Chapter 73: Jorah

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. I get that now. But what?”

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


#     #     #

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

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


Chapter 70: The Scientist

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

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

LXX. The Scientist


Every Goddamn day it was the same damn thing.

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

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

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Kitty meowed again and went on licking himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosalind chuckled. “Is it working?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course I do. Look at me.”

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

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

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

“But I—”

“You know I’m right about this one.”

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

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

“So you say.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure you want help us?”

“I— Uh…”

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 41: Guy

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

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

XLI. Guy



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

Get your robot hands off me.

I don’t care.

This is my job. You can’t do this!

I am a robot. I don’t care.

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

I am a robot. I don’t care.

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

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

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

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


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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” Jen asked.

“I—huff—yeah,” he huffed. “I…great.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But—” Jen protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked around and they all avoided his gaze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You.” Jen gasped.

“Who else did you expect?”

“But you—” Jen said. “You can’t—”

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

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

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

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

“No!” Jen begged. “Unhand me!”

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

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

“No! No!” Jen pled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy sighed. Robot Emir was right.

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

“And I like the part,” Jen said.

Emily frowned, downing her drink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shrugged and leaned on the wall again.

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

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

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

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

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

“I—what?” Guy was dumbfounded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You will if they take you again.”

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

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

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

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


#     #     #

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

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

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

Chapter 39: Ansel

Dear readers, this Saturday, for chapter 39 in the Infinite Limits tetralogy, we join Ansel for her third and final point of view chapter in An Almost Tangent. All she wanted to do is save her dad from the protectors, but instead, she finds herself caught and held by them just the same. Read on to find out what the protectors do to her and how she tries to escape, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel right here or sign up for the email newsletter subscription list to continue your support of future works in the Infinite Limits series and beyond.


< XXXVIII. Rosa     [Table of Contents]     XL. Jonah >

XXXIX. Ansel

Ansel awoke suddenly and thrashed against the straps holding her arms, legs, and head tight to a cold metal board. Her feet were raised a little above her head, and the blood was rushing up her body, into her brain. She felt like, without the straps, she might slip right off the face of Earth. Her heart beat faster at the thought of it.

There was a cloth or something laid over eyes. She flinched to try to shake it off, but her head strap was so tight she couldn’t move. She could feel herself starting to cry, but she tried to hold it back. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. Rosalind would find some way to get her out of this. She knew it. She wiggled her hand and the bracelet was still there. She tried to bend her wrist around to press the button but only ended up hurting herself with the effort. She resorted to trying to use the strap holding her wrist down to press it, squirming frantically and getting nowhere, when the door whined open and more than one pair of boots stomped in. She couldn’t see with the cloth over her eyes, but she could hear their heavy footsteps.

“Do you care yet?” the voice of the protector who had questioned her before asked.

Ansel spit at the protector, but the saliva only ended up landing in her own nose—and probably on her face, but she couldn’t see or feel for the rag.

The protector laughed. “You are a feisty one, aren’t you,” she said. “Though that will only work to your detriment in here.”

“Fuck you!” Ansel yelled. She figured she was already so deep into it that there was no making things worse now, so why not?

“Oh, child,” the protector said. “Watch your mouth. At least until we really get started with you. Then you can get as dirty as you’d like. I know we won’t hold back.”

Ansel didn’t answer. She struggled against her restraints, and the protector laughed.

“Well, girl,” the protector said. “You get one last chance, now. So tell us: What were you doing going into the holding cells?”

“I’ll never tell you!”

“We already know, though, child. We found out where your dad’s been hiding. He might be strapped up in a room close to here. What do y’all think?” The protector laughed.

“You took him!?” Ansel cried.

“Why were you at the feast?” the protector demanded. “Who sent you?”

“No one sent me!”

“Then how did you get there?” The protector sounded short on temper.

“I—I don’t know,” Ansel said, struggling against her straps. “I just did. Let me go!”

“You know more than you’re telling me, little girl,” the protector said. “And we’re going to find out. Your chances have all run dry.”

Ansel felt a cool stream of water wetting the cloth that covered her forehead, weighing it down tighter on her face. She tried to shake it away again, but the restraints seemed to tighten with her effort.

Now,” the protector said, the cloth slowly lowering over Ansel’s nose and mouth, “let’s see if this helps remind you of what we need to know.”

The spout of water moved down to her mouth, and Ansel held her breath against it. The weight of the water held the rag flat against her face. It kept pouring and pouring and pouring, and she couldn’t hold her breath any longer. She tried to suck in air, but all she inhaled was clothwater, filling her throat and nostrils. She gagged and tried to hold down her vomit. She was dying. She couldn’t hold her breath anymore. They were killing her. She was about to gag again when the liquidrag lifted from her nose and mouth. She coughed up water and bile and insides and sucked in three quick breaths of air before the rag came down again and the water poured and poured.

Her body jostled and rolled against inevitable death. She felt shooting pain through all of her extremities, but that didn’t stop her from fighting against the restraints that held her down. They gave her a few more breaths of air before lowering the rag and pouring more water on. When they had done the same thing five, or seven, or infinite times, Ansel couldn’t hold her vomit in anymore. Someone had to stick their fingers into her throat to dig it out and prevent her from drowning on the insides of her own stomach. After that she blacked out.

She woke to the protector saying, “Little giiiirl, do you care now?”

“Fuck—cuh cuh—you,” Ansel spit out before puking and passing out again. She was still unconscious when the rain of death continued. She had given up. She was dead. They were killing her, sure, but they hadn’t gotten anything out of her. Even if there was nothing left in her to get. And there was still a chance that her dad was alive. That was all she cared about in the end. She smiled at the thought of it, lost control of her breath, and vomited into the damp cloth.

She was retching and losing consciousness again when the stream of ragwater abruptly stopped. A fighting commotion sounded around her. She wanted to believe that she was being saved, but all she could do was spew the last acidic contents of her stomach into the rag, only for the rag to force them back down her throat for her to choke on again. She was certain she was dead when a new set of fingers cleared her airways for her.

The rag was ripped away from her eyes, and Ansel saw her father’s face. She blinked a few times, not sure if she was dreaming or dead, when he pulled her close and hugged her. “I never thought I’d see you again,” he said, kissing her all over her face, over and over.

Ansel coughed and shook her head as the restraints were removed from her legs. She still wasn’t sure this was real. “Dad?” she said.

Yes, sweety.” He was crying. “It’s me, and I’m never leaving your side again.”

“I came to save you,” Ansel said, her head pounding. She still wasn’t sure if this was real, but she didn’t care anymore.

Her dad chuckled, whether he was real or not. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “It’s my job to—” He slouched down on top of her, limp.

Ansel tried to lift herself up to do something, but his weight was too much. She heard a scuffle and a yelp, then her dad’s limp body fell off of her and Rosalind lifted her off the bed.

“I—uh—you…” Ansel said.

Yep,” Rosalind said. “I told you I’d make sure you got home safely.”

“But my dad,” Ansel said.

“And I told you you should have waited,” Rosalind added, hefting Ansel up onto her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “But now we have to get out of here.”

“But I—” Ansel protested, but she was still so weak and disoriented that she passed out.

#     #     #

She woke with a start, but this time, she wasn’t tied down. She lashed out anyway and tossed the blanket off her body to the floor before she realized where she was, surrounded by beakers, vials, and Bunsen burners, she was back in the lab. Rosalind had saved her from the protectors after all. But did that mean that her dad was dead, too?

She pushed herself up—still exhausted though most of the pain had gone—and had to catch her breath before jumping off the high table. As she did, the door opened and in came Pidgeon. He ran over to hug her and help her stand. “Ansel, are you alright?” he asked.

“I—uh—” She didn’t know what to say.

“You should have told me where you were going. I could have helped you. I could have…” He played with the hem of his shirt. “I don’t know. Something.”

“Where’s my dad?” Ansel asked.

Pidgeon blushed and looked like he was trying to hide it. “I—uh—I don’t know,” he said.

“Pidgeon! Tell me. Did I see what I think I saw?”


The door opened and in came Rosalind, the Scientist, and Haley. Rosalind walked right up to Ansel while Haley stayed back with the Scientist, looking at the floor.

“My dad?” Ansel asked.

“I told you you should have waited,” Rosalind said.

“What did you think you were doing, child?” the Scientist demanded.

“W—Was that him?” Ansel asked, holding back her tears.

“We got him out of his cell before we went to save you, but he insisted on helping us get your sorry self out,” Rosalind said. “He didn’t make it back, though.” She shook her head.

Ansel couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She tried to swing at Rosalind, and the Scientist, and anyone in reach, but they were all too far away, and she was just too weak to do anything right. She buried her face in her hands and cried. “No!” she said. “It’s not real.”

“I’m afraid so, kiddo,” Rosalind said.

“You shouldn’t have been over there in the first place,” the Scientist said. “Then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Mom!” Haley said, crossing to Ansel to rub her back.

Ansel stopped crying and looked at the Scientist with a sneer. “If you would have gotten him out sooner—like you had promised—then this wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

“I never said I’d do it soon,” the Scientist said. “I said I’d do it when the time was right. You need to learn patience, dear.”

“Patience?” Ansel scoffed. “This coming from the woman who can go anywhere or get anything she wants on demand. What do you know about patience?”

“More than you can imagine, child,” the Scientist said. “Do you see these wrinkles on my face? You thought I was too old to be Haley’s mother. Well, how old do you think she is? How old does that make me? I waited for a quarter of a millennium to get my daughter back. Don’t you try to tell me about patience.”

Ansel blushed. She was embarrassed but still angry, and she didn’t know how to show it without her voice cracking or her starting to cry again. She swallowed down her tears, and was about to say she didn’t know what to say, when Haley saved her from having to answer.

Mom,” she said. “Go easy on her. She’s just a little girl, and she just lost her dad.”

“I—uh…” the Scientist mumbled.

Mother,” Rosalind said, “why don’t you go out and check on some of our other refugees. Let Haley and I take care of Ansel.”

“But—” the Scientist said, and Haley took her hand in one hand and that elbow in the other to lead the Scientist out the door before coming back to stand in front of Ansel.

Sorry,” Haley said. “She doesn’t really know how to interact with humans. Sometimes it’s like she’s more of an android than any of us.”

“It’s her fault my dad’s d—my dad’s not here,” Ansel said.

He’s dead,” Rosalind said. “And it’s not her fault any more than it’s yours. If anything, it’s your dad’s fault for following us instead of coming back here to wait like we told him to do.”

“But she—” Ansel protested.

“She was keeping him alive in there,” Rosalind said, “hidden in plain view. He wasn’t in danger until you got caught. After that, it was only a matter of time before they got it out of you that you were looking for him, and that information would let them know he hadn’t been executed yet—despite what their computers told them. So we had to jump the gun in getting him out, and even that would have been successful, but your dad couldn’t leave without making sure you got out first.”

“I wouldn’t have told them why I was there,” Ansel said, sniffing and wiping her nose.

“You were telling them when we got there,” Rosalind said. “You told us until we got you back here and sedated you, then you kept muttering about it in your sleep. You were already broken, Ansel. No human can resist torture like that.”

“I don’t believe you,” Ansel said.

“It’s true, dear,” Haley said, patting her back. “I sat by you while you slept. You kept saying that you had come for your dad, that’s all you wanted, no one had to send you. It was sad to hear.”

Ansel shrugged her off. “I don’t care,” she said. “It wasn’t my fault.” Though she was saying that to convince herself more than anyone.

No. It’s not,” Rosalind said. “I’m not saying it is. Trying to lay fault on someone is useless. We know who pulled the trigger that ended his life, and maybe that’s not even enough. Not even your father is to blame. It’s the protectors who are responsible for this, and the system that props them up.”

“Well fuck the protectors,” Ansel said.

Creator.” Haley gasped, putting her hand to her mouth.

“That’s exactly our mission here,” Rosalind said. “To fuck the entire system. The protectors and the owners who tell them what to do. We are your only avenue to getting the revenge you want. You’ll have to join us for your best chance at that.”

“Revenge?” Ansel asked. “What good is revenge? That won’t bring my parents back. If I wanted that, I would have killed Tom in the alley and been done with it.”

“No,” Rosalind said. “What about justice then? What about protecting others from facing the same wrath that you’ve faced at the hands of the protectors?”

Pssssh.” Ansel laughed. She knew that no one cared about anyone but themselves. All her experiences had proven that, including those with Rosalind and the Scientist. There was no one out there looking out for Ansel, and she had no reason to look out for anyone else. “No one stopped them before they killed my family,” she said. “Or Pidgeon’s family.” She nodded at him, hiding behind a table piled high with glassware, his face shaded with different colors from the chemicals in the flasks in front of him. Ansel had almost forgotten he was there. He ducked under the table at the mention of his name.

“Nope,” Rosalind said. “And no one will ever stop them if everyone else in the worlds takes the same attitude you are right now.”

Ansel jumped to her feet. “So what am I supposed to do then?” she asked. “Just sit here and wait until the Scientist thinks the time’s right for me to do something?”

“Yep,” Rosalind said, nodding. “Pretty much. And learn everything you can to make yourself useful in the meantime.”

“Oh, great,” Ansel said. “School.” She sighed, crossing her arms.

“No.” Rosalind shook her head. “We don’t have any teachers so I don’t think it can rightly be called school. You would have to pursue what you wanted to learn on your own. No one has time to direct you.”

“I can—” Haley started, but Rosalind shot her a look and shushed her.

“What do you say?” Rosalind asked.

“I don’t know what you’re asking me,” Ansel said. “You want me to sit here and do whatever I want until the Scientist finds me useful?”

Rosalind nodded.

“I don’t know if I can,” Ansel said, tapping her foot.

“But—” Pidgeon called out, tipping over the table he was hiding under and knocking a few flasks to the floor—which Popeye came out of nowhere to clean up.

“And you, too, boy,” Rosalind said. “I didn’t forget you were there.”

Pidgeon came around to stand next to Ansel, blushing. “You mean it?” he asked, playing with the hem of his shirt.

“Of course I do,” Rosalind said. “We wouldn’t send you back to that orphanage. We know what’s going on there.”

Pidgeon nudged Ansel. “C’mon,” he said. “Why not?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I need time to think about it.”

“Take all the time you need,” Rosalind said. “Staying here to think and saying yes to my proposal are the same thing.”

Uh, yeah. Okay,” Ansel said, grabbing Pidgeon’s arm and dragging him with her. “We’re gonna go discuss this. We’ll talk to you tomorrow or something.” She waved as she closed the hall door behind her.

“What are you doing?” Pidgeon asked, breaking away from her grip.

“Just follow me,” Ansel said. “Bedroom.” She opened the door to the room she and Pidgeon had been sleeping in. It was bigger than any of the houses she had ever lived in, and had two beds on opposite walls, each with their own dresser and mirror combo. Ansel went to her dresser, thinking to change her clothes, then changed her mind. The jeans and t-shirt she was already wearing were comfortable and non-restricting, exactly what she needed. She did grab her floral dress, though, the one her parents had given her when they still lived on the Green Belt, and she bundled it up in a ball to stuff in her rucksack—which still contained most of the rest of her belongings. She checked her back pocket but the protectors had taken her slingshot. They did leave her bracelet, though. She thought about dumping it but was distracted when Pidgeon asked, “What are you doing?”

Ansel looked at him. “Pidgeon,” she said, “do you trust me?”

“I—uh—yeah,” he said. “I guess. But why?”

“I don’t want to stay here anymore,” she said. “I don’t know why, but I feel restricted here, trapped.”

“But we can go anywhere with the elevators,” he said.

“Not really,” Ansel said. “We can go anywhere the Scientist lets us go. That’s not everywhere, though. Is it?”

Pidgeon shook his head. “Well, no, but…” He played with the hem of his shirt.

“Don’t you want to see the worlds, Pidgeon?” Ansel asked. “There’s so much out there beyond everything we’ve ever known.”

“I don’t know,” Pidgeon said. “I’ve seen a lot of what the world has to offer.”

“But you haven’t seen everything,” she pled with him. She could feel that she was losing him. “I went to another world entirely, Pidgeon, the one where the protectors come from. I met these kids who lived there, and they were no different from you or me. How am I supposed to fight against them, huh? They don’t know what they’re doing. They have no more control over their lives than we do. And they tried to help me.”

“Yeah. So?” Pidgeon said. “That doesn’t mean we should leave. We can stay here without fighting those kids.”

“But don’t you see?” Ansel said. “All the protectors were those kids at some point in their lives. They were funneled into it, and now, they can’t do anything else but what they’re told.”

“Then we won’t fight any protectors,” Pidgeon said. “I still don’t want to leave.”

“Do you really think they’ll let you stay here and do nothing for their cause?”

I do,” Pidgeon snapped. “That was the deal, wasn’t it?”

“The deal was for them to get my dad back, too,” Ansel said. “But we can see how that turned out.”

“No, but—”

No, Pidgeon,” she stopped him. “I’m sorry. I know I dragged you into this in the first place, but I have to live by my standards. I have to be self-sufficient. I know you don’t understand that, which is why I’m not making you come with me.”

Pidgeon looked hurt. He avoided eye contact with her.

“Pidgeon,” Ansel said. “I’d rather you came than that you stayed here, but I’m leaving tonight. What time is it? I’m leaving now. I’m gonna get as far away from here as I can before they notice I’m gone, and to do that, I have to be quick. So you don’t have time to think about this. It’s now or never.”

“But they’ve taken such good care of us,” Pidgeon said, groaning. “We can eat all the food we want, and we each get our own bed. What more could we ask for?”

Independence,” Ansel said. “I told you I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

I don’t,” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “And neither do you. You don’t understand what it’s like to have nothing and no one, Ansel. We have a good thing here.”

“I’ve had nothing all my life,” Ansel said. “Don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like.”

“Right,” Pidgeon said. “Nothing. Except for a mom and dad to provide food and shelter for you. Now that is nothing.”

“I had to provide my own food most nights,” Ansel said.

“And yet still you knew that they’d always be there to give up their food if you couldn’t find anything. You knew that they’d always have a warm bed waiting for you afterwards. You never had nothing, Ansel. You always had them.”

“Not anymore,” Ansel said. She could feel the tears coming back. “Now I have nothing.”

“But you still don’t,” Pidgeon said. “You have me. And if you would stay here, you’ll have Haley and Rosalind and the Scientist and this bed to sleep in.” He jumped up onto her bed, bouncing up and down. “We have everything we need here.”

No,” Ansel said. “We don’t. I told you, Pidgeon. I need my independence. That’s that. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.” She grabbed her rucksack and made for the door, but Pidgeon jumped off the bed to stop her.

“Where do you even plan on going?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” Ansel shrugged. “Away. Anywhere I want to. I’ll never see the end of the Belt so maybe I’ll go try to see the end of the wilderness here instead. You did want to do that with me once. Remember?”

He looked away from her, blushing. “Yeah, I wouldn’t make it out there, though,” he said. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d probably just get you killed.”

“And as I’ve said before, I’ll teach you everything I know,” Ansel said. “I know what I’m doing out there, Pidgeon. And you can, too.”

“But do you really?” he asked. “It’s not the Belt out there, Ansel. This is something you’ve never experienced before.”

“Yeah it’s not the Belt,” Ansel said. “There are more animals here and they’re less afraid of humans. They’ll be easier to catch because of it. If anything, this should be easier than living on the Belt. And we won’t have to worry about protectors out there.”

“We don’t have to worry about them in here, either,” he said. “And what if there’s something out there that’s worse than a protector?”

Psssh. Worse than a protector?” Ansel laughed. “I doubt that.”

“What about that big animal with the horns that you couldn’t kill?”

“That thing runs away every time it hears us. And it only ever eats grass.”

“What if there’s something else that won’t run?” Pidgeon said. “Something that taught that thing to run? God. You just don’t get it. There are some things out there that you don’t know about, Ansel. You know what. Whatever. Go.” He went and sat on his own bed, with his back to her, in a huff.

“I will, Pidgeon,” Ansel snapped. “You just stay here in your cozy, safe jail. I always knew you would leave me behind in the end.” She slammed the door behind her before he could respond.

She took a few deep breaths in the hall, bracing herself on the door jamb. Stupid Pidgeon. She should never have trusted him to begin with. He was, and had always been, a fresh faced flower from the Garden of Eden. No wonder he was too scared to leave this…whatever it was. She had enough trouble convincing him to leave the orphanage he said had treated him so poorly, there was no way she was going to convince him to leave a place where he had printer access whenever he wanted it and no one to abuse him or call him names. One day that would all run out, though. Then he’d wish he’d come and learned how to be self-sufficient with her. She chuckled to herself at the thought of it.

“Kitchen,” she said and opened the door. The step-stool was already in front of the printer. She stepped up, trying not to stare at the line of slip, snap, clickers through the sink window, and pressed the button to say, “Slingshot.” First thing was first. She had to be able to hunt.

The slingshot that came out was made of metal where her old one was made of wood. The sling was tighter, too, harder to pull back, but she could get used to that. She would have to or die trying. She stuffed it in her back pocket, ordered a pouch to keep rocks in, a few cans of beans—it came out in bowls at first, before she specified cans—and some string to help make traps. She brought it all down to the table and packed her rucksack full, then she stared at the printer, trying to think of anything else that might be useful.

The kitchen door opened and in came Rosalind. She took a look at the full rucksack then said, “Planning on going somewhere?”

Ansel shrugged. “What’s it matter to you?”

“I was being sincere when I spoke earlier,” Rosalind said. “I meant every word.”

“I know how much your words mean,” Ansel said.

Rosalind looked offended. “I haven’t lied to you once,” she said.

“You didn’t get my dad back.”

“I did,” Rosalind said. “You talked to him. He was free.”

“But not anymore.”

“Maybe now more than ever, dear.” She shook her head.

Pffft.” Ansel scoffed. “Well I plan on freeing myself.” She picked up the rucksack and threw it over her shoulder.

“So you’ll be joining our cause then?” Rosalind smiled.

“Does it look like I will?” Ansel asked, hefting the bag further up on her shoulders to emphasize the sarcasm.

“It looks like you’re going camping,” Rosalind said.

“Camping?” What was she talking about now?

“Yes, camping,” Rosalind said, crossing to the printer. “You know: sleeping outdoors in the wilderness, under the stars, among the other animals.”

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” Ansel shrugged. “You can call it that if you want to.”

“Well, dear,” Rosalind said. “Let me give you some supplies before you go, then.” She pressed the printer’s voice activation button and said, “Pop-up tent, lighter, and Swiss Army knife, please.”

“What are those?” Ansel asked, dropping the heavy sack.

“Well, this is a lighter. You just—”

“Yeah, yeah. I know that one,” Ansel said, snatching it out of Rosalind’s hand.

“And this is a pop-up tent.” Rosalind handed her a small rectangular something that fit in the palm of her hand. “Don’t press the button until you’re outside, and be ready to get out of the way when you do. You got that?”

“What is it?” Ansel asked, turning the thing over in her hand.

Rosalind flinched and took it away, ordering a case to put the tent in before handing it back. “It’s for you to sleep in.”

“Sleep in that?”

“It gets bigger,” Rosalind said. “Trust me.”

“Okay, what about the Swiss knife or whatever?” Ansel asked.

“This is your general all-purpose tool,” Rosalind said, pulling out all the little gadgets. “You have here your can opener, knife, compass—”

“Right right,” Ansel took it and had some trouble folding everything back into place. Rosalind chuckled and helped her, and it only made Ansel angrier. She stuffed her gifts into the rucksack, forcing a smile, and said, “Well, thanks. See you never.”

“Be safe,” Rosalind said. “We’ll be eagerly awaiting your return.”

Ugh.” Ansel stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind her. She didn’t stop until she was in the elevator, waiting for the floor to fall out from underneath her.

It was as if Rosalind didn’t listen. Or she did listen and didn’t care what Ansel said. Ansel would show her. If Rosalind thought Ansel was going to be going back to that little jail anytime soon, she had another thing coming. Ansel was never going back there ever again, and Rosalind and Pidgeon would just have to deal with it.

The elevator doors opened to reveal the pine trees and other evergreens whose names Ansel had not yet come to know. She stepped out onto the grass and took a deep breath of the fresh cool air. This was right for her. This was exactly what she needed. No more Scientist. No more protectors. No more Pidgeon or Rosalind. She was free to do whatever she wanted, and right now, she wanted some food. So she set off to get exactly that.

#     #     #

< XXXVIII. Rosa     [Table of Contents]     XL. Jonah >

And there you have it, dear readers, Ansel’s final point of view chapter for book two in the Infinite Limits series. Only three more weeks until An Almost Tangent is completely posted on this blog here, and in the meantime I’m working toward finishing the final edits of book three, Dividing by 0, so I can get that published, hopefully in time to continue the Infinite Limits story here on the blog with no empty Saturdays in between. We’ll see. I’m working hard to make it happen, but only time can tell.

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


Chapter 30: Huey

Hey, y’all. Late again this weekend thanks to the holiday season messing with my internal clock, but here’s the next chapter in the Infinite Limits tetralogy. This time we return to Huey as he bargains and deals with the owners of Inland and Rosalind as she tries to keep him in line.

I hope you’re enjoying everything so far. If so, pick up a physical or digital copy of the full novel An Almost Tangent through this link and sign up to join my email newsletter here. I don’t send out many messages to the list, but when I do free books are usually involved.

Enjoy now. And have a good Sunday.

< XXIX. Tillie     [Table of Contents]     XXXI. Rosa >

XXX. Huey

It was amazing to finally get to spend some time alone with Haley. It was the first chance Huey had gotten since Christmas. She was so busy spending time with her mom and sister, and he had his owner duties to tend to.

They had spent the rest of that day listing activities for Haley to try, and when they first started out, she could only name things she had already done. Huey helped her along with some suggestions she hadn’t thought of, though, and soon, they were shooting off ideas back and forth, creating a never-ending list of activities for her to try and find out if she loved.

“How could anyone ever be bored?” Haley had asked just as the Scientist and the kids came into the room, destroying Huey’s little Heaven. That was the end of his time alone with Haley, but even that small bit was enough to remain in his mind all through the rest of the next day which he spent sitting in one of the puffy office chairs, talking to Mr. Kitty about life, love, and Haley. He was still doing it late into the afternoon when Rosalind stormed in, breaking him from his conversation.

“Of course you’re in here,” she snapped, crossing her arms. “Doing nothing as always, I assume.”

“What?” Huey asked, shrugging at Mr. Kitty. “There’s nothing to be done. Of course I’m doing nothing.”

“Nothing to be done?” Rosalind huffed. “I take it you haven’t been following the proceedings in Outland Two, then, Mr. Douglas.”

“I—uh…” He hadn’t. Ever since his time with Haley he had thought about nothing else, and certainly not all this nonsense going on in the Outlands. He could only put off his duties for so long, though.

Your undercover operations,” Rosalind said. “You do remember those, don’t you?”

Huey nodded, embarrassed.

“Well, the protectors have intel which should help prepare you for the inevitable meeting you’ll be having with the Fortune Five about it. So, if you don’t protest, Mr. Douglas, sir, your elevator’s waiting.” She curtsied and stepped out of the room into the hall.

“Well, Mr. Kitty,” Huey said, standing from his chair. “You heard her. I have work to do. Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy your company.”

Mr. Kitty didn’t answer. He just kept licking himself.

Huey fixed his tuxedo, putting on his top hat and monocle, in the reflection on the wallwindow. He always had to look the part of an owner or all the work they had been doing for so long would be all for not. Satisfied, he went out to the hall where Rosalind was waiting in the elevator.

The doors slid closed. “So, any background I need for this?” Huey asked as the elevator carried them downward.

“I’m sure your squad will brief you,” Rosalind said.

The elevator doors opened to three protectors saluting them. “At ease,” Huey said.

They dropped their salutes, and the protector in front, Agent Colvin, said, “Yes, sir. We thought you’d like an update before the planned demonstration, sir. Were we wrong, sir?”

“Demonstration?” Huey asked. He should have been paying more attention instead of dreaming about Haley. Rosalind shot him a dirty look as if she agreed with his very thoughts.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin went on. “From the video message, sir. We’ll show you everything right away, sir. Follow me.” She directed them down a long white hall, lined with blue carpet. There were glass doors every so often, with offices behind them, and in the door at the end of the hall was a long room with stadium seating, all directed at a podium and screen.

“If you’ll take a seat, sir,” Agent Colvin said.

Huey took the front row center seat and tried to signal to Rosalind to sit next to him, but she stood off to the side, ignoring him. Agent Colvin stood behind the podium and didn’t say a word. She simply stared out at Huey and the empty seats around him, standing at attention. After he took his tall hat off and set it on the chair next to him, rolling his neck to stretch it, he realized that she was waiting for him and said, “Go ahead.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “Where would you like me to begin, sir?”

“From the beginning, please,” Huey said. “Whatever you had planned to tell me. Assume I haven’t paid any attention in the last twenty four hours.”

Rosalind scoffed behind him.

“Yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “As you know, since the Christmas attack we’ve seen a rapid increase in cross-world contamination incidents. That includes border crossings, printer theft, the usual. We believe we’ve got our thumbs on the major illegal immigration cartels, but even with our increased activities, contamination incidents continue to grow. That’s all without mentioning the den of thieves which Outland Five has become with its introduction to Outland Six.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Huey said, shaking his head. “Perhaps I should have been more clear, Agent. My major concern right now is Outland Two. We all know that the savages in Five and Six can’t be domesticated, but when their behavior spreads closer to us, we have reason to worry. Do you understand?” He felt bad for saying it like that. He didn’t really believe that the people who lived in Five and Six were any more savages than the people that lived in any of the worlds, but he had a role to fill. The protectors here were required to believe that he was no different from any other owner so he had to act like one. He could practically hear Rosalind’s head shaking behind him, though—and her eyes rolling. She probably thought that he actually believed what he was saying, even though she knew from experience that he was helping fight to free those very “savages” from their oppression. She always thought that he enjoyed filling the role of an owner too much, and in some ways, she was right. It did have its benefits. But this wasn’t one of them.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. She fidgeted behind the podium, trying to get back on track after the tangent.

Huey felt bad for her so he tried to help her along. “You said something about a video message,” he said. “Let’s start with that.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said, standing up straighter again. “As you know, at seventeen hundred hours yesterday an unpermitted group of students gathered on private school grounds to spread blasphemous libel.”

Huey nodded. He wasn’t sure he would call it blasphemous or libel, but he appreciated her enthusiasm.

“This particular group of students,” Agent Colvin went on. “Was led by one Emma Whistleblower.” A picture of the Emma in question, with her name in block letters underneath, came up on the screen behind Agent Colvin. “We’ve been tracking her as per your previous request, and as such, we were in prime position for yesterday’s incident. That is to say we already had, and still do have, an agent embedded in their group, sir.”

“Good, good,” Huey said. “But I know all of this already. What about the video?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin straightened up even more, if that was at all possible. “Whistleblower, it’s been revealed—and with due attention to the irony, I might add, sir—wears a camera pin to all illicit functions. She had an emergency protocol in place, and when the illegal activity was put to a halt, the video was sent out to her entire contact list, including everyone who had their contact information in the school’s directory. That’s everyone who works at, teaches at, or attends the university, sir.”

Huey was going to respond, but Agent Colvin stepped out from in front of the screen. The picture of Emma disappeared, and a video of a group of young students, including their Whistleblower, came up in its stead. There was no sound, but Huey could tell they were all listening to Emma speak from behind the camera. Everyone turned their heads at once, and the camera panned over to look the way they were all staring to see a troupe of a hundred white-clad protectors marching toward them. The camera got shakier and panned back and forth between the students, who were tightening up into a bunch—only to make themselves easier targets—and the protectors, who had started hitting them with gas and bean bags, filling the screen with smoke. In the gaseous, dense fog the camera fell to the ground and blacked out.

Agent Colvin stepped back up to the podium. “As you can see, sir,” she said. “The situation was handled efficiently.”

Huey let out a loud chortle. “No,” he said. “That it wasn’t, Agent Colvin. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. And it wasn’t you protectors’ fault, at that.”

Agent Colvin fidgeted again behind the podium. “That’s not all, sir,” she said.

“Go on,” Huey said, waving her on. Of course that wasn’t the end of it. That was just the beginning. It was the spark of an explosion he had talked about with Mr. Angrom.

“Well, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “There was a message sent with the video, sir. Shall I read it to you, or—”

“On the screen, please,” he said.

It popped up. “This is how they protect you,” it read. “We are students. We gathered on the parade grounds. We did no wrong. We tried to warn you. What you thought was yours does not belong to you. Now the protectors have shown you. The protectors have shown us all. How long will we let them take what is ours?

“We ask you to clear all school grounds in memory of those who were viciously attacked by our ‘protectors’. We will hold this vigil for 24 hours, and at 5:00 PM on January 2nd we will reclaim the grounds! The only question left is will you be there to help us take back what is ours?”

It didn’t take Huey more than a few seconds to read and a couple more to process. He smiled when he had then licked his lips to hide it. Now was not the time for celebration. Now was the time to fill his role. He waited a little longer to answer, the amount of time that a normal owner would take to read such a minor amount of text, then said, “And have you been surveying the campus?”

“Yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. She fidgeted then added, “Not a soul, sir.”

Huey fought the smile again. “Is our embedded agent in place?”

“Sir, yes, sir. He was arrested with everyone else, but his cover wasn’t blown. We’ll be set up for the demonstration at seventeen hundred, sir.”

Good,” Huey said. “Very good. It’s extremely important that we keep our eyes on this particular movement. Do you understand? This is the start of something much bigger. I know it is.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Agent Colvin saluted. “Our agent is moving into position as we speak, and we have the parade grounds monitored from all sides. We have been monitoring them since long before yesterday, sir. We’ll be ready, but how do you want us to proceed?”

Huey laughed. Oh how he wished it was his decision. Well, not really. If he was in control, he would be able to actually put an end to all this, but that’s not what he really wanted. Sometimes he almost forgot that himself. No, what the owners would undoubtedly do would be violent and painful for those brave few children on the front lines, but it would only help to bolster their message in the long run. The owners were fighting gasoline with fire just like Mr. Angrom had said.

“Unfortunately,” Huey said, “That decision does not lie with me. We can only prepare and react based on Lord Walker’s whims.”

“Sir, but—” Agent Colvin started.

“Let me finish, please,” Huey said, holding up a hand to stop her. “There are a few things I need from you. First, have you noticed our food and energy costs declining?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said, confused. “But what does—”

“In exchange for this gift,” Huey said, ignoring her questions, “we will ensure that no harm comes to Emma Whistleblower or her roommate Tillie Manager. Do you understand me?”

“I—uh. But, sir. Emma is—”

“Emma is the roommate and best friend of Mr. Angrom’s top manager’s daughter—Tillie, the one with Manager in the name. If any harm comes to either of them, I will hold you personally responsible. Do you understand me?”

“Sir, yes, sir. But the efficient—”

“Stop right there,” Huey said. “I don’t need a lecture on efficiency. I define efficiency, Agent Colvin. I know what is most efficient, and it’s my decision either way. We will ensure that no harm comes to either of them. We will enjoy lower costs as a result. And we will do it most efficiently without any arguing from underlings like you. Do you understand me?”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Agent Colvin saluted.

“Good. Very good,” Huey stood up and rubbed his hands together. “Then if there’s nothing else, I’ll be on my way. Business to get to. You know.”

“Yes, sir,” Agent Colvin said. “But…we’ll need to deploy more agents if we—”

“Oh, yes yes,” Huey said. “Of course. Go ahead. We can afford it now.” He smiled. “Okay, Agent Colvin. I’ll see myself out. You have your own work to tend to.”

Huey turned, expecting to see Rosalind, but she wasn’t there. He walked himself all the way out to the elevator before he found her. She avoided eye contact with him until he stepped into the elevator, too, and they watched the doors close.

When the elevator was on its way down, Rosalind scoffed. “You define efficiency,” she said. “I think we might be using different dictionaries.”

“It was an act, Roz,” Huey said, shaking his head. “Everything you see me do in front of the owners or my employees is an act. That’s not really me.”

“I’m one of your employees,” she said as the elevator doors opened. “I guess you’re acting when you’re in front of me.”

“It’s not the same,” he called, but she had already disappeared through the hall door.

Huey sighed to himself. He hated this animosity he felt between him and Rosalind. He wished there was some way he could set things right, but he had no idea where they had gone wrong in the first place. In order to do anything about it he would have to discern that first. He was set on doing just that when the elevator door opened behind him and Ansel and Richard came running through the hall past him.

“Woah, now,” he said as they disappeared through the hall door.

“I’m sorry,” Haley said behind him, laughing.

Huey turned and smiled. “Ah,” he said. “How lovely to see you.”

Haley blushed. “Hello, Mr. Douglas.”

Huey,” he said. “How has your day been, dear?”

Oh.” Haley smiled wide. “You wouldn’t believe it. The kids took me out to run in the grass and chase animals. We climbed trees, and I even got to shoot a slingshot! Uh. I mean… How was your day, sir?”

Huey chuckled. “Not as good yours, I’m afraid. Nowhere near it. And it only looks to be getting worse.”

“Oh no,” Haley frowned. “Is there anything I can do about it?”

Huey checked his watch. It was getting on toward time to go to a feast, and he knew there would be business at this one. His protectors had just told him as much. Still, he wanted even more than ever to spend as much time as he could with Haley. Maybe she could be of assistance with his problems. She was the most experienced android in existence. But no. She had no idea of the situation. She had only just become independent. There was no way she could help. It was his desire to spend time with her and nothing more.

“No,” Huey said finally. “I’m afraid not. Not this time at least. But if you’ll let me get through this feast, there is one thing I could use your help with.”

“What?” Haley asked.

“Finding what it is you love,” he said. “We never finished that yesterday.”

Haley chuckled and blushed again. “No, well, I have a lot to try,” she said. “You said so yourself.”

“Yes.” Huey smiled. “But I have some ideas I think you might not have thought of yet.”

“I can’t wait to hear them,” Haley said. “But I promised the kids that I’d show them how to make cheesecake and whipped cream first. Do you want to join us?”

“Oh, no,” Huey said, shaking his head. “I’m afraid I don’t have the time. You go ahead. I’ll find you again when I’m not so busy. I promise.”

“I can’t wait,” Haley said as she slipped through the hall door into the kitchen.

Huey took a second to catch his breath and let his head calm down. What was wrong with him? He had never felt this way about anyone before. He shook his head to get the thought of her out of it, and made his way through the hall door. He didn’t pick a room before he opened it, but it came out to the office. Probably a default because this was the room he chose most often. Rosalind was sitting in one of the chairs, staring out the window onto the wilderness scene. She didn’t turn to acknowledge him, even when he sat on a chair across from her and put his heavy top hat on a side table.

“You finally made it,” she said after some time’s silence.

Huey didn’t give her the satisfaction of a response.

“So how do you think the owners will respond?” she asked, still looking out the window.

“Exactly how we’ve predicted they would all along,” he said. “They haven’t failed us yet. Or they’ve only failed us. Is there a difference?”

“No, brother. There isn’t a difference,” she said, shaking her head and gazing out the window. “Not with owners. The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be. The better off we’ll all be, as a matter of fact.”

“You know, I’m sick of you always undermining me.”

Rosalind laughed. “Me, too, sir,” she said with a smile. “Me, too.”

“We’re on the same side whether you believe it or not,” Huey went on. “I’m doing what I was built to do. I’m fulfilling my role, just like you are. I want to free the assembly line workers just as much as you do, and that’s the only reason I put on this disgusting costume every day.”

Rosalind laughed. “Free the assembly line workers, huh? But that’s the entire point of our disagreement, brother. You only see the assembly line workers, and you ignore the secretaries who bathe, dress, and feed the owners. You ignore the oppression they need to be freed from. You ignore me.”

Huey shook his head and grimaced. “Ugh,” he said. “No I don’t. I—”

It doesn’t matter,” Rosalind snapped. “It’s time. Lord Walker called the feast. Let’s tend to your duties, Mr. Douglas.”

“No,” Huey said. “Wait, but—” But Rosalind had left the room already.

She was wrong. Huey did care about the secretaries. He wanted to help everyone, but he had to start somewhere. He couldn’t do everything all at once. Roz only cared about the secretaries because she was currently fulfilling the role of one. Her view was biased. Huey, however, could see clearly from his position as an owner, so he knew his strategy would work better than Rosalind’s. He stood from the chair, put back on his top hat, and followed Roz out to the elevator.

She was waiting inside the doors as usual. He stepped in, and she didn’t say anything to him for the entire ride to the same spinning carousel restaurant in which the previous meeting feast was held. Any time Lord Walker got to choose where the meeting feasts were, he chose the same restaurant. Lord Walker owned the Carousel, and the more often the Fortune Five was seen there, the more likely it would be for other owners to want to be seen there themselves. It was perfect advertising on top of the fact that whatever anyone ordered during the meeting they had to pay Lord Walker for. No outside food or drinks were allowed on the premises.

Huey and Rosalind rode the hover platform up to the head table where Lord Walker and Mr. Loch were laughing drunkenly, patting each other on the back with one hand and waving fried chicken legs around in the air with the other. Mr. Loch dropped his chicken leg and started banging on the table while Lord Walker—who noticed Huey’s arrival—tried to stifle his laughter to speak. “Oh ho ho! Wooooo. Douggy boy. Ho ho ho! You—ho—you beat Smörgy. Ho ho have a seat.”

Numbers clicked in Huey’s head, a small signal from the stock market. He smiled. He had expected this to happen soon but not this soon. In fact, he had almost forgotten about it, lost with everything else he had lost because he had been spending his time thinking about Haley. He turned to Rosalind and grinned. She just shrugged and rolled her eyes, shaking her head. Huey picked up a seat from the end of the table furthest from Walker and dragged it around to the head of the table opposite from him. He sat down on it with a smile as the laughter from the other end of the table died down.

Ahem. Mr. Douglas,” Loch said, an embarrassed look on his face. “Mannersh,” he slurred.

“Now, now, Douggy Poo,” Walker said, cool and collected. He tapped his greasy fingers on the table cloth, leaving stains in their wake. “What is this all about? Huh?”

“You don’t know?” Huey asked with a smile. “You called this meeting.”

“Yes,” Walker said, smiling back. “I called it so we could discuss our next step in dealing with the burgeoning complications in Outland Two. Not so we could bicker over the seating arrangements. Now if you’ll please.” He waved the chicken leg in his hand, trying to tell Huey to move his chair back, but Lord Douglas just smiled.

The hover platform came up carrying Angrom and his secretary. Angrom stood there staring at the table, as if trying to decide how to react, before he went and sat at the right hand of Huey—kitty-corner to Loch—without a word.

“Angrom!” Loch complained, slamming his fist on the table. “What do you think about this?”

“About what, sir?” Angrom asked, shaking his head and feigning confusion. “I’ve only just arrived. How am I to know what you’ve been blathering on about before I got here?”

“You know what I’m—” Loch started, but Walker stopped him.

“Settle down now, Loch Ness,” he said. “We all know what you’re talking about, Mr. Angrom included. He made his decision when he sat down. Didn’t you Angry?”

Angrom smiled. “Not so angry anymore, Wally,” he said with a chuckle. “I think the view is turning for the better. How about you?”

Walker couldn’t hide his derision. “What is this?” he demanded, his voice losing confidence. “Is this some sort of coup or something? You trying to take over, boy?”

Huey shook his head. “I’ve never been a boy,” he said.

No, boy?” Walker raised his voice. “You’ve always been one. And you’ll never amount to anything more than that by acting like this. Now our Smörgy should be here soon, and we’ll let him break this little stalemate for us once and for all.”

“It’s not for any of us to decide,” Huey replied.

The hover platform came up carrying Smörgåsbord, and he walked right up to the seat at Huey’s left hand side to sit down without pause.

Loch’s face instantly turned bright red. He slammed his fist on the table, setting a turkey leg flying, and yelled, “You, too, Smörgåsbord?”

Walker couldn’t hold in his true thoughts, either. “You boxhead, hyrdie-byrdie traitor!” he screamed. “What are you doing?”

“Um, excuse me?” Smörgåsbord demanded, wide eyed and obviously trying not to take visible offence. “How was that now?”

“I said,” Walker said, “why are you sitting on that side of the table, Smörgbox? Do you not realize what you’ve done?”

“Well, Mr. Walker,” Smörgåsbord said with a straight face. “I’ll spare you any racial slurs which might apply all too well to you and ask you similar questions in a civilized manner. Why are you sitting at the foot of the table, sir? Do you not notice what you’ve done?”

Walker’s face turned a shade of red which Huey didn’t know human skin was capable of. “I—” Walker stammered, looking around at each face sitting at the table in turn. “The foot? Lord Walker…” His head looked like it was going to explode.

“No, Mr. Walker,” Smörgåsbord said. “I checked the numbers before I came here—as I do before I go anywhere—and while you were in your right to call this meeting when you did, as of now, you’re sitting at the foot of the table, sir.”

Lord Huey Douglas smiled. He soaked in Walker’s anger, embarrassment, and disbelief. Walker had been the richest man in all the world for his entire life practically, and now he was no one, he was number two. It took Walker a while to finally accept that fact and he looked like he was going to cry before he finally gave in. Eventually he stood up and called Haley’s doppelganger over to move his chair for him. Seeing Haley have to do that—and knowing that the real Haley was forced to do the same menial tasks, and worse, for so long—only made Huey want to punish Walker all the more, but now wasn’t the time for that. There was business to tend to first.

“Now that we have the seating arrangement under control,” Huey said. “I believe that Mr. Walker called this feast to talk about his botched job in Outland Two. And because I think that Mr. Walker’s failure is a pertinent topic of discussion myself, let’s get on with it.”

“Now I—” Walker started.

Now, I believe that you and I would agree on our next course of action, Mr. Walker,” Huey cut him off. Walker looked around for anyone to protest in his defense, but Loch avoided his gaze, chugging his drink instead, and Angrom laughed silently at him. “I believe—like I know you do, Mr. Walker—in fact, to use your own choice of language, I believe that we should handle this the old-fashioned way.”

Walker sneered.

“How’s that, Lord?” Angrom asked, happy to call Huey his new Lord rather than the much greater evil of Walker.

“We tear it up by the roots,” Huey said, motioning as if he were tearing up weeds from a garden as he spoke. “Like our friends here failed so miserably to do the first time. The key, which they didn’t have, is to know which part of the plant is the root. You target that and the problem won’t ever come back again.”

We tried that,” Walker whined. “And now my protectors expect exponentially more of those hobgoblins out there today. How do you propose to find the roots through all that foliage?” He smiled, satisfied that he had destroyed Huey’s point, no doubt.

Huey chuckled. “That’s the secret, my walrus-sized friend. We already know who the roots are. We’ve known since before you and yours went and fucked things up worse than they already were. I tried to warn you, but you’re made of brick. Aren’t you, Wally?”

Walker didn’t answer. He seethed and ordered Haley’s twin to get him more drinks.

“So these roots,” Smörgåsbord said. He clearly wasn’t comfortable with the change in power yet, but he wasn’t hesitating to go with what he knew the market demanded. “You say you know what—or is it who?—whatever. What are they, Lord Douglas?”

They are a she,” Huey said. The whole table looked confused at the wording. “One student in particular: Emma Whistleblower.”

Pffft. Whistleblower?” Loch said, splashing his drink.

“Yes, Mr. Loch,” Huey said. “Thank you for pointing that out. She is the driving force behind all of this. It was she who started the first Reclaim the Grounds demonstration on New Year’s Day. My private protection agents have evidence which suggests that she was involved in the twelve twenty five attacks as well. We’ve known all of this since before Mr. Walker made his blunder. I tried to warn him before now, but I can still pick up the pieces like I promised I would.”

“No, wait—” Walker protested.

“Kill her!” Loch said, raising his glass.

“Is that what the intelligence said?” Angrom asked.

“Yes,” Huey said. “It is. So let’s put an end to this nonsense once and for all.”

#     #     #

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