0.N Repeating Table of Contents

Hey, y’all. Happy Saturday.

Now, I know I didn’t post anything new last weekend, and sadly, that’s going to have to continue for a few weeks yet. Currently I’m working on writing a video game script that I’m almost 2/3 done with, and after that I still have to take the time to edit, format, and publish “0.N Repeating”, the fourth and final novel in the Infinite Limits series, so it’ll be at least a few weeks yet before I get back to my normal posting schedule of one chapter per week. Sorry for the wait.

In the meantime, here’s a little teaser for the next novel. This is the table of contents for “0.N Repeating” as it stands today. This is subject to change as I go through deeper edits, of course, but as of now, these are the points of view you can expect to read about.

“0.N Repeating” Tentative Table of Contents

01. Haley
02. Thimblerigger and Stevedore
03. Jorah
04. Mr. Kitty
05. Sonya
06. Chief Mondragon
07. The Scientist
08. Haley
09. 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

There it is, dear readers. I hope it helps in holding you over until I can get the next book published. And thanks again–as always–for joining us. We do nothing alone.

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Chapter 63: Mr. Walker

Hello, dear readers. Thanks for joining us again as we come to the final chapter in book three out of four of the Infinite Limits series, Dividing by Ø. Today we follow Mr. Walker who has just been confronted with the fact that the original Haley is still alive. See how he reacts and see how this book in the series ends then join us in the future for the fourth and final book in the Infinite Limits saga, 0.N Repeating. Without further ado, here it is, Mr. Walker:

< LXII. Ansel     [Table of Contents]

LXIII. Mr. Walker

“Haley, my dear,” Mr. Walker said, standing from his chair, his intent driving his pneumatic legs toward her. “You—You’re alive.”

“Hello, Lord Walker,” Haley said, curtsying.

At the same time, in an all too artificial voice, the robot standing behind him, the one that had been trying to pass herself off as Haley, said, “Of course, Mr. Walker. I’m right here, sir.” and curtsied. Lord Walker knew she curtsied without having to look at her. Just as he knew that the curtsy paled in comparison to what the real Haley, the divine image standing before him now, was capable of. “Shut up!” he turned fast, shaking a balled solid fist at the fake Haley who was just out of reach of hitting distance. “Get out of my sight, you imposter!”

She cowered away from him. “But, sir…”

And Mr. Walker ignored her, turning again to the real Haley. “How are you, my dear? What have they done to you?”

Mr. Walker had never seen the face that Haley produced in response. He didn’t know she was programmed with the ability to make it. The contempt in her eyes stung hotter than the loss of his Lordship. Haley crossed to the shadow of herself to comfort her doppelganger, and Mr. Walker’s heart hardened at her lack of a response. Who was she but another robot? She wasn’t much better than her replacement, in fact. He told himself that, but he knew it was a lie.

“Now, now, Walker Man,” Lord Douglas said, standing between Mr. Walker and the Haleys, as if his frail little body could hold back Mr. Walker’s wrath. “You’ll treat your secretary with respect if I have anything to say about it.”

“You don’t!” Mr. Walker boomed. “That’s why they call her my secretary. Both of them are as a matter of fact. Come on, Haley. We’re leaving.”

“Enough!” Mr. Walker had never heard Lord Douglas’s voice get so loud. “I dare say you know the terms of service for the secretaries, Mr. Walker,” Lord Douglas went on in a calmer tone. “You wrote those terms yourself if I’m not mistaken. So you know firsthand that any improper use of android technology results in ownership of the violated property reverting to Waltronics AI Inc, owner of which just so happens to be yours truly as of five minutes ago. So I’d watch my next move carefully if I were you.”

Mr. Walker reared up as if to hit Lord Douglas and end this charade of comradery once and for all. As if Lord Douglas hadn’t done enough to end it already. But just before he let his stone fist drop on the Duggy Doug’s melon skull he relented, smiling and chuckling to himself. “Ho ho ho, Lord Douglas. Ho ho ho!”

Haley carried wannabe Haley away and out of the office without a second glance at Mr. Walker who had sustained her life for centuries, ever since she was created. What little gratitude humans were capable of, robots could always do them one worse. Which is why the age of robots was over. Their usefulness had been overplayed, and now they were nothing but burdens. Mr. Walker was more than delighted to get rid of those twin android anchors who were only weighing him down on his new path to success.

“You’ll regret this, you will,” he said. “You’re a stupider man than I thought you were if you think you won’t. You’ll never keep the crown of Lordship for long making decisions like this one.”

Lord Douglas grinned. His white teeth stood out against his dark skin just like Jorah’s always did. Mr. Walker took a note of the fact and thought to fire Jorah as soon as possible for the resemblance. Why had Mr. Walker ever gotten into bed with the fool anyway?

“What? What do you have to say for yourself?” Mr. Walker demanded. “Speak up, boy. Now’s the time to say what you’ve always been waiting to say to me.”

“I’m not a boy,” Lord Douglas said, still giving his white toothed grin. “Nor a man.”

“You don’t have to tell me that. Ho ho ho!”

“I’m something more than you’ve ever expected, Walkie Talks. I’m your worst nightmare. I’m the Robot Lord at the head of what was once your empire of android soldiers. How easy do you think it is to break those terms and conditions you wrote, boy? I mean, you yourself have already broke them and you’re the owner who wrote them. How many people other than you do you think have even read them?”

Mr. Walker expected a fight from Lord Douglas, but nothing at this level. He had put the failsafe in the terms and conditions, sure, but he had never actually used it. This, however, this was madness. “A robot Lord, huh?” Mr. Walker chuckled, trying to cover his nerves. “So you’re nothing but property, then. Is that about right? Who is it that owns you?”

“No one owns me.” The look in Lord Douglas’s eyes was too human for him to actually be a robot. He was lying, playing a game, trying to make a legend of himself. This was nothing more than another ploy in his gambit to retain the Lordship. “I am myself,” he went on. “I am an independent android. No one can ever own me.”

Ho ho ho.” Mr. Walker took out his monocle and twirled it on its chain. “But you just admitted to being a robot. Which makes you property, in effect rendering any orders you’ve proclaimed as Lord fraud. You’re nothing but a construct, Dug. You’re zeroes and ones, software, incapable of emotion. How could you ever dream of dethroning me? How could you even dream?”

“Yet I am still Lord.” Lord Douglas grinned. “And at our next meeting, as Lord of the Fortune Five, I will move to remove you as the director of the protector force. Things only continue to get worse under your watch, Walker, and I think the board will agree that’s it time for a change of management.”

“Things will only continue to get worse until I decide to make them better, Lord Douglas,” Mr. Walker snapped. “And relish that, because it’s the last time I call you my Lord. The next time you see me I’ll be at the head of a human army, Dugtrio, and they’ll be Hell bent on deposing you for your crimes against humanity. I’m sure the Fortune Five will have some thoughts on your so called Lordship as well, once they hear all the things my protectors have found that you’ve been up to. It’s really a shame for you to lose the crown like this, but all’s fair in money and war, and I’m afraid this is about both now.”

Lord Douglas chuckled. “And we’ll see how the Fortune Five feels when the price of robot labor gets dearer, Walrus. We’ll see whose side they stand on in the end. Ha ha ha! We’ll see.”

“And maybe we’ll see before then,” Mr. Walker snapped, “when my soldiers put an end to the strikes and your days of ease. Good day, Duggy. It may be your last.” Mr. Walker almost called for Haley before catching himself. He didn’t need any robots anymore anyway. He was done with them. He stormed out of the room and into the elevator to yell, “Garage.” then, “No, home.” not wanting to drive himself without a chauffeur. The elevator fell into motion and when the doors opened up again, Mr. Walker wasn’t at home.

Where was he? It couldn’t be said to be anywhere, really. More like it was everywhere. It wasn’t one place but many, stitched together with ever loosening threads that looked like they might give way at any moment. Here was the border between his elevator and—was that Rosa? what was she doing here?—what looked like a cement wall. Then it was all cement wall. Then it was all elevator. Then half and half again, the borders ever shifting. Mr. Walker feared that he might tumble out of view—maybe out of existence entirely—like the rest of the worlds around him.

“What is this?” Mr. Walker demanded of Rosa who was across the room one second and behind him the next, the cement walls of the room she was in transporting around her with every blink.

“Lord Walker, is that you?” she called back, not sure which way to look herself. At least it suggested that the sights Mr. Walker were seeing might not be hallucinations after all. The world really was pulsating and shifting around him.

Rosa disappeared—no wait, she was only behind him—and in her place were two young girls he thought he recognized. “You there,” he called out to them. “Who are you? Where is this? What’s going on?”

They both stared at him in surprise. The one with glasses on—who wears glasses in this day and age?—started to say, “It’s him. He’s Lor—” but she couldn’t finish her sentence before she disappeared, too—or rather teleported, moved along with the backdrop around her to another position in the shifting swirling mass of confusion.

The walls shuffled and molded around Mr. Walker. Elevator mirrors, drywall, wallpaper, brick, wood. He was everywhere at once and no one else could be there with him. They could come and leave but never remain. Mr. Walker was getting motion sickness at the thought of it, at the sight of the pulsating, breathing, living walls. He was bending over to wretch but his pneumatic pants held him too tight and wouldn’t let go of even his insides. They were as disoriented as he was. He was fighting and fighting against them, trying to do something, anything, and the world stopped.

A face appeared before him. A face from deep inside his subconscious. At first he thought it was Haley, come home to take care of him once and for all. And it was almost, but this Haley had aged, this Haley had once been the Haley who his Haley and her doppelganger were modeled after, who they paled in comparison to, one after another, but no longer. Her skin sagged in certain places, and her eyes, those piercing, inquiring eyes which had haunted him through the longest of nights, made all the pulsating, bulging motion around him disappear for a moment in which he could finally stand steadily on two pneumatic feet.

“Haley,” he said, reaching a hand out to grab her hand. “It’s been so long since we’ve spoken face to face. I hope you don’t mind that I call you Haley.”

Haley smiled, accentuating her crow’s feet, and Mr. Walker thought he would kiss even them if she would let him. A tussle of white—how long had it been since he’d seen her?—hair fell into her face and she brushed it away with a gloved hand, clad in her scientist uniform as always. “As long as you don’t mind if I call you Walker,” she said

He grabbed her, wrapping her tight in his safe soothing folds. She tried to hug him back, he could feel, but she only managed to pat his stomach because she couldn’t wrap her short little arms around his gargantuan, manly girth. “Of course, sweetheart. Of course.” Walker almost cried as he said it. “Call me anything you want to as long as you’re talking to me.” And he did let out a few tears for two lost Haleys and an old Haley found.

She pushed away too soon, though, and he was left to wipe his own tears. “I—uh— Did you see Ansel?” she asked. “The little girl. She might have come through with me.”

Walker remembered where he was. His eyes went back to the shifting walls and his motion sickness returned. There were too many breakfasts in his stomach to waste them now—and the pneumatic pants wouldn’t let him vomit if he wanted to—so he choked it all back and spit out, “Where are we?”

“Essentially nowhere,” Haley said, feeling along the walls even as they mutated and changed form under her hands. “Not yet, at least. This place is in flux. That’s why it keeps changing. You better stick close to me or we might lose each other.”

Walker scurried closer to her, bumping his bulbous stomach into her back and almost knocking her head into the wall she was searching. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I— But— Lost? In flux? What’s going on?”

“Whoever brought us here hasn’t decided where they want us yet. From the looks of it they’re trying to make a new plane for us, for a lot of us.”

“Brought us here? Who? Impossible. But you said—you control the walls. Who could do this but you?”

Haley chuckled, looking away from her investigation of the ever morphing world for the first time. “You really are clueless, aren’t you? Hackers have been getting in for years, Walker. This was inevitable. I’ve been winning the arms race until now, but—”

“There he is again!” a voice called from behind them. “And he’s with her. I told you they were working together.”

Walker turned to see the girl in the glasses and her friend who he thought he recognized.

“Nikola, Tillie,” Haley said, crossing to them. “Stay close now. We’ll all be safer if we stick together.”

Walker hurried closer to them, taking Haley’s advice.

“Where have you taken us?” the girl in the glasses demanded. “What have you done?”

“I haven’t done anything,” Haley said. “We’re all in this together. I think—”

“Enough!” The unknown girl, the one who wasn’t wearing any glasses, stomped a foot. “Enough, enough, enough. We can stop this petty arguing at least until we get out of whatever the fuck this is. I can’t take it anymore. Hand!” She stormed off and the girl with the glasses chased after her, calling, “Tillie, wait!”

Haley chased them and Walker had no choice but to follow. The room became a hall of shifting walls as they ran, and the hall a labyrinthine maze. Soon Walker was praying to the Hand and every other god of Outland that his pants wouldn’t give out when he needed them the most. Just as he thought the pants were done for, ready to putter out, their procession stopped in front of Rosa and her rude partner Anna.

You,” Rosa said, staring angrily at Haley. “This is your doing. Isn’t it?”

See,” the girl with the glasses said, “I told you.”

“No, it’s not—” Haley started.

“Sure,” Rosa cut her off, “It has nothing to do with our war on the robots, right? That’s why you have him here, too.” She pointed at Walker who raised his hands in defense, shrugging as if he had never met Rosa before. After this was all done and over with, he would have to give her a little lesson on tact, teach her about the concept of classified information.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Haley asked, looking at Walker with those piercing eyes of hers.

“Don’t ask me,” he said.

“It means,” Rosa said, “that he and I are going to destroy your robot army, and you’ve brought us here to try to prevent us from doing it. Well, I’m afraid to tell you that the Family lives on even without us.”

You didn’t,” Haley said, still staring into Walker’s soul. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“I—I’m a businessman,” he stammered. Why was he making excuses to someone who had abandoned him so long ago? “I did with my property what was in my best interests. You can’t argue against that.”

“What about us?” the girl with the glasses cut in. “We’re not with them. We want to help the androids. Why are we here?”

Haley just stared at Walker, shaking her head in disappointment.

“Look,” Tillie said—at least Walker thought her name was Tillie, he still wasn’t sure who was who in this chaotic mess. “It’s obvious that none of us here are responsible for this. Just look around you. The walls are still shifting, the world is still changing around us. I mean—Nikola, you said this was like an elevator tunnel, right?”

The girl with the glasses—Nikola—nodded and Walker filed the name away in his head. Of course, Nikola and Tillie from the uproar in Two. How could he forget? And maybe some evidence as to why they were all there.

“Well the tunnel’s still moving,” Tillie went on. “Someone has to be controlling it, right? And none of us can be doing that from in here, so… Are y’all following me?”

“You know, it may be possible to—” Haley started.

“Are you doing it?” Tillie cut her off.

“Well, no, but—”

“Anyone else?” Tillie asked the rest of them, and everyone shook their heads. “Then we can stop asking which one of us did it.”

“That’s very astute,” Haley said with a smile Walker was glad to see.

“And useless.” Rosa scoffed. “We still have no way out of this…whatever it is.”

“What is this anyway?” Mr. Walker interjected, feeling the conversation needed an owner’s opinion.

“It’s a spacetime overlap,” Haley said at the same time that Anna said, “It’s a big problem.”

“Probably, yes,” Haley said.

“Too many paths are overlapping at once,” Anna went on. “I don’t like the look of those walls. Have you seen them?” She and Haley crossed to a wall to inspect its ever morphing characteristics.

“I think we should get out of here,” Nikola said, trying to pull Tillie, who didn’t budge, along with her.

“You two do know each other, though. Don’t you?” Tillie said to Walker.

Ho ho ho, dear. I know many people,” he replied. Too many people if you asked him, and none that would do something like this. “What’s it matter to you?”

“So how do we get out of this?” Rosa asked, ever ready to get down to business. “That’s all I want to know. I don’t care what or where it is, I just want to get home.”

“That’s up to me,” a child’s voice said from nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. Whichever way Walker looked he saw nothing but shifting walls. “And how y’all react,” the voice added.

Suddenly the walls stopped moving and changing form. They coalesced into a small square room with cement walls, binding them all together as one. Apart from them, in the direction everyone was now staring, sat a little girl, cross-legged on the ground, tapping and swiping at a tiny computer pad in her lap.

Roo,” Haley said, taking a step closer to the girl. “What are you—”

“Careful,” the girl—Roo—cut her off. “Don’t take another step. I don’t know where you’ll go if you attempt to approach me, but it’ll be far away from here, I can promise you that. It’s okay, though. I won’t hurt you as long as you stay put right where you are. I just want to talk.”

“I demand to know the meaning of this,” Lord Walker said, stepping to the front of the group of women so he could finally assert control over the situation. How could a little girl be holding all of them hostage right now? He had to put an end to it.

“Your demands are meaningless,” the little girl said—was she grinning? It was so hard to tell from that far away. “What makes you think this has any meaning at all?”

“Well you brought us here for something,” Nikola said.

“Actually,” the girl said. “With the two of you I’m afraid I’ve quite literally brought you here for nothing. I’ve never even met you. I’m sorry you’re caught up in this, but as long as you cooperate and remain quiet, no harm will come to any of you.”

“Wait,” Nikola complained, “just let us go then.”

“I can’t without letting the rest of you go, too,” the girl said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. Sometimes the world just works out that way.” She seemed so much older than her appearances let on. “There’s nothing else I can do for you until I’m done with them so let’s get on with it. Anna,” the girl—Roo—said, squirming this way and that in her seat, trying to see around Walker’s large frame. “I know you’re here somewhere. Now come on out.”

Walker stepped aside to let Rosa’s little partner step forward.

“What do you think of this, Anna?” the girl asked, smiling. “A pretty beautiful symphony, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s dangerous,” Anna said, shaking her head. “Wreckless.”

“But isn’t it beautiful? That’s the point. Look, you can even see yourself in it.” The girl swiped and tapped and disappeared. In her place there was an exact replica of Mr. Walker and the group he stood among. There were infinite replicas in all directions, as if he were in a room lined with mirrors that somehow reflected them from behind. It was dizzying to see. Just before Mr. Walker tried to vomit again, the sight vanished and the girl returned, laughing, in its place. “Does that frighten you?” she asked, still chuckling. “Make you sick? Huh ha. Or do you think it’s fun?”

“Who are you?” Nikola, the girl with the glasses, demanded.

“What is this?” Rosa did, too.

“No child can speak to me this way,” Walker said, not wanting to be left out.

Only Haley and Anna could get through to her, though. “I’ve been there before, child,” Haley said.

“I feel your pain,” Anna said.

“No you haven’t,” the girl said, standing up and dropping the tablet from her lap. For a second she disappeared and the mutating walls returned, but she was soon back and saying, “No you don’t!” She was standing now, closer to them. Walker thought he could reach right out and grab the little tablet out of her hand, but he didn’t dare try. There was no telling what would happen to him if he crossed that invisible barrier. “You know nothing!”

“What is this?” Walker demanded. “You, child— Wait, you— You’re the director I was interviewing. What are you—”

Roo laughed. “I’m no director. I’m every person you’ve ever trampled over to get what you want. I’m the end of everything for you. I’m here to show you that you don’t control as much of the universe as y’all think you do. None of you!”

“Roo, no,” Haley said, and all eyes turned to her natural magnetism. Why had she and Walker ever parted? “You don’t understand what you’re doing. This isn’t good. We can’t all be here in one place like this for much longer. All the space you have folding into one tiny spot right here, it’s too much. The system can’t handle it.”

The little girl laughed, pacing the small space she had to walk in. “The system can’t handle it, huh? Well maybe I can’t handle the system.”

Right on,” Nikola said, pumping a fist at the little girl. “You tell ‘em. We’re on your side.”

“Shut up!” The little girl stomped her foot. “All of you just shut up until you’re spoken to or I’ll leave you here forever. There’s no way out, okay. I made sure you were far enough away from everything so you’ll never be found. Now shut up!”

“This can’t be true,” Rosa said, imploring Anna. “She couldn’t— That little girl did all this?”

“There is a way out, isn’t there?” Walker demanded of Haley. “I cannot be stuck here for much longer. I can already feel my stomach grumbling.”

“I told you to shut up,” Tillie said to Nikola.

“As I told all of you.” The girl disappeared, all of the walls, the ceiling, and the floor with her. Walker was free falling into nothingness. They were all falling just the same. They were surrounded by the complete blackness of space that Walker had only ever witnessed on TV, and now he was in it, the stars all around him, his breath escaping him and his head feeling like it was going to explode, but still the beauty got through, and hanging above it all, Haley’s aged face, a diamond among the rough and tumble rabble that was free falling through space with them.

Then the walls came back, gravity with them, and the cold hard floor for everyone to fall into a jumble on top of. The velocity of a free fall drop from space ended in a belly flop into a too full room. The fall wasn’t as far as it seemed, though, the fear being the worst part, and soon Walker’s pneumatic pants had him up and staring at the little girl’s smiling face before anyone else in the tiny cell with him could stand.

“What power do you have now?” The girl cackled. “What hope is there for you? Ha ha ha!”

“Why are you doing this?” Anna begged, still crawling on hands and knees, trying to get up from the fall. “Why us?”

“Why anyone?” The girl laughed. “There’s no logic to it, is there? You thought there was when your life was going as planned, when y’all were on top, putting your boots into our face and keeping us down, but what logic is there now that you’re the ones in the mud? Is that about right?”

“None!” Nikola said, seeming to cheer the girl on.

“Your logic,” Haley said, still trying to convince her to do the right thing. “This is your logic bringing this upon us, Roo.”

“I didn’t choose to become this,” the girl said. “This is what you made me.”

“I didn’t make you into anything,” Walker said.

“You did! And there’s no stopping me now.”

“Enough!” Mr. Walker yelled. “I’ve had enough. Now, child, I don’t know who you think are, but enough is enough. Let us go this instant or I’ll— I’ll… I’ll just—”

You’ll do nothing. I’m the new Queen of the Walls. I’m the best bender that’s ever been born. I’m the future of these worlds and it’s time that y’all start to realize that. These are my worlds now, not yours. So get over it.”

“Now, I never—” Walker said.

“Child, you better—” Rosa said.

“We did nothing—” Tillie said.

“But the fields,” Haley said. “They can’t—”

And the little girl disappeared. The walls started moving again. The world was in flux and there was no telling where it would lead. Walker stumbled back on his pneumatic legs. Even the ground seemed to be changing beneath him as he tried to move. Everyone stumbled around him.

“What’s going on?” Rosa demanded.

“Where’d she go?” Nikola asked.

“What’s the meaning of all this?” Walker huffed, finally regaining his balance.

“There’s too much pressure,” Anna said.

“The walls are closing in,” Haley said.

“What do we do?” Tillie asked.

And the worlds broke apart. How else could Walker’s mind comprehend it? It happened in a flash and it took an eternity. Fissures cracked through everything. The walls. The ceiling. The floor. Even the poor girl Nikola’s head. There was no telling how long it actually took her to die, though. Each separate half of her body kept reacting as if they were still connected and alive for some time—what amount of time, though? because if it was any time at all it must have been forever so how could it have ever ended?—before the two halves slumped, falling and twitching into—what?—Walker could not tell.

What was it? That thing that lies between the fabric of reality, between here and there when here is right next to there. Whatever was between molecules, and atoms, and nothingness, she fell into that, each piece of her in time—what time, though?— forever, and whole chunks of the universe fell in with her.

Walker’s legs were carrying him somewhere. Was there still solid ground to walk on? He felt like he was floating through space again. They weren’t just carrying him, they were following somebody. His Haley. He heaved a sigh of relief, leaning into the motion to give his pneumatic pants some leverage, and noticed that Haley was following Rosa and the other one—Anna. Did names matter with the universe falling apart around them, though?

How many tunnels they went down Walker would never know for sure. The halls, corridors, and tubes were already muddling themselves up together in his mind as he went through them.

Brick wall turn left wall turns into chain link fence looking out onto space keep running not questioning why air is still there only breathing it happily and hoping for more walls and tunnels and oxygen.

At one point, he couldn’t tell if he was moving forward or if the walls were flowing by him, creating an illusion of motion. He really was the Red Queen now, and as much as his pants ran, they couldn’t catch up to Ann or Rosa or even his Haley.

His pants hissed. His legs stopped moving. He tried lifting his left leg with all his might and felt the air coming out of his pants. Any more movement like that and he might not be able to stand at all. “Haley,” he called, keeping his legs as still as possible and feeling them get heavier with every second. “Haley, I’m stuck!”

“Hey, wait,” Hayley said, stopping and turning. Rosa and Anna stopped with her. “What’s wrong?” She took two steps toward him and a rift started breaking between Rosa and Anna, a rift into that same unknown which the other girl had already fallen to pieces inside of. The world was falling apart and there was nothing Walker could do about it, not even run away, because his stupid pants had failed him at the worst possible time, just like the robot they were.

“I’m not staying for him,” Rosa said, the only one on the other side of the rift. “Anna, come on. I think I can see our basement over there.” She held her hand across the wrench in reality, and though it didn’t cross through the nothingness, it did appear on the other side of the chasm in one piece.

Anna looked at the disembodied hand, then back at Haley. “You know how this is going to end,” she said. “We have to get out of her before it does. Leave him.” She grabbed Rosa’s hand and teleported from one side of the rift to the other then disappeared into the shifting worlds which were getting fewer and further between.

“Haley. My love,” Walker said as she came closer to him, the fabric of reality disintegrating behind her. “I knew you’d come back to me.”

She smiled again, her crow’s feet dancing on the brink of happy eyes. “I never left you, Walky. I’ve been looking out for you all this time.”

“Then why’d you have to leave me in the first place?” Walker asked, his legs twitching nervously and his pants deflating that little tiny bit faster with every tiny movement. “I still needed you.”

“Why’d you abandon me?” Haley asked, her face changing to something Walker would rather not remember, something he thought he was over when he saw Haley from this new perspective.

“I never did,” he said. “I’ve been running Waltronics and the Walls since they existed. I still run the Walls—your baby—and I only just sold off Waltronics in the hopes of winning it back by force. What more could I do for you?”

“You could have listened to me, dear.” Haley smiled, taking on the appearance of her old self again, her younger self, the one Walker missed and loved and had tried to replicate in her android replacements. “That’s all I’ve ever asked,” she said, “treat me as your equal.”

“Listen to you when?” Walker scoffed, the universe getting tinier around him as the foundations of space and time disintegrated from overpressure. “You never came to talk to me. How should I know what you want? I’m not a mind reader.”

“I came to you on Christmas, didn’t I?” Haley said, trying to push Walker, trying to move him somehow, but only failing. Without the pants to carry him he was stuck there, and they both knew it.

“Did you?” Walker asked, groaning against her useless straining to budge him. “I was a little distracted with the terrorist attacks.”

“Which happened after my speech,” Haley said, fidgeting with Walker’s pants and reminding him of a time long gone when they weren’t pneumatic yet. “Not to mention every Christmas before that.”

Ugh.” Walker groaned. How much had he missed Haley, the real Haley? “I know. I never should have—”

She fell away from him. A rift in reality tore them apart. But at the same time Walker’s legs kicked into motion. She must have known what she was doing down there. He stood and reached for her, but she had no footing upon which to reach back and grab on, and all Walker could do was call, “Haley, I love you!”

The world ended right then and there. It might as well have. Haley had disappeared into that nothingness and there was no way she was ever coming back out of it. Walker didn’t care about anything else in the universe. His pants—reactivated by the only person who could have ever saved him—were carrying him of their own accord now. Or was he falling? It didn’t matter to him. There was no ground anymore. There was no space at all. There were no walls or ceiling. There was only Walker, the endless dark expanse of space behind him, and the labyrinthine tunnels of possibility still branching out in front of him. Where would that darkness push him? Where would his pants take him? How would he ever survive? There was only one way to find out.

 End of Book Three

< LXII. Ansel     [Table of Contents]

And that’s all folks. Book three of the Infinite Limits saga is complete. If you enjoyed that, please do leave a review of the book on Amazon through this link. Positive reviews are worth more than money to an independent author like me at this stage in my career. Either way, thanks again for joining us, and I hope you come back in the next couple of months when book four, 0.N Repeating, starts to get posted. It’s been great having y’all. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 62: Ansel

Hello, dear readers. Today we rejoin Ansel as she’s exploring Outland 4 with her new friend, Ashley. Read Ansel’s third and final point of view chapter in Dividing by Ø right here, and don’t forget to join us next week for the concluding chapter of book three out of four of the Infinite Limits series. Enjoy.

< LXI. Chelsea     [Table of Contents]     LXIII. Mr. Walker >

LXII. Ansel

The claws never came. Nor the jaws. Only the laughter of Ashley who couldn’t even speak he was so doubled over. Ansel crawled to her feet, picking up her rucksack and brushing herself off, and the huge cat was no longer in front of her. She turned to find it inside another clearing behind her, across the dirt path they had come in on, looking out the other way and ready to pounce on some unseen thing.

“Oh. Oh ho ho!” Ashley laughed, trying to get control of himself. “Don’t worry. He can’t get you. Ho ho ho!”

Ansel reached out toward the cat and her hand disappeared in a straight line at the wrist, just like it had done when she had tried to open Anna and Rosa’s door what seemed like ages ago.

“You see,” Ashley said behind her, and Ansel turned to see her disembodied hand floating on the other side of the dirt path. “We can’t get to it, either. The only difference is that we can see the jaguar’s side of the wall and the jaguar can’t see ours. It’s kind of like a one-way mirror in that sense.”

Ansel waved her arm and the floating hand waved in unison. What kind of world was she living in?

“Pretty nifty, isn’t it?” Ashley asked

“I thought it was going to kill you,” Ansel said, pulling her arm out of the—whatever it was in—so it looked like her body was all in one piece again. “I don’t really find that funny.”

Ashley grinned, laughter trying to burst out of him again. “Well, I did. And there was no danger, anyway. And you acted heroically, trying to push me out of the way like that.” He giggled. “My saviour.”

“Alright,” Ansel said, walking down the path the way they had been going before Ashley stopped her to see the big cat. She wondered what other animals she might see on the way. “Enough funny business. Why’d you bring me here, anyway?”

Ashley followed along behind her, keeping good pace and walking more quietly than Pidgeon would have ever been able to. “Well, a few reasons,” he said. “First, to show you that my chemistry homework is far from the coolest thing in this world.”

Ansel nodded, not really hearing what Ashley was saying. Out in a clearing to the right of her was a giant hairy human-like thing with bigger muscles and a bigger head than she had ever seen—except for maybe on those fat tuxedoed babies at the dinner party. The hairy human thing was scratching itself in the sun and chewing on a pile of fruits. Ansel’s knees shook a little. She would have bolted out of there already if she hadn’t experienced the embarrassment of the giant cat incident earlier. Why was everything so much bigger and scarier here? “What is that?” she asked.

Ashley had to look again, as if he hadn’t noticed the thing the first time because it was an everyday occurrence to him. “Oh, a gorilla,” he said. “A rather big one, too. They’ve been bred to be larger and more ferocious for the show value. Thank our Holy Mother for the Walker-Haley fields between us or this guy here would be more dangerous than that jaguar we saw earlier.”

“A gorilla,” Ansel said, mesmerized by its huge bulging muscles and chomping jaws. “These things just live out in the wild?”

Ho ho ho, not anymore.” Ashley chuckled. “A long long time ago this guy’s great, great, great times a bunch ancestors lived in the wild, but like I said, they were a lot smaller back then. Now they’re an endangered species. Pretty much completely extinct, actually. Like most of the animals in here, they only exist in captivity.”

Here came that word again: endangered. “So that’s what makes them endangered?” Ansel asked. “Because they only live in captivity?” She had been held captive her entire life, kept ignorant of these worlds and the many others she had discovered in so little time since finding the first new one. Maybe she was endangered, too.

“Well, not exactly,” Ashley said. “But yes. We hold them here because they’re endangered, they’re not endangered because we hold them here.”

Pshh. What’s the difference?”

Ashley had to think long and hard about that. Ansel just let him. She was happy enough to stare at the magnificent gorilla as it ate. Who would endanger such a beautiful beast?

“You know,” Ashley said after some time of silence, breaking Ansel away from her reverie. “I’m not entirely sure there is a difference anymore, the more I think about it. It’s like, in the beginning we built walls to keep everything out for our own protection, and now we have to build walls that keep them in for their protection. I’m not sure when that changed, but when it did, it rendered any differences there might have once been entirely meaningless.”

Ansel didn’t know exactly what he was saying. She wasn’t sure she cared, either. She didn’t respond. Instead she just walked on along the dirt path in search of whatever new creature she might find in the next clearing. Ashley followed behind her, seemingly content to explore his own thoughts in silence while Ansel explored the real world.

It was a long walk before she came to the next animal, but Ansel didn’t mind. The anticipation was part of the fun, and there were plenty of exotic plants everywhere—not to mention birds of various bright colors flying around. But then the giant towered over her with its long yellow and brown spotted neck, chewing leaves it ripped from the trees with a finger-like tongue. Ansel didn’t ask what this one was, it didn’t need a name. She just stared up at its towering figure, plucking leaves from the trees, and tried to imagine what it saw through its elevated eyes.

“That’s a giraffe,” Ashley said, giving Ansel a name for the beast anyway. “It’s my favorite 3D animal, personally. They’re so tall and graceful, and such perfect pieces of evidence in support of evolution by natural selection. The way their laryngeal nerve goes all the way down and back up the neck again instead of taking the short route…”

Ashley kept going but Ansel didn’t hear a word he said beyond giraffe. She kept repeating it in her head. Giraffe, giraffe, giraffe. Who would endanger the giraffe? How could you trap such a strong looking gorilla? What kind of person would hurt a big black jaguar? She wasn’t sure she could take any more of this zoo if it meant seeing more caged and endangered beauties like this one.

Alright, enough.” Ansel snapped, cutting off Ashley’s lecture on giraffes which was still going on despite her ignoring it. “Why did you bring me here? Tell me.”

“I—uh… I thought you might like to see it. I don’t know. And I thought it might help explain where you are. I just— I, uh…” He shrugged.

“How is this supposed to help? Just tell me where we are.”

Uh, well, it’s—you know—like a model, really. Or maybe a metaphor. It’s meant to illuminate—”

“Get to the point.”

“Okay. Well. You know how the jaguar couldn’t pounce on you, right?”

“Of course.”

“Well, we couldn’t really touch it and it couldn’t eat us, right. I mean, the cat couldn’t even see us, okay. So you could essentially say that we are in two separate worlds, right? Us and the jaguar, I mean. The jaguar in their own world, and they can’t see into ours, but we can see into their world even if we can’t physically go there. Right? Not by walking off the path here where it looks like the jaguar’s world should be, at least.”

“Okay,” Ansel said still having a hard time following him. “So what?”

“Well essentially, the wider world—or worlds you might say—are split up the same way. Okay. They’re all right next each other like we are with the jaguar, but there’s no line of sight going either way. It would be more like if we couldn’t see into the jaguar’s habitat either, just like it couldn’t see out to us.”

“We wouldn’t even know they were there,” Ansel said, starting to understand now.

“Exactly.” Ashley smiled. “But those other worlds would be there, with all those people in them, living their own lives, oblivious to everything going on in our world, acting as if we didn’t exist either. Do you see where I’m going?”

Ansel nodded. She saw exactly where he was going. She wasn’t quite sure if she could believe what he was saying, but he had given her plenty of evidence to support his story with the way this zoo worked, and what he said seemed to explain some of the stranger experiences she had been going through ever since she moved to the Belt and beyond. “You’re saying that the world works exactly like this zoo,” she said. “You’re telling me that humans live in these same sort of cages that y’all have endangered all these animals with.”

“Yes, well, I’m not sure I would call the worlds cages,” Ashley said with a chuckle. “I’m not even sure I’d call what these animals are in cages, either. I mean, besides there being no bars, this is all the wilderness any of their ancestors have known for generations. These…protected habitats, let’s call them, make up the entire universe that these animals can ever experience, sure, but they’re not caged in, really, and they don’t know any better anyway.”

“Because they can’t know any better,” Ansel said. “They’re just animals. But you’re trying to say that humans are caged up like this, too. Would that be okay with you as long as the humans didn’t know any better?”

“First of all, they’re not cages,” Ashley said. “Habitats.”

“Whatever.”

“And second of all, you don’t give enough credit to these animals—or maybe you give too much credit to humans, I’m not sure. But take the gorillas, okay. They started out smart, of course, but you should see how intelligent they are now that they’ve been bred for it.” He nodded over at the long necked giant that was still munching on leaves. “That giraffe over there can figure out a lot more about the worlds than you might think. I promise you.”

“Wait, I don’t understand,” Ansel said. “Are you saying you would be okay with humans being caged, or put in habitats, or whatever you want to call it, as long as they didn’t know any better?”

“I’m not saying that exactly,” Ashley said, tapping his chin. “How can I communicate this in a way that you’ll understand? I could see how it might be for the best. That’s it. Just like the reserve here—let’s get that nasty word zoo out of our mind for the sake of objectivity. Without this reserve, where else could these animals go?”

“To the wilderness,” Ansel said. “Where they would be free to roam wherever they want to without being sent back to the beginning every time they finally get to the end.”

“What wilderness?” Ashley scoffed. “You’re looking at all the wilderness there is left that isn’t already owned and in use. And if there was any more, that would only broaden their playing field. The animals would still be sent to the beginning every time they got to the end because that’s how a round planet works.”

“And the humans?” Ansel asked, feeling her control over her temper loosen. “It’s best for them, too? You think it was best for me to be caged in the Streets, surrounded by cement and concrete, without any source of food or support of any kind for as far as I could possibly go in my little world? What kind of habitat is that? What was I being protected from?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ashley said, looking like he was getting a little angry himself. “You’ve given me no information about where you’re from so I can’t speculate as to whether it was for your best or not. I can see how it’s for the animals’ best because I’ve studied them thoroughly, but I have yet to come to a conclusion on humans. If you were a little more cooperative in answering my questions, maybe I could figure out how I felt about your situation sooner than later.”

“I—uh…” He was right even if he was being an ass about it. Ansel had been too harsh on him herself, though. He probably knew as little about her world as she knew about his. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just— I’m a long way from home, I think, and I’ve been through a whole lot of Hell to get here. I miss my family and friends, and I never should have come all the way out here on my own in the first place.” She shook her head, fighting tears. “We do nothing alone.”

“It’s okay,” Ashley said, looking terrified at the prospect that Ansel might start crying—which made her chuckle a little. “You’re— You’re not alone, okay. I want to help you, you know. I will help you.”

“You don’t just want to study me?” Ansel smiled.

“Oh, I could study you all day.” Ashley held a hand to his mouth, blushing. “I mean— You know what I mean. But that’s not the only thing I want to do. I want to help you, too. We can help each other, I think.”

Psssh. Yeah right. How could I help you? You don’t need any hunting done, do you?”

“Well, no.” He shook his head.

“Then I prolly won’t be much help. Sorry.” Ansel shrugged.

“I doubt that.” Ashley chuckled. “The mere fact that you’ve brought my attention to the possibility of worlds beyond those that are known and mapped has been help enough. I always knew there were way more lines of tunnel than the maps showed us, and now I might just understand why.”

“Wait, so you didn’t know about the other worlds either?”

“I knew of one,” Ashley said. “We call it Never Never Land. It’s where all the celebrities live. But I imagine it’s not the world you come from, is it?”

Ansel shook her head. “I’m not really sure what a celebrity is.”

Exactly. Pointing further to the fact that you hail from a third, separate world and implying the possibility of further worlds after that.”

“All because I don’t know what a celebrity is?”

“All because you came through the seams,” Ashley said, smiling. “Now come on. Let’s get to my lab so we can try to find your world.” He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her running back the way they had come from.

Ansel forgot herself in the wind whipping against her face and the flying branches all around her. The giraffe, gorilla, and jaguar were nothing more than blurs in her peripheral vision, along with the long smudge of dark jungle green. It wasn’t until the world stopped moving again and the elevator doors slid closed behind them that either of them spoke.

“They still weren’t as cool as chemistry,” Ansel said at the same time that Ashley said, “I think I know how to find your world.”

“Oh, sorry,” they said at the same time.

“And chemistry? You’re way off,” Ashley said while Ansel said, “Oh, cool.”

“Animals are much cooler than chemistry,” Ashley said when they were done apologizing for talking over each other.

“But those animals were so far away,” Ansel said.

“Luckily for us. Lab.”

The elevator fell into motion.

“Well, I’d still like to know more about chemistry,” Ansel said.

“Maybe I’ll show you after we search for your world.”

Ansel shrugged. She didn’t really care about finding her world, more so she just wanted to find a new one to live in. The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and she stepped into a long hall but Ashley didn’t follow. Ansel turned to look at him and found him shaking his head, looking afraid. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Th—This isn’t my lab,” Ashely said, still shaking his head. “This is wrong. We should go. Come here. Get back in the elevator.” He waved to hurry her up.

Before Ansel could respond, though, the door at the other end of the hall opened and in came Rosalind, followed by Popeye. Ansel groaned. She knew she recognized this hall, but she had thought it was because all those white-coated people’s buildings looked the same.

So,” Rosalind said with a grin, “the prodigal child returns.”

Popeye waved emphatically, like the tail of a dog who was happy to see its owner, but Popeye was all tail and no dog.

“I didn’t return,” Ansel said, crossing her arms. “This isn’t where we were trying to go.”

“Oh, then what are you doing here?” Rosalind laughed a cackling laugh.

Um, I’m sorry, ma’am,” Ashley said, finally coming out of the elevator and putting a hand on Ansel’s shoulder—which she shrugged away. “It was some sort of malfunction in the elevator. We were supposed to go to my lab. We’ll just be leaving now.” He tried to pull Ansel back into the elevator but she wouldn’t budge.

“It was no malfunction,” Ansel said. “She did it on purpose. Didn’t you?”

Ha ha ha.” Rosalind laughed. “Who’s the bumbling new child you’ve brought with you this time, girl? Have you found yourself a new boyfriend already? Pidgeon’ll be sad to hear it. Ha ha ha!”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Ansel said, stomping a foot. She could see Ashley blushing out of her peripheral vision and tried hard not to look at him.

“I—It was an accident,” Ashley stammered.

“It was not an accident, boy,” Rosalind snapped. “You’re girlfriend here is right about that. The Scientist wants to see you and she couldn’t wait until you two split up so here you both are. Now come on in. Right this way.” She made a gracious wave of her arm then shoved Ansel and Ashley down the hall toward the door at the end of it where Popeye was waving them on.

“I—I don’t—” Ashley stammered, gripping tight to Ansel’s shirt.

“She’s never gonna convince me to stay,” Ansel said, trying to shrug him away in vain. “I don’t know what she would have to talk to me about.”

Rosalind grinned, still pushing them along. “You’ll just have to go in and see for yourself, then. Won’t you, girl?”

Ansel didn’t let the word cut her like she knew it was meant to. She didn’t respond to it at all. She just gave up fighting and went in through the door, pulling Ashley along in her wake.

The Scientist was sitting in a puffy chair, under the view of the endless mountain that could never again impress Ansel, indicating for them to take their seats across from her. Ashley hesitated but Ansel had been through all this before. She strode right up and took a chair without having to struggle into it, despite its height. Seeing her confidence gave Ashley some of his own, and soon he struggled into the chair between Ansel’s and the Scientist’s. When he was finally up and seated, he stared in slack jawed awe at the Scientist who smiled—suspiciously Ansel thought—right back at him.

“I— You’re— You can’t be,” Ashley said.

The Scientist nodded, still grinning. “Yes, child. I can be,” she said. “And I am.”

“Why did you send for me?” Ansel demanded, ignoring Ashley’s fanboy reaction. She didn’t care who he thought the Scientist was or how impressed he was by her, Ansel just wanted to get out of there as soon as they could.

“Ansel,” Ashley said, “she didn’t want to see you. She’s too important. She probably doesn’t even know who you are. She’s—”

Actually, I did want to see Ansel,” the Scientist said. “I needed to see her, in fact.”

“But you’re—” Ashley said.

“The Scientist,” Ansel cut him off. “I know.”

“Well I was going to say Dr. Haley Walker,” Ashley said, “but she is pretty much the epitome of a scientist. You’re right about that.”

“Haley Walker?” Ansel said.

“My true name.” The Scientist nodded.

Why had she hidden the name for so long if this kid knew it by the sight of her? “Well what do you want?” Ansel demanded.

“I want to know how your trip has gone, dear.” The Scientist smiled—Ansel still couldn’t think of her as Dr. Walker, she had been the Scientist for too long. “I want to know if you’ve changed your mind.” Then quickly, as if to prevent the answer she knew was coming, the Scientist added, “I want to know what you want now. I’m sure you have a better idea for yourself after your little adventure in Four, don’t you?”

“What do you know about my adventure?” Ansel asked, wondering who was slipping the Scientist information.

“Not much, child.” The Scientist laughed. “Which is why I need you to tell me all about it. Starting with the name of your little friend who you’ve brought along with you.”

“I— I’m Ashley Tyson,” Ashley said, squirming in his seat. “I’m a topological physicist myself, ma’am. Can I say that I admire you more than any scientist who has ever lived. Like, for real. You’re my hero.”

The Scientist chuckled. “You can, but you wouldn’t be the first.” She winked. “And that’s about enough said. Let’s talk about something interesting for a change. Where did you and my dear Ansel meet?”

Ansel resented being called “her dear” by the Scientist, but she didn’t get a chance to respond because Ashley was too eager to speak. “Well I was down in the Labyrinth, ma’am—forgive the colloquialism—but I was monitoring Walker-Haley field function for class credit when she appeared out of nowhere and ran right into me. I thought she was my replacement, you know, but then she said she had come through the seams of Sisyphus’s Mountain without the protection of a transport shield or radiation suit, and I wouldn’t believe her. I mean, I thought that was impossible. It is impossible, isn’t it? She didn’t really go through the fields naked. Did she?”

The Scientist was chuckling for most of his long rant, shaking her head, and she continued on after he stopped. “I don’t know,” she said, looking at Ansel for confirmation. “Did you?”

Ansel shrugged. “I found an escape from your mountain wilderness and I took the opportunity, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“By the elevator?” the Scientist asked.

Ansel nodded. Of course the Scientist knew about the seam already. Getting Ansel  to tell the story out loud was just some sick power trip.

“It’s always tricky keeping the fields contained in such tight spots,” the Scientist said, more to herself than either of them. “I’ll have to take a closer look at that in the morning.”

“So she did go through naked,” Ashley said, glancing wide eyed between the Scientist and Ansel. “You weren’t lying?”

“Of course I wasn’t.” Ansel scoffed. “I wouldn’t.”

“And there are worlds we haven’t been told about,” Ashley said to the Scientist. “Aren’t there?”

“Beyond your imagination.” The Scientist nodded.

Ashley seemed to fall into his own mind, lost trying to determine the possibilities created by the new information he had just been given. Ansel wasn’t impressed, though. “Is this all you brought me here for?” She scoffed. “To impress some white coated flower from another planet? Can I leave now?”

“Not in the least,” the Scientist said, getting serious now. “But the rest, I’m afraid, the reason I really brought you here, that has to be taken care of in private. Ashley, friend, you’ll have to wait in the other room with Rosalind. I’m sorry.”

“I—but—” Ashley complained as the office door opened and in came Rosalind. “I have so many questions to ask you.”

“C’mon, kid,” Rosalind said, jerking a thumb toward the door. “You heard the lady. Let’s go.”

“In due time,” the Scientist said, standing to help Rosalind guide him out of the room. “All your questions will be answered in due time.”

Ansel heaved a sigh of relief when he was gone. The sooner they were alone, the sooner she could leave, and that was the only thing Ansel wanted. “So,” she said expectantly as the Scientist retook her seat.

“So, my dear.” The Scientist smiled. “Your trip. How did it go?”

“Ashley already told you most of it.”

The Scientist chuckled. “He told me nothing, how you met. I want more. I want to know everything that happened after, everything that happened before. I want to know everything. Did you climb the mountain?”

Ansel nodded.

“And what did you see?”

“Myself,” Ansel said without hesitation. She had thought about that view so many times since she had seen it that she could respond by reflex. “My future, my past…me.” She shrugged.

The Scientist nodded. “Sure,” she said. “Sure it was. It was almost like that, at least. You can never get over the mountain, though, so it’s only ever your present, really.”

“But I did get over it,” Ansel said defiantly, puffing out her chest. “Three times.”

The Scientist chuckled. “And how many more mountains were there after that?”

Ansel shook her head. “Is this all you brought me here for? To toy with me? I’m pretty sure by now that it’s the only reason you let me go out there in that wilderness in the first place.”

“No, dear. Settle down, now.” The Scientist tried to calm her. “We can move on if that’s what you want. I’d still like to know what happened after you met Ashley, though. Did you enjoy your time in Four?”

“What’s Four?”

“The world you were in, my dear. You understand how these things work, now, don’t you? I’m told you visited a zoo. That had to be illuminating.”

“The whole world’s like a zoo, isn’t it?” Ansel demanded, searching the Scientist’s eyes for some deeper meaning beyond her words.

“I think that’s always been true,” the Scientist said with a smile. “It has been for as long as I can remember, anyway. And that’s a long time, mind you.”

“No, I mean we’re all caged up like those animals I saw. We have no means of escape. Though I did escape, somehow.” Because the Scientist had plucked her out of her world, but the Scientist knew that and Ansel wasn’t ready to give her the credit. “But everyone else is stuck where they are.”

“My previous comment still holds true.” The Scientist nodded. “It’s been like this pretty much forever. Though I know what you mean. And yes, at one time we were using the Walker-Haley fields to fence things in, but now the entire universe consists of fences and walls, making it all but indistinguishable whether we’re in the wilderness or the reserve. There’s no separation anymore. You don’t even have to say we’re like the animals kept in the zoo that you visited. In essence, all the worlds of Earth are a part of the same network of habitats making one total zoo.”

“And you’re the zoo guard,” Ansel said, shaking her head. “You make sure everyone stays in their places and the walls stand tall and strong.”

“I brought you out of the Streets, didn’t I?” the Scientist said. “I didn’t force you to live in Six forever, the lowest of the low.”

“My parents got me out of the Streets,” Ansel snapped. “That wasn’t you. That was our own hard work, and if they hadn’t been killed, I could have gotten out of Six—or whatever you want to call it—myself.”

The Scientist chuckled. “And how do you think they got their hands on those printers that got them their promotions, huh? I got you out of the streets, I got you out of Six entirely, and I want to give you more than that. I want to give you all the worlds on a platinum platter.”

Ansel scoffed. “Yeah, right. To do what with them? Tinker and toy like you do? No thanks.”

Ba ha ha.” The Scientist shook her head, waving a finger at Ansel. It reminded her of the same gesture her mom used to make. She didn’t know whether to be endeared or angry at the reminder. “Not so fast, Ansel. You’ll want to consider this offer and consider it well.”

“Well…” Ansel said.

“Well, dear.” The Scientist smiled. “Before I give you the offer, you must first answer me one question. What is it that you want most in life?”

Ansel groaned. She had had enough of the Scientist’s pseudo-spiritual mumbo jumbo. “What if I don’t want to answer that question?” she asked, playing the Scientist at her own games.

“Then you’d be answering my question.” The Scientist grinned. “You want not to answer the question. Though I figured you’d want a little more out of life than that. Not answering one question isn’t a lot to work with.” She chuckled, pleased with herself for some stupid reason.

“What does it matter anyway?” Ansel asked.

“What could it hurt to tell me? You’re only wasting time. I know you want to hear my offer. Your curiosity’s been piqued. And I won’t tell you what the offer is until you answer my one simple question, easy as that. So what do you say? What do you want most in life?”

Ansel sighed. The Scientist was right. The worst that could happen would be that the Scientist didn’t offer her what she said she wanted. Who cares if the Scientist learns what that is? “My parents to be alive again,” she said.

“Oh, well…” A tear came to the Scientist’s eye and she quickly wiped it away with the long white sleeve of her coat, trying to be discreet. “I knew this would be your first request but I didn’t think it would hit me so hard. I’m sorry.” She wiped her eyes again. “I’m afraid resurrection’s not possible, though. Where would we be if it was? Do you have any other desires?”

Ansel shook her head. “You asked for what I wanted most in the world and I told you. Now what’s your offer?”

“My offer pales in comparison to your need for a family, Ansel. I’ve already offered you what family I can and you rejected it. Instead I’m here to offer you independence. You’re on your own now—though my offer a family still stands, mind you—but with that in mind, and resurrection off the table, what do you want?”

“Nothing! I don’t want anything else. I want everything to go back to the way it was before you killed my family!”

“What next then? What are you going to do when you leave here? Where will you go? Where do you want to go?”

Ansel worked to calm herself down, taking deep, heaving breaths. She wasn’t quite sure. She could go back to the Streets, try to hook up with Katie again, relive the life she used to live before everyone started trying to turn her into a garden flower. Or she could try to convince Pidgeon to live out in the endless mountain with her. She could teach him a few things about hunting, and he would be close enough to the elevator that he could get whatever his heart desired to eat from the Scientist’s 3D printer. Or she could go do chemistry and stare at bizarre animals with Ashley, maybe even get a white coat of her own some day. She didn’t really want to do any of those things, though, and she kind of wanted to do them all at the same time. What could she say? She couldn’t decide. “I don’t know,” she finally did say after too long thinking about it. “I want to do a lot of things.”

The Scientist smiled. “Name a few.”

“Maybe I want to go back to the Streets to find my old friends. I haven’t seen them since I moved to the Belt.”

“But you wouldn’t want to live there again, would you? Not after everything you’ve seen out here. Not now that you know how you could be living otherwise.”

“Well maybe I want to go back out to the wilderness, then. I bet I could convince Pidgeon to come with me.”

“Out there on Sisyphus’s Mountain? You think that wilderness is big enough for you?”

“No, well… I would like to do chemistry, too. Ooh, and free those animals in the zoo. They deserve a bigger wilderness as much as I do.”

The Scientist chuckled. “Well, you do want a lot of things. Don’t you?”

“Yeah, so?” Ansel crossed her arms, self-conscious and regretting that she had told the Scientist anything.

“So do you think it’s possible for you to do all of them at once?” the Scientist asked. “Do you think you can get everything you want? How likely do you think it is that you could even get one of them?”

Ansel shook her head, not saying anything. She had said too much already.

“Well, I’m here to tell you that I can give you all of them, everything you want. You won’t have to choose. I’ll give you more than that on top of it. In fact, I’ll give you everything, period. All of this. All of my power, my knowledge, my walls. I’ll teach you chemistry, show you how to control the elevators so you can get to the Streets, or the wilderness, or wherever you want to go whenever you want to be there. I’ll give you control over all the walls in existence, even the walls of the zoo where you’ll one day be the zookeeper who has the power to expand or detract the habitats as you see fit. I’ll give you all of it.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Ansel scoffed. “You would never—”

“I will, dear. I am. I’ve been building up to this all along. You were chosen from the beginning, ever since I gave your parents the printers that helped pluck you out of the streets. This has been the plan all along. Rosalind will tell you.”

Ansel looked up and Rosalind was in the room with them, hovering by the doorway. How long had she been there?

“If you’re ready to learn, girl.” Rosalind smiled.

“And if I’m not?” Ansel demanded. “What if I don’t want any of this?”

“But you just told me you did.” The Scientist stood from her chair, reminding Ansel of how tall she was. “This is everything you want. Come with me. I’ll show you.”

She took Ansel’s hand and led her out past Rosalind through the door, but they didn’t emerge into the hall. They were somewhere else, in another world entirely. A world in which reality seemed to morph and change around them. There were others there, too. Anna and Rosa, some fat guy like the babies she had seen crying at the dinner party, and a couple of people who she didn’t recognize. Ansel didn’t know what to do. She tried to turn and run but the Scientist grabbed her by the rucksack, trying to stop her. After a short tug of war and a tussle, Ansel’s bag fell to the ground between them and the tent that Rosalind had given her opened up inside, expanding until the rucksack burst, pushing the Scientist deeper into the patchwork nonsense world they had stepped into and Ansel in the opposite direction, back into the office they had come from, where she landed, stunned, at Rosalind’s feet.

“What the fuck was that?” Rosalind demanded, rushing to the door which wouldn’t open now. “Where’d you go?”

“I— I don’t know. There were people” What had she seen? It couldn’t have been real. Who was that girl among them?

The door finally opened, but only to the hall. Rosalind burst out through it then back in again. “She’s gone,” she said. “The Scientist. Come on. I need your help.”

Rosalind ran out toward the elevator and Ansel was left stammering, “I— I don’t— I—” before she forced herself to stand up and follow.

#     #     #

< LXI. Chelsea     [Table of Contents]     LXIII. Mr. Walker >

There it is, dear readers. Ansel’s next chapter. Only one more left in this novel, but if you can’t wait until next Saturday, go ahead and pick up a copy of this one, and all of them in the Infinite Limits series, through this link. Thanks again for following along this far. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 61: Chelsea

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to chapter 61 of the four book Infinite Limits series. Today we see the world through Chelsea’s point of view as she’s been forcefully reunited with her husband, Tom, leaving their son home alone in the grips of the Captain. Chelsea will do anything to protect her son, now read on to find out if she can convince Tom to do the same.

Thanks for joining us, readers, and if you’d like to read the last two chapters in this, book three of the Infinite Limits saga, Dividing by Ø, then go ahead and pick up a full copy of the novel through this link–and maybe leave a review if you’ve got the time. Either way, thanks again for joining us, readers, and enjoy.

< LX. Roo     [Table of Contents]     LXII. Ansel >

LXI. Chelsea

The alarm that morning must have been the most grating, terrible sound that Chelsea had ever heard in her entire life. It didn’t sound any different than it did on any other day of the week—she had been woken up by the same alarm since she had joined the Academy—but still, the noise was worse than ever with the weight of what she was expected to do that day bearing down on her.

She took her time getting out of bed, enjoying the warmth of the comforter and the solitude of her bedroom. Finally, she knew who she was. She was a protector and she was ready to put right the wrongs which had been allowed to exist in the worlds for too long. That was what was best for Jonah. It was the only thing she could do.

When she eventually did get out of bed, she filled out all her paperwork in her bedroom, eschewing the bathroom and a shower—one day without wouldn’t be too bad—because she wasn’t ready to face Tom just yet. Her hair pulled into a ponytail, her protector’s suit on, and her helmet lodged up under her arm, Chelsea took a deep breath in preparation and opened her bedroom door.

She let all the air out in one loud breath when she saw that Tom wasn’t even there. He must have gone ahead to the meeting without her. Hopefully so. She didn’t need him to be late. The Captain would probably end up making her pay for that, too.

Chelsea’s stomach grumbled on the way to the elevator. She was hungry, sure, but that would have to wait along with her shower. The mission came first, and if assassination was on the plate, she already knew what her reaction would be and an empty stomach was for the best. She stepped onto the elevator, said, “Captain’s office.” not knowing where else to go—she didn’t need the locker room becauses she was avoiding Tom—and the floor fell out from underneath her.

She held her breath and counted her heartbeats as the elevator moved. Twenty beats, a good indication she was calm and ready for what was to come. The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and Chelsea’s heart skipped a beat, speeding up. There was Tom, standing in the hall, in full uniform except for his helmet which was tucked up underneath his armpit.

She must have registered her surprise—and hopefully only the surprise and not also the disgust which had seemed to build up over night with all her time alone to imagine what dangers exactly it was that Tom had put her Jonah into—because his voice was already defensive, if not his words, as he said, “Uh, hey.”  kicking dust like a scolded child. “I thought you’d be in the locker room. I tried to clear out so I wouldn’t bother you.”

“Oh, yeah?” Chelsea shrugged. What did he want, a medal of honor for being able to discern her obvious feelings for once in a lifetime? “I hadn’t noticed.”

“So, about last night… Well—”

“Just forget about it,” Chelsea cut him off. Now was not the time to be arguing again. Now was the time to be cool and collected and ready for a mission. Why couldn’t Tom understand that? “We should be going in,” she said, trying to pass him, but Tom stopped her.

“No, wait,” he said, and Chelsea jerked her arm out of his grip. “I’m sorry, I—”

“No!” Chelsea snapped, losing her temper despite her every effort to control it before such an important mission. “Not now, Tom. You lost your opportunity to explain yourself when you put our son in danger—and on multiple occasions at that. No—Stop! Listen to me. Let me finish. Now we’re going to get in there and do whatever the Captain asks us to do no matter how much you object. And—I’m not finished. Just shut up for a minute. And we’re going to do it all while keeping the fact that the safety of our son, Tom, the safety of our Jonah is on the line and we cannot forget that. I’ll do anything to protect him, okay. It doesn’t matter what the Captain asks me to do, I’m going to do it for Jonah. You got that?”

Tom nodded. “Of course. I would, too. But—”

No buts. We just do it. Anything she says, Tom. Now come on.” Chelsea stormed past him, toward the Captain’s office. She knocked twice on the door then burst through it without waiting for an answer and groaned when the Captain wasn’t there. She heard Tom come in behind her and blurted out, “I told you not to—” before she blushed, slapping her hand to her mouth, and said, “Oh, uh, Captain, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I— I thought you were—”

Can it,” the Captain said, brushing Chelsea off and marching around to sit in the chair behind the desk. “There’s no time, Pardy. I’ve got much more important shit to take care of. So please, let’s just get this over with. Sit down. Both of you.”

Uh, yes, sir,” Chelsea said, ticking off a salute and taking one of the low seats in front of the Captain’s desk, thankful not to have to explain herself.

Tom took the seat next to Chelsea and the Captain got straight to business. “So I gave you some generalities about your mission yesterday, but no specifics. Mostly because we didn’t have them. But now we do, and I’ll tell you, there’s not a lot of subtlety to this one. We’ll be sending you straight to your targets. That’s it.”

Tom fidgeted in his seat and Chelsea swallowed some spit.

“Tom, you’ve been there before, but not like this. The world’s become a much different place since you were a protector last, and you may not recognize as much as you expect to, but you should have no trouble recognizing your targets. They haven’t changed. I assure you of that. Chelsea, you studied the maps in bootcamp—or whatever facsimile thereof they’re giving you new recruits with as fast as we’re pulling you in these days—but you can fill in the holes of what Tom remembers and ensure y’all get to the right place.”

“Yes, sir,” Chelsea nodded.

“Anything else, sir?” Tom asked.

“Not really, Pardys. I’m afraid you won’t have much support out there beyond the normal patrolling officers, and they’ll, by necessity, be stationed as far away from your position as possible when we send you over there. It’s just you two, your guns, and the entire Force that’s counting on you—despite the fact that none of them actually know you’re even on this mission.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Chelsea said, saluting. “We won’t let you down, sir.”

“I hope not,” the Captain said, standing and saluting back. “Now get out of my sight. I have other business to tend to.”

Even Tom got the message on that one and scurried out close behind Chelsea.

“Did she say where we’re supposed to be going?” Tom asked, trying to keep up with Chelsea who was hurrying to the elevator. She wanted to get this done with as soon as possible.

“She said you’re supposed to know the place.” Chelsea shrugged. “It’ll come up in our viewports. Come on.”

They got on the elevator and the doors slid closed. Chelsea waited but the thing didn’t move and no directions came up in her mask’s viewport. She was starting to get a little nervous.

“Well…” Tom said, nervous himself from the sound of it.

“Well, you know the place, don’t you?” Chelsea snapped. Did she have to do all the thinking? “Take us there.”

“Oh—I guess… Well, Outland Six Sector F, then,” Tom said and the elevator fell into motion.

When it stopped and the doors slid open, Chelsea stepped out but Tom didn’t follow. “Well,” Chelsea said. “C’mon. This is the place, isn’t it?”

“I—uh… I don’t know,” Tom said, stepping out of the elevator and surveying the buildings all around them. “This— It didn’t look like this before.”

Chelsea scoffed. “Of course not. You do recall that the walls between Five and Six were destroyed, don’t you? It did happen on your watch. Seems like something I’d remember.”

Tom ignored her, still staring at the new world in awe. “No, but… This used to be a long strip of green surrounded by buildings. Now it’s just a patch. Where’d it all go?”

“You really have no idea how the worlds work, do you?” Chelsea chuckled. “That’s how the walls function, Tom. This is the world now. Just show me where to go so we can get this over with.”

“Why are you so eager?” Tom asked, finally breaking his eyes away from the towering buildings that surrounded them to address her. “Why do you want to do this?”

“I want to protect our son,” Chelsea said with a sigh. “We’ve been over this so many times already. Just leave it at that for now and let’s do what we came here to do: protect Jonah.”

“It’s almost like you—like you’re looking forward to killing them,” Tom said, breaking eye contact again but this time to stare at his feet.

Chelsea swallowed the spit that had gathered in her throat. She shook her head slowly, trying not to show any emotion. “I’m doing what’s best for our son,” she said in the steadiest voice she could muster. “I’m doing what you should have been doing all along, what you should be doing now. So please. Let’s go.”

Tom bowed his head and shuffled down the sidewalk, hopefully in the direction of their targets. Chelsea followed close behind, observing her surroundings and noticing that there was no one in the streets, no one anywhere, it seemed. Her school lessons had taught her that Six was packed to the brim and overflowing with criminals, hooligans, and harlots—the real scum of the earth—and she wondered where they were all hiding. Probably under a rock somewhere where they belonged.

After a few blocks of walking it was starting to seem like Tom didn’t actually know where he was going at all. That or he was taking her off course for a reason, trying to protect his trash friends. Probably the former, though. Chelsea saw a lot more ignorance in Tom than malice, and she still held some small hope that he would do what was best for Jonah in the long run.

“Wasn’t there a closer elevator?” Chelsea asked when the walking had grown to be too much and they still weren’t where they were supposed to be.

“I don’t know,” Tom said, turning to Chelsea and looking genuinely concerned. “I mean, no. This was the closest elevator before the walls came down, but I’m a little lost now.”

Great.” Chelsea scoffed. “Perfect. Now what?” She was on the verge of calling back on her radio when Tom gasped.

“Wait a second. Wait.” He pulled Chelsea by the arm to hide in an alley. “That’s it,” he said, poking his head around the corner of the building.

“Are you sure?” Chelsea asked, moving him aside so she could look. “Let me see.” She poked her head around, too, but didn’t know what she was looking for so all she saw was more of the same buildings and streets they had been passing already. “Which one?” she asked.

“A few buildings down. Right in front of that patch of grass,” Tom said and she could tell the one he was talking about. “That’s the one for sure. It was in a different place the last time I was here, but that is the one.”

“You’re sure?” Chelsea asked him again, looking into his eyes. “Jonah can’t afford any mistakes.”

“I’m sure.” Tom nodded. “Though I’m still not sure how you want to go about this.”

Chelsea thought about it for a second. The Captain hadn’t been specific. Chelsea had assumed they would just go in and get the job done then get out. How hard could it really be in Six? But maybe Tom was right this time. Maybe a little more finesse was in order. “Did you have anything in mind?” she asked him, because she sure didn’t.

“Well…” Tom didn’t look very sure of what he was about to say. “The Captain chose me because I already know the targets, right. Maybe she thinks they’ll just let me in.”

Chelsea scoffed. “Do you think so?”

“Well not like this, obviously,” Tom said, taking off his helmet and vest. “Come on. You, too, if you’re coming in with me. They don’t trust protectors.”

Chelsea scoffed again. “Well, we are here to kill them. I mean, you don’t think they’ll be able to tell? I thought they already knew you, anyway. They know you’re a protector.”

“So?” Tom said, down to his undershirt and cargo pants. “They don’t know you. And we don’t need to rub it in their face, anyway. And say we come to someone else before we find our targets? They might not recognize me, and what do you think they’d do if they saw a protector?”

“Try to kill us,” Chelsea said. “Exactly why we should keep our armor on. I’m not taking mine off.”

Tom chuckled. “C’mon,” he said. “These people are tiny. You’ve never seen them before. They’ll be no match for the two of us. I’m leaving my gun, too, but you can bring yours if you want to.”

Tom.” Chelsea scoffed. “This is ridiculous. You don’t have to be tall or strong to shoot someone. You’re not listening to me. We’re here to get something done and we can’t do it without our guns.”

“Well I’m not taking mine with me,” Tom said, tossing it onto the pile with the rest of his uniform. “You can do whatever you want to.” He looked at her like she was going to take off her armor and throw her weapon down, too, and when she picked his gun up to strap it over her back instead, he let out a big sigh. “Fine. Whatever. C’mon. Follow me.”

They snuck, hugging their backs to the wall, from the alley to the doorway despite the sheer emptiness of the entire world. Tom crossed to the other side of the door and made the hand signal that indicated he was going to kick it in. Chelsea held up a finger, stopping him just before he did, and tried the handle—which, of course, was unlocked. She pushed the door open with a grin on her face, then got serious again and pointed her gun up and down the entrance hallway. When she saw it was all clear, she waved for Tom to follow her.

While Chelsea snuck from wall to wall, hall to hall, in perfect reconnaissance procedure, Tom didn’t even try to hide or protect himself at all. Chelsea was getting the feeling that he might not be as dedicated to Jonah’s safety as he claimed to be. She cleared a big conference room, kitchen, and office, leaving only one closed door left in the place, when she finally spoke.

“What the fuck are you doing, Tom?”

“Searching the premises.” He shrugged. “It looks like no one’s home.”

Chelsea’s hands started to tremble and her palms slicked up. If she wasn’t wearing gloves, she might have dropped her gun, but instead, she raised it, aiming the barrel at Tom despite her brain’s confusion as to exactly why. “You’re not taking this seriously at all,” her mouth said. Why was it being so harsh on him? “This is our son’s life at stake, Tom. Jonah’s life. And you’re willing to throw it all away?”

“Woah, now. Settle down,” Tom said, raising his hands in defense. Chelsea was glad she had her helmet on so he couldn’t see the disgust she couldn’t keep off her face. “I’m not the bad guy here. No need to point that thing at me.”

Chelsea held the gun steady, still pointing it at him. “Aren’t you, though, Tom? You’re the one who said you’d do anything so you didn’t have to kill someone else. Is that what you’re doing now? Sabotaging the mission? Putting our son in danger for your own selfish desires?”

“No.” Tom chuckled nervously, hands trembling in the air now. “Of course not. I— I wouldn’t… Jonah would— The Captain—”

“Now your tune changes.” Chelsea laughed and she didn’t know why. She felt like she was losing control of herself. She couldn’t stop. “Now that you see the gun pointing at your head it means something to you, but when you can’t see it and it’s pointing at our son’s head this is all a game.”

“No, I—”

“It’s not a game, Tom. I’m not playing it anymore.” She shook her head, her arms trembling and grip on the gun loosening. “You can take this mission seriously, or I’ll—”

Bang.

The front door of the house swung open and in pointed five or six guns.

Pow.

Chelsea’s trigger finger slipped. Her arm recoiled. Tom made his puppy dog eyes one last time before, gripping his stomach, he fell to his knees.

Pow pow pow.

Shots rang out from the pile of guns in the doorway, whizzing past Chelsea and setting her feet into motion. She dove into the kitchen, back braced against the counter, her only protection, and shots still rang.

No. She shook her head, blinking tears away as the shots still fired over and around her. No, no, no. Not like this. Not my Tom. Not by—

Crack crack.

Their aim was getting better. Their guns were more powerful than the standard Sixer fare, too. Those were probably the same terrorists who had attacked the precinct. They were firing the protectors’ own guns at Chelsea. Her inherited instinct and training kicked in. She knew what she had to do.

Pop pop pop.

She jumped up from behind the counter like a protector in a box and dropped three of the five bodies with three well placed shots. Her kill count was steadily rising, and the more she did it the more she wanted to.

Pop pop.

Two more shooters dead with two more shots, and Chelsea plopped back down, hidden behind the counter despite the room being empty of anything living but her. She was getting better at this killing thing, she told herself over and over, trying to get her heartbeat under control. Maybe she would make a good protector after all.

Her heart rate calmed and most of the adrenaline absorbed into her body, Chelsea stood on shaky legs, using what was left of the counter as a balance, to survey the room. By the looks of the tattered mass of splinters that the counter she had been using for cover had become, a few more seconds of indecision on her part and she’d be just another body dying in that room. She shook her head. Thank Amaru she wasn’t.

There were six lifeless bodies on the blood-stained floor, but only one that Chelsea crossed to kneel by. His whole undershirt was puddled with blood all up under his limp arm and on his stomach while his face was twisted into a grotesque smile, as if he welcomed the fate that had finally come to him. Chelsea didn’t want to throw up this time, but she did want to cry, and cry she did until her tears were dried up.

She stood and surveyed the room again only to find the same six bodies and all dead thanks to her. Had she done the right thing? Of course not when it came to Tom, but tha—that was an accident.

That was an accident. That was an accident. That was an accident.

The more she repeated it to herself the more she believed it was true. She was pointing the gun at him, yes, but she never would have pulled the trigger if that pile of trash didn’t storm in with their guns blazing. She had never meant to hurt him, her Tom. Of course she didn’t. She was simply trying to get his attention, to make him take this mission seriously, and it worked. It worked until…

What had she done? What was she to do next?

She couldn’t just stand there and wait for someone else to come. Another troop of Sixers would be on their way soon, no doubt, and then there’d be an even larger mass of bodies to explain. No, she had to get out of there and fast. But she couldn’t just leave Tom’s body behind. Not after she had…

She had to call for backup. It was her only option. Even if it took the local patrol forever to get there. She ran back to the alley to strap Tom’s vest back on him and lay his helmet by his side then make the call.

“Emergency line open,” she said, finding it surprisingly easy to keep her voice steady. “This is Officer Pardy reporting a four three nine in progress. We have an Officer down in Sector F of Outland Six. Send medical unit and backup as soon as possible. Over.”

“Loud and clear, Officer Pardy,” a voice replied over the headphones in her helmet. “Repeat. That’s a four three nine in progress?”

“Affirmative. I repeat, we have a four three nine in progres. Send backup immediately. Over.”

“The closest Officers are on their way. Over and out.”

The comm link shut off with a barely perceptible blip and Chelsea let out a sigh of frustration. Maybe Tom wasn’t so incompetent after all. Maybe the entire Force and the rest of the worlds beside that were just as ignorant, naive, and incapable. She had seen enough idiots getting ahead in the Force to think that stupidity was the norm rather than an anomaly.

What those protectors might have thought when they first saw Chelsea, standing over a mass of lifeless bodies, staring through the blood-stained vinyl at a universe far away and only accessible to her, she may never know. If they were less trained in reacting to violence or more loving of the scum that inhabited World Six, those Officers might have seen her as a crazed murderous psychopath, bent on admiring the ghastly product of her horrible profession. These two protectors, though—Officers and rookies though they were—had been through a particular upbringing, the same one Chelsea had gone through as a kid. Violence was a part and parcel of life in Outland One. Surviving violence and inflicting it on those who would inflict it on you before they had the chance to displayed the epitome of prowess. Murdering Sixers made one venerable, put one’s picture in the school books next to the mythological heroes of society, recorded your biography so generations yet to be born could read it forevermore. These protectors saw not a psychopath in Chelsea, but a heroic protector, doing her duty in the defense of property, liberty, and life, and she would no doubt go down in history for avenging the death of her husband on duty.

Hands patted her back. There were still only two other officers there, but it seemed like so many more. They asked her how it felt to finally get to destroy some of the scum from Six. They congratulated her on her kills. They apologized for her loss, even if it was an honorable loss, even if Tom had found the perfect way for a protector to die. And she?

She smiled and nodded, playing along with the other protectors. She told them it was exhilarating to finally take justice into her own hands, exciting to dispense it to those who so direly needed their fair share. She thanked them, assuring them that this was not the end of her kill list, that she would do her best and damndest—excuse the word in such a heat of excitement—to dish out the same justice to all Sixer trash. She nodded, letting a single tear fall from her eye, and agreed with them that this was indeed the best way for a protector to die, as a martyr for property, liberty, and life. She only worried about how to tell her son.

Then there were more of them. Protectors flooded the room. Chelsea was lost in a sea of them. How long she had been reminiscing and congratulating herself with the other two she didn’t know, but she was glad it was finally over. It was all over now. No more mission to Scumland to kill scumbags. No more of Tom’s exploits to endanger Jonah. No more of Tom at all.

Her control over herself was breaking and she was on the verge of bursting into tears when a gloved hand grasped her by the shoulder and turned her to stare into a masked and mustachioed face. “Officer Pardy,” the Captain said in a modulated voice, hiding any emotion underneath those blinking neon teeth. “To my office. Now. I’ll meet you there.”

“But, sir—” Chelsea started.

“Now!”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Chelsea said, ticking off a salute in automatic response to the volume of the Captain’s voice—even modulated she could hear it. “Right away, sir.” She marched out, bumping shoulders with the crowd of protectors left in her wake, and stood at attention until the elevator doors closed, cutting her off again from the rest of the world.

The elevator ride was infinite. The solitude was welcome and it elicited a sobbing, sloppy, teary-eyed scene which Chelsea was glad no other human witnessed. She enveloped herself in the cold misery of a life alone, responsible for the life of another. She was out of Hell into a new one, out of the pit and into the frying pan, and yet somehow she managed to bottle it all up inside again by the time the elevator stopped and the doors reopened.

The hall was empty, thank Amaru, and there was no one to question her about what she had done—what she had done. She found solitude in the Captain’s office, too—staring out the wall sized window onto the snowy mountain scene—but she didn’t let her sadness overtake her this time. She maintained control of herself. The Captain could walk in at any moment and Chelsea didn’t need her to see what only the elevator had witnessed.

When the Captain did walk in, a single tear had broken through Chelsea’s defenses. She wiped it away as she turned to salute, and the Captain didn’t even acknowledge the salute—much less the tear, to Chelsea’s relief.

“Fucking shit, Pardy. Fuck—king—shit,” the Captain said, throwing her helmet at the wall and plopping into her desk chair. “What do I have to do?” she yelled out the still closed window at no one.

Chelsea didn’t say a word. She didn’t want to make things worse. The Captain was obviously pissed at what Chelsea had done, and with good reason, too. They had lost an officer in the line of duty on an operation that was supposed to be hush hush. Chelsea was responsible for that and her punishment would no doubt be severe. Hopefully a little less so for the fact that she knew not to defend her heinous failures.

“You have no idea what’s going on out there, Pardy,” the Captain said, turning in her chair to look into Chelsea’s eyes. “Do you?”

“I—uh… No, sir.” Chelsea shook her head. She really didn’t, and now was not the time to pretend like she did.

The Captain grinned, nodding her head slowly. The way her teeth reflected as white as the walls and the snow on the mountain outside seemed to want to impose some meaning on Chelsea but she didn’t know what it was. “Pardy, you’re a good Officer. I hope you know that. That’s why I hate for this to happen to someone such as yourself.”

Chelsea braced herself. Here it came, her punishment for killing Tom and starting the shootout. Even if the Captain never found out it was actually Chelsea who had killed Tom and not the trash that died with him, this was karma taking its due. “I understand, sir,” Chelsea said. “You do what you have to do. As did I.”

The Captain broke into laughter. “I do— Wait— Ho ho ho. Me, Pardy? What did I do besides send you on an impossible mission?”

“I— What, sir? I meant your punishment, sir.”

“Punishment?” The Captain was really laughing now. “Ho ho ho. Pardy. Now— Pardy— Ho ho ho. Punishment for what?”

“Well, for my failed mission, sir. Tom—er—Officer Pardy, sir… He’s dead. I killed— I killed all those Sixers. I—”

Oh ho ho! You kill me, Pardy. Sorry for the ill timed figure of speech, but there’s no better way to say it. What do you think this is, huh? So you killed some Sixers? So what? They had guns, Pardy. You performed your duty and eliminated the threat. The only one who failed is Pardy Two for dying, but how could we punish a dead man? Ho ho ho!”

Chelsea gritted her teeth. Even though it was her who had pulled the trigger that ended Tom’s life—an accident she reminded herself—she didn’t like the flippant manner with which the Captain was treating his demise. Who was she, even as a Captain, to put such little value on Chelsea’s husband’s life?

“If anything, we’ll be giving you a medal of honor, Pardy,” the Captain went on. “And we’ll be giving Pardy Two a posthumous one at that. No, you’ve done well for yourself—and for your son, whose future is looking brighter than ever. But that’s not what I asked you here for.”

Chelsea was speechless. This couldn’t be happening. She wasn’t even sure if they had killed the right Sixers, Tom was gone forever, and more than anything, she had a deep sense that the mission was an abject failure. There was no way in this world—or any of them for that matter—that she should be getting praise for what was probably a fireable offence.

“Although there was one little snag in your performance,” the Captain said.

Chelsea scoffed, as if Tom’s death wasn’t snag enough.

“You didn’t get the targets I tasked you with specifically. Though you did manage to take out most of their closest staff. So we got that going for us. Which is nice.”

“I—uh. I don’t understand.”

“Your targets weren’t there, Pardy. You know, the people you were supposed to kill.”

“O—or apprehend, sir.”

The Captain chuckled. “Sure, Pardy. But we see the choice you made, don’t we? Ha ha ho!”

Chelsea didn’t know what to say. She had failed and failed and failed, and the Captain didn’t care one bit.

“No, Pardy, but that’s not what we’re here about. I admire your decision. It was the correct one, the profitable one, and if you stick with me, you’ll see some of those profits. But only if you stick with me.”

“I—sir…” Chelsea didn’t understand. Any of it. She felt worse now for doing what she had done than she had felt when she was actually doing it. Why? What was different? “But Tom— I didn’t get the targets— I—”

“You did your best, Pardy. You did what you could and what you had to do. There’s no question about that. From anyone. You did good well, and I want to ensure that you’re in a position to do it even better in the future. Are you feeling me? It’s a war out there, Pardy. A big one. We’re tight on bodies here in the Force, and you’ve shown us that you have what it takes. So what do you say?”

“I—uh—” Chelsea’s lips stuck together as she tried to speak. Her palms should have been slick but they seemed to dry and crack. The whole world was evaporating around her. “I don’t know, sir. I don’t understand.”

“I’m offering you a promotion, Pardy. I’m offering you a team under your command under my command. I’m offering you the ensured safety of your career here and your Jonah at home. I’m offering you the world on a platinum platter. So, Officer Pardy, what do you say?”

What could she say? “Sir, yes, sir.”

#     #     #

< LX. Roo     [Table of Contents]     LXII. Ansel >

And there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Come back next week for the next chapter or pick up a full copy of this novel and the previous two in the series through this link. Either way, have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 60: Roo

Hello, dear readers, and welcome back to the Infnite Limits saga. Today we join Roo for her third and final point of view chapter in book three of four, Dividing by Ø. Roo has been given a choice between joining Rosa and Anna in their work, joining the Scientist in hers, or continuing down the independent path Roo has been travelling all her life.

Read on right here to find out what she decides, and if you’d like to finish the entire novel right now, don’t forget to pick up a copy in print or ebook formats through this link. That’s enough talking for today, though, folks. Enjoy your read.

< LIX. Anna     [Table of Contents]     LXI. Chelsea >

LX. Roo

All Roo wanted to do was bend, but life kept getting in the way.

First of all, she would have been happy in her closet—er—secret lair, though it was hard to keep calling it that after she had seen what other benders were working with, but she would have been happy there, bending one path at a time, hacking into the system from the outside, if it weren’t for Anna and the Scientist. Anna had shown Roo the true art of bending. She set the bar for what one person with limited equipment could possibly accomplish by themselves. While the Scientist, on the other hand, had bending down to a science. Instead of the warm creativity of a gut feeling, the Scientist relied on cold hard data fed through intricate algorithms until it was gobbledy-gook that only robots could understand. Both methods offered their unique benefits and drawbacks. Going Anna’s way, Roo could remain the free, independent outsider she had relished being for so long now, while going the Scientist’s way meant she could command control of a wider sweeping stretch of the universe than she ever even knew existed. It was an almost impossible decision to make, made actually impossible for the moment thanks to point number two, which was that, second of all, Roo still had to go to school.

“You can’t be serious,” she complained to her mom when she had finally got home from being with the Scientist. Though she hadn’t agreed to anything yet, Roo still took the system out for a test drive and she didn’t leave the Scientist’s lab until early in the morning. Roo would still be there bending, too, if the Scientist hadn’t forced her to leave and go make her decision. Well how was she supposed to decide anything now with stupid school getting in her way? “It’s just one day, Mom,” Roo begged. “Please. I haven’t taken a sick day in weeks.”

“That’s because you haven’t been sick for weeks,” her mom said, shaking her head. “And you’re not sick now. So, no. You’re going to school and that’s final.” She handed Roo her backpack.

“But, Mom, I—”

No buts. You can make your decision—or play your bending game—or whatever it is you’re so eager to do after class. Now go on. You don’t want to be late.”

“But—”

Go.”

Roo heaved a big sigh as she grabbed her bag and strapped it on her back. “Fine,” she said. “Whatever.” And she stomped out of the house, towards her secret lair rather than towards school despite her mom’s demands. Roo never should have asked for the day off in the first place. It was always easier to ask for forgiveness than it was to ask for permission, anyway.

She was walking by instinct, giving no thought to the path she had traveled so many times before, trying to find some way to decide between the art and the science of bending, when she ran into Mike—literally—and tumbled to the ground in a heap with him.

“Oh—uh—I’m sorry,” he said, standing to help her up. “Oh, Roo! It’s you. Just the jumpie I was looking for.”

“I’m not a jumpie,” Roo groaned, wiping the dirt off her pants.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Mike rolled his eyes. “But I just had to find you, okay. You’re never gonna believe what happened after you left.”

Roo scoffed. “I wouldn’t really call what happened to me leaving. It was more like I was kidnapped.”

“Oh, yeah,” Mike said. “I guess you can call it that. Where’d you end up going anyway?

Roo gritted her teeth. She kind of wanted to punch this annoying kid in the face. He was just another in a long line of distractions that were trying to prevent her from deciding her future. “Do you really care?” she asked.

“What? Yeah, of course I do.” Mike almost looked offended. “You’re my friend. Especially after you—well—at least you tried to help me find my mom.”

“Tried? What do you mean tried? We did find her. Anna said—”

Mike shook his head. Roo was afraid he was going to cry for a second—she had no idea how to comfort sad people and didn’t have time to learn—but he quickly snapped out of it and half smiled. “No, well, Anna was protecting us. Her and my mom both were. And, technically, you did help me find her, though there was no her left to be found.”

Roo held her hand to her mouth. “You mean…” she said.

Mike nodded. He made a motion like a knife slitting his throat so he didn’t have to say the words, and Roo wasn’t sure which would have been worse. She noticed her jaw was open—and probably had been for some time—then forced it closed only to fail at opening it again to spit out words.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Mike said after Roo had tried to talk and failed at it for long enough to be embarrassed. “You know, it’s kind of for the better, actually. I know, I know, it would obviously be better if she weren’t dead, but at least I know who she really was now.”

“Who was she?” Roo asked, happy her vocal chords were able to sound at least three short words.

Not a jumpie,” Mike said, stomping a foot as if he were crushing the idea of it like a bug. “She wasn’t addicted to anything. She was protecting us. You saw what those people were capable of.”

“What who was capable of?”

“Oh, well, you know. The people who took you or whatever, for starters. And the one’s who killed my mom, right? Especially them.”

“But who killed your mom, Mike?” Roo was getting worried. Mike’s ideas didn’t seem to connect. It was like he was reciting taught information that he didn’t quite understand yet. “I never saw them.”

“Well, no. Me neither.” He shook his head, looking more confused than ever. “But Anna did. She told me it was the protectors, or whatever. That’s who Mom was protecting us from.”

Of course. Anna and the Human Family were behind this. No wonder it was like arguing with a student instead of a master. “The protectors?” Roo asked. “That’s why your mother left you all those times? To protect you from the protectors?”

Mike nodded emphatically, like he was trying to convince himself, too. “That’s right. She was fighting to keep us safe. All of us humans. You, too.”

Right.” Roo nodded, not really believing the kid’s story but not wanting to burst his bubble about his dead mom either. “So who’s supposed to take care of your brothers now? Just you?”

“No.” Mike scoffed. “Ugh. I couldn’t handle that. As a matter of fact, for the first time ever, I won’t have to. I’m free, Roo. I’m finally free to live my own life.”

“But who if not you?” Roo asked, dreading the answer.

The Family. That’s who. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Anna and Rosa said I—said we could come live with them. Isn’t that awesome?”

“You’re going to live with Anna?”

“And Rosa.” Mike nodded. “She’s not supposed to be that cranky all the time, by the way.”

“And all because they told you that your mom was working with them? Because they told you that she was fighting to protect their Human Family, or whatever.”

Exactly,” Mike said, smiling. “So now the Human Family is going to take care of us. Isn’t it great?”

“And the Scientist already knew about Anna and her capabilities a long time ago. She wasn’t afraid at all, otherwise she would have done something about them.”

“The what? What are you talking about now?”

“There has to be some connection between the two, some reason the Scientist continues to let Anna’s transport system exist. Some thing is holding those two together, and I’m going to figure out what it is.”

“What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

“You said they were letting you live at their house, right? Or the Home, or whatever. Did they give you a room yet?”

“Oh my God, yes. You wouldn’t believe it. I get my own bed, okay, my own desk, my own toy box. I don’t have to share any of it. It’s insane.”

“You know, I’d really like to see it,” Roo said, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him toward the Family Home. “How about we skip class and go take a tour instead?”

“I—but—” Mike complained, pretending to fight but not really trying to stop her from taking him wherever she wanted to go—no one ever really wanted to go to school. “What if the teacher get’s mad at…”

The Family Home was a few blocks away. They made quick time of it as soon as Mike stopped pretending to want to go to class and carried his own weight. When they got to the block the building was on Roo pulled Mike into the shadow of an alley.

“So you have your keys, right?” she asked him.

“Oh, it’s never locked.” Mike chuckled. “The doors to the Family Home are always open to any human in need,” he recited as if he were mocking someone’s voice—probably Rosa’s or Anna’s.

“So is anyone gonna be there?” Roo asked.

“Yeah, prolly. I don’t know.” He shrugged. “What’s it matter, anyway? I live here now.”

“But Anna, is she going to be there?”

I don’t know. Why do you care? We’re just going to see my room. I’m allowed to have friends over.”

“Alright, alright,” Rosa said, turning him around to face the house and patting him on the back to calm him. “Settle down now, cowboy. I was just asking. Let’s go see it already.”

“Wait,” Mike said, stopping and turning back around to her. “I’m not as stupid as you think I am, you know. Just because I don’t know about the fourth dimension—or whatever—and just because I don’t know about jumping and all that doesn’t mean I was born yesterday. You got that?”

“Woah, now,” Roo said, waving her hands in mock defense. “I don’t think you’re stupid.”

Mike scoffed. “You sure treat me like it.”

Roo felt a little ashamed. He was right about that, but she wasn’t ready to admit it. It wasn’t that she thought he was stupid, per se, just that he wasn’t as smart as she was. No one was. So if she thought he was stupid, she thought everyone everywhere was stupid, and Mike really had no reason to complain anyway because he wasn’t unique in that aspect. “I don’t think you’re stupid,” she repeated trying to placate him. “I’m sorry if I made you feel that way. So, please, can we go see your room now?”

“Then prove it,” Mike said, crossing his arms. “Tell me what you really want to do here. I know you’re not interested in seeing my bedroom.”

“I—well…” There was no hiding it now. She would just have to convince him to go along with her plan—or at the very least not to spoil it. “I did have a little something else in mind. Yes.” She nodded.

“Well…” Mike tapped his feet.

“Well, I just wanted to get another look at Anna’s transport system, you know,” Roo said, unable to think of a lie even if she wanted to tell one. “Her consoles are more intricate than anything I’ve ever seen, and I thought I might find some inspiration for the design of my own secret lair.”

Mike scoffed. “Your janitor’s closet?” he said. “You’ll never be able to—”

Roo slapped him on the arm. “My secret lair needs work, I know, but that’s why I want to look at Anna’s. She’s bending the walls without even being tapped directly into them, and I want to know how she does it. It’s almost like she’s creating her own walls right there in her basement.”

Mike scoffed, shaking his head. “That’s just a bunch of jumpie jargon,” he said. “It means nothing to me. You know, maybe I shouldn’t let you in after all. I don’t want to ruin a good thing for myself on the first day of living here. C’mon. Let’s go back to class.” He took a few steps in that direction but stopped when he saw that Roo wasn’t following.

“Never call me a jumpie again,” she said. “I’m a bender.”

Fine,” Mike said. “Then it was bender jargon. There’s no difference. You’re addicted, and I’m not going to enable you. Now c’mon. We’re already late for class.”

“I’m not your mother,” Roo said.

Mike scoffed. “Leave her out of this. She wasn’t a jumpie. Anna told me the truth about her.”

“Lies. Anna told you lies and she’s gonna keep telling them to you to keep you in her stupid family. It’s a trap, Mike, and now’s the time to get out while you still can.”

“You’re wrong.” Mike looked like he was going to cry again. Roo felt a little bad that she had to talk about his late mother like that, but it was too late for pity. Pity would only put him in further danger. “My mom believed in the Family, too,” he said. “She gave her life for it.”

“She gave her life for Anna’s benefit and the benefit of her cranky partner. No one else. Not you, not your brothers, not some mythological Family which doesn’t even exist. She was trapped just like you are, and if you don’t get out now, you’ll end up dead just like your mom.”

“Fuck you, jumpie!” Mike was crying now, and spitting while he screamed, “I never should have come to you for help in the first place. You’re toxic! You can find your own fucking way in. I’m leaving.” He stomped away toward school, whether he was going there or not.

Roo stood in the alley, shaking her head in silence. She hated to piss Mike off like that—on some level—but he needed to see the truth despite his denials of its verifiability. Hopefully he’d wake up to it before the trap was sprung—that is if it hadn’t been sprung already.

She turned to face the family home, that central hub of evil with its tendrils emanating through all four dimensions. Her mission would be more difficult without the bedroom tour as cover, but if anyone questioned her as to why she was there, she could just say that she was looking for Mike, was he home? She watched the door from her alley corner for some time—no one entering or leaving—before she cautiously slunk over and extended a trembling hand to the door knob.

She took a deep breath, opened the door to an empty entryway, and blew all the air out of her lungs in a too loud huff. Grinning at her luck, she made her way to the basement door and pulled it open to reveal stairs she didn’t recognize. Climbing down them she found stacks of supplies rather than the transporter system she was sure was there before.

Ugh.” She groaned as she climbed back up the stairs. This had to be the place. She knew it was. She closed the door and scanned the still empty—thank God—halls but her reconnaissance only proved to her that she had gone in the right door. She opened it again and ran down to groan at the empty supply room before running back upstairs and slamming the door closed behind her.

She huffed, leaning her back on the stupid door. What did this all mean? This was the door, the transport system was supposed to be down there, what was she to do now?

The door tried to open behind her, but by reflex, she braced against it, shutting it tight. She only had a split second to decide what to do next and ended up diving into an office instead of the kitchen. The door swung open again and out came Anna and her cranky partner who was complaining loudly.

“I can’t believe that stupid door got stuck again. I can’t take it anymore.”

“It was probably just someone going to the supply closet,” Anna said, her voice moving toward the kitchen—thank God. “You can’t have two doors in the same place like that at not expect to get some crossover.”

“Yeah, whatever,” her cranky partner said as Roo dove into the basement door they had just come out of right before it closed.

The stairs were different now. They were the stairs Roo recognized. She climbed down them to find the two consoles and six transporter rings she had been looking for. It was now or never.

She only booted up one of the consoles. Two would be too many to control and more to shut off if someone found her out. She got distracted playing with the thing for a while before she remembered where she was and what she was there for, then she started searching through the console’s recent history.

A lot of it was random. Another lot of it directed at the protector’s world where the Family must have been doing some type of thing. Then there was the anomaly. It was a place that had been searched often but never visited. It seemed more like it was being surveilled. Roo zoomed in on that spot and there weren’t a lot of paths in or out, maybe two or three: printing, disposal, and a single entrance—a single entrance for now.

Roo’s hands flew over the console’s touchscreen, levers, and keys. The universe unravelled before her. A path opened up and she put it into place. Soon the transport ring was humming and she knew someone would hear the sound, but whoever it was would be too late. The secret was found out. She stepped through the door just as it fwipped closed behind her, silencing the voices that were calling for her to stop as they ran down into the family’s basement.

She was in a giant office now. The carpet was red and soft, and there were paintings of big fat people dressed up in black and white costumes all over the walls. Behind a gargantuan desk sat a flabby fat man who was wearing the same costume as the people in the paintings. At Roo’s appearance, he coughed and choked on something from the huge pile of food he was eating in front of him. It reminded Roo of the scene she had seen from above when lines of similarly clothed fatties ate from similarly giant piles of food. She was disgusted and wanted leave already, but she stood her ground despite that.

“Who—Ho ho—” The big fat man in black and white said through his coughing. “Who are you? Wh—What are you doing here?”

“Who are you?” Roo demanded, walking straight up to his desk, which was too high so she had to push a chair close to it and jump up to be seen.

“I am Lord Walker, master of everything you see and have ever seen,” he said, sweeping his hands in a grand gesture over the vast desk. “I demand to know who intrudes on my private time.”

“How do you know Anna?” Roo asked, ignoring his demands.

“The Sixer? She’s Rosa’s partner. I’d be rid of your Anna if I could, though.”

Roo nodded. “So you do know them, then.”

Enough.” Lord Walker slammed a fat fist on the desk and the sound of it rang in Roo’s ears. “Who are you? I demand to know.”

“And the Scientist? You know her, too. Don’t you?” Roo went on.

The fat man scoffed. “That’s about enough,” he said. “Haley! Come get this child out of here. How did it even get in here in the first place?”

Wait.” Roo had to think fast. “Wait, wait. I’m just kidding, okay. I—”

“Who are you?” the fat man demanded. “Stop toying with me. Are you—ooooohhh—of course, you’re the director I’ve been talking to. Is that it? Aronostly is it? I didn’t expect anyone so… So…”

“Stop right there,” Roo said, about to pee herself she was so nervous but continuing her show of confidence nonetheless. “Just tell me, why are you working with Anna?”

“That’s exactly what I asked you here for, old boy. I’m working on a movie with her. She’s hired a director, but he’s not living up to my standards. I need someone with more vision. Someone like you. I’ve got a big project for you, now. Bigger than anything you’ve ever worked on. What do you say?”

Roo didn’t have anything to say. She didn’t really know what she had gotten herself into or how she was supposed to get out of it.

A door opened somewhere behind her. In walked a woman who was wearing black and white, too, but her costume was a short, lacy skirt with no top hat. She strutted up to the side of the desk, between Roo and Lord Walker, and curtsied. “Yes, Lord,” she said in a quiet voice.

“Why didn’t you tell me our guest had arrived?” he chided her. “We need refreshments, dear. I’ll take an old-fashioned and our guest will have…”

“Guest, sir?” the woman looked confusedly at Roo.

“What would you like?” the fat man asked her. “Any drink you can think of, we have it.”

“Oh—uh…” What was she supposed to say? “I’ll have a milk, please.”

“Milk?” the fat man said, a strange look on his face. Roo’s body wanted to run away at the sight of it, but before it could, the fat man started laughing. “Ho ho ho. You heard the man. Milk it is. A real old fashioned drink, that one. Ho ho ho!”

“Yes, sir.” The woman curtsied and left through the only door in the room.

“So,” the fat man said. “Your milk’s coming. Ho ho ho. And you’ve heard my offer. Now tell me, what do you think?”

“I, uh— Well, sir… I’m still not entirely sure what it is you’re offering,” Roo stalled.

“A job, my boy. Ho ho ho! You’re not truly so dense are you? No, of course not. I’ve seen your body of work. I know better. You’re just pulling my leg, aren’t you? This is an act. Ho ho ho. Good one, my boy. You Threes never quit entertaining, do you?”

Roo groaned, hoping the gesture wasn’t audible, but what was this fatso going on about? Directors and movies had nothing to do with Anna and her transport system for as far as Roo could tell, while this Lord Walker, whoever he was, kept going on about some sort of job. He thought that Roo was someone else, someone who could probably still walk into the office at any minute and blow her cover, so she’d have to get what little information she could out of the fat man as fast as she could then get out of there soon after—if she could even find an escape when the time came.

The door opened behind her and Roo almost jumped out of her seat at the sound of it. Luckily it wasn’t the director she was impersonating but the servant woman in the short skirt with their drinks. She set a brownish liquid in front of Lord Walker and a tall glass of milk in front of Roo.

“Is that all, sir?” she asked with a curtsy.

Lord Walker downed his drink in one loud gulp. “I’ll have another of these,” he said, slamming the empty glass on the desk with a loud clang. “What about you, old boy? Do you need anything else?”

Roo shook her head. She didn’t even want the milk she already had, but she took a sip of it anyway so she didn’t have to speak.

“Then just the old fashioned, dear. Move along.” He waved the woman out of the room and she left with a curtsy.

“What do you think of that one, eh?” Lord Walker asked, winking at Roo and pointing at the door the woman had just left through. “Legs that go on for miles, if you know what I mean. Ho ho ho!”

Roo nodded and laughed even though she had no idea what he meant.

“Yeah, I know you do, old boy,” Lord Walker said in a conspiratorial tone. “I saw you oogling her.”

Roo blushed. “I—”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker slammed a fat fist on the desk. “No need to worry, my boy. You’ve done nothing wrong. I won’t chastise you. She’s nothing more than an object, after all—another one of my possessions. She’s meant to be looked at, designed to like it even. She likes you looking at her, boy, and I do, too, so go right ahead and do it. Ho ho ho!”

Roo nodded and smiled. She had met boys who thought the same about girls before, but never one who thought that she was a boy, too, and as such, revealed to her what was truly on his mind. No matter how much she disagreed with it, though, she had to play along or blow her cover. She needed to get out of there sooner than ever.

Oh ho ho!” Lord Walker went on. “I know, my boy. It leaves you speechless, doesn’t it? All that concentrated beauty in one single package, and all at my beck and call. I snap my fingers and she’s there. My stomach grumbles and she’s already making me breakfast. Time to take my pants off and she’s by my side.” He winked and Roo almost choked on the milk she was sipping. “Oh you ol’ sport.” Lord Walker grinned. “You heard that right. She’s next to my bed, under it, or in it, however I require. Ho ho ho!”

The conversation had already gone too far and Lord Walker just kept taking it further. Roo had to say something to put an end to it, but what?

Uh—Right, sir—er—Lord.” Roo smiled, trying her hardest not to look as disgusted as she felt. “But I’m not sure what this has to do with me or the job you’re offering.”

Ho ho ho,” Lord Walker chuckled. “Don’t play sly with me now. You know good and well what I’m getting at. I’m sure you have fantasies of your own, the perfect woman lifted from the best attributes of characters in the movies you’ve made. Well, my boy, it’s not just a fantasy anymore. I can make all your dreams come true, no matter how depraved they might be.” Lord Walker grinned and winked his monocled eye.

Roo couldn’t take it anymore. She wanted to gag, or to spit out some insult and run away, but she choked down both urges. “And if my fantasies can’t be fulfilled with a woman?” she asked. “What then?”

Ho ho ho! Really, my boy? I know things are different in Three, but I never took you for the type. And yes, we have men, too, if that better suits your desire. Ho ho ho.”

No,” Roo snapped. “I mean, no, sir—uh—Lord, sir,” she went on more calmly. “What if no slave at all could fulfill my desires, man or woman?”

“I take offense to that term, slave,” Lord Walker huffed. “She’s no more a slave to me than your camera is to you, or the elevator you rode in on is to anyone else. She’s a robot, not a human. She can’t be a slave.”

A robot? That was impossible. Something so lifelike couldn’t be anything but human. Lord Walker was just making excuses for his abhorrent behavior. He was a sexist pig—almost literally a pig at his size—of a slave master, and Roo had seen enough. As if on cue, the woman—who was clearly a human after looking at her again—came back in and put another drink in front of Lord Walker with a curtsy.

“There you are, sir,” she said with a smile—a human smile. “Can I get you anything else?”

“No, sweetheart. Not right now,” Lord Walker said, shooing her away. “We’re trying to have a conversation here. Be gone.”

“Actually, sir,” Roo said before the woman could curtsy and leave. “It’s a little embarrassing, but I could really use the bathroom right now.” She did a little dance in her seat like she really had to go.

Lord Walker looked shocked for a moment, like Roo had started speaking a foreign language all of a sudden. “The bathroo— Oh. Of course. Ho ho ho.” He slammed his ham fist on the desk with his bellowing laughter. “The restroom. I thought you meant to take a bath. I wasn’t going to say anything about your stench, but I didn’t think you needed to go so far as request a bath mid meeting. Ho ho ho!”

“Yes, well…” Roo said, still dancing and actually getting an urge to pee as she pretended to have one. “Do you mind?”

Oh ho ho! Of course not, sport. Forgive me. With these pants I never think twice about it, you know. Ho ho ho. You heard the man, Haley, dear. Show him to the restroom, please. Ho ho ho!”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Haley curtsied and turned to Roo. “Follow me, please, sir.”

Roo scooped up her backpack and followed Haley out of the door and into a long hall. Roo kept going toward the metal doors at the other end of the hall, but after after Haley had closed the wooden door they had just left, she called Roo back. “This way, please, sir.”

“Oh,” Roo said, crossing back. “I’m sorry, I thought—”

“Yes, sir. We only use the one door here, though. So if you’ll please.” She opened the door and instead of the office there was the biggest bathroom Roo had ever seen, with too many toilets and just as many gold plated sinks. “I’ll be out here to escort you back to the office when you’re done.”

“Oh—uh, thanks,” Roo said, stepping into the bathroom as Haley closed the door behind her.

Roo dropped her bag on the ceramic tile and rushed over to vomit in the toilet. She didn’t know if it was all the adrenaline from almost being caught or the disgusting combination of Lord Walker’s sloppy face and creepy words, but she had to get everything inside of her out. After she had eradicated it all from her body—including her mouth by washing it with water from the faucet a few times—she sat on the toilet to take the pee she had faked needing and figure a way out of this Hell hole.

She could just try to finish the meeting then leave like she was always supposed to be there, but that came with plenty of risks. First, she’d have to sit through more conversation with the disgusting Lord Walker. Second, the person who she was impersonating could walk in at any minute—then she’d really be screwed. And third, when she did get to leave, there would be no telling where they would send her. Three, by the sound of it, almost certainly wasn’t the world she wanted to go to, her world, home. So that was pretty much out of the question.

What else was there, though? She could burst out of the door and make a break for it. But that Haley would be outside waiting, and even if Roo could get past her, she wouldn’t know how to use the crazy doors they have which obviously relied on some advanced automatic remote bending system of some kind that Roo had never seen the likes of—except maybe at the Scientist’s lab.

Which brought her back to the real crux of the situation, back to the problem that was eating at her mind even more than her need to escape the rat trap she was caught in, the fact that her future, her entire universe even, was being controlled by three old fogies she had never met before in her life. Anna had her transport system, capable of forming new walls in remote locations and run by the most competent bender Roo had ever witnessed, Anna herself. Lord Walker here had his magic doors and elevators, and no doubt countless other secret control systems hidden away in his labyrinth of pompous, fat, sexist slave mongering. And the Scientist had the most technologically advanced four dimensional bending system possible with the current standards of technology. All three of them were stuck in their old fashioned ways, all three had too much control over Roo’s universe, and all three lacked one vital attribute which alone could save them from collapsing in on themselves: foresight.

Roo finished, flushed, and washed her hands then set to pulling her handheld transporter console out of her backpack. The bathroom door had to be connected to the walls, it was the only way it could work the way it did, opening onto different rooms like that. She looked around for something hard, found a plunger under the sink, and used the wooden end to bust open the drywall next to the door jamb. She worried at first about the noise but gave in and smashed without reserve. Hopefully Haley was worlds away, not just on the other side of the drywall.

Behind the filthy white wall she found exactly what she needed, a mash of multicolored wires almost teeming with electricity. She ripped one out, careful not to shock herself—not that she hadn’t felt that pain a million times before already—and jacked her portable console in. In the next second it was on and she fell deep into the fourth dimension. Every one of them were going to come face to face and admit what they had done, admit what they had colluded to keep alive, Anna, Lord Walker, the Scientist, and anyone else who stood in Roo’s way. It was time for them all to see that their grip on the universe was slipping and the era of a new generation of bender was dawning.

 

#     #     #

< LIX. Anna     [Table of Contents]     LXI. Chelsea >

And there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Only three more to go in Dividing by Ø and then it’ll soon be time for the fourth and final book in the series. I hope you’re as excited to read the finale as I am to share it. Either way, have a great weekend, and please do think about picking up a copy of or leaving a review for any book in the series right through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 59: Anna

Hello, dear readers, and welcome back for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today we rejoin Anna for her third and final point of view chapter in Dividing by Ø. She’s just find out what kind of bending feats the Scientist is capable of, and now she has to come up with a way to fight back, save Roo, and help poor little Mike find his missing mom all at the same time.

Enjoy the story, and if you do, please do think about leaving a review for this one and all the novels in the series through this link. Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone.

< LVIII. Laura     [Table of Contents]     LX. Roo >

LIX. Anna

That was her. That was the Scientist who had told Rosa that she was watching the Family. She had enough power to steal Rosa en route through the fields, and she had enough power to hack into Anna’s pathways, bending them to the Scientist’s own will. It had to have been her. Anna knew it. But what was she supposed to do about it?

“What the fuck was that?” the little boy who had come looking for his mom said, cowering at the foot of the stairs where he had been sitting when the doors opened and the monstrous mechanical arm came storming in to snatch the little girl away and disappear with her. “Wh—Where’s Roo?”

“Roo?” Anna shook her head. Who was Roo? She couldn’t think of anything but the Scientist’s cold grip on the universe, her power to bend and shape it, not only to her own will but against Anna’s.

“Um… Miss, uh…ma’am,” the boy squeaked in a cracking, trembling voice that was ready to break down into full on sobs at any second. Anna almost felt a tear in her eye at the sound of it. “Where’s my mom?” the boy asked, crying now. “I want to go home.”

And Anna’s tears came, too. She couldn’t stop them. The universe, and bending, and the Scientist’s control over every aspect of every tiny detail of every single human’s life evaporated from her mind. Anna had lost sight of what truly mattered. She had forgone Family and Home for power and influence, and now she was on the verge of forgetting this little boy who was standing in front of her—this little boy whose name she couldn’t even recall, only driving Anna to further tears—this little boy who had just lost his best friend in their search for his missing mother, and all he was asking for was to go home.

“Oh, child, no,” Anna said, still weeping as she moved to embrace the boy who backed away, crab crawling up a few stairs, before giving in to her hug and sobbing in rhythm with Anna’s sobs, comforted in the knowledge of being unjudged. “You are Home,” Anna went on in a soft voice. “I’m your Mother now. One of them at least. You can call me Anna.” She soon controlled her own tears and comforted the boy until he stopped weeping himself.

“W—What happened?” the boy asked, done sobbing now but still wiping tears from his eyes.

“Someone kidnapped your friend,” Anna said, patting him on the back. “Did you say her name was Roo?”

The boy nodded, looking like he could break down into tears again at any moment. “Who would do that?”

“I think I know the answer to your question, and I have a way to find out for sure. I might even be able to get your friend back. But first we need to take care of you.”

The boy shook his head, eyes welling up with tears again. “No, but— Roo, she…”

“No buts,” Anna said, standing from the stairs and pulling the boy up with her. “You look hungry. I know you just ate, but wouldn’t some dessert sound perfect?”

The boy grinned a little despite the tears still tumbling from his eyes and the rush of red blood still flushing his face. “I like ice cream,” he said. “Though Mom never buys it.”

“Of course,” Anna said, leading him upstairs to a seat at the bar in the kitchen. “That’s why you were here in the first place, wasn’t it? You were searching for your mother. What was her name again?”

“Melody Singer,” the boy said, climbing up into the stool to cross his arms and lay them on the counter. “Chocolate, please.”

Hmmm. Melody Singer,” Anna said, searching the freezer for ice cream—Rosa usually liked to keep a little around when they could find it, and she had stocked up with the printers in use. “And your name is?”

“Mike, ma’am,” the boy said with a grin. “Mike Singer. What’s yours?”

“Anna Chandelier,” Anna said, plopping a bucket of ice cream, chocolate—Rosa’s favorite, too—on the counter between them. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mike.”

The boy laughed and sniffled, wiping a big glob of snot onto his sleeve. “And you, ma’am.” He grabbed the spoon and swallowed a scoop of ice cream that looked too big to fit in his mouth.

“I only wish we could have met under better conditions,” Anna said, still standing across the bar from the boy and watching the poor child as he ate, taking each heaping spoonful straight out of the bucket. His mother was Melody Singer. She was one of the bodies who had been taken by the scum protectors, probably to be desecrated for kicks. This little boy had been through so much Hell already and it was only looking to get worse for him. Anna pitied the boy’s tiny face as he teared up again, sobbing through a big bite of ice cream because he somehow knew what Anna was about to say.

“Better conditions?” the boy asked, his trembling lips sending slops of chocolate ice cream all of the counter. “Y—You mean, my mother. She’s not at home, is she?”

Anna grabbed a towel to wipe up the mess then hurried around the counter to comfort the sobbing boy. “She was an honorable woman, your mother,” Anna said, because it was true. “She died fighting to give you a better life.”

Dead?” The boy dropped his spoon now, creating another mess which Anna ignored in order to pull him up out of the stool and into a hug. “She can’t be!” he demanded, as he fought against her, crying in anger and pain.

“No, no, no. Shhhhh. It’s okay.” Anna patted his back and rocked him like a baby, reassuring him until he settled to the occasional sob and a trickle of tears—not to mention a lot of sniffling. “She was a good woman, your mother. She was doing what she thought was best for you. She was doing what was in your best interests. She deserves our respect for that much, for everything she did for you and the Human Family in general. She was a good woman.”

Hah.” The boy scoffed, gaining enough composure finally to wriggle away from Anna and stand up, wiping the tears from his eyes and sniffling. “Yeah, right. We must be talking about different people then. Maybe my mom isn’t dead after all.”

Anna’s heart broke just a little bit at the sound of this little boy’s beautiful, tragic hope. She shook her head, fighting to hold back more tears of her own. “I wish that were true,” she forced through them.

“It is!” the boy yelled, stomping a foot. “That’s not my mom! My mom wasn’t honorable. She was an addict jumpie who forgot about her kids because she needed to… Oh my God.” The boy crumpled to his knees on the kitchen floor, bawling again. “My— What am—I— My brothers—” And his day became worse than Anna had already imagined it to be.

“W—We’ll take care of your brothers,” she said, only barely controlling her own sobs and having more trouble the more she tried to speak. “And you. But you can’t talk about your mother like that. She loved her Family.”

“You know nothing about our family!” the boy screamed. “You didn’t even know I had brothers! You’re the reason my mom’s dead. Why would I trust you to take care of us?” He looked around as if he were searching for an escape.

“Because I am your family, dear. Me and Rosa are the Family your mom’s been coming to help. She’s no jumpie.” Though she also never mentioned having any kids, but Anna wasn’t about to tell the boy that. “She was helping us, helping build a better world for you and your brothers to live in.”

The boy scoffed. “You’re a jumpie. Of course you wouldn’t admit that she was. You’re a jumpie, my mom who you got killed was, and Roo who you got kidnapped was. Now I’m getting out of here before you try to turn me into one, too, and something equally as bad happens to me.” He made for a door but it went to the office, deeper into the Family Home instead of out of it.

Anna followed him, blocking the doorway so he couldn’t escape. “I’m not a jumpie,” she said. “And neither was your mom. I’m telling you. Why won’t you listen to me?”

“Listen to you?” the boy said, still searching for an escape that Anna wasn’t going to give to him. “I am listening, but you aren’t saying anything. You keep talking about some family I’ve never even heard of, acting like it’s my family, too, when you didn’t even know I had brothers. You don’t even know their names. You probably don’t even remember my name, either, and I just told you.”

Anna tried to go back in her mind to when he had introduced himself but his name still wouldn’t come to her. Her mind was still filled with the problem of the Scientist and where she took that girl to. The only name Anna could think of was the boy’s last name so she said that. “Singer.”

“Yeah,” the boy urged her on. “That’s the easy part. What’s my first name?” He waited for an answer but Anna just couldn’t think of one. “Exactly my point,” he said. “You don’t know the rest. You don’t know me at all. I’m not who you think I am and you better let me go.” He rushed at her, trying to push through her arms to the other side of the door, and he did in a way, but only inasmuch as he and Anna fell in a tangle to the ground, both struggling to their feet and ending up in the position they had begun in, the boy searching for some way out of the office and Anna blocking his every exit.

“Hold on, hold on, now. Wait a second,” Anna said, breathing heavily. The fall and ensuing struggle had taken more out of her than she’d care to acknowledge. It made her feel so old next to this tiny young thing who would never give up fighting by the looks of him. “You’re right. Okay. You’re right. Settle down.”

The boy stopped searching for an escape for just a moment, taken aback by this admission of ignorance from so old and decayed a woman as Anna herself. Anna took his momentary lapse as a point of entry and continued her speech.

“I’ve come too far and lost my way,” she said. “But I was pushed here, Lord. I was pushed here. And you…” She paused, shaking her head and letting one tear fall from her eye, just one. “Yes, dear child of the one true Family, you are correct when you say that I know nothing about you and your maternal brothers. You are correct when you say that I have lost sight of your names. But child, sweet, innocent, pure, and living human child, you are wrong about why I have lost that sight.”

The boy made to speak but the weight of Anna’s words, and her heavy eyes staring, kept him quiet.

“You, sweet child, say that I do not care about you, that I am not your real family,” Anna went on in his silence. “You think I forgot your name because I don’t care to remember it. I say, no. No! Your face is forever in my memory after this day. Your love is forever in my heart. Your infinite potential as a free and autonomous human being is forever in my mind. But forgive me your name. Please. Name’s pile up with the years. There are too many countless whose flames have gone extinguished and whose light we must continue to reflect in order to keep them alive. Your mother: Melody Singer. Who died protecting you and your brothers from evils she hoped you would never have to face. Yujin Moon and Isha Tender, two of our Family members who died on the same day as your mother and in the same manner. The countless brothers and sisters taken from our lives on the day the protectors invaded our homes and murdered our Family for sharing our food with one another. Do you want me to list the names? I can: Billy Serkin, Rwanda Driver, Audrey Baker, John Ryder, Jason Garifo, Treyvon Baker, Aneesha Holmes. I can go on and on and on, but I won’t. I assume you get the picture. Names upon names upon names of people I personally knew and cared for. My Family. Our Family, yours and mine. And all dead for what?”

The boy just shook his head, tears all dry by now. “How am I supposed to know?” he asked. “You tell me.”

“All for you, precious child. All for you and your brothers. Your mother hid you from us because it was the only way she could hide you from the truth of the worlds, but the truth of the worlds took her so now there’s nothing left but reality from here on out. You are still a child, though. You’re vulnerable. I mean, I’m sure you could take care of yourself if it was only you who you had to worry about, but you have your brothers, too.”

“Ron and Bob.” The boy shook his head.

“You have Ron and Bob to worry about,” Anna said, sensing the boy’s interest intensify at the mere mention of solid names he recognized and could grasp onto. “You would never dream of leaving them to fend for themselves, they’re too young.”

The boy was still shaking his head. “Never,” he said. “They’re my brothers. I’m the oldest now so I’m the one who has to take responsibility for them. That’s how it works.”

Anna didn’t know whether to chuckle or to cry. The boy looked so earnest in what he said, and he probably truly believed it—and that was probably how the worlds should work—but he was oh so wrong. It was never the oldest, the humans who had been there the longest, giving them the most time to make a mess of things, who paid for all the fun and foley the Family inevitably fell into. No, it was always the youth, the next generation, the ones who had nothing do with anything, who only inherited a mess that no one could teach them how to handle because no one knew how to handle it in the first place, it was always the youngest and most vulnerable who faced the ultimate consequences of all the sins of every human who came before them.

“That is how it should go, my son,” Anna said, kind of chuckling and tearing up at the same time. “And that’s how it will go in the future that we’re building. But you’re not the oldest, you hear me? You’re too young to be taking on that much responsibility. One life is too many for you to take care of, not to mention three. No. I told you. You’re a part of the Family now. You always have been, even when we didn’t know you existed. Your mother was a dear good friend of mine, and I swear on her grave and the grave of my own mother that I’ll do everything in my power—which is a lot if you’ll excuse a momentary lapse of humbleness—to ensure that you and your brothers will have everything you need to continue your life as usual, if not more than that.”

The boy scoffed. “What?” he asked. “Like two moms?”

Anna had to suppress a grin. He had played into her hand so perfectly. “On the face of it,” she said, “yes. You will have two moms directly in myself and my partner Rosa—that is if you would like to stay here, we have more room than ever and more than enough to accommodate you—but even more than that, you’ll be gaining every single mother in the Human Family. Your mother was one of us when—God rest her soul—she was still alive, and now you will meet and be loved by the rest of us.”

“I don’t know.” The boy shook his head. “I don’t know. How do I trust you?”

“How do you trust anyone? Why did you trust your mother?”

The boy laughed. “She was always there for me. She’s my mom. Why wouldn’t I?”

“I thought you said she forgot about you and your brothers.”

“Yeah, well…” The boy was looking bashful now. “Not really, you know. Like she always came back just in time or whatever. You know. I mean, we’re still alive aren’t we?”

“You are.” Anna smiled. “More alive than ever. And your mother did everything she could to keep you that way, including working with us and making connections in the Human Family. It was her insurance. I know you don’t know what insurance is, but that’s what it was. She was making sure you and your brothers would be protected in case anything ever happened to her.”

“No, but…” The boy was fighting two sides of a lose lose battle in his head. The cognitive dissonance was visible on his face. “I don’t even know you. She would have told us something about you if she wanted this, anything.”

“She was protecting you, son. Not from us, but from everything we’re fighting against. But now, I’m afraid, the fight has come to your doorstep and you’re left only with two options. You can give up and run away, try to make it on your own protecting your two brothers by yourself, or you can join the Family that’s waiting for you, choose the option that’s best for yourself, and more importantly, choose the option that’s best for your brothers.”

“No, but…” He shook his head.

“But what? Where else do you have to go?”

He looked like he was going to burst again. This time, though, not into tears, into something else entirely, something which Anna couldn’t predict, only wait to unfold. “But—”

The front doors burst open instead, and Anna could hear it even though it was a few rooms away. Feet stomped from the door, through the conference room and kitchen, until they were stomping up behind Anna who turned to see Rosa as pissed as she had ever been. “Anna! Anna!” she called as she stormed through the Home. “You’ll never believe what the—” She stopped in her tracks when she saw the kid, still trying to decide what his future would be. “Who’s this?”

“Oh, I…” Anna said, glancing between them.

“Mike,” the boy said, saving Anna from the embarrassment of still not remembering. “Mike Singer, newest member of the Family—apparently.”

“Mike Singer?” Rosa said.

Mike,” Anna said, embracing him. “Really?”

“You said so yourself,” he said, squirming away a little but not trying too hard. “I can’t take care of my brothers myself, can I? I need a family. I need you.”

“Yes, yes, oh yes,” Anna said, kissing him on the head then turning to Rosa. “Did you hear that, Rosa dear? You’ll never believe it. We have three new children.”

Great,” Rosa said, rolling her eyes. Obviously the meeting about the movie didn’t go too well or else she would be in a better mood. “Just what we need. some kids running around the House with all the new guns we have.”

“Guns?” Mike said, wide eyed and excited by the prospect.

“I told you I didn’t want them in the House,” Anna said. She had forgotten about that little discussion in her need to overpower the Scientist, but now that she remembered it, she would have to be sure to take extra precautionary measures in storing the armory away so the kids couldn’t get to it.

“And I told you we had no other choice,” Rosa said. “We’ve talked about this already and I don’t have time to go over it again. Any arguments?” She shot a look at the kid which Anna thought didn’t bode well for the future of their growing nuclear family. “No? Then if you’ll excuse me,” she stepped between them into the office and gently showed them out, “I have some planning to get underway and there’s no time to waste. Good day.” And she slammed the door behind her.

“Shit,” Mike said, holding a hand to his mouth as if Anna would chastise him for using the word. “I mean, she was cranky.”

“You must forgive her,” Anna said, showing Mike back to the kitchen. “It’s been a rough day on her—a rough few weeks, as a matter of fact. She’s not always like this, though. I promise that, cross my heart. She’ll warm up to you and your brothers. You’ll see.”

“Um, yeah. About that,” Mike said, playing with the hem of his shirt. “So does that mean we’re supposed to move in here or what? We wouldn’t be able to stay in our own place, would we?”

“Oh, no.” Anna shook her head. “I’m afraid that’s impossible. There’s no telling what would happen when the owners of the apartment found you boys living there without paying rent, but I can tell you for sure that, whatever it is, it won’t be good. No, you’re going to have to go get your brothers right now and pack all your things up then come back here where we can set you up with a room of your own.”

“I get my own bed, though, right?” Mike asked, holding up a finger as if his question were a demand and this conversation some kind of negotiation. “I’m not sharing again after I only just got my own. Waking up in a puddle of pee every night is no way to live.”

“Of course, dear. Each of you can have your own bed. Bunk beds, as a matter of fact. Three stacked on top of each other. You hurry up and get your brothers, then I’ll show you.”

“Bunk beds?” Mike said, excited, scurrying for the front door now that he knew which it was. “I call top!” he said and he slammed the door behind him, off to bring two other new children back into the Family. Oh how it continued to grow.

Anna groaned. All she wanted to do was get back on the consoles to hunt the Scientist and the missing girl, but she knew she had to see what was bothering Rosa first—problems with the execution of her precious movie, no doubt. Anna had tried to tell her that Threes couldn’t be trusted, their entire profession was lying, but Rosa insisted that they needed professionals to do the job if they wanted it done right.

Rosa was sitting behind her desk, scribbling in one of the many notebooks that were strewn all around the office, when Anna entered. Rosa didn’t look up at the sound of the door opening or closing, or even at the feel of Anna’s hands massaging her too tense shoulders. She only looked up when the thought in her head was all out on the paper, and then she did it with a sigh. “You won’t believe what I just went through,” she said, shaking her head and getting into the massage now. Finally her muscles started to loosen. “Though it sounds like you’ve had an adventure of your own today.”

Anna chuckled, shaking her head though Rosa couldn’t see the gesture. “Besides the three kids we just adopted,” Rosa groaned, “another one was kidnapped right out of our basement.”

“Out of our basement?” Rosa asked, turning to look at Anna. “How? By who?”

“The Scientist,” Anna said, crossing around to take a seat on the other side of the desk so Rosa wouldn’t have to crane her already tense neck. “And some giant robot arm. I’m pretty sure I can find where she took the girl to, though—and get us there, which might be even harder.”

“Great.” Rosa sighed. “Just what we need on top of everything we’re already facing.”

“So how’d your meeting go, then?” Anna asked, trying to change the subject even though she could already predict the answer to her own question based on Rosa’s mood.

“Horrible. Terrible. No good. Very bad. Worse than I could have imagined. Worse still because of our dear Lord Walker’s involvement. I’m not sure we can rely on this project to spread our message at all anymore. It may be time to abort the mission entirely and start over at a more opportune time.”

“That bad, huh?” There weren’t likely to be any more opportune times than this one. Now was the moment they had been waiting their entire lives for.

“Worse. They’re not following the script we agreed on.”

“I told you we shouldn’t have given them their equipment until after they shot the movie for us.”

“But then they couldn’t have shot the movie at all.” Rosa sighed. “We had no choice.”

“So how different can it be, though?” Anna asked. “Can’t we just make them change it back?”

“Too different.” Rosa scoffed. “It’s still anti-robot, but that’s only half the message—the less important half, at that. All mention of the Family and its supreme importance: Whoosh.” She made a gesture with her hands as if they were flying out the window.

“But we had an agreement.” That was worse than Anna had thought it could be. She didn’t care nearly as much about the anti-robot message as the pro-Family one. To her, that was pretty much the entire message, not just half of it. “We’ll make them change it or take back everything we’ve given them. It’s the only way we can respond.”

“Oh, I’ve thought of that already,” Rosa said, chuckling and shaking her head. “That was my first thought, in fact. But I’m afraid it’s impossible. Our great and powerful Lord Walker has taken control of things, and anything we took from those no good Threes would simply be returned to them from Lord Walker’s own stores. In the end it means nothing to any of them who they’re working for or which of our printers their equipment comes out of, they just want to work.”

Great.” No wonder Rosa was ready to scrap the project altogether. Anna would have no problem scrapping it, either, if the pro-Family message wasn’t going to be included, but, “Wouldn’t Lord Walker just continue filming without us anyway? So what’s the point in scrapping the project?”

“That’s the exact point,” Rosa said with a big smile. “We sacrifice this project because we’re not going to be able to change their minds, and they’ll still make half our message without us doing any work. This way we can direct our time and attention toward tactics with a higher chance of success and revisit this one if it becomes feasible again in the future.” She leaned back in her chair, satisfied with her assessment of the situation but not looking happy about it.

“And what tactics did you have in mind, exactly?”

“I’ve been waiting for you to ask just that,” Rosa said, leaning forward again and putting her arms on the desk. “I think we should leave our Lord to his play acting—never alerting him to our exit from the project, of course—while we get back to reality.”

“I wish you’d stop calling him Lord,” Anna complained, smacking her lips like she had a disgusting taste in her mouth. “It sounds so blasphemous.”

“Whatever,” Rosa said, waving her hands. “That’s not the point. He’s nothing compared to our Lord, and he has nothing to do with what I plan next, anyway.”

“Which is…” Anna said, slightly comforted by Rosa’s words.

“Which is to bring the fight to the people who deserve it the most, to bring it to the things that cause all our problems in the first place. I’ve had enough of dealing with flabby, fat tuxedoed owners and slippery, sly, lying Threes. It’s time for us to take our fate into our own hands by taking the fight to the robots’ front door.”

“The robots’ front door?” Anna scoffed. “Do you even know where that is?”

Rosa twiddled her thumbs on the desk and put on her puppy dog—I’m innocent of any evil ever—face that Anna knew all too well. “Well, darling.” Rosa smiled, a twinkle in her eye. “That’s where you come in.”

“Of course.” Anna sighed. “And do you have any idea how hard it is to do something like that? Do you know how much work it takes? The energy?”

“I know that my Nanna is the greatest four dimensional composer known to all of Humankind. I know you can do it.” She smiled wider. “I know I love you.”

Anna scoffed despite her blushing grin. “And how do you know all that when you don’t even know the work it takes?”

“Because I know my Nanna Banana,” Rosa said, coming around the desk to sit on Anna’s lap and kiss her all over her face. “She can do anything in that fourth dimension of hers. She’s the Queen of it, master and commander.” Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss. “You are, though, aren’t you? You can do it,” Rosa said, standing and going around to massage Anna’s back. “You can do it.”

Anna groaned in pleasure as her muscles gave way to Rosa’s touch. “Well, yes,” she said. “That is,” she added, correcting herself so as to not sound too pretentious. “I think I can find your robots for you—not that I think I’m the Queen of the Fourth Dimension, or whatever you called me.”

Rosa laughed. “I call ‘em like I see ‘em.” She retook her seat behind the desk. “So you really think you can find them?”

“Yes.” Anna nodded. “I do. On two conditions.”

“Go ahead.” Rosa smiled.

“One: You have to come down there in the basement with me while I do it so you can see just how much work it takes. Maybe then you won’t be so willy nilly about how you throw the fourth dimension into your plans in the future.”

Rosa chuckled. “I can do that. What’s number two?”

“We talk about the kids before we do anything.”

Rosa groaned. Anna knew this would be the only way to get her to discuss the matter, though, so she pressed on. “They need us,” she said. “They need a Family, Rosa, and their mother died helping ours.”

“And why them?” Rosa asked, shrugging. “Why not one of the countless other human children across Six—and beyond—who all need the same exact thing?”

Anna hadn’t exactly thought about that. How many other Mikes were there out there? How many orphans were created on the day the protectors came storming through their streets, guns ablazing and looking for a target? Too many, Anna was sure, but they would have to wait. First she would take care of these three who were right in front of her, then she would take care of the Scientist who had created the androids and promoted the killing of her Family, then she’d take care of the rest of the needy children after all of that. “Because these three landed on our doorstep,” Anna finally said. “Because their mother was killed in our assault on the protector’s facilities and that makes us more culpable in their situation than the situations of the other orphans in Six. Because I already told the boy we’d give him and his brothers a place to stay. And because we have more than enough food and room to accommodate them with our countless transporter rings and printers.”

“Well, when you put it that way,” Rosa said, giving in. She had fought too many battles already that day to keep arguing this unwinnable one. “What about the guns?”

“I’ll keep the armory on lockdown,” Anna said. “And you’ll make sure everyone else keeps close track of theirs. In the meantime, we’ll teach the kids proper safety precautions. Everything will be fine as long as we’re not stupid about it.”

“And maybe we can get a few more little soldiers out of it.” Rosa chuckled.

Anna frowned, even if it was just a joke.

“Alright, alright. I was just kidding,” Rosa said. “Can we go find those robots now? I want to set the battle plans as soon as I can.”

“So that’s it?” Anna asked. “You agree just like that, now on to what you wanted to talk about in the first place?”

“Well, did you want me to argue further?”

“No. Of course not. But I do want you to actually consider what you’re agreeing to, Rosa. We’ll be their parents for the rest of their lives. There’s no turning our back on that responsibility once we’ve agree to bear it.”

“Which you already did,” Rosa said.

“Yeah, but—”

“So there’s nothing more to discuss until the kids actually get here, right?”

“I guess, but—”

“Then let’s do what’s best for the Family and find those robots.”

Anna cracked a smile despite her annoyance with Rosa’s flippancy. “You know, you’re lucky I want to find that Scientist so bad,” she said.

“Oh yeah?” Rosa asked, crossing her eyes. “Why’s that?”

“Because I think we’ll find her and the robots in the same place. Now come on.” Anna grabbed Rosa by the hand and led her down to the basement.

“Well, then,” Rosa said. “Demonstrate, my Queen of the Fourth Dimension.”

“Stop that,” Anna said, chuckling and slapping Rosa on the arm. “Now look. You see this?” She flipped both consoles on at once and set them into motion.

“Yeah, so?” Rosa shrugged.

“This is the solution to all your problems. Look at this.” She tapped and swiped a few times, one hand on each console, to bring up a map of all seven worlds spanning both the screens. “This is the universe as you know it.”

“I don’t see anything,” Rosa said, but Anna didn’t hear her. She wasn’t paying attention anymore. Something was going on in the fourth dimension that she had never seen before. She swiped and typed and clicked and tapped. The notes of the universe arranged themselves into patterns so complex as to be impossible. She searched for a source, expecting to find the Scientist in control of this symphony, but it came from somewhere else, somewhere familiar. Then she knew where it was.

Anna looked up from the consoles, calling, “The girl!” but even though Rosa was there to hear her, it was too late. The basement had vanished around them and they were in a new world entirely. A world like nothing Anna had ever seen before.

 

#     #     #

< LVIII. Laura     [Table of Contents]     LX. Roo >

So there ends another chapter. Anna has found someone bending space beyond what she thought possible and now she’s stuck in the new world created by said power. Read on next week to find out if Anna escapes the danger she finds herself in, or if you can’t wait that long, pick up a full copy of the novel through this link.

Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone. Now have a great weekend.

Chapter 58: Laura

Hello, dear readers. Today we rejoin Laura and crew as they work on the anti-robot propaganda film they’re making for the new alliance between the Human Family and Mr. Walker. So, to find out if Laura will ever repay her debt enough to get Mr. Walker off of her back, continue reading here for Chapter 58 in the third book of the Infinite Limits saga, Dividing by Ø. And if you just can’t wait to read the last five chapters of this one, remember that you can always pick up a full copy of the novel right through here.

< LVII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LIX. Anna >

LVIII. Laura

The assembly line ran and none other than Adam Torrence slip, snap, clicked furiously at Fortuna knows what. He was much faster than Emir—there was no doubt about that—and the post-production editing would be easier because of it. That was at least one thing made easier by this whole messed up situation.

Alice Walton came on camera to say, “No. You.” holding her trembling hands to her mouth, on the verge of crying.

Adam peeled his eyes away from the work, losing no speed on his slip, snap, clicking, and grinned a wide, evil-looking grin. He didn’t have to make a sound to elicit a deep feeling of discomfort in the audience—or in Laura, at least.

“It can’t be,” Alice went on. “What about my coworkers? What about our families?”

Adam chuckled. It’s the only word Laura could think of to describe what Adam did, but the term didn’t do the acting justice. It was more like a half chuckle, half cackle which turned out entirely spine tingling. So this was what it felt like to work with a true professional. Laura could get used to it.

“I am a robot,” Adam said, still cackling. “I don’t care.”

“No, but…”

Adam stood from the assembly line, finally stopping his slip, snap, clicking. He crossed to Alice in two long strides and grasped her by her shoulders, holding her face close to his. “I am a robot,” he repeated. “I don’t care.”

He jerked her closer and Alice leaned in to kiss him.

“Cut!” Cohen yelled. “What the fuck was that, Jen?”

Jorah—now Jorah again, no longer in character as Adam and seemingly an entirely different person because of it—pushed Jen—formerly Alice—away in disgust. “Please, people,” Jorah complained. “This is serious business. Do you think I enjoy being here with you no name nothings?”

Jen blushed. “I—I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I’ll—”

“I’ll be in my dressing room,” Jorah said, storming out. “Get this under control before I return.”

Cohen waited until the studio exit door slammed closed behind Jorah to scoff. “Or else what?” he said, chuckling to himself and looking to Jen and Laura for support, neither of whom were offering any. “He’s just an actor. I don’t care how big of a star he is, he has no power on my set.”

“He has more power than you do.” Laura scoffed.

“I’m so sorry,” Jen said, still flushed crimson. “I didn’t mean to— I don’t know what came over me.”

Cohen scoffed again. “Oh, I know what came over you.” He chuckled. “Just don’t let it happen again. Lord Walker wouldn’t want anything to happen to his Jorah. Laura’s right about that much.”

Laura scoffed again, too. It seemed like they were all doing so much scoffing ever since Jorah joined the crew. “Alright there, Cohen ol’ pal. We know how buddy buddy you and Lord Walker are now that you’ve had an all of five minute conversation with him, so why don’t you tell us exactly what it is that your Lord Walker would want?”

“I—well…” Cohen didn’t know what to say. He rubbed his thighs with probably sweaty hands and fidgeted in his uncomfortable director’s seat.

“It won’t happen again,” Jen said. “I swear.” She crossed her heart.

Laura was still laughing at Cohen’s lack of spine when Jorah returned from his dressing room. “Does everyone have their libidos under control?” he asked, standing in the door still, apparently not wanting to enter until he was sure the answer was yes.

Jen blushed, trying to sneak off set without being noticed, but Laura could still see her—and the camera always saw everything.

“Everything’s under control,” Cohen assured Jorah, moving closer to try to grab his arm and guide him on set while Jorah dodged all Cohen’s advances to walk on unassisted. “I’ve had a speaking to with the girl, like any proper director would, and she’ll be good and ready for the next take. It’ll be the best yet. I assure you of that.”

“I hope so.” Jorah scoffed, taking his place at the assembly line. “The sooner we’re done with this stupid shoot the better.”

“Alright, alright,” Cohen yelled, clapping his hands and retaking his director’s chair. “Everyone to your places,” he added, though everyone was already in their places. “Roll the line, please.”

Laura flicked a switch and the assembly line started moving. Jorah started putting pieces together automatically—even without the cameras on—and all of a sudden he turned into Adam Torrence again.

“Lights!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped another switch and the lights changed, producing a bright white halo aura around Adam’s head.

“Cameras rolling!”

Laura flipped the cameras on. She didn’t have to look through the viewfinder to know that the shot was perfect. They had already gone through this scene once before and the camera hadn’t been moved since. All she had left to do was wait and watch.

Adam Torrence slip, snap, clicked furiously at Fortuna knows what. Alice Walton came on camera, holding trembling hands to her mouth, on the verge of crying, to say, “No. You.”

Adam peeled his eyes from the line, not stopping his slip, snap, clicking. He grinned an evil grin and didn’t have to make a sound to communicate—

Laura’s pants vibrated to the horribly loud sound of her once favorite song—which after this instance, would no doubt lose that high pedestal in her mind. Jorah was pissed—made obvious by the fact that he had so quickly slipped out of Adam—Jen seemed happy that it wasn’t her making a fool of herself this time, and Cohen yelled, “What the fuck is that and why is it interrupting my perfect take?”

Laura slipped the phone out of her pocket and groaned at its glowing face—she was sure she had turned the damn thing off. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to take this.” and she answered it.

“Laura Concierge, you fucking degenerate,” Cohen said. “You hang up that goddamn phone right now.”

“What is this?” Jorah demanded, offended by another interruption.

At the same time Laura said, “Hello, Lord Walker. How can I help you?” loud enough for everyone to hear.

“You tell Lord Walker how much we appreciate his support,” Cohen added, trying to cover for himself. Jorah just nodded, keeping silent.

“How’s the shoot going?” the voice on the other end of the line asked, Lord Walker’s voice. “I’m sure Jorah’s working out for you. Am I right?”

Laura nodded then realized she was on the phone and Lord Walker couldn’t see her. “Yes, sir,” she said. “He’s right here next to me. Do you want to talk to him?” Why was he calling her anyway?

“No, no,” Lord Walker’s voice said. “Not now. No need. All I needed to say is that I’m coming to see you on the set.”

“You’re coming here?” Laura asked, more for the benefit of Cohen, Jen, and Jorah—who were all trying to eavesdrop without appearing to be listening—than because she couldn’t understand what Lord Walker had said.

A low deep groan emitted from Laura’s phone’s speaker “I’m almost as surprised as you are,” Lord Walker grumbled. “I want to be there much less than you want to have me, trust me, but it just cannot be avoided, I’m afraid. I’ve promised the writer—the real writer, that is, I knew no kook from Three could be capable of writing such a brilliant manuscript—but anyway, she wants to personally observe the progress of shooting. To dispense with the long story and finally end this tedious conversation, suffice it to say that we’ll be there shortly.”

“How shortly?” Laura asked.

Lord Walker grumbled and groaned through the phone. “I’m getting into a car now. Haley! Don’t forget my hat!”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, but Lord Walker had already hung up. “Well,” she added for the room, making extra certain that her phone was silenced before pocketing it again, “they’re on their way.”

“No shit,” Cohen snapped, hurrying here and there to adjust, re-adjust, and un-adjust every tiny detail of the set design. “We need to get this place in order.”

Jorah scoffed, plopping down onto the stool he was supposed to start the scene from.

“They?” Jen asked, fixing her appearance even though she was dressed and made up to look like a dirty assembly line worker. “There’s more than one of them?”

“I don’t know,” Laura said, following Cohen around and fixing everything he had messed up in tampering with the set. “He said he found the writer or something.”

“Guy?” Jen asked. “Where has he been anyway?”

“No, not Guy,” Laura said. “The original writer or whatever.”

Cohen stopped moving around everywhere, finally taking his clumsy hands off of Laura’s perfectly set rigs. “The original writer?” he asked, swallowing hard.

“Yeah, the investor or whatever, I guess. You’ve met them before, haven’t you?”

But Cohen didn’t have time to answer because in came Haley, wearing her black and white maid uniform and calling everyone to attention. “Hear ye, hear ye,” she sang. “Now entering is the distinguished and unique Lord Walker, treasure trove of efficiency and master of self-reliance, accompanied by honored guest, denizen of the lowest of worlds, and your writer for the present production in progress, Rosa Chandelier.” Haley curtsied.

Jorah stood from his stool and applauded, staring at the door in eager anticipation of the honored guests’ arrival. Jen blushed and tried to fix herself up one more time before joining in the applause with a demure clap of her own. Cohen seemed to try to hide behind the camera, afraid of someone more powerful than he was. And Laura just stood there waiting. She knew what to expect from Lord Walker, and she just wanted to get it on and over with.

In waddled mushroom shaped Lord Walker, flabby body folding and rolling over his tuxedo pants, in the same top hat and monocle that seemed to be a part of his body, attached to his head since birth. He was followed by one of the shortest, tiniest, frailest old ladies Laura had ever seen. Laura thought at first that she only looked so small in comparison to Lord Walker’s massive girth, but when the woman came in and stood next to anyone or anything else in the room she still looked like the world was too big for her.

Ho ho ho! I say,” Lord Walker said, holding his stomach as he laughed. “This is a rather fine set up you have here.”

The frail old lady tutted, scurrying around the room with the same haste that Cohen had exhibited earlier, investigating every tiny detail of Laura’s set.

“What do you think, Rosa dear?” Lord Walker asked her as she scurried around touching everything. “Does it live up to your standards?”

She just tutted again in answer and kept on with her tedious investigation of the set.

“And Jorah, my boy.” Lord Walker crossed to Jorah who bowed low before him.

“Ever in your service, my Lord and master,” Jorah said, kissing Lord Walker’s hands then flashing his twinkling teeth.

“Now now, my boy,” Lord Walker said, grabbing Jorah’s hand and pulling him in for an unexpected—by the look on Jorah’s face—embrace. “We’re good friends here, all of us. No need for that Lord and master bit you always find so funny. Got it?”

“I—uh—Yes, sir,” Jorah said, struggling to free himself from the too long embrace. “I mean.” Suddenly he transformed into another character entirely. “I mean, yeah, buddy. We go way back, don’t we?”

“Alright, alright.” Lord Walker finally let go of his bear like grip—if only he would do the same for the metaphorical grip he had on Laura’s life. “And you, Laura,” he said to her, as if he had read her very thoughts. “Is everything up to schedule? I’m counting on you to ensure this production gets underway in a timely manner. It’s in everyone’s best interests that you do.”

“I—uhahem,” Cohen said, coming out from behind the machinery and cameras to finally speak up for himself now that Laura was getting a little bit of attention. “I think you meant to say that to me, sir,” he said, raising a finger in the air like he were a school child who wasn’t quite sure whether or not he had the correct answer to the teacher’s question. “I’m Cohen, sir. The—uh—the director of this project.”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker laughed, turning on Cohen who shrunk back towards his safe hiding space behind the machines. “Cohen, my boy. I recognize your voice from the phone. You’re having no troubles with our new arrangement, are you? If so, speak up now or forever hold your peace. We can always find another eager young director who’s capable of handling a platinum platter when served to them. I assure you of that, dear boy. Ho ho ho!”

Cohen shook his head. “No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. No problem, sir. I am capable, sir—or—Lord. I just—”

“Good. Good. Very good, my boy.” Lord Walker turned to Laura again. “He is telling the truth, isn’t he?” he asked.

Laura glanced at Cohen, trembling in his too expensive loafers, payed for no doubt by his inheritance from a famous director in the family long since dead. Cohen got more visibly nervous at her pause—wiping his hands on his pants and pulling his collar in the universal sign language motion for “Is it hot in here?” He probably would have pissed himself if Laura had taken any longer to nod and say, “It’s been fine so far. I guess.” Then she added less confidently, “Though this visit might put us a little off schedule.”

Lord Walker grinned at her, a much better—though nonetheless grotesque with his face—reaction than she could have hoped for. “Well, dear, don’t let us get in the way,” Lord Walker said, looking around at his tiny companion. “In fact, I rather think we would like to see your work in progress. Isn’t that right, Rosa?”

Rosa scurried off set and into Lord Walker’s shadow to say, “Show us what you’ve got.”

“Well then, get on with it,” Lord Walker demanded.

Jorah jumped into his first position without hesitation. Jen took her cue from him and went to her first position, too. Only Cohen still stood dumbfounded by the presence of such a very fat—very demanding—man and his tiny friend.

“Well…” Lord Walker said, tapping his cane and urging them on.

Cohen,” Laura snapped. “You’re supposed to be a director. Direct.”

All of a sudden Cohen snapped out of his haze and jumped back into the director they all knew and hated. “Okay, okay,” he said, clapping his hands and taking his position behind Laura’s back. “Everyone to their places, please,” he called, though everyone already was. “Lights!”

Laura flicked a switch. Everything disappeared into darkness—Lord Walker and his tiny friend, judging every motion, Cohen, too proud of himself, Jen, unfixing herself for the start of the scene—except for Jorah now Adam, surrounded by a halo and slip, snap, clicking air because the belt wasn’t rolling yet.

“Cue the belts!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch and Adam’s hands, though maintaining their exact pace, picked up bits and pieced them together.

“Cameras!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch and the cameras rolled right along with the conveyor belt and Adam’s fluid motions.

Aaaaand action!”

The room held its breath. Adam slip, snap, clicked. Jen, slightly off cue and not quite Alice, entered. “No.” She gasped, holding a hand to her mouth. “Not you.”

Adam slip, snap, clicked, not paying attention to her, intent solely on his work, as a good robot could only ever be.

“But—but—” Jen stammered, having some trouble getting into it still—perhaps because of  the added pressure of their new audience. “But what about my coworkers? What about their families?”

“I am a robot,” Adam said, turning to smile at Jen. “I don’t—”

“Wait, cut!” a voice called, but it wasn’t Cohen’s. It wasn’t Lord Walker’s, either—Laura knew that voice all too well from their phone conversations. Instead it was the tiny old lady, Rosa. “Cut, cut, cut!” She waved her arms, storming out to the center of the set and blocking the cameras. “This isn’t right. Cut!”

Jen blushed, not sure whether to look to Cohen or Laura for help. “I—but—” she stammered. “Those were my lines, right? I didn’t mess them up.”

“Those might be your lines, but they’re not mine,” Rosa said, shaking her head and pacing up and down the conveyor belt. “You see, this is exactly why I requested this visit, to be sure you’re making the right movie, my movie, which by the looks of it, you’re apparently not.”

Ho ho ho, now,” Lord Walker said, jiggling and looking to Laura for confirmation. “Is this right, girl? You’re not shooting her script?”

Laura shook her head, not wanting to get involved. Whatever deal they had made was between Rosa, Cohen, and Guy. Laura had nothing to do with that part of it. “This is the script you read,” Laura said. “We’ve been using these lines since day one.”

“They’re not my lines!” Rosa stomped her tiny foot. She almost looked like a child except for her wrinkles and curly white hair. “The assembly line worker is worried about her Family, the Human Family as a whole, not about the separate individual families of her coworkers. Your line says what about their families. My line says what about our Family. Do you understand the difference?”

Um, Alice, ma’am,” Jen said, almost too quietly to be heard.

“Who?” Rosa demanded.

“The assembly line worker’s name is Alice,” Jen said, even more quietly than the first time.

“No. It isn’t.” The woman was getting angrier as she paced the line again. “The assembly line worker doesn’t have a name. She is no one and everyone at the same time. To give her a name is to humanize her. To give her a name is to compartmentalize her and separate her from the Human Family as a whole. She is not you, or me, or Sally Fae down the street, she’s all of us together as one, and to feign some fatal attempt at putting a name onto something so grand and holy as that is to defile the very reason that this film is being created in the first place.”

Two hands in applause and Lord Walker’s voice, the voice Laura so detested, came whooping and hollering as if this were a bar show. “Bravo, my dear Rosa. Bravo! I dare say you should take our incompetent Cohen’s position as director of this film, but I’m afraid you’re much too busy for such base work—if I can assume without making an ass out of us.”

Cohen’s face went white and it looked to Laura like he might pass out. Rosa smiled for a moment before going stern faced again. “If you want a job done right,” she said, “you have to give up everything else in your life so you can spend enough time to do it the right way yourself. Isn’t that what they say?”

“Oh, that might be what they say in your neck of the woods,” Lord Walker said, chuckling, “but where I come from the saying’s a little different. We say, if you want something done right, you just have to pay the right person the right price. Ho ho ho!”

“Tell me, then, Lord Walker,” Rosa said, shooting him a look that stopped his laughter. “Did I find the right people for this job? Because the price seems astronomical.”

“Well now,” Lord Walker said, turning an angry eye on Laura. “Don’t ask me. You’re the one who found them. Laura, dear, are you and your crew going to be able to live up to your requirements, or are you going to remain shackled to your past blunders forever?”

“We can get it right,” Laura replied fast. They had to get it right. She couldn’t live like this forever. “We just need the right script. Like I said, this is the one we’ve been working with since day one. I thought Cohen and the investors had already agreed on this one or else we wouldn’t have started shooting with it in the first place.”

“I never agreed to any edits,” Rosa said, staring at Cohen who cowered further behind the camera equipment. “Not these one’s for sure.”

“You did agree to some edits,” Cohen croaked and ducked behind the camera again.

“What was that, boy?” Lord Walker demanded, waving Cohen out of his hiding spot. “Come on out here and take responsibility for your actions like a man. And speak up, I can’t hardly hear you.”

“Um. I said she did agree to some edits—uh, Lord, sir,” Cohen said, creeping into the light. “When I gave her our demand list.”

“Demand list?” Lord Walker looked to Rosa with a furrowed brow. “What demand list?”

“The investment,” Rosa said. “And the script I approved said our Family.”

“And what do you say to that, my boy?” Lord Walker asked Cohen who stuttered and stammered his response.

“I—uh—well—we were— There were deadlines, you see— And I had to do what—or I had to make sure we got what we needed— We made the movie— And Guy— He—well…”

“So,” Lord Walker said, tapping his cane in annoyance. “What you’re saying is that you failed me, boy. You failed our dear old Rosa here. You failed the entire Human Family for that matter.” Rosa smiled at that last part, and Laura didn’t like the prospect of the fresh new Hell she would face shackled by the ankle to what was now becoming a two-headed beast. “And how should I make you pay for your mistake?”

“I—what?” Cohen begged. “No. It wasn’t a—a mistake. This version’s better. It— I— You read it. You—”

“That doesn’t matter,” Lord Walker said, shaking his head. “If the customer demands an inferior product, you give them an inferior product. It’s the law of the market, good business practice. In this instance Rosa and I are your customers, and you will do as we say or you’ll go elsewhere with your pretentious demand list. Do you understand me?”

Cohen tried to choke out words but he couldn’t. Laura pitied him a bit—knowing the wrath of Lord Walker from first hand experience—so she stepped in to try to save him a little face. Even if he was a huge jerk most the time, not even Cohen deserved Lord Walker’s wrath. “We’ll get you whatever you want,” she said. “Just get us a script we can work with. This movie is gonna be crap with or without the edits, anyway.” And she could tell she had gone too far by the reactions of her audience.

Jorah grinned a little, which showed enough because he was such a master of his emotions that he shouldn’t have reacted at all. Jen gasped and panted and fanned her face, the epitome of old-world feminine, deserving an A+ in any college level performance. Cohen stared at Laura blankly, unbelieving. How could Laura have the guts to say exactly what he wanted to when he didn’t even have them to do it for himself? Lord Walker looked like he was trying to hold back a laugh himself, though he was doing a much poorer job of it than Jorah was. Then there was the little old lady, Rosa. She fumed, no doubt pissed that Laura had called her precious script shit, which Laura couldn’t really blame her for even though the script was still shit.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker bellowed. “I like your style, girl. However much I disagree with your substance. But I won’t have you insulting our writers to their faces any which way about it. The script’s not that bad, now. Is it?”

“Guy’s isn’t,” Laura said, ignoring Rosa’s anger and Cohen’s pleas for her to shutup alike. “It’s not entire shit, at least. It’s the best way to handle the theme you want covered—if there can be said to be a good way to handle it at all.”

“My script’s not shit,” Rosa complained. “This is shit. What you’re doing here now is shit. It’s lying, blasphemous, putrid bile, and you’ll get nothing out of me for producing it. Mark my words.”

“Now, now, now,” Lord Walker said, gesturing to calm the old woman down. “Settle down, old girl. First of all, I don’t see that much of a difference between what our lovely actor here—” Jen curtsied as he indicated her with a slight nod of his tall hatted head. “—said and what you say you believe should have been. It’s just semantics. ”

“There’s a big differ—” Rosa started.

“Now, now, now,” Lord Walker cut her off. “Let me finish. Where was I? That’s right. The big business. Second of all, your investment is nothing compared to mine. As a result, your power over this production has declined in proportion. I provide the studio. I provide the equipment now. I provide the star of the show.” He indicated Jorah who bowed low on cue. “I am the director, producer, and Lord of this entire gig, and as sole master of its fate, I will be the one to decide whether or not your script is shit.”

“And I decide whether or not the Family works with you,” Rosa said. “I decide if the Family fights for you or against you. If you don’t make the movie I asked for, the movie that’s best for the Family, then what point is there in us working with you at all?”

Lord Walker grinned, twirling his cane. “There is the little matter of that blank check, dear. Let us not forget its existence in all this excitement.”

“The blank check which we were reluctant to accept in the first place,” Rosa said. “The one you practically forced on us, as I recall.”

Lord Walker chuckled. “Everything was done voluntarily, my dear. You chose to accept the deal, now you must deal with the consequences of that decision. You’re not backing out on me now, are you? I have an army with or without your stupid Family, you know, and they will punish you for breaking a contract.”

“You have—” Rosa started, but taking everybody by surprise—Laura at least, though it was mostly because of the relief she felt at him finally taking some responsibility for this production—Cohen stepped up to interject.

“Now I—” he squeaked, stopping himself to cough and clear his throat before going on more clearly in his usual annoying deep voice. “I may have a solution to both of your problems.”

Lord Walker looked as surprised as Laura felt. He couldn’t think of anything to say before Rosa said, “Spit it out then, crook, and don’t you let it be a lie. You already have one strike in my book and this is not baseball.”

“Oh, well… I don’t know anything about baseball,” Cohen said. “But I do know a good bit about hammering out a script, and if we can have—forgive me, Lord—just a little more time and the ability to work face to face for a day or two, I think we can get something workable for both parties. I mean, her demand isn’t too difficult to work into Guy’s script, and I imagine that, other than minor details which can just as easily be changed, she’d be okay with the rest of the script as is.

“Who is this guy y’all keep talking about?” Lord Walker asked.

“What exactly are you proposing?” Rosa demanded.

Laura laughed internally, happy it wasn’t her under the spotlight anymore, but fearing the heat would turn on her again.

“Guy’s our writer,” Cohen explained. “He can’t be found right now but that doesn’t matter. You and I—uhRosa, can sit down together with the script we have and fix any problems you have with its content, starting with changing the their families to our family as per your request.”

Our Family,” Rosa corrected him. “It has to be capitalized.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Lord Walker said, nodding. “What do you think, dear?”

Rosa shook her head. She looked like she didn’t want to go along but had no other choice. Laura had been in that position for so long, making those same faces, she knew exactly how to spot them in someone else. “I get final veto on every word,” she relented.

I get final veto on every word,” Lord Walker corrected her.

“And if you’re veto doesn’t match with mine, then I—and the entire Human Family with me—will have something to say about it.”

Lord Walker chuckled. “Ho ho ho, dear. We’ll ride that elevator when we come to it. For now, though, there’s one more stipulation I’d like to make. Instead of your Cohen boy hammering out the script, like he so eloquently put it, I’d like my girl Laura to work with you. No offense to you Ice Cream Cohen—well maybe a little—” Lord Walker winked. “—but I trust her as much as I can trust a Three—not much—and I’d be more comfortable with her at the table than with you at it.”

“But, sir. I came up with the—” Cohen said, unable to finish what he had started.

“I don’t care who it is,” Rosa said. “As long a someone fixes it before we move on. You all decide for yourselves and send whoever you pick my way with a script.”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker chortled as Rosa stormed out of the room.

“Well,” Jorah said, clapping his hands and exuding a deep sigh. “I guess that means we’re done here for the day. I’ll be in my dressing room until further notice.”

Lord Walker stopped Jorah midway to the door so he could shake the star’s hand and hug him. “Good show today, Jorah, my boy. You prove your worth more with every new second. I’ll have Haley contact you when shooting resumes.”

“Please do, sir,” Jorah said, bowing low. “And please get me a better part soon. I play to the level of the role I’m given, and too much of this trash will wreak havoc on my acting abilities.”

“Will do, sir. Will do. Ho ho ho.” Lord Walker laughed and Jorah disappeared through the halls toward the elevators.

“Lord Walker, sir,” Cohen stammered. “But, I—”

Enough,” Lord Walker cut him off. “You’ve come too close to embarrassing me already. I’m not risking anything else on trusting you, boy. Now shut your mouth. Laura, dear. I expect updates on this. Get it right or you’ll never be rid of your past mistakes. Got me?”

Laura nodded.

“Good bye, then. All of you. I hope you do better in the future, for all of your sake.”

Lord Walker rode his pneumatic pants out of the studio and Laura could only imagine that she’d never rid herself of her past mistakes no matter how the stupid movie turned out.

#     #     #

< LVII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LIX. Anna >

And there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, pick up a full copy of this or any of my other stories through this link here, and as always, have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.