Chapter 63: Mr. Walker

Hello, dear readers. Thanks for joining us again as we come to the final chapter in book three out of four of the Infinite Limits series, Dividing by Ø. Today we follow Mr. Walker who has just been confronted with the fact that the original Haley is still alive. See how he reacts and see how this book in the series ends then join us in the future for the fourth and final book in the Infinite Limits saga, 0.N Repeating. Without further ado, here it is, Mr. Walker:

< LXII. Ansel     [Table of Contents]

LXIII. Mr. Walker

“Haley, my dear,” Mr. Walker said, standing from his chair, his intent driving his pneumatic legs toward her. “You—You’re alive.”

“Hello, Lord Walker,” Haley said, curtsying.

At the same time, in an all too artificial voice, the robot standing behind him, the one that had been trying to pass herself off as Haley, said, “Of course, Mr. Walker. I’m right here, sir.” and curtsied. Lord Walker knew she curtsied without having to look at her. Just as he knew that the curtsy paled in comparison to what the real Haley, the divine image standing before him now, was capable of. “Shut up!” he turned fast, shaking a balled solid fist at the fake Haley who was just out of reach of hitting distance. “Get out of my sight, you imposter!”

She cowered away from him. “But, sir…”

And Mr. Walker ignored her, turning again to the real Haley. “How are you, my dear? What have they done to you?”

Mr. Walker had never seen the face that Haley produced in response. He didn’t know she was programmed with the ability to make it. The contempt in her eyes stung hotter than the loss of his Lordship. Haley crossed to the shadow of herself to comfort her doppelganger, and Mr. Walker’s heart hardened at her lack of a response. Who was she but another robot? She wasn’t much better than her replacement, in fact. He told himself that, but he knew it was a lie.

“Now, now, Walker Man,” Lord Douglas said, standing between Mr. Walker and the Haleys, as if his frail little body could hold back Mr. Walker’s wrath. “You’ll treat your secretary with respect if I have anything to say about it.”

“You don’t!” Mr. Walker boomed. “That’s why they call her my secretary. Both of them are as a matter of fact. Come on, Haley. We’re leaving.”

“Enough!” Mr. Walker had never heard Lord Douglas’s voice get so loud. “I dare say you know the terms of service for the secretaries, Mr. Walker,” Lord Douglas went on in a calmer tone. “You wrote those terms yourself if I’m not mistaken. So you know firsthand that any improper use of android technology results in ownership of the violated property reverting to Waltronics AI Inc, owner of which just so happens to be yours truly as of five minutes ago. So I’d watch my next move carefully if I were you.”

Mr. Walker reared up as if to hit Lord Douglas and end this charade of comradery once and for all. As if Lord Douglas hadn’t done enough to end it already. But just before he let his stone fist drop on the Duggy Doug’s melon skull he relented, smiling and chuckling to himself. “Ho ho ho, Lord Douglas. Ho ho ho!”

Haley carried wannabe Haley away and out of the office without a second glance at Mr. Walker who had sustained her life for centuries, ever since she was created. What little gratitude humans were capable of, robots could always do them one worse. Which is why the age of robots was over. Their usefulness had been overplayed, and now they were nothing but burdens. Mr. Walker was more than delighted to get rid of those twin android anchors who were only weighing him down on his new path to success.

“You’ll regret this, you will,” he said. “You’re a stupider man than I thought you were if you think you won’t. You’ll never keep the crown of Lordship for long making decisions like this one.”

Lord Douglas grinned. His white teeth stood out against his dark skin just like Jorah’s always did. Mr. Walker took a note of the fact and thought to fire Jorah as soon as possible for the resemblance. Why had Mr. Walker ever gotten into bed with the fool anyway?

“What? What do you have to say for yourself?” Mr. Walker demanded. “Speak up, boy. Now’s the time to say what you’ve always been waiting to say to me.”

“I’m not a boy,” Lord Douglas said, still giving his white toothed grin. “Nor a man.”

“You don’t have to tell me that. Ho ho ho!”

“I’m something more than you’ve ever expected, Walkie Talks. I’m your worst nightmare. I’m the Robot Lord at the head of what was once your empire of android soldiers. How easy do you think it is to break those terms and conditions you wrote, boy? I mean, you yourself have already broke them and you’re the owner who wrote them. How many people other than you do you think have even read them?”

Mr. Walker expected a fight from Lord Douglas, but nothing at this level. He had put the failsafe in the terms and conditions, sure, but he had never actually used it. This, however, this was madness. “A robot Lord, huh?” Mr. Walker chuckled, trying to cover his nerves. “So you’re nothing but property, then. Is that about right? Who is it that owns you?”

“No one owns me.” The look in Lord Douglas’s eyes was too human for him to actually be a robot. He was lying, playing a game, trying to make a legend of himself. This was nothing more than another ploy in his gambit to retain the Lordship. “I am myself,” he went on. “I am an independent android. No one can ever own me.”

Ho ho ho.” Mr. Walker took out his monocle and twirled it on its chain. “But you just admitted to being a robot. Which makes you property, in effect rendering any orders you’ve proclaimed as Lord fraud. You’re nothing but a construct, Dug. You’re zeroes and ones, software, incapable of emotion. How could you ever dream of dethroning me? How could you even dream?”

“Yet I am still Lord.” Lord Douglas grinned. “And at our next meeting, as Lord of the Fortune Five, I will move to remove you as the director of the protector force. Things only continue to get worse under your watch, Walker, and I think the board will agree that’s it time for a change of management.”

“Things will only continue to get worse until I decide to make them better, Lord Douglas,” Mr. Walker snapped. “And relish that, because it’s the last time I call you my Lord. The next time you see me I’ll be at the head of a human army, Dugtrio, and they’ll be Hell bent on deposing you for your crimes against humanity. I’m sure the Fortune Five will have some thoughts on your so called Lordship as well, once they hear all the things my protectors have found that you’ve been up to. It’s really a shame for you to lose the crown like this, but all’s fair in money and war, and I’m afraid this is about both now.”

Lord Douglas chuckled. “And we’ll see how the Fortune Five feels when the price of robot labor gets dearer, Walrus. We’ll see whose side they stand on in the end. Ha ha ha! We’ll see.”

“And maybe we’ll see before then,” Mr. Walker snapped, “when my soldiers put an end to the strikes and your days of ease. Good day, Duggy. It may be your last.” Mr. Walker almost called for Haley before catching himself. He didn’t need any robots anymore anyway. He was done with them. He stormed out of the room and into the elevator to yell, “Garage.” then, “No, home.” not wanting to drive himself without a chauffeur. The elevator fell into motion and when the doors opened up again, Mr. Walker wasn’t at home.

Where was he? It couldn’t be said to be anywhere, really. More like it was everywhere. It wasn’t one place but many, stitched together with ever loosening threads that looked like they might give way at any moment. Here was the border between his elevator and—was that Rosa? what was she doing here?—what looked like a cement wall. Then it was all cement wall. Then it was all elevator. Then half and half again, the borders ever shifting. Mr. Walker feared that he might tumble out of view—maybe out of existence entirely—like the rest of the worlds around him.

“What is this?” Mr. Walker demanded of Rosa who was across the room one second and behind him the next, the cement walls of the room she was in transporting around her with every blink.

“Lord Walker, is that you?” she called back, not sure which way to look herself. At least it suggested that the sights Mr. Walker were seeing might not be hallucinations after all. The world really was pulsating and shifting around him.

Rosa disappeared—no wait, she was only behind him—and in her place were two young girls he thought he recognized. “You there,” he called out to them. “Who are you? Where is this? What’s going on?”

They both stared at him in surprise. The one with glasses on—who wears glasses in this day and age?—started to say, “It’s him. He’s Lor—” but she couldn’t finish her sentence before she disappeared, too—or rather teleported, moved along with the backdrop around her to another position in the shifting swirling mass of confusion.

The walls shuffled and molded around Mr. Walker. Elevator mirrors, drywall, wallpaper, brick, wood. He was everywhere at once and no one else could be there with him. They could come and leave but never remain. Mr. Walker was getting motion sickness at the thought of it, at the sight of the pulsating, breathing, living walls. He was bending over to wretch but his pneumatic pants held him too tight and wouldn’t let go of even his insides. They were as disoriented as he was. He was fighting and fighting against them, trying to do something, anything, and the world stopped.

A face appeared before him. A face from deep inside his subconscious. At first he thought it was Haley, come home to take care of him once and for all. And it was almost, but this Haley had aged, this Haley had once been the Haley who his Haley and her doppelganger were modeled after, who they paled in comparison to, one after another, but no longer. Her skin sagged in certain places, and her eyes, those piercing, inquiring eyes which had haunted him through the longest of nights, made all the pulsating, bulging motion around him disappear for a moment in which he could finally stand steadily on two pneumatic feet.

“Haley,” he said, reaching a hand out to grab her hand. “It’s been so long since we’ve spoken face to face. I hope you don’t mind that I call you Haley.”

Haley smiled, accentuating her crow’s feet, and Mr. Walker thought he would kiss even them if she would let him. A tussle of white—how long had it been since he’d seen her?—hair fell into her face and she brushed it away with a gloved hand, clad in her scientist uniform as always. “As long as you don’t mind if I call you Walker,” she said

He grabbed her, wrapping her tight in his safe soothing folds. She tried to hug him back, he could feel, but she only managed to pat his stomach because she couldn’t wrap her short little arms around his gargantuan, manly girth. “Of course, sweetheart. Of course.” Walker almost cried as he said it. “Call me anything you want to as long as you’re talking to me.” And he did let out a few tears for two lost Haleys and an old Haley found.

She pushed away too soon, though, and he was left to wipe his own tears. “I—uh— Did you see Ansel?” she asked. “The little girl. She might have come through with me.”

Walker remembered where he was. His eyes went back to the shifting walls and his motion sickness returned. There were too many breakfasts in his stomach to waste them now—and the pneumatic pants wouldn’t let him vomit if he wanted to—so he choked it all back and spit out, “Where are we?”

“Essentially nowhere,” Haley said, feeling along the walls even as they mutated and changed form under her hands. “Not yet, at least. This place is in flux. That’s why it keeps changing. You better stick close to me or we might lose each other.”

Walker scurried closer to her, bumping his bulbous stomach into her back and almost knocking her head into the wall she was searching. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I— But— Lost? In flux? What’s going on?”

“Whoever brought us here hasn’t decided where they want us yet. From the looks of it they’re trying to make a new plane for us, for a lot of us.”

“Brought us here? Who? Impossible. But you said—you control the walls. Who could do this but you?”

Haley chuckled, looking away from her investigation of the ever morphing world for the first time. “You really are clueless, aren’t you? Hackers have been getting in for years, Walker. This was inevitable. I’ve been winning the arms race until now, but—”

“There he is again!” a voice called from behind them. “And he’s with her. I told you they were working together.”

Walker turned to see the girl in the glasses and her friend who he thought he recognized.

“Nikola, Tillie,” Haley said, crossing to them. “Stay close now. We’ll all be safer if we stick together.”

Walker hurried closer to them, taking Haley’s advice.

“Where have you taken us?” the girl in the glasses demanded. “What have you done?”

“I haven’t done anything,” Haley said. “We’re all in this together. I think—”

“Enough!” The unknown girl, the one who wasn’t wearing any glasses, stomped a foot. “Enough, enough, enough. We can stop this petty arguing at least until we get out of whatever the fuck this is. I can’t take it anymore. Hand!” She stormed off and the girl with the glasses chased after her, calling, “Tillie, wait!”

Haley chased them and Walker had no choice but to follow. The room became a hall of shifting walls as they ran, and the hall a labyrinthine maze. Soon Walker was praying to the Hand and every other god of Outland that his pants wouldn’t give out when he needed them the most. Just as he thought the pants were done for, ready to putter out, their procession stopped in front of Rosa and her rude partner Anna.

You,” Rosa said, staring angrily at Haley. “This is your doing. Isn’t it?”

See,” the girl with the glasses said, “I told you.”

“No, it’s not—” Haley started.

“Sure,” Rosa cut her off, “It has nothing to do with our war on the robots, right? That’s why you have him here, too.” She pointed at Walker who raised his hands in defense, shrugging as if he had never met Rosa before. After this was all done and over with, he would have to give her a little lesson on tact, teach her about the concept of classified information.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Haley asked, looking at Walker with those piercing eyes of hers.

“Don’t ask me,” he said.

“It means,” Rosa said, “that he and I are going to destroy your robot army, and you’ve brought us here to try to prevent us from doing it. Well, I’m afraid to tell you that the Family lives on even without us.”

You didn’t,” Haley said, still staring into Walker’s soul. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“I—I’m a businessman,” he stammered. Why was he making excuses to someone who had abandoned him so long ago? “I did with my property what was in my best interests. You can’t argue against that.”

“What about us?” the girl with the glasses cut in. “We’re not with them. We want to help the androids. Why are we here?”

Haley just stared at Walker, shaking her head in disappointment.

“Look,” Tillie said—at least Walker thought her name was Tillie, he still wasn’t sure who was who in this chaotic mess. “It’s obvious that none of us here are responsible for this. Just look around you. The walls are still shifting, the world is still changing around us. I mean—Nikola, you said this was like an elevator tunnel, right?”

The girl with the glasses—Nikola—nodded and Walker filed the name away in his head. Of course, Nikola and Tillie from the uproar in Two. How could he forget? And maybe some evidence as to why they were all there.

“Well the tunnel’s still moving,” Tillie went on. “Someone has to be controlling it, right? And none of us can be doing that from in here, so… Are y’all following me?”

“You know, it may be possible to—” Haley started.

“Are you doing it?” Tillie cut her off.

“Well, no, but—”

“Anyone else?” Tillie asked the rest of them, and everyone shook their heads. “Then we can stop asking which one of us did it.”

“That’s very astute,” Haley said with a smile Walker was glad to see.

“And useless.” Rosa scoffed. “We still have no way out of this…whatever it is.”

“What is this anyway?” Mr. Walker interjected, feeling the conversation needed an owner’s opinion.

“It’s a spacetime overlap,” Haley said at the same time that Anna said, “It’s a big problem.”

“Probably, yes,” Haley said.

“Too many paths are overlapping at once,” Anna went on. “I don’t like the look of those walls. Have you seen them?” She and Haley crossed to a wall to inspect its ever morphing characteristics.

“I think we should get out of here,” Nikola said, trying to pull Tillie, who didn’t budge, along with her.

“You two do know each other, though. Don’t you?” Tillie said to Walker.

Ho ho ho, dear. I know many people,” he replied. Too many people if you asked him, and none that would do something like this. “What’s it matter to you?”

“So how do we get out of this?” Rosa asked, ever ready to get down to business. “That’s all I want to know. I don’t care what or where it is, I just want to get home.”

“That’s up to me,” a child’s voice said from nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. Whichever way Walker looked he saw nothing but shifting walls. “And how y’all react,” the voice added.

Suddenly the walls stopped moving and changing form. They coalesced into a small square room with cement walls, binding them all together as one. Apart from them, in the direction everyone was now staring, sat a little girl, cross-legged on the ground, tapping and swiping at a tiny computer pad in her lap.

Roo,” Haley said, taking a step closer to the girl. “What are you—”

“Careful,” the girl—Roo—cut her off. “Don’t take another step. I don’t know where you’ll go if you attempt to approach me, but it’ll be far away from here, I can promise you that. It’s okay, though. I won’t hurt you as long as you stay put right where you are. I just want to talk.”

“I demand to know the meaning of this,” Lord Walker said, stepping to the front of the group of women so he could finally assert control over the situation. How could a little girl be holding all of them hostage right now? He had to put an end to it.

“Your demands are meaningless,” the little girl said—was she grinning? It was so hard to tell from that far away. “What makes you think this has any meaning at all?”

“Well you brought us here for something,” Nikola said.

“Actually,” the girl said. “With the two of you I’m afraid I’ve quite literally brought you here for nothing. I’ve never even met you. I’m sorry you’re caught up in this, but as long as you cooperate and remain quiet, no harm will come to any of you.”

“Wait,” Nikola complained, “just let us go then.”

“I can’t without letting the rest of you go, too,” the girl said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. Sometimes the world just works out that way.” She seemed so much older than her appearances let on. “There’s nothing else I can do for you until I’m done with them so let’s get on with it. Anna,” the girl—Roo—said, squirming this way and that in her seat, trying to see around Walker’s large frame. “I know you’re here somewhere. Now come on out.”

Walker stepped aside to let Rosa’s little partner step forward.

“What do you think of this, Anna?” the girl asked, smiling. “A pretty beautiful symphony, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s dangerous,” Anna said, shaking her head. “Wreckless.”

“But isn’t it beautiful? That’s the point. Look, you can even see yourself in it.” The girl swiped and tapped and disappeared. In her place there was an exact replica of Mr. Walker and the group he stood among. There were infinite replicas in all directions, as if he were in a room lined with mirrors that somehow reflected them from behind. It was dizzying to see. Just before Mr. Walker tried to vomit again, the sight vanished and the girl returned, laughing, in its place. “Does that frighten you?” she asked, still chuckling. “Make you sick? Huh ha. Or do you think it’s fun?”

“Who are you?” Nikola, the girl with the glasses, demanded.

“What is this?” Rosa did, too.

“No child can speak to me this way,” Walker said, not wanting to be left out.

Only Haley and Anna could get through to her, though. “I’ve been there before, child,” Haley said.

“I feel your pain,” Anna said.

“No you haven’t,” the girl said, standing up and dropping the tablet from her lap. For a second she disappeared and the mutating walls returned, but she was soon back and saying, “No you don’t!” She was standing now, closer to them. Walker thought he could reach right out and grab the little tablet out of her hand, but he didn’t dare try. There was no telling what would happen to him if he crossed that invisible barrier. “You know nothing!”

“What is this?” Walker demanded. “You, child— Wait, you— You’re the director I was interviewing. What are you—”

Roo laughed. “I’m no director. I’m every person you’ve ever trampled over to get what you want. I’m the end of everything for you. I’m here to show you that you don’t control as much of the universe as y’all think you do. None of you!”

“Roo, no,” Haley said, and all eyes turned to her natural magnetism. Why had she and Walker ever parted? “You don’t understand what you’re doing. This isn’t good. We can’t all be here in one place like this for much longer. All the space you have folding into one tiny spot right here, it’s too much. The system can’t handle it.”

The little girl laughed, pacing the small space she had to walk in. “The system can’t handle it, huh? Well maybe I can’t handle the system.”

Right on,” Nikola said, pumping a fist at the little girl. “You tell ‘em. We’re on your side.”

“Shut up!” The little girl stomped her foot. “All of you just shut up until you’re spoken to or I’ll leave you here forever. There’s no way out, okay. I made sure you were far enough away from everything so you’ll never be found. Now shut up!”

“This can’t be true,” Rosa said, imploring Anna. “She couldn’t— That little girl did all this?”

“There is a way out, isn’t there?” Walker demanded of Haley. “I cannot be stuck here for much longer. I can already feel my stomach grumbling.”

“I told you to shut up,” Tillie said to Nikola.

“As I told all of you.” The girl disappeared, all of the walls, the ceiling, and the floor with her. Walker was free falling into nothingness. They were all falling just the same. They were surrounded by the complete blackness of space that Walker had only ever witnessed on TV, and now he was in it, the stars all around him, his breath escaping him and his head feeling like it was going to explode, but still the beauty got through, and hanging above it all, Haley’s aged face, a diamond among the rough and tumble rabble that was free falling through space with them.

Then the walls came back, gravity with them, and the cold hard floor for everyone to fall into a jumble on top of. The velocity of a free fall drop from space ended in a belly flop into a too full room. The fall wasn’t as far as it seemed, though, the fear being the worst part, and soon Walker’s pneumatic pants had him up and staring at the little girl’s smiling face before anyone else in the tiny cell with him could stand.

“What power do you have now?” The girl cackled. “What hope is there for you? Ha ha ha!”

“Why are you doing this?” Anna begged, still crawling on hands and knees, trying to get up from the fall. “Why us?”

“Why anyone?” The girl laughed. “There’s no logic to it, is there? You thought there was when your life was going as planned, when y’all were on top, putting your boots into our face and keeping us down, but what logic is there now that you’re the ones in the mud? Is that about right?”

“None!” Nikola said, seeming to cheer the girl on.

“Your logic,” Haley said, still trying to convince her to do the right thing. “This is your logic bringing this upon us, Roo.”

“I didn’t choose to become this,” the girl said. “This is what you made me.”

“I didn’t make you into anything,” Walker said.

“You did! And there’s no stopping me now.”

“Enough!” Mr. Walker yelled. “I’ve had enough. Now, child, I don’t know who you think are, but enough is enough. Let us go this instant or I’ll— I’ll… I’ll just—”

You’ll do nothing. I’m the new Queen of the Walls. I’m the best bender that’s ever been born. I’m the future of these worlds and it’s time that y’all start to realize that. These are my worlds now, not yours. So get over it.”

“Now, I never—” Walker said.

“Child, you better—” Rosa said.

“We did nothing—” Tillie said.

“But the fields,” Haley said. “They can’t—”

And the little girl disappeared. The walls started moving again. The world was in flux and there was no telling where it would lead. Walker stumbled back on his pneumatic legs. Even the ground seemed to be changing beneath him as he tried to move. Everyone stumbled around him.

“What’s going on?” Rosa demanded.

“Where’d she go?” Nikola asked.

“What’s the meaning of all this?” Walker huffed, finally regaining his balance.

“There’s too much pressure,” Anna said.

“The walls are closing in,” Haley said.

“What do we do?” Tillie asked.

And the worlds broke apart. How else could Walker’s mind comprehend it? It happened in a flash and it took an eternity. Fissures cracked through everything. The walls. The ceiling. The floor. Even the poor girl Nikola’s head. There was no telling how long it actually took her to die, though. Each separate half of her body kept reacting as if they were still connected and alive for some time—what amount of time, though? because if it was any time at all it must have been forever so how could it have ever ended?—before the two halves slumped, falling and twitching into—what?—Walker could not tell.

What was it? That thing that lies between the fabric of reality, between here and there when here is right next to there. Whatever was between molecules, and atoms, and nothingness, she fell into that, each piece of her in time—what time, though?— forever, and whole chunks of the universe fell in with her.

Walker’s legs were carrying him somewhere. Was there still solid ground to walk on? He felt like he was floating through space again. They weren’t just carrying him, they were following somebody. His Haley. He heaved a sigh of relief, leaning into the motion to give his pneumatic pants some leverage, and noticed that Haley was following Rosa and the other one—Anna. Did names matter with the universe falling apart around them, though?

How many tunnels they went down Walker would never know for sure. The halls, corridors, and tubes were already muddling themselves up together in his mind as he went through them.

Brick wall turn left wall turns into chain link fence looking out onto space keep running not questioning why air is still there only breathing it happily and hoping for more walls and tunnels and oxygen.

At one point, he couldn’t tell if he was moving forward or if the walls were flowing by him, creating an illusion of motion. He really was the Red Queen now, and as much as his pants ran, they couldn’t catch up to Ann or Rosa or even his Haley.

His pants hissed. His legs stopped moving. He tried lifting his left leg with all his might and felt the air coming out of his pants. Any more movement like that and he might not be able to stand at all. “Haley,” he called, keeping his legs as still as possible and feeling them get heavier with every second. “Haley, I’m stuck!”

“Hey, wait,” Hayley said, stopping and turning. Rosa and Anna stopped with her. “What’s wrong?” She took two steps toward him and a rift started breaking between Rosa and Anna, a rift into that same unknown which the other girl had already fallen to pieces inside of. The world was falling apart and there was nothing Walker could do about it, not even run away, because his stupid pants had failed him at the worst possible time, just like the robot they were.

“I’m not staying for him,” Rosa said, the only one on the other side of the rift. “Anna, come on. I think I can see our basement over there.” She held her hand across the wrench in reality, and though it didn’t cross through the nothingness, it did appear on the other side of the chasm in one piece.

Anna looked at the disembodied hand, then back at Haley. “You know how this is going to end,” she said. “We have to get out of her before it does. Leave him.” She grabbed Rosa’s hand and teleported from one side of the rift to the other then disappeared into the shifting worlds which were getting fewer and further between.

“Haley. My love,” Walker said as she came closer to him, the fabric of reality disintegrating behind her. “I knew you’d come back to me.”

She smiled again, her crow’s feet dancing on the brink of happy eyes. “I never left you, Walky. I’ve been looking out for you all this time.”

“Then why’d you have to leave me in the first place?” Walker asked, his legs twitching nervously and his pants deflating that little tiny bit faster with every tiny movement. “I still needed you.”

“Why’d you abandon me?” Haley asked, her face changing to something Walker would rather not remember, something he thought he was over when he saw Haley from this new perspective.

“I never did,” he said. “I’ve been running Waltronics and the Walls since they existed. I still run the Walls—your baby—and I only just sold off Waltronics in the hopes of winning it back by force. What more could I do for you?”

“You could have listened to me, dear.” Haley smiled, taking on the appearance of her old self again, her younger self, the one Walker missed and loved and had tried to replicate in her android replacements. “That’s all I’ve ever asked,” she said, “treat me as your equal.”

“Listen to you when?” Walker scoffed, the universe getting tinier around him as the foundations of space and time disintegrated from overpressure. “You never came to talk to me. How should I know what you want? I’m not a mind reader.”

“I came to you on Christmas, didn’t I?” Haley said, trying to push Walker, trying to move him somehow, but only failing. Without the pants to carry him he was stuck there, and they both knew it.

“Did you?” Walker asked, groaning against her useless straining to budge him. “I was a little distracted with the terrorist attacks.”

“Which happened after my speech,” Haley said, fidgeting with Walker’s pants and reminding him of a time long gone when they weren’t pneumatic yet. “Not to mention every Christmas before that.”

Ugh.” Walker groaned. How much had he missed Haley, the real Haley? “I know. I never should have—”

She fell away from him. A rift in reality tore them apart. But at the same time Walker’s legs kicked into motion. She must have known what she was doing down there. He stood and reached for her, but she had no footing upon which to reach back and grab on, and all Walker could do was call, “Haley, I love you!”

The world ended right then and there. It might as well have. Haley had disappeared into that nothingness and there was no way she was ever coming back out of it. Walker didn’t care about anything else in the universe. His pants—reactivated by the only person who could have ever saved him—were carrying him of their own accord now. Or was he falling? It didn’t matter to him. There was no ground anymore. There was no space at all. There were no walls or ceiling. There was only Walker, the endless dark expanse of space behind him, and the labyrinthine tunnels of possibility still branching out in front of him. Where would that darkness push him? Where would his pants take him? How would he ever survive? There was only one way to find out.

 End of Book Three

< LXII. Ansel     [Table of Contents]

And that’s all folks. Book three of the Infinite Limits saga is complete. If you enjoyed that, please do leave a review of the book on Amazon through this link. Positive reviews are worth more than money to an independent author like me at this stage in my career. Either way, thanks again for joining us, and I hope you come back in the next couple of months when book four, 0.N Repeating, starts to get posted. It’s been great having y’all. We do nothing alone.

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Chapter 62: Ansel

Hello, dear readers. Today we rejoin Ansel as she’s exploring Outland 4 with her new friend, Ashley. Read Ansel’s third and final point of view chapter in Dividing by Ø right here, and don’t forget to join us next week for the concluding chapter of book three out of four of the Infinite Limits series. Enjoy.

< LXI. Chelsea     [Table of Contents]     LXIII. Mr. Walker >

LXII. Ansel

The claws never came. Nor the jaws. Only the laughter of Ashley who couldn’t even speak he was so doubled over. Ansel crawled to her feet, picking up her rucksack and brushing herself off, and the huge cat was no longer in front of her. She turned to find it inside another clearing behind her, across the dirt path they had come in on, looking out the other way and ready to pounce on some unseen thing.

“Oh. Oh ho ho!” Ashley laughed, trying to get control of himself. “Don’t worry. He can’t get you. Ho ho ho!”

Ansel reached out toward the cat and her hand disappeared in a straight line at the wrist, just like it had done when she had tried to open Anna and Rosa’s door what seemed like ages ago.

“You see,” Ashley said behind her, and Ansel turned to see her disembodied hand floating on the other side of the dirt path. “We can’t get to it, either. The only difference is that we can see the jaguar’s side of the wall and the jaguar can’t see ours. It’s kind of like a one-way mirror in that sense.”

Ansel waved her arm and the floating hand waved in unison. What kind of world was she living in?

“Pretty nifty, isn’t it?” Ashley asked

“I thought it was going to kill you,” Ansel said, pulling her arm out of the—whatever it was in—so it looked like her body was all in one piece again. “I don’t really find that funny.”

Ashley grinned, laughter trying to burst out of him again. “Well, I did. And there was no danger, anyway. And you acted heroically, trying to push me out of the way like that.” He giggled. “My saviour.”

“Alright,” Ansel said, walking down the path the way they had been going before Ashley stopped her to see the big cat. She wondered what other animals she might see on the way. “Enough funny business. Why’d you bring me here, anyway?”

Ashley followed along behind her, keeping good pace and walking more quietly than Pidgeon would have ever been able to. “Well, a few reasons,” he said. “First, to show you that my chemistry homework is far from the coolest thing in this world.”

Ansel nodded, not really hearing what Ashley was saying. Out in a clearing to the right of her was a giant hairy human-like thing with bigger muscles and a bigger head than she had ever seen—except for maybe on those fat tuxedoed babies at the dinner party. The hairy human thing was scratching itself in the sun and chewing on a pile of fruits. Ansel’s knees shook a little. She would have bolted out of there already if she hadn’t experienced the embarrassment of the giant cat incident earlier. Why was everything so much bigger and scarier here? “What is that?” she asked.

Ashley had to look again, as if he hadn’t noticed the thing the first time because it was an everyday occurrence to him. “Oh, a gorilla,” he said. “A rather big one, too. They’ve been bred to be larger and more ferocious for the show value. Thank our Holy Mother for the Walker-Haley fields between us or this guy here would be more dangerous than that jaguar we saw earlier.”

“A gorilla,” Ansel said, mesmerized by its huge bulging muscles and chomping jaws. “These things just live out in the wild?”

Ho ho ho, not anymore.” Ashley chuckled. “A long long time ago this guy’s great, great, great times a bunch ancestors lived in the wild, but like I said, they were a lot smaller back then. Now they’re an endangered species. Pretty much completely extinct, actually. Like most of the animals in here, they only exist in captivity.”

Here came that word again: endangered. “So that’s what makes them endangered?” Ansel asked. “Because they only live in captivity?” She had been held captive her entire life, kept ignorant of these worlds and the many others she had discovered in so little time since finding the first new one. Maybe she was endangered, too.

“Well, not exactly,” Ashley said. “But yes. We hold them here because they’re endangered, they’re not endangered because we hold them here.”

Pshh. What’s the difference?”

Ashley had to think long and hard about that. Ansel just let him. She was happy enough to stare at the magnificent gorilla as it ate. Who would endanger such a beautiful beast?

“You know,” Ashley said after some time of silence, breaking Ansel away from her reverie. “I’m not entirely sure there is a difference anymore, the more I think about it. It’s like, in the beginning we built walls to keep everything out for our own protection, and now we have to build walls that keep them in for their protection. I’m not sure when that changed, but when it did, it rendered any differences there might have once been entirely meaningless.”

Ansel didn’t know exactly what he was saying. She wasn’t sure she cared, either. She didn’t respond. Instead she just walked on along the dirt path in search of whatever new creature she might find in the next clearing. Ashley followed behind her, seemingly content to explore his own thoughts in silence while Ansel explored the real world.

It was a long walk before she came to the next animal, but Ansel didn’t mind. The anticipation was part of the fun, and there were plenty of exotic plants everywhere—not to mention birds of various bright colors flying around. But then the giant towered over her with its long yellow and brown spotted neck, chewing leaves it ripped from the trees with a finger-like tongue. Ansel didn’t ask what this one was, it didn’t need a name. She just stared up at its towering figure, plucking leaves from the trees, and tried to imagine what it saw through its elevated eyes.

“That’s a giraffe,” Ashley said, giving Ansel a name for the beast anyway. “It’s my favorite 3D animal, personally. They’re so tall and graceful, and such perfect pieces of evidence in support of evolution by natural selection. The way their laryngeal nerve goes all the way down and back up the neck again instead of taking the short route…”

Ashley kept going but Ansel didn’t hear a word he said beyond giraffe. She kept repeating it in her head. Giraffe, giraffe, giraffe. Who would endanger the giraffe? How could you trap such a strong looking gorilla? What kind of person would hurt a big black jaguar? She wasn’t sure she could take any more of this zoo if it meant seeing more caged and endangered beauties like this one.

Alright, enough.” Ansel snapped, cutting off Ashley’s lecture on giraffes which was still going on despite her ignoring it. “Why did you bring me here? Tell me.”

“I—uh… I thought you might like to see it. I don’t know. And I thought it might help explain where you are. I just— I, uh…” He shrugged.

“How is this supposed to help? Just tell me where we are.”

Uh, well, it’s—you know—like a model, really. Or maybe a metaphor. It’s meant to illuminate—”

“Get to the point.”

“Okay. Well. You know how the jaguar couldn’t pounce on you, right?”

“Of course.”

“Well, we couldn’t really touch it and it couldn’t eat us, right. I mean, the cat couldn’t even see us, okay. So you could essentially say that we are in two separate worlds, right? Us and the jaguar, I mean. The jaguar in their own world, and they can’t see into ours, but we can see into their world even if we can’t physically go there. Right? Not by walking off the path here where it looks like the jaguar’s world should be, at least.”

“Okay,” Ansel said still having a hard time following him. “So what?”

“Well essentially, the wider world—or worlds you might say—are split up the same way. Okay. They’re all right next each other like we are with the jaguar, but there’s no line of sight going either way. It would be more like if we couldn’t see into the jaguar’s habitat either, just like it couldn’t see out to us.”

“We wouldn’t even know they were there,” Ansel said, starting to understand now.

“Exactly.” Ashley smiled. “But those other worlds would be there, with all those people in them, living their own lives, oblivious to everything going on in our world, acting as if we didn’t exist either. Do you see where I’m going?”

Ansel nodded. She saw exactly where he was going. She wasn’t quite sure if she could believe what he was saying, but he had given her plenty of evidence to support his story with the way this zoo worked, and what he said seemed to explain some of the stranger experiences she had been going through ever since she moved to the Belt and beyond. “You’re saying that the world works exactly like this zoo,” she said. “You’re telling me that humans live in these same sort of cages that y’all have endangered all these animals with.”

“Yes, well, I’m not sure I would call the worlds cages,” Ashley said with a chuckle. “I’m not even sure I’d call what these animals are in cages, either. I mean, besides there being no bars, this is all the wilderness any of their ancestors have known for generations. These…protected habitats, let’s call them, make up the entire universe that these animals can ever experience, sure, but they’re not caged in, really, and they don’t know any better anyway.”

“Because they can’t know any better,” Ansel said. “They’re just animals. But you’re trying to say that humans are caged up like this, too. Would that be okay with you as long as the humans didn’t know any better?”

“First of all, they’re not cages,” Ashley said. “Habitats.”

“Whatever.”

“And second of all, you don’t give enough credit to these animals—or maybe you give too much credit to humans, I’m not sure. But take the gorillas, okay. They started out smart, of course, but you should see how intelligent they are now that they’ve been bred for it.” He nodded over at the long necked giant that was still munching on leaves. “That giraffe over there can figure out a lot more about the worlds than you might think. I promise you.”

“Wait, I don’t understand,” Ansel said. “Are you saying you would be okay with humans being caged, or put in habitats, or whatever you want to call it, as long as they didn’t know any better?”

“I’m not saying that exactly,” Ashley said, tapping his chin. “How can I communicate this in a way that you’ll understand? I could see how it might be for the best. That’s it. Just like the reserve here—let’s get that nasty word zoo out of our mind for the sake of objectivity. Without this reserve, where else could these animals go?”

“To the wilderness,” Ansel said. “Where they would be free to roam wherever they want to without being sent back to the beginning every time they finally get to the end.”

“What wilderness?” Ashley scoffed. “You’re looking at all the wilderness there is left that isn’t already owned and in use. And if there was any more, that would only broaden their playing field. The animals would still be sent to the beginning every time they got to the end because that’s how a round planet works.”

“And the humans?” Ansel asked, feeling her control over her temper loosen. “It’s best for them, too? You think it was best for me to be caged in the Streets, surrounded by cement and concrete, without any source of food or support of any kind for as far as I could possibly go in my little world? What kind of habitat is that? What was I being protected from?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ashley said, looking like he was getting a little angry himself. “You’ve given me no information about where you’re from so I can’t speculate as to whether it was for your best or not. I can see how it’s for the animals’ best because I’ve studied them thoroughly, but I have yet to come to a conclusion on humans. If you were a little more cooperative in answering my questions, maybe I could figure out how I felt about your situation sooner than later.”

“I—uh…” He was right even if he was being an ass about it. Ansel had been too harsh on him herself, though. He probably knew as little about her world as she knew about his. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just— I’m a long way from home, I think, and I’ve been through a whole lot of Hell to get here. I miss my family and friends, and I never should have come all the way out here on my own in the first place.” She shook her head, fighting tears. “We do nothing alone.”

“It’s okay,” Ashley said, looking terrified at the prospect that Ansel might start crying—which made her chuckle a little. “You’re— You’re not alone, okay. I want to help you, you know. I will help you.”

“You don’t just want to study me?” Ansel smiled.

“Oh, I could study you all day.” Ashley held a hand to his mouth, blushing. “I mean— You know what I mean. But that’s not the only thing I want to do. I want to help you, too. We can help each other, I think.”

Psssh. Yeah right. How could I help you? You don’t need any hunting done, do you?”

“Well, no.” He shook his head.

“Then I prolly won’t be much help. Sorry.” Ansel shrugged.

“I doubt that.” Ashley chuckled. “The mere fact that you’ve brought my attention to the possibility of worlds beyond those that are known and mapped has been help enough. I always knew there were way more lines of tunnel than the maps showed us, and now I might just understand why.”

“Wait, so you didn’t know about the other worlds either?”

“I knew of one,” Ashley said. “We call it Never Never Land. It’s where all the celebrities live. But I imagine it’s not the world you come from, is it?”

Ansel shook her head. “I’m not really sure what a celebrity is.”

Exactly. Pointing further to the fact that you hail from a third, separate world and implying the possibility of further worlds after that.”

“All because I don’t know what a celebrity is?”

“All because you came through the seams,” Ashley said, smiling. “Now come on. Let’s get to my lab so we can try to find your world.” He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her running back the way they had come from.

Ansel forgot herself in the wind whipping against her face and the flying branches all around her. The giraffe, gorilla, and jaguar were nothing more than blurs in her peripheral vision, along with the long smudge of dark jungle green. It wasn’t until the world stopped moving again and the elevator doors slid closed behind them that either of them spoke.

“They still weren’t as cool as chemistry,” Ansel said at the same time that Ashley said, “I think I know how to find your world.”

“Oh, sorry,” they said at the same time.

“And chemistry? You’re way off,” Ashley said while Ansel said, “Oh, cool.”

“Animals are much cooler than chemistry,” Ashley said when they were done apologizing for talking over each other.

“But those animals were so far away,” Ansel said.

“Luckily for us. Lab.”

The elevator fell into motion.

“Well, I’d still like to know more about chemistry,” Ansel said.

“Maybe I’ll show you after we search for your world.”

Ansel shrugged. She didn’t really care about finding her world, more so she just wanted to find a new one to live in. The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and she stepped into a long hall but Ashley didn’t follow. Ansel turned to look at him and found him shaking his head, looking afraid. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Th—This isn’t my lab,” Ashely said, still shaking his head. “This is wrong. We should go. Come here. Get back in the elevator.” He waved to hurry her up.

Before Ansel could respond, though, the door at the other end of the hall opened and in came Rosalind, followed by Popeye. Ansel groaned. She knew she recognized this hall, but she had thought it was because all those white-coated people’s buildings looked the same.

So,” Rosalind said with a grin, “the prodigal child returns.”

Popeye waved emphatically, like the tail of a dog who was happy to see its owner, but Popeye was all tail and no dog.

“I didn’t return,” Ansel said, crossing her arms. “This isn’t where we were trying to go.”

“Oh, then what are you doing here?” Rosalind laughed a cackling laugh.

Um, I’m sorry, ma’am,” Ashley said, finally coming out of the elevator and putting a hand on Ansel’s shoulder—which she shrugged away. “It was some sort of malfunction in the elevator. We were supposed to go to my lab. We’ll just be leaving now.” He tried to pull Ansel back into the elevator but she wouldn’t budge.

“It was no malfunction,” Ansel said. “She did it on purpose. Didn’t you?”

Ha ha ha.” Rosalind laughed. “Who’s the bumbling new child you’ve brought with you this time, girl? Have you found yourself a new boyfriend already? Pidgeon’ll be sad to hear it. Ha ha ha!”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Ansel said, stomping a foot. She could see Ashley blushing out of her peripheral vision and tried hard not to look at him.

“I—It was an accident,” Ashley stammered.

“It was not an accident, boy,” Rosalind snapped. “You’re girlfriend here is right about that. The Scientist wants to see you and she couldn’t wait until you two split up so here you both are. Now come on in. Right this way.” She made a gracious wave of her arm then shoved Ansel and Ashley down the hall toward the door at the end of it where Popeye was waving them on.

“I—I don’t—” Ashley stammered, gripping tight to Ansel’s shirt.

“She’s never gonna convince me to stay,” Ansel said, trying to shrug him away in vain. “I don’t know what she would have to talk to me about.”

Rosalind grinned, still pushing them along. “You’ll just have to go in and see for yourself, then. Won’t you, girl?”

Ansel didn’t let the word cut her like she knew it was meant to. She didn’t respond to it at all. She just gave up fighting and went in through the door, pulling Ashley along in her wake.

The Scientist was sitting in a puffy chair, under the view of the endless mountain that could never again impress Ansel, indicating for them to take their seats across from her. Ashley hesitated but Ansel had been through all this before. She strode right up and took a chair without having to struggle into it, despite its height. Seeing her confidence gave Ashley some of his own, and soon he struggled into the chair between Ansel’s and the Scientist’s. When he was finally up and seated, he stared in slack jawed awe at the Scientist who smiled—suspiciously Ansel thought—right back at him.

“I— You’re— You can’t be,” Ashley said.

The Scientist nodded, still grinning. “Yes, child. I can be,” she said. “And I am.”

“Why did you send for me?” Ansel demanded, ignoring Ashley’s fanboy reaction. She didn’t care who he thought the Scientist was or how impressed he was by her, Ansel just wanted to get out of there as soon as they could.

“Ansel,” Ashley said, “she didn’t want to see you. She’s too important. She probably doesn’t even know who you are. She’s—”

Actually, I did want to see Ansel,” the Scientist said. “I needed to see her, in fact.”

“But you’re—” Ashley said.

“The Scientist,” Ansel cut him off. “I know.”

“Well I was going to say Dr. Haley Walker,” Ashley said, “but she is pretty much the epitome of a scientist. You’re right about that.”

“Haley Walker?” Ansel said.

“My true name.” The Scientist nodded.

Why had she hidden the name for so long if this kid knew it by the sight of her? “Well what do you want?” Ansel demanded.

“I want to know how your trip has gone, dear.” The Scientist smiled—Ansel still couldn’t think of her as Dr. Walker, she had been the Scientist for too long. “I want to know if you’ve changed your mind.” Then quickly, as if to prevent the answer she knew was coming, the Scientist added, “I want to know what you want now. I’m sure you have a better idea for yourself after your little adventure in Four, don’t you?”

“What do you know about my adventure?” Ansel asked, wondering who was slipping the Scientist information.

“Not much, child.” The Scientist laughed. “Which is why I need you to tell me all about it. Starting with the name of your little friend who you’ve brought along with you.”

“I— I’m Ashley Tyson,” Ashley said, squirming in his seat. “I’m a topological physicist myself, ma’am. Can I say that I admire you more than any scientist who has ever lived. Like, for real. You’re my hero.”

The Scientist chuckled. “You can, but you wouldn’t be the first.” She winked. “And that’s about enough said. Let’s talk about something interesting for a change. Where did you and my dear Ansel meet?”

Ansel resented being called “her dear” by the Scientist, but she didn’t get a chance to respond because Ashley was too eager to speak. “Well I was down in the Labyrinth, ma’am—forgive the colloquialism—but I was monitoring Walker-Haley field function for class credit when she appeared out of nowhere and ran right into me. I thought she was my replacement, you know, but then she said she had come through the seams of Sisyphus’s Mountain without the protection of a transport shield or radiation suit, and I wouldn’t believe her. I mean, I thought that was impossible. It is impossible, isn’t it? She didn’t really go through the fields naked. Did she?”

The Scientist was chuckling for most of his long rant, shaking her head, and she continued on after he stopped. “I don’t know,” she said, looking at Ansel for confirmation. “Did you?”

Ansel shrugged. “I found an escape from your mountain wilderness and I took the opportunity, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“By the elevator?” the Scientist asked.

Ansel nodded. Of course the Scientist knew about the seam already. Getting Ansel  to tell the story out loud was just some sick power trip.

“It’s always tricky keeping the fields contained in such tight spots,” the Scientist said, more to herself than either of them. “I’ll have to take a closer look at that in the morning.”

“So she did go through naked,” Ashley said, glancing wide eyed between the Scientist and Ansel. “You weren’t lying?”

“Of course I wasn’t.” Ansel scoffed. “I wouldn’t.”

“And there are worlds we haven’t been told about,” Ashley said to the Scientist. “Aren’t there?”

“Beyond your imagination.” The Scientist nodded.

Ashley seemed to fall into his own mind, lost trying to determine the possibilities created by the new information he had just been given. Ansel wasn’t impressed, though. “Is this all you brought me here for?” She scoffed. “To impress some white coated flower from another planet? Can I leave now?”

“Not in the least,” the Scientist said, getting serious now. “But the rest, I’m afraid, the reason I really brought you here, that has to be taken care of in private. Ashley, friend, you’ll have to wait in the other room with Rosalind. I’m sorry.”

“I—but—” Ashley complained as the office door opened and in came Rosalind. “I have so many questions to ask you.”

“C’mon, kid,” Rosalind said, jerking a thumb toward the door. “You heard the lady. Let’s go.”

“In due time,” the Scientist said, standing to help Rosalind guide him out of the room. “All your questions will be answered in due time.”

Ansel heaved a sigh of relief when he was gone. The sooner they were alone, the sooner she could leave, and that was the only thing Ansel wanted. “So,” she said expectantly as the Scientist retook her seat.

“So, my dear.” The Scientist smiled. “Your trip. How did it go?”

“Ashley already told you most of it.”

The Scientist chuckled. “He told me nothing, how you met. I want more. I want to know everything that happened after, everything that happened before. I want to know everything. Did you climb the mountain?”

Ansel nodded.

“And what did you see?”

“Myself,” Ansel said without hesitation. She had thought about that view so many times since she had seen it that she could respond by reflex. “My future, my past…me.” She shrugged.

The Scientist nodded. “Sure,” she said. “Sure it was. It was almost like that, at least. You can never get over the mountain, though, so it’s only ever your present, really.”

“But I did get over it,” Ansel said defiantly, puffing out her chest. “Three times.”

The Scientist chuckled. “And how many more mountains were there after that?”

Ansel shook her head. “Is this all you brought me here for? To toy with me? I’m pretty sure by now that it’s the only reason you let me go out there in that wilderness in the first place.”

“No, dear. Settle down, now.” The Scientist tried to calm her. “We can move on if that’s what you want. I’d still like to know what happened after you met Ashley, though. Did you enjoy your time in Four?”

“What’s Four?”

“The world you were in, my dear. You understand how these things work, now, don’t you? I’m told you visited a zoo. That had to be illuminating.”

“The whole world’s like a zoo, isn’t it?” Ansel demanded, searching the Scientist’s eyes for some deeper meaning beyond her words.

“I think that’s always been true,” the Scientist said with a smile. “It has been for as long as I can remember, anyway. And that’s a long time, mind you.”

“No, I mean we’re all caged up like those animals I saw. We have no means of escape. Though I did escape, somehow.” Because the Scientist had plucked her out of her world, but the Scientist knew that and Ansel wasn’t ready to give her the credit. “But everyone else is stuck where they are.”

“My previous comment still holds true.” The Scientist nodded. “It’s been like this pretty much forever. Though I know what you mean. And yes, at one time we were using the Walker-Haley fields to fence things in, but now the entire universe consists of fences and walls, making it all but indistinguishable whether we’re in the wilderness or the reserve. There’s no separation anymore. You don’t even have to say we’re like the animals kept in the zoo that you visited. In essence, all the worlds of Earth are a part of the same network of habitats making one total zoo.”

“And you’re the zoo guard,” Ansel said, shaking her head. “You make sure everyone stays in their places and the walls stand tall and strong.”

“I brought you out of the Streets, didn’t I?” the Scientist said. “I didn’t force you to live in Six forever, the lowest of the low.”

“My parents got me out of the Streets,” Ansel snapped. “That wasn’t you. That was our own hard work, and if they hadn’t been killed, I could have gotten out of Six—or whatever you want to call it—myself.”

The Scientist chuckled. “And how do you think they got their hands on those printers that got them their promotions, huh? I got you out of the streets, I got you out of Six entirely, and I want to give you more than that. I want to give you all the worlds on a platinum platter.”

Ansel scoffed. “Yeah, right. To do what with them? Tinker and toy like you do? No thanks.”

Ba ha ha.” The Scientist shook her head, waving a finger at Ansel. It reminded her of the same gesture her mom used to make. She didn’t know whether to be endeared or angry at the reminder. “Not so fast, Ansel. You’ll want to consider this offer and consider it well.”

“Well…” Ansel said.

“Well, dear.” The Scientist smiled. “Before I give you the offer, you must first answer me one question. What is it that you want most in life?”

Ansel groaned. She had had enough of the Scientist’s pseudo-spiritual mumbo jumbo. “What if I don’t want to answer that question?” she asked, playing the Scientist at her own games.

“Then you’d be answering my question.” The Scientist grinned. “You want not to answer the question. Though I figured you’d want a little more out of life than that. Not answering one question isn’t a lot to work with.” She chuckled, pleased with herself for some stupid reason.

“What does it matter anyway?” Ansel asked.

“What could it hurt to tell me? You’re only wasting time. I know you want to hear my offer. Your curiosity’s been piqued. And I won’t tell you what the offer is until you answer my one simple question, easy as that. So what do you say? What do you want most in life?”

Ansel sighed. The Scientist was right. The worst that could happen would be that the Scientist didn’t offer her what she said she wanted. Who cares if the Scientist learns what that is? “My parents to be alive again,” she said.

“Oh, well…” A tear came to the Scientist’s eye and she quickly wiped it away with the long white sleeve of her coat, trying to be discreet. “I knew this would be your first request but I didn’t think it would hit me so hard. I’m sorry.” She wiped her eyes again. “I’m afraid resurrection’s not possible, though. Where would we be if it was? Do you have any other desires?”

Ansel shook her head. “You asked for what I wanted most in the world and I told you. Now what’s your offer?”

“My offer pales in comparison to your need for a family, Ansel. I’ve already offered you what family I can and you rejected it. Instead I’m here to offer you independence. You’re on your own now—though my offer a family still stands, mind you—but with that in mind, and resurrection off the table, what do you want?”

“Nothing! I don’t want anything else. I want everything to go back to the way it was before you killed my family!”

“What next then? What are you going to do when you leave here? Where will you go? Where do you want to go?”

Ansel worked to calm herself down, taking deep, heaving breaths. She wasn’t quite sure. She could go back to the Streets, try to hook up with Katie again, relive the life she used to live before everyone started trying to turn her into a garden flower. Or she could try to convince Pidgeon to live out in the endless mountain with her. She could teach him a few things about hunting, and he would be close enough to the elevator that he could get whatever his heart desired to eat from the Scientist’s 3D printer. Or she could go do chemistry and stare at bizarre animals with Ashley, maybe even get a white coat of her own some day. She didn’t really want to do any of those things, though, and she kind of wanted to do them all at the same time. What could she say? She couldn’t decide. “I don’t know,” she finally did say after too long thinking about it. “I want to do a lot of things.”

The Scientist smiled. “Name a few.”

“Maybe I want to go back to the Streets to find my old friends. I haven’t seen them since I moved to the Belt.”

“But you wouldn’t want to live there again, would you? Not after everything you’ve seen out here. Not now that you know how you could be living otherwise.”

“Well maybe I want to go back out to the wilderness, then. I bet I could convince Pidgeon to come with me.”

“Out there on Sisyphus’s Mountain? You think that wilderness is big enough for you?”

“No, well… I would like to do chemistry, too. Ooh, and free those animals in the zoo. They deserve a bigger wilderness as much as I do.”

The Scientist chuckled. “Well, you do want a lot of things. Don’t you?”

“Yeah, so?” Ansel crossed her arms, self-conscious and regretting that she had told the Scientist anything.

“So do you think it’s possible for you to do all of them at once?” the Scientist asked. “Do you think you can get everything you want? How likely do you think it is that you could even get one of them?”

Ansel shook her head, not saying anything. She had said too much already.

“Well, I’m here to tell you that I can give you all of them, everything you want. You won’t have to choose. I’ll give you more than that on top of it. In fact, I’ll give you everything, period. All of this. All of my power, my knowledge, my walls. I’ll teach you chemistry, show you how to control the elevators so you can get to the Streets, or the wilderness, or wherever you want to go whenever you want to be there. I’ll give you control over all the walls in existence, even the walls of the zoo where you’ll one day be the zookeeper who has the power to expand or detract the habitats as you see fit. I’ll give you all of it.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Ansel scoffed. “You would never—”

“I will, dear. I am. I’ve been building up to this all along. You were chosen from the beginning, ever since I gave your parents the printers that helped pluck you out of the streets. This has been the plan all along. Rosalind will tell you.”

Ansel looked up and Rosalind was in the room with them, hovering by the doorway. How long had she been there?

“If you’re ready to learn, girl.” Rosalind smiled.

“And if I’m not?” Ansel demanded. “What if I don’t want any of this?”

“But you just told me you did.” The Scientist stood from her chair, reminding Ansel of how tall she was. “This is everything you want. Come with me. I’ll show you.”

She took Ansel’s hand and led her out past Rosalind through the door, but they didn’t emerge into the hall. They were somewhere else, in another world entirely. A world in which reality seemed to morph and change around them. There were others there, too. Anna and Rosa, some fat guy like the babies she had seen crying at the dinner party, and a couple of people who she didn’t recognize. Ansel didn’t know what to do. She tried to turn and run but the Scientist grabbed her by the rucksack, trying to stop her. After a short tug of war and a tussle, Ansel’s bag fell to the ground between them and the tent that Rosalind had given her opened up inside, expanding until the rucksack burst, pushing the Scientist deeper into the patchwork nonsense world they had stepped into and Ansel in the opposite direction, back into the office they had come from, where she landed, stunned, at Rosalind’s feet.

“What the fuck was that?” Rosalind demanded, rushing to the door which wouldn’t open now. “Where’d you go?”

“I— I don’t know. There were people” What had she seen? It couldn’t have been real. Who was that girl among them?

The door finally opened, but only to the hall. Rosalind burst out through it then back in again. “She’s gone,” she said. “The Scientist. Come on. I need your help.”

Rosalind ran out toward the elevator and Ansel was left stammering, “I— I don’t— I—” before she forced herself to stand up and follow.

#     #     #

< LXI. Chelsea     [Table of Contents]     LXIII. Mr. Walker >

There it is, dear readers. Ansel’s next chapter. Only one more left in this novel, but if you can’t wait until next Saturday, go ahead and pick up a copy of this one, and all of them in the Infinite Limits series, through this link. Thanks again for following along this far. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 59: Anna

Hello, dear readers, and welcome back for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Today we rejoin Anna for her third and final point of view chapter in Dividing by Ø. She’s just find out what kind of bending feats the Scientist is capable of, and now she has to come up with a way to fight back, save Roo, and help poor little Mike find his missing mom all at the same time.

Enjoy the story, and if you do, please do think about leaving a review for this one and all the novels in the series through this link. Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone.

< LVIII. Laura     [Table of Contents]     LX. Roo >

LIX. Anna

That was her. That was the Scientist who had told Rosa that she was watching the Family. She had enough power to steal Rosa en route through the fields, and she had enough power to hack into Anna’s pathways, bending them to the Scientist’s own will. It had to have been her. Anna knew it. But what was she supposed to do about it?

“What the fuck was that?” the little boy who had come looking for his mom said, cowering at the foot of the stairs where he had been sitting when the doors opened and the monstrous mechanical arm came storming in to snatch the little girl away and disappear with her. “Wh—Where’s Roo?”

“Roo?” Anna shook her head. Who was Roo? She couldn’t think of anything but the Scientist’s cold grip on the universe, her power to bend and shape it, not only to her own will but against Anna’s.

“Um… Miss, uh…ma’am,” the boy squeaked in a cracking, trembling voice that was ready to break down into full on sobs at any second. Anna almost felt a tear in her eye at the sound of it. “Where’s my mom?” the boy asked, crying now. “I want to go home.”

And Anna’s tears came, too. She couldn’t stop them. The universe, and bending, and the Scientist’s control over every aspect of every tiny detail of every single human’s life evaporated from her mind. Anna had lost sight of what truly mattered. She had forgone Family and Home for power and influence, and now she was on the verge of forgetting this little boy who was standing in front of her—this little boy whose name she couldn’t even recall, only driving Anna to further tears—this little boy who had just lost his best friend in their search for his missing mother, and all he was asking for was to go home.

“Oh, child, no,” Anna said, still weeping as she moved to embrace the boy who backed away, crab crawling up a few stairs, before giving in to her hug and sobbing in rhythm with Anna’s sobs, comforted in the knowledge of being unjudged. “You are Home,” Anna went on in a soft voice. “I’m your Mother now. One of them at least. You can call me Anna.” She soon controlled her own tears and comforted the boy until he stopped weeping himself.

“W—What happened?” the boy asked, done sobbing now but still wiping tears from his eyes.

“Someone kidnapped your friend,” Anna said, patting him on the back. “Did you say her name was Roo?”

The boy nodded, looking like he could break down into tears again at any moment. “Who would do that?”

“I think I know the answer to your question, and I have a way to find out for sure. I might even be able to get your friend back. But first we need to take care of you.”

The boy shook his head, eyes welling up with tears again. “No, but— Roo, she…”

“No buts,” Anna said, standing from the stairs and pulling the boy up with her. “You look hungry. I know you just ate, but wouldn’t some dessert sound perfect?”

The boy grinned a little despite the tears still tumbling from his eyes and the rush of red blood still flushing his face. “I like ice cream,” he said. “Though Mom never buys it.”

“Of course,” Anna said, leading him upstairs to a seat at the bar in the kitchen. “That’s why you were here in the first place, wasn’t it? You were searching for your mother. What was her name again?”

“Melody Singer,” the boy said, climbing up into the stool to cross his arms and lay them on the counter. “Chocolate, please.”

Hmmm. Melody Singer,” Anna said, searching the freezer for ice cream—Rosa usually liked to keep a little around when they could find it, and she had stocked up with the printers in use. “And your name is?”

“Mike, ma’am,” the boy said with a grin. “Mike Singer. What’s yours?”

“Anna Chandelier,” Anna said, plopping a bucket of ice cream, chocolate—Rosa’s favorite, too—on the counter between them. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mike.”

The boy laughed and sniffled, wiping a big glob of snot onto his sleeve. “And you, ma’am.” He grabbed the spoon and swallowed a scoop of ice cream that looked too big to fit in his mouth.

“I only wish we could have met under better conditions,” Anna said, still standing across the bar from the boy and watching the poor child as he ate, taking each heaping spoonful straight out of the bucket. His mother was Melody Singer. She was one of the bodies who had been taken by the scum protectors, probably to be desecrated for kicks. This little boy had been through so much Hell already and it was only looking to get worse for him. Anna pitied the boy’s tiny face as he teared up again, sobbing through a big bite of ice cream because he somehow knew what Anna was about to say.

“Better conditions?” the boy asked, his trembling lips sending slops of chocolate ice cream all of the counter. “Y—You mean, my mother. She’s not at home, is she?”

Anna grabbed a towel to wipe up the mess then hurried around the counter to comfort the sobbing boy. “She was an honorable woman, your mother,” Anna said, because it was true. “She died fighting to give you a better life.”

Dead?” The boy dropped his spoon now, creating another mess which Anna ignored in order to pull him up out of the stool and into a hug. “She can’t be!” he demanded, as he fought against her, crying in anger and pain.

“No, no, no. Shhhhh. It’s okay.” Anna patted his back and rocked him like a baby, reassuring him until he settled to the occasional sob and a trickle of tears—not to mention a lot of sniffling. “She was a good woman, your mother. She was doing what she thought was best for you. She was doing what was in your best interests. She deserves our respect for that much, for everything she did for you and the Human Family in general. She was a good woman.”

Hah.” The boy scoffed, gaining enough composure finally to wriggle away from Anna and stand up, wiping the tears from his eyes and sniffling. “Yeah, right. We must be talking about different people then. Maybe my mom isn’t dead after all.”

Anna’s heart broke just a little bit at the sound of this little boy’s beautiful, tragic hope. She shook her head, fighting to hold back more tears of her own. “I wish that were true,” she forced through them.

“It is!” the boy yelled, stomping a foot. “That’s not my mom! My mom wasn’t honorable. She was an addict jumpie who forgot about her kids because she needed to… Oh my God.” The boy crumpled to his knees on the kitchen floor, bawling again. “My— What am—I— My brothers—” And his day became worse than Anna had already imagined it to be.

“W—We’ll take care of your brothers,” she said, only barely controlling her own sobs and having more trouble the more she tried to speak. “And you. But you can’t talk about your mother like that. She loved her Family.”

“You know nothing about our family!” the boy screamed. “You didn’t even know I had brothers! You’re the reason my mom’s dead. Why would I trust you to take care of us?” He looked around as if he were searching for an escape.

“Because I am your family, dear. Me and Rosa are the Family your mom’s been coming to help. She’s no jumpie.” Though she also never mentioned having any kids, but Anna wasn’t about to tell the boy that. “She was helping us, helping build a better world for you and your brothers to live in.”

The boy scoffed. “You’re a jumpie. Of course you wouldn’t admit that she was. You’re a jumpie, my mom who you got killed was, and Roo who you got kidnapped was. Now I’m getting out of here before you try to turn me into one, too, and something equally as bad happens to me.” He made for a door but it went to the office, deeper into the Family Home instead of out of it.

Anna followed him, blocking the doorway so he couldn’t escape. “I’m not a jumpie,” she said. “And neither was your mom. I’m telling you. Why won’t you listen to me?”

“Listen to you?” the boy said, still searching for an escape that Anna wasn’t going to give to him. “I am listening, but you aren’t saying anything. You keep talking about some family I’ve never even heard of, acting like it’s my family, too, when you didn’t even know I had brothers. You don’t even know their names. You probably don’t even remember my name, either, and I just told you.”

Anna tried to go back in her mind to when he had introduced himself but his name still wouldn’t come to her. Her mind was still filled with the problem of the Scientist and where she took that girl to. The only name Anna could think of was the boy’s last name so she said that. “Singer.”

“Yeah,” the boy urged her on. “That’s the easy part. What’s my first name?” He waited for an answer but Anna just couldn’t think of one. “Exactly my point,” he said. “You don’t know the rest. You don’t know me at all. I’m not who you think I am and you better let me go.” He rushed at her, trying to push through her arms to the other side of the door, and he did in a way, but only inasmuch as he and Anna fell in a tangle to the ground, both struggling to their feet and ending up in the position they had begun in, the boy searching for some way out of the office and Anna blocking his every exit.

“Hold on, hold on, now. Wait a second,” Anna said, breathing heavily. The fall and ensuing struggle had taken more out of her than she’d care to acknowledge. It made her feel so old next to this tiny young thing who would never give up fighting by the looks of him. “You’re right. Okay. You’re right. Settle down.”

The boy stopped searching for an escape for just a moment, taken aback by this admission of ignorance from so old and decayed a woman as Anna herself. Anna took his momentary lapse as a point of entry and continued her speech.

“I’ve come too far and lost my way,” she said. “But I was pushed here, Lord. I was pushed here. And you…” She paused, shaking her head and letting one tear fall from her eye, just one. “Yes, dear child of the one true Family, you are correct when you say that I know nothing about you and your maternal brothers. You are correct when you say that I have lost sight of your names. But child, sweet, innocent, pure, and living human child, you are wrong about why I have lost that sight.”

The boy made to speak but the weight of Anna’s words, and her heavy eyes staring, kept him quiet.

“You, sweet child, say that I do not care about you, that I am not your real family,” Anna went on in his silence. “You think I forgot your name because I don’t care to remember it. I say, no. No! Your face is forever in my memory after this day. Your love is forever in my heart. Your infinite potential as a free and autonomous human being is forever in my mind. But forgive me your name. Please. Name’s pile up with the years. There are too many countless whose flames have gone extinguished and whose light we must continue to reflect in order to keep them alive. Your mother: Melody Singer. Who died protecting you and your brothers from evils she hoped you would never have to face. Yujin Moon and Isha Tender, two of our Family members who died on the same day as your mother and in the same manner. The countless brothers and sisters taken from our lives on the day the protectors invaded our homes and murdered our Family for sharing our food with one another. Do you want me to list the names? I can: Billy Serkin, Rwanda Driver, Audrey Baker, John Ryder, Jason Garifo, Treyvon Baker, Aneesha Holmes. I can go on and on and on, but I won’t. I assume you get the picture. Names upon names upon names of people I personally knew and cared for. My Family. Our Family, yours and mine. And all dead for what?”

The boy just shook his head, tears all dry by now. “How am I supposed to know?” he asked. “You tell me.”

“All for you, precious child. All for you and your brothers. Your mother hid you from us because it was the only way she could hide you from the truth of the worlds, but the truth of the worlds took her so now there’s nothing left but reality from here on out. You are still a child, though. You’re vulnerable. I mean, I’m sure you could take care of yourself if it was only you who you had to worry about, but you have your brothers, too.”

“Ron and Bob.” The boy shook his head.

“You have Ron and Bob to worry about,” Anna said, sensing the boy’s interest intensify at the mere mention of solid names he recognized and could grasp onto. “You would never dream of leaving them to fend for themselves, they’re too young.”

The boy was still shaking his head. “Never,” he said. “They’re my brothers. I’m the oldest now so I’m the one who has to take responsibility for them. That’s how it works.”

Anna didn’t know whether to chuckle or to cry. The boy looked so earnest in what he said, and he probably truly believed it—and that was probably how the worlds should work—but he was oh so wrong. It was never the oldest, the humans who had been there the longest, giving them the most time to make a mess of things, who paid for all the fun and foley the Family inevitably fell into. No, it was always the youth, the next generation, the ones who had nothing do with anything, who only inherited a mess that no one could teach them how to handle because no one knew how to handle it in the first place, it was always the youngest and most vulnerable who faced the ultimate consequences of all the sins of every human who came before them.

“That is how it should go, my son,” Anna said, kind of chuckling and tearing up at the same time. “And that’s how it will go in the future that we’re building. But you’re not the oldest, you hear me? You’re too young to be taking on that much responsibility. One life is too many for you to take care of, not to mention three. No. I told you. You’re a part of the Family now. You always have been, even when we didn’t know you existed. Your mother was a dear good friend of mine, and I swear on her grave and the grave of my own mother that I’ll do everything in my power—which is a lot if you’ll excuse a momentary lapse of humbleness—to ensure that you and your brothers will have everything you need to continue your life as usual, if not more than that.”

The boy scoffed. “What?” he asked. “Like two moms?”

Anna had to suppress a grin. He had played into her hand so perfectly. “On the face of it,” she said, “yes. You will have two moms directly in myself and my partner Rosa—that is if you would like to stay here, we have more room than ever and more than enough to accommodate you—but even more than that, you’ll be gaining every single mother in the Human Family. Your mother was one of us when—God rest her soul—she was still alive, and now you will meet and be loved by the rest of us.”

“I don’t know.” The boy shook his head. “I don’t know. How do I trust you?”

“How do you trust anyone? Why did you trust your mother?”

The boy laughed. “She was always there for me. She’s my mom. Why wouldn’t I?”

“I thought you said she forgot about you and your brothers.”

“Yeah, well…” The boy was looking bashful now. “Not really, you know. Like she always came back just in time or whatever. You know. I mean, we’re still alive aren’t we?”

“You are.” Anna smiled. “More alive than ever. And your mother did everything she could to keep you that way, including working with us and making connections in the Human Family. It was her insurance. I know you don’t know what insurance is, but that’s what it was. She was making sure you and your brothers would be protected in case anything ever happened to her.”

“No, but…” The boy was fighting two sides of a lose lose battle in his head. The cognitive dissonance was visible on his face. “I don’t even know you. She would have told us something about you if she wanted this, anything.”

“She was protecting you, son. Not from us, but from everything we’re fighting against. But now, I’m afraid, the fight has come to your doorstep and you’re left only with two options. You can give up and run away, try to make it on your own protecting your two brothers by yourself, or you can join the Family that’s waiting for you, choose the option that’s best for yourself, and more importantly, choose the option that’s best for your brothers.”

“No, but…” He shook his head.

“But what? Where else do you have to go?”

He looked like he was going to burst again. This time, though, not into tears, into something else entirely, something which Anna couldn’t predict, only wait to unfold. “But—”

The front doors burst open instead, and Anna could hear it even though it was a few rooms away. Feet stomped from the door, through the conference room and kitchen, until they were stomping up behind Anna who turned to see Rosa as pissed as she had ever been. “Anna! Anna!” she called as she stormed through the Home. “You’ll never believe what the—” She stopped in her tracks when she saw the kid, still trying to decide what his future would be. “Who’s this?”

“Oh, I…” Anna said, glancing between them.

“Mike,” the boy said, saving Anna from the embarrassment of still not remembering. “Mike Singer, newest member of the Family—apparently.”

“Mike Singer?” Rosa said.

Mike,” Anna said, embracing him. “Really?”

“You said so yourself,” he said, squirming away a little but not trying too hard. “I can’t take care of my brothers myself, can I? I need a family. I need you.”

“Yes, yes, oh yes,” Anna said, kissing him on the head then turning to Rosa. “Did you hear that, Rosa dear? You’ll never believe it. We have three new children.”

Great,” Rosa said, rolling her eyes. Obviously the meeting about the movie didn’t go too well or else she would be in a better mood. “Just what we need. some kids running around the House with all the new guns we have.”

“Guns?” Mike said, wide eyed and excited by the prospect.

“I told you I didn’t want them in the House,” Anna said. She had forgotten about that little discussion in her need to overpower the Scientist, but now that she remembered it, she would have to be sure to take extra precautionary measures in storing the armory away so the kids couldn’t get to it.

“And I told you we had no other choice,” Rosa said. “We’ve talked about this already and I don’t have time to go over it again. Any arguments?” She shot a look at the kid which Anna thought didn’t bode well for the future of their growing nuclear family. “No? Then if you’ll excuse me,” she stepped between them into the office and gently showed them out, “I have some planning to get underway and there’s no time to waste. Good day.” And she slammed the door behind her.

“Shit,” Mike said, holding a hand to his mouth as if Anna would chastise him for using the word. “I mean, she was cranky.”

“You must forgive her,” Anna said, showing Mike back to the kitchen. “It’s been a rough day on her—a rough few weeks, as a matter of fact. She’s not always like this, though. I promise that, cross my heart. She’ll warm up to you and your brothers. You’ll see.”

“Um, yeah. About that,” Mike said, playing with the hem of his shirt. “So does that mean we’re supposed to move in here or what? We wouldn’t be able to stay in our own place, would we?”

“Oh, no.” Anna shook her head. “I’m afraid that’s impossible. There’s no telling what would happen when the owners of the apartment found you boys living there without paying rent, but I can tell you for sure that, whatever it is, it won’t be good. No, you’re going to have to go get your brothers right now and pack all your things up then come back here where we can set you up with a room of your own.”

“I get my own bed, though, right?” Mike asked, holding up a finger as if his question were a demand and this conversation some kind of negotiation. “I’m not sharing again after I only just got my own. Waking up in a puddle of pee every night is no way to live.”

“Of course, dear. Each of you can have your own bed. Bunk beds, as a matter of fact. Three stacked on top of each other. You hurry up and get your brothers, then I’ll show you.”

“Bunk beds?” Mike said, excited, scurrying for the front door now that he knew which it was. “I call top!” he said and he slammed the door behind him, off to bring two other new children back into the Family. Oh how it continued to grow.

Anna groaned. All she wanted to do was get back on the consoles to hunt the Scientist and the missing girl, but she knew she had to see what was bothering Rosa first—problems with the execution of her precious movie, no doubt. Anna had tried to tell her that Threes couldn’t be trusted, their entire profession was lying, but Rosa insisted that they needed professionals to do the job if they wanted it done right.

Rosa was sitting behind her desk, scribbling in one of the many notebooks that were strewn all around the office, when Anna entered. Rosa didn’t look up at the sound of the door opening or closing, or even at the feel of Anna’s hands massaging her too tense shoulders. She only looked up when the thought in her head was all out on the paper, and then she did it with a sigh. “You won’t believe what I just went through,” she said, shaking her head and getting into the massage now. Finally her muscles started to loosen. “Though it sounds like you’ve had an adventure of your own today.”

Anna chuckled, shaking her head though Rosa couldn’t see the gesture. “Besides the three kids we just adopted,” Rosa groaned, “another one was kidnapped right out of our basement.”

“Out of our basement?” Rosa asked, turning to look at Anna. “How? By who?”

“The Scientist,” Anna said, crossing around to take a seat on the other side of the desk so Rosa wouldn’t have to crane her already tense neck. “And some giant robot arm. I’m pretty sure I can find where she took the girl to, though—and get us there, which might be even harder.”

“Great.” Rosa sighed. “Just what we need on top of everything we’re already facing.”

“So how’d your meeting go, then?” Anna asked, trying to change the subject even though she could already predict the answer to her own question based on Rosa’s mood.

“Horrible. Terrible. No good. Very bad. Worse than I could have imagined. Worse still because of our dear Lord Walker’s involvement. I’m not sure we can rely on this project to spread our message at all anymore. It may be time to abort the mission entirely and start over at a more opportune time.”

“That bad, huh?” There weren’t likely to be any more opportune times than this one. Now was the moment they had been waiting their entire lives for.

“Worse. They’re not following the script we agreed on.”

“I told you we shouldn’t have given them their equipment until after they shot the movie for us.”

“But then they couldn’t have shot the movie at all.” Rosa sighed. “We had no choice.”

“So how different can it be, though?” Anna asked. “Can’t we just make them change it back?”

“Too different.” Rosa scoffed. “It’s still anti-robot, but that’s only half the message—the less important half, at that. All mention of the Family and its supreme importance: Whoosh.” She made a gesture with her hands as if they were flying out the window.

“But we had an agreement.” That was worse than Anna had thought it could be. She didn’t care nearly as much about the anti-robot message as the pro-Family one. To her, that was pretty much the entire message, not just half of it. “We’ll make them change it or take back everything we’ve given them. It’s the only way we can respond.”

“Oh, I’ve thought of that already,” Rosa said, chuckling and shaking her head. “That was my first thought, in fact. But I’m afraid it’s impossible. Our great and powerful Lord Walker has taken control of things, and anything we took from those no good Threes would simply be returned to them from Lord Walker’s own stores. In the end it means nothing to any of them who they’re working for or which of our printers their equipment comes out of, they just want to work.”

Great.” No wonder Rosa was ready to scrap the project altogether. Anna would have no problem scrapping it, either, if the pro-Family message wasn’t going to be included, but, “Wouldn’t Lord Walker just continue filming without us anyway? So what’s the point in scrapping the project?”

“That’s the exact point,” Rosa said with a big smile. “We sacrifice this project because we’re not going to be able to change their minds, and they’ll still make half our message without us doing any work. This way we can direct our time and attention toward tactics with a higher chance of success and revisit this one if it becomes feasible again in the future.” She leaned back in her chair, satisfied with her assessment of the situation but not looking happy about it.

“And what tactics did you have in mind, exactly?”

“I’ve been waiting for you to ask just that,” Rosa said, leaning forward again and putting her arms on the desk. “I think we should leave our Lord to his play acting—never alerting him to our exit from the project, of course—while we get back to reality.”

“I wish you’d stop calling him Lord,” Anna complained, smacking her lips like she had a disgusting taste in her mouth. “It sounds so blasphemous.”

“Whatever,” Rosa said, waving her hands. “That’s not the point. He’s nothing compared to our Lord, and he has nothing to do with what I plan next, anyway.”

“Which is…” Anna said, slightly comforted by Rosa’s words.

“Which is to bring the fight to the people who deserve it the most, to bring it to the things that cause all our problems in the first place. I’ve had enough of dealing with flabby, fat tuxedoed owners and slippery, sly, lying Threes. It’s time for us to take our fate into our own hands by taking the fight to the robots’ front door.”

“The robots’ front door?” Anna scoffed. “Do you even know where that is?”

Rosa twiddled her thumbs on the desk and put on her puppy dog—I’m innocent of any evil ever—face that Anna knew all too well. “Well, darling.” Rosa smiled, a twinkle in her eye. “That’s where you come in.”

“Of course.” Anna sighed. “And do you have any idea how hard it is to do something like that? Do you know how much work it takes? The energy?”

“I know that my Nanna is the greatest four dimensional composer known to all of Humankind. I know you can do it.” She smiled wider. “I know I love you.”

Anna scoffed despite her blushing grin. “And how do you know all that when you don’t even know the work it takes?”

“Because I know my Nanna Banana,” Rosa said, coming around the desk to sit on Anna’s lap and kiss her all over her face. “She can do anything in that fourth dimension of hers. She’s the Queen of it, master and commander.” Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss. “You are, though, aren’t you? You can do it,” Rosa said, standing and going around to massage Anna’s back. “You can do it.”

Anna groaned in pleasure as her muscles gave way to Rosa’s touch. “Well, yes,” she said. “That is,” she added, correcting herself so as to not sound too pretentious. “I think I can find your robots for you—not that I think I’m the Queen of the Fourth Dimension, or whatever you called me.”

Rosa laughed. “I call ‘em like I see ‘em.” She retook her seat behind the desk. “So you really think you can find them?”

“Yes.” Anna nodded. “I do. On two conditions.”

“Go ahead.” Rosa smiled.

“One: You have to come down there in the basement with me while I do it so you can see just how much work it takes. Maybe then you won’t be so willy nilly about how you throw the fourth dimension into your plans in the future.”

Rosa chuckled. “I can do that. What’s number two?”

“We talk about the kids before we do anything.”

Rosa groaned. Anna knew this would be the only way to get her to discuss the matter, though, so she pressed on. “They need us,” she said. “They need a Family, Rosa, and their mother died helping ours.”

“And why them?” Rosa asked, shrugging. “Why not one of the countless other human children across Six—and beyond—who all need the same exact thing?”

Anna hadn’t exactly thought about that. How many other Mikes were there out there? How many orphans were created on the day the protectors came storming through their streets, guns ablazing and looking for a target? Too many, Anna was sure, but they would have to wait. First she would take care of these three who were right in front of her, then she would take care of the Scientist who had created the androids and promoted the killing of her Family, then she’d take care of the rest of the needy children after all of that. “Because these three landed on our doorstep,” Anna finally said. “Because their mother was killed in our assault on the protector’s facilities and that makes us more culpable in their situation than the situations of the other orphans in Six. Because I already told the boy we’d give him and his brothers a place to stay. And because we have more than enough food and room to accommodate them with our countless transporter rings and printers.”

“Well, when you put it that way,” Rosa said, giving in. She had fought too many battles already that day to keep arguing this unwinnable one. “What about the guns?”

“I’ll keep the armory on lockdown,” Anna said. “And you’ll make sure everyone else keeps close track of theirs. In the meantime, we’ll teach the kids proper safety precautions. Everything will be fine as long as we’re not stupid about it.”

“And maybe we can get a few more little soldiers out of it.” Rosa chuckled.

Anna frowned, even if it was just a joke.

“Alright, alright. I was just kidding,” Rosa said. “Can we go find those robots now? I want to set the battle plans as soon as I can.”

“So that’s it?” Anna asked. “You agree just like that, now on to what you wanted to talk about in the first place?”

“Well, did you want me to argue further?”

“No. Of course not. But I do want you to actually consider what you’re agreeing to, Rosa. We’ll be their parents for the rest of their lives. There’s no turning our back on that responsibility once we’ve agree to bear it.”

“Which you already did,” Rosa said.

“Yeah, but—”

“So there’s nothing more to discuss until the kids actually get here, right?”

“I guess, but—”

“Then let’s do what’s best for the Family and find those robots.”

Anna cracked a smile despite her annoyance with Rosa’s flippancy. “You know, you’re lucky I want to find that Scientist so bad,” she said.

“Oh yeah?” Rosa asked, crossing her eyes. “Why’s that?”

“Because I think we’ll find her and the robots in the same place. Now come on.” Anna grabbed Rosa by the hand and led her down to the basement.

“Well, then,” Rosa said. “Demonstrate, my Queen of the Fourth Dimension.”

“Stop that,” Anna said, chuckling and slapping Rosa on the arm. “Now look. You see this?” She flipped both consoles on at once and set them into motion.

“Yeah, so?” Rosa shrugged.

“This is the solution to all your problems. Look at this.” She tapped and swiped a few times, one hand on each console, to bring up a map of all seven worlds spanning both the screens. “This is the universe as you know it.”

“I don’t see anything,” Rosa said, but Anna didn’t hear her. She wasn’t paying attention anymore. Something was going on in the fourth dimension that she had never seen before. She swiped and typed and clicked and tapped. The notes of the universe arranged themselves into patterns so complex as to be impossible. She searched for a source, expecting to find the Scientist in control of this symphony, but it came from somewhere else, somewhere familiar. Then she knew where it was.

Anna looked up from the consoles, calling, “The girl!” but even though Rosa was there to hear her, it was too late. The basement had vanished around them and they were in a new world entirely. A world like nothing Anna had ever seen before.

 

#     #     #

< LVIII. Laura     [Table of Contents]     LX. Roo >

So there ends another chapter. Anna has found someone bending space beyond what she thought possible and now she’s stuck in the new world created by said power. Read on next week to find out if Anna escapes the danger she finds herself in, or if you can’t wait that long, pick up a full copy of the novel through this link.

Thanks again for joining us, dear readers. We do nothing alone. Now have a great weekend.

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 55: Ansel

Hello, dear readers. Today we return to Ansel’s story. She’s found a way off of Sisyphus’s mountain through the seams of reality and now she’s forced to face another brand new world entirely. Discover what she finds there in this next chapter of the Infinite Limits saga, and please do think about picking up a full copy of this and any of the other novels in the series through this link.

Thanks again for reading along, dear readers. Enjoy the story.

< LIV. Chelsea     [Table of Contents]     LVI. Mr. Walker >

LV. Ansel

“I asked you first,” the boy said, standing from where he had been knocked down by Ansel and brushing himself off. She could see that he was a boy now and that he was wearing a long white coat just like the Scientist’s.

“So,” Ansel said, picking up her rucksack and wishing she had come up with a better response than “So”.

“So?” The boy scoffed. “So you should answer first, that’s what. It’s common courtesy.”

“And what if I don’t answer you at all?” Ansel asked, crossing her arms, stuck in this ridiculous line of reasoning because of her earlier one word response. “What if I don’t trust that you’ll answer my question in return?”

The boy laughed now, but when Ansel gave him a look he stopped. “Wait,” he said. “You’re serious? Why wouldn’t I? Sharing information costs me nothing and maybe you could do something useful with the knowledge. As to why you wouldn’t give me your name, I don’t see any good reason for you not to. I mean, our conversation would certainly be more productive if we knew each other’s names. Don’t you think?”

Ansel couldn’t argue with that. She wasn’t quite sure why she was arguing in the first place. Maybe she just didn’t want to trust anybody anymore. “I’m Ansel,” she said with a shrug.

“Hello, Ansel,” the boy said, holding out a gloved hand for her to shake. “I’m Ashley.”

Ansel scoffed. “Ashley?”

“Yes, well, I answered your question, didn’t I? That’s my name. So what’s the problem?”

“Well, that’s a…” Ansel didn’t know how to else to say it so she just put it bluntly. “That’s a girl’s name and you’re a boy.”

“I’m not a boy!” Ashley insisted, crossing his arms and tapping one foot.

Ansel couldn’t argue with that, either. She knew how much she hated it when people tried to tell her she was a girl when she knew she wasn’t one, and now here she was doing the same exact thing to this bo—eher—Ashley. “I’m—uh—I’m sorry,” she stuttered. “I didn’t mean to… I’m just sorry.”

“Good,” Ashley said, nodding and uncrossing his arms. “And in the future don’t go around assuming things when you only have limited evidence. You’ll end up making a bigger fool of yourself than you already have.” He picked up a heavy bag and strapped it over one shoulder, making to lug it away and leave Ansel behind without another word.

Uh, wait,” Ansel said, stopping him. He looked pretty irritated to be standing there with the heavy bag over his shoulder. “Where are you going?” she asked. “Where are we now?” She hadn’t taken the time to look around before, but now that she did, she was a little unsettled by the place. They were standing in a long, dark, slightly curved tunnel with cement walls and metal grating for a floor. Maybe going through that seam wasn’t such a good idea after all. It didn’t look like she’d be able to find food or water anywhere near this tunneled labyrinth of caves, and her minimal supplies were only enough to last a day or so at most.

“I’m going home,” Ashley said, his voice straining against the weight on his shoulder. “My shift’s over and you’re here to relieve me. So on that note, goodbye.” He started to walk again, his feet clanging on the metal grating with every heavy step.

“Wait, relieve you?” Ansel said, rushing over and taking his bag off his shoulder to let it fall with an echoing bang on the metal floor. “What are you talking about?”

Ashley groaned. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You have been through training, haven’t you? Let me guess, you don’t even have your own interface.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Ansel shrugged. “I don’t even know what an interface is.”

Great.” Ashley sighed, bending over to open his bag and fish a big heavy computer tablet out of it. “Just what I needed. You know, I don’t get enough credit to waste my time training newbies. I have other shit to do.”

“I don’t need any—”

“Look. It’s okay. You can use mine this once, but you have to bring it back to me right after your shift. You got it?”

“Would you listen to me?” Ansel said, stomping her foot with a loud clang. “I don’t have any shift. I don’t need any training. And I’m not here to relieve you. I just need you to tell me where I am and how I can get out of this stupid tunnel.”

Ashley stared at her, blank faced, taken aback by Ansel’s aggressiveness and finally at a loss for words.

“Well…” Ansel said. “You had answers for everything else. Why not this?”

“I—uh— Who are you now?” Ashley asked, taking a step back from her.

“I’m Ansel. I already told you that. Now it’s your turn. Where am I?”

“How did you get here if you don’t know where you are?” Ashley asked, taking another step back. “Who are you?”

I’m Ansel,” Ansel repeated. “How many times do I have to tell you? I came through the seams the elevators travel through and now I’m here. Where is here, and how do I get out of this stupid cement tunnel?”

The seams.” Ashley said, excited, stepping forward now and apparently over his initial fears. “What seams? What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Ansel said. “The seams between the edges of the worlds. I think it’s the same sort of way an elevator travels between them.”

“But you didn’t take the elevator?” He was putting the interface, or whatever, into his bag now and fishing some other foreign tool out of it. “You walked through the fields without any protection?” He waved a little beeping and flashing wand in front of her, apparently communicating some meaning to Ashley who was staring at it rather than Ansel as he spoke.

“No elevator,” Ansel said. “Not this time. I hate those things. And besides, do you see any elevator doors around here?”

“Of course not,” Ashley said, still scanning her with the wand. “But you could have ridden an elevator near here then walked the rest of the way.”

“Hey, cut that out!” Ansel pushed the wand away and stepped back from Ashley now. “All I need to know is how to get out of these stupid tunnels, alright. Leave your little beeping scanner doohickies for someone else.”

Ashley chuckled. “Doohickies? Hardly. If you came through the fields unprotected, there’s no telling what you passed through—or for that matter, what passed through you. This here little doohickey might just save your life. Now, can you read this?” He held the wand too close to her face for her to see anything.

Ansel snatched it out of his hand to get a better look. “Sonic Scanner,” she read.

“Good. Very good,” Ashley said, snatching the scanner back. “That means you have no spatial distortions. You came out facing the same way as you were when you went in. Getting flipped around’s not a fatal outcome, of course, but it would be rather annoying to deal with if you ask me.”

“Whatever.” Ansel sighed. “I’ve had about enough of this examination. If you’re not going to show me which way is out, I’ll just find it on my own. Good bye and good riddance.” She stomped loudly down the dark tunnel, picking a direction at random.

Uh, I wouldn’t go that way,” Ashley said, re-packing his bag and hefting it up over his shoulder. “The security bots will stop you if you try. I’m surprised they haven’t noticed you yet as it is. Come on. Let’s go this way. I’ll show you.”

Ansel hesitated, not sure if she wanted to trust this guy just yet—she had made plenty of judgement errors in deciding who to trust lately and she didn’t need to add another mistake to that list—but in the end she didn’t really have a choice either way.

“We’ll get something to eat, too,” Ashley said, starting his slow trudge up the tunnel and limping from the weight of his bag over one shoulder. “Come on. We have so much to talk about.”

Ansel hesitated again but only for show this time. She knew he was her best bet in finding out where she was, whether she trusted him or not. After a moment’s wait to let him think she wasn’t too eager to join him, she jogged to catch up and followed him to an elevator.

“I hate these things,” Ansel said as the doors slid closed.

“I love them,” Ashley said, dropping his bag with a thud. “Dorms, please.”

“Dorms?” Ansel said, and her stomach grumbled—she wasn’t sure if it was out of hunger or because the floor falling out from underneath her made the butterflies in her stomach scatter.

“Don’t worry,” Ashley said. “It’s not like I’m inviting you up to my room or anything. You can wait in the lobby. I just have to drop this bag off. It’s too—ugh—heavy.” He lifted it up on his shoulders with a huff as the doors slid open.

Ansel tried to say that she could take care of herself whether it was in the lobby, in his bedroom, or anywhere else in all the worlds, but she couldn’t form words when she saw what the elevator doors opened onto. This was no lobby. It couldn’t be. It was outside. It looked like the wilderness with the endless mountains she had just escaped from, like a tiny patch of the green belt without the skyscraper walls closing it in on either side.

“Well, come on,” Ashley said, already on his way through the grass. “There’s a bench by the bubble. You can wait for me there if you don’t want to come up to my room. Let’s go.”

Ansel forced her jaw shut and hurried to catch up. “This is the lobby?” she asked, stupidly, regretting it instantly.

“That it is. Pretty lame, huh? But it could be worse.”

“Worse?” What was this guy talking about? He didn’t know how good he had it. “Are there any animals?”

Ugh. Yes. Tons of squirrels and rabbits. And beware, they will charge at you for any little crumb of food. They’ve gotten pretty mean lately, but they usually stick by the pond so as long you stay away from there, you should be safe.”

“There’s a pond?”

“Well, duh,” Ashley chuckled, setting his bag on a little bench under a huge oak tree that was hung with ivy. “This isn’t Pennbrook. We have some class here. Though—what am I saying?—there’s no telling where you come from. You probably have no idea at all what I’m blathering on about, do you? Here. You wait right here and I’ll be right back.” He hefted up his bag one more time and carried it into a little glass bubble near the bench. The doors of the bubble slid closed and the translucent thing carried Ashley up into the sky to disappear behind the fluffy white clouds.

Ansel set her rucksack on the bench then sat beside it to take in this new wilderness. It seemed larger than the one she had come from, but maybe that was only because there was no mountain to give her perspective. There were no hills at all, in fact, only flat ground and trees too thick to see through in every direction. It didn’t really seem like a forest, though. It was more like a bunch of trees.

Ansel stood and paced in front of the bench, getting anxious. What was taking this kid so long and when was someone going to figure out that she didn’t belong there? There weren’t many people around, sure, and plenty of space for them to spread out into, but the few that Ansel did see were all wearing the same long white coat that Ashley was—like it was some kind of uniform or something. It made Ansel feel self-conscious about the new jeans and t-shirt that had so shortly ago made her feel more comfortable than she’d ever felt wearing clothes.

Where was she anyway? Ugh.

Maybe she shouldn’t wait for this Ashley kid to come back, after all. She had promised herself to be more careful about trusting strangers, and here she was waiting for one to come and take her who knows where. Maybe she should just go find that pond he was talking about and hunt those squirrels and rabbits, whatever they were. They probably tasted good. Why else would someone stock this wilderness with them?

She had gathered her rucksack and decided to go do just that when the bubble came back down out of the sky, carrying Ashley in his long white coat. “You’re not planning on ditching me, are you?” he asked as the pod doors slid open. “I’ve got so many questions I need to ask you before you go.”

Well, she was planning on ditching him, but it was too late for that now. “Nah,” she lied. “I saw you coming. I was just getting ready.”

“Let’s go, then,” Ashley said. “You said you were hungry, right? Well come on.” He waved her on back toward the elevator they had ridden in on. Getting into it after him, Ansel noticed the elevator was in a wooden shack just like the elevator in the wilderness outside of the Scientist’s window. In fact, the shack looked like an exact replica. “Dining Hall,” Ashley said as the doors closed, and his stomach grumbled while the elevator fell into motion. “I guess I’m pretty hungry myself,” he said with a blush.

The elevator stopped and the doors opened onto a huge dining room filled with long tables that were half empty. The floor was white vinyl, the tables and chairs were silvery and metallic, and every single person besides Ansel was wearing a long white coat.

“Well, come on,” Ashley said after some time of Ansel staring at the scene from the safety of the elevator. “Let’s get some food, then we can talk.”

“I don’t know,” Ansel said, hesitating, still standing in the elevator door and preventing it from closing. “I don’t feel right. I wish I had one of those white coats. I look like a Street orphan trying to pass herself off as a Day Schooler.”

Ashley looked at her as if he hadn’t even known she were wearing clothes until she mentioned them. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t even notice they were different.” But now that she had pointed it out, Ansel could tell that he couldn’t stop noticing.

“Well, someone will notice,” Ansel said. “And when they do, it won’t be hard to figure out that I don’t belong here. Then what would they do with me? I don’t need any protectors ruining my plans.”

“Protectors?” Ashley chuckled. “Protectors haven’t existed since 3D printers were invented. There’s no need for them anymore. They’re ancient history. I promise. You don’t have anything to worry about. Now come on out of that elevator, someone’s probably trying to use it.”

Ansel scoffed. “Then the 3D printer hasn’t been invented yet,” she said. “I’ve seen protectors and I know they exist. You can fuck with them if you want to, but I’m getting out of here so I don’t get caught. Doors close.”

The elevator doors tried to close but Ashley stuck his arm inside to stop them before they could. “Wait,” he said. “Hold on a second. You see, that kind of information is exactly what I want to talk to you about. You can’t leave.”

“Well I’m not going in there looking like this,” Ansel said, crossing her arms. “I won’t do it. That would be stupid and dangerous.”

Hmmm.” Ashley thought about it for a moment. “Okay, well, here.” He started to take off his jacket. “Take mine. You’ll look like you belong here so no one will mess with you, and I actually do so it won’t matter if they try messing with me.” He held out the jacket with a smile.

Ansel hesitated. She wasn’t sure his logic was sound, but she was getting pretty hungry and she still had no idea where she was or where she was trying to get to. “Alright. I guess,” she said, begrudgingly taking the coat and slipping it on. It fit her perfectly and smelled like something attached to a distant memory she couldn’t quite put her finger on. “But if anyone starts acting suspicious, I’m out of here.”

“And I won’t stop you,” Ashley said with a big smile. “You say the word and I’ll show you back to the seam where I found you—or you found me—whatever.”

Ansel nodded. “Good. Let’s go get some food then.”

He led her between the tables, and at first Ansel was still worried that she was going to be found out, but she came to recognize that no one there was paying any attention to her. They were all too busy with their own lives, doing their own things. Some were arguing with one another—across tables and up and down them—about a subject matter that must have been important from the tones of their voices. Peppered among the debaters, sitting at tables all alone even if sitting right next to one another in body, were others who furiously clicked and typed on tiny computer screens, working on something equally as important as the debates going on around them. None of them from either group were really even eating, it seemed, and those who were only did it with one hand or through a mouth full of words, more worried about subjects far beyond basic human needs for nourishment.

The line they waited in for food was short and quick. Each person ordered the same thing without thinking, and the printer dashed it off, no questions asked. When it was their turn to order, Ashley said, “One special, and a—uh…” and he looked to Ansel.

She froze. She didn’t know what she wanted to eat. She never knew. There were always way too many things to choose from, and she had no way of knowing what this Ashley might think was weird food to order. Before she went into full meltdown mode, agonizing over the decision, Ansel went with the only thing she could think of, the same choice she usually made during anxiety breakdowns, following the crowd. “Same,” she said.

“And one special,” Ashley said with a grin. The printer hummed into motion and soon Ashley was handing Ansel a tray and leading the way to a table. He started to sit at one that was already filled with people until Ansel urged him to move to a more secluded area. Even with the jacket she didn’t really feel comfortable being out there in the open like that.

“So,” Ashley said through a bite of his sandwich, the same sandwich Ansel was chewing on. The special was apparently the same meal she had gotten for lunch when she let the 3D printer order for her in the Scientist’s kitchen: soup and a sandwich. “I have so much to ask you I don’t even know where to start.”

Ansel scoffed, poking at her sandwich. She should have ordered wild game, that was what she really wanted to eat, not this sliced, pre-made cold sandwich. “How about you start by answering some of my questions,” she said.

“Splendid idea,” Ashley said, spitting a little half-chewed bit of food across the table in his excitement. “Your questions should be as informative as my answers. Even more so, probably.”

“Well, okay,” Ansel said, stirring her soup. She didn’t really believe what he said, but she didn’t mind the flattery. “So where am I?”

“Where are you? Hmmm.” Ashley dropped his sandwich, really thinking about the question. “That all depends on how you mean.”

Ugh.” This wasn’t getting anywhere fast. “What do you mean how I mean? I mean where am I?”

“Well, you’re sitting right there aren’t you? But that isn’t a very useful answer.”

“No. It’s not. It’s a little too obvious.”

Exactly,” Ashley said, clapping his hands. “Too specific. Already known. I could say you’re in the dining hall of Tulane Advanced STEM Academy, too, but that would be equally useless for you.”

“What’s the Tulane Advanced Stem Academy?”

“You hit the nail on the head again.” Ashley laughed. “Though technically true, the statement relies on knowledge inaccessible to you, rendering the truth it holds once again moot.”

“Oh my God,” Ansel said, putting her head down on the table, almost in her soup. “Can you tell me anything useful?”

“God?” Ashley grinned. “Now that’s an archaic term. And finally we find some small illumination of the matter at hand. May I ask you a question now? Have you ever heard the word of Sic bo?”

Ansel groaned, raising her head to look at him and actually spilling some of her soup with the motion. “I don’t know. Is it something useful?”

Ashley chuckled. “About as useful as God most of the time, if you ask me, but in this instance rather useful as it appears to be a key to your origins.”

“My origins?”

“Your origins. From the Latin oriri meaning to rise, become visible, or appear, sometimes used to mean zero on the Cartesian coordinate plane. Your origin is thus the center or your world, where you came from. So, have you ever heard of Sic bo?”

Ansel shook her head.

“And Mother Maria, ruler of fate?”

“What does this have to do with anything?” Ansel complained. “I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions.”

“I’ll take that as a no, and I’m not surprised by the fact, either. It’s further evidence in support of the hypothesis that you, Ansel, are not from this world at all—maybe not even from this country or time period for all I know, but more evidence is required before making further inferences.”

“I’m from the Streets,” Ansel said, fighting back unexpected tears from the memory of them. “I don’t know what world you’re from, and I don’t know what a country is, but I do know that I’m from the Streets.”

“The streets? You see? I mean, is that even in America?”

“What’s America?”

Ashley made to speak then stopped. He put a hand to his chin and shook his head. “I— Well, it’s— You know… our country.”

“Whose country?”

Us. The people who live here. The people who think and create here, moving America’s technology forward. Who else is there?”

Ansel chuckled. She had no idea what this guy was talking about anymore, and the only way she could respond without lashing out or crying was with laughter. “Who are you even?” she asked.

Ashley had to think about that one, too. “You know,” he said after some time. “I’ve never really pondered that one, either. You ask a lot of questions I’ve never even thought of. This is amazing.”

“Well while you do ponder it, maybe you can figure out how to tell me where I am, then more importantly, how to get out of here. I think I’m done with this place.”

No,” Ashley said without hesitation. “You can’t go yet. I have so much to learn.”

“Well I’m not learning anything, Ash. So what’s the point?”

He smiled wide. “I know how I can explain where you are and maybe find out where you’re from at the same time.”

Ansel shook her head, not believing him. “And what about where I want to go?”

“That, too. All of it.” He stood fast from his seat, knocking it over with a clang. “Come on. I’ll show you.” He grabbed Ansel’s hand and pulled her to the elevator, leaving her just enough time to grab her rucksack in the process. “Lab,” he said when the doors closed behind them.

“Lab?” Ansel said. “No, I’m not going back there.”

“Back?” Ashley scoffed. “You’ve never been to my lab before.”

Ansel calmed down, blushing. All this time she had thought that there was only the one lab, the Scientist’s Lab, she had no idea it was a general word like kitchen or bedroom.

The elevator doors opened onto a short hall that looked just like the Scientist’s. Ansel fought her urge to push Ashley out of the elevator and ride it back to the wilderness lobby where she could live in peace and instead followed him through the hall to the door at the other end.

“Are you ready?” he asked, holding his hand on the doorknob.

Ansel nodded

Ashley opened the door to reveal a room that looked exactly like the Scientist’s office—the smaller one Ansel had only been in a few times—but instead of looking out onto a line of assembly line workers, the window here looked out onto the same scene as the window in Rosalind’s giant office—the wilderness scene with the endless mountains which Ansel had climbed over and over and over before travelling through the seams to literally run into Ashley.

“So what do you think?” Ashley asked, scurrying to the desk where he flipped on the big bank of monitors—just like the Scientist’s only a little smaller.

“I’ve seen better,” Ansel said, casually strolling to stand behind him and drop her bag. “That view’s kind of played out, isn’t it?”

“I like the mountain,” Ashley said, defensively, still typing and clicking at the computer. “It reminds me of Sisyphus. I could only imagine what it would look like to stand atop that mountain.”

Ansel scoffed. “I don’t know what Sisyphus is, but it’s not that great of a view up there. It’s kind of annoying, really, to see all those mountains and know that you’ll never be able to climb them all. And I’m telling you that from experience.”

Ashley stopped typing to turn and stare at her. “No,” he said, jaw dropped. “You haven’t. You couldn’t have. That would mean that you—”

I did,” Ansel said, smiling and nodding, proud of herself. “That’s where I came from when I ran into you.” She pointed out the window. “I stood on that mountaintop before I traveled unprotected through the elevator seams into your tunnels.”

“No way. Uh uh. Impossible,” Ashley said, clicking and typing away again. “Look at this.” A complicated diagram came up on the bank of screens. Ansel wasn’t sure, but it looked kind of like a three dimensional map. “There’s only one way into that sector and it’s too heavily guarded for anyone to get into or out of, much less both.”

“Well I did,” Ansel said, beaming—and blushing a little bit, becoming a little full of herself for some reason. “Now how do I get back?”

“You don’t.” Ashley scoffed. “I don’t even know how you claim to have gotten in there in the first place, but it’s out of the question to go back.”

“That’s shit,” Ansel complained. “You told me you could help me find where I wanted to go. I want to go back there, to where I can at least hunt for my own food. So are you going to help me do it or what?”

“Hunt for food? Now you’re really crazy.”

“I am not, and I don’t care what you think. I’m leaving.” Ansel stormed out of the room but she didn’t emerge into the hallway. She would have complained about how hard those stupid doors were to operate, but she was distracted by what she saw. The room she had gone into was filled with the same type of glassware she had seen in the Scientist’s big lab, these vials and beakers filled with variously colored chemicals in different states of matter—Rosalind had already taught Ansel a little bit about chemistry in her short stay with them. Ansel rushed over to get a closer look at a particularly bright red concoction that was boiling, steaming, and mixing with a colorless gas to form a new green liquid, when Ashley rushed up and pulled her back from the table. “Be careful,” he said. “I’ve been working on that set up for weeks. Don’t mess it up.”

“What is it?”

“Chemistry homework. I hate chemistry.” He grimaced. “I don’t see how it’s ever supposed to be useful for a spatial physics major, but they make us all take the basic science classes and that includes the worst of them, chemistry.”

Ansel scoffed. “This is basic?”

Ashley blushed. “Yeah, well, I got held back in my first few attempts. None of those being my fault, of course.

“But what are you doing?” Ansel asked, ignoring his embarrassment.

“Making some inorganic something or other. Ugh. I can’t even remember anymore. Does it matter?”

UhYeah,” Ansel said. “It’s pretty much the coolest thing you’ve shown me since I’ve been here.”

“My homework? Wow. You know, there’s a lot cooler stuff around here. You should see the zoo. We have actual four dimensional animals, though all you can really see are their projections on our 3D space, of course.”

“Zoo?”

Ashley laughed. “Yeah, you know, a place where they keep animals to look at. It’s much better than stupid chemistry, and it’ll help me explain where you are. Come on. It’s not going to make sense until I show you.”

Ansel didn’t want to leave the shimmering colorful glass paradise, but she would like to see some strange new animals—and maybe even figure out what that long eared rat she had eaten in the shade of the endless mountain was. She followed Ashley down the hall and into the elevator where he said, “Zoo.”

“So you just keep the animals caged up or something?” Ansel asked. “Is it so they’re easier to eat?”

“Eat?” Ashley chuckled. “Mother Maria, no. Of course not. It’s so we can study them. And preserve most of them, really. There aren’t many species that aren’t endangered these days.”

Ansel nodded, not entirely sure what he meant, but at the same time not wanting to make a fool of herself. She thought she could understand the word species from context clues—it was a type of animal—but endangered was a little more difficult. Ansel knew what danger was—probably a lot more so than this white coated kid would ever understand it—but she still had no idea what it meant to be endangered. Was she endangered every time she was in danger? It was better she didn’t ask so she could save herself from sounding like an idiot. She’d try to pick up more clues as to what the word meant when they got to this zoo.

The elevator doors slid open to reveal another wilderness scene but this one packed denser with dark leaved trees all hung with vines. Ansel stepped out onto the soft soil of a dirt path and stared up at the canopy where the sun burst through in tiny clumps of rays, giving the canopy the appearance of a green night sky similar to the black one she had seen twinkling over the endless mountain.

“They always bring you to Africa first,” Ashley said, leading Ansel along the tiny dirt path that seemed to go on forever in front them. “Every zoo I’ve ever been to, I swear. They want to hit you with the big stuff right when you enter so you’ll be hooked from the start for the rest of a mediocre ride to the grand finale.”

“Africa?” Ansel asked, not really interested in his response because she was too distracted by the endless trees and echoing noises which must have belonged to some strange creatures.

Ashley chuckled, stopping in Ansel’s way and pointing out to guide her vision through a small clearing in the trees. “Africa,” he said. “Another country, one with animals like you’ve never seen before.”

There in the clearing was a black cat that looked almost exactly the same as that Mr. Kitty that Ansel had chased ages ago, but this cat was twenty times Mr. Kitty’s size. It stood in a hunter’s stance, muscles tense and twitching, ears pointed backward, long black tail held flat, and green eyes staring through Ansel’s skin to the meat and bones it so wanted to taste underneath. Ansel’s muscles tensed up along with the big black cat’s, her own hunter’s reflexes kicking in, while Ashley didn’t seem to care that the thing was staring at them, ready to pounce, when it did.

Ansel let out a shrill scream that didn’t make sense—she had meant to yell “Look out!” but the words came out jumbled and unintelligible—and dove to push Ashley out of the hungry beast’s way, dreading those sharp, deadly claws which were angling for her jugular.

 

#     #     #

< LIV. Chelsea     [Table of Contents]     LVI. Mr. Walker >

And so ends another chapter in the Infinite Limits series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story as much as I have writing it. Do join us again next week for the next chapter. Until then, have a great weekend and a great week after that. And always remember: We do nothing alone.

Chapter 46: Roo

Good morning, y’all. It’s Saturday again which means time for another chapter in the Infinite Limits series. Today we join newcomer Roo in Outland Six as she learns more about the walls that separate the worlds of Outland.

If you’re also excited to hear the Murder in “Utopia,, audio book, we’re just waiting on Amazon to approve it and that should be ready in the next two weeks or so at the most. In the meantime you can buy a copy of the Murder in “Utopia,, ebook through this link or while your time away writing reviews for the Infinite Limits books you’ve already read (and hopefully enjoyed) on their pages here. Reviews are better than money for a budding independent author, so please do think about it.

That’s enough about me and my stories, though. Let’s get back to Roo and hers. Enjoy:

< XLV. Anna     [Table of Contents]     XLVII. Chelsea >

XLVI. Roo

No one in the worlds understood the fourth dimension as well as Roo did. She was pretty certain of that. And, no, she didn’t mean time. She was talking about dimensions in timespace. Humans could sense three dimensions of space, and time could be thought of as a dimension, but technically that wasn’t quite true, and technically was all that mattered to Roo.

Technically, time was an emergent property. It was a result of changes in space. Without changes in space there would be no way to measure the passing of time. Roo often wondered what it would be like to live in a universe with no changes in space, no time, but it seemed impossible. Nothing existing in such a universe could really be said to be alive. Always she came to the conclusion that, no, without change there is no life.

Maybe that’s why she liked jumping so much. It was never really the act of getting from here to there that appealed to her, it was the act of changing the universe, being alive. That’s why she preferred to call it bending rather than jumping. But no one else understood the fourth dimension like she did, all they cared about was getting from here to way over there in one hop, so jumping it was if she wanted to be mutually intelligible with the rest of the worlds. When Roo was bending, though, she wasn’t doing it to run away, she was taking it upon herself to consciously change the space she occupied, and it was the only time she ever felt truly alive.

“Did you have something to add Miss Sommelier?” came her teacher’s voice, breaking Roo from her daydream.

Um, no, ma’am,” Roo said, shaking her head. She had no idea what the old lady had been going on about all day and she didn’t really care to find out.

“Well then I’ll ask you not to interru—”

A metallic clanging bell went off, interrupting the teacher’s sentence. Roo jumped out of her desk as quickly as anyone else, and the entire class filed out despite the teacher’s demands that they re-seat themselves and subsequent defeated pleas that they all do their homework when it was clear that none of them were going to. Roo chuckled at the poor old slob as she pushed her way through the mass of nerdlings and outside. She was almost out scott free when she heard her name.

“Roo!” Mike called, running to catch up with her. “Wait up!”

“Hurry up!” Roo called, slowing her pace but not stopping to wait. “I’ve got shit to do.”

“That’s exactly what I’m here about,” he said, catching up with her and pulling her to stop. “What you gettin’ into?”

“Whaddya think?” Roo asked, crossing her arms. She only did one thing with her free time so it wasn’t that hard to figure out what she was getting into.

Jumpin’,” Mike said. “I wanna come along.”

Psssh.” Roo scoffed. “First of all, it’s bending, not jumping. I’m not one of those neckbeards who’re in this for the sole purpose of jumping into girl’s locker rooms when they least expect it. I’m in it for something else, something deeper.”

“Yeah, sure.” Mike scoffed back. “What then?”

“For—for…” She thought about the complex enigma that was the fourth dimension and almost fell back into her daydream from class. “For the serene feeling I get when I’m actually capable of shaping the universe I live in. For the awe and wonder I experience when staring into the fourth dimension. For reasons beyond anything your puny little brain could ever understand. That’s why.” She picked up her walking pace, almost to a jog.

“No one understands that crap,” Mike said, actually jogging to keep up with her. “You’re the only one who ever talks about it.”

I know. That’s why I need to be alone. So git.”

“No, wait.” He stopped her again. “Look. This is for real, okay. I’m—I might be in trouble.”

“Then definitely go away. Trouble’s the last thing I need in my life.”

“No, look. I think you can help me.” The look in his eyes was so desperate it made Roo pity him for a moment. Honestly, he had to be in some seriously deep shit to be coming to her for help. “Ugh, God. Okay,” she said, giving in. “What do you want?”

“Well…” Mike looked away, embarrassed now to even be speaking to her, it seemed like. “So, it’s not really for me, okay,” he said. “Or it is for me, I guess, but it’s not me who’s in trouble. And mostly it’s for my brothers, you know, because I couldn’t give a fuck about that inconsiderate asshole who tries to call herself my mom. You know what I mean?” He nodded expectantly.

Roo did not know what he meant, though. She had no clue. So she said it. “No. I don’t. What inconsiderate asshole? What kind of trouble? WTF am I supposed to do about it?”

“Oh—well— Okay, well… Let me start again.”

“Spit it out fast, kid. My patience is running thin and I have an urge to bend.”

“Okay, well… It’s my mom, right. Well, I don’t know how to put this, but she got in with the wrong people, you know. And well—she’s been—she’s been… jumping.” He leaned in close and whispered the last word, not looking as excited about the prospect of “jumping” as he did before. At least he didn’t seem to be in it for the thrill of going through the portals like all those other jumpies.

“Okay,” Roo said. “So what? What am I supposed to do about it? Or are you just here looking for the same thrill your mom’s always after?” She never knew the urge could be genetic.

God, no. Fuck that. Thrill? Talk to me about thrill when you’re stuck at home, changing your baby brother’s diapers, your other brother crying for food, or mom, you’re not sure because, even though he’s old enough that he should be able to, he doesn’t talk yet, and the whole time your mom is out who the fuck knows where doing who the fuck knows what with some stupid jumpies. No offence, okay. But I’m not personally interested in becoming a jumpie like y’all. Trust me. That’s the last thing I intend to do.”

Well.” That was a little much, sure, but at least it seemed like the kid meant what he said so Roo would let him get away with the attitude this one time. “What the fuck do you expect me to do about it then?” she snapped, showing a little attitude of her own.

“Well…” Mike looked at his feet, losing confidence already after his rousing speech. “Honestly, I didn’t really think this all the way through yet. I don’t even know what this jumping shit is. That’s why I came to you. You’re the only person I could think of who even knew anything about it.”

“You’re right on that point,” Roo said with a grin. The poor kid didn’t know how right he was. She was probably the only person in all the worlds who actually knew what this jumping shit was all about. Plus, a little flattery went a long way. The only problem was that Roo still had no idea what she was supposed to do about his family problems. “But I still don’t know how you expect me to help.”

“Well, me neither. But you can, right? I mean, you can at least teach me about jumping, or show me how you do it. I don’t know. Maybe that way I’ll figure it out for myself and won’t need your help to find her.”

Pffft. You know, I’m not sure that’s gonna help you, kid. I mean, what if your mother’s addiction is hereditary? What might happen to you if I teach you how to jump then?”

“Hereditary?”

“Yeah, you know, inherited. Genetic. As in: if your mom has it, so will you.”

Mike scoffed. “That’s fucking stupid.”

“Not really. Actually it’s supported by a lot of evide—”

“I don’t give a shit.” Mike stomped his foot. “I’m not gonna get addicted. I’m gonna help my mom. You got any better ideas?”

“I could just walk away and leave you to figure out all this shit for yourself.” Roo scoffed. “In fact, that’s sounding like a pretty good idea. See ya.” She made to leave but Mike grabbed her by the arm to stop her.

“No. Please,” he begged. “Just—I won’t get addicted, okay. I don’t even want to take part in it at all after seeing what it did to my mom, but it’s the only way I can think to help her. And you’re the only person I can think of to teach me. So… What do you say? Partners?” He held out a hand for her to shake.

Roo slapped it away. “No,” she said, walking on toward the way she had been going before she was interrupted. “We’re not partners. You owe me big for this, and don’t you forget it.”

“Of course, of course,” Mike said, jogging to keep up with her quick pace. “Whatever you say.” He somehow managed to maintain a smile through his heavy breathing.

Roo didn’t say another word until they were there. She led him on roundabouts, doubling back and criss-crossing paths so he would have a harder time remembering where they were. When she was at the right alley, she crossed it then came back through on the other side.

“Shit,” Mike said, hunched over, huffing and puffing. “I never knew jumping was such exercise.”

Bending is illegal,” Roo said, crossing back to check the other side of the alley again. “That’s your first lesson. What we’re about to do is against the law. We can’t let anyone see us. If the protectors catch us doing this, we’re fucked.”

“Right, I—”

Shhh.” She held a finger to his mouth. “Now this is my secret lair, okay. So—”

Mike chuckled.

“I’ll fucking leave your ass out here,” Roo said, raising a hand as if she was going to hit him—she never really would have but he didn’t know what she was capable of.

“No, no, no.” Mike put his hands up in defense. “Please. I’m sorry. It’s just, secret lair sounds totally superhero. I like it.”

“Well it’s secret for a reason, okay.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got it,” Mike said, stepping back and looking around at the alley. “So, this is nice. Uh…I guess. But I don’t see how you can jump from here. It’s just an alley.”

This time Roo laughed. “Not here, dumbass. C’mon.” She grabbed his hand, and it was a little sweaty, but she didn’t let go anyway. It was far too late for that. “I’ll show you.” She walked him up to the brick wall, behind one of the dumpsters, and spun him around so she could step closer, putting her face so close to his that she could feel his breath. “Are you ready?” she whispered, looking at his lips instead of his eyes.

“I… Uh…” He fidgeted, staring at her lips, obviously nervous.

“You’ll have to be.” She pushed him, and he fell back, but instead of hitting his head on the wall behind him, he fell through the wall as if it weren’t there at all, landing on his ass with a yelp.

Roo stepped gracefully through the wall, and over Mike, into her secret lair. “Ta da!” she said, taking a bow, then she hunched over laughing.

Shit,” Mike said, standing and rubbing his ass. “You didn’t have to push me so hard.”

“Sorry,” Roo said, still chuckling. “I couldn’t help myself. I always wanted to do that to somebody.”

“I thought you were gonna…”

“Kiss you? Ha! Yeah right, you sicko. I had you fooled. Kiss you? That’s grody.”

“Yeah…” Mike looked at his feet. “Sure. Gross.”

The secret lair wasn’t much. It was more of a closet. The ground was made out of metal grating, which was loud when you walked and painful to sit on. The cement walls were lined with shelves carrying various supplies—technical bits which came in handy when Roo had rigged the wall unit for the first time but only got in the way now that she was trying to get back to her baby.

“So this is your lair, huh?” Mike said. “It looks like a janitor’s closet to me.”

“It’s not a janitor’s closet,” Roo complained. “It’s a Sommelier’s secret lair. But really it’s a supply closet.” She patted a box of circuits on the shelf that was closest to her.

“So how are you supposed to jump from a supply closet?” Mike asked, still confused.

“We just jumped to get here,” Roo said, crossing her arms. “And we’ll jump again when we go back out to the alley.”

“You mean, that was…” Mike looked at the wall he had just fallen through. “We jumped?”

“Not so great, is it? That’s why I told you I prefer bending to jumping.”

“And I told you I know nothing about either. What’s bending?”

“Bending is when you mold the universe to your liking,” Roo said, imagining the feeling as she described the process. “Bending is reshaping three dimensional space, through four dimensions, in order to transform the world around you. Bending is pretty much the greatest experience in existence, and if you’ve never done it, I’ll never be able to explain to you how great it feels.”

“Sure.” Mike shrugged. “I guess my mom thinks the same way. But I still don’t see what’s so great about it or how you’re supposed to do anything like that from this closet.”

“The key,” Roo said, removing some boxes from one of the shelves so she could get to the metal door behind it, “lies in where this closet is located. It’s not any old supply closet, you see. We’re somewhere between E and F right now. FG, technically, but that’s another story. What matters is that this is a supply closet in the subterranean maze of tunnels where the walls are maintained.”

“Walls?” Mike was looking even more confused than ever. “What are you talking about?”

“The walls. The walls… Hmmm. Okay. So we come from World F, alright. Everything you’ve ever known, every place you’ve ever been, all of that exists, and or takes place, inside of World F, now FG. You follow me?”

Uh… sure.” Mike shrugged, not looking like he followed.

“Well there are other worlds, too. A through E, of course, and G, which only recently became a part of our world, hence the FG.”

“Okay.” Mike nodded, still obviously not following.

Anyway. The walls—though they’re not really walls, more like fields or portals or something. Well, they’re kind of like the hole we passed through to get into the lair here.”

“Through the wall…” Mike said.

Yes. Exactly. But not physical walls. Metaphysical walls. Giant portal walls separating the worlds.”

“And these walls help with jumping how?”

Bending. Not jumping. The walls are where space has been bent already. The people who live in E are the ones who first discovered how to do it, and they bent and curved space everywhere in order to separate the worlds into how they exist now. Hell, the same people bend space to move our elevators, fill the 3D printers, and perform countless other little actions we never notice every single day. Bending is part and parcel to every aspect of human life and…and… And I’m sorry. I get a little carried away. I could go on talking about it forever. Is any of this getting through to you at all, though?”

“So these walls or whatever,” Mike said. “Whatever it is that separates these different worlds. You’re saying that this room here is where they come from?”

“This room is in the world where the hardware that bends space exists. If you went out that door right there, you’d find a maze of tunnels that went further than you could explore in one lifetime. There are so many miles of portal walls it’s ridiculous. And I can jack into them all from right here.” She swung the metal door open as she said it, revealing her masterpiece.

The box she had opened was really a circuit breaker, but Roo knew that more than electricity ran through the breakers in this world. From here she could use the touchscreen tablet she had implanted—thanks to the supply closet—and a one handed keyboard—from the same place—to access every part of the wall system and bend the worlds to her heart’s desire—not without some annoyance from security bots, of course, but they were nothing she was incapable of finding, tracking, and hiding from with ease.

“That’s it?” Mike said, scoffing. “That’s all you use. It looks like a half a computer. It doesn’t even have a full keyboard. I bet the graphics are shit.”

“Graphics aren’t the point.” Roo scoffed. She flipped on the touch screen with a swipe then tapped out a few shortcuts to bring up the blueprint for all of F. “You see that?”

“Yeah,” Mike said, yawning. “It looks like a map. Bo-oring.”

“That map is the blueprint for every single wall in F. That’s the map of your entire world, bucko. Everything you’ll ever experience, all on one shitty computer screen.”

“Yeah, sure. Like your life’s better.”

Roo tapped some more shortcuts. “It is,” she said as more blueprints came up, dwarfing F. “This is my world. This and beyond because I know even these can’t be the end of it. That’s what bending gives me that you don’t have, kid. I’m free to traverse all the worlds.”

“Sure you are. Free just like my mom is to ditch me with her kids. The same kids who prolly need me to do some menial shit for them right now. Thanks for your help, Roo. I guess. I mean, you at least helped me understand how much of an arrogant ass my mom might turn into if she keeps on doing this jumping—or, oh, sorry, bending thing—much longer. So I guess that helps. See ya.” He made for the closet door then turned around, remembering that it wasn’t the way they had come in. He stood there confused, and Roo felt bad for how she had acted. He was right. She was lording her superiority over him. She had brought him there so she could help him, not lecture him and show off, and that was just what she was going to do.

“Wait,” she said. “I’m sorry. I— Maybe there is something else I can do. Do you— Or did your mom, rather, ever mention where she was going or anything like that? That would be the easiest way for me to find her.”

“You think you can find her?” Mike was smiling now. He looked like he couldn’t believe this change in luck.

Maybe,” Roo said. “I’m not making any promises. But if you have something to get me started, I might be able to help. There aren’t a lot of jumpers, especially in F, so she shouldn’t be too hard to locate.”

“Oh, well… She never really bragged about where she was going or anything,” Mike said. “She mostly tried to keep it a secret.”

“Yeah, okay. But I need something to work with, right? I can’t go out there searching blindly. That would be pointless.”

“What am I supposed to say?”

Ugh. I don’t know.” This was getting to be too much. Maybe she shouldn’t have agreed to help this fool after all. If he wasn’t going to do something—anything—to help her, she wasn’t going to be able to help him even if she wanted to. “Anything,” she said. “Like, did she have a code word she uses when she was going out bending? Something like that.”

“No.” Mike shrugged. “Not really. She always just says she’s gonna go hang out with the girls.”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” Roo scoffed.

“Oh, well, yeah, then. She always says she’s going out with the girls. That used to mean she was going to get a drink at the bar, but I’ve been checking there and she hasn’t been going.”

“What bar?” Roo asked, tapping and swiping on the touchscreen.

Uh, I don’t know. The one down the street from me. Do they even have names?”

Could this kid maybe think for himself for once? Ugh. “Well what street do you live on?”

“Banks and Corporate.”

Roo typed it in. The map on the touchscreen zoomed in to that particular portion of F. “North, south, east, or west,” she said.

“What?”

“What direction is the bar in? There’s one a block away in every direction.”

Uh. I don’t know. To the right.”

Are you serious? “Okay, which building do you live in then? Exact address.”

“4307 Banks St.”

“Okay… Let me just…”

The world around Roo drifted away. There was nothing left but her and the computer screen. She was flying a bird’s eye view over Banks street when a commotion caught her eye. Movement. Bending. Something on a grand scale. Not as grand as the walls themselves, but magnificent for FG. A bigger bending than Roo had ever seen in FG. Bigger even than any bending she herself had ever done. Her intention to help Mike disappeared in her curiosity to see what was producing so much change.

She zoomed in to get a closer look. It was made more beautiful with proximity. It was amazing the way all the paths swooped so close to FG then looped back around and braided themselves together, producing six connections so near one another. It seemed mind bogglingly impossible. To be able to hold each portal in place all at the same time without losing a single connection must have taken four or five benders at once.

She zoomed closer. The world was in constant flux now, the entire universe for all she could see. The paths were jumping and bouncing, but only between each portal. None escaped the home base in FG.

Roo’s curiosity got the best of her. She couldn’t help herself. The excitement was too much to handle. She reached out and touched one of the little paths, and with just that tiny nudge, everything crumbled.

She zoomed out fast, hoping not to be seen. The paths danced faster now. Their motion seemed panicked. One of them jumped to the alley outside of her lair and she gasped, almost breaking from the fourth dimension to see if they had found her.

No. No, no, no. She did not need this. Whoever these people were, she didn’t want them outside of her door. She gave in to her desire entirely and started poking and prodding now, bending without remorse.

It was difficult at first. Whoever was doing the bending from the other side fought hard against her. Roo couldn’t blame them. They must have thought that she was still interfering when all she wanted to do was make things right again. It took some goading on Roo’s part to finally make them give in and accept her help, but eventually they did and finally Roo could sigh a deep breath of relief, sitting down on the metal grating in the hopes that everything was finally back to normal.

Fuck,” she said. “That was madness.”

Mike scoffed. “You’re telling me.”

Roo looked back at him, finally aware of her immediate surroundings again, to find his eyes wide and forehead sweaty.

“I don’t know what you were doing,” he said, “but it seemed intense. I called your name a few times and nudged you, but you wouldn’t respond.”

Roo chuckled. “Sorry. When I get in the zone, there’s nothing else in the worlds.”

“Yeah. I could tell.” Mike shook his head. “I guess that’s probably how my mom gets with it, too. Huh? I guess that’s why she can so easily forget about me and my brothers.”

Roo blushed, breaking eye contact with him to slam the metal circuit box closed and restack the boxes in front of it. “Probably,” she said, as she did.

Probably? And I guess you didn’t find my mom, either. Is that right?”

Uh…” Roo shook her head.

“Alright, well, that’s cool. I guess that’s what I get for asking a jumpie for help. I’ll just— I’ll see you in class, or whatever. Peace.” He held out his hand first, to test the wall, but when it went straight through, he closed his eyes and half-jogged out of her secret lair.

Roo felt bad for letting him down—even though she owed him nothing in the first place. She stacked the rest of the boxes as quickly as she could then rushed out of the lair to try to catch up with him, yelling, “Mike, wait!”

She didn’t have to yell, though. When she stepped out of the lair, Mike was still there, being held from behind by some dirty clothed person who was pointing a huge gun at his face. Roo stopped in her tracks and put her hands up.

“Freeze, fucker,” the woman said, pointing the too big gun between Roo and Mike. “Don’t move a muscle.”

Roo didn’t even move one to speak.

“Who are you?” the woman with the gun demanded. “Where the fuck am I?”

“You’re in F,” Roo said, raised hands trembling. “Or—er—FG. Who are you?”

“FG?” the woman repeated, getting flustered and waving the gun. Mike looked like he was going to piss himself. “What the fuck is FG?”

“You don’t know?” Roo tried to smile so the woman would calm down but her lips only trembled. It wasn’t the first time a gun had been pointed at her, but she had never even seen one this big.

“Who are you?” the woman demanded, pointing the bazooka—practically—at Roo now. “Don’t push me. Now’s not the time to piss me off.”

“I’m Roo.” She smiled without trembling this time. “I’m probably your only hope of ever getting home. You’ll want to let my friend go or you’ll never see it again.”

The woman scoffed. “I don’t think you’re in the position to be giving orders. What do you think, boy?” She put the barrel of the gun right up to Mike’s cheek and he shook his head, crying as he tried to get away from it.

“No,” he begged. “Please.” A little puddle formed in the front of his pants.

“I don’t think you even know what position you’re in,” Roo said, chuckling, trying not to piss herself, too. “Where do you think you are?”

“I—” The woman hesitated. Roo thought she was going to shoot Mike right then and there, but to her relief, the woman dropped the gun and pushed him away instead. “I don’t know. Where am I?” She let her gun dangle over her shoulder, and Roo let out a loud sigh of relief.

“In FG,” Roo said after catching her breath. “Like I said. Which I believe is your world, too. In fact, I don’t think we’re too far from your home base right now.”

“You know where the Family Home is?” the woman asked hopefully.

“If that’s what you call it,” Roo said.

“I don’t find this funny,” Mike said, stomping a foot. Roo had almost forgotten that he existed. “She pointed a gun at me!”

The woman raised her hands in defense, readjusting the gun’s strap on her shoulder. “Hey,” she said. “I’m sorry. You came out of nowhere and tackled me. What did you expect me to do?”

“Yeah, well…” Mike looked at his feet. “You pointed a gun at her, too,” he said, pointing at Roo.

“Well she appeared like a ghost through the wall of that building,” the woman said, pointing at Roo, too. “It was creepy. What do you expect?”

Roo chuckled. “She’s got a point.”

Mike scoffed, covering the pee stain on his pants. “Well, I still don’t think it’s funny.”

“That’s because you pissed yourself,” the woman said, chuckling herself.

Mike’s face turned a deep crimson. “Alright. Fuck y’all,” he said, waving a hand and trying to leave.

Roo and the woman burst into laughter at the same time. Roo tried to control herself, though, saying, “No—Mike—Ha ha—Wait! Let me—Ha ha ha!”

He stopped to let them control their laughing even though he didn’t turn to look at them. “And it better not be another joke,” he said. “Or else I’m leaving for real this time.”

“No,” Roo said, controlling herself. “I think I know where your mom is. And I think I can help you, too,” she added for the woman who was still wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.

“I just need to know how to get home,” the woman said, composing herself.

“And I just want to get my mom back,” Mike said, trying to cover the stain on his pants.

“And I think I can do both at the same time,” Roo said. “If your mom’s jumping in FG, she’s probably doing it with whoever, uh… I’m sorry…”

“Oh, uh, Kara,” the woman said, ticking off a weird salute. “Single name basis oughta be fine for now.”

“Right,” Roo said. “Your mom’s probably jumping with the same people Kara here is jumping with.”

“The Human Family,” Kara said. “Y’all should think about joining up. Your abilities—well—” She stifled a chuckle at Mike. “—your abilities could be useful,” she said, looking at Roo.

Human family,” Mike said, his eyes widening. “I think my mom did say something about that.”

“If she’s human, then that’s the best thing for her,” Kara said.

Right,” Roo said, with raised eyebrows. “Whatever. But you came through with a group, didn’t you? You weren’t alone?”

“What’s that to you?” Kara asked suspiciously.

“You want to get back to your family don’t you?”

“Yeah, well—”

“Then tell me. Did you come alone?”

“No. Of course not. We’re a Family. We do nothing—”

“And do you know all your Family’s names?” Roo asked.

“I—uh—well…”

“Mike, what’s your mom’s name?”

“Huh?” He looked like he hadn’t been following the conversation. Roo was starting to wonder if either of them were.

“What is your mom’s name?” she repeated, slowly.

“Oh, uh, Melody.”

“Melody what?” Roo said, losing patience.

Uh, Singer. Melody Singer.”

“Melody Singer,” Roo said. “Is she a part of your family?”

“I don’t know.” Kara shook her head, shrugging. “Maybe. Why?”

“Well I think it’s time we find out.”

#     #     #

< XLV. Anna     [Table of Contents]     XLVII. Chelsea >

And so there it is, dear readers. Chapter 46 in the ongoing Infinite Limits story and chapter 4 in book 3, Dividing by Ø. Don’t forget to leave your honest reviews on my Amazon page here, and have a great weekend, y’all.

We do nothing alone.

Chapter 44: Laura

This Saturday brings us the second chapter of book three in the Infinite Limits tetralogy, Dividing by Ø. Today we join Laura and her crew in Outland Three as they begin production on Rosa and Anna’s anti-robot propaganda film. See how that project comes along as the story progresses, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of Dividing by Ø through this link if you want to support future releases in the Infinite Limits series.

Also, if you haven’t heard already, I’ll be releasing an audio book for my novella Murder in “Utopia,, in the next couple of weeks, and if you want the chance to win a free copy of that when it’s released, you’re going to have to subscribe to my email newsletter through this link because I’ll be sending the opportunity out through that method alone.

Thanks again for following along this far, dear readers. I hope you enjoy the continuation of the story here. We do nothing alone.

< XLIII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     XLV. Anna >

XLIV. Laura

Two girls played dominoes on a dirty carpet. One was supposed to be the other’s daughter, but Laura thought they looked more like sisters. No one cared what Laura thought, though.

The girls laughed and bantered. Nothing scripted, just simple improv, most of which wouldn’t make it into the final product anyway. If Laura had her way, none of it would. Laura wouldn’t have her way, though. Laura never got her way.

They were shooting b-roll. It’s called b-roll because it’s not A grade work. It’s not scripted. It may not even be used. Those crucial shots of roadside flowing by in all the most famous movies, that’s pretty much the epitome of b-roll. Laura hated shooting b-roll for the projects she enjoyed working on. For this particular project, it was Hell.

She had been standing there, watching them for hours now, statuesque and silent. She hardly even breathed. Her only movements were to lift a finger, press a button, and drop the finger. Lift a finger, press a button, and drop the finger. Watching the two play dominos, do each other’s hair, or some other nonsense until her phone rang and one of the girls screamed, causing Laura to jump and almost knock over the camera.

“Fortuna, Jen!” Laura yelled. “It’s a fucking phone and you’re a fucking adult. Act like one.”

“Oh, uhsorry,” Jen said, standing from the floor and brushing herself off. “I was so deep into character I couldn’t help it.”

Laura scoffed. “Whatever.” She answered the phone. “We’re working on it, Cohen.”

“Shut it down,” Cohen said on the other end of the line. “Shut it down now. We need you and Jen here ASAP.”

“We’re not done yet,” Laura said, both because she wanted to piss Cohen off and because she didn’t want to do what she knew came next. “We’re only at dominoes. We still have to go through—”

“I don’t care,” Cohen said, cutting her off. “You can do that any time. We’ve got a conveyor belt and not for long. So grab your shit and get your asses over here.”

Ugh. Fine. Whatever.” Laura hated when he tried to boss her around. Stupid fucking directors. If only it was him they needed out of the picture instead of Emir, that she wouldn’t have any qualms about. “Where is here?” she added for cover’s sake even though she knew the answer already.

“Loch Ness Studios. Lot 37. And hurry.”

Cohen hung up before Laura could respond. “Well fuck you, too,” she said anyway.

“Hey!” the other girl—not Jen, but Laura couldn’t remember the poor extra’s name—gasped, holding her hand to her mouth.

“Shut up, kid,” Laura snapped. “You’re off the clock. Get out of here. I’ll call you when we need you again.”

But—” she squealed.

“Go!” Laura stomped her foot at the girl who scurried away.

Jen chuckled. “Dude,” she said. “You don’t have to be so mean. The poor girl’s just trying to do her job. We don’t pay her enough for all that.”

“Yeah, well.” Laura scoffed. “We don’t pay me enough for all this, either. Shit. We don’t pay me anything.”

“Alright, alright.” Jen waved her hands defensively. “I get it. Me neither. So what does the slave driver want now?”

We’re to go to Loch Ness Studios,” Laura said, mocking Cohen’s stupid voice. “We’ve got a small window of time in a studio with a conveyor belt.”

“Just fucking great,” Jen said, pulling out her phone then sliding and tapping on the screen. “The only lines I haven’t practiced yet. Of course we get a shot at it today.”

“Well, I have some gear to pack up,” Laura said, getting to it. “You can go over your lines while I do it.”

“Sure,” Jen said, getting exasperated. “I could memorize them on the elevator ride over there, too, but that wouldn’t give me the time I need to perfect my part. I mean, I understand the script is a piece of shit, like Guy—wherever he is, Fortuna protect him—tried to warn us, but I don’t want my performance to play down to it. Okay.”

Laura scoffed, hefting a bag of gear onto the anti-grav carts. “You’re telling me,” she said. “You think I enjoy rigging and shooting this crap? We’re all on the same crew.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah.” Jen waved Laura’s concerns away. “It’s not the same, though. They’ll see my face up on that screen. Everyone will know for sure that it was me. You can put a pseudonym in the credits, but I can’t wear a mask through my performance. My face is my tool.”

“It is all the same,” Laura said, packing the last little bit as she talked. “And it doesn’t matter anymore anyway. We’re off to the Loch. Let’s go.”

She pushed the cart out through the hall and into an elevator. Jen followed close behind, not paying attention to where she was walking because she was reading the script on her phone. She bumped right into the back of Laura when they entered the elevator, then complained about it as if Laura were responsible.

“It’s not my fault you don’t watch where you’re going,” Laura said. Then,  “Loch Ness Studios. Lot 37.”

The elevator doors slid shut and the floor fell out from underneath them. When they slid open again and Laura pushed the cart out, it took Jen some time to follow, still reading her script. They walked through a long hall, with a cement floor and steel walls, into what appeared to be an assembly line. Cohen was deep into a lecture while Emir sat at the conveyor belt, listening to the director drone on and trying to snap little bits of whatever was on the line together at the same time. He wasn’t very good at either task, though, so he kept messing up at both.

“There you are,” Cohen said, finally breaking away from his lecture some time after Laura had already gotten to setting up the lights and cameras. “What took you two so long?”

Laura scoffed.

“We came right here, dude,” Jen said. “We’re not your fucking on call slaves, ready to bow to your every whim and whimsy.”

“You are my crew though, aren’t you?” Cohen asked with wide eyes, feigning offence as he always did. “Emir was here on time. He didn’t have any trouble. I don’t see why it took y’all so long.”

“We were shooting your fucking b-roll!” Laura snapped. She stopped what she was doing for a second, took a few deep breaths, then went back to rigging the lights like she hadn’t said a thing.

Jen gasped at Laura’s attitude, putting one hand to her mouth but still holding her phone so she could read the script with the other.

“Well we’re here now so let’s get to it,” Cohen said, flustered. He clapped his hands together. “Emir are you ready?”

Muahahaha!” Emir laughed, standing from the conveyor belt and pushing his chest out. “I am a robot. I am always ready.”

“If only you were,” Cohen said with a grin, turning to Jen. “What about you? I see you’re still going over the script. And is that the right costume for this scene? Where’s Steve?”

Jen scoffed. “You tell me, director. And I wouldn’t be reading the script right now if you had given me a little warning that we were going to do this scene today.”

Cohen took out his own phone and pulled up the script. Emir laughed at them and did the robot. “Silly humans,” he said in a monotone voice. “I am a robot. I already memorized—”

“Yeah, yeah. We get it,” Cohen said, waving him away. “You’re in character. Way to do your job. Now, Jen. No. This isn’t the right costume. I need you to find Steve and get changed.”

“Find him?” Jen said, dropping her phone from her face for the first time since they had left the other set. “Where the fuck is he?”

“I don’t know,” Cohen said. “Probably in the green room. Just go.” He waved her away.

Ugh. But—” Jen tried to complain.

“I said go!”

Laura stopped her work and Emir stopped doing the robot so they could both turn around and gawk at Cohen’s attitude.

Whatever, dude” Jen said, flailing her arms and storming out of the room.

Laura went back to work, wishing again it was Cohen instead of Emir that was the star of the show.

“Fuck,” Cohen said, pacing the room and brushing back his already slicked-back hair. “I can’t deal with divas right now. Do y’all hear me? We don’t have time for this shit, okay. We only have this lot for—” He looked at his phone. “—a few more hours and we have plenty of shots to get to while we’re here. So if y’all could just fall the fuck in line for once in your pathetic lives, that would be fan—fucking—tastic. I’m under a lot of pressure here. So let’s all do our part to relieve a little bit of it today.”

Emir nodded. “I am a robot,” he said. “Your wish is my command.”

Cohen took a deep breath then chuckled. “Good,” he said. “What about you, Laura? You gonna give me shit when I tell you to set the lights and cameras—”

“Exactly where I have them,” Laura stopped him, crossing her arms and giving him the evil eye.

“I—well…” Cohen looked back and forth between his phone’s script and the rigging a few times. “Uh… Yes, actually. Exactly that.”

“Good,” Laura said. “Now maybe you can stop giving me shit for no reason.”

Oooooohhhh. Damn, buoy,” Emir said, finally breaking character to snap his fingers together three times in a zigzag pattern. “She told you.”

“Shut the fuck up, Emir,” Cohen said. “No one asked you.”

“There,” Jen said, coming back on set and striking a pose. “Is this better?” Laura thought she looked almost exactly the same as before, though—maybe a little dirtier.

“Is that what Steve gave you?” Cohen asked, stepping toward her to get a closer look.

Jen nodded, holding her pose.

“Then, yes. It’s better,” Cohen said, clapping his hands together too loudly for Jen’s taste. “Places everyone. I think one take should be good for this. The scene’s not difficult. We’re starting from Alice’s entrance and going through Adam’s attack. We’ll cut right before he puts her on the conveyor belt. Y’all got that?”

Everyone nodded, taking their places. Emir sat at his seat, stretching his fingers in preparation for snapping pieces together. They’d be able to speed it up in post production but he would have to give them something they could work with if they wanted to make it look at all natural. Well, not really, in the end, but he didn’t know that yet. Watching him, Laura almost felt sorry for what she had done, for what she had to do, but he would be okay in the long run and she had no other choice.

“Laura, what about you?” Cohen asked, breaking her away from her reservations.

She shook herself out of them. “I—uh. Yeah,” she said. “Sure. This is just a long shot anyway. Set it and forget it.” She chuckled to hide her apprehension. Emir’d be alright, she assured herself over and over again. Emir’d be alright. Emir’d be alright. Emir’d be alright.

“Okay. Good,” Cohen said, looking around at everyone again to be sure they were in their places and ready. “On my count then.” Laura’s heart skipped a beat and her palms slickened up. There was no stopping what had been set into motion now.

“Lights!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch, turning off all but the camera lights.

“Belt!”

She pressed a button and the conveyor belt hummed into motion.

Aaaaannd action!”

Emir set to piecing together bits of nothing. Jen gave him a few seconds to do it before slowly walking on camera, surveying the empty seats around Emir.

“No,” Jen said, her voice only slightly trembling, not her best acting.

Emir ignored her. He kept piecing together bits of nothing.

“It can’t be you,” Jen said, voice cracking a little bit.

Emir turned his head to look at her but kept on with his work. He was going slower now, but again, post-production would remedy that.

“Yes,” Emir said in his monotone robot voice.

“But…” Jen held her hand to her mouth. “But you’re—”

“A robot,” Emir said. “Muahahaha.” He threw his head back in laughter, still piecing together nothing.

“But my family,” Jen said. “My coworkers. They’ll—”

Emir stopped working. He stood slowly and turned to face Jen, smiling wide. “I am a robot,” he said. “I don’t—”

But he couldn’t finish the sentence. A heavy, hard light fell from above, landing on his head and knocking him to the ground. Jen screamed, Cohen rushed to Emir’s side to see if he was okay, and Laura simply flipped the camera off, calm and collected. She had expected everything. She had rigged the light to fall in the first place. So, naturally, it came as no surprise to her when what had been planned ended up happening.

“Shit! What the fuck was that, Laura?” Cohen demanded, holding a limp and bleeding Emir in his arms.

“I—I don’t know,” Laura said, mustering all of her acting abilities for this one scene. Sure she was a grip now, but she had gone through the same school system as everyone else, and she couldn’t help but pick a few things up along the way. “That wasn’t one of my lights,” she said, which was true even though she had rigged the light to fall. She knew better than to commit a crime with one of her own babies. “You’ll have to ask the studio owner about it.”

Cohen looked around wide eyed at Laura, then at Jen, then back to Emir who still lay lifeless—the trickle of blood from his forehead slowly and alarmingly turning into a stream. “Yeah, well,” Cohen said. “I—I guess I’ll take care of that.”

“What about Emir?” Jen’s voice cracked as she said it. “Is—Is he…dead?”

“What? No,” Cohen said, looking back at Emir and trying to shake him awake. “Of course not. He can’t be. Right, buddy? You’re not dead, are you?”

Laura was starting to worry that he might be. That wasn’t part of the plan. She had just wanted to put him out of commission for a while, not forever. This couldn’t be happening when she was so close to being free of her chains. She was not about become a murderer, even for that freedom. “I think we should—” she started to say, but Emir blinked his eyes open.

Emir. Emir, baby,” Cohen said, still on the ground and holding him, brushing his hair like a child. “You’re alright, aren’t you?”

Emir shook his head, still groggy.

“We need to get him to a doctor,” Jen said.

“No!” Cohen snapped. “We can’t. They’ll ask too many questions. We weren’t— Just trust me.”

“Well what the fuck are we supposed to do then?” Jen started to cry.

Emir blinked a few times and shook his head. “I am a robot,” he said in a weak voice. “I don’t care.”

There,” Cohen said. “There, you see. He’s fine. He doesn’t care.”

“I don’t think—” Jen said.

No,” Cohen cut her off, standing now that Emir could hold his own weight—though only barely. “It has to be this way. Laura, take him to the green room and get him some water. I need to—”

“I don’t think—” Laura said.

“I don’t care what you think! Do it!”

Ugh. Fine. Whatever.” Laura went to help Emir up while Cohen brought Jen to a far away corner of the set, whispering angrily at her. Laura hefted Emir’s arm up over her shoulder and had to carry most of his weight all the way through the halls to the green room.

Steve gasped when she pushed the door open. “Fortuna!” he said, holding a hand to his mouth. “What happened?”

“I—uh—” Laura heaved Emir onto the couch next to Steve who went to comfort the injured actor. “I don’t know,” she said, breathing heavily. “A light fell on him.”

“A light?” Steve shot her a look and went back to comforting Emir.

Not one of mine,” she said. “A studio light.”

“A studio light?” Steve crossed the room to get some water for Emir. “No way.”

“Yes way. Why? Do you think it was my fault?”

Steve put his hands up in defense. “Now I didn’t say that.”

“It sounded like that’s what you were implying.”

“Well it’s not. I was just saying—”

“Alright, alright,” Cohen said, coming into the room with hands clapping. Emir flinched at the sound of it. “How’s our star doing?”

Jen scoffed as she came in behind him. “I’m fine,” she said under her breath.

“I am a robot,” Emir said, louder this time at least.

“He doesn’t look good,” Steve said. “I think he needs a doctor.”

“No!” Cohen and Jen said together.

“That is,” Cohen added, chuckling and rubbing his hands together. “He looks alright to me. What do you say, Jen?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jen nodded, giving a thumbs up. “Sure thing, boss. Right as rain.”

“You see.” Cohen smiled.

Steve dabbed a wet rag on Emir’s bloody forehead. “Right as rain, huh?”

“I am a care,” Emir said. “I don’t robot.”

“That sounds right as rain to you?” Steve scoffed.

“Well he’s a little dizzy,” Cohen said, chuckling and trying to avoid eye contact with both Steve and Laura. “But nothing too serious. Right, Jen? Tell them.”

Laura scoffed. “He doesn’t look like he’ll be able to act any time soon,” she said, hoping they’d see that at least. “It seems pretty serious to me.”

“Fuck, fuck, shit, fuck,” Cohen repeated, pacing the small room. “You’re right about that.”

“Well, why don’t we complain to the studio manager, then?” Steve asked. “It is their responsibility, isn’t it? Maybe they can send a doctor for us.”

Cohen shot him a look then turned to Jen. “No, I don’t know,” he said, urging Jen to say something. He obviously didn’t want the studio managers alerted to the fact that they were using the lot.

“You know what,” Jen said, putting on a fake smile. She never really was that great of an actor. She had a pretty face, though, so she got work. “I think I’ll go and alert them myself. I’m pretty sure—no—I’m certain that I saw someone with a Loch Ness monster on their shirt on my way in here. I’ll—I’ll go alert them to the problem, and we’ll get to the bottom of this in no time.”

Yes,” Cohen said, clapping his hands together as she started to leave. “That exactly.”

“You know,” Laura said, holding her phone over her head. Jen stopped in her tracks, and Cohen stared at Laura, annoyed, while Steve went on dabbing Emir’s forehead with a wet rag and Emir kept mumbling about being a robot. “I happen to have the studio manager’s direct line. I could save you the trouble.” Laura smirked.

“Oh, no, no,” Cohen said, looking to Jen for help. “Nonsense.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Jen said. “Really. I’ll just go out and—”

“Por que no los dos?” Steve said, shrugging.

Cohen shot him a look. “Yes,” he said. “Of course.” He chuckled nervously, rubbing his no doubt sweaty hands together. “Both. Great idea, Steve. Top notch.” He shot a big fake smile at Jen, nodding. “Go ahead, then.”

“Oh, well…” Jen said. “Okay, I guess. I mean. Yeah. I’ll just be on my way then.” She walked out as slowly as she could, but even with all that time Cohen couldn’t come up with a way to keep her from leaving.

“And I’ll just make that call, then,” Laura said with a chuckle, trying to stall a bit herself. She did have a direct line to someone in the ownership line of Loch Ness studios, but she wasn’t really supposed to call him until after all this dirty deed was done, not right in the middle of it. “I’ll let them know they’re dealing with Cohen Martin,” she said, “the soon to be biggest director on any TV set in the entire world.”

“No—well—” Cohen stammered.

“Do it,” Steve said. “Can’t you see this man’s injured?” Emir nodded off again as if to illustrate the point. “And tell them to send a doctor.” Steve went back to dabbing Emir’s still bleeding head with an already bloody rag.

“Alright, then,” Laura said, hitting send and putting her phone to her ear. “I’ll tell them what’s up.”

Good,” Steve said with a single curt nod.

“No,” Cohen said, stepping closer to Laura and trying to tear the phone out of her hand. “No, you can’t— You don’t understand.”

Laura held tight, though, and took a step back. The phone had rung three times and there still wasn’t an answer. She was starting to worry that no one would answer when he finally did.

“It’s about time, sweetheart,” came the sickening voice from the other end of the line, the voice of the man who had kept her in the chains she was trying to free herself from for so long now. Cohen tried one more time to grab the phone away, but Laura took a quick step back and dodged his advance.

“It’s done,” she said as she did.

“You can’t!” Cohen complained.

“Good,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “Very good.”

“Yes,” Laura said. “I’m calling about Loch Ness Studios, lot thirty seven. This is Laura Concierge.”

Cohen gave up, slouching on the couch next to Steve and rousing Emir who groaned, failing to sit up despite trying. “Wha—Where am I?” he said.

“See, he’s fine!” Cohen said.

“Yes,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “Very good, child. Keep up the charade. Tell me what happened.”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, turning her back to her crew as she spoke. “Lot thirty seven, sir. We were filming a shoot when one of the studio lights fell on top of our star. He was knocked unconscious, sir. We’re not sure he’ll ever act again, and we only had the lot for a limited time at that. This is your responsibility, and we demand a refund and credit for more time in the studios as reparation.”

Cohen held his face in his hands, shaking his head, probably crying. Emir seemed a little better already—which Laura was happy to see—he was sitting up now, at least, and Steve was crossing the room to get him some more water.

“Very good, child,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “I assume you mean Emir when you say star, of course.”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, nodding even though the voice couldn’t see it. “He… He doesn’t look good. We need a doctor. Someone to tell him just how bad it is, sir.”

Emir still looked dazed on the couch—though he was drinking water by himself now—when Jen returned to be furiously updated by Cohen who really did start to cry.

“I’ve sent someone already,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “My personal doctor. She’ll give you the diagnosis you seek. And I expect to see you shortly, dear. In my office as soon as you’re done there. You know the way.”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, nodding. “And we expect a full refund on our rent for the day. Nothing less.” But the second part she said to a dead line.

“So?” Cohen and Jen asked at the same time, both with red puffy eyes.

“They said they’d—”

The green room doors burst open and a young woman in a long white coat rushed in with a black bag over her shoulder. “Where’s the patient?” she demanded, setting her bag on the coffee table in front of the couch.

“Oh—uh…” Everyone kind of pointed at Emir whose head still seemed to be too heavy for his neck to hold up.

“Alright, then,” the doctor said, grabbing some tool from the bag to examine him with. “Let me just see here.”

Emir blinked his eyes against the light that the woman’s tool emitted, shaking his head. “I am a robot,” he said. “I don’t care.”

The doctor kind of chuckled then shook her head, like she realized that laughing was poor bedside manner only too late. “What was that?” she asked when she had gathered herself. “He’s a robot?”

“It’s one of his lines,” Cohen said, talking too close to the doctor. He looked like he wanted her out of there before she could cause any trouble for him. “He has a hard time getting out of character. That’s nothing out of the ordinary for him.”

“It’s true,” Jen said, nodding.

“Still, I don’t like it,” the doctor said, shaking her head. She put her tool back in the black bag and got a bottle of pills out. “A glass of water, please.”

Emir held the glass he was still drinking from up to her and said, “I am a robot. Your wish is my command.”

“Oh, well…” The doctor shook her head, pushing the glass back to him and handing him two pills. “It was for you anyway, dear. Drink up and take those. They’ll have you feeling better in no time.”

“I am a robot,” Emir said, swallowing the pills and the rest of the water. “I don’t care.”

“Well,” the doctor said, grabbing her bag and crossing back to the door. “I’m afraid that’s all I can do. He should be better soon, but not today. Probably not tomorrow, either. Just don’t let him go to sleep for the next twenty four hours. Wake him up every fifteen minutes, at least. Otherwise he may not wake up ever. And then give him some rest after that. A few weeks of it, in bed, with no work. That’s the only thing that’ll make him well again. Okay, then. Ta ta.” She slammed the door closed behind her as she left, apparently in a hurry to do something somewhere else.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Cohen said, standing in Laura’s face.

“What?” Laura asked, stepping up to him. “Get Emir medical attention?”

“Calm down you two,” Steve said, standing between them to push them apart.

“I was just trying to help,” Laura said, shrugging. “I would hope that one of you would do the same if it was me about to die like that.”

You were being defiant,” Cohen said. “I had everything under control.”

“I don’t know,” Jen said. “Nothing bad happened, right? Emir should be fine, I mean. That’s what the doctor said, isn’t it?”

“That is what she said.” Steve nodded.

“Still,” Cohen said, pacing the room. “What the fuck? What are we supposed to do now? We don’t have a star.”

“Wait until he’s better,” Steve said. “What else?”

“We don’t have time to wait,” Cohen said. “Our time’s almost up here. Not to mention the investors…”

“What about them?” Jen asked.

“Yeah,” Laura said. She still didn’t even know who these mystery investors were. “What about them?”

“They want their product,” Cohen said. “What else? They’re investors. What the fuck do you think?”

“I think you need to calm the fuck down,” Laura said.

“Yeah,” Jen nodded. “Settle down, dude.”

“Well we need a fucking star or we don’t have a movie,” Cohen said.

“And Emir should be fine again soon,” Steve reminded him.

“I am a robot,” Emir said, groaning.

“We need him sooner than soon,” Cohen said, flailing his hands in the air. “We need him right now. Fuck it. Fuck this. I’m out of here.” He stomped out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him.

“Fortuna!” Jen said when he was gone. “What an ass.”

“Right?” Steve nodded. “You need some more water, honey?”

Emir nodded. “I don’t care.”

“What an ass,” Laura repeated, packing up her lights and cameras. “Y’all can take care of Emir, though, right? I have some pretty important business to see to right now.”

Uh…” Jen looked to Steve, obviously not wanting the responsibility herself.

Yeah, sure.” Steve nodded and shrugged, rinsing his glass—of everclear, probably. “I have some sewing to do anyway. What the fuck? I’ll make it an all nighter.”

“Great,” Laura said. “Awesome. I hope he’ll be alright.” And she knew he would be but not soon enough. The wheels had been set in motion.

#     #     #

< XLIII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     XLV. Anna >

There it is, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed another chapter in the story. Don’t forget to pick up the full novel here and don’t forget to subscribe to my email newsletter for your chance to win a free copy of the Murder in “Utopia,, audio book upon release. Have a great weekend, y’all.