Chapter 81: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers. Here’s the last chapter from the point of view of Mr. Kitty in the entire Infinite Limits saga. There are only three more chapters and a short epilogue after this one. Enjoy, and please do come back next week for the continuation of the story. We do nothing alone.

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

LXXXI. Mr. Kitty

“Leo, wait!” Tillie called from the front porch. “Don’t go. You don’t understand.”

But Leo didn’t even turn around to look at her, much less respond, instead running off toward the public elevator. Mr. Kitty felt a slight urge to follow Leo, he hadn’t been on campus in a long time and always enjoyed the sights when he did make it out there, but Tillie seemed genuinely upset about the situation, and Mr. Kitty wanted to do whatever he could to comfort her first.

“He’ll be fine,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “You did the same thing when you first found out the truth.”

“Right?” Tillie said, pacing back and forth, up and down the porch. “What a brat. He didn’t want to listen before when I had first told him about the robots, and he doesn’t want to listen now that he’s dead set on saving them.”

“Exactly like you were when you first found out,” Mr. Kitty meowed, trying to rub his face on Tillie’s ankles, but she was still pacing so she ended up tripping over him to fall with a crash on her face.

“Sorry,” Mr. Kitty meowed, but Tillie didn’t respond, just lying there, face down on the front porch, groaning. Mr. Kitty climbed up onto her butt and started kneading it until she finally rolled over, smiling and laughing, to scoop him up and kiss him all over—which he normally hated but would allow given the circumstances.

“You little monster,” she said, throwing him over her shoulder to carry him inside. “And you’ll get more kisses where that came from if you’re not careful.”

Tillie dropped Mr. Kitty off on the kitchen counter then ordered him up a turkey dinner that he wasn’t hungry for. He licked all the juices off of it, anyway, because he didn’t want to ruin Tillie’s training. She ordered herself a beer out of the printer, and by that time, Mr. Kitty had “eaten” enough, so he followed her into the living room where she stopped dead in her tracks and Mr. Kitty ran right into the back of her leg.

“I—uh…” Tillie stammered. “Curie. You—” He had come through the hole in the fireplace, Mr. Kitty assumed, but Tillie didn’t finish her sentence, instead embracing her husband to kiss him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, still holding her shoulders in both hands. “I didn’t mean to surprise you. I had to use the back door. It was urgent.”

“Is it Leo? Did he call you?” Tillie asked.

“What? Leo? No. What happened? Is he alright?”

“For now. But we have a lot to talk about. Do you want something to drink?”

“Tillie, it’s happening today,” Curie said. “I told you it was coming soon. Well, it’s now. And they need our help.”

Our help?” Tillie scoffed. “This is exactly what I just argued with Leo about. I literally just told him it was too dangerous. We got in a big fight about it, and he ran away. You might have passed him on your way in if you had taken the elevator like a normal person.”

“You know what? Yeah,” Curie said, checking his watch. “Maybe we do have time for one drink. Beer, please.”

Fine.” Tillie stormed into the kitchen to get the drinks while Curie scooped Mr. Kitty up and patted him on the back.

“Don’t think for one second that I forgot about you, Mr. Kitty,” Curie said. “Just how is my little gremlin doing? Huh?”

“Not bad,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “It’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting day.”

“Well, I hope you’ll come along with us if I can convince your Tillie,” he said just as Tillie came in carrying two pints of beer.

“Convince me of what?” she asked, holding Curie’s beer out to him.

Curie set Mr. Kitty back on the ground—where Mr. Kitty sat licking himself and eavesdropping—then took the glass from Tillie and drank it all in one long gulp, like he was trying to put off the inevitable for that little bit longer. “To help,” he finally said when he had downed the entire drink, wiping his mouth.

Obviously.” Tillie sighed. “But how? Set some discs on a Walker-Haley field generator like back in college?”

“No,” Curie said. “No discs.”

“Then what?”

“A rescue mission,” Curie said. “Evac. You’d be preserving, not destroying.”

“That’s a good start,” Tillie said, taking a seat on the couch. “I’m listening.”

Curie sat in the chair across from her and said, “There’ll be no discs at all this time. That’s small stuff. This is the real deal.”

Tillie scoffed. “As if what Emma and I did wasn’t,” she said, offended. “Need I remind you what happened to her because of how real it was? I know you don’t need reminding of what it did to your sister.”

“No. Of course not,” Curie said, trying to backtrack. “And I didn’t mean to imply that what y’all did wasn’t real or important. Of course it was. But even so, this here today is bigger.”

“How, honey?” Tillie laughed. “How could it be? How could anything be?”

“This time we’re not just destroying the walls between two worlds,” Curie sad. “No more half measures. All the walls are coming down at once.”

No.” Tillie shook her head. “Impossible. You said it was a rescue mission.”

“It is,” Curie explained. “For us. That’s our role. Rosalind and the Scientist are tearing the walls down, but they need our help for the evac.”

“But they’re the ones who’ve been keeping the walls up this entire time. Why now?”

“I don’t know,” Curie said, shaking his head. “They don’t tell us much. Barely keep in touch. But Rosalind called me up, and I thought it could be the opening we’ve been waiting for. The revolution might finally be here, Tillie. If we react properly.”

“But this is all gonna happen whether we get involved or not. Right?”

“The walls’ll come down either way, yes,” Curie said. “The Scientist has already programmed them for that. Whether it results in our revolution or not is still to be determined, though. It won’t unless we do the work to make it so.”

“But that doesn’t mean we have to get involved right now,” Tillie said, still looking for a way out. “Does it? We can wait until the danger’s over and then help pick up the pieces afterword. It might be a better idea to stay out of this until we can be certain that we’ll survive long enough to help put the pieces back together the right way after everything’s said and done.”

“And let innocent people die because we were too afraid to act?” Curie scoffed. “How could you say that? I know losing your friend, and my sister, took a toll on you—trust me, not a day goes by when I don’t imagine what life would be like if Nikola were still alive—but I thought you’d get over that one day. The Tillie I knew when we first met would have jumped at this opportunity to help liberate the oppressed masses.”

“Well that Tillie was young, naive, and idealistic. She grew up to have a kid of her own, and now she knows there are more important things than her saviour complex.”

“Like people’s lives,” Curie complained. “Can’t you see that? If we don’t do our part, more people are going to die. That’s a fact. You know I can’t just stand by and let that happen, right? I still have to do what I can. With or without you.”

“All the more reason for me to stay out of it,” Tillie said. “No need to put both of our son’s parents in harm’s way. We do still have Leo to think about.”

“Of course. I am thinking about him. About his future. I— I…” Curie looked at his feet like a child who was afraid to admit his latest wrongdoing to stern parents. “I was going to ask him if he wanted to help.”

“Curie, our son? You were going to put our son in harm’s way without consulting me first? How could you?”

“I’m here consulting you now,” Curie complained. “Besides, it’s not your place to stop him anymore. He’s an adult. Remember what happened when your dad tried to stop you?”

Tillie crossed her arms. “Of course I do. I was there, wasn’t I? I…”

“You dug your heels in, ran away, and went to do what you were going to do anyway.”

“Yes, well…”

“And you said that you and Leo had been fighting before I arrived. What about?”

“He did call you. Didn’t he?”

“He didn’t have to,” Curie said. “I know him—and you—well enough to know that he knows the truth now. He wants to do something to change it, too. Doesn’t he? Well, we need his help, Tillie. He can do something. We all finally can.”

“But Curie, Nikola.” Tillie started to cry now. Not so much so that she couldn’t speak, but the tears were obvious enough for Mr. Kitty to see them and jump on her lap to purr in an attempt to console her. “Emma,” Tillie went on through her tears. “All the countless others who’ve died. I won’t let Leo become another name on that list.”

“Then come with us,” Curie said, crossing to sit next to Tillie and rub her back, doing all he could to comfort her the same as Mr. Kitty was. “Protect him and prevent even more innocent people from joining that list just the same. Fly again with me like the majestic eagle you once were, the eagle I know you still are. Please, Tillie. We need you.”

Tillie was kind of blushing and smirking now, but still crying. “Y’all don’t need a scared old crone like me,” she said, sniffling and wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I’ve been hiding behind my desk for too long. I’m just a useless harpy now.”

“Not in the slightest,” Curie said, standing and pulling Tillie to stand up with him—which forced Mr. Kitty to jump off of her lap, but he didn’t mind because he was getting as pumped by Curie’s speech as he hoped Tillie was. “You have invaluable knowledge of revolutionary situations,” Curie went on. “You said so yourself. You and Emma were single-handedly responsible for tearing down the walls between Five and Six. That’s experience we could use to help save lives on this mission.”

“Well, not single-handedly,” Tillie said, not crying anymore if still a little hesitant. “We do nothing alone. But that was a long time ago. All we did was put some stickers on some machinery and run away. It really wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“That’s not true,” Curie said. “And it’s not what you were just arguing, either. And we’ll just be helping people evacuate their buildings, today. You’re great at that. Leo was never late to school on your mornings to get him ready.” He winked and grinned.

“Because you were always too much his friend and not enough his parent,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “How can I be sure you’re not doing the same thing right now?”

“Because I’m not, Tillie,” Curie said, getting serious again. “We honestly need him. And we need you. And if you’d just agree to come along, we can both be there to keep our son safe. You know we can’t stop him from doing something stupid any more than your dad could have stopped you, so let’s be there for him when he does it. What do you say?”

“Do it!” Mr. Kitty meowed. “I’m coming, too.”

And Curie and Tillie both laughed at that.

“Well… You make a lot of sense,” Tillie said. “Both of you. But I’m not sure how I would have reacted if my dad had asked to come along with us back then.”

“You’re not your dad,” Curie reminded her. “And Leo’s not you. You both want to make the world a better place, and you both have the opportunity to.”

“Do you really think I’d be useful?” Tillie asked, stepping closer to Curie to put her hand on his chest, flirting and fishing for compliments.

Mr. Kitty licked his paws in preparation for the running he knew he’d be doing so he didn’t have to watch them be lovey with each other.

“I’m not too old for something like this?”

Curie embraced Tillie and kissed her long and hard. “Of course you’d be useful,” he said in a breathy voice when they had parted lips. “You’re still young, my eagle. But we’re both old enough to pass our knowledge and experience on to Leo. And he’s old enough to receive it. So let’s do it the right way. Together.”

“And don’t forget me,” Mr. Kitty added.

Tillie laughed again. “I guess Mr. Kitty supports the idea,” she said.

“And what about you?” Curie asked, kissing her one more time on the forehead. “What do you think?”

“I think…. you’re right. If Leo’s going, I want to be there, too. And he deserves the opportunity. He already showed me he wanted it. So let’s go get him.”

“Alright,” Curie said, pulling Tillie by the hand toward the fireplace instead of toward the front door where she was going. “C’mon, Mr. Kitty,” he said. “You’re coming, right?”

And of course, Mr. Kitty was. He stretched his legs and back then ran up on the heel of Tillie to follow them through the hole in the fireplace and straight into Leo’s dorm room where he and his roommate were sitting close on the couch, having a serious conversation in whispered tones while the TV, stereo, and even blender in the kitchen were all running on their loudest settings. Curie went to turn the blender off, and Tillie told the TV and stereo to quiet down, while Leo and his roommate jumped up off the couch, surprised.

“Mom. Dad. What are y’all doing here?” Leo went to hug Curie, but he still must have been mad at his mom, because Tillie didn’t get one.

Mr. Kitty didn’t get a greeting, either, until Leo’s roommate said, “And a cat.” then went to pet him while Mr. Kitty purred.

“It’s about our argument,” Tillie said, and before she could go on, Leo scoffed.

Ugh. Come to make sure I don’t do anything dangerous?” he said. “Well, don’t worry. I’m never going down in those stupid tunnels again, and we haven’t been able to figure out anything else we could do. Nothing dangerous, at least. Just handing out flyers, spreading the word, and starting clubs. Bullshit.”

“We?” Curie asked.

“That’s not bullshit,” Tillie said. “That’s a really great start, actually. It’s exactly what Emma and I did when we first got started.”

“Yes, we,” Leo said. “This is my roommate, Kim.” The roommate waved and said Hi then went back to petting Mr. Kitty. “His parents are lobbyists. Those were his ideas. And of course I told him about it. Mom was trying to forbid me from doing anything, I hadn’t talked to you in months, and well… Kim’s kind of my…”

“Boyfriend,” Kim said, stopping his petting of Mr. Kitty to stand up and wrap one arm around Leo’s waist. “Sorry you had to find out like this. We wanted to do it over dinner or something, but once Leo learned the truth about the assembly lines and y’all had your argument, he couldn’t really think about anything else.”

“Fine. Whatever,” Curie said, getting a little anxious as time went on. “None of that matters right now. What matters is that we have a way for you to actually help.”

Leo—and to a lesser extent Kim—looked offended by Curie’s response, but Tillie tried to smooth it over. “What I think your father’s trying to say,” she said, “is that it’s very nice to meet you, Kim. You seem like a nice boy who makes our son happy, and when we have more time, we’d love to sit down and get to know you. But currently, we have some urgent business that we need Leo’s assistance with.”

“And yours,” Curie said to Kim. “If you’re willing. The more hands the better, in this instance.”

Yeah, right.” Leo rolled his eyes. “Like we could really do anything to help. You’re just patronizing me like you used to do when I was kid. Here’s an empty bowl to play with, go and pretend like you’re helping make cookies while I actually do all the work. Is that about right?”

“What do you need?” Kim asked.

“The walls are coming down in…” Curie checked his watch. “A little more than an hour now—whether we do anything about it or not—and it’s up to us to help evacuate some of the more dangerous buildings.”

“I’m not sure how much y’all have learned in your classes yet,” Tillie explained. “But a lot of the taller skyscrapers—and especially in the lower worlds—are really multiple buildings or sections of buildings stacked on top of one another. So when all the Walker-Haley fields disappear at the same time, those buildings are likely to come tumbling down with them.”

“How do y’all know all this?” Kim asked.

While Leo said, “You sure it’s not too dangerous?” giving his mom a look, apparently still upset about their fight.

“How we know doesn’t matter right now,” Curie said. “We know. And we can help those in danger. We’re going to help them. The question is, will you two join us?”

“And yes, it is still dangerous,” Tillie said. “But Curie helped me realize that life’s dangerous anyway. Besides, my own dad, your grandpa, made the mistake of trying to convince me not to participate in politics, and that only drove me further and deeper into more dangerous situations. But I’m not about to make the same mistake with you. I want to be here to guide you along in this. And hopefully together we can affect more than we ever could have hoped to otherwise. We do nothing alone.”

“You really think there’s something we can do?” Leo asked. “It’s not right,” he added before anyone could answer. “How those workers are treated. It’s not right.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Kim said, nodding confidently.

Good,” Curie said. “We’ll all go together. You have no idea how many lives you could help save. You’ll see. This is just the beginning.”

Fantastic,” Tillie said, not sounding as excited as her husband about the prospect. “Just the beginning.”

“I can’t wait,” Mr. Kitty meowed, and everyone laughed, breaking the tension.

All of a sudden Curie was flipping his phone out and projecting a blueprint onto the TV. “Alright, then,” he said. “This is the floor we’ll be handling. It’s actually a rather large midwife hospital in Five. This section, here.” The blueprint on the TV zoomed in on a particular area of the map. “Is filled with newborn children. Okay. Do you see where this is going?”

Tillie slapped him on the arm. “You should have led with that,” she said. “Of course we see. Go on.”

“You want us to help clear them out before it blows,” Leo said. “I think I can handle that.”

“I know you can,” Kim said, kissing Leo on the cheek. “I know we can.”

“I know we can, too,” Curie said. “For sure now that we’re all doing it together.”

He explained the finer details to them. How they’d have two elevators to work with but only fifteen minutes in which to clear the entire floor, so they had to be smart about it. How many babies, nurses, and midwives to expect—though no one could know for sure because the hospital hadn’t been forewarned. And that they’d have to take the public elevator because travel was being highly regulated to ensure everyone’s safety when the Walker-Haley field generators finally imploded in on themselves. Soon, it was time to take their elevator to destiny.

Mr. Kitty was happy to hear that they were taking the public elevator because that meant that he got to see campus again—a major reason he had come along in the first place. None of the humans talked while they walked, though, Leo and Kim first, hand in hand, leading the way toward their future, and Tillie and Curie next, hand in hand as well, simultaneously and silently reveling in their son’s current joy and fearing for the future they were walking right behind him into. At least that’s what Mr. Kitty thought he saw in his brief glimpse before he bound away to chase a squirrel up a tree, smell some flowers, and eat some grass on his way to the elevator with everyone else.

“Are y’all ready?” Curie asked when the elevator doors had closed, blocking the view of the Parade Grounds outside.

“Leo? Kim?” Tillie asked, as if she wouldn’t know if she was ready until she knew if they were first.

“I think so, ma’am,” Kim said, nodding, unsure of himself. “Sir.”

“We’re ready,” Leo assured Kim—and everyone else in the room—then to Mr. Kitty’s surprise, he added, “What about you, Mr. Kitty?”

“🐱EXCITED🐱!” Mr. Kitty screeched, too excited about being remembered by Leo to control his volume. “I mean, ready.”

“Sounds like he’s ready, too,” Tillie said. “Sounds like we’re all ready. So what next?”

“We say the password and wait for the countdown,” Curie said. “Just a few minutes now.”

“What’s the password?” Leo asked.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways,” Curie said. “The point is to change it.” A voice over the elevator’s speaker system started softly counting down the last half a minute before the start of their mission.

And while the elevator fell into motion, Tillie added one more thing. “Not just to change it,” she said. “But for the better.”

The doors opened, and everyone ran to their assigned tasks while Mr. Kitty rolled on his back in excitement, kicked his legs in the air, jumped up, then dashed out to follow them for the fun.

#     #     #

< LXXX. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXXII. Sonya >

That’s it, another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. Join us again next week for the continuation of the story, or pick up a full copy of the novel through this link. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 74: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers. It’s time to return to eveyone’s favorite, Mr. Kitty, as we continue the Infinite Limits saga. If you love the story so far, please do think about picking up a full copy through this link. Enjoy now.

< LXXIII. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXV. Sonya >

LXXIV. Mr. Kitty

Mr. Kitty was fast asleep, having one of his recurring nightmares. In the dream, he had woken up—whether on Tillie’s desk, Huey’s lap, or any of the countless other indoor napping locations he loved to frequent, he couldn’t quite tell, but it was inside for sure—and as he awoke, he felt a deep certainty that he was alone. Not just in whatever house he had woken up in, either. Without seeing, he could tell there was no one outside, no one else in all the worlds, in the entire universe even. He woke up and he knew that he was alone to the last. This was a terrible feeling. A sinking of the throat and a rising of the lower intestines to meet generally in the middle where they grumbled and rumbled, angry at one another for each trying to take up the other’s space there in Mr. Kitty’s stomach.

He couldn’t take the feeling. He wouldn’t. If he had known he was asleep, he would have simply woken himself up and found another living soul to prove to himself that he wasn’t alone in the universe after all. But he didn’t know that he was asleep. So instead, he jumped up off the table he was napping on to make his way outside and find someone anyway.

He wasn’t quite sure how he got outside. There was no one to open any doors for him, and he hadn’t gone through any holes he recognized, but nonetheless there he was. He pounced around the grass a bit, rolled around in it, and found a rough-barked tree to sharpen his claws on before he remembered his mission: proving to himself that he wasn’t alone in the universe after all.

And just as soon as he remembered his purpose in going outside in the first place, there appeared in the grass before him a brilliant red cardinal that was picking at the ground for worms. By instinct, Mr. Kitty pounced at the bird, but it leisurely flew a few feet away, landed again in the green grass, and went on pecking for worms.

“Hey, wait up,” Mr. Kitty called after the cardinal, trying to pounce again, but his claws slipped and slid on the ground, unable to get a grip, allowing the little red bird to evade Mr. Kitty’s every slow-motion advance with ease

Harder and faster Mr. Kitty ran, but the more effort he expended the slower he moved. The louder he yelled the quieter his voice was—if it even escaped his mouth. Harder and faster and quieter and slower he ran and walked and moonwalked, dead set on catching that bird, when the sound of a doorbell ringing and two women laughing in the other room jerked him out of the nightmare and back into reality.

Mr. Kitty meowed Tillie’s name and yawned at the same time, producing a garbled, nonsense sound, then he ran to the Kitchen to rub his head and body all over Tillie’s ankles, hoping for a hug to calm him from his bad dream.

“Look out, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie complained, scooping him up and giving him exactly the hug he was looking for. “You’re gonna trip me.”

“Hey there, cutie,” Shelley said, patting Mr. Kitty on the head while Tillie patted his butt. “You look as sweet as ever.”

Mr. Kitty just purred in response, happy for the friendly reminders that he was not in fact alone in the universe—one or two people actually did care about him.

“Here, I’ll get you some wet food,” Tillie said, setting Mr. Kitty on the counter then ordering a salmon lunch for him from the printer. “You want anything?” she asked Shelley.

“Oh, whatever you’re having,” Shelley said. “If it’s no trouble.”

“Of course it’s not,” Tillie said, and she ordered two beers from the printer then handed one to Shelley. “Here. Let’s take these out on the deck. It’s too beautiful outside not to take advantage of the weather today.”

“You can say that again,” Shelley said, sipping her drink as she followed Tillie out to sit on the metal deck chairs.

Mr. Kitty hurried to lick all the juices off his salmon dinner so he could rush outside with them and lay on the cool cement, licking himself while he listened.

“Damn, it’s been a long time, girl,” Shelley said, sipping her drink. “How long, you think?”

“Since before I got my promotion,” Tillie said. “Manager’s don’t get a lot of free time, I guess.”

Pffft.” Shelley chuckled. “I’d trade some free time for a printer any day. The time you save must pay for itself.”

“You’d think so.” Tillie shrugged.

Even if she did take full advantage of the printer, it probably wouldn’t be worth all the time she spent at work, though. But then again, Mr. Kitty thought that no amount of time spent at work would be worth it.

“And you’re still living in this same old house.” Shelley looked around at the place, trying to hide her disgust. “Can’t you afford something new?”

“You sound like my dad,” Tillie said with a sarcastic chuckle. “And my son.”

“Well, maybe they’re right,” Shelley said. “You can’t tell me you’ve never considered an update. C’mon. I can’t even remember when you lived someplace different.”

“I don’t think it needs an update,” Tillie snapped before stopping to breathe deeply and calm herself. “I’m sorry, but I literally just had this exact argument with Leo. Still, I shouldn’t have snapped. I’m sorry.”

“Ain’t no one arguing but you, girl,” Shelley said. “I’m having a conversation, catching up on old times. I don’t care if you never buy a new house again. Sheeit. Less buyers just means better prices for me when I finally find my next dream home.”

“And I’m sure you have plenty of dream houses still ahead of you.” Tillie smiled her half-hearted smile, faking like she understood Shelley’s need to always buy more and newer houses, but she prolly understood it about as much as Mr. Kitty did—which is to say not at all.

Ooh, girl. Let me tell you.” Shelley set her drink on the deck table so she could lean into the conversation, getting serious. “I’ve got a list that just keeps on growing. I’m actually bidding on a new one right now…”

And so on she went, but again, Mr. Kitty didn’t care one bit about Shelley’s new house fetish. Luckily, they were outside so he didn’t have any trouble standing up, stretching his muscles, and bounding out into the garden instead of listening to them go on about it. He chased a couple of June bugs, sniffed the flowers on every other rose bush, and ate a healthy portion of grass blades before he decided it was time to move on and sprinted toward his favorite tree to climb.

He stopped first to sharpen his claws on the gnarled roots of the tall oak tree before bounding from branch to branch up to the top of it and higher yet until he was soaring out and over literal nothingness—the space between spaces—to land with a soft thud on the lap of Stevedore.

“Oh my God! The cat!” Thimblerigger yelled.

“Mr. Kitty!” Stevedore yelled.

“O shit, waddup!” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Where did he come from?” Stevedore asked.

“I don’t know,” Thimblerigger said. “It seemed like—”

But Stevedore cut them off. “Were you even paying attention?”

“Yeah, I was,” Thimblerigger said. “I— Uh… I saw him appear—or whatever. But he just like… appeared—or whatever. I don’t know. What am I supposed to say? He just kind of fell from thin air into your lap. How hard did he land?”

I don’t know,” Stevedore complained, standing to jump up and reach for the hole that Mr. Kitty had come out of, but there was no hole to reach because it didn’t go the other way. “He just kind of fell on me. I didn’t really—”

Were you even paying attention?” Thimblerigger mocked Stevedore.

“Yes, well—” Stevedore started, but their arguing was no more interesting than Shelley’s new house fetish, so Mr. Kitty meowed, “Follow me.” and dashed through the rows and rows of plants toward the opposite corner of the roof.

“He’s getting away,” Thimblerigger yelled, grabbing Stevedore’s hand and pulling them to run after Mr. Kitty who kept running himself, up and over this row of potatoes, down and under that one of corn, and so on until he jumped up onto the railing of the roof then leapt and soared out into nothingness to fall hard and fast onto a soft, fluffy carpet.

Mr. Kitty took the time to sit and lick the pain out of his feet because he knew the children wouldn’t be following him anytime soon. Even if they were brave enough to jump off the building in pursuit of him, they could never jump as far as he did and would no doubt end up falling through the nothingness and into one of the many long abandoned suicide prevention grids that lined many—if not most—of the roofs in Outlands Five and Six.

When he was done licking himself, Mr. Kitty looked up to find none other than Huey—a.k.a. Lord Douglas—sitting in his favorite puffy chair and staring out of the wall-sized windows in front of him onto the flowing mountainous greenery outside.

“What’s up?” Mr. Kitty meowed, jumping up onto a chair next to Huey.

Huey, startled, jumped in his seat, as if torn from a daydream he’d rather not have left. “Creator,” he said. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“If you even could shit,” Mr. Kitty said with a smile, licking his tail.

“Oh, ha ha,” Huey said. “So funny. As if taking a shit were something I’d want to be forced to do every single day for the rest of my life.”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Kitty said. “I rather enjoy it sometimes. As long as I can find a little privacy and somewhere good to bury the result.”

Ugh. You would,” Huey groaned, looking truly disgusted.

“Life’s life,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “I didn’t ask for it. No one does. So how goes yours?”

“Please. Don’t even ask.”

“If you say so.” Mr. Kitty went back to licking himself.

“As you said,” Huey went on anyway, “life’s life. We never asked for any of this, and we have no choice but to live through it anyway. Take this war for instance.”

“Between you and Mr. Walker?” Mr. Kitty asked. There were so many wars, especially if you included the international and revolutionary ones—which Mr. Kitty did—that the question was actually necessary.

“Between Mr. Walker’s protectors and my android army,” Huey clarified. “And half of the Human Family in Six. They keep attacking us, too. So we’re being forced to waste our resources on military defenses instead of automating jobs as was our original intention in taking over the android industry in the first place.”

“Couldn’t you petition the Fortune 5 to—” Mr. Kitty started, but Huey cut him off, intent instead on rehashing his further sources of misery.

“No other way for me to act,” Huey repeated. “And of course, Rosalind and the Scientist—as our young friend has taken to calling themself—are too busy with their own little machinations to assist me with the grand experiment we’ve already put into motion.”

“I was actually thinking about going to visit them later,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“And then there’s the problem of Haley,” Huey went on, ignoring Mr. Kitty. “Haleys, in fact. Plural. The one who I wish more than anything to see, to talk to, to hold, and to hug. To kiss. The one who I cannot see until she’s grown up—whatever that means for our kind—if I ever want to see her in these ways at all. And then there’s the Haley who I see all too much of. The Haley who pretends, purports, wishes to exude such confidence, intelligence, beauty, and sheer kindness as the real Haley, my Haley, but who at the same time so drastically and pitifully pales in comparison when held up like an uncanny candle to the Sun that is the original Haley.”

Mr. Kitty yawned and stood to stretch every one of his muscles in turn. He had almost fallen asleep. This was the same speech he had heard hundreds of times about the same problems that Huey had been facing for literally decades by that point, and Mr. Kitty was getting tired of it. “So about the same as always?” he said.

Worse,” Huey complained, pouting.

“Which is what you always say.”

“Because it’s always true.”

“So why don’t you try—I don’t know… doing something differently this time?”

“I told you.” Huey scoffed. “I can’t. Have you even been listening?”

Forever it seems like, Mr. Kitty wanted to say. It seems like I’ve been listening forever. But instead he said, “And why can’t you?”

Or else,” Huey whispered ominously.

“Or else what?” Mr. Kitty asked. “I seem to hear that exact excuse from so many different people, and still I have no idea what it means.”

Or else,” Huey repeated. “Just that. No one knows what it means. That’s the point. We all just know that no one wants to find out.”

“Well maybe it’s time you did,” Mr. Kitty said, jumping off the chair to walk along the fluffy carpet out toward the elevator. “Through experience rather than hearsay.”

“You have no idea what that would mean for me,” Huey said, following Mr. Kitty to the elevator and pressing the button to call it for him.

“Neither do you,” Mr. Kitty said, stepping onto the elevator. “To the Scientist’s lab, please. I’d like to give them a visit.”

“I hope I never find out,” Huey said. And, “The Scientist’s. Please do give them my regards. Tell them I miss them. And Haley… Well, especially Haley.”

“Will do,” Mr. Kitty meowed as the door slid closed between them and the floor fell out from underneath him.

When the elevator stopped moving, the doors opened onto the Scientist’s lab. It wasn’t the person who Mr. Kitty had always known as the Scientist, and it wasn’t a lab so much as an office, but it was exactly where Mr. Kitty had intended to go. And there, exactly as Mr. Kitty had expected, were the very people he had gone there to see: sitting at the desk, still typing and swiping and fussing over the screen’s contents, as ever, was the Scientist, where they were always to be found, doing what they hadn’t stopped doing ever since they had taken on the moniker of Scientist, and behind the Scientist, watching over their shoulder, complaining and grumbling about how it had all been tried before and no amount of repeating the same mistakes would produce new results, urging the Scientist to finally accept the fact that no amount of variable tweaks would prove the system workable, the fact that it was time for a new equation entirely, Rosalind.

“I hear you coming, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said without looking away from the computer where she was simultaneously directing the Scientist to change some variable even though Rosalind had purportedly given up on the system entirely.

Mr. Kitty didn’t respond. He just jumped up onto the desk to get a better look at what they were doing then started licking his fur to pretend like he didn’t care.

“And I bet Huey sent you, too,” Rosalind said. Then, “No. You literally just ran that combination.” to the Scientist.

Nah,” the Scientist said, shaking their head and looking confused. “No, I didn’t… I— I’m pretty sure the worker pay was lower last time. Right?”

“You wanted to put it lower,” Rosalind reminded the Scientist. “Yes. But when I told you how many people—especially children and the elderly—would die if we moved worker pay even a thousandth of a percent lower than where it’s at, you decided that this was probably as low as it should go.”

“Oh. Yeah. Riiiiight. But I thought…” the Scientist trailed off, not finishing their thought, lost again in the unsolvable riddle on their computer screen.

“Tell Lord Douglas we still don’t want to hear from him for as long as he’s wasting his time—and android lives—on that stupid war of his with Mr. Walker,” Rosalind said to Mr. Kitty. “Hell, tell him we don’t want to hear from him at all for as long as he still calls himself Lord.”

“I have,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“And you will again,” Rosalind said.

“Not any more than I repeated his message for you just now,” Mr. Kitty said, jumping off the desk and eager to leave this lab already. “But good luck with y’all’s riddle anyway.”

“It’ll be solved soon,” Rosalind called after Mr. Kitty as he left the room. “You’ll see.” And Mr. Kitty was sure he would.

When Mr. Kitty stepped out of the lab, he didn’t step into the hall that he saw on the other side of the door he had passed through, instead stepping out into the front yard of Tillie’s house, his house. He turned to make sure the lab had disappeared behind him, and when he was certain that it had, he bound out toward the nearest tree and sharpened his claws on its trunk, ripping out strips of rough bark to rain all over his face like sawdust. When he was satisfied with the strength and sharpness of his claws, Mr. Kitty ran over to the door and meowed as loudly as he could, “Tilliieee, I’m home!”

Mr. Kitty licked himself a few times and there was no response.

“Tillie!” he meowed again. “I know you’re in there. Can you hear me?”

Mr. Kitty licked himself some more and still there was no response.

“Fine!” he yelled. “I’ll find my own way in.”

First, he went around to the back of the house and sharpened his claws again on the wooden beams that lined the garden. Then, he sprinted straight from there to the tallest, fattest tree in the backyard where he used his momentum to climb from branch to branch up to the very top of the tree then jump out onto the roof of the house. From there it was just a quick hop up and over the chimney, through some nothingness, and onto the cold metal grating that he so hated to walk on with a loud clank.

Mr. Kitty slunk down as close to the ground as he could press his body, searching this way and that for signs of anyone who might have heard him. When he was satisfied that there were no sights, sounds, or smells to be afraid of, he started his long descent down equally cold and difficult-to-walk-on grated stairs, to where he was left with nothing more than the longest, darkest, scariest curved tunnel between him and home.

Three steps, two steps, five steps, three steps, three steps, and stop. Mr. Kitty heard something. There was a smell. Two more steps. What was that? It was familiar. This was all too familiar. Three steps. Stop. Sniff. Listen. Look harder, closer. See…

Yes. There was something there alright. Someone even. They were dressed in all black and sobbing in the fetal position right there under Mr. Kitty’s escape. Not quite blocking the way after all. Mr. Kitty gathered his haunches, making sure his claws were in so they didn’t rip and break on the metal grating floor, and took two bounding steps before realizing who the crying person was, and instead of using them as a launching pad for escape, Mr. Kitty rubbed his head up against the poor kid’s armpit, saying, “Leo! What are you doing down here?”

Leo jumped up, surprised at the sound of Mr. Kitty’s voice, and wiped his nose, sniffling. “Mr. Kitty,” he said in an almost cracking voice. “Is that you?”

Duh,” Mr. Kitty meowed, rubbing his face on Leo’s knees a few more times before rolling over onto his back and allowing Leo the rare unchallenged opportunity to pet his stomach.

“I don’t know how to get out of here, either.” Leo sniffled some more. “I never should have been down here in the first place.”

“It’s simple,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “The exit’s right behind you.” And he jumped up onto Leo’s lap then climbed over his shoulder and through the wall, into Tillie’s office where she stood, surprised, from her computer to say, “Mr. Kitty, where’d you— I didn’t hear you calling to get in.”

And before Mr. Kitty could respond, Leo came rushing through the wall to scoop him up and hug him tight. “Unseen Hand, Mr. Kitty,” he said, hugging Kitty tighter. “You saved my life. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Tillie rushed in to hug both Leo and Mr. Kitty, saying, “The Hand. Leo. I— Where’d you— Are you alright? They didn’t do anything to hurt you, did they?”

“No, Ma. I—” Leo said, squirming away from Tillie’s hug and dropping Mr. Kitty on the desk where the cat sat and licked his coat straight again. “Not me. They didn’t hurt me. But…”

“But what, dear?” Tillie asked. “Who? Tell me. What did they do?”

“It’s not them, Mom,” Leo snapped. “It’s us. All of us. Isn’t it?”

“Leo, honey,” his mom said. “Where were you?”

“I learned about the factory floor today,” Leo said. “First hand. I know that what you were saying is true.”

The humans,” Tillie said.

Mom. We have to stop it.”

“Leo, no. We can’t. You don’t understand. This is why I waited so long to tell you the truth in the first place.”

“I can’t just go on living now that I know what’s going on, Ma.” Leo shook his head, looking like he was about to cry. “I won’t. I don’t understand how you have for so long.”

“It’s too dangerous, son,” Tillie said. “I know you don’t understand. I knew you wouldn’t.”

“Too dangerous, Ma? Have you seen what those people live through every day of their lives? You’re telling me that we’ll be in danger if we stand up to that? Well so be it. For as long as a single one of them is put in danger to make what we use to survive, I’ll put myself in as much danger as it takes to free them.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying, Leo,” Tillie said, shaking her head, on the verge of tears herself. “I lost—”

“I don’t care, Mom,” Leo cut her off. “Nothing you can say will stop me. From now on, I’m doing whatever I can to fight this.”

And he rushed out of the room, slamming the door behind him, leaving Mr. Kitty alone to comfort Tillie as she cried.

 

#     #     #

< LXXIII. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXXV. Sonya >

Thanks for joining us for another chapter in the Infinite Limits saga. We’ll be back again next week with another chapter in the story, and in the meantime, you can pick up a fully copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Thanks again for stopping by. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 67: Mr. Kitty

Hello, dear readers, and welcome back again this weekend. Today we return to the character that was probably most enjoyable to write throughout this series, the one and only Mr. Kitty. If you want to read the rest of his story and the conclusion to the Infinite Limits series, you can pick up a full copy of the novel in print or ebook format through this link. Otherwise, come on back next week to read the next chapter in the story. Until then, enjoy.

< LXVI. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXVIII. Sonya >

LXVII. Mr. Kitty

Mr. Kitty slept, as he often did, spread across the cool, flat top of Tillie’s desk while she worked, typing and clicking, swipping, and swiping in response to the computer screens’ blinking, flashing colors and the various bleeps and blips that accompanied them. For so many hours of every week Tillie sat there, moaning and groaning about whatever it was that the screens were telling her, and for just about as many hours, Mr. Kitty would sleep next to her, dreaming through it all. He was climbing a tree that seemed like it went on forever, one branch after another, higher and higher into infinity, when Tillie’s phone rang, ripping Mr. Kitty out of dreamland with a startled lurch and a garbled meow.

“Settle down, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said with a chuckle, reaching for her phone with one hand and petting Mr. Kitty with the other. “It’s just a phone.” And answering it, she added, “Tillie Manager speaking. Go ahead.”

“I— No. You can’t be serious.”

“No. Not again.”

“No, they’re not! I mean— I—”

Yes. I realize they’re just robots.”

“Yes. I’ll put the work order in, but I—”

“No. I’m sorry. I—”

Bye. Fuck.”

She slammed the phone on the desk and Mr. Kitty jumped again, purring this time.

“Sorry, Mr. Kitty,” she said, wiping her eyes before petting him. “Those assholes have no idea what they’re talking about. I shouldn’t get so upset at their ignorance, it isn’t their fault, but it’s not my fault I get pissed, either.”

“Or mine for being startled,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yes. I should try harder. I know. But so should they.” She patted Mr. Kitty a few times, wiped her eyes again, then went back to typing and clicking on the computer—some kind of reaction to the news she had been given over the phone.

Mr. Kitty licked himself a few times, curling up in a ball to go to back sleep, but the phone rang again, interrupting his plans.

“Tillie Manager speaking,” Tillie answered. “Go ahead.”

“Oh, no. Leo. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was—”

“Yes. Of course I’m working. You know your mother. What else do I do?”

No. Of course. No.”

Definitely. Just like I promised. I won’t touch a phone or a computer for the entire weekend. For as long as you’re here, even, if you want to stay longer…”

“That’s why I’m getting it all done now.”

“Okay. I love you. See you soon.”

She hung up the phone and patted Mr. Kitty with a smile, forgetting whatever news about the robots that had nearly brought her to tears earlier. “Did you hear that, Mr. Kitty?” she asked. “Leo’s running late, but he’s on the way. I’m sure he can’t wait to see you.”

Sure,” Mr. Kitty meowed, but he didn’t really believe that. Leo and Mr. Kitty had never gotten along when Leo was growing up, and going off to college hadn’t changed anything about his attitude toward animals. Still, Leo’s presence made Tillie happy, and Tillie being happy made Mr. Kitty happy, so as long as the kid kept out of Kitty’s way, they wouldn’t have any problems.

Mr. Kitty fell asleep on Tillie’s desk until the doorbell rang and woke him up. He yawned and stretched, then licked himself a few times before jumping off the desk with a thud to follow Tillie out to answer the door. Tillie held her hand on the doorknob for a moment, taking a deep breath and brushing her hair out of her face, before she smiled and opened the door.

“Leo, my boy,” she said as she did. “It’s so good to see you. You look as wonderful as ever.” She pulled Leo in for a hug that he tried to squirm his way out of.

Aw, Ma. C’mon,” he complained, straightening himself out once he had finally escaped his mom’s loving bear grip. “I just saw you two weeks ago. We’re only an elevator ride away from each other. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Yes, well, it’s not really dramatic when I’m genuinely happy to see you. Is it?” Tillie said, sounding offended. “Besides, I’m your mother and your my only son. What do you expect?”

“This is exactly what I expect,” Leo said, brushing past Tillie and almost stepping on Mr. Kitty’s tail as he made his way toward the kitchen. Mr. Kitty hissed, but no one seemed to hear it so he just had to follow along behind them anyway. He was still curious to see how Leo had been even if Leo wasn’t curious in the least to see how he was.

“So you didn’t bring any bags with you?” Tillie asked, still smiling though more nervously now. “You are planning on staying for the full weekend, aren’t you?”

“You do still have a 3D printer, don’t you?” Leo said, pressing the voice activation button. “Tall boy of Pabst,” he added and a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon—which had apparently won the award back in the ancient age of 1893—came out of the printer’s mouth. “And it still works. So, no. I didn’t really need to bring anything with me. Did I?’

“You know you’re not old enough to drink that,” Tillie said, crossing her arms. “Did I give you permission to order alcohol?”

Ugh.” Leo groaned, chugged half his drink, burped, wiped his mouth, and said, “Ma, please. You went to LSU. You know how things work. I’ve been drinking for a long time now. I think I can handle myself.”

Tillie chuckled, shaking her head. “Oh yeah?” she said. “Big ol’ tough guy going to a big ol’ party school. Is that right? I guess you think you know something about the worlds now. Do you?”

“I know I know something about the worlds,” Leo said, chugging the rest of his drink and ordering another along with some chips and dip.

“And you think you can just come in here using my printer however you want to, no questions asked?” Tillie grinned.

“That’s what I’m doing, isn’t it?” Leo pressed the printer’s voice activation button one more time and ordered a pack of Camel Greens to prove his point.

“Well, you can,” Tillie said, bringing Leo in for another hug that he tried to squirm his way out of. “But you gotta share those Greens. C’mon. Let’s smoke one on the porch.”

Tillie ordered her own beer—a pint of something thick, dark, and chocolatey in a glass, not whatever hipster piss water her son was drinking—and Mr. Kitty followed her and Leo out onto the back porch where they sat on metal grated patio chairs at a metal grated table and Mr. Kitty laid on the cool, hard cement, licking himself so he didn’t fall asleep.

After some time of smoking and drinking, Leo broke the silence to say, “Still living in the same old house, I noticed. Don’t you ever get tired of this thing?”

“Tired of it?” Tillie giggled like she only ever did while smoking. “Never. I grew up in this place, you know. Your Grandpa used to own it back when I was in the fifth grade.”

Ptuh. No wonder it looks so old.” Leo laughed.

It does not,” Tillie complained. “You take that back. I take wonderful care of this place. It looks just as good as it did on the day my dad bought it.”

“Which is exactly the problem,” Leo said, putting out one joint to light another. “That was ages ago, and styles change faster than phones are updated. I mean, Grandpa knew as much himself. Which is why he sold the thing off and bought something better with the profits. You could learn a lot from Grandpa.”

Pffft.” Tillie scoffed, stubbing out her own joint and almost reaching for another but thinking twice about it. “I’ve learned plenty from your grandfather, thank you very much. And I don’t think he ever sold a house because it was out of fashion. He never really had any interest in trends and fashionability. No, I’m sure the only thing he ever sold a house for was the profits. Trust me.”

“Still,” Leo said, finishing off his drink and crushing the can under his foot. “That’s as good as the same thing. Better even. If he keeps selling them for a profit, he’s gotta know something about fashion, right? And money can buy stylists to follow all that for you. But only for as long as the profits flow. So maybe profits are more important than fashion in the end.”

“Not to me,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “Not at all. Neither are important. I’m never gonna sell this house. I’m more interested in the history I have here, the history we share here—you and I, me and your grandpa, me and your father, everyone. No amount of money is going to remind me of the time you colored a mural all over those walls right there and we left it up for a week so you wouldn’t cry about it when we covered it up,” she said, pointing in through the glass door to the living room where Leo—and Mr. Kitty—turned to look. Mr. Kitty felt like he could almost see the mural still up there. “Do you remember that?” Tillie chuckled. “I do. It’s still behind the paint on those walls. And what about the time you broke your leg on that trampoline that still stands right over there while I was sitting right here in this very chair watching you. There’s the first night you came home from the hospital after being born, the first night you slept all the way until morning, the first night you spent at a friend’s house when it was my turn to bawl until morning instead of yours.” She almost started crying again, and Mr. Kitty could tell that it made Leo uncomfortable. “This house, as old and out of fashion as you may think it is, reminds me of all those stories, and that reminder could never have a price tag put on it. I’ll never sell this house. And I hope that you might eventually feel the same way about it when I pass it down to you.”

Leo was feeling really awkward now, squirming in his seat. “Alright, alright,” he said. “Enough mushy stuff. And definitely stop talking about death. Sheesh. I only just got here. Can’t I rest a little after that horrid travelling experience before you start grilling me with the heavy stuff?”

“Hey, you’re the one who ordered the Greens,” Tillie said with a chuckle. “You know how I get when I’m high.”

“Now that you reminded me, I do,” Leo said.

“Which should prove to you why reminders are so important.” Tillie laughed, and at the same time an alarm went off on the phone in Leo’s pocket.

“Speaking of which,” Leo said, pulling the phone out to turn off the alarm. “Now, I know we agreed that neither of us would do work or anything like that while I was here, but I have to break that promise for, like… thirty minutes. Okay? This is really important. It’s the finale of my favorite TV show, and— Now wait just a second, okay. I’m not done. I was going to say that it’ll take just thirty minutes, and I have to do it or the internet will definitely spoil it for me when I’m inevitably surfing social media at this boring dinner party you have planned for later. So if you don’t want me to be totally depressed in front of all your upper management friends, you’d do better to just let me sit down and watch this real quick. After that, I promise nothing but family time for the rest of the weekend. So what do you say?”

Tillie didn’t answer for a moment, in which Leo fidgeted, checking the clock on his phone, then she said, “Of course you can watch your show. It’s not like I’m trying to keep you in prison here. But only if you don’t mind me sitting next to you and watching along. That’s all I care about. Spending time with you. No matter what it is we’re doing together.”

Great,” Leo said, standing up and almost stepping on Mr. Kitty again. This time Mr. Kitty meowed loud enough so everyone could hear it. “Oh, sorry, Kitty,” Leo said, patting him too hard on the head to which Mr. Kitty meowed again. “Yes,” Leo went on. “You can watch with us, too. As long as you stay out of my lap and shut up.” He turned to his mom. “But I’m gonna go get some snacks, first. Do you want anything? The shows about to start.”

“Another beer for sure,” Tillie said, standing. “But I’ll come help you.” And Mr. Kitty followed them back into the kitchen where he laid on the hard, cool tile floor, listening to them talk and gather their snacks while he licked his dirty paws clean.

Ooh. White cheddar popcorn,” Tillie said to the printer. Then to Leo, “I love white cheddar popcorn when I’m high.”

“Me, too,” Leo said, nodding and staring off into the distance, as if he were imagining the taste of it. “And some corn chips and bean dip,” he added for the printer and his mother alike.

“Always your favorite,” Tillie said, smiling. “Ever since you started school. How are your classes going now, anyway?”

“Classes are classes.” Leo shrugged.  “I always seem to get by. Peanut M&M’s.”

“Yeah, but you’re doing a little more than just getting by, aren’t you?” Tillie said. “I know you’re only a sophomore, but you should have at least started whittling away some of your options. Right…”

Sure,” Leo said sarcastically. “I whittle every day. But whittling’s a slow process. Pabst tall boy. Two, please.”

“You know, I once thought I wanted to be a lobbyist,” Tillie said with a smile at the thought. “When I was pretty much the same age you are right now, as a matter of fact.”

Pfft. A lobbyist?” Leo laughed, stacking the last little bits of his snackery onto a serving tray. “You? You’ve got to be kidding me. You need anything else?”

“Another beer, please,” Tillie said to the printer. And, “No, I’m not kidding.” she said to Leo. “Your mother was heavily involved in campus activism when she went to LSU. You’ve heard of the Reclaim the Grounds movement, right? That started with us, at LSU.”

Pffft. Yeah right. You’re kidding me. You were one of those hippies? What made you quit and become a manager? Was it Grandpa?”

Tillie paused to think about it. As well as Mr. Kitty knew her by then, he knew that she was picturing Nikola and Emma in her mind and how they had both been so violently stolen from Tillie right in front of her eyes. “Because if you want to do the right thing in lobbying,” she finally said, “it inevitably becomes life-threatening. And I didn’t want to leave you or your grandpa with no one to take care of y’all. The Hand knows you both need it. Now come on. It’s about time for that show of yours to start.”

They carried their snacks into the living room and set everything on the coffee table—exactly where Mr. Kitty had intended to lay—so he tried to jump onto Tillie’s lap instead, but she didn’t like that idea so she pushed him down onto the floor where he had the worst view of the TV out of anyone. Luckily, he didn’t really care about whatever the show was anyway so he just went on licking himself and listening to the sounds.

“Not now, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “I’m trying to eat.” She shoved a big handful of white cheddar popcorn into her mouth, puffing her cheeks out like a chipmunk.

“TV on,” Leo said. “Cartoon Network.”

“The Cartoon Network, huh?” Tillie said. “What sort of show is this that you find so fascinating?”

“Protector Time,” Leo said. “And yes, it’s a cartoon, but it’s something more than that. Okay.”

“So adults enjoy it, too?” Tillie asked, mouth still full of popcorn. “Like anime. Or the Simpsons.”

“I’m not sure if enjoy is quite the right word. Like, it’s more about the cultural phenomenon that the cartoon represents, you know. It’s like— I mean… You’ll see when you watch it, but you can pretty much tell outright from the name of the show that it’s, like, pure pro-cop propaganda. Right? One hundred percent pure ideology, okay. But the thing is that no one can really figure out who exactly the target audience is, you know. I mean, how long has it been since we’ve even had a real protector force? Not since the invention of printers, right? So why are we still wasting resources on producing this nonsense?”

“I— Uh—” Tillie started to say, but Leo cut her off.

“Wait. Shhh. It’s about to start,” he said. Then, “Volume up. Up, up, up. Got it.”

A cartoon came on the screen with an upbeat theme song, and Leo stopped munching on his snacks to lean forward and pay closer attention. Tillie couldn’t resist the lure of the popcorn, but she slowed down, too, putting one kernel in her mouth at a time instead of eating it by the handful. She seemed genuinely interested in what the show held in store for her. Mr. Kitty, for his part, stole glances at the screen out of the corner of his eye as he licked his coat clean—a maintenance project which took up most of his time that he didn’t spend sleeping. The cartoon hadn’t been running for more than a few minutes—no amount of time for an uninitiated fan to pick up any sort of storyline—when it was interrupted by a breaking news segment.

“Pardon the interruption, TV viewers,” a big, sweaty head said on the screen, and Leo groaned.

“Not right now. Fuck!” he complained.

“We interrupt your regularly scheduled content to bring you a breaking news report.”

“We know, we know,” Leo complained. “Just get on with it already.”

“Jorah Baldwin, highest paid and most-viewed celebrity in all of history, has been reported missing.”

The TV screen changed from the reporter’s sweaty bust to a montage of photographs of Jorah in various outfits.

“Fuck that guy,” Leo said, chugging his beer. “All his movies suck, anyway. How can anyone watch him?”

“If you have any information about Jorah’s whereabouts,” the reporter’s disembodied voice went on over the shifting images of Jorah Baldwin. “Please call your local Crimestoppers number or the number on the television screen now.”

A phone number flashed on the screen, then the message repeated itself while Leo complained some more. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “Of course this shitty actor has got to go missing right when my show’s on. I don’t care how popular they try to tell us he is, no one gives two shits about Jorah Baldwin.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Tillie said. “I think he’s a pretty good actor.”

“How can you even tell?” Leo scoffed. “He’s always in such shitty roles. No actor could make them good. I mean, just like this Protector Time propaganda, why do we need all the blatantly Luddite films that Baldwin’s been acting in ever since Russ Logo’s death? Robots already took all those jobs ages ago, and we’re better off because of it.”

“Right, well… Hmmm.” Tillie wanted to say more, Mr. Kitty knew from their conversations together, but she hesitated long enough for the news report to end and the cartoon to come back on—and not where they had been interrupted, either, but further into the show as if it had kept playing while the news report ran.

“Of fucking course.” Leo growled. “Great. TV off.”

“No. What? C’mon.” Tillie complained as if she really had wanted to watch the show. “But I was just getting into it.”

“Yeah, but we missed the setup. It wouldn’t make any sense. Trust me. I’ll just have to try to avoid spoilers tonight. Ugh.” He cracked open another beer and stuffed his face with popcorn. “I think I’m gonna go take a nap before this dinner party. Seven o’clock, right?”

Uh… Yeah. Seven,” Tillie said. “I’ll wake you before then.”

“Alright, Ma. I love you,” Leo said, marching his way off toward his old bedroom—which Tillie had left exactly how it was before Leo had moved to campus.

Tillie finished off her beer, sighed, and stood from the couch, stretching. Mr. Kitty took the cue and stood to yawn and stretch himself.

“Well, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said. “That was a close one. I almost blurted it out this time.”

“Maybe you should have,” Mr. Kitty meowed, following her into her office where she sat behind the desk and he jumped up onto it.

“You know, maybe I should just tell him,” Tillie said, nodding with imagined confidence.

“That’s what I just said,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“I mean, I was pretty pissed that my dad never told me. And Leo’s gonna find out the truth eventually. Right?”

“Do you even care what I say?” Mr. Kitty asked.

“And what harm could it really do in the end?” Tillie went on. “I mean, he just told me he’s not interested in lobbying. He only seems to care about cartoons. Maybe I could just casually show him a photo of a factory accident and see how he reacts.”

“I’ll take that as a no,” Mr. Kitty said, and he walked around in a circle a few times before finding a comfortable position to lay down in.

“You’re right,” Tillie said. “It’s a risk, for sure, but I think it might just be a risk I’m willing to take.”

Mr. Kitty didn’t respond. Tillie was free to take whatever risks she wanted to take. He had no plan to stop her, especially considering the fact that he had already advised her to do exactly what she was planning to do. Instead, he listened while Tillie clicked and typed, searching for a picture from her archives that she could show to Leo in order to reveal to him the truth. Mr. Kitty fell asleep while she did, not to be woken up again until sometime later by an argument between Leo and Tillie.

“Just tell me what you see, then we can get ready for dinner,” Tillie said, pointing at her computer screen where a picture of several dead children, eaten by the machines they were supposed to be cleaning, their blood retouched black to look like oil, stared back at them.

“I thought you said no work while I was here,” Leo complained, avoiding the image on the screen as if he might actually know the truth of what it held without ever having been told.

“This isn’t work,” Tillie said. “This is more important than work. This is about your education. So please, tell me, what do you see in the picture?”

Uh… I don’t know,” Leo said, looking at the screen for the first time but still only out of his peripheral vision. “Is it like a factory or something?”

“Yes, it’s a factory,” Tillie said. “But you’re not even trying. You have to look. Actually look at it and tell me what you see.”

Leo looked at the picture for real now. There was a flash of recognition in his eyes, a flash of disgust, then nothing. No emotional reaction. No critical analysis. Just regurgitation of what he had always been taught by everyone—Tillie included.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It looks like— It looks like some cleaner bots malfunctioned and were destroyed by the machine. I don’t know specifics, though. I haven’t learned much about the actual factory floor yet.”

“Cleaner bots?” Tillie asked. “They really look like cleaner bots to you?”

“I don’t know,” Leo said, crossing his arms and getting defensive. “I told you we haven’t learned about the factory floor yet.”

“You don’t have to know about the factory floor,” Tillie snapped before correcting her tone. “I mean, just look. They’re not robots, Leo. Those are not robots. Okay. Look.” She pointed again.

Leo chuckled, shaking his head and trying to avoid looking again at the picture on the screen. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “Ma. Please tell me you’re not one of them. A conspiracy theorist?”

“This isn’t a conspiracy theory, Leo. This is the truth. It’s right there in front of your face, plain for anyone to see. You just have to open your eyes and look, son.”

Pffft. Sure, Mom,” Leo said, leaving the office. “That’s what all the conspiracy theorists say. Wake up sheeple! Right? I get it. But isn’t it about time for your dinner party?”

The office was silent for a moment after Leo had left, all except for the sound of Mr. Kitty licking himself. Then Tillie broke the silence by saying, “I should have told him the truth a long time ago. When he was younger. Right off the bat. Now I may not be able to convince him ever.”

“There’s always hope,” Mr. Kitty meowed, and he went back to licking himself, hoping to get his coat clean before he fell asleep.

 

#     #     #

< LXVI. Jorah     [Table of Contents]     LXVIII. Sonya >

And there you have it, dear readers, the next chapter in the story. If you liked that, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the novel through this link. If you purchase the print version, we’ll even throw in an ebook for free. Otherwise, we’ll be back again next week. Until then, comrades. We do nothing alone.

Chapter 18: Mr. Kitty

Today brings us Mr. Kitty’s third and final chapter, and we only have three more chapters left in the entire novel after this one. I hope you’re enjoying the story so far. If so, you can pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon right here. Now have at it.

Mr. Kitty

< XVII. Russ     [Table of Contents]     IX. Ellie >

XVIII. Mr. Kitty

Tillie was all packed up. She peeked her head out of the bedroom door and sighed. Mr. Kitty could tell she was upset when she opened the front door and called back, “I’m leaving, dad!” There was no answer, so she added, “Don’t even try to stop me!” and slammed the door.

Mr. Kitty had to react fast to prevent his tail from being crushed. “Hey,” he hissed.

“Sorry, Kitty. I—I didn’t see you,” Tillie said through her sobbing.

Mr. Kitty tried to rub up against her leg as she tried to walk, but he ended up tripping her. She landed with a thud in the grass, her backpack narrowly missing him.

“Sorry,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

Tillie stayed face down in the grass, sobbing. Mr. Kitty climbed up onto her butt and kneaded it. She sobbed a little more, then turned over and scooped him up onto her lap. “Mr. Kitty,” she said. “No one will ever believe me. Shelley didn’t, Dad didn’t and he should know already, who else would when I can barely believe myself?”

“I do,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Oh, I bet you’d believe me if you understood what was going on,” Tillie said.

“I do,” Mr. Kitty repeated.

“Mr. Kitty, you’re so talkative,” Tillie said, pinching his cheek with a smile. “It’s like you know what I’m saying. Do you understand me?”

“I do!” Mr. Kitty said one more time.

“Oh. I know you don’t,” Tillie said. “No one here does.” She sighed and put him on the grass, then stood and hoisted her backpack up onto her back with a groan. “But there’s still hope, Mr. Kitty. There’s always hope. I’ll go back to my dorm and ask some of my friends there, and if they don’t believe me, then I’ll just have to find that woman again. That’s all I can do, right?”

Mr. Kitty didn’t answer. He thought it sounded like an okay plan, if that was what she wanted to do. She could get more evidence from her dad’s computer before she left, that way people would be more easily convinced, but even if she could understand his advice, she probably wouldn’t break her dad’s trust like that, so there was no point in suggesting the idea. Instead, he ran ahead through the yard toward the public elevator.

“I guess you approve,” Tillie said, lugging her backpack along to catch up. “Just wait until you see my dorm, Mr. Kitty. You’re gonna love it. There are no pets allowed, but you can keep quiet about it, can’t you?”

“I’m a ninja,” Mr. Kitty meowed, letting her pass him then bounding out in front of her again.

“You’re gonna love my roommate, too,” Tillie said with a smile and a new bounce in her step. “I can’t wait. I’m so glad you’re coming with me, Mr. Kitty!”

There was no line at the elevator—there usually wasn’t in this neighborhood. Tillie called it, they stepped in, and she said, “Parade grounds.” She took a deep breath. Mr. Kitty knew she was nervous about being called crazy again, so he rubbed his head on her ankles and purred. She smiled down on him as the doors slid open.

Here there was a line, a young, loud, raucous one. Mr. Kitty jumped, and hissed, and puffed up his fur at the sound of it. The line laughed at him, and Tillie said, “C’mon Kitty. It’s alright.”

She forced her way through the crowd which was trying to push their way onto the elevator before Tillie and Mr. Kitty could get off. Mr. Kitty slipped through the wake she made, out into a big, open, grassy circle that was lined all around with oak trees. There was a tall flagpole in the center of the field, surrounded by short walls with writing on them, and scattered around that were groups of humans playing frisbee, dogs running free without leashes, and other groups of people running around with brooms between their knees, throwing balls at each other. Tillie was right, Mr. Kitty did love this place. Why had he never been here with her before?

“Mr. Kitty,” Tillie called, walking away from the green field. “My dorm’s this way.”

Mr. Kitty tore his attention away from all the new and interesting things to follow Tillie between gravel covered buildings and oak trees, past two big hills, down through a shady cypress swamp, to a patch of three-story buildings in the shade of a tall, ugly cement building. Tillie went up to the door of one of the shorter buildings and scanned a keycard. The door unlocked, and they went up a flight of stairs into a small apartment with three doors and a kitchen. Tillie tossed her backpack on the floor in front of the TV and walked around the kitchen with a sigh, checking the fridge and cupboards while Mr. Kitty crept around the place, sniffing everything and rubbing his scent on whatever called for it—most every surface.

Ugh. There’s nothing to eat!” she said.

Mr. Kitty jumped up onto the counter to rub his face on the sink and smell all the corners of the kitchen when the door opened and a human came in to throw her bag on the couch.

“There’s nothing in this kitchen,” Tillie said. “Do you have any paw points left this week?”

“No, girl,” the human said. “We spent it all before you left. I thought you were supposed to be staying at your dad’s anyway.”

“Yeah, well…” Tillie shrugged.

“And is that a cat in the kitchen? On the counter.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Tillie said. “Well…” She scooped Mr. Kitty up and held him over her shoulder, patting his back. “This is Mr. Kitty. He’s my cat. He’s just visiting though.”

“I like cats,” the human said. “Just not on the counter.”

“You hear that, Mr. Kitty?” Tillie said, patting him a few more times and kissing him on the head. “No counter.” She put him on the floor, and he went over to jump on the coffee table and lick his coat clean, paying special attention to the spot she had kissed.

“What are you doing back anyway?” the human asked. “It’s Christmas.”

“Yeah, well…” Tillie said. “That. I don’t know. I got into an argument with my dad. I thought you were supposed to be at your parents’ house, too. What happened to your Christmas tradition?”

“Plans changed. I got the perfect Christmas gift—which I have to be here for.”

“You have to be here?” Tillie raised an eyebrow.

“Enough about me. Why are you back?”

They both sat on the couch. The human reached out and pet Mr. Kitty. He let her go ahead for a few pats then jumped onto Tillie’s lap.

“Well…Like I said,” Tillie said. “I got into an argument with my dad.”

“He’s a manager, isn’t he?” the human said. “I mean, I know your last name’s Manager and all, but that’s his job, too. Right?”

“Right,” Tillie said, rolling her eyes. “That’s kind of what we were arguing about.”

“Yeah. It’s tough dealing with managers,” the human said. “No offense,” she added hastily.

“Oh. No,” Tillie said, shaking her head and waving a hand. “No n—n—no no. None taken. Believe me. I know better than anyone. He is my dad after all.” She chuckled. “I guess you don’t have the same problems, though. Huh? Your parents are lobbyists, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, well,” her roommate said. “I’m lucky enough to agree with their analysis of the economy, but there are some lobbyists out there who might be harder to live with than a manager.”

Ugh. Yes,” Tillie said with a big sigh. “Have you heard Lobbyist Peterson’s latest proposal?”

“Let me guess,” her roommate said. “Take more resources from higher education and healthcare to funnel them into administration where they’re really working.”

“Pretty much exactly that,” Tillie said, grimacing. “Disgusting, am I right?”

“Disgusting is exactly right,” her roommate said, nodding. “That’s why I’m lucky. My parents are doing everything they can to fight against jerks like that. Me, too. Soon.”

“I wish my dad understood.” Tillie shook her head. “I tried to tell him, but he didn’t even believe me.”

“You tried to tell him what?”

“I—uh—I don’t know…” Tillie said. “I don’t think I should be talking about it.”

“Is it classified?”

Mr. Kitty felt Tillie tense up under him. “How did you know?”

“Tillie. I know we haven’t been roommates for long, but I want you to know that you can trust me.”

“What are you talking about?” It felt like Tillie was about to jump out from underneath Mr. Kitty. He prepared himself to leap off in case she did.

“What did you argue with your dad about?” her roommate asked.

“I…I can’t.”

“You can, Tillie. I already know. Was it about the 3D printers?”

“I—uh—How did you know?”

“Because I know.”

Tillie’s eyes grew wide. Her mouth fell open. Her roommate stood up before she could say anything. “Wait.” She closed the blinds and turned on the TV at full blast, then added some loud music on top of that before sitting back on the couch and scooting extra close to Tillie. “Okay. Go ahead,” she said

“I don’t—What was that?” Tillie asked. “Why’d you do that?”

“If you’re going to say what I hope you’re going to say, then we don’t want to be recorded. This way all they hear is white noise.”

“I—uh…” Tillie frowned. “I never would have thought of that in my life. I’ve been telling people, though. Do you think they recorded me already?”

“I don’t know,” her roommate said with a shrug. “Maybe. I don’t know if they’re doing it now. I haven’t heard what you have to say.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Tillie said, hitting herself in the head. “Right…Well, you know the printers, right. What am I saying? Of course you do. You just said that. Well you know that they don’t rearrange matter or whatever, right?”

Her roommate nodded.

“Yeah, well, my dad did, too. Apparently. But I—Well, I…Do you ever watch Logo’s Show?”

“Sometimes, yes, but I try to stay away from gossip news.”

“Yeah, well, did you see his latest episode?”

Her roommate shook her head. “No. But I saw the emergency broadcast after.”

“Yeah, well, okay. So you know then. Well, you know what he was talking about at least. You heard about the woman who tried to talk to him on the streets, that is.”

“I have.”

“Yeah, well,” Tillie said, nodding. “Do you know what she said?”

“That humans work on the assembly lines.”

“And that’s true, Emma,” Tillie said, looking her roommate in the eyes and nodding.

“I know, Tillie,” Emma said.

“I know it sounds hard to—What?”

“I know that humans work on the assembly lines,” Emma said. “I know that the assembly lines actually exist and not just in Russ Logo’s world. That’s why I’m not home with my parents. That’s what my Christmas gift is all about.”

“Your gift is about the humans on the assembly lines?” Tillie looked confused.

“No.” Emma shook her head. “Not exactly. But yes. My gift is that I finally get to do something about it.”

“But—I—How could you know? What could you do?”

“I’ve known for a long time,” Emma said. “My parents have taught me the truth since I was a child. That’s why I’m not surprised.”

“But how? My dad didn’t even know and he’s a manager. They’re supposed to know the economy like the back of their credit cards. How could he miss something as big as humans on the assembly lines?”

“You said you argued with him?”

“He said I was mistaken.” Tillie scoffed. “As if I didn’t know what I had seen with my own two eyes. He said I was being emotional.”

Ugh. You see, Tillie. It’s not that he missed it, or that no one ever told him. He chooses not to know. They all choose to ignore it. I mean, how did you find out?”

“I saw a picture on his computer,” Tillie said. “I knew they weren’t robots.” She shook her head, looking away from Emma for a moment. Mr. Kitty purred and rubbed his head on her hands.

“A picture?” Emma asked.

“Of a factory accident.”

Emma looked away now. Mr. Kitty climbed over to her lap and rubbed his face on her arm.

“So how could he not figure out if I did, right?” Tillie said.

Emma still didn’t answer. She didn’t look at Tillie. She just pet Mr. Kitty’s head while he purred.

“You said you were going to do something about it,” Tillie said. “But how?”

“You know the answer to this one, Tillie.”

“The woman in the alley?”

“The Scientist.”

“No.” Tillie shook her head. “Who’s that?”

Emma shrugged. “No one’s entirely sure. She’s the Scientist.”

“And she wanted you to help her, too?”

“I’ve never met her in person. She offered my parents an opportunity, and now that opportunity extends to me. On Christmas Feast day nonetheless. Perfect timing.”

“Christmas Feast?” Tillie said, frowning. “You mean Christmas?”

“Christmas Feast is what they call it in Inland.”

“Inland?”

“So you don’t know everything then,” Emma said. “But I can tell you. As long as you don’t tell anyone else. No one.”

“You can trust me,” Tillie said, zipping her lips and crossing her heart.

“First,” Emma said. “Have you ever seen an assembly line worker in real life?”

Tillie shook her head. “Not besides the one I talked to.”

“What about an actor, or camera operator, or scientist?”

“I thought robots—”

“Robots don’t do much,” Emma said. “Have you ever seen one?”

“No, but they—”

“And you watch Logo’s Show. Don’t you ever wonder why the restaurants he talks about don’t exist?”

“Because it’s just a TV show,” Tillie said. “It’s not real.”

“But it’s not just a TV show. What about the assembly line workers? You know that they’re real. Where are they? Logo’s Show takes place in another world, Tillie. The restaurants do exist, but we have no way to access them. They’re in Outland 3 and we’re in Outland 2. There’s no way through except the elevators, and our elevators don’t go that way.”

“And that’s how I ended up meeting with that woman,” Tillie said, shaking her head.

“And that’s how I knew what you would tell me,” Emma said. “Look, I can’t stand this blaring noise anymore. Let’s go for a walk. Your cat might enjoy it, anyway.” She pet Mr. Kitty who had all but fallen asleep in her lap. He yawned and stretched his paws out in front of him.

“Yeah. I—uh—Sure,” Tillie said. “Let’s go.” She stood up, and Mr. Kitty jumped onto the coffee table to stretch some more.

Emma stood and said, “One second.” then went back to her room and came out wearing a big hooded sweatshirt. “Alright. Let’s go,” she said, and they went downstairs and out of the dorm.

Emma was right, too. Mr. Kitty did need a walk. He was too cooped up in their small dorm room. He ran through the grass, ate a few leaves of it in the falling sun, and almost lost Tillie and Emma in his excitement. He smelled another tree and clawed it a few times before running to catch up with them.

“I don’t know,” Tillie said. “I couldn’t do anything alone, but it might be different with you there.”

“You can do it,” Emma said. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. “You don’t even have to do anything. Just come with me. Look.” She pulled a pouch out of her sweater pocket and handed a little disc to Tillie.

“What is this?” Tillie asked, turning it over in her hands.

A bomb,” Emma whispered to her.

Tillie stopped in her tracks. Mr. Kitty saw a bug and jumped on it. How would Tillie respond to this? She had finally found someone who believes her, but it had to be someone who might be a little crazy herself. He let the bug fly away and caught up with them again. Emma had scooted Tillie along so she didn’t make a scene.

“Of course I wouldn’t have done it if it was dangerous,” Emma said. “Well, needlessly dangerous.” She winked.

“I would call handing me…” Tillie leaned in and lowered her voice. “A bomb needlessly dangerous.”

“I told you it can’t go off yet,” Emma said. “They have to be activated, and they’re on a timer.”

“And how exactly are…they supposed to help anything?”

“It all goes back to the division between the worlds,” Emma said. “There are these machines that bend space and—”

Woah ho ho. Wait a minute there,” Tillie said, stopping again. “Bend space? What are you talking about? You can’t bend space.”

“No,” Emma said, shaking her head. “I can’t. But they can. The Scientist can. That’s how the printers work. And the Scientist can get us to some of the Walker-Haley field generators which are used to do just that. All we have to do is rip, stick, and press then get out of there.”

“Walker-Haley field whats? Bending space?” Tillie shook her head. “I don’t know, Emma. It all sounds a little crazy. I don’t—”

“Look,” Emma said, cutting her off. “Come here.” She dragged Tillie by the arm to sit down on the concrete steps under the flagpole. They had walked all the way out to the center of the parade grounds, far enough away from everyone so that no one could hear their talking. The field was clearing out the darker it got, anyway, and the sun was all but gone. “Have you taken any science classes in college yet?” Emma asked.

Tillie shook her head. “I took AP science senior year.”

“Well, you might be able to understand,” Emma said. “Do you remember…”

Mr. Kitty didn’t care to hear the explanation. He didn’t care how things worked. He only wanted to know what they did and how that would affect him. And since he already knew the gist of what Emma was going to say, he had no reason to sit there and listen to the lecture. He knew it would be a long one, too, explaining how to bend space. Humans never could just walk to get from here to there. No, that was just too much work. But bending space so here is there, now that was less effort. Right? Mr. Kitty would never understand.

He went off to chew the grass and sharpen his claws on a tree, then chase some squirrels—who were so much harder to catch than those pigeons. He climbed up a tree after one, to show it that he could, and licked himself on a branch while the squirrel cowered at the top of the tree. He climbed back down, and Tillie and Emma were standing from their lesson, intent on doing something.

“Come on, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie called, motioning with her hand as they walked toward the elevator.

Mr. Kitty sprinted to catch up with them, dodging through the legs of passing students. The door to the elevator slid shut behind him, almost clamping on his tail. He licked it and sat down.

“Where to?” Tillie asked. “I mean, how do we get there?”

“The Scientist takes us,” Emma said.

“But what do we tell the elevator?”

“The struggle itself is enough to fill one’s heart.”

The elevator fell into motion, and almost as soon as it did, the doors opened. There was nothing to see but a cement wall, but Mr. Kitty recognized the stale oil smell. Tillie and Emma’s feet clanged on the metal floor as they stepped out of the elevator.

“I’ve been here before,” Tillie said. “Well, not here but here. A place just like this. I got lost when I tried to go back and talk to the assembly line worker again. Mr. Kitty found me.”

“I hate this place,” Mr. Kitty meowed, looking at the wall where the door they had just come from used to be.

“This is one way through the fields to the other worlds,” Emma said. “There are usually security and mechanic bots patrolling. Today, however, this bay has no one, courtesy of the Scientist. Now come on.”

She jogged down the tunnel with her footsteps echoing back behind her. Tillie took off after her. Mr. Kitty rubbed his face on the wall where the door was, giving it one last smell, then tore apart his claws trying to catch up with them.

They went through the curving tunnel, down a few flights of stairs, then through another long tunnel to a big metal door that was painted with yellow and black stripes. They stopped to catch their breath, and Mr. Kitty licked his paws to rid them of the pain from running on the metal grating.

Ugh. Unseen Hand,” Tillie said through gasping breaths. ”I’m so out of shape.” She hunched over, resting her hands on her knees and her back on the wall. “I haven’t exercised like that in…well…let’s just say a long time.”

Emma was barely out of breath. “Physical training is important if you want to help free the assembly line workers,” she said. “If someone sees us, we’ll have to run all the way back. And this time we would be going upstairs.”

Tillie took a few more deep breaths. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”

“This is serious,” Emma said solemnly. “If you’re here, you should be serious, too. If we were found…Well, just know that we don’t want to be found.”

“No,” Tillie said, shaking her head and waving her hands. “No no. I—No, I know. That’s why I’ve been freaking out. Because I know how serious it is, you know. But that’s the point, isn’t it? This is so real and big, how can we do anything about it?”

“That’s what I’m supposed to show you.”

“So she asked you to do this then? The woman who asked me to—to do something for her.”

“Not for her, Tillie,” Emma said, shaking her head. “For us. For the assembly line workers. For the betterment of humanity. This is bigger than the Scientist. She only helps. We do the real work to tear down the system.” She pressed a few buttons on the keypad next to the door, and the doors slid open with a hiss. Mr. Kitty jumped back and puffed up his tail at the sound of it.

“How’d you do that?” Tillie asked.

“That’s another way that having the Scientist on our side helps,” Emma said. “And in getting these.” She pulled out the pouch of discs. “Now, come on.”

Inside was a squat room with lights and buttons flashing all over the ceiling. The ground was smooth and hard. It beat the metal grating but was worse than vinyl in Mr. Kitty’s opinion. Tillie and Emma had to duck to walk around. Emma watched Tillie marvel at the size of the place and the flashing lights.

“What is this?” Tillie asked, still walking in circles and staring up at the flashing ceiling which almost seemed to go on forever.

“This is the Outland 6 central hub,” Emma said. “Every single Walker-Haley field generator that separates Outland 6 from Outland 5 converges right here in this room. This is the only thing keeping the two worlds apart.”

“All of it in one room?” Tillie scoffed.

“Only for Outland 6. Outland 6 only has connections to Outland 5, so the owners don’t really care if there’s a little crossover. Not as much as they care about crossover in the other worlds, at least.”

“So that’s what you’re going to do with the—uh—discs,” Tillie said. “Destroy this?”

“That’s what we’re going to do. We’re merging 5 and 6, transforming them into a whole new world. We’ll be creating just as much as we destroy.”

“And so what?” Tillie said. “We blow this room up to connect the two worlds, then what happens? They come back and separate them again? What about us? What about the actors? What about everyone else in the world—or, er—worlds?”

“This is the grand finale,” Emma said. “The big bang. So much more is happening across the worlds as we speak, but you and I get to end the festivities with a fireworks show.”

Tillie looked around at everything one more time. Mr. Kitty rubbed his face on her ankles. “So you’re really going to do something to stop them,” she said.

“It’s wrong, Tillie. We reap the benefits from their exploitation. We can try to stop it, or we might as well be exploiting them ourselves. We’re complicit.”

Nous devons craindre le mal,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “Mais il ya quelque chose que nous devons craindre plus que le mal. C’est l’indifférence de la bonne.

Tillie scooped him up. “It sounds like Mr. Kitty agrees,” she said.

“Do you agree?” Emma asked.

Tillie put Mr. Kitty back on the ground and he licked himself. “I want to,” she said. “But it sounds too good to be true.”

“It’s not, though,” Emma said, scoffing. “We’re not even doing that much. Not by ourselves at least. We’re a distraction. And there will be a lot more to do after this. Then you’ll get to see that it’s just shitty enough to be true.”

Their laughs echoed through the squat room.

“So that scientist,” Tillie said. “She really could use those pictures to do good.”

“What pictures?” Emma asked.

“She didn’t tell you?”

Emma shook her head.

Tillie took a deep breath, stomped her foot, and said, “Yes. I do. I do want to help. What do we do?”

Emma smiled wide. “Good,” she said. “Great. Take some of these.” She got a handful of discs out of the pouch and handed half to Tillie. “Start here with the red light. See it?” She pointed one out and waited for a response.

“Yeah. Right,” Tillie said, nodding.

“Peel the paper backing off, stick the disc on the light, press the button, then go five red lights down and do it again,” Emma told her, pointing out where each step would take place as she spoke. “Got it?”

“Got it,” Tillie said.

“When you get to the end, go five across and come back,” Emma said, pointing some more. “I’ll get the rest, then we get out of here. Ready?”

Tillie nodded.

“Then let’s have some fun!”

They sprinted into action. Mr. Kitty rolled on his back and kicked at the air, then chased them around as they did their rip, stick, pressing. Emma finished a few discs before Tillie, even though she went further into the room and placed more of them, and when they were both done, they sprinted out of the tunnel, up the stairs, and to the elevator with Mr. Kitty close behind them. They all three collapsed laughing, coughing, and breathing heavily onto the floor of the elevator.

“I can’t believe we just did that,” Tillie said.

“I can’t believe I finally got to,” Emma said.

“What do we do next?” Tillie asked.

“We go back home like nothing happened,” Emma said. “We keep our ears open for any news of the rest of the operation. And mostly we wait.”

Ugh. Wait?” Tillie frowned.

“It shouldn’t be long now,” Emma said. “The gears are in motion.”

“I can get those pictures while we wait,” Tillie said.

“Does that mean you want to join us?” Emma asked with a smile.

“I’m not stopping here,” Tillie said, laughing again. “Parade grounds.”

The elevator fell into motion, and the doors opened onto the big empty field. Tillie and Emma left, and they didn’t notice when Mr. Kitty didn’t follow them. Tillie didn’t need him anymore, they had each other. The doors closed, and he let the elevator take him to wherever it would.

#     #     #

< XVII. Russ     [Table of Contents]     IX. Ellie >

That’s it for Mr. Kitty’s POV chapters. If you’d like to support the real life Mr. Kitty, who just walked across my desk while I was in the middle of typing, then think about purchasing a copy of the full novel here. Thanks again for reading. And we’ll be back next Saturday.

Chapter 11: Mr. Kitty

Today brings us Mr. Kitty’s second chapter, marking the halfway point of the novel. I hope you’ve all enjoyed it so far and continue to join us in the future as we reach the conclusion of The Asymptote’s Tail. And remember, if you don’t want to wait the ten weeks that’ll still take, you can order a full copy of the novel (in paperback or eBook format) on Amazon through this link.

Enjoy, and happy Saturday.

Mr. Kitty< X. Russ   [Table of Contents]   XII. Ellie >

XI. Mr. Kitty

He was dreaming about a fat, juicy pigeon. The kind that was stupid enough not to fly away as long as he moved in short bursts, stopping for a moment in between. Humans the pigeons understood. It was easy to tell when a human came barreling down the sidewalk toward you, all eyes on their destination, no thought to spare for the stupid birds flapping about. But Mr. Kitty would slink a little closer and stop, slink a little closer and stop, each time going a different distance or speed, or stopping in between for a different amount of time. It was that erraticism, that randomness, which kept the pigeons unsure of how long they had to scrape for food before it was time to fly away or be torn to bits and eaten alive. He was shaking his tail, gathering his haunches, about to pounce on a particularly plump pigeon when the sound of Tillie rushing into the spare room and slamming the door behind her woke him from his nap with a jump.

Tillie didn’t even notice him. She threw her purse on the chair and plopped down onto the bed. Mr. Kitty walked over to knead her lap, but as he put his first paw on her, she flung him off, locked the bedroom door, then sat back on the bed with her head in her hands, sobbing.

“What’s wrong?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Un. Seen. Hand,” Tillie said. “Unseen Hand, Unseen Hand, Unseen Haaaaand,” she moaned. “I can’t believe I did that. What did I just do? Why would I just do what that woman told me to do? I don’t even know her. Unseen Hand, Unseen Hand, Unseen Haaand.”

“Tell me,” Mr. Kitty meowed, jumping onto her lap. “Maybe I can help.”

“Oh. Mr. Kitty, I’m sorry,” she said, petting his head and starting to cry again. “I didn’t mean to take it out on you. It’s just not fair.”

Mr. Kitty purred.

“I mean, what am I supposed to do about it?” Tillie complained. “Who am I? You saw what they did to Russ when he almost outed them, and he’s a huge star. Imagine what they’d do to me if they ever found out what I did. What did I do? Unseen Hand, what did I do?”

Mr. Kitty tried to roll over on his back in her lap and show her his belly to make her feel better, but the phone rang, and she jumped up to grab it out of her purse, pushing him down onto the floor. She stared wide-eyed at the screen, then sighed in relief and answered it.

“Shelley,” she said. “Unseen Hand. You’re never gonna believe this. I have to—You have to come see me right now.”

“No, Shelley. No.”

“Because I can’t leave my house right now. That’s why.”

“No, look. No. I’m not—No. It’s not a prank.”

“I can’t tell you over the phone or I would have told you already.”

“Yes! The Hand. Just come over already.”

“Good. I’ll see you soon.”

Tillie hung up the phone, sat back down, and scooped Mr. Kitty up. “Ugh. I’m sorry again Kitty. I suck. I’m just—I’m a little on edge right now, you know. I—Well…I did something kind of stupid and reckless, and I might be in danger because of it. But what am I talking about? You wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. Would you, Mister Kitty?

Mr. Kitty purred in response.

No,” she said in her baby voice. “I know you wouldn’t. You sweet wittle fing you.” The doorbell rang. Tillie stood up, pushing Mr. Kitty onto the floor for the third time, and crept over to the bedroom door. She turned the deadbolt as quietly as she could and cracked the door to peek through with one eye.

Tiiilllliie! Doorbell!” her dad called from the living room.

She didn’t answer. Mr. Kitty tried to push his way through her legs, but she scooted him back with her foot, so he sat on the floor behind her and licked himself.

“Tillie, honey!” her dad called. “Can you get that? I’m in the middle of a game!”

The doorbell rang again.

“I’m in the bathroom, dad!” Tillie called back. “It’ll be a minute! Can’t you?”

With one more ring and a groan, her dad called, “Alright!” then walked slowly backwards out of the living room, trying not to miss any bit of the game. When he had gotten far enough into the hall that he couldn’t see the TV anymore, he turned to the door straight away and opened it.

Mr. Kitty could tell that Tillie was holding her breath, even from his view sitting under her feet. She only let go of it when her dad stepped aside to let Shelley in. Then she opened the bedroom door and went right out to them. “Thanks, dad,” she said. “Sorry. Had to wash my hands, you know.”

“Of course, darling,” her dad said, getting back to his game in the living room. “You and your friend feel free to order anything from the printer,” he said with a wave, not looking at them.

Oooh, I think I’ll have—” Shelley started, but Tillie grabbed her arm and dragged her back into the room where Mr. Kitty was waiting. She tossed Shelley on the bed, then closed and locked the door behind them.

“Dang, girl!” Shelley said, sitting up. “You do not want to get physical with me. Don’t make me remind you how you know.”

“Okay,” Tillie said. “Okay okay. I’m sorry, Shelley. I’m sorry.”

“That’s right you are,” Shelley said, shaking her head. “Here you are sittin pretty with your in-house printer, and your dad offers me one thing and…what? You drag me into the spare room, lock the door, and fling me on the bed. Girl, are you crazy? I mean, do you know what a 3D printer does? Do you know what he was offering me? Of course you do. What am I talking about? You have one you can use any time.”

“Yeah, Shelley,” Tillie said. “I do know how a printer works. That’s the entire reason I asked you to come here in the first place. Do you know how a printer works?”

Uh, yeah.” Shelley scoffed. “Of course I do. You tell it what you want and it gives it to you. Everyone knows that.”

“But where does it come from, Shelley?” Tillie said with a sigh. “I’m not asking if you know how to operate a printer. A baby could operate a printer. I’m asking if you know how they work.”

Mr. Kitty jumped up onto Shelley’s lap. He rubbed his head on her arm and meowed to say that it was okay for her to admit that she didn’t know.

“I don’t—” She pet Mr. Kitty on the head. “You’re not making any sense, Tillie.”

“It’s simple,” Tillie said. “Where do the things that the printer gives you come from?”

“They come from the printer,” Shelley said with a shrug. “Where else?”

“The printer just makes them out of thin air?”

“No,” Shelley said. “I—It rearranges the atoms or something. I don’t know. That’s elementary school science, Tillie. How am I supposed to remember?”

“Right,” Tillie said. “Okay. So that’s what the school system teaches us, right. That the printers rearrange atoms. But if that were the case, then why would we need assembly line workers?”

“But we don’t have assembly line workers,” Shelley said with a smile. She thought she had gotten Tillie with that one. “We have robots.”

“Then why do we have the robots?” Tillie said, standing up and getting close to Shelley, towering over her. Shelley was leaning so far back on the bed to get away from her that Mr. Kitty was sitting on her stomach instead of her lap.

Shelley guided him off so she could scootch around Tillie and stand up herself. “I don’t know, Tillie,” she said. “But if you only invited me over here to yell at me and demean me, then I might as well leave.”

She made for the door, but Tillie stopped her. “No,” she said. “Don’t go. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—I’m just really stressed right now.” She sat down on the bed with a bounce, and Mr. Kitty jumped onto her lap to purr.

“I can see that, girl,” Shelley said, sitting beside them and patting Tillie’s back. “Tell Sister Shelley what’s bothering you. She’ll make it all better.”

“I—I don’t know if you can,” Tillie said. Moisture welled up behind her eyes, and Mr. Kitty purred louder.

“Oh, I know I can, honey,” Shelley said, snapping her fingers. “Just tellin me’ll make you feel better. I guarantee it.”

Tillie chuckled and smiled. “Like the commercial.”

“Who say, I say, I say, let em have it…with nooo problem. I guar—un—tee!” they sang in unison then laughed together.

“Shelley,” Tillie said when they were over their laughter. “I did something stupid.”

“Well, who hasn’t, girl?” Shelley said. “Spit it out.”

“No, Shelley,” Tillie said, looking at her lap. “I mean, this—this was really stupid. And dangerous.”

Shelley smiled. “What’d you do, girl? Got a little wasted at the bar? Did you cut in line at the elevator?” She lowered her voice as if someone was listening. “Did you have unprotected sex?”

Tillie scoffed and pushed her away. “No. Ugh. No! Nothing that bad. Except. Maybe it was worse.” She kind of half-grinned and half-frowned. “I don’t know, Shelley. I shouldn’t have brought it up. You’re never going to believe me if I tell you anyway.”

Shelley shook her head. “No, girl. Uh uh. C’mon now. We’re sisters for life. Every secret safe and every word spoken true. You know the deal, sweetheart. We pinky promised, and swapped spit, and pricked our fingers to mix blood. There’s no breaking those vows. So tell me what you have to say and I’ll trust it entirely, and keep it secret until my grave.”

“You can’t tell anyone,” Tillie said. “I mean no one.”

“Cross my heart,” Shelley said, crossing her heart. “You know I won’t. Have I told anyone about—”

“Alright,” Tillie said, stopping her from bringing up any of a number of embarrassing stories. “Alright alright. I believe you. But I may be putting you in danger by telling you.”

“Shoot, girl. Ain’t no one gonna know but your cat here, and he won’t put me in any danger. Will he? Will you?” She squeezed his cheek.

“No,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yeah. I guess you’re right,” Tillie said. She took a deep breath to gather herself. “Well I—It all started when I saw that episode of Logo’s Show. Did you see it?”

“Girl, you know I watch every episode,” Shelley said. “Which one you talkin about?”

“I’m talking about the most recent episode, the show that was cut short.”

Awww shoot. Yeah, girl. What was that? They played some rerun from last Christmas instead. As if I wanted to see Christmas reruns. That’s what the Christmas Rerun Marathon is for.”

“Right,” Tillie said. “But didn’t you wonder why they cut it short?”

“Well, he couldn’t finish the show, girl.” Shelley scoffed. “Obviously.”

“But why couldn’t he?” Tillie said, losing control again. “This is just like the 3D printer discussion!”

“I don’t know, girl!” Shelley said, standing again. “Why?”

Tillie took a few deep breaths and patted Mr. Kitty on the head. “I’m sorry. But if you had seen what I saw…Shelley. You know the assembly lines.”

“The robot assembly lines?”

“No, Shelley. Yes. But no. I’m saying—I’m saying printers don’t rearrange matter and the assembly lines aren’t worked by robots.”

Pfft.” Shelley scoffed. “Sure, girl,” she said, nudging Tillie and laughing. “Then where does everything come from?”

“From people, Shelley. Human beings work on the assembly lines. They make everything we order from the printers.”

Shelley laughed. She shook her head. “I don’t know, girl. That sounds ridiculous. How could humans make things instantly when we order them?”

Tillie frowned. “They don’t make it when we order it. They make huge supplies of everything so it’s ready before we order it. Anyway, I thought you said you’d believe me.”

Ooooh, girl.” Shelley shook her head. “I did say that, but I wasn’t expecting this. I mean, you’re telling me that everything I’ve ever been taught is wrong. How am I supposed to believe that?”

“You said you would. And I’m telling the truth. I met with one of the workers, Shelley. I’ve talked to them. They’re real.”

“What are you talking about?” Shelley said, waving her arms and shaking her head. She seemed to be getting as frustrated with the conversation as Tillie was. “How?”

“I don’t know. I saw this photo on my dad’s computer, then I started looking into it, and before I knew it, I was taking the elevator to the library, and I ended up at some woman’s house instead.”

“A woman’s house?” Shelley said, raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t know, Shelley,” Tillie said with a sigh. “She told me how to meet with one of them, and I followed her directions, and I saw him. He told me that they work every day for twelve hours, and they get just enough money to make it to the next week, and they have no choice but to work from the time they’re old enough to hold a broom or they’ll starve. He said they made everything we get out of our printers, and they teleport it to us when we order it. Shelley, they do all that so we can have what we have.”

Shelley shook her head and made for the door. Mr. Kitty jumped out of Tillie’s lap and onto the ground, searching for an escape. “No,” Shelley said. “I don’t believe it. Why are you telling me all this? If you didn’t want me to use your printer you should have just said so. But this? This is ridiculous.”

“No, Shelley,” Tillie said. “Why would I care about that? I need help. We have to stop this.”

“Stop it? Ha! Stop what? You’re delirious. I’m out of here. Get back to me when you’re feeling better.”

“No, Shelley. Stop!”

Shelley left the room and Mr. Kitty followed her. Tillie hurried out to stop her before she got through the front door. “Shelley!” she called. “Shelley, wait!”

Shelley stopped, sighed, and turned around. Mr. Kitty didn’t stop, though. He was tired of listening to them. He’d figure out what Tillie meant to do about it later. For now he had to get out of the house. He had been caged up like a human for too long and he needed to stretch his legs a bit.

The house had a big yard, and it was only a short walk from there to the public elevator system. Mr. Kitty took his time slinking through the garden along the yard’s metal fence, rubbing his face on every hard stick he passed, smelling every other plant, even taking a bite or two out of a few pieces of grass—important for his digestion. He was so lost in the smells and colors that the sound of Shelley’s feet coming down the walkway toward him made him jump. She went one way down the sidewalk, toward the elevator entrance, and he went the other, toward his favorite tree to climb.

He stopped at the base of the tree to sharpen his claws on its roots. He loved the sound it made when his claws sank into the wood, and the feeling as they caught in the meat of the root which could only give way under the brute force of his animal strength. He gathered his haunches and zipped up to the first fat branch overlooking the neighborhood. None of the houses looked like they belonged next to each other with their extreme shifts in architecture and landscaping, but one thing they all had in common was that they were all huge and all set on a lot of land. Mr. Kitty pitied them down there, trapped in their houses, stuck in their web of sidewalks. They had access to more knowledge than most humans Mr. Kitty knew, but somehow they understood the least about the world.

A sound of talking from above caught his attention. He recognized the voices. Those two kids were closer to freedom than anyone in the houses below him—except for maybe Tillie, who was making strides. He really liked those kids, too. They didn’t give up. They deserved a little reward for their perseverance, and he was in the position to give just that to them. He climbed up to the branch he was looking for and jumped into the air, gliding out where it looked like there was nothing to land on. He ended up landing on Pidgeon’s lap.

“The cat!” the other kid said, standing on the branch.

“Mr. Kitty!” Pidgeon said. “Where’d you come from?”

“Where’d it come from?” the other kid said.

“Settle down,” Pidgeon said. “He’s not going anywhere. Look at him.”

Mr. Kitty kneaded Pidgeon’s lap and purred. The other kid sat down, holding out a hand for Mr. Kitty to sniff, it smelled a bit like rat, a not altogether undelicious smell.

“I’m Ansel,” the kid said. “Where’d you come from?”

“Through the hole,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“He’s trying to tell you,” Pidgeon said.

“Yeah, right,” Ansel said.

“Here, I’ll show you,” Mr. Kitty said. He jumped off Pidgeon’s lap and hopped from limb to limb down the tree.

“Follow him!” they yelled together.

Mr. Kitty heard the sound of leaves rustling and branches breaking as they chased down after him. He hoped they hadn’t broken his landing pad in their descent—he would hate to find that out the next time he decided to come through that way. He stopped for a second on the soft grass to give them a chance to catch up, licking his feet to taste the difference in the soil, and when the sound of them chasing after him was close enough, he bound down the green strip towards a hole that could send them where they wanted to go—if they were willing to follow him.

The hole was a few blocks away, and Mr. Kitty was much too fast for the little two-legged humans, so he had to treat them like pigeons in reverse. He would run out ahead, then stop to lick himself while they caught up, then run out ahead again, and repeat for the four blocks distance to the alley he was looking for. At the end was the tricky part. He could get into the restaurant easily enough—jumping through the broken window—but they wouldn’t follow him that way. He could wait for someone to open the door so they would be more likely to follow, but the timing on that was a long shot. Then there was the alley side of the hole, and from the looks of it, there was just enough trash for him to get the boost he needed.

He let the kids get a little bit closer, so close they were shouting at each other, then he heard another human voice he didn’t recognize. It was too late to turn and find out who it was, though, because he was already bounding toward the dumpster. He jumped up onto a soggy box that almost gave way under his weight, onto the dumpster lid, then up two more boxes to claw his way into the building itself, giving him the last bit of momentum he needed to make the extra few feet into the hole to fall far and fast onto the carpet on the other side.

He licked the pain out of his feet and listened for the sound of the human children following him. He heard some sounds, but nothing quite like they were climbing up after him. More like they were going the other way. He shook his head in pity. At least they had a new goal to work toward.

Mr. Kitty sniffed the air. It took him a second to remember where this side of the hole let out, usually he used the side that was inside the restaurant. The feeling of the carpet suggested he was where Haley lived, but the smell gave it away. There was a vaguely chemical scent—something synthetic—and the air smelled extra oily. He walked down the hall and pushed his head through a door.

Behind it was an office with a long desk. A huge window that looked out onto a vast wilderness with trees, hills, and animals everywhere made up the far wall of the room. There was no one sitting behind the desk, but Rosalind and Huey were sitting on two puffy chairs in the corner, staring out the window in silence. Mr. Kitty meowed to announce his presence and both looked around with a smile.

“Mr. Kitty,” Huey said. “So nice of you to join us.”

Rosalind stood to get something out of the desk and sat back down. “You want some treats, Mr. Kitty?” she said, pouring a few crunchy, delicious-smelling bits onto a side table. Mr. Kitty jumped up to eat them while Rosalind and Huey took turns patting him.

“Thanks,” Mr. Kitty meowed when he was done eating.

“Of course,” Rosalind said, patting his back a few more times. “Mr. Kitty, would you like a new collar? We need to get a message through, and you’re the only one who can deliver it.”

“Are you gonna give me some of that wet food?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Of course we are, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said with a smile. “We would have given it to you even if you said no.”

“That’s why I keep coming back,” he meowed.

Rosalind took off his yellow collar and snapped a red one around his neck.

“You know,” Huey said with a smile. “Red is your color, Mr. Kitty. It stands out beautifully against your dark fur. What do you think, Roz?”

“Beautiful,” she said, scooping Mr. Kitty up and kissing him on the head while he tried to squirm away from her. When she set him back on the table, he licked his paws and rubbed the kiss away.

Awww, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said. “Don’t rub it away. You know it means I love you.”

“You know I hate it,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Yeah, but you love it, too,” Rosalind said. “One of life’s little contradictions.”

Mr. Kitty continued licking himself. He got started, he might as well get the rest of his coat while he was at it.

“Contradictions,” Huey said, shaking his head. “I’m tired of contradictions. But you will be visiting Outland 4 today, won’t you Mr. Kitty?”

“Outland what?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“The Scientist, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said, patting his head and smiling. “You know. She wears the long white coat. She’d like to see your new collar.”

“Sarcasm,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “But I need the elevator.”

“Of course,” Rosalind said. “Just let me get your wet food first.“

She shuffled through the drawer again, and Mr. Kitty jumped off the table onto the desk to hurry her up. She pulled the tin open and set it down, and he licked all the juices off the top as quickly as he could then meowed that he was ready to go.

“I’ll let him out,” Rosalind said, walking toward the hall he had come in through.

“Thank you, Mr. Kitty,” Huey said, waving.

Mr. Kitty stretched his legs and followed Rosalind out to the elevator at the other end of the carpeted hall. She opened the doors and Mr. Kitty climbed in.

“Alright, Mr. Kitty,” Rosalind said. “She’ll be expecting you. And thanks again.”

The doors closed, and the floor fell out from underneath him. When the elevator stopped falling, the doors opened and Mr. Kitty climbed out into a hall with hard, cold vinyl floors instead of soft carpet. He hated walking on the stuff. No wonder humans wore shoes all the time with the ridiculous concrete and vinyl they put everywhere they were supposed to walk.

He turned through the hall into an office and jumped up onto the desk. No one was sitting there, but he knew she would be back soon. He licked his feet to get the cold, unnatural feeling of the vinyl floor away. There were more computer screens here than there were on Tillie’s dad’s desk, and the numbers seemed somehow more interesting, plus, the Scientist liked to watch TV while she worked, and Mr. Kitty enjoyed a little television himself every now and again. He wanted to see what was going on in the computer world, so he walked across the keyboard to get it going when the Scientist came in, holding a plate with a sandwich on it.

“Mr. Kitty!” she said, setting the plate on the desk next to him. He sniffed it and started eating the meat out of the sandwich. “Finally, Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said. “Red! Eat all you want. I’ll make you more if you’re here when I’m done.”

“I’m full anyway,” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Oh. You have no idea, Mr. Kitty,” the Scientist said with a smile. “Sic bo shines down on you. I’ve been waiting for you to come in with that beautiful red collar for you don’t know how long.”

“Thanks,” he meowed. “See ya.”

“Alright, Mr. Kitty,” she said. “I’m gonna get to work.”

Mr. Kitty walked out of the door, and instead of into the hall, he came out into his yard. He looked back, and as the door closed behind him, it disappeared. He walked through the spot in the air where the door had been to make sure it was gone. Satisfied, he turned and bound through the grass to sit at the front door of the house.

“Anyone home?” he meowed as loud as he could. He knew her dad wouldn’t hear him, or care, but he thought Tillie might pick his voice up and prevent him from having to take the long way in. “Helloooo! I’m out here!” he tried one more time, then sat down to lick his feet.

Maybe she wasn’t there. Or maybe she was actually in the bathroom this time. Either way, it didn’t seem like she was coming, so he got up and went around to the back of the house. He climbed up a big oak tree in the backyard to jump up onto the roof. This roof was just a little lower than the previous house’s, so it took him two jumps to get high enough to fly through the hole, out onto the metal grating on the other side. He landed with a clang and looked around with puffed up fur to make sure there was no one there to see him. There wasn’t.

The floor here was even worse than the vinyl. If he wasn’t careful to keep his claws in while he walked, they would catch on the holes in the metal grating and break off when he lifted his foot. Even when he was careful he couldn’t prevent it from happening sometimes. And the stairs he had to climb down were made of the same metal grating. On top of that it, was impossible to stay silent while walking on it. He had to constantly look this way and that to be sure no one heard him.

Finally, at the bottom of six flights, came the worst part of this entrance into his own house. It was a long, skinny strip of metal grating that curved around a wall into a tunnel of darkness with no escape but to go straight back the way he had come, that is if he could react fast enough when he finally saw who was coming. Luckily they couldn’t walk quietly on the metal grating either, so he usually heard them long before he saw them.

He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and sniffed the air. It smelled stale, and oily, and there wasn’t much oxygen. He had to breathe deeply, even from walking down such few flights. He turned this ear then that toward the black tunnel and there was no sound. He slunk his way into the darkness, wishing there was another escape.

He paid extra attention to keeping his claws in, stopping every few steps to be sure no one was coming. He had counted the steps so many times, he knew how close he was by reflex. Thirteen bursts of three steps, eleven bursts of two, and seven bursts of one. Not in that order, but do that number and he’d be there. He was fifteen steps away when he smelled it. It was oil, but it wasn’t oil. He knew that smell, but from where?

He took a few steps closer and heard sobbing. Why would someone be sobbing down here?

A few more steps and he saw the form on the ground, right in front of his exit. It didn’t see him yet, though. Or hear him. Or smell him. He could run up, use it as a jumping platform, and be gone before it had time to realize what had even happened.

He was gathering his haunches to do it when he caught the smell again, and this time he recognized it. It wasn’t oil, it was cooking oil. And there was shampoo and soap mixed in there. That wasn’t someone. It was—

“Tillie!” he meowed.

She jumped up and stopped crying all at once. The sound of it echoed through the empty tunnel. “Mr. Kitty. I—Is that you?” she said, taking the hood off her head.

Mr. Kitty walked up to her and brushed his cheeks on her legs.

“Mr. Kitty!” She perked up. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” Mr. Kitty meowed.

“Oh no,” Tillie said, slouching down. “I don’t know how to get out of here, either.” She started to sob again.

“I know the way out,” Mr. Kitty meowed. “It’s right here.”

“I know, Mr. Kitty,” Tillie said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I’m so stupid. I never should have gotten involved in this. I don’t know how I got you wrapped up in it with me.”

“Wrapped up in it?” Mr. Kitty struggled to get away and ended up clawing her chest.

Ow, Mr. Kitty!” she yelled. “Settle dow—Where—”

Mr. Kitty jumped through the hole into Tillie’s dad’s office where he was sitting at the computer, watching numbers change on the screen, paying no attention to the cat who had just appeared in the room behind him. Mr. Kitty turned to see if she would come on her own, but he only heard the faint echo of her calling his name and sobbing. She was confused just like a human.

“Come on!” he meowed.

Tillie’s dad turned and said, “Mr. Kitty. Shut up. How’d you get in here?”

“Tillie!” Mr. Kitty meowed. “Go through the wall. Like platform 9¾.”

Cat! Shut. Up,” her dad said. “Have you seen Tillie?”

Before he finished his sentence, she appeared in the room right next to Mr. Kitty. She gasped, scooped him up, and kissed him on the head, crying. “You did it, Kitty!” she said. “You’re so smart.”

“I worked for it,” he meowed.

“Oh, I love you, too, Kitty,” she said, squeezing him tighter and driving the air out of his lungs.

“Tillie!” Her dad had finally gathered himself for long enough to respond. “Wh—Where? How did you…”

“Dad.” She dropped Mr. Kitty and went to him. “I’m sorry. I—I didn’t. You have to understand.”

“Understand?” her dad said, looking around the room. “You just—You appeared from nowhere. The door’s locked. I look away. Then I look back. That’s not—It’s not—It’s just not.”

“Dad,” Tillie said. “I can explain. I—”

Explain! Explain? Well go ahead then, dear. Go ahead. Try to explain that.”

“Well, I—Well…” Tillie said. “You know those pictures I saw.”

“The pictures I told you not to tell anyone about.” Her dad crossed his arms.

“Right,” Tillie said, smiling a big, fake smile, and looking this way and that with her eyes. “Riiight. Those pictures. Well—and I didn’t show them to anyone, okay. And I didn’t even tell anyone about them, you know. But—I mean, I couldn’t forget them, you know. It’s not like I could delete them from my memory, Dad. I can’t unsee them, okay. And I just—well, I don’t know, I had to know the truth, you know. I had to do something. So I did.”

“No, Tillie,” her dad said. “It’s not okay. That—that doesn’t explain anything. So what? So how did you get here?”

“Dad.” She rubbed her hands on her cheeks, trying not to cry. “Come on. You can’t tell me—You can’t tell me that you don’t know. You have to know. You’re a Manager.”

“What, dear?” her dad said, throwing his hands in the air in frustration. “I have to know what?”

“I mean, where I was,” Tillie said. “How the world works. What’s really going on beyond the numbers. We talked about this, dad. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.”

“Yeah,” her dad said, nodding. “Well. Okay. Yeah. I know how the world works, honey. But you’re talking in riddles. If you’d just ask me a direct question instead of being so emotional, then I’m sure I could give you a direct answer.”

Tillie didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Mr. Kitty could see it on her face. She scoffed, and chuckled, and sobbed, and giggled, and blew a big glob of snot out of her nose. “Dad,” she said. “You’re asking me to disregard everything I think and feel. I have emotions, you know. And they’re real. And just because you go by the numbers alone doesn’t mean there isn’t more to the world than that. Can’t you see you’re asking me to stop being myself?”

“Tillie, dear,” her dad said, standing from his desk and turning to try to comfort her. “Tillie I’m sorry. I just want to help you. I was confused. You appeared out of nowhere. It must…it must have been some fault in the Walker-Haley fields. Am I right?”

“So you do know, then,” Tillie said, pushing him away and wiping her face with her sleeve.

“Of course I know, dear,” her dad said. “Of course I do. I manage the robot workers. How could I not know that printers don’t actually rearrange matter?”

Tillie faced the contradiction of wanting to laugh and cry all at the same time again. She was never one to hide her emotions. “Dad. You don’t know. You don’t understand at all. You’ve only penetrated the first layer and you think that’s all there is to it, but there’s so much more.”

“What are you talking about, dear?” Her dad frowned, shaking his head.

“They’re not robots, dad. That was a picture of human kids I saw on your computer.”

“Tillie,” her dad said in a pleading tone. “They said on the TV that it was a hoax. They played it on the emergency broadcast system. Every channel.”

“You’re the one who told me that I shouldn’t believe what I see on TV.”

“Yeah, well, then you shouldn’t believe what Russ told you, either. He’s a celebrity. He’ll do anything for fame.”

“But one side has to be right,” she said. “Either they’re humans, or they’re robots. It can’t be both, right?”

“No—Well, no…That is true. But there aren’t humans on the assembly lines, dear. I assure you. I would know if there were.”

“And the TV has said that they are humans, and it’s said they aren’t, so can we at least agree that it doesn’t matter what the TV says.”

“Yes,” her dad said, nodding. “And that’s the first sensible thing you’ve said. It’s what I’ve been trying to say all along, dear. But, still, there are not humans on the assembly lines.”

“Dad. I talked to one. He said that every single one of them has a job on a line, or running, or cleaning. He told me that he had never seen a robot in his entire life.”

“No, dear.” Her dad shook his head. “Well, that’s a—he lied to you!”

“Who did, dad? My eyes? My ears? I talked to him myself. While we sit here with our printer, eating everything they make and throwing away what we don’t want, they survive on scraps. You have to know how much of the world’s resources are dedicated to them, dad. You are a Manager, aren’t you?”

“Yes, well,” her dad said, shaking his head. “O—of course—of course I know. I know what portion of our finite resources we put toward the robots of Outland 5, dear. But that’s all they are. Robots.”

“So you don’t believe me then?” Tillie said, shaking her head.

“No, dear,” her dad said, shaking his head and avoiding eye contact with her. “Of course not. How could I?”

Ugh, fine!” Tillie stormed out of the room, and Mr. Kitty chased after her.

“Tillie!” her dad called, but he didn’t get up from his chair to chase them.

Tillie went into the spare bedroom and started packing her things.

“What are you doing?” Mr. Kitty meowed, standing on her backpack.

She scooped him up and set him on the bed. “Sorry Kitty,” she said. “I can’t stay here with him anymore. You can come with me if you want.”

“Where are we going?”

#   #   #

< X. Russ   [Table of Contents]   XII. Ellie >

Thanks again for reading. And don’t forget to pick up a full copy of the novel on Amazon today. Have a great weekend.

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.

Mr. Kitty

Mr. Kitty is the POV character from Outland 4. His best friend, Tillie Manager, used to live in the same house as him but now it’s just Mr. Kitty and Tillie’s dad, the most boring human Mr. Kitty knows–he spends all his time working behind the computer or watching football on the TV. But Tillie should be visiting for Christmas break soon and Mr. Kitty will be anything but bored when she does.

Here’s Mr. Kitty after rubbing his face on the sink, asking for a drink.:

Mr. Kitty