Chapter 70: The Scientist

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

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

LXX. The Scientist

0.NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN…

Every Goddamn day it was the same damn thing.

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

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

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Kitty meowed again and went on licking himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosalind chuckled. “Is it working?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course I do. Look at me.”

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

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

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

“But I—”

“You know I’m right about this one.”

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

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

“So you say.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure you want help us?”

“I— Uh…”

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 56: Mr. Walker

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

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

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

LVI. Mr. Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

Damnit,” he snapped. “Be careful!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see.” Lord Douglas nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your little armory attack, Mr. Walker.”

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Douglas smiled and gave a slight nod.

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

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

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

“Deal.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#     #     #

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

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

Chapter 42: Olsen

Today brings us Olsen’s third point of view chapter and the final chapter in book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy, An Almost Tangent. Read on here to see how Olsen deals with the consequences of what she’s done for the Human Family, and don’t forget to pick up the full copy of An Almost Tangent through this link or check back right here on the blog to see when book three, Dividing by Ø, gets published in the coming weeks.

Thanks for joining us thus far, dear readers. Enjoy:

< XLI. Guy     [Table of Contents]     Book III >

XLII. Olsen

Her feet carried her, and for once, they didn’t lead her astray. When she let her subconscious do the work, she never got lost. Not even with this strange new world that had crashed into hers, marring and mangling everything in existence.

She was not a murderer, she kept reassuring herself. She was not a murderer. She was not a murderer. She was not a murderer. The mantra took time with her steps, slowing as she slowed to a jog, exhausted from too much.

Too much what, though? Violence. Lies. Panic. All of it. She was exhausted from too much, period. She was so exhausted that she didn’t even realize where her feet had taken her until she was up the stairs and opening the door.

“Olsen, dear?” her mom asked, sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, not even turning to look or expending the tiny effort required to scan her peripheral vision. “Is that you?”

“Yes, mother.” Olsen sighed. “I’m standing right here, aren’t I?” She plopped on the couch next to her mom who groaned and nudged her over.

“You get the entire couch every night,” her mom complained, eyes still on the show. “At least give me some room during the day. It is my couch after all.”

Olsen rolled her eyes. “My day was pretty terrible actually, thanks for asking,” she said sarcastically.

That was enough to get her mom’s attention. “You didn’t get fired again, did you?” she asked, shaking her head. “You know, sometimes it seems like you want to fail, dear. Do you do it so you can go on sleeping on my couch all day? You know I can’t afford that, child. Do you want your mother to have to live with that burden until the day she dies?”

Olsen scoffed. “First,” she said, “I didn’t get fired. And second, of course I don’t want to fail. Who would? And as soon as I can afford it I’ll get out of here because this stupid couch sucks to sleep on!”

Her mom shook her head. “Now I’ve heard that before,” she said. “Haven’t I? And yet here you still are after all this time. You know Aaron’s boy, Aldo, never has a problem getting work. I don’t know why it’s so hard for you.”

Olsen scoffed. “I’m not Aldo,” she said. “And I have a job, a terrible, shitty job that makes me miserable, which I’m pretty sure is ruining my life.”

“Welcome to the real world, honey.” Her mom chuckled. “It’s called work because you hate to do it. You’re not unique in that respect.”

“What do you know?” Olsen said. “You have no idea what my job entails, Mom.” She thought about what she had just done, about killing that actor, and swallowed the vomit that was forcing its way out of her throat. “I think I can lay claim to a unique version of Hell more than you might expect.”

Pffft.” Her mom laughed. “Everyone does, child. And they all can in their own way, but who’s to say whose Hell is worse than whose?”

Olsen was getting angry, or frustrated, or something. She just wanted to talk to someone who would console and comfort her, and her feet had taken her home in search of that. Maybe this was why she didn’t let her feet do the thinking after all. “Mom,” she said. “Do you even have any idea what’s going on in the world around you? In the worlds—plural—around you?”

“Don’t try to tell me about the world, child,” her mom said, shaking her head. “Now, I’ve been in it for a lot longer than you have, and those years of experience have taught me more than you could ever know.”

“Then you must have heard about what happened in the streets today,” Olsen said. “You weren’t worried that I might have been injured?”

Her mom shook her head and squinted. “What are you talking about now?”

“We were handing out food and clothes when the protectors came and gassed us then started shooting people,” Olsen said. “Hundreds of people died, Mom, and I was right there when it happened.”

Her mom chuckled and half-grinned like she didn’t believe it. “You’re kidding, right,” she said. “This is a joke or something.”

No, Mom,” Olsen complained. “That’s why my day was so horrible. That’s my unique Hell.”

“No.” Her mom shook her head some more and chuckled. “I would have heard something about that.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t,” Olsen said.

Olsen,” her mom said. “If that had actually happened, there would be riots in the streets. The protectors are the only thing keeping order around here, and if faith in them is lost, society would devolve into chaos. You don’t know what that’s like. The desperation erupting into violence. I’ve been through it, and that’s nothing to joke about.”

“Well I’m not joking,” Olsen said. “And you’re going to have to live through it again because that’s what’s going on right now. I’ve been through it, too, you know. Only for a day or so now, but I can see it’s only getting worse, and I never imagined it could be as bad as it is already in the first place.” She had to fight to keep her voice from cracking and hold back her tears.

Olsen.” Her mom grabbed Olsen’s hand and patted her back. Olsen couldn’t stop herself from embracing her and sobbing on her shoulders for what could have been half an hour before she controlled herself. Her mom kept patting her back and brushing her fingers through Olsen’s hair the whole time she cried.

“Olsen, dear,” she said after Olsen had gathered herself, sniffling and puffy-faced. “Whatever happened, if you got fired, or you need me to cover a loan, or—whatever—just tell me. But this, this is too much, dear. This is too far, even for you. So just go ahead and tell me the truth, and Momma will make it all better.”

Olsen stood up fast, appalled. She wanted to cry again, but this time in anger. She thought she had gotten through to her mom. She thought she had found someone she could take comfort in, confide in. Then her mom had to go and ruin it by accusing her of lying. Why would she lie about something like this?

“Why would I lie about something like this?” Olsen demanded.

“I don’t know, dear,” her mom said. “That’s why I need you to tell me the truth.”

“I wouldn’t. That’s what I’m telling you.”

“Then why haven’t I heard about it? That would be big news.”

“I don’t know,” Olsen said. “Maybe because you sit on your ass in front of this TV all day. If they don’t talk about it on here, you have no way of learning about it. Do you?”

Her mom was mad now. She gave Olsen the death stare Olsen knew too well from her childhood. She probably still thought of Olsen as that same little girl she used to be able to stare into submission, but that wasn’t Olsen anymore. How her mom still didn’t know that, she would never understand. No, Olsen was changed now. Her experiences had made her into a whole new person, the type of person who wouldn’t take this kind of verbal abuse without doing something about it.

“Get. Out. Of my. House,” her mom said, fuming.

Gladly,” Olsen said, curtsying and opening the door. “I don’t want to be here anyway.” She slammed the door behind her and ran down the stairs outside.

Well that was a fucking waste. And how could her mom not have heard about what had happened out there? That woman really was lost in her own world. That was just another world to add to the list of new ones Olsen had to get used to. Thinking of worlds, she thought of Sonya, and when she looked up, she was standing at Sonya’s door. Maybe those feet of hers had actually made a good decision this time.

Olsen rang the bell and waited for a reply. There was no answer so she rang it again, knowing it was futile if the first ring wasn’t answered. She sighed and turned around, and there was Sonya, jogging up the street toward her.

“Olsen, you’re alive!” Sonya said, grabbing her in a hug.

Olsen squeezed her tight and took a whiff of Sonya’s hair. Finally, someone to find comfort in.

“I can’t believe what happened,” Sonya said, holding Olsen at arm’s length so she could better look at her. “Wasn’t that right by where you work?”

“You heard about it?”

“Of course I did.” Sonya laughed. “It was disgusting. So many people died. How could I not?”

Olsen chuckled, thinking about her mom. “You’d be surprised,” she said.

“Well, not in my line of work at least. I hear every bit of gossip, and there was no way something like that was getting past me. I tried to reach you as soon as I heard, but your mom said she didn’t know where you were.”

Olsen shook her head, more about where she was and what she was doing when Sonya had tried to find her than the reminder that even her mom didn’t believe what had happened. “I was still in the thick of it,” Olsen said, shaking her head with a sigh.

“Tell me all about it,” Sonya said, grabbing Olsen’s hand and leading her to sit in the field across the street. “It must have been terrible. I can’t imagine.”

Olsen nodded then shook her head. “Yeah—I mean—No. I don’t know,” she said. “We were out there, you know—”

“The Human Family?” Sonya cut her off.

Olsen couldn’t help but notice the tinge of disgust in Sonya’s voice. “Yeah,” she said. “My employers and me. We had a printer and we were—”

“A printer?” Sonya’s eyes grew wide. “A 3D printer? Where’d y’all get that?”

Olsen shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “They had like five of them. I don’t know where they got them, and I’m not going to ask.”

Yeah, that’s not suspicious at all,” Sonya said, rolling her eyes. “But go on.”

Olsen tried to hold it in, but she couldn’t help scoffing. Go on? How was she supposed to go on when Sonya was being so sarcastic and dismissive? “Well, anyway,” Olsen said, trying to regain her train of thought. “We took it out to the street corner and offered anyone who passed by whatever they wanted.”

Sonya nodded. “That’s nice,” she said.

“Yeah, well, as you can imagine, people started crowding around fast, and before we knew it, there were thousands and thousands of them, and you couldn’t see the end of the crowd.”

“It’s easy to attract people when you give them what they want,” Sonya said, unimpressed.

Olsen felt a slight sense of Déjà vu. She shook it out of her head and said, “Well, we attracted the predators, too. I mean protectors—”

“What’s the difference?” Sonya scoffed.

“—and they killed people,” Olsen went on. “A lot of people. And gassed the rest. And some guy pointed a gun at me—not even a protector—and I was pretty sure I was going to die before Rosa and Anna saved me.”

Sonya sneered at the mention of their names while at the same time bringing Olsen in for a hug. “No, no, dear,” she said. “It’s okay. I’m here for you now.”

Olsen let her tears go again, but they didn’t last as long. She pushed away from Sonya’s embrace, sniffling and wiping her nose, to say, “You believe me, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Sonya laughed. “How couldn’t I? I’ve heard the same story from so many sources already. Why wouldn’t I believe it when my best friend was the one saying it happened?”

Olsen blushed and picked at the grass. “I didn’t believe you when you told me about the other worlds,” she said. “Not at first, at least.”

Sonya smiled. “How could you have? At that point I could barely believe in them myself.”

Olsen looked at her. “But I know it’s true now,” she said. “And there are more than two worlds.”

Sonya looked more interested than ever. “Tell me,” she said, leaning in closer.

“There are like seven of them,” Olsen said. “Or—six now. You were right about the merging of two of them.”

“Who told you this?” Sonya asked.

“Anna and Rosa,” Olsen said, and Sonya cringed. “And I went to one of the other worlds myself,” Olsen added.

“No way!” Sonya said, slapping Olsen’s arm. “How? Tell me.”

Olsen looked away again. She wanted to tell her about the other worlds, but she wasn’t ready to tell the whole story yet. “I saw a movie being filmed,” she said. “Or a TV show, I’m not sure, but I saw that guy who’s always the star. What do you call him?”

Big head,” Sonya said, smiling. “You met him? What was he like? Was his head as big in person? How did you get there?”

Olsen laughed. “I don’t know,” she said. “But it was another world, I’m sure of it. The people looked as different from us as the otherworlders we’ve already met. More so even.”

Sonya shook her head. “It’s good to know you finally believe me,” she said. “But I still don’t understand how you got there. C’mon. Tell me.”

“I—well…”

“It can’t be that bad,” Sonya said.

“I don’t know,” Olsen said. “You might think it is.”

“You can let me decide.”

“Anna and Rosa sent me,” Olsen said. “They have this thing in their basement, a big ring that opens doors that can teleport you places.”

“Like the elevators?” Sonya asked.

Olsen nodded. She thought it would be harder to explain. “Yeah,” she said. “Right. But instead of elevators taking you down to where you want to go, you step through these ring things like a door.”

“And that’s how you got to this other world?” Sonya asked.

“Yeah,” Olsen said. “I stepped into this costume closet or something, right out of their basement, then I went through a long, dark hall to a huge room where they had brought the inside outside. There were spotlights, and cameras, and special effects, and whatever they were filming looked like nothing that had ever played on any TV I’ve ever seen.”

Sonya nodded. “That’s probably because it hasn’t,” she said.

“It was crazy,” Olsen said. “I can’t believe I was there.”

“Why were you there?” Sonya asked.

A knot grew in Olsen’s stomach. She tried to swallow it down. Now was the time of reckoning. Could she admit what she had done? “Well…” she said.

“You can tell me, Olsen.” Sonya took Olsen’s hand in one of hers and patted it with the other. “I know you meant well.”

Olsen shook her head, trying not to cry. “We were feeding people in that street,” she said, “and clothing them. We were giving them tools, even, a way to produce for themselves. We were doing good. I’m certain of that.”

“I know,” Sonya said, pulling Olsen closer. “I know you were.”

“Then why’d the protectors do what they did?” Olsen asked, ripping her hand away from Sonya’s.

“Because they’re not here to protect us.”

Olsen gave her a look. It wasn’t like Sonya to speak out against the order of things—make wild predictions about the order of things, sure, but speak against it, never.

“What did you do when you were over there?” Sonya asked. “I know they didn’t just send you to meet a celebrity.”

“No.” Olsen shook her head. “But who are you to know that?”

Sonya smiled. “I’ve been living just the same as you have,” she said. “I’ve experienced my fair share of change and learned from it since Christmas. It just so happens that my experience is from the opposite perspective as yours.”

“Opposite perspective?” Olsen gave her a look. “What are you talking about?”

“Pro-android rights,” Sonya said. “The opposite of your Human Family. We’ve started our own coalition.”

Olsen shook her head. “Wait, what?” she said. “You didn’t tell me—”

I did,” Sonya said. “I warned you from the beginning that I didn’t trust those people. I told you to get a different job.”

“But you didn’t tell me you were starting a…a coalition—or whatever,” Olsen said.

Sonya scoffed. “Because you’ve been too busy with your family,” she said. “You’ve been too busy doing something you can’t even tell me about.”

“I—” Olsen sighed. “I thought I was helping people,” she said. “Just like with the printers on the streets.”

“But you weren’t?” Sonya asked.

Olsen shook her head. “I don’t know how they could make me do that,” she said. “I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now that I did.”

“I still don’t know what you did,” Sonya said with a shrug. “And I can’t help you until I do.”

“I put some cheese on a table,” Olsen said. “That’s it. The rest wasn’t me.”

Sonya’s jaw dropped. She shook her head. “No,” she said. “You didn’t. Olsen, poison?”

“I didn’t!” Olsen said defiantly.

“You can’t work for them anymore,” Sonya said. “Not after that.”

“What else am I supposed to do?” Olsen complained. “My mom said she’ll kick me out, even with my job.”

“I don’t blame her,” Sonya said. “I wouldn’t want someone who did that for them living with me, either.”

“I didn’t know what they were doing!” Olsen complained, standing from the grass.

“Yeah, well I told you,” Sonya said, standing, too. “But you didn’t listen to me.”

“You didn’t tell me this,” Olsen said. “You told me they were anti-robot. There’s a difference.”

“I told you they were immoral,” Sonya said. “I may have gotten the degree of their depravity wrong, but I warned you.”

Olsen groaned. “You’re no better than my mom,” she said. “You’re both lost in your own worlds. Her in her TV, and you with your robots.”

“They’re androids!” Sonya stomped her foot. “It’s good to know you’re picking up the racist rhetoric from your bosses.”

“I’m not a racist!” Olsen said.

Well you could have fooled me,” Sonya said. “Why else would you have assassinated a pro-android celebrity?”

“I didn’t know he was!” Olsen protested. “And I didn’t kill him!”

“Sure, Olsen.” Sonya shook her head. “Tell yourself what you want to, but I tried to warn you.” She started to stomp away.

“What, that’s it?” Olsen called after her.

“It is until you’re willing to admit what you did,” Sonya said, crossing the street to go into her apartment.

Olsen flopped back on the grass. She let out a big huff of air. First her mom and now Sonya, the only person she thought she could count on to trust and comfort her. She was not a killer!

Was she a killer? Anna and Rosa had said that she wasn’t, that it was Rosa who did the killing even though Olsen was the one to cut the cheese. What if Olsen had eaten a slice? She could have died. They could have killed her. Her heart beat faster at the thought of it even though the danger was long gone.

How could they do this to her? How could they do that to the actor she—no, they had killed? How could she stop thinking about it?

She stood up and brushed herself off. Her mother was no help. Sonya was no help. Rosa and Anna were the problem. There was no one left for her to turn to. There was nowhere left to go but home. She took her time walking to the elevator, not wanting to see her mom again so soon. When she stepped inside, she said, “Home.” not giving the street or address in the hopes that the elevator would mistake her voice for someone else’s and get her lost somewhere strange where no one knew what she had or hadn’t done.

When the doors slid open again, her eyes grew wide. She was in a stranger place than she could ever have imagined. Not even outside anymore, she was in a long hall, and an old woman in a white coat stood smiling at her.

Home. Back home,” Olsen begged, looking at the roof of the elevator and urging it to close its doors.

The woman in the white coat chuckled. “Calm down, dear,” she said. “You have nothing to be afraid of here.”

“Where am I?” Olsen asked. “Who are you?”

“All will be explained, dear,” the old woman said. “Come. Sit with me.” She crossed the hall and opened the door at the end of it to show Olsen through.

Olsen hesitated. “Doors close,” she said. “Take me home.” The elevator didn’t respond, and the woman just held the door at the other end of the hall, smiling. Olsen had no choice but to follow her through it.

The room was a big office with a view of a wilderness scene out of a wall-sized window. The woman in white sat in one of the puffy chairs by the window and indicated for Olsen to do the same in the seat across from her.

“So where am I?” Olsen asked as she sat down.

“In my office,” the woman said. “Or rather, in an office in my building. I don’t use this one much.”

“And you are?”

“The Scientist.”

“That’s a name?” Olsen raised an eyebrow.

The woman smiled. “It’s what people call me,” she said. “What is a name? A sewer by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Olsen shrugged. “Sounds more like a job to me,” she said.

“Lots of people have jobs for names,” the woman said. “Especially extinct jobs. They’re usually surnames like McKannic, Server, or Sous, but the Scientist just so happens to be a first name. What can I say?”

Olsen looked at the Scientist suspiciously. Did she know that Olsen’s last name was Sous, or was that a coincidence? “What do you want with me?” she asked.

The Scientist chuckled. “Oh, no, dear,” she said. “The question isn’t what I want with you. The question is what do you want from me?”

Olsen eyed her again. This was starting to smell like the same shit Rosa used to attract her flies. Olsen didn’t respond, instead waiting for the woman to go on.

“You see,” the Scientist said. “I’m in a position of privilege here. And from that position, I can see many things.” She looked through the window at the green wilderness for a moment. “And not just the beautiful things we have in front of us here. No, sadly, there’s much more ugliness to see in these worlds than there is beauty, and I have seen it all.”

“What do you know about the worlds?” Olsen asked, forgetting her suspicions for a moment.

“Oh, dear, everything.” The Scientist grinned. “Every little thing. You know, I was the architect who oversaw the creation of the worlds. I was their mother and midwife. I have overseen their maturation, raising and rearing them where I can here and there, but these worlds are as independent and willful as teenagers these days, and I have little control anymore. But I still have my eyes turned firmly on them, and I still know every little detail of their existence. Any questions you have I’d be more than happy to answer.” She smiled.

Olsen didn’t know what to think. Those were some grandiose claims, and this woman would have to be older than humans could be in order to have done what she claimed to have done. “How am I supposed to believe you?”

The Scientist didn’t stop smiling, even while she spoke. “Well, that’s for you to decide, dear,” she said. “What evidence would it take to convince you?”

Olsen had to take a moment to think about it. “Show me,” she said.

“Show you what, dear?”

“You said you keep your eyes on them. Show me how you watch the other worlds.”

The Scientist smiled and nodded. “Very well,” she said. “Come with me.”

They went out into the hall again, and when the Scientist reopened the door they had just passed through, it revealed another office entirely, one with a different view. Olsen gasped and crossed past the desk to look out the wallwindow at the lines and lines of slip, snap, clickers. “I know her,” she said. “Her brother works with me. Or did… But I know her. What is this?” she asked, but the Scientist had sat at the desk and began typing and clicking on the computer.

“That’s one way I keep an eye on the worlds,” she said, not taking her eyes off the screen. “Though it’s really more of a reminder. This computer here is where I do most of the real monitoring. Right…there.” She leaned back in her chair and smiled, watching the screen.

“A reminder?” Olsen asked, walking around behind the Scientist to see what she was doing. “A reminder of what?”

“A reminder of what we’re fighting against. A reminder of who I do this for. A reminder of why I wake up every morning. You name it.”

Olsen groaned. She was not ready for another “Family”, and she was starting to regret encouraging this woman on by asking her to prove herself. What she really wanted was to go home. Then she looked at the screen.

There were seven different frames, each cycling through shots of streets and bars and restaurants and bedrooms. She recognized the look of some, but others seemed so lavish and outlandish to her that she didn’t know what they were or where they could be. “What is this?” she asked.

“These are the worlds,” the Scientist said. “You wanted to see them so here they are. These two—” She pointed at the screen. “Are Five and Six. Technically one world now. Your world. You’ve noticed the differences since the merger by now, I’m sure.”

Olsen nodded. Dumbstruck.

“And here is Four,” the Scientist said. “That’s technically where we are now, though we’re really in a world of our own if you want to get picky. Then Three, where the actors and musicians and artists live. You’ve been there, I think.”

Olsen swallowed her nerves.

“Then Two, with the managers, and the lawyers, and the other rabble. And One, where all the protectors live. Which brings us to the best for last—or worst depending on which end of the hierarchy you happen to be on—we have Inland, our owners, the magnets of wealth and rulers of all our fates. These are the worlds, dear. Do you believe I know about them now?”

Olsen wiped her face. She shook her head and shrugged. She tried to say, “I don’t know.” but the words wouldn’t come out.

“Now, dear,” the Scientist said. “You’ve seen our capabilities—some of them at least. I can give you anything your heart desires, and I ask of you nothing in return. So what do you say? What is it that Olsen Sous wants?”

Olsen pictured all the things she could ask for that would make her life better: A well-paying job, an apartment of her own, both probably futile no matter what this Scientist knew about the worlds. A printer, maybe more plausible, but what would she do with it? Haul it up to her mom’s apartment and attract a swarm of protectors to attack them there? Then she thought about Rosa and Anna and their “Family”, about everything she had just been through and wanted to avoid experiencing ever again at all costs. And she shook her head. She said, “No. I don’t want anything from you. I don’t want anything I can’t get by myself.” And she ran out into the hall and into the elevator then yelled at it to close the doors and take her home.

The Scientist came out into the hall slowly, a sad—but not angry—look on her face. “Are you sure this is what you want?” she asked when she had finally made it across the short hall.

Olsen nodded, not wanting to open her mouth and say something stupid.

“Well, if that’s what you want, I can’t argue.” The Scientist shook her head. “I’ll be watching you, and I’ll be waiting for you to change your mind, child. Just ask an elevator for me and you’ll be here. Good bye, then.”

The elevator doors slid closed and the floor dropped out from underneath Olsen, leaving her to careen toward whatever may come.

 End of Book Two

< XLI. Guy     [Table of Contents]     Book III >

And there it is. Book two of the Infinite Limits tetralogy in its entirety. If you’ve made it this far with us, you’ve made it to the halfway point in the Infinite Limits story. In the next few weeks I should be publishing book three, Dividing by Ø, so stick around the blog here in order to keep up with the story. Until next time. Have a great weekend, dear readers.

Chapter 41: Guy

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

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

XLI. Guy

FADE IN:

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

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

ASSEMBLY WORKER
Get your robot hands off me.

ANDROID THIEF
I don’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INT. WALTRONICS ANDROID FACTORY FINISHED PRODUCTS PACKAGING — DAY

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” Jen asked.

“I—huff—yeah,” he huffed. “I…great.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But—” Jen protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked around and they all avoided his gaze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You.” Jen gasped.

“Who else did you expect?”

“But you—” Jen said. “You can’t—”

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

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

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

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

“No!” Jen begged. “Unhand me!”

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

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

“No! No!” Jen pled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy sighed. Robot Emir was right.

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

“And I like the part,” Jen said.

Emily frowned, downing her drink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shrugged and leaned on the wall again.

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

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

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

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

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

“I—what?” Guy was dumbfounded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You will if they take you again.”

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

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

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

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

 

#     #     #

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

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

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

Chapter 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.

Enjoy.

< 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?”

“I—uh—”

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 28: Olsen

Today brings us chapter 28 of the Infinite Limits story with another new point of view character, Olsen Sous from Outland Five. This is the seventh chapter of An Almost Tangent, marking the one third finished point in the novel, so after this we’ll be returning to points of view already mentioned in An Almost Tangent.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your read so far. If you’d like to stay up to date on new releases or learn about special deals and future giveaways, please do sign up for my email update list through this link, and don’t forget that you can pick up a full copy of An Almost Tangent through this link. Enjoy.

< XXVII. Guy     [Table of Contents]     XXIX. Tillie >

XXVIII. Olsen

Olsen sprinted straight home, grasping the pamphlets tight so the wind couldn’t steal them from her. Well, not straight home. Ever since the new buildings and fields had burst into existence she had been having more trouble than usual finding her way anywhere, including home. After turning down a few wrong alleys, and taking some of the same streets three or four times, she finally made it back to the five story walkup which was her apartment.

She rushed in and up the stairs, and when she burst through the door, she called, “Mooooom I’m hoooooome!”

Her mom was in the living room—which the front door opened onto—watching something on TV. “Quiet down, dear,” she said, not looking away from her show. “You don’t have to yell. There’s only one room in the place.”

“Sorry, Mom,” Olsen said. “It’s just—I’m so excited! I have something to tell you.” She sat on the couch next to her mom and smiled.

“What is it dear? Is that internship of yours finally over? Can you move out of your momma’s house once and for all?”

“Uh, well…” Olsen looked down at the pamphlets in her lap, hesitant now to share the news for fear that her mom might not think it was as great of an idea as she did. “Not exactly…”

“Not exactly? Now, girl, you’re getting too old to be living with your mom. Honestly. When I was your age, we were already having children and raising famblies. I don’t know what it is with your generation.”

“Yeah, mom. Well, I was supposed to be getting promoted today, you know, but life has been a little strange since Christmas, hasn’t it?”

“So you didn’t get promoted, then?” Her mom shook her head. “Tsk tsk tsk. Olsen Sous, what am I going to do with you?”

“No, Mom—I… I got fired.”

“Fired! Olsen, what are we supposed to do now? I was barely supporting you as it is. You—I—I can’t keep going on like this if you’ve got nothing to contribute yourself, dear. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t care if the world implodes, there’s no other way about it.”

“No, Mom. But you have to—”

No buts, Olsen. You find yourself another job by the middle of this week, or you’re out of here. I’m sorry. But that’s the way it has to be. You should have been done with your internship and out of my house a long time ago, as it is. I don’t know why I ever let you laze around here for so long in the meantime.”

“No, Mom, but that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Look.” She stuffed one of the flyers into her mom’s hand. “Read that.”

Her mom held it close to her face, then far away, then close again. “The Human Fambly?” she read out loud, mouthing it to herself as she skimmed over the rest. “What is this? Some science fiction book you’re reading? Robots taking our jobs? Ha! I’d like to see the robot that can sew like I can.” She waved her fingers in Olsen’s face. “You see these? I’ve been training them for years and years, and nothing can match their precision. That’s why I’m so worried about you, dear. You’re well behind on picking up your own skills. How else you gonna make yourself more valuable to your prospective employers?”

“But Mom, I found an employer already. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“You’ve what now? You just said that you were fired, girl.”

“Well I was, but—”

“Then get your story straight. Were you fired, or did you find a new job?”

“Both, Mom. Ugh. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. First I got fired, then I found a new job.”

Oooh, girl. Now don’t you be lying to your momma, ya hear. Put it to me straight this time. What are you talking about?”

“The flyer, Mom. You just read it. You remember?”

Her mom held the flyer up to her face again, trying to read it, but she was turning red and clearly getting too annoyed to read anything. “Whatever, okay.” She groaned. “The Human Fambly or whatever. I read it and I still don’t know what it means. Now tell me something sane or I’ll kick you out of here with or without a job.”

“Look. Okay.” Olsen took the flyer from her mom who was still trying to find a distance from her face that was optimal for reading. “Forget about the flyer. I was fired, okay. Right at the end of the day. They said they had found someone who would do the job for cheaper.”

“Cheaper than you were already doing it for?” her mom asked, unbelieving. “Ain’t no human alive who could live on less than that. Now I know you’re telling me a lie.”

“No, mom. Just let me finish. That’s what they said to me, okay. No. That’s what they said. So I was walking home, half taking the long way because I didn’t want to tell you I had been fired and half lost because I can’t find anything anywhere these days, even our own house.”

“You never did have any sense of direction,” her mom said, smiling.

“No. And I still don’t. So I was lost, meandering around, looking at all the new old buildings everywhere. Have you noticed them, Mom? All the new buildings everywhere and how they’re in worse condition than any building that used to be here?”

“Now what does this have to do with you getting a job?” her mom asked, raising her eyebrows. “And quick.”

“Well—uh—nothing I guess. It’s just a tangent. I thought it was interesting. Don’t you?”

“You’re not gonna think it’s interesting when you’re out there on the streets wondering if you can sneak into one of them old buildings to sleep in.”

“No, well, come on, Mom. Just hear me out, okay. Anyway, where was I? That’s right. So I was walking around lost, right, when I heard this loud voice echoing through the alleys, and I got turned around trying to follow it—almost losing myself again—when I saw a group of people all huddled together in an open field.”

“What are you talking about, dear?”

“I’m almost done, Mom. Just let me finish, okay. But I saw them huddled together, using each other for warmth, and they were all looking at this old, hunchbacked, white-haired woman with a wrinkly, dark face—darker than yours even, almost impossibly dark—and it was her voice echoing around me. It seemed impossible that she could talk so loudly, but as I stared and listened with everyone else, I knew it was her speaking.

“Then another woman, who looked almost exactly like the one who was talking but with a big black afro instead of the scraggly white hair, pulled me on the arm and started asking me questions and writing my answers on her clipboard, and before I knew it, I was telling her that I had been fired.”

“What kind of questions?” her mom asked suspiciously.

“I don’t know,” Olsen said shrugging. Why was her mom so interested in this part and not the rest? The rest seemed stranger to her. “My name and address and all that. It doesn’t matter. What matters is—”

“Did you give her our address?” her mom asked, crossing her arms.

“What? I…” Olsen rubbed her face. None of this seemed to be getting through to her mom. “No. Yes. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters is—”

“Of course it matters, girl,” her mom said. “Give your address to someone with a clipboard, and the next thing you know, they’re knocking on your door. Now I don’t want to have to deal with that in my home, child.”

“Well, they won’t. Okay.” Olsen sighed. “I’ll make sure they won’t. That’s who I got a job with. So I can tell them not to when I go to work tomorrow.”

“With the clipboard lady?” Her mom looked horrified. “You didn’t. Not my daughter. No, no, no. Not if I have anything to say about it. Not while you’re under my roof. No one who lives here is carrying a clipboard around, asking people for their names and addresses to serve who knows what purposes. No, ma’am. Not in my fambly. No way, no how.”

“No, Momma. I’m not gonna be holding a clipboard, okay. I’m gonna be a chef.” Olsen smiled, proud to have told someone finally. “A real chef, too. Not a machine operator. And they’re gonna—”

“A chef? Ha! But you can’t cook, girl. You can’t even keep down a food production internship at your age. How are you supposed to become a chef?”

“Thanks for the confidence, Mom.” Olsen sighed. “Seriously. But they said they’d train me. And you haven’t even heard the best part yet.”

“Train you? Oh, I see. So, what’s that, huh? Four weeks without pay? How am I supposed to support you while you go off vacationing for a month?”

“It wouldn’t be without pay, Mom.” At least Olsen hoped it wouldn’t be. She had forgotten to ask if they paid for training in her excitement to land another job so quickly. “I’ll be getting paid more than I ever was at the internship, too. Twice as much.”

Her mom laughed. “Oh. Ho ho! dear. What else? You’ll be helping a humane cause while you’re at it, too? A chef for orphans or something like that. Am I right? Oh ho ho!”

“No mom. I’m serious. I—”

“Sure sure, honey,” her mom said, standing from the couch. “Well, you can have the couch for another week, but if you don’t have a real job and some rent tokens by then, it’s out the door with you. You hear me?”

“No, but I—”

No buts. Now I’m off to have a drink with the girl gang. I’ll ask around for you. Be good, now, ya hear.”

“I already have a job, mom,” Olsen complained, but her mom was already gone.

Ugh. Weren’t parents supposed to be supportive? Olsen had thought that her mom would be happy to hear that her only daughter had gotten her dream job—with a raise—but no. Her mom only seemed suspicious. She kept accusing her own daughter of lying. What kind of mother would do that?

Although the job really did seem too good to be true. Olsen didn’t really believe the story herself, and she was there when it happened. And maybe she was known to make up a story or two to get out of a crisis. But still, a mother should trust her daughter. Right?

She didn’t want to think about it anymore. She wanted to share the news with someone who would be happy for her. She wanted someone to say, “Good job, Olsen. That’s awesome. I’m so proud of you.” and give her a long hug. And she knew exactly who would give her what she needed.

She jumped off the couch and hurried through the door, down the stairs, and into the world. Normally, she could walk straight to the bar, take a left, and find where she was going by memory, but ever since the Christmas incident she couldn’t find anything. She started one way down the street then realized it was the wrong one and went the other. She could have taken an elevator, sure, but then she would probably end up more lost than she already was. At least by walking, if she got too far off course, she could just retrace her steps to find her way back home.

As she walked, she studied the buildings around her. It was interesting that the new ones were older than the old ones, no matter what her mom said. And that fact had to be some clue as to why they all showed up out of nowhere, all of a sudden, and in such a loud hurry. It wasn’t just the buildings that were different, either. It was the people who had come in them, too. There were a lot of new faces in the neighborhood, and they were all dirty and clothed with rags.

She looked up and didn’t recognize where she was. She spun around a few times, looking at a field, a few older buildings, and a few new, when she realized that the one she was standing in front of was the one she was looking for. She shook her head and laughed at herself then pressed the button on the intercom next to the label “Sonya Barista”. After a moment’s pause, a tinny voice came over the intercom. “Hello?” it said. “Sonya speaking.”

“Sonya, it’s me,” Olsen said. “Olsen,” she added for good measure.

“Yeah, I know,” Sonya said. “I’ll be down in a second.” The link cut out with a pop.

Olsen checked herself in her reflection on the door window and was still trying to fix that one little bit of hair which always fell exactly wrong when the door opened. She jumped and tried to pretend like she wasn’t fixing herself up, saying, “Uh… hey.”

Sonya laughed, closing the door behind her. “Hey, freak,” she said. “What’s up?”

“Oh, well…” Olsen rubbed her arm. “I have news.”

“Good news or bad news?”

“Well—uh—kinda both I guess.”

Sonya frowned.

No no no. Good. Definitely good. Well it’s just that… I mean—”

Wait,” Sonya stopped her. “Do you want to go sit in that field to talk?” She pointed across the street. “Ever since it popped up on Christmas I can’t stay out of it. I always wanted a yard.”

“I, uh—” Olsen tried to answer, but Sonya pulled her to the field anyway and they sat in an already worn down patch of grass.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Sonya said. “Look at all the vines growing on these trees. Look at how they share their resources and work together. The vine guiding the tree to grow where the best nutrients are, and the tree providing a portion of those nutrients in return for the favor. Isn’t nature just amazing with the emergent cooperation it creates? I’m so glad I finally have a yard so I can experience it firsthand.”

“Oh, yes, well…” Olsen didn’t find grade school science as interesting as Sonya did, but she didn’t want to say that so she just said, “It’s amazing really.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you agree.” Sonya smiled. “You know, everything has changed since Christmas. It’s as if we live in a whole new world entirely. Do you know what I mean?”

Olsen nodded. She knew all too well what Sonya meant with how much more often she had gotten herself lost since Christmas, not to mention getting fired from her internship instead of promoted into a new career.

“Take all these new people for instance,” Sonya said. “Have you talked to any of them?”

Olsen shook her head. She had been trying to stay as far away from them as possible. She was fascinated by their appearance, of course, just like she was fascinated by the appearance of all the new buildings, but she hadn’t gone up and knocked on any doors, and she certainly wasn’t about to go striking up any conversations with these dirty new strangers.

“Yeah, well,” Sonya said. “I have. I’ve talked to a lot of them, actually. Any free moment I have I go out and search for more of them to talk to. In fact, that’s exactly what I was on my way to do when you came ringing.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Olsen blushed and hoped Sonya couldn’t see her embarrassment in the dark.

“Oh, no no. Don’t apologize.” Sonya shook her head. “I’m glad you came. I’ve been wanting to hear what you thought about all of this, but I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to figure it out for myself that I haven’t had time to ask. You do understand, don’t you?”

“Oh, yeah.” Olsen laughed. “I don’t even know what I think about it myself, yet. Though, there are some things…”

“What?” Sonya smiled, leaning in closer. “Tell me.”

“Well, like, have you noticed how all the new buildings—or the buildings that weren’t here before—well, they all look older than anything that was here already. You know what I mean?”

“Exactly!” Sonya clapped her hands together. “Oh my God. I thought I was going crazy. No one at work noticed it, and they all looked at me like I was mental when I told them.”

Ugh. Really? My mom was the same way. She thought I was being ridiculous.”

“Why is it so hard for people to see what’s right in front of their faces? You know, that’s why I love talking to you, Olsen. You make me feel like I’m not the only one who sees the world this way.”

Olsen blushed again. “You, too,” she said, then she thought that might not be an appropriate use of the phrase and blushed some more.

“You know what else, though,” Sonya said. “I’ve talked to them, like I said, and I mean a lot of them, and you would not believe some of the things they say.”

“Try me,” Olsen said, almost too fast. She was eager to show Sonya that she could believe her, that way maybe Sonya would be more likely to believe Olsen’s own unbelievable experience.

“Well, for one,” Sonya said, “none of them have jobs.”

Olsen chuckled. “What? How do they live?”

“Well, they have jobs,” Sonya said. She paused to think about it, obviously having a hard time translating her thoughts into words. “But they’re not like our jobs, you know. They get paid in food and housing instead of tokens. Does that make sense?”

“So instead of choosing what they want to buy, their bosses choose for them?”

“Well, no. Not exactly. They don’t even have tokens at all. They don’t use them. Not from anything that I’ve been told anyway. Not one of them has even really known what tokens are when I asked, so I don’t think they can be said to buy anything at all.”

Tokens?” Olsen laughed. She had trouble believing that anyone over the age of three wouldn’t know what tokens were.

“Yeah,” Sonya said. “They’ve never heard of them.”

“Then how do they buy things? How do they live?”

“Like I said, they work for them. They do a job, then their boss gives them food and housing. They don’t really buy anything. They don’t even know the word. They trade ownership. That’s all.”

“But where do their bosses get everything from?” Olsen asked, shaking her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“I know. I don’t understand it, either. But that’s what they tell me. You don’t think they’re all lying, do you? I must have talked to more than a hundred.”

Olsen shook her head. “Well, no…”

“They can’t all be lying,” Sonya said. “It’s like they’re from an entirely different world or something. Really, Olsen. I mean, tokens. You learn about tokens your first lesson of grade school. How could you live to be an adult and not know what tokens are?”

Olsen laughed. “That is pretty stupid,” she said.

“No, Olsen!” Sonya huffed and took a few deep breaths. “God, no. It’s not stupidity. It’s ignorance. The only way for them to have never learned about tokens is if they’ve never had any experiences with them. But that’s impossible in our world, right?”

“In our world?” Olsen raised an eyebrow. Sonya was going a little more off the deep end than usual. She normally had some interesting theories about how the world worked, but adding new worlds was going a bit far.

“Yes, our world,” Sonya said. “Just bear with me here, okay. So you agree that things are a little different since Christmas. I mean, you can’t deny that. Can you?”

Olsen thought again about all the new old buildings that had popped up out of nowhere on Christmas night, causing the sonic boom that woke the world. “No,” she said. “No one can deny that.”

“Okay,” Sonya said. “So in the world that existed before Christmas, in our world, it would be impossible to grow to adulthood without ever seeing a token, right?”

“Well, yeah.” Olsen shrugged. “That’s what I’m saying. You’d have to be stupid.”

“But I’m saying they’re not stupid. I talked to them. They’re no more or less intelligent than you, me, or anyone else.”

“Then why do they not know about tokens?”

Because,” Sonya said with a sigh. “It’s like I’ve been saying. They must have never experienced them. They must be from another world where tokens don’t exist. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

“I’m not convinced,” Olsen said, shaking her head. It was strange that they had never heard of tokens, but people from another world? That was insane, not possible.

“Well where do you think all these new people came from, then?” Sonya asked. “And all the old buildings?”

“Oh, well—uh—I think…” Olsen still had no idea. They could have come from anywhere.

“And why are the newly appeared buildings in such disrepair? Why are the people who live in them so hungry and dirty?”

“Oh, well—uh—I don’t know—”

“You haven’t even talked to them, Olsen. Maybe if you did, you would understand.”

“I’m still not sure I understand the words that are coming out of your mouth,” Olsen said. “Are you sure that’s the order you meant to put them in?”

Yes, I’m sure.” Sonya sighed. “Look. We come from one world where tokens are used daily. They come from another world where some sort of barter system is used. The buildings are older because their world has less. That’s why the people are poorer, too. Ever since Christmas, the two worlds have been merged, and now we’re in this hybrid third world. Do you follow me yet?” She looked at Olsen expectantly.

“I—uhokay,” Olsen said. “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that the sonic boom was the sound of the two worlds merging or whatever.”

“Yes, exactly!” Sonya clapped her hands and smiled. “So do you believe me?”

That was probably why Olsen had been fired. Some poor sap with nothing from the new old world would be more than happy to steal her job for a quarter of the pay because it would still be more than they had ever been paid, none of them had ever even seen tokens in their entire lives. “That would explain a lot,” Olsen said, nodding. “It still seems a little too out there, though.”

“Oh. Well…” Sonya shook her head. “Don’t think I don’t find it strange myself. Who wouldn’t? But what other answer is there that correlates with the evidence?”

Olsen thought about it for a second, tapping her chin. “Time travel,” she said with a chuckle. “That’s why the buildings are old and the people have never heard of tokens. They’re from the past.” She smiled.

“Yeah, like time travel’s believable.”

“But merging worlds is?” Olsen raised an eyebrow.

“Not really. But it fits the evidence better. The buildings wouldn’t age if they had come forward through time, or else the people would have, too. And if they had come from the future, where the buildings would be older, the people living in them would most likely know about tokens. And besides all that, I don’t think time travel would explain how they all witnessed the same sonic boom that we did on the same Christmas night, either. I’m not sure what would explain that.”

“But again, I didn’t know that they did experience the sonic boom,” Olsen said. “And I don’t really think it’s time travel, either. I just can’t believe that there have been two separate worlds out there for all this time and none of us have noticed until they happened to merge for some unexplained reason.”

“Maybe if you talked to one of them,” Sonya said.

“What? No. I don’t think—”

C’mon.” She stood and pulled Olsen up, dragging her out to the street and up to the first person they came across. She was an older, dark-faced, hunchbacked lady with a big afro and dirty clothes who Olsen thought she recognized but couldn’t quite place—until she saw the clipboard and the pamphlet the woman was holding out to Sonya.

“Hello,” Sonya said, taking the pamphlet. “How are you?”

“Oh, fine, fine, child,” the old woman said. “It’s a wonderful time to be alive, isn’t it?”

Uh, yes it is,” Sonya said. “I was just talking to my friend here about it.”

Olsen waved and hoped the woman didn’t recognized her.

“Yes, child,” the woman said. “I’ve been out here telling all of my Family the good news. The worlds have changed, you know. The worlds have changed! Hallelujah.” She smiled wide.

Sonya looked to Olsen, excited, then back to the woman. “That’s a funny way to say it,” she said. “The worlds. What do you mean?”

“Oh, sweet child, you haven’t heard the good news then?”

“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about,” Sonya said.

“The worlds, child,” the woman said. “The worlds! You heard the sonic boom on Christmas, didn’t you?”

“I, well, of course,” Sonya said.

“That, child, was the heralding of a new and beautiful age for humankind. Outlands Five and Six have finally been reunited, toppling the first barrier between the Human Family and unity.”

“Outlands Five and Six?” Sonya said. “What do you mean?”

“Your world and mine, child. Your world and mine! It’s all in the pamphlet, sister. Give it a read and you’ll find the knowledge you seek.”

Sonya opened the pamphlet and started to skim it.

“It’s a beautiful time,” the woman went on. “Soon we’ll be able to shed humanity of the parasitic robot infection and set every breathing, bleeding human being to the work which is rightly theirs.”

“Oh, uh…” Sonya’s face went red. “Well, thank you for talking to us,” she said, pulling Olsen back toward the soft spot in the field where they were talking before.

Wait,” the woman called after them. “Can I get your name and address?”

Sonya didn’t stop to listen. She dragged Olsen back to the field and plopped down in the grass.

“What was that about?” Olsen asked.

“Here. Read it.” Sonya shoved the flyer into Olsen’s hand.

Olsen looked at it. It was the same flyer she had handed her mother before she came to see Sonya. That was the woman with her clipboard who had helped Olsen get her new chef job.

“Still,” Sonya said. “Did you hear that? She said there were two worlds, too. Outlands Five and Six or something like that. Not that her word is worth much.”

“Why isn’t her word worth much?” Olsen asked, getting all the more nervous about revealing her new job.

“Well, did you read the pamphlet?” Sonya asked. “She’s a racist.”

A racist?” Olsen chuckled. “What? She wasn’t white.”

“Well she doesn’t have to be,” Sonya said. “You heard her. Robotic parasites. That’s a racial slur. I can’t even believe I repeated it.”

“Woah there, now.” Olsen waved her hands. “Slow down. I mean, sure. Parasite is going a little far, I agree with that, but there are robots doing our jobs, aren’t there?”

Androids,” Sonya huffed. Her face went deeper red. “There are androids who have their own jobs, but they’re not robots, and they are certainly not parasites.”

“I just don’t think it’s that bad,” Olsen said. “I mean, I was just fired, and I—”

“You don’t see how it’s—What?”

“Oh. Yeah… Sorry.” Olsen looked at the grass. “I meant to tell you.”

“Oh no,” Sonya said, patting Olsen’s back. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, actually.” Olsen nodded, trying to reassure Sonya.

“How’d your mom take it?”

“Well, that’s the thing…” Olsen had been so excited to tell Sonya about her new job before, but now she didn’t know what to expect. Olsen didn’t know they were racists when she took the job. She still wasn’t sure they were. One woman using one slur didn’t mean the entire organization was racist, did it? And even if Olsen had known, how could she turn down the opportunity to train as a real chef with twice the pay of her last internship? She couldn’t. She wouldn’t. So she had to tell Sonya about her new job or lie to her about it. “Now, you’re not going to believe this,” Olsen said.

“After getting you to admit that two worlds merging might be a possibility, whatever you have to say has got to be nothing to believe in comparison.” Sonya smiled.

“Yeah, well…” Olsen rubbed her neck. It was now or never. “I kind of got a job with the racists.”

“You what?” Sonya wasn’t smiling anymore.

“I didn’t know they were racists, okay.”

“Of course. You wouldn’t.” Sonya crossed her arms.

“And I’m still not sure they are.”

They are. I can assure you of that.”

“But they’re going to teach me to be a chef, Sonya. A real chef, not just a machine operator.”

“I’m sure they will.”

Olsen hesitated. Was “machine” a racial slur? “But I had just gotten fired, and I knew my mom was going to kick me out—she still is—and I saw this big group of people, and one said they would pay me to be a chef even though I didn’t know anything about cooking, so I had to say yes. I had to. What else could I have done?”

“Yeah, well, I still don’t think it’s a good idea,” Sonya said.

“Even if it isn’t a good idea, it’s the only choice I have. Unless you know of a nice job you could hook me up with, but I doubt that’s true in this brave new world.”

“No, well—”

So I have no choice,” Olsen interrupted her. “My mom said she wouldn’t put up with me any longer. I need my own place beside that. I can’t keep sleeping on a couch, Sonya. So even if they are racists, it doesn’t matter. That doesn’t mean I have to be a racist. And if I can get the tokens I need to live, then what do I care? It’s business, not personal.”

Everything’s personal,” Sonya said, shaking her head. “It’s personal for the androids who have to put up with it every day. I work with an android, you know. She’s just as human as anyone else who works there—probably more so than most of them. And you’re not just working for racists, Olsen. You’re working for a racist organization. Did you even read the pamphlet?”

“I, yeah, well…” She tried to read it again but she couldn’t concentrate.

Sonya stood up fast. “Well, I don’t think you should do it. I know you need a job, and I’ll do anything I can to help you find one, but I don’t think this is the answer.”

“I—but—”

No. That’s what I think and you’re not changing my mind. You have to decide for yourself now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I—but—” Olsen started, but Sonya was already gone.

#     #     #

< XXVII. Guy     [Table of Contents]     XXIX. Tillie >

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