Chapter 40: Jonah

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

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

XL. Jonah

“What? Where am I?” Jonah demanded.

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

“And who are you?”

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

“That’s not a name,” Jonah said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And why?” Jonah asked.

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

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

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

“Who doesn’t?”

“What is it that you want, Jonah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liz nodded.

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

Liz chuckled. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, well…” Jonah shrugged.

“C’mon,” Liz said. “You can tell me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You didn’t,” she said.

“I did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.” Jonah shook his head.

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

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

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

“No—but— You could have—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So?” Jonah asked.

His dad shook his head.

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

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

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

#     #    #

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

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

 

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Chapter 26: Jonah

Well, dear readers, today’s chapter is a day late. Sorry about that. I totally got sidetracked yesterday and forgot it was Saturday. But fear not, today we continue the story of Infinite Limits with the first point of view chapter from Jonah Pardy. I hope you enjoy it, and if so, do think about picking up a full copy of the novel through this link.

< XXV. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XXVII. Guy >

XXVI. Jonah

Jonah kneeled on the rough concrete, counting in his head how many shots had been fired at him so far. He chanced a quick peek around the dumpster and was greeted with a hail of gunfire. He glimpsed his partner, his best friend, the one person he was assigned to protect in this sick game called life, laying on the ground in front of the dumpster, surrounded by a sticky thick pool of red. She had taken the shots that would have finished him, and now it was his responsibility to ensure her actions weren’t in vain.

He checked his ammo. Seven shots. Lucky number seven. There couldn’t be more than that many of the thugs out there so there was still some chance—however small. All he had to do was hit his target with every shot he took while simultaneously avoiding every bullet they lobbed back at him. Piece of cake. He chuckled. His heart beat faster in anticipation. He took a few deep breaths to ready himself, set his sights on another dumpster a few yards ahead, and jumped into motion.

He did a cartwheel out from behind his cover, staying below the onslaught of bullets, and scratched his back on the concrete in the process. He could feel the breeze blowing past from the missed shots. He caught the hint of movement out of the corner of his eye and fired in that direction, tumbling behind the next dumpster without looking to see if he had hit his mark.

He rubbed his shoulder and could feel the blood, but that’s all it was, thank Amaru. He took off his blue masked helmet and wiped the sweat from his forehead. This was it. There were five or six of them left, and he had to do something about it or go down in a pathetic laughable whimper. A whimper was unacceptable.

He held his empty helmet up over the dumpster and a few shots rang out. He popped up and knocked off two rounds without his helmet on—not regulation at all, but he was in a bind—hitting both targets, then dropped back down behind the dumpster, breathing heavily and shoving his helmet back on. It was now or never.

He rolled out from behind the dumpster, doing the same cartwheel roll as before, and as he stood, he felt a piercing pain in his chest. He looked down to see his blue vest splattered with bright red. He touched it with his hand, rubbing the sticky goo between his fingers, and fell to his knees. This was the end.

Two red-vested, red-helmeted kids came out from behind their own dumpsters on the other side of the alley, cheering and raising their guns over their heads. The dead bodies scattered around Jonah started to rustle and move. Those that were dressed in red and splattered with blue joined in the cheering. Those who were dressed in blue and splattered with red took off their helmets and hung their heads in shame. Liz, his partner and friend who was lying in the pool of red paint earlier, walked over to him, patted him on the back, and lifted him to his feet. Jonah flinched as she did, a fresh wave of pain emanating from the wound on his back, which he had only made worse with his second roll move.

“It’s alright,” Liz said, brushing his pants off for him. “You did your best.”

“I hate being the last one out,” Jonah said with a groan. “It’s worse than being first. People always think you’re a coward and you just hung back while your whole team died.”

“No they don’t—well… I don’t think that,” Liz said, guiding him by the arm back toward the locker room.

Of course you don’t,” Jonah complained, shrugging and walking as slowly as he could. “But you don’t count.”

Liz dropped his hand, straightened up, and hurried to the locker room ahead of him, disappearing before he could ask her what he had done wrong.

Jonah took his time, though, letting the entire team go in before him. Even if Liz didn’t think he was a coward, he knew that everyone else would and that he would hear all about it while he was changing. It was a lose-lose situation for him, though. The longer he waited to go into the locker room, the more of a coward he looked like and the worse those jerks would be. His heartbeat quickened in preparation, but he took a few deep breaths to calm it and slowly slipped into the door.

The entire room, tile, lockers, walls, and all, was stark white. Everyone had already started changing out of their red-speckled uniforms, stuffing them irreverently into their lockers and vying for the best showers. Jonah walked up to his locker, right next to Liz’s, as she slammed hers shut and stomped to a shower without looking at him.

He tried to keep his eyes on his own locker as he pressed his thumb to the locking mechanism. He got out his blue jeans, white t-shirt, towel, and soap and stripped to his underwear, stuffing his uniform into his locker. He breathed a sigh of relief when the warm water poured over him and he hadn’t had to hear a single word about his performance, then he winced in pain at the burn from the scrapes on his shoulders and back.

He washed himself then dried and dressed in the peace of the shower stall. When he opened the curtains, Stine was sitting on the bench in front of her locker—which was on the other side of his locker from Liz’s—with her group of lackeys hanging on her every word. He had to push his way through them to get to his locker. “Excuse me,” he said as he did, keeping his eyes on his locker’s locking mechanism as he tried to press his trembling thumb to it.

Whale Bait,” Stine said loud enough for the whole room to hear. “Good show out there. Are you planning on becoming a tumbler in Outland Three when you grow up?”

The room burst into laughter. Stine high-fived a few of her lackeys as Jonah stuffed his towel and soap inside his locker.

“You know I saw your girlfriend take that bullet for you, too, Plankton,” Stine went on. “She’s worth more than you are out there, you got it? You should be the one taking bullets for her, not the other way around.”

Jonah slammed his locker door. “No shit, Stine. Amaru up above. Where were you out there, though? Your suit’s got red paint on it just like everyone else’s.”

The room quieted, and her lackeys looked to Stine for a witty retort.

“I fell over laughing when you did your somersaults,” she lied. “It left me defenseless. I didn’t know they let carnies into the Protectors Academy. Shouldn’t you be in Outland Three with the rest of them?” Her and her lackeys all laughed and high-fived each other at the same joke told over again in so short a time.

Jonah ignored them as best he could, though, stomping out of the locker room, wishing he hadn’t closed his locker already so he could slam it again. Outside, Liz was tying her shoes under the building’s awning. He knew it wasn’t a coincidence, too. It was an excuse to wait for him without waiting for him. “Hey,” he said, walking up to her.

“Hey,” she echoed back, standing and making her way with him down the sidewalk, between the empty patches of field which were filled with oak trees to shade their path. “How was it in there?” she asked when they had gone a way in the cool, silent afternoon air.

“Would’ve been nice to have some backup,” he said.

I thought I didn’t matter.”

Jonah sighed. Of course that was what she was mad about: his stupid choice of words. “No. I didn’t mean that. I—”

“Those were your exact words,” she said. “And I quote, Of course you don’t. But you don’t count. end quote.”

“Do you ever forget anything?” Jonah groaned.

“That was like twenty minutes ago, Jonah. How soon do you expect me to forget?”

“Yeah, well, that’s not what I meant, okay. And you know it.”

“Then what did you mean?”

“I…Well…” What did he mean? “I meant that—you know—well, it’s just that you… Liz. It’s just that, the protective person you are, you’re always on my side. Right? You always want to protect me. So even if I was acting like a coward and you did take a bullet for me, you wouldn’t say so because you wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings. Yeah—uh—that’s it… That’s what I meant.”

Liz smiled. “You didn’t act like a coward,” she said. “You run a little faster than I do. I happened to be behind you when the shot was fired. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Like I said,” Jonah said. “You may think so, but Stine and her crew don’t agree. And they were sure to let me know what they thought of my performance while you were out here tying your shoes.”

“Well who cares what they say? They’re idiots.”

They walked some more in silence, passing expansive yards and cookie-cutter ranch style houses. The serene boredom of Outland One—the least dangerous world of them all, even before Inland—was enough to make Jonah want to pass out.

“So, you wanna hang out at my place or something?” he asked. He didn’t usually have to, but recently, his home life had changed.

“Is your dad gonna be there?” Liz asked right back, scrunching up her nose and giggling.

“Yeah, well, of course,” Jonah said. “He does the housework now. You know that.”

“But he’ll be wearing two shoes this time, right?” She laughed outright now instead of just giggling.

“Now that was one time,” Jonah complained, embarrassed. “And he had been through a lot. At least that’s what Mom says.” He shook his head.

“Why isn’t he a protector anymore anyway?” Liz asked, looking sheepish when she did. She had asked him the same question before, and she had to know by now what his answer was going to be, but she went on anyway. “I mean, what happened to him?”

“I don’t know!” Jonah snapped, stopping in his tracks. They were getting close to his house anyway. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. And asking me again won’t change that. Okay.”

“I—uh—well, I’m—”

Look. If you wanna know so badly, then why don’t you come over to my house and ask him for yourself? Maybe he’ll tell you.”

“I couldn’t do that,” she said. “I mean, have you even asked him?”

“Of course I’ve…” Jonah thought about it for a second. His mom had told him not to ask his dad about it. Maybe he hadn’t. He wouldn’t defy an order from his mother. “I mean, that is, I think I have,” he said. “Yeah. I have.”

“You haven’t. Have you?”

“I think I did. Well, maybe not…”

She hit him on the arm. “You haven’t.”

He rubbed his arm even though it didn’t hurt. “Thanks a lot,” he said. “You know I scraped up my back today rolling around on the concrete trying to get us a win for once.”

“Well that wasn’t your back.”

“Still, it was the same side. It hurts.” He tried to put on a pained face, but it probably just came off constipated like Liz always told him it did.

“Yeah, well, you haven’t asked your dad what happened to him, have you?”

“No, well, I never got a chance, you know. He’s always going off on those rants about conspiracy theories and red herrings and how I can’t believe anything anyone tells me. I just want to shake him and tell him that what he’s saying means I can’t believe him either, but my mom ordered me not to ask him about it so what am I supposed to do?” He was breathing heavily because he had delivered the entire rant in a single breath.

“Yeah, well, you can’t disobey your mom I guess.” Liz shrugged.

“Exactly,” Jonah said. “So how was I supposed to ask him?” He grinned, confident that he had won the argument and they could go inside to eat something and relax a little after that beating during the standoff.

“Well, do you even care?” Liz asked. Of course she could carry any argument in the worlds on just a little bit further.

“What do you mean?” he replied. “Of course I care. He is my dad, isn’t he?”

“I know you care about your dad, but do you even want to know what happened to him? I mean, he got fired, Jonah. That’s a pretty big deal, you know. It probably had a big effect on him.”

Jonah thought about it. His dad would never be a protector again. He had only gotten to be an actual protector for about a day. Jonah couldn’t imagine how that would feel, living his dream for one day then having it torn away forever. Maybe he would go crazy and rant about red herrings, too. He certainly wouldn’t put up with Stine and her locker room buddies, that was for sure. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I never thought about it that way.”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” She hit him again but softer this time, more of a pat. He rubbed his arm anyway. “You didn’t even think about it!”

“Yeah, well, even if I had thought about it, I still couldn’t disobey my mom’s orders, could I? So what am I supposed to do, huh?”

“No.” Liz smiled. “You can’t do that. That’s true. But your mom never ordered me to do anything, did she?”

Jonah shook his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“C’mon,” she said, grabbing his hand and skipping toward his house. “What are partners for, anyway? You’ll thank me when he answers.”

“No,” he said, skipping along hand-in-hand with her. “You’ll be sorry when he does. You’ll see.”

They didn’t stop until they got to the covered porch of what looked like the exact same house as every one they had passed on their way there.

“Now,” Jonah said before he opened the door. “I have to warn you, he’s been extra weird today, so know that anything he expresses are his views and his views alone and I in no way support or deny any of them.”

Amaru, you sound like a TV show,” she said.

“Yeah, well, I learned the whole bit from TV.” Jonah grinned. “Pretty good, huh?”

Liz chuckled.

“Anyway,” Jonah went on. “I’m serious, okay. Don’t ask him about it right away. Let’s play it cool and see what he’s acting like, then I’ll give you the signal or something.”

She laughed. “I’m not a complete social reject,” she said. “I’ve got more tact than you’ll ever have. Just open the door and let’s get on with it.”

Jonah opened the door to find his dad on hands and knees on the beige Berber carpet in the foyer, wearing a pink apron and yellow rubber gloves, scrubbing the walls with a sponge. He looked up when they came in, dropped his sponge in the bucket with a splash, and stood to hug Jonah with wet, antiseptic-scented hands. “Welcome home, son,” he said.

Uh, hey Dad,” Jonah said, squirming away from the soggy hug. “You know Liz.”

“Liz, dear,” his dad said, hugging her too. “So nice to see you again.”

“And you, Mr. Pardy,” Liz said, wiping some suds from her shirt. “Your apron is lovely.”

Jonah’s dad looked down at himself, took off his apron, and said, “You kids go find something to watch on TV and I’ll fix you up a delicious snack in no time flat.”

Jonah shrugged. When his dad had gone into the kitchen, he looked at Liz and said, “See, I told you.”

“He seemed nice,” she said, shrugging back. “And supportive. He didn’t seem that bad to me.”

“Yeah, well, just you wait and see.”

The living room was lined with the same beige Berber carpet as the hall, and the leather couch matched the color of the carpet perfectly. There were gun and news magazines on the coffee table and a TV on the wall across the room.

“TV on,” Jonah said, plopping onto the couch and kicking off his shoes. “The Greatest Mouse Detective or Protector Time?” he asked.

“I don’t care,” Liz said, joining him on the couch but leaving her shoes on. “You decide.”

“Protector Time it is. TV, Protector Time,” he said. “Biological!” he yelled, putting his fist in the air as Liz giggled.

The TV flipped to a cartoon about a little girl and her pet cat who could grow and shrink at will. In each episode, which really consisted of two sub-episodes, the girl and the cat would get into all kinds of adventures, the moral of which always ended up being the protection of property, liberty, and life.

In this particular episode, the girl and cat combo were fighting to save the Smooth Terra Prince from an evil fire witch when they lost their ice wands and were left to decide between using the fire witch’s own lava wand against her or facing certain defeat with no defense. Just as their arguing ended and the cat convinced the girl that using the fire witch’s weapon was wrong—that you couldn’t fight fire with lava—a volcano erupted, sweeping the red witch away in a wave of lava and melting the glacier the girl and the cat were standing on, leaving the girl to use the cat as a surfboard to ride the resulting wave in the other direction, toward the party in Vegetable Kingdom which they were already late for anyway.

“Oh, ho ho, that was biological,” Jonah said as the screen faded to a long line of commercials—mostly thanking the protectors for their service, with a few ads for housekeepers sprinkled in between. “But I would have definitely used that fire wand. They were stupid to stand there arguing while they were defenseless.”

“Would you though?” Liz asked. “I mean, like Jackie said: You can’t fight fire with lava.”

“Yeah, well, tell that to the volcano that saved their lives. If Phillis had just picked up the wand and used it, they would have been out of there and at the party in time, no volcano needed.”

“Or they would have been stranded without the knowledge that they could melt the iceberg and surf home. It’s the unintended consequences that mess things up,” Liz said, crossing her arms and shaking her head.

“Yeah, well, it would have melted anyway. I’m sure.” Jonah crossed his arms.

Liz probably would have argued further, but Jonah’s dad came in, carrying a tray and wearing the pink apron again. “Here you are kids,” he said. “I didn’t know what you wanted so I brought a little of everything. Pizza bagels, pizza rolls, pizza slices. Pretty much your whole pizza food group there. We have some fish sticks, chicken nuggets, sausages in a—”

“Okay, dad,” Jonah said. “Thanks. We get it. The next episode is about to come on, though. So…”

“Thank you, Mr. Pardy,” Liz said, grabbing a pizza roll.

“What are you watching?” Jonah’s dad asked, sitting on the couch between them and eating one of the pizza rolls himself.

“Protector Time,” Liz said “Have you ever seen it?”

“Uh, it’s nothing,” Jonah said. “Just a cartoon. It’s for kids anyway. You wouldn’t like it.”

“Protector Time?” his dad said. “Is that the one with the little girl and the cat?”

“Phillis and Jackie,” Liz said.

“Oh, I watched an episode of that cartoon while Jonah—or, while you both were at school, I guess,” he said. “I like that Phillis.”

“Jackie’s my favorite,” Liz said. “I wish I could grow big like that.” She sat up straight and puffed out her cheeks, raising her arms to make herself look bigger.

“I think you grew a little bit,” Jonah’s dad said, laughing.

Liz huffed out all the air she was holding in and laughed with him.

“Alright, alright,” Jonah said. “The next episode’s about to come on. Quiet down you two.”

They stifled their laughter but couldn’t stop it entirely until the theme song was over. In this half-episode, Phillis and Jackie were going to a party in Smooth Terra Land with the Smooth Terra Prince when all the snacks and drinks for the party—all three of them watching at home ate some more pizza at the mention of snacks—were stolen by the Angors from Exic Space. When they entered Exic Space to get the food back and save the Smooth Terra Prince’s party, Phillis and Jackie found the Angors all looking sickly, skinny, and weak, as if they hadn’t eaten a real meal ever. And when they finally found the Smooth Terra Prince’s food, they couldn’t dare take it back from these people who so obviously needed it more than the Smooth Terra Land party did.

“I’m not doing it,” Phillis said, crossing her heart on the screen. “We were sworn to protect life and that includes the life of Angors.”

“No,” Jackie said. “We were sworn to protect property, liberty, and life, dude. Besides, look.” She pointed into the crowd of Angors at a particular one who looked healthier than the rest. Not only healthy, this Angor was downright fat. And as it ate and ate from the pile of party supplies, it grew skinnier and skinnier. Soon Jackie made Phillis realize what was going on, and they took up arms to return the party food to its rightful owners then joined in the Smooth Terra Prince’s celebration.

Dude,” Jonah said, “Those Angors suck.”

“Don’t say that,” his dad said.

“I don’t know,” Liz said. “Property, liberty, life and all, sure, but that one Angor was hungry, wasn’t he?”

Exactly,” Jonah’s dad said.

Pssshhh.” Jonah scoffed. “Property, liberty, life,” he said. “You know that. You can’t steal what other people own. You might as well own their body like they’re a robot or something. Are you saying that any time I’m hungry I can just steal whatever you have?”

No,” Liz said.

“When you’re hungry you can get whatever you want from the printer,” Jonah’s dad said.

“Yeah, well, I own that printer,” Jonah said.

“You don’t own anything,” Liz said. “You’re a kid.”

I own that printer,” Jonah’s dad said. “Me and your mother.”

“Yeah, well, you know what I mean,” Jonah said. “They didn’t own the food. It was for the party. It doesn’t matter if they were hungry or not because it’s not theirs.”

“But what harm did it do?” Liz asked. “The one fat guy ate some to get skinny like all the rest of them, but then there was plenty of food still left over for the party, and none of the Smooth Terra people even noticed any was missing.”

Yeah,” Jonah said. “But there was some missing. And Phillis and Jackie had to bring it back or there would have been more missing, wouldn’t there? I mean, what did you want them to do? Just leave all the food there and forget about the party?”

“No,” Jonah’s dad said.

“They should have invited the Angors to the party,” Liz said.

“It was their food, they could do whatever they want with it,” Jonah said.

“But they weren’t going to eat it anyway so why not share?” Liz asked.

“Alright, alright now,” Jonah’s dad said. “It’s just a cartoon, kids.”

“Yeah, well, it has a purpose,” Liz said.

“I guess,” Jonah said, shrugging.

“Okay,” his dad said, eating a few more pizza rolls. “That’s enough. Do you kids need anything else? I might get back to cleaning the walls here. You’d be surprised at how dirty they can get.”

“No, Dad,” Jonah said. “I think we’re good.”

“Well, sir,” Liz said, looking at Jonah who tried—and failed—to tell her to shut up without his dad seeing. “There is one thing.”

“Oh, well go ahead dear,” his dad said. “Anything for a friend of Jonah’s. A friend of my son’s is a friend of mine.”

“Well, it’s just—”

“No, Dad. I think—” Jonah tried to cut her off but couldn’t.

“You used to be a protector, right?”

“Yes, well…” Jonah’s dad said, moving some of the food around on the table. “I used to be. Yes.”

“Question answered,” Jonah said, standing from the couch. “You wanna go hang out outside for a while?” He jerked his head toward the door to try to feed Liz the answer.

“Just a second, Jonah,” she said in a huff then looked back to his dad and smiled. “Mr. Pardy, sir. What happened? I mean, why did they—why did they…”

“Why did they fire me?” Jonah’s dad asked for her.

Jonah’s eyes grew wide. He tried to imagine how his dad would react to the question he had asked himself. His mom had to have ordered Jonah not to ask about it for good reason. She wouldn’t have given him a random order without a care as to whether he followed it or not. But he didn’t break this one, right? He hadn’t asked anything. He sat slowly back on the couch, staring at his dad on the way down, waiting for a response.

“Yes, sir,” Liz said. “Why can’t you be a protector?” she added as if she didn’t even want to say the word “fired” again.

“Well…” His dad looked at Jonah. He threw one of the pizza rolls onto the tray then picked it up and threw it on again. He was deciding something in his head. “Your mom doesn’t want me talking to you about it,” he finally said, looking at Jonah.

“Yeah.” Jonah shrugged. “Well I’m under strict orders not to ask you about it myself.”

“So that’s why your girlfriend was doing the dirty work.” Jonah’s dad smiled at the both of them. “A loophole in the chain of command. I like it.”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Jonah complained. “She’s my partner.”

“Excuse me, sir?” Liz said, clearly surprised at what Jonah’s dad was saying. Jonah had warned her to beware of red herring conspiracies, but he guessed that hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth was a little different.

“That’s right,” his dad said, smiling wider. “What did you expect from me? A lecture on following orders?” He chuckled.

I sure didn’t,” Jonah said.

“No, well,” Liz said, “I don’t know. Aren’t grownups supposed to teach us to respect the chain of command?”

“Yes, well, that’s what they would have you believe,” Jonah’s dad said. “That’s what their entire system is based on. That’s why it’s all you learn in school and why your parents and all the other grownups don’t know anything else to teach you.”

“So they’re—or I guess you’re just following orders when you tell us to follow orders?” Liz said.

Exactly,” Jonah’s dad said, clapping his hands together. “And worded more eloquently than I could have ever put it.”

Liz giggled and smiled. “I think I’m getting it, but—”

“Getting it?” Jonah said, angry for some reason he didn’t quite understand. “What is there to get? It’s all nonsense. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense is all you’ve talked about ever since you got home, Dad. It’s getting ridiculous. Maybe it’s time for you to grow up.” He sneered and grabbed one of the pizza bagels.

“Jonah!” Liz cried. She probably would have hit him if his dad wasn’t sitting between them. “Don’t talk to your dad like that!”

“No,” his dad said. “It’s alright. He’s right, you know. You’re right.” He looked Jonah in the eyes, and Jonah turned his head to get away from the awkwardness. “I know I’ve been talking nonsense. I wanted to tell you everything I’ve learned, but your mother didn’t want me talking to you about it. She thinks I’m crazy, too. So everything I tried to say to you come out as gibberish. I’m sorry.”

Jonah shrugged and grabbed another pizza bagel. “Whatever,” he said, still chewing. “I just thought you went crazy because you lost your job. I probably would if I could never be a protector again.”

“Jonah!” This time Liz did reach across his dad to slap him.

“What?” Jonah complained, rubbing his arm. “It’s true.”

His dad sighed and looked off toward the TV—which was off now—as if he were daydreaming. “No,” he said. “He’s right again. You know, my dad had to give up protecting for housework when my mother—your grandmother—was killed in the line of duty. He was never the same after that. He would—He—” His dad chuckled, and Jonah felt a tugging at his stomach as he realized that his father had been a kid once, too. He had his own dad and mom who ordered him around and his own dreams for the future, probably the same dreams that Jonah had of becoming a legendary protector who was renowned across all seven worlds for being fearless in the face of injustice, dreams which were all but impossible for his dad now. Jonah was starting to understand why Liz hit him earlier.

“The old man,” his dad went on, “he set up a neighborhood watch because he didn’t want to leave raising me to some cowardly housekeeper, as he always put it. Of course there was never any crime living in One, but that didn’t stop us from patrolling up and down the neighborhood every night as he trained me in everything a good protector should know.”

“How sweet,” Liz said with a smile and a tear in her eye.

“What does any of that have to do with why you got fired?” Jonah asked.

“Nothing,” his dad said. “Nothing… Well, everything, you know. What he taught me then shaped everything I’ve done up until now, everything I will do in the future. I got fired because I was following his teachings. I was being the protector he always wanted me to be, the protector I thought could be a role model for you, Jonah. But now I’m no protector at all, and I never will be one again.”

“I’m so sorry,” Liz said. Her eyes were red and she looked like she was about to cry.

“It’s my own fault,” Jonah’s dad said. “Well, no, it was my choice. That’s different. It was the system’s fault and my choice to go against it to do what I thought my dad—and you, Jonah—would want me to do.”

“I wouldn’t want you to get fired,” Jonah snapped, defensive because he felt like his dad was trying to blame him for something he obviously had nothing to do with. “What kind of example does that set?”

“Would you want me to protect a little girl that needs protecting, or would you want me to leave her to fend for herself?” his dad asked. “Which example would you set for your son?”

“Of course I would protect her,” Jonah said. “So what?”

“Is that why you got fired?” Liz asked. “Protecting her?”

“Yes and no. I thought I was protecting her, but I don’t know anymore. I think I might have jumped from one authority to another without realizing that they both could be wrong. And that’s what you have to understand, Jonah. And you, too.” He looked at Liz. “You’re his partner. You’ve gotta have his back in all of this, in everything. Everyone has to have someone to help them along, and y’all have each other now. But I’ll give you this little piece of advice, okay: Don’t trust your superiors. Now don’t rebel all at once and ruin any chance y’all have at a normal life, if that’s what you want, but question every order they give you in your head. As you do, I think you’ll both start to see that those orders aren’t all reasonable, and maybe you’ll start to go against one or two of them. Don’t be afraid to, now. Do what you know is right no matter what they tell you. That’s all you can ever really do. Do you understand me?”

Liz smiled wide and laughed a little. “Are you kidding me?” she said.

“No,” Jonah’s dad said, shaking his head. “I’m dead serious. You can’t trust anything any of them tell you.”

Dad,” Jonah said, standing up, “you understand that means I can’t believe anything you say, right?”

“No,” he said. “I mean, yes. I do. Exactly. You can’t trust anyone, Jonah. Only yourself.”

“Then I can’t trust you when you say that,” Jonah said. “Ugh. This is ridiculous. I’m out of here.” He stomped outside without waiting for Liz to follow.

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< XXV. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XXVII. Guy >

There you have it, readers. Join us next Saturday (really Saturday this time, I promise, lol) for the next chapter in the story, and please do consider picking up a full copy of the novel through this link.