Hello, dear readers, and welcome back again this weekend. Today we return to the character that was probably most enjoyable to write throughout this series, the one and only Mr. Kitty. If you want to read the rest of his story and the conclusion to the Infinite Limits series, you can pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Otherwise, come on back next week to read the next chapter in the story. Until then, enjoy.
LXVII. Mr. Kitty
Mr. Kitty slept, as he often did, spread across the cool, flat top of Tillie’s desk while she worked, typing and clicking, swipping, and swiping in response to the computer screens’ blinking, flashing colors and the various bleeps and blips that accompanied them. For so many hours of every week Tillie sat there, moaning and groaning about whatever it was that the screens were telling her, and for just about as many hours, Mr. Kitty would sleep next to her, dreaming through it all. He was climbing a tree that seemed like it went on forever, one branch after another, higher and higher into infinity, when Tillie’s phone rang, ripping Mr. Kitty out of dreamland with a startled lurch and a garbled meow.
“Settle down, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said with a chuckle, reaching for her phone with one hand and petting Mr. Kitty with the other. “It’s just a phone.” And answering it, she added, “Tillie Manager speaking. Go ahead.”
“I— No. You can’t be serious.”
“No. Not again.”
“No, they’re not! I mean— I—”
“Yes. I realize they’re just robots.”
“Yes. I’ll put the work order in, but I—”
“No. I’m sorry. I—”
She slammed the phone on the desk and Mr. Kitty jumped again, purring this time.
“Sorry, Mr. Kitty,” she said, wiping her eyes before petting him. “Those assholes have no idea what they’re talking about. I shouldn’t get so upset at their ignorance, it isn’t their fault, but it’s not my fault I get pissed, either.”
“Or mine for being startled,” Mr. Kitty meowed.
“Yes. I should try harder. I know. But so should they.” She patted Mr. Kitty a few times, wiped her eyes again, then went back to typing and clicking on the computer—some kind of reaction to the news she had been given over the phone.
Mr. Kitty licked himself a few times, curling up in a ball to go to back sleep, but the phone rang again, interrupting his plans.
“Tillie Manager speaking,” Tillie answered. “Go ahead.”
“Oh, no. Leo. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was—”
“Yes. Of course I’m working. You know your mother. What else do I do?”
“No. Of course. No.”
“Definitely. Just like I promised. I won’t touch a phone or a computer for the entire weekend. For as long as you’re here, even, if you want to stay longer…”
“That’s why I’m getting it all done now.”
“Okay. I love you. See you soon.”
She hung up the phone and patted Mr. Kitty with a smile, forgetting whatever news about the robots that had nearly brought her to tears earlier. “Did you hear that, Mr. Kitty?” she asked. “Leo’s running late, but he’s on the way. I’m sure he can’t wait to see you.”
“Sure,” Mr. Kitty meowed, but he didn’t really believe that. Leo and Mr. Kitty had never gotten along when Leo was growing up, and going off to college hadn’t changed anything about his attitude toward animals. Still, Leo’s presence made Tillie happy, and Tillie being happy made Mr. Kitty happy, so as long as the kid kept out of Kitty’s way, they wouldn’t have any problems.
Mr. Kitty fell asleep on Tillie’s desk until the doorbell rang and woke him up. He yawned and stretched, then licked himself a few times before jumping off the desk with a thud to follow Tillie out to answer the door. Tillie held her hand on the doorknob for a moment, taking a deep breath and brushing her hair out of her face, before she smiled and opened the door.
“Leo, my boy,” she said as she did. “It’s so good to see you. You look as wonderful as ever.” She pulled Leo in for a hug that he tried to squirm his way out of.
“Aw, Ma. C’mon,” he complained, straightening himself out once he had finally escaped his mom’s loving bear grip. “I just saw you two weeks ago. We’re only an elevator ride away from each other. Don’t be so dramatic.”
“Yes, well, it’s not really dramatic when I’m genuinely happy to see you. Is it?” Tillie said, sounding offended. “Besides, I’m your mother and your my only son. What do you expect?”
“This is exactly what I expect,” Leo said, brushing past Tillie and almost stepping on Mr. Kitty’s tail as he made his way toward the kitchen. Mr. Kitty hissed, but no one seemed to hear it so he just had to follow along behind them anyway. He was still curious to see how Leo had been even if Leo wasn’t curious in the least to see how he was.
“So you didn’t bring any bags with you?” Tillie asked, still smiling though more nervously now. “You are planning on staying for the full weekend, aren’t you?”
“You do still have a 3D printer, don’t you?” Leo said, pressing the voice activation button. “Tall boy of Pabst,” he added and a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon—which had apparently won the award back in the ancient age of 1893—came out of the printer’s mouth. “And it still works. So, no. I didn’t really need to bring anything with me. Did I?’
“You know you’re not old enough to drink that,” Tillie said, crossing her arms. “Did I give you permission to order alcohol?”
“Ugh.” Leo groaned, chugged half his drink, burped, wiped his mouth, and said, “Ma, please. You went to LSU. You know how things work. I’ve been drinking for a long time now. I think I can handle myself.”
Tillie chuckled, shaking her head. “Oh yeah?” she said. “Big ol’ tough guy going to a big ol’ party school. Is that right? I guess you think you know something about the worlds now. Do you?”
“I know I know something about the worlds,” Leo said, chugging the rest of his drink and ordering another along with some chips and dip.
“And you think you can just come in here using my printer however you want to, no questions asked?” Tillie grinned.
“That’s what I’m doing, isn’t it?” Leo pressed the printer’s voice activation button one more time and ordered a pack of Camel Greens to prove his point.
“Well, you can,” Tillie said, bringing Leo in for another hug that he tried to squirm his way out of. “But you gotta share those Greens. C’mon. Let’s smoke one on the porch.”
Tillie ordered her own beer—a pint of something thick, dark, and chocolatey in a glass, not whatever hipster piss water her son was drinking—and Mr. Kitty followed her and Leo out onto the back porch where they sat on metal grated patio chairs at a metal grated table and Mr. Kitty laid on the cool, hard cement, licking himself so he didn’t fall asleep.
After some time of smoking and drinking, Leo broke the silence to say, “Still living in the same old house, I noticed. Don’t you ever get tired of this thing?”
“Tired of it?” Tillie giggled like she only ever did while smoking. “Never. I grew up in this place, you know. Your Grandpa used to own it back when I was in the fifth grade.”
“Ptuh. No wonder it looks so old.” Leo laughed.
“It does not,” Tillie complained. “You take that back. I take wonderful care of this place. It looks just as good as it did on the day my dad bought it.”
“Which is exactly the problem,” Leo said, putting out one joint to light another. “That was ages ago, and styles change faster than phones are updated. I mean, Grandpa knew as much himself. Which is why he sold the thing off and bought something better with the profits. You could learn a lot from Grandpa.”
“Pffft.” Tillie scoffed, stubbing out her own joint and almost reaching for another but thinking twice about it. “I’ve learned plenty from your grandfather, thank you very much. And I don’t think he ever sold a house because it was out of fashion. He never really had any interest in trends and fashionability. No, I’m sure the only thing he ever sold a house for was the profits. Trust me.”
“Still,” Leo said, finishing off his drink and crushing the can under his foot. “That’s as good as the same thing. Better even. If he keeps selling them for a profit, he’s gotta know something about fashion, right? And money can buy stylists to follow all that for you. But only for as long as the profits flow. So maybe profits are more important than fashion in the end.”
“Not to me,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “Not at all. Neither are important. I’m never gonna sell this house. I’m more interested in the history I have here, the history we share here—you and I, me and your grandpa, me and your father, everyone. No amount of money is going to remind me of the time you colored a mural all over those walls right there and we left it up for a week so you wouldn’t cry about it when we covered it up,” she said, pointing in through the glass door to the living room where Leo—and Mr. Kitty—turned to look. Mr. Kitty felt like he could almost see the mural still up there. “Do you remember that?” Tillie chuckled. “I do. It’s still behind the paint on those walls. And what about the time you broke your leg on that trampoline that still stands right over there while I was sitting right here in this very chair watching you. There’s the first night you came home from the hospital after being born, the first night you slept all the way until morning, the first night you spent at a friend’s house when it was my turn to bawl until morning instead of yours.” She almost started crying again, and Mr. Kitty could tell that it made Leo uncomfortable. “This house, as old and out of fashion as you may think it is, reminds me of all those stories, and that reminder could never have a price tag put on it. I’ll never sell this house. And I hope that you might eventually feel the same way about it when I pass it down to you.”
Leo was feeling really awkward now, squirming in his seat. “Alright, alright,” he said. “Enough mushy stuff. And definitely stop talking about death. Sheesh. I only just got here. Can’t I rest a little after that horrid travelling experience before you start grilling me with the heavy stuff?”
“Hey, you’re the one who ordered the Greens,” Tillie said with a chuckle. “You know how I get when I’m high.”
“Now that you reminded me, I do,” Leo said.
“Which should prove to you why reminders are so important.” Tillie laughed, and at the same time an alarm went off on the phone in Leo’s pocket.
“Speaking of which,” Leo said, pulling the phone out to turn off the alarm. “Now, I know we agreed that neither of us would do work or anything like that while I was here, but I have to break that promise for, like… thirty minutes. Okay? This is really important. It’s the finale of my favorite TV show, and— Now wait just a second, okay. I’m not done. I was going to say that it’ll take just thirty minutes, and I have to do it or the internet will definitely spoil it for me when I’m inevitably surfing social media at this boring dinner party you have planned for later. So if you don’t want me to be totally depressed in front of all your upper management friends, you’d do better to just let me sit down and watch this real quick. After that, I promise nothing but family time for the rest of the weekend. So what do you say?”
Tillie didn’t answer for a moment, in which Leo fidgeted, checking the clock on his phone, then she said, “Of course you can watch your show. It’s not like I’m trying to keep you in prison here. But only if you don’t mind me sitting next to you and watching along. That’s all I care about. Spending time with you. No matter what it is we’re doing together.”
“Great,” Leo said, standing up and almost stepping on Mr. Kitty again. This time Mr. Kitty meowed loud enough so everyone could hear it. “Oh, sorry, Kitty,” Leo said, patting him too hard on the head to which Mr. Kitty meowed again. “Yes,” Leo went on. “You can watch with us, too. As long as you stay out of my lap and shut up.” He turned to his mom. “But I’m gonna go get some snacks, first. Do you want anything? The shows about to start.”
“Another beer for sure,” Tillie said, standing. “But I’ll come help you.” And Mr. Kitty followed them back into the kitchen where he laid on the hard, cool tile floor, listening to them talk and gather their snacks while he licked his dirty paws clean.
“Ooh. White cheddar popcorn,” Tillie said to the printer. Then to Leo, “I love white cheddar popcorn when I’m high.”
“Me, too,” Leo said, nodding and staring off into the distance, as if he were imagining the taste of it. “And some corn chips and bean dip,” he added for the printer and his mother alike.
“Always your favorite,” Tillie said, smiling. “Ever since you started school. How are your classes going now, anyway?”
“Classes are classes.” Leo shrugged. “I always seem to get by. Peanut M&M’s.”
“Yeah, but you’re doing a little more than just getting by, aren’t you?” Tillie said. “I know you’re only a sophomore, but you should have at least started whittling away some of your options. Right…”
“Sure,” Leo said sarcastically. “I whittle every day. But whittling’s a slow process. Pabst tall boy. Two, please.”
“You know, I once thought I wanted to be a lobbyist,” Tillie said with a smile at the thought. “When I was pretty much the same age you are right now, as a matter of fact.”
“Pfft. A lobbyist?” Leo laughed, stacking the last little bits of his snackery onto a serving tray. “You? You’ve got to be kidding me. You need anything else?”
“Another beer, please,” Tillie said to the printer. And, “No, I’m not kidding.” she said to Leo. “Your mother was heavily involved in campus activism when she went to LSU. You’ve heard of the Reclaim the Grounds movement, right? That started with us, at LSU.”
“Pffft. Yeah right. You’re kidding me. You were one of those hippies? What made you quit and become a manager? Was it Grandpa?”
Tillie paused to think about it. As well as Mr. Kitty knew her by then, he knew that she was picturing Nikola and Emma in her mind and how they had both been so violently stolen from Tillie right in front of her eyes. “Because if you want to do the right thing in lobbying,” she finally said, “it inevitably becomes life-threatening. And I didn’t want to leave you or your grandpa with no one to take care of y’all. The Hand knows you both need it. Now come on. It’s about time for that show of yours to start.”
They carried their snacks into the living room and set everything on the coffee table—exactly where Mr. Kitty had intended to lay—so he tried to jump onto Tillie’s lap instead, but she didn’t like that idea so she pushed him down onto the floor where he had the worst view of the TV out of anyone. Luckily, he didn’t really care about whatever the show was anyway so he just went on licking himself and listening to the sounds.
“Not now, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “I’m trying to eat.” She shoved a big handful of white cheddar popcorn into her mouth, puffing her cheeks out like a chipmunk.
“TV on,” Leo said. “Cartoon Network.”
“The Cartoon Network, huh?” Tillie said. “What sort of show is this that you find so fascinating?”
“Protector Time,” Leo said. “And yes, it’s a cartoon, but it’s something more than that. Okay.”
“So adults enjoy it, too?” Tillie asked, mouth still full of popcorn. “Like anime. Or the Simpsons.”
“I’m not sure if enjoy is quite the right word. Like, it’s more about the cultural phenomenon that the cartoon represents, you know. It’s like— I mean… You’ll see when you watch it, but you can pretty much tell outright from the name of the show that it’s, like, pure pro-cop propaganda. Right? One hundred percent pure ideology, okay. But the thing is that no one can really figure out who exactly the target audience is, you know. I mean, how long has it been since we’ve even had a real protector force? Not since the invention of printers, right? So why are we still wasting resources on producing this nonsense?”
“I— Uh—” Tillie started to say, but Leo cut her off.
“Wait. Shhh. It’s about to start,” he said. Then, “Volume up. Up, up, up. Got it.”
A cartoon came on the screen with an upbeat theme song, and Leo stopped munching on his snacks to lean forward and pay closer attention. Tillie couldn’t resist the lure of the popcorn, but she slowed down, too, putting one kernel in her mouth at a time instead of eating it by the handful. She seemed genuinely interested in what the show held in store for her. Mr. Kitty, for his part, stole glances at the screen out of the corner of his eye as he licked his coat clean—a maintenance project which took up most of his time that he didn’t spend sleeping. The cartoon hadn’t been running for more than a few minutes—no amount of time for an uninitiated fan to pick up any sort of storyline—when it was interrupted by a breaking news segment.
“Pardon the interruption, TV viewers,” a big, sweaty head said on the screen, and Leo groaned.
“Not right now. Fuck!” he complained.
“We interrupt your regularly scheduled content to bring you a breaking news report.”
“We know, we know,” Leo complained. “Just get on with it already.”
“Jorah Baldwin, highest paid and most-viewed celebrity in all of history, has been reported missing.”
The TV screen changed from the reporter’s sweaty bust to a montage of photographs of Jorah in various outfits.
“Fuck that guy,” Leo said, chugging his beer. “All his movies suck, anyway. How can anyone watch him?”
“If you have any information about Jorah’s whereabouts,” the reporter’s disembodied voice went on over the shifting images of Jorah Baldwin. “Please call your local Crimestoppers number or the number on the television screen now.”
A phone number flashed on the screen, then the message repeated itself while Leo complained some more. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “Of course this shitty actor has got to go missing right when my show’s on. I don’t care how popular they try to tell us he is, no one gives two shits about Jorah Baldwin.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Tillie said. “I think he’s a pretty good actor.”
“How can you even tell?” Leo scoffed. “He’s always in such shitty roles. No actor could make them good. I mean, just like this Protector Time propaganda, why do we need all the blatantly Luddite films that Baldwin’s been acting in ever since Russ Logo’s death? Robots already took all those jobs ages ago, and we’re better off because of it.”
“Right, well… Hmmm.” Tillie wanted to say more, Mr. Kitty knew from their conversations together, but she hesitated long enough for the news report to end and the cartoon to come back on—and not where they had been interrupted, either, but further into the show as if it had kept playing while the news report ran.
“Of fucking course.” Leo growled. “Great. TV off.”
“No. What? C’mon.” Tillie complained as if she really had wanted to watch the show. “But I was just getting into it.”
“Yeah, but we missed the setup. It wouldn’t make any sense. Trust me. I’ll just have to try to avoid spoilers tonight. Ugh.” He cracked open another beer and stuffed his face with popcorn. “I think I’m gonna go take a nap before this dinner party. Seven o’clock, right?”
“Uh… Yeah. Seven,” Tillie said. “I’ll wake you before then.”
“Alright, Ma. I love you,” Leo said, marching his way off toward his old bedroom—which Tillie had left exactly how it was before Leo had moved to campus.
Tillie finished off her beer, sighed, and stood from the couch, stretching. Mr. Kitty took the cue and stood to yawn and stretch himself.
“Well, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “That was a close one. I almost blurted it out this time.”
“Maybe you should have,” Mr. Kitty meowed, following her into her office where she sat behind the desk and he jumped up onto it.
“You know, maybe I should just tell him,” Tillie said, nodding with imagined confidence.
“That’s what I just said,” Mr. Kitty meowed.
“I mean, I was pretty pissed that my dad never told me. And Leo’s gonna find out the truth eventually. Right?”
“Do you even care what I say?” Mr. Kitty asked.
“And what harm could it really do in the end?” Tillie went on. “I mean, he just told me he’s not interested in lobbying. He only seems to care about cartoons. Maybe I could just casually show him a photo of a factory accident and see how he reacts.”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Mr. Kitty said, and he walked around in a circle a few times before finding a comfortable position to lay down in.
“You’re right,” Tillie said. “It’s a risk, for sure, but I think it might just be a risk I’m willing to take.”
Mr. Kitty didn’t respond. Tillie was free to take whatever risks she wanted to take. He had no plan to stop her, especially considering the fact that he had already advised her to do exactly what she was planning to do. Instead, he listened while Tillie clicked and typed, searching for a picture from her archives that she could show to Leo in order to reveal to him the truth. Mr. Kitty fell asleep while she did, not to be woken up again until sometime later by an argument between Leo and Tillie.
“Just tell me what you see, then we can get ready for dinner,” Tillie said, pointing at her computer screen where a picture of several dead children, eaten by the machines they were supposed to be cleaning, their blood retouched black to look like oil, stared back at them.
“I thought you said no work while I was here,” Leo complained, avoiding the image on the screen as if he might actually know the truth of what it held without ever having been told.
“This isn’t work,” Tillie said. “This is more important than work. This is about your education. So please, tell me, what do you see in the picture?”
“Uh… I don’t know,” Leo said, looking at the screen for the first time but still only out of his peripheral vision. “Is it like a factory or something?”
“Yes, it’s a factory,” Tillie said. “But you’re not even trying. You have to look. Actually look at it and tell me what you see.”
Leo looked at the picture for real now. There was a flash of recognition in his eyes, a flash of disgust, then nothing. No emotional reaction. No critical analysis. Just regurgitation of what he had always been taught by everyone—Tillie included.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It looks like— It looks like some cleaner bots malfunctioned and were destroyed by the machine. I don’t know specifics, though. I haven’t learned much about the actual factory floor yet.”
“Cleaner bots?” Tillie asked. “They really look like cleaner bots to you?”
“I don’t know,” Leo said, crossing his arms and getting defensive. “I told you we haven’t learned about the factory floor yet.”
“You don’t have to know about the factory floor,” Tillie snapped before correcting her tone. “I mean, just look. They’re not robots, Leo. Those are not robots. Okay. Look.” She pointed again.
Leo chuckled, shaking his head and trying to avoid looking again at the picture on the screen. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “Ma. Please tell me you’re not one of them. A conspiracy theorist?”
“This isn’t a conspiracy theory, Leo. This is the truth. It’s right there in front of your face, plain for anyone to see. You just have to open your eyes and look, son.”
“Pffft. Sure, Mom,” Leo said, leaving the office. “That’s what all the conspiracy theorists say. Wake up sheeple! Right? I get it. But isn’t it about time for your dinner party?”
The office was silent for a moment after Leo had left, all except for the sound of Mr. Kitty licking himself. Then Tillie broke the silence by saying, “I should have told him the truth a long time ago. When he was younger. Right off the bat. Now I may not be able to convince him ever.”
“There’s always hope,” Mr. Kitty meowed, and he went back to licking himself, hoping to get his coat clean before he fell asleep.
# # #
And there you have it, dear readers, the next chapter in the story. If you liked that, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the novel through this link. If you purchase the print version, we’ll even throw in an ebook for free. Otherwise, we’ll be back again next week. Until then, comrades. We do nothing alone.