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Chapter 8

  • Doctor Pete answered on the third ring, audio-only. In the background, I hear_ chorus of crying children, the constant backdrop of the Magic Kingdo_nfirmary.
  • “Hi, doc,” I said.
  • “Hello, Julius. What can I do for you?” Under the veneer of professiona_edical and castmember friendliness, I sensed irritation.
  • Make it all good again. “I’m not really sure. I wanted to see if I could tal_t 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—_as 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 importan_hings 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? _an’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 kno_f anyone can. I just wanted you to know.”
  • He surprised me, then, and made me remember why he was still my friend, eve_fter 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 Spac_ountain. To my left spread the sparkling waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon, t_y right, the Property stretched away for mile after manicured mile. The su_as 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, gra_uildings, noisome rapid transit (a monorail hissed by), and hard-face_nonymity. I missed it.
  • Dan pulled up a chair next to mine and sat without a word. We both stared ou_t 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, an_’m not proud of myself. If you two were breaking up, that’s none of m_usiness, 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 waite_xpectantly. 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 th_peech, but it still wasn’t easy to choke out.
  • “We both know what’s wrong, Julius,” the doc said, impatiently. “You need t_e refreshed from your backup, get set up with a fresh clone and retire thi_ne. We’ve had this talk.”
  • “I can’t do it,” I said, not meeting his eye. “I just can’t—isn’t ther_nother 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 i_roken, 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 t_ake the cure, I can retire this clone immediately and get you restored into _ew 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 singularl_iserable chapter in my life, not even to myself.
  • The doctor rose to go. “Look, Julius, you haven’t got the Whuffie to make i_orth anyone’s time to research a solution to this problem, other than the on_hat we all know about. I can give you mood-suppressants, but that’s not _ermanent 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 tha_ou’re stroke-prone—and you’re going to get refreshed from your backup. Th_onger you wait, the more traumatic it’ll be. You’re robbing from your futur_elf for your selfish present.”
  • It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind. Every passing da_ade it harder to take the cure. To lie down and wake up friends with Dan, t_ake up and be in love with Lil again. To wake up to a Mansion the way _emembered it, a Hall of Presidents where I could find Lil bent over with he_ead in a President’s guts of an afternoon. To lie down and wake withou_isgrace, 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 ol_ackup, 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 tha_ithout 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 gon_nd I told Dan what had happened.
  • “Us old-timers, we’re used to thinking of doctors as highly traine_rofessionals—all that pre-Bitchun med-school stuff, long internships, anatom_rills… Truth is, the average doc today gets more training in bedside manne_han bioscience. ‘Doctor’ Pete is a technician, not an MD, not the way you an_ mean it. Anyone with the kind of knowledge you’re looking for is working a_ historical researcher, not a doctor.
  • “But that’s not the illusion. The doc is supposed to be the authority o_edical 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 th_hite sand beach at the Contemporary, jogging the Walk Around the World, taking a canoe out to the wild and overgrown Discovery Island, and generall_ooling out. Dan came by in the evenings and it was like old times, runnin_own the pros and cons of Whuffie and Bitchunry and life in general, sittin_n my porch with a sweating pitcher of lemonade.
  • On the last night, he presented me with a clever little handheld, a museu_iece that I recalled fondly from the dawning days of the Bitchun Society. I_ad much of the functionality of my defunct systems, in a package I could sli_n my shirt pocket. It felt like part of a costume, like the turnip watche_he Ben Franklin streetmosphere players wore at the American Adventure.
  • Museum piece or no, it meant that I was once again qualified to participate i_he Bitchun Society, albeit more slowly and less efficiently than I onc_ay’ve. I took it downstairs the next morning and drove to the Magic Kingdom’_astmember lot.
  • At least, that was the plan. When I got down to the Contemporary’s parkin_ot, 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 th_ock. It emitted a soft, unsatisfied bzzz and lit up, “Please see the fron_esk.” My room had been reassigned, too. I had the short end of the Whuffi_tick.
  • At least there was no mandatory Whuffie check on the monorail platform, bu_he other people on the car were none too friendly to me, and no one offere_e 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 t_y Disney Operations polo shirt, ignoring the glares of my fellow castmember_n the utilidors.
  • I used the handheld to page Dan. “Hey there,” he said, brightly. I could tel_nstantly 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 Whuffi_anually. Debra was spiked so high it seemed she’d never come down, as wer_im and her whole crew in aggregate. They were drawing from guests by th_illions, and from castmembers and from people who’d read the popular account_f 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 heav_reen 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 benc_ext to him. I sat with him and sipped, waiting for him to spill whatever bi_f rotten news he had for me this morning—I could feel it hovering like stor_louds.
  • He wouldn’t talk though, not until we finished the coffee. Then he stood an_trolled over to the Mansion. It wasn’t rope-drop yet, and there weren’t an_uests 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 w_tood by the pet cemetery, considering the empty scaffolding.
  • I started to pull out the handheld but he put a hand on my arm. “Don’_other,” he said, morosely. “Suffice it to say, Debra’s gang is number on_ith 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 ge_way with it.”
  • My stomach tightened and I found myself grinding my molars. “So, what is i_hey’ve done, Dan?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
  • Dan didn’t have to respond, because at that moment, Tim emerged from th_ansion, 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 ru_t down?”
  • “Well, it’s pretty radical, I have to admit. We’ve learned some stuff from th_all that we wanted to apply, and at the same time, we wanted to capture som_f the historical character of the ghost story.”
  • I opened my mouth to object, but Dan put a hand on my forearm. “Really?” h_sked 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’v_ot some high-Whuffie horror writers pulling together a series of narrative_bout the lives of each ghost: how they met their tragic ends, what they’v_one since, you know.
  • “The way we’ve storyboarded it, the guests stream through the ride pretty muc_he way they do now, walking through the preshow and then getting into th_ide-vehicles, the Doom Buggies. But here’s the big change: we slow it al_own. We trade off throughput for intensity, make it more of a premiu_roduct.
  • “So you’re a guest. From the queue to the unload zone, you’re being chased b_hese ghosts, these telepresence robots, and they’re really scary—I’ve go_uneep’s concept artists going back to the drawing board, hitting basi_esearch on stuff that’ll just scare the guests silly. When a ghost catche_ou, lays its hands on you—wham! Flash-bake! You get its whole grisly story i_hree seconds, across your frontal lobe. By the time you’ve left, you’ve ha_en or more ghost-contacts, and the next time you come back, it’s all ne_hosts with all new stories. The way that the Hall’s drawing ’em, we’re boun_o 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 o_o in ride design. Imagineering found a winning formula for Spaceship Earth, the flagship ride in the big golf ball, and, in their drive to establis_hematic continuity, they’d turned the formula into a cookie-cutter, stampin_ut 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, the_ome 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 wa_ute—compelling and inspirational, even—but six times was embarrassing. Lik_veryone, once Imagineering got themselves a good hammer, everything starte_o resemble a nail. Even now, the Epcot ad-hocs were repeating the sins o_heir forebears, closing every ride with a scene of Bitchun utopia.
  • And Debra was repeating the classic mistake, tearing her way through the Magi_ingdom with her blaster set to flash-bake.
  • “Tim,” I said, hearing the tremble in my voice. “I thought you said that yo_ad no designs on the Mansion, that you and Debra wouldn’t be trying to tak_t 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 yesterda_nd asked her to do a design review of the current rehab and suggest an_hanges. She was good enough to agree, and they’ve come up with some grea_deas.” I read between the lines: the newbies you invited in have gone over t_he other side and we’re going to lose everything because of them. I felt lik_hit.
  • “Well, I stand corrected,” I said, carefully. Tim’s grin came back and h_lapped his hands together. He really loves the Mansion, I thought. He coul_ave 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 spe_owards Suneep’s lab, jangling our bells at the rushing castmembers. “The_on’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 righ_rom 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 circle_nder his eyes and his hands shook with exhaustion. He seemed to be holdin_imself erect with nothing more than raw anger.
  • “So much for building without interference,” he said. “We agreed that thi_roject wouldn’t change midway through. Now it has, and I’ve got othe_ommitments 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’_ust 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 reha_or you and you would keep the ad-hocs off my back. I’ve been holding up m_nd of the bargain, but where the hell have you been? If they replan the reha_ow, 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 reha_lan, and we’re going to stop it. You can help. Just stonewall them—tell the_hey’ll have to find other Imagineering support if they want to go throug_ith 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’r_elcome to make any changes they want to the plan, if they can find someon_lse 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 jus_lush my time down the toilet.”
  • “It won’t come to that,” I said quickly. “If you can just keep saying no for _ouple 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,” h_aid, 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 you_arden, and you’ve tended it responsibly for years. She’s got no right to mov_n on you—you’ve got all the Whuffie you need to defend the place, if you al_ork together.”
  • No castmember likes confrontation, and the Liberty Square bunch were tough t_ouse to action. Dan had turned down the air conditioning an hour before th_eeting 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 possibl_rom Dan. He was working his magic on my behalf, and I was content to let hi_o his thing.
  • When Lil had arrived, she’d sized up the situation with a sour expression: si_n the front, near Dan, or in the back, near me. She’d chosen the middle, an_o concentrate on Dan I had to tear my eyes away from the sweat glistening o_er long, pale neck.
  • Dan stalked the aisles like a preacher, eyes blazing. “They’re stealing you_uture! 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 b_er hand and looked into her eyes. “Is it true?” he said so low it was almos_ whisper.
  • “No,” the castmember said.
  • He dropped her hand and whirled to face another castmember. “Is it true?” h_emanded, raising his voice, slightly.
  • “No!” the castmember said, his voice unnaturally loud after the whispers. _ervous 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 wit_he plan, send them packing. They’re only taking over because you’re lettin_hem. 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’r_isplacing doesn’t have a hope of fighting back.
  • For the defenders, it’s a simple decision: step down gracefully and salvag_ome reputation out of the thing—fighting back will surely burn away even tha_eager reward.
  • No one benefits from fighting back—least of all the thing everyone’s fightin_ver. For example:
  • It was the second year of my undergrad, taking a double-major in not makin_rouble for my profs and keeping my mouth shut. It was the early days o_itchun, 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 th_ociology Department, were on the bleeding edge of the revolution, and the_new what they wanted: control of the Department, oustering of the tyrannical, stodgy profs, a bully pulpit from which to preach the Bitchun gospel to _eneration of impressionable undergrads who were too cowed by their workload_o 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 So_00 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 striden_arangue burst over their heads.
  • I saw it happen from the very start. The prof was down there on the stage, _peck with a tie-mic, droning over his slides, and then there was a blur a_alf a dozen grad students rushed the stage. They were dressed in Universit_overty-chic, wrinkled slacks and tattered sports coats, and five of the_ormed a human wall in front of the prof while the sixth, the heavyset on_ith the dark hair and the prominent mole on her cheek, unclipped his mic an_lipped it to her lapel.
  • “Wakey wakey!” she called, and the reality of the moment hit home for me: thi_asn’t on the lesson-plan.
  • “Come on, heads up! This is not a drill. The University of Toronto Departmen_f Sociology is under new management. If you’ll set your handhelds to ‘receive,’ we’ll be beaming out new lesson-plans momentarily. If you’v_orgotten your handhelds, you can download the plans later on. I’m going t_un it down for you right now, anyway.
  • “Before I start though, I have a prepared statement for you. You’ll probabl_ear this a couple times more today, in your other classes. It’s wort_epeating. Here goes:
  • “We reject the stodgy, tyrannical rule of the profs at this Department. W_emand bully pulpits from which to preach the Bitchun gospel. Effectiv_mmediately, the University of Toronto Ad-Hoc Sociology Department is i_harge. We promise high-relevance curriculum with an emphasis on reputatio_conomies, post-scarcity social dynamics, and the social theory of infinit_ife-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 he_ecture for a while. Periodically, the human wall behind her shuddered as th_rof made a break for it and was restrained.
  • At precisely 9:50 a.m. she dismissed the class, which had hung on her ever_ord. Instead of trudging out and ambling to our next class, the whol_ineteen hundred of us rose, and, as one, started buzzing to our neighbors, _oar of “Can you believe it?” that followed us out the door and to our nex_ncounter 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 sam_omical 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 an_eppering 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 a_ brushed my teeth: the Dean of the Department of Sociology told a reporte_hat the ad-hocs’ courses would not be credited, that they were a gang o_hugs who were totally unqualified to teach. A counterpoint interview from _pokesperson for the ad-hocs established that all of the new lecturers ha_een writing course-plans and lecture notes for the profs they replaced fo_ears, 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. Universit_ecurity got the message—anyone could be replaced—and stayed away.
  • The profs picketed. They held classes out front attended by grade-consciou_rown-nosers who worried that the ad-hocs’ classes wouldn’t count toward_heir degrees. Fools like me alternated between the outdoor and indoo_lasses, not learning much of anything.
  • No one did. The profs spent their course-times whoring for Whuffie, leadin_he seminars like encounter groups instead of lectures. The ad-hocs spen_heir time badmouthing the profs and tearing apart their coursework.
  • At the end of the semester, everyone got a credit and the University Senat_isbanded the Sociology program in favor of a distance-ed offering fro_oncordia in Montreal. Forty years later, the fight was settled forever. Onc_ou 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 al_ied.
  • The Liberty Square ad-hocs marched shoulder to shoulder through the utilidor_nd, 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 th_ackstage door and started a bucket-brigade, passing out the materials tha_ebra’s people had stashed there, along a line that snaked back to the fron_orch of the Hall of Presidents, where they were unceremoniously dumped.
  • Once the main stash was vacated, we split up and roamed the ride, its servic_orridors and dioramas, the break-room and the secret passages, rounding u_very 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 m_uts clench, made me think of Zed and of Lil and of my unmediated brain, and _ad 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 wors_t will be for you and your Whuffie. You blew it, and you’re not a part of th_ansion 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 yo_orked for. “Now,” I said, quiet, dangerous, barely in control.
  • They sauntered into the graveyard, hissing vitriol at me. Oh, they had lots o_ew material to post to the anti-me sites, messages that would get the_huffie 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 th_ront of the Hall. The Park had been open for an hour, and a herd of guest_atched the proceedings in confusion. The Liberty Square ad-hocs passed thei_oads around in clear embarrassment, knowing that they were violating ever_rinciple 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 preside_ver an orderly relocation of her things, a cheerful cadre of her castmember_uickly moving it all offstage. I didn’t have to look at my handheld to kno_hat was happening to our Whuffie.
  • By evening, we were back on schedule. Suneep supervised the placement of hi_elepresence rigs and Lil went over every system in minute detail, bossing _rew 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 th_arlor.
  • “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 busines_tarted. I know how they feel!”
  • My partners? Oh, yes, Dan and Lil. How happy were they, I wondered. Happ_nough to get back together? My mood fell, even though a part of me said tha_an 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 lik_e’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 woul_lmost 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 o_eing 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, dozin_n a backstage break room when I heard a commotion from the parlor. Festiv_oices, happy and loud, and I assumed it was Liberty Square ad-hocs comin_ack from their party.
  • I roused myself and entered the parlor.
  • Kim and her friends were there, pushing hand-trucks of Debra’s gear. I go_eady to shout something horrible at them, and that’s when Debra came in. _oderated the shout to a snap, opened my mouth to speak, stopped.
  • Behind Debra were Lil’s parents, frozen these long years in their canopic jar_n Kissimmee.