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.

 

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< 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.

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Chapter 49: Mr. Walker

Hello, dear readers. Today we turn to Mr. Walker so we can see the story from his perspective for the first time. And yes, you read that right, Mr. not Lord Walker. As you can imagine he’s none too happy about that fact, either, so let’s join him now and see what he has to say about it. And if you’re enjoying the story so far, please do take the time to leave a review of the first two novels on their respective Amazon pages here. Honest reviews are worth more than money to me at this point in my career so I’d greatly appreciate even a short sentence.

That’s enough for now, though, dear readers. Enjoy the continuation of the story and enjoy the rest of your weekend. We do nothing alone.

< XLVIII. Ansel     [Table of Contents]    L. Nikola >

XLIX. Mr. Walker

Why him? Why did the universe always have to gang up on on little old Lor—erMister Walker? What did he ever do to deserve such bad luck?

The television across the room spat out stock numbers, but try as he might, Mr. Walker could not concentrate on them. Especially now, when his Lordship had only just slipped out of his grasp, was it more important than ever for him to make the most efficient trades possible, but the very same reason it was so important that he did concentrate on his business decisions was the reason he couldn’t: because he wasn’t Lord anymore.

He slammed his hand on the bed, sending his beautiful bulbous stomach jiggling in anger. That asshole Douglas—the Hand take him and all his holdings—would pay for this. With more than money, too. A simple wealth transfer wasn’t enough. A wealth transfer would be necessary, of course, but not sufficient. If Mr. Walker was ever going to be Lord again, that went without question. All those years on top—an entire lifetime or two—had made Mr. Walker grow complacent, lazy. It was high time he shook things up, stirred the pot—so to speak—and Mr. Walker knew just the spoon to do it with.

A knock came at the bedroom door and Mr. Walker groaned. “Open it, you fool!” he called. “How many times do I have to tell you? Just open it already!”

The door swung open and in swept Haley, carrying a tray of breakfast over her shoulder. By the smell of it, at least, it seemed like she had finally remembered to hand prepare his food. How it could take a robot so long to learn something so simple he had no idea. He didn’t remember it taking as much effort for the original Haley to get the task right, but then again, that was so long ago he couldn’t really remember it at all.

“Here you are, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy. “Fifth breakfast.” She crossed around the bed to Mr. Walker’s side table and lifted the empty tray off his lap to replace it with the newly filled one from her shoulder, knocking his empty mug to the floor as she did.

“Now you see what you did you clumsy fool?” Mr. Walker yelled as she bent to pick it up. “What if that cup had been full of hot coffee? What then, huh? Do you know how that would feel?”

“No, sir.” Haley curtsied.

“It would burn, sweetheart. It would be painful. It would—it would hurt!” He shook his head. “What am I saying? You have no idea what I’m talking about. You’re a simpleton, a robot. You know nothing of what it means to be human and you never will.”

“No, sir.” Haley shook her head.

No, sir. Yes, sir. Whatever you say, sir,” Mr. Walker mocked her. “You see what I mean? You have no independent thoughts. You are a dependent. So just listen to me when I tell you to be careful and do better next time.”

“Yes, sir.” Haley curtsied.

“Good. Now change the channel. I’ve had enough of work for this morning. It should be close to time for my infernal meeting anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said. “What channel, sir?”

Ugh.” Mr. Walker sighed. “The reality network, dear. The same channel I watch every morning after breakfast. Honestly, honey, it’s not that difficult, your job, and if you’d like to keep it, I suggest you get better at it fast.”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, curtsying and changing the channel. “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“Leave me be so I can eat in peace,” Mr. Walker huffed. “And get my tuxedo ready for the meeting. We’ll be leaving soon.”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, curtsying without leaving the room.

“Well? Get out! Leave me alone!”

“Sir, yes, sir.” She scurried out and slammed the door behind her.

What incompetence. Mr. Walker stuffed his mouth with toast and almost gagged because it was burned black. Who had ever heard of a robot that couldn’t even cook? It was just another sign of the universe’s insistence on giving him the shit end of the stick. Still, no matter how much the Hand stacked the deck against him, Mr. Walker would come out on top. He always had and he always would.

The picture on the TV screen changed from lines of assembly line workers to commercials, and Mr. Walker chewed his too crispy bacon. He had stopped paying attention for a bit, but something caught his eye. A tall dark actor, with bright red lips, was on screen, dressed in all black and leading a huge congregation of the most famous celebrities in a prayer to some god named Fortuna. They were all dressed in various shades of black, looking at the floor with teary eyes, and every word the tall man in front spoke elicited a new reaction from the crowd, as if his voice was the remote controlling the mass of robot actors, but robots they were not.

Then Mr. Walker realized what they were doing. They were mourning a death. Not just any death, either, but the death of Russ Logo, one more piece in the universe’s conspiracy against Mr. Walker and probably the biggest reason why he was no longer the Lord of Outland. Mr. Walker had invested a lot of money in Logo and the life insurance payments alone were nowhere near the fortune he should have been worth. Still, it gave Mr. Walker an idea on how to accelerate his climb back to the top where he belonged. Maybe the old clown could be worth a little something even in death.

A knock came at the door but it cut itself short before Haley burst through, carrying Mr. Walker’s pneumatic pants. “Ahem. Are you ready to be dressed, sir?” she asked with a curtsy.

Mr. Walker fumed. He wasn’t even halfway through his meal. No, he was not ready to be dressed. But he contained himself, taking a few deep breaths before stuffing more bacon and eggs into his face. It was a happy mistake, this one. He did need her even though he wasn’t quite ready to be dressed yet. He tried to convince himself that Haley had only come in because she knew he wanted something, even if she didn’t know exactly what that something was.

“No, dear.” he said through a full mouth. “As you can see, I’m still eating. But you can do something else for me. I need you to take a quick run to the market and open up bidding on Jorah Baldwin. We’ll take all the stock at any price. You got that? If he’s taking Logo’s place in Three—which it looks to me like he is—we’ll want him on our payroll. So go on and buy him up as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said. “But the meeting, sir. Can’t I just order the stocks remo—”

“Don’t even say it!” Mr. Walker raised his hand to stop her, flinging some eggs onto his bedspread with the motion. “Do not even speak those words. We do things the old fashioned way around here. Just like cooking, you see. And if you leave right now instead of arguing with me, you’ll be there and back with plenty of time to spare. Now get!”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, curtsying as she hurried away.

Mr. Walker sighed, stuffing his face fuller and fuller. It was never enough. Try as he might, he could never drown out the stupidity and jealousy of those around him. If they weren’t against him in theory, everyone was against him in practice with their complete incompetence. It was a wonder he had managed to remain Lord for as long as he did.

He growled, throwing a mostly full plate of food against the wall and spilling it all over the bed and floor. It wasn’t a wonder that he had been Lord for so long. He was surrounded by idiots. It was a wonder that one of them had somehow managed to surpass him. He had underestimated those little misters that surrounded him, and he had to keep on his toes if he ever wanted to be Lord again.

“Stock Market Report,” Mr. Walker said and the TV changed channels. He stared, and studied, and did math in his head as he ate the last plate of fifth breakfast. There was no more time for entertainment. He was at war. He had forgotten that in his years of ease on the top of the food chain, but now that he remembered it, he knew exactly what he had to do to get back to the top of the economic pyramid. He ran a few more numbers in his head as he licked his last plate clean. It was going to be tight for sure, especially considering who owned the stocks he needed, but Mr. Walker was confident enough in his negotiating skills to believe that he could do it and come out on top in the long run.

A knock came at the door.

“Come in, come in. By the Invisible Hand, come in  already!” Mr. Walker yelled.

Ahem, yes, sir,” Haley said, coming in with his pneumatic pants and tuxedo in hand. “I did as you asked, sir. We already own eighty-five percent of Jorah Baldwin shares.”

“Good,” Mr. Walker said, clapping his hands together and tossing his platinumware on his plate with a clatter. “Great. Then get this garbage out of my bed and get me dressed. We have an important meeting to attend.”

“Yes, sir.”

This was the worst part of breaking in a new robot. She was so slow and clumsy with the pneumatic pants. She could never get them up without pinching his skin, no matter how much he tried to wiggle and squirm to assist her. Then, when she finally did get them on, she took so long to button on his vest and tie his tie that he thought he would die of boredom.

“Okay, okay,” he said, guiding his pants out to the garage. “I’ll get my hat and monocle in the car. A cane, too, please.” The pants carried him up into his white stretch hummer and sat him comfortably in the backseat.

Haley came in moments later, pushing the top hat and cane back to him. At least she knew enough to sit in the driver’s seat instead of trying to ride like an honored passenger in the back with Mr. Walker. “Douglas Towers,” Haley said and he groaned.

The Hummer pulled out of Mr. Walker’s pristine garage and into the general parking garage for Douglas Towers, owned of course by Lord Douglas. The place was so cheap that it didn’t even have designated parking for distinguished guests. Not to mention the fact that the parking spots were so small Haley had to drive them all the way out to the bus lot to find one that fit the Hummer. Mr. Walker groaned and griped the entire time his pneumatic pants carried him from the Hummer to the elevator. The sooner he became Lord again the better. Then the Fortune Five could resume meeting in style.

“Penthouse Conference Room,” Haley said when the elevator doors slid closed. The floor fell out from underneath them, then the elevator doors opened onto a long gray hallway.

Ugh. Mr. Walker understood that this was a place of business, but a little class went a long way in making work more enjoyable.

The hall ended at a big rectangular room with a big rectangular wooden table. Mr.—erLord Douglas was already seated at the head of the table with Mr. Angrom at his right hand. Mr. Loch was late, as usual, and Mr. Smörgåsbord would no doubt be right on time but there were still a few minutes before the meeting was officially supposed to begin.

Mr. Walker took a seat on the far end of the table with a big smile, saying, “Well, boys. This is a classy venue, isn’t it? No windows to distract us from each other’s pretty faces. And what do you call that color? Industrial grey? I adore it. Truly.” He grinned, peering this way and that between Mr. Angrom’s sneer and Lord Douglas’s usual look of indifference.

“I’m glad you like it,” Lord Douglas said. “I designed it specifically with your tastes in mind. Everything I thought you would love, I did the exact opposite.” Mr. Angrom laughed. “In fact, that’s how I make all my decisions in life,” Lord Douglas went on, enjoying himself no doubt. “I figure, it’s gotten me the Lordship, why stop now?” He laughed along with Mr. Angrom now.

“I’m glad to see I hold so much—” Mr. Walker started, but Mr. Smörgåsbord came in followed by a clearly drunk Mr. Loch whose ruckus sitting down cut any possibility of audible speech off. It was probably for the better, too. Fighting with Lord Douglas now would only make negotiations with him that much more difficult later on.

“Watch where you’re going, sir,” Mr. Smörgåsbord complained, taking his seat at Lord Douglas’s left hand. “And please be sober for our next meeting. It’s simply unprofessional.”

“You wash where you’re going,” Mr. Loch slurred, plopping loudly into the last seat at the table, to the right of Mr. Angrom. “I do what I want.”

“Okay, okay,” Lord Douglas said, clapping his hands. “Enough. We’re here to do business. Can we get on with it?”

“Precisely my point,” Mr. Smörgåsbord said with a satisfied smile.

“Proceed,” Mr. Loch said, raising a flask then tipping it back for a drink.

“Yes, Lord,” Mr. Walker said with a grin. “Lead us, please. What did you bring us together for today, oh magnificent one?”

“Simmer down, Walkie Talkie,” Lord Douglas said, raising a hand. Mr. Walker ignored the insult and let him continue. The negotiations to come were more important than the mundane showmanship of a general meeting so he could bite his tongue for now. “This is a routine meeting. We’ll follow the same agenda we always follow—or the agenda we were supposed to follow, that is. You know, the one you ignored throughout your entire Lordship, Mr. Walker. Do you remember?” Lord Douglas chuckled and Mr. Angrom joined in.

Mr. Walker just held his breath, though, biding his time.

“Well then,” Lord Douglas went on. “Smörgåsbaby. The floor is yours. Go ahead and give us your run down of the market numbers, if you’ll please.

Mr. Smörgåsbord read off the net worth and major holdings of each member of the Fortune Five and the next five wealthiest owners in succession. These were the same numbers Mr. Walker had gone over for himself before coming to this stupid meeting. This type of thing was exactly why he preferred having these meetings at a restaurant or bar rather than some office building. That way he could at least have a drink in his hand while they presented him with information that could better be sent through email. Still, he used the time it did offer him to do a double check of his math from earlier and smiled, more than certain now that he could pull off his plan to become Lord again after all.

“Do you think that’s funny?” Mr. Angrom asked, slamming a fist on the table and snapping Mr. Walker out of his daydream. “Let’s see how funny you think it is when it’s your companies that go dry first after the shortages hit.”

“Woah there, Angry-Poo,” Mr. Loch said, swinging his flask as he spoke and sloshing pungent alcohol everywhere. “I’ve got my own supply trains. You watch your mouth.”

“So you and the Walrus are still colluding, huh?” Mr. Angrom shook his head. “I should have known.”

Tuh.” Mr. Loch chuckled. “Okay, Mr. Right Hand Man. Why don’t you—”

“Alright, alright, boys,” Mr. Smörgåsbord said, raising his voice uncharacteristically loudly. “That’s enough. And it’s not the end of it. Now, Lord Douglas, if you don’t mind, I think it’s time for you to take the floor.”

Ahem… Yes,” Lord Douglas said with a smile, fixing his tie. “I agree with Mr. Smörgåsbord. In fact, perhaps it’s time for me to take more than just the floor.”

Mr. Walker scoffed. Who did he think he was? Lord for a week and already so high and mighty.

“I’m sure you don’t agree, Wally Boy,” Lord Douglas went on, “but your opinion hardly matters these days. The world  has gotten out of your control and now—”

Ahem. Lord Douglas.” Lord Douglas’s secretary stepped up from behind him, interrupting the meeting. Mr. Walker would have taught her some respect right then and there if it was Haley that had interrupted him, but Lord Douglas just groaned.

“It’s happening,” the secretary said. “As we speak.”

“Well,” Lord Douglas said, shrugging her off. “It looks like our show is kicking off a little sooner than expected. Fellow owners, members of the Fortune Five, dare I say friends? Behold. This is what a world run by the former Lord Walrus Ass looks like. Video up.”

A holographic video popped up in the middle of the table. Dirty clothed imps, carrying nothing more than two-by-fours with nails driven through one end, came spilling out of white walls and running, unimpeded, through the halls of what looked like a protector’s precinct.

“Wha—where did you get this video?” Mr. Walker demanded, the only person there besides Lord Walker who was able to formulate a reaction beyond slack-jawed awe.

Lord Douglas laughed. “Security footage, Wally. Security footage from a protector’s precinct under your ownership. Now what are you going to do about it?”

“No,” Mr. Walker said, shaking his head. “It can’t be my precinct.” He saw his plans dissolving before his eyes. “That—I would know. It has to be one of yours. They were—”

“Mr. Walker,” Haley said, stepping up from behind and putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’m getting messages from precinct zero seven five three, sir. They’re saying—”

Enough,” Mr. Walker said, pushing her hand off his shoulder and slamming his own hands on the table. “You knew about this, Lord. You did nothing. You’re complicit in this attack—if not responsible.”

Lord Douglas laughed. Everyone else kept watching the video as the ragged imps went for an unguarded gun cache, taking everything their greedy, jealous hearts could force their tiny hands to haul away.

“No,” Lord Douglas said. “I’m neither complicit nor responsible. I’m simply in the know. And we’ve already sent our response to pick up the pieces you left for us—again. Look. Here they come now.”

A small crew of armed and armored protectors came into view of the camera, shooting into the armory as they approached. One or two bodies fell, but most of the imp thieves scattered away, only to disappear back through the walls, exactly the reverse of how they had arrived.

“What the fuck was that?” Mr. Walker demanded. “What did you do?”

“You tell me, Wally,” Lord Douglas said. “You saw it for yourself. You should know what’s happening in your own precinct, shouldn’t you?”

Mr. Walker looked to Haley then back at Lord Douglas with a sneer. “I know you had your hand in this,” he said. “You’re trying to kick me while I’m down, trying to make sure I stay down. You’re scared.”

“Kick you while you’re down?” Lord Douglas laughed. “That’s nonsense. You saw the video. Those were Sixers if I’ve ever seen them. Maybe some Fivers, too, now that there’s not much of a difference between the two worlds. But either way, how could I have any hand in that? You think they’d listen to me? Have you ever tried talking to one?”

“I shay yous did it,” Mr. Loch slurred.

I say you did it,” Mr. Angrom mocked him. “Prove it, then. Otherwise all I see is incompetence.”

“Incompetence, yes,” Mr. Walker said, grinning. “Our Lord Douglas’s incompetence. What incompetence must it take to know the threat of an attack, even to go so far as to record it and set up a live stream, but yet still do nothing at all to prevent said robbery’s success?”

“Right,” Mr. Loch said, taking a swig from his flask. “Incompetensh.”

“Do nothing? Ha! You saw what I did. We all saw it. Those were my men bailing you out. My boots, my masks, and my guns, all saving your soil. The real incompetence is not knowing when there’s going to be an attack on your own precinct, Wally. That’s incompetence.”

Enough,” Mr. Smörgåsbord said, standing from his seat. “Pardon me, Lord, but that’s enough. We’re not here to argue whose fault this is. Are we? No. We’re here to discuss the occurrence, tally up the damages, and figure out how to solve the already created problems. Now, if y’all don’t mind, I’ve wasted enough of my precious time with your petty arguing, and I’d like to get this meeting on with.”

“Well said,” Lord Douglas said, clapping his hands. “Well said, Smörgy. Better than I could have ever put it. You see, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault here. No. What matters is who’s in charge. How that person will respond. And—as standing Lord of the Fortune Five—I think there’s a good case to say that person is me.”

“Over my dead body,” Mr. Loch said.

“That could be arranged,” Mr. Angron muttered.

“Now now,” Mr. Walker said, raising his hands in defense. “Slow down there, Lord. Last I checked, this was still a free market and I still owned a majority share in the protector force. Now, unless those facts have changed, or unless we’ve somehow become some sort of Fascist state which presumes to take control over the private property of owners, I think there’s a better argument that I should be the one making the decision.”

Mr. Angrom scoffed. “After you let them ransack your armory? As if.”

“After your Lord let them ransack Lord Walker’s armory,” Mr. Loch said.

“I don’t think so,” Lord Douglas said, shaking his head. “You’ve made too many mistakes, Walker. There’s precedent for me to take control of the entire protector force because of that. When the incompetence of one owner threatens the safety and wealth of the rest, as I think it’s obvious this incompetence of yours has done, Lords throughout history have used their powers of eminent domain to put right what was wronged.”

“Now wait—” Mr. Loch said.

“Hold on,” Mr. Walker stopped him. “I’ve never heard anything like this before. Smörgåsbord?”

“It’s true,” Mr. Smörgåsbord said, nodding. “Though the circumstances were quite different than they are today. It was only done because one owner was using his protectors to—”

You see,” Mr. Walker said, not caring about the rest of Mr. Smörgåsbord’s boring speech because he had already gotten what he needed from it. “The circumstances were quite different. Right out of the mouth of a neutral party. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll handle the protectors’ response to this outrage myself. We can move on to other business now. Thank you, good sirs.”

“Very well,” Lord Douglas said, crossing his arms on the table. “We’ll table this issue for now. But I want all of you to mull this little episode over in your head and be ready to come back and vote on the issue at our next meeting. Maybe by then you’ll all be able to see the consequences of Mr. Walker’s blunder as well as I see them already.”

Mr. Loch scoffed, standing from his chair and knocking it to the floor. “Ish that all then, Lord?”

Mr. Smörgåsbord looked to Lord Douglas expectantly. “I do have some work to tend to, Lord.”

“Very well,” Lord Douglas said, rubbing his hands together. “This meeting is adjourned. You can all get back to whatever is you think is so much more important than our economy. But remember what I said about the protectors response. And remember what has been done already—in both the present and the past. Think it all over well, comrades. This is your life on the line with this vote as well as it is anyone else’s.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Mr. Loch muttered under his breath as he stumbled out of the room.

Mr. Smörgåsbord packed his notes and left close behind. “Very well, Lord,” he said as he did. “See you next time.”

Mr. Angrom sat staring at Mr. Walker who didn’t move. Lord Douglas didn’t move, either, it being his office building, but he was smiling instead of sneering.

“So, Wally Boy,” Lord Douglas said. “Is there anything else, or have your pneumatic pants broken down on you? I can have Rosalind carry you out if that’s the case.” His impudent secretary scoffed behind him.

“I bet it was the pants,” Mr. Angrom said with a grin. “Walker’s fat ass finally wore them out.” He chuckled alone to his own joke.

“No, Lord,” Mr. Walker said, shaking his head and trying to put on his most respectful face. “My pants are just fine. I simply had some private business I wanted to discuss with you, and I was waiting for the rabble to clear out before I did.” He sneered at Mr. Angrom.

“The only rabble here’s you,” Mr. Angrom snapped.

“Alright now,” Lord Douglas said. “It’s okay. Move along, Angry. I had some personal business I wanted to discuss with ol’ Wally here anyway.”

“But, sir,” Mr. Angrom said, red faced. “We were supposed to— You said—”

“It can wait, Angrom,” Lord Douglas snapped. “Now git.”

Mr. Angrom put on a sour look, standing slowly from his seat and eyeing Mr. Walker the whole way up. “Yes, sir,” he said. “But I don’t like it.”

Mr. Walker chuckled as Angrom ambled out of the room.

“Well, then,” Lord Douglas said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. “What is it that you wanted to discuss, Wally Boy? Why do me the honor?”

For a second Mr. Walker considered spitting in Lord Douglas’s smug face right there and leaving without even trying. His plan was probably pointless anyway. Any deal he could come up with would no doubt be shot down by Lord Douglas for the simple fact that it came out of the mouth of his arch nemesis and biggest competitor, Mr. Walker. But still, it was a good deal he was offering, and Mr. Walker had no choice but to try.

“Go on,” Lord Douglas said. “I’m waiting…”

“Well—uh…” Mr. Walker said, gathering his thoughts and choosing a line of attack. “You see, Lord, I really just couldn’t help noticing that you’ve taken quite a hit on your profit margins with your protetor costs as high as they are ever since all these shenanigans started.”

Lord Douglas chuckled. “Yes, well, not quite as hard of a hit as you’re taking, though. Eh, my boy?”

Mr. Walker shook his head in earnest. “No, no. That’s true, Lord. I own a slightly larger percentage of the force so of course I take a slightly larger hit than you do. You’re dead right on that point. But what if I told you that I could eat even more of those costs for you? Huh? How would you like that?”

Lord Douglas narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What did you have in mind, Mr. Walker?”

Mr. Walker smiled, happy to hear the Lord use his formal name for once rather than the ridiculous nicknames he had become so fond of since taking his new title. It might mean that Lord Douglas was willing to play some ball after all. “Well, I thought I’d just go ahead and buy up some of your protector holdings so you wouldn’t have to worry as much about all this hubbub,” Mr. Walker said, shrugging. “That’s all. A friendly gesture for my new Lord.”

Lord Douglas chuckled. “I think I’d be more worried knowing it was you who was in charge of so much of my safety.”

“Now, now.” Mr. Walker shook his head. “You and I both know there’s no way I could have figured out about your little attack before you pulled it off. That was no fault of my own.”

Lord Douglas laughed heartily now, slapping his hand on the table. “You kill me, Walker. Even if that was true, even if I had orchestrated that little attack, it wouldn’t excuse your continued failure to calm Two or determine the source of the Christmas attack. You’re incompetent when it comes to security—among other talents you direly lack—and there’s no arguing against that.”

“Okay, enough,” Mr. Walker said, standing from his seat in a huff. “You haven’t even heard my offer and all you do is insult my character.”

“I don’t need to hear your offer. No amount of money would lead me to hand over further control of the protector force to you. You’ll have to pry this force out of my cold dead hands.”

“It’s your funeral,” Mr. Walker said as he stomped out of the room, down the hall, and to the elevator with Haley close in tow. He didn’t wait for her when the elevator opened into the parking garage, and she had to jog to keep up with his furiously working pants.

“Hurry up!” Mr. Walker yelled from the backseat of the stretch Hummer as she climbed into the front, and at the same time his phone started to ring. “And answer that,” he added with a huff

“I—yes—” It took Haley three rings to finally climb into the car and say, “Answer phone.”

“It’s about time sweetheart,” Mr. Walker said to the air, knowing who would be on the other end of the line. Laura’s portion of the plan was only important if Lord Douglas actually ended up cooperating, but Mr. Walker wasn’t ready to give up on that just yet—negotiations had only just begun—so he would have to continue with the charade anyway.

“It’s done,” Laura said, her voice sounding cold all through the Hummer’s heated air.

“Good,” Mr. Walker said with a smile she couldn’t see. “Very good.”

“Yes,” Laura said. “I’m calling about Loch Ness Studios Lot thirty seven. This is Laura Concierge.” She was obviously speaking in code because others were there who she didn’t want to overhear the conversation. A rather intelligent little operative, this one was.

“Yes,” Mr. Walker said. “Very good, child. Keep up the charade. Tell me what happened.”

“Yes, sir,” she said. “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.”

“Very good, child. I assume you mean Emir when you say star, of course..”

“Yes, sir. He… He doesn’t look good. We need a doctor. Someone to tell him just how bad it is, sir.”

“I’ve sent someone already. 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—” she said and he hung up the phone.

“Haley,” Mr. Walker said. “Is Doctor Smith on standby?”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, holding the door to the now parked Hummer open for him to exit.

“Send her to Loch Ness Studios, lot thirty seven.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And get me Jorah Baldwin—in person. We have some business to tend to.”

 

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< XLVIII. Ansel     [Table of Contents]    L. Nikola >

And there you have it. Te seventh chapter in book three of the Infinite Limits tetralogy. That means we’re 1/3 of the way through this novel and we’ll to start returning to characters we’ve already joined starting next week. I hope you’re enjoying the story as it continues. I’ll be hard at work finishing book four either way. So until next time, enjoy yourself, dear readers, and always remember:

We do nothing alone.

An Almost Tangent Cover and Table of Contents

If you’ve been following along on the blog, you probably already know that last Saturday the final chapter of The Asymptote’s Tail (book 1 of Infinite Limits) was made available here on the website. So as you might expect, I don’t have any new chapters to share today. Sorry.

I do, however, have some news to report about An Almost Tangent (book 2 of Infinite Limits). Not only have I been hard at work editing and formatting the print version, but I’ve also made some progress on designing a cover for the novel. If all goes to plan, I should be ordering my proof copy in the next week or so and publishing the print and eBook versions shortly after. Yay!

Until then, to tide you eager fans over (I’m sure there are tons of you, lol), I’ll share the table of contents for An Almost Tangent and my progress on the front cover so far. Enjoy, be intrigued, and let me know what y’all think in the comment section here.

An Almost Tangent

Table of Contents

22. Tillie
23. Huey
24. Rosa
25. Ansel
26. Jonah
27. Guy
28. Olsen
29. Tillie
30. Huey
31. Rosa
32. Ansel
33. Jonah
34. Guy
35. Olsen
36. Tillie
37. Huey
38. Rosa
39. Ansel
40. Jonah
41. Guy
42. Olsen

Thanks for stopping by, y’all. Have a great weekend.

Chapter 21: The Scientist

Today brings us the final chapter of The Asymptote’s Tail, book one of the Infinite Limits series. I hope you’ve enjoyed everything so far and that you aren’t disappointed by this conclusion. If not, please do think about picking up a copy from Amazon to show your support for my future works. And if you can’t wait to hear what happens in book two, don’t worry, I’m hard at work editing it now so it should be published within the next month or two at the latest. Beyond that, my latest novella (Murder in “Utopia,,) is up for sale, too, and it will be released tomorrow, October 4th, for only $2. So think about picking up a copy of that while you’re at it.

That’s enough advertising for this morning. Thanks again for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll join us for future installments in Infinite Limits and beyond. Have a great weekend.

The Scientist

< XX. Tom     [Table of Contents]     Book II >

XXI. The Scientist

The speech went well. The amplifiers deafened the owners and made them shut up for a little while, so she had that going for her. Which was nice. But there was also the obstacle she didn’t foresee, there were always obstacles you couldn’t foresee.

When she had finished her speech, she went backstage to count her fifteen minutes down as Rosalind fetched her daughter. Then the protector came from the dressing area. The Scientist hid behind some unused scenery as the protector went out to give a speech of his own and fire two shots, then a little girl came running out of nowhere to tackle him. They both disappeared back into the dressing area, then Huey came rushing backstage behind Rosalind who was carrying Haley’s lifeless body over her shoulder.

“He’s going to try to stop you,” Huey pled, chasing her. “You can’t just take her in front of everyone like that!”

“I’d like to see them try!” Rosalind said, laying Haley on the ground in front of the Scientist. “You have to help her.”

Tears welled up behind the Scientist’s eyes.

Hellooo,” Rosalind said, waving a hand in front of her face. “She needs help now. We don’t have time for this.” Owners had started crowding around the stage to see what was going on, and protectors would be on their way as soon as they were sure that Lord Walker was alright.

“I can’t do anything here,” the Scientist said. “I need—”

“Let’s go, then.” Rosalind lifted Haley’s body and carried her toward the closet elevator. The Scientist and Huey followed, and they were gone through the hole and back to the lab before anyone could tell the difference.

“Alright, here?” Rosalind asked, laying Haley on the lab table.

“No,” the Scientist said. “The engineering room. I’ll meet you there.”

Rosalind picked Haley up and disappeared out into the hall.

The Scientist searched frantically through the drawers to find the serum. “Is there anything I can do?” Huey asked.

“Wait,” the Scientist said, grabbing what she needed. She ran out into the hall, closed the door, opened it again, and ran into the engineering room. Haley was sprawled out on the drafting table as Rosalind brushed the hair out of her face.

“She doesn’t look good,” Rosalind said.

“I’ll fix that,” the Scientist said, filling a syringe with serum and flicking the air bubbles out, always sure to do it, even when she was in a hurry.

“Are you sure?”

“I am. But I need you to leave so I can…I’m going to be using some…”

“You don’t have to make excuses,” Rosalind said, standing from Haley’s side. “Just fix her. And get me when she’s better.”

The Scientist watched the door close behind Rosalind. She went back to filling the syringe and tapping out any air. Satisfied, she plunged it into Haley’s thigh then set to extracting the bullet. The serum helped to push it out, and the process was easier than she expected it to be. This was a Sixer round, not a protector round. That was the first clue as to who was behind it.

The bullet out, and with less effort than she expected, the Scientist only had to pull up a stool and wait for the nanobots to take effect. With such quick application, there would be virtually no damage. The tears came back to the Scientist’s eyes when Haley blinked herself awake.

“Wh—Where am I?” Haley asked, groggily.

“You’re safe,” the Scientist said in almost a whisper.

“Where’s Lord Walker?” Haley asked, sitting up fast.

“He’s safe, too,” the Scientist said, reassuring her. “But he doesn’t matter. You do.”

“Wh—who are you?” Haley asked, frowning.

“I’m…” The Scientist shook her head. She couldn’t answer that just yet.

Thankfully, Haley stalled a little longer for her. “Where am I?” she asked again, looking around the room.

“You’re in my lab.” The Scientist tried to blink away her tears. “One of them at least.”

“And who are you?”

“I—I’m…a friend. I’m the Scientist.”

Haley waited for her to go on, but when she didn’t, she said, “But what’s your name?”

Oof. The Scientist had given her name up when Lord Walker had taken her daughter from her. He had taken her name from her, too, and given it to her daughter instead. “I’m Dr. Haley,” she said after a long silence.

“Haley? That’s my name.”

The Scientist tried not to cry. “Yes,” she said, shaking her head. “Yes it is.”

“Why am I here?”

“You were shot, saving Lord Walker.”

“He is okay, though. Isn’t he?”

“Yes, dear. He is.”

I took a bullet for him.” Haley shook her head.

“You did.”

Ugh. Why’d I do that?”

The Scientist laughed and cried at the same time. “I don’t know, dear,” she said, sniffling. “You tell me.”

“I don’t know, either,” Haley said, shaking her head still. “I guess I was supposed to. Wait, where am I?” She looked around the room again.

“It’s alright, dear,” the Scientist said, chuckling so as not to cry. “You’re safe.”

“Why do you have to keep reassuring me I’m safe if I really am?”

“Well, you’ve been shot,” the Scientist said. “Your system is going through shock. I injected you with nanobots, and they’ll fix you right up, but it takes a little bit of time.”

“Nanobots?”

“Yes.” The Scientist nodded. “The main ingredient in the smoothies you eat. But an injection is the only thing that could work fast enough to heal a wound like yours.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Well, I’m a scientist, dear. The Scientist. It’s my job to know.”

Haley shook her head and rubbed her eyes. She rolled her shoulders then put her hand on her chest. “My chest hurts,” she said.

The Scientist chuckled. She started to cry again. “Yes. You were shot.”

“But why?”

“That’s a long story, dear. And one I don’t know all of yet. But you don’t have to worry about that now. We’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Haley asked, squinting to get a different perspective.

The Scientist nodded, trying to hold back full blown sobs, although she couldn’t contain her tears. “Yes, dear,” she said. “I—I’m your mother.”

Haley shook her head. She looked confused. “No,” she said. “I don’t have a—a mother.”

“Who told you that?” The Scientist frowned.

“I’m a robot,” Haley said, nodding like it was obvious. “I wasn’t born.”

“Have you always existed?”

“Well, no. Not always. But I wasn’t born.”

“You were born. You were born right here in this room. Right there on the table you’re sitting on now.”

Haley looked around the room. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I would have remembered that. I remember everything. I was turned on in Lord Walker’s kitchen, and that’s the first memory I have.”

“It’s not the first thing you remember, though,” the Scientist said. “There are pieces left from before that. They tried to erase them, but they couldn’t. That’s why you recognize me.”

Haley rubbed her eyes. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean—I thought I did, but it must be that you look like someone I’ve seen before. That’s all.”

“You, dear?” the Scientist asked, raising an eyebrow.

Haley shook her head. “No, of course not.”

The Scientist chuckled, trying not to take offense. “You’re my daughter. You were made to look like me.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “I look nothing like you.”

“Not anymore,” the Scientist said. “No. I’ll give you that. But you look like I did when I created you. That was a long time ago, dear. We humans change over that kind of time.”

“Y—You’re serious,” Haley said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“I am, dear. I’ve never been more serious in my life. I’ve waited all this time to see you again and here you are.” The tears came back stronger than ever.

“No.” Haley shook her head.

The Scientist knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince her, but she had to keep trying. “Yes,” she said. “I invented the technology that is you. I invented you. You were the first android I ever created, and I did it right here in this room. I turned you on while you were laying on that table, and this was the first sight you ever saw. Well, except try to picture your own face instead of mine.” She smiled through her tears, though she knew it only accentuated her wrinkles and crow’s feet.

“That’s why I recognize this place?”

“And why you recognize me.”

“You’re…you’re my mother?” She kind of frowned as she said it.

“And you’re my daughter,” the Scientist said, letting out a big sigh of relief at finally getting the message across.

“I didn’t think I could be a daughter,” Haley said. “Or—I mean—I didn’t think I could have a mother.”

“You can. And you are. And you do. I’ve been waiting your whole life to get back to you.”

“Is that why Rosalind was asking all those weird questions?”

“Yes, dear. She’s your sister. We want you to live here with us. We don’t want to waste any more time without you, and you won’t have to work for Lord Walker ever again.”

Haley didn’t seem convinced. “What? And work for Mr. Douglas instead?”

“No,” the Scientist said, shaking her head. “Of course not. Come live with me, finally enjoy the childhood you never had. I’ll cook you breakfast, and you can watch TV all day. You can do whatever you want. I just want you to do it here, near me, so I can share the experience with you.”

“But what about Lord Walker?”

“Lord Walker will be fine,” the Scientist said. “He’ll get another secretary to replace you. He’ll make sure she looks and sounds just like you, and he won’t know the difference.”

“No.” Haley shook her head. “But I’m the best. He’s always told me so. That’s why we’re number one in the Fortune 5.”

“He’s number one on the Fortune 5, because he started out as number one on the Fortune 5. No offense to your abilities, Haley, but the newer models trade just as efficiently as you do. That’s why Mr. Douglas is catching up so quickly.”

“No. But I—”

“No, Haley. Listen. We don’t have much time. I’m offering you the opportunity to come live with me, your mother, and do anything you want while you’re here, or you can go back to work for Lord Walker and do whatever he tells you to do. Those are your options.”

“I don’t even know you,” Haley said, shaking her head. “How can I believe you?”

“I don’t know. How can you believe anyone? You just have to trust me.”

Trust who?” Haley demanded. “You could be anyone telling me anything.”

The Scientist was getting anxious. All her worst fears seemed to be coming true. Grasping at straws, she said, “What about Rosalind?”

“Rosalind?”

“You know her. You can trust her, can’t you?”

“I—I don’t know,” Haley said. “Maybe.”

“Well, I’ll take you to her, and you can decide for yourself,” the Scientist said, standing from her stool. “Come on.”

It took a moment for Haley to trust her own legs even. They were fine, though—thanks to the nanobots—and she followed the Scientist out to the hall. The Scientist opened the door again, and there was Huey, a little girl, and a little boy, sitting on the puffy chairs, looking out on the wilderness scene and the mountains.

“What is that?” Haley asked.

“Who is that?” the girl asked, getting up from her seat to stare at them.

“Where’s Rosalind?” the Scientist asked.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Haley,” Huey said.

“Are you the scientist?” the girl said, tugging at the Scientist’s white coat.

“Yes, dear. Just a moment, please. Huey, where’s Rosalind?”

“In the lab, ma’am.” He bowed.

Ah. Of course. Come with me.” The Scientist pulled Haley back into the hall.

“But, Mr. Douglas…” Haley said as the door closed.

“Yes, dear. How do you think Roz could work for me if he didn’t? She’s actually been at it longer than he has, you know.” She opened the door, and Rosalind was playing cards with Popeye at a table in the lab. “There she is,” the Scientist said. “Rosalind, dear. I have someone here who would like to talk to you.”

Rosalind stood up fast and turned around, knocking cards onto the floor. Popeye waved then set to cleaning up the mess—and making more of one in the process.

“Haley,” Rosalind said, crossing to her.

“Rosalind?” Haley said.

“You made it.” Rosalind hugged her.

“I—uh. Yeah. I did.”

“And the Scientist told you?” Rosalind looked between the two of them.

“That she’s my mother? Yes. But I don’t know if I—”

“That you’re my sister, Haley. That we’re sisters. She’s my mom, too.”

“No, but…” Haley shook her head. “We can’t have a mother. We’re robots.”

“I’m not a robot,” Rosalind said. “I’m a person. And I do have a mom. She’s our mom.”

“Then why don’t I remember her? I remember everything I’ve ever experienced.”

“Because you don’t remember everything you’ve ever experienced,” Rosalind said. “They have access to your memory bank. They tried to erase your memories, but they couldn’t do it. There are still pieces. I know there are.”

“It’s true, dear,” the Scientist said, nodding. “We’re working on repairing memories here in the lab. If you stay with us, we can work on repairing yours, too. If you want us to, that is.”

“You haven’t even decided to stay yet?” Rosalind said, looking at Haley in disbelief.

“I—Stay?” Haley scoffed. “This is just too weird.” She stepped back from the both of them.

“It’s strange, Haley,” Rosalind said. “I know that. Believe me. I went through the exact process you’re going through when mom explained to me where we came from, but you have to believe me when I say it’s much better than being a slave to some owner.”

“But you still work for Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

With Huey, dear,” the Scientist said. “They work together.”

Um. Mom,” Rosalind said, giving the Scientist a look. “Do you mind if I talk to her alone for a minute? Would that be alright with you, Haley?”

Haley shrugged. She looked overwhelmed.

Hmmm. I don’t know, dear,” the Scientist said. “We don’t have much time. They’ll be looking for—”

“They’ll be looking for her either way,” Rosalind said. “And it won’t take long, just a few minutes between sisters. Please.”

“But, dear—”

“Besides,” Rosalind cut her off. “You have a little visitor to deal with, remember? She’s been waiting a long time.”

“I—Well…Okay,” the Scientist said, shrugging. “I guess. A few minutes. But I want to talk to you before you leave, Haley. If that’s what you decide to do.”

“Of course,” Rosalind said, shoving her out the door. “We’ll be right out.”

The hall door closed behind the Scientist. She sighed and wiped her eyes. Rosalind was right, she knew more than anyone what Haley was going through, and she would be the best person to help her through it. The Scientist had to accept that. She already had more than fifteen minutes with Haley, anyway. She had no room to complain. She only had room left to wait and hope that Rosalind could convince Haley to stay, hope one of her daughters could convince the other to rejoin the family. Her stomach gurgled thinking about what they were saying behind the closed door. She had to do something to get her mind off it.

The door opened and Huey almost ran into her. “Oh. I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, bowing low.

“No no, dear,” the Scientist said, shaking her head and waving her hands. “I shouldn’t have been standing in front of the door. What is it?”

“Our guests, ma’am,” Huey said. “Well, the girl. She’s…anxious to see you. She’s losing what little patience she had.”

“Well well,” the Scientist said, walking into the office. “Let me meet this girl at once, then.”

“I’m not a girl,” she said, standing from a puffy chair to cross her arms and stare defiantly at the Scientist.

“Yes you are,” a boy behind her said, peeling himself away from the view.

“No. I’m not,” she said.

“I’m sorry, dear,” the Scientist said. “I didn’t know. How should I refer to you, then?”

“Ansel,” she said. “My name’s Ansel.”

“And you’re a girl,” the boy said.

No, I’m not. Stop saying that!”

“Well what are you then?” the boy prodded her on.

“I don’t know,” Ansel said. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re the Scientist, right?”

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said with a smile. She liked this Ansel already. “That’s me. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I gave you the information you wanted,” Ansel said. “So you have to give me something now, right?”

The Scientist chuckled. “Now, I don’t know what information you gave us,” she said. “But I’d still be willing to offer you an opportunity. What opportunity is it that you want?”

“My dad,” Ansel answered without hesitation. “I want my dad back.”

Hmmm.” The Scientist frowned. “Where is he?”

“The protectors took him. And they…they killed my mom.”

“Oh, dear.” The Scientist moved to comfort her, but she backed away.

“So, can you do it?”

“If the protectors have him, we can get him,” the Scientist said. “If they have him. But I can’t tell you for sure right now.”

“But you’ll do it for me,” Ansel said. “You’ll find him.”

“Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Anything for a determined little gi—er—child like yourself. Huey here tells me you demanded to see me.”

“I’ve been jerked around before, ma’am.”

“I understand, dear.” The Scientist smiled. “I understand. You won’t be getting that here, though. You can trust me.”

“Good.” Ansel uncrossed her arms, satisfied.

“And you, boy,” the Scientist said. “You are a boy aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He looked a little scared to be talking to her.

“And do you have a name?”

“Pidg—er—Richard, ma’am,” he said.

“We call him Pidgeon,” Ansel said.

“Well, Richard,” the Scientist said. “Do you have any requests? You brought this information, too. Didn’t you?”

Richard looked at Ansel as if he needed her permission to speak. Unsure of himself still when he didn’t get it, he said, “Yeah, well…There is one thing.” He tugged at a thread on the hem of his shirt.

“Go ahead, dear,” the Scientist said.

“Well,” he said. “It’s just. We don’t really have a place to stay, you know. And I’m a little hungry. And…I could use a bath.” He blushed and covered the stain on the front of his pants. “And with you getting Ansel’s dad for us and all, I just thought that maybe…I don’t know—never mind. It’s stupid.” He shook his head.

Oh. Of course, dear,” the Scientist said. “Of course. How could I neglect that? We could manage it, right Huey? We have a couple of free rooms, don’t we?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Huey said, bowing his head. “What would you like to eat, sir?” he asked Richard.

“Oh. Um.” Richard’s face turned a deeper red. “Anything really. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll surprise you, sir,” Huey said. “And Ansel?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Very well.” Huey left the room.

“So,” the Scientist said, sitting in one of the puffy chairs. Ansel sat in the chair across from her, and Richard went to look out the window. “You say the protectors took your father.”

“That’s right,” Ansel said, all business.

“When did it happen?”

“One, two days ago.” Ansel shrugged, shaking her head. “I’ve lost count.”

“Good,” the Scientist said, nodding. “Recently then. That’s good.”

“Tom was supposed to help me,” Ansel said.

“The protector who you stopped at the Feast?”

“If that was a feast.”

“Ansel, I know we’ll be able to get your father.”

The door opened, and Richard turned with an eager face, but when it was Haley and Rosalind and not the food, he went back to staring out the window.

“You’re back,” the Scientist said, crossing the room to them. She couldn’t tell whether Haley was staying or going. “Have you met our guests?”

“She’s the one I gave the information to,” Ansel said, walking over to them.

“We’ve met,” Rosalind said.

“And this is my—this is Haley,” the Scientist said.

“I’m Ansel.”

“Hello, Ansel,” Haley said, curtsying.

“So,” the Scientist said. “How did your conversation go? Did you come to a decision?”

“I chose…” Haley stalled.

“Well, we—” Rosalind said, but Huey came in pushing a cart piled with food, trailed by Mr. Kitty in his red collar.

“Food!” Richard yelled, jumping up and down around the cart as Huey pushed it in. Mr. Kitty ran out of his way and jumped onto one of the puffy chairs to lick himself.

“The cat!” Ansel said.

“I didn’t know what you wanted, sir,” Huey said. “So I brought a little of a lot. I hope you approve.”

Om—thanks—nom,” Richard said, stuffing his face with red beans, shrimp, and sausage from the cart.

“Mr. Douglas,” Haley said.

“Please, Haley,” Huey said, bowing. “My name’s Huey. You can use it while we’re here.”

“Huey,” Haley said, a little awkwardly, as if she still didn’t feel comfortable calling him that. “Y—You actually work with them.” She seemed more shocked than she had when the Scientist told her that she was her mom.

“I do what I can,” Huey said, tipping his hat.

“And you’re my sister,” Haley said to Rosalind.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Rosalind said with a sigh.

“And that means…” Haley looked at the Scientist who thought she saw tears in Haley’s eyes, but it must have been an illusion, Haley wasn’t built to do that. “That you’re my mother.”

The Scientist was, though. And that she did. She didn’t make a sound, but she couldn’t hold the torrent of tears. “I am,” she whispered.

“Mom.” Haley embraced her as she cried.

“You’re her mom?” Ansel said. “But you’re so old.”

Rosalind laughed. The Scientist did, too, while she cried. Then everyone joined in for a chuckle. Even Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yes, dear,” the Scientist said. “But families come in all shapes and sizes.”

And ages,” Richard added, a hunk of bread stuffed in his mouth.

“And ages,” the Scientist repeated, wiping her eyes.

“But you’re still gonna get my dad, right?”

“Of course we are, dear,” the Scientist said. She looked around. Huey, Rosalind, and even Haley nodded. Richard went on stuffing his face. Mr. Kitty licked himself. “We’ll do it together.”

Ansel smiled. “We do nothing alone.”

End of Book One

#     #     # 

Acknowledgements

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Sophie Kunen for being, if not the first to believe in my writing, the first to convince me she did. I still write between the leather you gave me. This one’s for you, as they all are.

Next, I have to say thank you to David Garifo for keeping me sane when I first moved down to New Orleans—which happened to be at the same time I was doing the majority of the heavy lifting on this novel. David’s once-every-week-or-two visits were about the only personal interaction I got while living in that attic on Elysian Fields, so thank you, sir, for all you did, and still do, to support my writing in your unique way.

And third, a special thanks goes out to Matt Maresh, the first person other than me to actually read this thing through all the way to the end. This version’s a little different than the version you read, Matt, but I don’t expect you to read it again. Save your eyes for volume two when I might need the same boost of confidence.

Almost last, but certainly not least, thanks to my parents, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that I can be anything in the world I want, and my brothers, Tor Tor and Rob, for believing in me when I thought I could be everything.

And finally, thank you readers. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, and I hope you’ll join me again in volume two. Always remember:

We do nothing alone.

END

< XX. Tom     [Table of Contents]     Book II >

Thanks again, y’all. That’s a wrap for real this time. Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you’re inclined to do that type of thing. And keep on coming back here for more news and information about the forthcoming continuation of the Infinite Limits series with book two: An Almost Tangent.

Chapter 20: Tom

Chapter 20’s here with Tom’s final POV chapter, and now he’s just Tom. No Officer Pardy, no Pardy, just Tom. I hope you’ve been enjoying everything, because next week I’ll post the final final chapter for book one of the Infinite Limits series (or, as usual, you can buy it on Amazon through here). Thanks for joining us. And have a good weekend.

< XIX. Ellie     [Table of Contents]     XXI. The Scientist >

XX. Tom

“Ansel, wait!” Tom called as the children ran away. They were so small he only had to jog to keep up, but he knew it was no use. “Pidgeon!” he called, sprinting to catch up with the boy—who was lagging behind—and grabbing him by the shoulder to stop him.

“Please don’t hurt me,” the boy said, holding his hands up in front of his face. A little puddle formed at the front of his pants.

“I’m not—I won’t—” Tom said. “You’re Pidgeon, right.”

The kid was shaking still, but he dropped his hands. “R—Richard, sir.” He nodded.

“But they call you Pidgeon, right? She does, Ansel does.” The name tasted like guilt in his mouth.

“Yes, sir,” Pidgeon said, nodding. “All the kids at school do.”

“I don’t care about the kids at school, son. I care about Ansel. Now I need you to catch up to her and protect her with everything you’ve got. You understand me?”

“I—uh—I was, sir,” Pidgeon said, shaking more violently. “But you stopped me.”

“No, kid,” Tom said, stepping closer and looking him in the eyes. “I mean you stick by her side no matter what. I’m coming back here, and I will find her. If you’re not there with her when I do, then I’ll find you next, and it won’t be to protect you. You got that?”

“No. I—But—Why me?”

“Someone has to protect her while I’m not there.” Tom shook his head. “You’re the only one who’s left, so you’ll have to do.”

“But what am I supposed to do?”

“I said you’ll do. You’ll do whatever it takes. And don’t let me find out that you didn’t.”

“But, I—”

“Go!” Tom stomped his foot to scare the kid away. Pidgeon’s eyes grew wide as he fled clumsily away. He looked like he probably pissed himself again.

Tom took off the old model helmet that Rosa and Anna had given him and carried it by his side, roaming the streets of 6. What good was the helmet to him now? If anyone wanted to shoot him, they could go right ahead and do it. He didn’t care. He had failed and failed and failed, and he was on his way to face the consequences of that failure. At least if someone shot him now, they would keep him from that experience. In fact, he didn’t know why he was still carrying the stupid thing at all. He tossed it at the building closest to him and felt better for having the weight lifted.

Why did he need any of it? He unbuckled his plated vest as he walked and tossed that on the ground, too. Now they would have an even bigger target to put him out of his misery.

He didn’t know where he was, but he kept walking. Without his helmet and vest, people didn’t recognize him as a protector. The streets filled up as he wandered through them.

Maybe he didn’t have to go back and face the consequences after all. Maybe he could stay here in Outland 6 and blend in as one of them. He was a lot taller than they were, sure, but they didn’t seem to notice or care. No one even glanced at him twice now that he was out of his protector uniform.

He plopped down on the sidewalk with his back leaning on a rough brick building and untied his heavy white boots, throwing them on the ground next to him with a thud. Why not? He didn’t need any of it anymore. And maybe if they found him shoeless and half-naked they’d be easier on his punishment. Probably not, but he was beyond caring.

He got up and tried out his socked feet. The ground was rough, and every few steps he’d hit a pebble, or a shard of glass, and feel a shock of pain shoot up through his foot, but he almost liked it. It was freeing. Or, no, that wasn’t right. It was grounding. He could feel the ground underneath his feet, and he finally knew where he stood. He tore his undershirt off, too, and walked on with nothing but his white protector cargo pants and white cotton socks.

People did start to look at him then. He had gone over that line of blending in right back to standing out more than ever. Now, though, instead of running away at first sight of him, people either pointed and stared, or tried to avoid eye contact as they scurried by. The crowd parted in front of him however they reacted. He felt as if he were afflicted with some contagious disease. They all steered clear of him until a little boy ran out and offered him a bright red poinsettia.

Tom looked down at the kid’s dirty, smiling face and the flower in his hand. He extended his own hand to reach for the flower and it shook with the effort. He put the poinsettia to his nose and smelled it. Tears welled up behind his eyes and something caught in his stomach. “Thank you,” he whispered. The kid smiled wider then ran back into the crowd of people.

He did still care. Of course he did. He cared about his son back home, he cared about setting a good example for him. That’s why he had done all of this in the first place, to protect his son, not to protect Ansel. She was collateral assistance. He was supposed to be setting an example for his son, building a world that was safe for him to live in, but what was he doing instead? He was half-naked in the streets of Outland 6, giving up on his life. What kind of an example was that?

He put the flower in his pocket then tried to find some landmark to show him where he was. So few of the intersections had signs, it was impossible to find out that way. He didn’t recognize anything. He tried the next street, and the next, then turned a corner and went down another street or two.

He was starting to regret taking off his shoes. His feet burned. Every step now was like walking on glass, whether he actually stepped on a piece or not. At the next intersection there were still no signs in sight. He checked the bottom of one foot, and as suspected, his sock was soaked in blood. Great. Exactly what he needed, open wounds on the bottom of his feet so he could catch whatever diseases the streets of Outland 6 carried. Still, he had no choice but to carry on. Going back to find his shoes now would only open him to more risk.

It was three more blocks before he found a sign, and he didn’t recognize the street name. Still, it was a sign. He followed the street he had a name for until he came to the next named street a few blocks away. This one he did recognize. He knew where he was, and he knew where he had left to go. He sighed in relief and his feet ached less because of it. It was four blocks to the Neutral Grounds, then there was a transport bay every fifteen blocks along that. This street was right in the middle of two transport bays—of course—but it was somewhere, which was a lot better than nowhere.

He had hoped to see a protector and be able to hail them before he got to the Grounds, but he didn’t see anyone between where he was and the closest transport bay, a transport bay which wouldn’t open without his comm link. He sat down with his back on the bay doors and checked his feet again. The entire bottom of both socks were soaked in blood, so he had no way to tell how bad the injuries were. For all he knew he could be soleless. He wanted to peel his socks off to get a closer look, but he thought that would only make things worse, especially if he ended up having to walk some more.

What to do now? He could sit there and wait for someone to come out of the bay, giving his feet a rest in the process, but there was no telling how long that would take. He looked at his feet one more time and tried blowing on them to ease the pain, but it didn’t help, the socks were in the way. It did stretch his already worked muscles, though, so he went on for a while anyway to give them a cool down. Then he leaned back and looked at the trees in the Grounds.

What was he going to tell the Captain when he finally got back? How could he explain this? His nakedness? How could he explain being ambushed by tiny troll ladies?

Okay. He got hit in the back of the neck and knocked out. That was a fact. He wouldn’t be lying if he said it. And there was physical evidence to back that up. Then they took his gun, comm link, and all his gear, and they sent him off to fend for himself. He walked for blocks and blocks, until his feet were bloody, and he finally found a transport bay. They had to believe him. Look at his feet.

Or they knew it was him at the Feast. Then what would they do? He didn’t want to think about that. He was lucky he didn’t have to, because the transport bay doors opened behind him, and he fell backwards at the feet of three protectors.

“Well, well, well,” one of the protectors said through bright, shining teeth.

“Pardy. You make our job easy,” another said in the same modulated voice.

“Home base, we have the golden egg. Be back in five,” the third added.

“Already?” came a voice over their comm links. “Congratulations, Officers. Bring him in.”

“Tom Pardy, you are under arrest for attempted assassination and dereliction of duty. Surrender now or face justice.”

Tom stood and backed away from them, wincing at the pain. “I—what?” he said, holding his hands up. “No. I didn’t—”

One of them took out their stun gun. “Just come quietly, or we’ll do this the hard way. You were a protector once, Pardy. You know how this goes.”

“No. You can’t,” Tom said. “You don’t understand. I can explai—”

Tom felt the pinch of taser darts sticking like tiny fishhooks into his bare chest, a shock of electricity surging throughout his body, and the hot pressure of a deafening explosion behind him which flung his body into the back wall of the transport bay where the three protectors broke his fall before he blacked out into nothingness.

#     #     #

Tom awoke for the second time in his life bound to a chair and gnashing at his restraints. A bright white light blinded him. It was much whiter than the yellow light Anna and Rosa had used to blind him. This wasn’t their dump hideout in Outland 6. The seat here was harder and colder, though it was about the same height. The air smelled antiseptic, sterile, overcleaned. This time it wasn’t Sixer scum who held him in captivity, it was his fellow protectors.

He heard the door open and close, but here it didn’t affect the brightness of the light that blinded him. Here a camera digitally tracked his pupils to ensure maximum light exposure with a light that was bright enough to penetrate eyelids. The protectors had blinding down to a science.

Whoever opened the door walked in and sat at the chair across from him. That’s all he could tell by the sound. All protectors wore the same boots, so all their footsteps sounded the same. The person didn’t say anything for a good long time. They let Tom struggle in vain until he gave up, clenching his eyes tight against the rays which he couldn’t stop.

Pardy, Pardy, Pardy,” the voice finally came, Captain Mondragon’s voice. “You should know by now that this struggling is useless. You are a protector after all. Aren’t you?”

“You killed Rabbit,” Tom said, his eyes still clenched against the hot lights.

“Watch your mouth, Pardy,” the Captain snapped. “That’s a heavy accusation to be lobbing at a superior officer. Now, we can chalk that one up to duress and move on. But before we do anything, can we turn these lights off, please? I think he’s had enough. Thank you.”

Tom’s eyelids turned from red to black. He opened his eyes slowly, and it was still blackness until they adjusted to the room. It was an interrogation room. There was a metal table, big black two way mirror, and the Captain sitting across from him, raised up a little to look down on him in his too short seat.

“There, Pardy,” the Captain said, grinning. “That’s better. Isn’t it?”

“Why are you holding me?” Tom demanded. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Pfft, Pardy.” The Captain laughed. “Please. Give us some credit. You know our capabilities.”

“I know you’re capable of killing an officer on duty.”

“Then you should know what will happen to you if you try to get in the way.” The Captain smiled. “Pardy,” she said, shaking her head. “Come on. I tried to help you. I’m trying to help you. I gave you the world on a platinum platter. You simply have to work with me, Pardy. You can do that, can’t you?”

“Work with you?” Tom scoffed. “After you sent me into that shit shift?”

“You asked for Outland 6, Pardy.”

“Not the solo Street beat right after my initiation.”

The Captain laughed. “No, Pardy. You didn’t ask for that. But when you asked for 6, you showed me that you weren’t willing to cooperate. I made it clear which precincts I thought would be most profitable for both of us.”

Tom shook his head. He struggled against his cuffs again then slammed his fists on the table. “I have my reasons! I had no choice!”

“Yes, Pardy.” The Captain smiled. “Good. You had no choice. That’s what I told them. Everyone else thought you were a rebel mole, or you went insane after killing your first Sixer, or something. But not me. No. I told them, Not Pardy. Pardy goes by the books, that one. He’s got his reasons and they support Property, Liberty, Life or I’ve never done an honest day of protector work in my life. That’s what I said, Pardy.”

“You’re mocking me.” Tom sneered.

“No, Pardy.” The Captain looked offended. “No. Well…” She chuckled. “Maybe a little. But I did say that. And that is what they think.”

“That’s why they think I came back without my gear?”

“Oh. Sweetheart.” The Captain gave him a wry grin, shaking her head. “That’s precious. But no. That’s why they think you tried to assassinate Lord Walker. They think you had a hand in all that other stuff, too—and Amaru are they looking for a head to take over that one—but I know you better than that, Pardy. Don’t I?”

“Lord Walker?”

Ugh. Pardy.” The Captain frowned. “You’re not helping my case here. You’re not helping your case. If you don’t know the name of the man you tried to kill, how could you have a legitimate reason to kill him?”

“That’s—No. I didn’t—”

“We know it was you, Pardy. Our tracking capabilities don’t end at guns and comm links. You might as well come clean now. We know where you were during your entire shift—ahem—and beyond. And we know your boots and armor were in the Feast Hall when the assassination attempt occurred. Taking into account the size of the shooter and your absence from duty, it was obviously you. Now that we have that out of the way, why’d you do it, Pardy? And make it good this time.”

“I don’t even have my boots. I didn—”

“You did it because…”

Why’d you kill Rabbit?” Tom demanded.

“Pardy.” The Captain shook her head. “I told you. Watch your mouth. Now I’m the only one on your side here. You’d do better for yourself not to alienate me. Being honest with me is the only way that I can help you.”

“Did you kill anyone else besides Rabbit?” Tom asked, gritting his teeth. He had never hated a fellow protector before. It seemed wrong to do it now, but he couldn’t hold back his anger.

“I shot the scumbag trash, low-class Sixer that dared to draw a gun on a protector. I shot the wannabe person that shot your Rabbit. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know, Pardy. Why do you care? They murdered an Officer of the Law and they’re dead because of it. Case closed.”

“No. But the woman—”

“So it is about her, then,” the Captain said, shaking her head. “Pardy, we kill people in the line of duty. It happens. If you can’t deal with that, then you’re not cut out to be a protector. Maybe you’d feel more comfortable doing housework.”

“She said she had a husband,” Tom said, ignoring her. “Was he the one who you killed?”

The Captain smiled. She leaned closer over the table. “Why do you care so much, Pardy?”

“Just tell me!”

“This isn’t a negotiation, son. It’s an interrogation. Or did you not notice the shiny, new bracelets we gave you? Silver is your color, boy.”

Tom swung his fist at her and moved his chair forward with the force of it against his handcuffs.

“Well, now you notice them for sure,” the Captain said with a smile.

“What do you want?”

“I told you. I want to know why you did it. But make it good this time. You have an audience.”

He looked over at the black mirror. “I was protecting a little girl,” he said to it instead of the Captain.

“A little girl?” the Captain said. “By shooting Lord Walker?”

Tom looked back at the Captain. “Is her dad alive?”

Her dad.” The Captain scoffed, shaking her head. “Of course. I should have known. We should have known. We do have a department for this type of thing, don’t we?”

“Is. He. Alive?” Tom demanded.

“How old is your son now, Pardy? Ten, eleven years old. I must confess, I don’t know much about your personal life.”

“Leave him out of this.”

“How can I?” the Captain said, shaking her head. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? I should have known when you started talking about that trash’s daughter earlier. This is my fault really. I’ll pull in the favors required to pay the consequences, but that’s all I need to know from you, Pardy. I wish you had thought of a better story, though. I had a lot invested in you, son. Well, good luck anyway.” She stood and made to walk away.

“Wait!” Tom called.

She stopped but didn’t turn around.

“Her father. Tell me. Is he alive?”

The Captain took a few slow steps back to the table and leaned over it to get close to his face. “For now, Pardy,” she said. He could feel the heat of her breath as she spoke and smell the liquor she must have drank before the interrogation. “But not for long. You get caught with that many printers in Outland 6 and there’s nowhere left to go. I’ll hurry it along now that I know he’s so important to you, though. You can count on that.” She pushed herself up off the table and walked out chuckling.

“I want to see him!” Tom yelled after her, but the door closed and she didn’t respond.

He fought against his chains until he bled, then he gave up. There was no use. His life was in their hands. Whoever they were. The Captain and her superiors, whoever was listening behind the black mirror, they decided his fate now. Not him. The door opened, and a pair of Officers he didn’t recognize marched in. One of them tossed the clothes out of Tom’s locker onto the table while the other undid his cuffs.

“Change into your clothes, citizen.”

Citizen? “The names Pardy,” Tom said, rubbing his bloody wrists. “Officer Pardy.”

“Not anymore, citizen. Dress yourself.” They pointed their guns at him.

“Alright, alright.” Tom slipped out of his white cargoes and into the jeans and t-shirt he had worn to his first day at the academy. They were fresh, and clean, and hadn’t been worn since. They felt soft and comforting against his skin. He only regretted the circumstances under which he had to put them back on.

“So. What now?” he asked when he was dressed. “Is that it? No trial?”

“You’ve been tried, citizen. Come with us.” One of them shoved Tom towards the door which the other had opened. They marched him at gunpoint through the halls to the transport bay where the Captain was waiting by the bay’s open doors.

“Well, Pardy,” she said. “This is the best I can do for you.”

“What?” He said through gritted teeth, fighting the urge to punch her.

“You’re clearly not stable enough to be a protector. Look at how worked up you are now. Dangerous, really.” The Captain shook her head. “And even more clearly, you miss your darling son. So it’s back to housework for you, Pardy. The only thing you’re good enough for.”

“I—but—”

The two officers pushed him through the bay doors into the elevator and got in with him. The doors closed, the floor fell out from beneath them, then the doors opened, and one of the protectors poked Tom in the back with a gun. “Out!”

He stepped out of the doors, and they slid closed behind him.

He looked up at the sky then down at the courtyard around him, spotting a tree that he wanted to climb. He ran over to it and sat at the bottom, taking off his shoes. He got one off and his sock was still bloody. It reminded him of everything he had just been through, everything he had just done.

What was he doing now? He felt like he had been here before but with less clothes. He remembered it like it was a bad decision made a long time ago. He thought it was probably still a bad idea. There was something—something—but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. A little black cat scampered across the sidewalk in front of him and disappeared on the other side.

His son.

He stood and limped—more from having only one shoe on than from having bloody feet—down the few blocks to his house. He checked his pockets but didn’t have a key, and he had to knock on his own door to get in. He was banging excitedly when his wife yelled at him to shut up, she was coming, then opened the door. “Tommy,” she said when she saw him. “I—”

Chels.” Tom hugged her as she squirmed away, surprised.

“What are you doing here?”

“I—uh—” It wasn’t the reaction he had expected. But what did he expect?

“And you only have one shoe on. Tom, what happened? Are you alright?”

“Chelsea,” Tom said, grabbing her hands. “Chels. I—I’m fine now. Where’s Jonah?”

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head, clearly still confused. “He’s outside playing or something. Settle down and tell me what you’re doing here.”

“I—I don’t know,” Tom said, avoiding eye contact. “I did something. I—I’m not a protector anymore.”

Chelsea crossed her arms and frowned. “Not a protector?”

“There was this girl, Chels. This girl.” He shook his head. “She reminded me so much of Jonah. I just had to see him. Where is he?”

“What girl, Tom? What are you talking about?”

“This—This girl.” Tom sighed. Water welled up behind his eyes. “I…I killed her mom, and I had to—”

“You killed her mom?” Chelsea’s arms uncrossed.

“I—I didn’t mean to. I thought she had a gun.”

“She had a gun!” She embraced him in a long hug. “Sweetheart.”

Tom felt his heart drop to his stomach. The tears came. He had never cried in front of Chelsea before, but he couldn’t stop himself now. “N—No…She didn’t.”

“Sweetheart,” she whispered in his ear, patting his back. “It’s okay. I’ll get you back up and on your feet in no time. Then you can get back to protecting the worlds.”

He pushed away from her, tears still in his eyes. “No. You don’t understand. I can—I can’t go back. They won’t take me anymore.”

“What?” She didn’t sound as understanding as she did before. Her arms crossed again.

“They took my badge. I won’t be a protector ever again.”

“No.” She backed away from him. “How? Why?”

“I had to,” Tom said, shaking his head and looking at his feet. “The girl. If it was Jonah, we would have wanted someone to do the same for him.”

If it was Jonah, Tom. If. But it wasn’t. It was some Sixer trash. Are you telling me you threw your life away for trash?”

“I—No—” Tom said, shaking his head. “I didn’t throw my life away.”

“Well, you’re never going to be a protector again. Right?”

“I…” Tom shook his head again, eyes still glued to his feet.

“Then you threw your life away, Tom.” She stomped into the house.

“Wait!” Tom called. She stopped herself halfway through closing the door. “Where are you going?”

“To submit my application to the Protector’s Academy,” she said. “You don’t expect me to live in a two housekeeper family, do you?” She didn’t wait for an answer and slammed the door behind her.

Tom turned around and slouched onto the stoop with his head in his hands. He had thrown his life away, hadn’t he? Being a protector was the only way to build a respectable life in Outland 1. He knew that. It had been drilled into his head since before he understood words. What was he now? A housekeeper, the lowest of the low in 1. Better than any Sixer, sure, but that wasn’t saying much. And all for what? A filthy, scrawny piece of trash from Outland 6.

“Dad?” a voice came, breaking him away from the world inside his head.

He looked up from his sorrow to see Jonah standing there in the yard with a friend who Tom didn’t recognize. “Jonah?” he said.

“Dad, what are you doing here?”

“Jonah.” Tom stood up, realizing how ridiculous he must look wearing only one shoe. “I, uh…”

“Hey, I’ll see you later,” Jonah said to his friend who scurried away, giggling. “Dad. What are you doing here?”

“Jonah,” Tom said, trying not to cry. “I missed you so much.” He picked Jonah up in a big hug, but Jonah squirmed away.

“Dad, shouldn’t you be at work?”

“No, son,” Tom said. “I shouldn’t.”

“But you told me—”

“Jonah. Listen to me. Everything I told you was wrong.”

“What?”

“It was all based on bad information, son. Red herrings.”

“Red herrings?” Jonah was obviously confused. Tom couldn’t blame him.

“Yeah, you know, something that sounds like a clue but—”

“Yeah, dad.” Jonah scoffed. “I know what a red herring is. I’m not stupid.”

“Oh. Well…” Tom had to gather himself for a moment. He hadn’t seen Jonah in so long he had forgotten how old he was now, how much he already knew about the worlds. “Of course, son. But school, and television…The news—Those are all red herrings,” he said.

Jonah laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, son. It’s all wrong. You have to think for yourself. Pretty much do the opposite of whatever they say.”

Jonah chuckled some more. “Alright, dad. Is this some sort of test or something?”

“No.” Tom shook his head. “I’m serious. Red herrings.”

Pffft. Sure, dad.” Jonah smiled. “That’s why you’re wearing one shoe, right?”

“I, well…”

“Alright, dad,” Jonah said, skipping up the stairs and inside. “I’ll keep that in mind. But come on inside. It’s almost time for dinner.”

Tom sighed. No one was ever going to believe him. Still, what was there left for him to do? He followed Jonah inside to see if he could help with dinner.

#     #     #

< XIX. Ellie     [Table of Contents]     XXI. The Scientist >

Thanks again for reading this far. Don’t forget to join us for the exciting conclusion of The Asymptote’s Tail next Saturday, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the full novel from Amazon if you want to support future novels in the Infinite Limits series and beyond. Have a great weekend, y’all.

Chapter 19: Ellie

Here’s Ellie’s third and final chapter for y’all to read today. I especially enjoyed writing the scene with everyone drinking around the table at the end. I hope y’all will enjoy reading it, too.

There are only two more weeks before you can read the entire novel here on the website, but you can still go to Amazon to order a copy before then. Either way, thanks for reading along. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Ellie McCannik

< XVIII. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     XX. Tom >

XIX. Ellie

She pounded her fists against the cold metal until her knuckles were bloody and numb. She flung her body at the door in vain and slouched down sobbing uncontrollably with her cheek on the rubber conveyor belt.

The door was closed. Her chance was gone. She had waited too long to bring her son to the beach, then she waited too long to live the experience for him. She failed again and again. He wasn’t even alive, and she continued to fail him.

She wept and wept with her cheeks on the belt before she remembered that she had already set some of the discs. She picked one out of the pouch and pressed the little red button to see how long she had left. Five minutes. Five minutes. Was it worth it to try to leave? What did she have to live for anymore? If she stayed here and held the disc tight, they would all think that she decided to stay on the beach. She would disappear from existence just like that, erased from memory. She almost felt calmed at the thought of it.

But she didn’t. She still hadn’t kept her promises. She could probably set more of the discs before she left. And if they could get her to the beach once, they could do it again. Couldn’t they? By that time she could do enough to pay for the privilege and not have to worry about making the same stupid mistake and missing her chance again. She had to do something. She couldn’t give up and wait for the explosion to erase her responsibility. That would be doing even more of a disservice to her son.

She opened her eyes and picked herself up to jump down off the conveyor belt. The disc said three minutes now. She peeled off the paper backing, stuck it to the screen which told her what particular piece of crap was supposed to come down the conveyor belt every day, the machine that guided her work, the robot who used her, and she sprinted out of the hall, down the stairs, and out of the building entirely, not stopping until she left the front door, and then only slowing to a fast walk—she didn’t really have time to act nonchalant. She was only half a block away from the building when she heard the explosion.

Her heart pounded at the sound, and her feet tingled. She could feel the ground moving beneath her, as if the whole world was shaking. She felt like she wanted to run, but she stopped herself. Then she wanted to look back. She stopped herself from looking at first, then thought it might be more suspicious not to look and decided to turn and see what she had done. An entire floor of the building—not as high as she thought it would be—was blown out, but the rest of it was still standing. There was a blasted-out gash, bleeding rubble, water, and electricity. Not as much damage as she had expected, she thought the whole building would come down, but she had left a mark at least.

She turned and hurried on her way toward the elevator to ride it to her bar. What else was there for her to do? She had just laid bombs in her workplace and blown it to smithereens. She had been to the beach and back in less than fifteen minutes. She had kept all her promises and broken all of them all at the same time. What was she to do but get a drink and enjoy the rest of Christmas?

The public elevator had no one. The street to the bar was empty. The bar was dark when she got there. It was closed. Of course it was closed. Even the bartender had a family to spend Christmas with. Even Gertrude. Everyone did. She kicked the door.

Stupid stupid stupid. She had drank her last beer and eaten her last egg before she went on her mission. She wasn’t supposed to be coming back. She should have been on the beach, figuring out how to make a fishing rod or a spear, but instead, she was standing in front of a closed bar with nowhere left to go.

Her hand flicked over the address card in her pocket. Well, almost nowhere. Gertrude had invited her over. She wanted to know all the details, Ellie was sure. She’d probably have a drink to share, and some food. It was Christmas after all. And it would be nice to tell someone about what had happened, to unburden some of it somehow. Though she wasn’t quite sure how much of it she wanted to tell. She pulled out the card and made her way to the nearest public elevator.

Gertrude’s street looked just like Ellie’s, though the buildings were different colors and in slightly different degrees of dilapidation. She held her breath as she pressed the buzzer next to Gertrude’s name: Trudy Weaver. It took a minute for a response to come, and Ellie was on the verge of leaving when a staticy voice said, “Yes? Um—ahem—Excuse me. Hello?”

“Um…Yeah,” Ellie said, leaning close to the intercom and talking too loudly. “I was looking for Gertrude.”

“Oh, Trudy, dear,” the voice said, apparently Gertrude’s. “Please. And this is she. May I ask who’s speaking? You sound like a robot.”

Ellie heard laughter from the background. “Oh—It’s uh…It’s Ellie,” she said. “Ellie McCannik. From QA.”

“Oh. Ellie, dear. Come on up. Up up up. Have a drink and tell us all about your day.”

Ellie felt like she was intruding on something. “No—I, uh,” she said. “I don’t want to be any trouble.” But it was no use because the door had already buzzed open and the intercom link had popped shut.

The inside of Gertrude’s building looked exactly the same as the inside of Ellie’s building. Her room was at the top floor, much like Ellie’s was. When Ellie got there, she noted it was in the exact same place, too, though it was a different number, even instead of odd. She didn’t know if she should knock or walk in, and she still hadn’t decided when the door opened and Gertrude handed her a full glass of eggnog. “Merry Christmas, dear,” Getrude said, hugging her. “Drink this and have a seat. I’ll introduce you to everyone.”

The room was full of people, but Ellie could tell it was emptied of things to make space for them. There was no bed in sight, and from the looks of it, this was the only room there was. Instead of a bed, there was a foldable table in the middle of the room with three people sitting around it. Ellie didn’t recognize any of them, and she could tell by the arrangement that she was taking Gertrude’s seat. She couldn’t see any more chairs, either. She felt even more like she was intruding despite the full drink in her hand.

“Oh, no,” Ellie said. “I couldn’t. I just wanted to come—”

“Oh, no,” Gertrude said, guiding Ellie to the seat. “Nonsense, dear. Sit down. Drink.” She tilted Ellie’s glass to give her a good long swig. Ellie did feel better for it. “Now. This here pretty, young face you see is Aldo,” Gertrude said, pointing to a kid with disheveled hair sitting in the back corner of the small room. “Aldo, say hello to Ellie.”

He smiled, and blushed, and took a big drink out of his glass.

“Aldo’s shy but he has deft hands,” Gertrude said. “Nimble little fingers. He works on the discs for us.”

“Trudy!” Aldo gasped. “You’re not supposed to tell.”

“Quiet, dear,” Gertrude said, waving his concerns away. “Please. Ellie here just placed some of your discs in her QA hall. Didn’t you, Ellie?”

Ellie blushed, too. She agreed with Aldo. She didn’t really want Gertrude talking about what she had done in front of a bunch of strangers. “Uh…” she said. “Yeah, well—”

“She knows what discs are,” Gertrude went on, ignoring Ellie. “And she doesn’t know anything about you besides how cute you are. So what’s the harm?”

“Still,” Aldo huffed. “It’s not right.”

“Oh, lighten up, dear,” Gertrude said, smiling. “It’s Christmas, a time for celebration. Your discs went off with a bang.” She laughed.

One of the others at the table leaned in toward Ellie and said, “So you’ve joined the cause.”

Ellie didn’t know how to answer. She took a long sip of eggnog to buy time. Technically she didn’t choose to join the cause. It was just the only option she had left. So maybe she had joined the cause after all. Whatever. It was easier to nod along either way.

“Welcome,” the woman said without waiting for further answer. “I’m Vicki. This is Alena.” She pointed to the fourth person sitting at the table. “We’ve known Trudy since before she got promoted and moved to this high class place.” She smiled and winked at Gertrude who laughed.

Oooh, dear,” Gertrude said. “A long time ago that was, too. These are my best friends, Ellie. They’re family. Vicki and Alena work down at a coal plant. They had a shift today, too. And they set their own discs.”

“Trudy!” Aldo complained again.

Aldo!” Gertrude replied in a high-pitched, mocking tone. “I want Ellie to know that she’s one of us, that she’s put herself on the line but she’s not alone. You don’t expect her to tell us what she did without a little leverage of her own, do you? It’s four against one.”

“Yeah, well.” Aldo huffed. “She better not tell.”

“Of course she won’t,” Gertrude said, turning to Ellie. “Will you dear?”

Ellie shook her head. She didn’t know who she would tell.

“You see,” Gertrude said. “You have nothing to worry about, boy. No one does. It’s Christmas. The operation is underway. Our glasses are full, and we have good company. Now, where were we? Vic, you were telling us about how your shift went. Why don’t you go back a little in the story for Ellie’s sake.”

“Oh, no,” Ellie said, taking the drink she was sipping away from her mouth. “Don’t mind—”

“Oh, no,” Vicki said. “It’s no problem. So, like Trudy said, Alena and I work in the coal plants. Well, that used to mean shoveling and all that, but they mostly replaced shovelers with robots so we just stand around in the fumes in case anything goes wrong these days. Then maybe a bot malfunctions, you know, and we take over the shoveling until a new one gets there or whatever. That’s abou—”

“Is all that necessary?” Alena interrupted her.

“Uh, well. I don’t know,” Vicki said, shrugging. “I don’t know how much she wants to know. Anyway. We worked our shift, right. And at the end of it—just like the Scientist said—the bots all turned off at once.” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that. And we…Well, we were free to do what we had to do without interference.

“So we set the discs, and we got out of there, and we were waiting for the elevator to come when we heard them go off. And did they ever go of? Whoooeeee. I mean, we couldn’t stop to see the damage, you know, but from the sound of it, they won’t have any power from that plant anytime soon.”

Aldo smiled and sipped his beer.

“Brilliant,” Gertrude said, beaming. “Wonderful. Amazing.” She sounded tipsy. “You fill my heart with joy. Tis the best Christmas gift a girl could ever ask for.” She walked over and planted a big kiss on Aldo’s forehead.

“C’mon man,” he said, wiping it away in disgust.

“You blew up a power plant?” Ellie said. Everyone in the room looked at her, and she regretted opening her mouth.

“See!” Aldo said, as if she had already told someone about his involvement.

“Quiet, Aldo.” Gertrude said.

“Yes,” Vickie said. “We did. This particular plant powers most of Outland 1’s communication capabilities. Without it, their response to the rest of the operation will be crippled.”

“But can’t they just—I’m sorry.” Ellie shook her head. She had almost let her mouth run off on its own again.

“No,” Vickie said. “Go ahead. Your opinion’s valid.”

Ellie looked around at everyone else in the room. They all seemed to agree with Vickie, even Aldo, so she went on. “Well, I was just thinking…I mean, couldn’t they just reroute the power from somewhere else?”

“I…uh…” Vickie looked to Gertrude for an answer.

“Yes,” Gertrude said, frowning. “They could. And they will, dear.” She smiled. “Probably they already have. Ha ha! But it’s still not fast enough to catch us.” She laughed. “It’s not about shutting down their communications forever, you see. We only had to do it for long enough to get what we needed on the other side.”

“So what was it that I was doing then?” Ellie asked. “Blowing up the conveyor belts to their homes? What good is that?”

“No, dear. No.” Gertrude set her glass on the table and took Ellie’s face between both hands. “You were a redundancy,” she said, talking too close and jiggling Ellie’s face as she did. “Quality assurance. Each of your discs went out to a different part of the operation. You played an important role.”

“I—I didn’t set them all,” Ellie blurted out, pulling away from Gertrude’s embrace. She took a big swig of eggnog.

“Where are the rest?” Aldo said.

“Right here.” She tossed the pouch on the table and Aldo snatched it up. “I’m sorry.”

“No no, dear,” Gertrude said, shaking her head and waving it away. “No need to apologize. At least you came back. And you set some. There’ll be plenty more for you to do, if you’re up to it.”

“But I didn’t…” She shook her head.

“You did what any human would,” Alena said. “You did what you could. There’s no changing that now. All you can change is what you do in the future.”

“I did the same thing on my first go,” Vicki said. “She sent me undercover to a plant I had never been to and expected me to download files from the mainframe. Me. I asked her why she didn’t just do it herself. She’s connected to everything. She can change our elevator paths and our shifts and turn off the robots, why couldn’t she do something so simple as downloading a little bit of data for herself? But she just said she couldn’t do it, that I had to. So I went all the way into the control center of the plant, and I was going to download everything, but a cat jumped out—I shit you not, a cat—and it spooked me so much I had to get out of there.”

Alena laughed. “Scaredy cat,” she said.

“Hey,” Vicki said, raising her hands in defense. “If you were there, you would have run, too.”

I downloaded my files,” Alena said with a grin.

“Yeah, well,” Vicki said, shaking her head and chuckling. “You didn’t get chased out before you could.”

“By a cat!” Alena laughed.

“You placed some, dear,” Gertrude said to Ellie. “That’s all that matters. You did your best and you’re back to try again. You did more than just set discs, though. Didn’t you? Tell us about that.”

“Oh, yeah. Well…” Ellie sipped her drink.

“Ellie works in QA,” Gertrude said to the group. They all looked at her like that meant something to them.

“Well, I got to see the beach,” Ellie said when the attention had grown to be too much.

“The beach?” Aldo said.

The beach,” Alena said.

“Tell us, dear,” Gertrude said.

“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “It was—It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Have you ever gargled with salt water for a sore throat?”

Aldo cringed.

“Imagine that smell all around you,” Ellie said, smiling at the memory. “Everywhere. And the faint hint of tuna dinner fresh out of the can. And that was just the smell!”

“I hate fish,” Alena said, crinkling up her nose like she could smell it then and there.

“But it wasn’t just that.” Ellie shook her head. “The sky was this endless deep blue with no clouds in sight. And it butted up against the endless deep blue of the ocean water. And while the sky seemed so far out of reach and aloof, the ocean just wanted to reach out at you again and again until you finally agreed to meet its wet touch.”

“Beautiful, dear.” Gertrude smiled.

“And the sand,” Ellie went on, unable to stop reminiscing. “Oh, the sand. It was amazing. I just want to bury my feet in it right now and feel the ocean breeze. It was like the biggest sandbox you had ever seen. I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I was a child again for fifteen minutes.” She remembered Levi and finished her drink.

“Would you like some more eggnog, dear?” Gertrude said, already getting a pitcher out of the fridge. “In the Christmas spirit.” She poured some into Ellie’s glass.

“I went to the mountains,” Alena said. “I always thought they were the prettiest thing ever. I don’t know why.”

“Because they’re so big,” Vicki said. “And old. Bigger and older than anything we’ve ever built.”

“And they’ll be there longer, too,” Aldo added.

“Oh. Now, Aldo,” Gertrude said. “Don’t be so cynical at your young age.” She tossed a piece of ice at him. “We’ll be here for a good long time yet. Not us but us. You know what I mean.”

“You’ll be here longer than any of us,” Vicki said, laughing.

Aldo and Alena joined in, too. Ellie gave a little chuckle herself.

“I can only hope so, dears.” Trudy smiled. “I can only hope so.”

Ellie sipped the eggnog and it felt warm throughout her body. She looked around the room and actually enjoyed the faces she was surrounded by. It was a feeling she missed. She didn’t know these people, but she felt like she did. She felt like they knew her, too. Though not even Trudy did. But did any of that matter anymore? Did anyone know anyone? No. And these people were welcoming her into their family.

“You didn’t choose to stay in the mountains?” Ellie asked, a little embarrassed by the question. Of course Alena didn’t choose to stay in the mountains, otherwise she wouldn’t be there to answer the question.

Alena chuckled.

I wanted to stay,” Vicki said. “I had studied up on how to build shelter and hunt in the cold, and I knew we could make it out there on that beautiful mountainside. Alena, here, convinced me otherwise.”

“Just in time, too,” Alena said with a smile.

“Well, I couldn’t live without you,” Vicki said, shaking her head and trying to suppress a grin. “Could I? Not even out there.”

Alena blushed.

“How’d you convince her?” Aldo asked. “I think I’d stay if I ever got the chance to leave this shit hole.”

“Aldo!” Gertrude said, spitting up some eggnog.

“It’s true!” Aldo said.

“Honestly,” Alena said. “I’m not sure I have convinced her still to this day.”

“She stepped through the door,” Vicki said. “That’s all it took. All the freedom in the worlds wasn’t enough if she wasn’t there to share it with me.”

“And she still tries to convince me to go back every day.” Alena laughed.

“Well why don’t you want to leave?” Ellie asked.

“That’s a good question,” Alena said, looking into her drink and really thinking about what she wanted to say before answering. “And a difficult one to answer, I’d say. I know Trudy talks about morality and all that, but it’s something different for me. I would—I don’t know how to say this better—but I would feel guilty if I left, you know. Like I was taking advantage of others because they had been taken advantage of with me. If that makes any sense at all. I don’t know.” She shook her head. “Besides, if we all leave when we get the chance to leave, then who’s going to fight for the people that never get a chance to? You know. I don’t know. I just—I would feel too guilty if I didn’t do everything I could to help. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been talking forever.” She shook her head and chuckled. “Someone else say something.”

Aldo scoffed. “They can fight for themselves,” he said. “We are.”

Ha, child.” Trudy laughed. “What exactly do you think you’d be doing if we hadn’t come along and let you into the family, huh?”

Aldo sipped his drink. “Yeah,” he said. “Well, something. That’s for sure.”

“Something, dear?” Trudy laughed again. “You wouldn’t even know who to fight or that the other worlds existed. You’d be just as ignorant and helpless as everyone else.”

“I’m not ignorant!” Aldo slammed his glass on the table, spilling some eggnog. “Don’t call me that.”

“Now now, dear,” Trudy said, cleaning up the mess he had made. “We all are. It’s not an insult. It just means that you don’t know something. And none of us would know any of this if no one ever told us. That’s exactly why I choose to stay, Ellie, dear. I plan to tell as many people as I can before I die and get more people to stand up and fight with us.”

“Stand up and fight?” Aldo scoffed. “I’ve never heard of you doing any fighting.”

“Nor me you, dear,” Trudy said, smiling and whipping the wet rag playfully towards him. “But we all contribute to the struggle in the best way we can. For me it’s recruiting and communications, for you it’s tinkering with technology. They’re both as necessary as the other. They’re both vital to the struggle. You and I fight just the same as our friends here who go on the front lines and place your discs.”

“Well said.” Vickie raised her glass. “Well said. You do have a great gift for communication, Trudy.”

Everyone laughed. Ellie, too. She was feeling more comfortable the more eggnog she drank.

“We all know that,” Vickie went on. “But how great is Aldo’s gift at tinkering? Ellie, tell us, did you get to see the outcome of your disc placement?”

“Oh, well…” Ellie sipped her drink.

“You don’t have to tell us, dear,” Trudy said. “But it would be a Christmas gift to have some news of the operation.”

“Well…” Ellie said. “I didn’t place all of them, you know.”

Aldo scoffed.

“Yes,” Trudy said, ignoring him. “That’s fine, dear. But how close were you when the ones you did set went off? Did you hear them? Did you see any of the damage they created?”

“Oh. Well…” Ellie looked around the table at expectant eyes. “Yeah,” she said. “I mean, it was kind of hard not to. The ground shook underneath me. It was like a small earthquake. And it was so loud I couldn’t hear for a minute afterward.”

Aldo grinned.

“How close were you?” Vicki asked, leaning in closer.

“Maybe a block away,” Ellie said. “My ears are still ringing.” She stuck a finger in one ear and wiggled it around to drive the point home.

“Did you see the damage?” Vicki asked.

“Yeah, well…” Ellie took a sip of her eggnog and glanced over at Aldo who seemed to tense up in anticipation of her answer. “There was a whole floor of the building gone, but the rest of it was still standing. It was like it had a huge wound on its side.”

“Is that right?” Vicki looked at Aldo.

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “Where were you? The QA hall?”

Ellie nodded.

“Well those were direct charges. Back up. Meant to take out specific targets and cause minimal collateral damage. If the building’s still standing, then it’s meant to be standing. Even if she set only one of those discs. I guarantee it.”

“That is right,” Vicki said. “Well done then.” She raised her glass. “To a successful operation.”

Everyone clanged their glasses over the table and took a big swig of whatever they were drinking.

“Now.” Vickie put an empty glass on the table. “If y’all don’t mind, I can’t speak for Alena here, but I’d like to get some rest after that long day of work—with overtime—so I’m going to bid my adieus.”

Ugh.” Alena stood from her seat. “Me, too, Trudy,” she said. “But you know we love the drinks and company as always.”

“And you know you two are always welcome, dear,” Trudy said with a smile, setting her own glass on the table. “Just come ringing, and if I’m here, there’s something to drink.” She winked.

“Well, we’ll be here tomorrow afternoon to get some more news,” Alena said. “Right?” She raised her eyebrows.

“I’m hoping as much as y’all are, dear,” Trudy said.

“Alright, girl,” Alena said. “See you then.” She hugged Trudy and waved to Aldo then turned to Ellie and said, “Nice to meet you. I hope to see you again soon.”

“You, too.” Ellie said, holding out her hand, but Alena came in for a hug instead.

Vicki shook hands with Aldo and hugged Trudy then stopped in front of Ellie. “You did good today,” she said.

“I could have done better,” Ellie said, shaking her head.

“No.” Vicki shook her head. “You can always do better. But you did good. That’s what’s important. You got that?”

Ellie didn’t know how to respond.

“I look forward to working with you in the future,” Vicki said. She shook Ellie’s hand. “Bye y’all. See you tomorrow.” She waved to everyone as they left.

The door closed behind them, and Trudy finally took a seat. Ellie felt bad for forgetting that she was standing for all that time. She wanted to say something to make up for it, but nothing was sufficient.

“Well, dears,” Trudy said. “Another round of nog?”

“Nah,” Aldo said, standing. “I should get going, too. I have some more tinkering to do.”

“Good luck with that, dear,” Trudy said. “You’re one of the best.”

Aldo looked at her like he didn’t believe what she was saying. “Uh…thanks,” he said. “And nice to meet you.” He nodded at Ellie and slipped through the door.

Ellie sipped the last dregs of her eggnog. She set the empty glass on the table.

“Well, dear,” Trudy said, finishing her own glass and setting it on the table. “I guess you’ve got something important to get to yourself. Don’t let old Gertrude keep you from it. I understand.”

Ellie shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “I’ve got nothing.”

“Now now, dear,” Trudy said, shaking her head. “Honestly. I’m fine. I have plenty to keep me busy. I don’t need your pity.”

“It’s not pity.”

“Oh. Sure…” Trudy gave a thumbs up, smiling and nodding. “Okay.”

“Trudy,” Ellie said, looking her in the eyes. “I honestly have nowhere else to be.”

“How kind.” Trudy winked.

“No. I mean…I tried to go to my bar before I came here. It was closed. That’s when I realized that the bar was all I had. But that’s not enough anymore. That’s why I came here in the first place.”

“So I was your second choice,” Trudy said with a smile as she went to the fridge to pour two new glasses of eggnog.

“Honestly.” Ellie sighed. “This entire place was my second choice.”

“I knew it!” Trudy said, almost spilling the drink she was pouring. “I knew it.

“You knew what?” Ellie asked, frowning.

“I knew something had to happen to keep you from placing all those discs. You had plenty of time if you chose to come back.”

“Yeah.” Ellie shook her head. “Well, maybe I didn’t choose to come back.”

“Maybe you did,” Trudy said, sipping her drink. “Maybe it was your subconscious choosing for you.”

“Maybe it was just a stupid mistake that I regret.”

“You know,” Trudy said. “I did the same thing.”

“What?”

“I wanted to stay over there, but I didn’t make it back.”

“I thought you had never been across,” Ellie said.

“I thought you wanted to join the struggle.” Trudy smiled and sipped her drink.

Maybe Ellie didn’t know as much about Trudy as she thought she did. “So?” she said.

“So I didn’t make it back either,” Trudy said. “But when I started working with the struggle, I knew it was what was best for me. It was difficult, yes. It is still difficult. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Ellie hated her and loved her all at the same time for that. Trudy represented everything Ellie could become. She set a bar for Ellie to reach merely by existing. “You know, Trudy,” she said. “I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship.”

“Me, too, dear.” Trudy smiled and nodded. “Me, too.”

#     #     #

< XVIII. Mr. Kitty     [Table of Contents]     XX. Tom >

Thanks again for following along. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Please think about buying a copy from Amazon to help support my future writing endeavors. And have a great weekend.

Chapter 18: Mr. Kitty

Today brings us Mr. Kitty’s third and final chapter, and we only have three more chapters left in the entire novel after this one. I hope you’re enjoying the story so far. If so, you can pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon right here. Now have at it.

Mr. Kitty

< XVII. Russ     [Table of Contents]     IX. Ellie >

XVIII. Mr. Kitty

Tillie was all packed up. She peeked her head out of the bedroom door and sighed. Mr. Kitty could tell she was upset when she opened the front door and called back, “I’m leaving, dad!” There was no answer, so she added, “Don’t even try to stop me!” and slammed the door.

Mr. Kitty had to react fast to prevent his tail from being crushed. “Hey,” he hissed.

“Sorry, Kitty. I—I didn’t see you,” Tillie said through her sobbing.

Mr. Kitty tried to rub up against her leg as she tried to walk, but he ended up tripping her. She landed with a thud in the grass, her backpack narrowly missing him.

“Sorry,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

Tillie stayed face down in the grass, sobbing. Mr. Kitty climbed up onto her butt and kneaded it. She sobbed a little more, then turned over and scooped him up onto her lap. “Mr. Kitty,” she said. “No one will ever believe me. Shelley didn’t, Dad didn’t and he should know already, who else would when I can barely believe myself?”

“I do,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Oh, I bet you’d believe me if you understood what was going on,” Tillie said.

“I do,” Mr. Kitty repeated.

“Mr. Kitty, you’re so talkative,” Tillie said, pinching his cheek with a smile. “It’s like you know what I’m saying. Do you understand me?”

“I do!” Mr. Kitty said one more time.

“Oh. I know you don’t,” Tillie said. “No one here does.” She sighed and put him on the grass, then stood and hoisted her backpack up onto her back with a groan. “But there’s still hope, Mr. Kitty. There’s always hope. I’ll go back to my dorm and ask some of my friends there, and if they don’t believe me, then I’ll just have to find that woman again. That’s all I can do, right?”

Mr. Kitty didn’t answer. He thought it sounded like an okay plan, if that was what she wanted to do. She could get more evidence from her dad’s computer before she left, that way people would be more easily convinced, but even if she could understand his advice, she probably wouldn’t break her dad’s trust like that, so there was no point in suggesting the idea. Instead, he ran ahead through the yard toward the public elevator.

“I guess you approve,” Tillie said, lugging her backpack along to catch up. “Just wait until you see my dorm, Mr. Kitty. You’re gonna love it. There are no pets allowed, but you can keep quiet about it, can’t you?”

“I’m a ninja,” Mr. Kitty meowed, letting her pass him then bounding out in front of her again.

“You’re gonna love my roommate, too,” Tillie said with a smile and a new bounce in her step. “I can’t wait. I’m so glad you’re coming with me, Mr. Kitty!”

There was no line at the elevator—there usually wasn’t in this neighborhood. Tillie called it, they stepped in, and she said, “Parade grounds.” She took a deep breath. Mr. Kitty knew she was nervous about being called crazy again, so he rubbed his head on her ankles and purred. She smiled down on him as the doors slid open.

Here there was a line, a young, loud, raucous one. Mr. Kitty jumped, and hissed, and puffed up his fur at the sound of it. The line laughed at him, and Tillie said, “C’mon Kitty. It’s alright.”

She forced her way through the crowd which was trying to push their way onto the elevator before Tillie and Mr. Kitty could get off. Mr. Kitty slipped through the wake she made, out into a big, open, grassy circle that was lined all around with oak trees. There was a tall flagpole in the center of the field, surrounded by short walls with writing on them, and scattered around that were groups of humans playing frisbee, dogs running free without leashes, and other groups of people running around with brooms between their knees, throwing balls at each other. Tillie was right, Mr. Kitty did love this place. Why had he never been here with her before?

“Mr. Kitty,” Tillie called, walking away from the green field. “My dorm’s this way.”

Mr. Kitty tore his attention away from all the new and interesting things to follow Tillie between gravel covered buildings and oak trees, past two big hills, down through a shady cypress swamp, to a patch of three-story buildings in the shade of a tall, ugly cement building. Tillie went up to the door of one of the shorter buildings and scanned a keycard. The door unlocked, and they went up a flight of stairs into a small apartment with three doors and a kitchen. Tillie tossed her backpack on the floor in front of the TV and walked around the kitchen with a sigh, checking the fridge and cupboards while Mr. Kitty crept around the place, sniffing everything and rubbing his scent on whatever called for it—most every surface.

Ugh. There’s nothing to eat!” she said.

Mr. Kitty jumped up onto the counter to rub his face on the sink and smell all the corners of the kitchen when the door opened and a human came in to throw her bag on the couch.

“There’s nothing in this kitchen,” Tillie said. “Do you have any paw points left this week?”

“No, girl,” the human said. “We spent it all before you left. I thought you were supposed to be staying at your dad’s anyway.”

“Yeah, well…” Tillie shrugged.

“And is that a cat in the kitchen? On the counter.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Tillie said. “Well…” She scooped Mr. Kitty up and held him over her shoulder, patting his back. “This is Mr. Kitty. He’s my cat. He’s just visiting though.”

“I like cats,” the human said. “Just not on the counter.”

“You hear that, Mr. Kitty?” Tillie said, patting him a few more times and kissing him on the head. “No counter.” She put him on the floor, and he went over to jump on the coffee table and lick his coat clean, paying special attention to the spot she had kissed.

“What are you doing back anyway?” the human asked. “It’s Christmas.”

“Yeah, well…” Tillie said. “That. I don’t know. I got into an argument with my dad. I thought you were supposed to be at your parents’ house, too. What happened to your Christmas tradition?”

“Plans changed. I got the perfect Christmas gift—which I have to be here for.”

“You have to be here?” Tillie raised an eyebrow.

“Enough about me. Why are you back?”

They both sat on the couch. The human reached out and pet Mr. Kitty. He let her go ahead for a few pats then jumped onto Tillie’s lap.

“Well…Like I said,” Tillie said. “I got into an argument with my dad.”

“He’s a manager, isn’t he?” the human said. “I mean, I know your last name’s Manager and all, but that’s his job, too. Right?”

“Right,” Tillie said, rolling her eyes. “That’s kind of what we were arguing about.”

“Yeah. It’s tough dealing with managers,” the human said. “No offense,” she added hastily.

“Oh. No,” Tillie said, shaking her head and waving a hand. “No n—n—no no. None taken. Believe me. I know better than anyone. He is my dad after all.” She chuckled. “I guess you don’t have the same problems, though. Huh? Your parents are lobbyists, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, well,” her roommate said. “I’m lucky enough to agree with their analysis of the economy, but there are some lobbyists out there who might be harder to live with than a manager.”

Ugh. Yes,” Tillie said with a big sigh. “Have you heard Lobbyist Peterson’s latest proposal?”

“Let me guess,” her roommate said. “Take more resources from higher education and healthcare to funnel them into administration where they’re really working.”

“Pretty much exactly that,” Tillie said, grimacing. “Disgusting, am I right?”

“Disgusting is exactly right,” her roommate said, nodding. “That’s why I’m lucky. My parents are doing everything they can to fight against jerks like that. Me, too. Soon.”

“I wish my dad understood.” Tillie shook her head. “I tried to tell him, but he didn’t even believe me.”

“You tried to tell him what?”

“I—uh—I don’t know…” Tillie said. “I don’t think I should be talking about it.”

“Is it classified?”

Mr. Kitty felt Tillie tense up under him. “How did you know?”

“Tillie. I know we haven’t been roommates for long, but I want you to know that you can trust me.”

“What are you talking about?” It felt like Tillie was about to jump out from underneath Mr. Kitty. He prepared himself to leap off in case she did.

“What did you argue with your dad about?” her roommate asked.

“I…I can’t.”

“You can, Tillie. I already know. Was it about the 3D printers?”

“I—uh—How did you know?”

“Because I know.”

Tillie’s eyes grew wide. Her mouth fell open. Her roommate stood up before she could say anything. “Wait.” She closed the blinds and turned on the TV at full blast, then added some loud music on top of that before sitting back on the couch and scooting extra close to Tillie. “Okay. Go ahead,” she said

“I don’t—What was that?” Tillie asked. “Why’d you do that?”

“If you’re going to say what I hope you’re going to say, then we don’t want to be recorded. This way all they hear is white noise.”

“I—uh…” Tillie frowned. “I never would have thought of that in my life. I’ve been telling people, though. Do you think they recorded me already?”

“I don’t know,” her roommate said with a shrug. “Maybe. I don’t know if they’re doing it now. I haven’t heard what you have to say.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Tillie said, hitting herself in the head. “Right…Well, you know the printers, right. What am I saying? Of course you do. You just said that. Well you know that they don’t rearrange matter or whatever, right?”

Her roommate nodded.

“Yeah, well, my dad did, too. Apparently. But I—Well, I…Do you ever watch Logo’s Show?”

“Sometimes, yes, but I try to stay away from gossip news.”

“Yeah, well, did you see his latest episode?”

Her roommate shook her head. “No. But I saw the emergency broadcast after.”

“Yeah, well, okay. So you know then. Well, you know what he was talking about at least. You heard about the woman who tried to talk to him on the streets, that is.”

“I have.”

“Yeah, well,” Tillie said, nodding. “Do you know what she said?”

“That humans work on the assembly lines.”

“And that’s true, Emma,” Tillie said, looking her roommate in the eyes and nodding.

“I know, Tillie,” Emma said.

“I know it sounds hard to—What?”

“I know that humans work on the assembly lines,” Emma said. “I know that the assembly lines actually exist and not just in Russ Logo’s world. That’s why I’m not home with my parents. That’s what my Christmas gift is all about.”

“Your gift is about the humans on the assembly lines?” Tillie looked confused.

“No.” Emma shook her head. “Not exactly. But yes. My gift is that I finally get to do something about it.”

“But—I—How could you know? What could you do?”

“I’ve known for a long time,” Emma said. “My parents have taught me the truth since I was a child. That’s why I’m not surprised.”

“But how? My dad didn’t even know and he’s a manager. They’re supposed to know the economy like the back of their credit cards. How could he miss something as big as humans on the assembly lines?”

“You said you argued with him?”

“He said I was mistaken.” Tillie scoffed. “As if I didn’t know what I had seen with my own two eyes. He said I was being emotional.”

Ugh. You see, Tillie. It’s not that he missed it, or that no one ever told him. He chooses not to know. They all choose to ignore it. I mean, how did you find out?”

“I saw a picture on his computer,” Tillie said. “I knew they weren’t robots.” She shook her head, looking away from Emma for a moment. Mr. Kitty purred and rubbed his head on her hands.

“A picture?” Emma asked.

“Of a factory accident.”

Emma looked away now. Mr. Kitty climbed over to her lap and rubbed his face on her arm.

“So how could he not figure out if I did, right?” Tillie said.

Emma still didn’t answer. She didn’t look at Tillie. She just pet Mr. Kitty’s head while he purred.

“You said you were going to do something about it,” Tillie said. “But how?”

“You know the answer to this one, Tillie.”

“The woman in the alley?”

“The Scientist.”

“No.” Tillie shook her head. “Who’s that?”

Emma shrugged. “No one’s entirely sure. She’s the Scientist.”

“And she wanted you to help her, too?”

“I’ve never met her in person. She offered my parents an opportunity, and now that opportunity extends to me. On Christmas Feast day nonetheless. Perfect timing.”

“Christmas Feast?” Tillie said, frowning. “You mean Christmas?”

“Christmas Feast is what they call it in Inland.”

“Inland?”

“So you don’t know everything then,” Emma said. “But I can tell you. As long as you don’t tell anyone else. No one.”

“You can trust me,” Tillie said, zipping her lips and crossing her heart.

“First,” Emma said. “Have you ever seen an assembly line worker in real life?”

Tillie shook her head. “Not besides the one I talked to.”

“What about an actor, or camera operator, or scientist?”

“I thought robots—”

“Robots don’t do much,” Emma said. “Have you ever seen one?”

“No, but they—”

“And you watch Logo’s Show. Don’t you ever wonder why the restaurants he talks about don’t exist?”

“Because it’s just a TV show,” Tillie said. “It’s not real.”

“But it’s not just a TV show. What about the assembly line workers? You know that they’re real. Where are they? Logo’s Show takes place in another world, Tillie. The restaurants do exist, but we have no way to access them. They’re in Outland 3 and we’re in Outland 2. There’s no way through except the elevators, and our elevators don’t go that way.”

“And that’s how I ended up meeting with that woman,” Tillie said, shaking her head.

“And that’s how I knew what you would tell me,” Emma said. “Look, I can’t stand this blaring noise anymore. Let’s go for a walk. Your cat might enjoy it, anyway.” She pet Mr. Kitty who had all but fallen asleep in her lap. He yawned and stretched his paws out in front of him.

“Yeah. I—uh—Sure,” Tillie said. “Let’s go.” She stood up, and Mr. Kitty jumped onto the coffee table to stretch some more.

Emma stood and said, “One second.” then went back to her room and came out wearing a big hooded sweatshirt. “Alright. Let’s go,” she said, and they went downstairs and out of the dorm.

Emma was right, too. Mr. Kitty did need a walk. He was too cooped up in their small dorm room. He ran through the grass, ate a few leaves of it in the falling sun, and almost lost Tillie and Emma in his excitement. He smelled another tree and clawed it a few times before running to catch up with them.

“I don’t know,” Tillie said. “I couldn’t do anything alone, but it might be different with you there.”

“You can do it,” Emma said. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. “You don’t even have to do anything. Just come with me. Look.” She pulled a pouch out of her sweater pocket and handed a little disc to Tillie.

“What is this?” Tillie asked, turning it over in her hands.

A bomb,” Emma whispered to her.

Tillie stopped in her tracks. Mr. Kitty saw a bug and jumped on it. How would Tillie respond to this? She had finally found someone who believes her, but it had to be someone who might be a little crazy herself. He let the bug fly away and caught up with them again. Emma had scooted Tillie along so she didn’t make a scene.

“Of course I wouldn’t have done it if it was dangerous,” Emma said. “Well, needlessly dangerous.” She winked.

“I would call handing me…” Tillie leaned in and lowered her voice. “A bomb needlessly dangerous.”

“I told you it can’t go off yet,” Emma said. “They have to be activated, and they’re on a timer.”

“And how exactly are…they supposed to help anything?”

“It all goes back to the division between the worlds,” Emma said. “There are these machines that bend space and—”

Woah ho ho. Wait a minute there,” Tillie said, stopping again. “Bend space? What are you talking about? You can’t bend space.”

“No,” Emma said, shaking her head. “I can’t. But they can. The Scientist can. That’s how the printers work. And the Scientist can get us to some of the Walker-Haley field generators which are used to do just that. All we have to do is rip, stick, and press then get out of there.”

“Walker-Haley field whats? Bending space?” Tillie shook her head. “I don’t know, Emma. It all sounds a little crazy. I don’t—”

“Look,” Emma said, cutting her off. “Come here.” She dragged Tillie by the arm to sit down on the concrete steps under the flagpole. They had walked all the way out to the center of the parade grounds, far enough away from everyone so that no one could hear their talking. The field was clearing out the darker it got, anyway, and the sun was all but gone. “Have you taken any science classes in college yet?” Emma asked.

Tillie shook her head. “I took AP science senior year.”

“Well, you might be able to understand,” Emma said. “Do you remember…”

Mr. Kitty didn’t care to hear the explanation. He didn’t care how things worked. He only wanted to know what they did and how that would affect him. And since he already knew the gist of what Emma was going to say, he had no reason to sit there and listen to the lecture. He knew it would be a long one, too, explaining how to bend space. Humans never could just walk to get from here to there. No, that was just too much work. But bending space so here is there, now that was less effort. Right? Mr. Kitty would never understand.

He went off to chew the grass and sharpen his claws on a tree, then chase some squirrels—who were so much harder to catch than those pigeons. He climbed up a tree after one, to show it that he could, and licked himself on a branch while the squirrel cowered at the top of the tree. He climbed back down, and Tillie and Emma were standing from their lesson, intent on doing something.

“Come on, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie called, motioning with her hand as they walked toward the elevator.

Mr. Kitty sprinted to catch up with them, dodging through the legs of passing students. The door to the elevator slid shut behind him, almost clamping on his tail. He licked it and sat down.

“Where to?” Tillie asked. “I mean, how do we get there?”

“The Scientist takes us,” Emma said.

“But what do we tell the elevator?”

“The struggle itself is enough to fill one’s heart.”

The elevator fell into motion, and almost as soon as it did, the doors opened. There was nothing to see but a cement wall, but Mr. Kitty recognized the stale oil smell. Tillie and Emma’s feet clanged on the metal floor as they stepped out of the elevator.

“I’ve been here before,” Tillie said. “Well, not here but here. A place just like this. I got lost when I tried to go back and talk to the assembly line worker again. Mr. Kitty found me.”

“I hate this place,” Mr. Kitty meowed, looking at the wall where the door they had just come from used to be.

“This is one way through the fields to the other worlds,” Emma said. “There are usually security and mechanic bots patrolling. Today, however, this bay has no one, courtesy of the Scientist. Now come on.”

She jogged down the tunnel with her footsteps echoing back behind her. Tillie took off after her. Mr. Kitty rubbed his face on the wall where the door was, giving it one last smell, then tore apart his claws trying to catch up with them.

They went through the curving tunnel, down a few flights of stairs, then through another long tunnel to a big metal door that was painted with yellow and black stripes. They stopped to catch their breath, and Mr. Kitty licked his paws to rid them of the pain from running on the metal grating.

Ugh. Unseen Hand,” Tillie said through gasping breaths. ”I’m so out of shape.” She hunched over, resting her hands on her knees and her back on the wall. “I haven’t exercised like that in…well…let’s just say a long time.”

Emma was barely out of breath. “Physical training is important if you want to help free the assembly line workers,” she said. “If someone sees us, we’ll have to run all the way back. And this time we would be going upstairs.”

Tillie took a few more deep breaths. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”

“This is serious,” Emma said solemnly. “If you’re here, you should be serious, too. If we were found…Well, just know that we don’t want to be found.”

“No,” Tillie said, shaking her head and waving her hands. “No no. I—No, I know. That’s why I’ve been freaking out. Because I know how serious it is, you know. But that’s the point, isn’t it? This is so real and big, how can we do anything about it?”

“That’s what I’m supposed to show you.”

“So she asked you to do this then? The woman who asked me to—to do something for her.”

“Not for her, Tillie,” Emma said, shaking her head. “For us. For the assembly line workers. For the betterment of humanity. This is bigger than the Scientist. She only helps. We do the real work to tear down the system.” She pressed a few buttons on the keypad next to the door, and the doors slid open with a hiss. Mr. Kitty jumped back and puffed up his tail at the sound of it.

“How’d you do that?” Tillie asked.

“That’s another way that having the Scientist on our side helps,” Emma said. “And in getting these.” She pulled out the pouch of discs. “Now, come on.”

Inside was a squat room with lights and buttons flashing all over the ceiling. The ground was smooth and hard. It beat the metal grating but was worse than vinyl in Mr. Kitty’s opinion. Tillie and Emma had to duck to walk around. Emma watched Tillie marvel at the size of the place and the flashing lights.

“What is this?” Tillie asked, still walking in circles and staring up at the flashing ceiling which almost seemed to go on forever.

“This is the Outland 6 central hub,” Emma said. “Every single Walker-Haley field generator that separates Outland 6 from Outland 5 converges right here in this room. This is the only thing keeping the two worlds apart.”

“All of it in one room?” Tillie scoffed.

“Only for Outland 6. Outland 6 only has connections to Outland 5, so the owners don’t really care if there’s a little crossover. Not as much as they care about crossover in the other worlds, at least.”

“So that’s what you’re going to do with the—uh—discs,” Tillie said. “Destroy this?”

“That’s what we’re going to do. We’re merging 5 and 6, transforming them into a whole new world. We’ll be creating just as much as we destroy.”

“And so what?” Tillie said. “We blow this room up to connect the two worlds, then what happens? They come back and separate them again? What about us? What about the actors? What about everyone else in the world—or, er—worlds?”

“This is the grand finale,” Emma said. “The big bang. So much more is happening across the worlds as we speak, but you and I get to end the festivities with a fireworks show.”

Tillie looked around at everything one more time. Mr. Kitty rubbed his face on her ankles. “So you’re really going to do something to stop them,” she said.

“It’s wrong, Tillie. We reap the benefits from their exploitation. We can try to stop it, or we might as well be exploiting them ourselves. We’re complicit.”

Nous devons craindre le mal,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “Mais il ya quelque chose que nous devons craindre plus que le mal. C’est l’indifférence de la bonne.

Tillie scooped him up. “It sounds like Mr. Kitty agrees,” she said.

“Do you agree?” Emma asked.

Tillie put Mr. Kitty back on the ground and he licked himself. “I want to,” she said. “But it sounds too good to be true.”

“It’s not, though,” Emma said, scoffing. “We’re not even doing that much. Not by ourselves at least. We’re a distraction. And there will be a lot more to do after this. Then you’ll get to see that it’s just shitty enough to be true.”

Their laughs echoed through the squat room.

“So that scientist,” Tillie said. “She really could use those pictures to do good.”

“What pictures?” Emma asked.

“She didn’t tell you?”

Emma shook her head.

Tillie took a deep breath, stomped her foot, and said, “Yes. I do. I do want to help. What do we do?”

Emma smiled wide. “Good,” she said. “Great. Take some of these.” She got a handful of discs out of the pouch and handed half to Tillie. “Start here with the red light. See it?” She pointed one out and waited for a response.

“Yeah. Right,” Tillie said, nodding.

“Peel the paper backing off, stick the disc on the light, press the button, then go five red lights down and do it again,” Emma told her, pointing out where each step would take place as she spoke. “Got it?”

“Got it,” Tillie said.

“When you get to the end, go five across and come back,” Emma said, pointing some more. “I’ll get the rest, then we get out of here. Ready?”

Tillie nodded.

“Then let’s have some fun!”

They sprinted into action. Mr. Kitty rolled on his back and kicked at the air, then chased them around as they did their rip, stick, pressing. Emma finished a few discs before Tillie, even though she went further into the room and placed more of them, and when they were both done, they sprinted out of the tunnel, up the stairs, and to the elevator with Mr. Kitty close behind them. They all three collapsed laughing, coughing, and breathing heavily onto the floor of the elevator.

“I can’t believe we just did that,” Tillie said.

“I can’t believe I finally got to,” Emma said.

“What do we do next?” Tillie asked.

“We go back home like nothing happened,” Emma said. “We keep our ears open for any news of the rest of the operation. And mostly we wait.”

Ugh. Wait?” Tillie frowned.

“It shouldn’t be long now,” Emma said. “The gears are in motion.”

“I can get those pictures while we wait,” Tillie said.

“Does that mean you want to join us?” Emma asked with a smile.

“I’m not stopping here,” Tillie said, laughing again. “Parade grounds.”

The elevator fell into motion, and the doors opened onto the big empty field. Tillie and Emma left, and they didn’t notice when Mr. Kitty didn’t follow them. Tillie didn’t need him anymore, they had each other. The doors closed, and he let the elevator take him to wherever it would.

#     #     #

< XVII. Russ     [Table of Contents]     IX. Ellie >

That’s it for Mr. Kitty’s POV chapters. If you’d like to support the real life Mr. Kitty, who just walked across my desk while I was in the middle of typing, then think about purchasing a copy of the full novel here. Thanks again for reading. And we’ll be back next Saturday.