New Review of Murder in “Utopia,,

Hey y’all. I know it’s not Saturday, and no this isn’t another chapter in Infinite Limits, but I did get a review of my absurdist novella Murder in “Utopia,, that I’d like to share with you all so here it is:

Rating: Four stars out of five.

Title: I haven’t enjoyed being confused so much since my first time watching The Matrix

Review:

This is a fascinating example of fiction that’s more of an experience than a story. I’m not going to list it among my all-time favorites, but I’m definitely glad I read it. Perkins took some admirable risks with this book and made a concerted effort to cut against the grain, and that kind of thing can often end in utter disaster.

This did not.

Murder in “Utopia,, defies many conventions of storytelling and formatting, but it manages to do so without becoming incomprehensible. It’s confusing, but that confusion is grounded by a conversational tone, a well-drawn setting, and an absurd, morbid splash of humor. I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to take a bit more of a cerebral adventure than your average piece of genre fiction has to offer.

So if that sounds like something you’d enjoy reading, pick up a copy of the novella for only two dollars through this link today. Thanks for your time, and happy Tuesday.

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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 >

Thanks again for joining us. Don’t forget to sign up for the email newsletter here or pick up a full copy of the book through here. Have a great weekend. See you again in seven days.

Chapter 26: Jonah

Well, dear readers, today’s chapter is a day late. Sorry about that. I totally got sidetracked yesterday and forgot it was Saturday. But fear not, today we continue the story of Infinite Limits with the first point of view chapter from Jonah Pardy. I hope you enjoy it, and if so, do think about picking up a full copy of the novel through this link.

< XXV. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XXVII. Guy >

XXVI. Jonah

Jonah kneeled on the rough concrete, counting in his head how many shots had been fired at him so far. He chanced a quick peek around the dumpster and was greeted with a hail of gunfire. He glimpsed his partner, his best friend, the one person he was assigned to protect in this sick game called life, laying on the ground in front of the dumpster, surrounded by a sticky thick pool of red. She had taken the shots that would have finished him, and now it was his responsibility to ensure her actions weren’t in vain.

He checked his ammo. Seven shots. Lucky number seven. There couldn’t be more than that many of the thugs out there so there was still some chance—however small. All he had to do was hit his target with every shot he took while simultaneously avoiding every bullet they lobbed back at him. Piece of cake. He chuckled. His heart beat faster in anticipation. He took a few deep breaths to ready himself, set his sights on another dumpster a few yards ahead, and jumped into motion.

He did a cartwheel out from behind his cover, staying below the onslaught of bullets, and scratched his back on the concrete in the process. He could feel the breeze blowing past from the missed shots. He caught the hint of movement out of the corner of his eye and fired in that direction, tumbling behind the next dumpster without looking to see if he had hit his mark.

He rubbed his shoulder and could feel the blood, but that’s all it was, thank Amaru. He took off his blue masked helmet and wiped the sweat from his forehead. This was it. There were five or six of them left, and he had to do something about it or go down in a pathetic laughable whimper. A whimper was unacceptable.

He held his empty helmet up over the dumpster and a few shots rang out. He popped up and knocked off two rounds without his helmet on—not regulation at all, but he was in a bind—hitting both targets, then dropped back down behind the dumpster, breathing heavily and shoving his helmet back on. It was now or never.

He rolled out from behind the dumpster, doing the same cartwheel roll as before, and as he stood, he felt a piercing pain in his chest. He looked down to see his blue vest splattered with bright red. He touched it with his hand, rubbing the sticky goo between his fingers, and fell to his knees. This was the end.

Two red-vested, red-helmeted kids came out from behind their own dumpsters on the other side of the alley, cheering and raising their guns over their heads. The dead bodies scattered around Jonah started to rustle and move. Those that were dressed in red and splattered with blue joined in the cheering. Those who were dressed in blue and splattered with red took off their helmets and hung their heads in shame. Liz, his partner and friend who was lying in the pool of red paint earlier, walked over to him, patted him on the back, and lifted him to his feet. Jonah flinched as she did, a fresh wave of pain emanating from the wound on his back, which he had only made worse with his second roll move.

“It’s alright,” Liz said, brushing his pants off for him. “You did your best.”

“I hate being the last one out,” Jonah said with a groan. “It’s worse than being first. People always think you’re a coward and you just hung back while your whole team died.”

“No they don’t—well… I don’t think that,” Liz said, guiding him by the arm back toward the locker room.

Of course you don’t,” Jonah complained, shrugging and walking as slowly as he could. “But you don’t count.”

Liz dropped his hand, straightened up, and hurried to the locker room ahead of him, disappearing before he could ask her what he had done wrong.

Jonah took his time, though, letting the entire team go in before him. Even if Liz didn’t think he was a coward, he knew that everyone else would and that he would hear all about it while he was changing. It was a lose-lose situation for him, though. The longer he waited to go into the locker room, the more of a coward he looked like and the worse those jerks would be. His heartbeat quickened in preparation, but he took a few deep breaths to calm it and slowly slipped into the door.

The entire room, tile, lockers, walls, and all, was stark white. Everyone had already started changing out of their red-speckled uniforms, stuffing them irreverently into their lockers and vying for the best showers. Jonah walked up to his locker, right next to Liz’s, as she slammed hers shut and stomped to a shower without looking at him.

He tried to keep his eyes on his own locker as he pressed his thumb to the locking mechanism. He got out his blue jeans, white t-shirt, towel, and soap and stripped to his underwear, stuffing his uniform into his locker. He breathed a sigh of relief when the warm water poured over him and he hadn’t had to hear a single word about his performance, then he winced in pain at the burn from the scrapes on his shoulders and back.

He washed himself then dried and dressed in the peace of the shower stall. When he opened the curtains, Stine was sitting on the bench in front of her locker—which was on the other side of his locker from Liz’s—with her group of lackeys hanging on her every word. He had to push his way through them to get to his locker. “Excuse me,” he said as he did, keeping his eyes on his locker’s locking mechanism as he tried to press his trembling thumb to it.

Whale Bait,” Stine said loud enough for the whole room to hear. “Good show out there. Are you planning on becoming a tumbler in Outland Three when you grow up?”

The room burst into laughter. Stine high-fived a few of her lackeys as Jonah stuffed his towel and soap inside his locker.

“You know I saw your girlfriend take that bullet for you, too, Plankton,” Stine went on. “She’s worth more than you are out there, you got it? You should be the one taking bullets for her, not the other way around.”

Jonah slammed his locker door. “No shit, Stine. Amaru up above. Where were you out there, though? Your suit’s got red paint on it just like everyone else’s.”

The room quieted, and her lackeys looked to Stine for a witty retort.

“I fell over laughing when you did your somersaults,” she lied. “It left me defenseless. I didn’t know they let carnies into the Protectors Academy. Shouldn’t you be in Outland Three with the rest of them?” Her and her lackeys all laughed and high-fived each other at the same joke told over again in so short a time.

Jonah ignored them as best he could, though, stomping out of the locker room, wishing he hadn’t closed his locker already so he could slam it again. Outside, Liz was tying her shoes under the building’s awning. He knew it wasn’t a coincidence, too. It was an excuse to wait for him without waiting for him. “Hey,” he said, walking up to her.

“Hey,” she echoed back, standing and making her way with him down the sidewalk, between the empty patches of field which were filled with oak trees to shade their path. “How was it in there?” she asked when they had gone a way in the cool, silent afternoon air.

“Would’ve been nice to have some backup,” he said.

I thought I didn’t matter.”

Jonah sighed. Of course that was what she was mad about: his stupid choice of words. “No. I didn’t mean that. I—”

“Those were your exact words,” she said. “And I quote, Of course you don’t. But you don’t count. end quote.”

“Do you ever forget anything?” Jonah groaned.

“That was like twenty minutes ago, Jonah. How soon do you expect me to forget?”

“Yeah, well, that’s not what I meant, okay. And you know it.”

“Then what did you mean?”

“I…Well…” What did he mean? “I meant that—you know—well, it’s just that you… Liz. It’s just that, the protective person you are, you’re always on my side. Right? You always want to protect me. So even if I was acting like a coward and you did take a bullet for me, you wouldn’t say so because you wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings. Yeah—uh—that’s it… That’s what I meant.”

Liz smiled. “You didn’t act like a coward,” she said. “You run a little faster than I do. I happened to be behind you when the shot was fired. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Like I said,” Jonah said. “You may think so, but Stine and her crew don’t agree. And they were sure to let me know what they thought of my performance while you were out here tying your shoes.”

“Well who cares what they say? They’re idiots.”

They walked some more in silence, passing expansive yards and cookie-cutter ranch style houses. The serene boredom of Outland One—the least dangerous world of them all, even before Inland—was enough to make Jonah want to pass out.

“So, you wanna hang out at my place or something?” he asked. He didn’t usually have to, but recently, his home life had changed.

“Is your dad gonna be there?” Liz asked right back, scrunching up her nose and giggling.

“Yeah, well, of course,” Jonah said. “He does the housework now. You know that.”

“But he’ll be wearing two shoes this time, right?” She laughed outright now instead of just giggling.

“Now that was one time,” Jonah complained, embarrassed. “And he had been through a lot. At least that’s what Mom says.” He shook his head.

“Why isn’t he a protector anymore anyway?” Liz asked, looking sheepish when she did. She had asked him the same question before, and she had to know by now what his answer was going to be, but she went on anyway. “I mean, what happened to him?”

“I don’t know!” Jonah snapped, stopping in his tracks. They were getting close to his house anyway. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. And asking me again won’t change that. Okay.”

“I—uh—well, I’m—”

Look. If you wanna know so badly, then why don’t you come over to my house and ask him for yourself? Maybe he’ll tell you.”

“I couldn’t do that,” she said. “I mean, have you even asked him?”

“Of course I’ve…” Jonah thought about it for a second. His mom had told him not to ask his dad about it. Maybe he hadn’t. He wouldn’t defy an order from his mother. “I mean, that is, I think I have,” he said. “Yeah. I have.”

“You haven’t. Have you?”

“I think I did. Well, maybe not…”

She hit him on the arm. “You haven’t.”

He rubbed his arm even though it didn’t hurt. “Thanks a lot,” he said. “You know I scraped up my back today rolling around on the concrete trying to get us a win for once.”

“Well that wasn’t your back.”

“Still, it was the same side. It hurts.” He tried to put on a pained face, but it probably just came off constipated like Liz always told him it did.

“Yeah, well, you haven’t asked your dad what happened to him, have you?”

“No, well, I never got a chance, you know. He’s always going off on those rants about conspiracy theories and red herrings and how I can’t believe anything anyone tells me. I just want to shake him and tell him that what he’s saying means I can’t believe him either, but my mom ordered me not to ask him about it so what am I supposed to do?” He was breathing heavily because he had delivered the entire rant in a single breath.

“Yeah, well, you can’t disobey your mom I guess.” Liz shrugged.

“Exactly,” Jonah said. “So how was I supposed to ask him?” He grinned, confident that he had won the argument and they could go inside to eat something and relax a little after that beating during the standoff.

“Well, do you even care?” Liz asked. Of course she could carry any argument in the worlds on just a little bit further.

“What do you mean?” he replied. “Of course I care. He is my dad, isn’t he?”

“I know you care about your dad, but do you even want to know what happened to him? I mean, he got fired, Jonah. That’s a pretty big deal, you know. It probably had a big effect on him.”

Jonah thought about it. His dad would never be a protector again. He had only gotten to be an actual protector for about a day. Jonah couldn’t imagine how that would feel, living his dream for one day then having it torn away forever. Maybe he would go crazy and rant about red herrings, too. He certainly wouldn’t put up with Stine and her locker room buddies, that was for sure. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I never thought about it that way.”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” She hit him again but softer this time, more of a pat. He rubbed his arm anyway. “You didn’t even think about it!”

“Yeah, well, even if I had thought about it, I still couldn’t disobey my mom’s orders, could I? So what am I supposed to do, huh?”

“No.” Liz smiled. “You can’t do that. That’s true. But your mom never ordered me to do anything, did she?”

Jonah shook his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“C’mon,” she said, grabbing his hand and skipping toward his house. “What are partners for, anyway? You’ll thank me when he answers.”

“No,” he said, skipping along hand-in-hand with her. “You’ll be sorry when he does. You’ll see.”

They didn’t stop until they got to the covered porch of what looked like the exact same house as every one they had passed on their way there.

“Now,” Jonah said before he opened the door. “I have to warn you, he’s been extra weird today, so know that anything he expresses are his views and his views alone and I in no way support or deny any of them.”

Amaru, you sound like a TV show,” she said.

“Yeah, well, I learned the whole bit from TV.” Jonah grinned. “Pretty good, huh?”

Liz chuckled.

“Anyway,” Jonah went on. “I’m serious, okay. Don’t ask him about it right away. Let’s play it cool and see what he’s acting like, then I’ll give you the signal or something.”

She laughed. “I’m not a complete social reject,” she said. “I’ve got more tact than you’ll ever have. Just open the door and let’s get on with it.”

Jonah opened the door to find his dad on hands and knees on the beige Berber carpet in the foyer, wearing a pink apron and yellow rubber gloves, scrubbing the walls with a sponge. He looked up when they came in, dropped his sponge in the bucket with a splash, and stood to hug Jonah with wet, antiseptic-scented hands. “Welcome home, son,” he said.

Uh, hey Dad,” Jonah said, squirming away from the soggy hug. “You know Liz.”

“Liz, dear,” his dad said, hugging her too. “So nice to see you again.”

“And you, Mr. Pardy,” Liz said, wiping some suds from her shirt. “Your apron is lovely.”

Jonah’s dad looked down at himself, took off his apron, and said, “You kids go find something to watch on TV and I’ll fix you up a delicious snack in no time flat.”

Jonah shrugged. When his dad had gone into the kitchen, he looked at Liz and said, “See, I told you.”

“He seemed nice,” she said, shrugging back. “And supportive. He didn’t seem that bad to me.”

“Yeah, well, just you wait and see.”

The living room was lined with the same beige Berber carpet as the hall, and the leather couch matched the color of the carpet perfectly. There were gun and news magazines on the coffee table and a TV on the wall across the room.

“TV on,” Jonah said, plopping onto the couch and kicking off his shoes. “The Greatest Mouse Detective or Protector Time?” he asked.

“I don’t care,” Liz said, joining him on the couch but leaving her shoes on. “You decide.”

“Protector Time it is. TV, Protector Time,” he said. “Biological!” he yelled, putting his fist in the air as Liz giggled.

The TV flipped to a cartoon about a little girl and her pet cat who could grow and shrink at will. In each episode, which really consisted of two sub-episodes, the girl and the cat would get into all kinds of adventures, the moral of which always ended up being the protection of property, liberty, and life.

In this particular episode, the girl and cat combo were fighting to save the Smooth Terra Prince from an evil fire witch when they lost their ice wands and were left to decide between using the fire witch’s own lava wand against her or facing certain defeat with no defense. Just as their arguing ended and the cat convinced the girl that using the fire witch’s weapon was wrong—that you couldn’t fight fire with lava—a volcano erupted, sweeping the red witch away in a wave of lava and melting the glacier the girl and the cat were standing on, leaving the girl to use the cat as a surfboard to ride the resulting wave in the other direction, toward the party in Vegetable Kingdom which they were already late for anyway.

“Oh, ho ho, that was biological,” Jonah said as the screen faded to a long line of commercials—mostly thanking the protectors for their service, with a few ads for housekeepers sprinkled in between. “But I would have definitely used that fire wand. They were stupid to stand there arguing while they were defenseless.”

“Would you though?” Liz asked. “I mean, like Jackie said: You can’t fight fire with lava.”

“Yeah, well, tell that to the volcano that saved their lives. If Phillis had just picked up the wand and used it, they would have been out of there and at the party in time, no volcano needed.”

“Or they would have been stranded without the knowledge that they could melt the iceberg and surf home. It’s the unintended consequences that mess things up,” Liz said, crossing her arms and shaking her head.

“Yeah, well, it would have melted anyway. I’m sure.” Jonah crossed his arms.

Liz probably would have argued further, but Jonah’s dad came in, carrying a tray and wearing the pink apron again. “Here you are kids,” he said. “I didn’t know what you wanted so I brought a little of everything. Pizza bagels, pizza rolls, pizza slices. Pretty much your whole pizza food group there. We have some fish sticks, chicken nuggets, sausages in a—”

“Okay, dad,” Jonah said. “Thanks. We get it. The next episode is about to come on, though. So…”

“Thank you, Mr. Pardy,” Liz said, grabbing a pizza roll.

“What are you watching?” Jonah’s dad asked, sitting on the couch between them and eating one of the pizza rolls himself.

“Protector Time,” Liz said “Have you ever seen it?”

“Uh, it’s nothing,” Jonah said. “Just a cartoon. It’s for kids anyway. You wouldn’t like it.”

“Protector Time?” his dad said. “Is that the one with the little girl and the cat?”

“Phillis and Jackie,” Liz said.

“Oh, I watched an episode of that cartoon while Jonah—or, while you both were at school, I guess,” he said. “I like that Phillis.”

“Jackie’s my favorite,” Liz said. “I wish I could grow big like that.” She sat up straight and puffed out her cheeks, raising her arms to make herself look bigger.

“I think you grew a little bit,” Jonah’s dad said, laughing.

Liz huffed out all the air she was holding in and laughed with him.

“Alright, alright,” Jonah said. “The next episode’s about to come on. Quiet down you two.”

They stifled their laughter but couldn’t stop it entirely until the theme song was over. In this half-episode, Phillis and Jackie were going to a party in Smooth Terra Land with the Smooth Terra Prince when all the snacks and drinks for the party—all three of them watching at home ate some more pizza at the mention of snacks—were stolen by the Angors from Exic Space. When they entered Exic Space to get the food back and save the Smooth Terra Prince’s party, Phillis and Jackie found the Angors all looking sickly, skinny, and weak, as if they hadn’t eaten a real meal ever. And when they finally found the Smooth Terra Prince’s food, they couldn’t dare take it back from these people who so obviously needed it more than the Smooth Terra Land party did.

“I’m not doing it,” Phillis said, crossing her heart on the screen. “We were sworn to protect life and that includes the life of Angors.”

“No,” Jackie said. “We were sworn to protect property, liberty, and life, dude. Besides, look.” She pointed into the crowd of Angors at a particular one who looked healthier than the rest. Not only healthy, this Angor was downright fat. And as it ate and ate from the pile of party supplies, it grew skinnier and skinnier. Soon Jackie made Phillis realize what was going on, and they took up arms to return the party food to its rightful owners then joined in the Smooth Terra Prince’s celebration.

Dude,” Jonah said, “Those Angors suck.”

“Don’t say that,” his dad said.

“I don’t know,” Liz said. “Property, liberty, life and all, sure, but that one Angor was hungry, wasn’t he?”

Exactly,” Jonah’s dad said.

Pssshhh.” Jonah scoffed. “Property, liberty, life,” he said. “You know that. You can’t steal what other people own. You might as well own their body like they’re a robot or something. Are you saying that any time I’m hungry I can just steal whatever you have?”

No,” Liz said.

“When you’re hungry you can get whatever you want from the printer,” Jonah’s dad said.

“Yeah, well, I own that printer,” Jonah said.

“You don’t own anything,” Liz said. “You’re a kid.”

I own that printer,” Jonah’s dad said. “Me and your mother.”

“Yeah, well, you know what I mean,” Jonah said. “They didn’t own the food. It was for the party. It doesn’t matter if they were hungry or not because it’s not theirs.”

“But what harm did it do?” Liz asked. “The one fat guy ate some to get skinny like all the rest of them, but then there was plenty of food still left over for the party, and none of the Smooth Terra people even noticed any was missing.”

Yeah,” Jonah said. “But there was some missing. And Phillis and Jackie had to bring it back or there would have been more missing, wouldn’t there? I mean, what did you want them to do? Just leave all the food there and forget about the party?”

“No,” Jonah’s dad said.

“They should have invited the Angors to the party,” Liz said.

“It was their food, they could do whatever they want with it,” Jonah said.

“But they weren’t going to eat it anyway so why not share?” Liz asked.

“Alright, alright now,” Jonah’s dad said. “It’s just a cartoon, kids.”

“Yeah, well, it has a purpose,” Liz said.

“I guess,” Jonah said, shrugging.

“Okay,” his dad said, eating a few more pizza rolls. “That’s enough. Do you kids need anything else? I might get back to cleaning the walls here. You’d be surprised at how dirty they can get.”

“No, Dad,” Jonah said. “I think we’re good.”

“Well, sir,” Liz said, looking at Jonah who tried—and failed—to tell her to shut up without his dad seeing. “There is one thing.”

“Oh, well go ahead dear,” his dad said. “Anything for a friend of Jonah’s. A friend of my son’s is a friend of mine.”

“Well, it’s just—”

“No, Dad. I think—” Jonah tried to cut her off but couldn’t.

“You used to be a protector, right?”

“Yes, well…” Jonah’s dad said, moving some of the food around on the table. “I used to be. Yes.”

“Question answered,” Jonah said, standing from the couch. “You wanna go hang out outside for a while?” He jerked his head toward the door to try to feed Liz the answer.

“Just a second, Jonah,” she said in a huff then looked back to his dad and smiled. “Mr. Pardy, sir. What happened? I mean, why did they—why did they…”

“Why did they fire me?” Jonah’s dad asked for her.

Jonah’s eyes grew wide. He tried to imagine how his dad would react to the question he had asked himself. His mom had to have ordered Jonah not to ask about it for good reason. She wouldn’t have given him a random order without a care as to whether he followed it or not. But he didn’t break this one, right? He hadn’t asked anything. He sat slowly back on the couch, staring at his dad on the way down, waiting for a response.

“Yes, sir,” Liz said. “Why can’t you be a protector?” she added as if she didn’t even want to say the word “fired” again.

“Well…” His dad looked at Jonah. He threw one of the pizza rolls onto the tray then picked it up and threw it on again. He was deciding something in his head. “Your mom doesn’t want me talking to you about it,” he finally said, looking at Jonah.

“Yeah.” Jonah shrugged. “Well I’m under strict orders not to ask you about it myself.”

“So that’s why your girlfriend was doing the dirty work.” Jonah’s dad smiled at the both of them. “A loophole in the chain of command. I like it.”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Jonah complained. “She’s my partner.”

“Excuse me, sir?” Liz said, clearly surprised at what Jonah’s dad was saying. Jonah had warned her to beware of red herring conspiracies, but he guessed that hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth was a little different.

“That’s right,” his dad said, smiling wider. “What did you expect from me? A lecture on following orders?” He chuckled.

I sure didn’t,” Jonah said.

“No, well,” Liz said, “I don’t know. Aren’t grownups supposed to teach us to respect the chain of command?”

“Yes, well, that’s what they would have you believe,” Jonah’s dad said. “That’s what their entire system is based on. That’s why it’s all you learn in school and why your parents and all the other grownups don’t know anything else to teach you.”

“So they’re—or I guess you’re just following orders when you tell us to follow orders?” Liz said.

Exactly,” Jonah’s dad said, clapping his hands together. “And worded more eloquently than I could have ever put it.”

Liz giggled and smiled. “I think I’m getting it, but—”

“Getting it?” Jonah said, angry for some reason he didn’t quite understand. “What is there to get? It’s all nonsense. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense is all you’ve talked about ever since you got home, Dad. It’s getting ridiculous. Maybe it’s time for you to grow up.” He sneered and grabbed one of the pizza bagels.

“Jonah!” Liz cried. She probably would have hit him if his dad wasn’t sitting between them. “Don’t talk to your dad like that!”

“No,” his dad said. “It’s alright. He’s right, you know. You’re right.” He looked Jonah in the eyes, and Jonah turned his head to get away from the awkwardness. “I know I’ve been talking nonsense. I wanted to tell you everything I’ve learned, but your mother didn’t want me talking to you about it. She thinks I’m crazy, too. So everything I tried to say to you come out as gibberish. I’m sorry.”

Jonah shrugged and grabbed another pizza bagel. “Whatever,” he said, still chewing. “I just thought you went crazy because you lost your job. I probably would if I could never be a protector again.”

“Jonah!” This time Liz did reach across his dad to slap him.

“What?” Jonah complained, rubbing his arm. “It’s true.”

His dad sighed and looked off toward the TV—which was off now—as if he were daydreaming. “No,” he said. “He’s right again. You know, my dad had to give up protecting for housework when my mother—your grandmother—was killed in the line of duty. He was never the same after that. He would—He—” His dad chuckled, and Jonah felt a tugging at his stomach as he realized that his father had been a kid once, too. He had his own dad and mom who ordered him around and his own dreams for the future, probably the same dreams that Jonah had of becoming a legendary protector who was renowned across all seven worlds for being fearless in the face of injustice, dreams which were all but impossible for his dad now. Jonah was starting to understand why Liz hit him earlier.

“The old man,” his dad went on, “he set up a neighborhood watch because he didn’t want to leave raising me to some cowardly housekeeper, as he always put it. Of course there was never any crime living in One, but that didn’t stop us from patrolling up and down the neighborhood every night as he trained me in everything a good protector should know.”

“How sweet,” Liz said with a smile and a tear in her eye.

“What does any of that have to do with why you got fired?” Jonah asked.

“Nothing,” his dad said. “Nothing… Well, everything, you know. What he taught me then shaped everything I’ve done up until now, everything I will do in the future. I got fired because I was following his teachings. I was being the protector he always wanted me to be, the protector I thought could be a role model for you, Jonah. But now I’m no protector at all, and I never will be one again.”

“I’m so sorry,” Liz said. Her eyes were red and she looked like she was about to cry.

“It’s my own fault,” Jonah’s dad said. “Well, no, it was my choice. That’s different. It was the system’s fault and my choice to go against it to do what I thought my dad—and you, Jonah—would want me to do.”

“I wouldn’t want you to get fired,” Jonah snapped, defensive because he felt like his dad was trying to blame him for something he obviously had nothing to do with. “What kind of example does that set?”

“Would you want me to protect a little girl that needs protecting, or would you want me to leave her to fend for herself?” his dad asked. “Which example would you set for your son?”

“Of course I would protect her,” Jonah said. “So what?”

“Is that why you got fired?” Liz asked. “Protecting her?”

“Yes and no. I thought I was protecting her, but I don’t know anymore. I think I might have jumped from one authority to another without realizing that they both could be wrong. And that’s what you have to understand, Jonah. And you, too.” He looked at Liz. “You’re his partner. You’ve gotta have his back in all of this, in everything. Everyone has to have someone to help them along, and y’all have each other now. But I’ll give you this little piece of advice, okay: Don’t trust your superiors. Now don’t rebel all at once and ruin any chance y’all have at a normal life, if that’s what you want, but question every order they give you in your head. As you do, I think you’ll both start to see that those orders aren’t all reasonable, and maybe you’ll start to go against one or two of them. Don’t be afraid to, now. Do what you know is right no matter what they tell you. That’s all you can ever really do. Do you understand me?”

Liz smiled wide and laughed a little. “Are you kidding me?” she said.

“No,” Jonah’s dad said, shaking his head. “I’m dead serious. You can’t trust anything any of them tell you.”

Dad,” Jonah said, standing up, “you understand that means I can’t believe anything you say, right?”

“No,” he said. “I mean, yes. I do. Exactly. You can’t trust anyone, Jonah. Only yourself.”

“Then I can’t trust you when you say that,” Jonah said. “Ugh. This is ridiculous. I’m out of here.” He stomped outside without waiting for Liz to follow.

#     #     #

< XXV. Ansel     [Table of Contents]     XXVII. Guy >

There you have it, readers. Join us next Saturday (really Saturday this time, I promise, lol) for the next chapter in the story, and please do consider picking up a full copy of the novel through this link.

Margaret Atwood’s Happy Endings and 10 Tips for Writing

Today I’d like to discuss Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite speculative fiction authors. Here she is in video formattalking about why we tell stories. She thinks it’s in human nature to do so, much like Dan Harmon did in an earlier tip post .

Moving on to a short story she wrote, Happy Endings, we’ll find again some of Atwood’s thoughts on storytelling. With the odd structure of this “story” she seems to be saying, “It’s not the end of a tale that matters but the meaty bits in the middle.” Right here you can find a decent, if short, analysis of the story to serve as a jumping off point for conversation.

And finally, it seems that every author has their own list–this one taken from the Guardian article here–so here’s Atwood’s. Enjoy:

  1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
  2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
  3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
  4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
  5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
  6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
  7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
  8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
  9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
  10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

 

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]