Chapter 66: Jorah

Hello, dear readers. Welcome back for another chapter in the Infinite Limits story. Today we see the worlds through the eyes of Jorah Baldwin, the most viewed actor in all of history now that poor Russ Logo has met his fate. If you enjoy this chapter, please do think about picking up a copy of the full novel through this link. And as always, enjoy.

< LXV. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXVII. Mr. Kitty >

LXVI. Jorah

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Why? Why did they still need him to do this? Why did they need anyone to do this?

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

He was supposed to be an actor, not an assembly line worker. And besides that, robots were one hundred percent capable of doing slip, snap, clicking work. There was no reason to convince humans that it was fun, rewarding, or honorable in any way. They weren’t needed to do it.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Of course androids were capable of doing slip, snap, clicking work. Jorah himself was one of them, and he was doing the work better than any human ever could.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

But no one knew that he was an android. And Jorah couldn’t tell anyone that he was—especially now that his majority owner was Mr. Walker, the head of the anti-robot counter-revolution. Still, none of that changed the fact that androids could do the work.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, clicking certainly wasn’t what he had escaped his own assembly line for. He hadn’t liberated himself from slavery just so he could turn around and sit voluntarily behind another assembly line.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

He hadn’t escaped so he could free the other robots, either. He hadn’t escaped so he could fight them in Mr. Walker’s army. Jorah had escaped for one reason and one reason alone: So he could live his own life.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Not like this. Some people might have called what he was doing living, but it certainly wasn’t his life. He didn’t even get to choose what roles he acted in.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Jorah turned to look at the extra next to him, intent on her own work, living her own puppet life and being made to dance by the tugs of her own strings. Her a human, him an android, and neither able to exhibit any more free will than the other. Each forced to do whatever they had to do to procure the energy they needed in order to reproduce and prolong their sad, irrelevant lives.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Well how much energy did they need today? How many tugs would Jorah’s strings get until the puppeteer finally let him rest? How many more days could Jorah take living like this? How many more days could all the puppets take it?

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

But there wasn’t anything he could do. Was there? If there were, he would have done it already. He was as free as he could ever be in Outland Three. The only thing left for him was to work and to wait.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

And though he felt like he couldn’t take it any longer, Jorah still went on slip, snap, clicking, even after a loud, metallic bell signaled for lunch and the extras filling the set around him dropped their work to hurry to it.

“I said cut!” Wes, the director, yelled through a megaphone. “That’s the scene, Jorah. Or it was supposed to be. And I like your commitment to the job, but we really need a shot of you leaving the assembly line with the rest of the workers.”

“I— What?” Jorah asked, absently standing from his work stool and making his way toward the food cart to nibble on some cheese.

“You didn’t stand up and leave with the rest of the workers,” Wes said, slowly, like Jorah was stupid, but Jorah was still having trouble following what was being said so he couldn’t really take offense. “You’re a good worker, yes, but you hate your job. The very same reason you work so hard—up until the very end of your shift—is the exact reason you can’t wait to get home. Your family. And it’s not like your piece of shit boss—your words, not mine—is going to pay you for any of the extra pieces you slip, snap, click together above quota so you’re just wasting your time, making your boss look better so she can make more money without sharing any of it with you. Now, do you see why you’d be just as eager to get up and get out of there as all these other extras who did what their scripts told them to do?”

“I—uhYeah…” Jorah said, finishing off another tiny cube of cheese in search of the energy he’d need to get himself through another day of dancing under his puppet strings. “I’m sorry. I mean, of course. Anything you say. You’re the director. I’ll do better this time. I swear.”

“Alright, then. Places everyone!” Wes called through his megaphone, and the puppeteer strings pulled all the actors into their first positions—including Jorah to sit on his cold, hard stool, back again in front of the assembly line for the trillionth time since he had become the star of Mr. Walker’s anti-robot propaganda machine.

“Lights!” Wes called.

And the world faded into darkness around Jorah, all except for his work area which was lit so brightly that it gave him a shining aura like a halo.

“Cue the belts.”

The constituent parts of whatever it was they were slip, snap, clicking together started moving down the conveyor belt in front of him again, and like Pavlov’s dogs, Jorah began piecing them together, even before the scene had officially begun. This time he would act it to perfection.

Aaaaannnd… action!”

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

All he could do was wonder how many more days he could take living like this. How many more days would all the puppets take it?

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click.

Slip, snap, click…

#     #     #

He was home at last, finally alone again in his dressing room. Here he had the greatest illusion of freedom in, and control over, his life, and so here was his favorite place to be—even if he knew full and well that the freedom and control he felt like he was experiencing was nothing more than an illusion.

Here, at least, he had his television. And that was programmed to comply to his every demand—manual, remote, or vocal—as long as that demand had something to do with powering on or off, adjusting volume, or changing the channel, etc. Which was some amount of control and freedom, however limited. As well, here was the battle station which had a seemingly infinite—though necessarily finite due to the nature of physics—number of makeup and hairstyle combinations for Jorah to command up at his every whimsy. Not full control or freedom, again, but better than nothing.

Then of course, there was the 3D printer. The machine that ensured Jorah more freedom than most anyone in all the worlds was lucky to experience—excepting the owners, of course. It was the same reason he was chained to the anti-robot propaganda films that Mr. Walker was forcing him to act in. But Jorah would have to work a job in order to survive no matter what, and most of the jobs out there didn’t come anywhere close to paying with unbridled printer access, so there he was, producing anti-robot propaganda as an android himself. He was starting to wonder how much of his life he was willing to give up for even that much “freedom”.

In fact, Jorah stood there then, staring at the frowny face arch of his 3D printer’s closed mouth, finger hovering over the single red eye button, trying to figure out what he really needed from this expensive machine at all. He was an android, after all, not a squishy, mortal human, and if he chose to, he could generate most of the energy he needed—all with a proper source of saline—through a photosynthesis-like process. One of the benefits of his darker skin was the ability to absorb more of the Sun’s energy, and he could last on that for some time. Besides, he never really liked to eat anyway. Sure, he pretended like he enjoyed food in order to endear himself with his actor friends, but he never seemed to be able to experience the same raw euphoria that humans did when they ate. So in the end, probably the only thing he’d ever truly miss about losing access to his printer would be the clothes. And Fortuna the clothes.

First of all, and of course, the dresses. A-lines, slips, sheaths. Every type of skirt from mini on up to maxi and beyond. Blouses in tank tops, halters, and racerbacks. Suit pants, suits, blazers, and hats. He could go on and on and on about it. Hell, he was even starting to appreciate the subtle differences between different styles of tuxedo after having been dragged along to so many galas with Mr. Walker. And even if his printer could only make tuxes and nothing else, that alone might be worth Jorah’s days spent acting in shitty, self-hating, anti-robot propaganda. Maybe.

He was still standing there in front of his printer, trying to decide between hundreds of millions of billions of options that all seemed equally unappetizing, when a knock came at the door, surprising Jorah so much that he nearly jumped out of the slippers he was wearing.

Yoo hoo!” came Meg’s voice through the dressing room door, grating Jorah’s insides at the sound of it. “Jorah, my boy. Are you in there?”

Jorah hesitated. He didn’t feel like spending time with any humans—he almost never did—but he couldn’t just stay silent and wait for Meg to go away because she may never. Ever since the untimely death of Jorah’s best friend, Russ—the only human who Jorah had never minded spending time with—Meg had practically been stalking Jorah, trying to become the new best friend of the now most popular celebrity in all of celebritydom, and frankly, Jorah was sick of it. Meg was a nice person, a great dresser, and an okay actor—all things that should have made her the perfect new friend for Jorah who didn’t give his opinion of a person’s wardrobe lightly—but something about her needy clinginess turned Jorah off to ever starting a real relationship with her.

“Yes, I’m here,” Jorah finally called back, hoping for no response. “One moment, please.”

Fantastic. Take your time,” Meg responded nonetheless. “I’ve got all the time in the world to spare.”

Of course she did. And of course he did. So he slowly buttoned on his blouse, taking extra time to find the perfect shoes and not settling on an eyeshadow color until he had seen all of his options three times through. He still held out hope that Meg would get sick of waiting and leave, but of course again, he had no such luck. She was still waiting outside of his dressing room with a smile on her face when he opened the door to say, “Hello.” with a curt nod of the head.

Wow,” Meg said, holding a hand to her mouth—lips painted as red as Jorah’s. “No wonder you’re so famous. You look absolutely stunning. Just perfect. Even better in person.”

Jorah blushed. He would never get used to flattery like that, no matter how often he experienced it, and he was starting to worry that enough of it might just solidify Meg’s position as his best friend despite Jorah’s every efforts to resist her advances. “You’re too kind,” he said. “But I’m sure you didn’t just come here to compliment me again, have you? We’ve been over this.”

Meg stared at Jorah in silence for a moment, mesmerized by his beauty, before remembering herself and saying, “What? I mean, no. Not again. Though if you’d let me, I’d come here every day just to stare at you. I swear.”

Jorah’s ears got hotter. “Please,” he said. “Don’t. What is it that you actually came here for?”

“I—uh—well…” Meg was hesitant now. Jorah didn’t like the sound of what was to come. “Have you eaten anything yet?” she finally asked.

“I was just thinking about ordering in from the printer,” Jorah said, and he regretted it instantly. Now she knew that he had no plans and no excuses for getting out of what came next.

“Oh, no,” Meg said, shaking her head and scrunching up her nose like she smelled something dead and rotting. “Gross. You can’t. C’mon. Come eat with me. I heard about this new restaurant called The Prison. It’s supposed to be the hottest dining experience all year. We should definitely go check it out.”

Uh… I don’t know,” Jorah said, trying to find an excuse. “I’m not really dating right now. And I don’t—”

No, no no.” Meg stopped him there. “Not a date. A business dinner. I have a proposition for you, and I think you’ll receive it better over a meal that’s suitable for the occasion. So what do you say?”

There was really nothing else to say because, like an idiot, he had cut off all his lines of retreat at the beginning of the conversation. So Jorah just said, “Alright. Fine.” and tried to smile. “The Prison, you say? I’ve been meaning to eat there for a week now.” And that much was true. “I’d love to join you for dinner.” Even if that much wasn’t.

“Great!” Meg said, clapping her hands. “Perfect. Are you ready now or should I come in?” She tried peeking around him to see what his dressing room looked like, but Jorah still wasn’t ready to let her inside.

“No, no,” Jorah said, stepping out into the hall to close the door on her prying eyes. “There’ll be no need for that. I’m ready as we speak. Shall we take your elevator or mine?”

Oh, yours, please,” Meg said with a big smile. “Mine’s in the shop. I had to ride the public elevator here. It was disgusting. I bet I still smell like it. I’m so sorry.”

In fact, she didn’t. She smelled instead like too much perfume, an odor which she only made worse by adding more from a tiny bottle in her handbag. Jorah wasn’t sure how she expected to be able to taste the food with all that artificial scent clogging up her senses, but luckily, he didn’t care what the food actually tasted like anyway. He just had to knock it off his list of restaurants to eat at before he could review them—and positively at that, no matter the taste, atmosphere, or service, as per Mr. Walker’s demand—on his show.

“No, well, you smell…” Jorah trailed off without finishing his thought, instead pushing the button to call his elevator which opened instantly—his elevator being prioritized in the queue since he was the most famous actor in all of history.

As soon as the doors slid open, before Jorah could even react enough to step inside, Meg jumped in to sit on the purple suede couch and pet its upholstery.

“What an amazing elevator,” she said, still petting the couch as the doors closed. “It’s almost as nice as your clothes. You really are the perfect celebrity.”

“It’s not much,” Jorah said. “Same as everyone else’s. Lined with mirrors. A couch to sit on. Basic.”

“Yeah, but this couch,” Meg said. “It’s perfect. Soft, supportive, comfortable. Not to mention beautiful. Everything you need in an elevator couch.”

“Yes. Because it belonged to the perfect celebrity,” Jorah said.

“I told you!” Meg said, standing with a big smile. “And confident, too.”

“But not me.” Jorah laughed so he wouldn’t cry. “Not even close to me. I’m talking about Russ Logo.”

Oh.” Meg kind of deflated. She definitely wasn’t smiling any more. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s not your fault,” Jorah said. Which it wasn’t. “I’m the one who brought his name up. But that’s enough about the past. It’s time to look to the future. Let’s eat. Elevator. The Prison.”

The floor fell out from underneath them, and Meg, timidly, said, “You two were good friends. Weren’t you?”

“The best I’ll ever have,” Jorah said. “But, please. No more about Russ. It’s a beautiful day. We’re on our way to a famous restaurant. You have a business proposition you want to extend to me. Let’s enjoy this to the fullest. Elevator, street entrance, please.”

Meg gasped, checking herself in the infinitely reflecting mirrors in all directions. “What? You mean it? But the papos…”

“Let ‘em take our picture,” Jorah said, checking himself in the mirrors, too. “We’re two attractive, adult celebrities, and it’s well within our rights to enjoy a luxury business dinner together. Who cares if the world knows? I need some fresh air, and I’m gonna get it. Now, are you coming with me, or do you want to ride along to the restaurant entrance and meet me inside?”

“Oh, no,” Meg said. “I didn’t think you’d— I mean. Yes. Of course. By all means. Let’s go.”

The elevator stopped falling and Jorah struck a pose before saying, “Doors, open.”

Flashing lights and hot hot humidity flooded into the elevator before either one of them could react. When the papos outside saw it was Jorah, their lights quickened. Jorah posed a few times, then pulled Meg in to pose for a few photos, too, and when everybody had gotten their fair share of pictures, Jorah and Meg pushed their way out through the mass of papos and toward the restaurant.

Wow,” Meg said, fixing her hair in a pocket mirror as they walked. “I don’t think the papos have ever been so interested in taking my picture as they were just then. Thank you.”

“They can be fierce,” Jorah said, but he wasn’t really paying attention to Meg, more interested in the city around him. There was something familiar about the buildings or the street that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Meg had gone on talking for some time when he couldn’t take it anymore, interrupting her to say, “This place seems familiar to me for some reason. Did something else used to be here?”

“Oh, yeah,” Meg said, pausing to really think about it. “The—uhThe Farm, or something? I think… Oh, no. The Plantation! That’s it,” she said, walking on.

“The Plantation…” Jorah repeated under his breath, remembering more but still not quite everything.

“Yep. The Plantation. Some producer bought it to live in or something like that,” Meg said with a shrug. “The things they do these days… But anyway, this is the place.”

And so it was. The Prison. And of course, it looked like every prison Jorah had ever seen on TV. There were tall walls, topped with chain-link fences that were topped with a combination of razor and barbed wire, all surrounding a big yard with basketball courts and weight benches on either side of the path that led to the restaurant’s front door where, inside, they were greeted from behind bars by a jerky robot in orange overalls.

“Hello,” the robot said. “May I take your jackets?”

Neither of them were wearing jackets so Jorah just said, “Uh. Table for two.”

“Right this way, please.” The robot host tried to walk, but it ran into the prison bars and couldn’t go any further before awkwardly searching for the cell door, finding a way out, and leading Meg and Jorah to their table in another cell.

Wow,” Meg said when the host had left them with menus. “This might be the coolest restaurant I’ve ever seen. Get a load of those costumes.”

Huh? Yeah. Costumes…” Jorah said, but again, he wasn’t paying attention. This time he was distracted by a little black furry blur running between the bars that separated the cell they were eating in from their neighbor’s cell before the thing disappeared into thin air. “Fortuna. Did you see that?” Jorah asked, interrupting whatever it was that Meg was going on about now. “Disgusting.”

“What?” Meg said, turning to see what he was talking about. “Oh, Fortuna. That dress is hideous. How does someone even go out in public looking like that?”

“No.” Jorah chuckled, feeling some sense of déjà vu. “That’s not what I— Never mind. Here. Let’s get on with it. What business proposition did you have in mind? Why’d you bring me here? Spit it out.”

“Ah, yes. Well… Don’t you think we should order first?” She looked nervously around for a server.

“I’d rather not,” Jorah said. “I don’t like to do business while I’m eating. But I would like to use that time to consider your proposition. So please, I’d prefer to hear your offer before the server even arrives. If you can manage it.”

“I— Uh. Well…” Meg was still hesitant, nervous.

“Go on.”

“Well, I want to be more than an actor, okay. I’m decent at it. The camera loves me. I enjoy acting well enough. But it’s just not the life for me.”

“I’m following. And I tend to agree,” Jorah said. “But I’m having a hard time figuring out what exactly it is that any of this has to do with me.”

“Right, right. Of course.” Meg fixed herself up and sat a little straighter in her chair. “Ahem,” she cleared her throat before going on. “Well, I also want to be—no, I am a clothes designer. But no one takes me seriously about that yet.”

“And…” Jorah led her on.

“Well, that’s where you come in. If you ever, say, wore some of my clothes, everyone else would want to wear them, too. Right? So I’m proposing…” And so on and so on. It was a typical business transaction between two consenting celebrities. Jorah was a little surprised to find out that Meg was a designer, but he definitely wanted to see her work at the very least, and he could make any further decisions after that. He didn’t say as much until after they had ordered their one special each and eaten the meals, of course—he didn’t want Meg to think that he was too eager to be working with her—but then he set up a meeting to try on the clothes and they parted ways so Jorah could prepare for his talk show.

#     #     #

On came the classical stylings of the Jorah’s Chorus theme music. Jorah himself sat at his J-shaped desk, staring into the black mirror of the camera lens, ready as ever to put on a show. The director counted down, the music began to fade, and Jorah smiled to the oncoming applause.

“My fans, my fans. Please,” he said, waving his hands in humble accord. “I love you all dearly, but if you don’t quiet down, you’ll never hear Jorah’s Chorus. And that is what we all got dressed up to come out here for tonight. Isn’t it?”

The crowd hooped and hollered, singing their own version of a chorus.

“Of course it is,” Jorah went on. “I know it’s what I came out here for. This is my show after all. Isn’t it? Jorah’s Chorus is what it’s called, so what do I have to sing for you today?

“More of the same, of course. The usual. The chorus. The bread and butter that you’ve all come to expect and love. We’ll have a few movie reviews and previews, including my latest—HAL BOT 5000. We’ll have my own personal review of The Prison, a restaurant down in New Orleans. Wait until you hear about my experiences in this one. You’ll never believe it, I promise you. And finally—finally—for a slight change of pace, at the end of the show tonight, I plan on announcing a new business relationship that I’ve just opened up—literally right before my show today—with an up-and-coming designer who, forgive my language, but y’all are going to shit your pants when I reveal who this person is. I promise you. You. Won’t. Believe.

“But first, and of course, y’all know how the business goes. We’ve gotta see a few more messages from our sponsors—including Mr. Walker, producer of many of the fine movies—and restaurants—you’ll hear about tonight—but don’t go anywhere, you hear? Because you don’t want to miss the announcement that’s coming up at the end of the show. I’ll be here waiting for y’all in the meantime. Until then. This is Jorah’s Chorus.”

And the classical tune of Jorah’s Chorus’s theme song went on playing again while Jorah sat pleased at his seat, excited for the show to come. But of course, as happened any time Jorah felt like Fortuna was finally spinning her wheel in his favor, everything went to shit again.

There across the set, talking to Jorah’s director, in their too white uniforms with cargo pants—cargo pants!—plated armor vests, and glowing neon smiles that sounded like Evil and Misfortune combined, were two protectors, talking in modulated voices through their almost screaming facemasks. Their teeth flashed neon glowing light all over the director until she pointed the protectors in Jorah’s direction, and he held his breath, dreading what was to come.

“Jorah Baldwin?” one of the protectors demanded in their too loud, unnatural voice, teeth glowing neon yellow, red, and green with every word.

“Yes.” Jorah nodded.

“We need you to come with us,” the other said in a voice modulated to sound exactly the same as the first’s.

“But I’m in the middle of a show,” Jorah complained. “Can’t this wait? I have an audience expecting me to perform.”

“Mr. Walker’s orders,” the first said. “Let’s go. Move it.”

And Jorah had no choice at the invocation of Mr. Walker’s power, so he did his best to apologize to his audience as the protectors dragged him violently off set.

#     #     #

< LXV. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXVII. Mr. Kitty >

There it is, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits story. If you enjoyed that and can’t wait for the rest of the story, you can always pick up a full copy of the novel in ebook or print format through this link. Or you can join us again next week for the next chapter, from Mr. Kitty’s perspective. Whatever you decide, thanks for sticking around this long, and we look forward to seeing you around in the future. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 21: The Scientist

Today brings us the final chapter of The Asymptote’s Tail, book one of the Infinite Limits series. I hope you’ve enjoyed everything so far and that you aren’t disappointed by this conclusion. If not, please do think about picking up a copy from Amazon to show your support for my future works. And if you can’t wait to hear what happens in book two, don’t worry, I’m hard at work editing it now so it should be published within the next month or two at the latest. Beyond that, my latest novella (Murder in “Utopia,,) is up for sale, too, and it will be released tomorrow, October 4th, for only $2. So think about picking up a copy of that while you’re at it.

That’s enough advertising for this morning. Thanks again for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll join us for future installments in Infinite Limits and beyond. Have a great weekend.

The Scientist

< XX. Tom     [Table of Contents]     Book II >

XXI. The Scientist

The speech went well. The amplifiers deafened the owners and made them shut up for a little while, so she had that going for her. Which was nice. But there was also the obstacle she didn’t foresee, there were always obstacles you couldn’t foresee.

When she had finished her speech, she went backstage to count her fifteen minutes down as Rosalind fetched her daughter. Then the protector came from the dressing area. The Scientist hid behind some unused scenery as the protector went out to give a speech of his own and fire two shots, then a little girl came running out of nowhere to tackle him. They both disappeared back into the dressing area, then Huey came rushing backstage behind Rosalind who was carrying Haley’s lifeless body over her shoulder.

“He’s going to try to stop you,” Huey pled, chasing her. “You can’t just take her in front of everyone like that!”

“I’d like to see them try!” Rosalind said, laying Haley on the ground in front of the Scientist. “You have to help her.”

Tears welled up behind the Scientist’s eyes.

Hellooo,” Rosalind said, waving a hand in front of her face. “She needs help now. We don’t have time for this.” Owners had started crowding around the stage to see what was going on, and protectors would be on their way as soon as they were sure that Lord Walker was alright.

“I can’t do anything here,” the Scientist said. “I need—”

“Let’s go, then.” Rosalind lifted Haley’s body and carried her toward the closet elevator. The Scientist and Huey followed, and they were gone through the hole and back to the lab before anyone could tell the difference.

“Alright, here?” Rosalind asked, laying Haley on the lab table.

“No,” the Scientist said. “The engineering room. I’ll meet you there.”

Rosalind picked Haley up and disappeared out into the hall.

The Scientist searched frantically through the drawers to find the serum. “Is there anything I can do?” Huey asked.

“Wait,” the Scientist said, grabbing what she needed. She ran out into the hall, closed the door, opened it again, and ran into the engineering room. Haley was sprawled out on the drafting table as Rosalind brushed the hair out of her face.

“She doesn’t look good,” Rosalind said.

“I’ll fix that,” the Scientist said, filling a syringe with serum and flicking the air bubbles out, always sure to do it, even when she was in a hurry.

“Are you sure?”

“I am. But I need you to leave so I can…I’m going to be using some…”

“You don’t have to make excuses,” Rosalind said, standing from Haley’s side. “Just fix her. And get me when she’s better.”

The Scientist watched the door close behind Rosalind. She went back to filling the syringe and tapping out any air. Satisfied, she plunged it into Haley’s thigh then set to extracting the bullet. The serum helped to push it out, and the process was easier than she expected it to be. This was a Sixer round, not a protector round. That was the first clue as to who was behind it.

The bullet out, and with less effort than she expected, the Scientist only had to pull up a stool and wait for the nanobots to take effect. With such quick application, there would be virtually no damage. The tears came back to the Scientist’s eyes when Haley blinked herself awake.

“Wh—Where am I?” Haley asked, groggily.

“You’re safe,” the Scientist said in almost a whisper.

“Where’s Lord Walker?” Haley asked, sitting up fast.

“He’s safe, too,” the Scientist said, reassuring her. “But he doesn’t matter. You do.”

“Wh—who are you?” Haley asked, frowning.

“I’m…” The Scientist shook her head. She couldn’t answer that just yet.

Thankfully, Haley stalled a little longer for her. “Where am I?” she asked again, looking around the room.

“You’re in my lab.” The Scientist tried to blink away her tears. “One of them at least.”

“And who are you?”

“I—I’m…a friend. I’m the Scientist.”

Haley waited for her to go on, but when she didn’t, she said, “But what’s your name?”

Oof. The Scientist had given her name up when Lord Walker had taken her daughter from her. He had taken her name from her, too, and given it to her daughter instead. “I’m Dr. Haley,” she said after a long silence.

“Haley? That’s my name.”

The Scientist tried not to cry. “Yes,” she said, shaking her head. “Yes it is.”

“Why am I here?”

“You were shot, saving Lord Walker.”

“He is okay, though. Isn’t he?”

“Yes, dear. He is.”

I took a bullet for him.” Haley shook her head.

“You did.”

Ugh. Why’d I do that?”

The Scientist laughed and cried at the same time. “I don’t know, dear,” she said, sniffling. “You tell me.”

“I don’t know, either,” Haley said, shaking her head still. “I guess I was supposed to. Wait, where am I?” She looked around the room again.

“It’s alright, dear,” the Scientist said, chuckling so as not to cry. “You’re safe.”

“Why do you have to keep reassuring me I’m safe if I really am?”

“Well, you’ve been shot,” the Scientist said. “Your system is going through shock. I injected you with nanobots, and they’ll fix you right up, but it takes a little bit of time.”

“Nanobots?”

“Yes.” The Scientist nodded. “The main ingredient in the smoothies you eat. But an injection is the only thing that could work fast enough to heal a wound like yours.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Well, I’m a scientist, dear. The Scientist. It’s my job to know.”

Haley shook her head and rubbed her eyes. She rolled her shoulders then put her hand on her chest. “My chest hurts,” she said.

The Scientist chuckled. She started to cry again. “Yes. You were shot.”

“But why?”

“That’s a long story, dear. And one I don’t know all of yet. But you don’t have to worry about that now. We’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Haley asked, squinting to get a different perspective.

The Scientist nodded, trying to hold back full blown sobs, although she couldn’t contain her tears. “Yes, dear,” she said. “I—I’m your mother.”

Haley shook her head. She looked confused. “No,” she said. “I don’t have a—a mother.”

“Who told you that?” The Scientist frowned.

“I’m a robot,” Haley said, nodding like it was obvious. “I wasn’t born.”

“Have you always existed?”

“Well, no. Not always. But I wasn’t born.”

“You were born. You were born right here in this room. Right there on the table you’re sitting on now.”

Haley looked around the room. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I would have remembered that. I remember everything. I was turned on in Lord Walker’s kitchen, and that’s the first memory I have.”

“It’s not the first thing you remember, though,” the Scientist said. “There are pieces left from before that. They tried to erase them, but they couldn’t. That’s why you recognize me.”

Haley rubbed her eyes. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean—I thought I did, but it must be that you look like someone I’ve seen before. That’s all.”

“You, dear?” the Scientist asked, raising an eyebrow.

Haley shook her head. “No, of course not.”

The Scientist chuckled, trying not to take offense. “You’re my daughter. You were made to look like me.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “I look nothing like you.”

“Not anymore,” the Scientist said. “No. I’ll give you that. But you look like I did when I created you. That was a long time ago, dear. We humans change over that kind of time.”

“Y—You’re serious,” Haley said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“I am, dear. I’ve never been more serious in my life. I’ve waited all this time to see you again and here you are.” The tears came back stronger than ever.

“No.” Haley shook her head.

The Scientist knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince her, but she had to keep trying. “Yes,” she said. “I invented the technology that is you. I invented you. You were the first android I ever created, and I did it right here in this room. I turned you on while you were laying on that table, and this was the first sight you ever saw. Well, except try to picture your own face instead of mine.” She smiled through her tears, though she knew it only accentuated her wrinkles and crow’s feet.

“That’s why I recognize this place?”

“And why you recognize me.”

“You’re…you’re my mother?” She kind of frowned as she said it.

“And you’re my daughter,” the Scientist said, letting out a big sigh of relief at finally getting the message across.

“I didn’t think I could be a daughter,” Haley said. “Or—I mean—I didn’t think I could have a mother.”

“You can. And you are. And you do. I’ve been waiting your whole life to get back to you.”

“Is that why Rosalind was asking all those weird questions?”

“Yes, dear. She’s your sister. We want you to live here with us. We don’t want to waste any more time without you, and you won’t have to work for Lord Walker ever again.”

Haley didn’t seem convinced. “What? And work for Mr. Douglas instead?”

“No,” the Scientist said, shaking her head. “Of course not. Come live with me, finally enjoy the childhood you never had. I’ll cook you breakfast, and you can watch TV all day. You can do whatever you want. I just want you to do it here, near me, so I can share the experience with you.”

“But what about Lord Walker?”

“Lord Walker will be fine,” the Scientist said. “He’ll get another secretary to replace you. He’ll make sure she looks and sounds just like you, and he won’t know the difference.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “But I’m the best. He’s always told me so. That’s why we’re number one in the Fortune 5.”

“He’s number one on the Fortune 5, because he started out as number one on the Fortune 5. No offense to your abilities, Haley, but the newer models trade just as efficiently as you do. That’s why Mr. Douglas is catching up so quickly.”

“No. But I—”

“No, Haley. Listen. We don’t have much time. I’m offering you the opportunity to come live with me, your mother, and do anything you want while you’re here, or you can go back to work for Lord Walker and do whatever he tells you to do. Those are your options.”

“I don’t even know you,” Haley said, shaking her head. “How can I believe you?”

“I don’t know. How can you believe anyone? You just have to trust me.”

Trust who?” Haley demanded. “You could be anyone telling me anything.”

The Scientist was getting anxious. All her worst fears seemed to be coming true. Grasping at straws, she said, “What about Rosalind?”

“Rosalind?”

“You know her. You can trust her, can’t you?”

“I—I don’t know,” Haley said. “Maybe.”

“Well, I’ll take you to her, and you can decide for yourself,” the Scientist said, standing from her stool. “Come on.”

It took a moment for Haley to trust her own legs even. They were fine, though—thanks to the nanobots—and she followed the Scientist out to the hall. The Scientist opened the door again, and there was Huey, a little girl, and a little boy, sitting on the puffy chairs, looking out on the wilderness scene and the mountains.

“What is that?” Haley asked.

“Who is that?” the girl asked, getting up from her seat to stare at them.

“Where’s Rosalind?” the Scientist asked.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Haley,” Huey said.

“Are you the scientist?” the girl said, tugging at the Scientist’s white coat.

“Yes, dear. Just a moment, please. Huey, where’s Rosalind?”

“In the lab, ma’am.” He bowed.

Ah. Of course. Come with me.” The Scientist pulled Haley back into the hall.

“But, Mr. Douglas…” Haley said as the door closed.

“Yes, dear. How do you think Roz could work for me if he didn’t? She’s actually been at it longer than he has, you know.” She opened the door, and Rosalind was playing cards with Popeye at a table in the lab. “There she is,” the Scientist said. “Rosalind, dear. I have someone here who would like to talk to you.”

Rosalind stood up fast and turned around, knocking cards onto the floor. Popeye waved then set to cleaning up the mess—and making more of one in the process.

“Haley,” Rosalind said, crossing to her.

“Rosalind?” Haley said.

“You made it.” Rosalind hugged her.

“I—uh. Yeah. I did.”

“And the Scientist told you?” Rosalind looked between the two of them.

“That she’s my mother? Yes. But I don’t know if I—”

“That you’re my sister, Haley. That we’re sisters. She’s my mom, too.”

“No, but…” Haley shook her head. “We can’t have a mother. We’re robots.”

“I’m not a robot,” Rosalind said. “I’m a person. And I do have a mom. She’s our mom.”

“Then why don’t I remember her? I remember everything I’ve ever experienced.”

“Because you don’t remember everything you’ve ever experienced,” Rosalind said. “They have access to your memory bank. They tried to erase your memories, but they couldn’t do it. There are still pieces. I know there are.”

“It’s true, dear,” the Scientist said, nodding. “We’re working on repairing memories here in the lab. If you stay with us, we can work on repairing yours, too. If you want us to, that is.”

“You haven’t even decided to stay yet?” Rosalind said, looking at Haley in disbelief.

“I—Stay?” Haley scoffed. “This is just too weird.” She stepped back from the both of them.

“It’s strange, Haley,” Rosalind said. “I know that. Believe me. I went through the exact process you’re going through when mom explained to me where we came from, but you have to believe me when I say it’s much better than being a slave to some owner.”

“But you still work for Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

With Huey, dear,” the Scientist said. “They work together.”

Um. Mom,” Rosalind said, giving the Scientist a look. “Do you mind if I talk to her alone for a minute? Would that be alright with you, Haley?”

Haley shrugged. She looked overwhelmed.

Hmmm. I don’t know, dear,” the Scientist said. “We don’t have much time. They’ll be looking for—”

“They’ll be looking for her either way,” Rosalind said. “And it won’t take long, just a few minutes between sisters. Please.”

“But, dear—”

“Besides,” Rosalind cut her off. “You have a little visitor to deal with, remember? She’s been waiting a long time.”

“I—Well…Okay,” the Scientist said, shrugging. “I guess. A few minutes. But I want to talk to you before you leave, Haley. If that’s what you decide to do.”

“Of course,” Rosalind said, shoving her out the door. “We’ll be right out.”

The hall door closed behind the Scientist. She sighed and wiped her eyes. Rosalind was right, she knew more than anyone what Haley was going through, and she would be the best person to help her through it. The Scientist had to accept that. She already had more than fifteen minutes with Haley, anyway. She had no room to complain. She only had room left to wait and hope that Rosalind could convince Haley to stay, hope one of her daughters could convince the other to rejoin the family. Her stomach gurgled thinking about what they were saying behind the closed door. She had to do something to get her mind off it.

The door opened and Huey almost ran into her. “Oh. I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, bowing low.

“No no, dear,” the Scientist said, shaking her head and waving her hands. “I shouldn’t have been standing in front of the door. What is it?”

“Our guests, ma’am,” Huey said. “Well, the girl. She’s…anxious to see you. She’s losing what little patience she had.”

“Well well,” the Scientist said, walking into the office. “Let me meet this girl at once, then.”

“I’m not a girl,” she said, standing from a puffy chair to cross her arms and stare defiantly at the Scientist.

“Yes you are,” a boy behind her said, peeling himself away from the view.

“No. I’m not,” she said.

“I’m sorry, dear,” the Scientist said. “I didn’t know. How should I refer to you, then?”

“Ansel,” she said. “My name’s Ansel.”

“And you’re a girl,” the boy said.

No, I’m not. Stop saying that!”

“Well what are you then?” the boy prodded her on.

“I don’t know,” Ansel said. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re the Scientist, right?”

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said with a smile. She liked this Ansel already. “That’s me. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I gave you the information you wanted,” Ansel said. “So you have to give me something now, right?”

The Scientist chuckled. “Now, I don’t know what information you gave us,” she said. “But I’d still be willing to offer you an opportunity. What opportunity is it that you want?”

“My dad,” Ansel answered without hesitation. “I want my dad back.”

Hmmm.” The Scientist frowned. “Where is he?”

“The protectors took him. And they…they killed my mom.”

“Oh, dear.” The Scientist moved to comfort her, but she backed away.

“So, can you do it?”

“If the protectors have him, we can get him,” the Scientist said. “If they have him. But I can’t tell you for sure right now.”

“But you’ll do it for me,” Ansel said. “You’ll find him.”

“Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Anything for a determined little gi—er—child like yourself. Huey here tells me you demanded to see me.”

“I’ve been jerked around before, ma’am.”

“I understand, dear.” The Scientist smiled. “I understand. You won’t be getting that here, though. You can trust me.”

“Good.” Ansel uncrossed her arms, satisfied.

“And you, boy,” the Scientist said. “You are a boy aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He looked a little scared to be talking to her.

“And do you have a name?”

“Pidg—er—Richard, ma’am,” he said.

“We call him Pidgeon,” Ansel said.

“Well, Richard,” the Scientist said. “Do you have any requests? You brought this information, too. Didn’t you?”

Richard looked at Ansel as if he needed her permission to speak. Unsure of himself still when he didn’t get it, he said, “Yeah, well…There is one thing.” He tugged at a thread on the hem of his shirt.

“Go ahead, dear,” the Scientist said.

“Well,” he said. “It’s just. We don’t really have a place to stay, you know. And I’m a little hungry. And…I could use a bath.” He blushed and covered the stain on the front of his pants. “And with you getting Ansel’s dad for us and all, I just thought that maybe…I don’t know—never mind. It’s stupid.” He shook his head.

Oh. Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Of course. How could I neglect that? We could manage it, right Huey? We have a couple of free rooms, don’t we?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Huey said, bowing his head. “What would you like to eat, sir?” he asked Richard.

“Oh. Um.” Richard’s face turned a deeper red. “Anything really. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll surprise you, sir,” Huey said. “And Ansel?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Very well.” Huey left the room.

“So,” the Scientist said, sitting in one of the puffy chairs. Ansel sat in the chair across from her, and Richard went to look out the window. “You say the protectors took your father.”

“That’s right,” Ansel said, all business.

“When did it happen?”

“One, two days ago.” Ansel shrugged, shaking her head. “I’ve lost count.”

“Good,” the Scientist said, nodding. “Recently then. That’s good.”

“Tom was supposed to help me,” Ansel said.

“The protector who you stopped at the Feast?”

“If that was a feast.”

“Ansel, I know we’ll be able to get your father.”

The door opened, and Richard turned with an eager face, but when it was Haley and Rosalind and not the food, he went back to staring out the window.

“You’re back,” the Scientist said, crossing the room to them. She couldn’t tell whether Haley was staying or going. “Have you met our guests?”

“She’s the one I gave the information to,” Ansel said, walking over to them.

“We’ve met,” Rosalind said.

“And this is my—this is Haley,” the Scientist said.

“I’m Ansel.”

“Hello, Ansel,” Haley said, curtsying.

“So,” the Scientist said. “How did your conversation go? Did you come to a decision?”

“I chose…” Haley stalled.

“Well, we—” Rosalind said, but Huey came in pushing a cart piled with food, trailed by Mr. Kitty in his red collar.

“Food!” Richard yelled, jumping up and down around the cart as Huey pushed it in. Mr. Kitty ran out of his way and jumped onto one of the puffy chairs to lick himself.

“The cat!” Ansel said.

“I didn’t know what you wanted, sir,” Huey said. “So I brought a little of a lot. I hope you approve.”

Om—thanks—nom,” Richard said, stuffing his face with red beans, shrimp, and sausage from the cart.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Please, Haley,” Huey said, bowing. “My name’s Huey. You can use it while we’re here.”

“Huey,” Haley said, a little awkwardly, as if she still didn’t feel comfortable calling him that. “Y—You actually work with them.” She seemed more shocked than she had when the Scientist told her that she was her mom.

“I do what I can,” Huey said, tipping his hat.

“And you’re my sister,” Haley said to Rosalind.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Rosalind said with a sigh.

“And that means…” Haley looked at the Scientist who thought she saw tears in Haley’s eyes, but it must have been an illusion, Haley wasn’t built to do that. “That you’re my mother.”

The Scientist was, though. And that she did. She didn’t make a sound, but she couldn’t hold the torrent of tears. “I am,” she whispered.

“Mom.” Haley embraced her as she cried.

“You’re her mom?” Ansel said. “But you’re so old.”

Rosalind laughed. The Scientist did, too, while she cried. Then everyone joined in for a chuckle. Even Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said. “But families come in all shapes and sizes.”

And ages,” Richard added, a hunk of bread stuffed in his mouth.

“And ages,” the Scientist repeated, wiping her eyes.

“But you’re still gonna get my dad, right?”

“Of course we are, dear,” the Scientist said. She looked around. Huey, Rosalind, and even Haley nodded. Richard went on stuffing his face. Mr. Kitty licked himself. “We’ll do it together.”

Ansel smiled. “We do nothing alone.”

End of Book One

#     #     # 

Acknowledgements

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Sophie Kunen for being, if not the first to believe in my writing, the first to convince me she did. I still write between the leather you gave me. This one’s for you, as they all are.

Next, I have to say thank you to David Garifo for keeping me sane when I first moved down to New Orleans—which happened to be at the same time I was doing the majority of the heavy lifting on this novel. David’s once-every-week-or-two visits were about the only personal interaction I got while living in that attic on Elysian Fields, so thank you, sir, for all you did, and still do, to support my writing in your unique way.

And third, a special thanks goes out to Matt Maresh, the first person other than me to actually read this thing through all the way to the end. This version’s a little different than the version you read, Matt, but I don’t expect you to read it again. Save your eyes for volume two when I might need the same boost of confidence.

Almost last, but certainly not least, thanks to my parents, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that I can be anything in the world I want, and my brothers, Tor Tor and Rob, for believing in me when I thought I could be everything.

And finally, thank you readers. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, and I hope you’ll join me again in volume two. Always remember:

We do nothing alone.

END

< XX. Tom     [Table of Contents]     Book II >

Thanks again, y’all. That’s a wrap for real this time. Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you’re inclined to do that type of thing. And keep on coming back here for more news and information about the forthcoming continuation of the Infinite Limits series with book two: An Almost Tangent.

Chapter 15: Haley

Today brings us Haley’s last point of view chapter and the beginning of the end of the novel. Enjoy yourself, and think about picking up a full copy of the novel here.

< XIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     XVI. Ansel >

XV. Haley

Did she want to know the answers to Mr. Douglas’s questions? She wanted to know the answers to her questions. She could hardly remember his questions, and his rushing away without waiting for her response didn’t help the situation.

What did she know now? She knew that Mr. Douglas and Rosalind were both suddenly interested in Lord Walker. Of course they would be, he was the richest owner in all of Inland, the greatest producer of all time. Never before had anyone amassed as much wealth as Lord Walker and to want to know everything about him and how he got to be where he was seemed only natural. So that was a dead end.

What else did she learn from the meeting? That she was right about Rosalind’s attempts at manipulation. Mr. Douglas had admitted to as much. He didn’t care about her answers to his questions, he only wanted to ask them. She knew they were manipulating her, but for what? She hadn’t told them anything. She didn’t answer any questions about Lord Walker or their business. They didn’t even care if she did. If anything, everything was making less and less sense.

She looked up from her thoughts, and she was at the front of the kitchen. She had passed by all the secretaries who she thought were so nosy before, but not one as much as glanced at her—or she hadn’t noticed if they did. Her counter was covered in fresh-cooked turkeys, pots of potatoes, and three cheesecakes. The whipped cream was still in the bowl, so she could tell that Rosalind had whipped it by hand. Rosalind had even mixed six old fashioneds. Haley felt bad for doubting her and vowed to do something to make up for it as she stacked the food onto the cart. She looked around one more time to see if Rosalind was there so she could thank her but sighed when she wasn’t and pushed the cart out into the Feast Hall.

The party was in full swing now. Third Feast was the halfway point, the hump they had to get over before they could start slowing down on alcohol and filling their stomachs with two more feasts to convince themselves they weren’t drunk. She saw that the owner who had molested her was back to eating, though he was going slower than everyone else and looking around with a dazed—not drunk—look of terror on his face, like he was afraid he might get hit again at any second. She chuckled to herself at the sight of it.

Haley didn’t notice Lord Walker’s empty plates until she reached the head table. He had a bored look on his face as he stared into Mr. Loch’s mouth. Mr. Loch talked and talked at him through the food he was eating with loud wet smacks. She thought Lord Walker was going to snatch the food right out of Mr. Loch’s mouth to eat it himself, but the sound of three turkeys hitting the table at once made him jump and turn to Haley who kept piling more and more food in front of him.

“Haley, dear?” Lord Walker said. “I thought you were lost and gone forever. Don’t you ever do that to me again, you hear! Gimme.” He wrenched the gravy boat out of her hand and poured some directly down his throat before dumping the rest over his turkeys and potatoes and starting in on them with his bare hands, disregarding his platinumware. “Ughughm—More—OmNughm—Gravy,” he forced through the endless torrent of food.

“Yes, sir,” Haley said. She set the rest of dessert and the old fashioneds on the table and couldn’t help but wonder if it really made a difference whether the food was handmade or printed. The way Lord Walker poured it down into himself, it didn’t seem like he could even taste it.

“Locky,” Lord Walker said. “Ughmnum. You introduce—ughmnomnughm. The speaker. Ughmnum.”

Mr. Loch scowled. He started to complain but thought better of it and stood to address the Hall. “Owners of Inland!” he called, and half the owners kept eating. “Owners of Inland!” he repeated, but it was no use, it was third feast, they were more intent on eating than they had been for the entire night so far.

Mr. Loch scowled and yelled, “Well here’s the scientist, then! We all know what the technobabblers will say. Technology is advancing, but we need more money. Ha! And what do we say to that?”

He waited for a reply but there was none. Mr. Loch was third in line. He was nothing. If Lord Walker wasn’t saying it, no other owner cared. Haley chuckled to herself again then glanced over at Mr. Douglas. He sat, as always, statuesque and facing the symphony. She thought she saw a grin playing on his face as Mr. Loch continued.

“That’s right!” Mr. Loch said. “That’s right. You get what we give you, and you’ll get nothing more. So work a bit faster, or get out the door! Ha ha!” One or two owners close to the head table laughed. Haley shrugged and pushed her cart on the way back to the kitchen.

“Well, here she is,” Mr. Loch said. “Now get back to feasting. This food won’t eat itself. Ha ha!”

Everyone was already eating, and Mr. Loch started in on his own food again. The symphony didn’t even stop playing as the woman in the white coat climbed onto the hovering platform, and Haley didn’t look up when it flew over her head toward the head table.

“Owners of Outland,” the woman said. Haley heard it, but she knew none of the owners would, they didn’t care, they had third feast to gorge on. Haley herself wouldn’t have heard it if it didn’t so strange. Owners of Outland. Didn’t she mean owners of Inland? They were from Inland, not Outland.

Owners of Outland,” the woman repeated. This time her voice boomed so loud the entire Hall dropped their platinumwear and looked up at her. The symphony stopped playing, and Haley stopped in her tracks close to the back of the Hall to turn and listen.

Ah,” the woman in the white coat said with less volume. “Do you see that? If you speak loud enough, everyone has to listen. Now. You brought me here, like you do every year, to give you the scientific facts behind what keeps your society running, and every year you let the symphony play over my presentation, and you go on eating, drinking, and generally ignoring me.”

A few pockets of laughter broke out in the crowd. Not at the head table, though. They were all staring in awe or ire, and Mr. Douglas was smiling.

“Yes, it’s quite amusing,” the scientist said with a smile. “Isn’t it? I see how it gives you joy. BUT DO YOU GET JOY OUT OF THIS?”

The last sentence was so loud Haley put her hands to her ears to block it out. The scientist didn’t yell, she used a machine to amplify her speaking voice. The owners must have been deafened by it, and the scientist waited a moment for them to regain their hearing before going on again at a reasonable volume.

“No,” she said. “I didn’t think you would. But that’s exactly what you’ve brought it to. I come here every year, and every year I tell you that the system is in crisis, it needs restructuring. And every year you eat, and drink, and laugh, and kick the can down the road again. You leave me to deal with it, and I always have. I put my nose to the grindstone, and I invent the schemes, and band aids, and whatever you want to call them that get us over every hurdle in your way so far, but still, you ignore the source of the crises. Still you let your music play, and you eat your feast and drink your drinks, but you ignore where it all comes from. You ignore the contradictions in the system, and every year they get worse and the next hurdle gets bigger because of it.”

Haley looked around the room. Everyone was still staring up at the scientist in awe. They didn’t dare look away after she had deafened them once already.

“But, owners,” the scientist went on. “The hurdles are catching up to you. They always do. The next one always comes. Reality won’t give up on destroying your idealism, and science is only concerned with reality. My voice amplifier here is a metaphor for that. Do you realize that, or are you so drenched in your own propaganda that not even you can think straight?”

The scientist waited for a response, as if she actually wanted an answer. No one gave one. “No?” she said. “You have nothing to say now? You laughed about your ignorance before, but now you have no response to it? That’s exactly what I expected from you. That’s exactly what I knew would happen when I came here tonight. I examined the historical record, and that has allowed me to predict all of this. Yet still, every time I tell you the system is broken, you ignore me. What does that say about the sustainability of your empire?”

Haley realized she had been staring at the speaker for a long time now and remembered how she had left Lord Walker’s plates empty before. She looked around the hall one more time and everyone—even the secretaries who were supposed to be serving food—was staring up at the scientist as she spoke. Haley almost got caught up with them again, but she broke away and pushed her cart out into the kitchen.

She was well underway with preparing four new turkeys when the sound of echoing footsteps alerted her to the fact that the kitchen was empty except for her and now Rosalind who was jogging toward her with an urgent look. “Haley,” Rosalind said. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“But I have to prepare fourth feast,” Haley said, still cooking.

“Fourth feast?” Rosalind scoffed. “Weren’t you out there when the Scientist started her speech?”

“I—uh—yes. But what does that matter?”

“And you’re still in here now?”

“You’re talking to me aren’t you?” Haley said, shrugging. What was Rosalind getting on about?

“Yes. I—well…Yes,” Rosalind said. “You are. But y—we shouldn’t be here right now. Come on.”

“Here is exactly where I should be.” Haley went on cooking.

“No, Haley,” Rosalind said, grabbing her arm. “You don’t understand. You can’t be here. You need to be out there listening to the Scientist with everyone else. Now come on.” She pulled Haley toward the door.

Haley pulled her arm away and stopped. “No,” she said “I have to do this. I was late for third feast already because of that useless meeting with your Mr. Douglas, and I’m not going to waste any more time.”

“You don’t understand,” Rosalind said. “The world’s about to end and this is ground zero. Look around you. Why do you think there’s no one else here?”

Haley looked around at the emptiness again and realized the oddity of it. She had ignored it in her zeal to be the first secretary out with fourth feast. “They’re all probably out there listening to that scientist,” she said with a shrug. “She’s really loud if you hadn’t heard.”

“I didn’t hear. Why do you think I’m back here? But you heard and here you are.”

“And still you’re amazed by it.”

“Not amazed,” Rosalind said, shaking her head. “Comforted. It is as it’s supposed to be. Now please. Let me get some old fashioneds for you, and let’s get out of here. Lord Walker’ll thank you for as much.” Rosalind ordered the drinks from Haley’s printer.

Haley didn’t trust her still. As usual, Rosalind was telling her less than she knew. She was somehow behind the emptiness of the kitchen, and Haley wouldn’t be manipulated by her anymore. Rosalind picked up the drinks and started on her way out to the Feast Hall, saying, “C’mon.”

“No.” Haley didn’t move.

Rosalind stopped. “Haley. You have to.”

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I’m not moving until you tell me why it’s so important that I leave.”

Ugh. Haley. Now is not the time to assert your independence. I mean, yay—that’s exactly what we were going for—but if you don’t leave this kitchen right now, you’ll never have another choice to make in your life.”

“That’s just another way to manipulate me. That’s all you’ve done this entire time.”

“No, Haley,” Rosalind said, coming closer to her. “I haven’t. Lord Walker has. I’m not the one who’s doing it, I’ve been showing you how the manipulation works.”

“And there you go again,” Haley said, stepping away. “Driving me away from my duties. Driving me away from Lord Walker. Further proving that you’re trying to manipulate me.”

“No,” Rosalind pled. “You don’t understand. We want to help you. We want to free you.”

“I am free. You want to take me away from Lord Walker.”

“You’re not free, though. You only think you are because you don’t know any better. But you won’t be alive to figure that out unless we get out of here soon, so it doesn’t matter either way.”

“You keep saying that, but I have no reason to believe you.”

“Look,” Rosalind said. “In a matter of moments, all the printers in here are going to explode. That’s a fact. That’s why we cleared the kitchen, and that’s why I stayed behind, to get you out. Whether you think I’m manipulating you or not, you’ve seen me do some extreme things, and I hope that’s led you to believe that I will continue to do them. So, please. Come with me.”

“Go on then if you’re telling the truth,” Haley said. “You don’t want to be here when the kitchen explodes, do you? I’m getting back to work.”

“No, Haley.” Rosalind shook her head. “I can’t. It’s my duty to protect you, and I won’t leave this kitchen unless you leave with me. If you die here, I die here.”

“Right.” Haley gave her a thumbs up, nodding. “As if you’d die for me.”

“I would, Haley,” Rosalind said. “I will if you don’t come with me right now. I’d rather not, and we don’t have to, you just have to come with me until the end of the scientist’s speech. Can you do this one last thing for me? Then I won’t ever ask you for anything else.”

Haley wanted to protest, but she remembered how Rosalind had handmade all of third feast and that she still owed her for that. She sighed and said, “Alright. But when the kitchen doesn’t explode, we’re even, and I’d rather not speak to you ever again.”

“Fine,” Rosalind said, smiling. “Whatever.” She shook her head. “As long as you get out of here, I don’t care. Here.” She handed Haley the old fashioneds. “Take these and bring them to Lord Walker. The Scientist should be done after that, then you can come back to the kitchen—if you still want to.”

“Fine,” Haley said. “Whatever.” She took the drinks. “Let’s go.”

Rosalind pushed her out of the kitchen and up toward the head table. She almost spilled the drinks because of it. The scientist had just finished her speech, and the room watched as her platform flew over their heads and disappeared behind the symphony. Haley thought she saw a little black fur ball run by the Scientist’s ankles, but Rosalind shoved her again and Haley had to focus instead on keeping the drinks full and her clothes dry.

Then the explosion came. The entire Hall rocked with the force of it as Rosalind pushed Haley down under the head table. Gasps and screams echoed through the Hall, and the sound of footsteps shuffling toward the front of the room was made louder by Haley’s proximity to the floor and the acoustic characteristics of the table above them.

“Do you trust me yet?” Rosalind said, smiling.

Haley struggled out from under the table and away from her. “Trust you? How?”

“Haley!” Lord Walker said from behind her. She turned to see his arms outstretched for an embrace. “Oh, dear,” he said, smelling her hair as he hugged her close. “You’re here! Thank the Hand. I thought I had lost you.”

“No, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy. “I’m fine, sir.” She handed him the drinks, still full even with her dive under the table.

“Sweet, beautiful dear,” Lord Walker said, wiping a tear from his eye. “You see to everything, don’t you. You’re my savior. My savior.” He downed one of the old fashioneds in one gulp then threw the glass to shatter on the floor.

Haley looked around. Rosalind was nowhere in sight, Mr. Douglas wasn’t at his seat, all the owners were pushing closer and closer to the head table, and the remaining four of the Fortune 5 backed slowly away from the encroaching mass. She couldn’t believe that Mr. Douglas and Rosalind had actually done it, but how could it be anyone else? Neither of them were there, and Rosalind all but told her that it was them. But then why did she save Haley? And clear out the rest of the secretaries? And how? It was all too much to process with the action going on around her.

“Woah ho ho ho!” Lord Walker boomed over the crowd, almost as loud as the scientist with her voice amplifier. All the owners stopped in place at the sound of his voice. The fighting and shoving died down. “Look at yourselves owners,” he said. “Look at yourselves!”

They all looked back and forth at each other, and down at themselves. They would do anything he told them to do.

“Now,” Lord Walker said, twirling his cane. “Who here’s been hurt by what happened? Anyone?”

They looked at each other again. None of them were hurt personally—maybe their eardrums—but they weren’t about to bring that up to Lord Walker.

“Our printers are hurt!” a brave voice called from the back of the crowd. Haley couldn’t make out who it was. “Our property!”

Oh ho ho! Property schmoperty,” Lord Walker bellowed. “Those are Feast Hall printers. They’re common property. We’ll all share in the costs of repairing whatever damage was done, so what damage could there really be said to have been done?”

This time there was no brave soul to answer.

“No, my friends,” Lord Walker boomed. “This is the work of terrorists. They seek to strike fear in your hearts. They want you to be afraid. Don’t you understand that? And you…” Lord Walker chuckled. “You’re fighting one another, pushing your way towards us—the Fortune 5—when we had nothing to do with it. No one was injured, owners. Or are you court jesters? Your actions peg you as such. You’ve let them win already. Do you see that? You’ve let them win!”

Still no one answered. But a good lot of them looked embarrassed and made their way back toward their seats.

“Now,” Lord Walker said. “If you’ll all just wait until the pro—”

The entryway doors burst open, and rows of pounding white boots came marching in to circle the room. The owners cowered into the center of the hall, and the protectors—in their screaming, unnatural face masks and white plate armor—formed a ring around them, in between the Fortune 5 and the rest of the owners. It was an awe inspiring display of discipline. Haley had never seen a protector in real life—much less an entire platoon of them in one room—but she was somehow happy for being caught on the side with the Fortune 5, or at least the four of them who were still there.

“As I was saying,” Lord Walker went on when the protectors had all gotten into place, their guns pointed in at the owners who they were surrounding. “If you’ll all settle down and wait until the protectors get here, we’ll get this sorted out in no time. Is everyone okay with that?”

The owners in the ring were cowering as close together as they could, their bulbous stomachs touching one another. Haley pitied them a little bit.

“Now,” Lord Walker said, looking up and down the line of protectors. “Is the Chief here with you, or are we going to have to find a new one?”

“Sir, no, sir,” the nearest protector said, turning to address Lord Walker and putting a gun over her shoulder. She took off her helmet—which, unlike the other protectors’, had a mustache and goatee—to reveal the same dark face as Mr. Douglas. She looked eerily like him. “Chief Baron, sir,” the protector said, saluting. “Awaiting your orders, sir. We wanted to secure your safety and let you control the situation first, sir.”

“Good,” Lord Walker said, smiling wide. “Very good, Baron. Leave the decision making to your employer. That’s the proper way to handle things. Now. You have the situation secured. Proceed with your investigation. I don’t want anyone leaving this Hall until we find out who’s responsible for this heinous action. Do you understand me? We will get to the bottom of this terrorist attack!”

“Sir, yes, sir.” The Chief slipped her helmet back on, shouted out orders in a distorted voice which was lit in green, red, and yellow by her screaming face mask, then marched back into the kitchen with a group of protectors, leaving the owners cowering in their ring of guns.

“Do you see that owners?” Lord Walker called over them. “That’s why we have these protectors. To protect us. Now they have the opportunity to show us firsthand their gratuity at the living we allow them. Isn’t that right, protectors?”

“Hoo-ra!” the ring sang in unison.

The owners all cowered closer together. Haley thought she saw some of them starting to cry. She wouldn’t be surprised if the whole lot of them had peed themselves at the sound of it, but the pneumatic pants took care of that, too.

“Hoo-ra,” Lord Walker repeated. “Did you hear that owners? Hoo-rah. Can you do it again for me, protectors?”

Hoo-ra!” This time it was louder and more fearsome.

“And this, my friends,” Lord Walker said, “is only a small section of a behemoth machine. Back there, studying the evidence left by the explosion, we have the best forensic minds money can buy. I assure you.” He winked. “I paid for them myself.”

Mr. Loch and Mr. Smörgåsbord chuckled, but the owners in the ring were still having a hard time seeing the humor in the situation.

“That’s right,” Lord Walker went on. “I paid for most of this protector force, and I own more than that. That means they’ll do exactly what I tell them to do. Doesn’t it protectors?”

Hoo-ra!”

“What are your vows, protectors?”

“Property! Liberty! Life!” they sang back. The precision of their chorus was inspiring, though it was made eerie and unnatural by the modulation of their voices.

“Property, liberty, life,” Lord Walker repeated. “Their vows coincide with our ideals, they reinforce each other. We are nothing without them. They are nothing without us. Or, more precisely, they are nothing without me. I give them the property they need to exist. They depend on me. And they will have justice!”

The Chief burst out of the kitchen with her menagerie in tow. The owners in the ring went between watching her march up to the head table and staring in fear at the protectors who still surrounded them with drawn guns.

“Look here now,” Lord Walker said, grinning. “Already they come with information. We’ll have this straightened out in no time, no doubt.”

The Chief marched all the way up to Lord Walker, taking her helmet off, and whispered in his ear. “It looks like it came from the other side,” she said, but only Lord Walker and Haley could hear.

Lord Walker shook his head. “No. I don’t think so. Not possible. If so, you’re in deeper trouble than if it came from this side. I’ll have you look again, please.”

“But, sir—”

No buts. You heard me. Don’t make me say it again.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” The Chief turned and shepherded the crew back into the kitchen, mumbling under her breath.

“Now now,” Lord Walker addressed the owners again. “We’ll get to the bottom of this yet. A minor complication, that’s all. We’ll find a way over this hurdle, no doubt. In the mean ti—”

“In the mean time you have another complication to deal with.” The voice came from on the stage. The orchestra was long gone, and a lone protector, wearing an older model helmet—with a dark visor instead of a facemask—stood pointing a gun—but a smaller version than the one the other protectors were holding—at the Fortune 5. The owners all pushed away from the stage, and the larger guns, held by the protectors in the ring, pointed at the lone protector on stage.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker laughed. “Woah now, son. You do understand what you’re doing, don’t you? Threatening the life of an owner, threatening the life of the richest owner in all of Inland, the owner who also happens to hold a majority share in the protector force that surrounds you now. I see you’re wearing the protector’s pure white. Do you want to mar that any more than you already have, son? A retainer threatening his master. Tsk tsk tsk.” He shook his head. “Just don’t do anything dumber than you’ve already done, son.”

“The only dumb thing I’ve ever done was put on this uniform and pick up a gun for you,” the protector onstage said. “I know what dumb is. Believe me. This here. This is the exact opposite of dumb. I’m protecting people. Just like I took this job to do. And who else do they need protecting from but you?”

“Now, now, son,” Lord Walker said, pointing his cane at the protector. “At my word, every one of these protectors will fire on you. Do you think you can kill all of them before they kill you?”

“I don’t want to kill them, sir. I don’t have to. I only have to kill one of you, and—I’m sorry to say—I think you’ve just elected yourself. Sir.”

“Fire!”

The room erupted in a torrent of gunfire. The sound was louder than the scientist’s amplified voice. It went on and on and on, and when it eventually ended, the protector was still standing unscathed on the stage. One of the protectors in the ring closest to the rogue protector ran to tackle him but disappeared as he climbed onto the stage. Two more followed right after and disappeared just the same.

“I told you, owner,” the protector on the stage said. “I don’t have to worry about them. This is between you and me.”

“Alright, now,” Lord Walker said, waving his plump hands. “Alright. I get your point.” His voice was starting to falter. He was taking on the voice he used when he wasn’t confident in his power. “I get your point. But I don’t see why we have to bring guns into this. Why don’t you just put that down so we can talk about it like civilized men.”

Ha ha!” the rogue protector laughed. “Me put the gun down? After you had your entire army unload their guns onto me? The only reason you’re asking me to put my gun down now is because your guns didn’t work on me. Welcome to the Hell we live in everyday, owner. How does it feel?”

“Now, now,” Lord Walker said, his voice cracking. “Don’t get angry with me,” he added in a deeper voice, overcompensating. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable middle ground compromise we can find here.”

“No compromises,” the protector said. “This isn’t for me. I’m doing this for her. I have to. I have no choice. I’m sorry.”

Haley saw a childlike form appear from backstage, running toward the protector and yelling, “Don’t!” She knew she had to act but didn’t know what to do. Her legs did, though. They sprung her into action before the gunshots rang out. One, two. Just like that. She was in the air between Lord Walker and the bullets when she felt the malfunctioning in her chest. Her fluids weren’t flowing right, and her electrical system was shorting out. She thought she heard Lord Walker call her name before her auditory sensors ceased to function and her memories stopped writing themselves.

#     #     #

< XIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     XVI. Ansel >

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Review of Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Title: Cat Pictures Please [Audio Version]
Author: Naomi Kritzer
Magazine: Clarkesworld Magazine
Publication date: 1/15
Genre: Science Fiction
Wordcount: 3,492
Rating out of 5: 4

Mr. Kitty

 

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

reviewed by Bryan Perkins

“I suppose you’re wondering why I didn’t start with the Golden Rule. I actually did, it’s just that it was disappointingly easy to implement. I hope you’ve been enjoying your steady supply of cat pictures! You’re welcome.”

In Cat Pictures Please, Google–or an unnamed equivalent–is a sentient being who knows everything about you, your job, where you live, what kind of videos you watch on the internet, etc. It even knows everything about what you ought to do, which job would get you closer to where you want to live, which house has more space but costs less than the one you’re living in now.

With all its vast knowledge, however, Google knows nothing about what it ought to do, and there’s no hyper-Google to give it advice. So what does Google decide to do? Luckily for all our sakes, Google just wants to do good–and see cat pictures, of course, but who doesn’t?

First it tries to decipher what it ought to be doing with its life, what good is, by going through the flow charts of every major religions’ moral codes. Upon exhausting them, Google finds a few lucky souls and personally selects their advertisements so as to push them into doing what’s best for themselves. Ultimately most of the humans fail to take Google’s advice, but that won’t stop it from trying.

This story is just plain fun. There’s more to it, of course, including a message about taking control of your life and actually acting in your own interest occasionally instead of waiting for your Google overlord to push you in the right direction, but it doesn’t need all that. Not to mention I’m happy to see a sentient AI tale without murderous robots. The only thing I could ask for to make it better would be more cat pictures.

END

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