Welcome back for installment two of The Asymptote’s Tail. Today I’d also like to announce that the full eBook novel is up for pre-sale, available May 30th, through this link. The print edition should be up and ready on the same day at the latest, I’m only waiting on a proof copy before I finalize everything, but I’ll keep you updated on the progress here. [Update: Both editions are now available through this link.] Now go ahead and enjoy chapter one:
In her spartan grey kitchen it was a pleasure to cook second breakfast. The smell of bacon sizzling gave Haley a hunger no protein smoothie could ever cure. The only way it could be better was if she could taste the bacon, but Lord Walker would punish her for even the tiniest missing crumb. She shuddered for a moment at the thought of it, then went back to the joy of cooking.
The kitchen was efficient. Counters lined three walls of the room with not two steps between parallel sides. The 3D printer and trash chute were set flush with the counter on the third wall, and Haley stood at the stove on one side of the room, cooking four pieces of bacon and four eggs in two separate pans.
She thought about the cyclical nature of mealtime as she watched the meat sizzle and waited for the coffee to percolate. Two eggs, two strips of bacon, and two pieces of toast for first breakfast. Four eggs, four strips of bacon, and four pieces of toast for second breakfast. Eight eggs, eight strips of bacon, and eight pieces of toast for third breakfast. And so on and so on until fifth breakfast. Then the bust and back to one hamburger, one french fried potato, and one loaf of bread pudding for first lunch. Two hamburgers, two french fried potatoes, and two loaves of bread pudding for second lunch. Over and over again every single day. It reminded her of the numbers she ran for Lord Walker at the Market, the way they went up and up and up, and you had to try to guess exactly when they’d shoot back down. She almost laughed thinking about it.
The toaster popped and she ordered a jar of jam, a tray, a plate, a mug, and some platinumware from the printer then set to spreading the toast with jam. Her movements were so well-rehearsed they took on the fluid motion of dance as she laid each egg on a piece of toast, crossed the room on her toes to toss the pan in the trash chute—Lord Walker preferred the taste when she used a fresh pan every time—then twirled back around to stack the bacon on top of that. She pirouetted to throw out the next pan, tip-toed to pour a cup of coffee, then curtsied deep as she set the mug on the tray, laying the finishing touches on second breakfast.
With the tray propped up over her shoulder, she pushed her way through the only door in the kitchen—on the fourth wall of the small room—out into an elaborately decorated hallway. Though “hallway” may not be the right word for it. It was about as long as it was wide and larger even than the kitchen. The walls were covered in colorful silken tapestries and gold-framed paintings depicting tuxedoed owners climbing piles of money, the ceiling and floor were lined with ornate platinum filigree, and the carpet was the softest surface that Haley had ever touched. To her right was the door to the garage, and to her left was the door to Lord Walker’s room which she entered without knocking.
Lord Walker’s room was decorated with the same filigree as the hall. The bed was an ornate four-poster, covered in silk sheets and a velvet bedspread, which took up most of the space in the bedroom. Lord Walker’s gargantuan, lumpy body was propped up with a stack of pillows behind his back, so he could watch the television which hung across the room as it spat out stock numbers and made predictions as to what should be bought and what should be sold. Their suggestions were always so wrong, Haley wondered why Lord Walker listened to them—especially since she was the one who ran the numbers at the Market anyway.
“Haley, sweetheart,” Lord Walker said through a mass of egg and bacon. A little half-chewed glob of something dribbled out onto his beard as he spoke, and Haley shuddered at the thought of cleaning it out later. “Just in time, my dear,” he went on, not noticing a thing. “As I finish my final morsel of first breakfast, here comes you, carrying breakfast two. Ho ho ho.” His whole body jiggled with his laughter, and Haley had to hurry to catch the empty coffee cup it sent tumbling off his tray. “And again you save me,” he said. “Twice in ten seconds. Ho ho ho.”
Haley waited until his jiggling was done before setting the newly filled tray on his lap. She didn’t need a similar accident with hot coffee.
“Sweetheart,” Lord Walker said, pointing at the TV. “Would you be so kind as to change the channel for your Lord? Put the reality network on, would you. I’ve had enough of work this morning. Ho ho ho.”
Haley changed the channel for him. It wouldn’t have taken Lord Walker more than the effort to think it and it would have happened, but Haley didn’t question it. He probably had more important things on his mind. He couldn’t waste his brain power with such base work. On the screen now—instead of endless stock numbers—were several tiny children working in a factory. Haley tried to imagine what it would feel like to be so small, to be a child, but Lord Walker interrupted her thought.
“Speaking of enough work,” he said. “I think I’ll stop with third breakfast this morning. We have Christmas Feast today, so I want to be at the top of my game. Three breakfasts should be a healthy warm-up, wouldn’t you agree?” He chuckled, patting his stomach which folded and flopped dangerously close to the still steaming cup of coffee.
“Yes, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy, though she couldn’t take her eyes off the children on the screen. The way their bodies fit into the tiny crevices to clean the places no one else could reach left her in awe of their ability, like they were perfectly molded parts of the machine itself.
“Very good,” Lord Walker said. “Thank you, dear.” He waved his fork at her. “Run along then.”
“Yes, sir.” Haley broke away from the screen and carried the empty dishes back to the trash chute. As the bedroom door swung closed behind her, she thought she heard the sound of tiny voices screaming, but she tried to ignore it.
She set to cooking the eight eggs, eight strips of bacon, and eight pieces of toast for third breakfast and wondered why the Creator would let those children feel pain, why She would give them the ability to scream. She touched the pan with the bacon cooking in it. How would it have to feel to make her want to scream like that? Could she even scream like that? Could she get louder than a polite, “Yes, sir”?
She almost found out when she heard a meow behind her. She stifled a scream and turned to find a black cat licking itself on the counter. When it saw that it had her attention, the cat rubbed its face on the faucet.
“Hello,” Haley said with a smile, after she had gotten over the initial shock. She had no idea how the cat always got in so quietly and had never once seen where it leaves to. “Are you thirsty?” She turned the faucet on a dribble and the cat lapped up the water. “There you are,” she said, patting it once and noticing its collar was red instead of the yellow it had been for some time. Then she remembered Lord Walker’s breakfast. She finished up the bacon and eggs, and when she turned around to get a new set of dishes, the cat was gone.
Haley carried third breakfast to Lord Walker’s room, and he jiggled in his bed at the sight of her, knocking an entire tray onto the floor with a clatter. At first she thought he was choking and rushed to his side to help, but when she set the tray on the side table he finally got it out of his mouth, “Look!” he said. “The screen! You’ll miss it!”
Relieved, Haley turned to see Lord Walker—his upper body rolling and folding over the pneumatic pants that held his weight up for him—on the screen in a tuxedo and top-hat with monocle in eye and cane in hand. He was prancing up and down a red carpet with celebrities, musicians, and sports stars all trying to shake his hand, take his picture, or get his autograph. In a deep, bodiless voice a narrator spoke over the video. “Lord Walker, your Christmas Feast Head. Not only the richest man in the world, he’s the celebrity’s celebrity.” Then it cut to graphs and numbers depicting his net worth.
“So,” he said with a proud grin. “What do you think? Perfect, isn’t it.”
“Yes, sir.” Haley nodded.
“You’re right it is,” Lord Walker said, trying to slap his knee but hitting a fold of fat instead. “And that’ll be in every owner’s home with a right to be at the Feast. That was in every owner’s home with a right to be at the Feast. And you know what they’re all thinking right now?” He grinned from ear to ear.
“No, sir.” Haley shook her head, lowering her eyes.
“I guess I’ll have to listen to that Lord Walker lord it over us again,” he said. “That’s what! Ho ho ho.” Haley thought the bed might break from all his shaking. “Oh, yes,” he went on. “And that they will, dear. That they will.” He shook his head, composing himself. “I only need you to be a sweetheart and go make some trades for me first. Can you do that, dear?”
“Yes, sir.” Haley curtsied.
“Of course you can,” Lord Walker said. “This is what I need from you: First, drop some textiles. That’s a dangerous industry if you ask me. Ho ho ho.”
“And pick up some more policing. I know we own most of the stocks in Outland 1 already but we need more. You got that? You can never have enough protection.”
“Then there’s this Russ Logo.” Lord Walker smiled. “He’s an actor. Have you heard of him?”
“Of course not, dear,” Lord Walker said with a chuckle. “But he’s the next big thing in propaganda. I guar-an-tee it. Pick up as much ownership in him as you can. You got that?”
“Ok. Good. Now repeat it back to me.” Lord Walker went back to eating as she did.
“Drop textiles,” Haley said. “Pick up protectors and Logo.”
“Bingo,” Lord Walker said, flinging some eggs around in his excitement. “Perfecto. And be bold, darling. I have a Feast to Lord over.”
“Yes, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy and a smile. She picked up the empty tray and carried it to the kitchen.
Why did he always make her repeat it? As if she couldn’t remember simple instructions or didn’t know how to trade stocks. She did all the trading. The only time he ever set foot near the Market was to ring the New Year bell or film a commercial. He wouldn’t be the richest owner in the world if it weren’t for her. But at least she got to go to the Market for a while. She tidied up the kitchen one last time and headed the other way down the hall to the garage.
The garage was a vast cave lined with cars and trucks and buses and RVs. The floors were shiny, and the walls and ceiling looked like a hangar made out of platinum. There were vehicles of every make and model imaginable, but only two that ever got used: the giant white stretch Hummer—which was the only thing big enough to fit Lord Walker comfortably—and the tiny silver Tesla coupe that he allowed Haley to use. She got inside the one-seater and said, “Market.”
The engine started without a sound. She felt like she was gliding as it rolled out through the garage door and into the Market employee parking garage. The employee parking garage was smaller than the owner’s garage—smaller even than Lord Walker’s private garage—and instead of entering onto the Wall Street photo-op set, the employee garage entered onto the Market proper where the trading actually occurred.
The Market itself wasn’t much: a few folding tables and office chairs, with a touchscreen on one of the gray brick walls, that was about it. There were never more than thirty or forty secretaries there at one time—most owners chose to do their trading remotely—but much like he preferred to have his food printed fresh and prepared on-site, Lord Walker preferred doing his trading the old-fashioned way—or at least he preferred that Haley did it the old-fashioned way for him.
Today there were only three other secretaries at the Market, two who Haley didn’t know by name—she had never traded with them—only by their model number and the net worth of their employers, and Rosalind, Mr. Douglas’s secretary—Mr. Douglas being the second richest owner in Inland. As soon as Haley walked in, Rosalind initiated a conversation with her.
“Hello,” Rosalind said, looking so awkward in her funny pantsuit. She never wore the black and white laced uniform shared by all the other secretaries.
“Hello,” Haley replied with a slight nod.
“You’re Lord Walker’s secretary.”
Haley couldn’t tell if it was a question or a statement. “Yes,” she said.
“Mr. Douglas is creeping up on him.” Rosalind smiled.
Haley smiled back. “Not if I can help it,” she said with a wink.
“What are you looking for today?”
“Oh, dropping some textiles, picking up some protectors.”
“Was it the accident?” Rosalind frowned.
“Lord Walker didn’t say why?” Rosalind shook her head.
Haley shook hers, too. She was surprised to feel her cheeks flush. Usually only Lord Walker could make her feel that way.
“I can do that,” Rosalind said. “Protectors for textiles.”
“Oh—uh—deal,” Haley said, absently, still trying to control her blushing.
“Deal,” Rosalind repeated, extending her hand.
Haley shook it and nodded, then started towards the touchscreen on the far wall to set up the order for Logo shares, but Rosalind put her hand on Haley’s shoulder to stop her before she could get very far.
“Yes?” Haley said, turning and trying to smile.
“Lord Walker,” Rosalind said. “How does he treat you?”
Haley thought about it for a second. She didn’t know how to answer. Lord Walker treated her like she had always been treated. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“You know,” Rosalind said. “Is he bossy? Is he nice? Does he try to touch you? How does he treat you?”
Haley thought about it again. How could a secretary use such unproductive words? “He treats me like his secretary,” she said.
Rosalind dropped her hand from Haley’s shoulder. She half smiled but her eyes didn’t look the part. “Good luck with your purchases,” she said, and she walked out to the owner’s garage.
Haley stood there in a daze. Rosalind was like no other secretary she had ever met before. And she was right, too. Mr. Douglas was creeping up on Lord Walker. If Haley wasn’t careful, Lord Walker might not be Lord for long and then where would she be? Maybe she should start taking more interest in why he was making the trades he was making. Then she might know what Rosalind meant by “the accident”. She resolved herself, put in the orders for Russ Logo, and set off home to start on first lunch.
# # #
By the time seventh lunch came around, Haley wondered if it would have been less work for Lord Walker to eat five breakfasts in the first place. Still, she didn’t complain. She knew that seventh lunch had to be the last lunch because there was no way he could eat more and be on time for the Feast—and there was no way he was going to be late for this one. After he had eaten the one-hundred-and-twenty-eight burgers and fries and bread puddings, Haley’s real work set in. She had to strap him into his pneumatic pants. He would always wiggle and try to help, but more often than not, his “help” only made her job more difficult.
She found the best method was to start by grabbing his feet and twisting him around so they were sticking off the bed. Luckily it was a kingdom size bed, as long as it was wide, so it fit him facing either way—he was as tall as he was wide, anyway, so it really had to be. Once his legs were dangling off the bed, she forced the pneumatic booties onto his sausage feet and slowly inched him further and further off while carefully inching the pants up over the folds of his legs. He always slept in a nightshirt—“to let his legs breath”—preventing the need for her to take his previous pair off, which helped her more than anything else he could do. She got the pants all the way up around his waist and said, “Are you ready, Lord?”
“Yes, dear,” he replied. His voice sounded restricted in the pneumatic pants, even when they weren’t activated. “Hop to it. We mustn’t be late.”
“Yes, sir.” Haley pressed the little button on the ankle of the pants and they hissed into action. All of a sudden Lord Walker’s legs stiffened, sending his mushroom cap upper body shooting into the air with the appearance that he would be flung right off the bed face-first into the floor, but just before he was, the pants caught his weight and sent him tottering up again to rock back and forth into a standing position, like a flabby, slow motion version of the doorstop she flicked to pass the time in her closet at night.
“Very good, dear,” Lord Walker said when the fluids in his ears had settled down. “Now, a little grooming, please.”
“Yes, sir.” Haley brushed the hamburger, bread pudding, and—even still—egg crumbs out of his beard. She wiped the liquids off his face with a damp cloth, then brushed his shaggy white facial hair straight with a tiny comb. When she was done, Lord Walker lifted his hands as far above his head as he could reach them—which wasn’t far—so she could pull off his nightshirt. She slipped a white undershirt over his arms as fast as she could so he could lower them, then she buttoned the rest of the layers of his tuxedo on over that.
“There we are, dear,” Lord Walker said with a huff when she was done. “I’ll get my monocle and top hat in the car. Could you fetch a black and gold bow tie, too? Thank you, sweetheart.” He winked.
“Yes, sir.” Haley curtsied.
The ground shook as Lord Walker’s pants carried his mushroom frame toward the garage.
Haley took his night shirt, the rag, and comb to the trash chute to dispose of them. She ordered up a top hat, monocle, cane, and bow tie out of the printer and went to meet Lord Walker in the Hummer. The pants had already carried him into the huge backseat, thank the Creator—with the old pneumatic pants she had to lift him up into it herself—so she only had left to climb into the backseat with him, tie his bow tie on over his beard—“Otherwise how will anyone know I’m wearing it, sweetheart?”—and place his monocle in his right eye.
“Thank you, dear,” he said, waving her away before she finished. “Let’s go, then. Front seat.”
“Yes, sir.” Even though the car drove itself, Lord Walker preferred the appearance of having a driver in the front seat, so he made her sit up there apart from him, like a chauffeur, as the stretch Hummer drove them out of the garage and into the Feast Hall parking garage.
“Alright now, sweetheart,” Lord Walker said before the car had stopped moving. “The door please.”
As soon as the car did stop, Haley stepped out and opened his door for him. His pants carried him out of the Hummer and toward the Feast Hall. He only had time to swipe his monocle and cane before crying, “My hat, dear! Don’t forget my hat!”
Haley snatched the hat and slammed the door closed. Lord Walker would be furious to be seen in public without the tallest hat in the building, who knows how he would react to being seen with no hat on at all. She ran towards the door he was about to pass through and tumbled to the ground, tangled up with some other secretary. She hurried to her knees, searching for the hat she had dropped, when she heard Rosalind’s voice.
“Here you are,” Rosalind said, holding the hat out to to her, still wearing the same funny pantsuit, even at the Christmas Feast.
Haley stood and took it. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Rosalind bowed her head. “Now hurry up. You don’t want to be late.”
Haley stared at her for a second, wanting to say something, to ask her about the way she talks or dresses, or how Mr. Douglas treats her, but she knew she didn’t have time for that, so she left it at thank you and hurried off to catch Lord Walker.
She burst through the door into the Feast Hall’s great entryway, relieved to see its cavernous decadence empty except for Lord Walker. As soon as she ran up to him and plopped the hat on his head, her relief was replaced with a sense of dread deep in her stomach. Mr. Douglas was standing there talking to Lord Walker, hidden from her first sight by Lord Walker’s Hummer-sized girth.
“Haley,” Lord Walker said, obviously trying to stifle his anger. “There you are, dear. Perhaps in the future you won’t forget to bring my hat. Mr. Douglas and I were just discussing errors in textile production and commending the advancements we’ve made in the service industry when you come and prove us exactly wrong. Isn’t that so, Mr. Douglas?”
Mr. Douglas didn’t react, not even a smile or nod.
“Anyway,” Lord Walker went on. “I hate to see good food go to waste. And I must kiss those hands. You know how it is being the Lord of the Feast and all. Or…no. You don’t. Do you?” He winked. “Well, anyway. If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Douglas.” He tipped his hat.
“Yes, Lord Walker,” Mr. Douglas said with a deep bow, taking off his own top hat as he did. “And you will consider my offer, won’t you?”
“Ho ho ho. Always the shrewd businessman, Mr. Douglas.” Lord Walker chuckled. “Always! But let us concentrate on the Christmas Feast for tonight and leave our business for the Market. Ho ho ho.” He set off toward the Feast Hall.
Haley made to follow him when Mr. Douglas mumbled something she couldn’t quite make out. “Excuse me, sir,” she said, turning to him.
“Nothing, ma’am,” Mr. Douglas said, tipping his hat, which was almost as tall as Lord Walker’s.
Haley marveled at his form. He was so small relative to the other owners—he probably didn’t need help putting on his pants—and had such darker skin. He seemed like a foreigner compared to them. Not to mention the way he treated her was so different from the way the other owners treated her. It was like he saw her as more than a secretary.
“Your Lord Walker gets to me with his calcified ways,” Mr. Douglas said. “If only he weren’t so conservative, we’d get the economy running better in no time.”
“Yes, sir.” Haley curtsied.
Mr. Douglas smiled. “Yes, sir,” he said. “That’s exactly what I mean, Haley. That is your name, isn’t it?”
Haley nodded, feeling a blush coming but trying to fight it.
“Haley, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No, sir.” Haley curtsied. “Anything, sir.”
“How does your Lord Walker treat you?”
Haley was less surprised with this being the second time in one day that she was asked the same question, but she still couldn’t help wondering why Mr. Douglas and his secretary were both so interested in how Lord Walker treated her all of a sudden. This time, at least, she had a prepared response. “He treats me like a secretary, sir,” she said with a curtsy.
“Ah, yes,” Mr. Douglas said with a smile. “As I suspected, dear. Like a secretary. Well, in that case, Haley dear, you better hurry and get him a drink. It’s what a good secretary would do.” He bowed low to her.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Douglas, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy, blushing and skipping away as fast as she could. What was with people today?
The Feast Hall itself was a cavern identical to the entryway, only filled with long rows of tables that were big enough fit five-hundred owners. Diamond chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and the walls were platinum-trimmed and covered in similar tapestries and classical paintings to those that covered Lord Walker’s walls. Owners of various shapes and sizes—mostly mushroom shaped and giant—filed around the room, talking to each other and drinking, and at the head table—big enough for the five richest owners—Lord Walker talked with Mr. Smörgåsbord and Mr. Loch, his closest confidants in the Fortune 5. Haley hurried through the Hall into the kitchen. She knew that Lord Walker wouldn’t want to see her without a drink in hand.
The kitchen was the same gray as Haley’s, but it was much longer and a bit wider—wide enough for two secretaries to cook and two carts of food to pass by at the same time. It was lined with counters, stoves, and printers, and filled with secretaries that had about as much variance in appearance as the owners in the Feast Hall. They were almost exclusively women, and they were all lean and sleek and just the opposite of the owners, each one dressed in a similar black mini skirt with white lace frills.
Haley hurried to her printer—closest to the door—to get an old fashioned for Lord Walker, and Rosalind was at her own printer, across the kitchen from Haley’s, smiling and trying to catch her attention. Rosalind even went so far as to say her name, but Haley pretended she didn’t hear, rushing the drink out to Lord Walker.
“Haley, dear,” he said when she got it out there. “Finally. I think everyone else is drunk already. Imagine that. Everyone drunk but me. Ho ho ho. What a strange place.” He elbowed Mr. Loch next to him who laughed along, probably drunk already as Lord Walker had said. “And turkey for the feast tonight,” he added. “Lots and lots of turkey. And potatoes. And gravy over everything. You got that, sweetheart?”
“Yes, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy.
“Very well, then,” Lord Walker said, waving her away. “Off and get it started. I have business to attend to.”
“Yes, sir.” She curtsied again and made her way back to the kitchen.
There wasn’t much to do, but what little there was she busied herself with to try to avoid the gaze of Rosalind. She got a pot of water from the printer and set it to boiling on the stove. The turkey would have to be printed fully-cooked or it would take too long and Lord Walker would complain that he was starving. With nothing left to do, she set to printing and mixing the ingredients for a pumpkin pie, Lord Walker always asked for one on Christmas. All the while she was all too aware of Rosalind trying to attract her attention.
“So, Haley,” Rosalind said, walking over to watch her pour the filling into the crust. “How is your Feast so far?”
“I’m sorry,” Haley said, nothing left to distract her. “I don’t understand.”
“Your feast,” Rosalind said. “Are you enjoying it?”
Haley thought about it. It was no different than any other day. She cooked for Lord Walker every feast, but here the kitchen was bigger, and there was company, and speeches and music. But what was it to enjoy a Feast?
“Well,” Rosalind said. “How is it?”
“And don’t say it’s like a Feast.” Rosalind chuckled. “I already know that much.”
“It’s like a—well…” Haley wanted to say exactly what Rosalind had told her not to say. She had to come up with something else, though. Anything. “Yes,” she said, nodding. “I am enjoying it.”
Rosalind smiled wider than Haley had ever seen her smile. “Good,” she said. “You don’t know how happy I am to hear that. I’ve got some fish to deliver now. If you’ll excuse me.”
Haley found herself staring at the door even after Rosalind had passed through it. She had never used such unproductive words in her life. What did she mean when she said she was enjoying the feast? What did it mean to enjoy something? And why would Rosalind care either way? It was getting to be too much when the potato water boiled over and distracted her with her duty to Lord Walker.
Potatoes mashed and pie cooled, she printed a whole turkey and put it on the cart with them. She wasn’t the first out of the kitchen—and not the last, either—so she added another pair of old fashioneds to ease Lord Walker’s inevitable ire. Haley could see his eyes widen and hear his stomach groan from across the Feast Hall as she rolled the food toward him.
“Haley! Haley, sweetheart,” he called while she was still halfway across the room. Half the owners looked up from their food at the sound of his voice. “I’m so hungry I was going to eat Mr. Douglas over here. I thought he might be food because he eats what my food eats. Ho ho ho!”
The room erupted in laughter with him. Mr. Douglas put his fork on his plate, staring at Lord Walker while Lord Walker stared at the turkey rolling his way. Haley placed the food in front of Lord Walker and wondered if Mr. Douglas was enjoying his feast. She wondered why she cared. When Lord Walker didn’t notice the old fashioneds she had made and asked for another, she didn’t respond. Not even with a, “Yes, sir.” And when she stepped into the kitchen, she didn’t stop to think about her answer when Rosalind asked if she could ask her a question.
“Go ahead,” Haley said.
“What do you think your life would be like if you didn’t work for Lord Walker?”
“Is that even possible?”
“That depends on you.”
# # #
Thanks for joining us for chapter one. If you can’t wait another week to find out what happens, you still have to wait two, but you can pre-order the full eBook, available May 30th, here or wait until the 30th proper to order a print edition. Either way, don’t forget to come back next Saturday morning for chapter two of The Asymptote’s Tail.