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Title: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Author: Doctorow, Cory, 1971-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Cory Doctorow

Copyright 2003 Cory Doctorow

doctorow@craphound.com

http://www.craphound.com/down

Tor Books, January 2003

ISBN: 0765304368

--

======= Blurbs: =======

He sparkles!  He fizzes!  He does backflips and breaks the furniture!
Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow!

Bruce Sterling Author, The Hacker Crackdown and Distraction

#

In the true spirit of Walt Disney, Doctorow has ripped a part of our
common culture, mixed it with a brilliant story, and burned into our
culture a new set of memes that will be with us for a generation at
least.

Lawrence Lessig Author, The Future of Ideas

#

Cory Doctorow doesn't just write about the future - I think he lives
there. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom isn't just a really good read,
it's also, like the best kind of fiction, a kind of guide book. See the
Tomorrowland of Tomorrow today, and while you're there, why not drop by
Frontierland, and the Haunted Mansion as well? (It's the Mansion that's
the haunted heart of this book.) Cory makes me feel nostalgic for the
future - a dizzying, yet rather pleasant sensation, as if I'm spiraling
down the tracks of Space Mountain over and over again. Visit the Magic
Kingdom and live forever!

Kelly Link Author, Stranger Things Happen

#

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is the most entertaining and exciting
science fiction story I've read in the last few years. I love page-
turners, especially when they are as unusual as this novel. I predict
big things for Down and Out -- it could easily become a breakout genre-
buster.

Mark Frauenfelder Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine

#

Imagine you woke up one day and Walt Disney had taken over the world.
Not only that, but money's been abolished and somebody's developed the
Cure for Death.  Welcome to the Bitchun Society--and make sure you're
strapped in tight, because it's going to be a wild ride.  In a world
where everyone's wishes can come true, one man returns to the original,
crumbling city of dreams--Disney World.   Here in the spiritual center
of the Bitchun Society he struggles to find and preserve the original,
human face of the Magic Kingdom against the young, post-human and
increasingly alien inheritors of the Earth.  Now that any experience can
be simulated, human relationships become ever more fragile; and to
Julius, the corny, mechanical ghosts of the Haunted Mansion have come to
seem like a precious link to a past when we could tell the real from the
simulated, the true from the false.

Cory Doctorow--cultural critic, Disneyphile, and ultimate Early Adopter
--uses language with the reckless confidence of the Beat poets.  Yet
behind the dazzling prose and vibrant characters lie ideas we should all
pay heed to.  The future rushes on like a plummeting roller coaster, and
it's hard to see where we're going.  But at least with this book
Doctorow has given us a map of the park.

Karl Schroeder Author, Permanence

#

Cory Doctorow is the most interesting new SF writer I've come across in
years.Ê He starts out at the point where older SF writers' speculations
end.Ê It's a distinct pleasure to give him some Whuffie.

Rudy Rucker Author, Spaceland

#

Cory Doctorow rocks! I check his blog about ten times a day, because
he's always one of the first to notice a major incursion from the
social-technological-pop-cultural future, and his voice is a compelling
vehicle for news from the future. Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom is
about a world that is visible in its outlines today, if you know where
to look, from reputation systems to peer-to-peer adhocracies. Doctorow
knows where to look, and how to word-paint the rest of us into the
picture.

Howard Rheingold Author, Smart Mobs

#

Doctorow is more than just a sick mind looking to twist the perceptions
of those whose realities remain uncorrupted - though that should be
enough recommendation to read his work. *Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom* is black comedic, sci-fi prophecy on the dangers of
surrendering our consensual hallucination to the regime. Fun to read,
but difficult to sleep afterwards.

Douglas Rushkoff Author of Cyberia and Media Virus!

#

"Wow! Disney imagineering meets nanotechnology, the reputation economy,
and Ray Kurzweil's transhuman future.  As much fun as Neal Stephenson's
Snow Crash, and as packed with mind bending ideas about social changes
cascading from the frontiers of science."

Tim O'Reilly Publisher and Founder, O'Reilly and Associates

#

Doctorow has created a rich and exciting vision of the future, and then
wrote a page-turner of a story in it.  I couldn't put the book down.

Bruce Schneier Author, Secrets and Lies

#

Cory Doctorow is one of our best new writers: smart, daring, savvy,
entertaining, ambitious, plugged-in, and as good a guide to the wired
world of the twenty-first century that stretches out before us as you're
going to find.

Gardner Dozois Editor, Asimov's SF

#

Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" tells a gripping,
fast-paced story that hinges on thought-provoking extrapolation from
today's technical realities. This is the sort of book that captures and
defines the spirit of a turning point in human history when our tools
remake ourselves and our world.

Mitch Kapor Founder, Lotus, Inc., co-founder Electronic Frontier
Foundation

--

======================= A note about this book: =======================

"Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is my first novel. It's an actual,
no-foolin' words-on-paper book, published by the good people at Tor
Books in New York City. You can buy this book in stores or online, by
following links like this one:

http://www.craphound.com/down/buy.php

So, what's with this file? Good question.

I'm releasing the entire text of this book as a free, freely
redistributable e-book. You can download it, put it on a P2P net, put it
on your site, email it to a friend, and, if you're addicted to dead
trees, you can even print it.

Why am I doing this thing? Well, it's a long story, but to shorten it
up: first-time novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don't
have a lot of promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us.
Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth. I'm not bad at word-of-
mouth. I have a blog, Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net), where I do a
*lot* of word-of-mouthing. I compulsively tell friends and strangers
about things that I like.

And telling people about stuff I like is *way*, *way* easier if I can
just send it to 'em. Way easier.

What's more, P2P nets kick all kinds of ass. Most of the books, music
and movies ever released are not available for sale, anywhere in the
world. In the brief time that P2P nets have flourished, the ad-hoc
masses of the Internet have managed to put just about *everything*
online. What's more, they've done it for cheaper than any other
archiving/revival effort ever. I'm a stone infovore and this kinda
Internet mishegas gives me a serious frisson of futurosity.

Yeah, there are legal problems. Yeah, it's hard to figure out how people
are gonna make money doing it. Yeah, there is a lot of social upheaval
and a serious threat to innovation, freedom, business, and whatnot. It's
your basic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, and as a science
fiction writer, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenaria are my stock-in-
trade.

I'm especially grateful to my publisher, Tor Books (http://www.tor.com)
and my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
(http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite) for being hep enough to let me
try out this experiment.

All that said, here's the deal: I'm releasing this book under a license
developed by the Creative Commons project (http://creativecommons.org/).
This is a project that lets people like me roll our own license
agreements for the distribution of our creative work under terms similar
to those employed by the Free/Open Source Software movement. It's a
great project, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

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--

======== PROLOGUE ========

I lived long enough to see the cure for death; to see the rise of the
Bitchun Society, to learn ten languages; to compose three symphonies; to
realize my boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World; to see
the death of the workplace and of work.

I never thought I'd live to see the day when Keep A-Movin' Dan would
decide to deadhead until the heat death of the Universe.

Dan was in his second or third blush of youth when I first met him,
sometime late-XXI. He was a rangy cowpoke, apparent 25 or so, all
rawhide squint-lines and sunburned neck, boots worn thin and infinitely
comfortable. I was in the middle of my Chem thesis, my fourth Doctorate,
and he was taking a break from Saving the World, chilling on campus in
Toronto and core-dumping for some poor Anthro major. We hooked up at the
Grad Students' Union -- the GSU, or Gazoo for those who knew -- on a
busy Friday night, spring-ish. I was fighting a coral-slow battle for a
stool at the scratched bar, inching my way closer every time the press
of bodies shifted, and he had one of the few seats, surrounded by a
litter of cigarette junk and empties, clearly encamped.

Some duration into my foray, he cocked his head at me and raised a sun-
bleached eyebrow. "You get any closer, son, and we're going to have to
get a pre-nup."

I was apparent forty or so, and I thought about bridling at being called
son, but I looked into his eyes and decided that he had enough realtime
that he could call me son anytime he wanted. I backed off a little and
apologized.

He struck a cig and blew a pungent, strong plume over the bartender's
head. "Don't worry about it. I'm probably a little over accustomed to
personal space."

I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard anyone on-world talk about
personal space. With the mortality rate at zero and the birth-rate at
non-zero, the world was inexorably accreting a dense carpet of people,
even with the migratory and deadhead drains on the population. "You've
been jaunting?" I asked -- his eyes were too sharp for him to have
missed an instant's experience to deadheading.

He chuckled. "No sir, not me. I'm into the kind of macho shitheadery
that you only come across on-world. Jaunting's for play; I need work."
The bar-glass tinkled a counterpoint.

I took a moment to conjure a HUD with his Whuffie score on it. I had to
resize the window -- he had too many zeroes to fit on my standard
display. I tried to act cool, but he caught the upwards flick of my eyes
and then their involuntary widening. He tried a little aw-shucksery,
gave it up and let a prideful grin show.

"I try not to pay it much mind. Some people, they get overly grateful."
He must've seen my eyes flick up again, to pull his Whuffie history.
"Wait, don't go doing that -- I'll tell you about it, you really got to
know.

"Damn, you know, it's so easy to get used to life without hyperlinks.
You'd think you'd really miss 'em, but you don't."

And it clicked for me. He was a missionary -- one of those fringe-
dwellers who act as emissary from the Bitchun Society to the benighted
corners of the world where, for whatever reasons, they want to die,
starve, and choke on petrochem waste. It's amazing that these
communities survive more than a generation; in the Bitchun Society
proper, we usually outlive our detractors. The missionaries don't have
such a high success rate -- you have to be awfully convincing to get
through to a culture that's already successfully resisted nearly a
century's worth of propaganda -- but when you convert a whole village,
you accrue all the Whuffie they have to give. More often, missionaries
end up getting refreshed from a backup after they aren't heard from for
a decade or so. I'd never met one in the flesh before.

"How many successful missions have you had?" I asked.

"Figured it out, huh? I've just come off my fifth in twenty years --
counterrevolutionaries hidden out in the old Cheyenne Mountain NORAD
site, still there a generation later." He sandpapered his whiskers with
his fingertips. "Their parents went to ground after their life's savings
vanished, and they had no use for tech any more advanced than a rifle.
Plenty of those, though."

He spun a fascinating yarn then, how he slowly gained the acceptance of
the mountain-dwellers, and then their trust, and then betrayed it in
subtle, beneficent ways: introducing Free Energy to their greenhouses,
then a gengineered crop or two, then curing a couple deaths, slowly
inching them toward the Bitchun Society, until they couldn't remember
why they hadn't wanted to be a part of it from the start. Now they were
mostly off-world, exploring toy frontiers with unlimited energy and
unlimited supplies and deadheading through the dull times en route.

"I guess it'd be too much of a shock for them to stay on-world. They
think of us as the enemy, you know -- they had all kinds of plans drawn
up for when we invaded them and took them away; hollow suicide teeth,
booby-traps, fall-back-and-rendezvous points for the survivors. They
just can't get over hating us, even though we don't even know they
exist. Off-world, they can pretend that they're still living rough and
hard." He rubbed his chin again, his hard calluses grating over his
whiskers. "But for me, the real rough life is right here, on-world. The
little enclaves, each one is like an alternate history of humanity --
what if we'd taken the Free Energy, but not deadheading? What if we'd
taken deadheading, but only for the critically ill, not for people who
didn't want to be bored on long bus-rides? Or no hyperlinks, no
adhocracy, no Whuffie? Each one is different and wonderful."

I have a stupid habit of arguing for the sake of, and I found myself
saying, "Wonderful? Oh sure, nothing finer than, oh, let's see, dying,
starving, freezing, broiling, killing, cruelty and ignorance and pain
and misery. I know I sure miss it."

Keep A-Movin' Dan snorted. "You think a junkie misses sobriety?"

I knocked on the bar. "Hello! There aren't any junkies anymore!"

He struck another cig. "But you know what a junkie _is_, right? Junkies
don't miss sobriety, because they don't remember how sharp everything
was, how the pain made the joy sweeter. We can't remember what it was
like to work to earn our keep; to worry that there might not be
_enough_, that we might get sick or get hit by a bus. We don't remember
what it was like to take chances, and we sure as shit don't remember
what it felt like to have them pay off."

He had a point. Here I was, only in my second or third adulthood, and
already ready to toss it all in and do something, _anything_, else. He
had a point -- but I wasn't about to admit it. "So you say. I say, I
take a chance when I strike up a conversation in a bar, when I fall in
love. . . And what about the deadheads? Two people I know, they just
went deadhead for ten thousand years! Tell me that's not taking a
chance!" Truth be told, almost everyone I'd known in my eighty-some
years were deadheading or jaunting or just _gone_. Lonely days, then.

"Brother, that's committing half-assed suicide. The way we're going,
they'll be lucky if someone doesn't just switch 'em off when it comes
time to reanimate. In case you haven't noticed, it's getting a little
crowded around here."

I made pish-tosh sounds and wiped off my forehead with a bar-napkin --
the Gazoo was beastly hot on summer nights. "Uh-huh, just like the world
was getting a little crowded a hundred years ago, before Free Energy.
Like it was getting too greenhousey, too nukey, too hot or too cold. We
fixed it then, we'll fix it again when the time comes. I'm gonna be here
in ten thousand years, you damn betcha, but I think I'll do it the long
way around."

He cocked his head again, and gave it some thought. If it had been any
of the other grad students, I'd have assumed he was grepping for some
bolstering factoids to support his next sally. But with him, I just knew
he was thinking about it, the old-fashioned way.

"I think that if I'm still here in ten thousand years, I'm going to be
crazy as hell. Ten thousand years, pal! Ten thousand years ago, the
state-of-the-art was a goat. You really think you're going to be
anything recognizably human in a hundred centuries? Me, I'm not
interested in being a post-person. I'm going to wake up one day, and I'm
going to say, 'Well, I guess I've seen about enough,' and that'll be my
last day."

I had seen where he was going with this, and I had stopped paying
attention while I readied my response. I probably should have paid more
attention. "But why? Why not just deadhead for a few centuries, see if
there's anything that takes your fancy, and if not, back to sleep for a
few more? Why do anything so _final_?"

He embarrassed me by making a show of thinking it over again, making me
feel like I was just a half-pissed glib poltroon. "I suppose it's
because nothing else is. I've always known that someday, I was going to
stop moving, stop seeking, stop kicking, and have done with it. There'll
come a day when I don't have anything left to do, except stop."

#

On campus, they called him Keep-A-Movin' Dan, because of his cowboy vibe
and because of his lifestyle, and he somehow grew to take over every
conversation I had for the next six months. I pinged his Whuffie a few
times, and noticed that it was climbing steadily upward as he
accumulated more esteem from the people he met.

I'd pretty much pissed away most of my Whuffie -- all the savings from
the symphonies and the first three theses -- drinking myself stupid at
the Gazoo, hogging library terminals, pestering profs, until I'd
expended all the respect anyone had ever afforded me. All except Dan,
who, for some reason, stood me to regular beers and meals and movies.

I got to feeling like I was someone special -- not everyone had a chum
as exotic as Keep-A-Movin' Dan, the legendary missionary who visited the
only places left that were closed to the Bitchun Society. I can't say
for sure why he hung around with me. He mentioned once or twice that
he'd liked my symphonies, and he'd read my Ergonomics thesis on applying
theme-park crowd-control techniques in urban settings, and liked what I
had to say there. But I think it came down to us having a good time
needling each other.

I'd talk to him about the vast carpet of the future unrolling before us,
of the certainty that we would encounter alien intelligences some day,
of the unimaginable frontiers open to each of us. He'd tell me that
deadheading was a strong indicator that one's personal reservoir of
introspection and creativity was dry; and that without struggle, there
is no real victory.

This was a good fight, one we could have a thousand times without
resolving. I'd get him to concede that Whuffie recaptured the true
essence of money: in the old days, if you were broke but respected, you
wouldn't starve; contrariwise, if you were rich and hated, no sum could
buy you security and peace. By measuring the thing that money really
represented -- your personal capital with your friends and neighbors --
you more accurately gauged your success.

And then he'd lead me down a subtle, carefully baited trail that led to
my allowing that while, yes, we might someday encounter alien species
with wild and fabulous ways, that right now, there was a slightly
depressing homogeneity to the world.

On a fine spring day, I defended my thesis to two embodied humans and
one prof whose body was out for an overhaul, whose consciousness was
present via speakerphone from the computer where it was resting. They
all liked it. I collected my sheepskin and went out hunting for Dan in
the sweet, flower-stinking streets.

He'd gone. The Anthro major he'd been torturing with his war-stories
said that they'd wrapped up that morning, and he'd headed to the walled
city of Tijuana, to take his shot with the descendants of a platoon of
US Marines who'd settled there and cut themselves off from the Bitchun
Society.

So I went to Disney World.

In deference to Dan, I took the flight in realtime, in the minuscule
cabin reserved for those of us who stubbornly refused to be frozen and
stacked like cordwood for the two hour flight. I was the only one taking
the trip in realtime, but a flight attendant dutifully served me a
urine-sample-sized orange juice and a rubbery, pungent, cheese omelet. I
stared out the windows at the infinite clouds while the autopilot banked
around the turbulence, and wondered when I'd see Dan next.

========= CHAPTER 1 =========

My girlfriend was 15 percent of my age, and I was old-fashioned enough
that it bugged me. Her name was Lil, and she was second-generation
Disney World, her parents being among the original ad-hocracy that took
over the management of Liberty Square and Tom Sawyer Island. She was,
quite literally, raised in Walt Disney World and it showed.

It showed. She was neat and efficient in her every little thing, from
her shining red hair to her careful accounting of each gear and cog in
the animatronics that were in her charge. Her folks were in canopic jars
in Kissimmee, deadheading for a few centuries.

On a muggy Wednesday, we dangled our feet over the edge of the Liberty
Belle's riverboat pier, watching the listless Confederate flag over Fort
Langhorn on Tom Sawyer Island by moonlight. The Magic Kingdom was all
closed up and every last guest had been chased out the gate underneath
the Main Street train station, and we were able to breathe a heavy sigh
of relief, shuck parts of our costumes, and relax together while the
cicadas sang.

I was more than a century old, but there was still a kind of magic in
having my arm around the warm, fine shoulders of a girl by moonlight,
hidden from the hustle of the cleaning teams by the turnstiles,
breathing the warm, moist air. Lil plumped her head against my shoulder
and gave me a butterfly kiss under my jaw.

"Her name was McGill," I sang, gently.

"But she called herself Lil," she sang, warm breath on my collarbones.

"And everyone knew her as Nancy," I sang.

I'd been startled to know that she knew the Beatles. They'd been old
news in my youth, after all. But her parents had given her a thorough --
if eclectic -- education.

"Want to do a walk-through?" she asked. It was one of her favorite
duties, exploring every inch of the rides in her care with the lights
on, after the horde of tourists had gone. We both liked to see the
underpinnings of the magic. Maybe that was why I kept picking at the
relationship.

"I'm a little pooped. Let's sit a while longer, if you don't mind."

She heaved a dramatic sigh. "Oh, all right. Old man." She reached up and
gently tweaked my nipple, and I gave a satisfying little jump. I think
the age difference bothered her, too, though she teased me for letting
it get to me.

"I think I'll be able to manage a totter through the Haunted Mansion, if
you just give me a moment to rest my bursitis." I felt her smile against
my shirt. She loved the Mansion; loved to turn on the ballroom ghosts
and dance their waltz with them on the dusty floor, loved to try and
stare down the marble busts in the library that followed your gaze as
you passed.

I liked it too, but I really liked just sitting there with her, watching
the water and the trees. I was just getting ready to go when I heard a
soft _ping_ inside my cochlea. "Damn," I said. "I've got a call."

"Tell them you're busy," she said.

"I will," I said, and answered the call subvocally. "Julius here."

"Hi, Julius. It's Dan. You got a minute?"

I knew a thousand Dans, but I recognized the voice immediately, though
it'd been ten years since we last got drunk at the Gazoo together. I
muted the subvocal and said, "Lil, I've got to take this. Do you mind?"

"Oh, _no_, not at all," she sarcased at me. She sat up and pulled out
her crack pipe and lit up.

"Dan," I subvocalized, "long time no speak."

"Yeah, buddy, it sure has been," he said, and his voice cracked on a
sob.

I turned and gave Lil such a look, she dropped her pipe. "How can I
help?" she said, softly but swiftly. I waved her off and switched the
phone to full-vocal mode. My voice sounded unnaturally loud in the
cricket-punctuated calm.

"Where you at, Dan?" I asked.

"Down here, in Orlando. I'm stuck out on Pleasure Island."

"All right," I said. "Meet me at, uh, the Adventurer's Club, upstairs on
the couch by the door. I'll be there in --" I shot a look at Lil, who
knew the castmember-only roads better than I. She flashed ten fingers at
me. "Ten minutes."

"Okay," he said. "Sorry." He had his voice back under control. I
switched off.

"What's up?" Lil asked.

"I'm not sure. An old friend is in town. He sounds like he's got a
problem."

Lil pointed a finger at me and made a trigger-squeezing gesture.
"There," she said. "I've just dumped the best route to Pleasure Island
to your public directory. Keep me in the loop, okay?"

I set off for the utilidoor entrance near the Hall of Presidents and
booted down the stairs to the hum of the underground tunnel-system. I
took the slidewalk to cast parking and zipped my little cart out to
Pleasure Island.

#

I found Dan sitting on the L-shaped couch underneath rows of faked-up
trophy shots with humorous captions. Downstairs, castmembers were
working the animatronic masks and idols, chattering with the guests.

Dan was apparent fifty plus, a little paunchy and stubbled. He had
raccoon-mask bags under his eyes and he slumped listlessly. As I
approached, I pinged his Whuffie and was startled to see that it had
dropped to nearly zero.

"Jesus," I said, as I sat down next to him. "You look like hell, Dan."

He nodded. "Appearances can be deceptive," he said. "But in this case,
they're bang-on."

"You want to talk about it?" I asked.

"Somewhere else, huh? I hear they ring in the New Year every night at
midnight; I think that'd be a little too much for me right now."

I led him out to my cart and cruised back to the place I shared with
Lil, out in Kissimmee. He smoked eight cigarettes on the twenty minute
ride, hammering one after another into his mouth, filling my runabout
with stinging clouds. I kept glancing at him in the rear-view. He had
his eyes closed, and in repose he looked dead. I could hardly believe
that this was my vibrant action-hero pal of yore.

Surreptitiously, I called Lil's phone. "I'm bringing him home," I
subvocalized. "He's in rough shape. Not sure what it's all about."

"I'll make up the couch," she said. "And get some coffee together. Love
you."

"Back atcha, kid," I said.

As we approached the tacky little swaybacked ranch-house, he opened his
eyes. "You're a pal, Jules." I waved him off. "No, really. I tried to
think of who I could call, and you were the only one. I've missed you,
bud."

"Lil said she'd put some coffee on," I said. "You sound like you need
it."

Lil was waiting on the sofa, a folded blanket and an extra pillow on the
side table, a pot of coffee and some Disneyland Beijing mugs beside
them. She stood and extended her hand. "I'm Lil," she said.

"Dan," he said. "It's a pleasure."

I knew she was pinging his Whuffie and I caught her look of surprised
disapproval. Us oldsters who predate Whuffie know that it's important;
but to the kids, it's the _world_. Someone without any is automatically
suspect. I watched her recover quickly, smile, and surreptitiously wipe
her hand on her jeans. "Coffee?" she said.

"Oh, yeah," Dan said, and slumped on the sofa.

She poured him a cup and set it on a coaster on the coffee table. "I'll
let you boys catch up, then," she said, and started for the bedroom.

"No," Dan said. "Wait. If you don't mind. I think it'd help if I could
talk to someone. . . younger, too."

She set her face in the look of chirpy helpfulness that all the second-
gen castmembers have at their instant disposal and settled into an
armchair. She pulled out her pipe and lit a rock. I went through my
crack period before she was born, just after they made it decaf, and I
always felt old when I saw her and her friends light up. Dan surprised
me by holding out a hand to her and taking the pipe. He toked heavily,
then passed it back.

Dan closed his eyes again, then ground his fists into them, sipped his
coffee. It was clear he was trying to figure out where to start.

"I believed that I was braver than I really am, is what it boils down
to," he said.

"Who doesn't?" I said.

"I really thought I could do it. I knew that someday I'd run out of
things to do, things to see. I knew that I'd finish some day. You
remember, we used to argue about it. I swore I'd be done, and that would
be the end of it. And now I am. There isn't a single place left on-world
that isn't part of the Bitchun Society. There isn't a single thing left
that I want any part of."

"So deadhead for a few centuries," I said. "Put the decision off."

"No!" he shouted, startling both of us. "I'm _done_. It's _over_."

"So do it," Lil said.

"I _can't_," he sobbed, and buried his face in his hands. He cried like
a baby, in great, snoring sobs that shook his whole body. Lil went into
the kitchen and got some tissue, and passed it to me. I sat alongside
him and awkwardly patted his back.

"Jesus," he said, into his palms. "Jesus."

"Dan?" I said, quietly.

He sat up and took the tissue, wiped off his face and hands. "Thanks,"
he said. "I've tried to make a go of it, really I have. I've spent the
last eight years in Istanbul, writing papers on my missions, about the
communities. I did some followup studies, interviews. No one was
interested. Not even me. I smoked a lot of hash. It didn't help. So, one
morning I woke up and went to the bazaar and said good bye to the
friends I'd made there. Then I went to a pharmacy and had the man make
me up a lethal injection. He wished me good luck and I went back to my
rooms. I sat there with the hypo all afternoon, then I decided to sleep
on it, and I got up the next morning and did it all over again. I looked
inside myself, and I saw that I didn't have the guts. I just didn't have
the guts. I've stared down the barrels of a hundred guns, had a thousand
knives pressed up against my throat, but I didn't have the guts to press
that button."

"You were too late," Lil said.

We both turned to look at her.

"You were a decade too late. Look at you. You're pathetic. If you killed
yourself right now, you'd just be a washed-up loser who couldn't hack
it. If you'd done it ten years earlier, you would've been going out on
top -- a champion, retiring permanently." She set her mug down with a
harder-than-necessary clunk.

Sometimes, Lil and I are right on the same wavelength. Sometimes, it's
like she's on a different planet. All I could do was sit there,
horrified, and she was happy to discuss the timing of my pal's suicide.

But she was right. Dan nodded heavily, and I saw that he knew it, too.

"A day late and a dollar short," he sighed.

"Well, don't just sit there," she said. "You know what you've got to
do."

"What?" I said, involuntarily irritated by her tone.

She looked at me like I was being deliberately stupid. "He's got to get
back on top. Cleaned up, dried out, into some productive work. Get that
Whuffie up, too. _Then_ he can kill himself with dignity."

It was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. Dan, though, was cocking an
eyebrow at her and thinking hard. "How old did you say you were?" he
asked.

"Twenty-three," she said.

"Wish I'd had your smarts at twenty-three," he said, and heaved a sigh,
straightening up. "Can I stay here while I get the job done?"

I looked askance at Lil, who considered for a moment, then nodded.

"Sure, pal, sure," I said. I clapped him on the shoulder. "You look
beat."

"Beat doesn't begin to cover it," he said.

"Good night, then," I said.

========= CHAPTER 2 =========

Ad-hocracy works well, for the most part. Lil's folks had taken over the
running of Liberty Square with a group of other interested, compatible
souls. They did a fine job, racked up gobs of Whuffie, and anyone who
came around and tried to take it over would be so reviled by the guests
they wouldn't find a pot to piss in. Or they'd have such a wicked,
radical approach that they'd ouster Lil's parents and their pals, and do
a better job.

It can break down, though. There were pretenders to the throne -- a
group who'd worked with the original ad-hocracy and then had moved off
to other pursuits -- some of them had gone to school, some of them had
made movies, written books, or gone off to Disneyland Beijing to help
start things up. A few had deadheaded for a couple decades.

They came back to Liberty Square with a message: update the attractions.
The Liberty Square ad-hocs were the staunchest conservatives in the
Magic Kingdom, preserving the wheezing technology in the face of a Park
that changed almost daily. The newcomer/old-timers were on-side with the
rest of the Park, had their support, and looked like they might make a
successful go of it.

So it fell to Lil to make sure that there were no bugs in the meager
attractions of Liberty Square: the Hall of the Presidents, the Liberty
Belle riverboat, and the glorious Haunted Mansion, arguably the coolest
attraction to come from the fevered minds of the old-time Disney
Imagineers.

I caught her backstage at the Hall of the Presidents, tinkering with
Lincoln II, the backup animatronic. Lil tried to keep two of everything
running at speed, just in case. She could swap out a dead bot for a
backup in five minutes flat, which is all that crowd-control would
permit.

It had been two weeks since Dan's arrival, and though I'd barely seen
him in that time, his presence was vivid in our lives. Our little ranch-
house had a new smell, not unpleasant, of rejuve and hope and loss,
something barely noticeable over the tropical flowers nodding in front
of our porch. My phone rang three or four times a day, Dan checking in
from his rounds of the Park, seeking out some way to accumulate personal
capital. His excitement and dedication to the task were inspiring,
pulling me into his over-the-top-and-damn-the-torpedoes mode of being.

"You just missed Dan," she said. She had her head in Lincoln's chest,
working with an autosolder and a magnifier. Bent over, red hair tied
back in a neat bun, sweat sheening her wiry freckled arms, smelling of
girl-sweat and machine lubricant, she made me wish there were a mattress
somewhere backstage. I settled for patting her behind affectionately,
and she wriggled appreciatively. "He's looking better."

His rejuve had taken him back to apparent 25, the way I remembered him.
He was rawboned and leathery, but still had the defeated stoop that had
startled me when I saw him at the Adventurer's Club. "What did he want?"

"He's been hanging out with Debra -- he wanted to make sure I knew what
she's up to."

Debra was one of the old guard, a former comrade of Lil's parents. She'd
spent a decade in Disneyland Beijing, coding sim-rides. If she had her
way, we'd tear down every marvelous rube goldberg in the Park and
replace them with pristine white sim boxes on giant, articulated servos.

The problem was that she was _really good_ at coding sims. Her Great
Movie Ride rehab at MGM was breathtaking -- the Star Wars sequence had
already inspired a hundred fan-sites that fielded millions of hits.

She'd leveraged her success into a deal with the Adventureland ad-hocs
to rehab the Pirates of the Caribbean, and their backstage areas were
piled high with reference: treasure chests and cutlasses and bowsprits.
It was terrifying to walk through; the Pirates was the last ride Walt
personally supervised, and we'd thought it was sacrosanct. But Debra had
built a Pirates sim in Beijing, based on Chend I Sao, the XIXth century
Chinese pirate queen, which was credited with rescuing the Park from
obscurity and ruin. The Florida iteration would incorporate the best
aspects of its Chinese cousin -- the AI-driven sims that communicated
with each other and with the guests, greeting them by name each time
they rode and spinning age-appropriate tales of piracy on the high seas;
the spectacular fly-through of the aquatic necropolis of rotting junks
on the sea-floor; the thrilling pitch and yaw of the sim as it weathered
a violent, breath-taking storm -- but with Western themes: wafts of
Jamaican pepper sauce crackling through the air; liquid Afro-Caribbean
accents; and swordfights conducted in the manner of the pirates who
plied the blue waters of the New World. Identical sims would stack like
cordwood in the space currently occupied by the bulky ride-apparatus and
dioramas, quintupling capacity and halving load-time.

"So, what's she up to?"

Lil extracted herself from the Rail-Splitter's mechanical guts and made
a comical moue of worry. "She's rehabbing the Pirates -- and doing an
incredible job. They're ahead of schedule, they've got good net-buzz,
the focus groups are cumming themselves." The comedy went out of her
expression, baring genuine worry.

She turned away and closed up Honest Abe, then fired her finger at him.
Smoothly, he began to run through his spiel, silent but for the soft hum
and whine of his servos. Lil mimed twiddling a knob and his audiotrack
kicked in low: "All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa _combined_
could not, by force, make a track on the Blue Ridge, nor take a drink
from the Ohio. If destruction be our lot, then we ourselves must be its
author -- and its finisher." She mimed turning down the gain and he fell
silent again.

"You said it, Mr. President," she said, and fired her finger at him
again, powering him down. She bent and adjusted his hand-sewn period
topcoat, then carefully wound and set the turnip-watch in his vest-
pocket.

I put my arm around her shoulders. "You're doing all you can -- and it's
good work," I said. I'd fallen into the easy castmember mode of
speaking, voicing bland affirmations. Hearing the words, I felt a flush
of embarrassment. I pulled her into a long, hard hug and fumbled for
better reassurance. Finding no words that would do, I gave her a final
squeeze and let her go.

She looked at me sidelong and nodded her head. "It'll be fine, of
course," she said. "I mean, the worst possible scenario is that Debra
will do her job very, very well, and make things even better than they
are now. That's not so bad."

This was a 180-degree reversal of her position on the subject the last
time we'd talked, but you don't live more than a century without
learning when to point out that sort of thing and when not to.

My cochlea struck twelve noon and a HUD appeared with my weekly backup
reminder. Lil was maneuvering Ben Franklin II out of his niche. I waved
good-bye at her back and walked away, to an uplink terminal. Once I was
close enough for secure broadband communications, I got ready to back
up. My cochlea chimed again and I answered it.

"Yes," I subvocalized, impatiently. I hated getting distracted from a
backup -- one of my enduring fears was that I'd forget the backup
altogether and leave myself vulnerable for an entire week until the next
reminder. I'd lost the knack of getting into habits in my adolescence,
giving in completely to machine-generated reminders over conscious
choice.

"It's Dan." I heard the sound of the Park in full swing behind him --
children's laughter; bright, recorded animatronic spiels; the tromp of
thousands of feet. "Can you meet me at the Tiki Room? It's pretty
important."

"Can it wait for fifteen?" I asked.

"Sure -- see you in fifteen."

I rung off and initiated the backup. A status-bar zipped across a HUD,
dumping the parts of my memory that were purely digital; then it
finished and started in on organic memory. My eyes rolled back in my
head and my life flashed before my eyes.

========= CHAPTER 3 =========

The Bitchun Society has had much experience with restores from backup --
in the era of the cure for death, people live pretty recklessly. Some
people get refreshed a couple dozen times a year.

Not me. I hate the process. Not so much that I won't participate in it.
Everyone who had serious philosophical conundra on that subject just,
you know, _died_, a generation before. The Bitchun Society didn't need
to convert its detractors, just outlive them.

The first time I died, it was not long after my sixtieth birthday. I was
SCUBA diving at Playa Coral, near Veradero, Cuba. Of course, I don't
remember the incident, but knowing my habits at that particular dive-
site and having read the dive-logs of my SCUBA-buddies, I've
reconstructed the events.

I was eeling my way through the lobster-caves, with a borrowed bottle
and mask. I'd also borrowed a wetsuit, but I wasn't wearing it -- the
blood-temp salt water was balm, and I hated erecting barriers between it
and my skin. The caves were made of coral and rocks, and they coiled and
twisted like intestines. Through each hole and around each corner, there
was a hollow, rough sphere of surpassing, alien beauty. Giant lobsters
skittered over the walls and through the holes. Schools of fish as
bright as jewels darted and executed breath-taking precision maneuvers
as I disturbed their busy days. I do some of my best thinking under
water, and I'm often slipping off into dangerous reverie at depth.
Normally, my diving buddies ensure that I don't hurt myself, but this
time I got away from them, spidering forward into a tiny hole.

Where I got stuck.

My diving buddies were behind me, and I rapped on my bottle with the
hilt of my knife until one of them put a hand on my shoulder. My buddies
saw what was up, and attempted to pull me loose, but my bottle and
buoyancy-control vest were firmly wedged. The others exchanged hand
signals, silently debating the best way to get me loose. Suddenly, I was
thrashing and kicking, and then I disappeared into the cave, minus my
vest and bottle. I'd apparently attempted to cut through my vest's
straps and managed to sever the tube of my regulator. After inhaling a
jolt of sea water, I'd thrashed free into the cave, rolling into a
monstrous patch of spindly fire-coral. I'd inhaled another lungful of
water and kicked madly for a tiny hole in the cave's ceiling, whence my
buddies retrieved me shortly thereafter, drowned-blue except for the
patchy red welts from the stinging coral.

In those days, making a backup was a lot more complicated; the procedure
took most of a day, and had to be undertaken at a special clinic.
Luckily, I'd had one made just before I left for Cuba, a few weeks
earlier. My next-most-recent backup was three years old, dating from the
completion of my second symphony.

They recovered me from backup and into a force-grown clone at Toronto
General. As far as I knew, I'd laid down in the backup clinic one moment
and arisen the next. It took most of a year to get over the feeling that
the whole world was putting a monstrous joke over on me, that the
drowned corpse I'd seen was indeed my own. In my mind, the rebirth was
figurative as well as literal -- the missing time was enough that I
found myself hard-pressed to socialize with my pre-death friends.

I told Dan the story during our first friendship, and he immediately
pounced on the fact that I'd gone to Disney World to spend a week
sorting out my feelings, reinventing myself, moving to space, marrying a
crazy lady. He found it very curious that I always rebooted myself at
Disney World. When I told him that I was going to live there someday, he
asked me if that would mean that I was done reinventing myself.
Sometimes, as I ran my fingers through Lil's sweet red curls, I thought
of that remark and sighed great gusts of contentment and marveled that
my friend Dan had been so prescient.

The next time I died, they'd improved the technology somewhat. I'd had a
massive stroke in my seventy-third year, collapsing on the ice in the
middle of a house-league hockey game. By the time they cut my helmet
away, the hematomae had crushed my brain into a pulpy, blood-sotted
mess. I'd been lax in backing up, and I lost most of a year. But they
woke me gently, with a computer-generated precis of the events of the
missing interval, and a counselor contacted me daily for a year until I
felt at home again in my skin. Again, my life rebooted, and I found
myself in Disney World, methodically flensing away the relationships I'd
built and starting afresh in Boston, living on the ocean floor and
working the heavy-metal harvesters, a project that led, eventually, to
my Chem thesis at U of T.

After I was shot dead at the Tiki Room, I had the opportunity to
appreciate the great leaps that restores had made in the intervening ten
years. I woke in my own bed, instantly aware of the events that led up
to my third death as seen from various third-party POVs: security
footage from the Adventureland cameras, synthesized memories extracted
from Dan's own backup, and a computer-generated fly-through of the
scene. I woke feeling preternaturally calm and cheerful, and knowing
that I felt that way because of certain temporary neurotransmitter
presets that had been put in place when I was restored.

Dan and Lil sat at my bedside. Lil's tired, smiling face was limned with
hairs that had snuck loose of her ponytail. She took my hand and kissed
the smooth knuckles. Dan smiled beneficently at me and I was seized with
a warm, comforting feeling of being surrounded by people who really
loved me. I dug for words appropriate to the scene, decided to wing it,
opened my mouth and said, to my surprise, "I have to pee."

Dan and Lil smiled at each other. I lurched out of the bed, naked, and
thumped to the bathroom. My muscles were wonderfully limber, with a
brand-new spring to them. After I flushed I leaned over and took hold of
my ankles, then pulled my head right to the floor, feeling the marvelous
flexibility of my back and legs and buttocks. A scar on my knee was
missing, as were the many lines that had crisscrossed my fingers. When I
looked in the mirror, I saw that my nose and earlobes were smaller and
perkier. The familiar crow's-feet and the frown-lines between my
eyebrows were gone. I had a day's beard all over -- head, face, pubis,
arms, legs. I ran my hands over my body and chuckled at the ticklish
newness of it all. I was briefly tempted to depilate all over, just to
keep this feeling of newness forever, but the neurotransmitter presets
were evaporating and a sense of urgency over my murder was creeping up
on me.

I tied a towel around my waist and made my way back to the bedroom. The
smells of tile-cleaner and flowers and rejuve were bright in my nose,
effervescent as camphor. Dan and Lil stood when I came into the room and
helped me to the bed. "Well, this _sucks_," I said.

I'd gone straight from the uplink through the utilidors -- three quick
cuts of security cam footage, one at the uplink, one in the corridor,
and one at the exit in the underpass between Liberty Square and
Adventureland. I seemed bemused and a little sad as I emerged from the
door, and began to weave my way through the crowd, using a kind of
sinuous, darting shuffle that I'd developed when I was doing field-work
on my crowd-control thesis. I cut rapidly through the lunchtime crowd
toward the long roof of the Tiki Room, thatched with strips of
shimmering aluminum cut and painted to look like long grass.

Fuzzy shots now, from Dan's POV, of me moving closer to him, passing
close to a group of teenaged girls with extra elbows and knees, wearing
environmentally controlled cloaks and cowls covered with Epcot Center
logomarks. One of them is wearing a pith helmet, from the Jungle Traders
shop outside of the Jungle Cruise. Dan's gaze flicks away, to the Tiki
Room's entrance, where there is a short queue of older men, then back,
just as the girl with the pith helmet draws a stylish little organic
pistol, like a penis with a tail that coils around her arm. Casually,
grinning, she raises her arm and gestures with the pistol, exactly like
Lil does with her finger when she's uploading, and the pistol lunges
forward. Dan's gaze flicks back to me. I'm pitching over, my lungs
bursting out of my chest and spreading before me like wings, spinal
gristle and viscera showering the guests before me. A piece of my
nametag, now shrapnel, strikes Dan in the forehead, causing him to
blink. When he looks again, the group of girls is still there, but the
girl with the pistol is long gone.

The fly-through is far less confused. Everyone except me, Dan and the
girl is grayed-out. We're limned in highlighter yellow, moving in slow-
motion. I emerge from the underpass and the girl moves from the Swiss
Family Robinson Treehouse to the group of her friends. Dan starts to
move towards me. The girl raises, arms and fires her pistol. The self-
guiding smart-slug, keyed to my body chemistry, flies low, near ground
level, weaving between the feet of the crowd, moving just below the
speed of sound. When it reaches me, it screams upwards and into my
spine, detonating once it's entered my chest cavity.

The girl has already made a lot of ground, back toward the
Adventureland/Main Street, USA gateway. The fly-through speeds up,
following her as she merges with the crowds on the street, ducking and
weaving between them, moving toward the breezeway at Sleeping Beauty
Castle. She vanishes, then reappears, forty minutes later, in
Tomorrowland, near the new Space Mountain complex, then disappears
again.

"Has anyone ID'd the girl?" I asked, once I'd finished reliving the
events. The anger was starting to boil within me now. My new fists
clenched for the first time, soft palms and uncallused fingertips.

Dan shook his head. "None of the girls she was with had ever seen her
before. The face was one of the Seven Sisters -- Hope." The Seven
Sisters were a trendy collection of designer faces. Every second teenage
girl wore one of them.

"How about Jungle Traders?" I asked. "Did they have a record of the pith
helmet purchase?"

Lil frowned. "We ran the Jungle Traders purchases back for six months:
only three matched the girl's apparent age; all three have alibis.
Chances are she stole it."

"Why?" I asked, finally. In my mind's eye, I saw my lungs bursting out
of my chest, like wings, like jellyfish, vertebrae spraying like
shrapnel. I saw the girl's smile, an almost sexual smirk as she pulled
the trigger on me.

"It wasn't random," Lil said. "The slug was definitely keyed to you --
that means that she'd gotten close to you at some point."

Right -- which meant that she'd been to Disney World in the last ten
years. That narrowed it down, all right.

"What happened to her after Tomorrowland?" I said.

"We don't know," Lil said. "Something wrong with the cameras. We lost
her and she never reappeared." She sounded hot and angry -- she took
equipment failures in the Magic Kingdom personally.

"Who'd want to do this?" I asked, hating the self-pity in my voice. It
was the first time I'd been murdered, but I didn't need to be a drama-
queen about it.

Dan's eyes got a far-away look. "Sometimes, people do things for reasons
that seem perfectly reasonable to them, that the rest of the world
couldn't hope to understand. I've seen a few assassinations, and they
never made sense afterwards." He stroked his chin. "Sometimes, it's
better to look for temperament, rather than motivation: who _could_ do
something like this?"

Right. All we needed to do was investigate all the psychopaths who'd
visited the Magic Kingdom in ten years. That narrowed it down
considerably. I pulled up a HUD and checked the time. It had been four
days since my murder. I had a shift coming up, working the turnstiles at
the Haunted Mansion. I liked to pull a couple of those shifts a month,
just to keep myself grounded; it helped to take a reality check while I
was churning away in the rarified climate of my crowd-control
simulations.

I stood and went to my closet, started to dress.

"_What_ are you doing?" Lil asked, alarmed.

"I've got a shift. I'm running late."

"You're in no shape to work," Lil said, tugging at my elbow. I jerked
free of her.

"I'm fine -- good as new." I barked a humorless laugh. "I'm not going to
let those bastards disrupt my life any more."

_Those bastards_? I thought -- when had I decided that there was more
than one? But I knew it was true. There was no way that this was all
planned by one person: it had been executed too precisely, too
thoroughly.

Dan moved to block the bedroom door. "Wait a second," he said. "You need
rest."

I fixed him with a doleful glare. "I'll decide that," I said. He stepped
aside.

"I'll tag along, then," he said. "Just in case."

I pinged my Whuffie. I was up a couple percentiles -- sympathy Whuffie
-- but it was falling: Dan and Lil were radiating disapproval. Screw 'em.

I got into my runabout and Dan scrambled for the passenger door as I put
it in gear and sped out.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Dan said as I nearly rolled the
runabout taking the corner at the end of our cul-de-sac.

"Why wouldn't I be?" I said. "I'm as good as new."

"Funny choice of words," he said. "Some would say that you _were_ new."

I groaned. "Not this argument again," I said. "I feel like me and no one
else is making that claim. Who cares if I've been restored from a
backup?"

"All I'm saying is, there's a difference between _you_ and an exact copy
of you, isn't there?"

I knew what he was doing, distracting me with one of our old fights, but
I couldn't resist the bait, and as I marshalled my arguments, it
actually helped calm me down some. Dan was that kind of friend, a person
who knew you better than you knew yourself. "So you're saying that if
you were obliterated and then recreated, atom-for-atom, that you
wouldn't be you anymore?"

"For the sake of argument, sure. Being destroyed and recreated is
different from not being destroyed at all, right?"

"Brush up on your quantum mechanics, pal. You're being destroyed and
recreated a trillion times a second."

"On a very, very small level --"

"What difference does that make?"

"Fine, I'll concede that. But you're not really an atom-for-atom copy.
You're a clone, with a copied _brain_ -- that's not the same as quantum
destruction."

"Very nice thing to say to someone who's just been murdered, pal. You
got a problem with clones?"

And we were off and running.

#

The Mansion's cast were sickeningly cheerful and solicitous. Each of
them made a point of coming around and touching the stiff, starched
shoulder of my butler's costume, letting me know that if there was
anything they could do for me. . . I gave them all a fixed smile and
tried to concentrate on the guests, how they waited, when they arrived,
how they dispersed through the exit gate. Dan hovered nearby,
occasionally taking the eight minute, twenty-two second ride-through,
running interference for me with the other castmembers.

He was nearby when my break came up. I changed into civvies and we
walked over the cobbled streets, past the Hall of the Presidents, noting
as I rounded the corner that there was something different about the
queue-area. Dan groaned. "They did it already," he said.

I looked closer. The turnstiles were blocked by a sandwich board: Mickey
in a Ben Franklin wig and bifocals, holding a trowel. "Excuse our mess!"
the sign declared. "We're renovating to serve you better!"

I spotted one of Debra's cronies standing behind the sign, a self-
satisfied smile on his face. He'd started off life as a squat, northern
Chinese, but had had his bones lengthened and his cheekbones raised so
that he looked almost elfin. I took one look at his smile and understood
-- Debra had established a toehold in Liberty Square.

"They filed plans for the new Hall with the steering committee an hour
after you got shot. The committee loved the plans; so did the net.
They're promising not to touch the Mansion."

"You didn't mention this," I said, hotly.

"We thought you'd jump to conclusions. The timing was bad, but there's
no indication that they arranged for the shooter. Everyone's got an
alibi; furthermore, they've all offered to submit their backups for
proof."

"Right," I said. "Right. So they just _happened_ to have plans for a new
Hall standing by. And they just _happened_ to file them after I got
shot, when all our ad-hocs were busy worrying about me. It's all a big
coincidence."

Dan shook his head. "We're not stupid, Jules. No one thinks that it's a
coincidence. Debra's the sort of person who keeps a lot of plans
standing by, just in case. But that just makes her a well-prepared
opportunist, not a murderer."

I felt nauseated and exhausted. I was enough of a castmember that I
sought out a utilidor before I collapsed against a wall, head down.
Defeat seeped through me, saturating me.

Dan crouched down beside me. I looked over at him. He was grinning
wryly. "Posit," he said, "for the moment, that Debra really did do this
thing, set you up so that she could take over."

I smiled, in spite of myself. This was his explaining act, the thing he
would do whenever I fell into one of his rhetorical tricks back in the
old days. "All right, I've posited it."

"Why would she: one, take out you instead of Lil or one of the real old-
timers; two, go after the Hall of Presidents instead of Tom Sawyer
Island or even the Mansion; and three, follow it up with such a blatant,
suspicious move?"

"All right," I said, warming to the challenge. "One: I'm important
enough to be disruptive but not so important as to rate a full
investigation. Two: Tom Sawyer Island is too visible, you can't rehab it
without people seeing the dust from shore. Three, Debra's coming off of
a decade in Beijing, where subtlety isn't real important."

"Sure," Dan said, "sure." Then he launched an answering salvo, and while
I was thinking up my answer, he helped me to my feet and walked me out
to my runabout, arguing all the way, so that by the time I noticed we
weren't at the Park anymore, I was home and in bed.

#

With all the Hall's animatronics mothballed for the duration, Lil had
more time on her hands than she knew what to do with. She hung around
the little bungalow, the two of us in the living room, staring blankly
at the windows, breathing shallowly in the claustrophobic, superheated
Florida air. I had my working notes on queue management for the Mansion,
and I pecked at them aimlessly. Sometimes, Lil mirrored my HUD so she
could watch me work, and made suggestions based on her long experience.

It was a delicate process, this business of increasing throughput
without harming the guest experience. But for every second I could shave
off of the queue-to-exit time, I could put another sixty guests through
and lop thirty seconds off total wait-time. And the more guests who got
to experience the Mansion, the more of a Whuffie-hit Debra's people
would suffer if they made a move on it. So I dutifully pecked at my
notes, and found three seconds I could shave off the graveyard sequence
by swiveling the Doom Buggy carriages stage-left as they descended from
the attic window: by expanding their fields-of-vision, I could expose
the guests to all the scenes more quickly.

I ran the change in fly-through, then implemented it after closing and
invited the other Liberty Square ad-hocs to come and test it out.

It was another muggy winter evening, prematurely dark. The ad-hocs had
enough friends and family with them that we were able to simulate an
off-peak queue-time, and we all stood and sweated in the preshow area,
waiting for the doors to swing open, listening to the wolf-cries and
assorted boo-spookery from the hidden speakers.

The doors swung open, revealing Lil in a rotting maid's uniform, her
eyes lined with black, her skin powdered to a deathly pallor. She gave
us a cold, considering glare, then intoned, "Master Gracey requests more
bodies."

As we crowded into the cool, musty gloom of the parlor, Lil contrived to
give my ass an affectionate squeeze. I turned to return the favor, and
saw Debra's elfin comrade looming over Lil's shoulder. My smile died on
my lips.

The man locked eyes with me for a moment, and I saw something in there
-- some admixture of cruelty and worry that I didn't know what to make
of. He looked away immediately. I'd known that Debra would have spies in
the crowd, of course, but with elf-boy watching, I resolved to make this
the best show I knew how.

It's subtle, this business of making the show better from within. Lil
had already slid aside the paneled wall that led to stretch-room number
two, the most recently serviced one. Once the crowd had moved inside, I
tried to lead their eyes by adjusting my body language to poses of
subtle attention directed at the new spotlights. When the newly
remastered soundtrack came from behind the sconce-bearing gargoyles at
the corners of the octagonal room, I leaned my body slightly in the
direction of the moving stereo-image. And an instant before the lights
snapped out, I ostentatiously cast my eyes up into the scrim ceiling,
noting that others had taken my cue, so they were watching when the
UV-lit corpse dropped from the pitch-dark ceiling, jerking against the
noose at its neck.

The crowd filed into the second queue area, where they boarded the Doom
Buggies. There was a low buzz of marveling conversation as we made our
way onto the moving sidewalk. I boarded my Doom Buggy and an instant
later, someone slid in beside me. It was the elf.

He made a point of not making eye contact with me, but I sensed his
sidelong glances at me as we rode through past the floating chandelier
and into the corridor where the portraits' eyes watched us. Two years
before, I'd accelerated this sequence and added some random swivel to
the Doom Buggies, shaving 25 seconds off the total, taking the hourly
throughput cap from 2365 to 2600. It was the proof-of-concept that led
to all the other seconds I'd shaved away since. The violent pitching of
the Buggy brought me and the elf into inadvertent contact with one
another, and when I brushed his hand as I reached for the safety bar, I
felt that it was cold and sweaty.

He was nervous! _He_ was nervous. What did _he_ have to be nervous
about? I was the one who'd been murdered -- maybe he was nervous because
he was supposed to finish the job. I cast my own sidelong looks at him,
trying to see suspicious bulges in his tight clothes, but the Doom
Buggy's pebbled black plastic interior was too dim. Dan was in the Buggy
behind us, with one of the Mansion's regular castmembers. I rang his
cochlea and subvocalized: "Get ready to jump out on my signal." Anyone
leaving their Buggy would interrupt an infrared beam and stop the ride
system. I knew I could rely on Dan to trust me without a lot of
explaining, which meant that I could keep a close watch on Debra's
crony.

We went past the hallway of mirrors and into the hallway of doors, where
monstrous hands peeked out around the sills, straining against the
hinges, recorded groans mixed in with pounding. I thought about it -- if
I wanted to kill someone on the Mansion, what would be the best place to
do it? The attic staircase-- the next sequence -- seemed like a good
bet. A cold clarity washed over me. The elf would kill me in the gloom
of the staircase, dump me out over the edge at the blind turn toward the
graveyard, and that would be it. Would he be able to do it if I were
staring straight at him? He seemed terribly nervous as it was. I
swiveled in my seat and looked him straight in the eye.

He quirked half a smile at me and nodded a greeting. I kept on staring
at him, my hands balled into fists, ready for anything. We rode down the
staircase, facing up, listening to the clamour of voices from the
cemetery and the squawk of the red-eyed raven. I caught sight of the
quaking groundkeeper animatronic from the corner of my eye and startled.
I let out a subvocal squeal and was pitched forward as the ride system
shuddered to a stop.

"Jules?" came Dan's voice in my cochlea. "You all right?"

He'd heard my involuntary note of surprise and had leapt clear of the
Buggy, stopping the ride. The elf was looking at me with a mixture of
surprise and pity.

"It's all right, it's all right. False alarm." I paged Lil and
subvocalized to her, telling her to start up the ride ASAP, it was all
right.

I rode the rest of the way with my hands on the safety bar, my eyes
fixed ahead of me, steadfastly ignoring the elf. I checked the timer I'd
been running. The demo was a debacle -- instead of shaving off three
seconds, I'd added thirty. I wanted to cry.

#

I debarked the Buggy and stalked quickly out of the exit queue, leaning
heavily against the fence, staring blindly at the pet cemetery. My head
swam: I was out of control, jumping at shadows. I was spooked.

And I had no reason to be. Sure, I'd been murdered, but what had it cost
me? A few days of "unconsciousness" while they decanted my backup into
my new body, a merciful gap in memory from my departure at the backup
terminal up until my death. I wasn't one of those nuts who took death
_seriously_. It wasn't like they'd done something _permanent_.

In the meantime, I _had_ done something permanent: I'd dug Lil's grave a
little deeper, endangered the ad-hocracy and, worst of all, the Mansion.
I'd acted like an idiot. I tasted my dinner, a wolfed-down hamburger,
and swallowed hard, forcing down the knob of nausea.

I sensed someone at my elbow, and thinking it was Lil, come to ask me
what had gone on, I turned with a sheepish grin and found myself facing
the elf.

He stuck his hand out and spoke in the flat no-accent of someone running
a language module. "Hi there. We haven't been introduced, but I wanted
to tell you how much I enjoy your work. I'm Tim Fung."

I pumped his hand, which was still cold and particularly clammy in the
close heat of the Florida night. "Julius," I said, startled at how much
like a bark it sounded. _Careful_, I thought, _no need to escalate the
hostilities._ "It's kind of you to say that. I like what you-all have
done with the Pirates."

He smiled: a genuine, embarrassed smile, as though he'd just been given
high praise from one of his heroes. "Really? I think it's pretty good --
the second time around you get a lot of chances to refine things, really
clarify the vision. Beijing -- well, it was exciting, but it was rushed,
you know? I mean, we were really struggling. Every day, there was
another pack of squatters who wanted to tear the Park down. Debra used
to send me out to give the children piggyback rides, just to keep our
Whuffie up while she was evicting the squatters. It was good to have the
opportunity to refine the designs, revisit them without the floor show."

I knew about this, of course -- Beijing had been a real struggle for the
ad-hocs who built it. Lots of them had been killed, many times over.
Debra herself had been killed every day for a week and restored to a
series of prepared clones, beta-testing one of the ride systems. It was
faster than revising the CAD simulations. Debra had a reputation for
pursuing expedience.

"I'm starting to find out how it feels to work under pressure," I said,
and nodded significantly at the Mansion. I was gratified to see him look
embarrassed, then horrified.

"We would _never_ touch the Mansion," he said. "It's _perfect_!"

Dan and Lil sauntered up as I was preparing a riposte. They both looked
concerned -- now that I thought of it, they'd both seemed incredibly
concerned about me since the day I was revived.

Dan's gait was odd, stilted, like he was leaning on Lil for support.
They looked like a couple. An irrational sear of jealousy jetted through
me. I was an emotional wreck. Still, I took Lil's big, scarred hand in
mine as soon as she was in reach, then cuddled her to me protectively.
She had changed out of her maid's uniform into civvies: smart coveralls
whose micropore fabric breathed in time with her own respiration.

"Lil, Dan, I want you to meet Tim Fung. He was just telling me war
stories from the Pirates project in Beijing."

Lil waved and Dan gravely shook his hand. "That was some hard work," Dan
said.

It occurred to me to turn on some Whuffie monitors. It was normally an
instantaneous reaction to meeting someone, but I was still disoriented.
I pinged the elf. He had a lot of left-handed Whuffie; respect garnered
from people who shared very few of my opinions. I expected that. What I
didn't expect was that his weighted Whuffie score, the one that lent
extra credence to the rankings of people I respected, was also high --
higher than my own. I regretted my nonlinear behavior even more. Respect
from the elf -- _Tim_, I had to remember to call him Tim -- would carry
a lot of weight in every camp that mattered.

Dan's score was incrementing upwards, but he still had a rotten profile.
He had accrued a good deal of left-handed Whuffie, and I curiously
backtraced it to the occasion of my murder, when Debra's people had
accorded him a generous dollop of props for the levelheaded way he had
scraped up my corpse and moved it offstage, minimizing the disturbance
in front of their wondrous Pirates.

I was fugueing, wandering off on the kind of mediated reverie that got
me killed on the reef at Playa Coral, and I came out of it with a start,
realizing that the other three were politely ignoring my blown buffer. I
could have run backwards through my short-term memory to get the gist of
the conversation, but that would have lengthened the pause. Screw it.
"So, how're things going over at the Hall of the Presidents?" I asked
Tim.

Lil shot me a cautioning look. She'd ceded the Hall to Debra's ad-hocs,
that being the only way to avoid the appearance of childish disattention
to the almighty Whuffie. Now she had to keep up the fiction of good-
natured cooperation -- that meant not shoulder-surfing Debra, looking
for excuses to pounce on her work.

Tim gave us the same half-grin he'd greeted me with. On his smooth,
pointed features, it looked almost irredeemably cute. "We're doing good
stuff, I think. Debra's had her eye on the Hall for years, back in the
old days, before she went to China. We're replacing the whole thing with
broadband uplinks of gestalts from each of the Presidents' lives:
newspaper headlines, speeches, distilled biographies, personal papers.
It'll be like having each President _inside_ you, core-dumped in a few
seconds. Debra said we're going to _flash-bake_ the Presidents on your
mind!" His eyes glittered in the twilight.

Having only recently experienced my own cerebral flash-baking, Tim's
description struck a chord in me. My personality seemed to be rattling
around a little in my mind, as though it had been improperly fitted. It
made the idea of having the gestalt of 50-some Presidents squashed in
along with it perversely appealing.

"Wow," I said. "That sounds wild. What do you have in mind for physical
plant?" The Hall as it stood had a quiet, patriotic dignity cribbed from
a hundred official buildings of the dead USA. Messing with it would be
like redesigning the stars-and-bars.

"That's not really my area," Tim said. "I'm a programmer. But I could
have one of the designers squirt some plans at you, if you want."

"That would be fine," Lil said, taking my elbow. "I think we should be
heading home, now, though." She began to tug me away. Dan took my other
elbow. Behind her, the Liberty Belle glowed like a ghostly wedding cake
in the twilight.

"That's too bad," Tim said. "My ad-hoc is pulling an all-nighter on the
new Hall. I'm sure they'd love to have you drop by."

The idea seized hold of me. I would go into the camp of the enemy, sit
by their fire, learn their secrets. "That would be _great_!" I said, too
loudly. My head was buzzing slightly. Lil's hands fell away.

"But we've got an early morning tomorrow," Lil said. "You've got a shift
at eight, and I'm running into town for groceries." She was lying, but
she was telling me that this wasn't her idea of a smart move. But my
faith was unshakeable.

"Eight a.m. shift? No problem -- I'll be right here when it starts. I'll
just grab a shower at the Contemporary in the morning and catch the
monorail back in time to change. All right?"

Dan tried. "But Jules, we were going to grab some dinner at Cinderella's
Royal Table, remember? I made reservations."

"Aw, we can eat any time," I said. "This is a hell of an opportunity."

"It sure is," Dan said, giving up. "Mind if I come along?"

He and Lil traded meaningful looks that I interpreted to mean, _If he's
going to be a nut, one of us really should stay with him_. I was past
caring -- I was going to beard the lion in his den!

Tim was apparently oblivious to all of this. "Then it's settled! Let's
go."

#

On the walk to the Hall, Dan kept ringing my cochlea and I kept sending
him straight to voicemail. All the while, I kept up a patter of small-
talk with him and Tim. I was determined to make up for my debacle in the
Mansion with Tim, win him over.

Debra's people were sitting around in the armchairs onstage, the
animatronic presidents stacked in neat piles in the wings. Debra was
sprawled in Lincoln's armchair, her head cocked lazily, her legs
extended before her. The Hall's normal smells of ozone and cleanliness
were overridden by sweat and machine-oil, the stink of an ad-hoc pulling
an all-nighter. The Hall took fifteen years to research and execute, and
a couple of days to tear down.

She was au-naturel, still wearing the face she'd been born with, albeit
one that had been regenerated dozens of times after her deaths. It was
patrician, waxy, long, with a nose that was made for staring down. She
was at least as old as I was, though she was only apparent 22. I got the
sense that she picked this age because it was one that afforded
boundless reserves of energy.

She didn't deign to rise as I approached, but she did nod languorously
at me. The other ad-hocs had been split into little clusters, hunched
over terminals. They all had the raccoon-eyed, sleep-deprived look of
fanatics, even Debra, who managed to look lazy and excited
simultaneously.

_Did you have me killed_? I wondered, staring at Debra. After all, she'd
been killed dozens, if not hundreds of times. It might not be such a big
deal for her.

"Hi there," I said, brightly. "Tim offered to show us around! You know
Dan, right?"

Debra nodded at him. "Oh, sure. Dan and I are pals, right?"

Dan's poker face didn't twitch a muscle. "Hello, Debra," he said. He'd
been hanging out with them since Lil had briefed him on the peril to the
Mansion, trying to gather some intelligence for us to use. They knew
what he was up to, of course, but Dan was a fairly charming guy and he
worked like a mule, so they tolerated him. But it seemed like he'd
violated a boundary by accompanying me, as though the polite fiction
that he was more a part of Debra's ad-hoc than Lil's was shattered by my
presence.

Tim said, "Can I show them the demo, Debra?"

Debra quirked an eyebrow, then said, "Sure, why not. You'll like this,
guys."

Tim hustled us backstage, where Lil and I used to sweat over the
animatronics and cop surreptitious feels. Everything had been torn
loose, packed up, stacked. They hadn't wasted a moment -- they'd spent a
week tearing down a show that had run for more than a century. The scrim
that the projected portions of the show normally screened on was ground
into the floor, spotted with grime, footprints and oil.

Tim showed me to a half-assembled backup terminal. Its housing was off,
and any number of wireless keyboards, pointers and gloves lay strewn
about it. It had the look of a prototype.

"This is it -- our uplink. So far, we've got a demo app running on it:
Lincoln's old speech, along with the civil-war montage. Just switch on
guest access and I'll core-dump it to you. It's wild."

I pulled up my HUD and switched on guest access. Tim pointed a finger at
the terminal and my brain was suffused with the essence of Lincoln:
every nuance of his speech, the painstakingly researched movement tics,
his warts and beard and topcoat. It almost felt like I _was_ Lincoln,
for a moment, and then it passed. But I could still taste the lingering
coppery flavor of cannon-fire and chewing tobacco.

I staggered backwards. My head swam with flash-baked sense-impressions,
rich and detailed. I knew on the spot that Debra's Hall of the
Presidents was going to be a hit.

Dan took a shot off the uplink, too. Tim and I watched him as his
expression shifted from skepticism to delight. Tim looked expectantly at
me.

"That's really fine," I said. "Really, really fine. Moving."

Tim blushed. "Thanks! I did the gestalt programming -- it's my
specialty."

Debra spoke up from behind him -- she'd sauntered over while Dan was
getting his jolt. "I got the idea in Beijing, when I was dying a lot.
There's something wonderful about having memories implanted, like you're
really working your brain. I love the synthetic clarity of it all."

Tim sniffed. "Not synthetic at all," he said, turning to me. "It's nice
and soft, right?"

I sensed deep political shoals and was composing my reply when Debra
said: "Tim keeps trying to make it all more impressionistic, less
computer-y. He's wrong, of course. We don't want to simulate the
experience of watching the show -- we want to _transcend it_."

Tim nodded reluctantly. "Sure, transcend it. But the way we do that is
by making the experience _human_, a mile in the presidents' shoes.
Empathy-driven. What's the point of flash-baking a bunch of dry facts on
someone's brain?"

========= CHAPTER 4 =========

One night in the Hall of Presidents convinced me of three things:

1. That Debra's people had had me killed, and screw their alibis,

2. That they would kill me again, when the time came for them to make a
play for the Haunted Mansion,

3. That our only hope for saving the Mansion was a preemptive strike
against them: we had to hit them hard, where it hurt.

Dan and I had been treated to eight hours of insectile precision in the
Hall of Presidents, Debra's people working with effortless cooperation
born of the adversity they'd faced in Beijing. Debra moved from team to
team, making suggestions with body language as much as with words,
leaving bursts of inspired activity in her wake.

It was that precision that convinced me of point one. Any ad-hoc this
tight could pull off anything if it advanced their agenda. Ad-hoc? Hell,
call them what they were: an army.

Point two came to me when I sampled the Lincoln build that Tim finished
at about three in the morning, after intensive consultation with Debra.
The mark of a great ride is that it gets better the second time around,
as the detail and flourishes start to impinge on your consciousness. The
Mansion was full of little gimcracks and sly nods that snuck into your
experience on each successive ride.

Tim shuffled his feet nervously, bursting with barely restrained pride
as I switched on public access. He dumped the app to my public
directory, and, gingerly, I executed it.

God! God and Lincoln and cannon-fire and oratory and ploughs and mules
and greatcoats! It rolled over me, it punched through me, it crashed
against the inside of my skull and rebounded. The first pass through,
there had been a sense of order, of narrative, but this, this was
gestalt, the whole thing in one undifferentiated ball, filling me and
spilling over. It was panicky for a moment, as the essence of Lincolness
seemed to threaten my own personality, and, just as it was about to
overwhelm me, it receded, leaving behind a rush of endorphin and
adrenaline that made me want to jump.

"Tim," I gasped. "Tim! That was. . ." Words failed me. I wanted to hug
him. What we could do for the Mansion with this! What elegance! Directly
imprinting the experience, without recourse to the stupid, blind eyes;
the thick, deaf ears.

Tim beamed and basked, and Debra nodded solemnly from her throne. "You
liked it?" Tim said. I nodded, and staggered back to the theatre seat
where Dan slept, head thrown back, snores softly rattling in his throat.

Incrementally, reason trickled back into my mind, and with it came ire.
How dare they? The wonderful compromises of technology and expense that
had given us the Disney rides -- rides that had entertained the world
for two centuries and more -- could never compete head to head with what
they were working on.

My hands knotted into fists in my lap. Why the fuck couldn't they do
this somewhere else? Why did they have to destroy everything I loved to
realize this? They could build this tech anywhere -- they could
distribute it online and people could access it from their living rooms!

But that would never do. Doing it here was better for the old Whuffie --
they'd make over Disney World and hold it, a single ad-hoc where three
hundred had flourished before, smoothly operating a park twice the size
of Manhattan.

I stood and stalked out of the theater, out into Liberty Square and the
Park. It had cooled down without drying out, and there was a damp chill
that crawled up my back and made my breath stick in my throat. I turned
to contemplate the Hall of Presidents, staid and solid as it had been
since my boyhood and before, a monument to the Imagineers who
anticipated the Bitchun Society, inspired it.

I called Dan, still snoring back in the theater, and woke him. He
grunted unintelligibly in my cochlea.

"They did it -- they killed me." I knew they had, and I was glad. It
made what I had to do next easier.

"Oh, Jesus. They didn't kill you -- they offered their backups,
remember? They couldn't have done it."

"Bullshit!" I shouted into the empty night. "Bullshit! They did it, and
they fucked with their backups somehow. They must have. It's all too
neat and tidy. How else could they have gotten so far with the Hall so
fast? They knew it was coming, they planned a disruption, and they moved
in. Tell me that you think they just had these plans lying around and
moved on them when they could."

Dan groaned, and I heard his joints popping. He must have been
stretching. The Park breathed around me, the sounds of maintenance crews
scurrying in the night. "I do believe that. Clearly, you don't. It's not
the first time we've disagreed. So now what?"

"Now we save the Mansion," I said. "Now we fight back."

"Oh, shit," Dan said.

I have to admit, there was a part of me that concurred.

#

My opportunity came later that week. Debra's ad-hocs were showboating,
announcing a special preview of the new Hall to the other ad-hocs that
worked in the Park. It was classic chutzpah, letting the key influencers
in the Park in long before the bugs were hammered out. A smooth run
would garner the kind of impressed reaction that guaranteed continued
support while they finished up; a failed demo could doom them. There
were plenty of people in the Park who had a sentimental attachment to
the Hall of Presidents, and whatever Debra's people came up with would
have to answer their longing.

"I'm going to do it during the demo," I told Dan, while I piloted the
runabout from home to the castmember parking. I snuck a look at him to
gauge his reaction. He had his poker face on.

"I'm not going to tell Lil," I continued. "It's better that she doesn't
know -- plausible deniability."

"And me?" he said. "Don't I need plausible deniability?"

"No," I said. "No, you don't. You're an outsider. You can make the case
that you were working on your own -- gone rogue." I knew it wasn't fair.
Dan was here to build up his Whuffie, and if he was implicated in my
dirty scheme, he'd have to start over again. I knew it wasn't fair, but
I didn't care. I knew that we were fighting for our own survival. "It's
good versus evil, Dan. You don't want to be a post-person. You want to
stay human. The rides are human. We each mediate them through our own
experience. We're physically inside of them, and they talk to us through
our senses. What Debra's people are building -- it's hive-mind shit.
Directly implanting thoughts! Jesus! It's not an experience, it's
brainwashing! You gotta know that." I was pleading, arguing with myself
as much as with him.

I snuck another look at him as I sped along the Disney back-roads, lined
with sweaty Florida pines and immaculate purple signage. Dan was looking
thoughtful, the way he had back in our old days in Toronto. Some of my
tension dissipated. He was thinking about it -- I'd gotten through to
him.

"Jules, this isn't one of your better ideas." My chest tightened, and he
patted my shoulder. He had the knack of putting me at my ease, even when
he was telling me that I was an idiot. "Even if Debra was behind your
assassination -- and that's not a certainty, we both know that. Even if
that's the case, we've got better means at our disposal. Improving the
Mansion, competing with her head to head, that's smart. Give it a little
while and we can come back at her, take over the Hall -- even the
Pirates, that'd really piss her off. Hell, if we can prove she was
behind the assassination, we can chase her off right now. Sabotage is
not going to do you any good. You've got lots of other options."

"But none of them are fast enough, and none of them are emotionally
satisfying. This way has some goddamn _balls_."

We reached castmember parking, I swung the runabout into a slot and
stalked out before it had a chance to extrude its recharger cock. I
heard Dan's door slam behind me and knew that he was following behind.

We took to the utilidors grimly. I walked past the cameras, knowing that
my image was being archived, my presence logged. I'd picked the timing
of my raid carefully: by arriving at high noon, I was sticking to my
traditional pattern for watching hot-weather crowd dynamics. I'd made a
point of visiting twice during the previous week at this time, and of
dawdling in the commissary before heading topside. The delay between my
arrival in the runabout and my showing up at the Mansion would not be
discrepant.

Dan dogged my heels as I swung towards the commissary, and then hugged
the wall, in the camera's blindspot. Back in my early days in the Park,
when I was courting Lil, she showed me the A-Vac, the old pneumatic
waste-disposal system, decommissioned in the 20s. The kids who grew up
in the Park had been notorious explorers of the tubes, which still
whiffed faintly of the garbage bags they'd once whisked at 60 mph to the
dump on the property's outskirts, but for a brave, limber kid, the tubes
were a subterranean wonderland to explore when the hypermediated
experiences of the Park lost their luster.

I snarled a grin and popped open the service entrance. "If they hadn't
killed me and forced me to switch to a new body, I probably wouldn't be
flexible enough to fit in," I hissed at Dan. "Ironic, huh?"

I clambered inside without waiting for a reply, and started inching my
way under the Hall of Presidents.

#

My plan had covered every conceivable detail, except one, which didn't
occur to me until I was forty minutes into the pneumatic tube, arms held
before me and legs angled back like a swimmer's.

How was I going to reach into my pockets?

Specifically, how was I going to retrieve my HERF gun from my back
pants-pocket, when I couldn't even bend my elbows? The HERF gun was the
crux of the plan: a High Energy Radio Frequency generator with a
directional, focused beam that would punch up through the floor of the
Hall of Presidents and fuse every goddamn scrap of unshielded
electronics on the premises. I'd gotten the germ of the idea during
Tim's first demo, when I'd seen all of his prototypes spread out
backstage, cases off, ready to be tinkered with. Unshielded.

"Dan," I said, my voice oddly muffled by the tube's walls.

"Yeah?" he said. He'd been silent during the journey, the sound of his
painful, elbow-dragging progress through the lightless tube my only
indicator of his presence.

"Can you reach my back pocket?"

"Oh, shit," he said.

"Goddamn it," I said, "keep the fucking editorial to yourself. Can you
reach it or not?"

I heard him grunt as he pulled himself up in the tube, then felt his
hand groping up my calf. Soon, his chest was crushing my calves into the
tube's floor and his hand was pawing around my ass.

"I can reach it," he said. I could tell from his tone that he wasn't too
happy about my snapping at him, but I was too wrapped up to consider an
apology, despite what must be happening to my Whuffie as Dan did his
slow burn.

He fumbled the gun -- a narrow cylinder as long as my palm -- out of my
pocket. "Now what?" he said.

"Can you pass it up?" I asked.

Dan crawled higher, overtop of me, but stuck fast when his ribcage met
my glutes. "I can't get any further," he said.

"Fine," I said. "You'll have to fire it, then." I held my breath. Would
he do it? It was one thing to be my accomplice, another to be the author
of the destruction.

"Aw, Jules," he said.

"A simple yes or no, Dan. That's all I want to hear from you." I was
boiling with anger -- at myself, at Dan, at Debra, at the whole goddamn
thing.

"Fine," he said.

"Good. Dial it up to max dispersion and point it straight up."

I heard him release the catch, felt a staticky crackle in the air, and
then it was done. The gun was a one-shot, something I'd confiscated from
a mischievous guest a decade before, when they'd had a brief vogue.

"Hang on to it," I said. I had no intention of leaving such a damning
bit of evidence behind. I resumed my bellycrawl forward to the next
service hatch, near the parking lot, where I'd stashed an identical
change of clothes for both of us.

#

We made it back just as the demo was getting underway. Debra's ad-hocs
were ranged around the mezzanine inside the Hall of Presidents, a
collection of influential castmembers from other ad-hocs filling the
pre-show area to capacity.

Dan and I filed in just as Tim was stringing the velvet rope up behind
the crowd. He gave me a genuine smile and shook my hand, and I smiled
back, full of good feelings now that I knew that he was going down in
flames. I found Lil and slipped my hand into hers as we filed into the
auditorium, which had the new-car smell of rug shampoo and fresh
electronics.

We took our seats and I bounced my leg nervously, compulsively, while
Debra, dressed in Lincoln's coat and stovepipe, delivered a short
speech. There was some kind of broadcast rig mounted over the stage now,
something to allow them to beam us all their app in one humongous burst.

Debra finished up and stepped off the stage to a polite round of
applause, and they started the demo.

Nothing happened. I tried to keep the shit-eating grin off my face as
nothing happened. No tone in my cochlea indicating a new file in my
public directory, no rush of sensation, nothing. I turned to Lil to make
some snotty remark, but her eyes were closed, her mouth lolling open,
her breath coming in short huffs. Down the row, every castmember was in
the same attitude of deep, mind-blown concentration. I pulled up a
diagnostic HUD.

Nothing. No diagnostics. No HUD. I cold-rebooted.

Nothing.

I was offline.

#

Offline, I filed out of the Hall of Presidents. Offline, I took Lil's
hand and walked to the Liberty Belle load-zone, our spot for private
conversations. Offline, I bummed a cigarette from her.

Lil was upset -- even through my bemused, offline haze, I could tell
that. Tears pricked her eyes.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she said, after a hard moment's staring into
the moonlight reflecting off the river.

"Tell you?" I said, dumbly.

"They're really good. They're better than good. They're better than us.
Oh, God."

Offline, I couldn't find stats or signals to help me discuss the matter.
Offline, I tried it without help. "I don't think so. I don't think
they've got soul, I don't think they've got history, I don't think
they've got any kind of connection to the past. The world grew up in the
Disneys -- they visit this place for continuity as much as for
entertainment. We provide that." I'm offline, and they're not -- what
the hell happened?

"It'll be okay, Lil. There's nothing in that place that's better than
us. Different and new, but not better. You know that -- you've spent
more time in the Mansion than anyone, you know how much refinement, how
much work there is in there. How can something they whipped up in a
couple weeks possibly be better that this thing we've been maintaining
for all these years?"

She ground the back of her sleeve against her eyes and smiled. "Sorry,"
she said. Her nose was red, her eyes puffy, her freckles livid over the
flush of her cheeks. "Sorry -- it's just shocking. Maybe you're right.
And even if you're not -- hey, that's the whole point of a meritocracy,
right? The best stuff survives, everything else gets supplanted.

"Oh, shit, I hate how I look when I cry," she said. "Let's go
congratulate them."

As I took her hand, I was obscurely pleased with myself for having
improved her mood without artificial assistance.

#

Dan was nowhere to be seen as Lil and I mounted the stage at the Hall,
where Debra's ad-hocs and a knot of well-wishers were celebrating by
passing a rock around. Debra had lost the tailcoat and hat, and was in
an extreme state of relaxation, arms around the shoulders of two of her
cronies, pipe between her teeth.

She grinned around the pipe as Lil and I stumbled through some insincere
compliments, nodded, and toked heavily while Tim applied a torch to the
bowl.

"Thanks," she said, laconically. "It was a team effort." She hugged her
cronies to her, almost knocking their heads together.

Lil said, "What's your timeline, then?"

Debra started unreeling a long spiel about critical paths, milestones,
requirements meetings, and I tuned her out. Ad-hocs were crazy for that
process stuff. I stared at my feet, at the floorboards, and realized
that they weren't floorboards at all, but faux-finish painted over a
copper mesh -- a Faraday cage. That's why the HERF gun hadn't done
anything; that's why they'd been so casual about working with the
shielding off their computers. With my eye, I followed the copper
shielding around the entire stage and up the walls, where it disappeared
into the ceiling. Once again, I was struck by the evolvedness of Debra's
ad-hocs, how their trial by fire in China had armored them against the
kind of bush-league jiggery-pokery that the fuzzy bunnies in Florida --
myself included -- came up with.

For instance, I didn't think there was a single castmember in the Park
outside of Deb's clique with the stones to stage an assassination. Once
I'd made that leap, I realized that it was only a matter of time until
they staged another one -- and another, and another. Whatever they could
get away with.

Debra's spiel finally wound down and Lil and I headed away. I stopped in
front of the backup terminal in the gateway between Liberty Square and
Fantasyland. "When was the last time you backed up?" I asked her. If
they could go after me, they might go after any of us.

"Yesterday," she said. She exuded bone-weariness at me, looking more
like an overmediated guest than a tireless castmember.

"Let's run another backup, huh? We should really back up at night and at
lunchtime -- with things the way they are, we can't afford to lose an
afternoon's work, much less a week's."

Lil rolled her eyes. I knew better than to argue with her when she was
tired, but this was too crucial to set aside for petulance. "You can
back up that often if you want to, Julius, but don't tell me how to live
my life, okay?"

"Come on, Lil -- it only takes a minute, and it'd make me feel a lot
better. Please?" I hated the whine in my voice.

"No, Julius. No. Let's go home and get some sleep. I want to do some
work on new merch for the Mansion -- some collectible stuff, maybe."

"For Christ's sake, is it really so much to ask? Fine. Wait while I back
up, then, all right?"

Lil groaned and glared at me.

I approached the terminal and cued a backup. Nothing happened. Oh, yeah,
right, I was offline. A cool sweat broke out all over my new body.

#

Lil grabbed the couch as soon as we got in, mumbling something about
wanting to work on some revised merch ideas she'd had. I glared at her
as she subvocalized and air-typed in the corner, shut away from me. I
hadn't told her that I was offline yet -- it just seemed like
insignificant personal bitching relative to the crises she was coping
with.

Besides, I'd been knocked offline before, though not in fifty years, and
often as not the system righted itself after a good night's sleep. I
could visit the doctor in the morning if things were still screwy.

So I crawled into bed, and when my bladder woke me in the night, I had
to go into the kitchen to consult our old starburst clock to get the
time. It was 3 a.m., and when the hell had we expunged the house of all
timepieces, anyway?

Lil was sacked out on the couch, and complained feebly when I tried to
rouse her, so I covered her with a blanket and went back to bed, alone.

I woke disoriented and crabby, without my customary morning jolt of
endorphin. Vivid dreams of death and destruction slipped away as I sat
up. I preferred to let my subconscious do its own thing, so I'd long ago
programmed my systems to keep me asleep during REM cycles except in
emergencies. The dream left a foul taste in my mind as I staggered into
the kitchen, where Lil was fixing coffee.

"Why didn't you wake me up last night? I'm one big ache from sleeping on
the couch," Lil said as I stumbled in.

She had the perky, jaunty quality of someone who could instruct her
nervous system to manufacture endorphin and adrenaline at will. I felt
like punching the wall.

"You wouldn't get up," I said, and slopped coffee in the general
direction of a mug, then scalded my tongue with it.

"And why are you up so late? I was hoping you would cover a shift for me
-- the merch ideas are really coming together and I wanted to hit the
Imagineering shop and try some prototyping."

"Can't." I foraged a slice of bread with cheese and noticed a crumby
plate in the sink. Dan had already eaten and gone, apparently.

"Really?" she said, and my blood started to boil in earnest. I slammed
Dan's plate into the dishwasher and shoved bread into my maw.

"Yes. Really. It's your shift -- fucking work it or call in sick."

Lil reeled. Normally, I was the soul of sweetness in the morning, when I
was hormonally enhanced, anyway. "What's wrong, honey?" she said, going
into helpful castmember mode. Now I wanted to hit something besides the
wall.

"Just leave me alone, all right? Go fiddle with fucking merch. I've got
real work to do -- in case you haven't noticed, Debra's about to eat you
and your little band of plucky adventurers and pick her teeth with the
bones. For God's sake, Lil, don't you ever get fucking angry about
anything? Don't you have any goddamned passion?"

Lil whitened and I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. It was the worst
thing I could possibly have said.

Lil and I met three years before, at a barbecue that some friends of her
parents threw, a kind of castmember mixer. She'd been just 19 --
apparent and real -- and had a bubbly, flirty vibe that made me dismiss
her, at first, as just another airhead castmember.

Her parents -- Tom and Rita -- on the other hand, were fascinating
people, members of the original ad-hoc that had seized power in Walt
Disney World, wresting control from a gang of wealthy former
shareholders who'd been operating it as their private preserve. Rita was
apparent 20 or so, but she radiated a maturity and a fiery devotion to
the Park that threw her daughter's superficiality into sharp relief.

They throbbed with Whuffie, Whuffie beyond measure, beyond use. In a
world where even a zeroed-out Whuffie loser could eat, sleep, travel and
access the net without hassle, their wealth was more than sufficient to
repeatedly access the piffling few scarce things left on earth over and
over.

The conversation turned to the first day, when she and her pals had used
a cutting torch on the turnstiles and poured in, wearing homemade
costumes and name tags. They infiltrated the shops, the control centers,
the rides, first by the hundred, then, as the hot July day ticked by, by
the thousand. The shareholders' lackeys -- who worked the Park for the
chance to be a part of the magic, even if they had no control over the
management decisions -- put up a token resistance. Before the day was
out, though, the majority had thrown in their lots with the raiders,
handing over security codes and pitching in.

"But we knew the shareholders wouldn't give in as easy as that," Lil's
mother said, sipping her lemonade. "We kept the Park running 24/7 for
the next two weeks, never giving the shareholders a chance to fight back
without doing it in front of the guests. We'd prearranged with a couple
of airline ad-hocs to add extra routes to Orlando and the guests came
pouring in." She smiled, remembering the moment, and her features in
repose were Lil's almost identically. It was only when she was talking
that her face changed, muscles tugging it into an expression decades
older than the face that bore it.

"I spent most of the time running the merch stand at Madame Leota's
outside the Mansion, gladhanding the guests while hissing nasties back
and forth with the shareholders who kept trying to shove me out. I slept
in a sleeping bag on the floor of the utilidor, with a couple dozen
others, in three hour shifts. That was when I met this asshole" -- she
chucked her husband on the shoulder -- "he'd gotten the wrong sleeping
bag by mistake and wouldn't budge when I came down to crash. I just
crawled in next to him and the rest, as they say, is history."

Lil rolled her eyes and made gagging noises. "Jesus, Rita, no one needs
to hear about that part of it."

Tom patted her arm. "Lil, you're an adult -- if you can't stomach
hearing about your parents' courtship, you can either sit somewhere else
or grin and bear it. But you don't get to dictate the topic of
conversation."

Lil gave us adults a very youthful glare and flounced off. Rita shook
her head at Lil's departing backside. "There's not much fire in that
generation," she said. "Not a lot of passion. It's our fault -- we
thought that Disney World would be the best place to raise a child in
the Bitchun Society. Maybe it was, but. . ." She trailed off and rubbed
her palms on her thighs, a gesture I'd come to know in Lil, by and by.
"I guess there aren't enough challenges for them these days. They're too
cooperative." She laughed and her husband took her hand.

"We sound like our parents," Tom said. "'When we were growing up, we
didn't have any of this newfangled life-extension stuff -- we took our
chances with the cave bears and the dinosaurs!'" Tom wore himself older,
apparent 50, with graying sidewalls and crinkled smile-lines, the better
to present a non-threatening air of authority to the guests. It was a
truism among the first-gen ad-hocs that women castmembers should wear
themselves young, men old. "We're just a couple of Bitchun
fundamentalists, I guess."

Lil called over from a nearby conversation: "Are they telling you what a
pack of milksops we are, Julius? When you get tired of that, why don't
you come over here and have a smoke?" I noticed that she and her cohort
were passing a crack pipe.

"What's the use?" Lil's mother sighed.

"Oh, I don't know that it's as bad as all that," I said, virtually my
first words of the afternoon. I was painfully conscious that I was only
there by courtesy, just one of the legion of hopefuls who flocked to
Orlando every year, aspiring to a place among the ruling cliques.
"They're passionate about maintaining the Park, that's for sure. I made
the mistake of lifting a queue-gate at the Jungleboat Cruise last week
and I got a very earnest lecture about the smooth functioning of the
Park from a castmember who couldn't have been more than 18. I think that
they don't have the passion for creating Bitchunry that we have -- they
don't need it -- but they've got plenty of drive to maintain it."

Lil's mother gave me a long, considering look that I didn't know what to
make of. I couldn't tell if I had offended her or what.

"I mean, you can't be a revolutionary after the revolution, can you?
Didn't we all struggle so that kids like Lil wouldn't have to?"

"Funny you should say that," Tom said. He had the same considering look
on his face. "Just yesterday we were talking about the very same thing.
We were talking --" he drew a breath and looked askance at his wife, who
nodded -- "about deadheading. For a while, anyway. See if things changed
much in fifty or a hundred years."

I felt a kind of shameful disappointment. Why was I wasting my time
schmoozing with these two, when they wouldn't be around when the time
came to vote me in? I banished the thought as quickly as it came -- I
was talking to them because they were nice people. Not every
conversation had to be strategically important.

"Really? Deadheading." I remember that I thought of Dan then, about his
views on the cowardice of deadheading, on the bravery of ending it when
you found yourself obsolete. He'd comforted me once, when my last living
relative, my uncle, opted to go to sleep for three thousand years. My
uncle had been born pre-Bitchun, and had never quite gotten the hang of
it. Still, he was my link to my family, to my first adulthood and my
only childhood. Dan had taken me to Gananoque and we'd spent the day
bounding around the countryside on seven-league boots, sailing high over
the lakes of the Thousand Islands and the crazy fiery carpet of autumn
leaves. We topped off the day at a dairy commune he knew where they
still made cheese from cow's milk and there'd been a thousand smells and
bottles of strong cider and a girl whose name I'd long since forgotten
but whose exuberant laugh I'd remember forever. And it wasn't so
important, then, my uncle going to sleep for three milliennia, because
whatever happened, there were the leaves and the lakes and the crisp
sunset the color of blood and the girl's laugh.

"Have you talked to Lil about it?"

Rita shook her head. "It's just a thought, really. We don't want to
worry her. She's not good with hard decisions -- it's her generation."

They changed the subject not long thereafter, and I sensed discomfort,
knew that they had told me too much, more than they'd intended. I
drifted off and found Lil and her young pals, and we toked a little and
cuddled a little.

Within a month, I was working at the Haunted Mansion, Tom and Rita were
invested in Canopic jars in Kissimee with instructions not to be woken
until their newsbots grabbed sufficient interesting material to make it
worth their while, and Lil and I were a hot item.

Lil didn't deal well with her parents' decision to deadhead. For her, it
was a slap in the face, a reproach to her and her generation of
twittering Polyannic castmembers.

For God's sake, Lil, don't you ever get fucking angry about anything?
Don't you have any goddamned passion?

The words were out of my mouth before I knew I was saying them, and Lil,
15 percent of my age, young enough to be my great-granddaughter; Lil, my
lover and best friend and sponsor to the Liberty Square ad-hocracy; Lil
turned white as a sheet, turned on her heel and walked out of the
kitchen. She got in her runabout and went to the Park to take her shift.

I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling fan as it made its lazy
turns, and felt like shit.

========= CHAPTER 5 =========

When I finally returned to the Park, 36 hours had passed and Lil had not
come back to the house. If she'd tried to call, she would've gotten my
voicemail -- I had no way of answering my phone. As it turned out, she
hadn't been trying to reach me at all.

I'd spent the time alternately moping, drinking, and plotting terrible,
irrational vengeance on Debra for killing me, destroying my
relationship, taking away my beloved (in hindsight, anyway) Hall of
Presidents and threatening the Mansion. Even in my addled state, I knew
that this was pretty unproductive, and I kept promising that I would cut
it out, take a shower and some sober-ups, and get to work at the
Mansion.

I was working up the energy to do just that when Dan came in.

"Jesus," he said, shocked. I guess I was a bit of a mess, sprawled on
the sofa in my underwear, all gamy and baggy and bloodshot.

"Hey, Dan. How's it goin'?"

He gave me one of his patented wry looks and I felt the same weird
reversal of roles that we'd undergone at the U of T, when he had become
the native, and I had become the interloper. He was the together one
with the wry looks and I was the pathetic seeker who'd burned all his
reputation capital. Out of habit, I checked my Whuffie, and a moment
later I stopped being startled by its low score and was instead shocked
by the fact that I could check it at all. I was back online!

"Now, what do you know about that?" I said, staring at my dismal
Whuffie.

"What?" he said.

I called his cochlea. "My systems are back online," I subvocalized.

He started. "You were offline?"

I jumped up from the couch and did a little happy underwear dance. "I
_was_, but I'm not _now_." I felt better than I had in days, ready to
beat the world -- or at least Debra.

"Let me take a shower, then let's get to the Imagineering labs. I've got
a pretty kickass idea."

#

The idea, as I explained it in the runabout, was a preemptive rehab of
the Mansion. Sabotaging the Hall had been a nasty, stupid idea, and I'd
gotten what I deserved for it. The whole point of the Bitchun Society
was to be more reputable than the next ad-hoc, to succeed on merit, not
trickery, despite assassinations and the like.

So a rehab it would be.

"Back in the early days of the Disneyland Mansion, in California," I
explained, "Walt had a guy in a suit of armor just past the first Doom
Buggy curve, he'd leap out and scare the hell out of the guests as they
went by. It didn't last long, of course. The poor bastard kept getting
punched out by startled guests, and besides, the armor wasn't too
comfortable for long shifts."

Dan chuckled appreciatively. The Bitchun Society had all but done away
with any sort of dull, repetitious labor, and what remained -- tending
bar, mopping toilets -- commanded Whuffie aplenty and a life of leisure
in your off-hours.

"But that guy in the suit of armor, he could _improvise_. You'd get a
slightly different show every time. It's like the castmembers who spiel
on the Jungleboat Cruise. They've each got their own patter, their own
jokes, and even though the animatronics aren't so hot, it makes the show
worth seeing."

"You're going to fill the Mansion with castmembers in armor?" Dan asked,
shaking his head.

I waved away his objections, causing the runabout to swerve, terrifying
a pack of guests who were taking a ride on rented bikes around the
property. "No," I said, flapping a hand apologetically at the white-
faced guests. "Not at all. But what if all of the animatronics had human
operators -- telecontrollers, working with waldoes? We'll let them
interact with the guests, talk with them, scare them. . . We'll get rid
of the existing animatronics, replace 'em with full-mobility robots,
then cast the parts over the Net. Think of the Whuffie! You could put,
say, a thousand operators online at once, ten shifts per day, each of
them caught up in our Mansion. . . We'll give out awards for outstanding
performances, the shifts'll be based on popular vote. In effect, we'll
be adding another ten thousand guests to the Mansion's throughput every
day, only these guests will be honorary castmembers."

"That's pretty good," Dan said. "Very Bitchun. Debra may have AI and
flash-baking, but you'll have human interaction, courtesy of the biggest
Mansion-fans in the world --"

"And those are the very fans Debra'll have to win over to make a play
for the Mansion. Very elegant, huh?"

#

The first order of business was to call Lil, patch things up, and pitch
the idea to her. The only problem was, my cochlea was offline again. My
mood started to sour, and I had Dan call her instead.

We met her up at Imagineering, a massive complex of prefab aluminum
buildings painted Go-Away Green that had thronged with mad inventors
since the Bitchun Society had come to Walt Disney World. The ad-hocs who
had built an Imagineering department in Florida and now ran the thing
were the least political in the Park, classic labcoat-and-clipboard
types who would work for anyone so long as the ideas were cool. Not
caring about Whuffie meant that they accumulated it in plenty on both
the left and right hands.

Lil was working with Suneep, AKA the Merch Miracle. He could design,
prototype and produce a souvenir faster than anyone -- shirts,
sculptures, pens, toys, housewares, he was the king. They were
collaborating on their HUDs, facing each other across a lab-bench in the
middle of a lab as big as a basketball court, cluttered with logomarked
tchotchkes and gabbling away while their eyes danced over invisible
screens.

Dan reflexively joined the collaborative space as he entered the lab,
leaving me the only one out on the joke. Dan was clearly delighted by
what he saw.

I nudged him with an elbow. "Make a hardcopy," I hissed.

Instead of pitying me, he just airtyped a few commands and pages started
to roll out of a printer in the lab's corner. Anyone else would have
made a big deal out of it, but he just brought me into the discussion.

If I needed proof that Lil and I were meant for each other, the designs
she and Suneep had come up with were more than enough. She'd been
thinking just the way I had -- souvenirs that stressed the human scale
of the Mansion. There were miniature animatronics of the Hitchhiking
Ghosts in a black-light box, their skeletal robotics visible through
their layers of plastic clothing; action figures that communicated by
IR, so that placing one in proximity with another would unlock its
Mansion-inspired behaviors -- the raven cawed, Mme. Leota's head
incanted, the singing busts sang. She'd worked up some formal attire
based on the castmember costume, cut in this year's stylish lines.

It was good merch, is what I'm trying to say. In my mind's eye, I was
seeing the relaunch of the Mansion in six months, filled with robotic
avatars of Mansion-nuts the world 'round, Mme. Leota's gift cart piled
high with brilliant swag, strolling human players ad-libbing with the
guests in the queue area. . .

Lil looked up from her mediated state and glared at me as I pored over
the hardcopy, nodding enthusiastically.

"Passionate enough for you?" she snapped.

I felt a flush creeping into face, my ears. It was somewhere between
anger and shame, and I reminded myself that I was more than a century
older than her, and it was my responsibility to be mature. Also, I'd
started the fight.

"This is fucking fantastic, Lil," I said. Her look didn't soften.
"Really choice stuff. I had a great idea --" I ran it down for her, the
avatars, the robots, the rehab. She stopped glaring, started taking
notes, smiling, showing me her dimples, her slanted eyes crinkling at
the corners.

"This isn't easy," she said, finally. Suneep, who'd been politely
pretending not to listen in, nodded involuntarily. Dan, too.

"I know that," I said. The flush burned hotter. "But that's the point --
what Debra does isn't easy either. It's risky, dangerous. It made her
and her ad-hoc better -- it made them sharper." _Sharper than us, that's
for sure_. "They can make decisions like this fast, and execute them
just as quickly. We need to be able to do that, too."

Was I really advocating being more like Debra? The words'd just popped
out, but I saw that I'd been right -- we'd have to beat Debra at her own
game, out-evolve her ad-hocs.

"I understand what you're saying," Lil said. I could tell she was upset
-- she'd reverted to castmemberspeak. "It's a very good idea. I think
that we stand a good chance of making it happen if we approach the group
and put it to them, after doing the research, building the plans, laying
out the critical path, and privately soliciting feedback from some of
them."

I felt like I was swimming in molasses. At the rate that the Liberty
Square ad-hoc moved, we'd be holding formal requirements reviews while
Debra's people tore down the Mansion around us. So I tried a different
tactic.

"Suneep, you've been involved in some rehabs, right?"

Suneep nodded slowly, with a cautious expression, a nonpolitical animal
being drawn into a political discussion.

"Okay, so tell me, if we came to you with this plan and asked you to
pull together a production schedule -- one that didn't have any review,
just take the idea and run with it -- and then pull it off, how long
would it take you to execute it?"

Lil smiled primly. She'd dealt with Imagineering before.

"About five years," he said, almost instantly.

"Five years?" I squawked. "Why five years? Debra's people overhauled the
Hall in a month!"

"Oh, wait," he said. "No review at all?"

"No review. Just come up with the best way you can to do this, and do
it. And we can provide you with unlimited, skilled labor, three shifts
around the clock."

He rolled his eyes back and ticked off days on his fingers while
muttering under his breath. He was a tall, thin man with a shock of
curly dark hair that he smoothed unconsciously with surprisingly stubby
fingers while he thought.

"About eight weeks," he said. "Barring accidents, assuming off-the-shelf
parts, unlimited labor, capable management, material availability. . ."
He trailed off again, and his short fingers waggled as he pulled up a
HUD and started making a list.

"Wait," Lil said, alarmed. "How do you get from five years to eight
weeks?"

Now it was my turn to smirk. I'd seen how Imagineering worked when they
were on their own, building prototypes and conceptual mockups -- I knew
that the real bottleneck was the constant review and revisions, the
ever-fluctuating groupmind consensus of the ad-hoc that commissioned
their work.

Suneep looked sheepish. "Well, if all I have to do is satisfy myself
that my plans are good and my buildings won't fall down, I can make it
happen very fast. Of course, my plans aren't perfect. Sometimes, I'll be
halfway through a project when someone suggests a new flourish or
approach that makes the whole thing immeasurably better. Then it's back
to the drawing board. . . So I stay at the drawing board for a long time
at the start, get feedback from other Imagineers, from the ad-hocs, from
focus groups and the Net. Then we do reviews at every stage of
construction, check to see if anyone has had a great idea we haven't
thought of and incorporate it, sometimes rolling back the work.

"It's slow, but it works."

Lil was flustered. "But if you can do a complete revision in eight
weeks, why not just finish it, then plan another revision, do _that_ one
in eight weeks, and so on? Why take five years before anyone can ride
the thing?"

"Because that's how it's done," I said to Lil. "But that's not how it
_has_ to be done. That's how we'll save the Mansion."

I felt the surety inside of me, the certain knowledge that I was right.
Ad-hocracy was a great thing, a Bitchun thing, but the organization
needed to turn on a dime -- that would be even _more_ Bitchun.

"Lil," I said, looking into her eyes, trying to burn my POV into her.
"We have to do this. It's our only chance. We'll recruit hundreds to
come to Florida and work on the rehab. We'll give every Mansion nut on
the planet a shot at joining up, then we'll recruit them again to work
at it, to run the telepresence rigs. We'll get buy-in from the biggest
super-recommenders in the world, and we'll build something better and
faster than any ad-hoc ever has, without abandoning the original
Imagineers' vision. It will be unspeakably Bitchun."

Lil dropped her eyes and it was her turn to flush. She paced the floor,
hands swinging at her sides. I could tell that she was still angry with
me, but excited and scared and yes, passionate.

"It's not up to me, you know," she said at length, still pacing. Dan and
I exchanged wicked grins. She was in.

"I know," I said. But it was, almost -- she was a real opinion-leader in
the Liberty Square ad-hoc, someone who knew the systems back and forth,
someone who made good, reasonable decisions and kept her head in a
crisis. Not a hothead. Not prone to taking radical switchbacks. This
plan would burn up that reputation and the Whuffie that accompanied it,
in short order, but by the time that happened, she'd have plenty of
Whuffie with the new, thousands-strong ad-hoc.

"I mean, I can't guarantee anything. I'd like to study the plans that
Imagineering comes through with, do some walk-throughs --"

I started to object, to remind her that speed was of the essence, but
she beat me to it.

"But I won't. We have to move fast. I'm in."

She didn't come into my arms, didn't kiss me and tell me everything was
forgiven, but she bought in, and that was enough.

#

My systems came back online sometime that day, and I hardly noticed, I
was so preoccupied with the new Mansion. Holy shit, was it ever
audacious: since the first Mansion opened in California in 1969, no one
had ever had the guts to seriously fuxor with it. Oh, sure, the Paris
version, Phantom Manor, had a slightly different storyline, but it was
just a minor bit of tweakage to satisfy the European market at the time.
No one wanted to screw up the legend.

What the hell made the Mansion so cool, anyway? I'd been to Disney World
any number of times as a guest before I settled in, and truth be told,
it had never been my absolute favorite.

But when I returned to Disney World, live and in person, freshly bored
stupid by the three-hour liveheaded flight from Toronto, I'd found
myself crowd-driven to it.

I'm a terrible, terrible person to visit theme-parks with. Since I was a
punk kid snaking my way through crowded subway platforms, eeling into
the only seat on a packed car, I'd been obsessed with Beating The Crowd.

In the early days of the Bitchun Society, I'd known a blackjack player,
a compulsive counter of cards, an idiot savant of odds. He was a pudgy,
unassuming engineer, the moderately successful founder of a moderately
successful high-tech startup that had done something arcane with
software agents. While he was only moderately successful, he was
fabulously wealthy: he'd never raised a cent of financing for his
company, and had owned it outright when he finally sold it for a bathtub
full of money. His secret was the green felt tables of Vegas, where he'd
pilgrim off to every time his bank balance dropped, there to count the
monkey-cards and calculate the odds and Beat The House.

Long after his software company was sold, long after he'd made his nut,
he was dressing up in silly disguises and hitting the tables, grinding
out hand after hand of twenty-one, for the sheer satisfaction of Beating
The House. For him, it was pure brain-reward, a jolt of happy-juice
every time the dealer busted and every time he doubled down on a
deckfull of face cards.

Though I'd never bought so much as a lottery ticket, I immediately got
his compulsion: for me, it was Beating The Crowd, finding the path of
least resistance, filling the gaps, guessing the short queue, dodging
the traffic, changing lanes with a whisper to spare -- moving with
precision and grace and, above all, _expedience_.

On that fateful return, I checked into the Fort Wilderness Campground,
pitched my tent, and fairly ran to the ferry docks to catch a barge over
to the Main Gate.

Crowds were light until I got right up to Main Gate and the ticketing
queues. Suppressing an initial instinct to dash for the farthest one,
beating my ferrymates to what rule-of-thumb said would have the shortest
wait, I stepped back and did a quick visual survey of the twenty kiosks
and evaluated the queued-up huddle in front of each. Pre-Bitchun, I'd
have been primarily interested in their ages, but that is less and less
a measure of anything other than outlook, so instead I carefully
examined their queuing styles, their dress, and more than anything,
their burdens.

You can tell more about someone's ability to efficiently negotiate the
complexities of a queue through what they carry than through any other
means -- if only more people realized it. The classic, of course, is the
unladen citizen, a person naked of even a modest shoulderbag or
marsupial pocket. To the layperson, such a specimen might be thought of
as a sure bet for a fast transaction, but I'd done an informal study and
come to the conclusion that these brave iconoclasts are often the
flightiest of the lot, left smiling with bovine mystification, patting
down their pockets in a fruitless search for a writing implement, a
piece of ID, a keycard, a rabbit's foot, a rosary, a tuna sandwich.

No, for my money, I'll take what I call the Road Worrier anytime. Such a
person is apt to be carefully slung with four or five carriers of one
description or another, from bulging cargo pockets to clever military-
grade strap-on pouches with biometrically keyed closures. The thing to
watch for is the ergonomic consideration given to these conveyances: do
they balance, are they slung for minimum interference and maximum ease
of access? Someone who's given that much consideration to their gear is
likely spending their time in line determining which bits and pieces
they'll need when they reach its headwaters and is holding them at ready
for fastest-possible processing.

This is a tricky call, since there are lookalike pretenders, gear-pigs
who pack _everything_ because they lack the organizational smarts to
figure out what they should pack -- they're just as apt to be burdened
with bags and pockets and pouches, but the telltale is the efficiency of
that slinging. These pack mules will sag beneath their loads, juggling
this and that while pushing overloose straps up on their shoulders.

I spied a queue that was made up of a group of Road Worriers, a queue
that was slightly longer than the others, but I joined it and ticced
nervously as I watched my progress relative to the other spots I
could've chosen. I was borne out, a positive omen for a wait-free World,
and I was sauntering down Main Street, USA long before my ferrymates.

Returning to Walt Disney World was a homecoming for me. My parents had
brought me the first time when I was all of ten, just as the first
inklings of the Bitchun society were trickling into everyone's
consciousness: the death of scarcity, the death of death, the struggle
to rejig an economy that had grown up focused on nothing but scarcity
and death. My memories of the trip are dim but warm, the balmy Florida
climate and a sea of smiling faces punctuated by magical, darkened
moments riding in OmniMover cars, past diorama after diorama.

I went again when I graduated high school and was amazed by the richness
of detail, the grandiosity and grandeur of it all. I spent a week there
stunned bovine, grinning and wandering from corner to corner. Someday, I
knew, I'd come to live there.

The Park became a touchstone for me, a constant in a world where
everything changed. Again and again, I came back to the Park, grounding
myself, communing with all the people I'd been.

That day I bopped from land to land, ride to ride, seeking out the short
lines, the eye of the hurricane that crowded the Park to capacity. I'd
take high ground, standing on a bench or hopping up on a fence, and do a
visual reccy of all the queues in sight, try to spot prevailing currents
in the flow of the crowd, generally having a high old obsessive time.
Truth be told, I probably spent as much time looking for walk-ins as I
would've spent lining up like a good little sheep, but I had more fun
and got more exercise.

The Haunted Mansion was experiencing a major empty spell: the Snow Crash
Spectacular parade had just swept through Liberty Square en route to
Fantasyland, dragging hordes of guests along with it, dancing to the
JapRap sounds of the comical Sushi-K and aping the movements of the
brave Hiro Protagonist. When they blew out, Liberty Square was a ghost
town, and I grabbed the opportunity to ride the Mansion five times in a
row, walking on every time.

The way I tell it to Lil, I noticed her and then I noticed the Mansion,
but to tell the truth it was the other way around.

The first couple rides through, I was just glad of the aggressive air
conditioning and the delicious sensation of sweat drying on my skin. But
on the third pass, I started to notice just how goddamn cool the thing
was. There wasn't a single bit of tech more advanced than a film-loop
projector in the whole place, but it was all so cunningly contrived that
the illusion of a haunted house was perfect: the ghosts that whirled
through the ballroom were _ghosts_, three-dimensional and ethereal and
phantasmic. The ghosts that sang in comical tableaux through the
graveyard were equally convincing, genuinely witty and simultaneously
creepy.

My fourth pass through, I noticed the _detail_, the hostile eyes worked
into the wallpaper's pattern, the motif repeated in the molding, the
chandeliers, the photo gallery. I began to pick out the words to "Grim
Grinning Ghosts," the song that is repeated throughout the ride, whether
in sinister organ-tones repeating the main theme troppo troppo or the
spritely singing of the four musical busts in the graveyard.

It's a catchy tune, one that I hummed on my fifth pass through, this
time noticing that the overaggressive AC was, actually, mysterious
chills that blew through the rooms as wandering spirits made their
presence felt. By the time I debarked for the fifth time, I was
whistling the tune with jazzy improvisations in a mixed-up tempo.

That's when Lil and I ran into each other. She was picking up a
discarded ice-cream wrapper -- I'd seen a dozen castmembers picking up
trash that day, seen it so frequently that I'd started doing it myself.
She grinned slyly at me as I debarked into the fried-food-and-
disinfectant perfume of the Park, hands in pockets, thoroughly pleased
with myself for having so completely _experienced_ a really fine hunk of
art.

I smiled back at her, because it was only natural that one of the
Whuffie-kings who were privileged to tend this bit of heavenly
entertainment should notice how thoroughly I was enjoying her work.

"That's really, really Bitchun," I said to her, admiring the titanic
mountains of Whuffie my HUD attributed to her.

She was in character, and not supposed to be cheerful, but castmembers
of her generation can't help but be friendly. She compromised between
ghastly demeanor and her natural sweet spirit, and leered a grin at me,
thumped through a zombie's curtsey, and moaned "Thank you -- we _do_ try
to keep it _spirited_."

I groaned appreciatively, and started to notice just how very cute she
was, this little button of a girl with her rotting maid's uniform and
her feather-shedding duster. She was just so clean and scrubbed and
happy about everything, she radiated it and made me want to pinch her
cheeks -- either set.

The moment was on me, and so I said, "When do they let you ghouls off?
I'd love to take you out for a Zombie or a Bloody Mary."

Which led to more horrifying banter, and to my taking her out for a
couple at the Adventurer's Club, learning her age in the process and
losing my nerve, telling myself that there was nothing we could possibly
have to say to each other across a century-wide gap.

While I tell Lil that I noticed her first and the Mansion second, the
reverse is indeed true. But it's also true -- and I never told her this
-- that the thing I love best about the Mansion is:

It's where I met her.

#

Dan and I spent the day riding the Mansion, drafting scripts for the
telepresence players who we hoped to bring on-board. We were in a
totally creative zone, the dialog running as fast as he could transcribe
it. Jamming on ideas with Dan was just about as terrific as a pass-time
could be.

I was all for leaking the plan to the Net right away, getting hearts-
and-minds action with our core audience, but Lil turned it down.

She was going to spend the next couple days quietly politicking among
the rest of the ad-hoc, getting some support for the idea, and she
didn't want the appearance of impropriety that would come from having
outsiders being brought in before the ad-hoc.

Talking to the ad-hocs, bringing them around -- it was a skill I'd never
really mastered. Dan was good at it, Lil was good at it, but me, I think
that I was too self-centered to ever develop good skills as a
peacemaker. In my younger days, I assumed that it was because I was
smarter than everyone else, with no patience for explaining things in
short words for mouth-breathers who just didn't get it.

The truth of the matter is, I'm a bright enough guy, but I'm hardly a
genius. Especially when it comes to people. Probably comes from Beating
The Crowd, never seeing individuals, just the mass -- the enemy of
expedience.

I never would have made it into the Liberty Square ad-hoc on my own. Lil
made it happen for me, long before we started sleeping together. I'd
assumed that her folks would be my best allies in the process of joining
up, but they were too jaded, too ready to take the long sleep to pay
much attention to a newcomer like me.

Lil took me under her wing, inviting me to after-work parties, talking
me up to her cronies, quietly passing around copies of my thesis-work.
And she did the same in reverse, sincerely extolling the virtues of the
others I met, so that I knew what there was to respect about them and
couldn't help but treat them as individuals.

In the years since, I'd lost that respect. Mostly, I palled around with
Lil, and once he arrived, Dan, and with net-friends around the world.
The ad-hocs that I worked with all day treated me with basic courtesy
but not much friendliness.

I guess I treated them the same. When I pictured them in my mind, they
were a faceless, passive-aggressive mass, too caught up in the starchy
world of consensus-building to ever do much of anything.

Dan and I threw ourselves into it headlong, trolling the Net for address
lists of Mansion-otakus from the four corners of the globe,
spreadsheeting them against their timezones, temperaments, and, of
course, their Whuffie.

"That's weird," I said, looking up from the old-fashioned terminal I was
using -- my systems were back offline. They'd been sputtering up and
down for a couple days now, and I kept meaning to go to the doctor, but
I'd never gotten 'round to it. Periodically, I'd get a jolt of urgency
when I remembered that this meant my backup was stale-dating, but the
Mansion always took precedence.

"Huh?" he said.

I tapped the display. "See these?" It was a fan-site, displaying a
collection of animated 3-D meshes of various elements of the Mansion,
part of a giant collaborative project that had been ongoing for decades,
to build an accurate 3-D walkthrough of every inch of the Park. I'd used
those meshes to build my own testing fly-throughs.

"Those are terrific," Dan said. "That guy must be a total _fiend_." The
meshes' author had painstakingly modeled, chained and animated every
ghost in the ballroom scene, complete with the kinematics necessary for
full motion. Where a "normal" fan-artist might've used a standard human
kinematics library for the figures, this one had actually written his
own from the ground up, so that the ghosts moved with a spectral
fluidity that was utterly unhuman.

"Who's the author?" Dan asked. "Do we have him on our list yet?"

I scrolled down to display the credits. "I'll be damned," Dan breathed.

The author was Tim, Debra's elfin crony. He'd submitted the designs a
week before my assassination.

"What do you think it means?" I asked Dan, though I had a couple ideas
on the subject myself.

"Tim's a Mansion nut," Dan said. "I knew that."

"You knew?"

He looked a little defensive. "Sure. I told you, back when you had me
hanging out with Debra's gang."

Had I asked him to hang out with Debra? As I remembered it, it had been
his suggestion. Too much to think about.

"But what does it mean, Dan? Is he an ally? Should we try to recruit
him? Or is he the one that'd convinced Debra she needs to take over the
Mansion?"

Dan shook his head. "I'm not even sure that she wants to take over the
Mansion. I know Debra, all she wants to do is turn ideas into things, as
fast and as copiously as possible. She picks her projects carefully.
She's acquisitive, sure, but she's cautious. She had a great idea for
Presidents, and so she took over. I never heard her talk about the
Mansion."

"Of course you didn't. She's cagey. Did you hear her talk about the Hall
of Presidents?"

Dan fumbled. "Not really. . . I mean, not in so many words, but --"

"But nothing," I said. "She's after the Mansion, she's after the Magic
Kingdom, she's after the Park. She's taking over, goddamn it, and I'm
the only one who seems to have noticed."

#

I came clean to Lil about my systems that night, as we were fighting.
Fighting had become our regular evening pastime, and Dan had taken to
sleeping at one of the hotels on-site rather than endure it.

I'd started it, of course. "We're going to get killed if we don't get
off our asses and start the rehab," I said, slamming myself down on the
sofa and kicking at the scratched coffee table. I heard the hysteria and
unreason in my voice and it just made me madder. I was frustrated by not
being able to check in on Suneep and Dan, and, as usual, it was too late
at night to call anyone and do anything about it. By the morning, I'd
have forgotten again.

From the kitchen, Lil barked back, "I'm doing what I can, Jules. If
you've got a better way, I'd love to hear about it."

"Oh, bullshit. I'm doing what I can, planning the thing out. I'm ready
to _go_. It was your job to get the ad-hocs ready for it, but you keep
telling me they're not. When will they be?"

"Jesus, you're a nag."

"I wouldn't nag if you'd only fucking make it happen. What are you doing
all day, anyway? Working shifts at the Mansion? Rearranging deck chairs
on the Great Titanic Adventure?"

"I'm working my fucking _ass_ off. I've spoken to every goddamn one of
them at least twice this week about it."

"Sure," I hollered at the kitchen. "Sure you have."

"Don't take my word for it, then. Check my fucking phone logs."

She waited.

"Well? Check them!"

"I'll check them later," I said, dreading where this was going.

"Oh, no you _don't_," she said, stalking into the room, fuming. "You
can't call me a liar and then refuse to look at the evidence." She
planted her hands on her slim little hips and glared at me. She'd gone
pale and I could count every freckle on her face, her throat, her
collarbones, the swell of her cleavage in the old vee-neck shirt I'd
given her on a day-trip to Nassau.

"Well?" she asked. She looked ready to wring my neck.

"I can't," I admitted, not meeting her eyes.

"Yes you can -- here, I'll dump it to your public directory."

Her expression shifted to one of puzzlement when she failed to locate me
on her network. "What's going on?"

So I told her. Offline, outcast, malfunctioning.

"Well, why haven't you gone to the doctor? I mean, it's been _weeks_.
I'll call him right now."

"Forget it," I said. "I'll see him tomorrow. No sense in getting him out
of bed."

But I didn't see him the day after, or the day after that. Too much to
do, and the only times I remembered to call someone, I was too far from
a public terminal or it was too late or too early. My systems came
online a couple times, and I was too busy with the plans for the
Mansion. Lil grew accustomed to the drifts of hard copy that littered
the house, to printing out her annotations to my designs and leaving
them on my favorite chair -- to living like the cavemen of the
information age had, surrounded by dead trees and ticking clocks.

Being offline helped me focus. Focus is hardly the word for it -- I
obsessed. I sat in front of the terminal I'd brought home all day, every
day, crunching plans, dictating voicemail. People who wanted to reach me
had to haul ass out to the house, and _speak_ to me.

I grew too obsessed to fight, and Dan moved back, and then it was my
turn to take hotel rooms so that the rattle of my keyboard wouldn't keep
him up nights. He and Lil were working a full-time campaign to recruit
the ad-hoc to our cause, and I started to feel like we were finally in
harmony, about to reach our goal.

I went home one afternoon clutching a sheaf of hardcopy and burst into
the living room, gabbling a mile-a-minute about a wrinkle on my original
plan that would add a third walk-through segment to the ride, increasing
the number of telepresence rigs we could use without decreasing
throughput.

I was mid-babble when my systems came back online. The public chatter in
the room sprang up on my HUD.

_And then I'm going to tear off every stitch of clothing and jump you._

_And then what?_

_I'm going to bang you till you limp. _

_Jesus, Lil, you are one rangy cowgirl._

My eyes closed, shutting out everything except for the glowing letters.
Quickly, they vanished. I opened my eyes again, looking at Lil, who was
flushed and distracted. Dan looked scared.

"What's going on, Dan?" I asked quietly. My heart hammered in my chest,
but I felt calm and detached.

"Jules," he began, then gave up and looked at Lil.

Lil had, by that time, figured out that I was back online, that their
secret messaging had been discovered.

"Having fun, Lil?" I asked.

Lil shook her head and glared at me. "Just go, Julius. I'll send your
stuff to the hotel."

"You want me to go, huh? So you can bang him till he limps?"

"This is my house, Julius. I'm asking you to get out of it. I'll see you
at work tomorrow -- we're having a general ad-hoc meeting to vote on the
rehab."

It was her house.

"Lil, Julius --" Dan began.

"This is between me and him," Lil said. "Stay out of it."

I dropped my papers -- I wanted to throw them, but I dropped them,
_flump_, and I turned on my heel and walked out, not bothering to close
the door behind me.

#

Dan showed up at the hotel ten minutes after I did and rapped on my
door. I was all-over numb as I opened the door. He had a bottle of
tequila -- _my_ tequila, brought over from the house that I'd shared
with Lil.

He sat down on the bed and stared at the logo-marked wallpaper. I took
the bottle from him, got a couple glasses from the bathroom and poured.

"It's my fault," he said.

"I'm sure it is," I said.

"We got to drinking a couple nights ago. She was really upset. Hadn't
seen you in days, and when she _did_ see you, you freaked her out.
Snapping at her. Arguing. Insulting her."

"So you made her," I said.

He shook his head, then nodded, took a drink. "I did. It's been a long
time since I. . ."

"You had sex with my girlfriend, in my house, while I was away,
working."

"Jules, I'm sorry. I did it, and I kept on doing it. I'm not much of a
friend to either of you.

"She's pretty broken up. She wanted me to come out here and tell you it
was all a mistake, that you were just being paranoid."

We sat in silence for a long time. I refilled his glass, then my own.

"I couldn't do that," he said. "I'm worried about you. You haven't been
right, not for months. I don't know what it is, but you should get to a
doctor."

"I don't need a doctor," I snapped. The liquor had melted the numbness
and left burning anger and bile, my constant companions. "I need a
friend who doesn't fuck my girlfriend when my back is turned."

I threw my glass at the wall. It bounced off, leaving tequila-stains on
the wallpaper, and rolled under the bed. Dan started, but stayed seated.
If he'd stood up, I would've hit him. Dan's good at crises.

"If it's any consolation, I expect to be dead pretty soon," he said. He
gave me a wry grin. "My Whuffie's doing good. This rehab should take it
up over the top. I'll be ready to go."

That stopped me. I'd somehow managed to forget that Dan, my good friend
Dan, was going to kill himself.

"You're going to do it," I said, sitting down next to him. It hurt to
think about it. I really liked the bastard. He might've been my best
friend.

There was a knock at the door. I opened it without checking the
peephole. It was Lil.

She looked younger than ever. Young and small and miserable. A snide
remark died in my throat. I wanted to hold her.

She brushed past me and went to Dan, who squirmed out of her embrace.

"No," he said, and stood up and sat on the windowsill, staring down at
the Seven Seas Lagoon.

"Dan's just been explaining to me that he plans on being dead in a
couple months," I said. "Puts a damper on the long-term plans, doesn't
it, Lil?"

Tears streamed down her face and she seemed to fold in on herself. "I'll
take what I can get," she said.

I choked on a knob of misery, and I realized that it was Dan, not Lil,
whose loss upset me the most.

Lil took Dan's hand and led him out of the room.

_I guess I'll take what I can get, too_, I thought.

========= CHAPTER 6 =========

Lying on my hotel bed, mesmerized by the lazy turns of the ceiling fan,
I pondered the possibility that I was nuts.

It wasn't unheard of, even in the days of the Bitchun Society, and even
though there were cures, they weren't pleasant.

I was once married to a crazy person. We were both about 70, and I was
living for nothing but joy. Her name was Zoya, and I called her Zed.

We met in orbit, where I'd gone to experience the famed low-gravity
sybarites. Getting staggering drunk is not much fun at one gee, but at
ten to the neg eight, it's a blast. You don't stagger, you _bounce_, and
when you're bouncing in a sphere full of other bouncing, happy,
boisterous naked people, things get deeply fun.

I was bouncing around inside a clear sphere that was a mile in diameter,
filled with smaller spheres in which one could procure bulbs of fruity,
deadly concoctions. Musical instruments littered the sphere's floor, and
if you knew how to play, you'd snag one, tether it to you and start
playing. Others would pick up their own axes and jam along. The tunes
varied from terrific to awful, but they were always energetic.

I had been working on my third symphony on and off, and whenever I
thought I had a nice bit nailed, I'd spend some time in the sphere
playing it. Sometimes, the strangers who jammed in gave me new and
interesting lines of inquiry, and that was good. Even when they didn't,
playing an instrument was a fast track to intriguing an interesting,
naked stranger.

Which is how we met. She snagged a piano and pounded out barrelhouse
runs in quirky time as I carried the main thread of the movement on a
cello. At first it was irritating, but after a short while I came to a
dawning comprehension of what she was doing to my music, and it was
really _good_. I'm a sucker for musicians.

We brought the session to a crashing stop, me bowing furiously as
spheres of perspiration beaded on my body and floated gracefully into
the hydrotropic recyclers, she beating on the 88 like they were the perp
who killed her partner.

I collapsed dramatically as the last note crashed through the bubble.
The singles, couples and groups stopped in midflight coitus to applaud.
She took a bow, untethered herself from the Steinway, and headed for the
hatch.

I coiled my legs up and did a fast burn through the sphere, desperate to
reach the hatch before she did. I caught her as she was leaving.

"Hey!" I said. "That was great! I'm Julius! How're you doing?"

She reached out with both hands and squeezed my nose and my unit
simultaneously -- not hard, you understand, but playfully. "Honk!" she
said, and squirmed through the hatch while I gaped at my burgeoning
chub-on.

I chased after her. "Wait," I called as she tumbled through the spoke of
the station towards the gravity.

She had a pianist's body -- re-engineered arms and hands that stretched
for impossible lengths, and she used them with a spacehand's grace,
vaulting herself forward at speed. I bumbled after her best as I could
on my freshman spacelegs, but by the time I reached the half-gee rim of
the station, she was gone.

I didn't find her again until the next movement was done and I went to
the bubble to try it out on an oboe. I was just getting warmed up when
she passed through the hatch and tied off to the piano.

This time, I clamped the oboe under my arm and bopped over to her before
moistening the reed and blowing. I hovered over the piano's top, looking
her in the eye as we jammed. Her mood that day was 4/4 time and I-IV-V
progressions, in a feel that swung around from blues to rock to folk,
teasing at the edge of my own melodies. She noodled at me, I noodled
back at her, and her eyes crinkled charmingly whenever I managed a
smidge of tuneful wit.

She was almost completely flatchested, and covered in a fine, red downy
fur, like a chipmunk. It was a jaunter's style, suited to the climate-
controlled, soft-edged life in space. Fifty years later, I was dating
Lil, another redhead, but Zed was my first.

I played and played, entranced by the fluidity of her movements at the
keyboard, her comical moues of concentration when picking out a
particularly kicky little riff. When I got tired, I took it to a slow
bridge or gave her a solo. I was going to make this last as long as I
could. Meanwhile, I maneuvered my way between her and the hatch.

When I blew the last note, I was wrung out as a washcloth, but I
summoned the energy to zip over to the hatch and block it. She calmly
untied and floated over to me.

I looked in her eyes, silvered slanted cat-eyes, eyes that I'd been
staring into all afternoon, and watched the smile that started at their
corners and spread right down to her long, elegant toes. She looked back
at me, then, at length, grabbed ahold of my joint again.

"You'll do," she said, and led me to her sleeping quarters, across the
station.

We didn't sleep.

#

Zoya had been an early network engineer for the geosynch broadband
constellations that went up at the cusp of the world's ascent into
Bitchunry. She'd been exposed to a lot of hard rads and low gee and had
generally become pretty transhuman as time went by, upgrading with a
bewildering array of third-party enhancements: a vestigial tail, eyes
that saw through most of the RF spectrum, her arms, her fur, dogleg
reversible knee joints and a completely mechanical spine that wasn't
prone to any of the absolutely inane bullshit that plagues the rest of
us, like lower-back pain, intrascapular inflammation, sciatica and
slipped discs.

I thought I lived for fun, but I didn't have anything on Zed. She only
talked when honking and whistling and grabbing and kissing wouldn't do,
and routinely slapped upgrades into herself on the basis of any whim
that crossed her mind, like when she resolved to do a spacewalk bare-
skinned and spent the afternoon getting tin-plated and iron-lunged.

I fell in love with her a hundred times a day, and wanted to strangle
her twice as often. She stayed on her spacewalk for a couple of days,
floating around the bubble, making crazy faces at its mirrored exterior.
She had no way of knowing if I was inside, but she assumed that I was
watching. Or maybe she didn't, and she was making faces for anyone's
benefit.

But then she came back through the lock, strange and wordless and her
eyes full of the stars she'd seen and her metallic skin cool with the
breath of empty space, and she led me a merry game of tag through the
station, the mess hall where we skidded sloppy through a wobbly ovoid of
rice pudding, the greenhouses where she burrowed like a gopher and
shinnied like a monkey, the living quarters and bubbles as we
interrupted a thousand acts of coitus.

You'd have thought that we'd have followed it up with an act of our own,
and truth be told, that was certainly my expectation when we started the
game I came to think of as the steeplechase, but we never did. Halfway
through, I'd lose track of carnal urges and return to a state of
childlike innocence, living only for the thrill of the chase and the
giggly feeling I got whenever she found some new, even-more-outrageous
corner to turn. I think we became legendary on the station, that crazy
pair that's always zipping in and zipping away, like having your party
crashed by two naked, coed Marx Brothers.

When I asked her to marry me, to return to Earth with me, to live with
me until the universe's mainspring unwound, she laughed, honked my nose
and my willie and shouted, "YOU'LL _DO_!"

I took her home to Toronto and we took up residence ten stories
underground in overflow residence for the University. Our Whuffie wasn't
so hot earthside, and the endless institutional corridors made her feel
at home while affording her opportunities for mischief.

But bit by bit, the mischief dwindled, and she started talking more. At
first, I admit I was relieved, glad that my strange, silent wife was
finally acting normal, making nice with the neighbors instead of
pranking them with endless honks and fanny-kicks and squirt guns. We
gave up the steeplechase and she had the doglegs taken out, her fur
removed, her eyes unsilvered to a hazel that was pretty and as
fathomable as the silver had been inscrutable.

We wore clothes. We entertained. I started to rehearse my symphony in
low-Whuffie halls and parks with any musicians I could drum up, and she
came out and didn't play, just sat to the side and smiled and smiled
with a smile that never went beyond her lips.

She went nuts.

She shat herself. She pulled her hair. She cut herself with knives. She
accused me of plotting to kill her. She set fire to the neighbors'
apartments, wrapped herself in plastic sheeting, dry-humped the
furniture.

She went nuts. She did it in broad strokes, painting the walls of our
bedroom with her blood, jagging all night through rant after rant. I
smiled and nodded and faced it for as long as I could, then I grabbed
her and hauled her, kicking like a mule, to the doctor's office on the
second floor. She'd been dirtside for a year and nuts for a month, but
it took me that long to face up to it.

The doc diagnosed nonchemical dysfunction, which was by way of saying
that it was her mind, not her brain, that was broken. In other words,
I'd driven her nuts.

You can get counseling for nonchemical dysfunction, basically trying to
talk it out, learn to feel better about yourself. She didn't want to.

She was miserable, suicidal, murderous. In the brief moments of lucidity
that she had under sedation, she consented to being restored from a
backup that was made before we came to Toronto.

I was at her side in the hospital when she woke up. I had prepared a
written synopsis of the events since her last backup for her, and she
read it over the next couple days.

"Julius," she said, while I was making breakfast in our subterranean
apartment. She sounded so serious, so fun-free, that I knew immediately
that the news wouldn't be good.

"Yes?" I said, setting out plates of bacon and eggs, steaming cups of
coffee.

"I'm going to go back to space, and revert to an older version." She had
a shoulderbag packed, and she had traveling clothes on.

_Oh, shit._ "Great," I said, with forced cheerfulness, making a mental
inventory of my responsibilities dirtside. "Give me a minute or two,
I'll pack up. I miss space, too."

She shook her head, and anger blazed in her utterly scrutable hazel
eyes. "No. I'm going back to who I was, before I met you."

It hurt, bad. I had loved the old, steeplechase Zed, had loved her fun
and mischief. The Zed she'd become after we wed was terrible and
terrifying, but I'd stuck with her out of respect for the person she'd
been.

Now she was off to restore herself from a backup made before she met me.
She was going to lop 18 months out of her life, start over again, revert
to a saved version.

Hurt? It ached like a motherfucker.

I went back to the station a month later, and saw her jamming in the
sphere with a guy who had three extra sets of arms depending from his
hips. He scuttled around the sphere while she played a jig on the piano,
and when her silver eyes lit on me, there wasn't a shred of recognition
in them. She'd never met me.

I died some, too, putting the incident out of my head and sojourning to
Disney World, there to reinvent myself with a new group of friends, a
new career, a new life. I never spoke of Zed again -- especially not to
Lil, who hardly needed me to pollute her with remembrances of my crazy
exes.

#

If I was nuts, it wasn't the kind of spectacular nuts that Zed had gone.
It was a slow, seething, ugly nuts that had me alienating my friends,
sabotaging my enemies, driving my girlfriend into my best friend's arms.

I decided that I would see a doctor, just as soon as we'd run the rehab
past the ad-hoc's general meeting. I had to get my priorities straight.

I pulled on last night's clothes and walked out to the Monorail station
in the main lobby. The platform was jammed with happy guests, bright and
cheerful and ready for a day of steady, hypermediated fun. I tried to
make myself attend to them as individuals, but try as I might, they kept
turning into a crowd, and I had to plant my feet firmly on the platform
to keep from weaving among them to the edge, the better to snag a seat.

The meeting was being held over the Sunshine Tree Terrace in
Adventureland, just steps from where I'd been turned into a road-pizza
by the still-unidentified assassin. The Adventureland ad-hocs owed the
Liberty Square crew a favor since my death had gone down on their turf,
so they had given us use of their prize meeting room, where the Florida
sun streamed through the slats of the shutters, casting a hash of dust-
filled shafts of light across the room. The faint sounds of the tiki-
drums and the spieling Jungle Cruise guides leaked through the room, a
low-key ambient buzz from two of the Park's oldest rides.

There were almost a hundred ad-hocs in the Liberty Square crew, almost
all second-gen castmembers with big, friendly smiles. They filled the
room to capacity, and there was much hugging and handshaking before the
meeting came to order. I was thankful that the room was too small for
the _de rigeur_ ad-hoc circle-of-chairs, so that Lil was able to stand
at a podium and command a smidge of respect.

"Hi there!" she said, brightly. The weepy puffiness was still present
around her eyes, if you knew how to look for it, but she was expert at
putting on a brave face no matter what the ache.

The ad-hocs roared back a collective, "Hi, Lil!" and laughed at their
own corny tradition. Oh, they sure were a barrel of laughs at the Magic
Kingdom.

"Everybody knows why we're here, right?" Lil said, with a self-
deprecating smile. She'd been lobbying hard for weeks, after all. "Does
anyone have any questions about the plans? We'd like to start executing
right away."

A guy with deliberately boyish, wholesome features put his arm in the
air. Lil acknowledged him with a nod. "When you say 'right away,' do you
mean --"

I cut in. "Tonight. After this meeting. We're on an eight-week
production schedule, and the sooner we start, the sooner it'll be
finished."

The crowd murmured, unsettled. Lil shot me a withering look. I shrugged.
Politics was not my game.

Lil said, "Don, we're trying something new here, a really streamlined
process. The good part is, the process is _short_. In a couple months,
we'll know if it's working for us. If it's not, hey, we can turn it
around in a couple months, too. That's why we're not spending as much
time planning as we usually do. It won't take five years for the idea to
prove out, so the risks are lower."

Another castmember, a woman, apparent 40 with a round, motherly demeanor
said, "I'm all for moving fast -- Lord knows, our pacing hasn't always
been that hot. But I'm concerned about all these new people you propose
to recruit -- won't having more people slow us down when it comes to
making new decisions?"

_No_, I thought sourly, _because the people I'm bringing in aren't
addicted to meetings_.

Lil nodded. "That's a good point, Lisa. The offer we're making to the
telepresence players is probationary -- they don't get to vote until
after we've agreed that the rehab is a success."

Another castmember stood. I recognized him: Dave, a heavyset, self-
important jerk who loved to work the front door, even though he blew his
spiel about half the time. "Lillian," he said, smiling sadly at her, "I
think you're really making a big mistake here. We love the Mansion, all
of us, and so do the guests. It's a piece of history, and we're its
custodians, not its masters. Changing it like this, well. . ." he shook
his head. "It's not good stewardship. If the guests wanted to walk
through a funhouse with guys jumping out of the shadows saying 'booga-
booga,' they'd go to one of the Halloween Houses in their hometowns. The
Mansion's better than that. I can't be a part of this plan."

I wanted to knock the smug grin off his face. I'd delivered essentially
the same polemic a thousand times -- in reference to Debra's work -- and
hearing it from this jerk in reference to _mine_ made me go all hot and
red inside.

"Look," I said. "If we don't do this, if we don't change things, they'll
get changed _for_ us. By someone else. The question, _Dave_, is whether
a responsible custodian lets his custodianship be taken away from him,
or whether he does everything he can to make sure that he's still around
to ensure that his charge is properly cared for. Good custodianship
isn't sticking your head in the sand."

I could tell I wasn't doing any good. The mood of the crowd was getting
darker, the faces more set. I resolved not to speak again until the
meeting was done, no matter what the provocation.

Lil smoothed my remarks over, and fielded a dozen more, and it looked
like the objections would continue all afternoon and all night and all
the next day, and I felt woozy and overwrought and miserable all at the
same time, staring at Lil and her harried smile and her nervous
smoothing of her hair over her ears.

Finally, she called the question. By tradition, the votes were collected
in secret and publicly tabulated over the data-channels. The group's
eyes unfocussed as they called up HUDs and watched the totals as they
rolled in. I was offline and unable to vote or watch.

At length, Lil heaved a relieved sigh and smiled, dropping her hands
behind her back.

"All right then," she said, over the crowd's buzz. "Let's get to work."

I stood up, saw Dan and Lil staring into each other's eyes, a meaningful
glance between new lovers, and I saw red. Literally. My vision washed
over pink, and a strobe pounded at the edges of my vision. I took two
lumbering steps towards them and opened my mouth to say something
horrible, and what came out was "Waaagh." My right side went numb and my
leg slipped out from under me and I crashed to the floor.

The slatted light from the shutters cast its way across my chest as I
tried to struggle up with my left arm, and then it all went black.

#

I wasn't nuts after all.

The doctor's office in the Main Street infirmary was clean and white and
decorated with posters of Jiminy Cricket in doctors' whites with an
outsized stethoscope. I came to on a hard pallet under a sign that
reminded me to get a check-up twice a year, by gum! and I tried to bring
my hands up to shield my eyes from the over bright light and the over-
cheerful signage, and discovered that I couldn't move my arms. Further
investigation revealed that this was because I was strapped down, in
full-on four-point restraint.

"Waaagh," I said again.

Dan's worried face swam into my field of vision, along with a serious-
looking doctor, apparent 70, with a Norman Rockwell face full of
crow'sfeet and smile-lines.

"Welcome back, Julius. I'm Doctor Pete," the doctor said, in a kindly
voice that matched the face. Despite my recent disillusion with
castmember bullshit, I found his schtick comforting.

I slumped back against the palette while the doc shone lights in my eyes
and consulted various diagnostic apparati. I bore it in stoic silence,
too confounded by the horrible Waaagh sounds to attempt more speech. The
doc would tell me what was going on when he was ready.

"Does he need to be tied up still?" Dan asked, and I shook my head
urgently. Being tied up wasn't my idea of a good time.

The doc smiled kindly. "I think it's for the best, for now. Don't worry,
Julius, we'll have you up and about soon enough."

Dan protested, but stopped when the doc threatened to send him out of
the room. He took my hand instead.

My nose itched. I tried to ignore it, but it got worse and worse, until
it was all I could think of, the flaming lance of itch that strobed at
the tip of my nostril. Furiously, I wrinkled my face, rattled at my
restraints. The doc absentmindedly noticed my gyrations and delicately
scratched my nose with a gloved finger. The relief was fantastic. I just
hoped my nuts didn't start itching anytime soon.

Finally, the doctor pulled up a chair and did something that caused the
head of the bed to raise up so that I could look him in the eye.

"Well, now," he said, stroking his chin. "Julius, you've got a problem.
Your friend here tells me your systems have been offline for more than a
month. It sure would've been better if you'd come in to see me when it
started up.

"But you didn't, and things got worse." He nodded up at Jiminy Cricket's
recriminations: Go ahead, see your doc! "It's good advice, son, but
what's done is done. You were restored from a backup about eight weeks
ago, I see. Without more tests, I can't be sure, but my theory is that
the brain-machine interface they installed at that time had a material
defect. It's been deteriorating ever since, misfiring and rebooting. The
shut-downs are a protective mechanism, meant to keep it from introducing
the kind of seizure you experienced this afternoon. When the interface
senses malfunction, it shuts itself down and boots a diagnostic mode,
attempts to fix itself and come back online.

"Well, that's fine for minor problems, but in cases like this, it's bad
news. The interface has been deteriorating steadily, and it's only a
matter of time before it does some serious damage."

"Waaagh?" I asked. I meant to say, _All right, but what's wrong with my
mouth?_

The doc put a finger to my lips. "Don't try. The interface has locked
up, and it's taken some of your voluntary nervous processes with it. In
time, it'll probably shut down, but for now, there's no point. That's
why we've got you strapped down -- you were thrashing pretty hard when
they brought you in, and we didn't want you to hurt yourself."

_Probably shut down_? Jesus. I could end up stuck like this forever. I
started shaking.

The doc soothed me, stroking my hand, and in the process pressed a
transdermal on my wrist. The panic receded as the transdermal's sedative
oozed into my bloodstream.

"There, there," he said. "It's nothing permanent. We can grow you a new
clone and refresh it from your last backup. Unfortunately, that backup
is a few months old. If we'd caught it earlier, we may've been able to
salvage a current backup, but given the deterioration you've displayed
to date. . . Well, there just wouldn't be any point."

My heart hammered. I was going to lose two months -- lose it all, never
happened. My assassination, the new Hall of Presidents and my shameful
attempt thereon, the fights with Lil, Lil and Dan, the meeting. My plans
for the rehab! All of it, good and bad, every moment flensed away.

I couldn't do it. I had a rehab to finish, and I was the only one who
understood how it had to be done. Without my relentless prodding, the
ad-hocs would surely revert to their old, safe ways. They might even
leave it half-done, halt the process for an interminable review, present
a soft belly for Debra to savage.

I wouldn't be restoring from backup.

#

I had two more seizures before the interface finally gave up and shut
itself down. I remember the first, a confusion of vision-occluding
strobes and uncontrollable thrashing and the taste of copper, but the
second happened without waking me from deep unconsciousness.

When I came to again in the infirmary, Dan was still there. He had a
day's growth of beard and new worrylines at the corners of his newly
rejuvenated eyes. The doctor came in, shaking his head.

"Well, now, it seems like the worst is over. I've drawn up the consent
forms for the refresh and the new clone will be ready in an hour or two.
In the meantime, I think heavy sedation is in order. Once the restore's
been completed, we'll retire this body for you and we'll be all finished
up."

Retire this body? Kill me, is what it meant.

"No," I said. I thrilled in my restraints: my voice was back under my
control!

"Oh, really now." The doc lost his bedside manner, let his exasperation
slip through. "There's nothing else for it. If you'd come to me when it
all started, well, we might've had other options. You've got no one to
blame but yourself."

"No," I repeated. "Not now. I won't sign."

Dan put his hand on mine. I tried to jerk out from under it, but the
restraints and his grip held me fast. "You've got to do it, Julius. It's
for the best," he said.

"I'm not going to let you kill me," I said, through clenched teeth. His
fingertips were callused, worked rough with exertion well beyond the
normal call of duty.

"No one's killing you, son," the doctor said. Son, son, son. Who knew
how old he was? He could be 18 for all I knew. "It's just the opposite:
we're saving you. If you continue like this, it will only get worse. The
seizures, mental breakdown, the whole melon going soft. You don't want
that."

I thought of Zed's spectacular transformation into a crazy person. _No,
I sure don't_. "I don't care about the interface. Chop it out. I can't
do it now." I swallowed. "Later. After the rehab. Eight more weeks."

#

The irony! Once the doc knew I was serious, he sent Dan out of the room
and rolled his eyes up while he placed a call. I saw his gorge work as
he subvocalized. He left me bound to the table, to wait.

No clocks in the infirmary, and no internal clock, and it may have been
ten minutes or five hours. I was catheterized, but I didn't know it
until urgent necessity made the discovery for me.

When the doc came back, he held a small device that I instantly
recognized: a HERF gun.

Oh, it wasn't the same model I'd used on the Hall of Presidents. This
one was smaller, and better made, with the precise engineering of a
surgical tool. The doc raised his eyebrows at me. "You know what this
is," he said, flatly. A dim corner of my mind gibbered, _he knows, he
knows, the Hall of Presidents_. But he didn't know. That episode was
locked in my mind, invulnerable to backup.

"I know," I said.

"This one is high-powered in the extreme. It will penetrate the
interface's shielding and fuse it. It probably won't turn you into a
vegetable. That's the best I can do. If this fails, we will restore you
from your last backup. You have to sign the consent before I use it."
He'd dropped all kindly pretense from his voice, not bothering to
disguise his disgust. I was pitching out the miracle of the Bitchun
Society, the thing that had all but obsoleted the medical profession:
why bother with surgery when you can grow a clone, take a backup, and
refresh the new body? Some people swapped corpuses just to get rid of a
cold.

I signed. The doc wheeled my gurney into the crash and hum of the
utilidors and then put it on a freight tram that ran to the Imagineering
compound, and thence to a heavy, exposed Faraday cage. Of course: using
the HERF on me would kill any electronics in the neighborhood. They had
to shield me before they pulled the trigger.

The doc placed the gun on my chest and loosened my restraints. He sealed
the cage and retreated to the lab's door. He pulled a heavy apron and
helmet with faceguard from a hook beside the door.

"Once I am outside the door, point it at your head and pull the trigger.
I'll come back in five minutes. Once I am in the room, place the gun on
the floor and do not touch it. It is only good for a single usage, but I
have no desire to find out I'm wrong."

He closed the door. I took the pistol in my hand. It was heavy, dense
with its stored energy, the tip a parabolic hollow to better focus its
cone.

I lifted the gun to my temple and let it rest there. My thumb found the
trigger-stud.

I paused. This wouldn't kill me, but it might lock the interface
forever, paralyzing me, turning me into a thrashing maniac. I knew that
I would never be able to pull the trigger. The doc must've known, too --
this was his way of convincing me to let him do that restore.

I opened my mouth to call the doc, and what came out was "Waaagh!"

The seizure started. My arm jerked and my thumb nailed the stud, and
there was an ozone tang. The seizure stopped.

I had no more interface.

#

The doc looked sour and pinched when he saw me sitting up on the gurney,
rubbing at my biceps. He produced a handheld diagnostic tool and pointed
it at my melon, then pronounced every bit of digital microcircuitry in
it dead. For the first time since my twenties, I was no more advanced
than nature had made me.

The restraints left purple bruises at my wrists and ankles, where I'd
thrashed against them. I hobbled out of the Faraday cage and the lab
under my own power, but just barely, my muscles groaning from the
inadvertent isometric exercises of my seizure.

Dan was waiting in the utilidor, crouched and dozing against the wall.
The doc shook him awake and his head snapped up, his hand catching the
doc's in a lightning-quick reflex. It was easy to forget Dan's old line
of work here in the Magic Kingdom, but when he smoothly snagged the
doc's arm and sprang to his feet, eyes hard and alert, I remembered. My
old pal, the action hero.

Quickly, Dan released the doc and apologized. He assessed my physical
state and wordlessly wedged his shoulder in my armpit, supporting me. I
didn't have the strength to stop him. I needed sleep.

"I'm taking you home," he said. "We'll fight Debra off tomorrow."

"Sure," I said, and boarded the waiting tram.

But we didn't go home. Dan took me back to my hotel, the Contemporary,
and brought me up to my door. He keycarded the lock and stood awkwardly
as I hobbled into the empty room that was my new home, as I collapsed
into the bed that was mine now.

With an apologetic look, he slunk away, back to Lil and the house we'd
shared.

I slapped on a sedative transdermal that the doc had given me, and added
a mood-equalizer that he'd recommended to control my "personality
swings." In seconds, I was asleep.

========= CHAPTER 7 =========

The meds helped me cope with the next couple of days, starting the rehab
on the Mansion. We worked all night erecting a scaffolding around the
facade, though no real work would be done on it -- we wanted the
appearance of rapid progress, and besides, I had an idea.

I worked alongside Dan, using him as a personal secretary, handling my
calls, looking up plans, monitoring the Net for the first grumblings as
the Disney-going public realized that the Mansion was being taken down
for a full-blown rehab. We didn't exchange any unnecessary words,
standing side by side without ever looking into one another's eyes. I
couldn't really feel awkward around Dan, anyway. He never let me, and
besides we had our hands full directing disappointed guests away from
the Mansion. A depressing number of them headed straight for the Hall of
Presidents.

We didn't have to wait long for the first panicked screed about the
Mansion to appear. Dan read it aloud off his HUD: "Hey! Anyone hear
anything about scheduled maintenance at the HM? I just buzzed by on the
way to the new H of P's and it looks like some big stuff's afoot --
scaffolding, castmembers swarming in and out, see the pic. I hope
they're not screwing up a good thing. BTW, don't miss the new H of P's
-- very Bitchun."

"Right," I said. "Who's the author, and is he on the list?"

Dan cogitated a moment. "_She_ is Kim Wright, and she's on the list.
Good Whuffie, lots of Mansion fanac, big readership."

"Call her," I said.

This was the plan: recruit rabid fans right away, get 'em in costume,
and put 'em up on the scaffolds. Give them outsized, bat-adorned tools
and get them to play at construction activity in thumpy, undead
pantomime. In time, Suneep and his gang would have a batch of
telepresence robots up and running, and we'd move to them, get them
wandering the queue area, interacting with curious guests. The new
Mansion would be open for business in 48 hours, albeit in stripped-down
fashion. The scaffolding made for a nice weenie, a visual draw that
would pull the hordes that thronged Debra's Hall of Presidents over for
a curious peek or two. Buzz city.

I'm a pretty smart guy.

#

Dan paged this Kim person and spoke to her as she was debarking the
Pirates of the Caribbean. I wondered if she was the right person for the
job: she seemed awfully enamored of the rehabs that Debra and her crew
had performed. If I'd had more time, I would've run a deep background
check on every one of the names on my list, but that would've taken
months.

Dan made some small talk with Kim, speaking aloud in deference to my
handicap, before coming to the point. "We read your post about the
Mansion's rehab. You're the first one to notice it, and we wondered if
you'd be interested in coming by to find out a little more about our
plans."

Dan winced. "She's a screamer," he whispered.

Reflexively, I tried to pull up a HUD with my files on the Mansion fans
we hoped to recruit. Of course, nothing happened. I'd done that a dozen
times that morning, and there was no end in sight. I couldn't seem to
get lathered up about it, though, nor about anything else, not even the
hickey just visible under Dan's collar. The transdermal mood-balancer on
my bicep was seeing to that -- doctor's orders.

"Fine, fine. We're standing by the Pet Cemetery, two cast members, male,
in Mansion costumes. About five-ten, apparent 30. You can't miss us."

She didn't. She arrived out of breath and excited, jogging. She was
apparent 20, and dressed like a real 20 year old, in a hipster climate-
control cowl that clung to and released her limbs, which were long and
double-kneed. All the rage among the younger set, including the girl
who'd shot me.

But the resemblance to my killer ended with her dress and body. She
wasn't wearing a designer face, rather one that had enough imperfections
to be the one she was born with, eyes set close and nose wide and
slightly squashed.

I admired the way she moved through the crowd, fast and low but without
jostling anyone. "Kim," I called as she drew near. "Over here."

She gave a happy shriek and made a beeline for us. Even charging full-
bore, she was good enough at navigating the crowd that she didn't brush
against a single soul. When she reached us, she came up short and
bounced a little. "Hi, I'm Kim!" she said, pumping my arm with the
peculiar violence of the extra-jointed. "Julius," I said, then waited
while she repeated the process with Dan.

"So," she said, "what's the deal?"

I took her hand. "Kim, we've got a job for you, if you're interested."

She squeezed my hand hard and her eyes shone. "I'll take it!" she said.

I laughed, and so did Dan. It was a polite, castmembery sort of laugh,
but underneath it was relief. "I think I'd better explain it to you
first," I said.

"Explain away!" she said, and gave my hand another squeeze.

I let go of her hand and ran down an abbreviated version of the rehab
plans, leaving out anything about Debra and her ad-hocs. Kim drank it
all in greedily. She cocked her head at me as I ran it down, eyes wide.
It was disconcerting, and I finally asked, "Are you recording this?"

Kim blushed. "I hope that's okay! I'm starting a new Mansion scrapbook.
I have one for every ride in the Park, but this one's gonna be a world-
beater!"

Here was something I hadn't thought about. Publishing ad-hoc business
was tabu inside Park, so much so that it hadn't occurred to me that the
new castmembers we brought in would want to record every little detail
and push it out over the Net as a big old Whuffie collector.

"I can switch it off," Kim said. She looked worried, and I really
started to grasp how important the Mansion was to the people we were
recruiting, how much of a privilege we were offering them.

"Leave it rolling," I said. "Let's show the world how it's done."

We led Kim into a utilidor and down to costuming. She was half-naked by
the time we got there, literally tearing off her clothes in anticipation
of getting into character. Sonya, a Liberty Square ad-hoc that we'd
stashed at costuming, already had clothes waiting for her, a rotting
maid's uniform with an oversized toolbelt.

We left Kim on the scaffolding, energetically troweling a water-based
cement substitute onto the wall, scraping it off and moving to a new
spot. It looked boring to me, but I could believe that we'd have to tear
her away when the time came.

We went back to trawling the Net for the next candidate.

#

By lunchtime, there were ten drilling, hammering, troweling new
castmembers around the scaffolding, pushing black wheelbarrows, singing
"Grim Grinning Ghosts" and generally having a high old time.

"This'll do," I said to Dan. I was exhausted and soaked with sweat, and
the transdermal under my costume itched. Despite the happy-juice in my
bloodstream, a streak of uncastmemberly crankiness was shot through my
mood. I needed to get offstage.

Dan helped me hobble away, and as we hit the utilidor, he whispered in
my ear, "This was a great idea, Julius. Really."

We jumped a tram over to Imagineering, my chest swollen with pride.
Suneep had three of his assistants working on the first generation of
mobile telepresence robots for the exterior, and had promised a
prototype for that afternoon. The robots were easy enough -- just off-
the-shelf stuff, really -- but the costumes and kinematics routines were
something else. Thinking about what he and Suneep's gang of
hypercreative super-geniuses would come up with cheered me up a little,
as did being out of the public eye.

Suneep's lab looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Imagineer packs
rolled in and out with arcane gizmos, or formed tight argumentative
knots in the corners as they shouted over whatever their HUDs were
displaying. In the middle of it all was Suneep, who looked like he was
barely restraining an urge to shout Yippee! He was clearly in his
element.

He threw his arms open when he caught sight of Dan and me, threw them
wide enough to embrace the whole mad, gibbering chaos. "What wonderful
flumgubbery!" he shouted, over the noise.

"Sure is," I agreed. "How's the prototype coming?"

Suneep waved absently, his short fingers describing trivialities in the
air. "In due time, in due time. I've put that team onto something else,
a kinematics routine for a class of flying spooks that use gasbags to
stay aloft -- silent and scary. It's old spy-tech, and the retrofit's
coming tremendously. Take a look!" He pointed a finger at me and,
presumably, squirted some data my way.

"I'm offline," I reminded him gently.

He slapped his forehead, took a moment to push his hair off his face,
and gave me an apologetic wave. "Of course, of course. Here." He
unrolled an LCD and handed it to me. A flock of spooks danced on the
screen, rendered against the ballroom scene. They were thematically
consistent with the existing Mansion ghosts, more funny than scary, and
their faces were familiar. I looked around the lab and realized that
they'd caricatured various Imagineers.

"Ah! You noticed," Suneep said, rubbing his hands together. "A very good
joke, yes?"

"This is terrific," I said, carefully. "But I really need some robots up
and running by tomorrow night, Suneep. We discussed this, remember?"
Without telepresence robots, my recruiting would be limited to fans like
Kim, who lived in the area. I had broader designs than that.

Suneep looked disappointed. "Of course. We discussed it. I don't like to
stop my people when they have good ideas, but there's a time and a
place. I'll put them on it right away. Leave it to me."

Dan turned to greet someone, and I looked to see who it was. Lil. Of
course. She was raccoon-eyed with fatigue, and she reached out for Dan's
hand, saw me, and changed her mind.

"Hi, guys," she said, with studied casualness.

"Oh, hello!" said Suneep. He fired his finger at her -- the flying
ghosts, I imagined. Lil's eyes rolled up for a moment, then she nodded
exhaustedly at him.

"Very good," she said. "I just heard from Lisa. She says the indoor
crews are on-schedule. They've got most of the animatronics dismantled,
and they're taking down the glass in the Ballroom now." The Ballroom
ghost effects were accomplished by means of a giant pane of polished
glass that laterally bisected the room. The Mansion had been built
around it -- it was too big to take out in one piece. "They say it'll be
a couple days before they've got it cut up and ready to remove."

A pocket of uncomfortable silence descended on us, the roar of the
Imagineers rushing in to fill it.

"You must be exhausted," Dan said, at length.

"Goddamn right," I said, at the same moment that Lil said, "I guess I
am."

We both smiled wanly. Suneep put his arms around Lil's and my shoulders
and squeezed. He smelled of an exotic cocktail of industrial lubricant,
ozone, and fatigue poisons.

"You two should go home and give each other a massage," he said. "You've
earned some rest."

Dan met my eye and shook his head apologetically. I squirmed out from
under Suneep's arm and thanked him quietly, then slunk off to the
Contemporary for a hot tub and a couple hours of sleep.

#

I came back to the Mansion at sundown. It was cool enough that I took a
surface route, costume rolled in a shoulderbag, instead of riding
through the clattering, air-conditioned comfort of the utilidors.

As a freshening breeze blew across me, I suddenly had a craving for
_real_ weather, the kind of climate I'd grown up with in Toronto. It was
October, for chrissakes, and a lifetime of conditioning told me that it
was May. I stopped and leaned on a bench for a moment and closed my
eyes. Unbidden, and with the clarity of a HUD, I saw High Park in
Toronto, clothed in its autumn colors, fiery reds and oranges, shades of
evergreen and earthy brown. God, I needed a vacation.

I opened my eyes and realized that I was standing in front of the Hall
of Presidents, and that there was a queue ahead of me for it, one that
stretched back and back. I did a quick sum in my head and sucked air
between my teeth: they had enough people for five or six full houses
waiting here -- easily an hour's wait. The Hall _never_ drew crowds like
this. Debra was working the turnstiles in Betsy Ross gingham, and she
caught my eye and snapped a nod at me.

I stalked off to the Mansion. A choir of zombie-shambling new recruits
had formed up in front of the gate, and were groaning their way through
"Grim Grinning Ghosts," with a new call-and-response structure. A small
audience participated, urged on by the recruits on the scaffolding.

"Well, at least that's going right," I muttered to myself. And it was,
except that I could see members of the ad-hoc looking on from the
sidelines, and the looks weren't kindly. Totally obsessive fans are a
good measure of a ride's popularity, but they're kind of a pain in the
ass, too. They lipsynch the soundtrack, cadge souvenirs and pester you
with smarmy, show-off questions. After a while, even the cheeriest
castmember starts to lose patience, develop an automatic distaste for
them.

The Liberty Square ad-hocs who were working on the Mansion had been
railroaded into approving a rehab, press-ganged into working on it, and
were now forced to endure the company of these grandstanding megafans.
If I'd been there when it all started -- instead of sleeping! -- I
may've been able to massage their bruised egos, but now I wondered if it
was too late.

Nothing for it but to do it. I ducked into a utilidor, changed into my
costume and went back onstage. I joined the call-and-response
enthusiastically, walking around to the ad-hocs and getting them to join
in, reluctantly or otherwise.

By the time the choir retired, sweaty and exhausted, a group of ad-hocs
were ready to take their place, and I escorted my recruits to an
offstage break-room.

#

Suneep didn't deliver the robot prototypes for a week, and told me that
it would be another week before I could have even five production units.
Though he didn't say it, I got the sense that his guys were out of
control, so excited by the freedom from ad-hoc oversight that they were
running wild. Suneep himself was nearly a wreck, nervous and jumpy. I
didn't press it.

Besides, I had problems of my own. The new recruits were multiplying. I
was staying on top of the fan response to the rehab from a terminal I'd
had installed in my hotel room. Kim and her local colleagues were
fielding millions of hits every day, their Whuffie accumulating as
envious fans around the world logged in to watch their progress on the
scaffolding.

That was all according to plan. What wasn't according to plan was that
the new recruits were doing their own recruiting, extending invitations
to their net-pals to come on down to Florida, bunk on their sofas and
guest-beds, and present themselves to me for active duty.

The tenth time it happened, I approached Kim in the break-room. Her
gorge was working, her eyes tracked invisible words across the middle
distance. No doubt she was penning yet another breathless missive about
the magic of working in the Mansion. "Hey, there," I said. "Have you got
a minute to meet with me?"

She held up a single finger, then, a moment later, gave me a bright
smile.

"Hi, Julius!" she said. "Sure!"

"Why don't you change into civvies, we'll take a walk through the Park
and talk?"

Kim wore her costume every chance she got. I'd been quite firm about her
turning it in to the laundry every night instead of wearing it home.

Reluctantly, she stepped into a change-room and switched into her cowl.
We took the utilidor to the Fantasyland exit and walked through the
late-afternoon rush of children and their adults, queued deep and thick
for Snow White, Dumbo and Peter Pan.

"How're you liking it here?" I asked.

Kim gave a little bounce. "Oh, Julius, it's the best time of my life,
really! A dream come true. I'm meeting so many interesting people, and
I'm really feeling creative. I can't wait to try out the telepresence
rigs, too."

"Well, I'm really pleased with what you and your friends are up to here.
You're working hard, putting on a good show. I like the songs you've
been working up, too."

She did one of those double-kneed shuffles that was the basis of any
number of action vids those days and she was suddenly standing in front
of me, hand on my shoulder, looking into my eyes. She looked serious.

"Is there a problem, Julius? If there is, I'd rather we just talked
about it, instead of making chitchat."

I smiled and took her hand off my shoulder. "How old are you, Kim?"

"Nineteen," she said. "What's the problem?"

Nineteen! Jesus, no wonder she was so volatile. _What's my excuse,
then?_

"It's not a problem, Kim, it's just something I wanted to discuss with
you. The people you-all have been bringing down to work for me, they're
all really great castmembers."

"But?"

"But we have limited resources around here. Not enough hours in the day
for me to stay on top of the new folks, the rehab, everything. Not to
mention that until we open the new Mansion, there's a limited number of
extras we can use out front. I'm concerned that we're going to put
someone on stage without proper training, or that we're going to run out
of uniforms; I'm also concerned about people coming all the way here and
discovering that there aren't any shifts for them to take."

She gave me a relieved look. "Is _that_ all? Don't worry about it. I've
been talking to Debra, over at the Hall of Presidents, and she says she
can pick up any people who can't be used at the Mansion -- we could even
rotate back and forth!" She was clearly proud of her foresight.

My ears buzzed. Debra, one step ahead of me all along the way. She
probably suggested that Kim do some extra recruiting in the first place.
She'd take in the people who came down to work the Mansion, convince
them they'd been hard done by the Liberty Square crew, and rope them
into her little Whuffie ranch, the better to seize the Mansion, the
Park, the whole of Walt Disney World.

"Oh, I don't think it'll come to that," I said, carefully. "I'm sure we
can find a use for them all at the Mansion. More the merrier."

Kim cocked quizzical, but let it go. I bit my tongue. The pain brought
me back to reality, and I started planning costume production, training
rosters, bunking. God, if only Suneep would finish the robots!

#

"What do you mean, 'no'?" I said, hotly.

Lil folded her arms and glared. "No, Julius. It won't fly. The group is
already upset that all the glory is going to the new people, they'll
never let us bring more in. They also won't stop working on the rehab to
train them, costume them, feed them and mother them. They're losing
Whuffie every day that the Mansion's shut up, and they don't want any
more delays. Dave's already joined up with Debra, and I'm sure he's not
the last one."

Dave -- the jerk who'd pissed all over the rehab in the meeting. Of
course he'd gone over. Lil and Dan stood side by side on the porch of
the house where I'd lived. I'd driven out that night to convince Lil to
sell the ad-hocs on bringing in more recruits, but it wasn't going
according to plan. They wouldn't even let me in the house.

"So what do I tell Kim?"

"Tell her whatever you want," Lil said. "You brought her in -- you
manage her. Take some goddamn responsibility for once in your life."

It wasn't going to get any better. Dan gave me an apologetic look. Lil
glared a moment longer, then went into the house.

"Debra's doing real well," he said. "The net's all over her. Biggest
thing ever. Flash-baking is taking off in nightclubs, dance mixes with
the DJ's backup being shoved in bursts into the dancers."

"God," I said. "I fucked up, Dan. I fucked it all up."

He didn't say anything, and that was the same as agreeing.

Driving back to the hotel, I decided I needed to talk to Kim. She was a
problem I didn't need, and maybe a problem I could solve. I pulled a
screeching U-turn and drove the little runabout to her place, a tiny
condo in a crumbling complex that had once been a gated seniors'
village, pre-Bitchun.

Her place was easy to spot. All the lights were burning, faint
conversation audible through the screen door. I jogged up the steps two
at a time, and was about to knock when a familiar voice drifted through
the screen.

Debra, saying: "Oh yes, oh yes! Terrific idea! I'd never really thought
about using streetmosphere players to liven up the queue area, but
you're making a lot of sense. You people have just been doing the _best_
work over at the Mansion -- find me more like you and I'll take them for
the Hall any day!"

I heard Kim and her young friends chatting excitedly, proudly. The anger
and fear suffused me from tip to toe, and I felt suddenly light and cool
and ready to do something terrible.

I padded silently down the steps and got into my runabout.

#

Some people never learn. I'm one of them, apparently.

I almost chortled over the foolproof simplicity of my plan as I slipped
in through the cast entrance using the ID card I'd scored when my
systems went offline and I was no longer able to squirt my authorization
at the door.

I changed clothes in a bathroom on Main Street, switching into a black
cowl that completely obscured my features, then slunk through the
shadows along the storefronts until I came to the moat around
Cinderella's castle. Keeping low, I stepped over the fence and duck-
walked down the embankment, then slipped into the water and sloshed
across to the Adventureland side.

Slipping along to the Liberty Square gateway, I flattened myself in
doorways whenever I heard maintenance crews passing in the distance,
until I reached the Hall of Presidents, and in a twinkling I was inside
the theater itself.

Humming the Small World theme, I produced a short wrecking bar from my
cowl's tabbed pocket and set to work.

The primary broadcast units were hidden behind a painted scrim over the
stage, and they were surprisingly well built for a first generation
tech. I really worked up a sweat smashing them, but I kept at it until
not a single component remained recognizable. The work was slow and loud
in the silent Park, but it lulled me into a sleepy reverie, an
autohypnotic swing-bang-swing-bang timeless time. To be on the safe
side, I grabbed the storage units and slipped them into the cowl.

Locating their backup units was a little trickier, but years of hanging
out at the Hall of Presidents while Lil tinkered with the animatronics
helped me. I methodically investigated every nook, cranny and storage
area until I located them, in what had been a break-room closet. By now,
I had the rhythm of the thing, and I made short work of them.

I did one more pass, wrecking anything that looked like it might be a
prototype for the next generation or notes that would help them
reconstruct the units I'd smashed.

I had no illusions about Debra's preparedness -- she'd have something
offsite that she could get up and running in a few days. I wasn't doing
anything permanent, I was just buying myself a day or two.

I made my way clean out of the Park without being spotted, and sloshed
my way into my runabout, shoes leaking water from the moat.

For the first time in weeks, I slept like a baby.

#

Of course, I got caught. I don't really have the temperament for
Machiavellian shenanigans, and I left a trail a mile wide, from the
muddy footprints in the Contemporary's lobby to the wrecking bar
thoughtlessly left behind, with my cowl and the storage units from the
Hall, forgotten on the back seat of my runabout.

I whistled my personal jazzy uptempo version of "Grim Grinning Ghosts"
as I made my way from Costuming, through the utilidor, out to Liberty
Square, half an hour before the Park opened.

Standing in front of me were Lil and Debra. Debra was holding my cowl
and wrecking bar. Lil held the storage units.

I hadn't put on my transdermals that morning, and so the emotion I felt
was unmuffled, loud and yammering.

I ran.

I ran past them, along the road to Adventureland, past the Tiki Room
where I'd been killed, past the Adventureland gate where I'd waded
through the moat, down Main Street. I ran and ran, elbowing early
guests, trampling flowers, knocking over an apple cart across from the
Penny Arcade.

I ran until I reached the main gate, and turned, thinking I'd outrun Lil
and Debra and all my problems. I'd thought wrong. They were both there,
a step behind me, puffing and red. Debra held my wrecking bar like a
weapon, and she brandished it at me.

"You're a goddamn idiot, you know that?" she said. I think if we'd been
alone, she would've swung it at me.

"Can't take it when someone else plays rough, huh, Debra?" I sneered.

Lil shook her head disgustedly. "She's right, you are an idiot. The
ad-hoc's meeting in Adventureland. You're coming."

"Why?" I asked, feeling belligerent. "You going to honor me for all my
hard work?"

"We're going to talk about the future, Julius, what's left of it for
us."

"For God's sake, Lil, can't you see what's going on? They _killed_ me!
They did it, and now we're fighting each other instead of her! Why can't
you see how _wrong_ that is?"

"You'd better watch those accusations, Julius," Debra said, quietly and
intensely, almost hissing. "I don't know who killed you or why, but
you're the one who's guilty here. You need help."

I barked a humorless laugh. Guests were starting to stream into the
now-open Park, and several of them were watching intently as the three
costumed castmembers shouted at each other. I could feel my Whuffie
hemorrhaging. "Debra, you are purely full of shit, and your work is
trite and unimaginative. You're a fucking despoiler and you don't even
have the guts to admit it."

"That's _enough_, Julius," Lil said, her face hard, her rage barely in
check. "We're going."

Debra walked a pace behind me, Lil a pace before, all the way through
the crowd to Adventureland. I saw a dozen opportunities to slip into a
gap in the human ebb and flow and escape custody, but I didn't try. I
wanted a chance to tell the whole world what I'd done and why I'd done
it.

Debra followed us in when we mounted the steps to the meeting room. Lil
turned. "I don't think you should be here, Debra," she said in measured
tones.

Debra shook her head. "You can't keep me out, you know. And you
shouldn't want to. We're on the same side."

I snorted derisively, and I think it decided Lil. "Come on, then," she
said.

It was SRO in the meeting room, packed to the gills with the entire
ad-hoc, except for my new recruits. No work was being done on the rehab,
then, and the Liberty Belle would be sitting at her dock. Even the
restaurant crews were there. Liberty Square must've been a ghost town.
It gave the meeting a sense of urgency: the knowledge that there were
guests in Liberty Square wandering aimlessly, looking for castmembers to
help them out. Of course, Debra's crew might've been around.

The crowd's faces were hard and bitter, leaving no doubt in my mind that
I was in deep shit. Even Dan, sitting in the front row, looked angry. I
nearly started crying right then. Dan -- oh, Dan. My pal, my confidant,
my patsy, my rival, my nemesis. Dan, Dan, Dan. I wanted to beat him to
death and hug him at the same time.

Lil took the podium and tucked stray hairs behind her ears. "All right,
then," she said. I stood to her left and Debra stood to her right.

"Thanks for coming out today. I'd like to get this done quickly. We all
have important work to get to. I'll run down the facts: last night, a
member of this ad-hoc vandalized the Hall of Presidents, rendering it
useless. It's estimated that it will take at least a week to get it back
up and running.

"I don't have to tell you that this isn't acceptable. This has never
happened before, and it will never happen again. We're going to see to
that.

"I'd like to propose that no further work be done on the Mansion until
the Hall of Presidents is fully operational. I will be volunteering my
services on the repairs."

There were nods in the audience. Lil wouldn't be the only one working at
the Hall that week. "Disney World isn't a competition," Lil said. "All
the different ad-hocs work together, and we do it to make the Park as
good as we can. We lose sight of that at our peril."

I nearly gagged on bile. "I'd like to say something," I said, as calmly
as I could manage.

Lil shot me a look. "That's fine, Julius. Any member of the ad-hoc can
speak."

I took a deep breath. "I did it, all right?" I said. My voice cracked.
"I did it, and I don't have any excuse for having done it. It may not
have been the smartest thing I've ever done, but I think you all should
understand how I was driven to it.

"We're not _supposed_ to be in competition with one another here, but we
all know that that's just a polite fiction. The truth is that there's
real competition in the Park, and that the hardest players are the crew
that rehabbed the Hall of Presidents. They _stole_ the Hall from you!
They did it while you were distracted, they used _me_ to engineer the
distraction, they _murdered_ me!" I heard the shriek creeping into my
voice, but I couldn't do anything about it.

"Usually, the lie that we're all on the same side is fine. It lets us
work together in peace. But that changed the day they had me shot. If
you keep on believing it, you're going to lose the Mansion, the Liberty
Belle, Tom Sawyer Island -- all of it. All the history we have with this
place -- all the history that the billions who've visited it have --
it's going to be destroyed and replaced with the sterile, thoughtless
shit that's taken over the Hall. Once that happens, there's nothing left
that makes this place special. Anyone can get the same experience
sitting at home on the sofa! What happens then, huh? How much longer do
you think this place will stay open once the only people here are
_you?_"

Debra smiled condescendingly. "Are you finished, then?" she asked,
sweetly. "Fine. I know I'm not a member of this group, but since it was
my work that was destroyed last night, I think I would like to address
Julius's statements, if you don't mind." She paused, but no one spoke
up.

"First of all, I want you all to know that we don't hold you responsible
for what happened last night. We know who was responsible, and he needs
help. I urge you to see to it that he gets it.

"Next, I'd like to say that as far as I'm concerned, we are on the same
side -- the side of the Park. This is a special place, and it couldn't
exist without all of our contributions. What happened to Julius was
terrible, and I sincerely hope that the person responsible is caught and
brought to justice. But that person wasn't me or any of the people in my
ad-hoc.

"Lil, I'd like to thank you for your generous offer of assistance, and
we'll take you up on it. That goes for all of you -- come on by the
Hall, we'll put you to work. We'll be up and running in no time.

"Now, as far as the Mansion goes, let me say this once and for all:
neither me nor my ad-hoc have any desire to take over the operations of
the Mansion. It is a terrific attraction, and it's getting better with
the work you're all doing. If you've been worrying about it, then you
can stop worrying now. We're all on the same side.

"Thanks for hearing me out. I've got to go see my team now."

She turned and left, a chorus of applause following her out.

Lil waited until it died down, then said, "All right, then, we've got
work to do, too. I'd like to ask you all a favor, first. I'd like us to
keep the details of last night's incident to ourselves. Letting the
guests and the world know about this ugly business isn't good for
anyone. Can we all agree to do that?"

There was a moment's pause while the results were tabulated on the HUDs,
then Lil gave them a million-dollar smile. "I knew you'd come through.
Thanks, guys. Let's get to work."

#

I spent the day at the hotel, listlessly scrolling around on my
terminal. Lil had made it very clear to me after the meeting that I
wasn't to show my face inside the Park until I'd "gotten help," whatever
that meant.

By noon, the news was out. It was hard to pin down the exact source, but
it seemed to revolve around the new recruits. One of them had told their
net-pals about the high drama in Liberty Square, and mentioned my name.

There were already a couple of sites vilifying me, and I expected more.
I needed some kind of help, that was for sure.

I thought about leaving then, turning my back on the whole business and
leaving Walt Disney World to start yet another new life, Whuffie-poor
and fancy-free.

It wouldn't be so bad. I'd been in poor repute before, not so long ago.
That first time Dan and I had palled around, back at the U of T, I'd
been the center of a lot of pretty ambivalent sentiment, and Whuffie-
poor as a man can be.

I slept in a little coffin on-campus, perfectly climate controlled. It
was cramped and dull, but my access to the network was free and I had
plenty of material to entertain myself. While I couldn't get a table in
a restaurant, I was free to queue up at any of the makers around town
and get myself whatever I wanted to eat and drink, whenever I wanted it.
Compared to 99.99999 percent of all the people who'd ever lived, I had a
life of unparalleled luxury.

Even by the standards of the Bitchun Society, I was hardly a rarity. The
number of low-esteem individuals at large was significant, and they got
along just fine, hanging out in parks, arguing, reading, staging plays,
playing music.

Of course, that wasn't the life for me. I had Dan to pal around with, a
rare high-net-Whuffie individual who was willing to fraternize with a
shmuck like me. He'd stand me to meals at sidewalk cafes and concerts at
the SkyDome, and shoot down any snotty reputation-punk who sneered at my
Whuffie tally. Being with Dan was a process of constantly reevaluating
my beliefs in the Bitchun Society, and I'd never had a more vibrant,
thought-provoking time in all my life.

I could have left the Park, deadheaded to anywhere in the world, started
over. I could have turned my back on Dan, on Debra, on Lil and the whole
mess.

I didn't.

I called up the doc.

========= CHAPTER 8 =========

Doctor Pete answered on the third ring, audio-only. In the background, I
heard a chorus of crying children, the constant backdrop of the Magic
Kingdom infirmary.

"Hi, doc," I said.

"Hello, Julius. What can I do for you?" Under the veneer of professional
medical and castmember friendliness, I sensed irritation.

_Make it all good again_. "I'm not really sure. I wanted to see if I
could talk it over with you. I'm having some pretty big problems."

"I'm on-shift until five. Can it wait until then?"

By then, I had no idea if I'd have the nerve to see him. "I don't think
so -- I was hoping we could meet right away."

"If it's an emergency, I can have an ambulance sent for you."

"It's urgent, but not an emergency. I need to talk about it in person.
Please?"

He sighed in undoctorly, uncastmemberly fashion. "Julius, I've got
important things to do here. Are you sure this can't wait?"

I bit back a sob. "I'm sure, doc."

"All right then. When can you be here?"

Lil had made it clear that she didn't want me in the Park. "Can you meet
me? I can't really come to you. I'm at the Contemporary, Tower B, room
2334."

"I don't really make house calls, son."

"I know, I know." I hated how pathetic I sounded. "Can you make an
exception? I don't know who else to turn to."

"I'll be there as soon as I can. I'll have to get someone to cover for
me. Let's not make a habit of this, all right?"

I whooshed out my relief. "I promise."

He disconnected abruptly, and I found myself dialing Dan.

"Yes?" he said, cautiously.

"Doctor Pete is coming over, Dan. I don't know if he can help me -- I
don't know if anyone can. I just wanted you to know."

He surprised me, then, and made me remember why he was still my friend,
even after everything. "Do you want me to come over?"

"That would be very nice," I said, quietly. "I'm at the hotel."

"Give me ten minutes," he said, and rang off.

#

He found me on my patio, looking out at the Castle and the peaks of
Space Mountain. To my left spread the sparkling waters of the Seven Seas
Lagoon, to my right, the Property stretched away for mile after
manicured mile. The sun was warm on my skin, faint strains of happy
laughter drifted with the wind, and the flowers were in bloom. In
Toronto, it would be freezing rain, gray buildings, noisome rapid
transit (a monorail hissed by), and hard-faced anonymity. I missed it.

Dan pulled up a chair next to mine and sat without a word. We both
stared out at the view for a long while.

"It's something else, isn't it?" I said, finally.

"I suppose so," he said. "I want to say something before the doc comes
by, Julius."

"Go ahead."

"Lil and I are through. It should never have happened in the first
place, and I'm not proud of myself. If you two were breaking up, that's
none of my business, but I had no right to hurry it along."

"All right," I said. I was too drained for emotion.

"I've taken a room here, moved my things."

"How's Lil taking it?"

"Oh, she thinks I'm a total bastard. I suppose she's right."

"I suppose she's partly right," I corrected him.

He gave me a gentle slug in the shoulder. "Thanks."

We waited in companionable silence until the doc arrived.

He bustled in, his smile lines drawn up into a sour purse and waited
expectantly. I left Dan on the patio while I took a seat on the bed.

"I'm cracking up or something," I said. "I've been acting erratically,
sometimes violently. I don't know what's wrong with me." I'd rehearsed
the speech, but it still wasn't easy to choke out.

"We both know what's wrong, Julius," the doc said, impatiently. "You
need to be refreshed from your backup, get set up with a fresh clone and
retire this one. We've had this talk."

"I can't do it," I said, not meeting his eye. "I just can't -- isn't
there another way?"

The doc shook his head. "Julius, I've got limited resources to allocate.
There's a perfectly good cure for what's ailing you, and if you won't
take it, there's not much I can do for you."

"But what about meds?"

"Your problem isn't a chemical imbalance, it's a mental defect. Your
_brain_ is _broken_, son. All that meds will do is mask the symptoms,
while you get worse. I can't tell you what you want to hear,
unfortunately. Now, If you're ready to take the cure, I can retire this
clone immediately and get you restored into a new one in 48 hours."

"Isn't there another way? Please? You have to help me -- I can't lose
all this." I couldn't admit my real reasons for being so attached to
this singularly miserable chapter in my life, not even to myself.

The doctor rose to go. "Look, Julius, you haven't got the Whuffie to
make it worth anyone's time to research a solution to this problem,
other than the one that we all know about. I can give you mood-
suppressants, but that's not a permanent solution."

"Why not?"

He boggled. "You _can't_ just take dope for the rest of your life, son.
Eventually, something will happen to this body -- I see from your file
that you're stroke-prone -- and you're going to get refreshed from your
backup. The longer you wait, the more traumatic it'll be. You're robbing
from your future self for your selfish present."

It wasn't the first time the thought had crossed my mind. Every passing
day made it harder to take the cure. To lie down and wake up friends
with Dan, to wake up and be in love with Lil again. To wake up to a
Mansion the way I remembered it, a Hall of Presidents where I could find
Lil bent over with her head in a President's guts of an afternoon. To
lie down and wake without disgrace, without knowing that my lover and my
best friend would betray me, _had_ betrayed me.

I just couldn't do it -- not yet, anyway.

Dan -- Dan was going to kill himself soon, and if I restored myself from
my old backup, I'd lose my last year with him. I'd lose _his_ last year.

"Let's table that, doc. I hear what you're saying, but there're
complications. I guess I'll take the mood-suppressants for now."

He gave me a cold look. "I'll give you a scrip, then. I could've done
that without coming out here. Please don't call me anymore."

I was shocked by his obvious ire, but I didn't understand it until he
was gone and I told Dan what had happened.

"Us old-timers, we're used to thinking of doctors as highly trained
professionals -- all that pre-Bitchun med-school stuff, long
internships, anatomy drills... Truth is, the average doc today gets more
training in bedside manner than bioscience. 'Doctor' Pete is a
technician, not an MD, not the way you and I mean it. Anyone with the
kind of knowledge you're looking for is working as a historical
researcher, not a doctor.

"But that's not the illusion. The doc is supposed to be the authority on
medical matters, even though he's only got one trick: restore from
backup. You're reminding Pete of that, and he's not happy to have it
happen."

#

I waited a week before returning to the Magic Kingdom, sunning myself on
the white sand beach at the Contemporary, jogging the Walk Around the
World, taking a canoe out to the wild and overgrown Discovery Island,
and generally cooling out. Dan came by in the evenings and it was like
old times, running down the pros and cons of Whuffie and Bitchunry and
life in general, sitting on my porch with a sweating pitcher of
lemonade.

On the last night, he presented me with a clever little handheld, a
museum piece that I recalled fondly from the dawning days of the Bitchun
Society. It had much of the functionality of my defunct systems, in a
package I could slip in my shirt pocket. It felt like part of a costume,
like the turnip watches the Ben Franklin streetmosphere players wore at
the American Adventure.

Museum piece or no, it meant that I was once again qualified to
participate in the Bitchun Society, albeit more slowly and less
efficiently than I once may've. I took it downstairs the next morning
and drove to the Magic Kingdom's castmember lot.

At least, that was the plan. When I got down to the Contemporary's
parking lot, my runabout was gone. A quick check with the handheld
revealed the worst: my Whuffie was low enough that someone had just
gotten inside and driven away, realizing that they could make more
popular use of it than I could.

With a sinking feeling, I trudged up to my room and swiped my key
through the lock. It emitted a soft, unsatisfied _bzzz_ and lit up,
"Please see the front desk." My room had been reassigned, too. I had the
short end of the Whuffie stick.

At least there was no mandatory Whuffie check on the monorail platform,
but the other people on the car were none too friendly to me, and no one
offered me an inch more personal space than was necessary. I had hit
bottom.

#

I took the castmember entrance to the Magic Kingdom, clipping my name
tag to my Disney Operations polo shirt, ignoring the glares of my fellow
castmembers in the utilidors.

I used the handheld to page Dan. "Hey there," he said, brightly. I could
tell instantly that I was being humored.

"Where are you?" I asked.

"Oh, up in the Square. By the Liberty Tree."

In front of the Hall of Presidents. I worked the handheld, pinged some
Whuffie manually. Debra was spiked so high it seemed she'd never come
down, as were Tim and her whole crew in aggregate. They were drawing
from guests by the millions, and from castmembers and from people who'd
read the popular accounts of their struggle against the forces of petty
jealousy and sabotage -- i.e., me.

I felt light-headed. I hurried along to costuming and changed into the
heavy green Mansion costume, then ran up the stairs to the Square.

I found Dan sipping a coffee and sitting on a bench under the giant,
lantern-hung Liberty Tree. He had a second cup waiting for me, and
patted the bench next to him. I sat with him and sipped, waiting for him
to spill whatever bit of rotten news he had for me this morning -- I
could feel it hovering like storm clouds.

He wouldn't talk though, not until we finished the coffee. Then he stood
and strolled over to the Mansion. It wasn't rope-drop yet, and there
weren't any guests in the Park, which was all for the better, given what
was coming next.

"Have you taken a look at Debra's Whuffie lately?" he asked, finally, as
we stood by the pet cemetery, considering the empty scaffolding.

I started to pull out the handheld but he put a hand on my arm. "Don't
bother," he said, morosely. "Suffice it to say, Debra's gang is number
one with a bullet. Ever since word got out about what happened to the
Hall, they've been stacking it deep. They can do just about anything,
Jules, and get away with it."

My stomach tightened and I found myself grinding my molars. "So, what is
it they've done, Dan?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

Dan didn't have to respond, because at that moment, Tim emerged from the
Mansion, wearing a light cotton work-smock. He had a thoughtful
expression, and when he saw us, he beamed his elfin grin and came over.

"Hey guys!" he said.

"Hi, Tim," Dan said. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

"Pretty exciting stuff, huh?" he said.

"I haven't told him yet," Dan said, with forced lightness. "Why don't
you run it down?"

"Well, it's pretty radical, I have to admit. We've learned some stuff
from the Hall that we wanted to apply, and at the same time, we wanted
to capture some of the historical character of the ghost story."

I opened my mouth to object, but Dan put a hand on my forearm. "Really?"
he asked innocently. "How do you plan on doing that?"

"Well, we're keeping the telepresence robots -- that's a honey of an
idea, Julius -- but we're giving each one an uplink so that it can
flash-bake. We've got some high-Whuffie horror writers pulling together
a series of narratives about the lives of each ghost: how they met their
tragic ends, what they've done since, you know.

"The way we've storyboarded it, the guests stream through the ride
pretty much the way they do now, walking through the preshow and then
getting into the ride-vehicles, the Doom Buggies. But here's the big
change: we _slow it all down_. We trade off throughput for intensity,
make it more of a premium product.

"So you're a guest. From the queue to the unload zone, you're being
chased by these ghosts, these telepresence robots, and they're really
scary -- I've got Suneep's concept artists going back to the drawing
board, hitting basic research on stuff that'll just scare the guests
silly. When a ghost catches you, lays its hands on you -- wham! Flash-
bake! You get its whole grisly story in three seconds, across your
frontal lobe. By the time you've left, you've had ten or more ghost-
contacts, and the next time you come back, it's all new ghosts with all
new stories. The way that the Hall's drawing 'em, we're bound to be a
hit." He put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels, clearly
proud of himself.

When Epcot Center first opened, long, long ago, there'd been an ugly
decade or so in ride design. Imagineering found a winning formula for
Spaceship Earth, the flagship ride in the big golf ball, and, in their
drive to establish thematic continuity, they'd turned the formula into a
cookie-cutter, stamping out half a dozen clones for each of the "themed"
areas in the Future Showcase. It went like this: first, we were cavemen,
then there was ancient Greece, then Rome burned (cue sulfur-odor FX),
then there was the Great Depression, and, finally, we reached the modern
age. Who knows what the future holds? We do! We'll all have videophones
and be living on the ocean floor. Once was cute -- compelling and
inspirational, even -- but six times was embarrassing. Like everyone,
once Imagineering got themselves a good hammer, everything started to
resemble a nail. Even now, the Epcot ad-hocs were repeating the sins of
their forebears, closing every ride with a scene of Bitchun utopia.

And Debra was repeating the classic mistake, tearing her way through the
Magic Kingdom with her blaster set to flash-bake.

"Tim," I said, hearing the tremble in my voice. "I thought you said that
you had no designs on the Mansion, that you and Debra wouldn't be trying
to take it away from us. Didn't you say that?"

Tim rocked back as if I'd slapped him and the blood drained from his
face. "But we're not taking it away!" he said. "You _invited_ us to
help."

I shook my head, confused. "We did?" I said.

"Sure," he said.

"Yes," Dan said. "Kim and some of the other rehab cast went to Debra
yesterday and asked her to do a design review of the current rehab and
suggest any changes. She was good enough to agree, and they've come up
with some great ideas." I read between the lines: the newbies you
invited in have gone over to the other side and we're going to lose
everything because of them. I felt like shit.

"Well, I stand corrected," I said, carefully. Tim's grin came back and
he clapped his hands together. _He really loves the Mansion_, I thought.
_He could have been on our side, if we had only played it all right._

#

Dan and I took to the utilidors and grabbed a pair of bicycles and sped
towards Suneep's lab, jangling our bells at the rushing castmembers.
"They don't have the authority to invite Debra in," I panted as we
pedaled.

"Says who?" Dan said.

"It was part of the deal -- they knew that they were probationary
members right from the start. They weren't even allowed into the design
meetings."

"Looks like they took themselves off probation," he said.

Suneep gave us both a chilly look when we entered his lab. He had dark
circles under his eyes and his hands shook with exhaustion. He seemed to
be holding himself erect with nothing more than raw anger.

"So much for building without interference," he said. "We agreed that
this project wouldn't change midway through. Now it has, and I've got
other commitments that I'm going to have to cancel because this is going
off-schedule."

I made soothing apologetic gestures with my hands. "Suneep, believe me,
I'm just as upset about this as you are. We don't like this one little
bit."

He harrumphed. "We had a deal, Julius," he said, hotly. "I would do the
rehab for you and you would keep the ad-hocs off my back. I've been
holding up my end of the bargain, but where the hell have you been? If
they replan the rehab now, I'll _have_ to go along with them. I can't
just leave the Mansion half-done -- they'll murder me."

The kernel of a plan formed in my mind. "Suneep, we don't like the new
rehab plan, and we're going to stop it. You can help. Just stonewall
them -- tell them they'll have to find other Imagineering support if
they want to go through with it, that you're booked solid."

Dan gave me one of his long, considering looks, then nodded a minute
approval. "Yeah," he drawled. "That'll help all right. Just tell 'em
that they're welcome to make any changes they want to the plan, _if_
they can find someone else to execute them."

Suneep looked unhappy. "Fine -- so then they go and find someone else to
do it, and that person gets all the credit for the work my team's done
so far. I just flush my time down the toilet."

"It won't come to that," I said quickly. "If you can just keep saying no
for a couple days, we'll do the rest."

Suneep looked doubtful.

"I promise," I said.

Suneep ran his stubby fingers through his already crazed hair. "All
right," he said, morosely.

Dan slapped him on the back. "Good man," he said.

#

It should have worked. It almost did.

I sat in the back of the Adventureland conference room while Dan
exhorted.

"Look, you don't have to roll over for Debra and her people! This is
_your_ garden, and you've tended it responsibly for years. She's got no
right to move in on you -- you've got all the Whuffie you need to defend
the place, if you all work together."

No castmember likes confrontation, and the Liberty Square bunch were
tough to rouse to action. Dan had turned down the air conditioning an
hour before the meeting and closed up all the windows, so that the room
was a kiln for hard-firing irritation into rage. I stood meekly in the
back, as far as possible from Dan. He was working his magic on my
behalf, and I was content to let him do his thing.

When Lil had arrived, she'd sized up the situation with a sour
expression: sit in the front, near Dan, or in the back, near me. She'd
chosen the middle, and to concentrate on Dan I had to tear my eyes away
from the sweat glistening on her long, pale neck.

Dan stalked the aisles like a preacher, eyes blazing. "They're
_stealing_ your future! They're _stealing_ your _past_! They claim
they've got your support!"

He lowered his tone. "I don't think that's true." He grabbed a
castmember by her hand and looked into her eyes. "Is it true?" he said
so low it was almost a whisper.

"No," the castmember said.

He dropped her hand and whirled to face another castmember. "Is it
true?" he demanded, raising his voice, slightly.

"No!" the castmember said, his voice unnaturally loud after the
whispers. A nervous chuckle rippled through the crowd.

"Is it true?" he said, striding to the podium, shouting now.

"No!" the crowd roared.

"NO!" he shouted back.

"You don't _have to_ roll over and take it! You can fight back, carry on
with the plan, send them packing. They're only taking over because
you're letting them. Are you going to let them?"

"NO!"

#

Bitchun wars are rare. Long before anyone tries a takeover of anything,
they've done the arithmetic and ensured themselves that the ad-hoc
they're displacing doesn't have a hope of fighting back.

For the defenders, it's a simple decision: step down gracefully and
salvage some reputation out of the thing -- fighting back will surely
burn away even that meager reward.

No one benefits from fighting back -- least of all the thing everyone's
fighting over. For example:

It was the second year of my undergrad, taking a double-major in not
making trouble for my profs and keeping my mouth shut. It was the early
days of Bitchun, and most of us were still a little unclear on the
concept.

Not all of us, though: a group of campus shit-disturbers, grad students
in the Sociology Department, were on the bleeding edge of the
revolution, and they knew what they wanted: control of the Department,
oustering of the tyrannical, stodgy profs, a bully pulpit from which to
preach the Bitchun gospel to a generation of impressionable undergrads
who were too cowed by their workloads to realize what a load of shit
they were being fed by the University.

At least, that's what the intense, heavyset woman who seized the mic at
my Soc 200 course said, that sleepy morning mid-semester at Convocation
Hall. Nineteen hundred students filled the hall, a capacity crowd of
bleary, coffee-sipping time-markers, and they woke up in a hurry when
the woman's strident harangue burst over their heads.

I saw it happen from the very start. The prof was down there on the
stage, a speck with a tie-mic, droning over his slides, and then there
was a blur as half a dozen grad students rushed the stage. They were
dressed in University poverty-chic, wrinkled slacks and tattered sports
coats, and five of them formed a human wall in front of the prof while
the sixth, the heavyset one with the dark hair and the prominent mole on
her cheek, unclipped his mic and clipped it to her lapel.

"Wakey wakey!" she called, and the reality of the moment hit home for
me: this wasn't on the lesson-plan.

"Come on, heads up! This is _not_ a drill. The University of Toronto
Department of Sociology is under new management. If you'll set your
handhelds to 'receive,' we'll be beaming out new lesson-plans
momentarily. If you've forgotten your handhelds, you can download the
plans later on. I'm going to run it down for you right now, anyway.

"Before I start though, I have a prepared statement for you. You'll
probably hear this a couple times more today, in your other classes.
It's worth repeating. Here goes:

"We reject the stodgy, tyrannical rule of the profs at this Department.
We demand bully pulpits from which to preach the Bitchun gospel.
Effective immediately, the University of Toronto Ad-Hoc Sociology
Department is _in charge_. We promise high-relevance curriculum with an
emphasis on reputation economies, post-scarcity social dynamics, and the
social theory of infinite life-extension. No more Durkheim, kids, just
deadheading! This will be _fun_."

She taught the course like a pro -- you could tell she'd been drilling
her lecture for a while. Periodically, the human wall behind her
shuddered as the prof made a break for it and was restrained.

At precisely 9:50 a.m. she dismissed the class, which had hung on her
every word. Instead of trudging out and ambling to our next class, the
whole nineteen hundred of us rose, and, as one, started buzzing to our
neighbors, a roar of "Can you believe it?" that followed us out the door
and to our next encounter with the Ad-Hoc Sociology Department.

It was cool, that day. I had another soc class, Constructing Social
Deviance, and we got the same drill there, the same stirring propaganda,
the same comical sight of a tenured prof battering himself against a
human wall of ad-hocs.

Reporters pounced on us when we left the class, jabbing at us with mics
and peppering us with questions. I gave them a big thumbs-up and said,
"Bitchun!" in classic undergrad eloquence.

The profs struck back the next morning. I got a heads-up from the
newscast as I brushed my teeth: the Dean of the Department of Sociology
told a reporter that the ad-hocs' courses would not be credited, that
they were a gang of thugs who were totally unqualified to teach. A
counterpoint interview from a spokesperson for the ad-hocs established
that all of the new lecturers had been writing course-plans and lecture
notes for the profs they replaced for years, and that they'd also
written most of their journal articles.

The profs brought University security out to help them regain their
lecterns, only to be repelled by ad-hoc security guards in homemade
uniforms. University security got the message -- anyone could be
replaced -- and stayed away.

The profs picketed. They held classes out front attended by grade-
conscious brown-nosers who worried that the ad-hocs' classes wouldn't
count towards their degrees. Fools like me alternated between the
outdoor and indoor classes, not learning much of anything.

No one did. The profs spent their course-times whoring for Whuffie,
leading the seminars like encounter groups instead of lectures. The
ad-hocs spent their time badmouthing the profs and tearing apart their
coursework.

At the end of the semester, everyone got a credit and the University
Senate disbanded the Sociology program in favor of a distance-ed
offering from Concordia in Montreal. Forty years later, the fight was
settled forever. Once you took backup-and-restore, the rest of the
Bitchunry just followed, a value-system settling over you.

Those who didn't take backup-and-restore may have objected, but, hey,
they all died.

#

The Liberty Square ad-hocs marched shoulder to shoulder through the
utilidors and, as a mass, took back the Haunted Mansion. Dan, Lil and I
were up front, careful not to brush against one another as we walked
quickly through the backstage door and started a bucket-brigade, passing
out the materials that Debra's people had stashed there, along a line
that snaked back to the front porch of the Hall of Presidents, where
they were unceremoniously dumped.

Once the main stash was vacated, we split up and roamed the ride, its
service corridors and dioramas, the break-room and the secret passages,
rounding up every scrap of Debra's crap and passing it out the door.

In the attic scene, I ran into Kim and three of her giggly little
friends, their eyes glinting in the dim light. The gaggle of transhuman
kids made my guts clench, made me think of Zed and of Lil and of my
unmediated brain, and I had a sudden urge to shred them verbally.

No.

No. That way lay madness and war. This was about taking back what was
ours, not punishing the interlopers. "Kim, I think you should leave," I
said, quietly.

She snorted and gave me a dire look. "Who died and made you boss?" she
said. Her friends thought it very brave, they made it clear with double-
jointed hip-thrusts and glares.

"Kim, you can leave now or you can leave later. The longer you wait, the
worse it will be for you and your Whuffie. You blew it, and you're not a
part of the Mansion anymore. Go home, go to Debra. Don't stay here, and
don't come back. Ever."

Ever. Be cast out of this thing that you love, that you obsess over,
that you worked for. "Now," I said, quiet, dangerous, barely in control.

They sauntered into the graveyard, hissing vitriol at me. Oh, they had
lots of new material to post to the anti-me sites, messages that would
get them Whuffie with people who thought I was the scum of the earth. A
popular view, those days.

I got out of the Mansion and looked at the bucket-brigade, followed it
to the front of the Hall. The Park had been open for an hour, and a herd
of guests watched the proceedings in confusion. The Liberty Square
ad-hocs passed their loads around in clear embarrassment, knowing that they
were violating every principle they cared about.

As I watched, gaps appeared in the bucket-brigade as castmembers slipped
away, faces burning scarlet with shame. At the Hall of Presidents, Debra
presided over an orderly relocation of her things, a cheerful cadre of
her castmembers quickly moving it all offstage. I didn't have to look at
my handheld to know what was happening to our Whuffie.

#

By evening, we were back on schedule. Suneep supervised the placement of
his telepresence rigs and Lil went over every system in minute detail,
bossing a crew of ad-hocs that trailed behind her, double- and triple-
checking it all.

Suneep smiled at me when he caught sight of me, hand-scattering dust in
the parlor.

"Congratulations, sir," he said, and shook my hand. "It was masterfully
done."

"Thanks, Suneep. I'm not sure how masterful it was, but we got the job
done, and that's what counts."

"Your partners, they're happier than I've seen them since this whole
business started. I know how they feel!"

My partners? Oh, yes, Dan and Lil. How happy were they, I wondered.
Happy enough to get back together? My mood fell, even though a part of
me said that Dan would never go back to her, not after all we'd been
through together.

"I'm glad you're glad. We couldn't have done it without you, and it
looks like we'll be open for business in a week."

"Oh, I should think so. Are you coming to the party tonight?"

Party? Probably something the Liberty Square ad-hocs were putting on. I
would almost certainly be persona non grata. "I don't think so," I said,
carefully. "I'll probably work late here."

He chided me for working too hard, but once he saw that I had no
intention of being dragged to the party, he left off.

And that's how I came to be in the Mansion at 2 a.m. the next morning,
dozing in a backstage break room when I heard a commotion from the
parlor. Festive voices, happy and loud, and I assumed it was Liberty
Square ad-hocs coming back from their party.

I roused myself and entered the parlor.

Kim and her friends were there, pushing hand-trucks of Debra's gear. I
got ready to shout something horrible at them, and that's when Debra
came in. I moderated the shout to a snap, opened my mouth to speak,
stopped.

Behind Debra were Lil's parents, frozen these long years in their
canopic jars in Kissimmee.

========= CHAPTER 9 =========

Lil's parents went into their jars with little ceremony. I saw them just
before they went in, when they stopped in at Lil's and my place to kiss
her goodbye and wish her well.

Tom and I stood awkwardly to the side while Lil and her mother held an
achingly chipper and polite farewell.

"So," I said to Tom. "Deadheading."

He cocked an eyebrow. "Yup. Took the backup this morning."

Before coming to see their daughter, they'd taken their backups. When
they woke, this event -- everything following the backup -- would never
have happened for them.

God, they were bastards.

"When are you coming back?" I asked, keeping my castmember face on,
carefully hiding away the disgust.

"We'll be sampling monthly, just getting a digest dumped to us. When
things look interesting enough, we'll come on back." He waggled a finger
at me. "I'll be keeping an eye on you and Lillian -- you treat her
right, you hear?"

"We're sure going to miss you two around here," I said.

He pishtoshed and said, "You won't even notice we're gone. This is your
world now -- we're just getting out of the way for a while, letting
you-all take a run at it. We wouldn't be going down if we didn't have
faith in you two."

Lil and her mom kissed one last time. Her mother was more affectionate
than I'd ever seen her, even to the point of tearing up a little. Here
in this moment of vanishing consciousness, she could be whomever she
wanted, knowing that it wouldn't matter the next time she awoke.

"Julius," she said, taking my hands, squeezing them. "You've got some
wonderful times ahead of you -- between Lil and the Park, you're going
to have a tremendous experience, I just know it." She was infinitely
serene and compassionate, and I knew it didn't count.

Still smiling, they got into their runabout and drove away to get the
lethal injections, to become disembodied consciousnesses, to lose their
last moments with their darling daughter.

#

They were not happy to be returned from the dead. Their new bodies were
impossibly young, pubescent and hormonal and doleful and kitted out in
the latest trendy styles. In the company of Kim and her pals, they made
a solid mass of irate adolescence.

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" Rita asked, shoving me
hard in the chest. I stumbled back into my carefully scattered dust,
raising a cloud.

Rita came after me, but Tom held her back. "Julius, go away. Your
actions are totally indefensible. Keep your mouth shut and go away."

I held up a hand, tried to wave away his words, opened my mouth to
speak.

"Don't say a word," he said. "Leave. Now."

"_Don't stay here and don't come back. Ever_," Kim said, an evil look on
her face.

"No," I said. "No goddamn it no. You're going to hear me out, and then
I'm going to get Lil and her people and they're going to back me up.
That's not negotiable."

We stared at each other across the dim parlor. Debra made a twiddling
motion and the lights came up full and harsh. The expertly crafted gloom
went away and it was just a dusty room with a fake fireplace.

"Let him speak," Debra said. Rita folded her arms and glared.

"I did some really awful things," I said, keeping my head up, keeping my
eyes on them. "I can't excuse them, and I don't ask you to forgive them.
But that doesn't change the fact that we've put our hearts and souls
into this place, and it's not right to take it from us. Can't we have
one constant corner of the world, one bit frozen in time for the people
who love it that way? Why does your success mean our failure?

"Can't you see that we're carrying on your work? That we're tending a
legacy you left us?"

"Are you through?" Rita asked.

I nodded.

"This place is not a historical preserve, Julius, it's a ride. If you
don't understand that, you're in the wrong place. It's not my goddamn
fault that you decided that your stupidity was on my behalf, and it
doesn't make it any less stupid. All you've done is confirm my worst
fears."

Debra's mask of impartiality slipped. "You stupid, deluded asshole," she
said, softly. "You totter around, pissing and moaning about your little
murder, your little health problems -- yes, I've heard -- your little
fixation on keeping things the way they are. You need some perspective,
Julius. You need to get away from here: Disney World isn't good for you
and you're sure as hell not any good for Disney World."

It would have hurt less if I hadn't come to the same conclusion myself,
somewhere along the way.

#

I found the ad-hoc at a Fort Wilderness campsite, sitting around a fire
and singing, necking, laughing. The victory party. I trudged into the
circle and hunted for Lil.

She was sitting on a log, staring into the fire, a million miles away.
Lord, she was beautiful when she fretted. I stood in front of her for a
minute and she stared right through me until I tapped her shoulder. She
gave an involuntary squeak and then smiled at herself.

"Lil," I said, then stopped. _Your parents are home, and they've joined
the other side_.

For the first time in an age, she looked at me softly, smiled even. She
patted the log next to her. I sat down, felt the heat of the fire on my
face, her body heat on my side. God, how did I screw this up?

Without warning, she put her arms around me and hugged me hard. I hugged
her back, nose in her hair, woodsmoke smell and shampoo and sweat. "We
did it," she whispered fiercely. I held onto her. _No, we didn't_.

"Lil," I said again, and pulled away.

"What?" she said, her eyes shining. She was stoned, I saw that now.

"Your parents are back. They came to the Mansion."

She was confused, shrinking, and I pressed on.

"They were with Debra."

She reeled back as if I'd slapped her.

"I told them I'd bring the whole group back to talk it over."

She hung her head and her shoulders shook, and I tentatively put an arm
around her. She shook it off and sat up. She was crying and laughing at
the same time. "I'll have a ferry sent over," she said.

#

I sat in the back of the ferry with Dan, away from the confused and
angry ad-hocs. I answered his questions with terse, one-word answers,
and he gave up. We rode in silence, the trees on the edges of the Seven
Seas Lagoon whipping back and forth in an approaching storm.

The ad-hoc shortcutted through the west parking lot and moved through
the quiet streets of Frontierland apprehensively, a funeral procession
that stopped the nighttime custodial staff in their tracks.

As we drew up on Liberty Square, I saw that the work-lights were blazing
and a tremendous work-gang of Debra's ad-hocs were moving from the Hall
to the Mansion, undoing our teardown of their work.

Working alongside of them were Tom and Rita, Lil's parents, sleeves
rolled up, forearms bulging with new, toned muscle. The group stopped in
its tracks and Lil went to them, stumbling on the wooden sidewalk.

I expected hugs. There were none. In their stead, parents and daughter
stalked each other, shifting weight and posture to track each other,
maintain a constant, sizing distance.

"What the hell are you doing?" Lil said, finally. She didn't address her
mother, which surprised me. It didn't surprise Tom, though.

He dipped forward, the shuffle of his feet loud in the quiet night.
"We're working," he said.

"No, you're not," Lil said. "You're destroying. Stop it."

Lil's mother darted to her husband's side, not saying anything, just
standing there.

Wordlessly, Tom hefted the box he was holding and headed to the Mansion.
Lil caught his arm and jerked it so he dropped his load.

"You're not listening. The Mansion is _ours_. _Stop_. _It_."

Lil's mother gently took Lil's hand off Tom's arm, held it in her own.
"I'm glad you're passionate about it, Lillian," she said. "I'm proud of
your commitment."

Even at a distance of ten yards, I heard Lil's choked sob, saw her
collapse in on herself. Her mother took her in her arms, rocked her. I
felt like a voyeur, but couldn't bring myself to turn away.

"Shhh," her mother said, a sibilant sound that matched the rustling of
the leaves on the Liberty Tree. "Shhh. We don't have to be on the same
side, you know."

They held the embrace and held it still. Lil straightened, then bent
again and picked up her father's box, carried it to the Mansion. One at
a time, the rest of her ad-hoc moved forward and joined them.

#

This is how you hit bottom. You wake up in your friend's hotel room and
you power up your handheld and it won't log on. You press the call-
button for the elevator and it gives you an angry buzz in return. You
take the stairs to the lobby and no one looks at you as they jostle past
you.

You become a non-person.

Scared. I trembled when I ascended the stairs to Dan's room, when I
knocked at his door, louder and harder than I meant, a panicked banging.

Dan answered the door and I saw his eyes go to his HUD, back to me.
"Jesus," he said.

I sat on the edge of my bed, head in my hands.

"What?" I said, what happened, what happened to me?

"You're out of the ad-hoc," he said. "You're out of Whuffie. You're
bottomed-out," he said.

This is how you hit bottom in Walt Disney World, in a hotel with the
hissing of the monorail and the sun streaming through the window, the
hooting of the steam engines on the railroad and the distant howl of the
recorded wolves at the Haunted Mansion. The world drops away from you,
recedes until you're nothing but a speck, a mote in blackness.

I was hyperventilating, light-headed. Deliberately, I slowed my breath,
put my head between my knees until the dizziness passed.

"Take me to Lil," I said.

Driving together, hammering cigarette after cigarette into my face, I
remembered the night Dan had come to Disney World, when I'd driven him
to my -- _Lil's_ -- house, and how happy I'd been then, how secure.

I looked at Dan and he patted my hand. "Strange times," he said.

It was enough. We found Lil in an underground break-room, lightly dozing
on a ratty sofa. Her head rested on Tom's lap, her feet on Rita's. All
three snored softly. They'd had a long night.

Dan shook Lil awake. She stretched out and opened her eyes, looked
sleepily at me. The blood drained from her face.

"Hello, Julius," she said, coldly.

Now Tom and Rita were awake, too. Lil sat up.

"Were you going to tell me?" I asked, quietly. "Or were you just going
to kick me out and let me find out on my own?"

"You were my next stop," Lil said.

"Then I've saved you some time." I pulled up a chair. "Tell me all about
it."

"There's nothing to tell," Rita snapped. "You're out. You had to know it
was coming -- for God's sake, you were tearing Liberty Square apart!"

"How would you know?" I asked. I struggled to remain calm. "You've been
asleep for ten years!"

"We got updates," Rita said. "That's why we're back -- we couldn't let
it go on the way it was. We owed it to Debra."

"And Lillian," Tom said.

"And Lillian," Rita said, absently.

Dan pulled up a chair of his own. "You're not being fair to him," he
said. At least someone was on my side.

"We've been more than fair," Lil said. "You know that better than
anyone, Dan. We've forgiven and forgiven and forgiven, made every
allowance. He's sick and he won't take the cure. There's nothing more we
can do for him."

"You could be his friend," Dan said. The light-headedness was back, and
I slumped in my chair, tried to control my breathing, the panicked
thumping of my heart.

"You could try to understand, you could try to help him. You could stick
with him, the way he stuck with you. You don't have to toss him out on
his ass."

Lil had the good grace to look slightly shamed. "I'll get him a room,"
she said. "For a month. In Kissimmee. A motel. I'll pick up his network
access. Is that fair?"

"It's more than fair," Rita said. Why did she hate me so much? I'd been
there for her daughter while she was away -- ah. That might do it, all
right. "I don't think it's warranted. If you want to take care of him,
sir, you can. It's none of my family's business."

Lil's eyes blazed. "Let me handle this," she said. "All right?"

Rita stood up abruptly. "You do whatever you want," she said, and
stormed out of the room.

"Why are you coming here for help?" Tom said, ever the voice of reason.
"You seem capable enough."

"I'm going to be taking a lethal injection at the end of the week," Dan
said. "Three days. That's personal, but you asked."

Tom shook his head. _Some friends you've got yourself_, I could see him
thinking it.

"That soon?" Lil asked, a throb in her voice.

Dan nodded.

In a dreamlike buzz, I stood and wandered out into the utilidor, out
through the western castmember parking, and away.

I wandered along the cobbled, disused Walk Around the World, each
flagstone engraved with the name of a family that had visited the Park a
century before. The names whipped past me like epitaphs.

The sun came up noon high as I rounded the bend of deserted beach
between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian. Lil and I had come here
often, to watch the sunset from a hammock, arms around each other, the
Park spread out before us like a lighted toy village.

Now the beach was deserted, the Wedding Pavilion silent. I felt suddenly
cold though I was sweating freely. So cold.

Dreamlike, I walked into the lake, water filling my shoes, logging my
pants, warm as blood, warm on my chest, on my chin, on my mouth, on my
eyes.

I opened my mouth and inhaled deeply, water filling my lungs, choking
and warm. At first I sputtered, but I was in control now, and I inhaled
again. The water shimmered over my eyes, and then was dark.

#

I woke on Doctor Pete's cot in the Magic Kingdom, restraints around my
wrists and ankles, a tube in my nose. I closed my eyes, for a moment
believing that I'd been restored from a backup, problems solved,
memories behind me.

Sorrow knifed through me as I realized that Dan was probably dead by
now, my memories of him gone forever.

Gradually, I realized that I was thinking nonsensically. The fact that I
remembered Dan meant that I hadn't been refreshed from my backup, that
my broken brain was still there, churning along in unmediated isolation.

I coughed again. My ribs ached and throbbed in counterpoint to my head.
Dan took my hand.

"You're a pain in the ass, you know that?" he said, smiling.

"Sorry," I choked.

"You sure are," he said. "Lucky for you they found you -- another minute
or two and I'd be burying you right now."

_No_, I thought, confused. _They'd have restored me from backup_. Then
it hit me: I'd gone on record refusing restore from backup after having
it recommended by a medical professional. No one would have restored me
after that. I would have been truly and finally dead. I started to
shiver.

"Easy," Dan said. "Easy. It's all right now. Doctor says you've got a
cracked rib or two from the CPR, but there's no brain damage."

"No _additional_ brain damage," Doctor Pete said, swimming into view. He
had on his professionally calm bedside face, and it reassured me despite
myself.

He shooed Dan away and took his seat. Once Dan had left the room, he
shone lights in my eyes and peeked in my ears, then sat back and
considered me. "Well, Julius," he said. "What exactly is the problem? We
can get you a lethal injection if that's what you want, but offing
yourself in the Seven Seas Lagoon just isn't good show. In the meantime,
would you like to talk about it?"

Part of me wanted to spit in his eye. I'd tried to talk about it and
he'd told me to go to hell, and now he changes his mind? But I did want
to talk.

"I didn't want to die," I said.

"Oh no?" he said. "I think the evidence suggests the contrary."

"I wasn't trying to die," I protested. "I was trying to --" What? I was
trying to. . ._abdicate_. Take the refresh without choosing it, without
shutting out the last year of my best friend's life. Rescue myself from
the stinking pit I'd sunk into without flushing Dan away along with it.
That's all, that's all.

"I wasn't thinking -- I was just acting. It was an episode or something.
Does that mean I'm nuts?"

"Oh, probably," Doctor Pete said, offhandedly. "But let's worry about
one thing at a time. You can die if you want to, that's your right. I'd
rather you lived, if you want my opinion, and I doubt that I'm the only
one, Whuffie be damned. If you're going to live, I'd like to record you
saying so, just in case. We have a backup of you on file -- I'd hate to
have to delete it."

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I'd like to be restored if there's no other
option." It was true. I didn't want to die.

"All right then," Doctor Pete said. "It's on file and I'm a happy man.
Now, are you nuts? Probably. A little. Nothing a little counseling and
some R&R wouldn't fix, if you want my opinion. I could find you
somewhere if you want."

"Not yet," I said. "I appreciate the offer, but there's something else I
have to do first."

#

Dan took me back to the room and put me to bed with a transdermal
soporific that knocked me out for the rest of the day. When I woke, the
moon was over the Seven Seas Lagoon and the monorail was silent.

I stood on the patio for a while, thinking about all the things this
place had meant to me for more than a century: happiness, security,
efficiency, fantasy. All of it gone. It was time I left. Maybe back to
space, find Zed and see if I could make her happy again. Anywhere but
here. Once Dan was dead -- God, it was sinking in finally -- I could
catch a ride down to the Cape for a launch.

"What's on your mind?" Dan asked from behind me, startling me. He was in
his boxers, thin and rangy and hairy.

"Thinking about moving on," I said.

He chuckled. "I've been thinking about doing the same," he said.

I smiled. "Not that way," I said. "Just going somewhere else, starting
over. Getting away from this."

"Going to take the refresh?" he asked.

I looked away. "No," I said. "I don't believe I will."

"It may be none of my business," he said, "but why the fuck not? Jesus,
Julius, what're you afraid of?"

"You don't want to know," I said.

"I'll be the judge of that."

"Let's have a drink, first," I said.

Dan rolled his eyes back for a second, then said, "All right, two
Coronas, coming up."

After the room-service bot had left, we cracked the beers and pulled
chairs out onto the porch.

"You sure you want to know this?" I asked.

He tipped his bottle at me. "Sure as shootin'," he said.

"I don't want refresh because it would mean losing the last year," I
said.

He nodded. "By which you mean 'my last year,'" he said. "Right?"

I nodded and drank.

"I thought it might be like that. Julius, you are many things, but hard
to figure out you are not. I have something to say that might help you
make the decision. If you want to hear it, that is."

What could he have to say? "Sure," I said. "Sure." In my mind, I was on
a shuttle headed for orbit, away from all of this.

"I had you killed," he said. "Debra asked me to, and I set it up. You
were right all along."

The shuttle exploded in silent, slow moving space, and I spun away from
it. I opened and shut my mouth.

It was Dan's turn to look away. "Debra proposed it. We were talking
about the people I'd met when I was doing my missionary work, the stone
crazies who I'd have to chase away after they'd rejoined the Bitchun
Society. One of them, a girl from Cheyenne Mountain, she followed me
down here, kept leaving me messages. I told Debra, and that's when she
got the idea.

"I'd get the girl to shoot you and disappear. Debra would give me
Whuffie -- piles of it, and her team would follow suit. I'd be months
closer to my goal. That was all I could think about back then, you
remember."

"I remember." The smell of rejuve and desperation in our little cottage,
and Dan plotting my death.

"We planned it, then Debra had herself refreshed from a backup -- no
memory of the event, just the Whuffie for me."

"Yes," I said. That would work. Plan a murder, kill yourself, have
yourself refreshed from a backup made before the plan. How many times
had Debra done terrible things and erased their memories that way?

"Yes," he agreed. "We did it, I'm ashamed to say. I can prove it, too --
I have my backup, and I can get Jeanine to tell it, too." He drained his
beer. "That's my plan. Tomorrow. I'll tell Lil and her folks, Kim and
her people, the whole ad-hoc. A going-away present from a shitty
friend."

My throat was dry and tight. I drank more beer. "You knew all along," I
said. "You could have proved it at any time."

He nodded. "That's right."

"You let me. . ." I groped for the words. "You let me turn into. . ."
They wouldn't come.

"I did," he said.

All this time. Lil and he, standing on _my_ porch, telling me I needed
help. Doctor Pete, telling me I needed refresh from backup, me saying
no, no, no, not wanting to lose my last year with Dan.

"I've done some pretty shitty things in my day," he said. "This is the
absolute worst. You helped me and I betrayed you. I'm sure glad I don't
believe in God -- that'd make what I'm going to do even scarier."

Dan was going to kill himself in two days' time. My friend and my
murderer. "Dan," I croaked. I couldn't make any sense of my mind. Dan,
taking care of me, helping me, sticking up for me, carrying this
horrible shame with him all along. Ready to die, wanting to go with a
clean conscience.

"You're forgiven," I said. And it was true.

He stood.

"Where are you going" I asked.

"To find Jeanine, the one who pulled the trigger. I'll meet you at the
Hall of Presidents at nine a.m.."

#

I went in through the Main Gate, not a castmember any longer, a Guest
with barely enough Whuffie to scrape in, use the water fountains and
stand in line. If I were lucky, a castmember might spare me a chocolate
banana. Probably not, though.

I stood in the line for the Hall of Presidents. Other guests checked my
Whuffie, then averted their eyes. Even the children. A year before,
they'd have been striking up conversations, asking me about my job here
at the Magic Kingdom.

I sat in my seat at the Hall of Presidents, watching the short film with
the rest, sitting patiently while they rocked in their seats under the
blast of the flash-bake. A castmember picked up the stageside mic and
thanked everyone for coming; the doors swung open and the Hall was
empty, except for me. The castmember narrowed her eyes at me, then
recognizing me, turned her back and went to show in the next group.

No group came. Instead, Dan and the girl I'd seen on the replay entered.

"We've closed it down for the morning," he said.

I was staring at the girl, seeing her smirk as she pulled the trigger on
me, seeing her now with a contrite, scared expression. She was terrified
of me.

"You must be Jeanine," I said. I stood and shook her hand. "I'm Julius."

Her hand was cold, and she took it back and wiped it on her pants.

My castmember instincts took over. "Please, have a seat. Don't worry,
it'll all be fine. Really. No hard feelings." I stopped short of
offering to get her a glass of water.

_Put her at her ease_, said a snotty voice in my head. _She'll make a
better witness. Or make her nervous, pathetic -- that'll work, too; make
Debra look even worse_.

I told the voice to shut up and got her a cup of water.

By the time I came back, the whole gang was there. Debra, Lil, her
folks, Tim. Debra's gang and Lil's gang, now one united team. Soon to be
scattered.

Dan took the stage, used the stageside mic to broadcast his voice.
"Eleven months ago, I did an awful thing. I plotted with Debra to have
Julius murdered. I used a friend who was a little confused at the time,
used her to pull the trigger. It was Debra's idea that having Julius
killed would cause enough confusion that she could take over the Hall of
Presidents. It was."

There was a roar of conversation. I looked at Debra, saw that she was
sitting calmly, as though Dan had just accused her of sneaking an extra
helping of dessert. Lil's parents, to either side of her, were less
sanguine. Tom's jaw was set and angry, Rita was speaking angrily to
Debra. Hickory Jackson in the old Hall used to say, _I will hang the
first man I can lay hands on from the first tree I can find_.

"Debra had herself refreshed from backup after we planned it," Dan went
on, as though no one was talking. "I was supposed to do the same, but I
didn't. I have a backup in my public directory -- anyone can examine it.
Right now, I'd like to bring Jeanine up, she's got a few words she'd
like to say."

I helped Jeanine take the stage. She was still trembling, and the
ad-hocs were an insensate babble of recriminations. Despite myself,
I was enjoying it.

"Hello," Jeanine said softly. She had a lovely voice, a lovely face. I
wondered if we could be friends when it was all over. She probably
didn't care much about Whuffie, one way or another.

The discussion went on. Dan took the mic from her and said, "Please! Can
we have a little respect for our visitor? Please? People?"

Gradually, the din decreased. Dan passed the mic back to Jeanine.
"Hello," she said again, and flinched from the sound of her voice in the
Hall's PA. "My name is Jeanine. I'm the one who killed Julius, a year
ago. Dan asked me to, and I did it. I didn't ask why. I trusted -- trust
-- him. He told me that Julius would make a backup a few minutes before
I shot him, and that he could get me out of the Park without getting
caught. I'm very sorry." There was something off-kilter about her, some
stilt to her stance and words that let you know she wasn't all there.
Growing up in a mountain might do that to you. I snuck a look at Lil,
whose lips were pressed together. Growing up in a theme park might do
that to you, too.

"Thank you, Jeanine," Dan said, taking back the mic. "You can have a
seat now. I've said everything I need to say -- Julius and I have had
our own discussions in private. If there's anyone else who'd like to
speak --"

The words were barely out of his mouth before the crowd erupted again in
words and waving hands. Beside me, Jeanine flinched. I took her hand and
shouted in her ear: "Have you ever been on the Pirates of the
Carribean?"

She shook her head.

I stood up and pulled her to her feet. "You'll love it," I said, and led
her out of the Hall.

========== CHAPTER 10 ==========

I booked us ringside seats at the Polynesian Luau, riding high on a
fresh round of sympathy Whuffie, and Dan and I drank a dozen lapu-lapus
in hollowed-out pineapples before giving up on the idea of getting
drunk.

Jeanine watched the fire-dances and the torch-lighting with eyes like
saucers, and picked daintily at her spare ribs with one hand, never
averting her attention from the floor show. When they danced the fast
hula, her eyes jiggled. I chuckled.

From where we sat, I could see the spot where I'd waded into the Seven
Seas Lagoon and breathed in the blood-temp water, I could see
Cinderella's Castle, across the lagoon, I could see the monorails and
the ferries and the busses making their busy way through the Park,
shuttling teeming masses of guests from place to place. Dan toasted me
with his pineapple and I toasted him back, drank it dry and belched in
satisfaction.

Full belly, good friends, and the sunset behind a troupe of tawny, half-
naked hula dancers. Who needs the Bitchun Society, anyway?

When it was over, we watched the fireworks from the beach, my toes dug
into the clean white sand. Dan slipped his hand into my left hand, and
Jeanine took my right. When the sky darkened and the lighted barges
puttered away through the night, we three sat in the hammock.

I looked out over the Seven Seas Lagoon and realized that this was my
last night, ever, in Walt Disney World. It was time to reboot again,
start afresh. That's what the Park was for, only somehow, this visit,
I'd gotten stuck. Dan had unstuck me.

The talk turned to Dan's impending death.

"So, tell me what you think of this," he said, hauling away on a glowing
cigarette.

"Shoot," I said.

"I'm thinking -- why take lethal injection? I mean, I may be done here
for now, but why should I make an irreversible decision?"

"Why did you want to before?" I asked.

"Oh, it was the macho thing, I guess. The finality and all. But hell, I
don't have to prove anything, right?"

"Sure," I said, magnanimously.

"So," he said, thoughtfully. "The question I'm asking is, how long can I
deadhead for? There are folks who go down for a thousand years, ten
thousand, right?"

"So, you're thinking, what, a million?" I joked.

He laughed. "A _million_? You're thinking too small, son. Try this on
for size: the heat death of the universe."

"The heat death of the universe," I repeated.

"Sure," he drawled, and I sensed his grin in the dark. "Ten to the
hundred years or so. The Stelliferous Period -- it's when all the black
holes have run dry and things get, you know, stupendously dull. Cold,
too. So I'm thinking -- why not leave a wake-up call for some time
around then?"

"Sounds unpleasant to me," I said. "Brrrr."

"Not at all! I figure, self-repairing nano-based canopic jar, mass
enough to feed it -- say, a trillion-ton asteroid -- and a lot of
solitude when the time comes around. I'll poke my head in every century
or so, just to see what's what, but if nothing really stupendous crops
up, I'll take the long ride out. The final frontier."

"That's pretty cool," Jeanine said.

"Thanks," Dan said.

"You're not kidding, are you?" I asked.

"Nope, I sure ain't," he said.

#

They didn't invite me back into the ad-hoc, even after Debra left in
Whuffie-penury and they started to put the Mansion back the way it was.
Tim called me to say that with enough support from Imagineering, they
thought they could get it up and running in a week. Suneep was ready to
kill someone, I swear. _A house divided against itself can_not_ stand_,
as Mr. Lincoln used to say at the Hall of Presidents.

I packed three changes of clothes and a toothbrush in my shoulderbag and
checked out of my suite at the Polynesian at ten a.m., then met Jeanine
and Dan at the valet parking out front. Dan had a runabout he'd picked
up with my Whuffie, and I piled in with Jeanine in the middle. We played
old Beatles tunes on the stereo all the long way to Cape Canaveral. Our
shuttle lifted at noon.

The shuttle docked four hours later, but by the time we'd been through
decontam and orientation, it was suppertime. Dan, nearly as Whuffie-poor
as Debra after his confession, nevertheless treated us to a meal in the
big bubble, squeeze-tubes of heady booze and steaky paste, and we
watched the universe get colder for a while.

There were a couple guys jamming, tethered to a guitar and a set of
tubs, and they weren't half bad.

Jeanine was uncomfortable hanging there naked. She'd gone to space with
her folks after Dan had left the mountain, but it was in a long-haul
generation ship. She'd abandoned it after a year or two and deadheaded
back to Earth in a support-pod. She'd get used to life in space after a
while. Or she wouldn't.

"Well," Dan said.

"Yup," I said, aping his laconic drawl. He smiled.

"It's that time," he said.

Spheres of saline tears formed in Jeanine's eyes, and I brushed them
away, setting them adrift in the bubble. I'd developed some real tender,
brother-sister type feelings for her since I'd watched her saucer-eye
her way through the Magic Kingdom. No romance -- not for me, thanks! But
camaraderie and a sense of responsibility.

"See you in ten to the hundred," Dan said, and headed to the airlock. I
started after him, but Jeanine caught my hand.

"He hates long good-byes," she said.

"I know," I said, and watched him go.

#

The universe gets older. So do I. So does my backup, sitting in
redundant distributed storage dirtside, ready for the day that space or
age or stupidity kills me. It recedes with the years, and I write out my
life longhand, a letter to the me that I'll be when it's restored into a
clone somewhere, somewhen. It's important that whoever I am then knows
about this year, and it's going to take a lot of tries for me to get it
right.

In the meantime, I'm working on another symphony, one with a little bit
of "Grim Grinning Ghosts," and a nod to "It's a Small World After All,"
and especially "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow."

Jeanine says it's pretty good, but what does she know? She's barely
fifty.

We've both got a lot of living to do before we know what's what.

--

================= Acknowledgements: =================

I could never have written this book without the personal support of my
friends and family, especially Roz Doctorow, Gord Doctorow and Neil
Doctorow, Amanda Foubister, Steve Samenski, Pat York, Grad Conn, John
Henson, John Rose, the writers at the Cecil Street Irregulars and Mark
Frauenfelder.

I owe a great debt to the writers and editors who mentored and
encouraged me: James Patrick Kelly, Judith Merril, Damon Knight, Martha
Soukup, Scott Edelman, Gardner Dozois, Renee Wilmeth, Teresa Nielsen
Hayden, Claire Eddy, Bob Parks and Robert Killheffer.

I am also indebted to my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden and my agent
Donald Maass, who believed in this book and helped me bring it to
fruition.

Finally, I must thank the readers, the geeks and the Imagineers who
inspired this book.

Cory Doctorow San Francisco September 2002

--

================= About the author: =================

Cory Doctorow is Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, www.eff.org, and maintains a personal site at
www.craphound.com. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing
at www.boingboing.net, with more than 250,000 visitors a month. He won
the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2000 Hugo Awards.
Born and raised in Toronto, he now lives in San Francisco. He enjoys
using Google to look up interesting facts about long walks on the beach.

--

============================= Other books by Cory Doctorow:
=============================

A Place So Foreign and Eight More - short story collection, forthcoming
from Four Walls Eight Windows in fall 2003, with an introduction by
Bruce Sterling

Essential Blogging, O'Reilly and Associates, 2002 - with Rael Dornfest,
J. Scott Johnson, Shelley Powers, Benjamin Trott and Mena G. Trott

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction, Alpha Books,
2000 - co-written with Karl Schroeder

--

========================== Machine-readable metadata:
==========================

  Down and Out in the
Magic Kingdom 2003-1-9 A
novel by Cory Doctorow:

Jules is a young man barely a century old. He's lived long enough to see
the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and
compose three symphonies...and to realize his boyhood dream of taking up
residence in Disney World.

Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long-ago
twentieth century. Now in the care of a network of volunteer
"ad-hocs" who keep the classic attractions running as they always
have, enhanced with only the smallest high-tech touches.

Now, though, it seems the "ad hocs" are under attack. A new group has
taken over the Hall of the Presidents and is replacing its venerable
audioanimatronics with new, immersive direct-to-brain interfaces
that give guests the illusion of being Washington, Lincoln, and all the
others. For Jules, this is an attack on the artistic purity of Disney
World itself. Worse: it appears this new group has had Jules killed.
This upsets him. (It's only his fourth death and revival, after all.)
Now it's war: war for the soul of the Magic Kingdom, a war of
ever-shifting reputations, technical wizardry, and entirely
unpredictable outcomes.

Bursting with cutting-edge speculation and human insight, Down and
Out in the Magic Kingdom reads like Neal Stephenson meets Nick Hornby: a
coming-of-age romantic comedy and a kick-butt cybernetic
tour de force.   Cory
Doctorow  
Cory Doctorow   







 




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