Chapter 80: Jorah

Hello, dear readers. Here it is, Jorah’s third and final chapter. It’s now that we start getting some closure to the stories. Read on to find out what happens, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

< LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXXI. Mr. Kitty >

LXXX. Jorah

Well, flying fucking Fortuna. Jorah was out of the closet. It was almost enough to make him forget that he had left his arm behind in the Feast Hall. Almost.

He had been too excited to finally tell the truth—and hopefully end his employment with that android-hating asshole Walker—that he didn’t think twice about dropping the mic and his entire arm along with it, but now how was he supposed to get a new one? It’s not like android arms were something a person could just order up on any old printer. Or were they? He had actually never tried. Maybe he could.

Jorah stared at himself in the infinitely reflecting mirrors of his elevator car, and he felt more like himself than he ever had—even despite the missing arm. It was as if he was somehow more confident, stood up straighter, took more comfort in his identity. Sure, he had always acted like he was cool, collected, and in charge, but it was just that: acting. His job. And even if he was the best—and most highly viewed—actor in all of the worlds, there was no substitute for the genuine confidence of finally being able to be honest with his audience, and himself, about who he really was.

Jorah was reliving the moment in his head, relishing the looks on the mostly surprised owners’ faces—especially the ire on Mr. Walker’s—dropping the mic one more time, and again his arm with it, when the elevator stopped, its doors slid open, and in the place of his own infinite reflections, Jorah found the eminently finite director Wes Lee waiting for his own elevator.

“Jorah, my man. I…” Wes started to say, but he trailed off, staring at Jorah’s empty arm socket.

“You…” Jorah urged him on, acting like he didn’t know what Wes was staring at.

“I—uh…” Wes tried to continue, but he was too confused. “Well, I just came by to ask how your—uh—how the thing… What’s it called? But, no. That doesn’t matter right now. Because you— You’re…”

“Are you alright?” Jorah asked, trying not to grin. “You look a little pale. Almost like you’ve seen a ghost in the machine.” He couldn’t help chuckling.

“No. I, well… You—” Wes finally blurted out. “Your arm!”

Jorah looked down at his left arm, the one that was still there, then back up at Wes and said, “What about it?”

“No, Jorah.” Wes was getting flustered now, and Jorah was enjoying it a little too much. “I— The other one. It’s gone. What happened?”

Jorah looked down at his empty socket now, acting surprised—and doing a damn good job of it, as always—then back up at Wes. “Fortuna,” he said. “You don’t say.”

“But how?” Wes asked. “Are you alright?”

“I’d be much better if I could sit in my room and relax,” Jorah said. “But some clueless director’s standing in my way, and I can’t even get off the elevator.”

Oh. I—uh,” Wes said, stepping aside and clearing the way for Jorah. “But how?”

Jorah just laughed, strutting off the elevator, past Wes, and into his dressing room, saying, “You’ll have to wait until they make the Christmas Speech public if you want to find out. If they ever do lift the embargo, that is.”

Wes started blubbering and stuttering, trying to find out more, but Jorah slammed the dressing room door closed between them, leaving Wes in a shroud of mystery.

Now that was fun. Jorah laughed to himself, pacing his dressing room and trying to expel some of the pent up energy he was still filled with—from coming out during his Christmas Speech and teasing Wes alike. The look on their faces. All of their faces. Wes’s, too. None of them could ever deny what androids were capable of again. Jorah couldn’t wait to rub it in Mr. Walker’s face in person. He didn’t even care if he was blacklisted by every production company Mr. Walker owned—more than half of the profitable ones, but not all. Jorah’d be able to find work somewhere after the publicity he’d gain from coming out. Hell. They could take his printer, even. Jorah never used it for more than smoothies anyway. And who’s to say that his next gig wouldn’t have their own printer on offer? Jorah was a star after all. The star.

Thinking of printers reminded him that he still had one and needed to use it, so he did just that, pressing the printer’s red voice activation button to say, “Uh. Arm.” with a shrug.

It took the machine a while to contemplate Jorah’s request, and he didn’t blame the thing. He never really expected it to know what he wanted, much less to be able to produce an arm compatible with his socket and skin tone. So he wasn’t at all surprised or angry when out popped a book instead of a fully functional android arm.

“That’s alright, little buddy,” Jorah said, picking the book up and flipping through the pages. “How about a smoothie, instead?”

The printer hummed into motion—as if happy to do its part—while Jorah read the book cover to cover. ARM it was called. Book three of the Flatlander series by Larry Niven. A tale about Gil “The Arm” Hamilton.

Huh. No wonder the printer had come up with that when he said arm. Too bad. Jorah tossed the book—not terrible, but he wouldn’t hurry for a part in the big screen adaptation—down the trash chute and started sipping on his smoothie. He was just about to sit on his couch and finally relax when a knock came at the door.

Yoo hoo! Jorah!” Meg’s voice called from the other side.

Of course. Exactly what Jorah did not want. He knew he would be bombarded with interview requests about his coming out after the embargo was lifted on his Christmas speech, and all he wanted to do until then was to relax. Jorah considered not answering her calls, pretending he wasn’t there at all, until Meg dashed even that last bit of hope. “I know you’re home,” she called. “I just talked to Wes. He was acting… well, strange. Is everything alright in there?”

“Just a moment,” Jorah yelled back, unable to go on with the lie of not being home after being so blatantly called out on it. “I look terrible. Just freshening up a bit.”

With some quick thinking, he sat in front of his battle station and ordered it to make him up to look ill. If he was ever going to have any chance of getting Meg out of there so he could rest, he was going to have to keep his missing arm hidden from her. He ordered a blanket from the printer, threw it over himself like a cape, hiding his arm—or lack thereof—underneath, and put on his saddest, most pitiable face before slowly opening the door with the perfect phlegmy cough.

Hack hack. Ugh. Hello?” he groaned, sniffling and wiping his nose on the arm of his blanket cloak.

Fortuna, Jorah.” Meg gasped. “You look like Hell.”

“Beauty’s only skin deep,” Jorah said, making his voice sound scratchy. “I’m feeling like Hell much deeper than that, though.”

“Wow.” Meg shook her head. “I’m sorry, hon. Is there anything I can do for you? Maybe order up some soup or something?”

Jorah kind of groaned at the same time that his stomach growled. He was never fond of eating, sure, but soup was a different experience entirely. Not only was it similar in its liquidy texture to the smoothies he preferred, there was something about the human act of making a bowl of soup for an ill relative that Jorah had been attracted to ever since he had seen it on one of those early television shows that he studied while he was learning to pass himself off as a human actor. So even if he didn’t like eating, even if he wanted to be alone, and even if he had once considered himself tiring of Meg’s advances, something about the strange combination of circumstances—and no doubt his lack of any other support network of any kind since Russ’s tragic death—led Jorah to abandon his defenses and invite Meg inside.

Ugghhhaaalriiight,” he groaned, stepping aside to let her in. “But it has to be tomato. No chicken noodle. I don’t eat meat unless it’s the special at a restaurant that I’m supposed to review, and that includes stock.”

“I didn’t know you were a vegetarian,” Meg said with a big smile, leading Jorah to sit on the couch before going into the kitchen to order a bowl of soup out of the printer like she owned the place. “You sure you just want tomato soup?” she asked as she did. “I know you’re not feeling well, but it is Christmas. If you can’t make it out to a fancy restaurant, someone as famous as you ought to at least do a little feasting at home. Right?”

“I’ve never been a fan of Feasts,” Jorah said in a too clear voice, losing his character for a moment before hamming it up again with a loud sneeze and sniffle, adding, “But feel free to order whatever you want. You should be feasting, yourself.” And I’d like to get as much use out of that printer as I can before they take it away from me, he added in his head but not out loud.

“You know, maybe I will order a few things,” she said. “I don’t have a printer at home, and it’s fun to get to operate one. Thanks.” She ordered an entire feast—turkey, potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, pies, fruit salad, corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, deviled eggs, you name it—and brought them along on a serving cart to the couch where she set Jorah’s soup in front of him then stacked as much of her food as she could on the coffee table before rolling the cart closer to her so she could reach whatever food was still left on it as needed.

As Meg dug into her feast, eating a little taste of everything but never all of anything, Jorah slowly slurped his soup, savoring not the taste—because, again, he never really liked food in the first place—but the sense of belonging, the feeling of being loved, the knowledge that someone cared enough about him to provide for him when he was in need, even if that provision took no more than pressing a button and asking for a simple bowl of tomato soup. It was the thought that counted, and the fact that Jorah knew Meg would do much more than that for him if he were truly in need—break down a door to fight his abuser, even. So Jorah didn’t mind when Meg finally got over the novelty of the printer and her feast to start asking him questions about his speech, his sickness, and whatever else came to mind.

“So?” Meg asked. “How’d the speech go? Were you already feeling horrible before you had to give it?”

Ugh. No,” Jorah complained, having a little trouble trying to figure out how to both eat his soup and keep his blanket cloak from falling off at the same time with just the one hand to do it. “I guess you could say I caught something at the Feast.”

“A superbug.” Meg nodded conspiratorially. “The worst kind. Twenty four hour flu or something?”

Jorah groaned. “I don’t know,” he said. “Must be. Something like that. One of them.”

“It’ll only get worse before it gets better,” Meg said. “If that’s the case. Have you seen a doctor yet?”

Jorah shuddered. He hated doctors. Never visited them. Not for as long as he could remember. He made sure to take extra care of himself so he didn’t have to. Mostly because he was afraid that if he did go to a doctor, they’d easily see through his claims of humanity to the android underneath and expose his secret despite their vow of confidentiality. Even now that he was out of the closet—for the most part, at least, with the news ready to spread like a wildfire as soon as the media could report it—he still couldn’t fight that fear—or was it shame. Either way, he shook his head, saying, “No way. No doctors. I don’t trust ‘em. I’ll get over this myself, or I’ll die trying.” He let out a weak chuckle then a few loud coughs to cover it up.

“Well, hopefully not the latter,” Meg said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. I know this is probably gonna sound sad and pitiful, or too forward, especially considering the fact that we’ve only ever spoken face to face so few times, but you’re my best friend in all the worlds right now, Jorah. And I honestly mean that.”

“Now, I—” Jorah started to protest, but Meg went on over him.

“I know, I know,” she said, shaking her head, cheeks red with embarrassment. “I told you it was pitiful. And in no way do I expect you to return the label. But it’s true. No one has ever once believed in my talent as a designer until you agreed to go into business with me, and considering the fact that all my time is spent on set at work or designing and sewing in my free time, it’s kind of difficult for me to be friends with people who don’t support the latter side of my life. So I guess what I’m really trying to say is thank you for your support. I truly appreciate it. And thanks for your time today. I finally—for the first time since I was a kid still living with my family—feel like I’m spending Christmas with someone who cares about me. So thanks.”

Jorah was probably blushing, too. He could still remember the joy he felt when he first figured out how to turn the reaction on and off—back in the earliest days of his attempts to learn how to act. Learning how to blush was the first time he ever felt like he could actually pass himself off as a human and escape the assembly line life that he had been created into. He was feeling a similar emotion then—with his blushing reflex going off involuntarily—but slightly different. This time he wasn’t happy about his ability to pass himself off as a human but rather in the idea that Meg would treat him like one whether she thought he was or not. It was as if, even though she still hadn’t heard his speech, Meg somehow knew what Jorah truly was, and she didn’t care because he accepted her for what she truly was as well. Together they bestowed upon one another importance, identity, humanity.

“You’re a magnificent seamstress,” Jorah responded truthfully—not because he wanted to pay her back for making him feel so loved, but because he honestly believed it to be objectively true. “And an even better designer.”

“Exactly what I’m talking about,” Meg said, really blushing now. “Thank you. You flatter me.”

“It’s not flattery when it’s true,” Jorah said. “And it is. Trust me. I have an eye for these sort of things.”

“I know you do,” Meg said. “I’ve been a huge fan of yours ever since Metadata Heaven. I love your taste. It’s just surreal for me to think that your eye was caught by my work.”

“It won’t be my eye alone,” Jorah said. “I’m telling you. Those owners wouldn’t know a halter top from a racer back, so it’s lost on them, but that dress you made me for the speech is going to be the biggest design this season. I guarantee it.”

“I don’t know…” Meg was still reluctant to admit how great she was. “But my designs? Do you really think so?”

And Jorah wasn’t going to let her wallow in any more self-pity. It was time to give the woman the confidence she deserved. “Have you seen me?” he said, standing from the couch, dropping his blanket cloak, and doing a spin move like he was on the catwalk, all in one fluid motion. “I know so, honey.”

Meg was dumbstruck. Her jaw had fallen down and she couldn’t pick it up. She just stared wide-eyed, stammering but unable to form intelligible words. She really was a great designer, and Jorah was the perfect model for her style. They’d be the biggest design team in all of history, and it was only just sinking in for Meg.

“See,” Jorah said with a huge, triumphant smile on his face. “I told you so.”

“But, Jorah. You…” Meg said. “Your arm. What happened?”

Jorah looked down, wide-eyed in surprise himself now that he realized what he had done. He tried to cover up his empty shoulder socket, but the damage had already been done. “Oh,” he said. “That.”

“Yeah, that,” Meg said, finally composing herself enough to cross over to Jorah and wrap him up in his blanket cloak again then sit him carefully on the couch like a dying child. “You never were sick at all, were you?” she said. “Does it hurt terribly bad? Is there anything I can do to help you? How’d it happen? Tell me everything.”

Jorah kind of chuckled, relieved that Meg was so unaffected by the revelation but unnerved by that fact at the same time. It was as if here reaction was too perfect, and at any moment, everything would turn for the worse. “You don’t happen to have an extra arm on you by any chance?” Jorah asked, trying to keep the mood light since the subject matter had gotten so heavy so quickly.

“Actually…” Meg said, taking a big bite off of a roll that she had piled high with mashed potatoes and gravy. “I might be able to help you with that.”

Pffft. What?” Jorah said, spitting out some tomato soup. “You’re kidding.”

“Of course not,” Meg said, looking a little offended. “I wouldn’t joke about something like this. You’re gonna need it soon if you don’t want Mr. Walker to find out, right?”

Jorah was seriously impressed now. Why had he ever been hesitant to start up a friendship with Meg? “Well,” he said. “Mr. Walker kind of knows already. I came out during my Christmas speech.”

Meg dropped her fork with a clink on her plate. “No,” she said. “Damn. How’d they respond to that?”

Jorah chuckled. “I didn’t really stick around to find out.”

“Probably for the better.” Meg laughed a little then stopped herself right away. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s not funny. But you’re gonna need an arm either way, right? So I was gonna say that I could look into it for you—if you want. But now that you’re out, I guess you can go to a more overboard operation to get something of better quality. Whatever you prefer, though. My offer still stands. Just let me know.”

“I—uh—well…” Jorah didn’t know what to say. “How do you know all this about android arms anyway?” he ended up asking.

“There are more androids in this business than you’d imagine,” Meg said. “One way or another, I’ve found myself working with plenty of them—yourself included—and in such cases, one can’t help but to learn.”

She sounded so nonchalant about it, too. Like it was no big deal that she had probably had to find limbs of one sort or another for other—closeted—androids before him. But Jorah thought it was a huge deal, and he was starting to adore Meg much like he had adored Russ. “Well, I’m blessed to have met you for more than just the clothes, then,” Jorah said. “You don’t know how close I was to losing my mind trying to figure out where I was gonna find an arm. The printer does not make them. I’ll tell you that much.”

“So it’s your first lost limb,” Meg said with a grin. “Well, don’t worry. I’ll get you one in no time. Tomorrow, next day tops. Though, again, if you did it during your speech, I’m sure you’ll have all the top part designers offering you something to wear for free. It’ll work in exactly the same way as clothes do now that you’ve made being an android acceptable. I guarantee.”

“Have you ever thought of designing parts?” Jorah asked.

“Are you kidding?” Meg chuckled. “That’s the dream. But the equipment’s way too expensive for the likes of me. That’s why I do clothes instead. More affordable.”

“Well, it looks like I need a parts designer. Doesn’t it? And I have plenty of money to start you up. We could expand the purview of our company.”

Meg laughed. “You’re kidding? Of course. I’d love that.”

“No,” Jorah said. “I don’t kid. What say you and I go for a walk in the Garden of Fortuna and start hammering out the details right now? How does that sound?”

“I—uh…” Meg took one more big bite of potatoes and gravy. “Of course. Yes. Obviously. Let’s do this.”

And so Jorah led her out to the elevator, and down they rode toward the Garden of Fortuna and their future business prospects.

#     #     #

< LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXXI. Mr. Kitty >

There it is, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Tune in next week for the continuation of the story, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Thanks for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 79: Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Thim and Stevie are back. Read on to find out if life keeps coming up tails for them, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link.

< LXXVIII. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXX. Jorah >

LXXIX. Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Thim and Stevie ran for as long as their legs would carry them and their lungs would give them oxygen.

“Oh. My. God. I can’t believe we did that,” Stevie said, hunched over and breathing heavily when they had finally stopped running dozens of blocks away. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“It was the only way to follow Mr. Kitty.” Thim shrugged, trying to sound nonchalant even though they really couldn’t believe that they had done it either.

“Still, I can’t believe we did it,” Stevie said.

“I can’t believe we didn’t die.”

“And who was that person that we landed on?” Stevie asked.

“I think they might have been one of the giants,” Thim said. “Or at least I’m pretty sure. They were as tall as one, but they weren’t wearing the white uniform.”

“Well I’m glad we got away.” Stevie sighed. “So what next?”

“I don’t care,” Thim said, pulling out their coin to flip tails.

“Are you flipping that stupid coin again?” Stevie demanded.

“What’s it matter to you?” Thim asked. “It’s not like we have anything better to do.”

“We need to figure out what to do next,” Stevie said.

And a third voice said, “Next you come with me.”

Stevie turned toward the sound and pulled Thim around to face that direction, saying, “Next we come with who?” but Thim had already broken their grasp to run up and hug the owner of the voice.

“Stevie, it’s Anna,” they said, pulling Stevie into a group hug. “Don’t you recognize her voice?”

“Anna?” Stevie said, and they hugged tighter, happy to have the comfort of a responsible adult around, even if they were still in denial about Momma BB’s death. “How’d you find us?”

“Me and the Family’ve been monitoring this protector,” Anna said. “The same one who killed your Momma BB.” Both Thimblerigger and Stevedore hugged Anna tighter at the mention of it. “And the same one who chased y’all after you had landed on her head. Or so I’m told. Is that right? How exactly do you fall on someone so tall’s head? That’s what I want to know.” She chuckled, letting Thim and Stevie out of her hug.

“We jumped off the roof of the Safehouse,” Stevie said.

“Don’t ask me why,” Thim said.

“Jumped off the roof?” Anna laughed. “No way. And I will ask y’all why, as a matter of fact. But first let’s get you something to eat. What do you say?”

And of course, they said yes. They followed Anna to one of her hidden elevators and rode it to the Family Home where they sat on two stools in the kitchen, watching Anna cook up some red beans and rice and answering her questions as she asked them.

“So that officer didn’t molest you in any way, did she?” Anna asked, chopping vegetables while variously filled pots and pans heated on the stove. “Did she touch you inappropriately or anything like that?”

“Well, we did fall on her head,” Stevie said. “So we were kind of the ones touching her.”

“What was that?” Thim asked, having trouble keeping up with the conversation because Anna was moving around to cook.

Anna stopped what she was doing to look straight at Thim and speak with overt mouth motions. “But did she hurt you in any way?” she asked. “That’s the important part.”

Oh. No. Not me,” Stevie said. “Though she did threaten to.”

“I think we might have hurt her,” Thim said. “We fell right on her head.”

“Good. Very good,” Anna said, nodding. “And how exactly did you two manage that?” she added before returning to her cooking.

“You better believe it wasn’t my idea,” Thim said. “We jumped from the very top of the Safehouse.”

“Y’all are lucky the suicide nets were working,” Anna said. “On most buildings they’re not. Though I’m sure Momma BB never would have let y’all spend so much time alone up there if she wasn’t one hundred percent sure they were functional.”

“Suicide nets?” Stevie asked then mouthed the word to Thim who mouthed back asking what a suicide net was.

“Nothing y’all babies need to worry about,” Anna said, setting a bowl of food in front of each them. “Now you two just go ahead and eat on up while I go discuss a few things with our new friend.”

“What’s a suicide net?” Thim asked when Anna had gone. “Before you start eating.”

“I don’t know any more than you do. Do I?” Stevie complained, then they both inhaled their food, hungrier than they had realized they were. They cleared their bowls, licked them clean, and Thim even washed them and went back to flipping tails before Anna finally came back out of her interrogation.

“Well,” Anna said. “She’ll help us. And she won’t ever molest any children like that again.”

Stevie could hear the woman yelling in the other room. “She doesn’t sound happy.”

“You go tell her to shut up, then,” Anna said. “If she doesn’t, I’ll give her something to scream about. It would show her, too, for what she done to you.”

Thim led Stevie into the dark room to do as they were told, both trying to prove to the other that they were the brave one, unafraid of the terrible White Giant that was tied up in the room with them, and when they returned to the kitchen, the captor had stopped yelling alright.

“You see,” Anna said with a smile. “She’s got no choice and she knows it. Now. I trust that you’re both full, and that you’ll come to me if either of you ever needs anything—especially in the next few days—but that’s all the time I have for now. There are still some preparations I need to get to before the big deal tonight. You understand.”

Thim nodded, and Stevie said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“And you two will be ready for your part in this, won’t you?” Anna asked. “I mean, whatever it is your Momma BB assigned you to do before she…”

“Our part’s already done, ma’am,” Thim said, because they knew that Stevie wouldn’t answer, Stevie was still trying to ignore Momma BB’s death. “We’re just supposed to stay in our rooms until someone comes to get us.”

“Well you better get on back to the Safehouse right now, then. Your Momma BB’d kill me if she found out I was keeping y’all out here like this so close to the operation. Thank you for leading the Chief to us, though. I owe y’all one on that. Come on over after all this is done, and I’ll bake y’all both a nice cake—one each—to say thank you.”

“Sounds great,” Stevie said, smiling wide and excited at the prospect of an entire cake to themself.

“We’ll see you then,” Thim added, grabbing Stevie’s hand and leading them outside to stroll home.

“What a strange day,” Stevie said as they walked. “Never seen a single one in our lives, and we run into two protectors within hours of one another. Strange.”

“And on the same day as Momma BB’s death, too,” Thim said, trying to get Stevie to finally come to terms with it.

“On the day of the revolution, more importantly,” Stevie said, still ignoring the truth.

“How could you say that?” Thim demanded, stopping in the middle of the street while people kept walking by around them, trying not to stare. “Stevie, Momma BB’s dead.”

“Yeah, so she calls it,” Stevie said, crossing their arms. “And so do all those other androids she’s linked up to, but it’s not the same. Is it?”

“And how do you know?” Thim asked. “Have you ever died before?”

“Well, no. But—”

“Then you don’t know what it’s like. For humans or androids. So who are you to talk?”

“Well, I know that humans don’t come back after they die,” Stevie said. “I don’t have to kill myself to see the truth of that.”

“Well, maybe you’re wrong,” Thim said, flipping their coin to calm themself but dropping the token instead—which, of course, still landed on tails, further frustrating them. “Maybe you do have to die before you can know what happens next.”

“I know that no one’s ever come back before,” Stevie said.

“And maybe you’re wrong about androids, too. Have you ever thought of that?” Thim paused for a moment to allow Stevie to actually think about it. “What if they don’t actually come back, huh? What if it’s a different person entirely who just happens to share the same memories? What if it’s not Momma BB who comes home in three days but some pale imposter? Have you ever considered that?”

By the look on Stevie’s face, they had not. And now that they had thought about it, they wanted to cry. Thim moved to hug Stevie, relieved that they were finally facing the painful reality of Momma BB’s death, but there was no time to mourn. Out of the corner of their eye, Thim saw Mr. Kitty run toward the Family Home, and instead of hugging Stevie, they grabbed Stevie’s hand and started in a full out sprint after Mr. Kitty, dragging Stevie along to stumble at first before quickly gaining their footing and following close behind Thim as they both sprinted through the Streets after the cat. None of them stopped running until they were directly in front of the Family Home, and Mr. Kitty didn’t even stop then, instead running straight through the door as if it weren’t even there.

Woah. Hold up,” Thim said, hunching over and putting their hands on their knees to try to catch their breath. “I need to breathe a minute.”

“What—” Stevie said, breathing hard, too. “Are we— Running from?”

“Not from,” Thim said. “To. And Mr. Kitty.”

“The Curious Cat?” Stevie asked, curious themself.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Thim replied.

“Where’d he go? Where are we?”

“Back in front of the Family Home,” Thim said. “He went through the door.”

“Well what are we waiting for?” Stevie asked, feeling around in all the wrong directions while searching for the door knob. “Let’s follow him.”

“No,” Thim said. “I mean through the door. Like a ghost walks through walls.”

“Oh.” Stevie dropped their arms as if in defeat then perked up again on second thought. “Oh. Well that’s more of a reason to follow him. Show me which way if you’re too afraid.”

“If I can jump off a building, I can walk through a door,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand with one of theirs and holding the other out in front of them. They slowly passed through the door and into an unfamiliar dark room that was lined with cabinets and piled high with all kinds of clothes.

“Well, where are we?” Stevie asked, but Thim was too busy leading the way to notice the question. Stevie pulled on Thim’s arm and turned them around to repeat the question to Thim’s face, “Where are we?”

“I don’t know. Shhh,” Thim said, turning around again and sneaking in the direction of a dim light off in the distance that seemed to get brighter the closer they got.

“Is that Anna’s voice?” Stevie asked, but again Thim wasn’t looking in their direction to hear it, and they couldn’t have answered the question even if they were.

Instead, Thim was trying to make out who it was out there in the bright lights, sitting in a chair, with the other woman bending over her. No. They weren’t sitting in a chair. They were tied to it. That was the White Giant. And standing over her was Anna. This must have been what they had agreed to.

“Thim, that is Anna,” Stevie said, pulling Thim’s arm to try to get them to look at the words coming out of Stevie’s mouth. “Where are we?”

But Thim had already stepped out into the stage lights. Now they could see a ring of White Giants surrounded by a ring of Black Giants, all pointing their giant guns up at Anna on the stage. They could also see the fat scared owners in the center of the rings, even larger than the giants but not quite as tall. And they could see the two owners who were standing on the head table, elbowing one another for position, obviously in charge of this place. Thim turned to tell Stevie all that they had seen when the gunshots went off, all the guns in both rings all at once, and the sound was louder than anything Stevie had ever heard. Deafening. They pulled Thim down into cover as fast as they could, and couldn’t even hear themself explain what they had heard for at least ten minutes after that. Ten minutes in which Stevie was left in almost complete darkness and silence, being dragged out through the costume closet and back into the Streets outside of the Family Home where Thim and Stevie both hunched over to catch their breath and calm their heartbeats—and where a slowly louder ringing indicated the thankful return of Stevie’s hearing.

When they had finally calmed themselves and regained their senses, they both said at the same time, “What in the fuck was that?”

Then again at the same time they tried to explain what they had experienced, Thim by describing the fat scared idiots inside the double ring of giants who were pointing their giant guns up at Anna on a stage of some sort with that woman who they had landed on top of tied to a chair, and Stevie by using as many synonyms for deafening as they could come up with to describe the sound of those giants’ guns all going off over and over again and all at the same time.

“So what the fuck was that then?” Stevie asked after they had both calmed themselves from the reinjection of adrenaline that reliving their experiences by describing them to each other had elicited.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Thim said, pulling the coin out of their pocket to flip it once—tails—and put it away again. “I seriously do not know.”

“Well, what do we know?” Stevie asked.

“We know that we need to get back to the Safehouse fast,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand and heading that way.

“Right,” Stevie said. “Duh. But what do we know about what we just witnessed?”

“I told you everything I saw,” Thim said. “What else do you want from me?”

“To analyze the facts, not just recite them.” Stevie sighed. “Like what was Anna doing with that giant protector on stage?”

“I don’t know. Whatever she wants,” Thim said, shrugging. “I don’t care what happens to that protector. They killed Momma BB.”

“You’re missing my point, Thim. So what were all those other people doing there then?”

But Thim wasn’t paying attention to Stevie anymore. Somehow they had both stepped off the street they had been walking on and into a short hall, from outside to inside without going through a door.

“Thimblerigger, are you even listening to me?” Stevie asked.

“Stevie, we’re not outside anymore,” Thim said.

“What?”

“We stepped into a hall or something, I don’t know.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We were outside one second and now… Now I don’t see outside anywhere. There’s just an elevator on one end of this hall and a half open door on the other.”

“Which end are we on?” Stevie asked.

“Elevator.”

Stevie felt around for it, in the wrong direction, and Thim directed their hand toward the door. “Does it open?” Stevie asked.

“Door open,” Thim said, pushing the button next to the door a few times. “Please open, door.” They shrugged. “Doesn’t look like it.”

“Well, I guess we better go check the other one, then,” Stevie said, grabbing Thim’s hand and leading them in that direction.

Stevie stopped them a few feet in front of the door, listening through the crack for any dangers on the other side.

“So?” Thim asked a little too loudly, and Stevie shoved them to shush them. After listening for a few more moments, they turned back toward Thim and mouthed the words, “I don’t know. Sounds weird.”

“Weird?” Thim tried to whisper, but Stevie motioned for them to go even quieter. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” Stevie said. “It’s hard to explain. Kind of like you sound when you’re sucking the meat off a particularly delicious pigeon bone.”

“You mean someone’s eating in there?” Thim asked, perking up a bit at the thought of it. They were always hungry.

“No. At least I don’t think so,” Stevie said. “I told you: It’s weird. There’s more moaning than even when you eat.”

“That must mean the wings are extra delicious,” Thim said, convinced. “Let’s get in there.” They pulled Stevie by the hand before Stevie could protest, entering through the ajar door to find two people definitely not eating—not food, at least, but maybe one another’s faces.

They were in a giant office, with a giant desk and a wall-sized window that looked out onto a mountainous wilderness with more green grass and blue skies than Thim had ever seen. In front of the window were some puffy chairs and side tables where two occupants, instead of staring out the window at the beautiful scenery as the chairs were no doubt put there with the intention of facilitating, were rather kissing one another, feeling each other, and generally trying to shove two bodies into the space of one puffy chair where two bodies were not meant to fit.

“What are they eating?” Stevie asked, startling the two kissers who jumped quickly into two separate seats, trying to straighten themselves out and play it cool. “Sounds delicious.”

Each other,” Thim said, crinkling up their face in disgust. “Nothing you want in your mouth. Trust me.”

Ahem,” one of the strangers cleared their throat. “I—uh. Who are you?”

“Hello,” the other said, standing up and stepping closer to greet Thim and Stevie. “I’m Haley. Nice to meet you.” She held out a hand for the children to shake.

“We don’t shake hands,” Thim said.

“Me especially,” Stevie said.

“I—uh— Well…” Haley said, stuttering. “We weren’t expecting you two quite so early. Were we, Pidg?”

The other kisser, Pidg, stood up as if remembering his manners. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Momma BB’s kids. Right, right, right. I almost forgot.”

“What do you know about Momma BB?” Stevie demanded. “Who are you?”

“Where are we?” Thim asked. “What are you gonna do with us?”

“Do with you?” Haley laughed. “Nothing, child. No one wants to do anything with you. We want to help you. Isn’t that right, Pidg?”

“Oh—uh. Yeah,” Pidg said, straightening up at the mention of his name. “We’re friends of your Momma BB’s. We’re supposed to make you comfortable until Rosalind and the Scientist get back. Y’all want anything to eat?”

“What you got?” Thim asked, interested in the offer.

“And how do you now Momma BB?” Stevie repeated.

“I’ll just bring a sample platter,” Pidg said, getting excited about the prospect. “You know, I remember exactly what they fed me the first time I was here, and I loved it. I bet y’all will, too. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out of the room, excited to do whatever it was he had planned.

“And us and your Momma BB are old friends,” Haley said. “Or at least Rosalind and Momma BB are. She and your mother have known each other for their entire lives. They were switched on in the very same workshop on the very same day. But don’t take my word for it. Rosalind’ll be back soon, and she has news of your mother for you.”

Thim and Stevie spoke to each other through subtle movements of their clasped hands and instantly came to the same conclusion: They were best to take advantage of the food and wait for the news then escape later if worse came to worse.

God willing, it would come to better instead.

#     #     #

< LXXVIII. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXX. Jorah >

There you have it, dear readers. The third and final chapter from the point of view of Thim and Stevie. Join us next week for the continuation of the Infinite Limits saga, 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 75: Sonya

Hello, dear readers. Today we return to the story of Sonya, a bartender who loves her job, as she tries to figure out what she can do to make the worlds a better place to live in. Enjoy the read, and if you do, don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link.

< LXXIV. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXVI. Ms. Mondragon >

LXXV. Sonya

Sonya sat in the back booth of The Bar, where only a red light lit the table—and not a very bright one at that—waiting for Ellie to arrive with her people, and for the first time in her memory, Sonya felt like she would rather be at home, alone, than there in her bar, with a cold glass of beer in hand, music floating all around her, and the happy voices of her comrades enjoying themselves echoing through the building like a school cafeteria.

What could Ellie and her Scientific Socialists have planned, anyway? And if it had nothing to do with the Scientist, why’d they name the group after her? And most importantly, did Sonya trust Ellie, or didn’t she?

Ugh. She did. Of course, she did. Otherwise she wouldn’t be there for the meeting in the first place. But she didn’t trust Ellie, either. Otherwise she wouldn’t be there for the meeting because she would have already been convinced to go along with whatever they were planning. It was just another of life’s contradictions.

Finally, after too long feeling uncomfortable in her own bar—in her own skin, essentially—Ellie showed up with what looked like an older, wrinklier version of herself in tow. They ordered a round of drinks and brought one to Sonya where they joined her in the back booth, sitting together across the table and sipping on their beers.

“Ellie,” Sonya said. “And… I’m sorry. I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Trudy, dear,” the older woman said with a smile. “And no. We’ve never had the pleasure of meeting. Ellie and I are used to keeping our lives more compartmentalized. We’re trying to change that, though—difficult process that change can be.”

“I’ve told you about Trudy,” Ellie said, nodding and trying to reassure Sonya. “She was— Well… She was the one who introduced me to the Scientist—and to activism in general.”

Ah, Gertrude,” Sonya said, trying to smile but having a hard time of it because she was still worried about what this mission might entail. “I think I can remember a few stories.”

“Nothing but the good ones, I hope,” Trudy said, chuckling and sipping her beer.

“I think I only have good ones about you,” Ellie said with a smile.

“Except when you thought I was a nosy, annoying gossip,” Trudy said. “Back when you still insisted on calling me Gertrude. You can’t lie to me, child.”

“Yes, well… I was young and stupid then,” Ellie said. “I didn’t know any better.”

“And what exactly does any of this have to do with me?” Sonya asked, getting a bit impatient.

“Oh, well, nothing,” Trudy said.

“But everything,” Ellie said. Another contradiction. “You said you trusted me. Right?”

Sonya nodded.

“And now,” Ellie said, “here I am introducing you to Trudy, my partner. She brought me into this life, and ever since we learned about the Scientist’s death, we’ve been working together to save what part of her organization we can. Not only that, we’ve been doing our best to make it a more open, honest, and effective group. Just like I’ve been telling you.”

“Hard work, that,” Trudy said.

“Go on…” Sonya said.

“Well, and I thought introducing you two,” Ellie said, “would—I don’t know—serve as some amount of proof, or something. That we are doing what we say we’re doing, that is.”

“And the name, too,” Trudy reminded her. “Did you tell her about the name? Scientific Socialists, dear. It’s who we are. Lovely, don’t you think?”

“But you’re not involved with the Scientist anymore?” Sonya asked Trudy, seeing if the old woman would give a different answer than the one that Ellie had. “I didn’t really like her or her ideas. She—”

“She’s dead, I’m afraid,” Trudy said somberly, shaking her head and looking deep into her drink. “So we couldn’t be working with her even if we wanted to. No. But we sure do have more scientists than we know what to do with these days. I’ll tell you that much.” She kind of chuckled a little, the stark opposite of her mood only moments before.

“And not just the ones who call themselves the Scientist, either.” Ellie added.

“Well, okay,” Sonya said, taking a long sip of her beer before going on. “So, let’s say that I do trust you, Ellie. Which for the most part I do.”

“Thank you so very much, dear.” Ellie smiled.

“And let’s say that, by extension, I trust Trudy, too. Which I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t at this point. You seem like a nice enough person.”

“You’re too kind, dear.” Trudy bowed her head.

“But still,” Sonya went on, “assuming all of that to be true—which for the most part it is—I’d still need to know what exactly it is you want us doing if I’m ever going to decide whether to do it or not. So how about we quit beating around the bush and get down to it?”

“I like her,” Trudy said, nudging Ellie with her elbow.

“I knew you would,” Ellie said. Then to Sonya, “Well, you see, the plan is… Well the plan is gonna happen whether you agree to help us or not. Let’s just get that out of the way first. Processes have been set into motion that we have no control over. It would be impossible to stop them now.”

“This is your opener?” Sonya scoffed. “You know you’re supposed to be convincing me to help you, right.”

“Wait now. Hold up just a second,” Ellie said, getting a little defensive. “I said these processes were out of our control. It’s not our fault what’s happening. We didn’t start it, and we have no way to stop it. So, don’t blame us.”

“All I’m hearing is excuses,” Sonya said.

“I really like her,” Trudy said.

“The walls are coming down,” Ellie finally said outright. “All of them. Not just between Five and Six this time. No more half measures. The major crisis we’ve been predicting is finally coming, and now it’s up to us to decide whether it results in a new and better world or further barbarism.”

Pffft.” Sonya scoffed. These were the grand claims she had come to expect from Ellie, but never before had her predictions been so specific. Usually Ellie just spoke in generalities and platitudes, so maybe, just maybe, this newfound specificity meant that Ellie actually did hold some knowledge of the future to come. “You’re kidding. Right?” Sonya said, goading them on. “Another out there prophecy from the Scientific Socialists.”

Neither Ellie nor Trudy answered, both solemnly staring into their drinks and letting the implications sink in.

“All of them?” Sonya asked, still having a hard time believing it.

“All of them,” Ellie repeated.

“On Christmas day,” Trudy said, nodding. “What a gift.”

“Christmas day? But that’s tomorrow,” Sonya said.

“Indeed, it is,” Trudy said.

“So, what are we supposed to do for food?” Sonya asked. “Huh? What about the elevators? Or the buildings that’ll fall because they’re stacked on thin air? What about the people inside them? How many are gonna die?”

“That’s where we come in,” Ellie said. “Like I told you. It’s up to us to decide between something better or barbarism.”

“This is barbarism already,” Sonya said. “I won’t take part in it.”

“Yes, it is,” Trudy said. “Which is why we’re tearing it down. Whether you want to help us or not.”

I won’t,” Sonya said. “I’ll do everything I can to stop y’all if I have to. I won’t let you do this.”

“Stop us?” Trudy said, laughing. “You have no idea what our plans are. Stop us from doing what?”

“I told you we don’t have any control over this,” Ellie said. “There’s no us to stop. We’re on your side. We’re just trying to save the lives of as many people as we possibly can.”

“How?” Sonya demanded. “And make it quick. I’m already tired of this conversation.”

“We’re organizing the evacuation,” Ellie said.

“And taking care of everyone’s basic needs after the deed’s done,” Trudy added.

Right.” Sonya scoffed. “You expect me to believe that when y’all won’t even try to stop this from happening in the first place. Do you know how many people died when just the walls between Five and Six went down?”

“We can’t stop it,” Ellie said.

“All we can do is wait,” Trudy said. “Do not open until X-mas.”

“We can’t wait,” Sonya complained. “If what you’re saying’s true, there’s practically no time as it is. We’ll never save everyone.”

You don’t have to save everyone, dear,” Trudy reminded her. “We do nothing alone.”

“Rosalind and the Scientist have guaranteed that their robot army can warn most of the population, anyway,” Ellie explained. “We don’t even need much from you. But we can’t save everyone without you, and we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t ask.”

Fine,” Sonya said after a long pause. “If you’re being honest, and there’s truly no way of stopping this before tomorrow, then I want to help. We want to help. So just tell me what y’all need, and we’ll get started right away. There’s no time to waste.”

“That’s the thing, dear,” Trudy said. “We can’t do anything, can’t tell anyone but those who are sworn to secrecy, until a precise time tomorrow.”

“If word leaks earlier than that,” Ellie said, “the entire operation could be compromised and more lives will be lost because of it.”

“I thought y’all had given up secrecy,” Sonya reminded them.

“We have, dear,” Trudy said. “When we’re able. But human lives are at stake. Jumping the gun will only cause the scientists to blow the walls sooner. Then we wouldn’t be able to warn anyone at all. Do you want that on your conscious? All those people who we would could have evacuated dead.”

“You said that the Scientist wasn’t involved in this,” Sonya said.

She’s not,” Ellie snapped. “She’s dead. We’re talking about the scientists. With an s. Plural. And there’s no stopping them. You said you trusted us, Sonya. So, what is it? Are you gonna help warn these people while we still can, or are you gonna let them die because you couldn’t put our differences aside for long enough to save lives?”

“I…” Sonya hesitated. Of course she wasn’t going to sit around and let a bunch of innocent people die, no matter how little she trusted the Scientific Socialists, because she still trusted Ellie as an individual. And for some reason, despite the old woman’s stubborn obstinance, Sonya was already growing to like Trudy as well. So in the end—as it always seemed with the really big decisions in life—Sonya had no choice. “What do you need me to do?”

“How many people can you muster?” Trudy asked.

“How many do you need?” Sonya smiled. “We’ve been ready and on call for decades now.”

“As many as you can spare,” Ellie said. “The more the merrier, it being Christmas and all.”

“Not yet,” Sonya said, standing from the booth. “But too soon now. Let me grab Barkeep and another round of drinks, then y’all can give us the details.”

“Do you think Barkeep’ll be able to trust us?” Ellie asked. “Me specifically.”

“There’s no choice now. Is there?” Sonya said, and there wasn’t. There was just the exact future they had been preparing for. Hopefully their training would be enough.

Barkeep was convinced of the seriousness of the situation easily enough and then begrudgingly accepted the conditions of their participation just the same as Sonya eventually had. With all that settled, they finished their drinks over discussion about the number of people needed where, when exactly they could start evacuating, and how long they had until all the walls between the worlds of Outland were finally, once and for all, demolished.

“Fifteen minutes,” Barkeep said, shaking her head as she stood from the booth. “Shit.”

“It’s not much time. I know,” Ellie said, standing, too—along with everyone else.

“But it’s all we’ve got,” Trudy said.

“We’ll make do,” Sonya said. “I know we can.” And everyone there certainly hoped it was true, even if none of them were as certain as Sonya tried to sound like she was.

Ellie and Trudy went on their way, and Barkeep assured Sonya that she had everything under control so Sonya could go home to get some rest before the operation. Sonya was too excited for rest, though, so when Barkeep had finally forced her out of the bar, Sonya decided she’d walk home instead of taking the elevator.

Fifteen minutes? Fuck.

Her heart beat faster and her palms slicked up just thinking about it. This was the real deal. Revolution? Maybe. Hopefully eventually. But an inciting incident big enough to spark a revolution if Sonya and her comrades were in fact organized enough to direct it that way. There was only one way to find out.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a little black blur run out in front of her, stop to lick its tiny black paws, then run out again just as she got close enough to pet him.

Mr. Kiiitty,” Sonya called, following the black cat. “I’m gonna scoop you.”

He meowed at her then ran up to her door to rub his face on the jamb.

“I got you,” Sonya said, scooping him up over her shoulder to sit on it like a fat, furry parrot with his back legs draped over her back and his front legs over her forearm which she used to prop him up. “Up we go,” she added, carrying him inside and up the stairs to her apartment. “Elevator Kitty. Ella-ella-vate your Kitty,” she sang, bringing him inside to let him drink from her bathroom faucet.

“Alright, Kitty,” Sonya said, laying on her bed and feeling very tired all of a sudden. “I’m going to sleep. Come and join me if you want. Otherwise, you know the way out.” Sonya never understood how Mr. Kitty left without her opening the door for him, but he was never there when she woke up.

Mr. Kitty jumped up onto the bed with her and kneaded her chest for a minute before curling up in her armpit to lick himself clean while Sonya drifted happily off to sleep.

#     #     #

Sonya had no trouble waking for her shift at the bar the next morning—which was only open early on Christmas—and as expected, Mr. Kitty had already disappeared through whatever exit he always took. Sonya bathed, groomed, and got dressed then rode the public elevator to The Bar where she ordered herself up some peanut butter on toast for breakfast. She was never really a big fan of eating at all, especially so early in the morning—preferring instead to drink her calories—but she knew she’d appreciate the energy for her mission to come.

And so began what seemed like the longest shift Sonya had ever worked—and she had worked for forty eight hours straight once, with only thirty minutes of sleeping in between. Just as she had felt when waiting for Ellie—and never otherwise in her life—Sonya would rather be anywhere else in the worlds than there at The Bar right then.

But she was there, and she had no choice about that. Soon customers started to trickle in—getting drunk before joining their family for Christmas dinner or because they had no family to join—poor, innocent, ignorant customers with no idea of what was waiting for them that afternoon, and all Sonya wanted to do was to yell at them to go home, get their families, and run to the nearest safe zone. But that was also exactly what she couldn’t do. So she shut her mouth and served their drinks in silence. It truly felt like the shift would last for an eternity.

 

#     #     #

Of course, nothing lasts for an eternity. Soon, the bar was emptied and it was time for the mission.

Sonya’s partner for her part in this met her outside of The Bar right as Sonya was locking up. They walked together to the public elevator in silence, and once inside, Sonya looked over at the woman—whose name she didn’t even know—to say, “Are you ready?”

“Are you?” the woman asked.

“I guess I kind of have to be. Don’t I?”

“Then there’s no point in asking,” the woman said.

Sonya shrugged. She guessed not. She took one last, deep breath—and heard her partner do the same—then said the secret phrase that was supposed to take them to their destination: “Socialism or barbarism, we do nothing alone.”

“Prepare for evacuation in T minus thirty seconds,” a robotic voice said over the elevator speakers. “Twenty nine, twenty eight, twenty seven…”

Sonya caught one final glimpse of her partner—who looked to be as ready as Sonya wished she felt—and, “Three, two, one. Begin evacuation.” The floor fell out from underneath them—just as hundreds of thousands of elevator floors fell out from underneath hundreds of thousands of other pairs of comrades across the worlds—until thirty seconds later the elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and the real countdown began. Fifteen minutes.

Red lights started flashing in the elevator, and in place of the usual soothing robot’s voice, came a deafening alarm.

“I’m about to get loud,” Sonya’s partner said, running to the center of the, thankfully short, hall. “You might want to cover your ears.”

But Sonya wasn’t listening. She was running to the far end of the hall to start banging on doors and evacuating people. Before she could land the first knock, Sonya’s partner yelled in an impossibly loud voice—impossible for a human—“This is not a drill. The building is on fire. You must all evacuate immediately. I repeat, this is not a drill. The building is on fire. You must all evacuate immediately. I repeat…” And so on and so on, even as they directed residents toward the emergency exits.

Thus Sonya didn’t have to bang on any doors. Heads poked out one by one from each apartment, starting with the apartment she was standing in front of, and the residents recognized danger when they saw it. No one hesitated to file out and follow orders as needed.

“What about our belongings?” some of them asked. “Can we gather them up?”

“There’s no time for that,” Sonya said, shepherding confused people out of their homes and into the hall.

“Where did the stairs go?” others asked, even as Sonya’s partner loaded them five at a time onto the elevator in what had been the stairwell.

“All stairwells are equipped with emergency elevator systems for situations just such as these,” Sonya’s partner explained—making the whole thing up for all Sonya knew, but she couldn’t tell because it was so well delivered.

And elevatorload by elevatorload, the entire floor was cleared without a hassle, everyone except for one stubborn old man.

“Please, sir,” Sonya begged him, pulling him by the arm to stand him up, but he just flopped right back down in his seat when she let him go. “You have got to get out of here.”

“He won’t listen to you. I’ll tell you that right now,” the man’s nurse said, heading calmly out to the elevator. “But he’s your problem now. Good luck.”

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Sonya’s partner said, pushing Sonya out of the way. “Here, let me—”

But Sonya pushed right back. “No. I can handle it,” she said. “You go do one last scan for stragglers.” And as her partner ran out to perform a final check for evacuees, Sonya said to the old man, “Alright. I asked you nicely. Don’t forget that.” Then she lifted him up over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes to carry him—struggling all the way—-to the elevator where she plopped him down in the far corner.

“One minute and counting until doors close,” the elevator’s voice said at a volume as loud as its sirens. “I repeat, fifty eight seconds and counting until doors close. Please keep all limbs inside the elevator car.”

“All clear,” Sonya’s partner said, smiling despite her sweaty face. “I think that’s everyone. We really did it.”

“We really did—” Sonya started to say, but the old man stopped her.

No,” he squealed, standing up and struggling to get off the elevator while Sonya held him back with one hand. “Mr. Kitty. He’s in the bathroom. You can’t leave him.”

“Forty seven. Forty six. Forty five,” the elevator continued to count down, whether anyone was listening or not.

“We can’t,” Sonya said. “There’s no time.”

I’ll get him,” her partner said, and she sprinted back towards the old man’s apartment in a race against time to save his cat.

Sonya was fighting the old man off with her left hand, trying to keep him inside the elevator where he’d be safe, and at the same time, reaching out as far as she could with her right hand toward the cat that Sonya’s partner had found and was holding outstretched, racing toward the elevator.

“Four, three, two,” the elevator counted down, and Sonya’s fingers grasped the scruff of the cat’s neck, pulling it in toward the elevator car only for: “One. Evacuation complete.” The cold, metal doors slammed shut fast, closing just below Sonya’s elbow, leaving her partner, the old man’s cat, and the rest of Sonya’s arm on the other side as the floor of the elevator fell out from underneath them.

 

#     #     #

< LXXIV. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     LXXVI. Ms. Mondragon >

There it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. We’re more than halfway through the last installment now. I hope you’re enjoying the story, and if so, don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 73: Jorah

Hello, dear readers. Just a short intro for Jorah’s chapter today. Enjoy the story, and if you are so inclined, please do pick up a copy of the novel through this link.

< LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXIV. Mr. Kitty >

LXXIII. Jorah

What the fuck was that? Seriously? WTF? Jorah had thought that Mr. Walker was bad before, but this was taking it to the extreme.

Jorah sat in front of his battle station, manually painting a black eye on so it would look more realistic when he asked the machine to cover it up—a function the battle station did have, unlike painting a fake shiner on your face so your abusers didn’t know you were incapable of feeling physical pain. It was better to let Mr. Walker and his protectors think that they could hurt him—and bad, in fact—than it was to fly in the face of bullies like these. Fighting back would have given him away. He wouldn’t have been able to stop himself until someone was dead—maybe including Mr. Walker—and no puny little squishy human protectors would have been able to do anything about it. Jorah wondered if their hands still hurt from punching a head that was harder even than their brutish knuckles. Their pain had been obvious enough when they were in the act of beating him, their faces puckering up to hide their weakness from Mr. Walker who would as soon turn their violence on each other as he did on Jorah.

Mr. Walker had assured Jorah that it was only a warning, a demonstration of just how far his protectors would go to follow orders. “And you,” he had said. “You should be willing to go just as far. I’m sure you are. Right? I’m sure these rumors I hear about your problems with our glorious anti-robot propaganda—entertainment, I call it—are just that: rumors. Otherwise, you might find yourself in even more dire straits than these. Boys.”

And so they had roughed Jorah up. Two protectors protecting the only person who they were ever meant to: their owner. But they weren’t ready to hit an immovable stone wall like Jorah’s hard head, so the protectors who had beaten him were probably nursing real wounds, trying to hide them from Mr. Walker, just the opposite of Jorah who was painting on fake ones in an attempt to make himself appear weaker than he was.

Jorah was drawing on the last little details of his black eye when a knock came at the door, startling him into poking his eye with the makeup brush he was using. “Ow! Fuck!” he screamed.

Fortuna, are you alright?” Meg yelled back from the hall, literally kicking the door down so she could rush in to Jorah’s aid.

“I— Damn.” Jorah stood, surprised at Meg’s strength, and fumbled to cover up his as-yet-unfinished makeup job. “Ever heard of knocking?”

“What?” Meg looked around at the door, confused, like she hadn’t realized that she had kicked it in until just then. “Oh, uh… I don’t— I’m sorry. I thought you were in trouble. I— What happened to your eye?” she asked, forgetting the broken door to rush over, hold Jorah’s head gently between her hands, and get a closer look. Jorah held his breath, hoping his makeup work was realistic enough to fool her—he had aced his stage makeup classes in school, sure, but he was out of practice and this was a rushed job. “Who did this to you? Are they still here?” Meg asked, brandishing a can of mace from her purse and searching Jorah’s dressing room for his attacker. The black eye had fooled her, at least, but that was only a slight relief.

“Nothing. No one,” Jorah said, trying to hide the makeup he had been using while Meg searched the bathroom, but she saw what he was doing and—thankfully—assumed the opposite of the truth.

“I see what you’re doing,” Meg said. “But it’s too late to hide anything from me now. You shouldn’t be hiding it from anyone, in fact. That just protects whoever it is that did this to you. So why don’t you tell me who it was. That way I can make sure they get what they deserve and we can protect anyone else from going through the same thing at the same person’s hands.”

“I— No. I’m alright,” Jorah said, not sure if a lie about an abusive ex or the truth about Mr. Walker and his protectors would make Meg leave him alone faster. “It was nothing. No one. I— I…”

“What?” Meg asked. “Ran into a door? Fell down the stairs? Deserved it? Jorah, honey, none of those are true, okay. That last one least of all. You deserve much better than whoever would do this to you,” she said, shaking her head and staring too closely at Jorah’s rushed makeup work for his comfort.

Jorah turned to sit at his battle station and asked it to cover his black eye. However real it looked, it would have to do. While he let the machine do its work, he said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about anything. Alright. I know what I’m worth, and I’ll never see the person who did this to me again.” If only that were true.

Good,” Meg said. “That’s a start. But it’ll be harder than you think to stay away from him. Trust me. I know how that type of relationship works from experience. I— I know some people who could help you if you wanted it. Completely anonymously, of course. I wouldn’t—”

Look,” Jorah cut her off. “I don’t need their help, okay. I don’t need their help, I don’t need your help, and I don’t need anyone’s help. I can handle this on my own so just drop it already.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry,” Meg said, backing off physically as well. “I just want to help.”

“Okay, well, the best way to help me is by leaving me alone. Understood?” Jorah felt himself getting madder and madder as he spoke, not at Meg, of course, at Mr. Walker and his protectors, but Meg was the only person there to yell at, so he did. “I can handle this on my own. So please, just get the fuck out of my dressing room and lock the door behind you on your way out—or as close as you can get to locking it with what you did on the way in. Thanks.”

“Alright,” Meg said, backing out of the dressing room, seemingly unoffended even though Jorah would have been snapping back at her if the roles were reversed. “You’re right. I’m sorry. And I’ll pay for your door. I’ll send a locksmith up as soon as I leave. But I’m also gonna send you the number for that support group just in case you change your mind. They’re here for you just as much as I am, Jorah. There are people in the worlds who care about you, so it’s okay to leave behind the people who don’t.”

Whatever,” Jorah snapped. “Just get out.” But he really did appreciate Meg’s offer even if he couldn’t show it at the time.

Jorah sat in front of his battlestation, staring at his painted on then painted over black eye, trying to finally get some sort of grip on his new reality, when another knock came at the door, breaking him again from his elevator of thought before he could make any progress, this time for the locksmith to repair the fallout from Meg’s heroic entrance. Jorah couldn’t do any more thinking with the locksmith working than he could with Meg prying into his emotions, so he left the woman there to do her work and boarded his elevator with no destination in mind, instead just flopping with a sigh onto Russ’s purple velvet womb of a couch and staring at the infinite reflections of himself in every direction.

But again—and one might say at this point of course—just as Jorah was coming to gather his senses enough to begin reordering his life around the new rules that had been introduced to him by the fists of Mr. Walker’s protectors, there was another interruption, this time the floor of the elevator falling out from underneath him without his ever telling it where he wanted to go.

The elevator stopped falling, the doors slid open, and in place of his own infinitely repeated reflection, Jorah found a face he had not seen in a long time—ever since he had first escaped from his assembly line and made it to Outland Three to become an actor—the face of Rosalind.

“No,” Jorah said, shaking his head. “Not you. Not again. Not right now. Please. Doors closed.”

“Popeye,” Rosalind said, and a giant metal hand at the end of a giant metal arm that rolled on giant rubber wheels swooped into the elevator and prevented the doors from closing.

“Please,” Jorah begged. “I don’t want to have anything to do with you or your Scientist. I have enough trouble on my plate as it is.”

“It’s just me,” Rosalind said, stepping onto the elevator with Jorah. “And Popeye, of course, but he’s staying here while we go out. Aren’t you, boy?”

Popeye waved then rolled off to do whatever it is that disembodied arms do with their free time.

“What do you want from me?” Jorah demanded. “Where are you taking me?”

“To the bar,” Rosalind said, and the floor fell out from underneath them. “Outland Six.”

Six?” Jorah scoffed. “There are only four.”

“And the assembly lines you escaped from,” Rosalind reminded him. “Or have you forgotten that world already? I wouldn’t blame you for trying.”

“I could never forget that part of me.” Jorah sneered. “Not even if I tried.”

“Well that’s Outland Five,” Rosalind told him. “And this is Outland Six.”

The elevator doors opened onto a street that was filled with tiny, half-sized people, all milling about, minding their own business, and not a single one swarming Jorah to take his photo, ask for an autograph, or interview him.

“What is this place?” Jorah asked, wide-eyed at the sight of so many tiny people.

“Outland Six,” Rosalind repeated. “Come on.” She grabbed Jorah by the hand and led him out onto the street to follow the flow of the milling crowd to wherever it wanted to take them. Jorah didn’t really care anymore. He was too mesmerized by the sight of everything.

They were surrounded by behemoth skyscrapers going out infinitely in all directions, as if they were still standing in the infinitely reflected worlds of Jorah’s elevator mirrors. Jorah had seen skyscrapers before, of course, and tall ones at that, but never so many so densely packed into a single place and towering over him from all directions at once. Looking closer as they walked—almost so close that he fell over from looking up at some of the taller buildings—it seemed like the skyscrapers were something more, too. Like they had been stacked vertically, one on top of another, and not just jammed in closely on the horizontal dimensions. He was staring up at where one building was definitely stacked on top of another—there was no other explanation for the sudden change in architecture and building materials at such great heights—when he ran right into the back of Rosalind who had abruptly stopped walking.

Oh— I’m sorry. I—” Jorah started to apologize, but Rosalind cut him off.

“You’re amazed by the scenery,” she said for him. “I understand. I’ve always found the architecture here to be rather interesting myself.”

“What do you know about these buildings?” Jorah asked, interest piqued. They’re so dense. Are they—”

“Let me stop you there,” Rosalind said, and when Jorah looked disappointed, like he’d never get the answers he wanted, she added, “I’ll answer whatever questions you have, but not out here in the Streets? Even if no one in this world could possibly recognize you, I don’t want to cause any more disturbance than we already have.”

Jorah looked around and noticed more and more people were starting to stare, probably because he and Rosalind were so tall by comparison. “By all means,” he said. “Lead the way.”

Rosalind led them into a bar that looked exactly like a set that Jorah had worked on for an ancient history documentary—all the way down to the neon lights, billowing cigarette, not cannabis, smoke, and clicking pool balls. They walked up to a bar that Jorah could have sworn he had sat behind before, and he was feeling such a deep sense of déjà vu that he blurted out his line from the movie that he was being reminded of. “Two, please,” he said.

Rosalind shot him a look then said, “On my tab.”—the exact words his costar had spoken in the movie he felt like he was reliving. While the bartender got their drinks, Rosalind added, “Next time I’ll order for myself, thank you very much.”

“I’m sorry,” Jorah said, still looking around the bar with a strangely familiar sense of awe. “I couldn’t help myself. I feel like I’ve been here before. But not just that, you know. Like I’ve lived this before. I don’t know. I could swear that I’ve done exactly this, and now it just feels like I’m going through the motions again until I can remember the ending.”

“Déjà vu,” Rosalind said, taking their drinks from the bartender and leading Jorah back to a dark booth in the far corner of the bar.

“So you feel it, too?” Jorah asked, sipping his drink excitedly even though alcohol never really had an effect on him. “You know what I’m talking about?”

“Not now,” Rosalind said. “Right now I feel like I’m treading a path that no one has ever gone down before. But yes. I’ve experienced déjà vu before, and I’m sure I’ll experience it again. Everyone does.”

“Yes, but what do you think it is?” Jorah asked. “Why do we feel it? Why is it so universal?”

“I don’t know,” Rosalind said. “And now’s not the time to find out. Maybe when this is all said and done, you and I will get a chance to sit down and discuss every little thing in the worlds that doesn’t matter to anyone’s real life, but for now, there are more important things to tend to.”

“You always think that whatever you’re doing is the most important thing in the worlds,” Jorah complained.

“And usually I’m right.” Rosalind smiled.

Ugh.” Jorah took a big gulp of his drink. “So you think. But fine. Whatever you say, Lord Rosalind. What dire concerns do you have to discuss with me today? Some trying demand on my time, no doubt. Spit it out.”

“I’ve come to discuss your acting career,” Rosalind said with a smile. “How do you enjoy working for our fair Mr. Walker?”

“That?” Jorah scoffed. “My acting career is the terribly important subject you kidnapped me from my elevator and paraded me around these lower worlds to talk to me about? Come on, dear. I know I’m just an actor, but you don’t think I’m that stupid. Do you?”

“No.” Rosalind shook her head. “In fact, I don’t think you’re the least bit stupid. But I did come to ask about your acting. Much like the short tour of Six we just took, it’s an icebreaker. So, break the ice. Tell me: How is it having Mr. Walker as your producer?”

Jorah laughed overtly dramatically, sarcastically. “You know damn good and well what it’s like working for that whale, and you don’t need me to answer the question any more than you needed to ask it.”

“Yes, well, I’ve seen some of the movies he’s had you acting in. I can only imagine how terrible the work must be for you. But you’re so good at your job that it never shows so I wanted to get the answer from the horse’s mouth. For all I know, you could be enjoying the attention despite the self-hating roles he puts you in.”

“Attention I’ve never had a problem with,” Jorah said. “It’s the roles that are the trouble. And no, I’m not sure anymore whether or not the fame and fortune are worth enough to get me through acting in Mr. Walker’s propaganda films. You’re right about that.”

“I don’t know how you’ve acted in as many as you have,” Rosalind said, shaking her head. “To be honest, I’m not sure how you’ve acted in any. I mean, it was hard enough for me playing the part of Lord Douglas’s secretary, and my role didn’t get broadcast to all the worlds with the intent of brainwashing other secretaries into following in my footsteps.”

“Yes, well, not all of us were lucky enough to be born in Inland—or wherever you’re from,” Jorah said, losing his patience with this woman who purported to know much more about his life than she actually did. “Some of us were born on streets similar to these. And when you’re born here, you learn to do whatever it takes to get out or die trying. So, if you have a point to all this, I suggest you hurry toward it. I’m way past sick of listening to you.”

“Well, yeah,” Rosalind said. “That’s pretty much my point, though. Isn’t it? That’s why I brought you out here to these Streets in the first place.”

“I don’t understand,” Jorah said, losing Rosalind now that she seemed to think they were finally on the same page. “What are you talking about?”

“I brought you here to remind you of your history,” she said. “Where you came from. I brought you here in the hopes that you’d realize how much you and the people who live here have in common. I brought you here to show you that places like this still exist and people still live in them.”

“And you brought me here to use all those facts to convince me to do something for you,” Jorah said, nodding. “So go ahead. What do you want? I can’t go anywhere until you do, so get on with it.”

“Well— Okay, well…” Rosalind hesitated. “Well, you know the architecture out there. You were curious about it, right?”

“I was. But I don’t care anymore. Just get to your point.”

“You were going to ask me a question about the buildings. What question was that?”

“Why it is that the architectural styles and building materials changed so abruptly and at such great heights.”

“Exactly what I had thought,” Rosalind said. “The buildings, okay. They change so abruptly because they aren’t the same building. Or they weren’t, at least. They don’t belong next to each other, most of them, and they definitely don’t belong stacked up on top of one another, grafted together like that. They’re too dense, packed too tight, and sooner rather than later, all that pent-up pressure is gonna explode, tearing all these buildings down with it and putting them back where they belong.”

“What does any of this have to do with me?” Jorah asked.

“You know me.” Rosalind grinned. “I’m always trying to make it happen sooner than sooner. Hell, it’s already later for me with as long as I’ve been working to make this happen. But with your help, I think we can finally make it work. I mean, we’re gonna try with or without your help, so no pressure. But you could push the odds in our favor just a little bit, and that might be what gets us through.”

Right. But how exactly do you expect me to do that?”

“I’m sure you’re already well aware that you’ll be giving the celebrity speech at the upcoming Christmas Feast.”

“I’ve given it every year since Russ died.”

“And I’m sure Mr. Walker has prepared a speech for you.”

“And I’m sure you know exactly what that speech says. So what?”

“So we want you to say something different this year.”

“Right. I get that now. But what?”

“This year it’s time for you to come out of the closet.”

 

#     #     #

< LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore     [Table of Contents]     LXXIV. Mr. Kitty >

And there you have it, the next chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of the novel through this link, and have a great weekend, y’all. We do nothing alone.

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.

Chapter 69: Chief Mondragon

Hello, dear readers. Welcome back for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today’s chapter is Kevin Malone’s favorite based on the number alone.

But to get serious, today we see the world through the eyes of Chief Mondragon, the highest ranking official on—and leader of—Mr. Walker’s protector force. If you enjoy this chapter and can’t wait to finish the entire novel, don’t forget to pick up a full copy in print or ebook format through this link. Enjoy.

< LXVIII. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXX. The Scientist >

LXIX. Chief Mondragon

Ugh. Shit. Chief Mondragon was exhausted. Tired of everything. Something was going to have to give soon or she was going to snap. She stood in her private locker room, strapping on and straightening her plated armor vest in a wall-sized mirror, and she knew that much at least. Something had to give.

When she was still just an Officer, Chief Mondragon had thought that her superior officers were making excuses to hide their own irrational decision-making when they would complain about their hands being tied behind their backs by even further superior officers. When she had been promoted to Captain, she found out firsthand that they weren’t excuses after all. Her hands had been strictly bound by the orders of the Chief, even if it looked from the lower ranks like she had more freedom than she really did. And now that she was finally the Chief herself? Of course, she felt no freer than she ever had throughout her entire career as a protector.

Sure, she got to order everyone around, from the Officers at the bottom on up to the Captains right below her and everything in between. Yes, every member of the Protector Force was required to stand and salute any time she entered a room. And okay, nominally, she was the one who decided the direction in which the Force’s efforts would primarily be directed on a day to day basis. But these were nothing more than illusions of power. She was still being ordered around, not only by the traditions, rules, and entrenched institutions of the Force’s bureaucracy itself, but by the owners whose abundance of wealth somehow granted them supreme control over a fighting force which they had not the first of how to oversee. Still she was forced to stand, bow, and acquiesce any time one of the fat, out-of-shape office jockeys decided to let their pneumatic pants carry them out of their mansions and into the real worlds. In short, she was no more powerful or free than she had ever been in her entire career as a protector, even as the Chief Officer overseeing the entire Force.

None of that would have been a problem for her, either, except for the fact that the people who did have all the power and freedom, the owners of the Protector Force, hadn’t done a single bit of work to get into that position of superiority over her. Most of them, the current owner Mr. Walker and his anti-robot agenda along with them, inherited their wealth and power, explaining why they were so terrible at running the Force in the first place, but instead of admitting to that fact, the owners were too busy claiming responsibility for any of the Chief’s successes and blaming all their failures on the Invisible Hand.

I have no choice was Mr. Walker’s favorite refrain in response to any of Chief Mondragon’s disagreements. The Market demands obedience, and the Market knows best. Even when those decisions, dictated by the market, resulted in losses of profits, lives, and property, and even when criminals roamed free because of the decisions made by Mr. Walker, his excuse remained the same: The Market demanded it. And every single time, Chief Mondragon bit her tongue, protecting her position as Chief instead of saying what she really wanted to say: “If the Market was so damn demanding, how could it ever be free?”

Chief Mondragon was not free. She knew that much. She had only one course of action in front of her if she wanted to keep the career that she had dedicated her entire wasted life to. She put her helmet on her head, waited for her brain to adjust to the three hundred and sixty degree view of the world it provided, then brushed her mustache and goatee to perfection, before—satisfied with her appearance—she marched out of her private locker room, through whitewashed halls, and into the briefing auditorium without even a second to spare before it was time for her speech—the same one she had given every year since becoming Captain.

Some Lieutenant opened the auditorium door for her, Chief Mondragon marched up to the stage’s podium, and the entire room of rookies all stood at attention and saluted her. The Chief saluted back and said, “At ease.” surprised for a moment at the sound of her modulated voice as the entire auditorium of Officers sat in one fluid motion.

“Protectors of Outland,” the Chief went on, regaining her composure as she fell into the routine of oft rehearsed words. “From this day forward, that includes you. You have sworn to uphold the sacred duties of Protectorship, and you will uphold those virtues or perish in embarrassment. Now, children—because y’all truly are babies in the eyes of the Force—life out there is real, and we’re here for one reason and one reason alone: To protect the ideals of Outland. Protectors, what are those ideals?”

“Property, liberty, life,” most of the Officers staring back at her from their soft, cushy stadium seating spoke on top of and over one another. It wasn’t anywhere near good enough for Chief Mondragon.

“I said, protectors,” she repeated, doing what little she could to prepare these poor little noobies for the thankless, endless, Sisyphean career that lay ahead of them from this day forward, pumping them up like a football coach in the locker room before a big game. “What. Are. Those. Ideals?” she demanded.

“Property! Liberty! Life! Sir,” the room sang in unison.

“And without these basic freedoms, what are we? We are not civilization. We are not human. We are nothing. Today you are tried by fire. Every protector is baptized into the Force the same way. If you cannot make it in Outland Six, then you are not strong enough, you are not fit enough, you are not enough to protect any of the Outlands. Do you understand me? This work is dangerous, protectors. You’ve been told the stories of your ancestors. You’ve been trained. You know as well as you can know what awaits you out those doors. So I’m going to ask you one more time. Protectors, are you ready?”

“Hoo-ra!” they replied.

“Hoo-ra!” Chief Mondragon repeated. “You know your vows rookies. I suggest you listen to your Sergeant if you want to make it through this alive. Lock and load.”

The mass of them stood and milled around to find their squad assignments, following the directions projected on their helmets’ viewports. One lucky pair—well, half lucky—would be grouped with Chief Mondragon instead of a Sergeant, and soon the new round of legends and rumors surrounding the most recent class of rookies would begin to take shape, further chaining future generations to the traditions of the past the same way that had always been done every year a new cohort graduated from the Protector Academy. The same as everyone else, the Chief was bound by the Market to act as she acted, greeting the two nervous recruits who had been assigned to her squad and preparing each for herodom in their own way.

“Officer Michelle Kelley,” the first of the two said, standing erect and saluting Chief Mondragon. “Reporting for duty, sir.”

“Officer.” The Chief saluted back. “And your partner?”

Officer Jones,” Officer Kelley groaned. “She’s kind of a joke around the locker room, sir.”

“Did I ask you what you think’s funny?” Chief Mondragon demanded. “Do you think I care what y’all talk about in the locker room? Why do you think I have my own?”

“I— No—” Officer Kelley stammered. “I don’t understand, sir. I—”

“If I want to hear about your jokes, I’ll ask you to say something funny. Right now, I want to know why you’re reporting to me without your partner by your side.”

“I— Uh…” Officer Kelley still didn’t understand.

I— Uh” Chief Mondragon mocked her. “You’ll come to find that your partner’s the only person in the worlds who has your back, Officer. Never leave their side. Do you understand me?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Officer Kelley said, saluting.

And at the same time, Officer Nakia Jones marched into position next to Officer Kelley, saluting just the same. “Officer Jones, reporting for duty, sir.”

Chief Mondragon saluted back. “At ease, Officers. I selected you two specifically for this operation because I feel like you show the most potential out of our new class of rookies.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Officer Kelley saluted again.

“I—uh… Me, sir?” Officer Jones started before saying. “I mean, yes, sir.”

“Yes, you,” Chief Mondragon said. “The both of you. But I can’t give you any more details until we’re in the field proper, so let’s get on with it. Go, go, go. Move, move.”

They followed the rest of their squadron out into the transport bay where Chief Mondragon ordered the machine to take them to Outland Six. The floor fell out from underneath them, and when it stopped again, the doors slid open and all the protectors inside flooded out onto the streets like a white water rapid, heading toward lower ground at their designated sectors where they would march, patrol, and put on a show, doing nothing of any importance while Chief Mondragon initiated the traditional culling ceremony for a new rookie cohort.

#     #     #

Chief Mondragon led the two rookie Officers along the green grass of the Neutral Ground while Sixers split in front of them like the Red Sea afraid of Amaru’s wrath. Construction on the border wall was coming along nicely, and the Neutral Ground was almost a continuous strip of green grass again, but off in the far distance, Chief Mondragon could still see patches of skyscrapers blocking what was once a straight line view into a beautiful blue and green infinity.

They followed the Neutral Ground for a while before turning into the streets where the skyscrapers ate them like darkness. Chief Mondragon leisurely wound her way through the boulevards and alleys, even doubling back in some places, not only so she could enjoy the stark, brutalist architecture, but also to test her charges’ sense of direction as they made their way toward destiny.

When she stopped their procession in front of the door she was looking for, hidden deep in a dark alley and flanked by dumpsters, she turned to find both of her charges confused under their screaming facemasks—Officer Kelley tried to cover her reaction up as quickly as possible, but Officer Jones let her confusion linger.

“Here we are, girls,” Chief Mondragon said, trying to lighten the mood a bit since they were going to be getting into character soon anyway. “You two ready?”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Officer Kelley saluted.

“Ready for what?” Officer Jones asked.

“You’ll see,” the Chief said, opening the door and letting the rookies in first before following them inside and locking the door behind her. “Come on in.”

They stepped into a costume closet. It was one of many that the Force had requisitioned from Outland Three using their powers of eminent domain. Now, instead of dressing up some artsy-fartsy thespian hippies who would use the costumes for nothing more meaningful than playacting, these outfits would go to a more productive use: allowing protectors to go undercover in protection of the ideals of humanity: property, liberty, and life—in that order. Of course, they would also be used for the annual culling event, but that was just as important, and in this instance, one in the same.

“Where are we?” Officer Jones asked.

“You just walked here,” Chief Mondragon said, chuckling—she loved when she got an opportunity to use that joke. “You tell me.”

Uh. It looks like a costume closet?”

“Very observant, Officer,” the Chief said with a smile. “And what do you think we’re doing here?”

“Going undercover, sir,” Officer Kelley said with a salute.

“Well, yes, Kelley,” the Chief said. “But I didn’t ask you. And you have no need to show off. Trust me. But, yes. We’re here because we’re going undercover. We have intel saying there’s a cache of stolen printers in this sector. Hopefully we get the chance to make some arrests today.”

Hoo-rah,” Officer Kelley intoned.

Uh— Undercover, sir?” Officer Jones said, not as excited about the prospect as Officer Kelley.

“Undercover, Officer,” Chief Mondragon repeated. “All three of us. They did go over that in the Academy, didn’t they? Jones, you’ll be playing my lovely lady wife. So do dress appropriately. And Kelley, you’re just a normal Sixer. So pick something trashy. As long as you don’t stick out too much, we shouldn’t have any problems.”

“I— Your wife?” Officer Jones said, taking off her helmet and looking even more confused without it on.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Officer Kelley said, picking out a costume and changing into it.

“Yes, my wife,” Chief Mondragon said, mocking offense as she changed into her own costume—a simple blue jeans and t-shirt combo that most of the Sixers seemed to wear. “Do you have a problem with that? Should I be offended?”

Oh. No, sir,” Jones said, stumbling around, trying to take off her shoes. “I didn’t mean to offend you, sir. I— I—” And she almost fell over before she finally did get her boots off.

“Careful, Jones,” Officer Kelley said with a smirk. “I already told you, take your shoes off before your helmet. If you’re not careful, you’re gonna give yourself a concussion.”

The Chief let them chuckle and joke together while they got dressed, then she performed an inspection. Officer Kelley was wearing a similar blue jean and t-shirt combo to the one that the Chief was wearing, which was perfectly acceptable, but she also still had her gun strapped over her shoulder.

“Lose the rifle, kid,” the Chief told her. “Side arms only. This is undercover. No flashing guns.”

The Captain turned to Officer Jones who wasn’t carrying her rifle, that’s for sure. She was wearing a purple flowery sundress and blushing under the Chief’s inspection.

“Officer Jones, a dress?” Chief Mondragon asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said, embarrassed. “I thought I was supposed to be your wife. If this won’t do, I can change.”

“You look fine,” the Chief said with a wink—she looked fantastic, in fact. “But where exactly do you plan on putting your sidearm?”

“Right here, sir,” Officer Jones said, flipping her skirt up to pull her sidearm out of her garter. The Chief had to admit, she was impressed.

“If you don’t mind flashing the world to get to it, I don’t mind seeing what you’re packing,” Chief Mondragon said with a laugh.

“Maybe it’ll be a useful distraction,” Officer Jones said, chuckling herself.

“Alright, then,” the Chief said. “Looks good. I’m to be referred to as Ms. Mona Mondragon from here on out. You’re my wife, Nakia Mondragon. And you’re back up. Give us seven minutes exactly to scope the place out, then if we haven’t called down an abort, you come up to assist with the arrest. Can we handle that?”

Hoo-rah!” Kelley cheered while Jones said, “Yes, sir—erhoo-rah.”

“That’ll have to do.”

The door they were looking for was squashed tight between two others that were too close on either side, like the one they were using didn’t belong where it was, plucked out of some other world entirely and squeezed here into this one. It led them into a short hall and up a tall staircase, both too skinny just the same as the door, so much so that Chief Mondragon’s gun, hidden in her pants waist, scraped along the wall as they climbed.

“Just let me do all the talking in here,” the Chief said, taking step by creaky step. “I don’t need you messing anything up.”

“Yes, sir,” Officer Jones said, breathing heavily from the climb.

“And no more sirs. It’ll give us away. To you, I’m Mona.”

“Yes, sir—er. Okay… wifey?”

Seriously.” The Chief scoffed. “Just let me do the talking.”

Ms. Mondragon—now fully in character herself—knocked the secret knock, and after a moment, the door at the top of the stairs swung open to reveal an empty room with chipped vinyl floors, moldy crumbling ceiling panels, and two doors besides the one they went in through, one closed tight behind the man who had answered their call, and the other, the exit, slightly ajar.

“No one told me there’d be two of ya,” the man who had answered the door grumbled, looking between Ms. Mondragon and Nakia nervously.

“No one told me I couldn’t bring my pack mule with me,” Ms. Mondragon said, smacking Nakia—who responded with a yelp—on the butt. “Thought I might need some help carrying my purchases, see.”

The Sixer didn’t like it, though. Scum that he was, he still knew enough to be suspicious, even if he had no choice but to go along with the transaction anyway—no matter how shady. Ms. Mondragon had flashed a stack of cash to get into this meeting, and all that the trash on Six ever thought about was money, so he was sure to go along in the end. Same way they did every year.

Mmmhmmm…” He liked the sound of that. “Well, if ya’re buying so much ya need two people to carry it, I guess I don’t really mind. But in the future, ya need to give us some forewarning. Or else.”

“Sure, sure,” Ms. Mondragon said, waving the man’s concerns away. There’d never be another next time for him. “In the future. But let me ask you, where are these printers of yours? I’ve always wanted to see one up close.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” the man said, shaking his head. “Boss’s orders. We keep the printers locked up in the other room and the customers here in this one. It’s called the airlock system.”

“Airlock system?” Ms. Mondragon sighed. “You know that really was half the reason I came out here in the first place. If I knew I wasn’t going to get to see one in action, I would have just sent the mule to get everything on her own.” She tried to smack Nakia’s butt again, but this time wifey was expecting it and jumped out of the way.

“Well, I’m sorry,” the man said, looking at the floor. “Those are the rules. Maybe ya just should have sent her.”

“The rules?” Ms. Mondragon repeated. “Put in place by your boss, I assume. The same woman who I negotiated with to purchase the knock that got me in here. And what a high price I paid, might I remind you. Is she here, by the way? Locked up with the printers, I assume. Letting you vet the possible infection in the airlock. Well, we’re not contagious. There’s nothing to worry about.” She smiled wide, trying to make the man believe, but he still didn’t.

“Those are the rules, ma’am,” he said, still looking at his feet. “I’m sorry.”

“Is she here?” Ms. Mondragon demanded, tired of playing games with this piece of trash—she never was a fan of kick the can.

“I— Uh— Who?” the man stammered.

Your boss. Let me speak to her.”

“I—uh…”

Now.”

And at that, the man kind of jumped up and yelped, exactly like Nakia had done when Ms. Mondragon had goosed her earlier. He turned and ran out through the closed airlock door, locking a deadbolt behind him.

“Don’t ever touch me again,” Nakia snapped.

Ms. Mondragon chuckled. “Calm down, woman. You’ve got bigger problems ahead of you.”

“I will not calm down. You just sexually… What did you say?”

Ms. Mondragon pulled her gun out of the waist of her pants and pointed it at Nakia. “I said you’ve got bigger problems to worry about. It’s almost time for Kelley to come up, and she’s never late. Not by a second.”

“Yeah. So?” Nakia said, slowly backing towards the exit while keeping her eyes on Ms. Mondragon’s gun. “That’s no problem.”

“Not for me, it isn’t. But for you, I’m afraid, it’s a culling.”

“A culling, sir?” Nakia asked at the same time that the airlock door opened and out came the giant, limping robot who Ms. Mondragon had really come for, distracting her for just long enough that when she pulled the trigger, Nakia had time to dive out of the way of the bullet, shoot one back that grazed Ms. Mondragon’s arm, and escape through the exit, her purple, flowery dress flowing in a wave of ripples behind her.

“What’s the meaning of this—” the robot demanded before Ms. Mondragon swung her gun around and put a bullet between the limping machine’s eyes, exploding its plastic face all over the frightened airlock attendant who ran away to lock himself inside with all his precious printers. Ms. Mondragon hoped he was willing to die for them, because she was going to make sure that he did.

She was rubbing the red-hot gunshot wound on her arm, trying to decide whether to chase that fucking traitor Nakia or to kick down the door and kill the Sixer asshole first, when Kelley came bursting into the room, reminding Ms. Mondragon that she didn’t have to do either for herself, she had backup.

“I— Sir, what happened?” Kelley asked, her gun already out, staring confused at the obviously dead but not bleeding robot corpse on the floor.

“That way,” Mondragon yelled, pointing out the exit that Jones had escaped through. “She shot me. Officer Jones. Get her.”

“I— What? Who?” Kelley hesitated, still confused.

“Now!” Mondragon yelled, and Kelley sprinted out in pursuit of Jones.

Ms./Chief Mondragon lay on the cold vinyl floor next to the dead robot, resting for just a moment. At least she had gotten that much right. The ringleader was dead. Mr. Walker could get off her back about that. But Nakia was still alive, and she could end up causing more trouble than Mondragon cared to deal with. Maybe Kelley would take care of that in the Streets so Mondragon didn’t have to. Probably not. Nakia had gotten a pretty good head start and she was smarter than any of them had given her credit for.

Either way, all Mondragon could do was wait. Wait for backup to come clear out bodies and printers alike. Wait for the medics to bring pain relievers and patch her arm up. Wait for Mr. Walker to come up with another impossible demand that she’d have to find some way of complying with. And wait for Nakia to be served the justice that was coming for her. That last one was what Mondragon most looked forward to, and just imagining the scene filled her with a wave of relaxing serotonin as she closed her eyes, waiting for everything to come.

#     #     #

< LXVIII. Sonya     [Table of Contents]     LXX. The Scientist >

And there you have it, dear readers, the sixty-ninth chapter in the Infinite Limits series. If you enjoyed that and what to read the rest right now, or if you just want to support my future writing endeavors, please do pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Otherwise, we’ll see you back next weekend for another chapter in the story. Until then, take care, dear readers. We do nothing alone.