Chapter 04: Mr. Kitty

This lovely Saturday morning brings us one of my favorite perspectives to write from in this novel. Inhabiting the mind of Mr. Kitty is something I’ve done plenty of times in short form, and I think I’ve done my best work of it here. Take a look at this illustration I did of our Mr. Kitty then enjoy the chapter. And click here if you want to buy the full novel on amazon.

Mr. Kitty

< III. Russ             [Table of Contents]             V. Ellie >

IV. Mr. Kitty

The bed was soft and it smelled like home, that’s why Mr. Kitty kept going back to it. It was soft because it was a bed. It smelled like home because it was in the house he lived in.

While he was drifting off to sleep, he liked to think about who’s bed it was. Mr. Kitty slept in the thing. He undoubtedly got the most use out of it compared to anyone besides a few short-lived fleas. Yet still, he couldn’t help but imagine that one of those humans would say that they owned it. They always had to own everything.

He also like to eavesdrop on the humans around him. Sometimes he would pretend to be asleep and listen to what they said when they thought they were alone. Humans were always more honest when they thought they were alone. One of them was in the room with him now and he thought he was alone. Mr. Kitty stretched his back, climbed out of the bed, and jumped up onto the desk the human was sitting behind. Still the human thought he was alone. Mr. Kitty could see everything he was doing and the human didn’t care one bit. That was another thing about humans. They always underestimated the power of what they didn’t understand.

The human sat in front of a long desk with four computer screens stacked up on top of each other like a window pane. For most of the day he watched as numbers on the screens rose and fell and changed color, and he listened to the beeps and blips the computer made. Each different combination of bleeps and hues and digits elicited a slightly different response from the human. Each time he would hit a few keys on the keyboard or move the mouse—Mr. Kitty thought they were talking about a live mouse when he was younger—and click a few times. It all seemed repetitive and boring to Mr. Kitty. Though the colors were pretty. And the sounds were strange.

While the human watched the numbers, a phone rang. Mr Kitty jumped at the sound of it. The human laughed and pat him once on the head. “It’s just the phone, cat,” he said.

Mr. Kitty went back to licking himself like nothing had happened while the human answered the phone.

“Hello,” the human said.

“Yeah, well, I saw the numbers drop. I transferred production to 05437.”

“Really? That many? I swear the old models had less problems.”

“Uh…Yeah. Putting in the order right now.”

“Alright. See you tonight.”

“Yeah, you know it, because you already voted for me.”

Ha ha ha. Alright. Have a good one.”

The human hung up the phone and pet Mr. Kitty on the back a few times before typing in another set of keystrokes. He groaned and leaned back in his chair.

“You know, cat,” he said. “You have got the life. Even better than one of those actors or musicians in the advertising department. You don’t do any work at all. Not that they do, either. Heh heh.”

Mr. Kitty stretched out on the desk and yawned. If the human only knew the work that he did, the places he had been. As if looking at numbers and hitting keystrokes was any more important than Mr. Kitty’s chores. Why, if he stopped hunting mice for one week, they would probably overrun the entire house. Well, maybe he didn’t hunt mice that often these days.

“But what do you know of work?” the human went on. “You’re just an animal. It takes a human to work, to earn their keep. Cats are nothing but pets. You’re as much property as a robot.”

And there it was again, the curious human notion of ownership. As if anything could be yours beyond what you consumed and made a part of yourself—or whatever you were willing to fight to defend. This human here thought he could own Mr. Kitty. Ha! Mr. Kitty traveled the worlds while the human sat in his house all day like a caged animal. If anything, the human was the pet.

“No,” the human said. “It takes a human brain and a little bit of responsibility to truly be able to enjoy life. Something your cat brain will never understand.”

Mr. Kitty had heard about enough. He stood to stretch, and was about to leave, when the phone range again. This time he didn’t jump.

“Tillie, dear,” the human answered.

“Oh, no. Of course. Holiday traffic.”

“Yeah, I’ll be here. I’m just giving the numbers one last—”

“No, no, no. As soon as you get here all work dropped, just like I promised.”

“Okay. No. Okay. I love you, too.”

He hung up the phone and patted Mr. Kitty on the head. “You hear that? Tillie’s gonna be late.”

Mr. Kitty had almost forgotten that she would be coming home today. He decided against leaving, and laid back down on the desk. Tillie was the one who really loved Mr. Kitty. In fact, he expected that her dad—the human at the computer screens—only kept him around as a reason for her to visit. If she was out of the picture, the supply of cat food and his welcome would wear out fast. But Tillie was always a joy to see.

Numbers flipped, noises beeped, and colors changed while the human moaned and groaned and clicked and typed. It was so boring Mr. Kitty didn’t have to pretend to be asleep. Sleep came naturally. He didn’t wake again until he heard the doorbell, the human cursing a few times, then the sound of him walking out of the room. Mr. Kitty followed behind, trudging along on the soft puffy carpet. That was another reason he kept coming back. The carpet felt so good under his paws, he loved to tear it up.

The human took a few deep breaths before opening the door and smiling. “Tillie!” he said. “So nice to see you. How are you?”

Tillie hugged him but it was awkward with the big backpack on her back. “Fine, fine,” she said. “It was a ridiculous line, though. You wouldn’t believe.”

“I’m sure,” her dad said. “Traveling during the holidays and all.”

“Yeah,” Tillie said. “Yeah, the Christmas Election. But could I put this stuff down?” she added, adjusting her obviously heavy backpack. “It’s really heavy.”

“Oh, yes, dear,” her dad said. “Of course. I fixed up a room for you. Follow me. Though I don’t know why you brought so much stuff. We do still have a printer, you know.”

“Yeah, well,” Tillie said. “I have some library books I thought I might get a chance to read. And the pajamas I like to sleep in. You know.”

“Ah. Of course of course,” her dad said. “Well, let’s go.”

They started down the hall, but Tillie saw Mr. Kitty and dropped her backpack to scoop him up in her arms. “Hey there Mr. Kitty,” she said in a babying voice. Normally Mr. Kitty found that offensive, but coming from her it was almost endearing. “I missed you so much. Yes I did. Has daddy been taking good care of you?”

Her dad laughed. “Heh heh. Yeah, we’re great pals,” he said. “Mr. Kitty here loves to watch me work. Don’t you buddy?” He scratched Mr. Kitty’s ear.

Awww,” Tillie said. “You love computers, don’t you Mr. Kitty? Yes you do.” She set him down and scratched his stomach. “I’ll give you some wet food in a minute, okay Mr. Kitty.”

“The room’s right this way,” her dad said

“I really love this new house, dad,” Tillie said, following him through the halls, lugging her heavy backpack, as Mr. Kitty slunk along behind them. “Where’d you import this one from?”

“Got it from New Orleans,” her dad said. “I was lucky to pick it up when I did, too. They were putting a restaurant there, or something, and the buyer who was gonna take it fell through. I got it for a steal. Not to mention I made a profit on selling the old one. Not bad, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s just beautiful,” Tillie said.

They dropped her bag in a spare bedroom, then Mr. Kitty followed them to the kitchen where Tillie pressed the voice activation button on the 3D printer.

“Cat food, please,” she said.

Please?” Her dad scoffed. “You don’t have to say please, dear. It’s a robot you’re talking to.”

“Well, my parents taught me to be polite,” she said, getting the bowl of wet food out of the printer and setting it on the counter for Mr. Kitty to jump up and eat.

“Yes,” her dad said. “To be polite when necessary. In this instance it’s not, however. But could you get me a beer, please, dear.” He chuckled.

She pressed the button again. “Beer, pl—” She stopped herself.

Her dad laughed as she handed him the frosty pint glass. “So, how are your classes going?” he asked, taking a sip. “Still doing well?”

“Yeah, well,” Tillie said. “I have some difficult professors this semester, but I’m learning a lot about statistical analysis. I think I might want to go into operations programming.”

“Coding?” her dad said, shaking his head. “Are you sure about that, sweetheart? Computer programs will never outwit the human brain.”

“Sure,” Tillie said, nodding and giving a thumbs up. “And not too long ago robots would never match human physical precision, either. Now they’re working in every factory that still turns a profit. So we know what never looks like, don’t we?”

“But creative work is something completely different, sweetheart. I mean, imagine a robot that could think like a human. How would it be any different from anyone else?”

“It’d be immortal for starters,” Tillie said.

“It’d be impossible for starters,” her dad said. “No. Leave physical labor to the robots and the creative labor to the only ones who can do it: us humans.”

Mr. Kitty finished licking the juices off the wet food and started licking himself. There were those strange human tendencies again. As if they were somehow unique, somehow different from every other natural phenomenon. As if the processes in their brains were fundamentally different than those in his brain, or the inner workings of a robot, or the processes that made the computer screens change color and beep. Always the humans tried to put themselves above nature so they could justify their own need for ownership over everything.

After throwing his mostly full bowl of food into the trash chute, Tillie carried Mr. Kitty into the living room with her where her dad was already sitting in a big, comfy rocking chair, flipping through the channels on the TV until a football game came on. He only partly listened to Tillie after that.

“Speaking of robots, dad,” she said. “Have you watched the news lately?”

“Huh? What?” her dad said. “Oh, no. I try to stay away from it. What happened?”

“Well, you know that Russ Logo? He’s like—well, I guess he’s like the it star right now, or whatever. Anyway, he’s the most viewed ever, and he does this daily talk show, right. Dad, are you listening?”

“Huh?” her dad said, still looking at the TV. “Yeah. Russ Logo. Go ahead.” He waved her on.

“Anyway,” Tillie said. “He has this show—Logo’s Show—where he talks about, just life and movies and restaurants and stuff. But they’re like, these restaurants that don’t exist—right—or only exist in the show or something—I don’t know. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve watched a few episodes and researched it, and it would be really helpful if you were actually listening to me right now and not watching this stupid game. Because, honestly, I’m pregnant and it’s quadruplets.”

“Right,” her dad said. “Logo’s show. I’m listening. Go on.”

“Well,” Tillie said. “The father’s literally a dog, and the babies might come out with four legs. Soooo, you’re a grandpa of puppy centaurs. Congratulations!”

“That’s nice, dear,” her dad said, nodding.

“Dad!” Tillie slapped his arm, rustling Mr. Kitty in her lap. “You’re not listening.”

“I am, dear,” he said, rubbing his arm and staring at the screen. “I am. Let me just…watch…this…one…more…play…ohhhh! And commercial. What were you saying, honey?” He turned to her and smiled.

“This guy Russ Logo does a talk show, and he said that someone came up to him on his way home from a restaurant claiming to be a factory—or—er—an assembly line worker, or something.”

Her dad laughed. “That’s rich!” he said. “Was he dressed up in silver and doing the robot? Ha ha!”

“First of all,” Tillie said. “She had dirt all over her face, and she was wearing rags. Dad, she said that there weren’t robots on the assembly lines at all. She said they were humans.”

Ha ha ha!” her dad laughed. “Humans on an assembly line!” he said, slapping his hand on his knee. “Next you’ll tell me we have robots inventing new technology, or managing corporations even! Ha ha ha!”

“Dad. But what if it’s true?”

Her dad scoffed. “What if Santa Claus is real? Then we’d all get what we want for Christmas. But he’s not, so what’s the point in asking?”

“But why would someone do that?” Tillie said. “Why would they show it on TV?”

“I think you answered your own question, dear,” her dad said.
“How’s that?”

“Well, it was on TV,” he said. “You can’t believe everything you see on TV, sweetheart. People will say anything to get you to watch.”

“Yeah,” Tillie said. “Then why did the Protectors interrupt his show?”

“How’s that?”

“Right after the intro, the show got cut off,” she said. “He never got to say what happened, but the papos are supposed to have it all on film.”

“Then what’s the point in not letting him talk about it?” her dad said, sighing and looking back at the TV.

“You tell me.”

“I will,” he said. “At the next commercial, dear. Could you get me another beer?”

Ugh. Fine, dad.” She stood, forcing Mr. Kitty off her lap onto the couch, and went to the kitchen.

If only those humans knew what was going on around them. But no. They were stuck in their animal cages like his pets. The worst part about it was that they couldn’t even see their chains.

Tillie sat back on the couch and handed her dad the beer. “You know…” She paused, thought about stopping, and went on. “I’ve been thinking about going into lobbying, too.”

The sound of the word flipped some switch in her dad’s brain. It was enough to draw his attention away from the game.

“Tillie,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Lobbying? You can’t be serious. I’d believe that wacko nut-job who was talking about human factory workers before I would believe that my daughter would be a lobbyist. It’s out of the question. Impossible. I won’t hear it.” He shook his head, gesturing with his hands as he spoke.

“That’s exactly why the lobbyists are necessary, dad. Because you won’t hear it. You never listen.”

“I’m listening right now, aren’t I? And I’m saying no. Lobbyists aren’t necessary. Far from it. I tell you, if you just got rid of all the lobbyists, my job would be all that much easier.”

“Then how would you know what people want?” Tillie asked. “How would you know what they need?”

“The same way we have forever,” her dad said. “The same way we always will. The market. They can buy whatever their heart desires, and anyone can sell it.”

“And what about those who can’t afford it?”

“Those who can’t afford what?” Her dad scoffed. “Look around you, dear. Everyone has everything they need. You’re asking about humans on an assembly line again. You’re asking about Santa’s elves. Why waste your time worrying about things that don’t exist?”

“That’s not entirely true, dad,” Tillie said. “There are—”

“There are what?” her dad said. “3D printers in every corner store. Homelessness eradicated. A longer life expectancy than any time in history. All thanks to the market, no lobbyists needed.”

“But lobbyist have been there guiding it along the whole time.”

“Lobbyists have been there holding it back,” her dad said through gritted teeth. “The less they do, the more we get done. Come on, honey. We’re Managers. You should know that. Who would you lobby anyway? Lobby yourself for yourself? It’s silly. What’s good for you is what’s good for production, and the market knows that best.”

“But dad,” Tillie said. “I don’t think it’s—”

Shh.” Her dad looked back at the TV. “Now that’s enough politics,” he said. “You didn’t come home just to argue with your father, did you? This is the holiday season, Tillie. A time for family.”

“And there’s no coincidence that the election is during the holiday?” she asked.

“What’s that, dear?” her dad said, lost again in the game.

“Nothing, dad,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “Nothing. Go ahead back to your game. I’m gonna go put my things up, okay. I’ll be right back.”

“Alright, honey,” he said. “I love you.”

“C’mon, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “Let’s go unpack.”

They walked back to the spare bedroom where Mr. Kitty jumped up onto the bed. Tillie sat down next to him and patted him on the head.

“You don’t think I’m crazy,” she said. “Do you Mr. Kitty?”

Mr. Kitty meowed. If she knew his language anywhere near as well as he knew hers, she would know that he meant to say that she was as far away from crazy as humans got these days. Instead she only heard a meow.

“You know, humans did used to work on the assembly lines,” Tillie said. “I learned about it in history class. So its not that outlandish. They were phased out for robot labor to make management that much easier. But there’s one thing I wonder…” She shook her head. “No.”

Mr. Kitty meowed again. “Go on,” he said.

“I mean, I know my dad says its impossible, but what if the robots did have the capability to think like humans? What if, in order to work in our factories and serve our food, they had to be able to think like humans? Well then, who will speak for the robots if there’s no one to lobby for them?”

“Well, you could let them speak for themselves,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yes. Exactly,” Tillie said, standing up and pacing the room. “I should look into this. I should speak for them if no one else will. But first, but first… But first, what? What, what, what?”

“That’s not what I said,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “You’re not listening. Just like your father.”

“Great idea, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “I’ll see if I can… I’ll see if I can contact Russ Logo somehow. I’ll ask him about what really happened and about what the protectors had to say to him. That’s the perfect place to start. You’re so smart, Mr. Kitty.”

“I give up,” Mr. Kitty meowed one last time. “Do what you want and learn from it.” He stretched out and laid on the bed, pretending to be asleep while Tillie made the call.

“Hello,” she said. “Is this Russ Logo?”

“Oh. Well, is there any way I would be able to speak to him?”

She walked around, unpacking her pajamas into the drawers and her books onto the dresser, while she talked.

“No. Does this have anything to do with why his show was cut short?”

“No, sir. No no no. I’m sorry. Thank you. B—” She hung up the phone. “Bye.”

Ugh, Mr. Kitty,” she said, plopping onto the bed next to him. “Some people are so rude. He said I’ll just have to watch the show to find out.”

“Tillie!” her dad called from the other room. “Tillie! Turn on the TV!”

“What?” she called back.

“The TV! Turn it on!”

“What channel?”

“All of them!”

She stood and flicked the TV on by hand. Mr. Kitty yawned and stretched to get a closer look at what was so important to her dad. On the screen was a human face with lots of makeup painted on, clearly being used to cover up bruises and other injuries. Tillie gasped when she saw it. She must have noticed what the makeup was hiding, too.

“I repeat,” the human face repeated. “It has been verified that the woman who spoke to me outside the Plantation today was an independent filmmaker working on a yet unreleased prank reality show where historical figures interact with modern celebrities. In no way do I believe that humans are working on assembly lines, and I do not wish to promote such an absurd idea with my unknowing participation in a work of art that may or may not promote that idea. That’s all there is left to say on the matter, and I would appreciate it if we could lay this to rest. Thank you.”

The picture of the bruised and painted human gave way to a barrage of prediction numbers. Tillie turned off the TV and threw the remote down on the bed, almost hitting Mr. Kitty who jumped out of the way just in time.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Kitty,” she said, sitting on the bed next to him. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Mr. Kitty rubbed his head on her hand.

“Something’s going on here, Mr. Kitty,” she said. “Did you see Russ? His delivery was so dry and monotone. And he didn’t even plug his show. He always plugs his show. Something happened to him, and I think it’s because of what he said on TV.”

Mr. Kitty meowed in agreement. He followed Tillie out of the room, and stood behind her in the door of the living room where her dad was still watching the game. “Did you see that?” he said without looking away from the screen.

“Yes, I did,” Tillie said. “You didn’t—”

“And what did he say?” her dad said. “Just a publicity stunt. Some independent artist putting on a reality show. I told you it was for TV. Was I right or was I right, dear?”

“That is what he said,” Tillie said. “But you didn’t—”

“But, but, but,” her dad said. “I told you not to believe it because it was on TV, and now that the TV tells you it was a prank, you don’t want to believe that. I don’t understand your insistence on believing in fairy tales, honey.”

“You didn’t notice anything strange about him, dad?” Tillie said. “Like maybe the bruises under his makeup, or the way he had none of his usual inflection in his voice. No. You wouldn’t, would you? Because its all numbers on a computer screen for you. There aren’t real people behind them.”

“I wouldn’t notice because I don’t have time to watch every clown with a camera who wants to rant at the world,” her dad said, getting red faced and loud. “I’m busy doing the work it takes to keep everything running the way it does. For me to do that effectively it requires that I stay grounded in reality. I don’t have time for La La Land like you students do. When you get older, you’ll grow out of this phase just like everyone else.”

“Unseen Hand, you’re impossible,” Tillie said. “I’m leaving. I’m gonna go see Shelley or something. I’ll be back for dinner.” She grabbed her coat and left before the play was over and her dad could break away to stop her.

Mr. Kitty stretched. Football was boring and the human could be staring at it for a long time. As he jumped down from the couch, though, the human stood up, mumbling to himself, and went back into his office to sit in front of the pane of computer screens. Mr. Kitty followed him and sat on the desk, cleaning himself from a good vantage point to see what was going on.

“Show’s how much she loves us,” the human said, his eyes flicking across the screen.

Mr. Kitty wanted to mention that Tillie was mad at her father—not at Mr. Kitty—but he decided to keep his mouth shut and busy cleaning his coat.

“Just numbers,” the human said. “Just numbers. As if that’s all I care about.”

Mr. Kitty thought that there were also colors and noises—not just numbers—but he kept that to himself, too.

“She simply doesn’t understand what I really do. Sure, there are a lot of numbers. But that’s not all I do. Why, take this right here.” He made a few keystrokes and clicked something. Mr. Kitty tried to bat at the mouse as he did.

“You see. They don’t just show me numbers. Right here they had some cleaner bots malfunction, or a textile machine malfunctioned, I don’t know. But look.” He moved the mouse on the screen as if the cat would know what to look at, and Mr. Kitty did. “They give us the production numbers here, of course, but this here”—he pointed to a tiny camera icon—“also gives me video evidence of the accident so I can prevent the same occurrence in the future. You get it?”

He looked at Mr. Kitty then shook his head. “Of course not,” he said. “Why am I telling all this to a cat?”

“You should tell it to Tillie,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

Ha ha. Maybe you do understand,” the human said. “Well, don’t tell our Tillie this, but I rarely ever look at the photos. There’s never really anything there to see. Ha ha!”

“Click this one,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

Almost as if he understood, the human clicked it and a photo came up. A bunch of children were all trying to pull three or four others—it was hard to tell how many exactly because only parts of them were still visible—out of the bloody jaws of the machine. The blood looked black like oil spread all over everything. Mr. Kitty could see the horror on the children’s faces as they pulled the pieces of their friends out of the cold metal jaws of death. He wondered what the human could see, and the human told him.

“You see. Robots cleaning up the mess they made. That’s all it is. That’s what they do, they’re cleaner bots. You know, maybe if I show Tillie this—show her that it’s not all numbers…”

“Do it,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“You’re right, cat. That’s against policy. And I’ve had about enough of work for today. Back to the game.” He pet Mr. Kitty on the head and left.

Mr. Kitty curled up into a ball on the desk to get some sleep. He just had to wait for Tillie to get home and hope that her dad would show her. Otherwise he’d have to find a way to show her himself. She would see it one way or another, the terror on those kids’ faces, the humanity. Maybe then she’d find what she was looking for.

He woke an indeterminate time later to the sound of Tillie sitting at the desk and clicking around on the computer. She was searching through a law database for any signs of “human” and “factory” or “assembly line” in the same file, but all that came up were stories about how the “Logo stunt” was a hoax and how the video footage would be coming out soon. She clicked and typed and clicked, then slunk back into the soft, leather chair with a huff.

“He didn’t close it,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “You’re so close.”

Awww. Mr. Kitty.” She pet his head. “I know you care. You never let me down.”

“Look. It’s still open.” He walked across the keyboard, trying to bring the picture back up.

“Mr. Kitty, stop it!” She scooped him up and sat him on her lap. “I’m trying to find out more about the assembly line workers,” she said, scratching his ear and squinting at the screen.

Mr. Kitty wasn’t able to pull the picture up when he walked across the keyboard, but he did pull up the production numbers. Colors changed on the screen, and numbers flipped, but there were no beeps.

“What’s this?” She clicked around on a few icons.

“Click the camera,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“I knew it,” Tillie said. “Numbers, numbers, numbers. That’s all he sees.”

She clicked back through the historical data. There was so much to see it took a few pages to get even to that morning.

“What’s the point in looking at all these stupid numbers?” Tillie said.

She was about to give up when Mr. Kitty bit her wrist. She flinched, clicking something, and yelled, “Ouch!”

“Are you alright, sweetheart?” her dad called from the other room.

“Shoo, Mr. Kitty.” She pushed him off her lap. He jumped up onto the desk and started licking himself. “Don’t do that, Mister.”

“Tillie!” her dad called again. “Do I need to come in there?”

Tillie looked at the screen. The picture her dad had been looking at was on top now. She gasped at the sight of it. She stared in shock at the faces of pain and anguish on the children, at the blood on the floor and the machinery and their clothes—which had clearly been retouched to look black instead of red—at the mold on the walls and the youth in their eyes, caught just as it disappeared.

Her dad walked in and said, “Tillie, what are you doing?”

“I was just trying to look up information about the scene with Russ today,” she said. “But I accidentally found this. Why were you looking at historical photos of factory accidents?”

“Historical photos?” Her dad looked at the screen, frowning. “Oh, dear,” he said, shaking his head. “You should not have seen that. It’s against policy. You should not have seen that.”

“Against policy?” Tillie frowned.

“Yes,” her dad said. “You shouldn’t be looking at it. It’s a photo of an accident that happened this morning. We lost three cleaner bots. You see, I told you it’s not all numbers with me.”

“Three cleaner bots, dad?” Tillie scoffed.

“Yes, dear,” her dad said, pointing at the screen. “Right there. You’re looking at it.”

“Dad,” she said. “Those aren’t robots.”

“Sure they are, honey. What else would they be? Humans that bleed oil? Ha ha ha!”

“Look at their faces, dad. Why would they look so terrified if they were robots?”

He squinted at the screen. “I don’t know,” he said. “My eyes are going again. The hazards of work, you know. I didn’t notice. But those robots are getting more and more realistic every day. Who am I to ask why they design them the way they do?”

“But, dad—”

“No more buts,” her dad said. “It’s almost time for dinner, and I have some people coming over who I’d like you to meet. They’ll tell you all about lobbying, dear. Now come on.”

He left, but Tillie stayed seated and pet Mr. Kitty. “Those aren’t robots, Mr. Kitty,” she said. “And I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

Mr. Kitty purred in response.

#       #       #

< III. Russ             [Table of Contents]             V. Ellie >

Thanks again for following along. I hope you enjoyed reading today’s chapter as much as I did writing it. Stay tuned next week for chapter 5 and, if you can’t wait, you can get a print or eBook version on Amazon through here.

Have a great weekend.

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A Note From the Author on the Asymptote’s Tail

On the Amazon page for every novel there’s a little section with the heading “From the Author”. I didn’t know this section existed until after the book was published, so I didn’t have anything to put there until just now. All that is to say, here’s a note from me, the author, about The Asymptote’s Tail:

I wrote this novel as a challenge to myself. I had been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series and Casual Vacancy–two seemingly unconnected stories, perhaps–around the same time, and what I found myself most impressed with, which was lacking in all my attempts at writing a novel thus far, was both authors’ ability to juggle such a large cast of believable, well-rounded characters.

Keeping that in mind, in November of 2013, I started the first draft of what was then called Outland, hoping to come up with a hefty cast of fleshed out characters of my own making. My first attempts were bumbling and undirected. Unable to find the story because the only things I knew I wanted were an expansive character list, a story full of political intrigue, and a unique futuristic science fiction setting, I discarded those attempts and set to building the world properly while the story composted in my brain.

I studied and restudied story structures all the way from the basic three act, to Campbell’s monomyth, to Harmon’s (Dan Harmon of Community fame) circular story structure, eating up every bit of theory I could, and as I did, I came across a transcription of an interview with China Miéville–whose work I still have yet to read, I’m afraid–in which he gave some advice to new writers trying to get started. Among other things he said:

“Think three-act structure, you know. Think rising action at the beginning of the journey and then some sort of cliff-hanger at the end of act one. Continuing up to the end of act two, followed by a big crisis at the end of act three, followed by a little dénouement. Think 30,000 words, 40,000 words, 30,000 words, so what’s that, around 100,000 words. Divide that up into 5,000 word chapters so you’re going 6/8/6. I realise this sounds incredibly sort of drab, and kind of mechanical. But my feeling is that the more you can kind of formalise and bureaucratise those aspects of [your novel’s structure]. It actually paradoxically liberates you creatively because you don’t need to worry about that stuff.”

And I took that advice to heart. So I came up with seven characters, each with seven different backgrounds and seven different perspectives of the future world I had created, and I decided that each character would get three 5,000 word chapters from their point of view, adding up to a little more than the 20 suggested by Miéville but something that could be made to work along the same lines.

And as I started to write, I did feel liberated creatively. I could see all the characters’ timelines intertwining as I went, and though I’m sure I didn’t perform up to the standards of the legends I was trying to emulate, I feel like I’ve created something I can be proud of, and I’m certain I’ll continue to improve as I write more novels in the future.

So if you’re a fan of the political intrigue and cast size in works like Game of Thrones and Casual Vacancy, or if you’re into classic dystopian science fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, or even if you’re into absurdism of the likes of Tom Stoppard and Albert Camus, think about giving The Asymptote’s Tail a read. I believe the cast will become your friends, the decisions they’re forced to make will give you philosophical contradictions to mull over long after reading, and most of all, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Thanks for giving me a read, I hope you’ll join me in the future.

-Bryan “with a Y” Perkins 06/04/15

Click here to visit the Amazon page.

Chapter 02: Ansel

Today brings us week three and chapter two with Ansel. Not only that, the print version of the novel is up and ready for sale right through here, and the ebook version is up for pre-sale, to be fully released on May 30th.

Here’s a little drawing I did of Ansel to get you started. Enjoy chapter two and think about picking up a copy if you can’t wait to see how the story finishes.

Ansel Server

 < I. Haley             [Table of Contents]             III. Russ >

II. Ansel

Ansel jumped out of bed at the first sight of light and ran to the balcony to watch the sun rise over the Green Belt. In all her years on this planet she had never seen such a beautiful sight. Never before had the sky been so big and blue or the world around her so green and alive. Not even her first day of school could ruin it.

School. Ugh. She shuddered at the thought of it. Maybe school could ruin it.

She heard a creak behind her and turned to find her dad—dark eyes puffy from sleep and still in his pajamas—standing in the balcony door.

Yyyyuuuuuaaaahhh—Isn’t it beautiful?” he said through a yawn, stretching his arms way up over his head.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Ansel said, not taking her eyes off the shimmering blue and green.

“Just wait until recess,” her dad said, smiling and nodding. “Then you’ll get to run and play in it with the other children.”

She shuddered at the thought of them, too. “Do I have to, Dad? I could just go play in it now.”

“No, no, Ansel. The schooling is one of the main benefits of living here. Life is more than blue skies and green trees. You should know that as well as anyone coming from where we come from.”

“I know, Dad. But there are blue skies and green trees here. Why can’t I take advantage of that now?”

“Because you need an education. How do you think your mother and I got to where we are now? Hard work and learning everything we could to make ourselves more valuable.”

And stealing printers,” Ansel mumbled under her breath.

“Excuse me, ma’am.”

“I said what can they teach me that I don’t already know?”

“And just what is it that you think you know?” Her dad smiled.

“Well, I can count… And add. Read most things. And I trap a mean rat. Not to mention I can hit a pigeon from a mile away with my slingshot.” She patted it in her back pocket.

“And I guess that’s everything there is to know.”

“It’s served me just fine.” Ansel crossed her arms.

Ansel’s mom poked her puffy-haired head out of the balcony door. “What’s all the racket out here so early?” she said, coming outside. She looked like she had been up for a while because she was already wearing a purple, flowery dress which Ansel had never seen before.

“Your daughter was just explaining to me how she knows everything there is to know,” her dad said with a smile. “She doesn’t think she needs to go to school because they can’t teach her anything.”

“Is that right?” Her mom looked at Ansel for confirmation.

“Well, not everything,” Ansel said, kicking nothing with her feet. “But I still don’t need school.”

“I beg to differ, ma’am,” her mom said. “Now go put on that new dress of yours, and I’ll walk you down there myself. You should meet some of the kids in the neighborhood, anyway. You’ll need some new friends”

I want my old friends,” Ansel mumbled.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” her mom said.

“I don’t want to wear a stupid dress!” Ansel stomped her foot. “I want to play in the grass and climb trees.”

“You will wear that dress,” her mom said. “You don’t know the trouble it cost us to get you something so clean and new.”

“But it doesn’t even have pockets,” Ansel complained. “How am I supposed to carry my slingshot without pockets?”

“You aren’t, dear,” her mom said. “You won’t be needing your slingshot at school. I’ll ask you to leave it in your room, please.”

“Bu—”

“Go!” Her mom stomped her foot.

Ansel looked to her dad for help, but he avoided eye contact with her by pretending to be enjoying the view of the Belt. With no more lines of defense, she stomped to her room to get dressed.

Her new bedroom was smaller than her bedroom back home, but it didn’t make a difference, it still fit her bed and dresser with the mirror on top. She looked at herself in the mirror. She was from the Green Belt now, but she didn’t feel any different. A pencil drawing of two girls holding hands was stuck in the corner of the frame. Looking at it made her miss Katie back home. Katie would probably wake up today and go out trapping rats or hunting pigeons. She definitely wouldn’t be going to any stupid school. But at least there was the Green Belt to look forward to. There was no green grass or blue sky in Katie’s future. Not anytime soon, at least. Just the concrete, tar, and steel of completely streets and the oppressive skyline of rows and rows of skyscrapers.

Ansel’s mom called in to see if she was ready, and Ansel called back to say almost. She got the dress out of her dresser and rubbed the blue floral cloth between her fingers. It was soft and clean and new, she had to give her mom that much. Ansel wasn’t sure if she had ever seen clothes made from anything but recycled rags, and now she was holding just that in her hands. But it was still a dress, and a dress was no good for playing in an open field or climbing trees. She had never played in an open field or climbed a tree in her life, and even she knew that. She also knew that she wouldn’t get out of the house without the dress on, though, so she relented. When she slipped it on over her head, it was so soft and smooth, she felt like she wasn’t wearing anything at all, a second skin. She almost blushed when she walked out to show her parents.

“Now that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” her dad said.

Her mom said nothing. She just stared with a little moisture in her eyes.

“Are you alright mom?” Ansel asked when she noticed.

“Yes, dear,” she said. “I—You’re lovely, dear. Just lovely.” She smiled.

“Thanks, ma,” Ansel said, although she thought she would look just as good with a new pair of pants and t-shirt on, it was just the fact that the dress was new that made them like it.

“Alright,” her mom said. “Let’s go on then. Say goodbye to your father.”

Her dad squatted down and gave her a big hug. “Remember that you always have something to learn, Ansel,” he said. “And everyone knows something you don’t know. But most of all remember to have fun out there. Okay.”

Ansel nodded.

He kissed her on the head. “I love you, sweetheart,” he said. “See you after class. You’ll have to tell me all about it.”

“I will.”

He gave her one last hug and let her go.

“Alright, sweetheart. Let’s go.” Her mom held out a hand and Ansel grabbed it.

Their apartment was on the fifth floor of a nine floor walk up. The sound of their steps echoed through the stairwell as they made their descent. Walking out the front door of the building was like walking into Ansel’s old neighborhood. The apartment opened up onto the Street side of the building and all they could see were the lines and lines of skyscrapers towering over either side of them. It felt like a comforting embrace to Ansel.

They walked around their apartment building toward the Green Belt which was called that because it was exactly a green belt: a long skinny strip of green grass and trees in the middle of a sea of tall balconied buildings. It was two blocks wide and as long as the eye could see. For all Ansel knew it went on forever and ever without end. The school was right on the edge of the Belt, and only families who lived right on the edge themselves could send their children there. Graduates of the Green Belt Day School went on to hold top positions in all the most important families.

“Ansel, dear,” her mom said as they walked along the grass, holding hands. “There’s something I need to say to you.”

But Ansel couldn’t keep her eyes off the trees and the bugs and the sky. She wanted to study and understand all of it. If only she didn’t have to go to stupid school.

“Are you listening to me, Ansel?” her mom said.

“Yeah, ma,” Ansel said, not listening.

“Ansel.” Her mom stopped dead in her tracks. Ansel’s arm yanked back and she stopped, too. “Ansel. I’m serious.”

“Yes, mother,” she said. “I’m listening.” And she really was this time. She stared at the silver necklace her mom was wearing so she wouldn’t be distracted from her words.

“Ansel,” her mom said. “I know you don’t want to go to school—and I don’t blame you, really, because, honestly, they won’t be able to teach you much you don’t already know—but you have to understand that school is about more than that. You have to put up with the teachers while you teach yourself how to interact with your classmates. Do you understand?”

Ansel nodded. “I think so.”

Her mom looked deep into her eyes and smiled. “Of course you don’t, kiddo,” she said, shaking her head. “Its nonsense. To tell you the truth, I don’t really know what I’m saying. But let me say something else. We do nothing alone. You got that? Can you repeat it for me?”

“We do nothing alone,” Ansel said with a nod.

“That’s right, sweetheart,” her mom said with a smile. “Now, there’s one more thing that’s even more important for you to remember, more important than anything in the whole entire world. Do you want to know what it is?”

Ansel nodded.

“I love you, Ansel. I always will.” She kissed Ansel on the top of the head.

“I love you too, mom.”

Her mom brought her in for a hug. She was wiping her eyes when she let go, but Ansel didn’t notice because a bug with big colorful wings fluttered by and distracted her.

“What’s that, ma?” she asked, running to catch it.

“A butterfly, dear,” her mom said. “Like my necklace.”

“I thought your necklace was silver,” Ansel said, getting further into the grass. “That thing was colorful.”

“My necklace is silver but butterflies aren’t,” her mom said. “Now let’s get going.”

The school was on the first floor of a squat grey building. There were two women standing at the doorway, and Ansel’s mom had to literally drag her away from the grass to meet them.

“Ah, this must be Ansel,” the older of the two—with white hair—said. “We were expecting you.”

Ansel tried one last time to run off to the grass but her mom held strong.

“You’d rather be playing in the field,” the other woman said. She was younger and had darker hair.

Ansel didn’t respond. She kicked dust at her feet.

“Me, too,” the younger woman said with a smile. “That’s why I’m having class outside today.”

Ansel beamed.

“Did you hear that?” her mom said.

“Am I in your class?” Ansel asked.

The younger woman looked over at the white-haired woman who nodded with a solemn face. “It seems you are.”

Ansel dropped her mom’s hand and grabbed the younger woman’s. “Alright. Come on, then. Let’s go,” she said, trying to pull the woman out to the Belt.

“Slow down, child. You have to meet the rest of the class, first. Go on inside. Room two. I’d like to have a word with your mother before I follow.”

“Oh, alright,” Ansel said with a sigh, dropping the woman’s hand and stomping inside. Her mom called out that she loved her as she did.

Behind the glass door of the school was a long hall with speckled vinyl floors and faded teal walls. The rooms were numbered with signs that had foreign dots under them. Ansel studied the little formation of dots under the one sign, wondering what they meant, then she remembered that she was supposed to go to room two and walked that way. She held her breath for a second, trying to imagine the worst thing that could be on the other side of the door before she opened it, and what she found was so much worse.

There was a chalkboard with a name written on it: Mrs. Lerner. Ansel assumed it was the teacher’s name. There were also rows of desks, each with kids, mostly light-skinned, sitting behind them, and all in shiny, new, clean clothes. She felt for a second like she was standing naked in front of them, then she remembered her own shiny new dress and felt even more embarrassed than she would have been if she actually was naked. She felt her face flush, making her mad at herself for being embarrassed, and clenched her fists, not sure if she should sit down or wait for Mrs. Lerner since they were going outside anyway.

“Don’t you know how to sit, girl?” came a mocking voice from a back corner of the room.

The class erupted in laughter.

“I can teach you if that’s what you’re asking,” Ansel yelled back at the room in general.

Ooooh!” came a lonely voice from the other corner of the room. Everyone in the class turned to see who it was.

“Shut up, Pidgeon!” a large boy yelled, chucking a wadded up piece of paper at the boy who had Ooooh!ed.

“You shut up!” Pidgeon yelled back just as Mrs. Lerner walked in the door.

“Richard Maid. You apologize right now,” she said before the door closed. “We do not tell people to shut up in this class. Do you understand me? You’re setting a bad example for our new student.”

“But Mrs. Lerner,” Pidgeon said. “I—”

“No, sir,” Mrs. Lerner said. “I don’t want to hear it. Apologize.”

The class Ooooh!ed together.

“Class!” Mrs. Lerner quieted them.

“It wasn’t his fault, ma’am,” Ansel said, looking at the floor.

“I’m sorry, child?” Mrs. Lerner said. “You’ll have to speak up.”

Ansel looked over at Pidgeon. He waved his hands and shook his head, trying to communicate something Ansel couldn’t understand. “Don’t blame Pidgeon, ma’am,” she said. “I started it. It’s my fault.”

“Oh…Well.” Mrs. Lerner looked from Ansel to Pidgeon and back again. “If that’s so, you’re not making a very productive start to your first day here, Miss Server.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ansel said, shaking her head and still looking at the floor. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“I’ll let it slide this once,” Mrs. Lerner said. “Now, class, this is our new student Ansel.”

“Good morning, Ansel,” the class sang in unison.

“Please take a seat so we can get started, Miss Server.”

“I—but—” Ansel protested. “I thought you said we were going outside.”

The class laughed.

“We will, child,” Mrs. Lerner said. “But first we have to take care of business. All play and no work. You know. Now please, Miss Server, take a seat. There’s one…”

“There’s one right here, Mrs. Lerner,” Pidgeon said.

The class Ooooh!ed again.

“Mr. Maid,” Mrs. Lerner said. “That’s strike two. If you act out one more time today, I’m reporting you to the principal.”

“Strike two?” Pidgeon complained. “But I—”

Richard.” Mrs. Lerner said.

“Yes, ma’am.” Pidgeon put his head down on his desk.

“Now, Miss Server,” Mrs. Lerner said. “Please take your seat and we’ll get started.”

Ansel hesitated but knew protesting was futile. She was under Mrs. Lerner’s control now, she had no say in the matter. She took as long as she could to walk back to her seat, though, her small act of defiance.

“Okay,” Mrs. Lerner said. “Where did we leave off yesterday? Ah yes. I remember. The history of the ownership of the Green Belt. Now, no one knows the history of the entire Belt. That would be impossible. No, let us not concern ourselves with that big of a picture for now. What concerns us is the local familial relationships in our immediate area of the Belt. If we start here with the Concierge sector—owned, of course, by the Concierge family and subsidiaries…”

Ansel lost all power of concentration at that. She couldn’t get her mind over one little speed bump, one sentence that Mrs. Lerner stated as a matter of fact then breezed right over. No one knows the history of the entire Belt. How could that be? Someone had to know. Didn’t they? Or could it go on for ever and ever like everyone always said it did? Before she realized it, Ansel blurted out, “But how?”

“Excuse me, Ansel,” Mrs. Lerner said. “Please raise your hand the next time you would like to speak. But how did the McCannick’s usurp the original Union? That’s a good question, and the explanation goes back to before the—”

“No,” Ansel said, shaking her head. “How does no one know the history of the entire Belt?”

“Again, Miss Server,” Mrs. Lerner said. “Raise your hand if you would like to speak.”

Ansel raised her hand.

“Yes, Ansel?”

“How does no one know the history of the entire Belt?”

“Well, that, too, is a very good question, child,” Mrs. Lerner said. “I would say that it’s a result of the fact that—”

A loud, metallic, clanging bell drowned out her voice. Ansel jumped in her seat—knocking her desk over—at the sound of it. The class laughed at her reaction as they filed out of the room.

“The cafeteria’s just down the hall, miss Server,” Mrs. Lerner said after everyone else had left the room. “Would you like me to show you the way?”

“I can find it myself,” Ansel said, setting her desk up again.

“Very good,” Mrs. Lerner said. “Just see to it that you’re back in your seat promptly after the bell.”

The door to room two clicked closed behind her. Ansel ignored the growling in her stomach, and instead of dealing with the inevitable insults from the class—and possibly other classes—in the cafeteria, she decided to take this time to explore the Belt. She hadn’t had a chance to play in the green grass since they moved there and it didn’t look like any sort of outside time was actually on Mrs. Lerner’s agenda.

Ansel opened the door and glared out into the sunlight. The sun was exactly overhead, so the belt was spotted with patches of inviting shade under each tree. Ansel couldn’t help herself but to run over to one of them and try to climb it. First she did a few circles around the trunk, looking for a good place to grip it, and when she thought she had planned a course, she went to work, hand over hand, one step at a time, up the tree. She was ten feet off the ground when she heard a familiar voice from above say, “Hey! What are you doing in my tree?”

She looked up to see who it was but couldn’t make the person out through the thick foliage. “I don’t see your name on it!” she called up anyway. Her time in the Streets had taught her that letting too many insults slide was dangerous, and one was too many.

“Technically, my name is on it,” the voice came back. “I’ve carved it in all over the place.”

“Pidgeon, is that you?” Ansel said, starting up the tree again.

“Who’d you think it was?” he called back down.

“You know,” she said, she could see him now, petting a little, black, furry creature on the branch next to him. “You didn’t have to let me take all the heat this morning.”

“I didn’t ask you to take any of it,” he said.

“Well, part of it was mine, wasn’t it?” She sat on a branch a little higher than his in case he tried anything funny. He still didn’t have to look up to see her, though. Ansel thought he looked a few years older than her, but she couldn’t tell how many. “And I wasn’t going to let the class think I was a snitch and tell her it was really that asshole’s fault,” she added.

“Jimmy?” Pidgeon chuckled. “He is a—an ass hole isn’t he?” The way he said it, it looked like it tasted about how it sounded.

“If that’s his name,” Ansel said. “Then yes.”

“It is,” Pidgeon said. “And mine’s Richard.”

“I like Pidgeon.”

“I don’t.” He shook his head, petting the cat.

“Pidgeon,” Ansel said. “Who’s your friend?”

Pidgeon grimaced. He pet the furry little beast a few times before deciding the battle wasn’t worth fighting, exposing a fatal weakness. One was too many.

“This is Mr. Kitty,” he said.

“Mr. Kitty?”

“Yeah. He’s always hanging out in this tree at lunch. That’s why I came up here. I wanted to see if he would be here again.”

Ansel didn’t know why someone would skip lunch just to pet a cat, but she did want to touch it. It sat there licking itself, letting Pidgeon scratch its back as it did.

“You can pet him if he’ll let you,” Pidgeon said. “He won’t bite.”

“I know!” she yelled, which caused the cat jump.

“You scared him!” Pidgeon yelled back, scaring it more.

“Now you did!” Ansel said, and the cat jumped off the branch and down the tree where it seemed to disappear.

“Look what you did now,” Pidgeon said. “Now I have to wait until tomorrow to try again.”

“Try what?” Ansel asked, but Pidgeon wasn’t paying any attention. His ears were perked up and he was listening to a far off sound that Ansel couldn’t hear.

“That’s the bell, anyway,” he said. “We better go. Come on.” He started his quick, monkey-like descent down the tree.

“Wait,” Ansel called after him. “Try what?” But it was too late, he was gone. She hurried down the tree after him, but by the time she caught up, they were both sitting in their desks and Mrs. Lerner had already gone on talking about which families controlled which local sectors of the Green Belt and how they got that way.

“What were you trying to do up there?” Ansel whispered to Pidgeon who pretended to be listening to Mrs. Lerner so he could ignore her.

Psst. Pidgeon,” Ansel said. “Listen to me.”

Shhh,” he shushed her.

“Mr. Maid,” Mrs. Lerner said. “Quiet down please.”

“But—”

“No, sir,” she said. “I said quiet. Now, where was I…”

After she went on for a while Ansel whispered, “Pidgeon. Tell me.”

“Tomorrow, okay,” he whispered back. “Or after class.”

“Now!” she said too loudly.

“Miss Server,” Mrs. Lerner said. “You, too, child. Do I have to separate you two on your first day of class?”

The class Ooooh!ed, and Ansel decided she could wait until Mrs. Lerner was done droning on. It seemed like an eternity. When the final bell rang and everyone scrambled out of their seats, Ansel was ready and up as fast as anyone, but Mrs. Lerner had them all sit down again before they could leave.

“Alright, children,” she said. “You did very well today. Your parents would be proud. Now, I want you all to look forward to tomorrow because we’ll be holding class outside.” She paused for a reaction but no one responded. “For homework tonight,” she went on. “I want you all to think about how your family got to where they are today and to compare that to what we’ve learned about the families who came to own the Green Belt throughout its history. Very good now, children. Have a nice day. See you tomorrow.”

By the time she said “history” half the class had already left. Pidgeon got up and out before Ansel, but she ran to catch up with him outside and grabbed him by the arm to stop him.

“What were you doing up there?” she demanded.

“I told you already,” he said, shrugging her off. “What do you want?”

“You were just petting a cat? That’s it?”

“Is there something wrong with that?”

“I just—” Ansel looked out at the sprawling green of the Belt, at the tree they had climbed and the blue sky above. “No. I just thought there had to be more to it than that. Where’d that cat come from, anyway?”

“That’s exactly what I was trying to find out!” He smiled.

“Is that why they call you Pidgeon? Because you spend your lunch in the tree?”

The smile faded. He looked at the ground and shook his head. “No. No one even knows I come out here for lunch. We’re not supposed to. If they knew I did, there would be no way I could.”

Ansel wanted to know more about how he got his name, but she could tell it was a sore subject, and she didn’t want their already rocky start to get any worse. We do nothing alone.

“So what’s with that teacher?” she asked to change the subject. “I thought we were supposed to have class outside today. And what about recess? I was told there would be recess.”

Ha!” Pidgeon chuckled. “Recess is a lie. Mrs. Lerner’s a liar. The sooner you learn that the better.”

“And that cat…” Ansel said.

“Mr. Kitty?”

“Mr. Kitty, yeah. You only see it when—”

“Him,” Pidgeon said, cutting her off. “He’s not an it.”

“Okay,” Ansel said. “You only see him at lunch. Have you ever seen him any other time?”

“Nope,” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “Just in the tree at lunch. It was pure luck I found him the first time, too. I was out here, playing with some bugs in the grass, when Mrs. Lerner and Mrs. Grover came out and walked right up to the tree I was sitting under. I had no choice but to climb up it, and I found him sitting up there all alone.” He smiled and shrugged.

“Do you see a lot of cats around the Belt?” Ansel asked.

“Well, it’s the first cat I’ve ever seen. I haven’t lived here all that long, but that’s why I wanted to find him. Have you ever seen one before?”

Ansel shook her head. “Heard of em. And I’ve eaten some—so I’ve been told—but I’ve never seen a live one.”

“Where do you think it came from?” Pidgeon asked.

“I don’t know.” Ansel shrugged. “But I know how to find out.”

She didn’t wait for a response, setting out for the tree at full speed. Pidgeon did his best to keep up, but even with his climbing ability, Ansel was sitting on the same branch she sat on for lunch, with her breath back, before he got there.

“What—” Pidgeon tried to say through his huffing and puffing. “Way—is—that?”

“Well, this way,” Ansel said.

Pidgeon clearly didn’t understand, but he was too out of breath to argue.

“You’ve only ever seen the cat here, right?”

He nodded.

“Then we have to wait here until it—until he comes back. Once we see him again, we follow him. Simple as that.”

“That’s what I was trying to do when you interrupted me at lunch,” Pidgeon said.

“Then why’d it take you so long to understand the plan?”

“Besides, I already know when he’s coming back. Lunchtime tomorrow. Like always.”

“Yeah, but do you know he doesn’t come around at other times?”

“I know he comes at lunch and leaves after,”

“Have you ever sat out here any other time? Does he come every lunch?”

Pidgeon didn’t answer. He looked down at his feet and played with the hem of his shirt.

“I thought so,” she said. “Now I’m gonna stay out here and wait for him. You can do whatever you want.” She turned away from Pidgeon to look up at the branches of the tree.

After a long silence he said, “Why are you interested in this cat, anyway?”

Ansel shrugged. “I dunno,” she said. “I haven’t thought about it. I just like to hunt, I guess.”

“I don’t know,” Pidgeon said. He broke a twig off of the branch next to him and tore it to tiny pieces. “I think its more than that.”

“You don’t even know me.”

Pidgeon shrugged. “I guess.” He tossed the little bits of branch down into the foliage where they disappeared into the tree, indistinguishable. “Have you ever heard of the legend of the Curious Cat?”

“Of course I have,” Ansel said. “So what?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Do you—Do you think it’s real?”

Ansel turned slowly to look at him. She couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or looking for a weakness. His eyes were averted, like he was a little embarrassed to even bring it up. He either wasn’t looking for a weakness, or he was a really good actor. “Why do you ask?”

“Do you think—” he said. “I mean—I don’t know. Do you think this could be him?”

Ansel laughed. Pidgeon didn’t, though. “You’re saying to me that you think this is the mythical Curious Cat who knows the way to Prosperity.”

“I—I don’t know,” Pidgeon said. “I’m sayin—I’m saying that I think he could be.”

“And you’re trying to find out where it comes from so you can follow it there?”

“I mean—Well, yeah. Wouldn’t you? Don’t you believe it’s true?”

She looked him up and down, sizing him up. She still wasn’t sure if she trusted what she saw. Finally she said, “We should take the tree in shifts if we want to cover the most time.”

 #     #     #

< I. Haley             [Table of Contents]             III. Russ >

Thanks again for joining us. If you don’t want to wait another week to read the rest of the story, order a print version of the book now or pre-order the ebook version, available next Saturday, May 30th.

Chapter 01: Haley

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:

< nulla. Shoveler     [Table of Contents]     II. Ansel>

I. Haley

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then there’s this Russ Logo.” Lord Walker smiled. “He’s an actor. Have you heard of him?”

“No, sir.”

“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?”

“Yes, sir.”

“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.

“Accident?”

“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?”

“It’s—”

“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.”

 #     #     #

< nulla. Shoveler     [Table of Contents]     II. Ansel>

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.

[Update: The print edition is available now through Amazon here.]

The Asymptote’s Tail

Without further ado, here it is, the first installment of The Asymptote’s Tail. Enjoy, and check back here every Saturday morning for the next chapter in the story.

Cover of The Asymptote's Tail

 

 

 

 

 

     For you.

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

00.   Shoveler
01.   Haley
02.   Ansel
03.   Russ
04.   Mr. Kitty
05.   Ellie
06.   Officer Pardy
07.   The Scientist
08.   Haley
09.   Ansel
10.   Russ
11.   Mr. Kitty
12.   Ellie
13.   Pardy
14.   The Scientist
15.   Haley
16.   Ansel
17.   Russ
18.   Mr. Kitty
19.   Ellie
20.   Tom
21.   The Scientist

 

 

 

 

 

“I wanna see it untame itself and break
its owner. I wanna see it now.”

Built to Spill

 

 

 

 

 

nulla. Shoveler

 

The black coal burned bright and hot. Each load he piled onto the Furnace’s fire brought it that little bit closer to white in his impossible pursuit of the asymptote’s end.

His limbs moved unconsciously. Shadows cut across his stomach and chest. The towering fire danced all over his skin.

With his rhythm, there was no way the Creator could be ignorant of the roar of his flame, not even with Her fingers stuck in Her ears. His muscles moved in perfect lock-step with one another, bringing his fire closer to white hot than it had ever been before.

He inhaled a deep breath of the dark smoke, savoring the taste of his labor, picturing the black mountain behind him—too tall to see the peak of even in the light of the Furnace itself—as the coal supply continued to grow despite his every effort to deplete it. He dug deeper into himself, shoveling harder and faster to match the speed of the pourer who replenished his mound, when the cough of a watcher sent his shovel off target, breaking him away from his spiritual connection to the Furnace.

Hoooooot!” he whistled, trying to get back into his rhythm. “Hoooooot!”

That tiny thing didn’t belong anywhere near the Furnace. He never understood why the Creator saw need for such a frail being in the first place. It and the other watchers, each one an equally useless battery for him to recharge with his personal labor. Their lungs weren’t even capable of recycling carbon fumes!

He shook his head at the thought of their ineptitude, shoveling more and larger piles of coal into the fury of productivity, driving the fire ever closer to white hot, and imagining the watcher’s skin melting under the heat he produced.

He smiled. What irony it was. The watcher was sent to him as some punishment, he was sure—they always seemed to hate their every second near the Furnace—but what sort of punishment could it be? To witness the miracle of production at its most basic level. To become a part of the Furnace itself.

He nodded in rhythm with his shoveling. That must have been it. It was in their name. Their punishment was that of watching without being able to do. He couldn’t think of anything more torturous than to be forced to sit idly by as another reaped the glory of production which he was made to forego. No wonder watchers were such wretched little beasts. They–

The thought stopped. He blacked out into nothingness for what seemed like a split second.

–lived wretched little lives.

When his senses returned, flames licked and spit against his heat resistant skin. He couldn’t tell how long he had been out for, but it was more than a second. The fire had escaped from the Furnace which was all but gone, covered in cement rubble. Above the debris, dim rays peeked through the black clouds. The entire plant must have come down on top of him.

The watcher. Where was it? He tore through the remains of the plant, shoveling through cement debris like any other pile of coal, looking for the mutilated body of the watcher so he could destroy it further. It was responsible for this. It and the others like it. They had to be. Who else could it be? They were trying to shirk their punishment.

Hoooooot!” he screamed, forcing recycled oxygen through his vocal organ. “Hoooooot!”

He dug through the rubble around him, frantic to reconnect with the Creator, still finding no sign of the watcher. “Hoooooot!” he whistled, tearing his way up the black coal mountain, crawling on hands and knees, hooting all the way, to stand atop the summit and cry at the top of his whistle, “Hoooooot!” Hurry up builders! “Hoooooot!”

For as far as his eyes could see, in every direction, there were identical mountains of coal, crumbling cement at their bases, each with their own shoveler, standing on the peak, whistling for the return of the Furnace.

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[Table of Contents]             I. Haley >

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