Chapter 84: The Scientist

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

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

LXXXIV. The Scientist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The children?” the Scientist said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You better not,” the children said together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m definitely in,” Haley said.

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s my girl,” Rosalind said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 83: Muna

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

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

LXXXIII. Muna

What the Hell was this?

What the— Was this Hell?

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

And what? What happened next?

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

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

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

A gunshot. Two. More?

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

What else was there?

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

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

She had no choice but to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Hell was this?

What the— Was this Hell?

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

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

But somehow there was still her.

But somehow there was still her. What was she?

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

Who knew?

Who was?

Was she?

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who was the first?” the voice demanded.

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

“Who?” the voice demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does anyone?” Muna asked.

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

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

“Do you?” the voice asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I— But—” Muna stammered. “MomDad…”

Munya,” her dad repeated.

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

“I— Uh…  You’re supposed to be…”

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

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

And Muna finally just said it: “Dead.”

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

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

“Yes. Both of you,” Muna said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 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

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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.”

 

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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.