Does it ever sound like the steady clack of steel wheels on rails that pass through a chasm or a city? And if the proof ever sounded like a freight train rumbling toward you, would you ready yourself for it or just try to get across the street before the intersection is blocked for another ten minutes? And why look for it when it’s nowhere to be found? His mind is somewhere near just that question (near but not in words) as he drags a widdled pencil across a page, the graphite tracing out a curve that cuts from the already present origin on the paper out and up a wobbly Cartesian plane. Same old logarithm, Gene thinks as he watches the curve pass through an inversion where the change in length will forever be greater than the change in height, and his mark drags off to the edge of the paper. He knows the line will keep going and going, long after the pencil has been worn down to a nub, and even long after he is gone. The line, like the train, like the approach to proof, never stops. It never ever stops, not even long enough to let you hop on. So he just draws the line as far as it will go and takes an abstract shortcut, labeling the x-axis “Life” and the y-axis, “Truth.”

Graph: Life and Truth

He looks up from the world of his notebook and out into the world that he is trapped in, one in which there really is a train wailing and rumbling along. In Louisville, most of the cars are massive hollow beasts, big enough to fit trucks in, and drilled all full of holes. If you turn your head in synch with them as they pass, sometimes you can see the contents, but that they are hollow makes them wince and complain all the more as the metal bounces and shifts. Without weight to settle them, too, they bounce around like unruly elephants in a line never letting go of the tail in front of them with their trunks. From his pile of busted limestone—the same responsible for the filtered water that makes Kentucky bourbon grimace and take a long, deep breath—Gene looks to the rails that crisscross this rusty city more than maybe the circuits on any one of his machines. How strange, Gene thinks, to study the design of machines that will learn, that will think, in a city where the machines are already the bloodstream. He smiles at the rails, aforementioned train already in the distance, and then looks to the piece of graph paper in his lap. Life. Truth. His cheeks press up under the frames of his glasses as he whispers, “It’s an asymptote.” And you will never have the proof, no matter how long you live.

Having lost too much already, Erica and the baby, now fate lands him in the middle of a place where it seems the only sustenance that surrounds is the cold metal that oxidization thrives on. They call it the rust belt, this portion of America that the most despised (in Gene’s mind) Ayn Rand once proclaimed the glory of a United States broiling invention and spewing profit, a United States that would be rich on the back of laborers toiling beneath the gaze of rich men in top hats and not a United States that was yet to awake to destroying it’s fisheries, it’s livestock, plucking out the strings of that national guitar, the Mississippi delta, run dead with phosphates and fertilizer draining. If he was to work on the future, how was it to rise out of this smoggy darkness, punctured by poverty? How was a shining new Xanadu built of brilliant encoded pattern-recognition machines meant to ever rise above this simple kingdom of rust?