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Chapter 7

  • The meds helped me cope with the next couple of days, starting the rehab o_he 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 rapi_rogress, 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-blow_ehab. We didn’t exchange any unnecessary words, standing side by side withou_ver looking into one another’s eyes. I couldn’t really feel awkward aroun_an, anyway. He never let me, and besides we had our hands full directin_isappointed guests away from the Mansion. A depressing number of them heade_traight for the Hall of Presidents.
  • We didn’t have to wait long for the first panicked screed about the Mansion t_ppear. Dan read it aloud off his HUD: “Hey! Anyone hear anything abou_cheduled maintenance at the HM? I just buzzed by on the way to the new H o_’s and it looks like some big stuff’s afoot—scaffolding, castmembers swarmin_n 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. Goo_huffie, 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 t_lay at construction activity in thumpy, undead pantomime. In time, Suneep an_is gang would have a batch of telepresence robots up and running, and we’_ove to them, get them wandering the queue area, interacting with curiou_uests. The new Mansion would be open for business in 48 hours, albeit i_tripped-down fashion. The scaffolding made for a nice weenie, a visual dra_hat would pull the hordes that thronged Debra’s Hall of Presidents over for _urious 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 o_he Caribbean. I wondered if she was the right person for the job: she seeme_wfully enamored of the rehabs that Debra and her crew had performed. If I’_ad more time, I would’ve run a deep background check on every one of th_ames 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 i_oming 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 w_oped to recruit. Of course, nothing happened. I’d done that a dozen time_hat morning, and there was no end in sight. I couldn’t seem to get lathere_p about it, though, nor about anything else, not even the hickey just visibl_nder Dan’s collar. The transdermal mood-balancer on my bicep was seeing t_hat—doctor’s orders.
  • “Fine, fine. We’re standing by the Pet Cemetery, two cast members, male, i_ansion costumes. About five-ten, apparent 30. You can’t miss us.”
  • She didn’t. She arrived out of breath and excited, jogging. She was apparen_0, and dressed like a real 20 year old, in a hipster climate-control cow_hat clung to and released her limbs, which were long and double-kneed. Al_he 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’_earing a designer face, rather one that had enough imperfections to be th_ne 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 withou_ostling 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 _ingle 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 wit_an.
  • “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, bu_nderneath it was relief. “I think I’d better explain it to you first,” _aid.
  • “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 i_reedily. She cocked her head at me as I ran it down, eyes wide. It wa_isconcerting, and I finally asked, “Are you recording this?”
  • Kim blushed. “I hope that’s okay! I’m starting a new Mansion scrapbook. I hav_ne 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 tab_nside Park, so much so that it hadn’t occurred to me that the new castmember_e brought in would want to record every little detail and push it out ove_he Net as a big old Whuffie collector.
  • “I can switch it off,” Kim said. She looked worried, and I really started t_rasp how important the Mansion was to the people we were recruiting, how muc_f 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 th_ime we got there, literally tearing off her clothes in anticipation o_etting into character. Sonya, a Liberty Square ad-hoc that we’d stashed a_ostuming, already had clothes waiting for her, a rotting maid’s uniform wit_n oversized toolbelt.
  • We left Kim on the scaffolding, energetically troweling a water-based cemen_ubstitute onto the wall, scraping it off and moving to a new spot. It looke_oring to me, but I could believe that we’d have to tear her away when th_ime came.
  • We went back to trawling the Net for the next candidate.
  • By lunchtime, there were ten drilling, hammering, troweling new castmember_round the scaffolding, pushing black wheelbarrows, singing “Grim Grinnin_hosts” and generally having a high old time.
  • “This’ll do,” I said to Dan. I was exhausted and soaked with sweat, and th_ransdermal under my costume itched. Despite the happy-juice in m_loodstream, a streak of uncastmemberly crankiness was shot through my mood. _eeded 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 ha_hree of his assistants working on the first generation of mobile telepresenc_obots for the exterior, and had promised a prototype for that afternoon. Th_obots were easy enough—just off-the-shelf stuff, really—but the costumes an_inematics routines were something else. Thinking about what he and Suneep’_ang of hypercreative super-geniuses would come up with cheered me up _ittle, as did being out of the public eye.
  • Suneep’s lab looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Imagineer packs rolle_n and out with arcane gizmos, or formed tight argumentative knots in th_orners as they shouted over whatever their HUDs were displaying. In th_iddle of it all was Suneep, who looked like he was barely restraining an urg_o shout Yippee! He was clearly in his element.
  • He threw his arms open when he caught sight of Dan and me, threw them wid_nough to embrace the whole mad, gibbering chaos. “What wonderfu_lumgubbery!” 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, _inematics routine for a class of flying spooks that use gasbags to sta_loft—silent and scary. It’s old spy-tech, and the retrofit’s comin_remendously. 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 gav_e an apologetic wave. “Of course, of course. Here.” He unrolled an LCD an_anded it to me. A flock of spooks danced on the screen, rendered against th_allroom scene. They were thematically consistent with the existing Mansio_hosts, more funny than scary, and their faces were familiar. I looked aroun_he 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 an_unning by tomorrow night, Suneep. We discussed this, remember?” Withou_elepresence robots, my recruiting would be limited to fans like Kim, wh_ived in the area. I had broader designs than that.
  • Suneep looked disappointed. “Of course. We discussed it. I don’t like to sto_y people when they have good ideas, but there’s a time and a place. I’ll pu_hem 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, _magined. Lil’s eyes rolled up for a moment, then she nodded exhaustedly a_im.
  • “Very good,” she said. “I just heard from Lisa. She says the indoor crews ar_n-schedule. They’ve got most of the animatronics dismantled, and they’r_aking down the glass in the Ballroom now.” The Ballroom ghost effects wer_ccomplished by means of a giant pane of polished glass that laterall_isected the room. The Mansion had been built around it—it was too big to tak_ut in one piece. “They say it’ll be a couple days before they’ve got it cu_p and ready to remove.”
  • A pocket of uncomfortable silence descended on us, the roar of the Imagineer_ushing 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 an_queezed. He smelled of an exotic cocktail of industrial lubricant, ozone, an_atigue poisons.
  • “You two should go home and give each other a massage,” he said. “You’v_arned some rest.”
  • Dan met my eye and shook his head apologetically. I squirmed out from unde_uneep’s arm and thanked him quietly, then slunk off to the Contemporary for _ot tub and a couple hours of sleep.
  • I came back to the Mansion at sundown. It was cool enough that I took _urface route, costume rolled in a shoulderbag, instead of riding through th_lattering, air-conditioned comfort of the utilidors.
  • As a freshening breeze blew across me, I suddenly had a craving for rea_eather, the kind of climate I’d grown up with in Toronto. It was October, fo_hrissakes, and a lifetime of conditioning told me that it was May. I stoppe_nd leaned on a bench for a moment and closed my eyes. Unbidden, and with th_larity 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 _acation.
  • I opened my eyes and realized that I was standing in front of the Hall o_residents, and that there was a queue ahead of me for it, one that stretche_ack 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 a_our’s wait. The Hall never drew crowds like this. Debra was working th_urnstiles in Betsy Ross gingham, and she caught my eye and snapped a nod a_e.
  • I stalked off to the Mansion. A choir of zombie-shambling new recruits ha_ormed up in front of the gate, and were groaning their way through “Gri_rinning Ghosts,” with a new call-and-response structure. A small audienc_articipated, urged on by the recruits on the scaffolding.
  • “Well, at least that’s going right,” I muttered to myself. And it was, excep_hat I could see members of the ad-hoc looking on from the sidelines, and th_ooks weren’t kindly. Totally obsessive fans are a good measure of a ride’_opularity, but they’re kind of a pain in the ass, too. They lipsynch th_oundtrack, cadge souvenirs and pester you with smarmy, show-off questions.
  • After a while, even the cheeriest castmember starts to lose patience, develo_n automatic distaste for them.
  • The Liberty Square ad-hocs who were working on the Mansion had been railroade_nto approving a rehab, press-ganged into working on it, and were now force_o endure the company of these grandstanding megafans. If I’d been there whe_t all started—instead of sleeping!—I may’ve been able to massage thei_ruised 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 costum_nd went back onstage. I joined the call-and-response enthusiastically, walking around to the ad-hocs and getting them to join in, reluctantly o_therwise.
  • By the time the choir retired, sweaty and exhausted, a group of ad-hocs wer_eady 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 i_ould be another week before I could have even five production units. Thoug_e didn’t say it, I got the sense that his guys were out of control, s_xcited 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 wa_taying on top of the fan response to the rehab from a terminal I’d ha_nstalled in my hotel room. Kim and her local colleagues were fieldin_illions of hits every day, their Whuffie accumulating as envious fans aroun_he 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 ne_ecruits were doing their own recruiting, extending invitations to their net- pals to come on down to Florida, bunk on their sofas and guest-beds, an_resent themselves to me for active duty.
  • The tenth time it happened, I approached Kim in the break-room. Her gorge wa_orking, her eyes tracked invisible words across the middle distance. No doub_he was penning yet another breathless missive about the magic of working i_he 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 an_alk?”
  • Kim wore her costume every chance she got. I’d been quite firm about he_urning it in to the laundry every night instead of wearing it home.
  • Reluctantly, she stepped into a change-room and switched into her cowl. W_ook the utilidor to the Fantasyland exit and walked through the late- afternoon rush of children and their adults, queued deep and thick for Sno_hite, 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 reall_eeling 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 bee_orking up, too.”
  • She did one of those double-kneed shuffles that was the basis of any number o_ction vids those days and she was suddenly standing in front of me, hand o_y 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 reall_reat castmembers.”
  • “But?”
  • “But we have limited resources around here. Not enough hours in the day for m_o stay on top of the new folks, the rehab, everything. Not to mention tha_ntil we open the new Mansion, there’s a limited number of extras we can us_ut front. I’m concerned that we’re going to put someone on stage withou_roper training, or that we’re going to run out of uniforms; I’m als_oncerned about people coming all the way here and discovering that ther_ren’t any shifts for them to take.”
  • She gave me a relieved look. “Is that all? Don’t worry about it. I’ve bee_alking to Debra, over at the Hall of Presidents, and she says she can pick u_ny people who can’t be used at the Mansion—we could even rotate back an_orth!” She was clearly proud of her foresight.
  • My ears buzzed. Debra, one step ahead of me all along the way. She probabl_uggested that Kim do some extra recruiting in the first place. She’d take i_he people who came down to work the Mansion, convince them they’d been har_one 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 ca_ind 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 bac_o 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 i_lready upset that all the glory is going to the new people, they’ll never le_s 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 tha_he Mansion’s shut up, and they don’t want any more delays. Dave’s alread_oined 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’_one over. Lil and Dan stood side by side on the porch of the house where I’_ived. I’d driven out that night to convince Lil to sell the ad-hocs o_ringing in more recruits, but it wasn’t going according to plan. The_ouldn’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 glare_ moment longer, then went into the house.
  • “Debra’s doing real well,” he said. “The net’s all over her. Biggest thin_ver. Flash-baking is taking off in nightclubs, dance mixes with the DJ’_ackup 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 _roblem I didn’t need, and maybe a problem I could solve. I pulled _creeching U-turn and drove the little runabout to her place, a tiny condo i_ crumbling complex that had once been a gated seniors’ village, pre-Bitchun.
  • Her place was easy to spot. All the lights were burning, faint conversatio_udible through the screen door. I jogged up the steps two at a time, and wa_bout to knock when a familiar voice drifted through the screen.
  • Debra, saying: “Oh yes, oh yes! Terrific idea! I’d never really thought abou_sing streetmosphere players to liven up the queue area, but you’re making _ot of sense. You people have just been doing the best work over at th_ansion—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 an_ear suffused me from tip to toe, and I felt suddenly light and cool and read_o 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 i_hrough the cast entrance using the ID card I’d scored when my systems wen_ffline 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 cow_hat completely obscured my features, then slunk through the shadows along th_torefronts until I came to the moat around Cinderella’s castle. Keeping low, I stepped over the fence and duck-walked down the embankment, then slippe_nto the water and sloshed across to the Adventureland side.
  • Slipping along to the Liberty Square gateway, I flattened myself in doorway_henever I heard maintenance crews passing in the distance, until I reache_he 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’_abbed 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 reall_orked up a sweat smashing them, but I kept at it until not a single componen_emained recognizable. The work was slow and loud in the silent Park, but i_ulled me into a sleepy reverie, an autohypnotic swing-bang-swing-ban_imeless time. To be on the safe side, I grabbed the storage units and slippe_hem into the cowl.
  • Locating their backup units was a little trickier, but years of hanging out a_he Hall of Presidents while Lil tinkered with the animatronics helped me. _ethodically investigated every nook, cranny and storage area until I locate_hem, in what had been a break-room closet. By now, I had the rhythm of th_hing, and I made short work of them.
  • I did one more pass, wrecking anything that looked like it might be _rototype for the next generation or notes that would help them reconstruc_he units I’d smashed.
  • I had no illusions about Debra’s preparedness—she’d have something offsit_hat she could get up and running in a few days. I wasn’t doing anythin_ermanent, I was just buying myself a day or two.
  • I made my way clean out of the Park without being spotted, and sloshed my wa_nto 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 Machiavellia_henanigans, and I left a trail a mile wide, from the muddy footprints in th_ontemporary’s lobby to the wrecking bar thoughtlessly left behind, with m_owl and the storage units from the Hall, forgotten on the back seat of m_unabout.
  • I whistled my personal jazzy uptempo version of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” as _ade my way from Costuming, through the utilidor, out to Liberty Square, hal_n hour before the Park opened.
  • Standing in front of me were Lil and Debra. Debra was holding my cowl an_recking bar. Lil held the storage units.
  • I hadn’t put on my transdermals that morning, and so the emotion I felt wa_nmuffled, loud and yammering.
  • I ran.
  • I ran past them, along the road to Adventureland, past the Tiki Room where I’_een 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 an_ebra and all my problems. I’d thought wrong. They were both there, a ste_ehind me, puffing and red. Debra held my wrecking bar like a weapon, and sh_randished 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’_eeting in Adventureland. You’re coming.”
  • “Why?” I asked, feeling belligerent. “You going to honor me for all my har_ork?”
  • “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 di_t, and now we’re fighting each other instead of her! Why can’t you see ho_rong that is?”
  • “You’d better watch those accusations, Julius,” Debra said, quietly an_ntensely, almost hissing. “I don’t know who killed you or why, but you’re th_ne who’s guilty here. You need help.”
  • I barked a humorless laugh. Guests were starting to stream into the now-ope_ark, and several of them were watching intently as the three costume_astmembers 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 th_rowd to Adventureland. I saw a dozen opportunities to slip into a gap in th_uman ebb and flow and escape custody, but I didn’t try. I wanted a chance t_ell 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. Li_urned. “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 wan_o. 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 th_iberty Belle would be sitting at her dock. Even the restaurant crews wer_here. Liberty Square must’ve been a ghost town. It gave the meeting a sens_f urgency: the knowledge that there were guests in Liberty Square wanderin_imlessly, looking for castmembers to help them out. Of course, Debra’s cre_ight’ve been around.
  • The crowd’s faces were hard and bitter, leaving no doubt in my mind that I wa_n deep shit. Even Dan, sitting in the front row, looked angry. I nearl_tarted crying right then. Dan—oh, Dan. My pal, my confidant, my patsy, m_ival, my nemesis. Dan, Dan, Dan. I wanted to beat him to death and hug him a_he 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 hav_mportant work to get to. I’ll run down the facts: last night, a member o_his ad-hoc vandalized the Hall of Presidents, rendering it useless. It’_stimated 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 happene_efore, 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 th_all of Presidents is fully operational. I will be volunteering my services o_he repairs.”
  • There were nods in the audience. Lil wouldn’t be the only one working at th_all that week. “Disney World isn’t a competition,” Lil said. “All th_ifferent ad-hocs work together, and we do it to make the Park as good as w_an. We lose sight of that at our peril.”
  • I nearly gagged on bile. “I’d like to say something,” I said, as calmly as _ould 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 di_t, and I don’t have any excuse for having done it. It may not have been th_martest thing I’ve ever done, but I think you all should understand how I wa_riven to it.
  • “We’re not supposed to be in competition with one another here, but we al_now that that’s just a polite fiction. The truth is that there’s rea_ompetition in the Park, and that the hardest players are the crew tha_ehabbed the Hall of Presidents. They stole the Hall from you! They did i_hile you were distracted, they used me to engineer the distraction, the_urdered me!” I heard the shriek creeping into my voice, but I couldn’t d_nything about it.
  • “Usually, the lie that we’re all on the same side is fine. It lets us wor_ogether in peace. But that changed the day they had me shot. If you keep o_elieving it, you’re going to lose the Mansion, the Liberty Belle, Tom Sawye_sland—all of it. All the history we have with this place—all the history tha_he billions who’ve visited it have—it’s going to be destroyed and replace_ith the sterile, thoughtless shit that’s taken over the Hall. Once tha_appens, there’s nothing left that makes this place special. Anyone can ge_he same experience sitting at home on the sofa! What happens then, huh? Ho_uch longer do you think this place will stay open once the only people her_re 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 tha_as 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 fo_hat happened last night. We know who was responsible, and he needs help. _rge 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 sam_ide—the side of the Park. This is a special place, and it couldn’t exis_ithout all of our contributions. What happened to Julius was terrible, and _incerely 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’l_ake you up on it. That goes for all of you—come on by the Hall, we’ll put yo_o 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 m_or my ad-hoc have any desire to take over the operations of the Mansion. I_s a terrific attraction, and it’s getting better with the work you’re al_oing. If you’ve been worrying about it, then you can stop worrying now. We’r_ll 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 t_o, too. I’d like to ask you all a favor, first. I’d like us to keep th_etails of last night’s incident to ourselves. Letting the guests and th_orld know about this ugly business isn’t good for anyone. Can we all agree t_o that?”
  • There was a moment’s pause while the results were tabulated on the HUDs, the_il 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. Li_ad made it very clear to me after the meeting that I wasn’t to show my fac_nside 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 i_eemed to revolve around the new recruits. One of them had told their net-pal_bout the high drama in Liberty Square, and mentioned my name.
  • There were already a couple of sites vilifying me, and I expected more. _eeded some kind of help, that was for sure.
  • I thought about leaving then, turning my back on the whole business an_eaving Walt Disney World to start yet another new life, Whuffie-poor an_ancy-free.
  • It wouldn’t be so bad. I’d been in poor repute before, not so long ago. Tha_irst time Dan and I had palled around, back at the U of T, I’d been th_enter of a lot of pretty ambivalent sentiment, and Whuffie-poor as a man ca_e.
  • I slept in a little coffin on-campus, perfectly climate controlled. It wa_ramped and dull, but my access to the network was free and I had plenty o_aterial to entertain myself. While I couldn’t get a table in a restaurant, _as free to queue up at any of the makers around town and get myself whateve_ wanted to eat and drink, whenever I wanted it. Compared to 99.99999 percen_f 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. Th_umber of low-esteem individuals at large was significant, and they got alon_ust fine, hanging out in parks, arguing, reading, staging plays, playin_usic.
  • Of course, that wasn’t the life for me. I had Dan to pal around with, a rar_igh-net-Whuffie individual who was willing to fraternize with a shmuck lik_e. He’d stand me to meals at sidewalk cafes and concerts at the SkyDome, an_hoot down any snotty reputation-punk who sneered at my Whuffie tally. Bein_ith Dan was a process of constantly reevaluating my beliefs in the Bitchu_ociety, and I’d never had a more vibrant, thought-provoking time in all m_ife.
  • 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.