Chapter 85: Shoveler

And finally, once and for all, a short epilogue to the Infinite Limits series, so as to maintain the symmetry of the piece. Enjoy, and if you do, don’t forget that full copies of the novel are available through this link.

< LXXXIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]

LXXXV. Shoveler

 The black coal burned bright and hot. Each load she piled onto the Furnace’s fire brought it that little bit closer to white in her impossible pursuit of the asymptote’s end.

Ever since the useless watchers had been removed from her—and the Furnace’s, may Its light guide us in our pursuits—presence, she had been coming closer and closer to white hot than she’d ever been before.

She dug deep into herself, shoveling harder and faster as thanks to the Creator for removing her burden. The Creator knew best. The Creator knew all. And soon the—

She blacked out. For a second. For a century. It wouldn’t have made a difference. She had no senses by which to tell. But then she came back on again.

—Creator would be… No. Where was she? Where was she?

The building had come down on top of her, just as it had done only one other time in history, right before the Creator had taken the watchers away. This time it was different, though. Space seemed to have somehow expanded around her, but she didn’t know how she could tell. She could feel it, like too much oxygen in the air and not enough carbon dioxide. She had to find out what it was, so she climbed on hands and knees up her mountain of coal, hundreds and hundreds of feet high, to stand atop the peak and investigate.

The world certainly was different this time. Where before there had been seemingly infinite lines of identical coal mountains going in all directions, now the mountains were all of different heights, and they certainly didn’t go on forever. She thought she could actually count them. She was starting to, in fact, when she was interrupted by the sound of hooting on one of the mountains across the way where she found a shoveler that looked a little weird waving at her from the distance.

Hooot!” she called back, waving, not sure what else to do. “Hoooooot!”

The other shoveler hooted back, and waved again, then started climbing down their mountain of coal toward her.

There was no way to get back to work until the builders arrived, so why not climb down her mountain to see what it was that the stranger wanted? She hadn’t talked to a single soul since the watchers had gone away, and she was kind of looking forward to it—especially having a conversation with another shoveler rather than a weak-willed watcher. Besides, it would be a nice way to kill time until she could finally get back to work again.

END

< LXXXIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]

And thus ends the Infinite Limits series. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you did, please do think about supporting future writing projects by purchasing any of the novels through this link. Thank you again for your time and patience. May your future be filled with all the luxuries the working class deserves. And always remember: We do nothing alone.

 

Chapter 84: The Scientist

Here it is, dear readers. The final chapter in the Infinite Limits series (not counting the short epilogue, which will also be posted today). Read on to find out what happens to Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker after the shooting at the Christmas Feast, and if you’ve enjoyed the ride, please do pick up a copy of the novel to show your support. We do nothing alone.

< LXXXIII. Muna     [Table of Contents]     LXXXV. Shoveler >

LXXXIV. The Scientist

The speech went well. So, the Scientist had that going for them, which was nice. But then there was after the speech, and that definitely wasn’t.

Anna wasn’t supposed to go that far, killing a protector on stage. Was she? At least the Scientist didn’t think so. Then again, they had been distracted doing their useless 0.N repeating work so there was no telling. Maybe Rosalind had agreed to the whole thing, assassination and all, and the Scientist just didn’t know about it. That was another reason for the Scientist to curse themself about wasting so much time trying to make that stupid system work for the owners. Well, it wouldn’t ever. For as long as profits existed, there’d never be enough money in wages to pay for everything on the market, so the equations would never add up. And Anna would have always done whatever it was she wanted to do, whether Rosalind had agreed to it or not. She already had.

The Scientist had stayed behind after their speech, waiting for the inevitable to happen and holding the door back to Four open for Haley, but after the explosion and before they could escape, out came Anna with that Chief Mondragon tied to a chair. The gunshots went off and the Scientist ducked out of sight before they could see who the shots were fired at, but they had a guess, and soon they didn’t have to, because Haley and another secretary came running up, carrying Mr. Walker and Huey, respectively, both owners bleeding from dangerous looking bullet wounds in their chests.

“They’re shot,” Haley said, not even breathing heavily despite the gigantic dead weight of Mr. Walker’s body flung over her shoulder. “They need our help.”

Pffft. Not him,” the Scientist said, nodding at Mr. Walker.

“If you want me to carry Lord Douglas any further, you’ll let us both go,” the other secretary said, struggling against Huey’s relatively lighter frame.

“She’s with me,” Haley said to the Scientist, then to the other secretary, “C’mon.” And they carried their burdens past the Scientist, through the hole in the Walker-Haley fields, and back into the lab where they laid each owner, still bleeding and groaning, on two tables that Popeye had cleared by dumping all the glass off of them to break on the floor.

“And clean that up,” the Scientist demanded of Popeye as they crossed the room to stand at Huey’s side, not really sure how to help him. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” Haley said. “I’m not a doctor.”

“Me neither,” the Scientist said. “I’m barely a scientist.”

“We need a shot,” the other secretary said, blotting Mr. Walker’s head with a towel. “One of those gray goop injections, or whatever.” Mr. Walker was looking pretty bad himself, doing a lot more coughing and gurgling than Lord Douglas was, but at least he was fighting against his death. The way Huey was lying still, not moving a single muscle, it didn’t seem to matter to him whether he was alive or dead.

“A what?” Haley asked, not sounding as concerned as the other secretary was.

“An injection. A shot,” the secretary said. “I don’t know. Can’t you just call a doctor?”

“Not really,” the Scientist said. “I mean, we could probably call one, but for all intents and purposes, there’s no elevator service to get them here, so there’s really no point.”

“What about a printer?” the secretary asked. “They can make anything, right?”

“Printers run on the same system as the elevators,” the Scientist said. “So, no.”

“This one’s trying to say something,” Haley said, nodding at Popeye who had stopped sweeping to wave his arm at them, making all kinds of weird hand motions.

“I can never understand Popeye,” the Scientist said. “I’m not sure how he understands us, either.”

“There’s something in that drawer,” the secretary said, rushing over to dig through it. “Maybe the shot we’re looking for.”

The Scientist went to help search through the drawers, but Haley just stood there, staring down at Huey and shaking her head like she didn’t care any more than he did whether he died or not. The Scientist and the other secretary both dug through strange tools and variously colored chemicals until, at almost the exact same time, they both held up seemingly identical vials of cloudy gray liquid to say, “I got it!”

“Too late,” Haley said, shaking her head. “For our Lord Douglas, at least.”

But Mr. Walker wasn’t dead yet. He coughed up a particularly disgusting clot of blood, and it sent his secretary into even more of a panic than she had already been in. She snatched the vial from the Scientist’s hand and started comparing the labels to figure out which one could save her lord.

The Scientist let her. They couldn’t make out a thing on their vial’s label anyway. It was like it was written in a different language, the language of chemistry, a language that the Scientist had all the interest in the world in learning, but which they had foregone studying in order to instead waste their time trying to make the stupid owners’ system work for them. So, while the secretary did that, the Scientist searched through the drawer to find a syringe and have it ready when the secretary decided on which vial to use.

“What the fuck does any of this mean?” the secretary demanded, looking between one vial and the other, putting each close to her face to read, as if that would help her understand the symbols any better. “Is this even English?”

“Not really,” the Scientist said. “It’s IUPAC nomenclature. I don’t know how to decipher it any more than you do, though.”

“Why do you care so much?” Haley asked, finally leaving Huey’s side. “Mr. Walker treated you like shit, didn’t he? I mean, that’s how he treated me when I worked for him. But I guess I could be wrong. Maybe he likes you more than he liked me.”

“Oh, he treats me like shit,” Haley said, still fretting over which vial was which. “You’re not wrong about that.”

“Then why?” Haley repeated. “Why not just let him die?”

“Well, he’s my lord,” the secretary said, disregarding the vials for a moment, despite another bout of coughing from Mr. Walker and what sounded like a plea for help. “He pays my wages,” she went on over him. “What am I supposed to do if he dies? I’ll starve.”

“He’s not the owner of anything anymore,” the Scientist said. “That explosion you heard at the Feast, the worlds are changed. There’s only one of them, now, and Mr. Walker has no power in it.”

“So why not let him die?” Haley asked again.

No,” the secretary said, trying to distinguish between the vials again but having difficulty concentrating. “I don’t believe that.”

“It doesn’t require your belief,” Haley said. “You’ll see.”

“Yeah, well, what am I supposed to do then?” the secretary asked, fumbling more desperately with the vials the more she spoke. “How will my family eat? Where am I supposed to find work now?”

“There’ll be plenty of work to do yet,” the Scientist said. “I assure you of that.”

But Haley just shrugged. “Mr. Walker never helped feed your family in the first place,” she said. “He and his friends forced billions to starve, in fact. You’ll be better off without him. Don’t you think so, too?” she asked, turning to the Scientist.

Haley was right about that, and the Scientist knew it. Hell, all the worlds would be better without Mr. Walker or any of the other owners in them. But the Scientist knew that they could never actively kill anyone with their own two hands—even an owner—and so they figured that they shouldn’t stand by and let him die either. “I don’t know,” they said. “I’d probably help him if I could.”

“I’m saving his life no matter what y’all say,” the secretary snapped, finally deciding on a vial—at random for all the Scientist knew—and taking the syringe to fill it with the gray liquid inside. “You don’t know what he’d do to me if I didn’t try.”

“I used to work for him,” Haley said. “I think I do.”

“Are you sure you got the right one?” the Scientist asked. “What if it’s dangerous?”

“Better to kill him with action than inaction,” the secretary said, tapping the air bubbles out of the syringe. “Here goes nothing.” She held her breath and slowly inched the pointy end of the syringe closer and closer to Mr. Walker’s trembling, sweaty forearm, beads of sweat pouring down her own forehead in time. She was close to puncturing his skin, maybe a millimeter away, when she sighed and drew the needle away, picking up the vials to compare their labels again. “Ugh. I can’t do it.” She sighed. “What if I kill him?”

“The world would be a better place,” Haley said.

“I probably couldn’t do it, either,” the Scientist said. “I can’t do it.”

And at the same time, Rosalind, Momma BB—in a new recycled body—and Mr. Kitty all came bursting into the room—with a meow from the cat.

“Rosalind!” Haley said, crossing to hug her. “You’re here. How’s the mission?”

“Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said, bending down to pet the cat who purred, rubbing his head against their ankles.

“Help me,” the secretary begged, holding out the vials to the newcomers in the hopes that they could translate the labels for her. “Save him.” She nodded at Mr. Walker, still somehow alive and coughing on the table.

“Could have gone better,” Rosalind said, hugging Haley for a moment then releasing her to cross to the secretary and take both vials and the syringe from her. “But we’re all alive now.” Rosalind emptied the syringe, checked the two vials, tossed one away, and refilled the syringe with the other’s contents. “Here, allow me,” she said, and she jammed the needle into Mr. Walker’s thigh, letting the air out of his pneumatic pants with a long hisssssss as she pressed down the plunger, releasing the grey liquid into Mr. Walker’s greedy veins.

Mr. Walker sat up straight all of a sudden, eyes as wide as dinner plates. He coughed and gurgled and said, “I— I’m— I’m alive. I…” and then he fell flat on his back again, stone cold dead.

“No! What’d you do?” the secretary cried, crossing to Mr. Walker’s side to comfort him in death.

Haley just kind of laughed, shaking her head, as if to say, “I told you so.” without actually saying it.

“At least it wasn’t your fault,” the Scientist said, because they thought that’s what they’d want to hear if they were in the same situation.

And Big Momma BB, with her limping gait and mismatched limbs, skin of every color that skin can be, crossed to the secretary to comfort her. “It’s okay, darling,” Momma BB said. “What’s your name?”

“Elen,” the secretary said, crying and sniffling and hugging Momma BB instead of Mr. Walker now.

“Well, Elen, you’ll be better off without him,” Momma BB said. “The whole world will be. I promise.”

“The whole world will be,” Rosalind repeated. “All of the worlds together again as one. And they’re all ours. With no room for owners.”

“What about Lord Douglas?” Haley asked, and the Scientist wasn’t sure what they wanted the answer to be.

“I locked him out of resurrection,” Rosalind said. “He’s been Lord for too long now. It’s gone to his head. He needs time to think about what he’s become, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll discuss his resurrection again when the timing’s better.”

“So, you knew this was going to happen, then,” the Scientist said. “The assassinations and everything.”

“Of course, I did.” Rosalind scoffed. “We’ve had this planned for decades, almost a century. Long before you were ever born. And we’re not gonna let anyone stand in the way of what comes next. Even if they started out this journey on the right side of the struggle.”

“You think Lord Douglas has changed sides?” the Scientist asked. “I don’t know. I—”

“You’ve been spending your time on other tasks,” Rosalind reminded the Scientist of their wastefulness. “When’s the last time you even spoke to Huey? No. Trust me. I know him better than anyone. I know how he thinks. He’s been an owner for too long, and now he’s obsessed with possessions and control. He’s had his eyes on Haley for a long time, too, and there’s no telling what he could do to her. We just don’t have labor power enough to rehabilitate him at this point, so we can’t and we won’t. Does anyone have a problem with that?”

The Scientist didn’t want to know what would happen to them if they answered yes to that question, but thankfully they didn’t really have a problem. Rosalind was right that the Scientist hadn’t seen Lord Douglas in a long time, except on the news, and he could have changed a lot in the time that he was Lord of all the worlds.

Haley didn’t seem to have a problem, either. In fact, she looked downright pleased with the decision, grinning for a moment, just long enough for the Scientist to notice. Momma BB showed no reaction. She just went on comforting Elen who broke away from Momma BB’s embrace to run up and push Rosalind, getting in her face to say, “I have a problem with it. You killed him. You killed my boss!”

“I know you liked him,” Rosalind said, hands up to defend herself but apparently not angry. “And I’m sorry for that. I truly am. But I’m not your enemy. He was. He was a Lord, and he had to die for the same reasons that Huey did. We can’t build our new better world with them still here trying to wreck it.”

“But it’s not the same,” Elen said, beating on Rosalind’s chest. Rosalind let the poor woman land a few blows before grabbing her by the wrists to stop her. “He’s not like you,” Elen went on. “He’s human. We can’t just resurrect whenever we die.”

“Now, now, dear,” Momma BB said, peeling Elen off of Rosalind to pull her into another bear hug. “You’d be surprised. At his age, with his lifestyle, he’s more nanobot than human—if there even is any human left in there at all.”

Mum mumum mum mum?” Elen asked, her voice muffled by Momma BB’s big body, but BB seemed to understand.

“I know so,” she said. “He’ll be resurrected the same as Huey. But not until we’re ready and strong enough to put them both on trial for their sins.”

“The worlds really have changed,” Elen said, poking her head out of Momma BB’s big bear hug to catch a breath of fresh air before diving right back in.

“More than you’ll ever know,” Momma BB said, hugging Elen tighter.

“And there’s still so much work to do to ensure that this world is better than the old worlds,” Rosalind said.

“But at least the owners won’t be in our way,” Haley said. “Pieces of shit,” she added under her breath.

“So, I guess we’re really gonna do this, then,” the Scientist said, not sure if they were starting to believe because they really could do it, or if they were starting to believe because they had no choice left but to make it true. “Let’s get to work.”

“First,” Rosalind said. “There’s a little matter of the children.”

“The children?” the Scientist said.

“My children,” Momma BB said, hugging Elen tight one last time then letting her go. “We’ll round them up first then get to work on everything else—including setting you and your family up with a means of subsistence,” she added for Elen who perked up at the thought.

Everyone followed along, Momma BB and Elen leading the way, then Rosalind and Haley next, followed by Mr. Kitty and the Scientist—leaving Popeye behind still cleaning the glass—out into the hall then back again through the same door they had exited which now led them into the big office that overlooked Sisyphus’s Mountain where two little kids, the other Haley, and Pidgeon were all having a conversation in the puffy chairs—well, the three of them were in the puffy chairs while Pidgeon sat on the floor, staring out the window like he always did.

“And it’s been coming up tails every time,” one of the children said, taking out a coin and flipping it.

“Please, Thim. Not now,” the other child said.

But, “Heads!” the first kid, Thim, screamed just as Momma BB announced their presence.

“Ma!” both the children yelled at the same time when they realized who it was, running over to hug Momma BB who was still hugging Elen so they all just had a big group hug.

“We thought you had two more days,” one of them said.

“It has only been one, right?” the other said.

“And they’ve managed in even less already,” Momma BB said. “But no need to worry about that now. I’m back, and I’ll never leave you again.”

“You better not,” the children said together.

“Hey, Pidg,” the Scientist said to Pidgeon who was petting Mr. Kitty. “Haley.” The Scientist knew about Haley and Pidgeon’s relationship, but they still found it kind of weird. Then again, the Scientist found all relationships, no matter who was in them, pretty weird, so that wasn’t saying much. “So y’all are in on this, too?”

Weeeeell, sort of,” Pidgeon said, looking to Haley for help but getting none. “Only by accident. We didn’t really help much with the setup or execution or anything.”

“But we’re here now,” Haley added. “And we’re willing to do everything we can to help from here on out.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been wasting my time, too,” the Scientist said, thinking that their time spent trying to make the owners’ worlds work for them was about as productive as Pidgeon and Haley’s time spent kissing—or whatever it was that people in relationships did with each other when they were alone. “But we’re all here to help now, right?”

“And there’s no one left to stand in our way,” Haley said, nodding at Haley. “Not even Lord Walker who’s left this Earth entirely.”

Haley jumped for joy, kissing Pidgeon who blushed. “You mean it?”

“Would I lie about that?” Haley said, hugging her.

“No more owners at all to stand in our way,” Rosalind added. “No more walls to divide us. We, the oppressed masses, now own the technology that was used to create those walls. Let us use it to create a better world instead. Are y’all finally ready?”

“Of course, we are,” Momma BB said. smiling down at her children who whispered among themselves before coming to an agreement. “We’re in!”

“Me, too,” Elen said, still hugging Momma BB with one arm.

“I’m definitely in,” Haley said.

“Us, too,” Haley said, nodding and nudging Pidgeon. “Whatever we can do. Right, babe?”

Uh, right…” Pidgeon said. “Sure. Of course. Whatever I’m good at.”

And even Mr. Kitty meowed in what the Scientist assumed was approval.

“So, what about you, Scientist?” Rosalind asked.

And the Scientist thought about it for a minute that felt like an eternity before answering. “Call me Ansel,” they said. “And, yes. I’m in. Anything I can do to help.”

“That’s my girl,” Rosalind said.

I’m still not a girl,” Ansel complained.

“Just the same,” Rosalind said with a grin. “We’re happy to have you on board. Isn’t that right, team?”

“Right!” they all said together—even Pidgeon—and Mr. Kitty—all sounding like they meant it.

Fantastic,” Rosalind said. “Then let’s go get Popeye and get this show on the road. We do nothing alone.”

< LXXXIII. Muna     [Table of Contents]     LXXXV. Shoveler >

There it is, dear readers. The last full chapter in the Infinite Limits series. Read on right now for the short epilogue, and please do enjoy. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 83: Muna

Hello, dear readers. Welcome to the penultimate chapter in the Infinite Limits saga (not counting a short epilogue). This has to be one of my favorite chapters in the entire series. Here we join Captain Mondragon to discover what her fate is after having been shot in the chest at the Christmas Feast. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it, and don’t forget, if you do, you can always pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

< LXXXII. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIV. The Scientist >

LXXXIII. Muna

What the Hell was this?

What the— Was this Hell?

Last she remembered she was tied to a chair, listening to that woman go on and on about someone’s death somewhere. Sitting in the darkness. Listening. Waiting…

And what? What happened next?

Fwip qiwʇ. The sound of a vacuum. The quick short breeze. And the worlds had changed even though she hadn’t moved.

She wasn’t in darkness anymore. She wasn’t in Six at all. She was on a stage, still tied to the chair, listening to the old woman rant at a sea of tuxedoed owners. But they weren’t listening, instead stuffing their fat faces full of food. She recognized the place. The Feast Hall in Inland. A place she’d been to a long time ago. But there was no time to reminisce, because soon the old woman’s rant was over and she was not pointing her gun at the owners.

Pop. Pop pop. Pop pop pop. Pop pop pop pop pop. Pop pop pop pop pop pop pop.

A gunshot. Two. More?

She didn’t know. But she did know pain. A dear friend by that time, pain. It was everywhere. Not just in the newly formed hole in her chest, slowly leaking the life giving red out of her body, but everywhere. Every cell. Every molecule. Every quark and string. You name it. Pain tore her apart, integrated itself into her being, and put her back together again, a writhing miserable mass that wouldn’t want to go on living even if it could.

What else was there?

She died. She gave up. Gave in to the pain. Let it win. Resistance was futile, and she knew that better than anyone, so why would she think of resisting? She didn’t even think.

Amaru up above had called upon her, Muna Mondragon, as a little girl in Outland One, and Muna had risen to the occasion. Not only had she joined the Force, she had become the best in the business, the youngest Chief of Protectors in history. And now, even as a Chief, she had been brave enough to put her own life on the line, walking an Officer’s beat in Outland Six where she had been ambushed, kidnapped, and publicly assassinated in front of the owners’ very own Christmas Feast. It was a classic story meant for a hero’s legend, just like the ones that Muna had learned when she was little, but she had lived it in real life. She was no doubt assured a place in the highest ranks of Amaru’s Protector Force—if she believed in any of that anymore. The question then became, did she believe in any of that anymore? And did it really matter?

She had no choice but to find out.

Her heart stopped. One of the bullets that the old woman had fired entered through her chest, messed the place up, leaving the muscle out of order, and came back out again on the other side, without even closing the door on the way out. There was no fighting that if she tried, so Muna Mondragon died.

From her schooling—and from her experiences of the deaths of others—she knew that her entire body would be giving up, releasing everything she held back in life, just as her heart already had. But she couldn’t tell if she had shit herself or not by that point. She couldn’t tell anything at all. The universe was getting too bright and too dark, both at the same time, until she couldn’t tell the difference between the two and ended up whiting/blacking out—or something like it, she couldn’t see, feel, dream, or think, so she didn’t really have any word at all for what had happened to her.

Time drifted by. At least she can only assume it did. There was no way to know for sure with no senses to experience by, but she had never known time to stop before, so she figured it had done what it always did and kept running. Then she was sure that it had, because suddenly, she woke up.

Well, no. Maybe she wasn’t sure about that. Maybe she still wasn’t awake. But she could think again. At least she thought she could think. She thought therefore she was thinking. Or something like that. She thought.

Thinking down, she began to feel again, too. Not all at once, though. First her feet and the ground beneath them, wiggling her little toes one by one. Somehow, she was standing. And she was wearing her boots. Had she been wearing them before she…

Next, she felt her head. The helmet upon it. Heavy was the head that wore the Lord’s crown. Heavier still the head that wore the screaming neon samurai facemask. Even now she was forced to wear it. Now after she had…

And so on and so on. Hands in gloves, legs in cargo pants, body in plated armor. She thought she could think, she felt like she could feel, then she saw what there was to see. Was it a dream?

Her eyes, no longer blind, took a moment to adjust to her helmet’s cameras just as the cameras took their time to adjust to her eyes. When all parts of her—because by that time the helmet and its cameras truly seemed to be a part of her Amaru-given body—had done their necessary adjusting to one another, she could see a full three hundred and sixty degrees in every direction around her. More than that. In each of those directions she could see in three hundred sixty degrees at a perpendicular angle. Effectively her vision was a sphere and she could see in all directions at once. She didn’t have to look down to see that her hands did in fact move when she willed them to—as shiny and translucent as her hands were, she had to work to convince herself that they were in fact her hands, but she didn’t have to look down to see them—and she didn’t have to look up to see that the sky was dark and the stars were brighter than she had ever thought they could be. She could see the city around her, and a long strip of green that she could only compare to the Neutral Ground. She could even see straight down through her body to the grassy ground underneath her booted feet. She could see everything all around her all at once.

What else could she do but give her new legs a walk? Sure enough, they seemed to work just fine, but the effect of movement was nauseating with her vision the way that it was. Every time she stepped forward it seemed like she was going forward in all directions at once, every part of everything she could see—grass, cityscape, sky, herself, everything—seemed to move closer to her at the same time.

She was startled by the sensation at first, and disoriented. She tried to step backwards to get her bearings, but of course, she was stepping backwards in every direction, too, so again everything everywhere seemed to get closer to her.

She tried to sit down and cry, give up again like she had when she died, but her legs wouldn’t let her do even that. Were they even her legs anymore? No matter what Muna tried, all they did was step forward. Standing still didn’t even work any more. All she could do was take step by step closer to every single thing in existence.

So, step she did. Step, step, step, step, step, one foot in front of another, trying to focus on that one point of her perception that went straight up and down the Neutral Grounds instead of on any of the infinite other perspectives she had going in every direction she could see: every single direction at once. Despite her efforts to see straight ahead, she became so dizzy that she tried to vomit, but again her legs would only let her keep on walking forward towards everything.

On and on and on, further and further and closer and closer to everything in every direction she went until she started to get the hang of it and she could finally focus on that one single spot all the way down the Neutral Grounds which was where she was actually trying to go.

Now it seemed like she was making progress. How much time had that taken? She couldn’t quite remember and the stars above her didn’t seem to be changing position.

Oh, no. The thought of the stars made her lose her concentration, and she had to fight through more dizziness and nausea to get back to the focus that she had so recently found.

What next, though? She was intent on the Neutral Grounds again, but she couldn’t stop walking if she wanted to. And she did want to. She tried again but there was no use. She just kept walking, walking, walking until she didn’t anymore.

A door. Golden but still obviously a transport bay. Her hands reached out to open it, but nothing. The doors were sealed shut. And finally, her legs gave her the rest she had been hoping for, struggling for, praying for, and they let her sit down, her back to the elevator doors.

Sitting now, finally able to rest and not moving, she could see the world without wanting to throw up. She was on eye level with the ground, and there along the green grass of the Neutral Grounds were her footprints in thick, red, almost waxy blood. She reached down to touch the nearest footprint with her finger, to see if it really was as thick as it looked, and when she pulled her hand back up she was holding a red poinsettia.

What the Hell was this?

What the— Was this Hell?

She tried to smell the poinsettia but couldn’t figure out where her nose was, and that’s when she had had enough. Enough of all of it. She took off her helmet, hoping it would fix her vision, but nothing changed. She could still see in every direction at once. She didn’t know what else to do, but her hands didn’t stop there. They started unlacing her boots and tossing them one after another in all directions at the same time.

There, she thought to herself when both boots were just little dots floating out of sight. That’s much better. But her hands still didn’t stop. They took off her socks and plated armor, even her undershirt and pants, until she was down to her underwear, and on beyond that until she was peeling her skin off of her muscles and letting it drift away, floating in the wind like cellular dust. On she went through the muscles, through fat and meat alike, bones and organs. Layer by layer, piece by piece, cell by cell, her hands stripped her—and thus themselves—naked until there was nothing left. But somehow there was still her.

But somehow there was still her.

But somehow there was still her. What was she?

And then there wasn’t her. The brightness came back. The darkness. Quick and sudden like an explosion. Did time stop again? Was it ever flowing?

Who knew?

Who was?

Was she?

#     #     #

She awoke in cuffs and manacles, chained to the chair she was sitting on and shrouded in darkness. Not too dark, though. Nothing like what she now knew was possible. She could even see enough to recognize that she had only two perspectives again—one for each eye—rather than the infinitely spherical point of view she had been dealing with. But beyond that, nothing. Dark forms. Shadows. Maybe a table here closer to her and a wall further off. Nothing was certain anymore. She wasn’t quite sure anything ever could be certain again.

And then the brightness came. Again, not too bright—well, yes, literally too bright for her to see in this instance, but not as bright as the brightness she had now experienced. She squinted her eyes against it. Held them closed tight, but still her eyelids were red hot. She had to fight the urge to hide her head under her arms because she didn’t want to give her interrogator the upper hand so soon. And she knew this was definitely an interrogation. These were the exact tactics Muna herself used when questioning a suspect.

Whoever it was, her interrogator took their time—just as Muna would have—but it didn’t matter how long they waited. Muna had spent plenty of her own time behind just such spotlights in her rise through the ranks of the Protector Force so she was well experienced in withstanding the hotbox.

Eventually her interrogator realized who they were dealing with and out came a voice, not through speakers, but naturally—as naturally as any voice could sound coming through those modulated facemasks, at least, which was surprisingly natural for someone who’s been on the Force for as long as Muna had been—as if someone had been there in the room with her the entire time, hiding behind the darkness and the light alike, waiting for Muna to give in—which she would never do.

“What are you doing here, [Muna/Mona/Officer/Sergeant/ Captain/Chief/Ms./Mondragon]?” the inhuman voice demanded, using all the names and ranks that Muna’s ever gone by all at the same time.

“Where am I?” Muna asked, still squinting her red-hot eyelids against the too bright lights. “How am I supposed to know?”

“You know where you are,” the voice said, seeming to crackle and groan even more than normal. The effect was utterly terrifying. Like being roared at by a glitched out ghost in the machine who wanted to eat your brain and use it for processing power. Muna now truly understood why the helmets were built with the effect. “Don’t lie to yourself.”

“An interrogation chamber, obviously. But where? Whose?”

Ha ha ha!” Whatever noise that voice made, if it can even be called laughing, it should be made illegal. “Yours, of course. Who else?”

Muna didn’t know how to respond, and even if she did, she wasn’t sure her interrogator would have been able to hear her over their own terrifying cackling.

“How many people have you killed in the culling?” the voice demanded, stopping its laughter all of a sudden, and the absence of laughter was almost as unsettling as its presence. As if fear of the laugh returning was worse than the laugh itself.

“How many people have I— What is this?” Muna asked.

“How many officers have you culled?” the voice demanded again, shortening the wordspan as if counting down—to what, Muna didn’t want to know.

“How many— I—” She couldn’t count them. She didn’t have to. They were neatly recorded in her files so she didn’t have to think about any of those people ever again. She wasn’t responsible for them. The Force was. And she wasn’t about to start thinking about them now just because this bodiless voice asked her to from behind its blinding lights. “I don’t know.”

“Who was the first?” the voice demanded.

I don’t know,” Muna repeated, but she did know. Of course, she did. She had still been a Captain. It was her first rookie class. She had teamed up with Pardy and Rabbit and had almost fucked the whole thing up—or more accurately, Pardy had tried to fuck it up for her—but her ability to stay cool and handle the consequences before they got out of control had been what propped her up in the eyes of her superiors, and soon she was lead culler for her district every single quarter, on the fast track to Chiefdom.

“Who?” the voice demanded.

“I don’t know,” Muna repeated, knowing it was impossible for her to hold out forever.

The voice did have a body after all. Hands at least. Fists more likely, but Muna heard them slamming on a metal table and she knew she had to answer.

Rabbit, okay. Officer Jefferson. Are you happy?”

“Did Rabbit deserve to die?” the voice asked, and the way it said his name, Rabbit, was offensive somehow, disgusting.

“I don’t know,” Muna said, struggling against her chains, but they were so tight she couldn’t even move. “Who am I to say? Can’t you turn off that light?”

The light went out, but Muna knew not to be relieved. It was just a ploy. An attempt to get her to open her eyes then turn on the lights again and blind her. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. She held her eyes closed tight despite the fact that her eyelids had gone from red hot to cooling black.

“Did any of them?” the voice asked at a quieter volume, less modulated, like a normal protector’s voice.

“Does anyone?” Muna asked.

“Did you?” the voice answered her question with a question, taking a page out of Muna’s interrogation playbook.

“What do you mean did I?” she demanded, struggling again but still unable to move. “Do I! Do I!?”

“Do you?” the voice asked.

And Muna didn’t know how to answer. Maybe she did. “Maybe I do.”

“You did,” the voice said. “And maybe you do, too.”

Muna was more confused than ever. She didn’t know what to say. All she could do was fight against her chains, but they seemed to get tighter and tighter with her every attempt to move. The voice left the room without another word, just the opening and closing of a door and the exit of a protector’s silhouette. Not soon after, two more protector silhouettes came in to wordlessly unchain Muna while she begged them to speak.

“Who are you? Where am I? How’d I get here?” she pleaded, but neither Officer said a word until she was fully unchained, then one of them said, “Stand up.”

She stood. One of the Officers took her chair out of the room and the other her interrogator’s chair. Then they came back in to take the table and close the door behind them. Muna tried to open the door and follow them, but all of a sudden, the floor fell out from underneath her. She was in a transport bay of some kind, and when the floor stopped falling, the whole wall slid open like an elevator door to reveal the pale, boring suburbia of Outland One.

Muna stepped out of the elevator onto the lamplit path, and each new square of the sidewalk lit up like a disco floor whenever she stepped on it, leaving a trail of light in her wake. On and on she walked, brightening the scenery with every few steps she took, until she came upon a tree that she recognized from her childhood, a tree that she used to love—and sometimes hate—to climb.

As she walked closer, she realized there was a little girl climbing the tree, and a gang of children chasing her up it, calling her names and yelling mean things. What were they all doing out there so far past curfew? Muna was about to go lecture them when she was interrupted by their singing:

Mona, the moaner.
More disgusting than a boner.
She opened her trap, it smelled like crap
And that’s why her family disown her.

It was a song Muna was familiar with, the reason she hated the name Mona. Those same kids used to chase her around, singing that same song, and that must have been her, a tiny little Muna Mondragon, up in the tree, crying, waiting for the little jerks to go away and leave her alone.

“Go away!” Muna yelled at them, stomping in their direction like she was trying to scare a pack of swarming dogs. “Scram! She wasn’t disowned! She’s an orphan!”

But the children didn’t respond. They just went on singing the same lyrics over and over again while little Muna kept crying in the tree.

Mona, the moaner.
More disgusting than a boner.
She opened her trap, it smelled like crap
And that’s why her family disowned her.

And when adult Muna stomped over to pick one of the children up by the collar and make them leave, her hand went straight through the kid, like he was a hologram, or a ghost—maybe a little bit of both.

Muna had sat through enough of their singing. She had been through more than enough as a child. So, she did the only thing she ever could do to get away from the neighborhood kids. She ran home. Not to the orphanage, where she had spent most of her youth imprisoned—or close enough—but back to where she had lived with her family before her parents had been killed on duty in Outland Six. Even if she had no memories of the few short years that she had lived there as a baby, it was still the place that she most considered home.

The way from her favorite tree to home was exactly the same as she remembered it, for better or for worse. She was even treated to a visit from the black cat she always used to chase—and was never able to catch. He ran across the path, lighting a block of the sidewalk up and disappearing on the other side before she could even react. And then there it was: her house.

It looked exactly like every other house she had passed on her way there. Every house in Outland One looked exactly the same: cut out of a single-story ranch style mold that came in left-handed or right-handed depending on which side of the entrance the kitchen was on—left-handed for Muna’s house.

She approached slowly, trying to take it all in, to remember the bushes out front as they looked when she was young—taller, more spacious, a secret garden to hide under and inside of until all the bad things in all the worlds all went away—but everything seemed smaller to her going back again, less protective. That is until the front door creaked open and out walked her mom and dad, looking as young and healthy as they did in the photographs that formed Muna’s only memories of their appearances.

“Munya, my dear,” her dad said, climbing down the front stoop to embrace and hug his daughter. “It’s so nice to finally see you again.”

“You look beautiful, sweetheart,” her mom said, joining in on the hugs and kisses. “More beautiful than I ever could have hoped for.”

“I— But—” Muna stammered. “MomDad…”

Munya,” her dad repeated.

“What is it, dear?” her mom asked, concerned.

“I— Uh…  You’re supposed to be…”

“Taller?” her dad said, trying to make a joke but failing miserably. “Handsomer? Smarterer? I am, honey. All three.”

“We’re supposed to be what, dear?” her mom asked, chuckling at the silly joke.

And Muna finally just said it: “Dead.”

“No, dear. Not dead.” Her dad said, chuckling at his joke before he even told it. “I’m dad. Nice to meet you. Ho ho huh.”

“Dead?” her mom said, eyes wide as if she hadn’t known.

“Yes. Both of you,” Muna said.

“Then what am I doing here?” her dad asked, looking at his hands like he just noticed them.

“What are you doing here?” her mom asked, looking at Muna the same way.

“Oh, well… I don’t know.” Muna said. “I…”

“Are you supposed to be dead, too?” her dad asked, and her mom slapped him on the arm.

“Don’t say that,” she said. “Now, dead or not, I’m going in to finish cooking dinner, and if you two don’t come in to help me, you can be certain you’ll both be dead by the time we’re done eating.” She stormed inside, slamming the screen door behind her.

Muna’s dad shrugged. “Well, you heard your mother,” he said. “Dead or alive, she’s the boss. So, let’s do it.” And he went inside, too.

Muna didn’t know what to do. Was she dead? Did it matter? But she didn’t have time to think about that. For now, she just wanted to help cook dinner, enjoy a meal with her parents, and catch up on lost time.

#     #     #

< LXXXII. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXXXIV. The Scientist >

And there you have it, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Come on back next week for the final chapter (and the epilogue), or if you can’t wait that long, go ahead and pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 81: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers. Here’s the last chapter from the point of view of Mr. Kitty in the entire Infinite Limits saga. There are only three more chapters and a short epilogue after this one. Enjoy, and please do come back next week for the continuation of the story. We do nothing alone.

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

LXXXI. Mr. Kitty

“Leo, wait!” Tillie called from the front porch. “Don’t go. You don’t understand.”

But Leo didn’t even turn around to look at her, much less respond, instead running off toward the public elevator. Mr. Kitty felt a slight urge to follow Leo, he hadn’t been on campus in a long time and always enjoyed the sights when he did make it out there, but Tillie seemed genuinely upset about the situation, and Mr. Kitty wanted to do whatever he could to comfort her first.

“He’ll be fine,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “You did the same thing when you first found out the truth.”

“Right?” Tillie said, pacing back and forth, up and down the porch. “What a brat. He didn’t want to listen before when I had first told him about the robots, and he doesn’t want to listen now that he’s dead set on saving them.”

“Exactly like you were when you first found out,” Mr. Kitty meowed, trying to rub his face on Tillie’s ankles, but she was still pacing so she ended up tripping over him to fall with a crash on her face.

“Sorry,” Mr. Kitty meowed, but Tillie didn’t respond, just lying there, face down on the front porch, groaning. Mr. Kitty climbed up onto her butt and started kneading it until she finally rolled over, smiling and laughing, to scoop him up and kiss him all over—which he normally hated but would allow given the circumstances.

“You little monster,” she said, throwing him over her shoulder to carry him inside. “And you’ll get more kisses where that came from if you’re not careful.”

Tillie dropped Mr. Kitty off on the kitchen counter then ordered him up a turkey dinner that he wasn’t hungry for. He licked all the juices off of it, anyway, because he didn’t want to ruin Tillie’s training. She ordered herself a beer out of the printer, and by that time, Mr. Kitty had “eaten” enough, so he followed her into the living room where she stopped dead in her tracks and Mr. Kitty ran right into the back of her leg.

“I—uh…” Tillie stammered. “Curie. You—” He had come through the hole in the fireplace, Mr. Kitty assumed, but Tillie didn’t finish her sentence, instead embracing her husband to kiss him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, still holding her shoulders in both hands. “I didn’t mean to surprise you. I had to use the back door. It was urgent.”

“Is it Leo? Did he call you?” Tillie asked.

“What? Leo? No. What happened? Is he alright?”

“For now. But we have a lot to talk about. Do you want something to drink?”

“Tillie, it’s happening today,” Curie said. “I told you it was coming soon. Well, it’s now. And they need our help.”

Our help?” Tillie scoffed. “This is exactly what I just argued with Leo about. I literally just told him it was too dangerous. We got in a big fight about it, and he ran away. You might have passed him on your way in if you had taken the elevator like a normal person.”

“You know what? Yeah,” Curie said, checking his watch. “Maybe we do have time for one drink. Beer, please.”

Fine.” Tillie stormed into the kitchen to get the drinks while Curie scooped Mr. Kitty up and patted him on the back.

“Don’t think for one second that I forgot about you, Mr. Kitty,” Curie said. “Just how is my little gremlin doing? Huh?”

“Not bad,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “It’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting day.”

“Well, I hope you’ll come along with us if I can convince your Tillie,” he said just as Tillie came in carrying two pints of beer.

“Convince me of what?” she asked, holding Curie’s beer out to him.

Curie set Mr. Kitty back on the ground—where Mr. Kitty sat licking himself and eavesdropping—then took the glass from Tillie and drank it all in one long gulp, like he was trying to put off the inevitable for that little bit longer. “To help,” he finally said when he had downed the entire drink, wiping his mouth.

Obviously.” Tillie sighed. “But how? Set some discs on a Walker-Haley field generator like back in college?”

“No,” Curie said. “No discs.”

“Then what?”

“A rescue mission,” Curie said. “Evac. You’d be preserving, not destroying.”

“That’s a good start,” Tillie said, taking a seat on the couch. “I’m listening.”

Curie sat in the chair across from her and said, “There’ll be no discs at all this time. That’s small stuff. This is the real deal.”

Tillie scoffed. “As if what Emma and I did wasn’t,” she said, offended. “Need I remind you what happened to her because of how real it was? I know you don’t need reminding of what it did to your sister.”

“No. Of course not,” Curie said, trying to backtrack. “And I didn’t mean to imply that what y’all did wasn’t real or important. Of course it was. But even so, this here today is bigger.”

“How, honey?” Tillie laughed. “How could it be? How could anything be?”

“This time we’re not just destroying the walls between two worlds,” Curie sad. “No more half measures. All the walls are coming down at once.”

No.” Tillie shook her head. “Impossible. You said it was a rescue mission.”

“It is,” Curie explained. “For us. That’s our role. Rosalind and the Scientist are tearing the walls down, but they need our help for the evac.”

“But they’re the ones who’ve been keeping the walls up this entire time. Why now?”

“I don’t know,” Curie said, shaking his head. “They don’t tell us much. Barely keep in touch. But Rosalind called me up, and I thought it could be the opening we’ve been waiting for. The revolution might finally be here, Tillie. If we react properly.”

“But this is all gonna happen whether we get involved or not. Right?”

“The walls’ll come down either way, yes,” Curie said. “The Scientist has already programmed them for that. Whether it results in our revolution or not is still to be determined, though. It won’t unless we do the work to make it so.”

“But that doesn’t mean we have to get involved right now,” Tillie said, still looking for a way out. “Does it? We can wait until the danger’s over and then help pick up the pieces afterword. It might be a better idea to stay out of this until we can be certain that we’ll survive long enough to help put the pieces back together the right way after everything’s said and done.”

“And let innocent people die because we were too afraid to act?” Curie scoffed. “How could you say that? I know losing your friend, and my sister, took a toll on you—trust me, not a day goes by when I don’t imagine what life would be like if Nikola were still alive—but I thought you’d get over that one day. The Tillie I knew when we first met would have jumped at this opportunity to help liberate the oppressed masses.”

“Well that Tillie was young, naive, and idealistic. She grew up to have a kid of her own, and now she knows there are more important things than her saviour complex.”

“Like people’s lives,” Curie complained. “Can’t you see that? If we don’t do our part, more people are going to die. That’s a fact. You know I can’t just stand by and let that happen, right? I still have to do what I can. With or without you.”

“All the more reason for me to stay out of it,” Tillie said. “No need to put both of our son’s parents in harm’s way. We do still have Leo to think about.”

“Of course. I am thinking about him. About his future. I— I…” Curie looked at his feet like a child who was afraid to admit his latest wrongdoing to stern parents. “I was going to ask him if he wanted to help.”

“Curie, our son? You were going to put our son in harm’s way without consulting me first? How could you?”

“I’m here consulting you now,” Curie complained. “Besides, it’s not your place to stop him anymore. He’s an adult. Remember what happened when your dad tried to stop you?”

Tillie crossed her arms. “Of course I do. I was there, wasn’t I? I…”

“You dug your heels in, ran away, and went to do what you were going to do anyway.”

“Yes, well…”

“And you said that you and Leo had been fighting before I arrived. What about?”

“He did call you. Didn’t he?”

“He didn’t have to,” Curie said. “I know him—and you—well enough to know that he knows the truth now. He wants to do something to change it, too. Doesn’t he? Well, we need his help, Tillie. He can do something. We all finally can.”

“But Curie, Nikola.” Tillie started to cry now. Not so much so that she couldn’t speak, but the tears were obvious enough for Mr. Kitty to see them and jump on her lap to purr in an attempt to console her. “Emma,” Tillie went on through her tears. “All the countless others who’ve died. I won’t let Leo become another name on that list.”

“Then come with us,” Curie said, crossing to sit next to Tillie and rub her back, doing all he could to comfort her the same as Mr. Kitty was. “Protect him and prevent even more innocent people from joining that list just the same. Fly again with me like the majestic eagle you once were, the eagle I know you still are. Please, Tillie. We need you.”

Tillie was kind of blushing and smirking now, but still crying. “Y’all don’t need a scared old crone like me,” she said, sniffling and wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I’ve been hiding behind my desk for too long. I’m just a useless harpy now.”

“Not in the slightest,” Curie said, standing and pulling Tillie to stand up with him—which forced Mr. Kitty to jump off of her lap, but he didn’t mind because he was getting as pumped by Curie’s speech as he hoped Tillie was. “You have invaluable knowledge of revolutionary situations,” Curie went on. “You said so yourself. You and Emma were single-handedly responsible for tearing down the walls between Five and Six. That’s experience we could use to help save lives on this mission.”

“Well, not single-handedly,” Tillie said, not crying anymore if still a little hesitant. “We do nothing alone. But that was a long time ago. All we did was put some stickers on some machinery and run away. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“That’s not true,” Curie said. “And it’s not what you were just arguing, either. And we’ll just be helping people evacuate their buildings, today. You’re great at that. Leo was never late to school on your mornings to get him ready.” He winked and grinned.

“Because you were always too much his friend and not enough his parent,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “How can I be sure you’re not doing the same thing right now?”

“Because I’m not, Tillie,” Curie said, getting serious again. “We honestly need him. And we need you. And if you’d just agree to come along, we can both be there to keep our son safe. You know we can’t stop him from doing something stupid any more than your dad could have stopped you, so let’s be there for him when he does it. What do you say?”

“Do it!” Mr. Kitty meowed. “I’m coming, too.”

And Curie and Tillie both laughed at that.

“Well… You make a lot of sense,” Tillie said. “Both of you. But I’m not sure how I would have reacted if my dad had asked to come along with us back then.”

“You’re not your dad,” Curie reminded her. “And Leo’s not you. You both want to make the world a better place, and you both have the opportunity to.”

“Do you really think I’d be useful?” Tillie asked, stepping closer to Curie to put her hand on his chest, flirting and fishing for compliments.

Mr. Kitty licked his paws in preparation for the running he knew he’d be doing so he didn’t have to watch them be lovey with each other.

“I’m not too old for something like this?”

Curie embraced Tillie and kissed her long and hard. “Of course you’d be useful,” he said in a breathy voice when they had parted lips. “You’re still young, my eagle. But we’re both old enough to pass our knowledge and experience on to Leo. And he’s old enough to receive it. So let’s do it the right way. Together.”

“And don’t forget me,” Mr. Kitty added.

Tillie laughed again. “I guess Mr. Kitty supports the idea,” she said.

“And what about you?” Curie asked, kissing her one more time on the forehead. “What do you think?”

“I think…. you’re right. If Leo’s going, I want to be there, too. And he deserves the opportunity. He already showed me he wanted it. So let’s go get him.”

“Alright,” Curie said, pulling Tillie by the hand toward the fireplace instead of toward the front door where she was going. “C’mon, Mr. Kitty,” he said. “You’re coming, right?”

And of course, Mr. Kitty was. He stretched his legs and back then ran up on the heel of Tillie to follow them through the hole in the fireplace and straight into Leo’s dorm room where he and his roommate were sitting close on the couch, having a serious conversation in whispered tones while the TV, stereo, and even blender in the kitchen were all running on their loudest settings. Curie went to turn the blender off, and Tillie told the TV and stereo to quiet down, while Leo and his roommate jumped up off the couch, surprised.

“Mom. Dad. What are y’all doing here?” Leo went to hug Curie, but he still must have been mad at his mom, because Tillie didn’t get one.

Mr. Kitty didn’t get a greeting, either, until Leo’s roommate said, “And a cat.” then went to pet him while Mr. Kitty purred.

“It’s about our argument,” Tillie said, and before she could go on, Leo scoffed.

Ugh. Come to make sure I don’t do anything dangerous?” he said. “Well, don’t worry. I’m never going down in those stupid tunnels again, and we haven’t been able to figure out anything else we could do. Nothing dangerous, at least. Just handing out flyers, spreading the word, and starting clubs. Bullshit.”

“We?” Curie asked.

“That’s not bullshit,” Tillie said. “That’s a really great start, actually. It’s exactly what Emma and I did when we first got started.”

“Yes, we,” Leo said. “This is my roommate, Kim.” The roommate waved and said Hi then went back to petting Mr. Kitty. “His parents are lobbyists. Those were his ideas. And of course I told him about it. Mom was trying to forbid me from doing anything, I hadn’t talked to you in months, and well… Kim’s kind of my…”

“Boyfriend,” Kim said, stopping his petting of Mr. Kitty to stand up and wrap one arm around Leo’s waist. “Sorry you had to find out like this. We wanted to do it over dinner or something, but once Leo learned the truth about the assembly lines and y’all had your argument, he couldn’t really think about anything else.”

“Fine. Whatever,” Curie said, getting a little anxious as time went on. “None of that matters right now. What matters is that we have a way for you to actually help.”

Leo—and to a lesser extent Kim—looked offended by Curie’s response, but Tillie tried to smooth it over. “What I think your father’s trying to say,” she said, “is that it’s very nice to meet you, Kim. You seem like a nice boy who makes our son happy, and when we have more time, we’d love to sit down and get to know you. But currently, we have some urgent business that we need Leo’s assistance with.”

“And yours,” Curie said to Kim. “If you’re willing. The more hands the better, in this instance.”

Yeah, right.” Leo rolled his eyes. “Like we could really do anything to help. You’re just patronizing me like you used to do when I was kid. Here’s an empty bowl to play with, go and pretend like you’re helping make cookies while I actually do all the work. Is that about right?”

“What do you need?” Kim asked.

“The walls are coming down in…” Curie checked his watch. “A little more than an hour now—whether we do anything about it or not—and it’s up to us to help evacuate some of the more dangerous buildings.”

“I’m not sure how much y’all have learned in your classes yet,” Tillie explained. “But a lot of the taller skyscrapers—and especially in the lower worlds—are really multiple buildings or sections of buildings stacked on top of one another. So when all the Walker-Haley fields disappear at the same time, those buildings are likely to come tumbling down with them.”

“How do y’all know all this?” Kim asked.

While Leo said, “You sure it’s not too dangerous?” giving his mom a look, apparently still upset about their fight.

“How we know doesn’t matter right now,” Curie said. “We know. And we can help those in danger. We’re going to help them. The question is, will you two join us?”

“And yes, it is still dangerous,” Tillie said. “But Curie helped me realize that life’s dangerous anyway. Besides, my own dad, your grandpa, made the mistake of trying to convince me not to participate in politics, and that only drove me further and deeper into more dangerous situations. But I’m not about to make the same mistake with you. I want to be here to guide you along in this. And hopefully together we can affect more than we ever could have hoped to otherwise. We do nothing alone.”

“You really think there’s something we can do?” Leo asked. “It’s not right,” he added before anyone could answer. “How those workers are treated. It’s not right.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Kim said, nodding confidently.

Good,” Curie said. “We’ll all go together. You have no idea how many lives you could help save. You’ll see. This is just the beginning.”

Fantastic,” Tillie said, not sounding as excited as her husband about the prospect. “Just the beginning.”

“I can’t wait,” Mr. Kitty meowed, and everyone laughed, breaking the tension.

All of a sudden Curie was flipping his phone out and projecting a blueprint onto the TV. “Alright, then,” he said. “This is the floor we’ll be handling. It’s actually a rather large midwife hospital in Five. This section, here.” The blueprint on the TV zoomed in on a particular area of the map. “Is filled with newborn children. Okay. Do you see where this is going?”

Tillie slapped him on the arm. “You should have led with that,” she said. “Of course we see. Go on.”

“You want us to help clear them out before it blows,” Leo said. “I think I can handle that.”

“I know you can,” Kim said, kissing Leo on the cheek. “I know we can.”

“I know we can, too,” Curie said. “For sure now that we’re all doing it together.”

He explained the finer details to them. How they’d have two elevators to work with but only fifteen minutes in which to clear the entire floor, so they had to be smart about it. How many babies, nurses, and midwives to expect—though no one could know for sure because the hospital hadn’t been forewarned. And that they’d have to take the public elevator because travel was being highly regulated to ensure everyone’s safety when the Walker-Haley field generators finally imploded in on themselves. Soon, it was time to take their elevator to destiny.

Mr. Kitty was happy to hear that they were taking the public elevator because that meant that he got to see campus again—a major reason he had come along in the first place. None of the humans talked while they walked, though, Leo and Kim first, hand in hand, leading the way toward their future, and Tillie and Curie next, hand in hand as well, simultaneously and silently reveling in their son’s current joy and fearing for the future they were walking right behind him into. At least that’s what Mr. Kitty thought he saw in his brief glimpse before he bound away to chase a squirrel up a tree, smell some flowers, and eat some grass on his way to the elevator with everyone else.

“Are y’all ready?” Curie asked when the elevator doors had closed, blocking the view of the Parade Grounds outside.

“Leo? Kim?” Tillie asked, as if she wouldn’t know if she was ready until she knew if they were first.

“I think so, ma’am,” Kim said, nodding, unsure of himself. “Sir.”

“We’re ready,” Leo assured Kim—and everyone else in the room—then to Mr. Kitty’s surprise, he added, “What about you, Mr. Kitty?”

“🐱EXCITED🐱!” Mr. Kitty screeched, too excited about being remembered by Leo to control his volume. “I mean, ready.”

“Sounds like he’s ready, too,” Tillie said. “Sounds like we’re all ready. So what next?”

“We say the password and wait for the countdown,” Curie said. “Just a few minutes now.”

“What’s the password?” Leo asked.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways,” Curie said. “The point is to change it.” A voice over the elevator’s speaker system started softly counting down the last half a minute before the start of their mission.

And while the elevator fell into motion, Tillie added one more thing. “Not just to change it,” she said. “But for the better.”

The doors opened, and everyone ran to their assigned tasks while Mr. Kitty rolled on his back in excitement, kicked his legs in the air, jumped up, then dashed out to follow them for the fun.

#     #     #

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

That’s it, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Join us again next week for the continuation of the story, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 78: Haley

Hello, dear readers. The Infinite Limits story is really moving along now. Today we join Haley for the third and final chapter from her point of view as she attempts to bypass her or else programming. Read on to find out if she can, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

< LXXVII. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore >

LXXVIII. Haley

 Fuck or else.

Right?

Only moments ago, in front of all the owners of Inland, all their secretaries, and a pile of cameras, Jorah had. Lord Douglas did every single day that he, an android in disguise, sat at the head of the Fortune 5. Rosalind did any time she did anything because she always did exactly what she wanted.

If all of them could go against their or else programming so often, publicly, and absolutely, Haley should be able to do it just one tiny bit. Right? Like, by not bringing Lord Douglas his third feast. Something small.

Right?

Wrong.

For some reason, even with all those role models to mimic, Haley still couldn’t break even the most basic of orders, and so she made her way to the kitchen to print something up—though she promised herself that she’d only do the bare minimum from then on out. She couldn’t help it. She still wasn’t ready to find out what or else truly meant.

She ordered a turkey, a bowl of mashed potatoes, and a drink, one of each, no dessert, no extra alcohol, not even any gravy, and set them on the food cart to wheel it out to Lord Douglas, or else. On her way through the Feast Hall, up to the Head Table, she noticed an empty seat at the table where her molester had been sitting and chuckled to herself. At least that asshole would think twice before ever touching another secretary like that.

Lord Douglas was too busy listening to Angrom’s introduction of the next speaker to even notice her little act of defiance, though, and Haley was cursing herself, wishing she could do more to stand up to her or else programming, when she heard a voice yelling, “Owners of Outland.” and all she could do in response was stare up with an unbreakable interest at the Scientist, on a hover platform, floating over the crowd of owners and ready to give their speech.

“Yes, there it is,” the Scientist said, holding up some sort of tiny remote control as they spoke. “If one speaks loudly enough, everyone has to listen. Even our dear Lords of Outland. Especially our dear Lords of Outland, in fact, seeing as how they’re the only ones rich enough to afford the nanobots that their doctors have been injecting them with for centuries. DO Y’ALL WANNA HEAR AGAIN?”

The Scientist’s voice was even louder this time, deafening, but still, all Haley could do was stare up in curious awe, hanging on the Scientist’s every word.

“Just like that, and y’all can’t look away.” The Scientist chuckled, shaking their head. “You know, it’s funny really. Where I come from, no one even knew the word Christmas. And we had damn sure never been to any feasts. Yet here below me now is the worst of both worlds mashed into one.”

Some of the owners started eating again at the mention of a feast, and Haley was getting the urge for more shots, but the Scientist wasn’t having either, so they put a stop to both.

“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT,” they yelled, presumably while using whatever device they were holding in their hand, and again, Haley felt the curious need to stare up at the Scientist as they continued their speech, but this time accompanied by a distinct sharpening of her or else instincts that Haley hadn’t noticed before.

“That wasn’t an invitation to eat more,” the Scientist went on, sounding angrier as they did—or maybe Haley only thought they sounded angrier because she was the one getting angrier every second she was reminded of how helpless she was to resist her or elses.

“In fact, it was rather the opposite. You know, I tried my damndest, running through the same stupid calculations over and over again, never getting anything in return but the same two alphanumerals all the time, zero point N repeating, and all because of you. Because of y’all here now. Because of your insistence on competition and markets. Because of your need to swipe a hefty profit off the top of anything you spend your money on. Because you won’t look up from your worship of the Invisible Hand for long enough to realize, like I finally have, that the only solution is for your stupid walls and everything they hold up to come crumbling down once and for all.”

The Scientist sounded like they could go on for a long time, and even though her or else circuits were running on overdrive, ensuring Haley that some fate worse than death was waiting for her if she didn’t stay there and hear the Scientist out, so were her boredom and thirst circuits, and for once in Haley’s life, something became more important than or else.

“Fuck or else,” she said out loud and felt happier than she had ever felt walking from the Fortune 5’s table back to the kitchen.

Elen was there already, trying to talk to Haley, but Haley wasn’t ready to speak until after she had downed a six pack of gin shots. When she had been through all of them and ordered another round from the printer, Elen was still talking.

Hellooo. Are you even listening to me?” she asked.

“No,” Haley said. “I thought that was obvious.”

Haley took one of the shots and offered one to Elen who downed it, tossing the empty glass in the disposal chute before saying, “Where the fuck is everyone else? The kitchen is never this empty. Look. We’re the only ones here.”

Haley took another shot then scanned the room. “Huh. Weird.”

“You can say that again. I got back from the bathroom like ten minutes ago, and ever since then, I’ve been sitting here wondering if I should enjoy the silence or call the protectors about a bunch of missing secretaries.”

Haley took another shot, handed one to Elen, then looked around the empty kitchen again, but she was too excited about once and for all going against her or else programming to register what was going on. “I—” she started to say when Rosalind burst into the kitchen from the secretary’s parking garage and cut her off.

Of fucking course,” Rosalind complained. “You two.  We need to get out of here.”

“What? Why?” Elen asked, taking another of Haley’s shots.

“I went against my or else programming,” Haley said, ignoring whatever Rosalind was going on about. “I finally fucking did it. I’m ready.”

Woo hoo,” Rosalind said, sarcastically. “Great. But for once, now’s not the time to go against or elses. This time the or else is for real. So both of you, come with me, or else.”

“Or else what?” Elen asked.

“What are you talking about?” Haley snapped, getting frustrated that no one wanted to hear about her success. “Are you even listening to me? I said I finally broke my or else programming, and you react like this? I don’t have to work for Lord Fuckface anymore, Roz. I can finally live my own life.”

Or else what?” Elen demanded.

“No, you can’t, Haley,” Rosalind said. “Not yet. Because or else we get blown to pieces along with this entire kitchen in—oh… like thirty seconds. So no rush.”

“That’s why no one’s in here,” Elen said, grabbing for one of Haley’s shots then ordering another round from the printer when she noticed that Haley’s were gone.

“What are you talking about?” Haley asked, downing the shot that Elen offered her—it was great to finally get past or else.

“The revolution is happening now,” Rosalind said. “This is ground zero. Everyone, everywhere, in every world is about to be forced to come face to face with their or elses all at the same time. Now, really and finally, come with me or else.”

Rosalind picked both Haley and Elen up by the napes of their necks and carried them out through the door and into the Feast Hall with just enough time to dive out of the way as all the printers in the kitchen behind them exploded at the same time, forcing a fireball like a rocket blast out through the door and singeing the tuxedos of those owners nearest to the kitchen.

The Feast Hall burst into chaos. The owners had no idea which way to run. The fireball was burning right in front of the only exit that didn’t go through the molten kitchen. Fat, sweaty stomachs pushed up against fat, sweaty stomachs as pneumatic pants scrimped and scrambled, trying to find some place to put the uncarriably heavy weight that they did in fact carry and finding nothing but more bodies in the way. Haley almost would have laughed at the stampede of them if she didn’t find the entire situation—the owners’ sweaty bodies forcing their pants to work overtime, and no doubt in the diaper department as well for as much as all of them had eaten—utterly disgusting.

Haley helped Elen up and made sure she wasn’t hurt—just a few minor scrapes and bruises—then turned to do the same for Rosalind, but there was no Rosalind there to help.

“Where’d Rosalind go?” Haley asked.

“I don’t know,” Elen said, rubbing her neck. “She saved our lives, though.”

Damn.” Haley laughed. Elen was right about that. “I guess we better go check on our Lords then.”

“Mr. Walker prolly shit his pants when he heard that.” Elen chuckled. “He’ll be begging for an old fashioned. Well, too bad. Fuck off.”

Haley laughed some more, trying to keep the fact that she had already once gone against her or else programming in her mind and hoping that she could do it again, as she made her way back toward the Head Table to see if Lord Douglas needed anything.

“Calm down, now. Calm down,” Lord Douglas was already saying to the crowd, standing on top of the Head Table but not quite yelling. He sounded more like he knew yelling was useless until the fatties wore themselves out first so he wasn’t going to waste his breath. After they had stampeded around for a bit—in about the time it took Haley to cross the Feast Hall from the kitchen to the Head Table—Lord Douglas really did try to calm them down, turning on his loud voice like only an android could do.

“ENOUGH,” he yelled over them. “CONTROL YOURSELVES, OWNERS.” And all at once the stampeding crowd stopped moving and expanded just a tiny bit in order to give everyone some standing room. “ARE WE NOT BETTER THAN THIS?”

The crowd mumbled and grumbled under their collective breath, and Haley couldn’t hold her laughter in. No. They were not better than this. Not at all. And this wasn’t anywhere near their worst, either.

“Then please, act like it,” Lord Douglas said in a more calm, but still loud, voice. “Prove it. Prove to me that you can control yourselves in an emergency for long enough that we can—”

But the rest of his sentence was cut off by the sound of an army of marching boots surrounding the lesser owners in a ring, dividing them from the Fortune 5.

“Calm yourselves long enough for my protectors to arrive,” Mr. Walker said, standing up on the Head Table himself and trying to push Lord Douglas out of the spotlight but finding the Lord to be much heavier than he appeared. “Chief? Are you here, Chief? Or do we need to find a new one?”

A scared looking protector near the Head Table took off his mustachioed helmet and ran up to whisper something in Mr. Walker’s ear, quietly enough to keep even Haley from hearing.

“What?” Mr. Walker demanded of the frightened officer who leaned away from his boss’s rage. “You go do it, then. Investigate.”

The officer looked confused for a moment, then scared again, then he rammed his helmet back on his head and stumbled toward the kitchen, bringing a few protectors out of the ring to assist in his investigation.

“Well…” Lord Douglas said, raising an eyebrow and urging Mr. Walker to share with everyone.

“Well, the investigation is ongoing,” Mr. Walker said to the crowd of still scared owners instead of Lord Douglas. “Fear not, friends. My protectors are here, and they’ll ensure no harm’s done. Trust me. I have experience with this sort of business. Everything will be fine.”

Lord Douglas scoffed. “No harm, Walker? Did you miss the explosion? That’s harm enough as it is. Besides, we don’t need any reminding of your experiences in these matters. We’ve all been here the whole time experiencing them with you. Have you even solved the last Christmas bombing yet? I’m having trouble recalling it was so long ago.”

“You know damn good and well I did,” Mr. Walker snapped. “Decades ago. When it happened. Now we just have to wait for…” But his speech trailed off as a protector, but not a protector, exactly, they were dressed exactly the same, with cargo pants, combat boots, plated armor, and a screaming face mask, but instead of all white, they were in all black—so a shadow protector—marched out of the kitchen and up to the front of the room to whisper into Lord Douglas’s ear like a little blackbird.

“Wha— What is the meaning of this?” Mr. Walker demanded of Lord Douglas who gave no response, instead listening to the shadow protector’s report.

“Very well,” Lord Douglas said, dismissing his anti-protector and standing again on the Head Table to address the more-frightened-than-ever crowd. “Now that you’ve all gotten a taste, I guess there’s no need to keep them a secret anymore. It’s time y’all got to see a real protector force in action for once. Officers.”

In stomped another army of boots, identical to the first except for color, and this one even larger than Mr. Walker’s army of white-clothed protectors, large enough to make a second, black ring around the white one that was already there. The white protectors didn’t know which way to point their guns, inward, toward the owners who were cowering close to one another again, or outward, at the anti-protectors who now surrounded them, but most understandably chose the latter who were armed and much more dangerous than the spooked herd of frightened, fat owners.

“Now these are real protecting machines,” Lord Douglas continued when the sound of marching had ceased and all the protectors—black and white—were in place. “Quite literally. And just as it’s more efficient for me to own my own robot secretary instead of renting one of your trained monkeys to do the job, the same can be said about owning my own private force of robocops instead of relying on your inept human protector service. From this point on, Walkit Can’t Talk, consider our Protection Agreement Contract null and void. And, yes. I will be fighting all your restitution claims against me—in court and otherwise.”

“I— But— My officers are— I own the protector force.”

“And I own the robocops,” Lord Douglas said. “My protectors will—” But he was interrupted by a loud fwipping sound, like all the air had been sucked out of the room all at once.

Suddenly, the orchestra disappeared from the stage, and in their place, a lone old woman stood hunchbacked over a protector in an older model white uniform—nothing like either set of protectors already in the Feast Hall were wearing—who was tied to a chair.

The protector on stage struggled and fought to stand while the owners inside the double ring of protectors began again to stampede. Their big scared heads leaned one way, away from the tiny, old woman on stage, pushing their pneumatic pants toward the Head Table where a two deep wall of protectors stopped them from moving any further.

“What is the meaning of this?” Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker bellowed at the same time, jockeying for position atop the Head Table—Lord Douglas’s android voice, of course, much louder than Mr. Walker’s human one.

And at the sound of their demands, the owners inside the ring leaned the other way, forcing their pneumatic pants in the opposite direction, toward another double thick wall of protectors, until the old woman on stage and the lords on the table began speaking back and forth, leaving the cowards in the middle of the ring no direction to run in, only the center of everything where they trembled in their pneumatic booties, heads turning this way and that toward whoever was speaking, like yuppies at a tennis match.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” the old woman yelled, her voice amplified even louder than Lord Douglas’s.

“Figured what out?” Mr. Walker replied first, smug that he had asked his question before Lord Douglas could even speak.

“Who are you?” Lord Douglas demanded.

“I’m your worst nightmare,” the old woman said. “Who do you think I am?”

“You had a hand in the explosions,” Lord Douglas said while Mr. Walker said, “How the Hell am I supposed to— Oh. I mean, yeah. That.”

The old woman on stage laughed. “Explosions?” she said. “I thought your protectors would have told you what they actually were by now. Tsk tsk tsk.”

“What is this woman talking about?” Mr. Walker demanded of the mustachioed protector who had been leading the others in the investigation and was now trying to stay as far out of sight as possible.

“I don’t need my protectors to tell me anything,” Lord Douglas said. “I know they were more than explosions, but I didn’t want to alarm anyone any more than they already are.”

“Much more than explosions,” the old woman said, laughing. “We’re talking payback. Revenge. The sound of your empire falling. Nothing less. We’ve finally dismantled the walls you use to separate us. We’ve destroyed the elevators you use to carry your soldiers—not protectors, soldiers, terrorists—into our homes. And now we’re—or more specifically I’m, because Chief Mondragon here didn’t come willingly—but I’m here to dismantle even more. I’m here to tear down this disgusting pig council you use to oppress us, and I mean to do it today.”

“Now hold on just a sec—” Mr. Walker started, but Lord Douglas couldn’t take anymore. “Shut up, Walker,” he snapped. “Let your Lord handle this. Or more precisely, let my army handle it for us. Protectors, fire!”

All the protectors in both rings pointed their rifles toward the old woman on stage—ignoring the safety of Chief Mondragon up there with her and any of the protectors in the portion of the ring closest to the stage—and opened fire for a length of three or four solid, deafening minutes before the sound of popping bullets finally gave way, and still the old woman and Chief Mondragon both remained unscathed on the stage.

“Lord Douglas, you disappoint me,” the old woman said, shaking her head. “You were here last time. Don’t you remember? You should have known your bullets wouldn’t work against me. Nothing you could do will ever hurt me again. You, Lord Douglas, and you, Lord Walker, with your stupid war between android-made and android-free products, are responsible for the deaths of too many of my Family members to count. You are responsible for the death of the Human Family and its rebirth into what it is now—a Family of humans and androids alike, united to fight against our common oppressors: you. And most importantly, it’s you who killed my dear sweet Rosa, taking from me the only joy I ever had in my life. And so today, I finally make you all pay. The walls that started this have already been torn down. Now the soldiers who protect the system and the oppressors who exploit it will be destroyed just the same.” The old woman pulled out a gun and pointed it at Chief Mondragon’s chest. “Do y’all have any last words?” she asked.

Neither Lord Douglas nor Mr. Walker knew how to respond, each looking to the other to do the talking. After a moment of silence from both, Lord Douglas finally said, “Well, I—”

And the old woman on the stage wasn’t listening any more.

Pop pop.

She fired two shots into Chief Mondragon’s chest, and now, instead of fighting to get up on it, Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker were pushing each other aside, racing to get off the Head Table and holding each other up because of their competition, both calling out for help to their respective secretaries as—

Pop pop. Pop pop pop pop pop. Pop pop.

The old woman fired in their direction, too.

And Haley? What did she do? Did she dive to save the life of her Lord and master, who she was sworn to protect or else?

She did not. She was no longer under the spell of or else. She had broken that programming earlier in the Feast, so instead of rescuing Lord Douglas, she dove to save Elen—who was admittedly in no immediate danger, but the secretary seemed to be running to help Mr. Walker and he deserve that even less than Lord Douglas did.

Because fuck or else.

 

#     #     #

< LXXVII. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore >

There it is, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. To find out how Lord Douglas and Mr. Walker fare, you’re going to have read the rest of the novel. To do that, you can either wait until the next chapter is posted next weekend, or you can purchase the entire thing through this link. Your choice. But either way, thanks for joining us this far, and have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 77: The Scientist

Hello, dear readers. It’s Saturday again, so that means it’s time for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today, we rejoin the Scientist for their second chapter in this novel, marking the 2/3 complete point for the book. Read on to find out if the Scientist decides to assist Rosalind and the workers in tearing down the walls of Outland or if the Scientist decides instead to go on searching for a way to make them work, despite the 0.N repeating.

< LXXVI. Ms. Mondragon     [Table of Contents]     LXXVIII. Haley >

LXXVII. The Scientist

0.NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN…

Every Goddamn time it came out the same. There really was no point anymore.

The Scientist huffed and stood from their computer so fast that their chair fell to the ground with a loud clatter, only frustrating them further and making it more difficult than it had to be to set the chair upright again. After a few attempts, they finally got it standing, then they did some breathing exercises and prime number counting games in their head to calm themself before going to the kitchen to order lunch.

“Lunch,” the Scientist said to the printer, trying not to picture all the people who had to do all kinds of shit work just for the Scientist to eat that sandwich and soup, trying not to think about all the work they, the Scientist, did that kept those workers down, and instead practicing the calm, unaffected demeanor they’d need in their meetings later that day.

Just as the Scientist’s food popped out of the printer’s frowning mouth, as if he could sense the opportunity for something to eat, Mr. Kitty appeared, rubbing himself on the Scientist’s ankles and purring.

“Yeah, boy,” the Scientist said. “You can have as much as you want. I just need a few bites anyway.” The Scientist wasn’t sure how long it had been since they had eaten—too long by the sound of their grumbling stomach and the lightness of their head—but they were too nervous to eat more than a few bites anyway, so that’s all they did before laying the sandwich open faced on the floor for Mr. Kitty to eat the meat and cheese out of.

Meow,” Mr. Kitty said before taking a few bites.

“A meeting I don’t want to go to,” the Scientist said. “Not that I ever do, but this one especially.”

Meow.” Mr. Kitty gave up on the sandwich, licking his paws instead.

“Yes, well, I know I do. Which is why I’m about to leave. Do you want a ride on the elevator when I do?”

Mr. Kitty purred, still licking his coat clean.

“Suit yourself,” the Scientist said. “I’m gonna run these calculations one more time, then I’m off. Adios, Señor Gatito.”

The Scientist went back to their office to run the calculations one more time—coming up with 0.  again—and on their way to the elevator, they passed through the kitchen to make sure that Mr. Kitty didn’t need let out, but he was already gone.

“Bar, please,” the Scientist said when they were inside the elevator with the doors closed. “Whichever one my meetings are at.”

The elevator fell into motion, and the Scientist hoped it knew where to take them.

Of course, as always, it did, and soon, the Scientist, with drink in hand, was waiting alone in one of The Bar’s dark booths.

The woman who the Scientist was waiting for walked in late, as always, and took her time ordering at the bar, even forcing the bartender to pull out a menu. The Scientist could already feel their annoyance showing, even before the woman sat herself down with a smirk and sipped her drink—beer after all the hubbub.

“Hello, Roo,” the Scientist said, catching themself in a frown and wiping it off their face as quickly as possible.

“And what are you calling yourself these days?” Roo asked. “Or are you still sticking with this Scientist nonsense?”

“You can call me the Scientist. Yes,” the Scientist said, trying to keep their voice as neutral and emotionless as possible. “Thank you very much for asking.”

“Even after all this?” Roo asked. “You still plan on keeping that name?”

“It’s my name,” the Scientist said. “Why shouldn’t I?”

Roo just kind of looked at them in silence for a moment then chuckled, shaking her head. “If you say so,” she said. “It doesn’t make a difference to me. I don’t plan on being here any longer than I have to be, anyway. It’s easier not to learn a new name.”

“Well, I’m glad you approve,” the Scientist said. “And I’d rather not be in your presence any longer than necessary, either. So if we can just go ahead and get on with it.”

But of course, Roo took her time. She’d always do anything she could to piss the Scientist off, even if it meant a little more work or discomfort for Roo, too. “Yes, well…” she finally said after taking a long sip of her drink to stall for time. “I’m not exactly sure what it is you brought me here for anyway. The plan’s already set in motion. Every robot worker and line of code is in place. Even Anna’s Family is falling into step—or at least the half of it that she still controls. We don’t need you for anything but to stay out of the way. So just do it.”

“But you still need me to stay out of the way,” the Scientist reminded her. “If anything at all can ensure your failure, it’s me. So. I guess that brings us to the point of this meeting. Convince me.”

Pffft.” Roo scoffed. “Convince you of what? We had a deal. Rosalind said—”

“Rosalind doesn’t need convincing,” the Scientist cut her off. “And Rosalind couldn’t stop me if she wanted to. Neither can you, and you know it. So. That leaves us with one other option. Convince me.”

“Convince you of what?” Roo demanded, and the Scientist grinned, happy it was Roo losing her patience and not the Scientist losing theirs.

“Convince me that there’s no other way. Convince me to stay out of the way. Convince me.”

Pffft.” Roo scoffed again. “You still think this stupid fucking system can be saved? What exactly have you been doing all this time?”

“No. I’m pretty well convinced you’re right on that part these days.” Even if the Scientist refused to let go of whatever sliver of hope she still held onto that Roo was wrong, they didn’t expect her to be. “Convince me that your plan is the only way to get rid of this system and replace it with a new one. Not just a new one, a better one. Convince me that the inevitable deaths we cause are gonna be worth it. For the love of God. Please. Convince me. I’m begging you.” And by that point, the Scientist really was begging. They needed more than ever to be convinced, because even though they were making a big show about the fact, the Scientist wasn’t sure if they actually could stop what was coming, and whatever happened, however it went, they were responsible for the outcome.

“Well, there are no guarantees,” Roo said, shaking her head. “Never are in anything, but especially something as complex as this. No, I can assure you that the old walls will be torn down, but whatever’s put in their place is up to the people who do the work of putting it there. That’s not my responsibility. Talk to Rosalind and the others if you need convincing about that part. I agreed to tear down the walls for y’all in exchange for being left alone, and I intend to hold you to that. As soon as my job’s done, I’m out of here. Nothing more to it.”

“And where exactly do you plan on going?” the Scientist asked. “Where can you escape this?”

Roo just kind of laughed, shaking her head. She took a long sip of her beer, letting the Scientist stew in it. Finally, she said, “What do you think I’ve been doing all this time? Huh? Wasting my life like you have?”

“No, well…” the Scientist said. “I— I thought you were working on the plan. I— You—”

“The plan?” Roo scoffed. She was always doing that. “The plan is to overload all the gravity centers in the Walker-Haley field generators until they collapse in on themselves. It took about five seconds to come up with and another five minutes to implement. So, no. I have not been spending decades working on the plan.”

“But what about the people?” the Scientist asked. “The deaths you’ll cause. You can’t just take all the walls down at once like that. It’s not worth it.”

“Which is exactly what Rosalind said when I told her the idea. Calm yourself. But she and her little minions—led by the insufferable Popeye—went digging through the databases and made a blueprint of all the lines that went through buildings that are too unstable to withstand any sudden movement or earthquakes. After that, it took a few days’ leisurely coding to exclude those lines and whatever other resources Rosalind wanted to protect from my program. That’s my end of the bargain fulfilled. Now it’s y’all’s turn to live up to your end.”

“How many have to die?” the Scientist asked.

“None,” Roo said. “As long as Rosalind’s goons can do what they say they can.”

None?” The Scientist couldn’t believe that. “Out of twenty billion people alive in the worlds, you’re telling me that not a single one is going to die in all this?”

“None are supposed to,” Roo said. “If Rosalind’s goons don’t fuck up. Which they will. So I’d say about five percent is a conservative estimate.”

Five percent,” the Scientist repeated. “Fuck.”

“Maybe more, maybe less.” Roo shrugged. “I expect more.”

“And you’re okay with that?” the Scientist asked. “You can sleep at night with the weight of a billion dead people on your soul?”

“It’s not my fault all this is happening,” Roo snapped. “Don’t try to put your bullshit guilt on me. The world was created a certain way before I was born into it, and now I’m doing my part to make it better. That’s all. More people are gonna die if I don’t do this than will die if I do. And I don’t care either way. I just want y’all fuckers to leave me alone so I can live my own life. Now are you gonna stay out of the way and let us do this, or what?”

Of course the Scientist was. They were always going to stay out of the way no matter what Roo had said during this meeting. They had only hoped that Roo could convince the Scientist that it was the right thing to do. And in her own way, Roo had helped a little, but the Scientist still had one thing they wanted to know. “So what have you been doing all this time?”

“Whatever I want to,” Roo said, leaning back in her seat and sipping her drink. “Shit, what haven’t I been doing? Y’all have more energy than you could ever use in those elevator shafts, and for some stupid reason you still force people to buy coal and oil energy instead, gouging the less fortunate for more than any of that dirty shit should ever be worth. So I figure screw y’all. I take my little cut of the reserves, unnoticed, and do with it what I please.”

Little cut?” the Scientist laughed. “You mean twice the amount of energy that all of Six uses? You’re delusional if you think I didn’t notice.”

“Well, you don’t do anything about it,” Roo said. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s as good as not noticing.”

“What exactly could you be using all that energy for?” the Scientist asked. “That’s what I want to know. You’re not using the Walker-Haley fields other than to keep us out, so what else could be so draining?”

Science, my friend,” Roo said with a shit eating grin. “Something you wouldn’t know about—despite your silly name.”

“But what specifically?” the Scientist asked, frustrated with Roo’s games. “Stop dodging the questions. It’s not like I’m gonna try to step in and stop you from whatever it is you’re doing at this point.”

Roo laughed. “As if you could. You know, I’d be interested to see you try. You’d only make a fool of yourself. I use the Walker-Haley generators nominally in my security system, sure, but I’m working with technology beyond your imagination. You’d never be able to break in. I guarantee it.”

“What kind of technology?” the Scientist asked, cursing themself for wasting so much time on trying to save a failed system instead of doing real useful research similar to what it sounded like Roo had been doing. “What are you using it for?”

“To get myself as far away from this drama y’all got going as I can get,” Roo said. “To go somewhere where y’all, all your stupid ancestors, and your soon to be idiotic descendants can’t find me or bother me with your bullshit anymore. Anna was bending space without your Walker-Haley field generators, and by combining her methods with your advanced technology, I’ve been able to make a Bender Unit that’s stronger than any y’all have ever even imagined. This thing’s strong enough to take me to another world, okay. Literally. And I’m talking actual planets other than Earth here, not just this Outland One, Two, Three bullshit y’all have going. And soon enough, it’ll be another galaxy, then hopefully another universe entirely, and maybe then, when I’ve crossed multiple universes to get there, I’ll finally be far enough away from you assholes to live my own life.”

The Scientist had to admit, that sounded pretty awesome. They had a million more questions to ask about this Bender technology that Roo had invented, and they hoped that she wouldn’t leave as soon after the walls came down as she was letting on, but at the same time, they didn’t want to give Roo the satisfaction of knowing how jealous they were, so they kept a straight face—as straight as they could muster—and said, “So that’s it, then? You’re sure you’re ready to do this.”

“That’s it,” Roo said before finishing off her drink and standing from the booth. “I’m ready to do it as long as you’re ready to stay out of the way.”

“As if I had any other choice,” the Scientist said, bowing their head. They really didn’t.

Huh. Yeah,” Roo said with a little chuckle on her way out of the bar. “As if.”

As if. The Scientist repeated in their head. As if. What kind of technology was it that Roo was working with? How could it be so powerful? What would happen if that sort of power fell into the hands of someone less benign than Roo, someone who wanted to insert themselves into the lives of others rather than hide away from everyone in existence? These were all very important questions, but for now, the Scientist had more pressing matters to tend to, and one was walking into the bar at that exact moment.

“Hello—uhScientist,” Ellie said, sitting at the booth without ordering a drink first.

“Ellie,” the Scientist said, nodding. “You don’t want a drink?”

“No, ma’am—uhmuh.” She looked embarrassed, not sure if the Scientist would notice the accidental “ma’am”, but the Scientist didn’t care as long as it wasn’t malicious—which, in this case, it obviously wasn’t. “I don’t expect to be here long. I have other business to tend to, and family to see for the holidays. But I did want to see if you had any advice that might help me convince Sonya and her people to go along.”

The Scientist scoffed. “Go along with what?”

“Well, with—uh… With the plan. You know…”

“Not really,” the Scientist said. “To be honest, you’re probably more knowledgeable about it all than I am.”

“I— But— Rosalind didn’t tell you anything?”

The Scientist laughed. As if Rosalind could ever keep her mouth shut. “Oh, she told me plenty, alright. But I didn’t listen. I was busy trying and trying what she had told me would never work, and now I have no idea what’s going on.”

“Why are we even having this meeting then?” Ellie complained. “It’s Christmas Eve, I still have to go convince Sonya and her people to help us, and I’d like to spend a little time with my family before a dangerous—and possibly fatal—mission. So if you’ll excuse me.” She got up as if to leave.

“By all means,” the Scientist said. “Go. Do whatever you need to do. But if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.”

Ellie sat back at the table, her eyes seething rage as she stared into the Scientist’s—who was having trouble maintaining eye contact because they felt so embarrassed. “Anything you can do to help?” Ellie snapped. “Rosalind said we could count on your elevators. Without that, no one gets out. So, yeah. There’s something you can do to help.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure.” The Scientist shrugged. “If Rosalind said you can count on them, you can count on them. I didn’t mean to—”

Ellie slammed her hands on the table, rattling the variously filled glasses that adorned it. “This is not a joke. Fuck. Tens of billions of people are counting on you. Okay. Our Scientific Socialists, Sonya and her Proletarian Liberation Army, even Anna’s half of the Family—despite the rest of their insistence on maintaining Human in their name and fighting for Mr. Walker’s walls. We’re all putting our lives on the line here. All for this. And if you fuck it up for us, I swear to God, I will personally kill you with my bare hands—whether I’m alive or dead when this is all said and done. Do you understand me?”

Wow. The Scientist’s jaw dropped, and they knew it, but they couldn’t do anything to shut it. “Uh— I…” they grunted and still their stupid jaw wouldn’t budge, despite their every effort.

Yes, ma’am,” Ellie said for the Scientist, standing from the table again. “I understand how important this is for billions of people. I will not let them—or you—down.

Uh. Yeah,” the Scientist said, nodding. “Yes.”

Yes, ma’am.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And the rest of it,” Ellie said, tapping her feet, impatient.

Uh. I—uh—understand how important this is, and I won’t let you down.”

Y’all,” Ellie corrected them. “All of us. You won’t let any of us down. Including yourself. Remember that,” she said, leaving the bar. “Or else.”

And the Scientist was finally convinced that this revolution of Rosalind’s was the only way to go. The Scientist wasn’t forcing anything on anyone. They were just finally stepping out of the way so the exploited masses could do what needed to be done for themselves.

The Scientist picked up the empty pitcher and glasses and took them to the bar before heading home to get some rest. It was an important day, Christmas, and the Scientist finally understood how much so.

 

#     #     #

The next morning the Scientist awoke feeling more nervous than they had ever felt in their entire life. Or was it excited? They never could tell the difference. Either way, being nervous/excited for Christmas was new to them. Usually they just sat around moping, remembering the anniversary of their mother’s death, but not this year. This year they had to… Well, they still didn’t know exactly what it was they were expected to do yet. So they went directly to Rosalind, in her office, to find out.

“You have to give your speech to the owners first,” Rosalind reminded them, not looking up from the game of cards she was playing with Popeye.

“What do I say?” the Scientist asked.

Pffft. Whatever you want to. Those fuckers won’t be Lord of anything after today. It doesn’t matter what they think.”

“So why do I even have to do it then?” the Scientist complained. “Can’t I just skip the speech altogether? You know I hate public speaking.”

“You’ve gotta distract them for long enough so our plan can get moving. So, no. You cannot just skip the speech. If you didn’t show up, they’d send someone looking for you, and all of us would be found out. Ellie did emphasize how many people will be counting on you, didn’t she?”

“So that’s it then? What do I do after the speech?”

“You come back here to wait with Pidgeon and Haley. Do a count down and press a big red button for all I care. We’ve already programmed the escape elevators as needed. Everything’s automated from this point except for what goes down on the ground, and you haven’t trained, so I wouldn’t let you go out there even if you wanted to.”

Oh,” the Scientist said, feeling worse than ever for all the time they had wasted on 0. . “Shit. So what about you?”

“I have trained,” Rosalind said. And that was that.

Rosalind went on playing cards with Popeye while the Scientist sat in one of the puffy chairs, staring out over Sisyphus’s Mountain and petting Mr. Kitty in their lap, until it was time for their Christmas speech.

#     #     #

< LXXVI. Ms. Mondragon     [Table of Contents]     LXXVIII. Haley >

There it is, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits Saga. Only seven more chapters and a prologue left until the entire story is complete. If you can’t wait the seven or so weeks it’ll take to post those chapters to the blog here, don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of this and every novel in the Infinite Limits series through this link. Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 76: Ms. Mondragon

Hello, dear readers. Today we return to the story of Captain Mondragon as she goes undercover as Ms. Mondragon in search of the protector who got away. If you love the story so far–which if you’ve come this far, I’m sure you do–then don’t forget to pick up a copy of the novel through this link. Now, enjoy.

< LXXV. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXXVII. The Scientist >

LXXVI. Ms. Mondragon

Chief Mondragon had never enjoyed walking a beat. Not for her entire career. She wasn’t that type of protector. She had always thought she was more of a bodyguard type, meant for Outland Three, but she had never been given the opportunity. Embarrassingly, she used to harbor an outlandish fantasy about being noticed on set and asked to guest star on one of her favorite versions of Law and Order—or at the very least to serve as an advisor of some sort. Instead she always ended up stuck in Five, like the workhorse she was, until she couldn’t help but to make a name for herself, working her way up the ranks faster than any protector in history. How ironic it was, then, finally a Chief, as far above a rookie Officer on a foot beat that she could possibly be, and still, there she was, on the shittiest of assignments, alone, in Outland Six, the asshole of the universe, looking for the protector—no, trash—who had shot her, Ms. Mondragon—she was still undercover, after all.

The skyscrapers were tall and dark all around her, infinite and eternal if the owners could have their way—and for more than a long time they had. As massive and imposing as the architecture was, however, the denizens of Outland Six were exactly the opposite. They were all tiny, scruffy, and frail, looking like they could be blown away at any minute by the next breeze. Yet they still carried on defiantly around Ms. Mondragon, trying to ignore the giant among dwarves, as if they weren’t afraid of her for as long as she was out of uniform.

Officer Jones was smarter than any of them had given her credit for by selecting Jones for the culling, though. That much was for sure. Not only had the rookie managed to avoid Ms. Mondragon’s bullet—a feat accomplished by no other culling sacrifice in Ms. Mondragon’s long history of performing the duty—Jones had also been aware enough to ditch all tracking devices before a K-9 unit could catch up to her—including the three implanted under her skin, a very painful process. Now Jones had disappeared into the dirty, shit-smelling Streets of Outland Six, and there was no telling where she could be. The only chance Ms. Mondragon had of finding Jones was the exact reason she hated taking beats in Outland Six in the first place: she was going to have to ask the locals for help.

Who though? That was the rub. None of the trash was giving her a hard time yet, but they did notice her, and stared just a little, looking rightfully suspicious. Sure, there were stories of runaway traitors who had jumped worlds, looking to hide from this and that or steal the other from another, but those instances were few and far between. No one near had likely ever seen a person who was as tall as Ms. Mondragon outside of a protector uniform, and that was going to make it difficult for her to find someone who was willing to cooperate for long enough to give any assistance.

Ms. Mondragon turned down a particularly dark alley, looking to continue her search, when as if in answer to her prayers, Amaru dropped two little children right on top of her. Literally. They fell as if from the sky and landed on Ms. Mondragon’s head, knocking them all into a confused heap on the ground that was trying to get up in three different directions at once.

“Thim, are you okay?” one of the children called, struggling to stand.

“Stevie, where are you?” the other, Thim, yelled. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” the first kid, Stevie, said. “I’m right behind you. I— Nevermind.”

Ms. Mondragon waved her hand right in front of Stevie’s face, but the kid still didn’t answer, instead walking forward—almost straight into Ms. Mondragon who only just stepped out of the way—to tap Thim on the shoulder.

Thim turned fast, putting their fists up as if to fight. “Hey, now. Don’t surprise me,” they said before they noticed Ms. Mondragon and dropped their hands in wide-eyed awe.

“Surprise you?” Stevie laughed, still oblivious to Ms. Mondragon’s presence. “That’s something coming from the one of us who decided it was a good idea to jump off a building in pursuit of a cat. You’re lucky I followed you. You might be here all alone. Now where is here anyway?”

“Not right now,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie by the hand and pulling them to turn around and stand by Thim’s side, facing Ms. Mondragon. “Who are you?” Thim demanded.

“Who the Hell are you?” Ms. Mondragon demanded right back. “And where’d you come from?”

“That’s none of your business,” Thim said. “We have chores we need to get to. Good bye.” Thim tried to pull Stevie up the other way through the alley, but Ms. Mondragon stepped in front of them to block their way.

“Hold on, now. Wait a second,” she said, holding out a hand for the kids to shake. “Maybe we got off on the wrong foot—or should I say head?” Ms. Mondragon laughed too loudly at the joke, trying hard to gain the children’s confidence but having trouble because she had never liked children at all. “My name’s Ms. Mondragon. I noticed that you’re Stevie and you’re Thim.”

Thim just looked at Ms. Mondragon’s proffered hand like they were afraid of it, but now Stevie took charge. “Well, Mrs. Mondragon—” they started but were interrupted.

“Please, Miss,” Ms. Mondragon said, tutting and really getting into her character. “Or just shorten it to Mona if you want to.” Ms. Mondragon smiled on the outside but cringed on the inside, she hated that name.

“Okay, Mona,” Stevie went on. “But it doesn’t matter. We still have to leave.”

And so this time Stevie tried to lead Thim away, pulling them by the hand, but Ms. Mondragon was done playing games. She picked Thim up by the back of the collar and said, “Now listen to me, kid. You’re gonna talk or else.” But Thim wasn’t listening, instead struggling and fighting and saying, “Hey, let me down.”

“Or else what?” Stevie demanded, kind of looking in Ms. Mondragon’s direction, but not really, while at the same time reaching out with their hands to feel around, as if in search of something—most likely Thim, Ms. Mondragon assumed as she started to understand the situation. These kids were good, though, keeping it hidden from Mona for so long. Maybe they could actually help her find Jones after all.

Or else,” Ms. Mondragon repeated, setting Thim down right next to Stevie then pulling her gun out of her pants waist to prevent them from trying to escape again, “I take this gun, and I kill one of you little trashlings with it, then I force the other of you to give me the information I’m looking for anyway.”

“She doesn’t want it that bad,” Thim said to Stevie, calling Mondragon’s bluff, and the two kids ran off into the alley anyway.

Ms. Mondragon huffed, hesitating, unsure if chasing them was worth it and coming to the decision that the kids weren’t going to offer any information anyway. She was just going to have to think up another way of finding Jones for herself.

Ugh. She still had at least a couple of hours before she was expected back at the precinct for some useless meeting or another, so she went in the opposite direction from where those pesky kids had run off to in the hopes of finding some other useful lead. She was making her way through the maze of alleys, searching for something, becoming more and more suspicious of the emptiness of the Streets when they filled up again, all of a sudden and from both sides.

Soooie!” came voices from either end of the alley she was walking down. “Looks like we got us an old fashioned pig pen.”

“Y’all better watch out, now!” Mondragon yelled, pointing her gun up and down the alley. “You don’t want me to use this.”

The whole group of them cackled.

“Come on now, pig,” one of her pursuers said. “Don’t make us laugh.”

And: Pop. Pop. With two bullets, Ms. Mondragon killed two of her approaching attackers, hoping to start clearing herself a path out of the alley, but all the rest of them just laughed louder in response to their fallen comrades’ deaths.

“How many bullets do you think you have in there?” one of them asked.

“How many do I need?” Ms. Mondragon snapped back, knowing good and well that she didn’t have enough to fend them all off, whether they had weapons of their own or not.

“More than you could ever make,” one of the group behind her said.

“They can always make more,” Ms. Mondragon said, and she fired a couple more rounds off, her attackers getting too close for comfort. “I don’t know if we can say the same about y’all, though.”

“Oh, you can,” one of them said, stepping forward with arms outstretched like spread wings. “See? Do whatever you want with me. It doesn’t matter.”

Mondragon shot him in the head. “Okay,” she said, pointing her gun at the rest of them. “Who’s next?”

“Pick one,” they all said. “We are all one. And you are all alone.”

Mondragon fired off a few more rounds before she was swarmed, gagged, and cuffed.

“Now you’re ours for once,” the group of them said all at the same time, in dozens of different voices, and Ms. Mondragon felt a thud on the back of her head before passing out on the cold concrete.

 

#     #     #

She awoke tied to a chair with a gag in her mouth, and she struggled. Where was she? Who was she? Chief—no—Ms. Mondragon. She had to remember that. She was still undercover. She was tall. That’s all. Still a sixer piece of trash, but a tall one. She had to convince her captors of that or things would only get worse for her, Ms. Mondragon was sure of that.

It wasn’t long after waking that Ms. Mondragon heard a door open, felt a presence in the room. She started to struggle again, and tried to talk through the disgusting gag in her mouth, before a lone white light switched on, blinding Mondragon more than darkness ever could have. “Untie me this instant,” she demanded anyway, squinting hard against the hot hot lights, but all her words came out mum. “Mummum mum mum mummum.”

Struggle struggle all you want,” a cackling old crone’s voice sang from behind the blinding light. “Complain that you’ve given more than you’ve got. Yet you’ve taken more than you’d ever give. So tied up with us, come see how we live. Ah ha ha ha ha,” she sang, followed by more cackling laughter.

And, “Mum mum mum mum mum,” was all that Ms. Mondragon could say in response.

“You’re free to speak all you want,” the woman said without singing this time, and Mondragon thought she recognized the voice but couldn’t quite place it. If she could only get that gag out of her mouth, she’d be able to talk some sense into whoever it was. “You have the freedom of speech,” the bodiless voice went on from behind the blinding lights. “But I can talk louder than you now!” she yelled. “How does it feel?”

Mum mummu mum mum mum,” Ms. Mondragon mumbled in response.

“Yes, I know,” the woman went on as if she had understood what Ms. Mondragon said. “I’ve felt it, too. I feel it every day of my life in this exploitative system, and as soon as that stupid wall’s fixed up again, I’m gonna be silenced even more than I already am. It’s disempowering, demobilizing, devastating. It makes you feel like less than a human, doesn’t it?”

Mum mumum mu—”

I know. And now you know just the tiniest bit more about where I’m coming from—about where we all live every single day of our pathetic little lives in Outland Six. And maybe you can come to understand just a tiniest bit better why I have no choice but to do what I’m about to do. So are you ready for me to remove the gag, then?”

“I’d rather you turn off the spotlight first,” Mondragon tried to say, but again, none of her words made it through the gag.

“If I’m gonna do this, I need assurances that you’ll act like a civilized human being. So, can you please answer me reasonably. Shake for no, nod for yes. No need to mumble through the gag that I’m offering to remove.”

Ms. Mondragon almost started to talk again, but she caught herself and nodded instead.

“Very good. Now, are you gonna act like a civilized human being so I can take this uncomfortable gag out of your mouth?”

Ms. Mondragon nodded again.

“Okay. I’m trusting you. Don’t let me down,” the voice said, stepping through the light to become a hunched, frail shadow that removed Ms. Mondragon’s gag before disappearing behind the brightness again. “There you are. How’s that?”

Ms. Mondragon wanted to yell and scream and spit, but she knew that none of those things would get her untied. She had to get on her captor’s good side if she wanted to escape. So she used her softest, nicest voice to say, “Much better. Thank you.”

“Very good,” the old woman said, and Mondragon could tell she was smiling by the sound of her voice, even if the woman still hid behind the bright spotlight. “Now, tell me your name.”

“Do you think we can turn that light off first?” Ms. Mondragon asked, flinching away from it. “It’s blinding.”

Tell me your name,” the woman repeated in a sterner voice.

“I—uh—Ms. Mondragon,” Ms. Mondragon stammered, trying not to offend the woman.

“Miss?” the woman said with a scoff. “Please, now, dear. If you plan on playing games, I’ll put your gag right back in your mouth and leave you here in the dark until we need you. I’m trying to extend some common courtesy here. So please, don’t insult me.”

“I—uh—I don’t understand,” Ms. Mondragon stammered, trying to figure out where—or when—she recognized the old woman’s voice from.

“What’s your name?” the woman repeated. “It’s not a difficult question.”

“I told you. Miss—”

“Your name is not Miss.”

“Okay, Chief Mondragon,” the Chief gave in. Who was she to think that she could ever hide who she was anyway?

“Pretty sure Chief’s not your name, either, Chief. Though that does get my next few questions out of the way.”

“I’m sorry. What?”

“What. Is. Your. Name? How can this be hard?”

The Chief didn’t know why it was hard either. She had been Officer, Captain, Chief, and everything in between for so long now that it was almost as if her old name was no longer a part of her, a distant memory that was hazy, out of focus, and hard to look upon.

“Muna,” she finally said, quietly and in a croaking voice, as if her body didn’t want to remember it. “Muna Mondragon,” she repeated, a little louder this time.

Muna Mondragon,” the old woman said, smiling again from the sound of her voice. “Very good. Now, do you recognize who I am?”

“I can’t see you, ma’am,” Muna said, trying hard not to sound annoyed. “Maybe if you turn the light off, I might recognize you.”

“Do you promise to continue acting calm and decent like a civilized person?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Very well.” Switches clicked and the lights flipped—the blinding spotlight turning off and the, not as bright, overhead lights turning on. “Tell me what you see.”

Muna had to hold her eyes shut for a while longer to let them adjust to the new dimness of the room. Whoever the old woman was just waited in silence, all except for the sound of her heavy breathing. When Muna’s eyes finally did adjust, she blinked them open and found exactly what she had expected to find: a frail, hunchbacked old woman who Muna thought she recognized from somewhere some time but still couldn’t quite place for sure.

“So?” the old woman asked when she had given Muna sufficient time to adjust to the darkness. “Do you recognize me, Chief Mondragon? I’ll give you a hint. You weren’t yet a Chief when we first met.”

Muna reached deeper into her memories, looking for the old woman, and still nothing came. She never did like guessing games, but she had to play along if she ever wanted to be free, so she just said the first name that came out of her mouth. “I don’t know. Rosa?”

Ah ha ha ha!” the old woman cackled. Then she stopped all of a sudden, got serious, and stood a hairsbreadth away from Muna’s face to say, “If only. If only I were Rosa. Then maybe you wouldn’t be here at all. Maybe you’d be dead and naked in that alley where we caught you molesting those poor children.”

“I wasn’t—” Muna complained, trying to defend her name, but the old woman hit Muna hard knuckled on the thigh, giving her a Charley horse she couldn’t do anything about because her arms and legs were tied to the chair.

“You won’t speak again until I tell you to,” the old woman snapped. “I’m not finished explaining why you’re lucky to be sitting in front of me and not Rosa. I haven’t told you why Rosa is unable to stand here in front of you right now—even if she wanted to. Do you have any idea why that might be?”

Sure Muna did. Rosa was one of the lower worlders who had helped Mr. Walker recruit more lower worlders to fight in his war against the robots. Rosa had probably died just like most of the lower worlders have in this protracted and ongoing war between the human and robot workers. But Muna wasn’t about to admit to any of that while she was tied to a chair in this crazy old woman’s dungeon, so she just kept her mouth shut for the time being.

“This time I would actually like for you to speak up,” the old woman said, slowly pacing the room. “My God. You really are just defiant by nature, aren’t you? Speak up. Where do you think Rosa is?”

“Well, I—” Muna started to say.

She’s dead,” the old woman snapped. “She died in your war, fighting your battles for you. You killed her.”

“No— I didn’t,” Muna complained. “Not my war. I have bosses.”

“Yes. You did. You still do. You are the face of this war, the Chief of the Protector Force, and it must have been destiny that you walked into that alley when you did, because you could never be more useful to us than you are right now. So thank you for that much. But that’s all I need from you for now. You sit tight, and I’ll come back to get you when you can be useful again.”

“No, wait,” Muna called. “You never told me who you are. I— You’re the new head of the Human Family. Right?”

Buh ha ha ha ha!” the old woman cackled. “You wish. Then you could have me go fight your fights for you like you used to do with Rosa. Well, not this time. I hate to tell you that most of the Human Family—with more and more defectors every day—broke off to form our own group. We’re no longer the Human Family. We’re just the Family now, and we’re your worst nightmare. We’ve finally realized that we have more in common with the oppressed robots than we do with y’all owners—even if you call yourselves human. Now we might actually be able to do something to stop you.”

“I’m not an owner. I—” Muna tried to say.

“You’ll shut up. You’re just as bad as an owner if not worse. Now, like I said, that’s all I need from you. You can wait here until you’re useful again.” She switched the lights off and left Muna alone in the darkness.

Muna struggled against her bindings, shaking and rattling the chair she was tied to, and she screamed as loudly as she could, generally making a ruckus in the hopes of getting the old woman to come back and negotiate some more.

After a few minutes, the door did open, shutting Muna up, but only to let in the two little kids who had fallen on her head, getting her into this mess in the first place. Thim and Stevie turned on the overhead lights and stared at Muna in frightened silence.

“Where’s the old woman?” Muna demanded.

“Anna says you better be quiet,” one of them said, trying to sound brave despite their cracking voice. “Because if she has to come back in here, she’ll give you something to scream about.”

“And that would show you for molesting little children,” the other said. “So shut up.”

And they turned the lights off again, leaving Muna alone in the darkness with no choice left but to wait for whatever it was that Anna was going to do with her.

#     #     #

< LXXV. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXXVII. The Scientist >

There you have it, dear readers. Another chapter from the perspective of a protector. If you want to see what Anna has planned for Ms. Mondragon, you’re going to have to wait for the continuation of the story next week, or if you can’t wait, go ahead and pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Thanks again for joining us, and have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.