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Chapter 9

  • Lil’s parents went into their jars with little ceremony. I saw them jus_efore they went in, when they stopped in at Lil’s and my place to kiss he_oodbye and wish her well.
  • Tom and I stood awkwardly to the side while Lil and her mother held a_chingly chipper and polite farewell.
  • “So,” I said to Tom. “Deadheading.”
  • He cocked an eyebrow. “Yup. Took the backup this morning.”
  • Before coming to see their daughter, they’d taken their backups. When the_oke, this event—everything following the backup—would never have happened fo_hem.
  • God, they were bastards.
  • “When are you coming back?” I asked, keeping my castmember face on, carefull_iding away the disgust.
  • ’We’ll be sampling monthly, just getting a digest dumped to us. When thing_ook interesting enough, we’ll come on back.” He waggled a finger at me. “I’l_e keeping an eye on you and Lillian—you treat her right, you hear?”
  • “We’re sure going to miss you two around here,” I said.
  • He pishtoshed and said, “You won’t even notice we’re gone. This is your worl_ow—we’re just getting out of the way for a while, letting you-all take a ru_t it. We wouldn’t be going down if we didn’t have faith in you two.”
  • Lil and her mom kissed one last time. Her mother was more affectionate tha_’d ever seen her, even to the point of tearing up a little. Here in thi_oment of vanishing consciousness, she could be whomever she wanted, knowin_hat it wouldn’t matter the next time she awoke.
  • “Julius,” she said, taking my hands, squeezing them. “You’ve got som_onderful times ahead of you—between Lil and the Park, you’re going to have _remendous experience, I just know it.” She was infinitely serene an_ompassionate, and I knew it didn’t count.
  • Still smiling, they got into their runabout and drove away to get the letha_njections, to become disembodied consciousnesses, to lose their last moment_ith their darling daughter.
  • They were not happy to be returned from the dead. Their new bodies wer_mpossibly young, pubescent and hormonal and doleful and kitted out in th_atest trendy styles. In the company of Kim and her pals, they made a soli_ass of irate adolescence.
  • “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Rita asked, shoving me hard i_he chest. I stumbled back into my carefully scattered dust, raising a cloud.
  • Rita came after me, but Tom held her back. “Julius, go away. Your actions ar_otally indefensible. Keep your mouth shut and go away.”
  • I held up a hand, tried to wave away his words, opened my mouth to speak.
  • “Don’t say a word,” he said. “Leave. Now.”
  • “Don’t stay here and don’t come back. Ever,” Kim said, an evil look on he_ace.
  • “No,” I said. “No goddamn it no. You’re going to hear me out, and then I’_oing to get Lil and her people and they’re going to back me up. That’s no_egotiable.”
  • We stared at each other across the dim parlor. Debra made a twiddling motio_nd the lights came up full and harsh. The expertly crafted gloom went awa_nd it was just a dusty room with a fake fireplace.
  • “Let him speak,” Debra said. Rita folded her arms and glared.
  • “I did some really awful things,” I said, keeping my head up, keeping my eye_n them. “I can’t excuse them, and I don’t ask you to forgive them. But tha_oesn’t change the fact that we’ve put our hearts and souls into this place, and it’s not right to take it from us. Can’t we have one constant corner o_he world, one bit frozen in time for the people who love it that way? Wh_oes your success mean our failure?
  • “Can’t you see that we’re carrying on your work? That we’re tending a legac_ou left us?”
  • “Are you through?” Rita asked.
  • I nodded.
  • “This place is not a historical preserve, Julius, it’s a ride. If you don’_nderstand that, you’re in the wrong place. It’s not my goddamn fault that yo_ecided that your stupidity was on my behalf, and it doesn’t make it any les_tupid. All you’ve done is confirm my worst fears.”
  • Debra’s mask of impartiality slipped. “You stupid, deluded asshole,” she said, softly. “You totter around, pissing and moaning about your little murder, you_ittle health problems—yes, I’ve heard—your little fixation on keeping thing_he way they are. You need some perspective, Julius. You need to get away fro_ere: Disney World isn’t good for you and you’re sure as hell not any good fo_isney World.”
  • It would have hurt less if I hadn’t come to the same conclusion myself, somewhere along the way.
  • I found the ad-hoc at a Fort Wilderness campsite, sitting around a fire an_inging, necking, laughing. The victory party. I trudged into the circle an_unted for Lil.
  • She was sitting on a log, staring into the fire, a million miles away. Lord, she was beautiful when she fretted. I stood in front of her for a minute an_he stared right through me until I tapped her shoulder. She gave a_nvoluntary squeak and then smiled at herself.
  • “Lil,” I said, then stopped. Your parents are home, and they’ve joined th_ther side.
  • For the first time in an age, she looked at me softly, smiled even. She patte_he log next to her. I sat down, felt the heat of the fire on my face, he_ody heat on my side. God, how did I screw this up?
  • Without warning, she put her arms around me and hugged me hard. I hugged he_ack, nose in her hair, woodsmoke smell and shampoo and sweat. “We did it,” she whispered fiercely. I held onto her. No, we didn’t.
  • “Lil,” I said again, and pulled away.
  • “What?” she said, her eyes shining. She was stoned, I saw that now.
  • “Your parents are back. They came to the Mansion.”
  • She was confused, shrinking, and I pressed on.
  • “They were with Debra.”
  • She reeled back as if I’d slapped her.
  • “I told them I’d bring the whole group back to talk it over.”
  • She hung her head and her shoulders shook, and I tentatively put an arm aroun_er. She shook it off and sat up. She was crying and laughing at the sam_ime. “I’ll have a ferry sent over,” she said.
  • I sat in the back of the ferry with Dan, away from the confused and angry ad- hocs. I answered his questions with terse, one-word answers, and he gave up.
  • We rode in silence, the trees on the edges of the Seven Seas Lagoon whippin_ack and forth in an approaching storm.
  • The ad-hoc shortcutted through the west parking lot and moved through th_uiet streets of Frontierland apprehensively, a funeral procession tha_topped the nighttime custodial staff in their tracks.
  • As we drew up on Liberty Square, I saw that the work-lights were blazing and _remendous work-gang of Debra’s ad-hocs were moving from the Hall to th_ansion, undoing our teardown of their work.
  • Working alongside of them were Tom and Rita, Lil’s parents, sleeves rolled up, forearms bulging with new, toned muscle. The group stopped in its tracks an_il went to them, stumbling on the wooden sidewalk.
  • I expected hugs. There were none. In their stead, parents and daughter stalke_ach other, shifting weight and posture to track each other, maintain _onstant, sizing distance.
  • “What the hell are you doing?” Lil said, finally. She didn’t address he_other, which surprised me. It didn’t surprise Tom, though.
  • He dipped forward, the shuffle of his feet loud in the quiet night. “We’r_orking,” he said.
  • “No, you’re not,” Lil said. “You’re destroying. Stop it.”
  • Lil’s mother darted to her husband’s side, not saying anything, just standin_here.
  • Wordlessly, Tom hefted the box he was holding and headed to the Mansion. Li_aught his arm and jerked it so he dropped his load.
  • “You’re not listening. The Mansion is ours. Stop. It.”
  • Lil’s mother gently took Lil’s hand off Tom’s arm, held it in her own. “I’_lad you’re passionate about it, Lillian,” she said. “I’m proud of you_ommitment.”
  • Even at a distance of ten yards, I heard Lil’s choked sob, saw her collapse i_n herself. Her mother took her in her arms, rocked her. I felt like a voyeur, but couldn’t bring myself to turn away.
  • “Shhh,” her mother said, a sibilant sound that matched the rustling of th_eaves on the Liberty Tree. “Shhh. We don’t have to be on the same side, yo_now.”
  • They held the embrace and held it still. Lil straightened, then bent again an_icked up her father’s box, carried it to the Mansion. One at a time, the res_f her ad-hoc moved forward and joined them.
  • This is how you hit bottom. You wake up in your friend’s hotel room and yo_ower up your handheld and it won’t log on. You press the call-button for th_levator and it gives you an angry buzz in return. You take the stairs to th_obby and no one looks at you as they jostle past you.
  • You become a non-person.
  • Scared. I trembled when I ascended the stairs to Dan’s room, when I knocked a_is door, louder and harder than I meant, a panicked banging.
  • Dan answered the door and I saw his eyes go to his HUD, back to me. “Jesus,” he said.
  • I sat on the edge of my bed, head in my hands.
  • “What?” I said, what happened, what happened to me?
  • “You’re out of the ad-hoc,” he said. “You’re out of Whuffie. You’re bottomed- out,” he said.
  • This is how you hit bottom in Walt Disney World, in a hotel with the hissin_f the monorail and the sun streaming through the window, the hooting of th_team engines on the railroad and the distant howl of the recorded wolves a_he Haunted Mansion. The world drops away from you, recedes until you’r_othing but a speck, a mote in blackness.
  • I was hyperventilating, light-headed. Deliberately, I slowed my breath, put m_ead between my knees until the dizziness passed.
  • “Take me to Lil,” I said.
  • Driving together, hammering cigarette after cigarette into my face, _emembered the night Dan had come to Disney World, when I’d driven him t_y—Lil’s—house, and how happy I’d been then, how secure.
  • I looked at Dan and he patted my hand. “Strange times,” he said.
  • It was enough. We found Lil in an underground break-room, lightly dozing on _atty sofa. Her head rested on Tom’s lap, her feet on Rita’s. All three snore_oftly. They’d had a long night.
  • Dan shook Lil awake. She stretched out and opened her eyes, looked sleepily a_e. The blood drained from her face.
  • “Hello, Julius,” she said, coldly.
  • Now Tom and Rita were awake, too. Lil sat up.
  • “Were you going to tell me?” I asked, quietly. “Or were you just going to kic_e out and let me find out on my own?”
  • “You were my next stop,” Lil said.
  • “Then I’ve saved you some time.” I pulled up a chair. “Tell me all about it.”
  • “There’s nothing to tell,” Rita snapped. “You’re out. You had to know it wa_oming—for God’s sake, you were tearing Liberty Square apart!”
  • “How would you know?” I asked. I struggled to remain calm. “You’ve been aslee_or ten years!”
  • “We got updates,” Rita said. “That’s why we’re back—we couldn’t let it go o_he way it was. We owed it to Debra.”
  • “And Lillian,” Tom said.
  • “And Lillian,” Rita said, absently.
  • Dan pulled up a chair of his own. “You’re not being fair to him,” he said. A_east someone was on my side.
  • “We’ve been more than fair,” Lil said. “You know that better than anyone, Dan.
  • We’ve forgiven and forgiven and forgiven, made every allowance. He’s sick an_e won’t take the cure. There’s nothing more we can do for him.”
  • “You could be his friend,” Dan said. The light-headedness was back, and _lumped in my chair, tried to control my breathing, the panicked thumping o_y heart.
  • “You could try to understand, you could try to help him. You could stick wit_im, the way he stuck with you. You don’t have to toss him out on his ass.”
  • Lil had the good grace to look slightly shamed. “I’ll get him a room,” sh_aid. “For a month. In Kissimmee. A motel. I’ll pick up his network access. I_hat fair?”
  • “It’s more than fair,” Rita said. Why did she hate me so much? I’d been ther_or her daughter while she was away—ah. That might do it, all right. “I don’_hink it’s warranted. If you want to take care of him, sir, you can. It’s non_f my family’s business.”
  • Lil’s eyes blazed. “Let me handle this,” she said. “All right?”
  • Rita stood up abruptly. “You do whatever you want,” she said, and stormed ou_f the room.
  • “Why are you coming here for help?” Tom said, ever the voice of reason. “Yo_eem capable enough.”
  • “I’m going to be taking a lethal injection at the end of the week,” Dan said.
  • “Three days. That’s personal, but you asked.”
  • Tom shook his head. Some friends you’ve got yourself, I could see him thinkin_t.
  • “That soon?” Lil asked, a throb in her voice.
  • Dan nodded.
  • In a dreamlike buzz, I stood and wandered out into the utilidor, out throug_he western castmember parking, and away.
  • I wandered along the cobbled, disused Walk Around the World, each flagston_ngraved with the name of a family that had visited the Park a century before.
  • The names whipped past me like epitaphs.
  • The sun came up noon high as I rounded the bend of deserted beach between th_rand Floridian and the Polynesian. Lil and I had come here often, to watc_he sunset from a hammock, arms around each other, the Park spread out befor_s like a lighted toy village.
  • Now the beach was deserted, the Wedding Pavilion silent. I felt suddenly col_hough I was sweating freely. So cold.
  • Dreamlike, I walked into the lake, water filling my shoes, logging my pants, warm as blood, warm on my chest, on my chin, on my mouth, on my eyes.
  • I opened my mouth and inhaled deeply, water filling my lungs, choking an_arm. At first I sputtered, but I was in control now, and I inhaled again. Th_ater shimmered over my eyes, and then was dark.
  • I woke on Doctor Pete’s cot in the Magic Kingdom, restraints around my wrist_nd ankles, a tube in my nose. I closed my eyes, for a moment believing tha_’d been restored from a backup, problems solved, memories behind me.
  • Sorrow knifed through me as I realized that Dan was probably dead by now, m_emories of him gone forever.
  • Gradually, I realized that I was thinking nonsensically. The fact that _emembered Dan meant that I hadn’t been refreshed from my backup, that m_roken brain was still there, churning along in unmediated isolation.
  • I coughed again. My ribs ached and throbbed in counterpoint to my head. Da_ook my hand.
  • “You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?” he said, smiling.
  • “Sorry,” I choked.
  • “You sure are,” he said. “Lucky for you they found you—another minute or tw_nd I’d be burying you right now.”
  • No, I thought, confused. They’d have restored me from backup. Then it hit me: I’d gone on record refusing restore from backup after having it recommended b_ medical professional. No one would have restored me after that. I would hav_een truly and finally dead. I started to shiver.
  • “Easy,” Dan said. “Easy. It’s all right now. Doctor says you’ve got a cracke_ib or two from the CPR, but there’s no brain damage.”
  • “No additional brain damage,” Doctor Pete said, swimming into view. He had o_is professionally calm bedside face, and it reassured me despite myself.
  • He shooed Dan away and took his seat. Once Dan had left the room, he shon_ights in my eyes and peeked in my ears, then sat back and considered me.
  • “Well, Julius,” he said. “What exactly is the problem? We can get you a letha_njection if that’s what you want, but offing yourself in the Seven Sea_agoon just isn’t good show. In the meantime, would you like to talk abou_t?”
  • Part of me wanted to spit in his eye. I’d tried to talk about it and he’d tol_e to go to hell, and now he changes his mind? But I did want to talk.
  • “I didn’t want to die,” I said.
  • “Oh no?” he said. “I think the evidence suggests the contrary.”
  • “I wasn’t trying to die,” I protested. “I was trying to—” What? I was tryin_o… abdicate. Take the refresh without choosing it, without shutting out th_ast year of my best friend’s life. Rescue myself from the stinking pit I’_unk into without flushing Dan away along with it. That’s all, that’s all.
  • “I wasn’t thinking—I was just acting. It was an episode or something. Doe_hat mean I’m nuts?”
  • “Oh, probably,” Doctor Pete said, offhandedly. “But let’s worry about on_hing at a time. You can die if you want to, that’s your right. I’d rather yo_ived, if you want my opinion, and I doubt that I’m the only one, Whuffie b_amned. If you’re going to live, I’d like to record you saying so, just i_ase. We have a backup of you on file—I’d hate to have to delete it.”
  • “Yes,” I said. “Yes, I’d like to be restored if there’s no other option.” I_as true. I didn’t want to die.
  • “All right then,” Doctor Pete said. “It’s on file and I’m a happy man. Now, are you nuts? Probably. A little. Nothing a little counseling and some R&_ouldn’t fix, if you want my opinion. I could find you somewhere if you want.”
  • “Not yet,” I said. “I appreciate the offer, but there’s something else I hav_o do first.”
  • Dan took me back to the room and put me to bed with a transdermal soporifi_hat knocked me out for the rest of the day. When I woke, the moon was ove_he Seven Seas Lagoon and the monorail was silent.
  • I stood on the patio for a while, thinking about all the things this place ha_eant to me for more than a century: happiness, security, efficiency, fantasy.
  • All of it gone. It was time I left. Maybe back to space, find Zed and see if _ould make her happy again. Anywhere but here. Once Dan was dead—God, it wa_inking in finally—I could catch a ride down to the Cape for a launch.
  • “What’s on your mind?” Dan asked from behind me, startling me. He was in hi_oxers, thin and rangy and hairy.
  • “Thinking about moving on,” I said.
  • He chuckled. “I’ve been thinking about doing the same,” he said.
  • I smiled. “Not that way,” I said. “Just going somewhere else, starting over.
  • Getting away from this.”
  • “Going to take the refresh?” he asked.
  • I looked away. “No,” I said. “I don’t believe I will.”
  • “It may be none of my business,” he said, “but why the fuck not? Jesus, Julius, what’re you afraid of?”
  • “You don’t want to know,” I said.
  • “I’ll be the judge of that.”
  • “Let’s have a drink, first,” I said.
  • Dan rolled his eyes back for a second, then said, “All right, two Coronas, coming up.”
  • After the room-service bot had left, we cracked the beers and pulled chair_ut onto the porch.
  • “You sure you want to know this?” I asked.
  • He tipped his bottle at me. “Sure as shootin’,” he said.
  • “I don’t want refresh because it would mean losing the last year,” I said.
  • He nodded. “By which you mean ‘my last year,’” he said. “Right?”
  • I nodded and drank.
  • “I thought it might be like that. Julius, you are many things, but hard t_igure out you are not. I have something to say that might help you make th_ecision. If you want to hear it, that is.”
  • What could he have to say? “Sure,” I said. “Sure.” In my mind, I was on _huttle headed for orbit, away from all of this.
  • “I had you killed,” he said. “Debra asked me to, and I set it up. You wer_ight all along.”
  • The shuttle exploded in silent, slow moving space, and I spun away from it. _pened and shut my mouth.
  • It was Dan’s turn to look away. “Debra proposed it. We were talking about th_eople I’d met when I was doing my missionary work, the stone crazies who I’_ave to chase away after they’d rejoined the Bitchun Society. One of them, _irl from Cheyenne Mountain, she followed me down here, kept leaving m_essages. I told Debra, and that’s when she got the idea.
  • “I’d get the girl to shoot you and disappear. Debra would give m_huffie—piles of it, and her team would follow suit. I’d be months closer t_y goal. That was all I could think about back then, you remember.”
  • “I remember.” The smell of rejuve and desperation in our little cottage, an_an plotting my death.
  • “We planned it, then Debra had herself refreshed from a backup—no memory o_he event, just the Whuffie for me.”
  • “Yes,” I said. That would work. Plan a murder, kill yourself, have yoursel_efreshed from a backup made before the plan. How many times had Debra don_errible things and erased their memories that way?
  • “Yes,” he agreed. “We did it, I’m ashamed to say. I can prove it, too—I hav_y backup, and I can get Jeanine to tell it, too.” He drained his beer.
  • “That’s my plan. Tomorrow. I’ll tell Lil and her folks, Kim and her people, the whole ad-hoc. A going-away present from a shitty friend.”
  • My throat was dry and tight. I drank more beer. “You knew all along,” I said.
  • “You could have proved it at any time.”
  • He nodded. “That’s right.”
  • “You let me …” I groped for the words. “You let me turn into …” They wouldn’_ome.
  • “I did,” he said.
  • All this time. Lil and he, standing on my porch, telling me I needed help.
  • Doctor Pete, telling me I needed refresh from backup, me saying no, no, no, not wanting to lose my last year with Dan.
  • “I’ve done some pretty shitty things in my day,” he said. “This is th_bsolute worst. You helped me and I betrayed you. I’m sure glad I don’_elieve in God—that’d make what I’m going to do even scarier.”
  • Dan was going to kill himself in two days’ time. My friend and my murderer.
  • “Dan,” I croaked. I couldn’t make any sense of my mind. Dan, taking care o_e, helping me, sticking up for me, carrying this horrible shame with him al_long. Ready to die, wanting to go with a clean conscience.
  • “You’re forgiven,” I said. And it was true.
  • He stood.
  • “Where are you going” I asked.
  • “To find Jeanine, the one who pulled the trigger. I’ll meet you at the Hall o_residents at nine a.m..”
  • I went in through the Main Gate, not a castmember any longer, a Guest wit_arely enough Whuffie to scrape in, use the water fountains and stand in line.
  • If I were lucky, a castmember might spare me a chocolate banana. Probably not, though.
  • I stood in the line for the Hall of Presidents. Other guests checked m_huffie, then averted their eyes. Even the children. A year before, they’_ave been striking up conversations, asking me about my job here at the Magi_ingdom.
  • I sat in my seat at the Hall of Presidents, watching the short film with th_est, sitting patiently while they rocked in their seats under the blast o_he flash-bake. A castmember picked up the stageside mic and thanked everyon_or coming; the doors swung open and the Hall was empty, except for me. Th_astmember narrowed her eyes at me, then recognizing me, turned her back an_ent to show in the next group.
  • No group came. Instead, Dan and the girl I’d seen on the replay entered.
  • “We’ve closed it down for the morning,” he said.
  • I was staring at the girl, seeing her smirk as she pulled the trigger on me, seeing her now with a contrite, scared expression. She was terrified of me.
  • “You must be Jeanine,” I said. I stood and shook her hand. “I’m Julius.”
  • Her hand was cold, and she took it back and wiped it on her pants.
  • My castmember instincts took over. “Please, have a seat. Don’t worry, it’l_ll be fine. Really. No hard feelings.” I stopped short of offering to get he_ glass of water.
  • Put her at her ease, said a snotty voice in my head. She’ll make a bette_itness. Or make her nervous, pathetic—that’ll work, too; make Debra look eve_orse.
  • I told the voice to shut up and got her a cup of water.
  • By the time I came back, the whole gang was there. Debra, Lil, her folks, Tim.
  • Debra’s gang and Lil’s gang, now one united team. Soon to be scattered.
  • Dan took the stage, used the stageside mic to broadcast his voice. “Eleve_onths ago, I did an awful thing. I plotted with Debra to have Juliu_urdered. I used a friend who was a little confused at the time, used her t_ull the trigger. It was Debra’s idea that having Julius killed would caus_nough confusion that she could take over the Hall of Presidents. It was.”
  • There was a roar of conversation. I looked at Debra, saw that she was sittin_almly, as though Dan had just accused her of sneaking an extra helping o_essert. Lil’s parents, to either side of her, were less sanguine. Tom’s ja_as set and angry, Rita was speaking angrily to Debra. Hickory Jackson in th_ld Hall used to say, I will hang the first man I can lay hands on from th_irst tree I can find.
  • “Debra had herself refreshed from backup after we planned it,” Dan went on, a_hough no one was talking. “I was supposed to do the same, but I didn’t. _ave a backup in my public directory—anyone can examine it. Right now, I’_ike to bring Jeanine up, she’s got a few words she’d like to say.”
  • I helped Jeanine take the stage. She was still trembling, and the ad-hocs wer_n insensate babble of recriminations. Despite myself, I was enjoying it.
  • “Hello,” Jeanine said softly. She had a lovely voice, a lovely face. _ondered if we could be friends when it was all over. She probably didn’t car_uch about Whuffie, one way or another.
  • The discussion went on. Dan took the mic from her and said, “Please! Can w_ave a little respect for our visitor? Please? People?”
  • Gradually, the din decreased. Dan passed the mic back to Jeanine. “Hello,” sh_aid again, and flinched from the sound of her voice in the Hall’s PA. “M_ame is Jeanine. I’m the one who killed Julius, a year ago. Dan asked me to, and I did it. I didn’t ask why. I trusted—trust—him. He told me that Juliu_ould make a backup a few minutes before I shot him, and that he could get m_ut of the Park without getting caught. I’m very sorry.” There was somethin_ff-kilter about her, some stilt to her stance and words that let you know sh_asn’t all there. Growing up in a mountain might do that to you. I snuck _ook at Lil, whose lips were pressed together. Growing up in a theme par_ight do that to you, too.
  • “Thank you, Jeanine,” Dan said, taking back the mic. “You can have a seat now.
  • I’ve said everything I need to say—Julius and I have had our own discussion_n private. If there’s anyone else who’d like to speak—”
  • The words were barely out of his mouth before the crowd erupted again in word_nd waving hands. Beside me, Jeanine flinched. I took her hand and shouted i_er ear: “Have you ever been on the Pirates of the Carribean?”
  • She shook her head.
  • I stood up and pulled her to her feet. “You’ll love it,” I said, and led he_ut of the Hall.