Chapter 08: Haley

It’s a late one today, sorry about that, but here’s chapter eight with the return of our first named point of view character, Haley. Enjoy, and don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon through here.

< VII. The Scientist   [Table of Contents]   IX. Ansel >

VIII. Haley

Rosalind disappeared out of the kitchen and into the sea of owners in the Feast Hall before Haley had time to respond. Haley had nothing to do, so she stood again watching the door Rosalind had long passed through.

What would her life be like if she didn’t work for Lord Walker? It probably wouldn’t be much different. She’d still be doing the same work—she didn’t know how to do anything else. Maybe she’d be doing it for someone different, but who? Who would need her skills who didn’t already have a secretary to do it for them? The answer, of course, was no one.

So how would she get her protein smoothies? Where would she spend her time if not in the kitchen, tending to Lord Walker’s every need? She could try to find some way to taste bacon, or discover where that cat always came from—ooooh—she could try to meet a child and ask them what it was like to be so small.

But how could she do any of that without a car? Where does bacon come from without a printer? How would she ever find a child to talk to? No. She needed Lord Walker’s printer, house, and car for everything she did. What would life be like if she didn’t work for him? It would be miserable. That’s what.

Haley set to making Lord Walker’s favorite dessert, a strawberry cheesecake with graham cracker crust, piled high with whipped cream. She felt that even thinking about life without him was a betrayal on her part, and she wanted to make up for it even if he never knew what she had done. She thought about all he had given her: A way to produce something for this world, three square smoothies a week, a roomy closet to sit in while there was no work to do. And what a joy that work was, to cook, clean, and labor in general. It made her feel like a productive member of society. Almost like the owners themselves.

The cake was mixed and set to cooking so she made another old fashioned and ordered up another round of potatoes, rolls, and gravy from the printer. She set it all on her cart and made one more old fashioned to add to the pile before pushing her way into the Feast Hall.

The meal was well under way for all the owners in attendance. Their chewing was so loud Haley could barely hear the symphony behind her, playing patriotic Christmas carols. Add to that their raucous loud drunkenness, and it was all but impossible to think. Lord Walker was still face deep in turkey, covered in gravy, and yelling at Mr. Loch next to him, all while laughing with his jolly, “Ho ho ho!” He didn’t even notice when Haley rolled up with the cart. Not until she started setting the extra rolls and potatoes on the table in front of him.

Ho ho ho! Haley, dear,” Lord Walker said. “How I adore you! Loch, eh. Loch Ness! There you are. Now do you see this?”

Mr. Loch looked up from his own mound of food and said, “What now?”

“I said do you see this, my giant serpentine monster of a friend? My comrade. Do you see how my Haley treats me? She adapts to my every changing whim and whimsy. She is the top of the line in robot technology and it is precisely because she is an older model than your new, clanky jalopy. Do you see what I mean? Ho ho ho!”

Mr. Loch rolled his eyes and set back to eating his food with a shrug and a non-committal, “Yeah, yeah.”

“Haley, sweetheart,” Lord Walker went on, louder now so more of the room could hear. Not everyone though, just the head table and those who were important enough to be close to them. “Don’t you mind Lochy monster over there. He hides it well, but from where I’m sitting I can see the green around his gills. Ho ho ho! But don’t you be fooled, dear. He—and everyone else here—wishes they could get their hands on you. You are the most experienced piece of machinery in existence, and as long as you keep on running, no other will be able to match your ability.”

Scattered applause broke out near the head table. Mr. Douglas, done with his small meal, stared intently at the symphony playing across the Hall—although Haley knew there was no way he could hear it if she was having such a hard time hearing it herself. Mr. Loch went on eating, and Lord Walker, proud of the reaction he had elicited, went on talking.

“See, dear,” he said to Haley. “Some are not so embarrassed as to hide their awe. They know that someone had to be the lucky first to reap the profits from discovering a new technology. Sure, they wish it was them, but they hope to make a similar discovery of their own in the future!”

At that the applause was louder and came from further back in the Hall. Lord Walker looked pleased and was about to go on, but Mr. Smörgåsbord grabbed his arm and whispered something about a speech in his ear. Lord Walker nodded, pushed him away, and yelled, “Well, enough speeching friends. Feasting comes first!” And instead of applause, he was greeted with the sound of smacking lips and clanging platinumware.

“Haley, dear,” he said, reaching a plump hand out to her. “That’s all to say that I love you. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Now pour some more gravy on my feast. Ho ho ho!”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, drenching his plate in gravy.

“Douglas McDougy!” Lord Walker yelled, though he had to know Mr. Douglas could hear him at a normal speaking volume. Mr. Douglas didn’t turn his attention away from the symphony. “Do you know your Rosalind is almost as precious as my Haley here? Almost.”

Mr. Douglas didn’t answer, but Rosalind stepped up from seemingly nowhere, poured a little water into Mr. Douglas’s glass, and said, “Mr. Douglas knows just how precious Haley is, Lord. Don’t you worry about that.”

Lord Walker almost choked on the gravy covered turkey in his mouth, but he managed to swallow it down before spitting out, “Oh, uh, yes, dear. Hello. I didn’t see you there. And if you’ll excuse me, I was speaking to your Mr. Douglas, not to you. You’d be right to remember that in the future.”

“The name’s Rosalind, Lord. Not dear. And Mr. Douglas will let me know if I’m overstepping my boundaries, Lord.”

Lord Walker looked at Mr. Douglas who kept watching the symphony with a straight face. Lord Walker couldn’t keep his face straight, though. He couldn’t hide his derision. “Yes, well…” he said in the self-conscious voice he used when he was unsure of his seat of power. “Then he knows that my Haley is more precious than you will ever be. Doesn’t he, sweetheart?”

Rosalind, sir. And I couldn’t agree more.” She walked away toward the kitchen, not waiting for a response.

“You see that, Haley,” Lord Walker said. “Even the other secretaries are jealous of you. Even they know you’re better than they’ll ever be. Ho ho ho!”

Haley blushed. She always did when he praised her like that—especially in front of so many people. She handed Lord Walker the pair of old fashioneds.

Ho ho ho! And how does she respond? With not one, but two of the drinks I was just desiring.” Lord Walker took a big gulp of both at once. “Made to perfection even before I knew I wanted them myself!”

“There’s a cheesecake on the way, too, sir,” Haley said, curtsying.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker flopped back into his chair which crumpled under his weight, but he didn’t notice because his pneumatic pants held him in a sitting position anyway. “It’s truly as if you read my mind. Go, dear. Go.” He waved her away. “You know what I want. Go and do it. Go!” He started back on his feast and Mr. Smörgåsbord whispered in his ear as he ate.

Haley could feel the eyes of every owner on her as she walked down the line of tables back to the kitchen. Some of them stopped eating to turn and watch her as she passed, licking their sausage fingers clean with loud smacks. They nudged each other and whispered secrets, and one stuck out his hand and slapped her butt as she walked by.

“Oh!” Haley turned to see who it was, holding a hand to her mouth. It was just another flabby face in the sea of owners. Someone with so little money that she didn’t even know his name. She did notice how far back in the hall he was, though. “Excuse me, sir,” she said. “I think I bumped into you.” She smiled and curtsied.

“No no, sweety.” The owner giggled, jiggling with his mirth. “T’was I who bumped into you. I apologize m’lady.” He licked his fingers, then wiped them on the tablecloth so he could tip his fedora—which was much shorter than Lord Walker’s top hat—and feign an overly dramatic bow.

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, turning to walk away, but he slapped her again. This time she kept walking, though. She knew it would be a waste to try to talk to him—he would just do the same thing when she walked away again—so she went on her way back to the kitchen.

Rosalind was there waiting for her when she arrived. “I would have punched that guy in the face,” she said.

“Lord Walker?”

“Well, yeah.” Rosalind laughed. “But no. The Fordian slapper.”

“Excuse me?”

“That fatty that slapped your ass,” Rosalind said, signing each word with her hands. “I would have punched him in his flabby face if he did that to me. I wanted to punch him when I saw him do it to you.”

“You wouldn’t.”

Rosalind smiled. “You don’t think so?”

Haley shook her head.

“And I bet you didn’t think I would talk to your brick wall like that, either. Did you?”

“Brick wall?”

“Wally World,” Rosalind said. “He is the Walrus. You know…Lord Walker”

Haley was surprised again by the way she spoke. Haley would never use such unproductive words or speak about an owner with such disregard. And the way she answered that question for Mr. Douglas. He didn’t even blink. “How does Mr. Douglas treat you?” Haley asked without a thought.

“Like a human,” Rosalind said. “Like a person should be treated. He’s not like the other owners, if you haven’t noticed.”

Haley pictured Mr. Douglas and smiled. “No. He isn’t.”

“You did notice, then.” Rosalind smiled. “I didn’t think you would catch on so quickly. No one else has caught on yet.”

“Really? Isn’t it obvious?”

“Obvious? Tuh.” Rosalind chuckled. “Now I see why they think you’re so special. But don’t forget your cheesecake. You don’t want to piss off the Walrus. I have a delivery to make myself, but I’ll explain more when I get back.” She slipped out into the Feast Hall.

Haley set to hand-whipping some cream, the old-fashioned way. She thought that Rosalind had to be exaggerating about her skills of perception. Anyone in their right mind could tell that Mr. Douglas was different from the other owners. You could literally see it. How noticing that made Haley special, she had no idea.

She piled the cream up on the cheesecake, wondering why Mr. Douglas ate so little compared to the other owners, wondering why Lord Walker and the other owners ate so much—and drank so much. She made him another pair of old fashioneds, it was getting along toward speech time and he would want something to calm his nerves, then set everything on the cart and pushed her way out into the Hall.

Lord Walker was huddled up with Misters Loch, Smörgåsbord, and Angrom at the head table. They were undoubtedly discussing the terms of the speech, or the plans for the special musical guest or celebrity supporter. There was always a line of gimmicks drawn up by the advertising departments to give the ceremony a little excitement. Haley made sure to walk out of reach of the handsy poorer owners in the back of the Hall, and as she did, she noted that Mr. Douglas was the only member of the Fortune 5 not in the huddle with Lord Walker. It was just another distinction between him and the other owners that she thought anyone could clearly see.

She set the cheesecake and drinks on the table behind Lord Walker, and he didn’t stop his conversation to acknowledge her. When she turned to push the cart back to the kitchen, Mr. Douglas grabbed her lightly by the wrist to stop her.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, curtsying.

He dropped her hand and whispered, “No, excuse me. I didn’t want Lord Walker to hear me hailing your attention.”

Haley didn’t respond. She wanted to walk away but couldn’t. She just stood there.

“I’d really like to talk to you, Haley,” Mr. Douglas whispered. “But I can’t here. Do you understand?”

Haley nodded.

“Rosalind will tell you when,” he said. “Now move along before we’re noticed.”

Haley pushed the cart back toward the kitchen. What was she doing? This wasn’t like her. She felt like she was betraying Lord Walker again. She was if she talked to Mr. Douglas without his knowing. Why else would Mr. Douglas be trying to talk to her alone? He probably wanted to get some information out of her in order to sabotage Lord Walker and finally become the richest owner in the world. And she was stupid enough to fall for it because he looked a little different than the other owners, because he had darker skin and a leaner, more modern frame. Well she wouldn’t let that fool her any longer. No. Maybe she would use it to fool them instead.

Yes, that was it. She would talk to Rosalind and meet with Mr. Douglas, but then she would use whatever information she gleaned from the interaction to improve Lord Walker’s net worth. Then she wouldn’t be betraying him, she would be producing for him, exactly what he had hired her to do.

She felt a slap on her butt and turned to see Rosalind swoop in and hit the fat owner who had done it on his head with her pitcher, sending his flabby cheeks jiggling. His upper body slumped backwards, but the pneumatic pants he was wearing caught him and pulled him upright, flipping his chair out behind him and tipping most of the contents of the table he was sitting at onto the tablecloth.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rosalind said. “I’m so clumsy. I didn’t—”

The symphony didn’t stop, and most everyone kept on eating except for those near enough to have their feasts spilled who were yelling at Rosalind all at once. The slapper still stumbled around—dazed and possibly unconscious—thanks to his pneumatic pants.

“Yes, sirs. Yes, sirs. I’m sorry, sirs,” Rosalind said, curtsying and backing away toward the kitchen. “An honest accident, that’s all. Send your secretaries to me and I’ll make proper restitution. Excuse me.”

She disappeared into the kitchen and Haley hurried to follow her, leaving the dazed owner still stumbling around on his pneumatic legs.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Haley said when she burst through the door.

“I told you I would,” Rosalind said, shrugging with a big grin on her face.

“And you ruined their feast. How much do you think that will cost Mr. Douglas?”

“Worth it.” She smiled wider.

“I hope he thinks so.”

“I suspect he’ll be jealous that I got to hit one of them and he didn’t.”

Haley shook her head. She did not understand one thing about Rosalind or Mr. Douglas. She was fooling herself if she thought she did. Still, she had to try to do her duty to Lord Walker and get some sort of information out of them. “I don’t believe that,” she said.

“It doesn’t require your belief. I mean, you think you’d believe a little more after you saw what I just did, but I admire your skepticism.”

Haley felt like that implied she had something to be skeptical about. “Mr. Douglas said something to me while I was out there.”

“Yeah. Not much, probably. Send you to me, Rosalind will tell you what to do. Yadda yadda yadda.”

“Yes.” Haley nodded.

“Probably said he has to talk to you, he wants to meet with you in private, and that I’ll tell you where and when. Is that about right?”

“Yes.”

“And do you want to meet him?”

“That is why I’m asking.” Haley nodded.

“Are you sure, though? Meeting with a rival owner—you might say the rival—in secret. That’s something you want to do?”

Haley nodded.

“Even without Lord Walker knowing? You’re willing to make an independent decision to do something he might see as a betrayal.”

It was as if Rosalind had read her mind. Haley’s face flushed. She was going against Lord Walker’s wishes and Rosalind knew it. Rosalind made sure that Haley knew it, too. She wanted Haley to decide for herself, to be forced to make the initial betrayal which would open the door to further—more severe—transgressions, to open her brain to the possibility of going against Lord Walker. That’s why Rosalind first asked her what she thought her life would be like without Lord Walker. Rosalind couldn’t actually read her mind, she was trying to manipulate it. But meeting with Mr. Douglas wasn’t a betrayal if she did it to get information for Lord Walker. It was an independent act, sure, but it was still in his interests. If it wasn’t a transgression, it couldn’t be the initial transgression, and that gave her the upper hand in Rosalind’s attempts at manipulation. “Yes,” Haley said. “I do.”

Rosalind smiled again. “Good,” she said. “That’s all I needed to know. Mr. Douglas will be in the service parking garage after the guest speaker for second feast. You’ll take the kitchen exit and meet him there. Before then, you’ll print second feast for Lord Walker, full with dessert, and serve it to him as normal. While you’re meeting with Mr. Douglas, I’ll print third feast for Lord Walker. After—”

“Lord Walker prefers his—” Haley tried to say.

After you’re done with the meeting,” Rosalind went on, “you’ll come back and serve third feast, resuming your secretarial duties as normal. Do you understand?”

“Lord Walker prefers his food to be cooked by hand,” Haley said.

“I know Lord Walker’s preferences and will attend to them as necessary.”

Haley wasn’t convinced that Rosalind would take the same care that she would, but maybe she would still have time to cook everything for him before she went to meet with Mr. Douglas.

“Do you still want to do this, Haley?” Rosalind said. “It’s not too late for you to back out.”

If she didn’t have time to prepare third feast, she would be shirking her duties and betraying Lord Walker. But if she got valuable information which prevented Mr. Douglas from catching up with him, that would be worth something. Would it be worth enough to make up for the dereliction of duty that would be missing the preparation of third feast? What would Lord Walker do?

She wished she could ask his advice now, but she knew if she did, she would lose any chance of a meeting and any chance of getting the information she wanted. She had to rely on her experience of Lord Walker’s decisions to predict what he would have her do in the given situation. In fact, that was the very thing she did best. It was what she was hired to do. So by doing it she would be fulfilling her duties to Lord Walker, not betraying him. And she knew what he would tell her to do. She always did. He would tell her to do whatever she could to get a leg up on the competition, even if that meant having a meeting with the enemy without telling him. As long as she didn’t reveal anything valuable for them to use against Lord Walker, she was fulfilling her duty to him.

“Yes. I do,” she said.

“Okay,” Rosalind said. “Good. Then get to printing and don’t talk to me again until after the meeting. It’s already suspicious enough how much we’ve been interacting.”

“Ok—” Haley tried to say, but she didn’t finish because Rosalind was already gone.

She had wasted so much time, she had to print more than she would have liked. She felt like she was betraying Lord Walker already, but she soothed herself with the thought that it was only second feast and fourth feast could be the best feast she had ever cooked to make up for it. Not to mention the valuable information she would be getting from her meeting with Mr. Douglas. She steeled her mind with the thought of it and set to cooking two pots of mashed potatoes, two gallons of gravy, and two cheesecakes. The whipped cream and turkeys would have to be printed.

She set everything on the cart and pushed it out into the hall. The crowd was getting rowdy. The time between first and second feast was always a sketchy situation with everyone ready to eat more and already a little drunk. She made sure to hug the wall as she walked, but it didn’t matter because the owner who had slapped her was still dazed and not even eating. He was sitting now though, so he had that going for him. Haley was relieved to be there just as Lord Walker finished the last bits of his pumpkin pie—his own meeting must have taken some time.

“Haley, dear!” Lord Walker was relieved, too. “You are an angel. I’m stuck in a huddle with these three sweaty fools, and I turn around to see the leftovers and dessert of first feast to save me from their dullness. Ho ho ho!”

Haley nodded and curtsied. She felt odd. Like she was keeping a secret from him. She looked around, and Mr. Douglas was still watching the symphony, motionless as a statue. Rosalind was nowhere to be seen. Haley knew she was watching from somewhere, though, so she didn’t dare say anything to Lord Walker.

“And then here you are,” Lord Walker went on. “The first secretary to deliver second feast.” She was the first at the head table—not the first in all—but she didn’t mention that. “And only minutes before the second feast guest speaker. Just another example of your perfect timing and ability to predict my every need. Ho ho ho!”

Haley set the food in front of him and tried to bow out of the way, but he stopped her.

“Stay, sweetheart,” he said. “Stay. This guest—oh—you’ll want to see him. We own him now, so you’ll want to know what we’re working with. Ho ho ho!”

“Yes, sir,” Haley said, stepping back a few steps to stand behind the head table and stare across the long hall to where the symphony was still playing.

Lord Walker stood and called them to a halt. When he did, the entire Hall grew silent. There wasn’t even the sound of eating.

“Owners of Inland!” Lord Walker boomed over the room in his advertising voice. “Lend me your ears. Lend me your voices if you will. What are the tenets of Inland?”

“Property, profit, play!” came a chorus of baritone voices.

“Property, profit, play,” Lord Walker said. “Ho ho ho! Yes. And I think we’ll all show tonight that we uphold the third tenet. Am I right?” He held up his drink and the room toasted him. All except for Mr. Douglas. Which reminded Haley that she had to tell Rosalind to make old fashioneds for Lord Walker.

“And we all hold our sacred property on high or we wouldn’t have the money to afford to be here tonight,” Lord Walker said. “Would we?”

At that the mob erupted in laughter. Lord Walker was full of himself. He had the same look on his face as he did when he showed Haley his ad that morning.

“Now, some of us—” He picked up his cane and twirled it.  “Not to toot my own flute, but myself included—” The mob laughed again. “—know profits better than others. But I think we can all recognize a profit when we see one. This next gentleman—our celebrity guest speaker for second feast—I dare say that he is a profit. In fact, he’s a prophet of a new era in integrated advertising. Everyone give it up, if you will, for Russ Logo!”

The symphony played a fanfare, and a lime-green-suited, glittery form with tall, colorful hair and tall, colorful boots pranced out onto the stage. The crowd erupted in applause and whistles and whoops. The colorful person walked back and forth on the stage, waving and bending down to shake hands with the owners at the back of the room. When he was done, he stepped up onto a round platform that hovered over the long tables to the front of the Hall where the Fortune 5 could see him better. The applause died down, and Russ started to speak.

“Gentlemen,” he said, pausing there for a long time and looking into his hands. “Gentlemen and secretaries,” he went on. “Owners. Masters of Outland.”

Mr. Smörgåsbord shot Russ an angry look, and Mr. Loch choked on a piece of ham.

“In your hands is the fate of every living soul that inhabits Outland,” Russ said. “It is thanks to you that our 3D printers never run dry, and that we have the—” He half-coughed and half-choked down something in his throat. “And that we have the technology we need to live a life of leisure. It is thanks to you that anyone in existence has anything good that they have. You…You are producers. Everyone else…we are only consumers who live by your charity. Every year we in Outland elect a representative to try as they might to communicate our…our…gratitude for what you give us. Well maybe they made the wrong choice this year.”

There was a subdued laughter from the crowd, as if they weren’t sure if it was supposed to be a joke.

“Perhaps there is no right choice. Perhaps no one in Outland truly knows what we owe you. And if they did—if they really knew what it was that you owners provided for us—and what it means to every single resident of Outland—how could one person come here once a year and communicate that? How could that be enough?

“No. I don’t think that it is enough. I know that this is not enough. It’s not enough to show you what you deserve. For that we must live our gratitude. We must be our gratitude always. For that we must forever hold in our minds the knowledge of what you gave to us, and we must live every minute as if we intend to pay you back for your generosity. Your charity. Your…your…courage.”

He stopped to take a breath. Haley took the chance to scan the audience and noticed that no one in the room was eating. They were all staring up at Russ on his platform, the Fortune 5 included.

“But still,” Russ went on. “Even if we live our gratitude, you won’t ever see it. You’ll see the movies we make, and hear the songs we write, and your children will learn from the documentaries we create, but you will never see our gratitude. You will see the products of our gratitude, you will see the dollars and cents that our gratitude offers up for the grabbing.”

The crowd hooted and hollered, eating again and now firmly convinced that he was on their side.

“But you will not see the gratitude we so want to display. So maybe it is necessary for me to be here today. Even if it isn’t sufficient. Even though it is not sufficient. We have to do it anyway. We have to try. So…I’m here today to tell you…”

Almost no one in the room was listening anymore. They were all deep into second feast. They had their fourth and fifth round of drinks. Russ had already said what they wanted to hear and that’s all they cared about.

“To tell you that we will keep working and we won’t stop until you get what you deserve.”

The Fortune 5 clapped at his commencement, drawing the others in. Even Mr. Douglas clapped with them, an uncharacteristic show of emotion from him. The platform carried Russ backstage, behind the symphony which played a fanfare at his exit.

“Very good,” Lord Walker boomed over the feast, still clapping. “Very good. What did I tell you? A prophet of the new age.

“You know. Russ there—a good friend of mine, Russ.” Lord Walker winked and the applause grew louder. “Russ had a good point about gratuity. Gratuity. Think about the word. What does it mean to you? Charity. That’s what it means. Just that. Charity. And is that what we want to instill in the peoples of Outland? A reliance on charity?

“Who sets the example for the uninformed mob to conform to? Who do they look up to and pray to one day be? Who you ask? Us. The owners.

“If we request charity in exchange for charity, we continue the vicious cycle of dependence on charity. Russ said it himself, they can’t come up here once a year and express their charity. That simply isn’t enough. So, instead, I propose that we abolish this gratuitous practice of charity, we no longer succumb the residents of Outland to the shame and humility of crawling up here once a year on hands and knees, only to fail—Russ’s words, remember, not mine—at expressing their gratuity. Let us instead—as he suggested—experience their gratuity the old-fashioned way. Through their work. Through their creativity. For it is because of us that they have the privilege to be able to think and experience and create, so why shouldn’t it be us who reaps the benefits of those thoughts and experiments and creations?”

The room burst into applause.

“After all. We are producers. And a feast is a producers holiday. It is our lavish celebration and waste that is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and the reward of production. Abundance is Inland’s pride!”

Again there was a round of applause.

“So let us put these consumers out of our mind,” Lord Walker said. “And let us producers consume in peace, as is our right. Eat up owners! Ho ho ho.”

He was greeted again with the sound of eating. He smiled his look-at-my-commercial smile and looked back at Haley to wink, then sat down to start in on second feast himself.

Haley watched him for a minute, then looked over at an empty chair in the head table and remembered that she was supposed to be meeting with Mr. Douglas. She looked in on Lord Walker one more time to make sure he had enough food to put him through second feast, then set on her way toward the kitchen.

She always came into and left the Feast Hall with Lord Walker through the owner’s entrance, so she had never walked so far back into the kitchen. She felt conspicuous doing it, as if every secretary she passed noticed the oddity of her going so far in, but the service entrance was at the very back and that was the only way to get the information she wanted.

She was relieved to get into the lukewarm, stale air of the service parking garage. There were no more eyes to judge her. She took a deep breath and looked around. The garage was empty except for a handful of coupes similar to the one Lord Walker let her drive to the market. Mr. Douglas was nowhere in sight. He probably wasn’t coming at all. It was just another tactic, like getting her to let Rosalind prepare third feast.

Third feast! She remembered she hadn’t given Rosalind the special instructions on how Lord Walker preferred his food, so she turned to start back into the kitchen and do the job herself when Mr. Douglas appeared between her and the door without a word. She almost fell over when she ran into him.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, gathering herself. “I’m sorry.”

“No, Haley,” Mr. Douglas said, staring into her eyes. “I’m sorry.” He tipped his top hat.

Haley felt the pressure of him staring into her mind and thought she saw something she recognized behind his eyes. But what? It wasn’t Lord Walker’s eyes they reminded her of, so whose?

“Do you have any questions before we continue?” Mr. Douglas said.

Any questions? She had more questions than he could answer. So many that she couldn’t possibly choose one to ask without some knowledge of why she was there meeting with Lord Walker’s biggest competitor. “Why am I here?”

“That’s a long story,” Mr. Douglas said. “And a sufficient answer would take longer than we have now. We’re on a schedule, remember. Unhappily, it will have to suffice to say that you are here to receive an opportunity to find the answer to that question.”

“What opportunity?”

“That’s precisely why you’re here,” Mr. Douglas said. “To learn that opportunity. So, to start, let me ask you a question. Do you know who you work for?”

Haley chuckled. “Of course. Lord Walker.”

“And do you know what Lord Walker does?”

“Lord Walker produces. Just like you, sir.” Haley didn’t understand. She thought he was asking questions with obvious answers.

“But what does it mean to produce? You spend more time with Lord Walker than anyone in the worlds. You see how he spends his every waking moment. What is it that he actually does?”

Haley thought about it. Most of his time was spent in bed, eating and watching TV. He said he was working when the stock advice was on, but that usually only lasted through first breakfast before he asked her to change the channel. Then there were the business feasts. But those seemed more like feasts and less like business. What was she supposed to say? She didn’t sit at the table with him and watch his every move. She was in the kitchen, cooking. He could very well have been doing important work that she didn’t see. Then there was the stock trading. But she did most—well, all—of that. Besides that he filmed one or two commercials a year for the various elections and award cer—

“If it takes you so long to answer,” Mr. Douglas interrupted her train of thought, “it indicates he doesn’t do much.”

“I—But—”

“It’s okay,” Mr. Douglas cut her off. “You don’t have to answer that question. It was only necessary that you went through the thought processes produced by being asked it. Now, another question, do you know how a 3D printer works?”

Haley felt defensive. She didn’t know if he wanted an answer or if he was manipulating her again. She was hesitant to give him one.

“This one I would prefer you did answer,” he said, as if reading her thoughts.

“They rearrange atoms into the structure ordered by the operator.”

“Yes.” Mr. Douglas nodded. “That’s what you’re told. But what if I told you that was a lie? What if I told you that humans have no technology capable of rearranging atoms? What would you say if I told you that the printer in your kitchen works in the same way as the door of your garage?”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“Of course you don’t,” Mr. Douglas said. “No one ever taught you how to. Your experience—as vast as it is—doesn’t allow for you to understand. But that’s the opportunity I’m offering you, Haley. Have you ever wondered how you drive out of the same garage and end up at different destinations all while going through the same door?”

Haley thought about it. She had never thought about it. She shook her head.

“One last question, then we really must get back to the feast. Do you want to know the answers to these questions?”

#     #     #

< VII. The Scientist   [Table of Contents]   IX. Ansel >

That’s it for chapter eight. Join us again next Saturday for chapter nine or skip the wait and order the full version of the novel on Amazon here.

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