New Omelas and the Lesser Evils

 

about 6,300 words

Vote Evil

 

New Omelas and the Lesser Evils

by Bryan Perkins

“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin

Another three years had passed, as they always seem to do, and Campaign Season had come once again to New Omelas, the largest and most densely populated city on the entire planet of Infernum, built on the swampy marshes of the gulfward delta of the River Lethe.

In the weeks that had led up to the beginning of Campaign Season, a general air of disquietude settled over the city. Everyone from shopkeepers and restaurateurs—hawking their food and wares from the most ornate and expensive kitchens and the foulest smelling street corners alike—to taxi, streetcar, and bus drivers, hurling more insults and curses than average—quite a lot, in fact—during their daily fits of road rage, even down to the youngest children who couldn’t yet vote and wouldn’t be able to still for a long time to come, every single resident of New Omelas, despite age, race, or creed, was preparing themselves for the year-long freak show circus that was Campaign Season.

A century or so ago it used to be that campaigning wasn’t limited to a specific season. Back then, on Election Day, everyone would pull their chosen lever and the Campaigners wouldn’t even wait for the votes to be tallied before they started arguing against one another—and at everyone else—about what new Evils might come up for election during the next Campaign Season and who the poor, tired residents of New Omelas—who only wanted a moment to relax and forget about the freak show—ought to vote for when those quickly rolling years passed away and the next most important Election in all of history came around—every Election, it seemed, was the most important election in history as long as it was going on, and back then, the campaigning was going on twenty four, seven, three sixty five, every day of every year up to and including the year of the election, so every second of every day was the most important moment of every New Omelassian’s life, according to the Campaigners.

I think we can all see why the New Omelas City Council got together and limited the Campaign Season to a single year. Campaigning was a truly exhausting experience and even the three years rest that had since been legislated usually wasn’t enough to recuperate before the next year-long Campaign—not to mention the strain of dealing with the wrath of whichever Evil had ended up winning the previous election, because there was always and forever that endless stream of sicknesses and bad luck to contend with as well.

Which brings us to the Evils. Yes, they were there in New Omelas all the time, lurking in the alleys and streets, never to be seen but as a shadow of movement out of one’s peripheral vision, never to be heard but as a far off echo of tinnitus that was impossible to be certain actually existed, never to be smelt but as a smoldering cigarette butt in an ashtray far away or the sulphuric aftertaste from the next stall over in a public bathroom, never to be touched or tasted at all—I’m not sure how one would even think of going about that—or why—but always, always they were there, watching, stalking their prey, and slowly but surely, like the tricklings of the River Lethe through the tiny cracks in the New Omelas levee walls, doling out the torments and afflictions that they had promised during Campaign Season in order to secure themselves the Director of Evil position over the next four years.

Let me remind you, however, that these were Lesser Evils. This was New Omelas on Lethe, a not so bad place for not so bad people. What it was not was Bedlam on Phlegethon where the docks, boats, and levee walls all had to be built of tungsten in order to resist the thousands of degree temperatures of the lava and flames that flowed through Phlegethon’s burning banks. From the river side of Bedlam’s levees there was nothing to see but heat, sweat, work, and death, but from inside the levee walls, in the city proper, one could watch as the flames licked and spit against the light washed sky, occasionally curling around the top of the levee and down to kiss the inside of Bedlam, sometimes at night reflecting off the worn smooth and shiny tungsten walls of the levee like a constellation of fireflies taking flight there in the city where True Evils crept—and where sometimes even stalked the worst demons of all: Greater Evils themselves.

Now Greater Evils were something truly terrifying. Giant, indomitable beasts that they were, they had no need to hide away in shadows and farts like the Lesser Evils of New Omelas. In Bedlam, Greater Evils stomped and stamped and clattered and clomped on cloven hooves and octopus claws all throughout the city, doling out whatever pain or pestilence, misery, worry, or strife their empty, non-existent, heart-shaped chest holes might desire. No promises were made and broken or debates held for the residents of Bedlam to choose whichever Evil they thought might be the Lesser. Instead, the Evils chose amongst themselves by inflicting tortures and punishments upon one another—and upon all the poor human souls who were unlucky enough to find themselves caught between the two Evils—until one or the other demon gave up to scurry, sulking, back into the fiery flowing depths of the River Phlegethon, licking their wounds while the victor went on parading through Bedlam, the Greater Evil, committing atrocities at will.

These Greater Evils we’re talking about were giants with big red horns and solid white eyeballs, spitting fire and brimstone through razor sharp teeth, gnashing at flesh with bloody claws and pointed tail alike. These were Great and True Evils who were responsible for genocides and extinctions, atom bombs and more, tearing entire cities off the map in one deafening second, leaving what few survivors there were worse off than dead and getting worse with every second. They’re responsible for nerve agents, torture camps, and all the worst things you’ve ever heard of from all the scariest monsters in your most frightening and recurrent of nightmares. These Greater Evils and True Evils in Bedlam, on the other side of Infernum, perched atop the flaming lips of the River Phlegethon, as far away from New Omelas as possible without being on another planet entirely, were something to really and truly be afraid of, which makes it a little easier to understand why the residents of New Omelas would go on happily choosing between two Lesser Evils every four years—because at least they weren’t as bad off as the Bedlans who had to look their Evils in the eye for what they truly were and couldn’t even drink from their own river without burning their insides out.

No, compared to Bedlam, life in New Omelas didn’t seem so bad. Of course, none of the New Omelassians had ever travelled to Bedlam to confirm the stories—who would ever want to go to such a horrible sounding place anyway?—but the media, school teachers, and as an effect, everyone in the entire city kept on believing the stories and preaching them as truth, so they might as well have been the truth even if they were more than likely tall tales concocted by the Lesser Evils themselves in order to keep the New Omelassians in line. Evils, whether Lesser, True, or Greater, could be very sneaky and manipulative in that way.

So when one of the little imps, sometimes tiny, red, and winged, flapping around like a grotesque merger of bat and moth into one, others in the visage of a child, a woman, or a dark skinned man, maybe a talking kitten or something even more random and abstract, like telepathic fry bits, or the tunnel of light that represents both being born and dying, passing on to the after life whatever life it may be after, but when the Lesser Evils would come disguised as menacing child demons or the things that all humans knew and loved, or as humans themselves, and they would say, I promise to steal every first born child in the city and force them into a violent fight to the death against every first born child from outside of the city until only one of them remains alive, the New Omelassians could hold their noses and say, Well, at least these Evils weren’t going to take all the children of New Omelas like those Greater Evils around the world in Bedlam do, so certainly this Evil is of a Lesser variety and I should go ahead and vote for it. That’s how life went for many centuries in New Omelas while no one knew better or how to do any different.

So when the racist cheese snack in a bad toupee promised to exile every immigrant in New Omelas to the fiery shores of Bedlam while also locking every New Omelassian whose skin was darker than milk chocolate in the torture chambers until next Campaign Season, and when at the same time the yellow rat in a blue coat, wearing a pink bow in its hair that smelled like hot sauce, promised to unleash a never ending squadron of flying pig monsters with rabid chimpanzees on their backs to drop fecal bombs that exploded not with fire and instant death but instead a slow, painful death full of gaseous, burning agony in every pore of your body, all with the hopes of creating more refugees to flood the streets of New Omelas and provide cheap labor for the city’s sulphur mines—and of course, in the process, the rat planned on exiling as many immigrants as they could replace with the newly desperate refugees—the residents of New Omelas fell into a flurry of surveys and calculations, trying to determine which of the Lesser Evils’ evil plans would be less burdensome on their own lives and the lives of those friends and family who they knew and loved instead of realizing that both platforms were more evil than even the most evil of platforms run in Elections prior, and especially the most recent Campaign Season in which a sensuous space slug who could only speak in poetics ran against a catdog demi-beast which spoke by controlling a hivemind of killer bees to fly in formation and spell out its promises—a lot, a lot of stinging, and since so many New Omelassian voters were terrified of or allergic to bees, the space slug ended up winning the Election and laying eggs in the ears of every single male in New Omelas, killing only ten percent of them and feeding on the, as a result nightmarish, dreams of the others, a rather traumatizing experience, no doubt, but over all, one of the truly Lesser Evils in all the Evils New Omelas had ever experienced.

In fact, except for a few minor aberrations such as the sensuous space slug every once in a few decades, the Evils running for the Directorship of Evil in New Omelas had slowly but steadily been becoming greater and greater ever since the institution of the Election process—which as far as is known coincided with the founding of the city, that is to say forever ago. Sure, some things were getting better, some Evils getting lesser. Where before the Evils had typically focused on a single race, killing untold numbers for the color of their skin, where before the Evils had specifically oppressed women, cutting their arms off or sewing their mouths shut—in the unluckiest of cases both—all in droves so the women were forced to rely on one another more than ever before, now the Evils were becoming more all inclusive, intersectional, diverse. Men, women, and anything in between or outside of that, any time, any age, it didn’t matter. Everyone was fair game. If they really wanted the directorship, the Evils would focus solely on foreigners to the city and immigrants, trying to seem truly Lesser to the native New Omelassians, but those were usually the most dangerous of Lesser Evils because they ardently craved the power that came with being Director of Evil, and whenever they finally had a hold of it, there was no telling what theywould do—and much less stopping them when they did whatever it was they wanted to do, which inevitably resulted in a lot more evil than promised inflicted upon the residents of New Omelas.

And so on and so on the cycle went, and every new Campaign Season a new pair of disgusting Lesser Evils would take to the Campaign Trail, and it seemed like every single resident of New Omelas would forget everything they had learned from each previous Campaign Season, diving head first and irate into another one, screaming the praises of their chosen Evil and damning those who would dare to find another Lesser, until finally, one or two people started to give up and drop out of the Election Process altogether, letting the voters decide their fate for them. And soon more and more New Omelassians were giving up on the elections. Not a lot all at once, but a handful here and there. And those rare few would meet in dive bars and back alley cafes, in bookstores and around dining room tables, to discuss what they had experienced and try to find some better strategy other than voting between two of them to deal with the Evils.

Having come together, all these Abstainers, and shared their experiences with one another, the first thing they realized was that they truly had been forgetting their histories. Each had a story to tell going back until about the time that the previous election had been decided on then nothing more. None of them could remember any part of their lives before four years prior.

After some time of arguing, debating, and experimentation around the matter, the Abstainers came to the conclusion that it was the waters of the River Lethe that were causing their forgetfulness. It must have been some magical property of the river, they had decided, that was no doubt created or controlled by the Lesser Evils, and the only method of overcoming the effect was by not drinking the water at all, abstaining from that, too. What was easily enough said, however—and what had been so difficult for the New Omelassians to discover—was not so easy to do.

First of all, there was no possibility of digging wells in New Omelas. Whatever water could be found in the swampy ground there would no doubt be polluted with the forgetful liquid of Lethe and digging any deeper would only lead to the same lava and brimstone that flowed through Bedlam’s Phlegethon—that same fiery semi-liquid which filled Infernum almost to the brim, leaving just enough topsoil and water reserves to support a few small pockets of human life, the largest of which being New Omelas. But pockets of life there were, bringing up the second difficulty: how to convince a large enough group of adventurers capable of making the journey out there and back again that a potentially fatal trip to another city, looking for water, was worth the effort and inevitable casualties it would entail.

It took two more election cycles to assemble a team—Lesser Evils getting incrementally more so and their Campaigners becoming exponentially more fierce in their campaigning the entire time—due to the understandable deterrents of the True Evils that stalked the ragged dead zones between cities, picking off travelers at will, and to the added forgetfulness of the Lethe waters which the Abstainers were forced to drink in order to survive. Mountains of sticky notes and other written and recorded reminders had finally gotten the Abstainers around that second difficulty, however, and eventually a team of a dozen or so explorers set off north toward the Wailing City of Ymir and the Frozen River Cocytus.

Sure, it was going to be some work carving out the ice and hauling it the thousands of miles home to New Omelas, and sure the legends and campfire tales all told that the waters of Cocytus induced fits of moaning and wailing when drunk, but an ice block would be easier to travel long distances with than as large an amount of unruly liquid water would have been, the people of Ymir had to drink something themselves in order to have survived long enough to build a city, howling beat forgetfulness if the Abstainers ever planned on ridding New Omelas of Evils altogether, and no one wanted to risk drinking the waters of the River Acheron in the south that were said to burn and hurt any flesh they touched—including throats on the way in and urinary tracts on the way out—or those of the River Styx in the west that were said to contain all the souls of all the dead who had ever lived on Infernum—something about ingesting another human’s soul just didn’t sit right with any of the Abstainers. So the Frozen River Cocytus of Wailing Ymir in the north was the only viable option left to them.

The expedition took months and months, and those Abstainers who had stayed in New Omelas to recruit others and brainstorm methods of dispatching the Lesser Evils had entirely forgotten about the adventurers several times—only happening to remember with chance glances at old and quickly fading sticky notes—before the expedition returned a few adventurers shorter and every once in awhile wailing and screaming the words they only meant to speak.

The howling side effect was grating, no doubt, and the ice block they had returned with wouldn’t last long, but those brave explorers had opened the lines of communication with Ymir, and the Ymirese people had thought that forgetfulness might be better than involuntary screaming in some instances, so three Election Cycles later the pipes between Ymir and New Omelas had been completed and each city was pumping a supply of water from their respective rivers to the other. The Abstainers were making progress.

Now that the new Omelassians—or at least those Abstainers who had a problem with the Election System as set up by the Lesser Evils—had a source of water other than the Lethe and could remember beyond the past four years, they had a chance to actually change the future for the better. They continued to slowly and quietly accumulate new members, attracted mostly by the howling remembrances that were a side effect of the Ymirese water, and at the same time began to put into effect experiments as to how to overthrow the Lesser Evils once and for all. Finally being able to remember their history, the Abstainers could tell for certain now that the Lesser Evils had been becoming greater and greater for some decades at least, and the last thing they wanted was for New Omelas to become Bedlam—creeping with True and Greater Evils alike, taking no care as to hide their presence—so they had to do something other than fighting over who was the lesser Lesser Evil about it.

The Abstainers’ first plan was to get everyone, the entire population of New Omelas, to abstain from voting just the same as they were, and at first, it really started to work. Though they were only Lesser, the Evils up for Election were still no doubt evil, so it wasn’t difficult to convince people not to support them. More and more New Omelassians decided to abstain over the next two Election Cycles until the Lesser Evils took notice of the falling voter turnouts and promised to enact both Evils at once if not enough votes were cast in order to elect one or the other to the Directorship. Voter participation skyrocketed after being given the ultimatum until enough time had passed and enough of the waters of Lethe had been consumed such that the residents of New Omelas—besides those few Abstainers who remained drunk on the once frozen waters of Cocytus, wailing in misery—forgot everything they had once learned and returned to their normal fervent levels of participation in Campaign Season.

The Abstainers’ next attempt at defeating the Lesser Evils was their longest and most tedious. They had decided that there must be some power in the election itself, so the Abstainers became instead the Ultimate Participants, attempting to get their own, human, candidate into the running against the Lesser Evils. But lo and behold, and of course, the Evils controlled the entire Election Process, and knowing that any human would readily beat any Evil given an equal playing field, they did everything in their power to keep the Abstainers out—and were flawlessly successful. Even when the Abstainers had gone so far as to build their own levers into the walls of every voting booth in New Omelas, the Lesser Evils had seen it coming and amped up their platform of terrors so much—each promising nukes and deformities, ecological collapse and soggy cereal for life, such horrible things it was impossible to tell which of the two was truly the lesser Lesser Evil—that it scared the New Omelassians into throwing their votes away on an Evil they thought might be Lesser instead of using it on a human who obviously was—all of course, except for the Abstainers who had been responsible for researching, building, and installing the voting levers in the first place.

Running their own campaign for the Director of Evil position against the Lesser Evils, as it turned out, was a bust, never could have saved the Abstainers in the first place, but it had served to attract more interested New Omelassians at a higher rate than the Abstainers had ever been able to attract before. As such, the Abstainers continued to “attempt” their own campaigns—with full knowledge that the Lesser Evils would never let a human being into the running, much less let one win the Election—all while simultaneously searching for, debating, and discussing other avenues through which to end the reign of the Hellish Lesser Evils—who were daily looking more and more like True Greater Evils—once and for all.

The more New Omelassians who joined the Abstainers, the more perspectives from which they could see the situation, the longer time went on, and the more history from which they had to draw, one thing became utterly clear: the only way to end this charade once and for all was going to be to destroy the Lesser Evils entirely. As soon as it had been aired, no one knew by whom, and only as a joke at first, like a meme that had taken on a life of its own and gotten out of hand, becoming more serious than any meme ever should be, the idea took hold and became the only plan that could ever save them.

And so the Abstainers went about determining a method of doing just that, some way to kill the Lesser Evils and liberate the humans of New Omelas. But first, the Evils had to be found. They were never to be seen or heard but in shadows and shit, as previously mentioned, so how could the Abstainers expect to destroy them? But never wasn’t entirely accurate, they had soon realized. The Lesser Evils did come out into the open twice every four years: Once to announce their candidacy for the Directorship and make known the plagues and torments in store if they were to be elected, then again on the day of voting to be announced the winner or to concede defeat. And so our brave Abstainers chose the day of coronation for their rebellion efforts, thinking they could use the hectic Campaign Season as cover for their actions and perhaps along the way convince more voters to join them in fighting against the Lesser Evils.

Campaign Season dragged on, and the Abstainers slowly stockpiled what makeshift weapons they could lay their hands on—pitchforks, shovels, torches, your typical low tech riot gear mostly—all the while they were bombarded on both sides by arguments from the Campaigners:

“It must be nice being as pale as your ass is, y’all are never targeted by the Lesser Evils, but dark skinned people have to be afraid of the fanged worm eating the core of an apple, because it promises to lock everyone whose skin is darker than ash in the torture chambers, and if you didn’t know, that includes my wife and her kin.”

Followed by, “You think the fanged worm eating the core of an apple is scary? You must not have heard what the black hole at the center of the universe promises to plague us with, because they’re gonna torture twenty percent of people whose skin’s darker than charcoal and flip a coin as to whether to exile or murder every single immigrant in the city.”

And the Abstainers would argue back that neither of the Lesser Evils were desirable, that the Evils seemed to be getting greater with every new vote that they consumed, and even going so far as to share their plan to destroy the Evils once and for all, inviting the Campaigners to give up on campaigning and join them in abstaining, but inevitably such arguments would fall on deaf ears, because the Campaigners were so convinced that their only option was to pick one of the two Evils that they couldn’t be bothered to stop arguing with one another for long enough to listen to—and much less seriously consider—any other position. A small percentage of New Omelassians could be convinced away from Campaign Season, of course, or there would never have been Abstainers at all, and those few were going to have to do what they could with the numbers they had or do nothing at all, and nothing was not an option.

Election day came with its typical mixture of nervous excitement at finally knowing the outcome of Campaign Season and relief at having made it through another year-long circus to a three year break that was never long enough, but this time the Abstainers were actually going to try something unique to Campaign Season so their excitement was of an entirely different nature than that of the general population of New Omelas.

The votes came in and were instantly tallied, and by eight o’clock that night, in the lamplit Center Square of New Omelas, under the giant statue of two Lesser Imps, magnified over a hundred times size, shaking hands with one another, flapping wings and wagging tails happily, in front of as much of the city as could fit into Center Square, probably more than a hundred thousand of New Omelas’s more than seventy five million strong population in the five or so acres of space going all around in front of and behind the candidates on the stage, the two Lesser Evils stood, one, the black hole at the center of the universe, to concede defeat, and the other, a fanged worm eating the core of an apple, to begin raining down its first promised pestilences on New Omelas, while no one, the Lesser Evils least of all, noticed the Abstainers, hiding on the wings, backs, arms, and heads of the statues above the stage, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.

“Good evening loyally frightened residents of New Omelas,” the black hole at the center of the universe said in a thousand different tortured, screaming, inhuman demonvoices that seemed to echo up from far away in every direction at once, even from inside the head of every listener. “It is with great displeasure that I, the black hole at the center of the universe, must stand before you today and concede the position of the Director of Evil for New Omelas to this here fanged worm eating the core of an apple.” The black hole at the center of the universe floated silently above the podium for a moment, sucking what light that came out of the lamps around the square toward it in curly cue patterns like an impressionist painting, photons floating toward the darkness to be crushed down into a single point like a postmodern moth to the flame, and when the black hole started to speak again, the A-Team leapt into action.

One by one, like spiders without webs to slow them down, the four or five dozen Abstainers who were brave enough to take up arms against the Lesser Evils dropped from atop the towering imp statues, pitchforks and pick axes brandished and ready, aiming for the floating black hole and the worm eaten apple which both somehow could be seen to look up at their would-be predators before lashing out in kind.

One airborne Abstainer fell directly on top of the black hole at the center of the universe and was sucked into it like any other ray of light to become smaller than a lepton and infinitely more dense, a singularity, along with everything else that had ever been consumed by the insatiable vortex of destruction. Another two Abstainers landed on the apple being eaten by a fanged worm, one piercing the apple with their pitchfork and the other hitting the rapidly embiggening worm in the head to stop its razor sharp teeth from landing on flesh.

All at once, two Lesser Evils transformed into two Greater Evils—and getting more so by the second—right before the frightened crowd’s very eyes. The fanged worm eating the core of an apple was discombobulated, confused, and angry. Roaring irately, the worm head thickened and hardened, turning red and taking the shape of a devil with giant black horns and glow in the dark eyes and teeth, while the apple morphed into a cloven hoofed, six packed satyr, bleeding from a gash on its shoulder. Blind rage whipped the beast’s razor sharp tail and claws spastically, seeking revenge on the flesh of Abstainers who still fell like bees in attack formation, diving from the top of the tall imp statues onto the Lesser Evils below.

The black hole at the center of the universe, however, paid no attention to any of them. It was busy thinking about revenge on a larger scale. Against the Abstainers for pulling a surprise attack in the middle of its speech. Against the worm eating the core of an apple now turned Greater Evil for winning the Directorship of Evil in the first place. And against the residents of New Omelas—Hell, against the entire city itself—for voting to elect a stupid worm instead of it, a badass black hole. The entity didn’t even have to change form to exact its vengeance—not qualitatively, at least—instead it simply grew.

As the black hole at the center of the universe expanded, its gravitational pull multiplied exponentially. The aura of deep dark blackness glowed at further and further distances around the point that was the center of the black hole at the center of the universe, and soon, more and more beings were being pulled in and crushed into that same singular space. First the podium and a few Abstainers, then the worm-eaten apple turned Greater Evil and those Abstainers who were still trying to fight it, and soon even members of the onlooking crowd who didn’t have time to run away, the statues and all the Abstainers who had still not dropped off of them, the road, lamps, buildings, every single thing in that square, all hundred or so thousand human beings, eaten and crushed into one singular point at the center of the black hole at the center of the universe in the blink of an eye. Just like that. Creating the crater in New Omelas’s Center Square where Elections and Coronations of greater and greater Lesser Evils are still held to this day.

“I am the Director of Evil now,” the black hole at the center of the universe boomed out in a thousand demonic voices, echoing in and through every single mind in the entire city of New Omelas, waking or asleep, all adding their own voices to the chorus as well—mother’s speaking these words in the middle of bedtime stories, older brothers yelling them at their friends instead of curse words, even dogs barking whatever grotesque mimicry of speech they could manage with their non-human voice boxes, all at once and all together with the black hole at the center of the universe in a hellish chorus: “These four years will be the worst you’ve ever experienced, and you’ll be lucky if you get another election after that. Don’t believe me? Visit Center Square and see.”

Rain, hail, lightning, and hurricane force winds pummeled New Omelas all through that night—the River Lethe lapping hard at the levee walls but never quite breeching—and the black hole at the center of the universe did its best to make the next four years a living Hell, but nothing ever seemed that bad when compared to the crater left in Center Square. Inevitably a new Campaign Season came along and the residents of New Omelas forgot all about the last one, as those people who consume the waters of Lethe can only do, but luckily, by that time not all of the residents of New Omelas still drank from Lethe, and though most who drank otherwise had been consumed by the black hole at the center of the universe along with the rest of Center Square on that day of attempted revolution, there still existed some who survived solely on the imported waters from Ymir’s Cocytus—you could tell them by their mournful wails, which came out predominantly at night, both as a side effect of Cocytus’s magical properties and as a result of still remembering the faces and names of all those poor souls lost in the regimes of Lesser Evils previously.

And so those surviving Abstainers regrouped and regained themselves, and they started again the long and tedious process of attracting people to their cause. They ran more candidates in elections where their names weren’t even on the ballots, and they helped those who were interested attempt to build their own voting levers, all the time reminding the New Omelassians that no amount of voting would get rid of the Evils, there was only one way to do that.

Which brings us to today, the present, our current Campaign Season in New Omelas. We now have a giant flaming phoenix lit in blue, green, and purple flower patterns running against a three headed crow with nine eyes and feathers made out of ice. These are two apparitions of Lessers Evils that we Abstainers feel we can actually defeat. We have a much better chance than when we went up against the black hole at the center of the universe at least, of that much we’re sure.

Not only do we have more comrades in arms ready to fight, we have better weapons and more efficient tactics with which to do it. These here nets of copper are filled with “water” from the River Phlegethon. The Ymirese and Bedlans have been working together on the weapon for many centuries while forgetful New Omelas still slept under the spell of the River Lethe. The Ymirese say fire nets are the only way to catch a snow crow if you want to kill it before the thing becomes enraged and transforms into a Greater Evil—which would be thousands of time more difficult to kill, though not entirely impossible—and the Ymirese can be trusted on this because frozen Cocytus is the favorite haunt of many snow crows and other such frozen Evils, giving the Ymirese more experience with such demons than anyone would ever desire. And here we have heat resistant shielding and spray cannons which the Bedlans have been able to combine with reserves of Lethe’s and Cocytus’s water supplies to defend against the fire moths and other burning things that haunt the River Phlegethon. As you can see, these are the perfect defenses for the particular combination of Lesser Evils we are now faced with in New Omelas.

As election day approaches, we hope you read this transcript or listen to the recording soon enough that you can come to see past the flowery burning rainbow phoenix and beyond the three headed psychic snow crow to a better option, to our option, the Abstainers who choose to build a better system rather than perpetuate an unjust and Evil one. With help from the humans of Ymir and Bedlam—and those who live in the badlands in between, which we now know are more populated than we’ve been led to believe, and not just by Greater Evils but by many tribes of humans as well—together, all of us, sharing our technology, resources, and knowledge, will rid Infernum of Evils Greater, Lesser, and True no matter how long it takes or how many times we fail along the way.

That’s all there is to say on the matter. It’s time for you to decide for yourself. Go on living life like everyone in New Omelas always has, drinking the forgetful waters of Lethe to soothe their minds as they choose between the rainbow phoenixes who promise to immolate every first born along with every other female or the psychic snow crows who promise to freeze every second born to death along with those females who wouldn’t have been burned by the phoenix, or you can join us, the Abstainers, and grab a pitchfork and net, or operate a hose and pump, as we put an end to this Evil freak show circus once and for all.

Your choice. But you’ll know where to find us when Election Day comes. Good luck to you and good luck to New Omelas, from the Wailing Abstainers living here amongst you and those in Bedlam, Ymir, and beyond. We do nothing alone, and we will succeed.

☭ THE END ☭

Chapter 44: Laura

This Saturday brings us the second chapter of book three in the Infinite Limits tetralogy, Dividing by Ø. Today we join Laura and her crew in Outland Three as they begin production on Rosa and Anna’s anti-robot propaganda film. See how that project comes along as the story progresses, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of Dividing by Ø through this link if you want to support future releases in the Infinite Limits series.

Also, if you haven’t heard already, I’ll be releasing an audio book for my novella Murder in “Utopia,, in the next couple of weeks, and if you want the chance to win a free copy of that when it’s released, you’re going to have to subscribe to my email newsletter through this link because I’ll be sending the opportunity out through that method alone.

Thanks again for following along this far, dear readers. I hope you enjoy the continuation of the story here. We do nothing alone.

< XLIII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     XLV. Anna >

XLIV. Laura

Two girls played dominoes on a dirty carpet. One was supposed to be the other’s daughter, but Laura thought they looked more like sisters. No one cared what Laura thought, though.

The girls laughed and bantered. Nothing scripted, just simple improv, most of which wouldn’t make it into the final product anyway. If Laura had her way, none of it would. Laura wouldn’t have her way, though. Laura never got her way.

They were shooting b-roll. It’s called b-roll because it’s not A grade work. It’s not scripted. It may not even be used. Those crucial shots of roadside flowing by in all the most famous movies, that’s pretty much the epitome of b-roll. Laura hated shooting b-roll for the projects she enjoyed working on. For this particular project, it was Hell.

She had been standing there, watching them for hours now, statuesque and silent. She hardly even breathed. Her only movements were to lift a finger, press a button, and drop the finger. Lift a finger, press a button, and drop the finger. Watching the two play dominos, do each other’s hair, or some other nonsense until her phone rang and one of the girls screamed, causing Laura to jump and almost knock over the camera.

“Fortuna, Jen!” Laura yelled. “It’s a fucking phone and you’re a fucking adult. Act like one.”

“Oh, uhsorry,” Jen said, standing from the floor and brushing herself off. “I was so deep into character I couldn’t help it.”

Laura scoffed. “Whatever.” She answered the phone. “We’re working on it, Cohen.”

“Shut it down,” Cohen said on the other end of the line. “Shut it down now. We need you and Jen here ASAP.”

“We’re not done yet,” Laura said, both because she wanted to piss Cohen off and because she didn’t want to do what she knew came next. “We’re only at dominoes. We still have to go through—”

“I don’t care,” Cohen said, cutting her off. “You can do that any time. We’ve got a conveyor belt and not for long. So grab your shit and get your asses over here.”

Ugh. Fine. Whatever.” Laura hated when he tried to boss her around. Stupid fucking directors. If only it was him they needed out of the picture instead of Emir, that she wouldn’t have any qualms about. “Where is here?” she added for cover’s sake even though she knew the answer already.

“Loch Ness Studios. Lot 37. And hurry.”

Cohen hung up before Laura could respond. “Well fuck you, too,” she said anyway.

“Hey!” the other girl—not Jen, but Laura couldn’t remember the poor extra’s name—gasped, holding her hand to her mouth.

“Shut up, kid,” Laura snapped. “You’re off the clock. Get out of here. I’ll call you when we need you again.”

But—” she squealed.

“Go!” Laura stomped her foot at the girl who scurried away.

Jen chuckled. “Dude,” she said. “You don’t have to be so mean. The poor girl’s just trying to do her job. We don’t pay her enough for all that.”

“Yeah, well.” Laura scoffed. “We don’t pay me enough for all this, either. Shit. We don’t pay me anything.”

“Alright, alright.” Jen waved her hands defensively. “I get it. Me neither. So what does the slave driver want now?”

We’re to go to Loch Ness Studios,” Laura said, mocking Cohen’s stupid voice. “We’ve got a small window of time in a studio with a conveyor belt.”

“Just fucking great,” Jen said, pulling out her phone then sliding and tapping on the screen. “The only lines I haven’t practiced yet. Of course we get a shot at it today.”

“Well, I have some gear to pack up,” Laura said, getting to it. “You can go over your lines while I do it.”

“Sure,” Jen said, getting exasperated. “I could memorize them on the elevator ride over there, too, but that wouldn’t give me the time I need to perfect my part. I mean, I understand the script is a piece of shit, like Guy—wherever he is, Fortuna protect him—tried to warn us, but I don’t want my performance to play down to it. Okay.”

Laura scoffed, hefting a bag of gear onto the anti-grav carts. “You’re telling me,” she said. “You think I enjoy rigging and shooting this crap? We’re all on the same crew.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah.” Jen waved Laura’s concerns away. “It’s not the same, though. They’ll see my face up on that screen. Everyone will know for sure that it was me. You can put a pseudonym in the credits, but I can’t wear a mask through my performance. My face is my tool.”

“It is all the same,” Laura said, packing the last little bit as she talked. “And it doesn’t matter anymore anyway. We’re off to the Loch. Let’s go.”

She pushed the cart out through the hall and into an elevator. Jen followed close behind, not paying attention to where she was walking because she was reading the script on her phone. She bumped right into the back of Laura when they entered the elevator, then complained about it as if Laura were responsible.

“It’s not my fault you don’t watch where you’re going,” Laura said. Then,  “Loch Ness Studios. Lot 37.”

The elevator doors slid shut and the floor fell out from underneath them. When they slid open again and Laura pushed the cart out, it took Jen some time to follow, still reading her script. They walked through a long hall, with a cement floor and steel walls, into what appeared to be an assembly line. Cohen was deep into a lecture while Emir sat at the conveyor belt, listening to the director drone on and trying to snap little bits of whatever was on the line together at the same time. He wasn’t very good at either task, though, so he kept messing up at both.

“There you are,” Cohen said, finally breaking away from his lecture some time after Laura had already gotten to setting up the lights and cameras. “What took you two so long?”

Laura scoffed.

“We came right here, dude,” Jen said. “We’re not your fucking on call slaves, ready to bow to your every whim and whimsy.”

“You are my crew though, aren’t you?” Cohen asked with wide eyes, feigning offence as he always did. “Emir was here on time. He didn’t have any trouble. I don’t see why it took y’all so long.”

“We were shooting your fucking b-roll!” Laura snapped. She stopped what she was doing for a second, took a few deep breaths, then went back to rigging the lights like she hadn’t said a thing.

Jen gasped at Laura’s attitude, putting one hand to her mouth but still holding her phone so she could read the script with the other.

“Well we’re here now so let’s get to it,” Cohen said, flustered. He clapped his hands together. “Emir are you ready?”

Muahahaha!” Emir laughed, standing from the conveyor belt and pushing his chest out. “I am a robot. I am always ready.”

“If only you were,” Cohen said with a grin, turning to Jen. “What about you? I see you’re still going over the script. And is that the right costume for this scene? Where’s Steve?”

Jen scoffed. “You tell me, director. And I wouldn’t be reading the script right now if you had given me a little warning that we were going to do this scene today.”

Cohen took out his own phone and pulled up the script. Emir laughed at them and did the robot. “Silly humans,” he said in a monotone voice. “I am a robot. I already memorized—”

“Yeah, yeah. We get it,” Cohen said, waving him away. “You’re in character. Way to do your job. Now, Jen. No. This isn’t the right costume. I need you to find Steve and get changed.”

“Find him?” Jen said, dropping her phone from her face for the first time since they had left the other set. “Where the fuck is he?”

“I don’t know,” Cohen said. “Probably in the green room. Just go.” He waved her away.

Ugh. But—” Jen tried to complain.

“I said go!”

Laura stopped her work and Emir stopped doing the robot so they could both turn around and gawk at Cohen’s attitude.

Whatever, dude” Jen said, flailing her arms and storming out of the room.

Laura went back to work, wishing again it was Cohen instead of Emir that was the star of the show.

“Fuck,” Cohen said, pacing the room and brushing back his already slicked-back hair. “I can’t deal with divas right now. Do y’all hear me? We don’t have time for this shit, okay. We only have this lot for—” He looked at his phone. “—a few more hours and we have plenty of shots to get to while we’re here. So if y’all could just fall the fuck in line for once in your pathetic lives, that would be fan—fucking—tastic. I’m under a lot of pressure here. So let’s all do our part to relieve a little bit of it today.”

Emir nodded. “I am a robot,” he said. “Your wish is my command.”

Cohen took a deep breath then chuckled. “Good,” he said. “What about you, Laura? You gonna give me shit when I tell you to set the lights and cameras—”

“Exactly where I have them,” Laura stopped him, crossing her arms and giving him the evil eye.

“I—well…” Cohen looked back and forth between his phone’s script and the rigging a few times. “Uh… Yes, actually. Exactly that.”

“Good,” Laura said. “Now maybe you can stop giving me shit for no reason.”

Oooooohhhh. Damn, buoy,” Emir said, finally breaking character to snap his fingers together three times in a zigzag pattern. “She told you.”

“Shut the fuck up, Emir,” Cohen said. “No one asked you.”

“There,” Jen said, coming back on set and striking a pose. “Is this better?” Laura thought she looked almost exactly the same as before, though—maybe a little dirtier.

“Is that what Steve gave you?” Cohen asked, stepping toward her to get a closer look.

Jen nodded, holding her pose.

“Then, yes. It’s better,” Cohen said, clapping his hands together too loudly for Jen’s taste. “Places everyone. I think one take should be good for this. The scene’s not difficult. We’re starting from Alice’s entrance and going through Adam’s attack. We’ll cut right before he puts her on the conveyor belt. Y’all got that?”

Everyone nodded, taking their places. Emir sat at his seat, stretching his fingers in preparation for snapping pieces together. They’d be able to speed it up in post production but he would have to give them something they could work with if they wanted to make it look at all natural. Well, not really, in the end, but he didn’t know that yet. Watching him, Laura almost felt sorry for what she had done, for what she had to do, but he would be okay in the long run and she had no other choice.

“Laura, what about you?” Cohen asked, breaking her away from her reservations.

She shook herself out of them. “I—uh. Yeah,” she said. “Sure. This is just a long shot anyway. Set it and forget it.” She chuckled to hide her apprehension. Emir’d be alright, she assured herself over and over again. Emir’d be alright. Emir’d be alright. Emir’d be alright.

“Okay. Good,” Cohen said, looking around at everyone again to be sure they were in their places and ready. “On my count then.” Laura’s heart skipped a beat and her palms slickened up. There was no stopping what had been set into motion now.

“Lights!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch, turning off all but the camera lights.

“Belt!”

She pressed a button and the conveyor belt hummed into motion.

Aaaaannd action!”

Emir set to piecing together bits of nothing. Jen gave him a few seconds to do it before slowly walking on camera, surveying the empty seats around Emir.

“No,” Jen said, her voice only slightly trembling, not her best acting.

Emir ignored her. He kept piecing together bits of nothing.

“It can’t be you,” Jen said, voice cracking a little bit.

Emir turned his head to look at her but kept on with his work. He was going slower now, but again, post-production would remedy that.

“Yes,” Emir said in his monotone robot voice.

“But…” Jen held her hand to her mouth. “But you’re—”

“A robot,” Emir said. “Muahahaha.” He threw his head back in laughter, still piecing together nothing.

“But my family,” Jen said. “My coworkers. They’ll—”

Emir stopped working. He stood slowly and turned to face Jen, smiling wide. “I am a robot,” he said. “I don’t—”

But he couldn’t finish the sentence. A heavy, hard light fell from above, landing on his head and knocking him to the ground. Jen screamed, Cohen rushed to Emir’s side to see if he was okay, and Laura simply flipped the camera off, calm and collected. She had expected everything. She had rigged the light to fall in the first place. So, naturally, it came as no surprise to her when what had been planned ended up happening.

“Shit! What the fuck was that, Laura?” Cohen demanded, holding a limp and bleeding Emir in his arms.

“I—I don’t know,” Laura said, mustering all of her acting abilities for this one scene. Sure she was a grip now, but she had gone through the same school system as everyone else, and she couldn’t help but pick a few things up along the way. “That wasn’t one of my lights,” she said, which was true even though she had rigged the light to fall. She knew better than to commit a crime with one of her own babies. “You’ll have to ask the studio owner about it.”

Cohen looked around wide eyed at Laura, then at Jen, then back to Emir who still lay lifeless—the trickle of blood from his forehead slowly and alarmingly turning into a stream. “Yeah, well,” Cohen said. “I—I guess I’ll take care of that.”

“What about Emir?” Jen’s voice cracked as she said it. “Is—Is he…dead?”

“What? No,” Cohen said, looking back at Emir and trying to shake him awake. “Of course not. He can’t be. Right, buddy? You’re not dead, are you?”

Laura was starting to worry that he might be. That wasn’t part of the plan. She had just wanted to put him out of commission for a while, not forever. This couldn’t be happening when she was so close to being free of her chains. She was not about become a murderer, even for that freedom. “I think we should—” she started to say, but Emir blinked his eyes open.

Emir. Emir, baby,” Cohen said, still on the ground and holding him, brushing his hair like a child. “You’re alright, aren’t you?”

Emir shook his head, still groggy.

“We need to get him to a doctor,” Jen said.

“No!” Cohen snapped. “We can’t. They’ll ask too many questions. We weren’t— Just trust me.”

“Well what the fuck are we supposed to do then?” Jen started to cry.

Emir blinked a few times and shook his head. “I am a robot,” he said in a weak voice. “I don’t care.”

There,” Cohen said. “There, you see. He’s fine. He doesn’t care.”

“I don’t think—” Jen said.

No,” Cohen cut her off, standing now that Emir could hold his own weight—though only barely. “It has to be this way. Laura, take him to the green room and get him some water. I need to—”

“I don’t think—” Laura said.

“I don’t care what you think! Do it!”

Ugh. Fine. Whatever.” Laura went to help Emir up while Cohen brought Jen to a far away corner of the set, whispering angrily at her. Laura hefted Emir’s arm up over her shoulder and had to carry most of his weight all the way through the halls to the green room.

Steve gasped when she pushed the door open. “Fortuna!” he said, holding a hand to his mouth. “What happened?”

“I—uh—” Laura heaved Emir onto the couch next to Steve who went to comfort the injured actor. “I don’t know,” she said, breathing heavily. “A light fell on him.”

“A light?” Steve shot her a look and went back to comforting Emir.

Not one of mine,” she said. “A studio light.”

“A studio light?” Steve crossed the room to get some water for Emir. “No way.”

“Yes way. Why? Do you think it was my fault?”

Steve put his hands up in defense. “Now I didn’t say that.”

“It sounded like that’s what you were implying.”

“Well it’s not. I was just saying—”

“Alright, alright,” Cohen said, coming into the room with hands clapping. Emir flinched at the sound of it. “How’s our star doing?”

Jen scoffed as she came in behind him. “I’m fine,” she said under her breath.

“I am a robot,” Emir said, louder this time at least.

“He doesn’t look good,” Steve said. “I think he needs a doctor.”

“No!” Cohen and Jen said together.

“That is,” Cohen added, chuckling and rubbing his hands together. “He looks alright to me. What do you say, Jen?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jen nodded, giving a thumbs up. “Sure thing, boss. Right as rain.”

“You see.” Cohen smiled.

Steve dabbed a wet rag on Emir’s bloody forehead. “Right as rain, huh?”

“I am a care,” Emir said. “I don’t robot.”

“That sounds right as rain to you?” Steve scoffed.

“Well he’s a little dizzy,” Cohen said, chuckling and trying to avoid eye contact with both Steve and Laura. “But nothing too serious. Right, Jen? Tell them.”

Laura scoffed. “He doesn’t look like he’ll be able to act any time soon,” she said, hoping they’d see that at least. “It seems pretty serious to me.”

“Fuck, fuck, shit, fuck,” Cohen repeated, pacing the small room. “You’re right about that.”

“Well, why don’t we complain to the studio manager, then?” Steve asked. “It is their responsibility, isn’t it? Maybe they can send a doctor for us.”

Cohen shot him a look then turned to Jen. “No, I don’t know,” he said, urging Jen to say something. He obviously didn’t want the studio managers alerted to the fact that they were using the lot.

“You know what,” Jen said, putting on a fake smile. She never really was that great of an actor. She had a pretty face, though, so she got work. “I think I’ll go and alert them myself. I’m pretty sure—no—I’m certain that I saw someone with a Loch Ness monster on their shirt on my way in here. I’ll—I’ll go alert them to the problem, and we’ll get to the bottom of this in no time.”

Yes,” Cohen said, clapping his hands together as she started to leave. “That exactly.”

“You know,” Laura said, holding her phone over her head. Jen stopped in her tracks, and Cohen stared at Laura, annoyed, while Steve went on dabbing Emir’s forehead with a wet rag and Emir kept mumbling about being a robot. “I happen to have the studio manager’s direct line. I could save you the trouble.” Laura smirked.

“Oh, no, no,” Cohen said, looking to Jen for help. “Nonsense.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Jen said. “Really. I’ll just go out and—”

“Por que no los dos?” Steve said, shrugging.

Cohen shot him a look. “Yes,” he said. “Of course.” He chuckled nervously, rubbing his no doubt sweaty hands together. “Both. Great idea, Steve. Top notch.” He shot a big fake smile at Jen, nodding. “Go ahead, then.”

“Oh, well…” Jen said. “Okay, I guess. I mean. Yeah. I’ll just be on my way then.” She walked out as slowly as she could, but even with all that time Cohen couldn’t come up with a way to keep her from leaving.

“And I’ll just make that call, then,” Laura said with a chuckle, trying to stall a bit herself. She did have a direct line to someone in the ownership line of Loch Ness studios, but she wasn’t really supposed to call him until after all this dirty deed was done, not right in the middle of it. “I’ll let them know they’re dealing with Cohen Martin,” she said, “the soon to be biggest director on any TV set in the entire world.”

“No—well—” Cohen stammered.

“Do it,” Steve said. “Can’t you see this man’s injured?” Emir nodded off again as if to illustrate the point. “And tell them to send a doctor.” Steve went back to dabbing Emir’s still bleeding head with an already bloody rag.

“Alright, then,” Laura said, hitting send and putting her phone to her ear. “I’ll tell them what’s up.”

Good,” Steve said with a single curt nod.

“No,” Cohen said, stepping closer to Laura and trying to tear the phone out of her hand. “No, you can’t— You don’t understand.”

Laura held tight, though, and took a step back. The phone had rung three times and there still wasn’t an answer. She was starting to worry that no one would answer when he finally did.

“It’s about time, sweetheart,” came the sickening voice from the other end of the line, the voice of the man who had kept her in the chains she was trying to free herself from for so long now. Cohen tried one more time to grab the phone away, but Laura took a quick step back and dodged his advance.

“It’s done,” she said as she did.

“You can’t!” Cohen complained.

“Good,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “Very good.”

“Yes,” Laura said. “I’m calling about Loch Ness Studios, lot thirty seven. This is Laura Concierge.”

Cohen gave up, slouching on the couch next to Steve and rousing Emir who groaned, failing to sit up despite trying. “Wha—Where am I?” he said.

“See, he’s fine!” Cohen said.

“Yes,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “Very good, child. Keep up the charade. Tell me what happened.”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, turning her back to her crew as she spoke. “Lot thirty seven, sir. We were filming a shoot when one of the studio lights fell on top of our star. He was knocked unconscious, sir. We’re not sure he’ll ever act again, and we only had the lot for a limited time at that. This is your responsibility, and we demand a refund and credit for more time in the studios as reparation.”

Cohen held his face in his hands, shaking his head, probably crying. Emir seemed a little better already—which Laura was happy to see—he was sitting up now, at least, and Steve was crossing the room to get him some more water.

“Very good, child,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “I assume you mean Emir when you say star, of course.”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, nodding even though the voice couldn’t see it. “He… He doesn’t look good. We need a doctor. Someone to tell him just how bad it is, sir.”

Emir still looked dazed on the couch—though he was drinking water by himself now—when Jen returned to be furiously updated by Cohen who really did start to cry.

“I’ve sent someone already,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “My personal doctor. She’ll give you the diagnosis you seek. And I expect to see you shortly, dear. In my office as soon as you’re done there. You know the way.”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, nodding. “And we expect a full refund on our rent for the day. Nothing less.” But the second part she said to a dead line.

“So?” Cohen and Jen asked at the same time, both with red puffy eyes.

“They said they’d—”

The green room doors burst open and a young woman in a long white coat rushed in with a black bag over her shoulder. “Where’s the patient?” she demanded, setting her bag on the coffee table in front of the couch.

“Oh—uh…” Everyone kind of pointed at Emir whose head still seemed to be too heavy for his neck to hold up.

“Alright, then,” the doctor said, grabbing some tool from the bag to examine him with. “Let me just see here.”

Emir blinked his eyes against the light that the woman’s tool emitted, shaking his head. “I am a robot,” he said. “I don’t care.”

The doctor kind of chuckled then shook her head, like she realized that laughing was poor bedside manner only too late. “What was that?” she asked when she had gathered herself. “He’s a robot?”

“It’s one of his lines,” Cohen said, talking too close to the doctor. He looked like he wanted her out of there before she could cause any trouble for him. “He has a hard time getting out of character. That’s nothing out of the ordinary for him.”

“It’s true,” Jen said, nodding.

“Still, I don’t like it,” the doctor said, shaking her head. She put her tool back in the black bag and got a bottle of pills out. “A glass of water, please.”

Emir held the glass he was still drinking from up to her and said, “I am a robot. Your wish is my command.”

“Oh, well…” The doctor shook her head, pushing the glass back to him and handing him two pills. “It was for you anyway, dear. Drink up and take those. They’ll have you feeling better in no time.”

“I am a robot,” Emir said, swallowing the pills and the rest of the water. “I don’t care.”

“Well,” the doctor said, grabbing her bag and crossing back to the door. “I’m afraid that’s all I can do. He should be better soon, but not today. Probably not tomorrow, either. Just don’t let him go to sleep for the next twenty four hours. Wake him up every fifteen minutes, at least. Otherwise he may not wake up ever. And then give him some rest after that. A few weeks of it, in bed, with no work. That’s the only thing that’ll make him well again. Okay, then. Ta ta.” She slammed the door closed behind her as she left, apparently in a hurry to do something somewhere else.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Cohen said, standing in Laura’s face.

“What?” Laura asked, stepping up to him. “Get Emir medical attention?”

“Calm down you two,” Steve said, standing between them to push them apart.

“I was just trying to help,” Laura said, shrugging. “I would hope that one of you would do the same if it was me about to die like that.”

You were being defiant,” Cohen said. “I had everything under control.”

“I don’t know,” Jen said. “Nothing bad happened, right? Emir should be fine, I mean. That’s what the doctor said, isn’t it?”

“That is what she said.” Steve nodded.

“Still,” Cohen said, pacing the room. “What the fuck? What are we supposed to do now? We don’t have a star.”

“Wait until he’s better,” Steve said. “What else?”

“We don’t have time to wait,” Cohen said. “Our time’s almost up here. Not to mention the investors…”

“What about them?” Jen asked.

“Yeah,” Laura said. She still didn’t even know who these mystery investors were. “What about them?”

“They want their product,” Cohen said. “What else? They’re investors. What the fuck do you think?”

“I think you need to calm the fuck down,” Laura said.

“Yeah,” Jen nodded. “Settle down, dude.”

“Well we need a fucking star or we don’t have a movie,” Cohen said.

“And Emir should be fine again soon,” Steve reminded him.

“I am a robot,” Emir said, groaning.

“We need him sooner than soon,” Cohen said, flailing his hands in the air. “We need him right now. Fuck it. Fuck this. I’m out of here.” He stomped out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him.

“Fortuna!” Jen said when he was gone. “What an ass.”

“Right?” Steve nodded. “You need some more water, honey?”

Emir nodded. “I don’t care.”

“What an ass,” Laura repeated, packing up her lights and cameras. “Y’all can take care of Emir, though, right? I have some pretty important business to see to right now.”

Uh…” Jen looked to Steve, obviously not wanting the responsibility herself.

Yeah, sure.” Steve nodded and shrugged, rinsing his glass—of everclear, probably. “I have some sewing to do anyway. What the fuck? I’ll make it an all nighter.”

“Great,” Laura said. “Awesome. I hope he’ll be alright.” And she knew he would be but not soon enough. The wheels had been set in motion.

#     #     #

< XLIII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     XLV. Anna >

There it is, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed another chapter in the story. Don’t forget to pick up the full novel here and don’t forget to subscribe to my email newsletter for your chance to win a free copy of the Murder in “Utopia,, audio book upon release. Have a great weekend, y’all.