Chapter 62: Ansel

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

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

LXII. Ansel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pshh. What’s the difference?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get to the point.”

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

“Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, no.” He shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Luckily for us. Lab.”

The elevator fell into motion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you’re—” Ashley said.

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

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

“Haley Walker?” Ansel said.

“My true name.” The Scientist nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By the elevator?” the Scientist asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Beyond your imagination.” The Scientist nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ashley already told you most of it.”

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

Ansel nodded.

“And what did you see?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s Four?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well…” Ansel said.

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

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

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

“What does it matter anyway?” Ansel asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scientist smiled. “Name a few.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#     #     #

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

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

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Chapter 59: Anna

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

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

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

LIX. Anna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, but…” He shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

“Mike Singer?” Rosa said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go ahead.” Rosa smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna frowned, even if it was just a joke.

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

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

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

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

“Which you already did,” Rosa said.

“Yeah, but—”

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

“I guess, but—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, so?” Rosa shrugged.

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

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

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

 

#     #     #

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

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

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

Chapter 58: Laura

Hello, dear readers. Today we rejoin Laura and crew as they work on the anti-robot propaganda film they’re making for the new alliance between the Human Family and Mr. Walker. So, to find out if Laura will ever repay her debt enough to get Mr. Walker off of her back, continue reading here for Chapter 58 in the third book of the Infinite Limits saga, Dividing by Ø. And if you just can’t wait to read the last five chapters of this one, remember that you can always pick up a full copy of the novel right through here.

< LVII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LIX. Anna >

LVIII. Laura

The assembly line ran and none other than Adam Torrence slip, snap, clicked furiously at Fortuna knows what. He was much faster than Emir—there was no doubt about that—and the post-production editing would be easier because of it. That was at least one thing made easier by this whole messed up situation.

Alice Walton came on camera to say, “No. You.” holding her trembling hands to her mouth, on the verge of crying.

Adam peeled his eyes away from the work, losing no speed on his slip, snap, clicking, and grinned a wide, evil-looking grin. He didn’t have to make a sound to elicit a deep feeling of discomfort in the audience—or in Laura, at least.

“It can’t be,” Alice went on. “What about my coworkers? What about our families?”

Adam chuckled. It’s the only word Laura could think of to describe what Adam did, but the term didn’t do the acting justice. It was more like a half chuckle, half cackle which turned out entirely spine tingling. So this was what it felt like to work with a true professional. Laura could get used to it.

“I am a robot,” Adam said, still cackling. “I don’t care.”

“No, but…”

Adam stood from the assembly line, finally stopping his slip, snap, clicking. He crossed to Alice in two long strides and grasped her by her shoulders, holding her face close to his. “I am a robot,” he repeated. “I don’t care.”

He jerked her closer and Alice leaned in to kiss him.

“Cut!” Cohen yelled. “What the fuck was that, Jen?”

Jorah—now Jorah again, no longer in character as Adam and seemingly an entirely different person because of it—pushed Jen—formerly Alice—away in disgust. “Please, people,” Jorah complained. “This is serious business. Do you think I enjoy being here with you no name nothings?”

Jen blushed. “I—I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I’ll—”

“I’ll be in my dressing room,” Jorah said, storming out. “Get this under control before I return.”

Cohen waited until the studio exit door slammed closed behind Jorah to scoff. “Or else what?” he said, chuckling to himself and looking to Jen and Laura for support, neither of whom were offering any. “He’s just an actor. I don’t care how big of a star he is, he has no power on my set.”

“He has more power than you do.” Laura scoffed.

“I’m so sorry,” Jen said, still flushed crimson. “I didn’t mean to— I don’t know what came over me.”

Cohen scoffed again. “Oh, I know what came over you.” He chuckled. “Just don’t let it happen again. Lord Walker wouldn’t want anything to happen to his Jorah. Laura’s right about that much.”

Laura scoffed again, too. It seemed like they were all doing so much scoffing ever since Jorah joined the crew. “Alright there, Cohen ol’ pal. We know how buddy buddy you and Lord Walker are now that you’ve had an all of five minute conversation with him, so why don’t you tell us exactly what it is that your Lord Walker would want?”

“I—well…” Cohen didn’t know what to say. He rubbed his thighs with probably sweaty hands and fidgeted in his uncomfortable director’s seat.

“It won’t happen again,” Jen said. “I swear.” She crossed her heart.

Laura was still laughing at Cohen’s lack of spine when Jorah returned from his dressing room. “Does everyone have their libidos under control?” he asked, standing in the door still, apparently not wanting to enter until he was sure the answer was yes.

Jen blushed, trying to sneak off set without being noticed, but Laura could still see her—and the camera always saw everything.

“Everything’s under control,” Cohen assured Jorah, moving closer to try to grab his arm and guide him on set while Jorah dodged all Cohen’s advances to walk on unassisted. “I’ve had a speaking to with the girl, like any proper director would, and she’ll be good and ready for the next take. It’ll be the best yet. I assure you of that.”

“I hope so.” Jorah scoffed, taking his place at the assembly line. “The sooner we’re done with this stupid shoot the better.”

“Alright, alright,” Cohen yelled, clapping his hands and retaking his director’s chair. “Everyone to your places,” he added, though everyone was already in their places. “Roll the line, please.”

Laura flicked a switch and the assembly line started moving. Jorah started putting pieces together automatically—even without the cameras on—and all of a sudden he turned into Adam Torrence again.

“Lights!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped another switch and the lights changed, producing a bright white halo aura around Adam’s head.

“Cameras rolling!”

Laura flipped the cameras on. She didn’t have to look through the viewfinder to know that the shot was perfect. They had already gone through this scene once before and the camera hadn’t been moved since. All she had left to do was wait and watch.

Adam Torrence slip, snap, clicked furiously at Fortuna knows what. Alice Walton came on camera, holding trembling hands to her mouth, on the verge of crying, to say, “No. You.”

Adam peeled his eyes from the line, not stopping his slip, snap, clicking. He grinned an evil grin and didn’t have to make a sound to communicate—

Laura’s pants vibrated to the horribly loud sound of her once favorite song—which after this instance, would no doubt lose that high pedestal in her mind. Jorah was pissed—made obvious by the fact that he had so quickly slipped out of Adam—Jen seemed happy that it wasn’t her making a fool of herself this time, and Cohen yelled, “What the fuck is that and why is it interrupting my perfect take?”

Laura slipped the phone out of her pocket and groaned at its glowing face—she was sure she had turned the damn thing off. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to take this.” and she answered it.

“Laura Concierge, you fucking degenerate,” Cohen said. “You hang up that goddamn phone right now.”

“What is this?” Jorah demanded, offended by another interruption.

At the same time Laura said, “Hello, Lord Walker. How can I help you?” loud enough for everyone to hear.

“You tell Lord Walker how much we appreciate his support,” Cohen added, trying to cover for himself. Jorah just nodded, keeping silent.

“How’s the shoot going?” the voice on the other end of the line asked, Lord Walker’s voice. “I’m sure Jorah’s working out for you. Am I right?”

Laura nodded then realized she was on the phone and Lord Walker couldn’t see her. “Yes, sir,” she said. “He’s right here next to me. Do you want to talk to him?” Why was he calling her anyway?

“No, no,” Lord Walker’s voice said. “Not now. No need. All I needed to say is that I’m coming to see you on the set.”

“You’re coming here?” Laura asked, more for the benefit of Cohen, Jen, and Jorah—who were all trying to eavesdrop without appearing to be listening—than because she couldn’t understand what Lord Walker had said.

A low deep groan emitted from Laura’s phone’s speaker “I’m almost as surprised as you are,” Lord Walker grumbled. “I want to be there much less than you want to have me, trust me, but it just cannot be avoided, I’m afraid. I’ve promised the writer—the real writer, that is, I knew no kook from Three could be capable of writing such a brilliant manuscript—but anyway, she wants to personally observe the progress of shooting. To dispense with the long story and finally end this tedious conversation, suffice it to say that we’ll be there shortly.”

“How shortly?” Laura asked.

Lord Walker grumbled and groaned through the phone. “I’m getting into a car now. Haley! Don’t forget my hat!”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said, but Lord Walker had already hung up. “Well,” she added for the room, making extra certain that her phone was silenced before pocketing it again, “they’re on their way.”

“No shit,” Cohen snapped, hurrying here and there to adjust, re-adjust, and un-adjust every tiny detail of the set design. “We need to get this place in order.”

Jorah scoffed, plopping down onto the stool he was supposed to start the scene from.

“They?” Jen asked, fixing her appearance even though she was dressed and made up to look like a dirty assembly line worker. “There’s more than one of them?”

“I don’t know,” Laura said, following Cohen around and fixing everything he had messed up in tampering with the set. “He said he found the writer or something.”

“Guy?” Jen asked. “Where has he been anyway?”

“No, not Guy,” Laura said. “The original writer or whatever.”

Cohen stopped moving around everywhere, finally taking his clumsy hands off of Laura’s perfectly set rigs. “The original writer?” he asked, swallowing hard.

“Yeah, the investor or whatever, I guess. You’ve met them before, haven’t you?”

But Cohen didn’t have time to answer because in came Haley, wearing her black and white maid uniform and calling everyone to attention. “Hear ye, hear ye,” she sang. “Now entering is the distinguished and unique Lord Walker, treasure trove of efficiency and master of self-reliance, accompanied by honored guest, denizen of the lowest of worlds, and your writer for the present production in progress, Rosa Chandelier.” Haley curtsied.

Jorah stood from his stool and applauded, staring at the door in eager anticipation of the honored guests’ arrival. Jen blushed and tried to fix herself up one more time before joining in the applause with a demure clap of her own. Cohen seemed to try to hide behind the camera, afraid of someone more powerful than he was. And Laura just stood there waiting. She knew what to expect from Lord Walker, and she just wanted to get it on and over with.

In waddled mushroom shaped Lord Walker, flabby body folding and rolling over his tuxedo pants, in the same top hat and monocle that seemed to be a part of his body, attached to his head since birth. He was followed by one of the shortest, tiniest, frailest old ladies Laura had ever seen. Laura thought at first that she only looked so small in comparison to Lord Walker’s massive girth, but when the woman came in and stood next to anyone or anything else in the room she still looked like the world was too big for her.

Ho ho ho! I say,” Lord Walker said, holding his stomach as he laughed. “This is a rather fine set up you have here.”

The frail old lady tutted, scurrying around the room with the same haste that Cohen had exhibited earlier, investigating every tiny detail of Laura’s set.

“What do you think, Rosa dear?” Lord Walker asked her as she scurried around touching everything. “Does it live up to your standards?”

She just tutted again in answer and kept on with her tedious investigation of the set.

“And Jorah, my boy.” Lord Walker crossed to Jorah who bowed low before him.

“Ever in your service, my Lord and master,” Jorah said, kissing Lord Walker’s hands then flashing his twinkling teeth.

“Now now, my boy,” Lord Walker said, grabbing Jorah’s hand and pulling him in for an unexpected—by the look on Jorah’s face—embrace. “We’re good friends here, all of us. No need for that Lord and master bit you always find so funny. Got it?”

“I—uh—Yes, sir,” Jorah said, struggling to free himself from the too long embrace. “I mean.” Suddenly he transformed into another character entirely. “I mean, yeah, buddy. We go way back, don’t we?”

“Alright, alright.” Lord Walker finally let go of his bear like grip—if only he would do the same for the metaphorical grip he had on Laura’s life. “And you, Laura,” he said to her, as if he had read her very thoughts. “Is everything up to schedule? I’m counting on you to ensure this production gets underway in a timely manner. It’s in everyone’s best interests that you do.”

“I—uhahem,” Cohen said, coming out from behind the machinery and cameras to finally speak up for himself now that Laura was getting a little bit of attention. “I think you meant to say that to me, sir,” he said, raising a finger in the air like he were a school child who wasn’t quite sure whether or not he had the correct answer to the teacher’s question. “I’m Cohen, sir. The—uh—the director of this project.”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker laughed, turning on Cohen who shrunk back towards his safe hiding space behind the machines. “Cohen, my boy. I recognize your voice from the phone. You’re having no troubles with our new arrangement, are you? If so, speak up now or forever hold your peace. We can always find another eager young director who’s capable of handling a platinum platter when served to them. I assure you of that, dear boy. Ho ho ho!”

Cohen shook his head. “No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. No problem, sir. I am capable, sir—or—Lord. I just—”

“Good. Good. Very good, my boy.” Lord Walker turned to Laura again. “He is telling the truth, isn’t he?” he asked.

Laura glanced at Cohen, trembling in his too expensive loafers, payed for no doubt by his inheritance from a famous director in the family long since dead. Cohen got more visibly nervous at her pause—wiping his hands on his pants and pulling his collar in the universal sign language motion for “Is it hot in here?” He probably would have pissed himself if Laura had taken any longer to nod and say, “It’s been fine so far. I guess.” Then she added less confidently, “Though this visit might put us a little off schedule.”

Lord Walker grinned at her, a much better—though nonetheless grotesque with his face—reaction than she could have hoped for. “Well, dear, don’t let us get in the way,” Lord Walker said, looking around at his tiny companion. “In fact, I rather think we would like to see your work in progress. Isn’t that right, Rosa?”

Rosa scurried off set and into Lord Walker’s shadow to say, “Show us what you’ve got.”

“Well then, get on with it,” Lord Walker demanded.

Jorah jumped into his first position without hesitation. Jen took her cue from him and went to her first position, too. Only Cohen still stood dumbfounded by the presence of such a very fat—very demanding—man and his tiny friend.

“Well…” Lord Walker said, tapping his cane and urging them on.

Cohen,” Laura snapped. “You’re supposed to be a director. Direct.”

All of a sudden Cohen snapped out of his haze and jumped back into the director they all knew and hated. “Okay, okay,” he said, clapping his hands and taking his position behind Laura’s back. “Everyone to their places, please,” he called, though everyone already was. “Lights!”

Laura flicked a switch. Everything disappeared into darkness—Lord Walker and his tiny friend, judging every motion, Cohen, too proud of himself, Jen, unfixing herself for the start of the scene—except for Jorah now Adam, surrounded by a halo and slip, snap, clicking air because the belt wasn’t rolling yet.

“Cue the belts!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch and Adam’s hands, though maintaining their exact pace, picked up bits and pieced them together.

“Cameras!” Cohen called.

Laura flipped a switch and the cameras rolled right along with the conveyor belt and Adam’s fluid motions.

Aaaaand action!”

The room held its breath. Adam slip, snap, clicked. Jen, slightly off cue and not quite Alice, entered. “No.” She gasped, holding a hand to her mouth. “Not you.”

Adam slip, snap, clicked, not paying attention to her, intent solely on his work, as a good robot could only ever be.

“But—but—” Jen stammered, having some trouble getting into it still—perhaps because of  the added pressure of their new audience. “But what about my coworkers? What about their families?”

“I am a robot,” Adam said, turning to smile at Jen. “I don’t—”

“Wait, cut!” a voice called, but it wasn’t Cohen’s. It wasn’t Lord Walker’s, either—Laura knew that voice all too well from their phone conversations. Instead it was the tiny old lady, Rosa. “Cut, cut, cut!” She waved her arms, storming out to the center of the set and blocking the cameras. “This isn’t right. Cut!”

Jen blushed, not sure whether to look to Cohen or Laura for help. “I—but—” she stammered. “Those were my lines, right? I didn’t mess them up.”

“Those might be your lines, but they’re not mine,” Rosa said, shaking her head and pacing up and down the conveyor belt. “You see, this is exactly why I requested this visit, to be sure you’re making the right movie, my movie, which by the looks of it, you’re apparently not.”

Ho ho ho, now,” Lord Walker said, jiggling and looking to Laura for confirmation. “Is this right, girl? You’re not shooting her script?”

Laura shook her head, not wanting to get involved. Whatever deal they had made was between Rosa, Cohen, and Guy. Laura had nothing to do with that part of it. “This is the script you read,” Laura said. “We’ve been using these lines since day one.”

“They’re not my lines!” Rosa stomped her tiny foot. She almost looked like a child except for her wrinkles and curly white hair. “The assembly line worker is worried about her Family, the Human Family as a whole, not about the separate individual families of her coworkers. Your line says what about their families. My line says what about our Family. Do you understand the difference?”

Um, Alice, ma’am,” Jen said, almost too quietly to be heard.

“Who?” Rosa demanded.

“The assembly line worker’s name is Alice,” Jen said, even more quietly than the first time.

“No. It isn’t.” The woman was getting angrier as she paced the line again. “The assembly line worker doesn’t have a name. She is no one and everyone at the same time. To give her a name is to humanize her. To give her a name is to compartmentalize her and separate her from the Human Family as a whole. She is not you, or me, or Sally Fae down the street, she’s all of us together as one, and to feign some fatal attempt at putting a name onto something so grand and holy as that is to defile the very reason that this film is being created in the first place.”

Two hands in applause and Lord Walker’s voice, the voice Laura so detested, came whooping and hollering as if this were a bar show. “Bravo, my dear Rosa. Bravo! I dare say you should take our incompetent Cohen’s position as director of this film, but I’m afraid you’re much too busy for such base work—if I can assume without making an ass out of us.”

Cohen’s face went white and it looked to Laura like he might pass out. Rosa smiled for a moment before going stern faced again. “If you want a job done right,” she said, “you have to give up everything else in your life so you can spend enough time to do it the right way yourself. Isn’t that what they say?”

“Oh, that might be what they say in your neck of the woods,” Lord Walker said, chuckling, “but where I come from the saying’s a little different. We say, if you want something done right, you just have to pay the right person the right price. Ho ho ho!”

“Tell me, then, Lord Walker,” Rosa said, shooting him a look that stopped his laughter. “Did I find the right people for this job? Because the price seems astronomical.”

“Well now,” Lord Walker said, turning an angry eye on Laura. “Don’t ask me. You’re the one who found them. Laura, dear, are you and your crew going to be able to live up to your requirements, or are you going to remain shackled to your past blunders forever?”

“We can get it right,” Laura replied fast. They had to get it right. She couldn’t live like this forever. “We just need the right script. Like I said, this is the one we’ve been working with since day one. I thought Cohen and the investors had already agreed on this one or else we wouldn’t have started shooting with it in the first place.”

“I never agreed to any edits,” Rosa said, staring at Cohen who cowered further behind the camera equipment. “Not these one’s for sure.”

“You did agree to some edits,” Cohen croaked and ducked behind the camera again.

“What was that, boy?” Lord Walker demanded, waving Cohen out of his hiding spot. “Come on out here and take responsibility for your actions like a man. And speak up, I can’t hardly hear you.”

“Um. I said she did agree to some edits—uh, Lord, sir,” Cohen said, creeping into the light. “When I gave her our demand list.”

“Demand list?” Lord Walker looked to Rosa with a furrowed brow. “What demand list?”

“The investment,” Rosa said. “And the script I approved said our Family.”

“And what do you say to that, my boy?” Lord Walker asked Cohen who stuttered and stammered his response.

“I—uh—well—we were— There were deadlines, you see— And I had to do what—or I had to make sure we got what we needed— We made the movie— And Guy— He—well…”

“So,” Lord Walker said, tapping his cane in annoyance. “What you’re saying is that you failed me, boy. You failed our dear old Rosa here. You failed the entire Human Family for that matter.” Rosa smiled at that last part, and Laura didn’t like the prospect of the fresh new Hell she would face shackled by the ankle to what was now becoming a two-headed beast. “And how should I make you pay for your mistake?”

“I—what?” Cohen begged. “No. It wasn’t a—a mistake. This version’s better. It— I— You read it. You—”

“That doesn’t matter,” Lord Walker said, shaking his head. “If the customer demands an inferior product, you give them an inferior product. It’s the law of the market, good business practice. In this instance Rosa and I are your customers, and you will do as we say or you’ll go elsewhere with your pretentious demand list. Do you understand me?”

Cohen tried to choke out words but he couldn’t. Laura pitied him a bit—knowing the wrath of Lord Walker from first hand experience—so she stepped in to try to save him a little face. Even if he was a huge jerk most the time, not even Cohen deserved Lord Walker’s wrath. “We’ll get you whatever you want,” she said. “Just get us a script we can work with. This movie is gonna be crap with or without the edits, anyway.” And she could tell she had gone too far by the reactions of her audience.

Jorah grinned a little, which showed enough because he was such a master of his emotions that he shouldn’t have reacted at all. Jen gasped and panted and fanned her face, the epitome of old-world feminine, deserving an A+ in any college level performance. Cohen stared at Laura blankly, unbelieving. How could Laura have the guts to say exactly what he wanted to when he didn’t even have them to do it for himself? Lord Walker looked like he was trying to hold back a laugh himself, though he was doing a much poorer job of it than Jorah was. Then there was the little old lady, Rosa. She fumed, no doubt pissed that Laura had called her precious script shit, which Laura couldn’t really blame her for even though the script was still shit.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker bellowed. “I like your style, girl. However much I disagree with your substance. But I won’t have you insulting our writers to their faces any which way about it. The script’s not that bad, now. Is it?”

“Guy’s isn’t,” Laura said, ignoring Rosa’s anger and Cohen’s pleas for her to shutup alike. “It’s not entire shit, at least. It’s the best way to handle the theme you want covered—if there can be said to be a good way to handle it at all.”

“My script’s not shit,” Rosa complained. “This is shit. What you’re doing here now is shit. It’s lying, blasphemous, putrid bile, and you’ll get nothing out of me for producing it. Mark my words.”

“Now, now, now,” Lord Walker said, gesturing to calm the old woman down. “Settle down, old girl. First of all, I don’t see that much of a difference between what our lovely actor here—” Jen curtsied as he indicated her with a slight nod of his tall hatted head. “—said and what you say you believe should have been. It’s just semantics. ”

“There’s a big differ—” Rosa started.

“Now, now, now,” Lord Walker cut her off. “Let me finish. Where was I? That’s right. The big business. Second of all, your investment is nothing compared to mine. As a result, your power over this production has declined in proportion. I provide the studio. I provide the equipment now. I provide the star of the show.” He indicated Jorah who bowed low on cue. “I am the director, producer, and Lord of this entire gig, and as sole master of its fate, I will be the one to decide whether or not your script is shit.”

“And I decide whether or not the Family works with you,” Rosa said. “I decide if the Family fights for you or against you. If you don’t make the movie I asked for, the movie that’s best for the Family, then what point is there in us working with you at all?”

Lord Walker grinned, twirling his cane. “There is the little matter of that blank check, dear. Let us not forget its existence in all this excitement.”

“The blank check which we were reluctant to accept in the first place,” Rosa said. “The one you practically forced on us, as I recall.”

Lord Walker chuckled. “Everything was done voluntarily, my dear. You chose to accept the deal, now you must deal with the consequences of that decision. You’re not backing out on me now, are you? I have an army with or without your stupid Family, you know, and they will punish you for breaking a contract.”

“You have—” Rosa started, but taking everybody by surprise—Laura at least, though it was mostly because of the relief she felt at him finally taking some responsibility for this production—Cohen stepped up to interject.

“Now I—” he squeaked, stopping himself to cough and clear his throat before going on more clearly in his usual annoying deep voice. “I may have a solution to both of your problems.”

Lord Walker looked as surprised as Laura felt. He couldn’t think of anything to say before Rosa said, “Spit it out then, crook, and don’t you let it be a lie. You already have one strike in my book and this is not baseball.”

“Oh, well… I don’t know anything about baseball,” Cohen said. “But I do know a good bit about hammering out a script, and if we can have—forgive me, Lord—just a little more time and the ability to work face to face for a day or two, I think we can get something workable for both parties. I mean, her demand isn’t too difficult to work into Guy’s script, and I imagine that, other than minor details which can just as easily be changed, she’d be okay with the rest of the script as is.

“Who is this guy y’all keep talking about?” Lord Walker asked.

“What exactly are you proposing?” Rosa demanded.

Laura laughed internally, happy it wasn’t her under the spotlight anymore, but fearing the heat would turn on her again.

“Guy’s our writer,” Cohen explained. “He can’t be found right now but that doesn’t matter. You and I—uhRosa, can sit down together with the script we have and fix any problems you have with its content, starting with changing the their families to our family as per your request.”

Our Family,” Rosa corrected him. “It has to be capitalized.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Lord Walker said, nodding. “What do you think, dear?”

Rosa shook her head. She looked like she didn’t want to go along but had no other choice. Laura had been in that position for so long, making those same faces, she knew exactly how to spot them in someone else. “I get final veto on every word,” she relented.

I get final veto on every word,” Lord Walker corrected her.

“And if you’re veto doesn’t match with mine, then I—and the entire Human Family with me—will have something to say about it.”

Lord Walker chuckled. “Ho ho ho, dear. We’ll ride that elevator when we come to it. For now, though, there’s one more stipulation I’d like to make. Instead of your Cohen boy hammering out the script, like he so eloquently put it, I’d like my girl Laura to work with you. No offense to you Ice Cream Cohen—well maybe a little—” Lord Walker winked. “—but I trust her as much as I can trust a Three—not much—and I’d be more comfortable with her at the table than with you at it.”

“But, sir. I came up with the—” Cohen said, unable to finish what he had started.

“I don’t care who it is,” Rosa said. “As long a someone fixes it before we move on. You all decide for yourselves and send whoever you pick my way with a script.”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker chortled as Rosa stormed out of the room.

“Well,” Jorah said, clapping his hands and exuding a deep sigh. “I guess that means we’re done here for the day. I’ll be in my dressing room until further notice.”

Lord Walker stopped Jorah midway to the door so he could shake the star’s hand and hug him. “Good show today, Jorah, my boy. You prove your worth more with every new second. I’ll have Haley contact you when shooting resumes.”

“Please do, sir,” Jorah said, bowing low. “And please get me a better part soon. I play to the level of the role I’m given, and too much of this trash will wreak havoc on my acting abilities.”

“Will do, sir. Will do. Ho ho ho.” Lord Walker laughed and Jorah disappeared through the halls toward the elevators.

“Lord Walker, sir,” Cohen stammered. “But, I—”

Enough,” Lord Walker cut him off. “You’ve come too close to embarrassing me already. I’m not risking anything else on trusting you, boy. Now shut your mouth. Laura, dear. I expect updates on this. Get it right or you’ll never be rid of your past mistakes. Got me?”

Laura nodded.

“Good bye, then. All of you. I hope you do better in the future, for all of your sake.”

Lord Walker rode his pneumatic pants out of the studio and Laura could only imagine that she’d never rid herself of her past mistakes no matter how the stupid movie turned out.

#     #     #

< LVII. Nikola     [Table of Contents]     LIX. Anna >

And there it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, pick up a full copy of this or any of my other stories through this link here, and as always, have a great weekend. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 56: Mr. Walker

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

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

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

LVI. Mr. Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

Damnit,” he snapped. “Be careful!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see.” Lord Douglas nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your little armory attack, Mr. Walker.”

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Douglas smiled and gave a slight nod.

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

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

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

“Deal.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Chapter 52: Anna

Anna’s coming to realize just how much control over the universe she can exert by running six consoles at once when the only thing that could pull her away from the experience, a mysterious visitor from another world come with a message that Lord Walker wants a visit with the Human Family, does. Find out why Lord Walker wants to meet by continuing on in the story today, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel through this link or subscribe to my email newsletter through this one.

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

< LI. Laura     [Table of Contents]     LIII. Roo >

LII. Anna

They probably didn’t need all six transporter rings for such a small operation in a low security area, but Anna had insisted. Once she had gotten a taste for the power that came from so much control over the universe, she couldn’t get enough of it. They only used two of the rings for their search, but with six paths to choose from she could ensure the paths they did use were spot on. The humming of the rings died down, and when she looked up from the consoles they were still only six. No Kara had been found.

“It looks like Five to me,” Rosa said, dropping the huge protector rifle she was holding to hang from her shoulder. Anna was still a little uneasy at the sight of all those guns dangling from her Family members like black misshapen shadows, but she couldn’t argue with why they had taken them and she wasn’t about to try. “You were right about that.”

“There’s more than that, though,” Anna said, shaking her head. “There are tiny disturbances I can barely see, maybe some holes in the wall or something. Did you search thoroughly? What did you see?”

Rosa scoffed. “We searched every brick of both alley walls. If there were holes, we couldn’t get through them.”

“She has to be there somewhere,” Anna said, shaking her head. Maybe if she hooked up another console or two, she could get a better picture of what was going on, a higher resolution image. She was getting so good at controlling two consoles that she could almost do it with one hand tied behind her back, so why not try to control three or more? Then she might be able to find the holes herself without anyone having to leave the basement at all. It was a—

“Anna!” Rosa said, breaking her from her thoughts. “Did you hear me?”

“Huh? What was that?” Anna hadn’t heard anything outside of her own head.

“I said fire them up again. We’re gonna station a lookout. Two at a time, switching up every six hours. Crake, Janice, you’re on first watch. Everyone else go get some rest. We may have won the battle, but the war’s nowhere near over.”

Anna didn’t hear the rest of Rosa’s orders or see the others leaving. She went back into her own little universe, setting the pathways and imagining new and better methods of finding Kara by herself. When the rings stopped humming and she looked up from the consoles again, she was alone with Rosa smiling at her.

“What?” Anna asked, blushing and feeling self conscious, as if she had just woken up to someone watching her sleep.

“Nothing,” Rosa said, grinning from ear to ear. “You look so beautiful when you’re working, lost in your own world like that. That’s all.”

Anna’s face got hotter. “I was just thinking.”

“I know,” Rosa said. “You always stick your tongue out like that when you’re thinking, and you’re always thinking. That’s why I fell in love with you. For your brains.”

Anna giggled. “Stop that.”

“What?” Rosa said, coming closer to embrace her. “Stop complimenting you? Stop stating the facts as I see them? Why?”

“Why?” Anna said, kissing Rosa’s cheek. “Because I don’t want—”

The door slammed open and a pair of boots stomped down the stairs at top speed. Anna wasn’t sure whether she gasped because of the sound of it or the sight of another gun.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the owner of the boots said, looking at their feet as Anna and Rosa broke apart. “There’s a call for Rosa.”

“A call?” Rosa said, confused.

“A message,” the boots said. “A messenger. She demanded to see you. Said you wouldn’t want to miss this investment opportunity. It was about a movie or something.”

“My movie?” Rosa said, interested now and a little less confused. “How did they get here?”

“I don’t know, ma’am,” the boots replied, shrugging. “But she’s waiting for you in your office.” Then the boots stomped back upstairs and disappeared.

“A messenger?” Anna said, raising her eyebrows.

“One of the Threes working on our movie, from the sound of it,” Rosa said, shrugging. “Though I didn’t think they were capable of interworld travel.”

“Well there’s only one way to find out,” Anna said, taking Rosa’s hand and leading her upstairs. “Let’s go.”

The “messenger” was standing behind one of the office chairs when they arrived. She stood as straight as a statue, staring at nothing across the desk and wearing a mostly black, skimpy skirted outfit with white lacy frills. She looked like she could maybe be from Three—she was certainly tall enough—but that’s only because a Three could look like anyone or anything, that being their entire purpose in life, acting like someone else.

“Hello,” Rosa said, crossing the room first and extending a hand to the messenger. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

So if it was a Three, it wasn’t one Rosa knew. Mark that in the previously empty column of things that Anna knew about this messenger.

“Hello, sir,” the woman said, curtsying instead of taking Rosa’s hand then trying to reach for it after Rosa had already taken it back. “I’m Haley. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, too, Haley,” Anna said, trying not to sound ironic. “My name’s Anna and this is my partner Rosa. Please, take a seat.” She indicated the chair that Haley was standing behind.

“Oh, no,” the woman said, shaking her head. “There’s no time for that. We should be leaving as soon as we can. Mist—erLord Walker doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Lord Walker?” Rosa said. “I was under the impression that you had some message about our movie. Am I wrong?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. Not at all. It’s about the movie alright. There are some exciting new directions Lord Walker has planned. He’ll tell you all—”

“New directions?” Rosa said, and Anna could tell she didn’t like the sound of that.

“Lord Walker can explain everything better than I can,” Haley said. “Please. Come with me and I’ll take you to him.” She started out the door as if they would follow her.

“But where do you expect us to go?” Rosa asked, her voice getting angrier and angrier. “And how?”

“To Lord Walker’s compound,” Haley said, stepping back into the office. “We would have called first, but—well… You know. You have no phones to call here.”

“And what makes your Lord Walker think I want to speak to him?” Rosa demanded.

Haley laughed. She shook her head then paused when Rosa and Anna didn’t laugh along. “Wait,” she said. “You’re kidding, right? This is a joke? I still don’t understand humor very well so you’ll have to humor me.”

Rosa shook her head and groaned. Anna tapped her foot. Neither said a word.

“Well, he’s an owner,” Haley said, as if it should be obvious to them with that information alone. “Like pretty much the richest owner in all of existence.”

“Is that supposed to impress us?” Anna asked, a little impressed.

“It doesn’t?” Haley asked. “Well, either way, he loves your movie, and he thinks he can provide further investments which would serve to boost your message.”

“He loves my movie?” Rosa asked, confused.

“Our message?” Anna said, equally so.

“Yes,” Haley said. “Both. But you’ll have to come meet with him for any of that to happen. So what do you say? Let’s go.”

Rosa turned to Anna with that I know you’re going to think it’s crazy but I want to do this anyway look and said, “What do you think?”

“I don’t know.” Anna shook her head. The owners were exactly the people who were holding their Family down, exactly the people they had sent a protector to assassinate, and now they were thinking about getting into business with one? It didn’t seem right. “We don’t even know who this guy is. How can we trust him?”

“It couldn’t hurt to see what he has to say, though,” Rosa said, unrelenting. “Right?”

“I guess.” Anna shrugged. It was no use arguing when Rosa had her mind set, especially about this movie of hers. “But if you go, I’m coming with you this time. I’m not going to sit here and wait anymore.”

“We may need someone to—” Rosa tried to say but Anna held a finger to her lips to stop her.

“No. Either we both go or neither does. You decide.”

Rosa smiled, kissing Anna’s finger. She turned to Haley. “You heard the woman. Let’s go. Lead the way.”

They followed Haley out of the Family Home, through the streets and alleys of Five/Six, to the nearest elevator where she opened the doors and showed them in. “Right this way, m’ladies.” When they stepped in and the doors closed she added, “The office.” and the elevator fell into motion.

The elevator opened onto a long hall lined with red carpet and hung with tacky, overly rich paintings and tapestries. Anna tried not to gag at the sight of it even though she knew it was meant to impress. It looked like some poor person’s sick idea of what a rich person’s house should look like.

Haley led them to the other end of the hall and through huge oak doors into a similarly decorated office with a giant oak desk populated by the fattest person that Anna had ever seen. The man chuckled with a deep “Ho ho ho!” not getting up from his seat as Haley showed Rosa and Anna to the two chairs across the sea of desk from him.

Ho ho ho!” he was still chuckling once they were seated. “It’s so good to finally meet you, though I must say that I expected an individual not a pair. Ho ho ho!”

“We’re a Family,” Rosa said, and Anna smiled. “There are no secrets between us.”

Ho ho ho! A family. Of course. Just like your script, huh? It wasn’t all fiction, then. Was it?”

“Not in the least,” Rosa said.

Good,” Lord Walker said, slamming a ham fist on the desk. “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. You see, I’m more interested in your message than I am in your medium. Though I do think you have some gumption. Ho ho ho!”

“And what do you think the message is?” Anna asked.

“Well,” Lord Walker said, staring at Anna for a moment in silence. “I would say the message is made quite obvious in the script.”

“Humor me,” Anna said. “Pretend I haven’t read it.” She actually hadn’t but she knew what the message was anyway. She didn’t have to read it to know. She knew Rosa well enough to know what it would say.

“Read it?” Lord Walker said. “I thought you had written it, my dear.”

I wrote it,” Rosa said, proudly—and deservedly so.

“Answer the question,” Anna said. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why she disliked this jiggling, black clothed man in the tall hat, but she knew that she did.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker chuckled. “She’s a feisty one, isn’t she?” he said to Rosa. “Like an angry cat or something. I see why you brought her along. Ho ho ho!”

“I’d like to know the answer to her question as well,” Rosa said.

“Of course, dear. Why wouldn’t you? Your message is an obvious one, and one I’m afraid I’ve only recently come to understand the true profundity of. It’s an old fashioned message, if I’ve ever heard one, and I mean that with all due respect. Old fashioned is my motto, you see. I live by it. And, yeah, though I may have been lost, I now am found.” He grinned, nodding his head and sending his chins jiggling.

“And…” Anna said. For all his words the big man hadn’t said a thing.

“And a sturdy dose of old fashioned capitalism is exactly what we need. For too long now we’ve been lulled into a false sense of lazy security by the ever present and ever popular robot service force, but I’m afraid the jig is up. The worlds are crashing down around us. You’ve experienced it for yourself first hand, I’m sure. And the only way to prevent that disease from spreading to the rest of the worlds and beyond is to return to our roots. We are not meant to have social relations with things, tools, objects. Instead we should be hiring people, human beings. And in that human—we might even say familial—interaction we will return to the glory days when there was enough work to go around. As soon as we get rid of the robot menace, all our worlds will be made right again. I assure you of that, my dears. I assure you of that. Ho ho ho!”

“Well,” Rosa said, “I can’t argue with that.”

Anna only shook her head, though. She still wasn’t sure about this Lord Walker. He seemed to understand their message, but there was something a little off in his delivery. The words he used were a little too perfect, a little too planned, as if he had been rehearsing them for some time before delivering them, and from the look of him—so richly dressed and overweight, sitting in his opulent palace while messengers fetched his visitors for him—he was getting more out of this—or any—relationship than he was putting into it.

“So what did you have in mind?” Anna asked.

“Ah, yes,” Lord Walker said, grinning. “Finally. To the business. First and foremost, since we’ve already been discussing it, the movie. As I said, I thought it was brilliant. I mean, I loved every bit of the script. It was full of top notch symbolism and simple enough for even the dullest of Sixers to understand.”

Anna scoffed. Who did this pompous whale think he was?

“Yes,” Rosa said. “I really tried to make it accessible and entertaining. I think those are the keys when you want to spread your message as far as it can go.”

“Oh, yes,” Lord Walker said. “There’s no doubt that those are two of the keys—and very important keys at that—but as you’ll come to see, my keychain is full to the brim. One thing, for instance, that I find you’re lacking in is a proper crew and the right actors.”

Rosa scoffed. “No doubt. But I don’t really have much control over that. I was forced to take what I could get on such short notice, I’m afraid.”

“Yes,” Lord Walker said. “I realize this. That’s where my keys come into play. I’ve already selected an actor to play the robot. He’s a real star, too, top of the line, and he should give us the name power we need to get this movie seen throughout all the worlds.”

“And the rest of the crew?” Rosa asked. “I was scraping the bottom of the barrel to get them. They’re prolly not any better themselves.”

“Independent’s big right now,” Lord Walker said, waving her concerns away. “Don’t you worry about that. I’ll ensure they have the studio space and equipment they need, and they should do just fine.”

“Good,” Rosa said. “Great. What do you think Anna?”

Anna shook her head. “I don’t know. What’s in it for you?”

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker laughed. “Spreading the word, my dear. That’s all. And it doesn’t matter if you agree anyway because I’ll be helping whether y’all ask for it or not. I just wanted to meet you to get a feel for you. And I’ll tell you, I like what I see.”

“So that’s it then?” Anna asked. “You don’t want anything else?”

“Well…” Lord Walker tapped his sausage fingers on the desk. “There is one other thing.”

Of course. Anna sighed. There was the matter of what he wanted from them out of all of this. There was always that.

“What is it?” Rosa asked, smiling. “Anything we can do to help our new friend.”

Lord Walker chuckled. “Yes. Friends. I’d like to think of you that way. And in turn I’d like for you two to think the same of me.” He eyed Anna as he said it. She had to suppress a groan. Now she remembered why she never went to any of these meetings with Rosa. She couldn’t play the fake kissy kissy suck up game that Rosa was so good at.

“And can your friends serve you in any way?” Rosa asked, proving again she thought nothing of this man—if he even was human. If Rosa held any regard for him at all, she would have called him brother—or son at the worst, but she would have brought him into the Family in some way nonetheless. Friend was something else to Rosa, something lower, and the funniest part was that Lord Walker didn’t understand that fact one bit. He thought she was being nice when she called him friend, and Anna wanted to laugh out loud at him for it.

“Well, you see…” Lord Walker paused for a moment, taking the monocle out of his eye and setting it on the table. His neck must have been tired from carrying his already massive head, not to mention the towering top hat with it. “This is a touchy subject. I don’t want to offend.” He spoke as if he had already gained their confidence.

“Please,” Rosa said. “Go on. We know you have no ill intent.”

Anna did scoff at that one. She couldn’t help it. If anything, Lord Walker’s intent was entirely ill. She regretted the scoff as soon as she had let it out, though, and held her hand to her mouth in embarrassment.

Lord Walker sneered at her. “Yes, well… I don’t want to make any assumptions about your intent, either,” he said, focusing all attention on Rosa alone now, practically acting as if Anna wasn’t there. Anna didn’t care, though. She didn’t want him talking to her anyway. She wanted to leave. She never should have been there in the first place. “Which is why I will try to be as elegant and proper as I can when I tiptoe around this one.”

“Please, Lord,” Rosa said, bowing her head a bit. “No tiptoeing.”

“Well, you see,” Lord Walker said, still tiptoeing nonetheless, an amazing feat for such a wide frame—it probably would have been havoc on his pants if he were doing it in real life rather than with words. “There was a slight disturbance in Outland One recently. A group of terrorists—as what they did can only be described as an act of terror—attacked one of the protector precincts under my ownership.” He paused, waiting for a response, but he got none. Ann and Rosa both knew how to control their emotions when it was essential.

“And the only reason I bring it up,” Lord Walker went on when he was sure he wasn’t getting the response he wanted, “is because it just so happens that one of my protectors found the source of that disturbance. It took them some time, yes. Whoever these people were had to be very clever in order to break into my precinct. They knew how to cover their tracks, you see, but not well enough. There’s always some trail left behind, I’m afraid, and my bloodhounds never fail to sniff it out.”

“I’m not sure I understand what this has to do with us, sir,” Rosa said.

Hmmm.” Lord Walker frowned. “I thought you would by now. You’re smarter than that, aren’t you? No.” He shook his head. “That’s not it. You’re not stupid. That’s for certain. You act this way because you’re afraid. You shouldn’t be, though. This affects nothing about the deal we’ve already made. In fact, if anything, it makes me more eager to work with you. You’ll fit in better with my new business model this way.” He smiled.

“What are you saying?” Rosa asked.

“I’m saying, my dear, that I know it was you who attacked my protectors and stole my guns. I’m not as stupid as you’re making yourselves out to be.” Rosa tried to speak but Lord Walker cut her off. “But, as a gesture of friendship, and as a way to get our new business relationship started off on a good foot, I’m willing to overlook your transgressions without recompense. Furthermore,” he went on, cutting Rosa off again. “I’ll see to it that an arsenal twice the size of what you’ve already taken ends up in your hands, with the promise of more weapons to come as you prove to me that I can trust you.” He smiled, finally relinquishing the floor, but Rosa nor Anna said anything in response.

“Well,” Lord Walker said. “What do you think?”

“Work together toward what?” Anna asked.

“Toward our common interest, sweetheart. What else? Toward the destruction of the robot industry. Toward the benefit of myself and yours. Toward whatever we can agree on, including this movie we’ve already begun. What’s it matter to you if you’re doing what you already would be doing and getting some extra benefit from it on top?”

Some benefit.” Anna scoffed. “Some benefit much smaller in proportion than our input, I’m sure.”

“Your input?” This time it was Lord Walker’s turn to scoff, unable to control his own emotions. “And what exactly do you think that is, sweetheart? You’re nothing more than bodies. Anyone can be a body. Everybody’s some body. I can pick up anyone off any corner in any world and they can contribute exactly the same thing as you. Any benefit you get is more than proportional to your input. If anything, it’s charity on my part. The only reason I chose you is so I didn’t have to meet with any other disgusting low worlders or deal with the headache of punishing you for your hilariously inadequate crimes. Now. You can take what I offer you, which is more than you can ever expect otherwise, or you can turn around right now, leave my office, and face the wrath of Lord Walker.” His nose was flaring and all of his chins had gone red by the end of his heavy breathed speech.

“You can f—” Anna started to say but Rosa stopped her. She turned to Anna and nodded with a straight face. That’s all it took. Rosa would handle this. Anna wouldn’t like how she did it, but that was how the world worked. Anna fumed under her skin about that fact, hiding it well, as Rosa spoke.

“I’m sorry if we’ve offended you,” Rosa said and Anna took special notice that she used “we’ve” instead of “she’s”. “It was not our intention. You must understand that we would be stupid not to ensure that we get a fair deal out of this relationship.”

Lord Walker nodded. “Yes, of course, but—”

“And you must also realize,” Rosa went on, taking control of the conversation finally, “that when you talk about a future relationship it implies future demands on our time which we may not be prepared to put up with. Given zero knowledge of your future plans, we would essentially be handing you a blank check by accepting your offer.”

Lord Walker grinned. “It’s funny you should say that,” he said, “a blank check. It’s such an archaic term, especially for a Sixer.”

“I’ve made it a point to remember my Family’s history,” Rosa said, nodding once.

Lord Walker nodded back. “Yes,” he said. “It’s important to remember history if you want to know how to come out on top when it repeats itself. But how about I offer you a blank check in return then?”

“How so?” Rosa said.

“Well, I’ll simply send you one of the armories. They’re essentially 3D printers capable of creating all the guns and armor you have time to ask for. That’d be about the same as a blank check, and it would serve to show just how much I trust you and value our new relationship.”

Rosa looked to Anna who shook her head. She didn’t like this idea. He was giving them a blank check, technically, but it was limited and Lord Walker could cut off the supply whenever he wanted. And besides that, there was no telling what he would ask of them in return.

“And this is a once in a lifetime offer,” Lord Walker added, anticipating their reluctance. “If you leave here without saying yes, then you’ve said no and you’re responsible for whatever happens to you and your family as a consequence.”

Anna shook her head again. She still didn’t want to get in bed with this flabby monster, but she knew what Rosa was going to say before she said it.

“We’ll take the armory,” Rosa said. “And we’ll see where we go from there.”

“Good,” Lord Walker said. “Great. That’s all I needed to hear. Haley will show you home and carry the armory for you, but I’m afraid that’s all I have time for today, ladies. I’ll get you a phone, too, so we won’t have to meet in person all the time. You heard that Haley? Get them a phone, too. Now, ta ta!” He turned in his seat so his back was facing them and they couldn’t respond if they wanted to.

Anna and Rosa followed Haley out through the elaborate hall to the elevator where the armory was waiting for them.

“He’s so pompous,” Anna said when she saw it.

Rosa grabbed her arm. “We need this.”

“Sorry for the tight fit, Haley said, squeezing into the elevator with them. “Sector US1Q84.” The doors slid closed and the elevator fell into motion. When they opened again Haley pushed the armory out, following them in silence to the Family Home.

“All the way in the basement, please,” Rosa said when they had arrived, and Haley obliged.

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” Haley said when she had climbed back upstairs.

“And you,” Rosa said, extending a hand to Haley who took some time to shake it before curtsying and leaving.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Anna said, slapping Rosa on the arm and stomping to the kitchen. “And all for some more guns.” She had to cook something and get some food in her stomach to forget how gross everything about what had just happened was.

“I didn’t hear you speaking up,” Rosa said, following her into the kitchen and sitting at the bar. “I did what needed to be done.”

Ha!” Anna set to cooking, not even knowing what she planned on making. “I didn’t have to speak because you knew how I felt already. I don’t like all these guns around here, and I certainly don’t want any more in the House.”

“Technically, there aren’t any more, just a printer that can make some.” Rosa grinned, trying to lighten the mood.

“You know what I mean,” Anna said, dicing harder and faster. “There will be because of that thing. And more deaths, you can count on that. I don’t like one bit about this Lord Walker business, and I don’t understand how you could.”

Rosa chuckled. “Oh, don’t worry. I don’t trust that fat old man as far as I can throw his gigantic top hat, but what did you want me to do? Say no and piss him off from the get go? At worst, we get some guns out of it so we can defend ourselves better when we inevitably do piss him off by not bowing to his every demand.”

“Unless he cuts off the pipeline,” Anna said, tossing the diced vegetables into the frying pan.

“Then we’ll just have to be sure we get the guns before we piss him off. Won’t we?”

Exactly,” Anna said, throwing a can of beans in with the vegetables. She hated using the cans, but she was too hungry to wait for the real thing. “Which means more guns in the House, exactly what I said I didn’t want in the first place.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” Rosa said, shaking her head and letting her hands flop on the table, not quite slamming them. “I know you don’t want violence. I don’t either. But that’s the only way that they know how to respond so we have to be prepared when they do.”

“I don’t know.” Anna shook her head. “It’s almost like we’re asking for it if we stock up on weapons like this.”

“It would be asking for it if we didn’t,” Rosa said. “We have to protect ourselves. No one else will.”

“Well, I hope you’re right,” Anna said. “And I hope Lord Walker doesn’t ask us to do something we don’t want to do in the meantime—like maybe start the violence instead of defending against it. What do we do then?”

“We say no.”

“And deal with his wrath?” Anna said with a laugh, setting a full bowl of food in front of Rosa and sitting next to her to start in on her own.

“Exactly,” Rosa said with a smile, taking a bite. “Mmmm. Delicious.” She took another. “And exactly why we’d be dumb not to arm ourselves in preparation. You met the guy.”

“Which is why I don’t trust—” Anna turned to say but Kara came rushing into the kitchen to cut her off.

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< LI. Laura     [Table of Contents]     LIII. Roo >

There it is, dear readers. Another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. I hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to come back next week for the continuance of the story. We do nothing alone.

 

Three Act Structure: The Most Basic of Basics

Find the original /r/writing post here.

Today I realized I had been going over all this story structure theory for beginners and I hadn’t even touched on the most basic of basics, three act structure. I’m sure everyone here already feels like they have three act structure pretty well understood, but it never hurts to do a little refresher every now and again.

One of my favorite places to start with studying three act structure is the often trusty Wikipedia. Particularly, I like the plot line graph they use in the article, which includes a few extra points (pinch 1 and pinch 2) that aren’t often included in images illustrating three act structure.

Three Act Structure Plot Line Graph

Here’s a short blog article from Karen Woodward that talks about pinch points, with some examples from Star Wars. To quote it:

First Pinch Point:

The first pinch point reminds us of the central conflict of the story.

Second Pinch Point:

The second pinch point, like the first, reminds the audience of the central conflict of the story, but it also is linked to the first. It shows the audience the threat (whatever it is that still stands in the way of the hero achieving his goal). The pinch point scene lays out what the hero has yet to conquer/overcome/accomplish.

To put three act structure more simply, however, we need only turn to the always trusty TV Tropes:

“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down.”

Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back Producer Gary Kurtz, LA Times interview

The entire article is a pretty useful simple explanation of three act structure as well, so be sure to give it a read. That, along with this little rehash of everything you just read (found on the College of DuPage website), should get you feeling comfortable with the most basic of basics and ready to go over the previous tips again (especially Miéville’s) if you didn’t feel comfortable with three act structure already when reading them the first time.

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet

This one was originally intended for screenwriters–especially those who want a decidedly commercial product–but it’s useful for novelists and short story writers alike.

Those of you who were afraid to give beginners something to shoehorn their plot into are really going to hate this one–from Blake Snyder, writer of the fabulous ’90s movie Blank Check among other screenplays–because it goes so far as to include specific wordcounts for each beat–originally page numbers for a screenplay which have been converted for our purposes.

All wordcounts assume a 100,000 word finished novel. Enjoy:

THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET

Opening Image (1 – 1,000 words) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.

Set-up (1 – 9,100 words) – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.

Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up at around 4,550 words) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.

Catalyst (at 10,920 words) – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.

Debate (10,920 – 22,714 words) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.

Break Into Two [Choosing Act Two] (at 22,714 words) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.

B Story (around 27,300 words) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.

The Promise of the Premise (27,300 – 50,050 words) – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.

Midpoint (at 50,050 words) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.

Bad Guys Close In (50,050 – 68,250 words) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.

All is Lost (at 68,250 words) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.

Dark Night of the Soul (68,250 – 77,350 words) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.

Break Into Three [Choosing Act Three] (at 77,350 words) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.

Finale (77,359 – 99,100 words) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!

Final Image (99,100 – 100,000 words) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

THE END

If you liked that, you can find a huge list of movies analyzed using this beat sheet on Blake Snyder’s website right here, or you can read the full Save the Cat book. Further, on Jami Gold’s website, there’s a page with worksheets for writers, found here, that also includes a Save the Cat spreadsheet for novels. [Click here to directly download the .xls version.]

I hope that helped. And click here for more writing advice for beginners.