Hello, dear readers. Today we rejoin Ansel as she’s exploring Outland 4 with her new friend, Ashley. Read Ansel’s third and final point of view chapter in Dividing by Ø right here, and don’t forget to join us next week for the concluding chapter of book three out of four of the Infinite Limits series. Enjoy.
The claws never came. Nor the jaws. Only the laughter of Ashley who couldn’t even speak he was so doubled over. Ansel crawled to her feet, picking up her rucksack and brushing herself off, and the huge cat was no longer in front of her. She turned to find it inside another clearing behind her, across the dirt path they had come in on, looking out the other way and ready to pounce on some unseen thing.
“Oh. Oh ho ho!” Ashley laughed, trying to get control of himself. “Don’t worry. He can’t get you. Ho ho ho!”
Ansel reached out toward the cat and her hand disappeared in a straight line at the wrist, just like it had done when she had tried to open Anna and Rosa’s door what seemed like ages ago.
“You see,” Ashley said behind her, and Ansel turned to see her disembodied hand floating on the other side of the dirt path. “We can’t get to it, either. The only difference is that we can see the jaguar’s side of the wall and the jaguar can’t see ours. It’s kind of like a one-way mirror in that sense.”
Ansel waved her arm and the floating hand waved in unison. What kind of world was she living in?
“Pretty nifty, isn’t it?” Ashley asked
“I thought it was going to kill you,” Ansel said, pulling her arm out of the—whatever it was in—so it looked like her body was all in one piece again. “I don’t really find that funny.”
Ashley grinned, laughter trying to burst out of him again. “Well, I did. And there was no danger, anyway. And you acted heroically, trying to push me out of the way like that.” He giggled. “My saviour.”
“Alright,” Ansel said, walking down the path the way they had been going before Ashley stopped her to see the big cat. She wondered what other animals she might see on the way. “Enough funny business. Why’d you bring me here, anyway?”
Ashley followed along behind her, keeping good pace and walking more quietly than Pidgeon would have ever been able to. “Well, a few reasons,” he said. “First, to show you that my chemistry homework is far from the coolest thing in this world.”
Ansel nodded, not really hearing what Ashley was saying. Out in a clearing to the right of her was a giant hairy human-like thing with bigger muscles and a bigger head than she had ever seen—except for maybe on those fat tuxedoed babies at the dinner party. The hairy human thing was scratching itself in the sun and chewing on a pile of fruits. Ansel’s knees shook a little. She would have bolted out of there already if she hadn’t experienced the embarrassment of the giant cat incident earlier. Why was everything so much bigger and scarier here? “What is that?” she asked.
Ashley had to look again, as if he hadn’t noticed the thing the first time because it was an everyday occurrence to him. “Oh, a gorilla,” he said. “A rather big one, too. They’ve been bred to be larger and more ferocious for the show value. Thank our Holy Mother for the Walker-Haley fields between us or this guy here would be more dangerous than that jaguar we saw earlier.”
“A gorilla,” Ansel said, mesmerized by its huge bulging muscles and chomping jaws. “These things just live out in the wild?”
“Ho ho ho, not anymore.” Ashley chuckled. “A long long time ago this guy’s great, great, great times a bunch ancestors lived in the wild, but like I said, they were a lot smaller back then. Now they’re an endangered species. Pretty much completely extinct, actually. Like most of the animals in here, they only exist in captivity.”
Here came that word again: endangered. “So that’s what makes them endangered?” Ansel asked. “Because they only live in captivity?” She had been held captive her entire life, kept ignorant of these worlds and the many others she had discovered in so little time since finding the first new one. Maybe she was endangered, too.
“Well, not exactly,” Ashley said. “But yes. We hold them here because they’re endangered, they’re not endangered because we hold them here.”
“Pshh. What’s the difference?”
Ashley had to think long and hard about that. Ansel just let him. She was happy enough to stare at the magnificent gorilla as it ate. Who would endanger such a beautiful beast?
“You know,” Ashley said after some time of silence, breaking Ansel away from her reverie. “I’m not entirely sure there is a difference anymore, the more I think about it. It’s like, in the beginning we built walls to keep everything out for our own protection, and now we have to build walls that keep them in for their protection. I’m not sure when that changed, but when it did, it rendered any differences there might have once been entirely meaningless.”
Ansel didn’t know exactly what he was saying. She wasn’t sure she cared, either. She didn’t respond. Instead she just walked on along the dirt path in search of whatever new creature she might find in the next clearing. Ashley followed behind her, seemingly content to explore his own thoughts in silence while Ansel explored the real world.
It was a long walk before she came to the next animal, but Ansel didn’t mind. The anticipation was part of the fun, and there were plenty of exotic plants everywhere—not to mention birds of various bright colors flying around. But then the giant towered over her with its long yellow and brown spotted neck, chewing leaves it ripped from the trees with a finger-like tongue. Ansel didn’t ask what this one was, it didn’t need a name. She just stared up at its towering figure, plucking leaves from the trees, and tried to imagine what it saw through its elevated eyes.
“That’s a giraffe,” Ashley said, giving Ansel a name for the beast anyway. “It’s my favorite 3D animal, personally. They’re so tall and graceful, and such perfect pieces of evidence in support of evolution by natural selection. The way their laryngeal nerve goes all the way down and back up the neck again instead of taking the short route…”
Ashley kept going but Ansel didn’t hear a word he said beyond giraffe. She kept repeating it in her head. Giraffe, giraffe, giraffe. Who would endanger the giraffe? How could you trap such a strong looking gorilla? What kind of person would hurt a big black jaguar? She wasn’t sure she could take any more of this zoo if it meant seeing more caged and endangered beauties like this one.
“Alright, enough.” Ansel snapped, cutting off Ashley’s lecture on giraffes which was still going on despite her ignoring it. “Why did you bring me here? Tell me.”
“I—uh… I thought you might like to see it. I don’t know. And I thought it might help explain where you are. I just— I, uh…” He shrugged.
“How is this supposed to help? Just tell me where we are.”
“Uh, well, it’s—you know—like a model, really. Or maybe a metaphor. It’s meant to illuminate—”
“Get to the point.”
“Okay. Well. You know how the jaguar couldn’t pounce on you, right?”
“Well, we couldn’t really touch it and it couldn’t eat us, right. I mean, the cat couldn’t even see us, okay. So you could essentially say that we are in two separate worlds, right? Us and the jaguar, I mean. The jaguar in their own world, and they can’t see into ours, but we can see into their world even if we can’t physically go there. Right? Not by walking off the path here where it looks like the jaguar’s world should be, at least.”
“Okay,” Ansel said still having a hard time following him. “So what?”
“Well essentially, the wider world—or worlds you might say—are split up the same way. Okay. They’re all right next each other like we are with the jaguar, but there’s no line of sight going either way. It would be more like if we couldn’t see into the jaguar’s habitat either, just like it couldn’t see out to us.”
“We wouldn’t even know they were there,” Ansel said, starting to understand now.
“Exactly.” Ashley smiled. “But those other worlds would be there, with all those people in them, living their own lives, oblivious to everything going on in our world, acting as if we didn’t exist either. Do you see where I’m going?”
Ansel nodded. She saw exactly where he was going. She wasn’t quite sure if she could believe what he was saying, but he had given her plenty of evidence to support his story with the way this zoo worked, and what he said seemed to explain some of the stranger experiences she had been going through ever since she moved to the Belt and beyond. “You’re saying that the world works exactly like this zoo,” she said. “You’re telling me that humans live in these same sort of cages that y’all have endangered all these animals with.”
“Yes, well, I’m not sure I would call the worlds cages,” Ashley said with a chuckle. “I’m not even sure I’d call what these animals are in cages, either. I mean, besides there being no bars, this is all the wilderness any of their ancestors have known for generations. These…protected habitats, let’s call them, make up the entire universe that these animals can ever experience, sure, but they’re not caged in, really, and they don’t know any better anyway.”
“Because they can’t know any better,” Ansel said. “They’re just animals. But you’re trying to say that humans are caged up like this, too. Would that be okay with you as long as the humans didn’t know any better?”
“First of all, they’re not cages,” Ashley said. “Habitats.”
“And second of all, you don’t give enough credit to these animals—or maybe you give too much credit to humans, I’m not sure. But take the gorillas, okay. They started out smart, of course, but you should see how intelligent they are now that they’ve been bred for it.” He nodded over at the long necked giant that was still munching on leaves. “That giraffe over there can figure out a lot more about the worlds than you might think. I promise you.”
“Wait, I don’t understand,” Ansel said. “Are you saying you would be okay with humans being caged, or put in habitats, or whatever you want to call it, as long as they didn’t know any better?”
“I’m not saying that exactly,” Ashley said, tapping his chin. “How can I communicate this in a way that you’ll understand? I could see how it might be for the best. That’s it. Just like the reserve here—let’s get that nasty word zoo out of our mind for the sake of objectivity. Without this reserve, where else could these animals go?”
“To the wilderness,” Ansel said. “Where they would be free to roam wherever they want to without being sent back to the beginning every time they finally get to the end.”
“What wilderness?” Ashley scoffed. “You’re looking at all the wilderness there is left that isn’t already owned and in use. And if there was any more, that would only broaden their playing field. The animals would still be sent to the beginning every time they got to the end because that’s how a round planet works.”
“And the humans?” Ansel asked, feeling her control over her temper loosen. “It’s best for them, too? You think it was best for me to be caged in the Streets, surrounded by cement and concrete, without any source of food or support of any kind for as far as I could possibly go in my little world? What kind of habitat is that? What was I being protected from?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ashley said, looking like he was getting a little angry himself. “You’ve given me no information about where you’re from so I can’t speculate as to whether it was for your best or not. I can see how it’s for the animals’ best because I’ve studied them thoroughly, but I have yet to come to a conclusion on humans. If you were a little more cooperative in answering my questions, maybe I could figure out how I felt about your situation sooner than later.”
“I—uh…” He was right even if he was being an ass about it. Ansel had been too harsh on him herself, though. He probably knew as little about her world as she knew about his. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just— I’m a long way from home, I think, and I’ve been through a whole lot of Hell to get here. I miss my family and friends, and I never should have come all the way out here on my own in the first place.” She shook her head, fighting tears. “We do nothing alone.”
“It’s okay,” Ashley said, looking terrified at the prospect that Ansel might start crying—which made her chuckle a little. “You’re— You’re not alone, okay. I want to help you, you know. I will help you.”
“You don’t just want to study me?” Ansel smiled.
“Oh, I could study you all day.” Ashley held a hand to his mouth, blushing. “I mean— You know what I mean. But that’s not the only thing I want to do. I want to help you, too. We can help each other, I think.”
“Psssh. Yeah right. How could I help you? You don’t need any hunting done, do you?”
“Well, no.” He shook his head.
“Then I prolly won’t be much help. Sorry.” Ansel shrugged.
“I doubt that.” Ashley chuckled. “The mere fact that you’ve brought my attention to the possibility of worlds beyond those that are known and mapped has been help enough. I always knew there were way more lines of tunnel than the maps showed us, and now I might just understand why.”
“Wait, so you didn’t know about the other worlds either?”
“I knew of one,” Ashley said. “We call it Never Never Land. It’s where all the celebrities live. But I imagine it’s not the world you come from, is it?”
Ansel shook her head. “I’m not really sure what a celebrity is.”
“Exactly. Pointing further to the fact that you hail from a third, separate world and implying the possibility of further worlds after that.”
“All because I don’t know what a celebrity is?”
“All because you came through the seams,” Ashley said, smiling. “Now come on. Let’s get to my lab so we can try to find your world.” He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her running back the way they had come from.
Ansel forgot herself in the wind whipping against her face and the flying branches all around her. The giraffe, gorilla, and jaguar were nothing more than blurs in her peripheral vision, along with the long smudge of dark jungle green. It wasn’t until the world stopped moving again and the elevator doors slid closed behind them that either of them spoke.
“They still weren’t as cool as chemistry,” Ansel said at the same time that Ashley said, “I think I know how to find your world.”
“Oh, sorry,” they said at the same time.
“And chemistry? You’re way off,” Ashley said while Ansel said, “Oh, cool.”
“Animals are much cooler than chemistry,” Ashley said when they were done apologizing for talking over each other.
“But those animals were so far away,” Ansel said.
“Luckily for us. Lab.”
The elevator fell into motion.
“Well, I’d still like to know more about chemistry,” Ansel said.
“Maybe I’ll show you after we search for your world.”
Ansel shrugged. She didn’t really care about finding her world, more so she just wanted to find a new one to live in. The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and she stepped into a long hall but Ashley didn’t follow. Ansel turned to look at him and found him shaking his head, looking afraid. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Th—This isn’t my lab,” Ashely said, still shaking his head. “This is wrong. We should go. Come here. Get back in the elevator.” He waved to hurry her up.
Before Ansel could respond, though, the door at the other end of the hall opened and in came Rosalind, followed by Popeye. Ansel groaned. She knew she recognized this hall, but she had thought it was because all those white-coated people’s buildings looked the same.
“So,” Rosalind said with a grin, “the prodigal child returns.”
Popeye waved emphatically, like the tail of a dog who was happy to see its owner, but Popeye was all tail and no dog.
“I didn’t return,” Ansel said, crossing her arms. “This isn’t where we were trying to go.”
“Oh, then what are you doing here?” Rosalind laughed a cackling laugh.
“Um, I’m sorry, ma’am,” Ashley said, finally coming out of the elevator and putting a hand on Ansel’s shoulder—which she shrugged away. “It was some sort of malfunction in the elevator. We were supposed to go to my lab. We’ll just be leaving now.” He tried to pull Ansel back into the elevator but she wouldn’t budge.
“It was no malfunction,” Ansel said. “She did it on purpose. Didn’t you?”
“Ha ha ha.” Rosalind laughed. “Who’s the bumbling new child you’ve brought with you this time, girl? Have you found yourself a new boyfriend already? Pidgeon’ll be sad to hear it. Ha ha ha!”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Ansel said, stomping a foot. She could see Ashley blushing out of her peripheral vision and tried hard not to look at him.
“I—It was an accident,” Ashley stammered.
“It was not an accident, boy,” Rosalind snapped. “You’re girlfriend here is right about that. The Scientist wants to see you and she couldn’t wait until you two split up so here you both are. Now come on in. Right this way.” She made a gracious wave of her arm then shoved Ansel and Ashley down the hall toward the door at the end of it where Popeye was waving them on.
“I—I don’t—” Ashley stammered, gripping tight to Ansel’s shirt.
“She’s never gonna convince me to stay,” Ansel said, trying to shrug him away in vain. “I don’t know what she would have to talk to me about.”
Rosalind grinned, still pushing them along. “You’ll just have to go in and see for yourself, then. Won’t you, girl?”
Ansel didn’t let the word cut her like she knew it was meant to. She didn’t respond to it at all. She just gave up fighting and went in through the door, pulling Ashley along in her wake.
The Scientist was sitting in a puffy chair, under the view of the endless mountain that could never again impress Ansel, indicating for them to take their seats across from her. Ashley hesitated but Ansel had been through all this before. She strode right up and took a chair without having to struggle into it, despite its height. Seeing her confidence gave Ashley some of his own, and soon he struggled into the chair between Ansel’s and the Scientist’s. When he was finally up and seated, he stared in slack jawed awe at the Scientist who smiled—suspiciously Ansel thought—right back at him.
“I— You’re— You can’t be,” Ashley said.
The Scientist nodded, still grinning. “Yes, child. I can be,” she said. “And I am.”
“Why did you send for me?” Ansel demanded, ignoring Ashley’s fanboy reaction. She didn’t care who he thought the Scientist was or how impressed he was by her, Ansel just wanted to get out of there as soon as they could.
“Ansel,” Ashley said, “she didn’t want to see you. She’s too important. She probably doesn’t even know who you are. She’s—”
“Actually, I did want to see Ansel,” the Scientist said. “I needed to see her, in fact.”
“But you’re—” Ashley said.
“The Scientist,” Ansel cut him off. “I know.”
“Well I was going to say Dr. Haley Walker,” Ashley said, “but she is pretty much the epitome of a scientist. You’re right about that.”
“Haley Walker?” Ansel said.
“My true name.” The Scientist nodded.
Why had she hidden the name for so long if this kid knew it by the sight of her? “Well what do you want?” Ansel demanded.
“I want to know how your trip has gone, dear.” The Scientist smiled—Ansel still couldn’t think of her as Dr. Walker, she had been the Scientist for too long. “I want to know if you’ve changed your mind.” Then quickly, as if to prevent the answer she knew was coming, the Scientist added, “I want to know what you want now. I’m sure you have a better idea for yourself after your little adventure in Four, don’t you?”
“What do you know about my adventure?” Ansel asked, wondering who was slipping the Scientist information.
“Not much, child.” The Scientist laughed. “Which is why I need you to tell me all about it. Starting with the name of your little friend who you’ve brought along with you.”
“I— I’m Ashley Tyson,” Ashley said, squirming in his seat. “I’m a topological physicist myself, ma’am. Can I say that I admire you more than any scientist who has ever lived. Like, for real. You’re my hero.”
The Scientist chuckled. “You can, but you wouldn’t be the first.” She winked. “And that’s about enough said. Let’s talk about something interesting for a change. Where did you and my dear Ansel meet?”
Ansel resented being called “her dear” by the Scientist, but she didn’t get a chance to respond because Ashley was too eager to speak. “Well I was down in the Labyrinth, ma’am—forgive the colloquialism—but I was monitoring Walker-Haley field function for class credit when she appeared out of nowhere and ran right into me. I thought she was my replacement, you know, but then she said she had come through the seams of Sisyphus’s Mountain without the protection of a transport shield or radiation suit, and I wouldn’t believe her. I mean, I thought that was impossible. It is impossible, isn’t it? She didn’t really go through the fields naked. Did she?”
The Scientist was chuckling for most of his long rant, shaking her head, and she continued on after he stopped. “I don’t know,” she said, looking at Ansel for confirmation. “Did you?”
Ansel shrugged. “I found an escape from your mountain wilderness and I took the opportunity, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“By the elevator?” the Scientist asked.
Ansel nodded. Of course the Scientist knew about the seam already. Getting Ansel to tell the story out loud was just some sick power trip.
“It’s always tricky keeping the fields contained in such tight spots,” the Scientist said, more to herself than either of them. “I’ll have to take a closer look at that in the morning.”
“So she did go through naked,” Ashley said, glancing wide eyed between the Scientist and Ansel. “You weren’t lying?”
“Of course I wasn’t.” Ansel scoffed. “I wouldn’t.”
“And there are worlds we haven’t been told about,” Ashley said to the Scientist. “Aren’t there?”
“Beyond your imagination.” The Scientist nodded.
Ashley seemed to fall into his own mind, lost trying to determine the possibilities created by the new information he had just been given. Ansel wasn’t impressed, though. “Is this all you brought me here for?” She scoffed. “To impress some white coated flower from another planet? Can I leave now?”
“Not in the least,” the Scientist said, getting serious now. “But the rest, I’m afraid, the reason I really brought you here, that has to be taken care of in private. Ashley, friend, you’ll have to wait in the other room with Rosalind. I’m sorry.”
“I—but—” Ashley complained as the office door opened and in came Rosalind. “I have so many questions to ask you.”
“C’mon, kid,” Rosalind said, jerking a thumb toward the door. “You heard the lady. Let’s go.”
“In due time,” the Scientist said, standing to help Rosalind guide him out of the room. “All your questions will be answered in due time.”
Ansel heaved a sigh of relief when he was gone. The sooner they were alone, the sooner she could leave, and that was the only thing Ansel wanted. “So,” she said expectantly as the Scientist retook her seat.
“So, my dear.” The Scientist smiled. “Your trip. How did it go?”
“Ashley already told you most of it.”
The Scientist chuckled. “He told me nothing, how you met. I want more. I want to know everything that happened after, everything that happened before. I want to know everything. Did you climb the mountain?”
“And what did you see?”
“Myself,” Ansel said without hesitation. She had thought about that view so many times since she had seen it that she could respond by reflex. “My future, my past…me.” She shrugged.
The Scientist nodded. “Sure,” she said. “Sure it was. It was almost like that, at least. You can never get over the mountain, though, so it’s only ever your present, really.”
“But I did get over it,” Ansel said defiantly, puffing out her chest. “Three times.”
The Scientist chuckled. “And how many more mountains were there after that?”
Ansel shook her head. “Is this all you brought me here for? To toy with me? I’m pretty sure by now that it’s the only reason you let me go out there in that wilderness in the first place.”
“No, dear. Settle down, now.” The Scientist tried to calm her. “We can move on if that’s what you want. I’d still like to know what happened after you met Ashley, though. Did you enjoy your time in Four?”
“The world you were in, my dear. You understand how these things work, now, don’t you? I’m told you visited a zoo. That had to be illuminating.”
“The whole world’s like a zoo, isn’t it?” Ansel demanded, searching the Scientist’s eyes for some deeper meaning beyond her words.
“I think that’s always been true,” the Scientist said with a smile. “It has been for as long as I can remember, anyway. And that’s a long time, mind you.”
“No, I mean we’re all caged up like those animals I saw. We have no means of escape. Though I did escape, somehow.” Because the Scientist had plucked her out of her world, but the Scientist knew that and Ansel wasn’t ready to give her the credit. “But everyone else is stuck where they are.”
“My previous comment still holds true.” The Scientist nodded. “It’s been like this pretty much forever. Though I know what you mean. And yes, at one time we were using the Walker-Haley fields to fence things in, but now the entire universe consists of fences and walls, making it all but indistinguishable whether we’re in the wilderness or the reserve. There’s no separation anymore. You don’t even have to say we’re like the animals kept in the zoo that you visited. In essence, all the worlds of Earth are a part of the same network of habitats making one total zoo.”
“And you’re the zoo guard,” Ansel said, shaking her head. “You make sure everyone stays in their places and the walls stand tall and strong.”
“I brought you out of the Streets, didn’t I?” the Scientist said. “I didn’t force you to live in Six forever, the lowest of the low.”
“My parents got me out of the Streets,” Ansel snapped. “That wasn’t you. That was our own hard work, and if they hadn’t been killed, I could have gotten out of Six—or whatever you want to call it—myself.”
The Scientist chuckled. “And how do you think they got their hands on those printers that got them their promotions, huh? I got you out of the streets, I got you out of Six entirely, and I want to give you more than that. I want to give you all the worlds on a platinum platter.”
Ansel scoffed. “Yeah, right. To do what with them? Tinker and toy like you do? No thanks.”
“Ba ha ha.” The Scientist shook her head, waving a finger at Ansel. It reminded her of the same gesture her mom used to make. She didn’t know whether to be endeared or angry at the reminder. “Not so fast, Ansel. You’ll want to consider this offer and consider it well.”
“Well…” Ansel said.
“Well, dear.” The Scientist smiled. “Before I give you the offer, you must first answer me one question. What is it that you want most in life?”
Ansel groaned. She had had enough of the Scientist’s pseudo-spiritual mumbo jumbo. “What if I don’t want to answer that question?” she asked, playing the Scientist at her own games.
“Then you’d be answering my question.” The Scientist grinned. “You want not to answer the question. Though I figured you’d want a little more out of life than that. Not answering one question isn’t a lot to work with.” She chuckled, pleased with herself for some stupid reason.
“What does it matter anyway?” Ansel asked.
“What could it hurt to tell me? You’re only wasting time. I know you want to hear my offer. Your curiosity’s been piqued. And I won’t tell you what the offer is until you answer my one simple question, easy as that. So what do you say? What do you want most in life?”
Ansel sighed. The Scientist was right. The worst that could happen would be that the Scientist didn’t offer her what she said she wanted. Who cares if the Scientist learns what that is? “My parents to be alive again,” she said.
“Oh, well…” A tear came to the Scientist’s eye and she quickly wiped it away with the long white sleeve of her coat, trying to be discreet. “I knew this would be your first request but I didn’t think it would hit me so hard. I’m sorry.” She wiped her eyes again. “I’m afraid resurrection’s not possible, though. Where would we be if it was? Do you have any other desires?”
Ansel shook her head. “You asked for what I wanted most in the world and I told you. Now what’s your offer?”
“My offer pales in comparison to your need for a family, Ansel. I’ve already offered you what family I can and you rejected it. Instead I’m here to offer you independence. You’re on your own now—though my offer a family still stands, mind you—but with that in mind, and resurrection off the table, what do you want?”
“Nothing! I don’t want anything else. I want everything to go back to the way it was before you killed my family!”
“What next then? What are you going to do when you leave here? Where will you go? Where do you want to go?”
Ansel worked to calm herself down, taking deep, heaving breaths. She wasn’t quite sure. She could go back to the Streets, try to hook up with Katie again, relive the life she used to live before everyone started trying to turn her into a garden flower. Or she could try to convince Pidgeon to live out in the endless mountain with her. She could teach him a few things about hunting, and he would be close enough to the elevator that he could get whatever his heart desired to eat from the Scientist’s 3D printer. Or she could go do chemistry and stare at bizarre animals with Ashley, maybe even get a white coat of her own some day. She didn’t really want to do any of those things, though, and she kind of wanted to do them all at the same time. What could she say? She couldn’t decide. “I don’t know,” she finally did say after too long thinking about it. “I want to do a lot of things.”
The Scientist smiled. “Name a few.”
“Maybe I want to go back to the Streets to find my old friends. I haven’t seen them since I moved to the Belt.”
“But you wouldn’t want to live there again, would you? Not after everything you’ve seen out here. Not now that you know how you could be living otherwise.”
“Well maybe I want to go back out to the wilderness, then. I bet I could convince Pidgeon to come with me.”
“Out there on Sisyphus’s Mountain? You think that wilderness is big enough for you?”
“No, well… I would like to do chemistry, too. Ooh, and free those animals in the zoo. They deserve a bigger wilderness as much as I do.”
The Scientist chuckled. “Well, you do want a lot of things. Don’t you?”
“Yeah, so?” Ansel crossed her arms, self-conscious and regretting that she had told the Scientist anything.
“So do you think it’s possible for you to do all of them at once?” the Scientist asked. “Do you think you can get everything you want? How likely do you think it is that you could even get one of them?”
Ansel shook her head, not saying anything. She had said too much already.
“Well, I’m here to tell you that I can give you all of them, everything you want. You won’t have to choose. I’ll give you more than that on top of it. In fact, I’ll give you everything, period. All of this. All of my power, my knowledge, my walls. I’ll teach you chemistry, show you how to control the elevators so you can get to the Streets, or the wilderness, or wherever you want to go whenever you want to be there. I’ll give you control over all the walls in existence, even the walls of the zoo where you’ll one day be the zookeeper who has the power to expand or detract the habitats as you see fit. I’ll give you all of it.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Ansel scoffed. “You would never—”
“I will, dear. I am. I’ve been building up to this all along. You were chosen from the beginning, ever since I gave your parents the printers that helped pluck you out of the streets. This has been the plan all along. Rosalind will tell you.”
Ansel looked up and Rosalind was in the room with them, hovering by the doorway. How long had she been there?
“If you’re ready to learn, girl.” Rosalind smiled.
“And if I’m not?” Ansel demanded. “What if I don’t want any of this?”
“But you just told me you did.” The Scientist stood from her chair, reminding Ansel of how tall she was. “This is everything you want. Come with me. I’ll show you.”
She took Ansel’s hand and led her out past Rosalind through the door, but they didn’t emerge into the hall. They were somewhere else, in another world entirely. A world in which reality seemed to morph and change around them. There were others there, too. Anna and Rosa, some fat guy like the babies she had seen crying at the dinner party, and a couple of people who she didn’t recognize. Ansel didn’t know what to do. She tried to turn and run but the Scientist grabbed her by the rucksack, trying to stop her. After a short tug of war and a tussle, Ansel’s bag fell to the ground between them and the tent that Rosalind had given her opened up inside, expanding until the rucksack burst, pushing the Scientist deeper into the patchwork nonsense world they had stepped into and Ansel in the opposite direction, back into the office they had come from, where she landed, stunned, at Rosalind’s feet.
“What the fuck was that?” Rosalind demanded, rushing to the door which wouldn’t open now. “Where’d you go?”
“I— I don’t know. There were people” What had she seen? It couldn’t have been real. Who was that girl among them?
The door finally opened, but only to the hall. Rosalind burst out through it then back in again. “She’s gone,” she said. “The Scientist. Come on. I need your help.”
Rosalind ran out toward the elevator and Ansel was left stammering, “I— I don’t— I—” before she forced herself to stand up and follow.
# # #
There it is, dear readers. Ansel’s next chapter. Only one more left in this novel, but if you can’t wait until next Saturday, go ahead and pick up a copy of this one, and all of them in the Infinite Limits series, through this link. Thanks again for following along this far. We do nothing alone.