anywhere away from there, anywhere where she could forget about all of this. This wasn’t being a chef. This was madness.

Rosa came in out of the basement door and looked surprised to see Olsen sitting on the ground. “You should have gone home, child,” she said, shaking her head. “Here the danger’s coming to you.”

“I—uh—” Everything that had just happened ran through Olsen’s head again. “It got crazy out there,” she said. “I didn’t know where else to go. I couldn’t get home.”

“You are home, child,” Rosa said, crossing the room and helping Olsen to her feet. “You’re a part of the Family so this is your home.”

“Oh, yeah…” Olsen blushed. She still wasn’t sure she wanted to be a member of the Family. “I meant—”

“Oh, I know what you meant, dear,” Rosa said, holding Olsen’s hand and leading her to the kitchen to sit on a bar stool at the counter. “And I meant what I said. You should feel safe here. Even when they come to invade our private property.” She nodded toward the door. Olsen was surprised she couldn’t hear more of what must still have been going on outside. “Would you like some pancakes, child?” Rosa asked. “Only thing I can cook, I’m afraid. And Anna’s a little busy at the moment.”

“I—uh—” This was all getting to be too much to handle. Olsen couldn’t keep up with the pace that everything was coming at her. “Invade our privacy?” she said. She didn’t even know what she was asking.

“Pancakes, child?” Rosa said, already heating a griddle and mixing the batter. “Do you want some?”

“I—uh—” Olsen shrugged. “Sure.”

“Good,” Rosa said. “Because I’m making you some anyway. It’ll be comforting. Pancakes are comfort food. That’s why I know how to make them.”

“Um, okay.” Olsen shook her head.

“That’s one thing these protectors need to learn,” Rosa said, cooking. “How to be comforting. You know how they used to say that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Well that’s not true at all. Flies don’t care about honey. They don’t like the sugar or something. I don’t know the science behind it. Ask Anna. But you don’t catch flies by giving them honey. That’s the point I’m trying to make. You catch flies by giving them what they want, dear. And do you know what it is that flies want?”

Olsen shook her head.

Shit,” Rosa said with a chuckle, pouring some batter onto the griddle. The smell of it cooking already started to comfort Olsen. She was forgetting the chaos that was still going on outside. “Flies want shit,” Rosa went on. “So that’s how you catch them. The protectors here think they can catch flies by swatting at them, and that’s got to be about the dumbest method I’ve ever heard of.”

“What protectors?” Olsen asked, squinting and rubbing her face.

“The cops. Police. Pigs. I don’t know what you Fivers call them. In Six we mostly call them assholes, and that only behind their backs. They’re the big, tall, well-armed, white guys out there, shooting everyone up and causing chaos.”

“Those are protectors?” Olsen sighed.

“You were out there, child.” Rosa flipped a pancake. “You saw what they’re capable of. Did they use the gas?”

“There was some fog or something,” she said.

“You didn’t get caught in it, then?” Rosa smiled. “Good for you. It’s not fun. That’s pepper gas. It sticks to every pore you have and burns like fire when it contacts water. So if you ever get caught in it, do not wash with water. You got that? Use milk. It neutralizes the proteins or something. I don’t know. Again, ask Anna.”

“No,” Olsen said. “It couldn’t have been protectors. They were shooting people in the crowd. Protectors wouldn’t do that.”

“They did do it, child.” Rosa flipped a pancake onto a plate and set it in front of Olsen. “They’re still doing it outside as we speak. Do you want to take another look and see?”

She did not want to do that. “But why?” Olsen groaned.

“Power, child,” Rosa said, pouring another pancake onto the griddle. “Control. Resources. Labor. You name it. All the things greedy people want at their own expense. They’re trying to control us, to make us obsolete, and this is their way of showing us what will happen if we try to fight back against them. And we’ve only just begun, little darling.”

Olsen dribbled some syrup on her pancake and took a big bite. It was rather comforting. “But they’re only turning us against them,” she said.

“Yes, child.” Rosa smiled. “That’s the swatting approach I was talking about earlier. It’s worked for them for a long time because they’ve been able to keep us so afraid we won’t act, but will you let them continue to scare you into inaction after you’ve seen what they did today?” she asked, flipping a pancake on the griddle.

Olsen didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know how to be anything but afraid of the protectors now. They were huge, and they had guns and burning death gas and futuristic armor. What was she supposed to do to stop that?

Rosa sat at the counter next to her and started in on her pancake without syrup. “I know it’s scary,” she said. “I know they’re scary, too. No doubt about it. So big and white and bully. It’s okay to be afraid of them, but it’s not okay to let that stop you from doing what you want to do. You got that?”

Olsen nodded, stuffing her face. She didn’t want to say anything stupid.

“You’ll be fine, child,” Rosa said, taking a bite. “I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry.”

From the other room came the sound of a door caving in and Olsen jumped, bumping her plate and almost spilling it. Rosa patted her arm and said, “You’ll be fine, child. Just keep on eating and let me do all the talking. You got it?”

Olsen nodded. She probably wouldn’t be able to eat ever again, but she definitely wouldn’t say a word.

Into the kitchen marched a line of protectors with their guns pointed at Olsen and Rosa. The one in front took off her helmet, sneered at them, and said, “You’ve gone and done it now.”

Rosa went on eating her pancake without answer. Olsen was trembling and about to cry.

“Fork down, stand up, and show us where the rest are,” the protector said.

Rosa smiled. She finished the last bite of her pancake, set the fork down, and deliberately wiped her face. The protectors behind the officer that was talking looked like they tensed up. Olsen tensed up, too.

“Now, citizen!” the protector demanded.

“There are no others,” Rosa said. “We in the Human Family share everything we own with our brothers and sisters. If we had more printers, they would have been out there on the streets, providing for those in need.”

“Stand up, citizens!” The protector pointed her gun at Rosa.

Olsen jumped up and put her hands in the air. She hadn’t realized that they were talking to her, too. Rosa slowly stood and carried their plates through a line of protectors to rinse them and place them in the sink.

“Now,” Rosa said, clapping her hands together. “Would you like to see the basement so we can get this over with? I have plenty to do, you know. You saw how many of my Family members were in need outside, such a larger number ever since you and yours came through.”

The protector sneered at Rosa. She looked like she wanted to shoot the old lady right there. Olsen was surprised when the protector didn’t, instead pointing her gun toward the direction of the basement door. “Go on, then,” she said. “Both of you.”

Olsen followed close behind Rosa, with her hands up and the protector’s gun poking her in the back. They went through the gauntlet of protectors, opened the door, and climbed down into a basement that Olsen didn’t recognize. Instead of the stacks of supplies, and four other printers, that were there before, the room was smaller and lined with bunk beds.

“You see,” Rosa said when the three of them were down there alone. “Nothing. Our sleeping quarters. No illegal printers.” She smiled.

“Shut the fuck up, Rosa,” the protector said. “And tell me what you think you’re doing. I don’t have time for all this shit that you’re stirring with all the other feces I already have flung on my plate. Including your previous problem—which still exists.”

“Well, that was at the bequest of your—”

And you failed,” the woman cut her off. “Because you failed, I have to clean up the mess. Now’s not the time for your family bullshit, alright. We have bigger fish to fry in the other worlds.”

Olsen had never seen anger on Rosa’s face before, but she was pretty sure this was it. It came off looking more like steel reserve and disappointment, though. “Now is exactly the time for the Family, child,” Rosa said. “It was your protector who failed, not me. I did my job. And as a matter of fact, I’ll be taking care of yours, too. Tomorrow, we’ll fry your fish for you. Don’t you worry.”

The protector looked unconvinced. “You don’t even know what fish I’m talking about,” she said.

Rosa smiled. “I guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see then, won’t we?”

The protector sighed, shaking her head. “Don’t do anything stupid,” she said. “I can’t protect you out there.”

“And here I only need protecting from you,” Rosa said.

“Yeah,” the protector said. “And no one can offer you that. I’ll see you again in a few days,” she added, climbing the stairs. “Don’t put so many of your children in between me and you the next time I come looking, and you won’t have such a big mess to clean up after I’m gone.”

When the door closed, Olsen sighed a big huff of air and finally dropped her hands, flopping onto one of the beds. She was dizzy and lightheaded, like she had been forgetting to breath. She couldn’t believe she had lived through that and she hoped never to meet a protector face-to-face again.

Rosa sat on the bed next to her and patted her back. “It’s okay, child,” she said. “You’re safe here at Home.”

Olsen didn’t know what to say. She just started crying. She couldn’t control herself any longer. Rosa pulled her into a hug and patted her back some more.

“You see, child,” Rosa said. “This is how they treat us. We’re nothing to them. All those casualties upstairs were nothing more than lost property to them—cheap, expendable property at that. We’re worth even less than the robots these days.”

Olsen was still crying. She pushed away from Rosa’s embrace, sniffling. “B—but you said. Y—you said you’d fry—you’d fry—”

Rosa pulled her in again. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” she said. “When they’re not being my enemy. We share a mutual problem, and I think I—no—we can handle it more efficiently than our brute force counterparts.”

“We?” Olsen said. Sniffling and wiping her nose with her shirt.

“More specifically you, child,” Rosa said. “You can end these troubles for us once and for all. What do you think?”

“I mean, uh…” Olsen didn’t know what she was capable of that no one else in the Family could do instead. “What would I have to do?”

“Nothing, really,” Rosa said. “You’d have to deliver some food to those in need. Much like you were doing out there today.”

Olsen’s eyes grew wide thinking about another encounter with the protectors.

Rosa chuckled. “Oh, child,” she said. “Except without the protectors this time. Don’t you worry. They wouldn’t react the same way in the lower worlds. The property’s more specialized and less expendable down there. They wouldn’t risk damaging it.”

“Lower worlds?”

“Yes, child,” Rosa said. “You have been reading the pamphlets, haven’t you?”

“I—uh—”

“There are seven of them in total,” Rosa said. “Six now with our worlds combined. And you’ll be going to one of the others to do what has to be done.”

Olsen’s eyes grew wide again but this time not in fear. She was excited by the idea of seeing the look on Sonya’s face when Sonya learned that Olsen had been to another world, that she knew how many other worlds there actually were. She smiled from ear to ear and nodded, unable to come up with words.

“Good, child,” Rosa said. “You won’t regret that decision one bit. Here’s what I need from you.”

#     #     #

< XXXIV. Guy     [Table of Contents]     XXXVI. Tillie >

That’s it for Olsen this week. Find out exactly what Rosa asks of her in the conclusion of An Almost Tangent by picking up a full copy of the novel right here. And thanks for reading along, dear readers. Have a great weekend.