Chapter 78: Haley

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

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

LXXVIII. Haley

 Fuck or else.

Right?

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

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

Right?

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or else what?” Elen asked.

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

Or else what?” Elen demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’d Rosalind go?” Haley asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who are you?” Lord Douglas demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pop pop.

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

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

The old woman fired in their direction, too.

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

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

Because fuck or else.

 

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 77: The Scientist

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

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

LXXVII. The Scientist

0.NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Kitty purred, still licking his coat clean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scientist scoffed. “Go along with what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, ma’am.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

#     #     #

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

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

“What do I say?” the Scientist asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 72: Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Hello, dear readers. Today we return to two of my favorite characters, Thimblerigger and Stevedore in the poorest of Outlands, so let’s jump right into it. And don’t forget, you can buy a full copy of the novel through this link. Purchase the print version and get the ebook for free. Enjoy.

< LXXI. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXIII. Jorah >

LXXII. Thimblerigger and Stevedore

Thimblerigger and Stevedore slept—or stayed awake as the case had actually been—in their makeshift tent on the shaded corner of Momma BB’s Safehouse’s veggie garden roof just like they used to do when they were little kids, before they had important chores to perform in the mornings. Mr. Kitty never showed up, though, so most of their time was spent under the almost gray darkness of a light polluted sky, wondering if there really could be stars beyond it like Momma BB had taught them. That, and of course, Thim kept experimenting with coin flips, but Stevie tried to ignore the sound of it and focus instead on the dull white noise of the cityscape. They stayed up in shifts all through the night, doing one or the other, until morning came and Stevie went down to bring breakfast back up so they didn’t have to listen to any more of Thim’s coin flips.

Ugh. You always pick the ugliest sausages,” Thim complained when Stevie had brought a plate up to them, but that didn’t stop Thim from diving into the meal. “I swear, it looks like this one still has a tail. Who ground this batch, anyway?”

Stevie shrugged, eating their meal and happy to have a short break from Thim’s never ending repetition of the word “tails”, allowing them to finally listen to the soothing background noise of the Streets. “It makes no difference to me,” they said. “It all tastes the same going down.”

“Maybe it still is the same,” Thim said, thoughtfully. “The same sausage we ate for lunch yesterday because time still hasn’t started back up again.”

“God, no.” Stevie groaned. “Not your coin flips again. Please. The sun has set and risen. We’re in a new day with no chores in front of us. Of course time has gone forward.”

“I don’t know.” Thim shook their head. “I still say the evidence is inconclusive.”

“Then I don’t care if time has stopped,” Stevie said, exasperated. “It feels the same to me either way, so let’s just get on with our lives.”

“Yeah, but get on to what?” Thim asked, done with eating and back to flipping their coin. “We don’t even have chores to do, so what else is there?”

Everything. There’s everything in the worlds to do. Anything we want. Starting with what we came up here to do, find that Mr. Kitty.”

“Yeah. But we just have to sit here and wait for that,” Thim said, making a face each time they flipped tails again. “I might as well keep flipping while we do. It’s more efficient.”

“Or you could relax for a minute. Sheesh. Why do you need to be so efficient with this coin flipping anyway, huh? What’s the hurry?”

Thim shrugged, still flipping. “I don’t know,” they said. “I just gotta know.”

“Well it doesn’t look like you can hurry your answers any more than we can hurry Mr. Kitty. So sit back, relax, and cool it with that coin flipping for a minute. Please.”

Thim flipped the coin one more time, cringed at another instance of tails, then stopped to actually consider the prospect before deciding on a compromise and going back to flipping the coin in a more leisurely manner, something more like twice a minute instead of the twice a second rate they had been going at.

“So, you’re really interested in where this cat comes from. Aren’t you?” Thim said.

“Yeah. So?” Stevie shrugged. “I thought you were, too.”

“Oh. Sure, sure,” Thim said. “But I have been ever since we first saw Mr. Kitty. So… What I’m wondering is why you’re so interested all of a sudden.”

“I don’t know…” Stevie said, looking away so Thim couldn’t really see their words. “I guess I…”

“Look at me when you’re talking,” Thim complained. “How many times do I have to tell you?”

“I guess I’m just curious,” Stevie said, making their mouth motions as big and obvious as they could while they spoke. “Aren’t you?”

Curious, you say?” Thim said, holding back on flipping their coin for a while. “What a curious choice of words.”

“And purposeful,” Stevie said, nodding

Nah.” Thim didn’t really believe that. Did they? “Really?”

“You don’t think it’s possible?” Stevie asked.

“Who? Mr. Kitty? The Curious Cat?”

Stevie nodded.

“I thought you were making fun of me when you used to say that,” Thim said. “Pulling my leg. Like that time you said Momma BB had gullible written on her butt and I actually went to check.”

Stevie laughed. “I still don’t know how you believed I could have known. I never went around feeling Momma BB’s butt. Huh huh ha.”

“I don’t know,” Thim said, embarrassed. “Sometimes I forget. But that’s beside the point. Do you really think Mr. Kitty could be the Curious Cat? You weren’t just kidding?”

“Why not?” Stevie shrugged. “He comes and goes as he pleases, appearing out of thin air.”

“We haven’t seen him appear out of thin air,” Thim corrected Stevie.

“No, but that’s what we’re here for, right? To finally see it. So you better be paying attention and not flipping some stupid coin.”

“I’m not,” Thim said, and they actually hadn’t been, but Stevie had reminded them so they flipped one more tails before taking the stakeout seriously again. They hadn’t known that Stevie actually cared, or they would have been paying more attention from the beginning. “I promise.”

Good. Because Mr. Kitty could come out anywhere at any time, and I’m afraid he won’t make a noise when he does.”

“I’ll be looking,” Thim said. “I’ll make sure to find him. I didn’t know it was so important to you.”

“It’s not that important,” Stevie snapped, getting defensive for some reason. “I mean, it is important. Keep your eyes peeled. But I— I’m not pinning my hopes on it. Okay. I’m not that stupid. I just thought it might be nice if he was the Curious Cat. That’s all.”

“Nicer than what?” Thim asked. “The revolution?”

“I don’t know,” Stevie said, embarrassed again. “Yeah. No. Nicer than this. Just better than what we have now.”

“But we’re working to make this better for ourselves,” Thim said. “We don’t have to wait and watch and hope for Mr. Kitty to show us the way to Prosperity. Prosperity ain’t even real. Okay. It’s not a place. It can’t be.”

“Oh. And how do you know that? Why are you out here watching with me if you’re so certain he’s not the Curious Cat? Why do you even care?”

“I can go back to flipping my coin,” Thim said, flipping it and coming up tails again. Stevie started to protest, but Thim cut them off. “But I won’t. Because you care. And I want to help you. And I want to know where Mr. Kitty comes from whether it’s Prosperity or not.”

“Yeah. Okay,” Stevie said, nodding. “Those are pretty good reasons. But what if Mr. Kitty did come from Pro—” But they didn’t finish their sentence, instead standing up and turning their head in every direction like they had heard Mr. Kitty. “Did you hear that?”

Uh.” Thim shook their head. Of course not.

“I can’t hear the rocks rattling around in your head,” Stevie complained. “I said did you hear that?”

“I didn’t hear anything, you dolt,” Thim complained right back. “Look at me when you’re talking. It’s like I’m getting bad reception on a radio. What’d you hear?”

“Gun shots,” Stevie said, looking truly worried.

“Gun shots?” Thim tried to laugh but they ended up kind of just snorting instead. “That’s it?” They went back to flipping their coin every minute or so. “Ain’t never seen you so afraid of gunshots before.”

“These are different,” Stevie said, shaking their head. “Louder somehow. I don’t like the sound of it.”

“They were prolly just closer than you’ve ever been to shots actually fired,” Thim said, trying to convince themself just as much as they were trying to convince Stevie by that point. “Someone done something they shouldn’t have, or stuck their nose in somewhere it doesn’t belong, and now they’re paying the consequences for it. Simple as that. You know how justice works in the Streets.”

“Yeah. I do,” Stevie said. “You do, too. Mostly it doesn’t work at all, shooting blindly into the crowd and punishing the least guilty. You realize that, too, don’t you? You should. It’s what Momma BB’s always taught us.”

“I know what Momma BB’s taught us,” Thim snapped. “But that’s still how the world works,” they added with a shrug, flipping tails again.

“And there goes another gunshot,” Stevie said, leaning over the edge of the building in an attempt to hear what was happening on the street below, which direction the sound was coming from, anything. “I really have a bad feeling about this one.”

Thim stood to look over the edge of the building, too, but they were too afraid of heights to lean out far enough to actually see anything, so they retreated to the safety of the rooftop and said, “Well, if you’re so worried about it, why don’t we go down and see what’s really going on?”

“You’d come with me?” Stevie asked.

“Got nothing better to do but look for Mr. Kitty, and I’m pretty sure he won’t show up again until lunchtime. So, why not?”

“Let’s go then,” Stevie said, grabbing Thim’s hand and running toward the stairs. “Hurry up. Before they get too far away.”

Thim got the message and sped up now, leading Stevie to the stairs then racing them to the bottom where both burst out into the cool Streets, sweaty and hunched over, trying to catch their breath.

“It’s— No— Fair—” Stevie complained between heavy breaths. “You— Always— Get— A— Head start.”

“You wouldn’t want me giving you special treatment, now. Would you?” Thim said, laughing. “Besides, you know I’m faster than you. At least this way you have an excuse instead of just being slow. Ha ha ha.”

“You don’t have to treat me specially,” Stevie said, finally recovered from the exertion. “Fairly is all I ask.”

“Next time I’ll give you the head start, then,” Thim said with a chuckle.

Oh, ha ha. Very funny.”

“I know,” Thim said. “That’s why I said it. Now, which way to your gunshots, oh dear Lord and leader? Take me away.”

And so Stevie led the way, up a street here, down an alley there, this way and that until it seemed to Thim like they were going in circles. When it became clear that they really had passed the same intersection two or three times already, Thim finally spoke up.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” they asked.

“I’m sure we’re near where the original shots were fired,” Stevie said. “But there’s no telling where the shooter could have gotten to since then. I’m just trying to circle the area. Keep your eyes peeled.”

Well that explained part of it. But, “For what?”

“I don’t know.” Stevie shrugged. “Anything suspicious. Either someone with a giant gun, someone with a giant bullet wound, or both.”

“You really think it’s gonna be that easy?” Thim asked. “And that bad?”

“I don’t know,” Stevie repeated. “I just have a feeling, okay. I’m not sure what I—”

But they didn’t have to time to finish their sentence because Thim grabbed them by the arm and pulled them down an alley to hide behind some dumpsters.

Shit,” Stevie complained, rubbing their arm where it felt like a bruise was forming. “What was that for?”

“I think I found them,” Thim said, peeking around the dumpster for a moment but more interested in staying hidden than in getting another look.

“Wha— Who? What is it?” Stevie asked.

But, “Shhh.” Thim shushed them, heart still pounding from the adrenaline rush produced by what they had just seen: the biggest, scariest, whitest monsters they had ever experienced the presence of in anything more than nightmares.

“But—” Stevie tried to say again.

Shhhhh.”

Thim held their breath, trying to make as little sound as possible, and Stevie finally got the point, holding their breath, too, and trying to listen close to whatever monster had been capable of scaring Thim like that. They sat in mostly silence for a few minutes, some garbled nonsense sound like a robot screaming in pain the only thing to fill it, before Thim started breathing again and Stevie gulped down a big breath of air to say, “Well?”

“Well, shit,” Thim said. “Maybe you were right to be worried after all.”

“What was it? What did you see?” Stevie demanded, grabbing Thim by the shoulders and shaking them for answers.

Giants,” Thim said, pushing Stevie off.

“Giants?”

“Bigger than Momma BB,” Thim said. “Twice the size at least.”

Giants…” Stevie repeated. “Did they have guns?”

“The biggest I’ve ever seen,” Thim said.

I knew it. I told you so. What else?”

“Well there was three of them,” Thim said, still hiding behind the dumpster, just in case. “And they were wearing all white, including their helmets, with masks that looked like they were screaming neon colors at each other.”

“They must have been talking to each other in code,” Stevie said. “That was the strange noise I heard. Like androids with broken voice boxes, or something.”

“I don’t know,” Thim said, shaking their head. “But if they sounded anything like they looked, I’m sure it was terrifying.”

“Hair-raising,” Stevie said. “Who do you think they were?”

“Scary, white, giants,” Thim said, the hair on their arms and neck standing up on end. “Who do you think they were?”

“I think they’re trouble,” Stevie said. “We should get back to the Safehouse and make sure everything’s okay.”

“I’m one step ahead of you, as always,” Thim said, grabbing Stevie’s hand and pulling them in a loud stomping run toward home.

When they burst through the doors of the Safehouse lobby and stumbled to a stop inside, still filled with adrenaline from their sighting of the White Giants, everything seemed to be in order. The lobby was empty, of course, because even though it was Thimblerigger and Stevedore’s day off, it wasn’t anyone else’s. Only slightly relieved by the normalcy, the two of them plopped down on one of the old raggedy couches in the lobby, staring at the entry door just in case any giants came through and generally trying to calm themselves down after what they had witnessed.

“So, we agree it was them, then. Right?” Stevie asked.

“What? Look at me.”

“We agree that they were the ones who were shooting the guns,” Stevie said.

“If they were as loud as you said they were.”

“As loud as you say they were tall.”

“Then, yes. I’d say so.”

“That cannot be good.”

“No. No, it cannot.”

Both of their hearts beat faster at the realization. Stevie stood and paced to try to calm themself while Thim pulled out their coin and went back to flipping it.

“Who do you think they were shooting at?” Stevie asked, still pacing.

“I don’t think I wanna know,” Thim said, still flipping tails.

“You know. Neither do I.”

But of course, they were both forced to face the truth sooner than later. No sooner had the words left Stevie’s mouth than the lobby doors burst open, and both Thimblerigger and Stevedore jumped to hide behind the couch in case it was one of the giant white gunners come to get them, too.

It wasn’t. Instead it was a familiar voice: Ms. Morticia’s, saying, “Thim? Stevie? Is that y’all?”

“Are you alone, Miss Morticia?” Stevie called back while Thim nudged them, trying to figure out who it was.

“I’m alone,” Ms. Morticia called. “It’s alright. Y’all can come out now. Ya’re safe.”

“There’s no White Giants out there with you?” Stevie called back. “We heard the gunshots.”

Ms. Morticia kind of laughed and cried at the same time, more a snotty snort than anything else. “No, child,” she said. “There ain’t no White Giants out here. Just me, and— Well… Thim’s with ya, too. Right? Y’all better come see. It’s okay. Ya’re safe.”

Stevie turned to Thim and slapped their arm away, finally answering Thim’s desperate pleas. “It’s Miss Morticia,” they said. “She says she’s got something to show us.”

“There’s no one else with her?” Thim asked.

“She says no.” Stevie shrugged. “I can’t hear anyone else, but to be honest, it’s hard to hear anything over your breathing and my own heartbeat.”

Thim poked their head up above the couch for an instant then darted back into hiding.

“Well?” Stevie asked.

“I don’t really know,” Thim said, shaking their head. “I was too afraid to open my eyes.”

“Alright, alright,” Stevie said, standing up themself. “I’ll do it. Let them take me if they will. Miss Morticia, whaddya got?”

Stevie stumbled around the couch, hands up in the air, and when Thim realized that there were no giants there to murder them, they stood, too, to find Ms. Morticia, her eyes red and puffy like she’d been crying, holding out what looked like nothing more than a handful of scraps and wires for stocking the workshop with. When Thim stepped closer they realized it was more than that, though. So much more.

“Well?” Stevie demanded, hands falling to their sides now that they knew there was no danger.

“I— I’m sorry,” Ms. Morticia said, trying not to make eye contact with Thim. “I…” She held out the mass of wires and Thim took it in her hands, crying silently and forcing Ms. Morticia to do the same in reaction.

What is it?” Stevie demanded, getting frustrated at the sound of their voices, knowing full well that something had gone wrong but having no way to know exactly what it was until one of them let Stevie in on the secret. “Tell me.”

“Stevie, it’s—” Thim tried to say, but the sobs took over and they couldn’t finish.

“Child, it’s—” Ms. Morticia started, but Thim sniffled loudly, wiped their nose, and said, “It’s Momma BB, Stevie. She’s… She’s dead. Shot in the head.”

No.” Stevie didn’t believe it, moving closer to the sound of Thim’s voice, looking for some confirmation. “It can’t be.”

“Yes,” Thim said. “I’m sorry. I— I’m holding her head in my hands right now. I— It’s— She… She’s just dead. Okay. Trust me.”

No.” Stevie pushed Thimblerigger away and ran for the stairs, all the way up to the roof, as far away from such idiotic nonsense as they could think to get. Momma BB was not dead.

“I’m sorry,” Thim said to Ms. Morticia, trying not to cry again. “I’ll talk to Stevie. They’ll understand.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Ms. Morticia said, bowing low. “I— Is there anything I can do for y’all?”

“No,” Thim said, shaking their head. “Not right now. I— I just need to go talk to Stevie, okay. I— I’m sorry. Goodbye.”

Thim ran all the way up to the roof, trying not to think about the weight of what they carried with them as they did, until they were up in the cool, windy air, approaching Stevie who sat at the edge of their tent, listening closely to their surroundings as if still searching for Mr. Kitty.

“Stevie, I—” Thim tried to stay, but Stevie cut them off.

“Don’t even start,” they said. “And be quiet. I’m still searching for Mr. Kitty, even if you’re over it.”

“Stevie, she’s dead,” Thim said, holding the mangled head of Momma BB out to Stevie. “I’m holding her head in my hands right now. You can see for yourself.”

“No. I can’t,” Stevie snapped. “And it doesn’t matter if I could, because she’s not dead anyway.”

Fine. You can’t see it. But you can reach out and feel it. So, stop feeling sorry for yourself and face the facts.”

“I don’t care what you’re holding,” Stevie said, swatting in Thim’s general direction and knocking Momma BB’s head out of their hands to roll and tumble with a loud clang on the hard surface of the Safehouse roof. “Momma BB’s not dead. We still have work to do. Just like she always—”

But they couldn’t finish their sentence because Mr. Kitty interrupted them, appearing out of thin air and landing on Stevie’s lap with a meow.

 

#     #     #

< LXXI. Haley     [Table of Contents]     LXXIII. Jorah >

And there you have it, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits series. If you enjoyed that and can’t wait for the rest of the story, pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. Otherwise, we’ll see you again next week. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 58: Laura

Hello, dear readers. Today we rejoin Laura and crew as they work on the anti-robot propaganda film they’re making for the new alliance between the Human Family and Mr. Walker. So, to find out if Laura will ever repay her debt enough to get Mr. Walker off of her back, continue reading here for Chapter 58 in the third book of the Infinite Limits saga, Dividing by Ø. And if you just can’t wait to read the last five chapters of this one, remember that you can always pick up a full copy of the novel right through here.

< LVII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LIX. Anna >

LVIII. Laura

The assembly line ran and none other than Adam Torrence slip, snap, clicked furiously at Fortuna knows what. He was much faster than Emir—there was no doubt about that—and the post-production editing would be easier because of it. That was at least one thing made easier by this whole messed up situation.

Alice Walton came on camera to say, “No. You.” holding her trembling hands to her mouth, on the verge of crying.

Adam peeled his eyes away from the work, losing no speed on his slip, snap, clicking, and grinned a wide, evil-looking grin. He didn’t have to make a sound to elicit a deep feeling of discomfort in the audience—or in Laura, at least.

“It can’t be,” Alice went on. “What about my coworkers? What about our families?”

Adam chuckled. It’s the only word Laura could think of to describe what Adam did, but the term didn’t do the acting justice. It was more like a half chuckle, half cackle which turned out entirely spine tingling. So this was what it felt like to work with a true professional. Laura could get used to it.

“I am a robot,” Adam said, still cackling. “I don’t care.”

“No, but…”

Adam stood from the assembly line, finally stopping his slip, snap, clicking. He crossed to Alice in two long strides and grasped her by her shoulders, holding her face close to his. “I am a robot,” he repeated. “I don’t care.”

He jerked her closer and Alice leaned in to kiss him.

“Cut!” Cohen yelled. “What the fuck was that, Jen?”

Jorah—now Jorah again, no longer in character as Adam and seemingly an entirely different person because of it—pushed Jen—formerly Alice—away in disgust. “Please, people,” Jorah complained. “This is serious business. Do you think I enjoy being here with you no name nothings?”

Jen blushed. “I—I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I’ll—”

“I’ll be in my dressing room,” Jorah said, storming out. “Get this under control before I return.”

Cohen waited until the studio exit door slammed closed behind Jorah to scoff. “Or else what?” he said, chuckling to himself and looking to Jen and Laura for support, neither of whom were offering any. “He’s just an actor. I don’t care how big of a star he is, he has no power on my set.”

“He has more power than you do.” Laura scoffed.

“I’m so sorry,” Jen said, still flushed crimson. “I didn’t mean to— I don’t know what came over me.”

Cohen scoffed again. “Oh, I know what came over you.” He chuckled. “Just don’t let it happen again. Lord Walker wouldn’t want anything to happen to his Jorah. Laura’s right about that much.”

Laura scoffed again, too. It seemed like they were all doing so much scoffing ever since Jorah joined the crew. “Alright there, Cohen ol’ pal. We know how buddy buddy you and Lord Walker are now that you’ve had an all of five minute conversation with him, so why don’t you tell us exactly what it is that your Lord Walker would want?”

“I—well…” Cohen didn’t know what to say. He rubbed his thighs with probably sweaty hands and fidgeted in his uncomfortable director’s seat.

“It won’t happen again,” Jen said. “I swear.” She crossed her heart.

Laura was still laughing at Cohen’s lack of spine when Jorah returned from his dressing room. “Does everyone have their libidos under control?” he asked, standing in the door still, apparently not wanting to enter until he was sure the answer was yes.

Jen blushed, trying to sneak off set without being noticed, but Laura could still see her—and the camera always saw everything.

“Everything’s under control,” Cohen assured Jorah, moving closer to try to grab his arm and guide him on set while Jorah dodged all Cohen’s advances to walk on unassisted. “I’ve had a speaking to with the girl, like any proper director would, and she’ll be good and ready for the next take. It’ll be the best yet. I assure you of that.”

“I hope so.” Jorah scoffed, taking his place at the assembly line. “The sooner we’re done with this stupid shoot the better.”

“Alright, alright,” Cohen yelled, clapping his hands and retaking his director’s chair. “Everyone to your places,” he added, though everyone was already in their places. “Roll the line, please.”

Laura flicked a switch and the assembly line started moving. Jorah started putting pieces together automatically—even without the cameras on—and all of a sudden he turned into Adam Torrence again.

“Lights!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped another switch and the lights changed, producing a bright white halo aura around Adam’s head.

“Cameras rolling!”

Laura flipped the cameras on. She didn’t have to look through the viewfinder to know that the shot was perfect. They had already gone through this scene once before and the camera hadn’t been moved since. All she had left to do was wait and watch.

Adam Torrence slip, snap, clicked furiously at Fortuna knows what. Alice Walton came on camera, holding trembling hands to her mouth, on the verge of crying, to say, “No. You.”

Adam peeled his eyes from the line, not stopping his slip, snap, clicking. He grinned an evil grin and didn’t have to make a sound to communicate—

Laura’s pants vibrated to the horribly loud sound of her once favorite song—which after this instance, would no doubt lose that high pedestal in her mind. Jorah was pissed—made obvious by the fact that he had so quickly slipped out of Adam—Jen seemed happy that it wasn’t her making a fool of herself this time, and Cohen yelled, “What the fuck is that and why is it interrupting my perfect take?”

Laura slipped the phone out of her pocket and groaned at its glowing face—she was sure she had turned the damn thing off. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to take this.” and she answered it.

“Laura Concierge, you fucking degenerate,” Cohen said. “You hang up that goddamn phone right now.”

“What is this?” Jorah demanded, offended by another interruption.

At the same time Laura said, “Hello, Lord Walker. How can I help you?” loud enough for everyone to hear.

“You tell Lord Walker how much we appreciate his support,” Cohen added, trying to cover for himself. Jorah just nodded, keeping silent.

“How’s the shoot going?” the voice on the other end of the line asked, Lord Walker’s voice. “I’m sure Jorah’s working out for you. Am I right?”

Laura nodded then realized she was on the phone and Lord Walker couldn’t see her. “Yes, sir,” she said. “He’s right here next to me. Do you want to talk to him?” Why was he calling her anyway?

“No, no,” Lord Walker’s voice said. “Not now. No need. All I needed to say is that I’m coming to see you on the set.”

“You’re coming here?” Laura asked, more for the benefit of Cohen, Jen, and Jorah—who were all trying to eavesdrop without appearing to be listening—than because she couldn’t understand what Lord Walker had said.

A low deep groan emitted from Laura’s phone’s speaker “I’m almost as surprised as you are,” Lord Walker grumbled. “I want to be there much less than you want to have me, trust me, but it just cannot be avoided, I’m afraid. I’ve promised the writer—the real writer, that is, I knew no kook from Three could be capable of writing such a brilliant manuscript—but anyway, she wants to personally observe the progress of shooting. To dispense with the long story and finally end this tedious conversation, suffice it to say that we’ll be there shortly.”

“How shortly?” Laura asked.

Lord Walker grumbled and groaned through the phone. “I’m getting into a car now. Haley! Don’t forget my hat!”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, but Lord Walker had already hung up. “Well,” she added for the room, making extra certain that her phone was silenced before pocketing it again, “they’re on their way.”

“No shit,” Cohen snapped, hurrying here and there to adjust, re-adjust, and un-adjust every tiny detail of the set design. “We need to get this place in order.”

Jorah scoffed, plopping down onto the stool he was supposed to start the scene from.

“They?” Jen asked, fixing her appearance even though she was dressed and made up to look like a dirty assembly line worker. “There’s more than one of them?”

“I don’t know,” Laura said, following Cohen around and fixing everything he had messed up in tampering with the set. “He said he found the writer or something.”

“Guy?” Jen asked. “Where has he been anyway?”

“No, not Guy,” Laura said. “The original writer or whatever.”

Cohen stopped moving around everywhere, finally taking his clumsy hands off of Laura’s perfectly set rigs. “The original writer?” he asked, swallowing hard.

“Yeah, the investor or whatever, I guess. You’ve met them before, haven’t you?”

But Cohen didn’t have time to answer because in came Haley, wearing her black and white maid uniform and calling everyone to attention. “Hear ye, hear ye,” she sang. “Now entering is the distinguished and unique Lord Walker, treasure trove of efficiency and master of self-reliance, accompanied by honored guest, denizen of the lowest of worlds, and your writer for the present production in progress, Rosa Chandelier.” Haley curtsied.

Jorah stood from his stool and applauded, staring at the door in eager anticipation of the honored guests’ arrival. Jen blushed and tried to fix herself up one more time before joining in the applause with a demure clap of her own. Cohen seemed to try to hide behind the camera, afraid of someone more powerful than he was. And Laura just stood there waiting. She knew what to expect from Lord Walker, and she just wanted to get it on and over with.

In waddled mushroom shaped Lord Walker, flabby body folding and rolling over his tuxedo pants, in the same top hat and monocle that seemed to be a part of his body, attached to his head since birth. He was followed by one of the shortest, tiniest, frailest old ladies Laura had ever seen. Laura thought at first that she only looked so small in comparison to Lord Walker’s massive girth, but when the woman came in and stood next to anyone or anything else in the room she still looked like the world was too big for her.

Ho ho ho! I say,” Lord Walker said, holding his stomach as he laughed. “This is a rather fine set up you have here.”

The frail old lady tutted, scurrying around the room with the same haste that Cohen had exhibited earlier, investigating every tiny detail of Laura’s set.

“What do you think, Rosa dear?” Lord Walker asked her as she scurried around touching everything. “Does it live up to your standards?”

She just tutted again in answer and kept on with her tedious investigation of the set.

“And Jorah, my boy.” Lord Walker crossed to Jorah who bowed low before him.

“Ever in your service, my Lord and master,” Jorah said, kissing Lord Walker’s hands then flashing his twinkling teeth.

“Now now, my boy,” Lord Walker said, grabbing Jorah’s hand and pulling him in for an unexpected—by the look on Jorah’s face—embrace. “We’re good friends here, all of us. No need for that Lord and master bit you always find so funny. Got it?”

“I—uh—Yes, sir,” Jorah said, struggling to free himself from the too long embrace. “I mean.” Suddenly he transformed into another character entirely. “I mean, yeah, buddy. We go way back, don’t we?”

“Alright, alright.” Lord Walker finally let go of his bear like grip—if only he would do the same for the metaphorical grip he had on Laura’s life. “And you, Laura,” he said to her, as if he had read her very thoughts. “Is everything up to schedule? I’m counting on you to ensure this production gets underway in a timely manner. It’s in everyone’s best interests that you do.”

“I—uhahem,” Cohen said, coming out from behind the machinery and cameras to finally speak up for himself now that Laura was getting a little bit of attention. “I think you meant to say that to me, sir,” he said, raising a finger in the air like he were a school child who wasn’t quite sure whether or not he had the correct answer to the teacher’s question. “I’m Cohen, sir. The—uh—the director of this project.”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker laughed, turning on Cohen who shrunk back towards his safe hiding space behind the machines. “Cohen, my boy. I recognize your voice from the phone. You’re having no troubles with our new arrangement, are you? If so, speak up now or forever hold your peace. We can always find another eager young director who’s capable of handling a platinum platter when served to them. I assure you of that, dear boy. Ho ho ho!”

Cohen shook his head. “No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. No problem, sir. I am capable, sir—or—Lord. I just—”

“Good. Good. Very good, my boy.” Lord Walker turned to Laura again. “He is telling the truth, isn’t he?” he asked.

Laura glanced at Cohen, trembling in his too expensive loafers, payed for no doubt by his inheritance from a famous director in the family long since dead. Cohen got more visibly nervous at her pause—wiping his hands on his pants and pulling his collar in the universal sign language motion for “Is it hot in here?” He probably would have pissed himself if Laura had taken any longer to nod and say, “It’s been fine so far. I guess.” Then she added less confidently, “Though this visit might put us a little off schedule.”

Lord Walker grinned at her, a much better—though nonetheless grotesque with his face—reaction than she could have hoped for. “Well, dear, don’t let us get in the way,” Lord Walker said, looking around at his tiny companion. “In fact, I rather think we would like to see your work in progress. Isn’t that right, Rosa?”

Rosa scurried off set and into Lord Walker’s shadow to say, “Show us what you’ve got.”

“Well then, get on with it,” Lord Walker demanded.

Jorah jumped into his first position without hesitation. Jen took her cue from him and went to her first position, too. Only Cohen still stood dumbfounded by the presence of such a very fat—very demanding—man and his tiny friend.

“Well…” Lord Walker said, tapping his cane and urging them on.

Cohen,” Laura snapped. “You’re supposed to be a director. Direct.”

All of a sudden Cohen snapped out of his haze and jumped back into the director they all knew and hated. “Okay, okay,” he said, clapping his hands and taking his position behind Laura’s back. “Everyone to their places, please,” he called, though everyone already was. “Lights!”

Laura flicked a switch. Everything disappeared into darkness—Lord Walker and his tiny friend, judging every motion, Cohen, too proud of himself, Jen, unfixing herself for the start of the scene—except for Jorah now Adam, surrounded by a halo and slip, snap, clicking air because the belt wasn’t rolling yet.

“Cue the belts!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch and Adam’s hands, though maintaining their exact pace, picked up bits and pieced them together.

“Cameras!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch and the cameras rolled right along with the conveyor belt and Adam’s fluid motions.

Aaaaand action!”

The room held its breath. Adam slip, snap, clicked. Jen, slightly off cue and not quite Alice, entered. “No.” She gasped, holding a hand to her mouth. “Not you.”

Adam slip, snap, clicked, not paying attention to her, intent solely on his work, as a good robot could only ever be.

“But—but—” Jen stammered, having some trouble getting into it still—perhaps because of  the added pressure of their new audience. “But what about my coworkers? What about their families?”

“I am a robot,” Adam said, turning to smile at Jen. “I don’t—”

“Wait, cut!” a voice called, but it wasn’t Cohen’s. It wasn’t Lord Walker’s, either—Laura knew that voice all too well from their phone conversations. Instead it was the tiny old lady, Rosa. “Cut, cut, cut!” She waved her arms, storming out to the center of the set and blocking the cameras. “This isn’t right. Cut!”

Jen blushed, not sure whether to look to Cohen or Laura for help. “I—but—” she stammered. “Those were my lines, right? I didn’t mess them up.”

“Those might be your lines, but they’re not mine,” Rosa said, shaking her head and pacing up and down the conveyor belt. “You see, this is exactly why I requested this visit, to be sure you’re making the right movie, my movie, which by the looks of it, you’re apparently not.”

Ho ho ho, now,” Lord Walker said, jiggling and looking to Laura for confirmation. “Is this right, girl? You’re not shooting her script?”

Laura shook her head, not wanting to get involved. Whatever deal they had made was between Rosa, Cohen, and Guy. Laura had nothing to do with that part of it. “This is the script you read,” Laura said. “We’ve been using these lines since day one.”

“They’re not my lines!” Rosa stomped her tiny foot. She almost looked like a child except for her wrinkles and curly white hair. “The assembly line worker is worried about her Family, the Human Family as a whole, not about the separate individual families of her coworkers. Your line says what about their families. My line says what about our Family. Do you understand the difference?”

Um, Alice, ma’am,” Jen said, almost too quietly to be heard.

“Who?” Rosa demanded.

“The assembly line worker’s name is Alice,” Jen said, even more quietly than the first time.

“No. It isn’t.” The woman was getting angrier as she paced the line again. “The assembly line worker doesn’t have a name. She is no one and everyone at the same time. To give her a name is to humanize her. To give her a name is to compartmentalize her and separate her from the Human Family as a whole. She is not you, or me, or Sally Fae down the street, she’s all of us together as one, and to feign some fatal attempt at putting a name onto something so grand and holy as that is to defile the very reason that this film is being created in the first place.”

Two hands in applause and Lord Walker’s voice, the voice Laura so detested, came whooping and hollering as if this were a bar show. “Bravo, my dear Rosa. Bravo! I dare say you should take our incompetent Cohen’s position as director of this film, but I’m afraid you’re much too busy for such base work—if I can assume without making an ass out of us.”

Cohen’s face went white and it looked to Laura like he might pass out. Rosa smiled for a moment before going stern faced again. “If you want a job done right,” she said, “you have to give up everything else in your life so you can spend enough time to do it the right way yourself. Isn’t that what they say?”

“Oh, that might be what they say in your neck of the woods,” Lord Walker said, chuckling, “but where I come from the saying’s a little different. We say, if you want something done right, you just have to pay the right person the right price. Ho ho ho!”

“Tell me, then, Lord Walker,” Rosa said, shooting him a look that stopped his laughter. “Did I find the right people for this job? Because the price seems astronomical.”

“Well now,” Lord Walker said, turning an angry eye on Laura. “Don’t ask me. You’re the one who found them. Laura, dear, are you and your crew going to be able to live up to your requirements, or are you going to remain shackled to your past blunders forever?”

“We can get it right,” Laura replied fast. They had to get it right. She couldn’t live like this forever. “We just need the right script. Like I said, this is the one we’ve been working with since day one. I thought Cohen and the investors had already agreed on this one or else we wouldn’t have started shooting with it in the first place.”

“I never agreed to any edits,” Rosa said, staring at Cohen who cowered further behind the camera equipment. “Not these one’s for sure.”

“You did agree to some edits,” Cohen croaked and ducked behind the camera again.

“What was that, boy?” Lord Walker demanded, waving Cohen out of his hiding spot. “Come on out here and take responsibility for your actions like a man. And speak up, I can’t hardly hear you.”

“Um. I said she did agree to some edits—uh, Lord, sir,” Cohen said, creeping into the light. “When I gave her our demand list.”

“Demand list?” Lord Walker looked to Rosa with a furrowed brow. “What demand list?”

“The investment,” Rosa said. “And the script I approved said our Family.”

“And what do you say to that, my boy?” Lord Walker asked Cohen who stuttered and stammered his response.

“I—uh—well—we were— There were deadlines, you see— And I had to do what—or I had to make sure we got what we needed— We made the movie— And Guy— He—well…”

“So,” Lord Walker said, tapping his cane in annoyance. “What you’re saying is that you failed me, boy. You failed our dear old Rosa here. You failed the entire Human Family for that matter.” Rosa smiled at that last part, and Laura didn’t like the prospect of the fresh new Hell she would face shackled by the ankle to what was now becoming a two-headed beast. “And how should I make you pay for your mistake?”

“I—what?” Cohen begged. “No. It wasn’t a—a mistake. This version’s better. It— I— You read it. You—”

“That doesn’t matter,” Lord Walker said, shaking his head. “If the customer demands an inferior product, you give them an inferior product. It’s the law of the market, good business practice. In this instance Rosa and I are your customers, and you will do as we say or you’ll go elsewhere with your pretentious demand list. Do you understand me?”

Cohen tried to choke out words but he couldn’t. Laura pitied him a bit—knowing the wrath of Lord Walker from first hand experience—so she stepped in to try to save him a little face. Even if he was a huge jerk most the time, not even Cohen deserved Lord Walker’s wrath. “We’ll get you whatever you want,” she said. “Just get us a script we can work with. This movie is gonna be crap with or without the edits, anyway.” And she could tell she had gone too far by the reactions of her audience.

Jorah grinned a little, which showed enough because he was such a master of his emotions that he shouldn’t have reacted at all. Jen gasped and panted and fanned her face, the epitome of old-world feminine, deserving an A+ in any college level performance. Cohen stared at Laura blankly, unbelieving. How could Laura have the guts to say exactly what he wanted to when he didn’t even have them to do it for himself? Lord Walker looked like he was trying to hold back a laugh himself, though he was doing a much poorer job of it than Jorah was. Then there was the little old lady, Rosa. She fumed, no doubt pissed that Laura had called her precious script shit, which Laura couldn’t really blame her for even though the script was still shit.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker bellowed. “I like your style, girl. However much I disagree with your substance. But I won’t have you insulting our writers to their faces any which way about it. The script’s not that bad, now. Is it?”

“Guy’s isn’t,” Laura said, ignoring Rosa’s anger and Cohen’s pleas for her to shutup alike. “It’s not entire shit, at least. It’s the best way to handle the theme you want covered—if there can be said to be a good way to handle it at all.”

“My script’s not shit,” Rosa complained. “This is shit. What you’re doing here now is shit. It’s lying, blasphemous, putrid bile, and you’ll get nothing out of me for producing it. Mark my words.”

“Now, now, now,” Lord Walker said, gesturing to calm the old woman down. “Settle down, old girl. First of all, I don’t see that much of a difference between what our lovely actor here—” Jen curtsied as he indicated her with a slight nod of his tall hatted head. “—said and what you say you believe should have been. It’s just semantics. ”

“There’s a big differ—” Rosa started.

“Now, now, now,” Lord Walker cut her off. “Let me finish. Where was I? That’s right. The big business. Second of all, your investment is nothing compared to mine. As a result, your power over this production has declined in proportion. I provide the studio. I provide the equipment now. I provide the star of the show.” He indicated Jorah who bowed low on cue. “I am the director, producer, and Lord of this entire gig, and as sole master of its fate, I will be the one to decide whether or not your script is shit.”

“And I decide whether or not the Family works with you,” Rosa said. “I decide if the Family fights for you or against you. If you don’t make the movie I asked for, the movie that’s best for the Family, then what point is there in us working with you at all?”

Lord Walker grinned, twirling his cane. “There is the little matter of that blank check, dear. Let us not forget its existence in all this excitement.”

“The blank check which we were reluctant to accept in the first place,” Rosa said. “The one you practically forced on us, as I recall.”

Lord Walker chuckled. “Everything was done voluntarily, my dear. You chose to accept the deal, now you must deal with the consequences of that decision. You’re not backing out on me now, are you? I have an army with or without your stupid Family, you know, and they will punish you for breaking a contract.”

“You have—” Rosa started, but taking everybody by surprise—Laura at least, though it was mostly because of the relief she felt at him finally taking some responsibility for this production—Cohen stepped up to interject.

“Now I—” he squeaked, stopping himself to cough and clear his throat before going on more clearly in his usual annoying deep voice. “I may have a solution to both of your problems.”

Lord Walker looked as surprised as Laura felt. He couldn’t think of anything to say before Rosa said, “Spit it out then, crook, and don’t you let it be a lie. You already have one strike in my book and this is not baseball.”

“Oh, well… I don’t know anything about baseball,” Cohen said. “But I do know a good bit about hammering out a script, and if we can have—forgive me, Lord—just a little more time and the ability to work face to face for a day or two, I think we can get something workable for both parties. I mean, her demand isn’t too difficult to work into Guy’s script, and I imagine that, other than minor details which can just as easily be changed, she’d be okay with the rest of the script as is.

“Who is this guy y’all keep talking about?” Lord Walker asked.

“What exactly are you proposing?” Rosa demanded.

Laura laughed internally, happy it wasn’t her under the spotlight anymore, but fearing the heat would turn on her again.

“Guy’s our writer,” Cohen explained. “He can’t be found right now but that doesn’t matter. You and I—uhRosa, can sit down together with the script we have and fix any problems you have with its content, starting with changing the their families to our family as per your request.”

Our Family,” Rosa corrected him. “It has to be capitalized.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Lord Walker said, nodding. “What do you think, dear?”

Rosa shook her head. She looked like she didn’t want to go along but had no other choice. Laura had been in that position for so long, making those same faces, she knew exactly how to spot them in someone else. “I get final veto on every word,” she relented.

I get final veto on every word,” Lord Walker corrected her.

“And if you’re veto doesn’t match with mine, then I—and the entire Human Family with me—will have something to say about it.”

Lord Walker chuckled. “Ho ho ho, dear. We’ll ride that elevator when we come to it. For now, though, there’s one more stipulation I’d like to make. Instead of your Cohen boy hammering out the script, like he so eloquently put it, I’d like my girl Laura to work with you. No offense to you Ice Cream Cohen—well maybe a little—” Lord Walker winked. “—but I trust her as much as I can trust a Three—not much—and I’d be more comfortable with her at the table than with you at it.”

“But, sir. I came up with the—” Cohen said, unable to finish what he had started.

“I don’t care who it is,” Rosa said. “As long a someone fixes it before we move on. You all decide for yourselves and send whoever you pick my way with a script.”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker chortled as Rosa stormed out of the room.

“Well,” Jorah said, clapping his hands and exuding a deep sigh. “I guess that means we’re done here for the day. I’ll be in my dressing room until further notice.”

Lord Walker stopped Jorah midway to the door so he could shake the star’s hand and hug him. “Good show today, Jorah, my boy. You prove your worth more with every new second. I’ll have Haley contact you when shooting resumes.”

“Please do, sir,” Jorah said, bowing low. “And please get me a better part soon. I play to the level of the role I’m given, and too much of this trash will wreak havoc on my acting abilities.”

“Will do, sir. Will do. Ho ho ho.” Lord Walker laughed and Jorah disappeared through the halls toward the elevators.

“Lord Walker, sir,” Cohen stammered. “But, I—”

Enough,” Lord Walker cut him off. “You’ve come too close to embarrassing me already. I’m not risking anything else on trusting you, boy. Now shut your mouth. Laura, dear. I expect updates on this. Get it right or you’ll never be rid of your past mistakes. Got me?”

Laura nodded.

“Good bye, then. All of you. I hope you do better in the future, for all of your sake.”

Lord Walker rode his pneumatic pants out of the studio and Laura could only imagine that she’d never rid herself of her past mistakes no matter how the stupid movie turned out.

#     #     #

< LVII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LIX. Anna >

And there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, pick up a full copy of this or any of my other stories through this link here, and as always, have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 56: Mr. Walker

Hello, dear readers. Good news. Yesterday I finished the handwritten draft of book four in the Infinite Limits series, 0.N Repeating. That means that after a good bit of transcribing and a few months of the first draft sitting in a drawer I’ll soon be editing and publishing the completion of the Infinite Limits story. Yay!

Today, however, we join Mr. Walker for his second point of view chapter which marks the 2/3 complete point in Dividing by Ø. So join us now as Mr. Walker tries to become Lord again and don’t forget to stick with us to see the exciting conclusion of the Infinite Limits saga. We do nothing alone.

< LV. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     LVII. Nikola >

LVI. Mr. Walker

“Waltronics Unlimited is seeing profits rise sky high as riots around the worlds increase demand for friendlier, more compliant employees at an exponential rate,” recited the big bald face on the television screen, beads of sweat glistening in the camera lights. “The cost of food and other amenities continues to plummet as cheaper robotic labor drives down profit margins at the benefit of preventing shortages in the luxuries we all need to live.”

Mr. Walker chuckled in his bed, the springs bouncing up and down with his behemoth movement. This newscaster knew nothing about the inner workings of the Free Market. He—like all journalists and most owners—was stuck in the fetishism of numbers. He and people like him had a money fetish, but Mr. Walker knew better. Mr. Walker could see beyond the glamour of the gold and green to the true source of money’s power: Power.

A bit redundant, sure. He chuckled again. But that’s why it was such a powerful realization when he had finally come to it. It was hidden in plain view. He could tell any owner in existence the secret to his success, and each and every one of them would no doubt laugh him off. The source of money’s power is power? they would say with a wry grin on their faces, not sure if good ol’ Mr. Walker was having a jest with them, making a fool, taking the piss. That’s ridiculous. It’s a tautology.

At which point Mr. Walker would smile and nod, still not letting on to whichever owner it was whether he were joking or not. Would he really give his secret away like that? But after all he would decide that it didn’t matter if any of them knew the secret because none of them were man enough to wield it anyway, and Mr. Walker would say, “Yes, my boy.” Maybe patting him on the back—because it would undoubtedly be a him, the owners were almost invariably men as the secretaries were almost invariably women—but Mr. Walker would pat whoever he was on the back to encourage him on a bit then say, “The source of money’s power is power. That is what’s truly important in life and in business. That’s my secret to success.”

Then Mr. Walker’s student would mull it over for a bit, unable to tease out the very truth which was so simply and plainly staring him in the face, only to laugh and pat Mr. Walker on the back, saying, Good one, old Lord. You had me going there for a second. At which time the poor boy would walk away to the next conversation, forever to be haunted by the spectre of lost opportunity and missed information.

“The Market as a whole is in a steep decline,” the sweating bald face on the television droned on mechanically, obviously reading from some eye implant. “Not since the historic rise and crash of the last century have we seen such steep and bracing freefalls in stock prices all across the board.”

Mr. Walker laughed out loud now. The fetish was blinding our dear newscaster again, only this time it wasn’t simply a fetishism of money but a fetishism of the Market itself. This particular fetish was probably more prevalent and harder to get past than the money fetish. Owners especially loved to hold the Market on high as a separate being worthy of being kept alive for the sake of principal. The Market should exist because it always had existed, was their motto, and who could blame them? For all intents and purposes it was the Market—and money—which gave these owners their power. Or so it appeared.

Mr. Walker knew better, though. He knew better than this idiot newscaster, of course, but better even than any other owner in Inland. That was how he had remained on top for as long as he had. Forever, really, until a minor lapse of attention on his part and one lucky decision—along with some mildly clever colluding with Mr. Angrom, he had to admit—made by the now Lord Douglas. But Mr. Walker was back in the survival mode which had made him Lord, the survival mode which he should have maintained even while on top of the food chain and which he would never come out of again—even when he finally and inevitably did regain his Lordship from the Standing Lord Dougy.

Mr. Walker understood that the Market was nothing more than a means to an end. That was it. It was no magical force. It was no independent actor. It was simply the culmination of billions and billions of tiny independent social interactions, all expressing themselves at the same time in a similar place. Each of countless billions of actors did what they themselves thought would get them most of what they wanted in life, and it was that exact selfishness that was the embodiment of the Market, its driving force.

So what if there were less economic exchanges occurring today than there were yesterday? So what if less wealth changed hands? Mr. Walker still ate fifteen square meals a day—more on weekends—and drank his old fashioneds to top off the night. So what?

It made no difference, but only as long as you hadn’t been caught up in the money fetish. Money isn’t power. Mr. Walker knew that. Money’s only power when it’s in style. That’s when it can best perform its magic trick illusion. And money’s only in style when times are good. When times are rough—when the worlds are rioting and there are plenty of robots to make all the commodities but no humans to buy them up—that’s when money loses its flair, the glamour fades, the fetish is revealed. Owners finally see what Fives and Sixes live through their entire lives: money is nothing but symbols. People, food, and electricity form real wealth. Those are the three basics any economy will always need: People, food, electricity. Power, power, power.

“The power went out in one Three neighborhood and they were not pleased,” a new voice said on the TV screen and Mr. Walker groaned. The propaganda sector was his least favorite section of Outland and he hated hearing their news. Still, he was deep into Three with this movie business—and only getting deeper as things progressed—so he would have to bear through it.

“We have with us live the one and only Jorah Baldwin—most viewed living actor—for an exclusive interview. So, Jorah, your building is at the heart of the affected area, you’re right in the middle of this brown out, is that correct?”

“Brown out?” Jorah said, frowning. Even Mr. Walker, with as little experience as he had in PR, could tell that Jorah’s makeup was off, like it had been put on by a broken robot. “What is that supposed to mean? You mean blackout?”

The camera cut to the news caster whose face had turned red, embarrassed. “Oh—Uh. I’m sorry. I thought that was— I didn’t want to offend you.”

Jorah scoffed and the camera cut to him. “Well, the blackout sucks, and there isn’t anything offensive about that, girl. My makeup is likely much more offensive. I had to put it on by hand, in the dark. So you can imagine how tough that was. I mean… damn.”

“Oh no, you look great,” the newscaster said, smiling and nodding—and maybe even flirting a little. Pretty creepy if you asked Mr. Walker. Jorah was his property after all. “Tell me, have you been able to get food or water? What about the elevators? Are they running? Are you trapped?”

“Oh, well…” Jorah bit his lip. “I’m afraid I haven’t tried the elevator, or gotten hungry for that matter. In fact, all I’ve done since the blackout is get dressed and prepped for this interview. Which was pretty hard, you know. Did I mention that I had to put my makeup on in the dark?”

“You heard it here fans,” the newscaster said, a serious look on his face as he stared into the camera. “They’re putting their makeup on manually and in the dark. And in case you were unaware, that is a difficult and annoying task. More in thirty minutes as the story progresses.”

Mr. Walker chuckled, wishing he had an old fashioned to sip after that story but not wanting to call Haley for it—really he shouldn’t have to call her, she should just predict his every need like a robot was supposed to do. He shook his head, ignoring Haley’s incompetence and bouncing up and down in his bed with more laughter. Putting on their makeup in the dark? Ho ho ho! That was an apt metaphor for his fellow owners if there ever was one. Mr. Walker, on the other hand, created his own light by which to see. Power, power, power. And he was ready to leverage himself into more of it.

Haley came in—finally—carrying an old fashioned. Mr. Walker sighed in relief at the sight of the drink but growled in anger at her tardiness. Robots, it seemed, were going out of style, and Mr. Walker needed to get himself positioned on the right side of that divide before anyone else did.

“I thought you might like a drink, sir,” Haley said, curtsying by his side table.

“I would have liked a drink five minutes ago,” Mr. Walker grumbled. “Now I absolutely need one. Gimme.” He snatched the drink out of her hand, spilling some on his nightshirt and the comforter in the process. “Now look what you’ve done,” he snapped, sipping the drink. “Clean it up!”

Haley was already cleaning it. “Yes, sir.”

“And you get out of here until it’s time for my meeting. I’m not to be disturbed. Do you understand me? I need to prepare.”

“Yes, sir.” Haley curtsied and left, slamming the door too loudly as she went.

If only Mr. Walker could fire her right then and there. He was so mad he wanted to chuck his glass at the TV but the drink’s soothing insobriety and the television’s priceless information were both worth too much to him and it would no doubt take Haley far too long to replace them both as it took her far too long to do anything these days. Mr. Walker would simply have to continue biding his time as he had been doing since that fateful day on which he had lost his crown as Lord of Outland.

He was no longer Mr. Walker at all, in fact. Instead becoming Mr. Red Queen, the Sisyphus of playing cards, always running faster and faster just to keep up—not to mention getting ahead—and he would find his way to the top of the deck again no matter what it took.

“The power went out in one Three neighborhood and they were not pleased,” the newscaster repeated, and Mr. Walker groaned as they played the same “live” interview with the same poorly made up Jorah. The power was out. Mr. Walker had gotten the point the first time around. This wasn’t a news story that needed repeating.

“Haley!” Mr. Walker called. “Haley, dear. Get in here!”

It took her much too long to open the door in a fluster and say, “Yes, sir.” with a clumsy curtsy.

“Get my pants, dear. I’m not waiting any longer. We’ll take the old boy by surprise. Chop chop, now. Hop to it.” He clapped his hands together, jiggling his belly with genuine mirth.

“Yes, sir.”

Getting dressed was the same struggle it had been ever since he had gotten this new model of Haley. Mr. Walker couldn’t wait until he could finally get rid of the ignorant, useless thing. Perhaps if this meeting went well enough, he could set that process into motion sooner than later. Not before getting the android to find her own human replacement, of course, but soon. He laughed then yelped as the idiot machine pinched his thigh in the restricting pants.

Damnit,” he snapped. “Be careful!”

“Yes, sir.” Haley curtsied as she worked, pinching him again. “Sorry, sir.”

By the time he was fully dressed Mr. Walker was happy to have summoned Haley as early as he had. If he had waited any longer, her incompetence might have made them late. As it was they were almost five minutes early, which to Mr. Walker was right on time.

They parked in the cheap parking garage—the one that didn’t even have reserved owner parking—and Mr. Walker didn’t gripe once on the long walk all the way from the bus parking spots to the elevator. In fact, Mr. Walker had even insisted that they hold this meeting at Douglas Towers. He wanted Lord Douglas to feel comfortable on his own turf as they made the negotiations. The more comfortable Lord Douglas was the more likely he was to go along with Mr. Walker’s offers. That was Salesmanship 101. If it took parking in bum fuck Egypt with the busses and meeting in an austere conference room, then that was exactly what Mr. Walker was going to do.

Haley made an incessant tapping noise with her feet on the floor of the elevator as they rode it down to the conference room. Mr. Walker was about to yell at her to stop when the elevator doors slid open to reveal Lord Douglas’s grinning face waiting in the hall for them. Mr. Walker almost scoffed though he was able to hold it in. If he wasn’t mistaken, Lord Douglas’s hat had grown noticeably taller since they had last met.

“Wally the Walrus,” Lord Douglas said with a smile. “You’re just on time, five minutes early. As predictable as a secretary, you are.” He chuckled.

“Sometimes I’d wish they were more predictable.” Mr. Walker tipped his hat and bowed as low as his pneumatic pants would allow. “But you know that I prefer to treat my business associates with respect, Lord Douglas. Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unforgivable in my book.”

“Yes, well in that case, you were early so you were on time so you were late, and that, my friend, is unforgivable in your very own book.” Lord Douglas laughed, looking at Haley to join in but Haley only blushed and broke eye contact.

Mr. Walker fumed. What was his robot doing blushing at a single glance from his arch nemesis? What was he doing trying to make a deal with that very same enemy? Why hadn’t he spit in the insolent fool’s face, marched out of those shabby wannabe towers, and been done with this toxic relationship once and for all?

He smiled, regaining his cool, remembering why he was there, and said, “Of course, Lord.” bowing again, but this time not as low and without the hat flourish. “The contradictions are there for anyone to see. It’s just wordplay, though. You know what I mean.”

“Is it though?” Lord Douglas smiled. “Just word play, I mean. You honestly believe that someone who is not early is not on time, don’t you?”

Mr. Walker fiddled with the knob of his cane. He didn’t like this line of questioning one bit. He was losing control of the conversation already and they hadn’t even started the negotiations. This was going to be a long meeting if it continued on like this, but Mr. Walker had no choice. He had to answer in appeasement if he wanted to keep Lord Douglas on the line. He only wished he had ever actually fished before—rather than seeing it in old movies—so he could better understand the metaphor.

“Yes, well, that’s my personal motto,” Mr. Walker said with a smile. “I can’t hold everyone to it though, of course.”

“Yes, so if you’re early, you’re on time, right?”

“Yes,” Mr. Walker said, groaning in his mind. And if I’m on time, I’m late. You’ve been there already. Get on with it so we can get to where I want to go.

“Then I’m sure you can see where I’m going from here,” Lord Douglas said, stepping into the elevator with Mr. Walker who stepped back in surprise to let him on. “But I’m not sure you’ll be able to predict where we’re going now.” Lord Douglas smiled.

The doors slid closed and the elevator fell into motion without another command from Lord Douglas. When the doors reopened Mr. Walker was speechless.

This wasn’t the drab gray conference room he had expected. No, this wasn’t Lord Douglas’s style at all. It couldn’t be. It was too grand, too beautiful, too…

The room was a giant office, at least twice as big as Mr. Walker’s own. There was a big desk—twice again the size of the desk in Mr. Walker’s office—and some fluffy looking chairs that surrounded a side table, all looking out onto a wilderness mountain scene.

“I see you like this office much better than my usual conference room,” Lord Douglas said, already seated in one of the fluffy chairs by the windowwall and indicating for Mr. Walker to take the seat across from him. “I thought it might be a bit more your style.”

Mr. Walker tried not to react as he took his seat, but he knew that not reacting was reaction enough for Lord Douglas to discern. “I didn’t know you had any taste,” Mr. Walker said with a smile. “Even this little,” he added, trying to play some small amount of offense in what had become a defensive game for him.

“Well.” Lord Douglas shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t take much credit for the decor in here—if any. I pay people to worry about such minor details for me. You know how it goes.”

Mr. Walker chuckled, fidgeting in his seat. “Oh, I don’t now. I like to do things the old fashioned way myself.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lord Douglas said, standing from his chair. “Did you need something to drink? I’m such an ungracious host. An old fashioned, though, right? That is your preferred beverage.”

“An old fashioned would be just fine,” Mr. Walker said.

“Very good, then.” Lord Douglas smiled and bowed. “I’ll return shortly.”

Mr. Walker couldn’t believe that Lord Douglas actually left the room to get the drinks himself after showing off with this magnificent office. What kind of madness was he getting at? Lord Douglas had a secretary who Mr. Walker had seen on many occasions, so where was she in all this? Mr. Walker turned around and Haley was still standing there, staring at one of the blank walls instead of out the window. She smiled and feigned a curtsy, conscious of Mr. Walker’s gaze, while Mr. Walker just went on wondering what kind of play Lord Douglas was making.

Lord Douglas returned with drinks in hand and gave one to Mr. Walker—who didn’t leave his seat to accept it, wanting to reappropriate some control of the situation. “There you are. One old fashioned for you and one for myself. Let us drink together to the Invisible Hand’s rule over all our fates.” Lord Douglas raised his glass.

Mr. Walker clinked his glass to Lord Douglas’s with a smirk. “To the Hand’s infinite wisdom,” he said

The old fashioned burned hot all the way down Mr. Walker’s throat and into his stomach, like nothing he had tasted since Christmas when the new Haley had come into his life and fucked everything up for him. She wouldn’t be in it for much longer, though. Not much longer at all.

“So,” Lord Douglas said, setting his empty glass on one of the side tables, unphased by the fire of his own drink. “You came here for a reason, Wally Boy. Let’s get down to it.”

Mr. Walker chuckled, trying to cover up the burning that was still going on inside his own mouth and stomach. “Of course I did, Douggy. It’s always business between us, isn’t it?”

Lord Douglas frowned. “Is it, Walrus? You don’t consider me a close personal friend?” Even Lord Douglas couldn’t keep a straight face saying something as ridiculous as that.

“Am I?” Mr. Walker asked, chuckling himself. “Is that what you’re looking for here, a friend?”

“No—Ha ha! No, Wally.” Lord Douglas put on a straight face again, abruptly halting his laughter. “Not exactly. I’m looking for something more than that.”

Mr. Walker felt like he was on the defensive again. He had initiated these negotiations, how had they gotten so far out of hand so quickly? He needed to retake control of the conversation and fast.

“But this isn’t about me,” Lord Douglas said, as if laying down his arms for the time being, giving up his advantage and letting Mr. Walker speak for some unknown and supremely suspicious reason. “You initiated this meeting, Walker, so you tell me what it is you want and I’ll decide where we go from there.”

“Yes, well…” Mr. Walker fixed his bow tie through his grizzly beard. “I hate to tread ground already walked upon, but I’m afraid we never made it to the end of the particular path in question. That is to say that I called this meeting to finish what we’ve already started.”

Lord Douglas didn’t smile or nod, but his eyes twinkled. “I assumed as much,” he said. “I also assume—forgive my presumptiveness—that you are talking about your desire to relieve me of my shares in the protector force. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

Mr. Walker smiled. Now they were getting into territory he had prepared for. Finally he could retake control of the negotiations. “No, you’re not often wrong. Are you Lord Douglas?” He diverted his eyes, being as earnest as he possibly could, feigning a sacrifice of position but only setting himself up for success in the long run.

Lord Douglas couldn’t help but grin, as Mr. Walker knew he would. “Go on, Walrus,” he said. “This flattery gets you nowhere.”

“It’s not flattery when it’s true,” Mr. Walker said, taking a page from Jorah’s book. “Only embellishments can be flattery. But let’s continue anyway. Stating common knowledge is no use to either of us. No, what’s most useful to both parties is for us to discuss the benefit that would accrue to you by consolidating ownership over the android and AI industry.”

Here Lord Douglas was caught speechless. His jaw didn’t drop but the subtle twitch of his eyes expressed his complete and utter awe at the prospect.  “Slow down there, Walton my boy,” Lord Douglas said, fidgeting in his seat. “I thought you were here to talk about the protectors.”

“Oh, yes, yes.” Mr. Walker laughed. “Of course the protectors factor into this, but that’s exactly the ground we’ve already tread upon.”

“I see.” Lord Douglas nodded.

“Do you though? Can you honestly see the possibilities? Have you been following the news at all, Lord Douglas? The numbers? The more the people riot the more the robots are worth and the the more the protectors cost. These are basic axioms of economics.”

“Sure.” Lord Douglas laughed. “That’s why you’re so eager to rid yourself of Waltronics for a bigger share of the protectorship. Right? Because androids are becoming more profitable and protectors are becoming less. That makes a whole lot of sense.”

“That’s where you get me wrong, Doug.” Mr. Walker smiled a tense smile. This was the hail mary, the lynchpin of his entire plan. It was all or nothing, full force or no force, and so he went into it with everything he had. “I’m not in it for the money, my Lord. I’m in it for something more than that.”

Lord Douglas scoffed. “Oh yeah? What more could there be besides money?”

Principle,” Mr. Walker said, slamming his ham fist on a side table and nearly crumbling the fragile thing under his brute strength. “The rule of law. The sanctity of private property and the Free Market. What more could there be in the worlds than that?”

Lord Douglas tapped his chin, thinking about how to answer—or at least wanting to look the part. He took his monocle out of his eye and blew some warm breath on it to rub it clean with his pocket square. “Principle, you say,” he said. “I think I understand all too well the principles on which you stand, and I’m not sure I would like those to be the driving force behind the protectors.”

“But they already are.” Mr. Walker laughed. “Ignoring the fact that I already own a majority share—however slight that majority might be—the principles I stand for are the principles we all stand for. They are the principles of the Free Market, foremost among those being the absolute utility of private property rights and the complete freedom of discretion with regards to one’s own property. What could you find to argue against in that?”

“I could argue with your performance, Wally Boy. That’s what. Talk all you want about ideals, the fact of the matter remains that you have yet to solve the two largest terrorist attacks in recent history, one of which occurred under your Lordship.”

“I’m afraid your information’s a little dated.” Mr. Walker smiled. “Both cases have been solved and the terrorists responsible are being held accountable.”

“Oh. Well then.” Lord Douglas gave a slow, sarcastic, palm clap. “Bravo. It’s only taken you this long. Do you want a cookie cake?”

“No,” Mr. Walker answered without hesitation. “I’m not proud of the time it took. I should have done better. I can do better. And I would have, but I didn’t have the proper resources. We’re running low in One, as you know. We’re pulling rookies up before they’re properly trained. Furthermore, the force is too fractured for it to be as effective as it needs to be in these particularly trying times—as evidenced by our little armory attack last afternoon.”

Your little armory attack, Mr. Walker.”

“Exactly my point, dear Lord. This is our protector force, meant to protect all of us, not just the ones who own them. If we had shared information instead of hoarding it, we could have prevented the attack instead of letting that scum get away with the guns. Now hold on a second there, Lord. Let me finish, please. You see, I know you’ll never work that close with me, sharing all the secrets you gain, and I don’t blame you for it. Information is too valuable to be sharing it like that. So the way I see it, for the good of every owner of Inland, I believe we should consolidate ownership of the protector force under one head so—whoever that head is—he will be able to properly utilize the resources and manpower that are needed to completely and thoroughly protect our economy in these dire times in which we find ourselves.” Mr. Walker was breathing hard by the end of his speech. He had to get it all out in one breath so as not to leave any spaces for Lord Douglas to interject. Now that Mr. Walker wanted him to respond, though, Lord Douglas was taking his time.

After what seemed like an eternity, Lord Douglas, with raised eyebrows, finally asked, “And why, then, should it be you at the helm of the protectors and not me?”

“Well, Lord Douglas.” Mr. Walker bowed as low as he could without losing his top hat—not far because the hat was so tall. “Do you really want to be at the helm of a sinking ship? The protector force is hemorrhaging money. Life would be so much easier taking advantage of the riots by selling robot replacement workers than it would be paying for the protectors who are supposed to put those riots to an end. Don’t you think?”

“Which brings us back to the question of why you would be volunteering to do the harder job in my place.”

“I’ve already told you. Honor, my boy.” Mr. Walker puffed out his chest. “Respect. I’m no longer Lord, you know, and it’s starting to sink in. Not only that, I keep falling further and further behind every day. I’m sure you know that. You watch the markets as close as any good owner.”

Lord Douglas smiled and gave a slight nod.

“I’m not catching up to you any time soon—even with complete control of Waltronics Llc.—and I know that. You know that. Every owner who can read a stock quote knows that because it’s a fact. I’m just trying to find another way to do something worth being remembered for, and I think stopping this riot might be the best course of action for me. You’re beyond all this protecting now. You’re Lord. Everything you do is honorable and destined for the history books. I, on the other hand, am forced to find other avenues through which to make my life a fulfilling one, and protecting is what I’ve chosen.”

Lord Douglas nodded. “And what exactly is it that you’re offering?” he asked. “What is it that you want?”

“I propose a one for one trade. I own ninety percent of Waltronics android facilities while you own ten percent of the same. I own fifty-one percent of the protector force while you own forty-nine percent of the same. I suggest an even exchange, my Waltronics holdings for your protector stocks. Straight up. Now, I know they’re not exactly—”

“Deal.”

“Wait a second. You can have some time to— What?”

Lord Douglas stood and extended his white gloved hand across the desk. “I agree to trade all my protector stocks for all your robotics stocks. Deal.”

Mr. Walker looked at the hand. This was way too easy. How was it so easy? Still, it was what Mr. Walker had wanted. He stood and shook Lord Douglas’s hand vigorously. “Deal, then Douggy,” he said. “I’m glad you could finally see it my way. You won’t regret this, now. Haley, my dear, you got that, right? You witnessed it?”

“The transaction has been processed, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy.

“Very good. Ho ho ho!” Mr. Walker said, still shaking Lord Douglas’s hand. “It was so good doing business with you, Lord.”

“And you, my friend,” Lord Douglas said with a wry smile. “Better than you could imagine. But—and only if you don’t mind, of course—there is one last piece of business I’d like to share with you. If you would, please, sit down.”

Ho ho ho!” Mr. Walker retook his seat, his stomach jiggling in glee. “Anything, my Lord,” he said. “After a deal like that, I’ll do anything you ask of me.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Lord Douglas said, leaving the room. “There’s someone I’d like you to see.”

Mr. Walker didn’t care who it was. He had gotten what he wanted out of these negotiations, and they were a success no matter who came through that door behind Lord Dug Bot. The fool had no doubt fallen into the same sense of ease that Mr. Walker had when he was Lord, and Mr. Walker was going to make him pay for it.

The door opened and Mr. Walker did a double take, looking back at Haley then forward to Haley again. No. It couldn’t be.

“I believe you know Haley,” Lord Douglas said with a grin, stepping behind her. “And I hope you don’t regret our deal, after all.”

 

#     #     #

< LV. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     LVII. Nikola >

So there it is, dear readers, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If so, don’t forget to go through this link to purchase full copies of all the novels in the series–and maybe leave some positive reviews, I could really use the exposure. Thanks again for following along. We do nothing alone. Now have a great weekend, y’all.

Chapter 41: Guy

This Saturday brings us Guy’s third point of view chapter and the second to last chapter in book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, An Almost Tangent. Today Guy is working on editing Rosa’s script so he and his crew can get the resources they need to make the movies they really want to make. See how that plan works out for them as the story continues in this installment of the Infinite Limits tale. Enjoy, dear readers, and do think about picking up a full copy of the novel through this link here.

< XL. Jonah     [Table of Contents]     XLII. Olsen >

XLI. Guy

FADE IN:

INT. WALTRONICS ANDROID FACTORY SLIP, SNAP, CLICKING ROOM — DAY

ASSEMBLY WORKER works at an assembly line in a dimly lit, dirty factory. As she slip, snap, clicks, ANDROID THIEF bursts through the doors to pull Assembly Worker from her work.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
Get your robot hands off me.

ANDROID THIEF
I don’t care.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
This is my job. You can’t do this!

ANDROID THIEF
I am a robot. I don’t care.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
But how will my human children eat? Can you feel no emotions?

ANDROID THIEF
I am a robot. I don’t care.

Android Thief grabs Assembly Worker and lifts her onto the conveyor belt.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
(struggling to get away while Android Thief ties her up)
No! Unhand me you—you—robot, you!

ANDROID THIEF
(setting Assembly Worker on the conveyor belt)
I don’t care.

Assembly Worker struggles against the ropes and eventually gives up, allowing the conveyor belt to carry her through several more rooms in which more pieces get added to the slip, snap, clicked pieces by large robotic arms, finally carrying her to:

INT. WALTRONICS ANDROID FACTORY FINISHED PRODUCTS PACKAGING — DAY

Assembly worker falls off the end of the conveyor belt into a pile of bodies. She screams, thinking they’re dead humans, before realizing they’re actually androids. She screams again at the realization.

ASSEMBLY WORKER
(crying and screaming)
No! We were—We were building them! No! How could they do this!?!!

#     #     #

Ugh. Guy crumpled up the page he was working on and tossed it at his trash can. That was worthless shit. He remembered what he was doing and that he probably couldn’t throw out an entire page—if so, he would have started over from scratch already—then went to pick the crumpled ball up and try to flatten it out again on his desk.

Why did the android only know two sentences? He understood that the piece was supposed to be anti-android, or whatever, but that was just lazy. If the thing could take a human’s job, then it could learn more than two sentences. And that was only one of myriad plot holes he was supposed to deal with by the next day.

He sat up further in his chair and rubbed his back where it had started cramping up from sitting for so long. How long had he been at it? He checked the clock. Ugh. Well past midnight and still he had so much work left to do. His back ached more at the thought of it. The first thing he was adding to his wish list was a nice comfortable desk chair.

He searched through the pile of mess on his desk to find an empty scrap of paper he could write that down on: Wish list: 1. Chair (comfortable) 2. Notebooks (a lot) 3. Pens (ditto). He picked up the note and looked at it, trying to think of anything else he needed.

Ugh. He threw the note over his shoulder. He was just procrastinating, putting off this stupid editing that he didn’t want to do, but he had to do it, and the longer he put it off, the later he would have to stay up because of it. At least he didn’t have to worry about work tomorrow.

He started to cry at the thought of it. He didn’t have work because the star of the production he had been working on had died. Russ Logo had died. With Guy’s being arrested then getting this stupid assignment right after being released, he hadn’t had time to think about Russ’s death. But now he did. And he couldn’t stop his sobbing. He lost himself in the grief for too long before shaking himself out of it and getting back to work.

He looked at the page in front of him. It was still wrinkly, and it was covered in red ink already. He hadn’t even typed up any of his edits, and that was always the worst part. He flipped through to count how many pages he had left. Seven. That wasn’t too bad. Less than a third of it. It wasn’t long so there was that.

He got up to get himself a bottled coffee out of the fridge then sat back down and put his desk in order. He picked up his red pen and started the massacre. By the end of it there wasn’t a word of dialogue that he hadn’t changed—and most of the scene directions, too—but even though he didn’t agree with a bit of it, he thought he held true to the theme of the story nonetheless. He kept its underlying message, that androids—and technology in general—were oppressing working class humans and must be destroyed at all costs, and he even left the buy human-made only tangent, blending it seamlessly into the overall narrative instead of clumsily making an aside to it as the original script had done, subtlety being something that whoever had written the original manuscript obviously had no understanding of.

When he was done editing, he set to typing his corrections. He didn’t have a digital copy of the script, so he would really be typing the entire thing over again. Just another sign that whoever they were working with had no clue about the best practices in scriptwriting—and probably moviemaking in general.

He opened up his ancient laptop—two entire years old—and sighed at the fact that it took more than a few seconds to turn on. Something this old was really only good enough for typing and playing music, but luckily, that was all he ever he did with it anyway. Still, he should probably add it as a fourth item to his wish list: a better computer to type on. He opened up his word processor and made sure the formatting was set to his liking before letting the classical music playlist he always worked to flow through him.

His typing was unconscious. He imagined his fingers on the keyboard were playing the beautiful piano melodies in his ears. He was Chopin. His words were Chopin’s music. He could feel the notes flowing through his arms and out of his fingertips with each letter he added, each note passing through him into the computer screen, and despite the message, the melody was beautiful.

He was exhausted by the end of it, but satisfied. He could barely lift his arms or his eyelids. He tried to see the time, but there were too many clocks to count, all overlapping each other and obscuring each other’s messages. He didn’t even have the energy to stand up and plop himself on his bed, which was only a step away, instead letting his head roll, falling asleep right in his desk chair.

#     #     #

The incessant buzz of Guy’s doorbell drew him away from dreams of fame. He hit his knee on the desk and let out a loud “Fuck!”, rolling and groaning in pain. It was not a good idea to sleep in his shitty desk chair, he knew that, but he kept doing it anyway. He had trouble standing and nearly tripped over the chair as it rolled out and hit the fridge behind him. “I’m coming,” he called, then, “Answer, I mean.” and, “I’m coming.” again. “Or—I mean—hello. Who is it?”

“Guy?” the tinny voice came back. “It’s Jen. I thought I’d come over early and make sure you’re ready for the meeting. I know how late you like to work when you’re on a deadline. Can I come up?”

Guy looked around his apartment. The bed wasn’t made even though he hadn’t slept in it. The kitchen counter was lined with empty jars of coffee that had been there for who knows how long. The bathroom was—well…bad. No. She could not come in and see that. “No,” he said, remembering the intercom was still on. “I mean. I’m ready now. Be down in a jiff.”

He rescanned the script a few times before sending it out to everyone then went and ruffled his hair in the mirror and gave his teeth a quick brush before running down the stairs. He burst out of the front doors, huffing and puffing, then bent over to catch his breath.

“Are you okay?” Jen asked.

“I—huff—yeah,” he huffed. “I…great.”

“Are you wearing the same clothes as yesterday?” she asked, looking him up and down.

He looked down at himself and he was. He looked up at her and she was still wearing black but a different outfit from yesterday’s. “I—uh… I worked late,” he said, which was certainly true.

“Yeah?” Jen laughed. “You must have. Did you come up with something we can work with, though?”

Guy looked at his feet. “You know, not really,” he said. “I still don’t agree with the message. It’s pretty much the opposite of the script I wrote. People are gonna think we’re hypocrites if we do this.”

Jen shook her head. “No,” she said. “Like you said, no one is going to see this little film we make. No one will even know it exists. But because we did it first, our other project will be better. Your script, Guy.”

Guy shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not right.”

“But—” Jen protested.

“But I wouldn’t let the crew down,” he cut her off. “So, yes. I did come up with something we can work with.”

Jen laughed and hugged him, kissing him on the cheek. “Oh, Guy,” she said. “I knew you would do it.”

He blushed and stumbled, almost falling over his own feet. “Well, I couldn’t let you down,” he said. “Could I?”

“I’m sure you made it great,” Jen said, taking his hand and leading him to the elevator. “I can’t wait to read it.”

The crew was all there and waiting when they got to Indywood. Everyone seemed to let out a sigh of relief when they saw Guy walk in. He didn’t even have to ask them to move so he could sit down. A seat just seemed to open up before him, the masses parting at his approach.

“So,” Cohen said when they were all comfortable again. He seemed to be trying to hold back his normal patronizing tone. He even attempted a smile. “Is this script something we can work with?”

Guy wasn’t going to give it to Cohen that easily, though. “I still don’t think we should do this,” he said. “How many of you here have read the actual script?”

He looked around and they all avoided his gaze.

“No?” he said. “That’s what I thought. Now, how many of you care what it says?”

He looked around again and they all reacted the same way.

“None of you?” he said. “As I expected again. Because none of you are writers. But I am. The writing is all I control. The theme is what I live for. And let me tell you, this theme…this is dangerous.”

Cohen scoffed. The rest of the crowd muttered to themselves. “Dangerous?” Cohen asked. “Words are wind. How could they be dangerous?”

Guy shook his head. “Words are only wind until their written and recorded, heard and interpreted, then they turn into thought which leads to action, and that makes them stone. Words are creation, handed down to us from Fortuna above, and you discount your own craft if you discount their power.”

“He’s right,” Laura said. “We’re putting our names on this. That tells people we endorse the message.”

Not necessarily,” Emir said. “It’s just a job.”

“And a well-paying one at that,” Cohen reminded them. “Paying anything your heart could desire.”

Yes,” Guy said, nodding. “The pay is unbelievable. Which is more of a reason to distrust the motives of whoever wrote this.”

“Who cares who wrote it?” Cohen asked. “Did you make it workable? That’s all we want to know. We can’t do any work until you’re done.”

The whole crew looked on at him expectantly, even Laura who he thought was on his side. He sighed. He had tried to convince them. That was all he could do. “Yes,” he near whispered, giving up on his standards, all of them. “I made something that doesn’t suck, even though it still goes against everything I believe in as a human being.”

Cohen clapped his hands together with a big smile on his face. “Well then,” he said. “Great. Perfect. And I assume you sent it out to everyone?”

Guy nodded.

Magnificent. Does everyone have something with them that they can read on?” Cohen asked. “We need to get started right away, and a cold reading should be good to get our approval at the very least.”

Everyone started taking out their phones and tablets, and Guy sat back in his chair, left to watch his Frankenstein creation come to life from the dead. Steve went to the bar to get a drink, but Laura had her phone out to read along, probably imagining shots she would need to make and the camera riggings required. She had to be one of the hardest working members of the entire crew, always involved in every bit of the action.

“Guy,” Cohen said, “you know the script better than anyone. Who should be playing which part?”

Guy shrugged. “Well, there are really only two major parts,” he said. “The protagonist is a female assembly line worker, and the antagonist is a male robot. Black and white. Yin and yang. Good and evil. Opposites. You get it. It’s your typical, basic story line.”

“Okay,” Cohen said. “That’s easy enough.” He was searching through the script on his tablet. “What other characters do we have?”

Actually,” Guy said, “before I put my red pen to it, those were the only two characters in the entire script with lines. I added one or two more, but I couldn’t change much because I thought your investor would want us to stay as close to the original as possible.”

“Good instincts,” Cohen said. “If I’m honest with you, the investor didn’t really react well to the notion of editing at all.”

Guy scoffed. “You don’t have to tell me that,” he said. “The script read like it hadn’t been edited once.”

“But now it has,” Cohen said, clapping his hands and smiling. He was clearly happy to finally have something to do. As a director he didn’t have much work to do on a project until shooting got started. “So,” he went on. “I guess we’ll put Emir in the role of our antagonist… Adam Torrence? Is that right?” He looked to Guy for reassurance.

Guy nodded.

Emir scoffed. “Torrence?” he said. “What kind of name is that?”

Cohen looked at Guy and cringed. “Yeah, you know,” he said. “I’m not really feeling it, either. Was that in the original?”

Guy could feel himself getting defensive. Adrenaline, or something like it, boiled up into his throat from inside his stomach, and this wasn’t even his work. It was crap, and he knew it. So why did he let their critiques bother him so much?

It doesn’t really matter,” he snapped. He took a deep breath to control himself. “That is to say that the names aren’t mentioned in the dialogue so they’ll only be known to us. They have no bearing on the final project.” He didn’t mean that, of course—which was why he was defending his names still—but it was a good defense nonetheless.

“So why give them names at all?” Cohen asked.

“It adds character,” Emir answered for Guy. “I must know who I am in order to better portray my role. How could anyone know themselves who doesn’t know their own name?”

“Alright, alright,” Cohen said, nodding. “You’ve convinced me. What about everyone else?” He looked around at the crew, and those who were still paying attention shrugged. “Anyone have any ideas as to a better name?” he asked.

Emir Islam,” Emir said. “A role I can play better than any other.”

“That’s just your name,” Emily said, slapping him.

“Yeah,” Emir said, shrugging. “So? What better idea is there?” He smiled wide and sat up straight in his chair.

“You know that Adam is a robot, right?” Guy said. “You’re the bad guy in this. You don’t need a likeable name, and I have no idea why you would want to stick your real name on something this shitty in the first place.”

“That’s not his real name,” Emily said, scoffing.

“Whatever,” Guy said. “Can we just get to the reading?”

“Alright, now,” Cohen said. “Calm down. You make a good point, though. Let’s table this until after the reading. Now for the lead role…”

Oh. Ooh ooh. Me. Pick me,” Emily begged, raising her hand and jumping up and down in her seat.

“I was thinking we should give Jen the part for this read through,” Cohen said, and Emily’s face went red as she stopped bouncing. “Now,” Cohen added, “this isn’t the final casting decision—mind you—but we need to get started as soon as we can. So let’s just go ahead with it.” Emily huffed and went to the bar to get a drink. “I’ll play the narrator,” Cohen went on, ignoring her departure. “Of course.” He chuckled. “And everyone else we’ll just pick up as we go along. Are y’all ready?” He looked around and only received silent nods in response. “Okay, let’s do this.”

“We fade into an interior scene,” Cohen read. Guy closed his eyes and imagined the scene playing out in his head. “We’re in the Waltronics Android Factory slip, snap, clicking room. Our protagonist, Alice Walton—” he nodded at Jen “—sits alone at a conveyor belt, slip, snap, clicking. There are empty stools to her left and right, and every few pieces she puts together, she looks at one or the other of the stools, wondering where her coworkers are, wondering why she is the only one left on the line. Enter Adam Torrence. He takes the seat next to Alice and sets to work without a word. Alice tries to ignore him, focusing on her own work, but Adam is slip, snap, clicking at inhuman speeds. She glances aside at him then quickly back at her work, a glint of recognition in her eye. When she looks again, Adam is staring at her with a smile on his face, still slip, snap, clicking at impossible speeds, even with his eyes off his work.” Cohen nodded at Emir.

“Hello,” Emir said in a deep mechanical voice.

You.” Jen gasped.

“Who else did you expect?”

“But you—” Jen said. “You can’t—”

Emir laughed a hefty laugh. He did know how to sound like a villain. “But I did,” he said.

No,” Jen said. “But my coworkers, my family… Without their jobs, they’ll—”

Emir laughed again. “I am a robot,” he said, pausing for effect. “I don’t care.”

“Adam stands and grabs Alice by her shoulders,” Cohen narrated.

“No!” Jen begged. “Unhand me!”

“Adam produces a rope from seemingly nowhere and binds Alice’s arms at her sides, wrapping the rope around her body over and over.”

“Just one more piece of human trash to get rid of,” Emir said with a final, hearty laugh.

“No! No!” Jen pled.

“Adam lifts Alice onto the conveyor belt. She screams in pain as the pieces already there dig into her back and the belt carries her into darkness.”

When Cohen stopped reading, Guy opened his eyes. The entire crew seemed to be reading ahead to what happens next. “So?” Guy said.

“I mean… Wow, Guy,” Cohen said, shaking his head. “I thought you said this was crap. And that was just the first scene. But this writing is great. That suspense just built up fast and hooked me right in. I don’t see how you can think this is bad.”

“Because it is bad,” Guy said. “I took that bit from the end and moved it to the beginning because it was the only scene worth anything. Don’t judge the script by the first scene.”

“But this,” Cohen said. “This is good.”

“But it isn’t,” Guy said, frustrated. “Just because it’s written well doesn’t mean it’s good art. You have to see the message already. It’s spelled out as plain as day, and—no—it’s not a red herring. The writer isn’t sophisticated enough for that. I know they aren’t.”

Cohen shook his head. “Right, right,” he said. “It’s anti-robot, sure, but damn if it’s not compelling.”

“That almost makes it worse,” Guy said. “Now that it’s entertaining, more people will see it. I’m still not sure about this, y’all.”

Emir laughed his same evil villain laugh from the reading, still in character. “I beg to differ, human,” he said. “We have your script already. There’s no stopping us now. Muahahahahaha.”

Guy sighed. Robot Emir was right.

“Besides,” Cohen said. “We need this. Do you have your wish list filled out?”

“And I like the part,” Jen said.

Emily frowned, downing her drink.

“See, human,” Emir said. “You are outnumbered. Surrender to your robot overlords.”

“I for one welcome our robot overlords,” Steve said, holding his glass up. Guy hadn’t even noticed when he rejoined the crew. “Let’s kick one back to androids and those who love them everywhere.” Steve winked at Guy as he tapped his glass with everyone else’s. “To androids.” Steve gulped his drink down then added, “Well, I’m gonna go get to work on some costumes for this thing,” he said. “You have my wish list, right Cohen?”

Cohen nodded and patted his jacket pocket. “Right here,” he said. After Steve left, he added, “Alright, should we get back to it then?”

Guy closed his eyes again to imagine the scene. He ended up falling asleep in a sitting position and dreaming it instead. When he woke up again, Cohen was congratulating everyone on a good read-through and divvying up responsibilities to crew members who already knew they had them.

“Great job, people,” he said. “Very good job. I think this will be something we can all be proud of.”

Guy stood up, finally conscious of how exhausted he was. “I, uh… I need some rest,” he said and stumbled out of the bar without waiting for an answer.

He took in a deep breath of fresh air and leaned on the wall outside. He hadn’t even finished his first drink and he felt smashed already. He was about to gather himself and head toward the elevator when the bar door opened and out came Laura.

“Guy, wait,” she called, jogging out to him.

He shrugged and leaned on the wall again.

“I—uh—I wanted to talk to you,” she said, rubbing her arm.

Shoot,” he said, pointing at her with both hands. He didn’t remember ever talking to Laura alone before, but he was in no condition to argue.

“Well, it’s about the protectors,” she said. “About your ankle brace.”

Guy fought the reflex to scratch it at the reminder. “Go ahead,” he said.

“Well, I—” She looked down and seemed to blush. “Just look.” She held out her foot and lifted her pant leg to reveal an ankle monitor of her own.

“I—what?” Guy was dumbfounded.

“Yeah, well, that’s how I know you’re in for more than you expect,” she said. “They won’t let you go that easily, not with what you were involved in.”

“But I wasn’t,” he said, regaining momentary control of himself despite being so tired.

“That doesn’t matter to them,” Laura said. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. They’re coming for you sooner than you think.”

“But they just let me go,” Guy said. “What would be the point?”

“To see where you went while you were free,” she said. “They’re watching you. That’s why they gave you that ankle bracelet, Guy.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t care,” Guy said, shaking his head. “I need some sleep.”

“If I were you, I would go back inside and get something to eat first,” she said. “You have a chance of being taken every time you get in an elevator, now, and I’m sure you haven’t eaten in some time from the looks of you.”

Guy shook his head and rubbed his face. “How do you know all this?” he asked.

“Because I’ve been through it myself,” she said. “Because I have my own ankle monitor. Because I have to know it to stay alive, and now, you do, too.”

Guy sighed. “Whatever,” he said. “I don’t care. I need some rest, not food.”

“You will if they take you again.”

“They’re not going to take me, alright. Now I appreciate your advice, but I have to go. See you tomorrow.”

“I hope so,” she said as he made his way to the elevator.

Guy sighed to himself and the elevator fall into motion. He wondered what it was that got Laura an ankle monitor and why she had kept it secret for so long. Maybe she was guilty. He was imagining the possibilities when the elevator doors slid open to three protectors pointing guns at him. His hands shot up into the air by reflex.

“Citizen, you’re under arrest,” one of the protectors said before throwing a black bag over his head and punching him in the stomach.

 

#     #     #

< XL. Jonah     [Table of Contents]     XLII. Olsen >

So ends Guy’s point of view in An Almost Tangent. A cliff hanger, that one, which you dear readers will just have to wait until book three, Dividing by Ø, to find out the conclusion of. And don’t forget, if you can’t wait that one long week before the final chapter of An Almost Tangent becomes available on the website here, you can pick up a full copy of the novel any time right through this link.

Thanks for joining us again, readers. Have a great weekend.

Chapter 40: Jonah

This Saturday brings us Jonah’s third and final point of view chapter in An Almost Tangent. After this one there are only two more chapters left in book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy.  If you’d like a physical copy of the book, pick it up right here, and to make sure you know when the next book in the series is released, join my email newsletter subscription list right here. Thanks for joining us thus far, dear readers, and enjoy the story.

< XXXIX. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XLI. Guy >

XL. Jonah

“What? Where am I?” Jonah demanded.

“You’re in my lab,” the woman in the white coat said.

“And who are you?”

“The Scientist. As I said. That’s my name.”

“That’s not a name,” Jonah said.

“It is.” The woman smiled. “It’s my name. Now, do you want to argue about what constitutes a name, or do you want to get down to why you’re actually here?”

“Where am I?” Jonah asked again, looking around at the short hall.

“Come with me,” the woman said, crossing it to open a door at the other end and show him through.

They went into a big office with a desk, puffy chairs, and a view of a green, hilly wilderness, similar to the view in the Captain’s office but with less snow and smaller mountains.

“Please. Sit,” the Scientist said, indicating one of the puffy chairs.

Jonah hopped up into it as she took the seat across from him. “I still don’t know where this is,” he said.

“This is my home.” She looked around. “Or, it’s one office in my extensive house. This, dear, is Outland Four. Do you know what that is?”

Jonah scoffed. He didn’t need to be patronized. “Of course I do,” he said. “I’m not a housekeeper.”

“Well, that’s where you are,” she said. “Technically.”

“And why?” Jonah asked.

“That’s what I wanted to ask you, dear,” the Scientist said. “Why are you here?”

I don’t know,” Jonah complained. “I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know where here is, other than Outland Four which doesn’t narrow it down much. So how am I supposed to know why I’m here? You tell me.”

“You’re here because you want something.” The woman smiled.

“Who doesn’t?”

“What is it that you want, Jonah?”

He paused to think about it. “I want to save Ansel,” he decided.

“We’ve taken care of that already,” she said.

Sure,” Jonah said, nodding and giving a sarcastic thumbs up. “Then get rid of Liz’s demerits.”

The Scientist chuckled. “Sadly, your schooling is one of the few areas I don’t have control over,” she said. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Then you can’t get me anything,” Jonah said. “So why am I here?”

“There’s nothing else you want?” the Scientist asked. “No one else you could ask a favor for?” She eyed him.

“Why do you care?” Jonah asked. “What are you doing this for anyway?”

“You tried to help Ansel,” she said. “You ended up putting her in danger, but that was her choice, not yours. Ansel is a part of my family now, and if you help her, you help me. I want to help you in return.”

Jonah scoffed. “Yeah, right,” he said. “What can you do anyway? You already said you can’t give me what I want.”

“I told you we’re already saving Ansel,” she said. “We’re already giving you what you want without your asking for it. I’m giving you another opportunity to ask for something that we’re not doing for you already.”

“My dad, then,” Jonah said, not thinking. “He needs to get out of the house. Make him a protector again.”

She shook her head. “Are you sure you want to bring that down upon him?”

“You say it like it’s a bad thing.” Jonah scoffed.

“Maybe it is for your father,” the Scientist said. “Have you asked him if he would want to go back?”

Jonah chuckled. “Of course he would. Everyone in One dreams of being a protector, and he had that dream taken away from him before he ever got to experience it. He would do anything to get it back.”

“And he told you this directly?” She raised an eyebrow.

“I—well—no… But it’s common knowledge,” Jonah said, shrugging.

“You’ve never met anyone who wants to be a housekeeper?” the Scientist asked.

“What? No.” Jonah laughed. “Housekeeping is for the weak and cowardly. No one wants to be weak and cowardly.”

“You know,” the Scientist said, tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair. “One of the most relaxing things to do—I’ve found—is to cook a nice meal for yourself. Have you ever tried it?”

“Cooking a meal?” Jonah frowned. “Why? That’s why we have printers.”

“True,” the Scientist said, nodding. “I guess you’re right about that. Though I still think you should try cooking some time.”

“Maybe when I’m old and retired,” Jonah said.

“Maybe.” The Scientist shrugged. “If you live long enough to retire. The way things are going in the worlds now it looks like a lot less of you protectors are going to be reaching the age of natural death. And you’re sure you want to send your dad back into that?”

“He wants it,” Jonah said. “I guarantee.”

“Did you know that there are riots breaking out across all the worlds?” the Scientist asked. “The job of a protector is becoming more and more dangerous every day. You’ll risk losing him if you send him back out there.”

Jonah shrugged. “A protector’s job is always dangerous,” he said. “And the more dangerous it is the more likely the protector is to go down in history.”

“History has a good way of forgetting things.” The Scientist shook her head.

“Listen lady,” Jonah said, standing from his chair. “He can handle it. He’s my dad, and he’s meant to be a protector. So are you going to do it or not?”

“Frankly,” the Scientist shrugged, “this is another one where it doesn’t really matter what I do. I told you, dear: riots across the worlds. There’ll be a draft soon, and I wouldn’t doubt that your dad is at the top of the list. You’ll get what you say you want with or without me.”

“So again, you can’t help me,” Jonah said, crossing his arms. “I still don’t understand why you brought me here.”

“Only to say thank you, apparently,” the Scientist said, standing. “You tried to help our Ansel, and we appreciate that. So: Thank you.” She held out a hand.

Jonah looked at it. “Uh… Okay I guess,” he said, shaking it. “So can I go now?”

“Are you sure there’s nothing else you want?” she asked.

Jonah shook his head.

“Then let me give you a little bit of unsolicited advice,” she said, walking close to him and patting his back as she led him out into the hall. “Being a protector’s not the only way to make a name for yourself, and being a housekeeper is nothing to laugh at. So maybe think about cooking yourself a meal once or twice. Just try it. But even if you don’t, I’ll be watching you, and I’ll be there when you inevitably need my help in the future. You got it?”

“Yeah, sure.” Jonah shrugged. “Can I go now?”

“Of course, dear.” The Scientist smiled. She opened the elevator doors. “I’ll be there for you like you were for our Ansel,” she said. “You will be repaid.”

Jonah nodded and stepped into the elevator. “Whatever.”

“And stay out of trouble until then,” the Scientist said as the elevator doors closed between them.

When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, Jonah sprinted to his house then snuck into his room, hoping his dad wouldn’t hear. He took off his shoes and jumped into bed fully clothed. Tomorrow was going to be a shit day at school, but maybe he would take off sick. All his muscles ached, and his eyelids grew heavy. He hadn’t realized how tired he was until he was lying in bed. He couldn’t help but to drift off into a deep, restful sleep.

#     #     #

Reveille went off, dragging Jonah into wakefulness. He laid in bed until after the Protector’s Alma Mater played, and he had to choose between not showering, not eating, or being late for class. It’d prolly end up being all three after yesterday.

What was he thinking? And who was that white-coated woman at the end of the night? She had said she’d be there to help him in the future, but why? She didn’t even know him. She did know Ansel, though. Hopefully she was able to save Ansel like she had promised.

Joonaaaah!” his dad called from the other room. “It’s time to wake up, son. Do you need me to call in an excuse for absence?”

Jonah scoffed. “Do you need me to call in an excuse for absence,” he mimicked in a mocking tone, doing a little dance in his bed. He got up and started to dress, unable to stop blaming his dad for most—if not all—of what had happened to him and his partner in the past few days. White jeans and white t-shirt on, he took a deep breath before opening his bedroom and heading into the kitchen where his dad had every breakfast food imaginable piled on the table.

“Are you sure you’re feeling up to it?” his dad asked, guiding Jonah to sit at the table and pouring some milk for him. “It’s completely understandable if you need a day off after what you went through.”

“No.” Jonah shook his head. “I promised Liz I’d be in class.”

His dad nodded thoughtfully, taking a bite of bacon. “Of course,” he said, still nodding. “You’ve gotta be there for your partner. Of course you do. I understand.”

Jonah took a few quick bites of toast then stood from the table. “Well, I should get going,” he said. “Already late.”

“You didn’t even eat,” his dad said. “You need energy for class.”

“I’m fine,” Jonah said. “I’ll eat a big lunch.” He started to leave.

“Wait!” his dad said. “Son… I’m sorry about how I acted last night, about yelling at you in front of your partner and ordering you to stay away from Ansel.”

Jonah shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.

“No,” his dad said, shaking his head. “Not whatever. I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I’m sorry.”

“So you think there is something I can do to help her?” Jonah asked, perking up for just a second.

“No.” His dad shook his head, deflating Jonah’s hopes. “I’m not saying that either. I stand by what I said, and I do think keeping your head down and following orders is the best thing you can do for yourself—and for Liz—but I shouldn’t have said it the way I did.”

“But you did exactly the opposite of that when you were a protector,” Jonah snapped. “You’re such a hypocrite!”

“I know,” his dad said, shaking his head. “I did. That’s why I know it’s not the right path for you to take. From experience. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. You’ll throw your—”

“Don’t worry, dad,” Jonah said. “I won’t shoot any owners.” He stomped out of the house and slammed the door behind him.

Ugh. That pissed Jonah off so much, his dad’s holier than thou, do as I say not as I do bullshit. And how was Jonah supposed to do what his dad ordered when his dad ordered something contradictory every time he spoke? Nope. His dad didn’t get a say in what Jonah did anymore. He had already said everything and nothing, and all he did was confuse things more. Jonah would have to try to forget everything his dad had taught him if he wanted to make any kind of sense out of the worlds.

His whole body was sore, and his head pounded as he walked. Maybe he should have taken the opportunity to have a day off, but then he would have had to spend it with his hypocrite father. Which one would be worse? It didn’t matter now, he was well on his way to school, past the point of no return.

The bell sounded as he entered the Academy doors. He sprinted to his classroom, and Ms. Bohr had already started teaching. “That’s two this month, Pardy,” she said as he snuck in, his head down. “One more and it’s a demerit for you. Now. Take your seat, please.”

Jonah sat at his desk near the center of the room, and Ms. Bohr went on lecturing about the various criminal codes and their applications. Jonah tried to get the attention of Liz who sat next to him, but she kept her eyes firmly locked on the teacher, diligently taking notes. Jonah knew it was just an act, though. Liz had memorized all the basic codes before they ever joined the Academy. She didn’t have to write any of this down. He also knew why she was putting the act on and stopped trying to get her in trouble again, choosing instead to focus all his attention on not nodding off while Ms. Bohr droned on and on. He didn’t get a chance to talk to Liz until lunch when they were sitting alone in the corner of the mess hall, eating their “nutritionally balanced” fish sticks and tater tots.

“You will never believe what happened to me,” Jonah said, popping a tot in his mouth.

“After what we did last night, I think I’ll believe anything,” Liz said.

“Yeah, well.” Jonah laughed. “Not this.”

“Well tell me then,” she said, kicking his shin under the table.

Ow!” Jonah yelped. “Maybe I won’t if you’re gonna act like that.”

“Yeah right, partner,” she said, biting a fish stick in half. “As if you’re one to talk about manners after getting me six demerits.”

Whatever.” Jonah frowned. “What was I talking about anyway?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “You said I wouldn’t believe it.”

“Oh yeah. Of course. Duh. Well, last night you know, after I left you, I went on that walk, right.”

Liz nodded.

“Well, I was lost in thought, strolling around, when I looked up, and I was in a hall all of sudden—like, not outside.”

Liz chuckled. “What?”

“See. I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Liz said, shaking her head. “It’s that I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Yeah, well, me neither, really,” Jonah said. “But there was a woman there who was dressed in a white coat, right. And she started asking me if I wanted anything, okay—and I mean anything—like she was going to give me whatever I asked her for or something.”

Tuh.” Liz spat out a little food with her laughter. “What, like a genie or something?”

“I don’t know.” Jonah shrugged. “She called herself the Scientist for some reason. Like it was her name. It was really weird.”

“The Scientist?” Liz thought about it for a second. “What did you ask for?”

“Oh, well…” Jonah shrugged.

“C’mon,” Liz said. “You can tell me.”

“Well, first I asked her to save Ansel, you know,” Jonah said, blushing.

Liz nodded. “And what did this scientist say to that?”

“She said she was already gonna save her then asked me if I wanted anything else.”

“Of course,” Liz said, nodding. “That’s probably why she wanted to help you in the first place. She must be connected to Ansel somehow. All this nonsense has been. Why else would she care to give you anything anyway? Ansel or your dad.”

Jonah shrugged. “It still doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

“Well, what did you ask for after that?”

Jonah blushed again. “To get rid of your demerits.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Liz said, blushing and talking more to her fish sticks than to Jonah.

“Yeah, well,” Jonah said, shrugging. “It doesn’t matter anyway. She said she couldn’t do it.”

Of course.” Liz sighed. “At least you tried, though,” she added, forcing a smile. “And we found something she can’t give you, so she’s no genie.”

No,” Jonah said, shaking his head. “She’s not that.” But he still didn’t know what she was.

“Well,” Liz said. “Did you ask for anything else?”

“Yeah. For my dad to be a protector again.”

You didn’t,” she said.

“I did.”

“Did you ask your dad if he wanted to be one again?”

No.” Jonah scoffed. “Of course I didn’t. Why wouldn’t he?”

Liz shrugged, shaking her head. “You never know.”

“It didn’t matter, anyway, because she said he would already be—”

The bell rang. The mess hall was already empty around them. Liz looked around, wide eyed, like she hadn’t noticed it either. They both jumped up and threw away their trays, running to sit in their seats just as Ms. Bohr went on lecturing again. Jonah wanted to beat his head on the desk by the time the bell for the end of the class rang.

In the locker room he managed to keep away from Stine and get changed and out to the dark standoff entry chamber without one insult being hurled at him.

Pssst.” Liz came up from behind and elbowed him in his padded rib. “What were you saying at lunch?” she asked.

“About what?” Jonah said, trying to focus on his strategy for the standoff but losing his train of thought.

“About your dad becoming a protector again,” she said. “You said the scientist said she wouldn’t have to do anything. What did you mean by that?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “She said there were—”

The opening bell rang, and the huge metal hangar doors in front of them creaked open to reveal the alley where they would fight the standoff. A flurry of movement went on around Jonah as his teammates—Liz included—raced to dive behind dumpsters or into alleyways. He didn’t have time to think. His legs took him zig zagging back and forth from dumpster to dumpster, advancing quickly. He yelled at the top of his lungs and blindly fired shot after shot as he ran. He could feel bullet after bullet whizzing past him, but none landed until he was halfway up the alley. Then his entire visor was covered in red. He fell to his knees and rolled over on his side, thankful for the rest.

The standoff didn’t last long after that. Not long enough to get any real rest. Soon he heard the cheering of the winning team, but he didn’t bother to get up and see that he had lost. He was sure he did. His crazy, dumb full frontal attack wasn’t really regulation strategy, and there was no way he hadn’t thrown the game for his team again. He couldn’t wait to hear what Stine and her lackeys had to say about it in the locker room later.

He felt a tug on his arm, and someone pulled him up. No, it was two someones. Another someone took off his helmet for him, and the entire blue team was gathered around him, cheering. They had won! Everyone took their chance to pat him on the back and congratulate him before filing back to the locker room to shower and get dressed. Even Stine gave him a terse, “Good hunting.” if not a pat on the back.

When everyone else had gone back into the locker room, Liz walked up and smiled, nodding, to say, “Good job, partner.”

Jonah scoffed. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said.

She shrugged. “It worked out though, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, well, it’s not something I would recommend,” he said. “Did I even get a hit?”

Liz laughed. “Yeah,” she said, shaking her head. “Like half their team. Now come on. Let’s get changed so you can finish telling me about this scientist.”

Jonah showered and changed, and Stine and her lackeys stared, mad that it was him who had made it happen but relieved to finally have the blue team’s losing streak broken. They looked so confused, as if they had no idea whether to hit Jonah in the face or shake his hand. He dressed fast and got out of there so they wouldn’t have a chance to decide on the former. Liz took a little longer to get dressed, but thankfully, she was done before Stine and them, and they were out and walking home without a locker room incident to speak of.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Liz said as they strolled along the grass-lined sidewalk at a leisurely pace.

“What are we talking about now?” Jonah asked. His mind was jumbled and confused with the lecture, his victory at the standoff, and everything else that had happened in the previous day running into one lumpy mess.

“The standoff this time,” Liz said. “You were a crazed maniac out there.”

“Honestly,” Jonah said, “I think I might be going crazy.”

“No.” She patted his arm. “Don’t say that. The worlds have gone crazy. There’s no sane way for a person to react to that.”

Jonah shrugged and walked on without responding. No one else was reacting the way he was. If it was really the world that was crazy and not him, then why did no one else seem to notice?

“Now tell me,” Liz went on, “what did this scientist say about your dad? He’s going to be a protector again?”

“Uh, yeah, well—that’s what she said. She said there were riots breaking out across the worlds.”

“My dad told me about that,” Liz said. She looked at her feet. “They’re keeping Mom busy out there.”

“Yeah, well,” Jonah said. “I don’t know what that has to do with my dad being a protector again.”

“You don’t?” Liz said, looking at him like he was stupid. “Ms. Bohr talked about it all day in class.”

Jonah scoffed. “I was a little distracted,” he said.

“Well, they’re probably planning a draft,” Liz said. “It’s been done before, when things got out of hand and a surge of protectors was needed.”

“But my dad’s not a housekeeper by choice,” Jonah said. “He was dishonorably discharged. They wouldn’t want him back after that, would they?”

Liz shrugged. “It depends on how many protectors are needed,” she said. “I don’t know. Ms. Bohr didn’t go into that much detail.”

“Well, that Scientist seemed to be pretty sure about it,” Jonah said. “I wonder how she knows.”

They walked on in silence, trying to work it out in their heads. When they had gotten to the point where their paths home diverged, Liz stopped and said, “Welp, I gotta go. See you tomorrow? It’ll be Friday!” She put on a fake smile and did a sarcastic dance.

“You don’t want to come and hang out?” Jonah asked hopefully.

Liz scoffed. “Of course I do,” she said. “But I can’t. My dad heard about my demerits so I’m on lockdown for a while. I’ll probably have to do housework all weekend. Blarg.”

Jonah winced. “Ouch,” he said. “Sorry. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.”

“Don’t go getting kidnapped by any more mad scientists,” she said with a chuckle and a wave as she left.

Jonah made his way to his house, trying to make sense of something, anything—a task he was finding surprisingly difficult in recent memory. How would a scientist know if the protectors were going to hold a draft? How would the Scientist know everything she knew? She was probably wrong about his dad becoming a protector again, but she didn’t want to admit to being unable to get what Jonah wanted for him for the third time in a row. She probably couldn’t even save Ansel, either. He would have to keep searching for his own way to do that.

His dad was in the kitchen, piling snack foods on a tray, when he got home. “I made some food,” he said, carrying it into the living room where Jonah had plopped onto the couch without even turning on the TV. “Your partner isn’t joining us today?”

Jonah shook his head. “She’s on disciplinary detail.”

“Ah. Of course.” His dad sat down on the couch next to him. “Her parents weren’t as understanding as I was, I imagine.”

“You know, sometimes I wish you weren’t,” Jonah said. “Maybe that would be a little less confusing.”

“Do you want me to punish you?” his dad asked with a smirk. “I have some floors that could use scrubbing. And there are always the toilets.”

“What?” Jonah cringed. “No! You know that’s not what I mean.”

“What then?” His dad chuckled. “You wanna give me some laps or pushups? I can do that, too. Drop and give me twenty!”

“No, Dad.” Jonah sighed. “You’re not funny so stop trying, okay. I mean that I wish you would give me just one order without contradicting yourself. I’m just a kid, you know. I need you to tell me what to do in life.”

His dad chuckled. “And if I had ordered you to stay away from Ansel, would that have prevented you from trying to protect her?” he asked.

“No.” Jonah shook his head.

“And if I had ordered you to protect her, would I not have contradicted my previous orders?”

“Well, yeah,” Jonah said. “You’d be ordering me to break the law.”

“So either way, you would have wanted me to do something else.” His dad smiled.

“No—but— You could have—”

“Punished you?” his dad asked again. “Who’s contradicting themself now?”

Jonah sighed in frustration. His dad seemed to get more and more difficult every day.

“Jonah, you have to understand that life isn’t black and white, okay. Most of the time we’re bound by our actions in the past, by the traditions of all the dead generations even, to be able to act in one way and one way alone. Now for both of us that way just so happened to be protecting Ansel however we thought we could. And for both of us that was a terrible decision. But not doing it was equally impossible. So why am I giving you impossible orders? you ask me. Well, how can I give you any orders that aren’t impossible? I ask in response.”

Jonah shook his head. “You’re making less sense all the time,” he said.

“The world doesn’t make sense, son,” his dad said. “I don’t know how to make sense of it. I’m just telling you what I think I know. It could all be wrong. Everything I know has already been shown to be wrong once, so why not this, too? Huh?”

“But you’re supposed to be an adult, Dad. You’re supposed to be my dad. How can you not have this figured out already?”

“None of us do, son,” his dad said. “Me, your mom, your teachers, anyone you’ve ever met. The surer they are that they do have it all figured out, the more likely they are to be wrong. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, but I didn’t know how to say it.”

Jonah laughed. He wanted to cry, too, but he laughed instead. This couldn’t be true. It had to be some cruel joke. If it was true, then half the superior officers who gave him orders every day knew less about the world than he did. Maybe more than half. “No,” he said. “Just because you don’t understand the world doesn’t mean that no one does.”

“Who could? How could you? It’s impossible. We get bits and pieces at best, and that’s it. Some of us might get more bits and pieces than others, but who’s to say whose version is better?”

Jonah groaned. “I don’t know, Dad,” he said. “I’m just a—”

The TV flipped on, playing the Protector’s Alma Mater. Jonah and his dad jumped in their seats then stared at the screen wide eyed. The burly, pock-marked face of the Chief Commissioner came on screen.

“Citizens of Outland One,” he said, his tone all business. “It is my duty to notify you that emergency staffing procedures have been activated. All academy attendants will have their training accelerated, and new recruits will be drafted from the existing housekeeper pool on a lottery basis. We’ve grown fat and lazy, people. More than a decade of peace has domesticated us. Now we must return to our wild roots. Any housekeepers with less than three dependents will be eligible for the lottery. If need arises, that pool will be expanded, but I trust we can handle the situation as is. A list of randomly selected identification numbers will be read and repeated twice after my broadcast. If your ID is called, you will be expected at your nearest recruiting station at oh six hundred hours tomorrow. Good luck out there, citizens. And may the protectors’ creed always ring true: Property, liberty, life.”

The Chief’s face disappeared, and the protector logo came up on the screen: two crossed guns held by a bald eagle. A mechanical sounding voice read out a list of what must have been hundreds of nine digit strings of numbers. Jonah and his dad sat staring at the emblem in silence, his dad waiting to hear if his ID was called, and Jonah not listening at all. Jonah didn’t know his dad’s ID. All he knew was that the Scientist was right, his dad was probably about to be on the force again. His dad moved a little at one point, and Jonah thought that he was reacting to hearing his number, but his dad didn’t react further until the voice had read through the entire list for the third time. It didn’t seem like his dad even noticed when the voice stopped and the TV flicked off. He just sat staring at the black mirror of the TV screen in silence.

“So?” Jonah asked.

His dad shook his head.

Jonah choked back tears. He didn’t know why he was so sad. This is what he wanted for his dad. It was what he thought his dad would want. So why was he crying all of a sudden?

“I don’t want you to go, dad,” he said, hugging him.

“I’m sorry.” His dad shook his head, brushing Jonah’s hair out of his face with trembling fingers and watery eyes. “I’m sorry for everything.”

#     #    #

< XXXIX. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XLI. Guy >

So ends Jonah’s third and final POV chapter. Keep reading along to find out what happens to him, his family, and the rest of the cast of Infinite Limits. And if you’d like to support the project monetarily, pick up a copy of any of my novels or novellas through this link. Have a great weekend, everyone.