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 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 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.
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.