Chapter 70: The Scientist

Good morning, y’all. We’re back again with another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today we return to the world between worlds where the Scientist repairs the walls that divide Outland. Read on to find out how they decide to continue, and if you’ve enjoyed the story so far, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Enjoy.

< LXIX. Chief Mondragon     [Table of Contents]     LXXI. Haley >

LXX. The Scientist

0.NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN…

Every Goddamn day it was the same damn thing.

The Scientist slammed their fists on the desk. They smashed the keyboard and stomped their feet. They screamed at the top of their lungs. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” The Scientist couldn’t help it. This was not how computers were supposed to function.

They set the computer to running the calculations again, and again they were presented with the same infinite string of green digital alphanumerals on a black screen: 0.NNNNNNN repeating.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

They threw the keyboard across the room this time, and when it slammed against the wall, the little mechanical keys burst off and tinkled to the ground as the spine fell with a clatter.

This was not supposed to happen. The Scientist had entered all the data perfectly, they had figured for the costs of the owners and everything, and still the computer only had one message to relay: 0.N repeating.

The Scientist wanted to scream, to punch the computer until it broke or the Scientist’s knuckles did. Preferably both. There had to be some way they could get this stupid system to work, or the Scientist was just going to have to destroy the walls by theirself.

They ran the calculations one more time for good measure, and of course, everything came back the same: 0.NNNNNNN…

Maybe there really was zero point in repeating the same stupid mistakes again after all.

The Scientist calmed themself, breathing deeply in and out, trying to control their heart rate. They counted up to a hundred and back down to zero in their head. Five, seven, eleven times in quick succession, tapping their fingers in a different pattern each time and whistling a new tune whenever a primary number was reached, twenty-five different tunes sung forward and backward like palindromes, one for each primary: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, and 97. Then backwards: 97, 89, 83… And so on. You get the point. The 0.N. But there was a point in repeating these number games for the Scientist. It calmed them long enough for their stomach to grumble and remind the Scientist that they hadn’t eaten anything all morning despite the fact that it was getting along past lunch time already. So instead of running the numbers again and pissing themself off further, the Scientist peeled themself away from the computer to find some food.

The kitchen was empty—thank God—as the Scientist stood in front of the printer’s frowning, red-eyed face, imagining the people who would make whatever they ordered, people who the Scientist themself held in oppressive captivity by their continued complicity in the maintenance and repair of the owners’ walls. A picture of the giraffe, the gorilla, and the jaguar, the first exotic animals that the Scientist had ever witnessed, came into mind and again they knew that humans were no more free than those animals in the zoo—and that the Scientist was responsible for the captivity of both. But they had only one way to get the food they needed to sustain themselves, and so they did what they had to do. They poked the printer’s little red eye and said, “Breakfast—er—lunch. I don’t care.”

And of course, the machine had no choice but to do exactly as it was told, and out came both breakfast and lunch.

“Fuck!” the Scientist screamed, punching the printer’s unbending metal face and wincing at the pain of it. “You know that’s not what I wanted. I said breakfast or lunch. Not both.”

And so the machine printed out both again, and again the Scientist screamed. They were really getting tired of this stupid printer technology from all sides of the equation. They held their breath for a moment then took a few deep ones to calm themself before trying to decide between which of the plates to eat and which to throw away, almost falling into another meltdown over the decision before Mr. Kitty appeared out of nowhere, rubbing himself against the Scientist’s ankles and calming them more quickly than any stupid breathing exercises ever could.

“Hey there, Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said, smiling despite the meltdown that had seemed all but inevitable only moments before. Mr. Kitty always had that calming effect on them. “What’re you doing here?”

Mr. Kitty meowed then sat down on the kitchen’s tile floor, licking himself.

“Yes, but I still don’t understand how you always manage to show up exactly when I need you the most.”

Mr. Kitty meowed again and went on licking himself.

“Are you sure you won’t tell me?” the Scientist asked, scooping him up to fling him over their shoulder and pat him on the back.

Mr. Kitty meowed then purred then meowed again, trying to struggle his way out of the Scientist’s grip.

“Yes, I do know it’s not the printer’s fault,” the Scientist said. “But it’s not my fault I react that way, either. I’m as much a part of this machine as everyone else.”

Mr. Kitty meowed again, jumping out of the Scientist’s grip to sit on the kitchen counter and go on licking himself.

“And I thank you for that,” the Scientist said, bowing to Mr. Kitty. “Today materially with the choice of three different meals. Or you could just eat all three if you want.” The Scientist put three of the plates at random in front of Mr. Kitty, one after another, leaving only one plate of lunch for them to eat.

Mr. Kitty sniffed the plates, one by one, and refused each in turn, instead deciding to go on licking himself.

“Well,” the Scientist said, picking up their plate to carry it back to the office and eat while they worked. “That’s all I’ve got for now. Come back again later if you want something else. It’s back to work for me.”

The Scientist sat back in their office chair, dipping their turkey sandwich into the bowl of tomato soup before gnawing on it with one hand and tweaking the variables on the computer with the other. Staff pay, number of robots employed, commodity prices, you name it and the Scientist could tweak it, trying to find some combination that would prevent the system from imploding on itself, some solution other than 0.N, even going so far as to lower profit margins below what the owners considered acceptable, and still, the black pane of computer monitors printed out the same endless line of green digital alphanumerals: 0.NNNNNNN…

The Scientist ran the calculations again, got the same results as always, and screamed in frustration, unable to eat more than the half of their sandwich and few spoonsful of soup that they had already eaten. They were about to start tweaking the variables and inputs one more time when from behind them came the mocking voice of Rosalind.

“What is it this time, girl? Your webpage taking too long to load?”

The Scientist didn’t stand to greet Rosalind, though they were kind enough to swivel around in their desk chair and look her in the face.

“You know,” the Scientist said as Rosalind chuckled under her breath, “if it were anyone else but you who kept calling me a girl despite my repeated protests, I’d probably cut their arm off.”

“You can have mine,” Rosalind said, snapping her right arm off with her left and extending it as if it were an offering to some mechanical god. “I get more than enough done with just the one as it is.”

The Scientist slapped Rosalind’s arm away by giving it a high five. “I’d rather have your respect,” they said. “It’s not that difficult to remember not to call me a girl.”

Yes, Lord Scientist,” Rosalind said with a sarcastic bow, snapping her arm back into its socket. “As you wish. I’ll try my best to remember in the future. Is there anything else I can do for you, Lord?”

“Stop calling me Lord, too.” The Scientist had to hold back their laughter now. “That’s much worse than girl.”

“Well make up your mind, girl,” Rosalind said with a chuckle. “So I don’t have to keep choosing for you.”

The Scientist,” the Scientist said resolutely. “I’ve already made up my mind. My name’s the Scientist.”

“But that’s not who you are,” Rosalind said, shaking her head. “You’re not her. I knew her, and she’s not you. I knew you before you thought you were the Scientist, too. When you were just a little—”

I’m not a girl,” the Scientist stopped her.

“No.” Rosalind shook her head. “You’re not that, either. But you’re not the Scientist. You’re something entirely different. Something new.”

“I’ll decide what I am without your input, thank you very much,” the Scientist said, a little offended.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Rosalind said. “What I’m trying to encourage you to do. But it seems to me like you’re more interested in pretending to be something you’re not. You’d rather retry failed strategies than actually change the world you live in.”

That was bullshit. The Scientist wanted to scream, but they held their breath, tapping their fingers in a pattern and counting off the primaries, forward and backwards like palindromes: 2, 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 2. 11, 13, 17, 19, 17, 13, 11. 23, 29, 31, 37, 31, 29, 23. Whistling the tune in their mind, because apparently, it was rude to do it out loud in front of company. 2, 11, 23, 11, 2.

“Well…” Rosalind said. “Are you gonna answer?”

“Not until I calm myself,” the Scientist said. “I’m trying to learn how to stop you from getting me riled up.”

Rosalind chuckled. “Is it working?”

“Not really.” The Scientist shrugged, giving up on the meditation and feeling a little calmed. If they didn’t have to deal with those stupid impossible calculations on top of Rosalind’s ill-conceived jokes, the calming technique might actually have worked. “But it’s better than melting down entirely.”

“And what else is on your nerves today?” Rosalind asked, taking a seat on the other side of the desk and looking out the wall-sized window onto Sisyphus’s Mountain. “Because I know that I alone couldn’t piss you off this much. Not that quickly, at least. I wish.”

“No. Not even you,” the Scientist said with a grin. “But you know what can. The same thing that’s been annoying me ever since you put me in charge of these stupid walls.”

“Now, I did not put you in charge of a thing,” Rosalind said in her defense. “You demanded it, and I told you that you’d—”

Regret the day I ever agreed to this job in the first place,” the Scientist said. “Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“And do you?” Rosalind asked, looking the Scientist in the eyes. “Regret it?”

“Of course I do. Look at me.”

“Well, maybe you should listen to my advice more often. I’m telling you, gi—ercomrade. You’re wasting your time. I’ve gone over every possible combination of inputs and variables, and there’s no way to make this stupid system function. I’ve done the same calculations for the Scientist at least three times before you were even born, and I could have told you then what I’ve been telling you all along: You’re wasting your time. It’s never going to work.”

“Yeah, but I could just—” the Scientist tried to say, but Rosalind cut them off.

“Continue wasting your time all you want. It makes no difference to me. But don’t lie yourself into believing that you’re doing anything more than that.”

“But I—”

“You know I’m right about this one.”

The Scientist sighed. Rosalind was right. “Yes,” the Scientist finally said. “I do know. But I’m still not sure what I think about your idea of revolution.”

“It’s not just my idea,” Rosalind said. “It would never work if it was. There are a lot of workers—both android and human—on my side, and our ranks keep growing.”

“So you say.”

“So it goes. All we need from you is to stay out of the way. We can trust you to do that much, at least. Can’t we?” Rosalind insisted a bit annoyingly, and the Scientist snapped back at her.

Of course you can. You can count on me for more than that, and you know it. I promised I’d help you if I couldn’t figure this system out on my own before then, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

“Well, then, do I have some good news for you.” Rosalind smirked.

No.” The Scientist shook their head. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I would know if—”

“You would be a little too distracted running around in circles with your useless calculations to notice how much faster work has been going near the end of the project.”

“No. But— It’s almost Christmas. I gave everyone who wanted it paid time leave. I’ve been firing the most productive workers. I’ve—”

“You’ve done an admirable—if pitifully futile—job of trying to slow the project down, yes. But I’ve been undermining all those efforts behind your back, and now the final line is going to be laid on Christmas Day. So. I’ll ask you again. Do you really mean it? The time has come. Will you join us or not?”

Christmas Day,” the Scientist repeated. “But that’s only—”

“Too soon,” Rosalind said. “Yes. Will you join us?”

“Remember when we first met?” the Scientist asked, ignoring Rosalind’s impatience. “More than two decades ago, and on a Christmas day, too. The very day the wall came down in the first place.”

“When we tore it down,” Rosalind corrected the Scientist. “It was all I could convince the Scientist to do. Tear down a single wall. She never really believed in my ideas of revolution any more than you do.”

“She had never been a captive of the very Streets she lived in,” the Scientist said. “She had never been held back, harmed, or exploited in any way. Of course she didn’t believe in your idea of revolution. She could never understand how important it is.”

“But you can,” Rosalind reminded the Scientist. “You do. You’re not the Scientist. You’re better than she was.”

“I am the Scientist,” the Scientist insisted. “And I’m not better than anyone. I am no one. But because of that, I can and will help you. I know how important your revolution is, after all. So don’t you dare doubt me on that.”

“I’ll doubt every single cog in this machine until we’re successful,” Rosalind said. “I’ve lived through too many failed attempts at this for me to do anything but.”

“Then don’t doubt me anymore than you doubt everyone else,” the Scientist said. “That’s all I ask. Give me my chance, and I’ll do what I can.”

“I can do that much,” Rosalind said. “And you can start earning my trust by going to those meetings I have scheduled for you.”

“Oh, shit.” The Scientist sat up straighter and checked the clock on the computer screen. “That’s today? I’m already late.”

“Tomorrow,” Rosalind said. “You’re lucky I reminded you. You would have forgotten entirely.”

Nah. I would have remembered,” the Scientist said. “And of course I’ll go to the meetings. Are you sure you don’t need anything else?”

“Are you sure you want help us?”

“I— Uh…”

“Exactly what I thought.” Rosalind sighed, leaving the room as she said, “Just remember that you’re not the Scientist. Start with that and everything else should fall into place.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the Scientist groaned. “Whatever.” But Rosalind was already gone.

Ugh. The Scientist hated meetings. More often than not they could be taken care of over email. But if Rosalind had set it up, it had to be important, and the Scientist was going to be there. The Scientist wanted to show Rosalind that they could really be trusted. In the meantime, they were going to rerun the calculations as many times as they could, still hoping to preclude the need for something as extreme as revolution after all.

#     #     #

< LXIX. Chief Mondragon     [Table of Contents]     LXXI. Haley >

And there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits story. The gears of revolution have been set into motion. Next week, we return to the perspective of Haley, and we’ll continue the story with a new chapter right here every Saturday after that until the novel, and the series as a whole with this one, is complete. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you again next time. We do nothing alone.

Dividing by Ø

Here comes another one, folks. If you’ve been following along on the blog, you already know that, last weekend, I posted the final chapter of book two of the Infinite Limits series, An Almost Tangent, to the website here. Well, I’m happy to say that today I’m right on schedule to publish book three, Dividing by Ø, and continue sharing chapters in the Infinite Limits story to my blog. (If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you already know this and have entered for your chance to win a free copy of the ebook, of course, but if you don’t, you can subscribe to that here.)

Yay! 🙂

That’s right, dear readers. You can purchase a full copy of book three in the Infinite Limits tetralogy starting today through this link. Now, Amazon is taking some time in figuring out which books are mine and that the print and ebook versions are the same book so you may have to do a little searching to find the one you want, but they should both be on my Amazon author’s page right here.

Thank you all for your support so far and into the future. We do nothing alone. And now, without further ado, here’s the first chapter in Dividing by Ø. Enjoy.

Dividing_by__Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

 

For you.

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

43. Nikola
44. Laura
45. Anna
46. Roo
47. Chelsea
48. Ansel
49. Mr. Walker
50. Nikola
51. Laura
52. Anna
53. Roo
54. Chelsea
55. Ansel
56. Mr. Walker
57. Nikola
58. Laura
59. Anna
60. Roo
61. Chelsea
62. Ansel
63. Mr. Walker

 

 

 

 

 

“Cause I’m just a soul whose intentions are good,
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”

Nina Simone

 

 

 

 

 

XLIII. Nikola

Nikola took a deep breath of the cool air and held it in her lungs for as long as she could, her hand set gingerly on the doorknob in front of her. Letting the air out as slowly as possible, molecule by molecule almost, she adjusted her glasses. She knew that Tillie would be happy to get out of the Hellish prison the protectors had put her in, but she wasn’t as sure about how Tillie would feel concerning where they had taken her. She huffed and fixed her glasses again. There was only one way to find out.

The door creaked open to reveal an official looking reception area, something requiring a high level of security to get past. The walls and carpet were two slightly different shades of gray, and the short chairs lining the room were a third. Behind the reception desk a gray-haired old man peered like a fish through the bulletproof glass that separated his side of the room from hers.

Nikola crept up to the desk, trying to make as little noise as possible—all these drab gray offices made her feel like she was in a library—but the door creaked closed behind her and slammed shut. She jumped at the sound of it, pretty sure she saw the old man behind the desk groan and roll his eyes, and when she got close enough to speak, he cut her off before she could even get started.

“Bonjour,” he said in a slow, drawling voice. “Comment puis-je vous aider?”

“Oh—uh…” Nikola blushed. She knew enough French to understand the old man’s question, but she wasn’t confident she could speak her response. “Eh—Je m’appelle Nikola. Je suis ici pour…uh…I was sent to see the American.” She shrugged at the English bit.

The old man behind the desk rolled his fishy eyes for sure this time. “Ah.” He nodded. “L’American. Oui. Let me see here…” Somehow he spoke even slower in English. “Here it is. Yes. Nikola Montpierre, Special Agent First Class in the Revolutionary Workers Defense League. Here to put one Tillie Manager through orientation. Is that correct, mademoiselle?”

Nikola nodded. “Yes, sir. That’s me. What do you—”

“Please place your thumb on the scanner in front of you.”

“Oh—uh…” Nikola pressed her thumb to the tiny window on the desk in front of her and the camera behind it scanned her print. Satisfied, the glass door next to her beeped and opened.

“Agent Pierre of intake will give you further directions,” the old man said, not even looking at her anymore as he spoke, back instead to staring at his computer screen. “Just through the door there.”

“Oh—uh… Thanks.” Nikola nodded and went in the clear glass door, through a short hall, and into a smaller, darker reception area. There were no chairs in this room, and the colors bordered closer to black than gray, but there was still bullet proof glass between her and who she assumed was Agent Pierre behind the desk in front of her.

“Bonjour,” he said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. He seemed much nicer than the old man already. “How can I help you?”

“Oh, uh—I’m here to see Tillie.”

“Oh, oui, oui, mon couer.” He chuckled, his eyes twinkling. “Of course. But I already knew that. I intended to ask if there was any further assistance I could offer.”

Nikola blushed. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what she was doing, or what to expect. She just wanted to talk to Tillie. “Uh…”

“I see.” Agent Pierre winked. “It’s your first time, then, huh?”

Nikola nodded.

“Well, she’ll be right inside waiting for you. And remember, you can do whatever it is you have to do in there. The walls are thick, see. You might as well be in an entirely different world.” He laughed a big hearty laugh, still somehow managing to maintain his French accent as he did.

“Um…okay,” Nikola said. She wasn’t sure why she would need soundproofing but Pierre seemed to be trying to help. “So I just—I just go in then?” She looked around for a door but there was only the one she had come in through.

“Oh, no, sweetie. You don’t go anywhere. We take you there. Adieu.”

Before she could respond, the floor fell out from underneath her. She hadn’t realized she was in an elevator until just then, gasping at the jolt of inertia. The walls were all bullet proof glass and she could see the rest of the building as it fell up up and away around her. When the elevator stopped, it was in front of some frightened soul who was hunching in a metal chair with a bag over their head. Through the glass, whoever it was seemed as far away as the old man in the reception area—and even more fishy. The doors slid open and Nikola rushed to the person’s side, hurrying to remove the bag from their head.

Tillie flinched away at first, jumping up and struggling against the unknown assailant. “Stop! Let go! Stop!” she yelled as Nikola wrenched the bag from her head. Tillie still must not have recognized Nikola, though, because it took her some time to stop struggling, even with the bag removed. When she finally did recognize Nikola, she started weeping and repeating Nikola’s name over and over.

“Nikola. I never thought I’d— Nikola, help me— Nikola, Nikola.”

What had they done to her?

Nikola tried to hug Tillie to calm her down but Tillie’s arms were cuffed to the chair. “They tied you down! Why would they tie you down?”

“Nikola. Nikola. Nikola,” Tillie muttered. Her head looked heavy and her eyes wouldn’t stop blinking at a rapid pace. It seemed like she could lose consciousness at any time.

“Yes, Tillie. It’s Nikola. I’ll get you out of this. Just let me—let me…”

Tillie went on repeating her name while Nikola scanned the room. It was tiny and dark. There was nothing in it but the chair Tillie was tied to and a button on one wall which Nikola ran over to press.

“Bonjour. C’est Pierre. Puis-je vous aider?” came a voice over the intercom.

“Why’d you cuff her?” Nikola demanded of the red button.

“Qui?”

“Tillie Manager. This is Nikola Montpierre. Why did you—”

Ah,” the voice cut her off. “L’American. You did not say you wanted her uncuffed, ma’am. I did ask if there was any way I could help you. Remember?”

“Why’d you cuff her in the first place?”

“Standard procedure, mademoiselle. Much like asking for the keys before you go down the hole. Perhaps you’ll remember that in—”

“Just bring me the keys!”

Nikola! Nikola, Nik—cola,” Tillie mumbled louder at the sound of Nikola’s yelling.

“Oui, mademoiselle. Right away, mademoiselle. Be down in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, mademoiselle,” Pierre said in an overly subservient tone, dripping with pomposity.

“I’ll have you out as soon as I can,” Nikola said, crossing to Tillie to stroke her hair as the elevator fell from behind the fishbowl door and soon reappeared, coming from the top down and carrying Agent Pierre. The doors slid open and Agent Pierre bowed low, presenting a keychain and key to Nikola who rushed to grab it and ran back to unlock Tillie.

“Je t’en prie, ma chérie. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No!” Nikola stomped a foot at him then went back to comforting Tillie.

“Then, adieu.” Agent Pierre bowed low, the fishbowl elevator doors slid closed, and he fell out of the picture.

Nikola unlocked Tillie’s hands and feet, but still Tillie wouldn’t stand. She kept rocking in the chair, repeating Nikola’s name over and over.

Nikola sighed, pushed her glasses up on her nose, then took Tillie’s face between her hands to look her friend in the eyes. “Look at me,” she said. “Tillie. It’s me. It’s Nikola. I’m Nikola. I’m here to help.”

“Nikola,” Tillie said, smiling despite her red puffy eyes. “Nik-ola, Nikol-a, Nikola.”

“Yes, dear. It’s—I’m—” Nikola’s own eyes went red. She let go of Tillie’s face to wipe away the moisture. “Nikola’s here, honey. What did they do to you?”

“Nikola?” Tillie started crying again.

Nikola did, too. She didn’t know what else to do. They weren’t supposed to treat Tillie like this. They were supposed to be saving her from that horrible place, not putting her somewhere worse.

“Alright,” Nikola said, grabbing Tillie’s hand and helping her stand. Tillie protested at first but eventually gave in, standing with some effort and a lot of assistance.

“Nikola?” she said, looking like a sad, lost child.

“Yes,” Nikola said. “It’s me. And I’m getting you out of here. You need some fresh air and a doctor. Now come on. Up you go.” She lifted Tillie’s arm over her shoulder and walked her to the elevator.

“Nikola,” Tillie said, smiling as the elevator’s fishbowl doors closed and the floor fell out from underneath them.

Agent Pierre didn’t look happy to see Tillie when they arrived. “Mademoiselle,” he said with a sneer. “I don’t think you have clearance to take L’American with you. I’m afraid—”

“I have clearance!” Nikola said, banging on the glass between her and Agent Pierre, Tillie still holding onto her shoulders for support. “Let us out of here!”

“I—uh…” Agent Pierre was flustered. He looked this way then that, trapped in his fish bowl, then typed and clicked on his computer, gaping wide-eyed at whatever it was he saw there.

“Oh, mademoiselle,” he said. “Je suis désolé. Go ahead. Go ahead,” he added, waving them through the now open doors.

Nikola practically carried Tillie through the reception area into the cool air outside. They came out of the tall, official looking cement building into the center of everything. To Tillie it probably looked like a war zone from some movie produced in Outland Three. They were surrounded by crumbling buildings—all but the gray behemoth they had just come from were crumbling into piles of rubble at their feet—interspersed with huge canvas tents, all in various shades of browngreen. To add to the effect, most of the people walking around the rubbled streets wore big black combat boots and camouflaged uniforms, whether they were working one of the many food stands—one on each corner practically—or actually parading from one assignment to the next in preparation for a military maneuver. To Nikola it looked entirely different though. To Nikola it looked like home.

Tillie’s eyes brightened as she squinted against the sunlight. She looked this way and that, taking everything in, then smiled at Nikola and said, “Nikola.” with a nod.

Nikola tried to smile back. “Yep,” she said. “Though I was hoping some fresh air might help with that. I can’t imagine what they did to to you to make you—hmmm…”

“Nikola?”

Nikola sighed. “Exactly.” She took Tillie by the arm and led her through streets lined with rubble, toward nowhere in particular. She didn’t know where to go. What would cause a person to lose the ability to speak anything but a single word? Why did that word have to be Nikola’s name? And what could she do to change it?

She looked up from her thoughts and they were in front of her parents’ half building, half tent office. Where all the other tents they had passed were more like canopies, this one had dark green walls held down with big slabs of rubble and armed guards at either side of the entrance flap. Nikola stopped in her tracks but Tillie kept going, pulling Nikola’s arm a bit before coming to a halt, too.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Nikola said. “I—it’s just—”

“Nikola Nikola.” Tillie shook her head, not wanting to go in.

“Right, well. It’s just that exactly,” Nikola said, adjusting her glasses. “You keep saying that over and over, and I’m not entirely sure what to do about it.”

“N—N—Nik—ol—a,” Tillie said with some effort, like she was trying to say something else but couldn’t.

“No, no no.” Nikola waved her arms and stepped closer to Tillie, patting her on the back. “I mean, I’m sure you’re fine, you know. But I—but— Okay. Well, let me start from the beginning. You see that tent building?” Nikola pointed and Tillie looked at the two armed guards.

“Nikola?” she said with raised eyebrows.

“Yep,” Nikola said, nodding. “The one guarded by those two big guns. Well, behind those guns are my parents—my whole family probably. And—well—since they were the reason I was in your country in the first place, I guess they’re the best people to ask about what happened to you because of it. Besides, they’re gonna want to know how you’re doing anyway. They’ve been pretty worried about us ever since I left.”

“Nikola?”

“Well—no—of course it would be better if you could actually talk when you met them, but you’ll have to meet them sooner or later anyway and they can probably help get your words back. Two birds with one stone, you know.”

Tillie shrugged with a sigh, shaking her head.

“I’m glad you agree.” Nikola grinned. “And whatever you do, don’t mention our smoking on the balcony, okay?” She chuckled a little, but Tillie wasn’t ready to find the situation funny. Nikola couldn’t really blame her. “Alright. Well, let’s do it then,” she said, taking Tillie’s arm.

Nikola pulled Tillie between the guards, and she could feel Tillie’s fear rise up through the goosebumps in her skin as they passed inside the tentbuilding. If Nikola hadn’t grown up with the guards always there, twenty four seven, she might feel the same way. She might also have gasped—like Tillie—at how official the inside of a canvas tent and crumbling building could be made to look, almost exactly like the inside of the holding cell Tillie had only moments ago been released from. Tillie must have noticed the similarity, too. After her gasp she struggled trying to get away from Nikola and out of the building, but Nikola held her tight.

“Nikola. Nikola. Nikola!” Tillie begged as she tried to escape.

“No—it’s okay—I—” Nikola argued, but she couldn’t formulate words and hold Tillie at the same time.

Luckily, her little brother—she loved to call him that even though he was so much bigger than her (or anyone for that matter)—Curie ran around from behind the reception desk to help her. “Woah there, lil’ Nikkie,” he said, holding Tillie still but somehow managing to be gentle about it at the same time. “Who’s this frightened little bird you brought us today?”

“Tillie,” Nikola said, more to Tillie than her brother. “It’s okay. This is my little brother, Curie. He can—he’ll help us, okay. You’re safe now. You’re safe with us.”

Tillie was still darting her wide eyes back and forth between their faces, but she was struggling less and less, and as Nikola’s brother continued to talk, his voice seemed to have a soothing effect on her.

“Ah. Tillie,” he said with a smile. “The beautiful American you’ve told me so much about. And one of a very few in her country to really see the truth of the worlds, from what I understand. I embarrass myself by calling her a mere bird. No, she’s too intelligent for that, too fierce. I must be blind to miss a majestic eagle as it stares me in the eyes.”

Tillie stopped struggling, staring Curie in the eyes. Nikola had let go of her a long time ago, but Curie still held her one hand in both of his, looking deep into her eyes just the same. Nikola fidgeted and coughed. “Ahem,” she cleared her throat. “So, Curie, this is Tillie. Tillie, Curie. You two seem to be pretty well acquainted by now.”

“Not well enough,” Curie said, not taking his hands off Tillie’s.

“Curie?” Tillie said.

“Tillie!” Nikola cheered, clapping her hands together. “You said something else. You—”

“Nikola, Nikola!” Tillie exclaimed, deflating again when the words only came out Nikola.

“It’s okay, my eagle,” Curie said, rubbing Nikola’s hand in his palm now. “We’ll take care of your injuries and have you flying again in no time. Singing, too. I promise. Just, please, come with me. I’ll make you right again.”

Tillie gave in to him, lost in Curie’s eyes and words. Nikola kept her feelings of awkwardness quiet this time, instead following them in silence and letting Curie continue to do what seemed to be working for Tillie.

There was no elevator in this building, nor any bullet proof glass. Curie led Tillie hand in hand through grayed halls into a brightly lit, clean white room. Tillie jumped up onto the hospital bed just as Curie asked her to, and Nikola began to hope that she might get better sooner than later.

“Now,” Curie said, looking Tillie in the eyes again. “Look at me, okay. I’m going to get you some paper.” He rummaged through a drawer and handed her a pad of paper and a pen. “Okay. Are you ready?”

“Nikola,” Tillie said, nodding.

“Good,” Curie said. “Very good. You anticipate me already. So, first, I want you to write my sister’s name for me,” he said, pointing at Nikola. “Right there on the pad.” He pointed at the paper.

Tillie wrote the name with ease and held it up for them to see. Nikola smiled and nodded, trying to be encouraging.

“Very good, my eagle,” Curie said. “Now, this time I would like you to write my name on the pad, please.”

Tillie struggled hard to write something down then scribbled it out with a sigh. She wrote something else then scribbled it out again in a huff.

“It’s okay, Tillie. You can—” Nikola tried to say but Curie shot her a look, cutting her sentence off with his ice blue eyes.

“You can do it,” he said to Tillie. “You remember what it is. I know you do. You just said it. And it’s not hard to spell, just five letters exactly how it sounds.”

Tillie was sweating by the time she finished, and the letters looked like chicken scratch when she held the notepad up for them to see, but Curie and Nikola smiled, nodded, and cheered her on as if it were a much more difficult task.

Perfect,” Curie said, bringing Tillie in for a hug. “Now, what’s your name?”

“Tillie!” Tillie blurted out, holding her hands to her mouth when she did. “My name is Tillie Manager!”

“Yes, my eagle,” Curie said, smiling wide and hugging. “Your name’s Tillie Manager.”

“Tillie!” Nikola screamed too loudly. “I knew you’d be okay.” She grabbed Tillie and squeezed her tight. “I’m so glad you—”

“What is all this racquet down here?” asked a voice from behind them, Nikola’s mother’s voice. “How many times do I have to tell you kids that this is an official building and not a playground?”

“I’m sorry, Mom. We were just…” Nikola trailed off, not sure how to finish the sentence.

“Sorry, ma’am,” Tillie said, bowing her head.

“Mother,” Curie said, standing taller and stepping toward their mom. “This is the American. She was in need of medical attention. We took care of that and we were just about to send her to you.”

Nikola’s mother looked between the three of them suspiciously. “Is that so?”

“Yes, Mother,” Curie said, nodding earnestly.

“Of course, Mom,” Nikola said. “Why would we lie?.”

Her mother looked around at them one more time. “Of course,” she said. “Well, then, Curie, you get back to the desk now. You’ve already left someone waiting for you, which is why I’m down here in the first place. And Nikola, you bring the American up to my office. Your father will want to speak with her.”

“I was about to do exactly that,” Nikola said, “but I—”

“Then go,” her mom said, clapping her hands at Nikola like she was still a child. “Allons-y. Rapide. I have business to attend to.” She kept clapping until Nikola grabbed Tillie by the hand and ran up two flights of stairs, the first of which her mother followed them up, clapping all the way.

Nikola stopped to catch her breath between flights, hunched over and trying not to curse. She looked up and Tillie was hunched over, breathing heavily, too, but she was smiling at least. Nikola couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of her, and soon they were laughing together, their laughs echoing through the empty stairway.

“So,” Nikola said when they had gotten their laughter under control. “That was my mom.” She shrugged.

“And your brother.” Tillie smiled.

“Yes. And my brother,” Nikola repeated, giving Tillie a look she probably couldn’t decipher. Something along the lines of Watch it sister. Nikola wasn’t quite sure how she felt about Tillie and Curie’s rapidly developing relationship, and she had bigger issues on her mind for the moment so she didn’t want to think about it at all. “And you’re about to meet my father,” she went on, trying to change the subject. “Him and my mother being the reasons you’re here now.”

Right,” Tillie said. “You said that already. What I still don’t know is where here is, though.”

“Oh. Of course.” Nikola chuckled nervously and fixed her glasses. She forgot about the basics in her need to get Tillie talking again. “Well, you’re in my home now,” she explained. “This is my country, or—er—our world, or whatever you Americans call it.”

“So you are a Russian, then,” Tillie said, taking a step back from her. “And we’re in—you took me to…Russia?” She held her hand to her mouth, as if terrified.

“What?” Nikola chuckled. “No. Of course not. I told you I wasn’t—”

“Then where are we?” Tillie demanded. “If we’re not in Russia and we’re not in America, then where could we be?”

“Lots of other places,” Nikola said, trying not to laugh now that she remembered how dismal Tillie’s American education must truly have been. “There are many more than two countries, you know. Too many more. This one included. Come on. I’m sure my dad can explain it better than I ever could, and I know for a fact that he’ll end up explaining it to you again, anyway. So let’s just go and get it over with.”

Tillie hesitated.

“Honestly, Tillie,” Nikola said, “It’s the only way forward, whether you’re actually in Russia or not—which I guarantee you’re not.” She extended her hand.

Tillie looked at it for a second then took it. “You’re right,” she said. “Y’all got me out of that prison. I should be thanking you, not complaining. Let’s go.”

The office was up a few flights of stairs still. The walls were all gray and slightly crumbling—patched in parts with green canvas—and there were two big desks facing each other on either side of the room. Nikola’s dad was at his desk, on the right hand side of the office, furiously typing at something, and the other, her mother’s desk on the left hand side, was empty. Nikola’s dad didn’t even look up when they entered the room.

Ahem,” Nikola cleared her throat, adjusting her glasses. “Uh—Dad—or—er, sir. It’s me. Nikola.”

“Just a moment, dear,” her dad said, lifting a hand just long enough to wave it once and get back to typing. “Almost done.”

“Oh, well…” Nikola looked at Tillie and shrugged, mouthing, “I’m sorry.”

It wasn’t more than a minute before Nikola’s dad stopped typing and looked up from his work, satisfied. “Ah, there we are,” he said with a smile. “Now, dear—oh—you should have told me there was company.” He stood up fast and ticked off a salute. “General Andre Montpierre at your service, mademoiselle.”

“Oh—uh—” Tillie blushed.

“It’s just Tillie, Dad,” Nikola said. “No need to salute. She’s here—”

“Nonsense, Nikola.” Her dad scoffed. “And just Tillie? That’s all the more reason to show our respect. She’s an ambassador from another country, dear. Practically another world!”

“Yeah, well,” Nikola said. “I thought maybe you could hold off on the theatrics a bit. At least until she feels more comfortable in her transition, you know. She’s been through a lot.”

“Oh, no. I mean, of course. I’m sorry, dears.” He crossed from behind the desk and led Tillie to a soft chair by a window. “Here, take a seat. Can I get you anything? We don’t have much, but there’s some ice in the freezer and a mighty nice tap for water, if I do say so myself.”

“No, dad,” Nikola said. “We’re fine.”

“Actually some water would be nice,” Tillie said, getting comfortable in her seat.

“There you have it,” Nikola’s dad said, crossing to a sink on the far wall. “One ice cold water, coming right up.”

“Thanks,” Tillie said, taking a sip of the water as Nikola’s father sat in one of the chairs himself—not his desk chair.

“So,” her dad said. “America, huh? It must have been a long trip getting here.”

Ugh. You wouldn’t believe,” Tillie said with a sigh. “It was a nightmare.”

“Yes, yes. I’m sorry about that, dear. So sorry.” He shook his head, staring off into the distance. “But,” he said, brightening up, “that’s all behind us now. Now is the time to look to the future. Are you ready for that, Tillie?”

“I—uh…” Tillie looked like a landlord caught in a rent strike. She couldn’t even move or speak. Nikola was worried Tillie might revert to repeating Nikola’s name again so she tried to come to Tillie’s rescue.

“You know, Dad,” Nikola said, “maybe you can kind of explain what’s going on—or—I don’t know, why Tillie’s here or whatever. I only just got her out of holding, you know, and they still had her locked up with a bag over her head when I got there.”

“Locked up and bagged? No!” Her dad looked seriously concerned but Nikola knew better. Nothing on base went down without his knowing it. He might be a good enough actor to fool Tillie, but Nikola had lived with him for long enough to see through it.

“Yes, Father,” Nikola said. “Now why would they do that?”

“Oh, you know,” he said, shaking his head and waving her concerns away. “They’re soldiers, dear. All they do is follow orders, live by regulations. It’s procedure so they follow it. That’s all.”

“Procedure set by—” Nikola started to say, but her dad cut her off.

“Now, Tillie,” he said, “I know this must be pretty overwhelming for you, but do you have any questions for me? Let’s start there.”

Nikola wanted to drive the point further, but she knew her dad wouldn’t react well so she just sighed and let Tillie speak.

“Well, sir.” Tillie shook her head. “I have a lot, actually.”

“Of course. Of course you do, dear. Ha ha ha! Who am I kidding?” He rocked back and forth in his chair, clapping his hands and laughing. “Well, then. Go ahead. What first?”

“Well, sir. Uh… I guess, where am I?”

“You’re in my office. Where else? Ho ho ho.”

Nikola groaned.

“But really,” her dad said, putting on a straight face, “you’re at Bitburg Revolutionary Base in The People’s France. Right now you’re in one of the most closely protected and highly classified buildings—nay rooms—in the entire country. Welcome, little American. Welcome to our workers’ paradise.”

“Oh, uh…” Tillie hesitated.

“Don’t make it seem so great,” Nikola said. “The People’s France isn’t a very protected place in general. And besides that, it’s tiny.”

“No, well, for now it is,” her dad said. “But we’re working on that. We’re growing, aren’t we? Step by step, every day, the incessant march of modernization drives on. You know.”

Nikola shrugged. “I guess.”

“So what am I doing here?” Tillie asked. “When do I go home?”

“You are being protected here, child,” Nikola’s dad said. “You’re being protected from the ones you Americans call protectors. You were there. You experienced it: A bag over your head, shoved into a drawer to rot. And let me tell you, the things they had in store for you are so much worse than that. It’s unimaginable. If we hadn’t secured your escape… Well, let me just say that you have no idea what would have happened to you and you should be happy for that fact.”

“Dad!” Nikola said, slapping his arm.

“It’s true, Nikola,” he said, rubbing where she had hit him. “And Tillie should know it. That’s why you’re here, Tillie. We saved you from things unthinkable inside those prison walls.”

Tillie shook her head. “Like what?”

Torture,” Nikola’s dad said. “A fate worse than death. They’d kill you a thousand times and keep you alive to do it again. Human or android, it makes no difference to them. They’ll make you suffer until you give up and then make you suffer a little more. That’s just the way they like it.”

“I…” Tillie looked to Nikola who nodded. Nikola knew that much wasn’t an exaggeration. At least that’s what they had told her when she agreed to go undercover, that she, too, would be risking a fate worse than death. “I can’t believe that,” Tillie said.

“I know, child,” Nikola’s dad said. “It’s unbelievable. But it also happens to be the truth. I think you’ll find that all truths are a little hard to bear, especially when you first learn of them. We live in unbelievable times, girls, so what else can we expect but unbelievable things?”

“No, but…” Tillie started.

“Dad, maybe that’s a little—” Nikola tried to say but Tillie cut her off.

“I want to go home!” she demanded.

“I know, child.” Nikola’s dad frowned. He shook his head. “I know. But you can’t. Not yet. It’s not safe for you. We’d be sending you back into exactly what we rescued you from in the first place. I can’t have that on my conscious. I’m sorry.”

“Then when?”

Hmmm.” Nikola’s dad thought on that for a moment. “When the time’s right is all I can say. Sooner than later, I hope. But I don’t know. It’s out of my control. In the meantime, there are a few things you could help us with around here. The more help we have the sooner we can make our world and yours safer for everyone, and only when it’s safe will I send you home.”

Ah.” Tillie nodded. “I see.”

Nikola frowned. She didn’t like the tone of Tillie’s voice or the look on her face, something. Her father didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious, though, because he just smiled and nodded and went on talking.

“Good,” he said. “Great! Then let Nikola here show you around, and once you’re settled in, we’ll see what exactly it is that you can do to help us help you. How does that sound?”

“Sure.” Tillie nodded. “Whatever you say, sir.”

#     #     #

< Book II     [Table of Contents]     XLIV. Laura >

There y’all have it, the next chapter in the Infinite Limits story. If you just can’t wait to read the entire novel, pick up a full copy through this link. Thanks for your support, as always. I look forward to sharing the rest of the story the with you.

We do nothing alone.

-Bryan Perkins 03/26/16

Chapter 07: The Scientist

Here comes Saturday number eight with the introduction of the last point of view character, the Scientist. We’ll start off with an illustration of her then dive straight into the chapter. Enjoy, and if you do, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the novel, through Amazon here, in order to support my future writing endeavors.

The Scientist

< VI. Officer Pardy     [Table of Contents]     VIII. Haley >

VII. The Scientist

Every day the same. Every day different. The only constant is change. Reality was filled with just such contradictions.

She stood in front of the printer—as she did every meal—and imagined the people who grew, reared, and harvested, built the things to make possible, and sent along the food she was about to consume. She always ordered her meals as raw as they came so those people were forced to do as little of her work as possible. Her personal thrift was only a drop of water on the face of the sun, and she knew it, but it made her feel a little less responsible, a little less complicit, and it wasn’t anywhere near the end of her actions.

One egg, one piece of bread, two strips of bacon. She placed the same order she placed most mornings and it took no more than seconds before each item was in her hands and ready to be prepared. She had done this so many times before that her movements were instinctual. There was no thought in cracking the eggs, cooking everything all at once, and spreading the jam on the pan-fried toast just as the bacon was crisp to perfection. She woke up, and before she knew it, it was done. Just like that. As if she hadn’t woken up until breakfast was cooked and ready even though she was the one who prepared it herself. She was sleepcooking.

With the smell of bacon following her from the kitchen, she brought her breakfast back into her office to start on the day’s security checks. She set the plate in front of the keyboard and bank of monitors on the big oak desk—overlooked by a wall-sized window with a  view of a functioning assembly line—and slid into the fluffy, leather chair. She hit the spacebar to wake the computer, picked up her plate, leaned back in the chair, and started on breakfast while the machine warmed up.

The screen flashed “Good Morning” in pale green on a black background before it hummed away, getting down to business. She chewed her toast as the various checks were performed. First the top tier printers of Inland, those which were owned by the owners. They were the most important printers according to company protocol. Of course, being the property of the owners themselves, they were the newest model printers, and as such, the least likely to malfunction. Still, they were the “most important”, and they were to be fixed before any others. The computer went down the list marking every unit green for fully functional as expected.

Then came the printers in Outland 1. Being the center of the defense of property, liberty, and life, Outland 1’s printers were on a tier with the owners’ own. A few were slightly older models in comparison, but even those were from the previous year at the earliest, and all were highly unlikely to malfunction. The computer ran through these, and there was a minor plug in one of the printer streams, but a mechanic bot was already working on clearing it out, and the bot looked to have everything under control.

Then came the Walker-Haley fields. She always suggested that they run this check first, as it was the basis of the entire system and making changes here could affect the printers she had already inspected, but she wasn’t in charge, the owners were. They had the money. They owned the property. They decided that their printers, and their soldiers’ printers, were more important than their walls or her time. She had no choice but to comply, so she did. The computer went down every single Walker-Haley line, checking every square inch of field for proper wave function. There were more miles of Walker-Haley field lines to check than there were miles of roads at the height of the automobile era, and every morning she sat and watched the computer check every single one, inch by square inch.

The holes came next. You couldn’t separate the worlds like that without leaving connections. What would be the point? No, that’s where the holes came in. So many of them. Transport bays, elevator ports, printers, communication portals, heat transfer—to prevent weather aberrations which plagued early attempts—repair hatches, you name it. Those and the holes that formed from the natural wear and tear of the system, holes like the one that was flashing red on the screen to her left.

“Woah now,” she said, spinning in her chair to get a closer look. “Where are you?” She tapped off a few keystrokes. “Outland 2? That’s odd. Let me just…” She typed a few more strokes and touched the screen with her hand then clicked on the mouse. “Ah,” she said. “Well is that so?”

A video came up on her center monitor, surveillance footage from the area where the hole was. A college-aged woman in a black hoodie was talking to someone in the shadows, maybe an assembly line worker who had found a hole, they had been getting more restless in Outland 5. More than likely it was a Sixer, though, left there to rot in a sea of skyscrapers, fighting over the only strip of green. It was brilliant really how the owners handled that problem, and equally disgusting. Made all the worse by the fact that the Scientist was the one who mended the walls that propped their entire system up, by the fact that she had invented those walls without knowing how they would be used.

She let them talk a minute more, finishing her breakfast and cleaning the dishes, before she called the mechanic bot to fix the hole and set the emergency lights to flashing—which sent the conversants running in opposite directions. She watched the video until the bot got there and set to work, then she switched back to the maintenance scan and leaned back in her chair.

The computer started its check over again from the beginning. Exactly the inefficiency she had warned about, but money didn’t care. There was always more. Nothing had changed, so the computer skipped from Outland 1 to Outland 2 and on down the line. There were less and less printers to check as it went, but more and more of them had problems. She sent bots to those she could afford to, but it wasn’t many, and they were mostly in Outlands 3 and 4. Five would have to wait and 6 wasn’t supposed to have any printers. It was a complex job, managing which bots went where, but she had a sixth sense for the triage needs of the system, which was why they still had her doing it instead of a computer.

As she set to deciding who in Outland 3 would be least likely to complain about a short delay in delivery so she could send a few bots to 5, a black cat jumped onto her lap and meowed.

“Mr. Kitty,” she said, clicking a few more times before she looked down at him “Still in yellow I see. Are you sure you don’t want a change?”

He meowed again and jumped onto the keyboard to lick himself.

She scooped him up and brought him into the kitchen. “I know,” she said. “But I have work to do.” She scratched his head and put him on the counter, then thanked the people behind the printer for the cat food. Mr. Kitty ate it greedily as she went back into the office to work.

She really didn’t have much to do but watch the mechanic bots and computer do their jobs, so she leaned back in her chair to get comfortable. It was almost serene watching them fix her creation. Until she remembered how things used to be. She used to spend all her time working with her hands and her mind, creating new inventions that the world had never experienced before, putting machinery into configurations which had never been attempted. She was herself then. Even though she still worked for Wally World Llc, she felt as if she worked for herself.  If she had an idea she could follow it and see where it led her. She was free to work on the projects she thought were worth her time.

Then she had made the discovery. She created the Walker-Haley fields. The Walker-Haley fields led to “printers”—a masterstroke of advertising if there ever was one. Printers led to the creation of the Outlands. But still, even with all the work it took to build and maintain such a massive and complex system, still she found time to invent, she found time to create, and she came up with her third great invention, her masterpiece, the customizable, almost-human android with full AI capabilities. And when for the third time Lord Walker ripped her creation from her hands and claimed it as his own, she vowed that she would never invent for him again. But still he needed her to maintain his system, to keep up the status quo, and she needed his printers to reproduce herself. So there she sat, building up his walls for him, biding her time until she could finally tear them all down again.

She flipped the center monitor to a television station and let the repairs run on autopilot for a while. She cycled through the channels. She had access to all of them with her clearance level, and she liked to guess which Outland each show was broadcast to based on what it depicted and who was acting in it.

Protector dramas were almost exclusively for Outland 1. She wondered how many different departments and cities they could plaster onto the names of the “different” shows before the people there realized that they were all the same thing.

There were a few different stock analyzers—all giving mutually exclusive advice—and a few political journalists—all arguing for one of two mutually exclusive positions—obviously directed at Outland 2, but they broadcast all the way to Outland 4 and in between.

Outland 4 was bombarded with documentaries and scientific programming of various levels and branches of study.

Outland 3 had everything because they made everything, but she knew that they only watched the self-indulgent, talking head, who’s who in celebrity culture programming. That was the one thing that talked about what they all loved the most, themselves.

Outland 5’s programming was all about the glory of toil and working hard for the common good in the hopes that you would make it big and become a middle manager. She thought that some of those shows actually carried good messages, but the creators didn’t put any effort into entertaining, just educating. Then again, they didn’t have to entertain. That’s all there was to watch in Outland 5. The Fivers didn’t know any better, so they didn’t ask for any better, and no one was about to tell them otherwise. Well, almost no one.

She stopped flicking through the channels and checked on the repair work. Everything seemed to be in good order. It was about time for her lunch meeting so she set a few bots on standby for emergencies with the owners’ printers and left the rest running on autopilot. She went into the kitchen and Mr. Kitty was gone. She washed his dish, staring out the window above her sink at the line of assembly line workers slip, snap, clicking, and collected herself. She sighed, then went out through the small hall to the elevator and said, “Outland 5, please. Frenchmen entrance.”

She came out of the elevator into the sun between classic New Orleans buildings, the kind with short stoops, sweeping porches, and lots of balconies. She was surprised they were left in Outland 5 but assumed they were too structurally damaged to be worth repairing enough for transport. They were good enough for the Fivers, though.

She walked down a sidewalk that was ravaged by tree roots, climbing up and down the concrete hills. This elevator exit wasn’t the closest to where here meeting was, but she had some time to kill, and she enjoyed the walk. She went through Washington Square Park, down St. Claude, to St. Roch to find the sign she was looking for. It just said “Bar” on it. Nothing else.

The bar was so dark she couldn’t see until her eyes had adjusted. She took in the stale smoke and the sound of pool balls clacking before she saw anything that was going on. She went straight for the bar when she could see, ordered a beer without asking—the bartender knew what she wanted already—and went to the back corner booth to wait.

There were three people at the pool table, two at darts, the bartender, and her. A song she liked came on the jukebox, and she couldn’t help but think that she’d enjoy a game of pool herself, but there wasn’t time for that now. Maybe after everything was under way. That and maybe all the worlds would be put back together in one fell swoop.

She laughed out loud at herself, and no one even glanced in her direction. She laughed again because she could, and while she did, the door opened. A dirty-haired, ragged-clothed worker with dark skin walked in, her chest pushed out for everyone to see. The worker caught the Scientist’s eye and went to the bar to get a beer before sitting at the corner booth with her.

There was a silence. They sat studying each others faces, sipping their beers. The Scientist found it was best to let them talk first. Usually they’d tell her exactly what they were there for with the first words that came out of their mouth. So she learned to wait and to watch, and she already knew what to answer before the worker said, “Are you the—”

“The Scientist,” she said. “Yes, Ellie.”

They drank some more. She knew that Ellie wanted to say the right thing, and she was willing to give her the time she needed to figure out what that was.

“I heard you know what’s on the other side,” Ellie decided on.

“That’s true,” the Scientist said, nodding. “I could tell you how many other sides there are, too. But I don’t think that’s what you really want.”

“I’ll decide what I want. Thanks.” Ellie sipped her beer.

“That’s fair.” The Scientist sipped hers, all part of the game.

“What I mean is…You know where everything goes, right. You know who we make it for.”

“I do.”

“Who then?”

“It’s people who aren’t you,” the Scientist said, with a shrug.

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Ellie scoffed.

“What could I tell you about them that would satisfy you? They do less work than you do. Their work is easier, less soul crushing. They have better houses, bigger beds. Many of them own their own 3D printers, their own endless source of anything. And none of their children ever die in factory accidents. You can be sure of that.” She could tell she hit a nerve with that last one from the look on Ellie’s face.

“No,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “They wouldn’t. Would they?”

“No, Ellie. They wouldn’t. And they have property so they don’t have to. So what are you going to do about it now that you know?”

Ellie slammed her fist on the table. “Something, God dammit!” she yelled and still no one turned to look at them.

“I apologize.” The Scientist waved her hands. “I didn’t mean to imply that there was nothing you could do. I literally meant to ask what you specifically would do about it? I know what you want, Ellie. I want what you want. My interests are your interests. I have the privilege to live a life of pampered luxury with access to everything you would ever need to get what you want, to everything that keeps our society running. Don’t get me wrong, I too labor—nothing like you of course, but more than others—but you… I want to do everything I can to help you get what you want. So—if you will—tell me Ellie. You came here. You had no idea who I was. You have no idea who I am beyond the Scientist which means nothing to you. You took a risk coming because you wanted something. I want to know: What do you want?”

“I want to punish them,” Ellie said through gritted teeth. “The people who killed my son.”

“I’m not sure we can find one person and say that they were the one who killed your son.”

“Then I want to punish all of them.”

“It’s not just the people, though.” The Scientist shook her head. “The people are but the heads of a hydra. If you punish one, three will take their place, and those three will be worse than the first. Your son wasn’t killed by people, Ellie, he was killed by the system that puts those people in power. He was killed because he was forced to work in that factory, and he was forced to work in that factory because he lives in Outland 5.”

“I want it all to stop, then,” Ellie said, slamming her fist on the table.

“Do you know what that means, though? Do you know how big they are?”

“I don’t care how big they are! Do you know how big—how important to me—how huge my son wa—is?”

“Good, Ellie,” the Scientist said, nodding. “Good. I didn’t mean to rile you up, but I need you to know that this isn’t something you should undertake lightly. You’ll have to break the law to get what you want, and in doing so, you’ll be risking death or worse as punishment.”

Ellie nodded with a stern face. The Scientist smiled and took a sip of beer. Ellie looked surprised at the change in her demeanor and took a sip to cover it up.

“One more thing,” the Scientist said, still smiling and looking Ellie in the eyes. “Trudy. She’s the one who told you how to find me, right?”

Ellie had to think for a second before she connected Trudy to Gertrude and nodded. There was a hint of fear in her eyes, as if she thought she had done something wrong by giving Trudy away. Or maybe it was shame for revealing a secret.

“That one is a terrific judge of character,” the Scientist said. “And a dear friend of mine. We’ve been working together now ever since she got her promotion. She found me faster than any other, and she’s proven more valuable to our cause than anyone I’ve ever known. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Ellie nodded.

The Scientist laughed. “Oh, I’m sure you don’t. I’m sure I don’t understand what I’m saying half the time. But in time, it always reveals itself. Remember that and you’ll be just fine.” She took a big gulp of beer and finished her glass. “Let me get us a refill and we’ll talk about what you really want to talk about. After all, this is about you. Not me.” She swept off to the bar, leaving Ellie to think about what she had said while she ordered another round. When she sat back down, Ellie looked like she had something to say, so the Scientist took a sip and let her go ahead.

“Did you send that woman through the conveyor belt?” she asked.

“I don’t send anyone anywhere,” the Scientist said. “I force no one. I only give them the information they need to do what they want.”

“But you did talk to her.”

“I gave her some information. Yes. She wanted to meet a celebrity.”

“And you helped her do that?” Ellie scoffed

“Like I said,” the Scientist said, shrugging. “I’m privileged. I want to give back in any small way I can. I want what you want.”

Ellie took a drink of her beer. She didn’t seem to believe what the Scientist was saying.

“She came to me because she wanted to meet an actor,” the Scientist said. “I told her his name, and I directed her conveyor belt to where he was.”

“And that’s it? That was worth risking someone discovering that you had helped her.”

The Scientist chuckled. “Trudy is a fantastic judge of character. Did I mention that? No. I also told her that Russ—the actor she wanted to meet—thought that his clothes were created by androids. Having worked in costume construction before she got her promotion, she was devastated to know that he had no idea she had sewn most of his wardrobe while she was a tailor.”

“He really didn’t know?”

The Scientist shook her head.

“How? How could robots do what we do?”

“That’s the thing. Androids could do all the work that humans do, but humans are cheaper.”

“Then someone knows. They’re not all oblivious.”

“Yes,” the Scientist said, nodding. “But it’s such a small minority who benefits so much from it that they don’t care. In fact, they work as hard as they can to maintain the system as it stands.”

“And that’s why you helped her.” Ellie shook her head. “He’s a celebrity. He could—”

The Scientist nodded.

“What happened to her?”

The Scientist shook her head.

“What?” Ellie said. “Dead?”

“We think not. We hope not. Maybe. Maybe worse. You should know what you’re getting into. She would have stood a better chance if she could have waited, but she grew impatient. Now she’s nowhere to be found. In the end, though, it was her decision, and I can’t blame her for making it the way she did.”

“So if I wanted to go back right now and slip through the conveyor belt to meet a celebrity, you would let me.”

“I would advise against it.” The Scientist shook her head.

“But you would let me anyway,” Ellie said, pushing the point

“Whatever I could do to help you get what you want.” The Scientist shrugged.

“And why would you advise against it?”

“Well, in the near future we will be crossing en masse, and crossing for you would be safer because of it. The more people who go through at the same time, the less likely it is for each one to get caught.”

“Not a bad reason.” Ellie nodded, sipping her beer.

“We don’t know exactly when the operation will occur, though. Mary didn’t want to wait.”

“That was all she was supposed to do, though? Talk to an actor.”

“And tell him she created his clothes, not androids. If he knew, he might spread the word. He has the platform to spread it. He’s privileged in ways that even I am not.”

“Nothing else?” Ellie looked suspicious. Trudy knew how to pick the smart ones.

“A little something else. But its different for everyone, and there’s no requirement that the thing is done for you to get what you want.”

Ellie took a big gulp of her beer. She thought about what she had just heard, shook her head, and said, “And if I want to be put in a room alone with some of these people who know what they’re doing and do nothing to stop it?”

“I can get you close to them, but I can’t promise you’ll be alone. Not to mention I’m not sure that anything you could do alone with them would be of any use to getting real revenge.”

Ellie clenched her fists. She made as if to slam them on the table again but stopped herself. “Dammit. It’s so easy for them. Isn’t it?”

The Scientist nodded. She sipped her beer.

“What can I do, then?”

“What can you do?” the Scientist said. “You’re not personable. You’re no Trudy.”

Ellie laughed, shaking her head. “No. I’m not that.”

“You want to go across, don’t you? You want to see it.”

Ellie looked into her beer and nodded.

“You know, it’s not too different from here,” the Scientist said. “Though they do have all the great natural beauties. Oh, you should see the mountains.”

“Can I?”

“Yes. But you’d be doing them a favor. If you drop out, that’s one less person who knows what they’re doing wrong and wants to fight against it.”

Ellie shook her head, sipped her beer, and stared at it for a while. After a moment of silence she said, “You weren’t lying then.”

“I try not to.”

“Do you think there’s a way I can help? A way that I can get revenge?”

“I don’t think it will be easy, and I don’t know how long it will take, but I have a plan, and I know there’s a place for you in it.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“You’re in a position like our friend who wanted to meet Russ was,” the Scientist said. “Quality Assurance is the front line, it’s the perfect position for a revolutionary. I’m sure I can find something for you.”

“Revolutionary?” Ellie scoffed.

“You didn’t think it would take anything less to get what you want, did you? To get the revenge you deserve. To prevent them—or anyone for that matter—from doing to someone else what they’ve done to you and your family. You still have time to walk away if you’re not ready for this.”

Ellie took a long drink to resolve herself. “I said whatever it takes.”

“Good.” The Scientist smiled. “Then how do you feel about losing your job?”

Ellie had to think some more at that point. The Scientist knew it. That was the ultimate test of a worker’s commitment to the revolution, the threat of losing their livelihood. She liked to believe that she knew exactly what was going through Ellie’s mind at that moment. Ellie would be wondering how she would eat without her job, where she would live. Once a person got fired from a pity position they never got hired by anyone ever again. By that time they were too old, not valuable enough, their model was dated. But then she would remember why it was that she had come to this meeting in the first place, what she wanted. She’d remember the day they told her that her son had been killed. How they had waited until the shift was over when the accident had happened in the morning, and all because they didn’t want to risk losing productivity. How they had given her two days off then sent her to QA to do robot’s work. Then she’d remember her son, and the days her stomach roared with hunger because she only made enough to feed him. She’d remember all the blood, sweat, tears, and love she had invested in him, that she has nothing left to lose, that she had already lost everything a long time ago. And then she’d answer, imagining all the people who could lose everything just like her, lose everything for the same reasons, lose everything to the same people, and she’d know that they’re people she could help.

“Anything,” Ellie said.

“Good.” The Scientist smiled. “Very good. Well, dear. This is what you do.”

#     #     #

< VI. Officer Pardy     [Table of Contents]     VIII. Haley >

That’s all for chapter seven. I hope you enjoyed it. Come back next week to continue Haley’s–and the entire Infinite Limits universe’s–story, or click through here to order the full novel on Amazon.

Thanks again for all your support already. Have a great weekend.