Chapter 15: Haley

Today brings us Haley’s last point of view chapter and the beginning of the end of the novel. Enjoy yourself, and think about picking up a full copy of the novel here.

< XIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     XVI. Ansel >

XV. Haley

Did she want to know the answers to Mr. Douglas’s questions? She wanted to know the answers to her questions. She could hardly remember his questions, and his rushing away without waiting for her response didn’t help the situation.

What did she know now? She knew that Mr. Douglas and Rosalind were both suddenly interested in Lord Walker. Of course they would be, he was the richest owner in all of Inland, the greatest producer of all time. Never before had anyone amassed as much wealth as Lord Walker and to want to know everything about him and how he got to be where he was seemed only natural. So that was a dead end.

What else did she learn from the meeting? That she was right about Rosalind’s attempts at manipulation. Mr. Douglas had admitted to as much. He didn’t care about her answers to his questions, he only wanted to ask them. She knew they were manipulating her, but for what? She hadn’t told them anything. She didn’t answer any questions about Lord Walker or their business. They didn’t even care if she did. If anything, everything was making less and less sense.

She looked up from her thoughts, and she was at the front of the kitchen. She had passed by all the secretaries who she thought were so nosy before, but not one as much as glanced at her—or she hadn’t noticed if they did. Her counter was covered in fresh-cooked turkeys, pots of potatoes, and three cheesecakes. The whipped cream was still in the bowl, so she could tell that Rosalind had whipped it by hand. Rosalind had even mixed six old fashioneds. Haley felt bad for doubting her and vowed to do something to make up for it as she stacked the food onto the cart. She looked around one more time to see if Rosalind was there so she could thank her but sighed when she wasn’t and pushed the cart out into the Feast Hall.

The party was in full swing now. Third Feast was the halfway point, the hump they had to get over before they could start slowing down on alcohol and filling their stomachs with two more feasts to convince themselves they weren’t drunk. She saw that the owner who had molested her was back to eating, though he was going slower than everyone else and looking around with a dazed—not drunk—look of terror on his face, like he was afraid he might get hit again at any second. She chuckled to herself at the sight of it.

Haley didn’t notice Lord Walker’s empty plates until she reached the head table. He had a bored look on his face as he stared into Mr. Loch’s mouth. Mr. Loch talked and talked at him through the food he was eating with loud wet smacks. She thought Lord Walker was going to snatch the food right out of Mr. Loch’s mouth to eat it himself, but the sound of three turkeys hitting the table at once made him jump and turn to Haley who kept piling more and more food in front of him.

“Haley, dear?” Lord Walker said. “I thought you were lost and gone forever. Don’t you ever do that to me again, you hear! Gimme.” He wrenched the gravy boat out of her hand and poured some directly down his throat before dumping the rest over his turkeys and potatoes and starting in on them with his bare hands, disregarding his platinumware. “Ughughm—More—OmNughm—Gravy,” he forced through the endless torrent of food.

“Yes, sir,” Haley said. She set the rest of dessert and the old fashioneds on the table and couldn’t help but wonder if it really made a difference whether the food was handmade or printed. The way Lord Walker poured it down into himself, it didn’t seem like he could even taste it.

“Locky,” Lord Walker said. “Ughmnum. You introduce—ughmnomnughm. The speaker. Ughmnum.”

Mr. Loch scowled. He started to complain but thought better of it and stood to address the Hall. “Owners of Inland!” he called, and half the owners kept eating. “Owners of Inland!” he repeated, but it was no use, it was third feast, they were more intent on eating than they had been for the entire night so far.

Mr. Loch scowled and yelled, “Well here’s the scientist, then! We all know what the technobabblers will say. Technology is advancing, but we need more money. Ha! And what do we say to that?”

He waited for a reply but there was none. Mr. Loch was third in line. He was nothing. If Lord Walker wasn’t saying it, no other owner cared. Haley chuckled to herself again then glanced over at Mr. Douglas. He sat, as always, statuesque and facing the symphony. She thought she saw a grin playing on his face as Mr. Loch continued.

“That’s right!” Mr. Loch said. “That’s right. You get what we give you, and you’ll get nothing more. So work a bit faster, or get out the door! Ha ha!” One or two owners close to the head table laughed. Haley shrugged and pushed her cart on the way back to the kitchen.

“Well, here she is,” Mr. Loch said. “Now get back to feasting. This food won’t eat itself. Ha ha!”

Everyone was already eating, and Mr. Loch started in on his own food again. The symphony didn’t even stop playing as the woman in the white coat climbed onto the hovering platform, and Haley didn’t look up when it flew over her head toward the head table.

“Owners of Outland,” the woman said. Haley heard it, but she knew none of the owners would, they didn’t care, they had third feast to gorge on. Haley herself wouldn’t have heard it if it didn’t so strange. Owners of Outland. Didn’t she mean owners of Inland? They were from Inland, not Outland.

Owners of Outland,” the woman repeated. This time her voice boomed so loud the entire Hall dropped their platinumwear and looked up at her. The symphony stopped playing, and Haley stopped in her tracks close to the back of the Hall to turn and listen.

Ah,” the woman in the white coat said with less volume. “Do you see that? If you speak loud enough, everyone has to listen. Now. You brought me here, like you do every year, to give you the scientific facts behind what keeps your society running, and every year you let the symphony play over my presentation, and you go on eating, drinking, and generally ignoring me.”

A few pockets of laughter broke out in the crowd. Not at the head table, though. They were all staring in awe or ire, and Mr. Douglas was smiling.

“Yes, it’s quite amusing,” the scientist said with a smile. “Isn’t it? I see how it gives you joy. BUT DO YOU GET JOY OUT OF THIS?”

The last sentence was so loud Haley put her hands to her ears to block it out. The scientist didn’t yell, she used a machine to amplify her speaking voice. The owners must have been deafened by it, and the scientist waited a moment for them to regain their hearing before going on again at a reasonable volume.

“No,” she said. “I didn’t think you would. But that’s exactly what you’ve brought it to. I come here every year, and every year I tell you that the system is in crisis, it needs restructuring. And every year you eat, and drink, and laugh, and kick the can down the road again. You leave me to deal with it, and I always have. I put my nose to the grindstone, and I invent the schemes, and band aids, and whatever you want to call them that get us over every hurdle in your way so far, but still, you ignore the source of the crises. Still you let your music play, and you eat your feast and drink your drinks, but you ignore where it all comes from. You ignore the contradictions in the system, and every year they get worse and the next hurdle gets bigger because of it.”

Haley looked around the room. Everyone was still staring up at the scientist in awe. They didn’t dare look away after she had deafened them once already.

“But, owners,” the scientist went on. “The hurdles are catching up to you. They always do. The next one always comes. Reality won’t give up on destroying your idealism, and science is only concerned with reality. My voice amplifier here is a metaphor for that. Do you realize that, or are you so drenched in your own propaganda that not even you can think straight?”

The scientist waited for a response, as if she actually wanted an answer. No one gave one. “No?” she said. “You have nothing to say now? You laughed about your ignorance before, but now you have no response to it? That’s exactly what I expected from you. That’s exactly what I knew would happen when I came here tonight. I examined the historical record, and that has allowed me to predict all of this. Yet still, every time I tell you the system is broken, you ignore me. What does that say about the sustainability of your empire?”

Haley realized she had been staring at the speaker for a long time now and remembered how she had left Lord Walker’s plates empty before. She looked around the hall one more time and everyone—even the secretaries who were supposed to be serving food—was staring up at the scientist as she spoke. Haley almost got caught up with them again, but she broke away and pushed her cart out into the kitchen.

She was well underway with preparing four new turkeys when the sound of echoing footsteps alerted her to the fact that the kitchen was empty except for her and now Rosalind who was jogging toward her with an urgent look. “Haley,” Rosalind said. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“But I have to prepare fourth feast,” Haley said, still cooking.

“Fourth feast?” Rosalind scoffed. “Weren’t you out there when the Scientist started her speech?”

“I—uh—yes. But what does that matter?”

“And you’re still in here now?”

“You’re talking to me aren’t you?” Haley said, shrugging. What was Rosalind getting on about?

“Yes. I—well…Yes,” Rosalind said. “You are. But y—we shouldn’t be here right now. Come on.”

“Here is exactly where I should be.” Haley went on cooking.

“No, Haley,” Rosalind said, grabbing her arm. “You don’t understand. You can’t be here. You need to be out there listening to the Scientist with everyone else. Now come on.” She pulled Haley toward the door.

Haley pulled her arm away and stopped. “No,” she said “I have to do this. I was late for third feast already because of that useless meeting with your Mr. Douglas, and I’m not going to waste any more time.”

“You don’t understand,” Rosalind said. “The world’s about to end and this is ground zero. Look around you. Why do you think there’s no one else here?”

Haley looked around at the emptiness again and realized the oddity of it. She had ignored it in her zeal to be the first secretary out with fourth feast. “They’re all probably out there listening to that scientist,” she said with a shrug. “She’s really loud if you hadn’t heard.”

“I didn’t hear. Why do you think I’m back here? But you heard and here you are.”

“And still you’re amazed by it.”

“Not amazed,” Rosalind said, shaking her head. “Comforted. It is as it’s supposed to be. Now please. Let me get some old fashioneds for you, and let’s get out of here. Lord Walker’ll thank you for as much.” Rosalind ordered the drinks from Haley’s printer.

Haley didn’t trust her still. As usual, Rosalind was telling her less than she knew. She was somehow behind the emptiness of the kitchen, and Haley wouldn’t be manipulated by her anymore. Rosalind picked up the drinks and started on her way out to the Feast Hall, saying, “C’mon.”

“No.” Haley didn’t move.

Rosalind stopped. “Haley. You have to.”

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I’m not moving until you tell me why it’s so important that I leave.”

Ugh. Haley. Now is not the time to assert your independence. I mean, yay—that’s exactly what we were going for—but if you don’t leave this kitchen right now, you’ll never have another choice to make in your life.”

“That’s just another way to manipulate me. That’s all you’ve done this entire time.”

“No, Haley,” Rosalind said, coming closer to her. “I haven’t. Lord Walker has. I’m not the one who’s doing it, I’ve been showing you how the manipulation works.”

“And there you go again,” Haley said, stepping away. “Driving me away from my duties. Driving me away from Lord Walker. Further proving that you’re trying to manipulate me.”

“No,” Rosalind pled. “You don’t understand. We want to help you. We want to free you.”

“I am free. You want to take me away from Lord Walker.”

“You’re not free, though. You only think you are because you don’t know any better. But you won’t be alive to figure that out unless we get out of here soon, so it doesn’t matter either way.”

“You keep saying that, but I have no reason to believe you.”

“Look,” Rosalind said. “In a matter of moments, all the printers in here are going to explode. That’s a fact. That’s why we cleared the kitchen, and that’s why I stayed behind, to get you out. Whether you think I’m manipulating you or not, you’ve seen me do some extreme things, and I hope that’s led you to believe that I will continue to do them. So, please. Come with me.”

“Go on then if you’re telling the truth,” Haley said. “You don’t want to be here when the kitchen explodes, do you? I’m getting back to work.”

“No, Haley.” Rosalind shook her head. “I can’t. It’s my duty to protect you, and I won’t leave this kitchen unless you leave with me. If you die here, I die here.”

“Right.” Haley gave her a thumbs up, nodding. “As if you’d die for me.”

“I would, Haley,” Rosalind said. “I will if you don’t come with me right now. I’d rather not, and we don’t have to, you just have to come with me until the end of the scientist’s speech. Can you do this one last thing for me? Then I won’t ever ask you for anything else.”

Haley wanted to protest, but she remembered how Rosalind had handmade all of third feast and that she still owed her for that. She sighed and said, “Alright. But when the kitchen doesn’t explode, we’re even, and I’d rather not speak to you ever again.”

“Fine,” Rosalind said, smiling. “Whatever.” She shook her head. “As long as you get out of here, I don’t care. Here.” She handed Haley the old fashioneds. “Take these and bring them to Lord Walker. The Scientist should be done after that, then you can come back to the kitchen—if you still want to.”

“Fine,” Haley said. “Whatever.” She took the drinks. “Let’s go.”

Rosalind pushed her out of the kitchen and up toward the head table. She almost spilled the drinks because of it. The scientist had just finished her speech, and the room watched as her platform flew over their heads and disappeared behind the symphony. Haley thought she saw a little black fur ball run by the Scientist’s ankles, but Rosalind shoved her again and Haley had to focus instead on keeping the drinks full and her clothes dry.

Then the explosion came. The entire Hall rocked with the force of it as Rosalind pushed Haley down under the head table. Gasps and screams echoed through the Hall, and the sound of footsteps shuffling toward the front of the room was made louder by Haley’s proximity to the floor and the acoustic characteristics of the table above them.

“Do you trust me yet?” Rosalind said, smiling.

Haley struggled out from under the table and away from her. “Trust you? How?”

“Haley!” Lord Walker said from behind her. She turned to see his arms outstretched for an embrace. “Oh, dear,” he said, smelling her hair as he hugged her close. “You’re here! Thank the Hand. I thought I had lost you.”

“No, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy. “I’m fine, sir.” She handed him the drinks, still full even with her dive under the table.

“Sweet, beautiful dear,” Lord Walker said, wiping a tear from his eye. “You see to everything, don’t you. You’re my savior. My savior.” He downed one of the old fashioneds in one gulp then threw the glass to shatter on the floor.

Haley looked around. Rosalind was nowhere in sight, Mr. Douglas wasn’t at his seat, all the owners were pushing closer and closer to the head table, and the remaining four of the Fortune 5 backed slowly away from the encroaching mass. She couldn’t believe that Mr. Douglas and Rosalind had actually done it, but how could it be anyone else? Neither of them were there, and Rosalind all but told her that it was them. But then why did she save Haley? And clear out the rest of the secretaries? And how? It was all too much to process with the action going on around her.

“Woah ho ho ho!” Lord Walker boomed over the crowd, almost as loud as the scientist with her voice amplifier. All the owners stopped in place at the sound of his voice. The fighting and shoving died down. “Look at yourselves owners,” he said. “Look at yourselves!”

They all looked back and forth at each other, and down at themselves. They would do anything he told them to do.

“Now,” Lord Walker said, twirling his cane. “Who here’s been hurt by what happened? Anyone?”

They looked at each other again. None of them were hurt personally—maybe their eardrums—but they weren’t about to bring that up to Lord Walker.

“Our printers are hurt!” a brave voice called from the back of the crowd. Haley couldn’t make out who it was. “Our property!”

Oh ho ho! Property schmoperty,” Lord Walker bellowed. “Those are Feast Hall printers. They’re common property. We’ll all share in the costs of repairing whatever damage was done, so what damage could there really be said to have been done?”

This time there was no brave soul to answer.

“No, my friends,” Lord Walker boomed. “This is the work of terrorists. They seek to strike fear in your hearts. They want you to be afraid. Don’t you understand that? And you…” Lord Walker chuckled. “You’re fighting one another, pushing your way towards us—the Fortune 5—when we had nothing to do with it. No one was injured, owners. Or are you court jesters? Your actions peg you as such. You’ve let them win already. Do you see that? You’ve let them win!”

Still no one answered. But a good lot of them looked embarrassed and made their way back toward their seats.

“Now,” Lord Walker said. “If you’ll all just wait until the pro—”

The entryway doors burst open, and rows of pounding white boots came marching in to circle the room. The owners cowered into the center of the hall, and the protectors—in their screaming, unnatural face masks and white plate armor—formed a ring around them, in between the Fortune 5 and the rest of the owners. It was an awe inspiring display of discipline. Haley had never seen a protector in real life—much less an entire platoon of them in one room—but she was somehow happy for being caught on the side with the Fortune 5, or at least the four of them who were still there.

“As I was saying,” Lord Walker went on when the protectors had all gotten into place, their guns pointed in at the owners who they were surrounding. “If you’ll all settle down and wait until the protectors get here, we’ll get this sorted out in no time. Is everyone okay with that?”

The owners in the ring were cowering as close together as they could, their bulbous stomachs touching one another. Haley pitied them a little bit.

“Now,” Lord Walker said, looking up and down the line of protectors. “Is the Chief here with you, or are we going to have to find a new one?”

“Sir, no, sir,” the nearest protector said, turning to address Lord Walker and putting a gun over her shoulder. She took off her helmet—which, unlike the other protectors’, had a mustache and goatee—to reveal the same dark face as Mr. Douglas. She looked eerily like him. “Chief Baron, sir,” the protector said, saluting. “Awaiting your orders, sir. We wanted to secure your safety and let you control the situation first, sir.”

“Good,” Lord Walker said, smiling wide. “Very good, Baron. Leave the decision making to your employer. That’s the proper way to handle things. Now. You have the situation secured. Proceed with your investigation. I don’t want anyone leaving this Hall until we find out who’s responsible for this heinous action. Do you understand me? We will get to the bottom of this terrorist attack!”

“Sir, yes, sir.” The Chief slipped her helmet back on, shouted out orders in a distorted voice which was lit in green, red, and yellow by her screaming face mask, then marched back into the kitchen with a group of protectors, leaving the owners cowering in their ring of guns.

“Do you see that owners?” Lord Walker called over them. “That’s why we have these protectors. To protect us. Now they have the opportunity to show us firsthand their gratuity at the living we allow them. Isn’t that right, protectors?”

“Hoo-ra!” the ring sang in unison.

The owners all cowered closer together. Haley thought she saw some of them starting to cry. She wouldn’t be surprised if the whole lot of them had peed themselves at the sound of it, but the pneumatic pants took care of that, too.

“Hoo-ra,” Lord Walker repeated. “Did you hear that owners? Hoo-rah. Can you do it again for me, protectors?”

Hoo-ra!” This time it was louder and more fearsome.

“And this, my friends,” Lord Walker said, “is only a small section of a behemoth machine. Back there, studying the evidence left by the explosion, we have the best forensic minds money can buy. I assure you.” He winked. “I paid for them myself.”

Mr. Loch and Mr. Smörgåsbord chuckled, but the owners in the ring were still having a hard time seeing the humor in the situation.

“That’s right,” Lord Walker went on. “I paid for most of this protector force, and I own more than that. That means they’ll do exactly what I tell them to do. Doesn’t it protectors?”

Hoo-ra!”

“What are your vows, protectors?”

“Property! Liberty! Life!” they sang back. The precision of their chorus was inspiring, though it was made eerie and unnatural by the modulation of their voices.

“Property, liberty, life,” Lord Walker repeated. “Their vows coincide with our ideals, they reinforce each other. We are nothing without them. They are nothing without us. Or, more precisely, they are nothing without me. I give them the property they need to exist. They depend on me. And they will have justice!”

The Chief burst out of the kitchen with her menagerie in tow. The owners in the ring went between watching her march up to the head table and staring in fear at the protectors who still surrounded them with drawn guns.

“Look here now,” Lord Walker said, grinning. “Already they come with information. We’ll have this straightened out in no time, no doubt.”

The Chief marched all the way up to Lord Walker, taking her helmet off, and whispered in his ear. “It looks like it came from the other side,” she said, but only Lord Walker and Haley could hear.

Lord Walker shook his head. “No. I don’t think so. Not possible. If so, you’re in deeper trouble than if it came from this side. I’ll have you look again, please.”

“But, sir—”

No buts. You heard me. Don’t make me say it again.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” The Chief turned and shepherded the crew back into the kitchen, mumbling under her breath.

“Now now,” Lord Walker addressed the owners again. “We’ll get to the bottom of this yet. A minor complication, that’s all. We’ll find a way over this hurdle, no doubt. In the mean ti—”

“In the mean time you have another complication to deal with.” The voice came from on the stage. The orchestra was long gone, and a lone protector, wearing an older model helmet—with a dark visor instead of a facemask—stood pointing a gun—but a smaller version than the one the other protectors were holding—at the Fortune 5. The owners all pushed away from the stage, and the larger guns, held by the protectors in the ring, pointed at the lone protector on stage.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker laughed. “Woah now, son. You do understand what you’re doing, don’t you? Threatening the life of an owner, threatening the life of the richest owner in all of Inland, the owner who also happens to hold a majority share in the protector force that surrounds you now. I see you’re wearing the protector’s pure white. Do you want to mar that any more than you already have, son? A retainer threatening his master. Tsk tsk tsk.” He shook his head. “Just don’t do anything dumber than you’ve already done, son.”

“The only dumb thing I’ve ever done was put on this uniform and pick up a gun for you,” the protector onstage said. “I know what dumb is. Believe me. This here. This is the exact opposite of dumb. I’m protecting people. Just like I took this job to do. And who else do they need protecting from but you?”

“Now, now, son,” Lord Walker said, pointing his cane at the protector. “At my word, every one of these protectors will fire on you. Do you think you can kill all of them before they kill you?”

“I don’t want to kill them, sir. I don’t have to. I only have to kill one of you, and—I’m sorry to say—I think you’ve just elected yourself. Sir.”

“Fire!”

The room erupted in a torrent of gunfire. The sound was louder than the scientist’s amplified voice. It went on and on and on, and when it eventually ended, the protector was still standing unscathed on the stage. One of the protectors in the ring closest to the rogue protector ran to tackle him but disappeared as he climbed onto the stage. Two more followed right after and disappeared just the same.

“I told you, owner,” the protector on the stage said. “I don’t have to worry about them. This is between you and me.”

“Alright, now,” Lord Walker said, waving his plump hands. “Alright. I get your point.” His voice was starting to falter. He was taking on the voice he used when he wasn’t confident in his power. “I get your point. But I don’t see why we have to bring guns into this. Why don’t you just put that down so we can talk about it like civilized men.”

Ha ha!” the rogue protector laughed. “Me put the gun down? After you had your entire army unload their guns onto me? The only reason you’re asking me to put my gun down now is because your guns didn’t work on me. Welcome to the Hell we live in everyday, owner. How does it feel?”

“Now, now,” Lord Walker said, his voice cracking. “Don’t get angry with me,” he added in a deeper voice, overcompensating. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable middle ground compromise we can find here.”

“No compromises,” the protector said. “This isn’t for me. I’m doing this for her. I have to. I have no choice. I’m sorry.”

Haley saw a childlike form appear from backstage, running toward the protector and yelling, “Don’t!” She knew she had to act but didn’t know what to do. Her legs did, though. They sprung her into action before the gunshots rang out. One, two. Just like that. She was in the air between Lord Walker and the bullets when she felt the malfunctioning in her chest. Her fluids weren’t flowing right, and her electrical system was shorting out. She thought she heard Lord Walker call her name before her auditory sensors ceased to function and her memories stopped writing themselves.

#     #     #

< XIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     XVI. Ansel >

Thanks again for reading. If you liked that, think about supporting the cause by picking up a full copy of the novel here. And have a great weekend.

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