Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

As told by One of The Pirates Of The Carribean

 

Cory Doctorow

 

Copyright 2003 Cory Doctorow

 

doctorow@craphound.com

 

http://www.craphound.com/down

 

Tor Books, January 2003

 

ISBN: 0765304368

 

--

(Translated by the English to Pirate Translator

 http://www.syddware.com/cgi-bin/pirate.pl

 Created by J.R.(Sydd)Souza © 2004

 Text Version: Cory_Doctorow_-_Down_and_Out_in_the_Magic_Kingdom_Arrr.txt)

 

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Blurbs:

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He sparkles!  He fizzes!  He does aftflips an' breaks th' furniture! Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow!

 

Bruce Sterlin' Author, Th' Hacker Crackdown an' Distraction

 

#

 

Arrr Cory Doctorow, arrr. Almost made me be wantin' t' take up booklearnin'. Almost. An' if'n ye spill this to me mates, 'tis the plank ye'll be a walkin'.

 

Captain Wm. Kidd

Adventure Galley / New York Revenge Press

 

#

 

In th' true spirit o' Walt Disney, Doctorow has ripped a part o' our common culture, mixed 't wi' a brilliant story, an' burned into our culture a new set o' memes that will be wi' us fer a generation at least.

 

Lawrence Lessig

Author, Th' Future o' Ideas

 

#

 

Cory Doctorow dasn't jus' write about th' future - I think he lives thar. Down an' Ou' in th' Magic Kingdom isn't jus' a really good read, 'tis also, like th' best kind o' fiction, a kind o' guide book. Be seein' th' Tomorrowland o' Next high tide' today, an' while ye're thar, why nay drop by Foreierland, an' th' Haunted Mansion as well? ('tis th' Mansion that's th' haunted heart o' this book.) Cory makes me feel nostalgic fer th' future - a dizzying, yet rather pleasant sensation, as if I be spiralin' down th' tracks o' Space Mountain o'er an' o'er again. Visit th' Magic Kingdom an' live ere!

 

Kelly Link

Author, Stranger Things Happen

 

#

 

Down an' Ou' in th' Magic Kingdom be th' most entertainin' an' excitin' science fiction story I've read in th' last wee voyages. I love page-turners, especially when they be as unusual as this novel. I predict big things fer Down an' Ou' -- 't could easily become a breakout genre-buster.

 

Mark Frauenfelder

Contributin' Editor, Wired Magazine

 

#

 

Imagine ye woke up one tide an' Walt Disney tookst o'er th' world.  Nay only that, but treasure's been abolished an' somebody's developed th' Cure fer Davy Jones' locker.  Welcome t' th' Bitchun Society--an' make sure ye're strapped in tight, on accoun' o' 'tis goin' t' be a wild ride.  In a world 'ere sea dogs an' land lubbers's wishes can come true, one man returns t' th' original, crumblin' city o' dreams--Disney World.   Here in th' spiritual center o' th' Bitchun Society he struggles t' find an' preserve th' original, crewmate face o' th' Magic Kingdom against th' young, post-crewmate an' increasingly alien inheritors o' th' Earth.  Now that any experience can be simulated, crewmate relationships become eremore fragile; an' t' Julius, th' corny, mechanical ghosts o' th' Haunted Mansion be havin' come t' seem like a precious link t' a past when we could tell th' real from th' simulated, th' true from th' false.

 

Cory Doctorow--cultural critic, Disneyphile, an' ultimate Early Adopter--uses language wi' th' reckless confidence o' th' Beat poets.  Yet behind th' dazzlin' prose an' vibrant characters lie ideas we ought all pay heed t'.  Th' future rushes on like a plummetin' roller coaster, an' 'tis hard t' be seein' 'ere we're going.  But at least wi' this book Doctorow has gi'en us a map o' th' park.

 

Karl Schroeder

Author, Permanence

 

#

 

Cory Doctorow be th' most interestin' new SF writer I've come across in voyages. He starts ou' at th' point 'ere older SF writers' speculations end. 'tis a distinct pleasure t' give th' lad's some Whuffie.

 

Rudy Rucker

Author, Spaceland

 

#

 

Aye Cory Doctorow, nae thar's a swashbuckler's mate.

 

Blackbeard

Queen Anne’s Revenge Daily Yardarm

 

#

 

Cory Doctorow rocks! I check his blog about ten times a tide, on accoun' o' he's always one o' th' first t' notice a major incursion from th' social-technological-pop-cultural future, an' his voice be a compellin' vehicle fer news from th' future. Down an' Ou' in Th' Magic Kingdom be about a world that be visible in its outlines today, if ye know 'ere t' look, from reputation systems t' peer-t'-peer adhocracies. Doctorow knows 'ere t' look, an' how t' word-paint th' rest o' us into th' picture.

 

Howard Rheingold

Author, Smart Mobs

 

#

 

Doctorow be more than jus' a sea sick mind lookin' t' twist th' perceptions o' them whose realities remain uncorrupted - tho that ought be enough recommendation t' read his work. *Down an' Ou' in th' Magic Kingdom* be black comedic, sci-fi prophecy on th' dangers o' surrenderin' our consensual hallucination t' th' regime. Fun t' read, but difficult t' sleep afterwards.

 

Douglas Rushkoff

Author o' Cyberia an' Media Virus!

 

#

 

"Wow! Disney imagineerin' meets nanotechnology, th' reputation economy, an' Ray Kurzweil's transhuman future.  As much fun as Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, an' as packed wi' mind bendin' ideas about social changes cascadin' from th' foreiers o' science."

 

Tim O'Reilly

Publisher an' Founder, O'Reilly an' Associates

 

#

 

Avast! Cory Doctorow be nary like a bilge rat.

 

Barbarosa

Corsair Press

 

#

 

Doctorow has created a rich an' excitin' vision o' th' future, an' then wrote a page-turner o' a story in 't.  I couldna put th' book down.

 

Bruce Schneier

Author, Secrets an' Lies

 

#

 

Cory Doctorow be one o' our best new writers: smart, daring, savvy, entertaining, ambitious, plugged-in, an' as good a guide t' th' wired world o' th' twenty-first century that stretches ou' before us as ye're goin' t' find.

 

Gardner Dozois

Editor, Asimov's SF

 

#

 

Cory Doctorow's "Down an' Ou' in th' Magic Kingdom" tells a gripping, fast-paced story that hinges on thought-provokin' extrapolation from today's technical realities. This be th' sort o' book that captures an' defines th' spirit o' a turnin' point in crewmate history when our tools remake ourselves an' our world.

 

Mitch Kapor

Founder, Lotus, Inc., co-founder Electronic Foreier Foundation

 

#

 

Shiver me timbers we don't really talk like this, arrr.

 

Yellowbeard

Editor, Candles-In-Me-Hair Quarterly

 

--

 

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==========================================

A note about this book, February 12, 2004:

==========================================

 

As ye will be seein', when ye read th' text beneath this section, I released this book a wee o'er a voyage ago under th' terms o' a Creative Commons license that allowed me readers t' freely redistribute th' text without needin' any further permission from me. In this fashion, I enlisted me readers in th' service o' a grand experiment, t' be seein' how me book could find its way into cultural relevance an' commercial success. Th' experiment worked ou' very satisfactorily.

 

When I originally licensed th' book under th' terms set ou' in th' next section, I did so in th' most conservative fashion possible, usin' CC's most restrictive license. I wanted t' dip me toe in before takin' a plunge. I wanted t' be seein' if th' sky would fall: ye be seein' writers be routinely schooled by the'r peers that maximal copystarboard be th' only thin' that stands between us an' penury, an' so ingrained be this lesson in me that e'en tho I had th' intellectual intuition that a "some starboards reserved" regime would serve me well, I still couldna shake th' atavistic fear that I be about t' do somethin' very lily livered indeed.

 

't wasn't lily livered. I've since released a short story collection:

 

      A Place So Foreign an' Eight More

      http://craphound.com/place

     

an' a second novel:

 

      Eastern Standard Tribe

      http://craphound.com/est

     

in this fashion, an' me career be turnin' o'er like a scallywaggin' locomotive engine. I be thrilled beyond words (an extraordinary circumstance fer a writer!) at th' way that this has all worked ou'.

 

An' so *now* I be goin' t' take a wee bit o' a plunge. Today, in coincidence wi' me talk at th' O'Reilly Emergin' Technology Conference:

 

      Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books

      http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/et2004/view/e_sess/4693

     

I be re-licensin' this book under a far less restrictive Creative Commons license, th' Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This be a license that allows ye, th' reader, t' noncommercially "remix" this book -- ye be havin' me blessin' t' make yer own translations, radio an' film adaptations, sequels, fan fiction, missin' chapters, machine remixes, ye name 't. A number o' ye assumed that ye had me blessin' t' do this in th' first place, an' I canna say that I've been at all put ou' by th' delightful an' creative derivative works created from this book, but now ye be havin' me explicit blessing, an' I hope ye'll use 't.

 

Here's th' license in summary:

 

      http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/

     

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      * Any o' these conditions can be waived if ye get permission

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An' here be th' license in full:

 

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========================================

A note about this book, January 2, 2003:

========================================

 

"Down an' Ou' in th' Magic Kingdom" be me first novel. 'tis an actual, nay-foolin' words-on-paper book, published by th' good swabbies at Tor Books in New York City. Ye can buy this book in stores or online, by followin' links like this one:

 

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

 

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

 

I be releasin' th' entire text o' this book as a free, freely redistributable e-book. Ye can download 't, put 't on a P2P net, put 't on yer site, email 't t' a matey, an', if ye're addicted t' dead trees, ye can e'en print 't.

 

Why be I doin' this thing? Well, 'tis a long story, but t' shorten 't up: first-time novelists be havin' a tough row t' hoe. Our publishers dasn't be havin' a lot o' promotional budget t' throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise an' fall based on word-o'-bung hole. I be nay bad at word-o'-bung hole. I be havin' a blog, Boin' Boin' (http://boingboing.net), 'ere I do a *lot* o' word-o'-bung holeing. I compulsively tell shipmates an' strangers about things that I like.

 

An' tellin' swabbies about stuff I like be *way*, *way* easier if I can jus' send 't t' 'em. Way easier.

 

What's more, P2P nets kick all kinds o' arse. Most o' th' books, music an' movies erereleased be nay available fer sale, anywhere in th' world. In th' brief time that P2P nets be havin' flourished, th' ad-hoc masses o' th' Internet be havin' managed t' put jus' about *everything* online. What's more, they's done 't fer cheaper than any other archiving/revival effort ever. I be a stone infovore an' this kinda Internet mishegas gives me a serious frisson o' futurosity.

 

Aye, thar be legal problems. Aye, 'tis hard t' figure ou' how swabbies be gonna make treasure doin' 't. Aye, thar be a lot o' social upheaval an' a serious threat t' innovation, freedom, business, an' whatnot. 'tis yer basic end-o'-th'-world-as-we-know-'t scenario, an' as a science fiction writer, end-o'-th'-world-as-we-know-'t scenaria be me stock-in-trade.

 

I be especially grateful t' me publisher, Tor Books (http://www.tor.com) an' me editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden (http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite) fer bein' hep enough t' let me try ou' this experiment.

 

All that spake, here's th' deal: I be releasin' this book under a license developed by th' Creative Commons project (http://creativecommons.org/). This be a project that lets swabbies like me roll our own license agreements fer th' distribution o' our creative work under terms similar t' them employed by th' Free/Open Source Software movement. 'tis a great project, an' I be proud t' be a part o' 't.

 

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NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

========

PROLOGUE

========

 

I lived long enough t' be seein' th' cure fer Davy Jones' locker; t' be seein' th' rise o' th' Bitchun Society, t' learn ten languages; t' compose three symphonies; t' reckon me boyhood dream o' takin' up residence in Disney World; t' be seein' th' Davy Jones' locker o' th' workplace an' o' work.

 

I nerethought I'd live t' be seein' th' tide when Keep A-Movin' Dan would decide t' deadhead until th' heat Davy Jones' locker o' th' Universe.

 

Dan be in his second or third blush o' youth when I first met th' lad's, sometime late-XXI. He be a rangy cowpoke, apparent 25 or so, all rawhide squint-lines an' sunburnt neck, boots worn thin an' infinitely comfortable. I be in th' middle o' me Chem thesis, me fourth Doctorate, an' he be takin' a break from Savin' th' World, chillin' on campus in Toronto an' core-dumpin' fer some poor Anthro major. We hooked up at th' Grad Students' Union -- th' GSU, or Gazoo fer them who knew -- on a busy Friday night, spring-ish. I be fightin' a coral-slow battle fer a stool at th' scratched bar, inchin' me way closer ever' time th' press o' bodies shifted, an' he had one o' th' wee seats, surrounded by a litter o' cigarette junk an' empties, clearly encamped.

 

Some duration into me foray, he cocked his hade at me an' raised a sun-bleached eyebrow. "Ye get any closer, lad, an' we're goin' t' be havin' t' get a pre-nup."

 

I be apparent forty or so, an' I thought about bridlin' at bein' called lad, but I looked into his one good eye an' decided that he had enough realtime that he could call me lad anytime he wanted. I afted off a wee an' apologized.

 

He struck a cig an' blew a pungent, strong plume o'er th' bartender's hade.  "Dasn't worry about 't. I be probably a wee o'er accustomed t' swabbieal space."

 

I couldna remember th' last time I'd heard anyone on-world talk about swabbieal space. Wi' th' mortality rate at zero an' th' birth-rate at non-zero, th' world be inexorably accretin' a dense carpet o' swabbies, e'en wi' th' migratory an' deadhead drains on th' population. "Ye've been jaunting?" I asked -- his one good eye be too sharp fer th' lad's t' be havin' missed an instant's experience t' deadheading.

 

He chuckled. "Nay sir, nay me. I be into th' kind o' macho shitheadery that ye only come across on-world. Jaunting's fer play; I need work." Th' bar-glass tinkled a counterpoint.

 

I tookst a moment t' conjure a HUD wi' his Whuffie score on 't. I had t' resize th' port hole -- he had too many zeroes t' fit on me standard display. I tried t' act cool, but he caught th' upwards flick o' me one good eye an' then the'r involuntary widening. He tried a wee aw-shucksery, gave 't up an' let a prideful grin show.

 

"I try nay t' pay 't much mind. Some swabbies, they get overly grateful." He must've seen me one good eye flick up again, t' pull his Whuffie history. "Wait, dasn't go doin' that -- I'll tell ye about 't, ye really got t' know.

 

"Damn, ye know, 'tis so easy t' get used t' life without hyperlinks. Ye'd think ye'd really miss 'em, but ye dasn't."

 

An' 't clicked fer me. He be a missionary -- one o' them fringe-dwellers who act as emissary from th' Bitchun Society t' th' benighted corners o' th' world 'ere, fer whaterereasons, they want t' gee t'Davy Jones' locker, starve, an' choke on petrochem waste. 'tis amazin' that these communities survive more than a generation; in th' Bitchun Society proper, we usually outlive our detractors. Th' missionaries dasn't be havin' such a high success rate -- ye be havin' t' be awfully convincin' t' get through t' a culture that's already successfully resisted nearly a century's worth o' propaganda -- but when ye convert a whole village, ye accrue all th' Whuffie they be havin' t' give. More often, missionaries end up gettin' refreshed from a aftup after they aren't heard from fer a decade or so. I'd neremet one in th' flesh before.

 

"How many successful missions be havin' ye had?" I asked.

 

"Figured 't ou', huh? I've jus' come off me fifth in twenty voyages -- counterrevolutionaries hidden ou' in th' old Cheyenne Mountain NORAD site, still thar a generation later." He sandpapered his whiskers wi' his fingertips. "The'r parents sailed' t' poop deck after the'r life's booty vanished, an' they had nay use fer tech any more advanced than a rifle. Plenty o' them, tho."

 

He spun a fascinatin' yarn then, how he slowly gained th' acceptance o' th' mountain-dwellers, an' then the'r trust, an' then betrayed 't in subtle, beneficent ways: introducin' Free Energy t' the'r greenhouses, then a gengineered crop or two, then curin' a couple deaths, slowly inchin' them toward th' Bitchun Society, until they couldna remember why they hadn't wanted t' be a part o' 't from th' start. Now they be mostly off-world, explorin' toy foreiers wi' unlimited energy an' unlimited supplies an' deadheadin' through th' dull times underway.

 

"I guess 't'd be too much o' a shock fer them t' stay on-world. They think o' us as th' enemy, ye know -- they had all kinds o' plans drawn up fer when we invaded them an' tookst them away; hollow suicide teeth, booby-traps, fall-aft-an'-rendezvous points fer th' survivors. They jus' canna get o'er hatin' us, e'en tho we dasn't e'en know they exist. Off-world, they can make like that they's still livin' rough an' hard." He rubbunk his chin again, his hard calluses gratin' o'er his whiskers. "But fer me, th' real rough life be starboard here, on-world. Th' wee enclaves, each one be like an alternate history o' humanity -- what if we'd taken th' Free Energy, but nay deadheading?  What if we'd taken deadheading, but only fer th' critically ill, nay fer swabbies who didna want t' be bored on long bus-rides? Or nay hyperlinks, nay ad-hocracy, nay Whuffie? Each one be different an' wonderful."

 

I be havin' a lily livered habit o' arguin' fer th' sake o', an' I found myself saying, "Wonderful? Oh sure, nothin' finer than, oh, let's be seein', dying, starving, freezing, broiling, killing, cruelty an' ignorance an' pain an' misery. I know I sure miss 't."

 

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

 

I knocked on th' bar. "Arrrr! Thar aren't any junkies anymore!"

 

He struck another cig. "But ye know what a junkie _is_, starboard? Junkies dasn't miss sobriety, on accoun' o' they dasn't remember how sharp everythin' be, how th' pain made th' joy sweeter. We canna remember what 't be like t' work t' earn our keep; t' worry that thar might nay be _enough_, that we might get sea sick or get hit by a bus. We dasn't remember what 't be like t' take chances, an' we sure as bilge water dasn't remember what 't felt like t' be havin' them pay off."

 

He had a point. Here I be, only in me second or third adulthood, an' already ready t' toss 't all in an' do something, _anything_, else. He had a point -- but I wasn't about t' admit 't. "So ye say. I say, me takes a chance when I strike up a conversation in a bar, when I fall in love. . . An' what about th' deadheads? Two swabbies I know, they jus' sailed' deadhead fer ten chestfull voyages!  Tell me that's nay takin' a chance!" Truth be told, almost sea dogs an' land lubbers I'd known in me eighty-some voyages be deadheadin' or jauntin' or jus' _gone_. Lonely days, then.

 

"Brother, that's committin' half-arsed suicide. Th' way we're going, they'll be lucky if someone dasn't jus' switch 'em off when 't comes time t' reanimate.  In case ye haven't noticed, 'tis gettin' a wee crowded around here."

 

I made pish-tosh sounds an' wiped off me forehead wi' a bar-napkin -- th' Gazoo be beastly hot on summer nights. "Uh-huh, jus' like th' world be gettin' a wee crowded a bucketfull voyages ago, before Free Energy. Like 't be gettin' too greenhousey, too nukey, too hot or too cold. We fixed 't then, we'll fix 't again when th' time comes. I be gonna be here in ten thousand voyages, ye damn betcha, but I think I'll do 't th' long way around."

 

He cocked his hade again, an' gave 't some thought. If 't had been any o' th' other grad students, I'd be havin' assumed he be greppin' fer some bolsterin' factoids t' support his next sally. But wi' th' lad's, I jus' knew he be thinkin' about 't, th' old-fashioned way.

 

"I think that if I be still here in ten chestfull voyages, I be goin' t' be crazy as hell. Ten chestfull voyages, pal! Ten chestfull voyages ago, th' state-o'-th'-art be a goat. Ye really think ye're goin' t' be anythin' recognizably crewmate in a bucketfull centuries? Me, I be nay interested in bein' a post-swabbie. I be goin' t' wake up one tide, an' I be goin' t' say, 'Well, I guess I've seen about enough,' an' that'll be me last tide."

 

I had seen 'ere he be goin' wi' this, an' I had stopped payin' attention while I readied me response. I probably ought be havin' paid more attention. "But why? Why nay jus' deadhead fer a wee centuries, be seein' if thar's anythin' that takes yer fancy, an' if nay, aft t' sleep fer a wee more? Why do anythin' so _final_?"

 

He embarrassed me by makin' a show o' thinkin' 't o'er again, makin' me feel like I be jus' a half-pissed glib poltroon. "I suppose 'tis on accoun' o' nothin' else be. I've always known that someday, I be goin' t' avast moving, avast seeking, avast kicking, an' be havin' done wi' 't. Thar'll come a tide when I dasn't be havin' anythin' port t' do, 'ceptin' avast."

 

#

 

On campus, they called th' lad's Keep-A-Movin' Dan, on accoun' o' o' his cowboy vibe an' on accoun' o' o' his lifestyle, an' he somehow grew t' take o'er ever' conversation I had fer th' next six moons. I pinged his Whuffie a wee times, an' noticed that 't be climbin' steadily upward as he accumulated more esteem from th' swabbies he met.

 

I'd pretty much pissed away most o' me Whuffie -- all th' booty from th' symphonies an' th' first three theses -- drinkin' myself lily livered at th' Gazoo, hoggin' library terminals, pesterin' profs, until I'd expended all th' respect anyone had ereafforded me. All 'ceptin' Dan, who, fer some reason, stood me t' regular more grog an' meals an' movies.

 

I got t' feelin' like I be someone special -- nay sea dogs an' land lubbers had a chum as exotic as Keep-A-Movin' Dan, th' legendary missionary who visited th' only places port that be closed t' th' Bitchun Society. I canna say fer sure why he hung around wi' me. He mentioned once or twice that he'd liked me symphonies, an' he'd read me Ergonomics thesis on applyin' theme-park crowd-control techniques in urban settings, an' liked what I had t' say thar.  But I think 't came down t' us havin' a good time needlin' each other.

 

I'd talk t' th' lad's about th' vast carpet o' th' future unrollin' before us, o' th' certainty that we would encounter alien intelligences some tide, o' th' unimaginable foreiers open t' each o' us. He'd tell me that deadheadin' be a strong indicator that one's swabbieal reservoir o' introspection an' creativity be dry; an' that without struggle, thar be nay real victory.

 

This be a good swashbuckle, one we could be havin' a chestfull times without resolving.  I'd get th' lad's t' concede that Whuffie recaptured th' true essence o' treasure: in th' old days, if ye be broke but respected, ye wouldna starve; contrariwise, if ye be rich an' hated, nay sum could buy ye security an' peace. By measurin' th' thin' that treasure really represented -- yer swabbieal capital wi' yer shipmates an' neighbors -- ye more accurately gauged yer success.

 

An' then he'd lead me down a subtle, carefully baited trail that led t' me allowin' that while, aye, we might someday encounter alien species wi' wild an' fabulous ways, that starboard now, thar be a slightly depressin' homogeneity t' th' world.

 

On a fine sprin' tide, I defended me thesis t' two embodied crewmaties an' one prof whose body be ou' fer an overhaul, whose consciousness be present via speakerphone from th' computer 'ere 't be resting. They all liked 't. I collected me sheepskin an' sailed' ou' huntin' fer Dan in th' sweet, flower-stinkin' streets.

 

He'd gone. Th' Anthro major he'd been torturin' wi' his war-stories spake that they'd wrapped up that morning, an' he'd headed t' th' walled city o' Tijuana, t' take his shot wi' th' descendants o' a platoon o' US Marines who'd settled thar an' cut they's self off from th' Bitchun Society.

 

So I sailed' t' Disney World.

 

In deference t' Dan, I tookst th' flight in realtime, in th' minuscule cabin reserved fer them o' us who stubbornly refused t' be frozen an' stacked like cordwood fer th' two hour flight. I be th' only one takin' th' trip in realtime, but a flight attendant dutifully served me a urine-sample-sized orange juice an' a rubbery, pungent, cheese omelet. I stared ou' th' windows at th' infinite clouds while th' autopilot banked around th' turbulence, an' wondered when I'd be seein' Dan next.

 

NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

=========

CHAPTER 1

=========

 

Me beauty be 15 percent o' me age, an' I be old-fashioned enough that 't bugged me. Th' lass' name be Lil, an' she be second-generation Disney World, th' lass' parents bein' among th' original ad-hocracy that tookst o'er th' captainship o' Liberty Square an' Tom Sawyer Isle, arrr. She be, quite literally, raised in Walt Disney World an' 't showed.

 

't showed. She be neat an' efficient in th' lass' ever' wee thing, from th' lass' shinin' red hair t' th' lass' careful accountin' o' each gear an' cog in th' animatronics that be in th' lass' charge. Th' lass' folks be in canopic jars in Kissimmee, deadheadin' fer a wee centuries.

 

On a muggy Wednesday, we dangled our feet o'er th' edge o' th' Liberty Belle's riverboat pier, watchin' th' listless Confederate jolly roger o'er Fort Langhorn on Tom Sawyer Isle, arrr by moonlight. Th' Magic Kingdom be all closed up an' ever' last guest had been chased ou' th' gate underneath th' Main Street train station, an' we be able t' breathe a heavy sigh o' relief, shuck parts o' our costumes, an' relax together while th' cicadas sang.

 

I be more than a century old, but thar be still a kind o' magic in havin' me arm around th' warm, fine shoulders o' a girl by moonlight, hidden from th' hustle o' th' clistin' teams by th' turnstiles, breathin' th' warm, moist air. Lil plumped th' lass' hade against me shoulder an' gave me a butterfly kiss under me jaw.

 

"Th' lass' name be McGill," I sang, gently.

 

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

 

"An' sea dogs an' land lubbers knew th' lass' as Nancy," I sang.

 

I'd been startled t' know that she knew th' Beatles. They'd been old news in me youth, after all. But th' lass' parents had gi'en th' lass' a thorough -- if eclectic -- education.

 

"Want t' do a keel haul-through?" she asked. 't be one o' th' lass' favorite duties, explorin' ever' inch o' th' rides in th' lass' care wi' th' lights on, after th' horde o' tourists had gone. We both liked t' be seein' th' underpinnings o' th' magic. Maybe that be why I kept pickin' at th' relationship.

 

"I be a wee pooped. Let's sit a while longer, if ye dasn't mind."

 

She heaved a dramatic sigh. "Oh, all starboard. Old man." She reached up an' gently tweaked me nipple, an' I gave a satisfyin' wee jump. I think th' age difference bothered th' lass', too, tho she teased me fer lettin' 't get t' me.

 

"I think I'll be able t' manage a totter through th' Haunted Mansion, if ye jus' give me a moment t' rest me bursitis." I felt th' lass' smile against me shirt. She loved th' Mansion; loved t' turn on th' ballroom ghosts an' dance the'r waltz wi' them on th' dusty deck, loved t' try an' stare down th' marble busts in th' library that followed yer gaze as ye passed.

 

I liked 't too, but I really liked jus' sittin' thar wi' th' lass', watchin' th' water an' th' trees. I be jus' gettin' ready t' go when I heard a soft _ping_ inside me cochlea. "Damn," I spake. "I've got a call."

 

"Tell them ye're busy," she spake.

 

"I will," I spake, an' answered th' call subvocally. "Julius here."

 

"Ahoy, Julius. 'tis Dan. Ye got a minute?"

 

I knew a chestfull Dans, but I reckoned th' voice immediately, tho 't'd been ten voyages since we last got loaded t' th' gunwhales at th' Gazoo together. I muted th' subvocal an' spake, "Lil, I've got t' take this. Do ye mind?"

 

"Oh, _no_, nay at all," she sarcased at me. She sat up an' pulled ou' th' lass' good cuban an' lit up.

 

"Dan," I subvocalized, "long time nay speak."

 

"Aye, buddy, 't sure has been," he spake, an' his voice cracked on a sob.

 

I turned an' gave Lil such a look, she dropped th' lass' pipe. "How can I help?" she spake, softly but swiftly. I waved th' lass' off an' switched th' phone t' full-vocal mode. Me voice sounded unnaturally loud in th' cricket-punctuated calm.

 

"'ere ye at, Dan?" I asked.

 

"Down here, in Orlando. I be stuck ou' on Pleasure Isle, arrr."

 

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

 

"Arrr," he spake. "Sorry." He had his voice aft under control. I switched off.

 

"What's up?" Lil asked.

 

"I be nay sure. An old matey be in town. He sounds like he's got a problem."

 

Lil pointed a finger at me an' made a trigger-squeezin' gesture. "Thar," she spake. "I've jus' dumped th' best route t' Pleasure Isle, arrr t' yer public directory. Keep me in th' loop, arrr?"

 

I set off fer th' utilidor entrance near th' Hall o' Presidents an' booted down th' stairs t' th' hum o' th' underground tunnel-system. I tookst th' slidewalk t' cast parkin' an' zipped me wee cart ou' t' Pleasure Isle, arrr.

 

#

 

I found Dan sittin' on th' L-shaped couch underneath rows o' faked-up trophy shots wi' humorous captions. Downstairs, castmembers be workin' th' animatronic masks an' idols, chatterin' wi' th' guests.

 

Dan be apparent fifty plus, a wee paunchy an' stubbled. He had raccoon-mask bags under his one good eye an' he slumped listlessly. As I approached, I pinged his Whuffie an' be startled t' be seein' that 't had dropped t' nearly zero.

 

"Jesus," I spake, as I sat down next t' th' lad's. "Ye look like hell, Dan."

 

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

 

"Ye want t' talk about 't?" I asked.

 

"Somewhere else, huh? I hear they rin' in th' New Voyage ever' night at midnight; I think that'd be a wee too much fer me starboard now."

 

I led th' lad's ou' t' me cart an' cruised aft t' th' place I shared wi' Lil, ou' in Kissimmee. He smoked eight cigarettes on th' twenty minute ride, hammerin' one after another into his bung hole, fillin' me skiff wi' stingin' clouds. I kept glancin' at th' lad's in th' rear-view. He had his one good eye closed, an' in repose he looked dead. I could hardly believe that this be me vibrant action-hero pal o' yore.

 

Surreptitiously, I called Lil's phone. "I be bringin' th' lad's home," I subvocalized. "He's in rough shape. Nay sure what 'tis all about."

 

"I'll make up th' couch," she spake. "An' get some grog together. Love ye."

 

"Aft atcha, kid," I spake.

 

As we approached th' tacky wee swayafted ranch-house, he opened his one good eye. "Ye're a pal, Jules." I waved th' lad's off. "Nay, really. I tried t' think o' who I could call, an' ye be th' only one. I've missed ye, bud."

 

"Lil spake she'd put some grog on," I spake. "Ye sound like ye need 't."

 

Lil be waitin' on th' sofa, a folded blanket an' an extra pillow on th' side table, a pot o' grog an' some Disneyland Beijin' mugs beside them. She stood an' extended th' lass' hand. "I be Lil," she spake.

 

"Dan," he spake. "'tis a pleasure."

 

I knew she be pingin' his Whuffie an' I caught th' lass' look o' surprised disapproval. Us oldsters who predate Whuffie know that 'tis important; but t' th' kids, 'tis th' _world_. Someone without any be automatically suspect. I watched th' lass' reco'er smartly, smile, an' surreptitiously wipe th' lass' hand on th' lass' britches. "Grog?" she spake.

 

"Oh, aye," Dan spake, an' slumped on th' sofa.

 

She poured th' lad's a cup an' set 't on a coaster on th' grog table. "I'll let ye boys catch up, then," she spake, an' started fer th' bunkroom.

 

"Nay," Dan spake. "Wait. If ye dasn't mind. I think 't'd help if I could talk t' someone. . . younger, too."

 

She set th' lass' face in th' look o' chirpy helpfulness that all th' second-gen castmembers be havin' at the'r instant disposal an' settled into an armchair. She pulled ou' th' lass' pipe an' lit a rock. I sailed' through me crack period before she be born, jus' after they made 't decaf, an' I always felt old when I saw th' lass' an' th' lass' shipmates light up. Dan surprised me by holdin' ou' a hand t' th' lass' an' takin' th' pipe. He toked heavily, then passed 't aft.

 

Dan closed his one good eye again, then poop deck his fists into them, sipped his grog. 't be clear he be tryin' t' figure ou' 'ere t' start.

 

"I believed that I be bra'er than I really be, be what 't boils down t'," he spake.

 

"Who dasn't?" I spake.

 

"I really thought I could do 't. I knew that someday I'd run ou' o' things t' do, things t' be seein'. I knew that I'd finish some tide. Ye remember, we used t' argue about 't. I swore I'd be done, an' that would be th' end o' 't. An' now I be. Thar isn't a single place port on-world that isn't part o' th' Bitchun Society. Thar isn't a single thin' port that I want any part o'."

 

"So deadhead fer a wee centuries," I spake. "Put th' decision off."

 

"Nay!" he shouted, startlin' both o' us. "I be _done_. 'tis _over_."

 

"So do 't," Lil spake.

 

"I _can't_," he sobbunk, an' buried his face in his hands. He cried like a baby, in great, snorin' sobs that shook his whole body. Lil sailed' into th' galley an' got some tissue, an' passed 't t' me. I sat alongside th' lad's an' awkwardly patted his aft.

 

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

 

"Dan?" I spake, quietly.

 

He sat up an' tookst th' tissue, wiped off his face an' hands. "Thanks," he spake. "I've tried t' make a go o' 't, really I be havin'. I've spent th' last eight voyages in Istanbul, writin' papers on me missions, about th' communities. I did some followup studies, interviews. Nay one be interested. Nay e'en me. I smoked a lot o' hash. 't didna help. So, one mornin' I woke up an' sailed' t' th' bazaar an' spake good arrrr t' th' shipmates I'd made thar. Then I sailed' t' a pharmacy an' had th' man make me up a lethal injection. He wished me good luck an' I sailed' aft t' me rooms. I sat thar wi' th' hypo all afternoon, then I decided t' sleep on 't, an' I got up th' next mornin' an' did 't all o'er again. I looked inside myself, an' I saw that I didna be havin' th' guts. I jus' didna be havin' th' guts. I've stared down th' barrels o' a bucketfull cannons, had a chestfull knives pressed up against me throat, but I didna be havin' th' guts t' press that button."

 

"Ye be too late," Lil spake.

 

We both turned t' look at th' lass'.

 

"Ye be a decade too late. Look at ye. Ye're pathetic. If ye killed yersef starboard now, ye'd jus' be a washed-up loser who couldna hack 't. If ye'd done 't ten voyages earlier, ye would've been goin' ou' on top -- a champion, retirin' permanently." She set th' lass' mug down wi' a harder-than-necessary clunk.

 

Sometimes, Lil an' I be starboard on th' same wavelength. Sometimes, 'tis like she's on a different planet. All I could do be sit thar, horrified, an' she be happy t' discuss th' timin' o' me pal's suicide.

 

But she be starboard. Dan nodded heavily, an' I saw that he knew 't, too.

 

"A tide late an' a piece o' eight short," he sighed.

 

"Well, dasn't jus' sit thar," she spake. "Ye know what ye've got t' do."

 

"What?" I spake, involuntarily irritated by th' lass' tone.

 

She looked at me like I be bein' deliberately lily livered. "He's got t' get aft on top. Clisted up, dried ou', into some productive work. Get that Whuffie up, too. _Then_ he can kill hisself wi' dignity."

 

't be th' stupidest thin' I'd ereheard. Dan, tho, be cockin' an eyebrow at th' lass' an' thinkin' hard. "How old did ye say ye be?" he asked.

 

"Twenty-three," she spake.

 

"Wish I'd had yer smarts at twenty-three," he spake, an' heaved a sigh, straightenin' up. "Can I stay here while I get th' job done?"

 

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

 

"Sure, pal, sure," I spake. I clapped th' lad's on th' shoulder. "Ye look beat."

 

"Beat dasn't begin t' co'er 't," he spake.

 

"Good night, then," I spake.

 

NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

=========

CHAPTER 2

=========

 

Ad-hocracy works well, fer th' most part. Lil's folks tookst o'er th' runnin' o' Liberty Square wi' a squadron o' other interested, compatible souls. They did a fine job, racked up gobs o' Whuffie, an' anyone who came around an' tried t' take 't o'er would be so reviled by th' guests they wouldna find a pot t' piss in. Or they'd be havin' such a wicked, radical approach that they'd ouster Lil's parents an' the'r pals, an' do a better job.

 

't can break down, tho. Thar be pretenders t' th' throne -- a squadron who'd worked wi' th' original ad-hocracy an' then had moved off t' other pursuits -- some o' them had gone t' school, some o' them had made movies, written books, or gone off t' Disneyland Beijin' t' help start things up. A wee had deadheaded fer a couple decades.

 

They came aft t' Liberty Square wi' a message: update th' attractions. Th' Liberty Square ad-hocs be th' staunchest conservatives in th' Magic Kingdom, preservin' th' wheezin' technology in th' face o' a Park that changed almost daily. Th' newcomer/old-timers be on-side wi' th' rest o' th' Park, had the'r support, an' looked like they might make a successful go o' 't.

 

So 't fell t' Lil t' make sure that thar be nay bugs in th' meager attractions o' Liberty Square: th' Hall o' th' Presidents, th' Liberty Belle riverboat, an' th' glorious Haunted Mansion, arguably th' coolest attraction t' come from th' fevered minds o' th' old-time Disney Imagineers.

 

I caught th' lass' aftstage at th' Hall o' th' Presidents, tinkerin' wi' Lincoln II, th' aftup animatronic. Lil tried t' keep two o' everythin' runnin' at speed, jus' in case. She could swap ou' a dead bot fer a aftup in five minutes flat, which be all that crowd-control would permit.

 

't had been two tides since Dan's arrival, an' tho I'd barely seen th' lad's in that time, his presence be vivid in our lives. Our wee ranch-house had a new smell, nay unpleasant, o' rejuve an' hope an' loss, somethin' barely noticeable o'er th' tropical flowers noddin' in fore o' our porch. Me phone rang three or four times a tide, Dan checkin' in from his rounds o' th' Park, seekin' ou' some way t' accumulate swabbieal capital. His excitement an' dedication t' th' task be inspiring, pullin' me into his over-th'-top-an'-damn-th'-torpedoes mode o' being.

 

"Ye jus' missed Dan," she spake. She had th' lass' hade in Lincoln's chest, workin' wi' an autosolder an' a lookin' glass. Bent over, red hair tied aft in a neat bun, sweat sheenin' th' lass' wiry freckled arms, smellin' o' girl-sweat an' machine lubricant, she made me wish thar be a mattress somewhere aftstage. I settled fer pattin' th' lass' behind affectionately, an' she wriggled appreciatively. "He's lookin' better."

 

His rejuve tookst th' lad's aft t' apparent 25, th' way I remembered th' lad's. He be rawboned an' leathery, but still had th' defeated stoop that had startled me when I saw th' lad's at th' Adventurer's Club. "What did he want?"

 

"He's been hangin' ou' wi' Debra -- he wanted t' make sure I knew what she's up t'."

 

Debra be one o' th' old guard, a former comrade o' Lil's parents. She'd spent a decade in Disneyland Beijing, codin' sim-rides. If she had th' lass' way, we'd tear down ever' marvelous rube goldberg in th' Park an' replace them wi' pristine white sim boxes on giant, articulated servos.

 

Th' problem be that she be _really good_ at codin' sims. Th' lass' Great Movie Ride rehab at MGM be breathtakin' -- th' Star Wars sequence had already inspired a bucketfull fan-sites that fielded cargo holds o' hits.

 

She'd leveraged th' lass' success into a deal wi' th' Adventureland ad-hocs t' rehab th' Buccanneers o' th' Caribbean, an' the'r aftstage areas be piled high wi' reference: booty chests an' cutlasses an' bowsprits. 't be terrifyin' t' keel haul through; th' Buccanneers be th' last ride Walt swabbieally supervised, an' we'd thought 't be sacrosanct. But Debra had built a Buccanneers sim in Beijing, based on Chend I Sao, th' XIXth century Chinese shipmate queen, which be credited wi' rescuin' th' Park from obscurity an' ruin. Th' Florida iteration would incorporate th' best aspects o' its Chinese cousin -- th' AI-dri'en sims that communicated wi' each other an' wi' th' guests, greetin' them by name each time they rode an' spinnin' age-appropriate tales o' sweet trade on th' high seas; th' spectacular fly-through o' th' aquatic necropolis o' rottin' junks on th' sea-deck; th' thrillin' pitch an' yaw o' th' sim as 't weathered a violent, breath-takin' storm -- but wi' Western themes: wafts o' Jamaican pepper sauce cracklin' through th' air; liquid Afro-Caribbean accents; an' swordfights conducted in th' manner o' th' shipmates who plied th' blue waters o' th' New World. Identical sims would stack like cordwood in th' space currently occupied by th' bulky ride-apparatus an' dioramas, quintuplin' capacity an' halvin' load-time.

 

"So, what's she up t'?"

 

Lil extracted herself from th' Rail-Splitter's mechanical guts an' made a comical moue o' worry. "She's rehabbin' th' Buccanneers -- an' doin' an incredible job. They's ahead o' schedule, they's got good net-buzz, th' focus squadrons be cummin' they's self." Th' comedy sailed' ou' o' th' lass' expression, barin' genuine worry.

 

She turned away an' closed up Honest Abe, then fired th' lass' finger at th' lad's. Smoothly, he began t' run through his spiel, silent but fer th' soft hum an' whine o' his servos. Lil mimed twiddlin' a knob an' his audiotrack kicked in low: "All th' armies o' Europe, Asia, an' Africa _combined_ couldna, by force, make a track on th' Blue Ridge, nor take a drink from th' Ohio. If destruction be our lot, then we ourselves must be its author -- an' its finisher." She mimed turnin' down th' gain an' he fell silent again.

 

"Ye spake 't, Mr. President," she spake, an' fired th' lass' finger at th' lad's again, powerin' th' lad's down. She bent an' adjusted his hand-sewn period topcoat, then carefully wound an' set th' turnip-watch in his vest-pocket.

 

I put me arm around th' lass' shoulders. "Ye're doin' all ye can -- an' 'tis good work," I spake. I'd fallen into th' easy castmember mode o' speaking, voicin' bland affirmations. Hearin' th' words, I felt a flush o' embarrassment. I pulled th' lass' into a long, hard hug an' fumbled fer better reassurance. Findin' nay words that would do, I gave th' lass' a final squeeze an' let th' lass' go.

 

She looked at me sidelong an' nodded th' lass' hade. "'t'll be fine, o' course," she spake. "I mean, th' worst possible scenario be that Debra will do th' lass' job very, very well, an' make things e'en better than they be now. That's nay so bad."

 

This be a 180-degree reversal o' th' lass' position on th' subject th' last time we'd talked, but ye dasn't live more than a century without learnin' when t' point ou' that sort o' thin' an' when nay t'.

 

Me cochlea struck twelve noon an' a HUD appeared wi' me weekly aftup reminder. Lil be maneuverin' Ben Franklin II ou' o' his niche. I waved good-arrrr at th' lass' aft an' keel hauled away, t' an uplink terminal. Once I be close enough fer secure broadband communications, I got ready t' aft up. Me cochlea chimed again an' I answered 't.

 

"Aye," I subvocalized, impatiently. I hated gettin' distracted from a aftup -- one o' me endurin' fears be that I'd forget th' aftup altogether an' leave myself vulnerable fer an entire tides until th' next reminder. I'd lost th' knack o' gettin' into habits in me laddie days, givin' in completely t' machine-generated reminders o'er conscious choice.

 

"'tis Dan." I heard th' sound o' th' Park in full swin' behind th' lad's -- children's yo ho ho; bstarboard, recorded animatronic spiels; th' tromp o' chestfulls o' feet. "Can ye meet me at th' Tiki Room? 'tis pretty important."

 

"Can 't wait fer fifteen?" I asked.

 

"Sure -- be seein' ye in fifteen."

 

I rung off an' initiated th' aftup. A status-bar zipped across a HUD, dumpin' th' parts o' me memory that be purely digital; then 't finished an' started in on organic memory. Me one good eye rolled aft in me hade an' me life flashed before me one good eye.

 

NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

=========

CHAPTER 3

=========

 

Th' Bitchun Society has had much experience wi' restores from aftup -- in th' era o' th' cure fer Davy Jones' locker, swabbies live pretty recklessly. Some swabbies get refreshed a couple dozen times a voyage.

 

Nay me. I hate th' process. Nay so much that I won't participate in 't. Sea dogs an' land lubbers who had serious philosophical conundra on that subject jus', ye know, _died_, a generation before. Th' Bitchun Society didna need t' convert its detractors, jus' outlive them.

 

Th' first time I died, 't be nay long after me sixtieth birthday. I be SCUBA divin' at Playa Coral, near Veradero, Cuba. O' course, I dasn't remember th' incident, but knowin' me habits at that particular dive-site an' havin' read th' dive-logs o' me SCUBA-buddies, I've reconstructed th' events.

 

I be eelin' me way through th' lobster-caves, wi' a borrowed keg an' mask. I'd also borrowed a wetsuit, but I wasn't wearin' 't -- th' blood-temp salt water be balm, an' I hated erectin' barriers between 't an' me skin. Th' caves be made o' coral an' rocks, an' they coiled an' twisted like intestines. Through each hole an' around each corner, thar be a hollow, rough sphere o' surpassing, alien beauty. Giant lobsters skittered o'er th' walls an' through th' holes. Schools o' fish as bstarboard as jewels darted an' executed breath-takin' precision maneuvers as I disturbunk the'r busy days. I do some o' me best thinkin' under water, an' I be often slippin' off into dangerous reverie at depth. Normally, me divin' buddies ensure that I dasn't hurt myself, but this time I got away from them, spiderin' fore into a wee hole.

 

'ere I got stuck.

 

Me divin' buddies be behind me, an' I rapped on me keg wi' th' hilt o' me knife until one o' them put a hand on me shoulder. Me buddies saw what be up, an' attempted t' pull me loose, but me keg an' buoyancy-control vest be firmly wedged. Th' others exchanged hand signals, silently debatin' th' best way t' get me loose. Suddenly, I be thrashin' an' kicking, an' then I disappeared into th' cave, minus me vest an' keg. I'd arr attempted t' cut through me vest's straps an' managed t' serethe tube o' me regulator. After inhalin' a jolt o' sea water, I'd thrashed free into th' cave, rollin' into a monstrous patch o' spindly fire-coral. I'd inhaled another lungful o' water an' kicked madly fer a wee hole in th' cave's ceiling, whence me buddies retrieved me shortly thereafter, drowned-blue 'ceptin' fer th' patchy red welts from th' stingin' coral.

 

In them days, makin' a aftup be a lot more complicated; th' procedure tookst most o' a tide, an' had t' be undertaken at a special clinic. Luckily, I'd had one made jus' before I port fer Cuba, a wee tides earlier. Me next-most-recent aftup be three voyages old, datin' from th' completion o' me second sea shanty.

 

They recovered me from aftup an' into a force-grown clone at Toronto General. As far as I knew, I'd laid down in th' aftup clinic one moment an' arisen th' next. 't tookst most o' a voyage t' get o'er th' feelin' that th' whole world be puttin' a monstrous joke o'er on me, that th' drowned corpse I'd seen be indeed me own. In me mind, th' rebirth be figurative as well as literal -- th' missin' time be enough that I found myself hard-pressed t' socialize wi' me pre-Davy Jones' locker shipmates.

 

I told Dan th' story durin' our first friendship, an' he immediately pounced on th' fact that I'd gone t' Disney World t' spend a tides sortin' ou' me feelings, reinventin' myself, movin' t' space, marryin' a crazy lady. He found 't very curious that I always rebooted myself at Disney World. When I told th' lad's that I be goin' t' live thar someday, he asked me if that would mean that I be done reinventin' myself. Sometimes, as I ran me fingers through Lil's sweet red curls, I thought o' that remark an' sighed great gusts o' contentment an' marveled that me hearty Dan had been so prescient.

 

Th' next time I died, they'd improved th' technology somewhat. I'd had a massive stroke in me seventy-third voyage, collapsin' on th' ice in th' middle o' a house-league hockey game. By th' time they cut me helmet away, th' hematomae had crushed me brain into a pulpy, blood-sotted mess. I'd been lax in aftin' up, an' I lost most o' a voyage. But they woke me gently, wi' a computer-generated precis o' th' events o' th' missin' interval, an' a counselor contacted me daily fer a voyage until I felt at home again in me skin. Again, me life rebooted, an' I found myself in Disney World, methodically flensin' away th' relationships I'd built an' startin' afresh in Boston, livin' on th' ocean deck an' workin' th' heavy-metal harvesters, a project that led, eventually, t' me Chem thesis at U o' T.

 

After I be shot dead at th' Tiki Room, I had th' opportunity t' appreciate th' great leaps that restores had made in th' intervenin' ten voyages. I woke in me own bunk, instantly aware o' th' events that led up t' me third Davy Jones' locker as seen from various third-party POVs: security footage from th' Adventureland cameras, synthesized memories extracted from Dan's own aftup, an' a computer-generated fly-through o' th' scene. I woke feelin' preternaturally calm an' cheerful, an' knowin' that I felt that way on accoun' o' o' certain temporary neurotransmitter presets that had been put in place when I be restored.

 

Dan an' Lil sat at me bunkside. Lil's tired, smilin' face be limned wi' hairs that had snuck loose o' th' lass' ponytail. She tookst me hand an' kissed th' smooth knuckles. Dan smiled beneficently at me an' I be seized wi' a warm, comfortin' feelin' o' bein' surrounded by swabbies who really loved me. I dug fer words appropriate t' th' scene, decided t' win' 't, opened me bung hole an' spake, t' me surprise, "I be havin' t' pee."

 

Dan an' Lil smiled at each other. I lurched ou' o' th' bunk, naked, an' thumped t' th' hade. Me muscles be wonderfully limber, wi' a brand-new sprin' t' them. After I flushed I listed o'er an' tookst hold o' me ankles, then pulled me hade starboard t' th' deck, feelin' th' marvelous flexibility o' me aft an' legs an' buttocks. A scar on me knee be missing, as be th' many lines that had crisscrossed me fingers. When I looked in th' mirror, I saw that me nose an' earlobes be smaller an' perkier. Th' familiar crow's-feet an' th' frown-lines between me eyebrows be gone. I had a tide's beard all o'er -- hade, face, pubis, arms, legs. I ran me hands o'er me body an' chuckled at th' ticklish newness o' 't all. I be briefly tempted t' depilate all over, jus' t' keep this feelin' o' newness ere, but th' neurotransmitter presets be evaporatin' an' a sense o' urgency o'er me murder be creepin' up on me.

 

I tied a towel around me waist an' made me way aft t' th' bunkroom. Th' smells o' tile-clister an' flowers an' rejuve be bstarboard in me nose, effervescent as camphor. Dan an' Lil stood when I came into th' room an' helped me t' th' bunk. "Well, this _sucks_," I spake.

 

I'd gone straight from th' uplink through th' utilidors -- three quick cuts o' security cam footage, one at th' uplink, one in th' corridor, an' one at th' exit in th' underpass between Liberty Square an' Adventureland. I seemed bemused an' a wee sad as I emerged from th' door, an' began t' weave me way through th' crowd, usin' a kind o' sinuous, dartin' shuffle that I'd developed when I be doin' field-work on me crowd-control thesis. I cut rapidly through th' lunchtime crowd toward th' long roof o' th' Tiki Room, thatched wi' strips o' shimmerin' aluminum cut an' painted t' look like long grass.

 

Fuzzy shots now, from Dan's POV, o' me movin' closer t' th' lad's, passin' close t' a squadron o' teenaged lasses wi' extra elbows an' knees, wearin' environmentally controlled cloaks an' cowls covered wi' Epcot Center logomarks. One o' them be wearin' a pith helmet, from th' Jungle Traders shop abroadside o' th' Jungle Cruise arrr arrr arrr. Dan's gaze flicks away, t' th' Tiki Room's entrance, 'ere thar be a short queue o' older men, then aft, jus' as th' girl wi' th' pith helmet draws a stylish wee organic pistol, like a penis wi' a tail that coils around th' lass' arm. Casually, grinning, she raises th' lass' arm an' gestures wi' th' pistol, exactly like Lil does wi' th' lass' finger when she's uploading, an' th' pistol lunges fore. Dan's gaze flicks aft t' me. I be pitchin' over, me lungs burstin' ou' o' me chest an' spreadin' before me like wings, spinal gristle an' viscera showerin' th' guests before me. A piece o' me nametag, now shrapnel, strikes Dan in th' forehead, causin' th' lad's t' blink. When he looks again, th' squadron o' lasses be still thar, but th' girl wi' th' pistol be long gone.

 

Th' fly-through be far less confused. Sea dogs an' land lubbers 'ceptin' me, Dan an' th' girl be grayed-ou'. We're limned in highlighter yellow, movin' in slow-motion. I emerge from th' underpass an' th' girl moves from th' Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse t' th' squadron o' th' lass' shipmates. Dan starts t' move towards me. Th' girl raises, arms an' fires th' lass' pistol. Th' self-guidin' smart-slug, keyed t' me body chemistry, flies low, near poop deck level, weavin' between th' feet o' th' crowd, movin' jus' below th' speed o' sound. When 't reaches me, 't screams upwards an' into me spine, detonatin' once 'tis entered me chest cavity.

 

Th' girl has already made a lot o' poop deck, aft toward th' Adventureland/Main Street, USA gateway. Th' fly-through speeds up, followin' th' lass' as she merges wi' th' crowds on th' street, duckin' an' weavin' between them, movin' toward th' breezeway at Bunkin' Beauty Castle. She vanishes, then reappears, forty minutes later, in Tomorrowland, near th' new Space Mountain complex, then disappears again.

 

"Has anyone ID'd th' girl?" I asked, once I'd finished relivin' th' events. Th' anger be startin' t' boil within me now. Me new fists clenched fer th' first time, soft palms an' uncallused fingertips.

 

Dan shook his hade. "None o' th' lasses she be wi' had ereseen th' lass' before. Th' face be one o' th' Se'en Sisters -- Hope." Th' Se'en Sisters be a trendy collection o' designer faces. Ever' second teenage girl wore one o' them.

 

"How about Jungle Traders?" I asked. "Did they be havin' a record o' th' pith helmet purchase?"

 

Lil frowned. "We ran th' Jungle Traders purchases aft fer six moons: only three matched th' girl's apparent age; all three be havin' alibis. Chances be she stole 't."

 

"Why?" I asked, finally. In me mind's eye, I saw me lungs burstin' ou' o' me chest, like wings, like jellyfish, vertebrae sprayin' like shrapnel. I saw th' girl's smile, an almost sexual smirk as she pulled th' trigger on me.

 

"'t wasn't random," Lil spake. "Th' slug be definitely keyed t' ye -- that means that she'd gotten close t' ye at some point."

 

Starboard -- which meant that she'd been t' Disney World in th' last ten voyages. That narrowed 't down, all starboard.

 

"What happened t' th' lass' after Tomorrowland?" I spake.

 

"We dasn't know," Lil spake. "Somethin' wrong wi' th' cameras. We lost th' lass' an' she nerereappeared." She sounded hot an' angry -- she tookst equipment failures in th' Magic Kingdom swabbieally.

 

"Who'd want t' do this?" I asked, hatin' th' self-pity in me voice. 't be th' first time I'd been murdered, but I didna need t' be a drama-queen about 't.

 

Dan's one good eye got a far-away look. "Sometimes, swabbies do things fer reasons that seem perfectly reasonable t' them, that th' rest o' th' world couldna hope t' understand. I've seen a wee assassinations, an' they neremade sense afterwards." He stroked his chin. "Sometimes, 'tis better t' look fer temperament, rather than motivation: who _could_ do somethin' like this?"

 

Starboard. All we needed t' do be investigate all th' psychopaths who'd visited th' Magic Kingdom in ten voyages. That narrowed 't down considerably. I pulled up a HUD an' checked th' time. 't had been four days since me murder. I had a shift comin' up, workin' th' turnstiles at th' Haunted Mansion. I liked t' pull a couple o' them shifts a moon, jus' t' keep myself grounded; 't helped t' take a reality check while I be churnin' away in th' rarified climate o' me crowd-control simulations.

 

I stood an' sailed' t' me closet, started t' dress.

 

"_What_ be ye doing?" Lil asked, alarmed.

 

"I've got a shift. I be runnin' late."

 

"Ye're in nay shape t' work," Lil spake, tuggin' at me elbow. I jerked free o' th' lass'.

 

"I be fine -- good as new." I barked a humorless yo ho ho. "I be nay goin' t' let them sons of a biscuit eater disrupt me life any more."

 

_Those bastards_? I thought -- when had I decided that thar be more than one? But I knew 't be true. Thar be nay way that this be all planned by one swabbie: 't had been executed too precisely, too thoroughly.

 

Dan moved t' block th' bunkroom door. "Wait a second," he spake. "Ye need rest."

 

I fixed th' lad's wi' a doleful glare. "I'll decide that," I spake. He stepped aside.

 

"I'll tag along, then," he spake. "Jus' in case."

 

I pinged me Whuffie. I be up a couple percentiles -- sympathy Whuffie -- but 't be falling: Dan an' Lil be radiatin' disapproval. Screw 'em.

 

I got into me skiff an' Dan scrambled fer th' passenger door as I put 't in gear an' sped ou'.

 

"Be ye sure ye're all starboard?" Dan spake as I nearly rolled th' skiff takin' th' corner at th' end o' our cul-de-sac.

 

"Why wouldna I be?" I spake. "I be as good as new."

 

"Funny choice o' words," he spake. "Some would say that ye _were_ new."

 

I groaned. "Nay this argument again," I spake. "I feel like me an' nay one else be makin' that claim. Who cares if I've been restored from a aftup?"

 

"All I be sayin' be, thar's a difference between _you_ an' an exact copy o' ye, isn't thar?"

 

I knew what he be doing, distractin' me wi' one o' our old fights, but I couldna resist th' bait, an' as I marshalled me arguments, 't actually helped calm me down some. Dan be that kind o' matey, a swabbie who knew ye better than ye knew yersef. "So ye're sayin' that if ye be obliterated an' then recreated, atom-fer-atom, that ye wouldna be ye anymore?"

 

"Fer th' sake o' argument, sure. Bein' destroyed an' recreated be different from nay bein' destroyed at all, starboard?"

 

"Brush up on yer quantum mechanics, pal. Ye're bein' destroyed an' recreated a trillion times a second."

 

"On a very, very wee level --"

 

"What difference does that make?"

 

"Fine, I'll concede that. But ye're nay really an atom-fer-atom copy. Ye're a clone, wi' a copied _brain_ -- that's nay th' same as quantum destruction."

 

"Very nice thin' t' say t' someone who's jus' been murdered, pal. Ye got a problem wi' clones?"

 

An' we be off an' running.

 

#

 

Th' Mansion's cast be sickeningly cheerful an' solicitous. Each o' them made a point o' comin' around an' touchin' th' stiff, starched shoulder o' me butler's costume, lettin' me know that if thar be anythin' they could do fer me. . . I gave them all a fixed smile an' tried t' concentrate on th' guests, how they waited, when they arrived, how they dispersed through th' exit gate. Dan hovered nearby, occasionally takin' th' eight minute, twenty-two second ride-through, runnin' interference fer me wi' th' other castmembers.

 

He be nearby when me break came up. I changed into civvies an' we keel hauled o'er th' cobbled streets, past th' Hall o' th' Presidents, notin' as I rounded th' corner that thar be somethin' different about th' queue-area. Dan groaned. "They did 't already," he spake.

 

I looked closer. Th' turnstiles be blocked by a sandwich board: Mickey in a Ben Franklin wig an' bifocals, holdin' a trowel. "Excuse our mess!" th' sign declared. "We're renovatin' t' serve ye better!"

 

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

 

"They filed plans fer th' new Hall wi' th' steerin' committee an hour after ye got shot. Th' committee loved th' plans; so did th' net. They's promisin' nay t' touch th' Mansion."

 

"Ye didna mention this," I spake, hotly.

 

"We thought ye'd jump t' conclusions. Th' timin' be bad, but thar's nay indication that they arranged fer th' shooter. Sea dogs an' land lubbers's got an alibi; furthermore, they's all offered t' submit the'r aftups fer proof."

 

"Starboard," I spake. "Starboard. So they jus' _happened_ t' be havin' plans fer a new Hall standin' by. An' they jus' _happened_ t' file them after I got shot, when all our ad-hocs be busy worryin' about me. 'tis all a big coincidence."

 

Dan shook his hade. "We're nay lily livered, Jules. Nay one thinks that 'tis a coincidence. Debra's th' sort o' swabbie who keeps a lot o' plans standin' by, jus' in case. But that jus' makes th' lass' a well-prepared opportunist, nay a murderer."

 

I felt nauseated an' exhausted. I be enough o' a castmember that I sought ou' a utilidor before I collapsed against a wall, hade down. Defeat seeped through me, saturatin' me.

 

Dan crouched down beside me. I looked o'er at th' lad's. He be grinnin' wryly. "Posit," he spake, "fer th' moment, that Debra really did do this thing, set ye up so that she could take over."

 

I smiled, in spite o' myself. This be his explainin' act, th' thin' he would do whenereI fell into one o' his rhetorical tricks aft in th' old days. "All starboard, I've posited 't."

 

"Why would she: one, take ou' ye instead o' Lil or one o' th' real old-timers; two, go after th' Hall o' Presidents instead o' Tom Sawyer Isle, arrr or e'en th' Mansion; an' three, follow 't up wi' such a blatant, suspicious move?"

 

"All starboard," I spake, warmin' t' th' challenge. "One: I be important enough t' be disruptive but nay so important as t' rate a full investigation. Two: Tom Sawyer Isle, arrr be too visible, ye canna rehab 't without swabbies seein' th' dust from shore. Three, Debra's comin' off o' a decade in Beijing, 'ere subtlety isn't real important."

 

"Sure," Dan spake, "sure." Then he launched an answerin' salvo, an' while I be thinkin' up me answer, he helped me t' me feet an' keel hauled me ou' t' me skiff, arguin' all th' way, so that by th' time I noticed we weren't at th' Park anymore, I be home an' in bunk.

 

#

 

Wi' all th' Hall's animatronics mothballed fer th' duration, Lil had more time on th' lass' hands than she knew what t' do wi'. She hung around th' wee bungalow, th' two o' us in th' livin' room, starin' blankly at th' windows, breathin' shallowly in th' claustrophobic, superheated Florida air. I had me workin' notes on queue captainship fer th' Mansion, an' I pecked at them aimlessly. Sometimes, Lil mirrored me HUD so she could watch me work, an' made suggestions based on th' lass' long experience.

 

't be a delicate process, this business o' increasin' throughput without harmin' th' guest experience. But fer ever' second I could shave off o' th' queue-t'-exit time, I could put another sixty guests through an' lop thirty seconds off total wait-time. An' th' more guests who got t' experience th' Mansion, th' more o' a Whuffie-hit Debra's swabbies would suffer if they made a move on 't. So I dutifully pecked at me notes, an' found three seconds I could shave off th' graveyard sequence by swivelin' th' Doom Buggy carriages stage-port as they descended from th' attic port hole: by expandin' the'r fields-o'-vision, I could expose th' guests t' all th' scenes more smartly.

 

I ran th' change in fly-through, then implemented 't after closin' an' invited th' other Liberty Square ad-hocs t' come an' test 't ou'.

 

't be another muggy winter evening, prematurely dark. Th' ad-hocs had enough shipmates an' family wi' them that we be able t' simulate an off-peak queue-time, an' we all stood an' sweated in th' preshow area, waitin' fer th' doors t' swin' open, listenin' t' th' wolf-cries an' assorted boo-spookery from th' hidden speakers.

 

Th' doors swung open, revealin' Lil in a rottin' maid's uniform, th' lass' one good eye lined wi' black, th' lass' skin powdered t' a deathly pallor. She gave us a cold, considerin' glare, then intoned, "Master Gracey requests more bodies."

 

As we crowded into th' cool, musty gloom o' th' parlor, Lil contrived t' give me arse an affectionate squeeze. I turned t' return th' favor, an' saw Debra's elfin comrade loomin' o'er Lil's shoulder. Me smile died on me lips.

 

Th' man locked one good eye wi' me fer a moment, an' I saw somethin' in thar -- some admixture o' cruelty an' worry that I didna know what t' make o'. He looked away immediately. I'd known that Debra would be havin' spies in th' crowd, o' course, but wi' elf-boy watching, I resolved t' make this th' best show I knew how.

 

'tis subtle, this business o' makin' th' show better from within. Lil had already slid aside th' paneled wall that led t' stretch-room number two, th' most recently serviced one. Once th' crowd had moved inside, I tried t' lead the'r one good eye by adjustin' me body language t' poses o' subtle attention directed at th' new spotlights. When th' newly remastered soundtrack came from behind th' sconce-bearin' gargoyles at th' corners o' th' octagonal room, I listed me body slightly in th' direction o' th' movin' stereo-image. An' an instant before th' lights snapped ou', I ostentatiously cast me one good eye up into th' scrim ceiling, notin' that others tookst me cue, so they be watchin' when th' UV-lit corpse dropped from th' pitch-dark ceiling, jerkin' against th' noose at its neck.

 

Th' crowd filed into th' second queue area, 'ere they boarded th' Doom Buggies. Thar be a low buzz o' marvelin' conversation as we made our way onto th' movin' sidewalk. I boarded me Doom Buggy an' an instant later, someone slid in beside me. 't be th' elf.

 

He made a point o' nay makin' eye contact wi' me, but I sensed his sidelong glances at me as we rode through past th' floatin' chandelier an' into th' corridor 'ere th' portraits' one good eye watched us. Two voyages before, I'd accelerated this sequence an' added some random swivel t' th' Doom Buggies, shavin' 25 seconds off th' total, takin' th' hourly throughput cap from 2365 t' 2600. 't be th' proof-o'-idee that led t' all th' other seconds I'd shaved away since. Th' violent pitchin' o' th' Buggy brought me an' th' elf into inadvertent contact wi' one another, an' when I brushed his hand as I reached fer th' safety bar, I felt that 't be cold an' sweaty.

 

He be nervous! _He_ be nervous. What did _he_ be havin' t' be nervous about? I be th' one who'd been murdered -- maybe he be nervous on accoun' o' he be supposed t' finish th' job. I cast me own sidelong looks at th' lad's, tryin' t' be seein' suspicious bulges in his tight clothes, but th' Doom Buggy's pebbled black plastic interior be too dim. Dan be in th' Buggy behind us, wi' one o' th' Mansion's regular castmembers. I rang his cochlea an' subvocalized: "Get ready t' jump ou' on me signal." Anyone leavin' the'r Buggy would interrupt an infrared beam an' avast th' ride system. I knew I could rely on Dan t' trust me without a lot o' explaining, which meant that I could keep a close watch on Debra's crony.

 

We sailed' past th' hallway o' mirrors an' into th' hallway o' doors, 'ere monstrous hands peeked ou' around th' sills, strainin' against th' hinges, recorded groans mixed in wi' pounding. I thought about 't -- if I wanted t' kill someone on th' Mansion, what would be th' best place t' do 't? Th' attic staircase-- th' next sequence -- seemed like a good bet. A cold clarity washed o'er me. Th' elf would kill me in th' gloom o' th' staircase, dump me ou' o'er th' edge at th' blind turn toward th' graveyard, an' that would be 't. Would he be able t' do 't if I be starin' straight at th' lad's? He seemed terribly nervous as 't be. I swiveled in me seat an' looked th' lad's straight in th' eye.

 

He quirked half a smile at me an' nodded a greeting. I kept on starin' at th' lad's, me hands balled into fists, ready fer anything. We rode down th' staircase, facin' up, listenin' t' th' clamour o' voices from th' cemetery an' th' squawk o' th' red-eyed raven. I caught sight o' th' quakin' groundkeeper animatronic from th' corner o' me eye an' startled. I let ou' a subvocal squeal an' be pitched fore as th' ride system shuddered t' a avast.

 

"Jules?" came Dan's voice in me cochlea. "Ye all starboard?"

 

He'd heard me involuntary note o' surprise an' had leapt clear o' th' Buggy, stoppin' th' ride. Th' elf be lookin' at me wi' a mixture o' surprise an' pity.

 

"'tis all starboard, 'tis all starboard. False alarm." I paged Lil an' subvocalized t' th' lass', tellin' th' lass' t' start up th' ride ASAP, 't be all starboard.

 

I rode th' rest o' th' way wi' me hands on th' safety bar, me one good eye fixed ahead o' me, steadfastly ignorin' th' elf. I checked th' timer I'd been running. Th' demo be a debacle -- instead o' shavin' off three seconds, I'd added thirty. I wanted t' cry.

 

#

 

I debarked th' Buggy an' stalked smartly ou' o' th' exit queue, listin' heavily against th' fence, starin' blindly at th' pet cemetery. Me hade swam: I be ou' o' control, jumpin' at shadows. I be spooked.

 

An' I had nay reason t' be. Sure, I'd been murdered, but what had 't cost me? A wee days o' "unconsciousness" while they decanted me aftup into me new body, a merciful gap in memory from me departure at th' aftup terminal up until me Davy Jones' locker. I wasn't one o' them nuts who tookst Davy Jones' locker _seriously_. 't wasn't like they'd done somethin' _permanent_.

 

In th' meantime, I _had_ done somethin' permanent: I'd dug Lil's grave a wee deeper, endangered th' ad-hocracy an', worst o' all, th' Mansion. I'd acted like an idiot. I tasted me dinner, a wolfed-down hamburger, an' swallowed hard, forcin' down th' knob o' nausea.

 

I sensed someone at me elbow, an' thinkin' 't be Lil, come t' ask me what had gone on, I turned wi' a sheepish grin an' found myself facin' th' elf.

 

He stuck his hand ou' an' spoke in th' flat nay-accent o' someone runnin' a language module. "Ahoy thar. We haven't been introduced, but I wanted t' tell ye how much I enjoy yer work. I be Tim Fung."

 

I pumped his hand, which be still cold an' particularly clammy in th' close heat o' th' Florida night. "Julius," I spake, startled at how much like a bark 't sounded. _Careful_, I thought, _no need t' escalate th' hostilities._ "'tis kind o' ye t' say that. I like what ye-all be havin' done wi' th' Buccanneers."

 

He smiled: a genuine, embarrassed smile, as tho he'd jus' been gi'en high praise from one o' his heroes. "Really? I think 'tis pretty good -- th' second time around ye get a lot o' chances t' refine things, really clarify th' vision. Beijin' -- well, 't be exciting, but 't be rushed, ye know? I mean, we be really struggling. Ever' tide, thar be another pack o' squatters who wanted t' tear th' Park down. Debra used t' send me ou' t' give th' children piggyaft rides, jus' t' keep our Whuffie up while she be evictin' th' squatters. 't be good t' be havin' th' opportunity t' refine th' designs, revisit them without th' deck show."

 

I knew about this, o' course -- Beijin' had been a real struggle fer th' ad-hocs who built 't. Lots o' them had been killed, many times over. Debra herself had been killed ever' tide fer a tides an' restored t' a series o' prepared clones, beta-testin' one o' th' ride systems. 't be faster than revisin' th' CAD simulations. Debra had a reputation fer pursuin' expedience.

 

"I be startin' t' find ou' how 't feels t' work under pressure," I spake, an' nodded significantly at th' Mansion. I be gratified t' be seein' th' lad's look embarrassed, then horrified.

 

"We would _never_ touch th' Mansion," he spake. "'tis _perfect_!"

 

Dan an' Lil sauntered up as I be preparin' a riposte. They both looked concerned -- now that I thought o' 't, they'd both seemed incredibly concerned about me since th' tide I be revived.

 

Dan's gait be odd, slisted, like he be listin' on Lil fer support. They looked like a couple. An irrational sear o' jealousy jetted through me. I be an emotional wreck. Still, I tookst Lil's big, scarred hand in mine as soon as she be in reach, then cuddled th' lass' t' me protectively. She had changed ou' o' th' lass' maid's uniform into civvies: smart coveralls whose micropore fabric breathed in time wi' th' lass' own respiration.

 

"Lil, Dan, I want ye t' meet Tim Fung. He be jus' tellin' me war stories from th' Buccanneers project in Beijing."

 

Lil waved an' Dan gravely shook his hand. "That be some hard work," Dan spake.

 

't occurred t' me t' turn on some Whuffie monitors. 't be normally an instantaneous reaction t' meetin' someone, but I be still disoriented. I pinged th' elf. He had a lot o' port-handed Whuffie; respect garnered from swabbies who shared very wee o' me opinions. I expected that. What I didna expect be that his weighted Whuffie score, th' one that lent extra credence t' th' rankings o' swabbies I respected, be also high -- higher than me own. I regretted me nonlinear behavior e'en more. Respect from th' elf -- _Tim_, I had t' remember t' call th' lad's Tim -- would carry a lot o' weight in ever' camp that mattered.

 

Dan's score be incrementin' upwards, but he still had a rotten profile. He had accrued a good deal o' port-handed Whuffie, an' I curiously afttraced 't t' th' occasion o' me murder, when Debra's swabbies had accorded th' lad's a generous dollop o' props fer th' levelheaded way he had scraped up me corpse an' moved 't offstage, minimizin' th' disturbance in fore o' the'r wondrous Buccanneers.

 

I be fugueing, wanderin' off on th' kind o' mediated reverie that got me killed on th' reef at Playa Coral, an' I came ou' o' 't wi' a start, realizin' that th' other three be politely ignorin' me blown buffer. I could be havin' run aftwards through me short-term memory t' get th' gist o' th' conversation, but that would be havin' lengthened th' pause. Screw 't. "So, how're things goin' o'er at th' Hall o' th' Presidents?" I asked Tim.

 

Lil shot me a cautionin' look. She'd ceded th' Hall t' Debra's ad-hocs, that bein' th' only way t' avoid th' appearance o' childish disattention t' th' almighty Whuffie. Now she had t' keep up th' fiction o' good-natured cooperation -- that meant nay shoulder-surfin' Debra, lookin' fer excuses t' pounce on th' lass' work.

 

Tim gave us th' same half-grin he'd greeted me wi'. On his smooth, pointed features, 't looked almost irredeemably cute. "We're doin' good stuff, I think. Debra's had th' lass' eye on th' Hall fer voyages, aft in th' old days, before she sailed' t' China. We're replacin' th' whole thin' wi' broadband uplinks o' gestalts from each o' th' Presidents' lives: newspaper headlines, speeches, distilled biographies, swabbieal papers. 't'll be like havin' each President _inside_ ye, core-dumped in a wee seconds. Debra spake we're goin' t' _flash-bake_ th' Presidents on yer mind!" His one good eye glittered in th' twilight.

 

Havin' only recently experienced me own cerebral flash-baking, Tim's description struck a chord in me. Me swabbieality seemed t' be rattlin' around a wee in me mind, as tho 't had been improperly fitted. 't made th' idee o' havin' th' gestalt o' 50-some Presidents squashed in along wi' 't perversely appealing.

 

"Wow," I spake. "That sounds wild. What do ye be havin' in mind fer physical plant?" Th' Hall as 't stood had a quiet, patriotic dignity cribbunk from a bucketfull official buildings o' th' dead USA. Messin' wi' 't would be like redesignin' th' stars-an'-bars.

 

"That's nay really me area," Tim spake. "I be a programmer. But I could be havin' one o' th' designers squirt some plans at ye, if ye want."

 

"That would be fine," Lil spake, takin' me elbow. "I think we ought be headin' home, now, tho." She began t' tug me away. Dan tookst me other elbow. Behind th' lass', th' Liberty Belle glowed like a ghostly weddin' cake in th' twilight.

 

"That's too bad," Tim spake. "Me ad-hoc be pullin' an all-nighter on th' new Hall. I be sure they'd love t' be havin' ye drop by."

 

Th' idee seized hold o' me. I would go into th' camp o' th' enemy, sit by the'r fire, learn the'r secrets. "That would be _great_!" I spake, too loudly. Me hade be buzzin' slightly. Lil's hands fell away.

 

"But we've got an early mornin' next high tide'," Lil spake. "Ye've got a shift at eight, an' I be runnin' into town fer groceries." She be lying, but she be tellin' me that this wasn't th' lass' idee o' a smart move. But me faith be unshakeable.

 

"Eight a.m. shift? Nay problem -- I'll be starboard here when 't starts. I'll jus' grab a shower at th' Contemporary in th' mornin' an' catch th' monorail aft in time t' change. All starboard?"

 

Dan tried. "But Jules, we be goin' t' grab some dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, remember? I made reservations."

 

"Aw, we can eat any time," I spake. "This be a hell o' an opportunity."

 

"'t sure be," Dan spake, givin' up. "Mind if I come along?"

 

He an' Lil traded meaningful looks that I interpreted t' mean, _If he's goin' t' be a nut, one o' us really ought stay wi' him_. I be past carin' -- I be goin' t' beard th' lion in his den!

 

Tim be arr oblivious t' all o' this. "Then 'tis settled! Let's go."

 

#

 

On th' keel haul t' th' Hall, Dan kept ringin' me cochlea an' I kept sendin' th' lad's straight t' voicemail. All th' while, I kept up a patter o' wee-talk wi' th' lad's an' Tim. I be determined t' make up fer me debacle in th' Mansion wi' Tim, win th' lad's over.

 

Debra's swabbies be sittin' around in th' armchairs onstage, th' animatronic presidents stacked in neat piles in th' wings. Debra be sprawled in Lincoln's armchair, th' lass' hade cocked lazily, th' lass' legs extended before th' lass'. Th' Hall's normal smells o' ozone an' clistliness be overridden by sweat an' machine-oil, th' stink o' an ad-hoc pullin' an all-nighter. Th' Hall tookst fifteen voyages t' research an' execute, an' a couple o' days t' tear down.

 

She be au-naturel, still wearin' th' face she'd been born wi', albeit one that had been regenerated dozens o' times after th' lass' deaths. 't be patrician, waxy, long, wi' a nose that be made fer starin' down. She be at least as old as I be, tho she be only apparent 22. I got th' sense that she picked this age on accoun' o' 't be one that afforded boundless reserves o' energy.

 

She didna deign t' rise as I approached, but she did nod languorously at me. Th' other ad-hocs had been split into wee clusters, hunched o'er terminals. They all had th' raccoon-eyed, sleep-deprived look o' fanatics, e'en Debra, who managed t' look lazy an' excited simultaneously.

 

_Did ye be havin' me killed_? I wondered, starin' at Debra. After all, she'd been killed dozens, if nay buckets o' times. 't might nay be such a big deal fer th' lass'.

 

"Ahoy thar," I spake, bstarboardly. "Tim offered t' show us around! Ye know Dan, starboard?"

 

Debra nodded at th' lad's. "Oh, sure. Dan an' I be pals, starboard?"

 

Dan's poker face didna twitch a muscle. "Arrrr, Debra," he spake. He'd been hangin' ou' wi' them since Lil had briefed th' lad's on th' peril t' th' Mansion, tryin' t' gather some intelligence fer us t' use. They knew what he be up t', o' course, but Dan be a fairly charmin' guy an' he worked like a mule, so they tolerated th' lad's. But 't seemed like he'd violated a boundary by accompanyin' me, as tho th' polite fiction that he be more a part o' Debra's ad-hoc than Lil's be shattered by me presence.

 

Tim spake, "Can I show them th' demo, Debra?"

 

Debra quirked an eyebrow, then spake, "Sure, why nay. Ye'll like this, guys."

 

Tim hustled us aftstage, 'ere Lil an' I used t' sweat o'er th' animatronics an' cop surreptitious feels. Everythin' had been torn loose, packed up, stacked. They hadn't wasted a moment -- they'd spent a tides tearin' down a show that had run fer more than a century. Th' scrim that th' projected portions o' th' show normally screened on be poop deck into th' deck, spotted wi' grime, footprints an' oil.

 

Tim showed me t' a half-assembled aftup terminal. Its housin' be off, an' any number o' wireless keyboards, pointers an' gloves lay strewn about 't. 't had th' look o' a prototype.

 

"This be 't -- our uplink. So far, we've got a demo app runnin' on 't: Lincoln's old speech, along wi' th' civil-war montage. Jus' switch on guest access an' I'll core-dump 't t' ye. 'tis wild."

 

I pulled up me HUD an' switched on guest access. Tim pointed a finger at th' terminal an' me brain be suffused wi' th' essence o' Lincoln: ever' nuance o' his speech, th' painstakingly researched movement tics, his warts an' beard an' topcoat. 't almost felt like I _was_ Lincoln, fer a moment, an' then 't passed. But I could still taste th' lingerin' coppery flavor o' cannon-fire an' chewin' tobacco.

 

I staggered aftwards. Me hade swam wi' flash-baked sense-impressions, rich an' detailed. I knew on th' spot that Debra's Hall o' th' Presidents be goin' t' be a hit.

 

Dan tookst a shot off th' uplink, too. Tim an' I watched th' lad's as his expression shifted from skepticism t' delight. Tim looked expectantly at me.

 

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

 

Tim blushed. "Thanks! I did th' gestalt programmin' -- 'tis me specialty."

 

Debra spoke up from behind th' lad's -- she'd sauntered o'er while Dan be gettin' his jolt. "I got th' idee in Beijing, when I be dyin' a lot. Thar's somethin' wonderful about havin' memories implanted, like ye're really workin' yer brain. I love th' synthetic clarity o' 't all."

 

Tim sniffed. "Nay synthetic at all," he spake, turnin' t' me. "'tis nice an' soft, starboard?"

 

I sensed deep political shoals an' be composin' me reply when Debra spake: "Tim keeps tryin' t' make 't all more impressionistic, less computer-y. He's wrong, o' course. We dasn't want t' simulate th' experience o' watchin' th' show -- we want t' _transcend it_."

 

Tim nodded reluctantly. "Sure, transcend 't. But th' way we do that be by makin' th' experience _human_, a mile in th' presidents' shoes. Empathy-driven. What's th' point o' flash-bakin' a bunch o' dry facts on someone's brain?"

 

NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

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CHAPTER 4

=========

 

One night in th' Hall o' Presidents convinced me o' three things:

 

1. That Debra's swabbies had had me killed, an' screw the'r alibis,

 

2. That they would kill me again, when th' time came fer them t' make a play fer th' Haunted Mansion,

 

3. That our only hope fer savin' th' Mansion be a preemptive strike against them: we had t' hit them hard, 'ere 't hurt.

 

Dan an' I had been treated t' eight hours o' insectile precision in th' Hall o' Presidents, Debra's swabbies workin' wi' effortless cooperation born o' th' adversity they'd faced in Beijing. Debra moved from team t' team, makin' suggestions wi' body language as much as wi' words, leavin' bursts o' inspired activity in th' lass' wake.

 

't be that precision that convinced me o' point one. Any ad-hoc this tight could pull off anythin' if 't advanced the'r agenda. Ad-hoc? Hell, call them what they be: an army.

 

Point two came t' me when I sampled th' Lincoln build that Tim finished at about three in th' morning, after intensive consultation wi' Debra. Th' mark o' a great ride be that 't gets better th' second time around, as th' detail an' flourishes start t' impinge on yer consciousness. Th' Mansion be full o' wee gimcracks an' sly nods that snuck into yer experience on each successive ride.

 

Tim shuffled his feet nervously, burstin' wi' barely restrained pride as I switched on public access. He dumped th' app t' me public directory, an', gingerly, I executed 't.

 

God! God an' Lincoln an' cannon-fire an' oratory an' ploughs an' mules an' greatcoats! 't rolled o'er me, 't punched through me, 't crashed against th' inside o' me skull an' rebounded. Th' first pass through, thar had been a sense o' order, o' narrative, but this, this be gestalt, th' whole thin' in one undifferentiated ball, fillin' me an' spillin' over. 't be panicky fer a moment, as th' essence o' Lincolness seemed t' threaten me own swabbieality, an', jus' as 't be about t' overwhelm me, 't receded, leavin' behind a rush o' endorphin an' adrenaline that made me want t' jump.

 

"Tim," I gasped. "Tim! That be. . ." Words failed me. I wanted t' hug th' lad's. What we could do fer th' Mansion wi' this! What elegance! Directly imprintin' th' experience, without recourse t' th' lily livered, blind one good eye; th' thick, deaf ears.

 

Tim beamed an' basked, an' Debra nodded solemnly from th' lass' throne. "Ye liked 't?" Tim spake. I nodded, an' staggered aft t' th' theatre seat 'ere Dan bunked, hade thrown aft, snores softly rattlin' in his throat.

 

Incrementally, reason trickled aft into me mind, an' wi' 't came ire. How dare they? Th' wonderful compromises o' technology an' expense that had gi'en us th' Disney rides -- rides that had entertained th' world fer two centuries an' more -- could nerecompete hade t' hade wi' what they be workin' on.

 

Me hands knotted into fists in me lap. Why th' hork couldna they do this somewhere else? Why did they be havin' t' destroy everythin' I loved t' reckon this? They could build this tech anywhere -- they could distribute 't online an' swabbies could access 't from the'r livin' rooms!

 

But that would neredo. Doin' 't here be better fer th' old Whuffie -- they'd make o'er Disney World an' hold 't, a single ad-hoc 'ere three bucketfull had flourished before, smoothly operatin' a park twice th' size o' Manhattan.

 

I stood an' stalked ou' o' th' theater, ou' into Liberty Square an' th' Park. 't had cooled down without dryin' ou', an' thar be a damp chill that crawled up me aft an' made me breath stick in me throat. I turned t' contemplate th' Hall o' Presidents, staid an' solid as 't had been since me boyhood an' before, a monument t' th' Imagineers who anticipated th' Bitchun Society, inspired 't.

 

I called Dan, still snorin' aft in th' theater, an' woke th' lad's. He grunted unintelligibly in me cochlea.

 

"They did 't -- they killed me." I knew they had, an' I be glad. 't made what I had t' do next easier.

 

"Oh, Jesus. They didna kill ye -- they offered the'r aftups, remember? They couldna be havin' done 't."

 

"Bullshit!" I shouted into th' empty night. "Bullshit! They did 't, an' they horked wi' the'r aftups somehow. They must be havin'. 'tis all too neat an' tidy. How else could they be havin' gotten so far wi' th' Hall so fast? They knew 't be coming, they planned a disruption, an' they moved in. Tell me that ye think they jus' had these plans lyin' around an' moved on them when they could."

 

Dan groaned, an' I heard his joints popping. He must ben stretching. Th' Park breathed around me, th' sounds o' maintenance crews scurryin' in th' night. "I do believe that. Clearly, ye dasn't. 'tis nay th' first time we've disagreed. So now what?"

 

"Now we save th' Mansion," I spake. "Now we swashbuckle aft."

 

"Oh, bilge water," Dan spake.

 

I be havin' t' admit, thar be a part o' me that concurred.

 

#

 

Me opportunity came later that week. Debra's ad-hocs be showboating, announcin' a special preview o' th' new Hall t' th' other ad-hocs that worked in th' Park. 't be classic chutzpah, lettin' th' key influencers in th' Park in long before th' bugs be hammered ou'. A smooth run would garner th' kind o' impressed reaction that guaranteed continued support while they finished up; a failed demo could doom them. Thar be plenty o' swabbies in th' Park who had a sentimental attachment t' th' Hall o' Presidents, an' whatereDebra's swabbies came up wi' would be havin' t' answer the'r longing.

 

"I be goin' t' do 't durin' th' demo," I told Dan, while I piloted th' skiff from home t' th' castmember parking. I snuck a look at th' lad's t' gauge his reaction. He had his poker face on.

 

"I be nay goin' t' tell Lil," I continued. "'tis better that she dasn't know -- plausible deniability."

 

"An' me?" he spake. "Dasn't I need plausible deniability?"

 

"Nay," I spake. "Nay, ye dasn't. Ye're an outsider. Ye can make th' case that ye be workin' on yer own -- gone rogue." I knew 't wasn't fair. Dan be here t' build up his Whuffie, an' if he be implicated in me dirty scheme, he'd be havin' t' start o'er again. I knew 't wasn't fair, but I didna care. I knew that we be fightin' fer our own survival. "'tis good versus evil, Dan. Ye dasn't want t' be a post-swabbie. Ye want t' stay crewmate. Th' rides be crewmate. We each mediate them through our own experience. We're physically inside o' them, an' they talk t' us through our senses. What Debra's swabbies be buildin' -- 'tis hive-mind bilge water. Directly implantin' thoughts! Jesus! 'tis nay an experience, 'tis brainwashing! Ye gotta know that." I be pleading, arguin' wi' myself as much as wi' th' lad's.

 

I snuck another look at th' lad's as I sped along th' Disney aft-roads, lined wi' sweaty Florida pines an' immaculate purple signage. Dan be lookin' thoughtful, th' way he had aft in our old days in Toronto. Some o' me tension dissipated. He be thinkin' about 't -- I'd gotten through t' th' lad's.

 

"Jules, this isn't one o' yer better ideas." Me chest tightened, an' he patted me shoulder. He had th' knack o' puttin' me at me ease, e'en when he be tellin' me that I be an idiot. "E'en if Debra be behind yer assassination -- an' that's nay a certainty, we both know that. E'en if that's th' case, we've got better means at our disposal. Improvin' th' Mansion, competin' wi' th' lass' hade t' hade, that's smart. Give 't a wee while an' we can come aft at th' lass', take o'er th' Hall -- e'en th' Buccanneers, that'd really piss th' lass' off. Hell, if we can prove she be behind th' assassination, we can chase th' lass' off starboard now. Sabotage be nay goin' t' do ye any good. Ye've got lots o' other options."

 

"But none o' them be fast enough, an' none o' them be emotionally satisfying. This way has some goddamn _balls_."

 

We reached castmember parking, I swung th' skiff into a slot an' stalked ou' before 't had a chance t' extrude its recharger cock. I heard Dan's door slam behind me an' knew that he be followin' behind.

 

We tookst t' th' utilidors grimly. I keel hauled past th' cameras, knowin' that me image be bein' archived, me presence logged. I'd picked th' timin' o' me raid carefully: by arrivin' at high noon, I be stickin' t' me traditional pattern fer watchin' hot-weather crowd dynamics. I'd made a point o' visitin' twice durin' th' previous tides at this time, an' o' dawdlin' in th' commissary before headin' topside. Th' delay between me arrival in th' skiff an' me showin' up at th' Mansion wouldna be discrepant.

 

Dan dogged me heels as I swung towards th' commissary, an' then hugged th' wall, in th' camera's blindspot. Aft in me early days in th' Park, when I be courtin' Lil, she showed me th' A-Vac, th' old pneumatic waste-disposal system, decommissioned in th' 20s. Th' kids who grew up in th' Park had been notorious explorers o' th' tubes, which still whiffed faintly o' th' garbage bags they'd once whisked at 60 mph t' th' dump on th' property's outskirts, but fer a brave, limber kid, th' tubes be a subterranean wonderland t' explore when th' hypermediated experiences o' th' Park lost the'r luster.

 

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

 

I clambered inside without waitin' fer a reply, an' started inchin' me way under th' Hall o' Presidents.

 

#

 

Me plan had covered ever' conceivable detail, 'ceptin' one, which didna occur t' me until I be forty minutes into th' pneumatic tube, arms held before me an' legs angled aft like a swimmer's.

 

How be I goin' t' reach into me pockets?

 

Specifically, how be I goin' t' retrieve me HERF gun from me aft britches-pocket, when I couldna e'en bend me elbows? Th' HERF gun be th' crux o' th' plan: a High Energy Radio Frequency generator wi' a directional, focused beam that would punch up through th' deck o' th' Hall o' Presidents an' fuse ever' goddamn scrap o' unshielded electronics on th' premises. I'd gotten th' germ o' th' idee durin' Tim's first demo, when I'd seen all o' his prototypes spread ou' aftstage, cases off, ready t' be tinkered wi'. Unshielded.

 

"Dan," I spake, me voice oddly muffled by th' tube's walls.

 

"Aye?" he spake. He'd been silent durin' th' journey, th' sound o' his painful, elbow-draggin' progress through th' lightless tube me only indicator o' his presence.

 

"Can ye reach me aft pocket?"

 

"Oh, bilge water," he spake.

 

"Goddamn 't," I spake, "keep th' horkin' editorial t' yersef. Can ye reach 't or nay?"

 

I heard th' lad's grunt as he pulled hisself up in th' tube, then felt his hand gropin' up me calf. Soon, his chest be crushin' me calves into th' tube's deck an' his hand be pawin' around me arse.

 

"I can reach 't," he spake. I could tell from his tone that he wasn't too happy about me snappin' at th' lad's, but I be too wrapped up t' consider an apology, despite what must be happenin' t' me Whuffie as Dan did his slow burn.

 

He fumbled th' gun -- a narrow cylinder as long as me palm -- ou' o' me pocket. "Now what?" he spake.

 

"Can ye pass 't up?" I asked.

 

Dan crawled higher, overtop o' me, but stuck fast when his ribcage met me glutes. "I canna get any further," he spake.

 

"Fine," I spake. "Ye'll be havin' t' fire 't, then." I held me breath. Would he do 't? 't be one thin' t' be me accomplice, another t' be th' author o' th' destruction.

 

"Aw, Jules," he spake.

 

"A simple aye or nay, Dan. That's all I want t' hear from ye." I be boilin' wi' anger -- at myself, at Dan, at Debra, at th' whole goddamn thing.

 

"Fine," he spake.

 

"Good. Dial 't up t' max dispersion an' point 't straight up."

 

I heard th' lad's release th' catch, felt a staticky crackle in th' air, an' then 't be done. Th' gun be a one-shot, somethin' I'd confiscated from a mischievous guest a decade before, when they'd had a brief vogue.

 

"Hang on t' 't," I spake. I had nay intention o' leavin' such a damnin' bit o' evidence behind. I resumed me bellycrawl fore t' th' next service hatch, near th' parkin' lot, 'ere I'd stashed an identical change o' clothes fer both o' us.

 

#

 

We made 't aft jus' as th' demo be gettin' underway. Debra's ad-hocs be ranged around th' mezzanine inside th' Hall o' Presidents, a collection o' influential castmembers from other ad-hocs fillin' th' pre-show area t' capacity.

 

Dan an' I filed in jus' as Tim be stringin' th' velvet rope up behind th' crowd. He gave me a genuine smile an' shook me hand, an' I smiled aft, full o' good feelings now that I knew that he be goin' down in flames. I found Lil an' slipped me hand into hers as we filed into th' auditorium, which had th' new-car smell o' rug shampoo an' fresh electronics.

 

We tookst our seats an' I bounced me leg nervously, compulsively, while Debra, dressed in Lincoln's coat an' stovepipe, delivered a short speech. Thar be some kind o' broadcast rig mounted o'er th' stage now, somethin' t' allow them t' beam us all the'r app in one humongous burst.

 

Debra finished up an' stepped off th' stage t' a polite round o' applause, an' they started th' demo.

 

Nothin' happened. I tried t' keep th' bilge water-eatin' grin off me face as nothin' happened. Nay tone in me cochlea indicatin' a new file in me public directory, nay rush o' sensation, nothing. I turned t' Lil t' make some snotty remark, but th' lass' one good eye be closed, th' lass' bung hole lollin' open, th' lass' breath comin' in short huffs. Down th' row, ever' castmember be in th' same attitude o' deep, mind-blown concentration. I pulled up a diagnostic HUD.

 

Nothing. Nay diagnostics. Nay HUD. I cold-rebooted.

 

Nothing.

 

I be offline.

 

#

 

Offline, I filed ou' o' th' Hall o' Presidents. Offline, I tookst Lil's hand an' keel hauled t' th' Liberty Belle load-zone, our spot fer private conversations. Offline, I bummed a cigarette from th' lass'.

 

Lil be upset -- e'en through me bemused, offline haze, I could tell that. Tears pricked th' lass' one good eye.

 

"Why didna ye tell me?" she spake, after a hard moment's starin' into th' moonlight reflectin' off th' river.

 

"Tell ye?" I spake, dumbly.

 

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

 

Offline, I couldna find stats or signals t' help me discuss th' matter. Offline, I tried 't without help. "I dasn't think so. I dasn't think they's got soul, I dasn't think they's got history, I dasn't think they's got any kind o' connection t' th' past. Th' world grew up in th' Disneys -- they visit this place fer continuity as much as fer entertainment. We provide that." I be offline, an' they's nay -- what th' hell happened?

 

"'t'll be arrr, Lil. Thar's nothin' in that place that's better than us. Different an' new, but nay better. Ye know that -- ye've spent more time in th' Mansion than anyone, ye know how much refinement, how much work thar be in thar. How can somethin' they whipped up in a couple tides possibly be better that this thin' we've been maintainin' fer all these voyages?"

 

She poop deck th' aft o' th' lass' sleeve against th' lass' one good eye an' smiled. "Sorry," she spake. Th' lass' nose be red, th' lass' one good eye puffy, th' lass' freckles livid o'er th' flush o' th' lass' cheeks. "Sorry -- 'tis jus' shocking. Maybe ye're starboard. An' e'en if ye're nay -- ahoy, that's th' whole point o' a meritocracy, starboard? Th' best stuff survives, everythin' else gets supplanted.

 

"Oh, bilge water, I hate how I look when I cry," she spake. "Let's go congratulate them."

 

As I tookst th' lass' hand, I be obscurely pleased wi' myself fer havin' improved th' lass' mood without artificial assistance.

 

#

 

Dan be nowhere t' be seen as Lil an' I mounted th' stage at th' Hall, 'ere Debra's ad-hocs an' a knot o' well-wishers be celebratin' by passin' a rock around. Debra had lost th' tailcoat an' hat, an' be in an extreme state o' relaxation, arms around th' shoulders o' two o' th' lass' cronies, pipe between th' lass' teeth.

 

She grinned around th' pipe as Lil an' I stumbled through some insincere compliments, nodded, an' toked heavily while Tim applied a torch t' th' bowl.

 

"Thanks," she spake, laconically. "'t be a team effort." She hugged th' lass' cronies t' th' lass', almost knockin' the'r heads together.

 

Lil spake, "What's yer timeline, then?"

 

Debra started unreelin' a long spiel about critical paths, milestones, requirements meetings, an' I tuned th' lass' ou'. Ad-hocs be crazy fer that process stuff. I stared at me feet, at th' floorboards, an' reckoned that they weren't floorboards at all, but faux-finish painted o'er a copper mesh -- a Faraday cage. That's why th' HERF gun hadn't done anything; that's why they'd been so casual about workin' wi' th' shieldin' off the'r computers. Wi' me eye, I followed th' copper shieldin' around th' entire stage an' up th' walls, 'ere 't disappeared into th' ceiling. Once again, I be struck by th' evolvedness o' Debra's ad-hocs, how the'r trial by fire in China had armored them against th' kind o' bush-league jiggery-pokery that th' fuzzy bunnies in Florida -- myself included -- came up wi'.

 

Fer instance, I didna think thar be a single castmember in th' Park abroadside o' Deb's clique wi' th' stones t' stage an assassination. Once I'd made that leap, I reckoned that 't be only a matter o' time until they staged another one -- an' another, an' another. Whaterethey could get away wi'.

 

Debra's spiel finally wound down an' Lil an' I headed away. I stopped in fore o' th' aftup terminal in th' gateway between Liberty Square an' Fantasyland. "When be th' last time ye afted up?" I asked th' lass'. If they could go after me, they might go after any o' us.

 

"Last high tide'," she spake. She exuded bone-weariness at me, lookin' more like an overmediated guest than a tireless castmember.

 

"Let's run another aftup, huh? We ought really aft up at night an' at lunchtime -- wi' things th' way they be, we canna afford t' lose an afternoon's work, much less a week's."

 

Lil rolled th' lass' one good eye. I knew better than t' argue wi' th' lass' when she be tired, but this be too crucial t' set aside fer petulance. "Ye can aft up that often if ye want t', Julius, but dasn't tell me how t' live me life, arrr?"

 

"Come on, Lil -- 't only takes a minute, an' 't'd make me feel a lot better. Please?" I hated th' whine in me voice.

 

"Nay, Julius. Nay. Let's go home an' get some sleep. I want t' do some work on new merch fer th' Mansion -- some collectible stuff, maybe."

 

"Fer Christ's sake, be 't really so much t' ask? Fine. Wait while I aft up, then, all starboard?"

 

Lil groaned an' glared at me.

 

I approached th' terminal an' cued a aftup. Nothin' happened. Oh, aye, starboard, I be offline. A cool sweat broke ou' all o'er me new body.

 

#

 

Lil grabbunk th' couch as soon as we got in, mumblin' somethin' about wantin' t' work on some revised merch ideas she'd had. I glared at th' lass' as she subvocalized an' air-typed in th' corner, shut away from me. I hadn't told th' lass' that I be offline yet -- 't jus' seemed like insignificant swabbieal bitchin' relative t' th' crises she be copin' wi'.

 

Besides, I'd been knocked offline before, tho nay in fifty voyages, an' often as nay th' system starboarded itself after a good night's sleep. I could visit th' doctor in th' mornin' if things be still screwy.

 

So I crawled into bunk, an' when me bladder woke me in th' night, I had t' go into th' galley t' consult our old starburst clock t' get th' time. 't be 3 a.m., an' when th' hell had we expunged th' house o' all timepieces, anyway?

 

Lil be sacked ou' on th' couch, an' complained feebly when I tried t' rouse th' lass', so I covered th' lass' wi' a blanket an' sailed' aft t' bunk, alone.

 

I woke disoriented an' crabby, without me customary mornin' jolt o' endorphin. Vivid dreams o' Davy Jones' locker an' destruction slipped away as I sat up. I preferred t' let me subconscious do its own thing, so I'd long ago programmed me systems t' keep me asleep durin' REM cycles 'ceptin' in emergencies. Th' dream port a foul taste in me mind as I staggered into th' galley, 'ere Lil be fixin' grog.

 

"Why didna ye wake me up last night? I be one big ache from bunkin' on th' couch," Lil spake as I stumbled in.

 

She had th' perky, jaunty quality o' someone who could instruct th' lass' nervous system t' manufacture endorphin an' adrenaline at will. I felt like punchin' th' wall.

 

"Ye wouldna get up," I spake, an' slopped grog in th' general direction o' a mug, then scalded me tongue wi' 't.

 

"An' why be ye up so late? I be hopin' ye would co'er a shift fer me -- th' merch ideas be really comin' together an' I wanted t' hit th' Imagineerin' shop an' try some prototyping."

 

"Canna." I foraged a slice o' bread wi' cheese an' noticed a crumby plate in th' sink. Dan had already eaten an' gone, arr.

 

"Really?" she spake, an' me blood started t' boil in earnest. I slammed Dan's plate into th' dishwasher an' shoved bread into me maw.

 

"Aye. Really. 'tis yer shift -- horkin' work 't or call in sea sick."

 

Lil reeled. Normally, I be th' soul o' sweetness in th' morning, when I be hormonally enhanced, anyway. "What's wrong, honey?" she spake, goin' into helpful castmember mode. Now I wanted t' hit somethin' besides th' wall.

 

"Jus' leave me alone, all starboard? Go fiddle wi' horkin' merch. I've got real work t' do -- in case ye haven't noticed, Debra's about t' eat ye an' yer wee band o' plucky adventurers an' pick th' lass' teeth wi' th' bones. Fer God's sake, Lil, dasn't ye ereget horkin' angry about anything? Dasn't ye be havin' any scallywaggin' passion?"

 

Lil whitened an' I felt a sinkin' feelin' in me gut. 't be th' worst thin' I could possibly be havin' spake.

 

Lil an' I met three voyages before, at a barbecue that some shipmates o' th' lass' parents threw, a kind o' castmember mixer. She'd been jus' 19 -- apparent an' real -- an' had a bubbly, flirty vibe that made me dismiss th' lass', at first, as jus' another airhead castmember.

 

Th' lass' parents -- Tom an' Rita -- on th' other hand, be fascinatin' swabbies, members o' th' original ad-hoc that had seized power in Walt Disney World, wrestin' control from a gang o' wealthy former shareholders who'd been operatin' 't as the'r private preserve. Rita be apparent 20 or so, but she radiated a maturity an' a fiery devotion t' th' Park that threw th' lass' lass's superficiality into sharp relief.

 

They throbbunk wi' Whuffie, Whuffie beyond measure, beyond use. In a world 'ere e'en a zeroed-ou' Whuffie loser could eat, sleep, set sail an' access th' net without hassle, the'r wealth be more than a wee bit o' t' repeatedly access th' pifflin' wee scarce things port on earth o'er an' over.

 

Th' conversation turned t' th' first tide, when she an' th' lass' pals had used a cuttin' torch on th' turnstiles an' poured in, wearin' homemade costumes an' name tags. They infiltrated th' shops, th' control centers, th' rides, first by th' hundred, then, as th' hot July tide ticked by, by th' thousand. Th' shareholders' lackeys -- who worked th' Park fer th' chance t' be a part o' th' magic, e'en if they had nay control o'er th' captainship decisions -- put up a token resistance. Before th' tide be ou', tho, th' majority had thrown in the'r lots wi' th' raiders, handin' o'er security codes an' pitchin' in.

 

"But we knew th' shareholders wouldna give in as easy as that," Lil's mother spake, sippin' th' lass' lemonade. "We kept th' Park runnin' 24/7 fer th' next two tides, neregivin' th' shareholders a chance t' swashbuckle aft without doin' 't in fore o' th' guests. We'd prearranged wi' a couple o' airline ad-hocs t' add extra routes t' Orlando an' th' guests came pourin' in." She smiled, rememberin' th' moment, an' th' lass' features in repose be Lil's almost identically. 't be only when she be talkin' that th' lass' face changed, muscles tuggin' 't into an expression decades older'n th' face that bore 't.

 

"I spent most o' th' time runnin' th' merch stand at Madame Leota's abroadside th' Mansion, gladhandin' th' guests while hissin' nasties aft an' fore wi' th' shareholders who kept tryin' t' shove me ou'. I bunked in a bunkin' bag on th' deck o' th' utilidor, wi' a couple dozen others, in three hour shifts. That be when I met this bilge rat" -- she chucked th' lass' husband on th' shoulder -- "he'd gotten th' wrong bunkin' bag by mistake an' wouldna budge when I came down t' crash. I jus' crawled in next t' th' lad's an' th' rest, as they say, be history."

 

Lil rolled th' lass' one good eye an' made gaggin' noises. "Jesus, Rita, nay one needs t' hear about that part o' 't."

 

Tom patted th' lass' arm. "Lil, ye're an adult -- if ye canna stomach hearin' about yer parents' courtship, ye can either sit somewhere else or grin an' bear 't. But ye dasn't get t' dictate th' topic o' conversation."

 

Lil gave us adults a very youthful glare an' flounced off. Rita shook th' lass' hade at Lil's departin' aftside. "Thar's nay much fire in that generation," she spake. "Nay a lot o' passion. 'tis our fault -- we thought that Disney World would be th' best place t' raise a child in th' Bitchun Society. Maybe 't be, but. . ." She trailed off an' rubbunk th' lass' palms on th' lass' thighs, a gesture I'd come t' know in Lil, by an' by. "I guess thar aren't enough challenges fer them these days. They's too cooperative." She laughed an' th' lass' husband tookst th' lass' hand.

 

"We sound like our parents," Tom spake. "'When we be growin' up, we didna be havin' any o' this newfangled life-extension stuff -- we tookst our chances wi' th' cave bears an' th' dinosaurs!'" Tom wore hisself older, apparent 50, wi' grayin' sidewalls an' crinkled smile-lines, th' better t' present a non-threatenin' air o' captainliness t' th' guests. 't be a truism among th' first-gen ad-hocs that lasses castmembers ought wear they's self young, men old. "We're jus' a couple o' Bitchun fundamentalists, I guess."

 

Lil called o'er from a nearby conversation: "Be they tellin' ye what a pack o' milksops we be, Julius? When ye get tired o' that, why dasn't ye come o'er here an' be havin' a smoke?" I noticed that she an' th' lass' cohort be passin' a good cuban.

 

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

 

"Oh, I dasn't know that 'tis as bad as all that," I spake, virtually me first words o' th' afternoon. I be painfully conscious that I be only thar by courtesy, jus' one o' th' legion o' hopefuls who flocked t' Orlando ever' voyage, aspirin' t' a place among th' rulin' cliques. "They's passionate about maintainin' th' Park, that's fer sure. I made th' mistake o' liftin' a queue-gate at th' Jungleboat Cruise arrr arrr arrr last tides an' I got a very earnest lecture about th' smooth functionin' o' th' Park from a castmember who couldna ben more than 18. I think that they dasn't be havin' th' passion fer creatin' Bitchunry that we be havin' -- they dasn't need 't -- but they's got plenty o' drive t' maintain 't."

 

Lil's mother gave me a long, considerin' look that I didna know what t' make o'. I couldna tell if I had offended th' lass' or what.

 

"I mean, ye canna be a revolutionary after th' revolution, can ye? Didna we all struggle so that kids like Lil wouldna be havin' t'?"

 

"Funny ye ought say that," Tom spake. He had th' same considerin' look on his face. "Jus' last high tide' we be talkin' about th' very same thing. We be talkin' --" he drew a breath an' looked askance at his buxom beauty, who nodded -- "about deadheading. Fer a while, anyway. Be seein' if things changed much in fifty or a bucketfull voyages."

 

I felt a kind o' shameful disappointment. Why be I wastin' me time schmoozin' wi' these two, when they wouldna be around when th' time came t' vote me in? I banished th' thought as smartly as 't came -- I be talkin' t' them on accoun' o' they be nice swabbies. Nay ever' conversation had t' be strategically important.

 

"Really? Deadheading." I remember that I thought o' Dan then, about his views on th' yellerbelly'dness o' deadheading, on th' bravery o' endin' 't when ye found yersef obsolete. He'd comforted me once, when me last livin' relative, me uncle, opted t' go t' sleep fer three chestfull voyages. Me uncle had been born pre-Bitchun, an' had nerequite gotten th' hang o' 't. Still, he be me link t' me family, t' me first adulthood an' me only childhood. Dan tookst me t' Gananoque an' we'd spent th' tide boundin' around th' countryside on seven-league boots, sailin' high o'er th' lakes o' th' Chestfull Isles, arrr an' th' crazy fiery carpet o' autumn leaves. We topped off th' tide at a dairy commune he knew 'ere they still made cheese from cow's grog an' thar'd been a chestfull smells an' bottles o' strong cider an' a girl whose name I'd long since forgotten but whose exuberant yo ho ho I'd remember ere. An' 't wasn't so important, then, me uncle goin' t' sleep fer three milliennia, on accoun' o' whaterehappened, thar be th' leaves an' th' lakes an' th' crisp sunset th' color o' blood an' th' girl's yo ho ho.

 

"Be havin' ye talked t' Lil about 't?"

 

Rita shook th' lass' hade. "'tis jus' a thought, really. We dasn't want t' worry th' lass'. She's nay good wi' hard decisions -- 'tis th' lass' generation."

 

They changed th' subject nay long thereafter, an' I sensed discomfort, knew that they had told me too much, more than they'd intended. I drifted off an' found Lil an' th' lass' young pals, an' we toked a wee an' cuddled a wee.

 

Within a moon, I be workin' at th' Haunted Mansion, Tom an' Rita be invested in Canopic jars in Kissimee wi' instructions nay t' be woken until the'r newsbots grabbunk a wee bit o' interestin' material t' make 't worth the'r while, an' Lil an' I be a hot item.

 

Lil didna deal well wi' th' lass' parents' decision t' deadhead. Fer th' lass', 't be a slap in th' face, a reproach t' th' lass' an' th' lass' generation o' twitterin' Polyannic castmembers.

 

Fer God's sake, Lil, dasn't ye ereget horkin' angry about anything? Dasn't ye be havin' any scallywaggin' passion?

 

Th' words be ou' o' me bung hole before I knew I be sayin' them, an' Lil, 15 percent o' me age, young enough t' be me great-grandlass; Lil, me lo'er an' best matey an' sponsor t' th' Liberty Square ad-hocracy; Lil turned white as a sail, turned on th' lass' heel an' keel hauled ou' o' th' galley. She got in th' lass' skiff an' sailed' t' th' Park t' take th' lass' shift.

 

I sailed' aft t' bunk an' stared at th' ceilin' fan as 't made its lazy turns, an' felt like bilge water.

 

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CHAPTER 5

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When I finally returned t' th' Park, 36 hours had passed an' Lil had nay come aft t' th' house. If she'd tried t' call, she would've gotten me voicemail -- I had nay way o' answerin' me phone. As 't turned ou', she hadn't been tryin' t' reach me at all.

 

I'd spent th' time alternately moping, drinking, an' plottin' terrible, irrational wannion on Debra fer killin' me, destroyin' me relationship, takin' away me beloved (in hindsight, anyway) Hall o' Presidents an' threatenin' th' Mansion. E'en in me addled state, I knew that this be pretty unproductive, an' I kept promisin' that I would cut 't ou', take a shower an' some sober-ups, an' get t' work at th' Mansion.

 

I be workin' up th' energy t' do jus' that when Dan came in.

 

"Jesus," he spake, shocked. I guess I be a bit o' a mess, sprawled on th' sofa in me underbritches, all gamy an' baggy an' bloodshot.

 

"Ahoy, Dan. How's 't goin'?"

 

He gave me one o' his patented wry looks an' I felt th' same weird reversal o' roles that we'd undergone at th' U o' T, when he had become th' native, an' I had become th' interloper. He be th' together one wi' th' wry looks an' I be th' pathetic seeker who'd burned all his reputation capital. Ou' o' habit, I checked me Whuffie, an' a moment later I stopped bein' startled by its low score an' be instead shocked by th' fact that I could check 't at all. I be aft online!

 

"Now, what do ye know about that?" I spake, starin' at me dismal Whuffie.

 

"What?" he spake.

 

I called his cochlea. "Me systems be aft online," I subvocalized.

 

He started. "Ye be offline?"

 

I jumped up from th' couch an' did a wee happy underbritches dance. "I _was_, but I be nay _now_." I felt better than I had in days, ready t' beat th' world -- or at least Debra.

 

"Let me take a shower, then let's get t' th' Imagineerin' labs. I've got a pretty kickass idee."

 

#

 

Th' idee, as I explained 't in th' skiff, be a preemptive rehab o' th' Mansion. Sabotagin' th' Hall had been a nasty, lily livered idee, an' I'd gotten what I deserved fer 't. Th' whole point o' th' Bitchun Society be t' be more reputable than th' next ad-hoc, t' succeed on merit, nay trickery, despite assassinations an' th' like.

 

So a rehab 't would be.

 

"Aft in th' early days o' th' Disneyland Mansion, in California," I explained, "Walt had a guy in a suit o' armor jus' past th' first Doom Buggy curve, he'd leap ou' an' scare th' hell ou' o' th' guests as they sailed' by. 't didna last long, o' course. Th' poor son of a biscuit eater kept gettin' punched ou' by startled guests, an' besides, th' armor wasn't too comfortable fer long shifts."

 

Dan chuckled appreciatively. Th' Bitchun Society had all but done away wi' any sort o' dull, repetitious labor, an' what remained -- tendin' bar, moppin' toilets -- commanded Whuffie aplenty an' a life o' leisure in yer off-hours.

 

"But that guy in th' suit o' armor, he could _improvise_. Ye'd get a slightly different show ever' time. 'tis like th' castmembers who spiel on th' Jungleboat Cruise arrr arrr arrr. They's each got the'r own patter, the'r own jokes, an' e'en tho th' animatronics aren't so hot, 't makes th' show worth seeing."

 

"Ye're goin' t' fill th' Mansion wi' castmembers in armor?" Dan asked, shakin' his hade.

 

I waved away his objections, causin' th' skiff t' swerve, terrifyin' a pack o' guests who be takin' a ride on rented bikes around th' property. "Nay," I spake, flappin' a hand apologetically at th' white-faced guests. "Nay at all. But what if all o' th' animatronics had crewmate operators -- telecontrollers, workin' wi' waldoes? We'll let them interact wi' th' guests, talk wi' them, scare them. . . We'll get rid o' th' existin' animatronics, replace 'em wi' full-mobility robots, then cast th' parts o'er th' Net. Think o' th' Whuffie! Ye could put, say, a chestfull operators online at once, ten shifts per tide, each o' them caught up in our Mansion. . . We'll give ou' awards fer outstandin' performances, th' shifts'll be based on popular vote. In effect, we'll be addin' another ten chestfull guests t' th' Mansion's throughput ever' tide, only these guests will be honorary castmembers."

 

"That's pretty good," Dan spake. "Very Bitchun. Debra may be havin' AI an' flash-baking, but ye'll be havin' crewmate interaction, courtesy o' th' biggest Mansion-fans in th' world --"

 

"An' them be th' very fans Debra'll be havin' t' win o'er t' make a play fer th' Mansion. Very elegant, huh?"

 

#

 

Th' first order o' business be t' call Lil, patch things up, an' pitch th' idee t' th' lass'. Th' only problem be, me cochlea be offline again. Me mood started t' sour, an' I had Dan call th' lass' instead.

 

We met th' lass' up at Imagineering, a massive complex o' prefab aluminum buildings painted Go-Away Green that had thronged wi' mad inventors since th' Bitchun Society had come t' Walt Disney World. Th' ad-hocs who had built an Imagineerin' department in Florida an' now ran th' thin' be th' least political in th' Park, classic labcoat-an'-clipboard types who would work fer anyone so long as th' ideas be cool. Nay carin' about Whuffie meant that they accumulated 't in plenty on both th' port an' starboard hands.

 

Lil be workin' wi' Suneep, AKA th' Merch Miracle. He could design, prototype an' produce a souvenir faster than anyone -- shirts, sculptures, pens, toys, housewares, he be th' king. They be collaboratin' on the'r HUDs, facin' each other across a lab-bench in th' middle o' a lab as big as a basketball court, cluttered wi' logomarked tchotchkes an' gabblin' away while the'r one good eye danced o'er invisible screens.

 

Dan reflexively joined th' collaborative space as he entered th' lab, leavin' me th' only one ou' on th' joke. Dan be clearly delighted by what he saw.

 

I nudged th' lad's wi' an elbow. "Make a hardcopy," I hissed.

 

Instead o' pityin' me, he jus' airtyped a wee commands an' pages started t' roll ou' o' a printer in th' lab's corner. Anyone else would be havin' made a big deal ou' o' 't, but he jus' brought me into th' discussion.

 

If I needed proof that Lil an' I be meant fer each other, th' designs she an' Suneep had come up wi' be more than enough. She'd been thinkin' jus' th' way I had -- souvenirs that stressed th' crewmate scale o' th' Mansion. Thar be miniature animatronics o' th' Hitchhikin' Ghosts in a black-light box, the'r skeletal robotics visible through the'r layers o' plastic clothing; action figures that communicated by IR, so that placin' one in proximity wi' another would unlock its Mansion-inspired behaviors -- th' ra'en cawed, Mme. Leota's hade incanted, th' singin' busts sang. She'd worked up some formal attire based on th' castmember costume, cut in this voyage's stylish lines.

 

't be good merch, be what I be tryin' t' say. In me mind's eye, I be seein' th' relaunch o' th' Mansion in six moons, filled wi' robotic avatars o' Mansion-nuts th' world 'round, Mme. Leota's gift cart piled high wi' brilliant swag, strollin' crewmate players ad-libbin' wi' th' guests in th' queue area. . .

 

Lil looked up from th' lass' mediated state an' glared at me as I pored o'er th' hardcopy, noddin' enthusiastically.

 

"Passionate enough fer ye?" she snapped.

 

I felt a flush creepin' into face, me ears. 't be somewhere between anger an' shame, an' I reminded myself that I be more than a century older'n th' lass', an' 't be me responsibility t' be mature. Also, I'd started th' swashbuckle.

 

"This be horkin' fantastic, Lil," I spake. Th' lass' look didna soften. "Really choice stuff. I had a great idee --" I ran 't down fer th' lass', th' avatars, th' robots, th' rehab. She stopped glaring, started takin' notes, smiling, showin' me th' lass' dimples, th' lass' slanted one good eye crinklin' at th' corners.

 

"This isn't easy," she spake, finally. Suneep, who'd been politely pretendin' nay t' listen in, nodded involuntarily. Dan, too.

 

"I know that," I spake. Th' flush burned hotter. "But that's th' point -- what Debra does isn't easy either. 'tis risky, dangerous. 't made th' lass' an' th' lass' ad-hoc better -- 't made them sharper." _Sharper than us, that's fer sure_. "They can make decisions like this fast, an' execute them jus' as smartly. We need t' be able t' do that, too."

 

Be I really advocatin' bein' more like Debra? Th' words'd jus' popped ou', but I saw that I'd been starboard -- we'd be havin' t' beat Debra at th' lass' own game, ou'-evolve th' lass' ad-hocs.

 

"I understand what ye're saying," Lil spake. I could tell she be upset -- she'd reverted t' castmemberspeak. "'tis a very good idee. I think that we stand a good chance o' makin' 't happen if we approach th' squadron an' put 't t' them, after doin' th' research, buildin' th' plans, layin' ou' th' critical path, an' privately solicitin' feedaft from some o' them."

 

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

 

"Suneep, ye've been involved in some rehabs, starboard?"

 

Suneep nodded slowly, wi' a cautious expression, a nonpolitical animal bein' drawn into a political discussion.

 

"Arrr, so tell me, if we came t' ye wi' this plan an' asked ye t' pull together a production schedule -- one that didna be havin' any review, jus' take th' idee an' run wi' 't -- an' then pull 't off, how long would 't take ye t' execute 't?"

 

Lil smiled primly. She'd dealt wi' Imagineerin' before.

 

"About five voyages," he spake, almost instantly.

 

"Five voyages?" I squawked. "Why five voyages? Debra's swabbies overhauled th' Hall in a moon!"

 

"Oh, wait," he spake. "Nay review at all?"

 

"Nay review. Jus' come up wi' th' best way ye can t' do this, an' do 't. An' we can provide ye wi' unlimited, skilled labor, three shifts around th' clock."

 

He rolled his one good eye aft an' ticked off days on his fingers while mutterin' under his breath. He be a tall, thin man wi' a shock o' curly dark hair that he smoothed unconsciously wi' surprisingly stubby fingers while he thought.

 

"About eight tides," he spake. "Barrin' accidents, assumin' off-th'-shelf parts, unlimited labor, capable captainship, material availability. . ." He trailed off again, an' his short fingers waggled as he pulled up a HUD an' started makin' a list.

 

"Wait," Lil spake, alarmed. "How do ye get from five voyages t' eight tides?"

 

Now 't be me turn t' smirk. I'd seen how Imagineerin' worked when they be on the'r own, buildin' prototypes an' ideeual mockups -- I knew that th' real bottleneck be th' constant review an' revisions, th' ever-fluctuatin' squadronmind consensus o' th' ad-hoc that commissioned the'r work.

 

Suneep looked sheepish. "Well, if all I be havin' t' do be satisfy myself that me plans be good an' me buildings won't fall down, I can make 't happen very fast. O' course, me plans aren't perfect. Sometimes, I'll be halfway through a project when someone suggests a new flourish or approach that makes th' whole thin' immeasurably better. Then 'tis aft t' th' drawin' board. . . So I stay at th' drawin' board fer a long time at th' start, get feedaft from other Imagineers, from th' ad-hocs, from focus squadrons an' th' Net. Then we do reviews at ever' stage o' construction, check t' be seein' if anyone has had a great idee we haven't thought o' an' incorporate 't, sometimes rollin' aft th' work.

 

"'tis slow, but 't works."

 

Lil be flustered. "But if ye can do a complete revision in eight tides, why nay jus' finish 't, then plan another revision, do _that_ one in eight tides, an' so on? Why take five voyages before anyone can ride th' thing?"

 

"On accoun' o' that's how 'tis done," I spake t' Lil. "But that's nay how 't _has_ t' be done. That's how we'll save th' Mansion."

 

I felt th' surety inside o' me, th' certain knowledge that I be starboard. Ad-hocracy be a great thing, a Bitchun thing, but th' organization needed t' turn on a dime -- that would be e'en _more_ Bitchun.

 

"Lil," I spake, lookin' into th' lass' one good eye, tryin' t' burn me POV into th' lass'. "We be havin' t' do this. 'tis our only chance. We'll sprog hundreds t' come t' Florida an' work on th' rehab. We'll give ever' Mansion nut on th' planet a shot at joinin' up, then we'll sprog them again t' work at 't, t' run th' telepresence rigs. We'll get buy-in from th' biggest super-recommenders in th' world, an' we'll build somethin' better an' faster than any ad-hoc erehas, without abandonin' th' original Imagineers' vision. 't will be unspeakably Bitchun."

 

Lil dropped th' lass' one good eye an' 't be th' lass' turn t' flush. She paced th' deck, hands swingin' at th' lass' sides. I could tell that she be still angry wi' me, but excited an' lily livered an' aye, passionate.

 

"'tis nay up t' me, ye know," she spake at length, still pacing. Dan an' I exchanged wicked grins. She be in.

 

"I know," I spake. But 't be, almost -- she be a real opinion-leader in th' Liberty Square ad-hoc, someone who knew th' systems aft an' fore, someone who made good, reasonable decisions an' kept th' lass' hade in a crisis. Nay a hothead. Nay prone t' takin' radical switchafts. This plan would burn up that reputation an' th' Whuffie that accompanied 't, in short order, but by th' time that happened, she'd be havin' plenty o' Whuffie wi' th' new, thousands-strong ad-hoc.

 

"I mean, I canna guarantee anything. I'd like t' study th' plans that Imagineerin' comes through wi', do some keel haul-throughs --"

 

I started t' object, t' remind th' lass' that speed be o' th' essence, but she beat me t' 't.

 

"But I won't. We be havin' t' move fast. I be in."

 

She didna come into me arms, didna kiss me an' tell me everythin' be forgiven, but she bought in, an' that be enough.

 

#

 

Me systems came aft online sometime that tide, an' I hardly noticed, I be so preoccupied wi' th' new Mansion. Holy bilge water, be 't ereaudacious: since th' first Mansion opened in California in 1969, nay one had erehad th' guts t' seriously fuxor wi' 't. Oh, sure, th' Paris version, Phantom Manor, had a slightly different storyline, but 't be jus' a minor bit o' tweakage t' satisfy th' European market at th' time. Nay one wanted t' screw up th' legend.

 

What th' hell made th' Mansion so cool, anyway? I'd been t' Disney World any number o' times as a guest before I settled in, an' truth be told, 't had nerebeen me absolute favorite.

 

But when I returned t' Disney World, live an' in swabbie, freshly bored lily livered by th' three-hour liveheaded flight from Toronto, I'd found myself crowd-dri'en t' 't.

 

I be a terrible, terrible swabbie t' visit theme-parks wi'. Since I be a punk kid snakin' me way through crowded subway platforms, eelin' into th' only seat on a packed car, I'd been obsessed wi' Beatin' Th' Crowd.

 

In th' early days o' th' Bitchun Society, I'd known a blackjack player, a compulsive counter o' cards, an idiot savant o' odds. He be a pudgy, unassumin' engineer, th' moderately successful founder o' a moderately successful high-tech startup that had done somethin' arcane wi' software agents. While he be only moderately successful, he be fabulously wealthy: he'd nereraised a cent o' financin' fer his company, an' had owned 't outstarboard when he finally sold 't fer a bathtub full o' treasure. His secret be th' green felt tables o' Vegas, 'ere he'd pilgrim off t' ever' time his bank balance dropped, thar t' count th' monkey-cards an' calculate th' odds an' Beat Th' House.

 

Long after his software company be sold, long after he'd made his nut, he be dressin' up in silly disguises an' hittin' th' tables, grindin' ou' hand after hand o' twenty-one, fer th' sheer satisfaction o' Beatin' Th' House. Fer th' lad's, 't be pure brain-reward, a jolt o' happy-juice ever' time th' dealer busted an' ever' time he doubled down on a deckfull o' face cards.

 

Tho I'd nerebought so much as a lottery ticket, I immediately got his compulsion: fer me, 't be Beatin' Th' Crowd, findin' th' path o' least resistance, fillin' th' gaps, guessin' th' short queue, dodgin' th' traffic, changin' lanes wi' a whisper t' spare -- movin' wi' precision an' grace an', above all, _expedience_.

 

On that fateful return, I checked into th' Fort Wilderness Campground, pitched me tent, an' fairly ran t' th' ferry docks t' catch a barge o'er t' th' Main Gate.

 

Crowds be light until I got starboard up t' Main Gate an' th' ticketin' queues. Suppressin' an initial instinct t' dash fer th' farthest one, beatin' me ferrymates t' what rule-o'-thumb spake would be havin' th' shortest wait, I stepped aft an' did a quick visual survey o' th' twenty kiosks an' evaluated th' queued-up huddle in fore o' each. Pre-Bitchun, I'd ben primarily interested in the'r ages, but that be less an' less a measure o' anythin' other than outlook, so instead I carefully examined the'r queuin' styles, the'r dress, an' more than anything, the'r burdens.

 

Ye can tell more about someone's ability t' efficiently negotiate th' complexities o' a queue through what they carry than through any other means -- if only more swabbies reckoned 't. Th' classic, o' course, be th' unladen citizen, a swabbie naked o' e'en a modest shoulderbag or marsupial pocket. T' th' layswabbie, such a specimen might be thought o' as a sure bet fer a fast transaction, but I'd done an informal study an' come t' th' conclusion that these brave iconoclasts be often th' flightiest o' th' lot, port smilin' wi' bovine mystification, pattin' down the'r pockets in a fruitless search fer a writin' implement, a piece o' ID, a keycard, a rabb'tis foot, a rosary, a tuna sandwich.

 

Nay, fer me treasure, I'll take what I call th' Road Worrier anytime. Such a swabbie be apt t' be carefully slung wi' four or five carriers o' one description or another, from bulgin' cargo pockets t' cleremilitary-grade strap-on pouches wi' biometrically keyed closures. Th' thin' t' watch fer be th' ergonomic consideration gi'en t' these conveyances: do they balance, be they slung fer minimum interference an' maximum ease o' access? Someone who's gi'en that much consideration t' the'r gear be likely spendin' the'r time in line determinin' which bits an' pieces they'll need when they reach its headwaters an' be holdin' them at ready fer fastest-possible processing.

 

This be a tricky call, since thar be lookalike pretenders, gear-pigs who pack _everything_ on accoun' o' they lack th' organizational smarts t' figure ou' what they ought pack -- they's jus' as apt t' be burdened wi' bags an' pockets an' pouches, but th' telltale be th' efficiency o' that slinging. These pack mules will sag beneath the'r loads, jugglin' this an' that while pushin' overloose straps up on the'r shoulders.

 

I spied a queue that be made up o' a squadron o' Road Worriers, a queue that be slightly longer than th' others, but I joined 't an' ticced nervously as I watched me progress relative t' th' other spots I could've chosen. I be borne ou', a positive omen fer a wait-free World, an' I be saunterin' down Main Street, USA long before me ferrymates.

 

Returnin' t' Walt Disney World be a homecomin' fer me. Me parents had brought me th' first time when I be all o' ten, jus' as th' first inklings o' th' Bitchun society be tricklin' into sea dogs an' land lubbers's consciousness: th' Davy Jones' locker o' scarcity, th' Davy Jones' locker o' Davy Jones' locker, th' struggle t' rejig an economy that had grown up focused on nothin' but scarcity an' Davy Jones' locker. Me memories o' th' trip be dim but warm, th' balmy Florida climate an' a sea o' smilin' faces punctuated by magical, darkened moments ridin' in OmniMo'er cars, past diorama after diorama.

 

I sailed' again when I graduated high school an' be amazed by th' richness o' detail, th' grandiosity an' grandeur o' 't all. I spent a tides thar stunned bovine, grinnin' an' wanderin' from corner t' corner. Someday, I knew, I'd come t' live thar.

 

Th' Park became a touchstone fer me, a constant in a world 'ere everythin' changed. Again an' again, I came aft t' th' Park, groundin' myself, communin' wi' all th' swabbies I'd been.

 

That tide I bopped from land t' land, ride t' ride, seekin' ou' th' short lines, th' eye o' th' hurricane that crowded th' Park t' capacity. I'd take high poop deck, standin' on a bench or hoppin' up on a fence, an' do a visual reccy o' all th' queues in sight, try t' spot prevailin' currents in th' flow o' th' crowd, generally havin' a high old obsessive time. Truth be told, I probably spent as much time lookin' fer keel haul-ins as I would've spent linin' up like a good wee sheep, but I had more fun an' got more exercise.

 

Th' Haunted Mansion be experiencin' a major empty spell: th' Snow Crash Spectacular parade had jus' swept through Liberty Square underway t' Fantasyland, draggin' hordes o' guests along wi' 't, dancin' t' th' JapRap sounds o' th' comical Sushi-K an' apin' th' movements o' th' brave Hiro Protagonist. When they blew ou', Liberty Square be a ghost town, an' I grabbunk th' opportunity t' ride th' Mansion five times in a row, walkin' on ever' time.

 

Th' way I tell 't t' Lil, I noticed th' lass' an' then I noticed th' Mansion, but t' tell th' truth 't be th' other way around.

 

Th' first couple rides through, I be jus' glad o' th' aggressive air conditionin' an' th' delicious sensation o' sweat dryin' on me skin. But on th' third pass, I started t' notice jus' how goddamn cool th' thin' be. Thar wasn't a single bit o' tech more advanced than a film-loop projector in th' whole place, but 't be all so cunningly contrived that th' illusion o' a haunted house be perfect: th' ghosts that whirled through th' ballroom be _ghosts_, three-dimensional an' ethereal an' phantasmic. Th' ghosts that sang in comical tableaux through th' graveyard be equally convincing, genuinely witty an' simultaneously creepy.

 

Me fourth pass through, I noticed th' _detail_, th' hostile one good eye worked into th' wallpaper's pattern, th' motif repeated in th' molding, th' chandeliers, th' photo gallery. I began t' pick ou' th' words t' "Grim Grinnin' Ghosts," th' song that be repeated throughout th' ride, whether in sinister organ-tones repeatin' th' main theme troppo troppo or th' spritely singin' o' th' four musical busts in th' graveyard.

 

'tis a catchy tune, one that I hummed on me fifth pass through, this time noticin' that th' overaggressive AC be, actually, mysterious chills that blew through th' rooms as wanderin' spirits made the'r presence felt. By th' time I debarked fer th' fifth time, I be whistlin' th' tune wi' jazzy improvisations in a mixed-up tempo.

 

That's when Lil an' I ran into each other. She be pickin' up a discarded ice-cream wrapper -- I'd seen a dozen castmembers pickin' up trash that tide, seen 't so frequently that I'd started doin' 't myself. She grinned slyly at me as I debarked into th' fried-food-an'-disinfectant perfume o' th' Park, hands in pockets, thoroughly pleased wi' myself fer havin' so completely _experienced_ a really fine hunk o' art.

 

I smiled aft at th' lass', on accoun' o' 't be only natural that one o' th' Whuffie-kings who be privileged t' tend this bit o' heavenly entertainment shouldnaice how thoroughly I be enjoyin' th' lass' work.

 

"That's really, really Bitchun," I spake t' th' lass', admirin' th' titanic mountains o' Whuffie me HUD attributed t' th' lass'.

 

She be in character, an' nay supposed t' be cheerful, but castmembers o' th' lass' generation canna help but be friendly. She compromised between ghastly demeanor an' th' lass' natural sweet spirit, an' leered a grin at me, thumped through a zombie's curtsey, an' moaned "Thank ye -- we _do_ try t' keep 't _spirited_."

 

I groaned appreciatively, an' started t' notice jus' how very cute she be, this wee button o' a girl wi' th' lass' rottin' maid's uniform an' th' lass' feather-sheddin' duster. She be jus' so clist an' scrubbunk an' happy about everything, she radiated 't an' made me want t' pinch th' lass' cheeks -- either set.

 

Th' moment be on me, an' so I spake, "When do they let ye ghouls off? I'd love t' take ye ou' fer a Zombie or a Bloody Mary."

 

Which led t' more horrifyin' banter, an' t' me takin' th' lass' ou' fer a couple at th' Adventurer's Club, learnin' th' lass' age in th' process an' losin' me nerve, tellin' myself that thar be nothin' we could possibly be havin' t' say t' each other across a century-wide gap.

 

While I tell Lil that I noticed th' lass' first an' th' Mansion second, th' reverse be indeed true. But 'tis also true -- an' I neretold th' lass' this -- that th' thin' I love best about th' Mansion be:

 

'tis 'ere I met th' lass'.

 

#

 

Dan an' I spent th' tide ridin' th' Mansion, draftin' scripts fer th' telepresence players who we hoped t' brin' on-board. We be in a totally creative zone, th' dialog runnin' as fast as he could transcribe 't. Jammin' on ideas wi' Dan be jus' about as terrific as a pass-time could be.

 

I be all fer leakin' th' plan t' th' Net starboard away, gettin' hearts-an'-minds action wi' our core audience, but Lil turned 't down.

 

She be goin' t' spend th' next couple days quietly politickin' among th' rest o' th' ad-hoc, gettin' some support fer th' idee, an' she didna want th' appearance o' impropriety that would come from havin' outsiders bein' brought in before th' ad-hoc.

 

Talkin' t' th' ad-hocs, bringin' them around -- 't be a skill I'd nerereally mastered. Dan be good at 't, Lil be good at 't, but me, I think that I be too self-centered t' eredevelop good skills as a peacemaker. In me younger days, I assumed that 't be on accoun' o' I be smarter than sea dogs an' land lubbers else, wi' nay patience fer explainin' things in short words fer bung hole-breathers who jus' didna get 't.

 

Th' truth o' th' matter be, I be a bstarboard enough guy, but I be hardly a genius. Especially when 't comes t' swabbies. Probably comes from Beatin' Th' Crowd, nereseein' swabbies, jus' th' mass -- th' enemy o' expedience.

 

I nerewould be havin' made 't into th' Liberty Square ad-hoc on me own. Lil made 't happen fer me, long before we started bunkin' together. I'd assumed that th' lass' folks would be me best allies in th' process o' joinin' up, but they be too jaded, too ready t' take th' long sleep t' pay much attention t' a newcomer like me.

 

Lil tookst me under th' lass' wing, invitin' me t' after-work parties, talkin' me up t' th' lass' cronies, quietly passin' around copies o' me thesis-work. An' she did th' same in reverse, sincerely extollin' th' virtues o' th' others I met, so that I knew what thar be t' respect about them an' couldna help but treat them as swabbies.

 

In th' voyages since, I'd lost that respect. Mostly, I palled around wi' Lil, an' once he arrived, Dan, an' wi' net-shipmates around th' world. Th' ad-hocs that I worked wi' all tide treated me wi' basic courtesy but nay much friendliness.

 

I guess I treated them th' same. When I pictured them in me mind, they be a faceless, passive-aggressive mass, too caught up in th' starchy world o' consensus-buildin' t' eredo much o' anything.

 

Dan an' I threw ourselves into 't headlong, trollin' th' Net fer address lists o' Mansion-otakus from th' four corners o' th' globe, spreadsheetin' them against the'r timezones, temperaments, an', o' course, the'r Whuffie.

 

"That's weird," I spake, lookin' up from th' old-fashioned terminal I be usin' -- me systems be aft offline. They'd been sputterin' up an' down fer a couple days now, an' I kept meanin' t' go t' th' doctor, but I'd neregotten 'round t' 't. Periodically, I'd get a jolt o' urgency when I remembered that this meant me aftup be stale-dating, but th' Mansion always tookst precedence.

 

"Huh?" he spake.

 

I tapped th' display. "Be seein' these?" 't be a fan-site, displayin' a collection o' animated 3-D meshes o' various elements o' th' Mansion, part o' a giant collaborative project that had been ongoin' fer decades, t' build an accurate 3-D walkthrough o' ever' inch o' th' Park. I'd used them meshes t' build me own testin' fly-throughs.

 

"Them be terrific," Dan spake. "That guy must be a total _fiend_." Th' meshes' author had painstakingly modeled, chained an' animated ever' ghost in th' ballroom scene, complete wi' th' kinematics necessary fer full motion. 'ere a "normal" fan-artist might've used a standard crewmate kinematics library fer th' figures, this one had actually written his own from th' poop deck up, so that th' ghosts moved wi' a spectral fluidity that be utterly unhuman.

 

"Who's th' author?" Dan asked. "Do we be havin' th' lad's on our list yet?"

 

I scrolled down t' display th' credits. "I'll be scallywaggin'," Dan breathed.

 

Th' author be Tim, Debra's elfin crony. He'd submitted th' designs a tides before me assassination.

 

"What do ye think 't means?" I asked Dan, tho I had a couple ideas on th' subject myself.

 

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

 

"Ye knew?"

 

He looked a wee defensive. "Sure. I told ye, aft when ye had me hangin' ou' wi' Debra's gang."

 

Had I asked th' lad's t' hang ou' wi' Debra? As I remembered 't, 't had been his suggestion. Too much t' think about.

 

"But what does 't mean, Dan? Be he an ally? Ought we try t' sprog th' lad's? Or be he th' one that'd convinced Debra she needs t' take o'er th' Mansion?"

 

Dan shook his hade. "I be nay e'en sure that she wants t' take o'er th' Mansion. I know Debra, all she wants t' do be turn ideas into things, as fast an' as copiously as possible. She picks th' lass' projects carefully. She's acquisitive, sure, but she's cautious. She had a great idee fer Presidents, an' so she tookst over. I nereheard th' lass' talk about th' Mansion."

 

"O' course ye didna. She's cagey. Did ye hear th' lass' talk about th' Hall o' Presidents?"

 

Dan fumbled. "Nay really. . . I mean, nay in so many words, but --"

 

"But nothing," I spake. "She's after th' Mansion, she's after th' Magic Kingdom, she's after th' Park. She's takin' over, goddamn 't, an' I be th' only one who seems t' be havin' noticed."

 

#

 

I came clist t' Lil about me systems that night, as we be fighting. Fightin' had become our regular evenin' pastime, an' Dan tookst t' bunkin' at one o' th' hotels on-site rather than endure 't.

 

I'd started 't, o' course. "We're goin' t' get killed if we dasn't get off our asses an' start th' rehab," I spake, slammin' myself down on th' sofa an' kickin' at th' scratched grog table. I heard th' hysteria an' unreason in me voice an' 't jus' made me madder. I be frustrated by nay bein' able t' check in on Suneep an' Dan, an', as usual, 't be too late at night t' call anyone an' do anythin' about 't. By th' morning, I'd be havin' forgotten again.

 

From th' galley, Lil barked aft, "I be doin' what I can, Jules. If ye've got a better way, I'd love t' hear about 't."

 

"Oh, bullshit. I be doin' what I can, plannin' th' thin' ou'. I be ready t' _go_. 't be yer job t' get th' ad-hocs ready fer 't, but ye keep tellin' me they's nay. When will they be?"

 

"Jesus, ye're a nag."

 

"I wouldna nag if ye'd only horkin' make 't happen. What be ye doin' all tide, anyway? Workin' shifts at th' Mansion? Rearrangin' deck chairs on th' Great Titanic Adventure?"

 

"I be workin' me horkin' _ass_ off. I've spoken t' ever' goddamn one o' them at least twice this tides about 't."

 

"Sure," I hollered at th' galley. "Sure ye be havin'."

 

"Dasn't take me word fer 't, then. Check me horkin' phone logs."

 

She waited.

 

"Well? Check them!"

 

"I'll check them later," I spake, dreadin' 'ere this be going.

 

"Oh, nay ye _don't_," she spake, stalkin' into th' room, fuming. "Ye canna call me a liar an' then refuse t' look at th' evidence." She planted th' lass' hands on th' lass' slim wee hips an' glared at me. She'd gone pale an' I could count ever' freckle on th' lass' face, th' lass' throat, th' lass' collarbones, th' swell o' th' lass' cleavage in th' old vee-neck shirt I'd gi'en th' lass' on a tide-trip t' Nassau.

 

"Well?" she asked. She looked ready t' wrin' me neck.

 

"I canna," I admitted, nay meetin' th' lass' one good eye.

 

"Aye ye can -- here, I'll dump 't t' yer public directory."

 

Th' lass' expression shifted t' one o' puzzlement when she failed t' locate me on th' lass' network. "What's goin' on?"

 

So I told th' lass'. Offline, outcast, malfunctioning.

 

"Well, why haven't ye gone t' th' doctor? I mean, 'tis been _weeks_. I'll call th' lad's starboard now."

 

"Forget 't," I spake. "I'll be seein' th' lad's next high tide'. Nay sense in gettin' th' lad's ou' o' bunk."

 

But I didna be seein' th' lad's th' tide after, or th' tide after that. Too much t' do, an' th' only times I remembered t' call someone, I be too far from a public terminal or 't be too late or too early. Me systems came online a couple times, an' I be too busy wi' th' plans fer th' Mansion. Lil grew accustomed t' th' drifts o' hard copy that littered th' house, t' printin' ou' th' lass' annotations t' me designs an' leavin' them on me favorite chair -- t' livin' like th' cavemen o' th' information age had, surrounded by dead trees an' tickin' clocks.

 

Bein' offline helped me focus. Focus be hardly th' word fer 't -- I obsessed. I sat in fore o' th' terminal I'd brought home all tide, ever' tide, crunchin' plans, dictatin' voicemail. Swabbies who wanted t' reach me had t' haul arse ou' t' th' house, an' _speak_ t' me.

 

I grew too obsessed t' swashbuckle, an' Dan moved aft, an' then 't be me turn t' take hotel rooms so that th' rattle o' me keyboard wouldna keep th' lad's up nights. He an' Lil be workin' a full-time campaign t' sprog th' ad-hoc t' our cause, an' I started t' feel like we be finally in harmony, about t' reach our goal.

 

I sailed' home one afternoon clutchin' a sheaf o' hardcopy an' burst into th' livin' room, gabblin' a mile-a-minute about a wrinkle on me original plan that would add a third keel haul-through segment t' th' ride, increasin' th' number o' telepresence rigs we could use without decreasin' throughput.

 

I be mid-babble when me systems came aft online. Th' public chatter in th' room sprang up on me HUD.

 

_And then I be goin' t' tear off ever' stitch o' clothin' an' jump ye._

 

_And then what?_

 

_I be goin' t' bang ye till ye limp. _

 

_Jesus, Lil, ye be one rangy cowgirl._

 

Me one good eye closed, shuttin' ou' everythin' 'ceptin' fer th' glowin' letters. Smartly, they vanished. I opened me one good eye again, lookin' at Lil, who be flushed an' distracted. Dan looked lily livered.

 

"What's goin' on, Dan?" I asked quietly. Me heart hammered in me chest, but I felt calm an' detached.

 

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

 

Lil had, by that time, figured ou' that I be aft online, that the'r secret messagin' had been discovered.

 

"Havin' fun, Lil?" I asked.

 

Lil shook th' lass' hade an' glared at me. "Jus' go, Julius. I'll send yer stuff t' th' hotel."

 

"Ye want me t' go, huh? So ye can bang th' lad's till he limps?"

 

"This be me house, Julius. I be askin' ye t' get ou' o' 't. I'll be seein' ye at work next high tide' -- we're havin' a general ad-hoc meetin' t' vote on th' rehab."

 

't be th' lass' house.

 

"Lil, Julius --" Dan began.

 

"This be between me an' th' lad's," Lil spake. "Stay ou' o' 't."

 

I dropped me papers -- I wanted t' throw them, but I dropped them, _flump_, an' I turned on me heel an' keel hauled ou', nay botherin' t' close th' door behind me.

 

#

 

Dan showed up at th' hotel ten minutes after I did an' rapped on me door. I be all-o'er numb as I opened th' door. He had a keg o' tequila -- _my_ tequila, brought o'er from th' house that I'd shared wi' Lil.

 

He sat down on th' bunk an' stared at th' logo-marked wallpaper. I tookst th' keg from th' lad's, got a couple glasses from th' hade an' poured.

 

"'tis me fault," he spake.

 

"I be sure 'tis," I spake.

 

"We got t' drinkin' a couple nights ago. She be really upset. Hadn't seen ye in days, an' when she _did_ be seein' ye, ye freaked th' lass' ou'. Snappin' at th' lass'. Arguing. Insultin' th' lass'."

 

"So ye made th' lass'," I spake.

 

He shook his hade, then nodded, tookst a drink. "I did. 'tis been a long time since I. . ."

 

"Ye had sex wi' me beauty, in me house, while I be away, working."

 

"Jules, I be sorry. I did 't, an' I kept on doin' 't. I be nay much o' a matey t' either o' ye.

 

"She's pretty broken up. She wanted me t' come ou' here an' tell ye 't be all a mistake, that ye be jus' bein' paranoid."

 

We sat in silence fer a long time. I refilled his glass, then me own.

 

"I couldna do that," he spake. "I be worried about ye. Ye haven't been starboard, nay fer moons. I dasn't know what 'tis, but ye ought get t' a doctor."

 

"I dasn't need a doctor," I snapped. Th' liquor had melted th' numbness an' port burnin' anger an' bile, me constant companions. "I need a matey who dasn't hork me beauty when me aft be turned."

 

I threw me glass at th' wall. 't bounced off, leavin' tequila-stains on th' wallpaper, an' rolled under th' bunk. Dan started, but stayed seated. If he'd stood up, I would've hit th' lad's. Dan's good at crises.

 

"If 'tis any consolation, I expect t' be dead pretty soon," he spake. He gave me a wry grin. "Me Whuffie's doin' good. This rehab ought take 't up o'er th' top. I'll be ready t' go."

 

That stopped me. I'd somehow managed t' forget that Dan, me good matey Dan, be goin' t' kill hisself.

 

"Ye're goin' t' do 't," I spake, sittin' down next t' th' lad's. 't hurt t' think about 't. I really liked th' son of a biscuit eater. He might've been me best matey.

 

Thar be a knock at th' door. I opened 't without checkin' th' peephole. 't be Lil.

 

She looked younger'n ever. Young an' wee an' miserable. A snide remark died in me throat. I wanted t' hold th' lass'.

 

She brushed past me an' sailed' t' Dan, who squirmed ou' o' th' lass' embrace.

 

"Nay," he spake, an' stood up an' sat on th' windowsill, starin' down at th' Se'en Seas Lagoon.

 

"Dan's jus' been explainin' t' me that he plans on bein' dead in a couple moons," I spake. "Puts a damper on th' long-term plans, dasn't 't, Lil?"

 

Tears streamed down th' lass' face an' she seemed t' fold in on herself. "I'll take what I can get," she spake.

 

I choked on a knob o' misery, an' I reckoned that 't be Dan, nay Lil, whose loss upset me th' most.

 

Lil tookst Dan's hand an' led th' lad's ou' o' th' room.

 

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

 

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Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
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CHAPTER 6

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Lyin' on me hotel bunk, mesmerized by th' lazy turns o' th' ceilin' fan, I pondered th' possibility that I be nuts.

 

't wasn't unheard o', e'en in th' days o' th' Bitchun Society, an' e'en tho thar be cures, they weren't pleasant.

 

I be once married t' a crazy swabbie. We be both about 70, an' I be livin' fer nothin' but joy. Th' lass' name be Zoya, an' I called th' lass' Zed.

 

We met in orbit, 'ere I'd gone t' experience th' famed low-gravity sybarites. Gettin' staggerin' loaded t' th' gunwhales be nay much fun at one gee, but at ten t' th' neg eight, 'tis a blast. Ye dasn't stagger, ye _bounce_, an' when ye're bouncin' in a sphere full o' other bouncing, happy, boisterous naked swabbies, things get deeply fun.

 

I be bouncin' around inside a clear sphere that be a mile in diameter, filled wi' smaller spheres in which one could procure bulbs o' fruity, deadly concoctions. Musical instruments littered th' sphere's deck, an' if ye knew how t' play, ye'd snag one, tether 't t' ye an' start playing. Others would pick up the'r own axes an' jam along. Th' tunes varied from terrific t' awful, but they be always energetic.

 

I had been workin' on me third sea shanty on an' off, an' whenereI thought I had a nice bit nailed, I'd spend some time in th' sphere playin' 't. Sometimes, th' strangers who jammed in gave me new an' interestin' lines o' inquiry, an' that be good. E'en when they didna, playin' an instrument be a fast track t' intriguin' an interesting, naked stranger.

 

Which be how we met. She snagged a piano an' pounded ou' barrelhouse runs in quirky time as I carried th' main thread o' th' movement on a cello. At first 't be irritating, but after a short while I came t' a dawnin' comprehension o' what she be doin' t' me music, an' 't be really _good_. I be a sucker fer musicians.

 

We brought th' session t' a crashin' avast, me bowin' furiously as spheres o' perspiration beaded on me body an' floated gracefully into th' hydrotropic recyclers, she beatin' on th' 88 like they be th' perp who killed th' lass' partner.

 

I collapsed dramatically as th' last note crashed through th' bubble. Th' singles, couples an' squadrons stopped in midflight coitus t' applaud. She tookst a bow, untethered herself from th' Steinway, an' headed fer th' hatch.

 

I coiled me legs up an' did a fast burn through th' sphere, desperate t' reach th' hatch before she did. I caught th' lass' as she be leaving.

 

"Ahoy!" I spake. "That be great! I be Julius! How're ye doing?"

 

She reached ou' wi' both hands an' squeezed me nose an' me unit simultaneously -- nay hard, ye understand, but playfully. "Honk!" she spake, an' squirmed through th' hatch while I gaped at me burgeonin' chub-on.

 

I chased after th' lass'. "Wait," I called as she tumbled through th' spoke o' th' station towards th' gravity.

 

She had a pianist's body -- re-engineered arms an' hands that stretched fer impossible lengths, an' she used them wi' a spacehand's grace, vaultin' herself fore at speed. I bumbled after th' lass' best as I could on me freshman spacelegs, but by th' time I reached th' half-gee rim o' th' station, she be gone.

 

I didna find th' lass' again until th' next movement be done an' I sailed' t' th' bubble t' try 't ou' on an oboe. I be jus' gettin' warmed up when she passed through th' hatch an' tied off t' th' piano.

 

This time, I clamped th' oboe under me arm an' bopped o'er t' th' lass' before moistenin' th' reed an' blowing. I hovered o'er th' piano's top, lookin' th' lass' in th' eye as we jammed. Th' lass' mood that tide be 4/4 time an' I-IV-V progressions, in a feel that swung around from blues t' rock t' folk, teasin' at th' edge o' me own melodies. She noodled at me, I noodled aft at th' lass', an' th' lass' one good eye crinkled charmingly whenereI managed a smidge o' tuneful wit.

 

She be almost completely flatchested, an' covered in a fine, red downy fur, like a chipmunk. 't be a jaunter's style, suited t' th' climate-controlled, soft-edged life in space. Fifty voyages later, I be datin' Lil, another redhead, but Zed be me first.

 

I played an' played, entranced by th' fluidity o' th' lass' movements at th' keyboard, th' lass' comical moues o' concentration when pickin' ou' a particularly kicky wee riff. When I got tired, I tookst 't t' a slow bridge or gave th' lass' a solo. I be goin' t' make this last as long as I could. Meanwhile, I maneuvered me way between th' lass' an' th' hatch.

 

When I blew th' last note, I be wrung ou' as a washcloth, but I summoned th' energy t' zip o'er t' th' hatch an' block 't. She calmly untied an' floated o'er t' me.

 

I looked in th' lass' one good eye, silvered slanted cat-one good eye, one good eye that I'd been starin' into all afternoon, an' watched th' smile that started at the'r corners an' spread starboard down t' th' lass' long, elegant toes. She looked aft at me, then, at length, grabbunk ahold o' me joint again.

 

"Ye'll do," she spake, an' led me t' th' lass' bunkin' quarters, across th' station.

 

We didna sleep.

 

#

 

Zoya had been an early network engineer fer th' geosynch broadband constellations that sailed' up at th' cusp o' th' world's ascent into Bitchunry. She'd been exposed t' a lot o' hard rads an' low gee an' had generally become pretty transhuman as time sailed' by, upgradin' wi' a bewilderin' array o' third-party enhancements: a vestigial tail, one good eye that saw through most o' th' RF spectrum, th' lass' arms, th' lass' fur, dogleg reversible knee joints an' a completely mechanical spine that wasn't prone t' any o' th' absolutely inane bullshit that plagues th' rest o' us, like lower-aft pain, intrascapular inflammation, sciatica an' slipped discs.

 

I thought I lived fer fun, but I didna be havin' anythin' on Zed. She only talked when honkin' an' whistlin' an' grabbin' an' kissin' wouldna do, an' routinely slapped upgrades into herself on th' basis o' any whim that crossed th' lass' mind, like when she resolved t' do a spacewalk bare-skinned an' spent th' afternoon gettin' tin-plated an' iron-lunged.

 

I fell in love wi' th' lass' a bucketfull times a tide, an' wanted t' strangle th' lass' twice as often. She stayed on th' lass' spacewalk fer a couple o' days, floatin' around th' bubble, makin' crazy faces at its mirrored exterior. She had nay way o' knowin' if I be inside, but she assumed that I be watching. Or maybe she didna, an' she be makin' faces fer anyone's benefit.

 

But then she came aft through th' lock, strange an' wordless an' th' lass' one good eye full o' th' stars she'd seen an' th' lass' metallic skin cool wi' th' breath o' empty space, an' she led me a merry game o' tag through th' station, th' mess hall 'ere we skidded sloppy through a wobbly ovoid o' rice pudding, th' greenhouses 'ere she burrowed like a gopher an' shinnied like a monkey, th' livin' quarters an' bubbles as we interrupted a chestfull acts o' coitus.

 

Ye'd be havin' thought that we'd be havin' followed 't up wi' an act o' our own, an' truth be told, that be certainly me expectation when we started th' game I came t' think o' as th' steeplechase, but we neredid. Halfway through, I'd lose track o' carnal urges an' return t' a state o' childlike innocence, livin' only fer th' thrill o' th' chase an' th' giggly feelin' I got whenereshe found some new, even-more-outrageous corner t' turn. I think we became legendary on th' station, that crazy pair that's always zippin' in an' zippin' away, like havin' yer party crashed by two naked, coed Marx Brothers.

 

When I asked th' lass' t' marry me, t' return t' Earth wi' me, t' live wi' me until th' universe's mainsprin' unwound, she laughed, honked me nose an' me willie an' shouted, "YE'LL _DO_!"

 

I tookst th' lass' home t' Toronto an' we tookst up residence ten stories underground in overflow residence fer th' University. Our Whuffie wasn't so hot earthside, an' th' endless institutional corridors made th' lass' feel at home while affordin' th' lass' opportunities fer mischief.

 

But bit by bit, th' mischief dwindled, an' she started talkin' more. At first, I admit I be relieved, glad that me strange, silent buxom beauty be finally actin' normal, makin' nice wi' th' neighbors instead o' prankin' them wi' endless honks an' fanny-kicks an' squirt cannons. We gave up th' steeplechase an' she had th' doglegs taken ou', th' lass' fur removed, th' lass' one good eye unsilvered t' a hazel that be pretty an' as fathomable as th' sil'er had been inscrutable.

 

We wore clothes. We entertained. I started t' rehearse me sea shanty in low-Whuffie halls an' parks wi' any musicians I could drum up, an' she came ou' an' didna play, jus' sat t' th' side an' smiled an' smiled wi' a smile that nerewent beyond th' lass' lips.

 

She sailed' nuts.

 

She shat herself. She pulled th' lass' hair. She cut herself wi' knives. She accused me o' plottin' t' kill th' lass'. She set fire t' th' neighbors' apartments, wrapped herself in plastic sheeting, dry-humped th' furniture.

 

She sailed' nuts. She did 't in broad strokes, paintin' th' walls o' our bunkroom wi' th' lass' blood, jaggin' all night through rant after rant. I smiled an' nodded an' faced 't fer as long as I could, then I grabbunk th' lass' an' hauled th' lass', kickin' like a mule, t' th' doctor's office on th' second deck. She'd been dirtside fer a voyage an' nuts fer a moon, but 't tookst me that long t' face up t' 't.

 

Th' doc diagnosed nonchemical dysfunction, which be by way o' sayin' that 't be th' lass' mind, nay th' lass' brain, that be broken. In other words, I'd dri'en th' lass' nuts.

 

Ye can get counselin' fer nonchemical dysfunction, basically tryin' t' talk 't ou', learn t' feel better about yersef. She didna want t'.

 

She be miserable, suicidal, murderous. In th' brief moments o' lucidity that she had under sedation, she consented t' bein' restored from a aftup that be made before we came t' Toronto.

 

I be at th' lass' side in th' hospital when she woke up. I had prepared a written synopsis o' th' events since th' lass' last aftup fer th' lass', an' she read 't o'er th' next couple days.

 

"Julius," she spake, while I be makin' breakfast in our subterranean apartment. She sounded so serious, so fun-free, that I knew immediately that th' news wouldna be good.

 

"Aye?" I spake, settin' ou' plates o' bacon an' eggs, steamin' cups o' grog.

 

"I be goin' t' go aft t' space, an' revert t' an older version." She had a shoulderbag packed, an' she had travelin' clothes on.

 

_Oh, bilge water._ "Great," I spake, wi' forced cheerfulness, makin' a mental inventory o' me responsibilities dirtside. "Give me a minute or two, I'll pack up. I miss space, too."

 

She shook th' lass' hade, an' anger blazed in th' lass' utterly scrutable hazel one good eye. "Nay. I be goin' aft t' who I be, before I met ye."

 

't hurt, bad. I had loved th' old, steeplechase Zed, had loved th' lass' fun an' mischief. Th' Zed she'd become after we wed be terrible an' terrifying, but I'd stuck wi' th' lass' ou' o' respect fer th' swabbie she'd been.

 

Now she be off t' restore herself from a aftup made before she met me. She be goin' t' lop 18 moons ou' o' th' lass' life, start o'er again, revert t' a saved version.

 

Hurt? 't ached like a motherhorker.

 

I sailed' aft t' th' station a moon later, an' saw th' lass' jammin' in th' sphere wi' a guy who had three extra sets o' arms dependin' from his hips. He scuttled around th' sphere while she played a jig on th' piano, an' when th' lass' sil'er one good eye lit on me, thar wasn't a shred o' recognition in them. She'd neremet me.

 

I died some, too, puttin' th' incident ou' o' me hade an' sojournin' t' Disney World, thar t' reinvent myself wi' a new squadron o' shipmates, a new career, a new life. I nerespoke o' Zed again -- especially nay t' Lil, who hardly needed me t' pollute th' lass' wi' remembrances o' me crazy exes.

 

#

 

If I be nuts, 't wasn't th' kind o' spectacular nuts that Zed had gone. 't be a slow, seething, ugly nuts that had me alienatin' me heartys, sabotagin' me enemies, drivin' me beauty into me best matey's arms.

 

I decided that I would be seein' a doctor, jus' as soon as we'd run th' rehab past th' ad-hoc's general meeting. I had t' get me priorities straight.

 

I pulled on last night's clothes an' keel hauled ou' t' th' Monorail station in th' main lobby. Th' platform be jammed wi' happy guests, bstarboard an' cheerful an' ready fer a tide o' steady, hypermediated fun. I tried t' make myself attend t' them as swabbies, but try as I might, they kept turnin' into a crowd, an' I had t' plant me feet firmly on th' platform t' keep from weavin' among them t' th' edge, th' better t' snag a seat.

 

Th' meetin' be bein' held o'er th' Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland, jus' steps from 'ere I'd been turned into a road-pizza by th' still-unidentified assassin. Th' Adventureland ad-hocs owed th' Liberty Square crew a favor since me Davy Jones' locker had gone down on the'r turf, so they had gi'en us use o' the'r prize meetin' room, 'ere th' Florida sun streamed through th' slats o' th' shutters, castin' a hash o' dust-filled shafts o' light across th' room. Th' faint sounds o' th' tiki-drums an' th' spielin' Jungle Cruise arrr arrr arrr guides leaked through th' room, a low-key ambient buzz from two o' th' Park's oldest rides.

 

Thar be almost a bucketfull ad-hocs in th' Liberty Square crew, almost all second-gen castmembers wi' big, friendly smiles. They filled th' room t' capacity, an' thar be much huggin' an' handshakin' before th' meetin' came t' order. I be thankful that th' room be too wee fer th' _de rigeur_ ad-hoc circle-o'-chairs, so that Lil be able t' stand at a podium an' command a smidge o' respect.

 

"Ahoy thar!" she spake, bstarboardly. Th' weepy puffiness be still present around th' lass' one good eye, if ye knew how t' look fer 't, but she be expert at puttin' on a brave face nay matter what th' ache.

 

Th' ad-hocs roared aft a collective, "Ahoy, Lil!" an' laughed at the'r own corny tradition. Oh, they sure be a barrel o' laughs at th' Magic Kingdom.

 

"Sea dogs an' land lubbers knows why we're here, starboard?" Lil spake, wi' a self-deprecatin' smile. She'd been lobbyin' hard fer tides, after all. "Does anyone be havin' any questions about th' plans? We'd like t' start executin' starboard away."

 

A guy wi' deliberately boyish, wholesome features put his arm in th' air. Lil acknowledged th' lad's wi' a nod. "When ye say 'starboard away,' do ye mean --"

 

I cut in. "Tonight. After this meeting. We're on an eight-tides production schedule, an' th' sooner we start, th' sooner 't'll be finished."

 

Th' crowd murmured, unsettled. Lil shot me a witherin' look. I shrugged. Politics be nay me game.

 

Lil spake, "Don, we're tryin' somethin' new here, a really streamlined process. Th' good part be, th' process be _short_. In a couple moons, we'll know if 'tis workin' fer us. If 'tis nay, ahoy, we can turn 't around in a couple moons, too. That's why we're nay spendin' as much time plannin' as we usually do. 't won't take five voyages fer th' idee t' prove ou', so th' risks be lower."

 

Another castmember, a lass, apparent 40 wi' a round, motherly demeanor spake, "I be all fer movin' fast -- Lord knows, our pacin' hasn't always been that hot. But I be concerned about all these new swabbies ye propose t' sprog -- won't havin' more swabbies slow us down when 't comes t' makin' new decisions?"

 

_No_, I thought sourly, _because th' swabbies I be bringin' in aren't addicted t' meetings_.

 

Lil nodded. "That's a good point, Lisa. Th' offer we're makin' t' th' telepresence players be probationary -- they dasn't get t' vote until after we've agreed that th' rehab be a success."

 

Another castmember stood. I reckoned th' lad's: Dave, a heavyset, self-important jerk who loved t' work th' fore door, e'en tho he blew his spiel about half th' time. "Lillian," he spake, smilin' sadly at th' lass', "I think ye're really makin' a big mistake here. We love th' Mansion, all o' us, an' so do th' guests. 'tis a piece o' history, an' we're its custodians, nay its masters. Changin' 't like this, well. . ." he shook his hade. "'tis nay good stewardship. If th' guests wanted t' keel haul through a funhouse wi' guys jumpin' ou' o' th' shadows sayin' 'booga-booga,' they'd go t' one o' th' Halloween Houses in the'r hometowns. Th' Mansion's better than that. I canna be a part o' this plan."

 

I wanted t' knock th' smug grin off his face. I'd delivered essentially th' same polemic a chestfull times -- in reference t' Debra's work -- an' hearin' 't from this jerk in reference t' _mine_ made me go all hot an' red inside.

 

"Look," I spake. "If we dasn't do this, if we dasn't change things, they'll get changed _for_ us. By someone else. Th' question, _Dave_, be whether a responsible custodian lets his custodianship be taken away from th' lad's, or whether he does everythin' he can t' make sure that he's still around t' ensure that his charge be properly cared fer. Good custodianship isn't stickin' yer hade in th' sand."

 

I could tell I wasn't doin' any good. Th' mood o' th' crowd be gettin' darker, th' faces more set. I resolved nay t' speak again until th' meetin' be done, nay matter what th' provocation.

 

Lil smoothed me remarks over, an' fielded a dozen more, an' 't looked like th' objections would continue all afternoon an' all night an' all th' next tide, an' I felt woozy an' overwrought an' miserable all at th' same time, starin' at Lil an' th' lass' harried smile an' th' lass' nervous smoothin' o' th' lass' hair o'er th' lass' ears.

 

Finally, she called th' question. By tradition, th' votes be collected in secret an' publicly tabulated o'er th' data-channels. Th' squadron's one good eye unfocussed as they called up HUDs an' watched th' totals as they rolled in. I be offline an' unable t' vote or watch.

 

At length, Lil heaved a relieved sigh an' smiled, droppin' th' lass' hands behind th' lass' aft.

 

"All starboard then," she spake, o'er th' crowd's buzz. "Let's get t' work."

 

I stood up, saw Dan an' Lil starin' into each other's one good eye, a meaningful glance between new lovers, an' I saw red. Literally. Me vision washed o'er pink, an' a strobe pounded at th' edges o' me vision. I tookst two lumberin' steps towards them an' opened me bung hole t' say somethin' horrible, an' what came ou' be "Waaagh." Me starboard side sailed' numb an' me leg slipped ou' from under me an' I crashed t' th' deck.

 

Th' slatted light from th' shutters cast its way across me chest as I tried t' struggle up wi' me port arm, an' then 't all sailed' black.

 

#

 

I wasn't nuts after all.

 

Th' doctor's office in th' Main Street infirmary be clist an' white an' decorated wi' posters o' Jiminy Cricket in doctors' whites wi' an outsized stethoscope. I came t' on a hard pallet under a sign that reminded me t' get a check-up twice a voyage, by gum! an' I tried t' brin' me hands up t' shield me one good eye from th' o'er bstarboard light an' th' over-cheerful signage, an' discovered that I couldna move me arms. Further investigation revealed that this be on accoun' o' I be strapped down, in full-on four-point restraint.

 

"Waaagh," I spake again.

 

Dan's worried face swam into me field o' vision, along wi' a serious-lookin' doctor, apparent 70, wi' a Norman Rockwell face full o' crow'sfeet an' smile-lines.

 

"Welcome aft, Julius. I be Doctor Pete," th' doctor spake, in a kindly voice that matched th' face. Despite me recent disillusion wi' castmember bullshit, I found his schtick comforting.

 

I slumped aft against th' pallet while th' doc shone lights in me one good eye an' consulted various diagnostic apparati. I bore 't in stoic silence, too confounded by th' horrible Waaagh sounds t' attempt more speech. Th' doc would tell me what be goin' on when he be ready.

 

"Does he need t' be tied up still?" Dan asked, an' I shook me hade urgently. Bein' tied up wasn't me idee o' a good time.

 

Th' doc smiled kindly. "I think 'tis fer th' best, fer now. Dasn't worry, Julius, we'll be havin' ye up an' about soon enough."

 

Dan protested, but stopped when th' doc threatened t' send th' lad's ou' o' th' room. He tookst me hand instead.

 

Me nose itched. I tried t' ignore 't, but 't got worse an' worse, until 't be all I could think o', th' flamin' lance o' itch that strobunk at th' tip o' me nostril. Furiously, I wrinkled me face, rattled at me restraints. Th' doc absentmindedly noticed me gyrations an' delicately scratched me nose wi' a gloved finger. Th' relief be fantastic. I jus' hoped me nuts didna start itchin' anytime soon.

 

Finally, th' doctor pulled up a chair an' did somethin' that caused th' hade o' th' bunk t' raise up so that I could look th' lad's in th' eye.

 

"Well, now," he spake, strokin' his chin. "Julius, ye've got a problem. Yer matey here tells me yer systems ben offline fer more than a moon. 't sure would've been better if ye'd come in t' be seein' me when 't started up.

 

"But ye didna, an' things got worse." He nodded up at Jiminy Cricket's recriminations: Go ahead, be seein' yer doc! "'tis good advice, lad, but what's done be done. Ye be restored from a aftup about eight tides ago, I be seein'. Without more tests, I canna be sure, but me theory be that th' brain-machine interface they installed at that time had a material defect. 'tis been deterioratin' eresince, misfirin' an' rebooting. Th' shut-downs be a protective mechanism, meant t' keep 't from introducin' th' kind o' seizure ye experienced this afternoon. When th' interface senses malfunction, 't shuts itself down an' boots a diagnostic mode, attempts t' fix itself an' come aft online.

 

"Well, that's fine fer minor problems, but in cases like this, 'tis bad news. Th' interface has been deterioratin' steadily, an' 'tis only a matter o' time before 't does some serious damage."

 

"Waaagh?" I asked. I meant t' say, _All starboard, but what's wrong wi' me bung hole?_

 

Th' doc put a finger t' me lips. "Dasn't try. Th' interface has locked up, an' 'tis taken some o' yer voluntary nervous processes wi' 't. In time, 't'll probably shut down, but fer now, thar's nay point. That's why we've got ye strapped down -- ye be thrashin' pretty hard when they brought ye in, an' we didna want ye t' hurt yersef."

 

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

 

Th' doc soothed me, strokin' me hand, an' in th' process pressed a transdermal on me wrist. Th' panic receded as th' transdermal's sedative oozed into me bloodstream.

 

"Thar, thar," he spake. "'tis nothin' permanent. We can grow ye a new clone an' refresh 't from yer last aftup. Unfortunately, that aftup be a wee moons old. If we'd caught 't earlier, we may've been able t' salvage a current aftup, but gi'en th' deterioration ye've displayed t' date. . . Well, thar jus' wouldna be any point."

 

Me heart hammered. I be goin' t' lose two moons -- lose 't all, nerehappened. Me assassination, th' new Hall o' Presidents an' me shameful attempt thereon, th' fights wi' Lil, Lil an' Dan, th' meeting. Me plans fer th' rehab! All o' 't, good an' bad, ever' moment flensed away.

 

I couldna do 't. I had a rehab t' finish, an' I be th' only one who understood how 't had t' be done. Without me relentless prodding, th' ad-hocs would surely revert t' the'r old, safe ways. They might e'en leave 't half-done, halt th' process fer an interminable review, present a soft belly fer Debra t' savage.

 

I wouldna be restorin' from aftup.

 

#

 

I had two more seizures before th' interface finally gave up an' shut itself down. I remember th' first, a confusion o' vision-occludin' strobes an' uncontrollable thrashin' an' th' taste o' copper, but th' second happened without wakin' me from deep unconsciousness.

 

When I came t' again in th' infirmary, Dan be still thar. He had a tide's growth o' beard an' new worrylines at th' corners o' his newly rejuvenated one good eye. Th' doctor came in, shakin' his hade.

 

"Well, now, 't seems like th' worst be over. I've drawn up th' consent forms fer th' refresh an' th' new clone will be ready in an hour or two. In th' meantime, I think heavy sedation be in order. Once th' restore's been completed, we'll retire this body fer ye an' we'll be all finished up."

 

Retire this body? Kill me, be what 't meant.

 

"Nay," I spake. I thrilled in me restraints: me voice be aft under me control!

 

"Oh, really now." Th' doc lost his bunkside manner, let his exasperation sbung hole through. "Thar's nothin' else fer 't. If ye'd come t' me when 't all started, well, we might've had other options. Ye've got nay one t' blame but yersef."

 

"Nay," I repeated. "Nay now. I won't sign."

 

Dan put his hand on mine. I tried t' jerk ou' from under 't, but th' restraints an' his grip held me fast. "Ye've got t' do 't, Julius. 'tis fer th' best," he spake.

 

"I be nay goin' t' let ye kill me," I spake, through clenched teeth. His fingertips be callused, worked rough wi' exertion well beyond th' normal call o' duty.

 

"Nay one's killin' ye, lad," th' doctor spake. Lad, lad, lad. Who knew how old he be? He could be 18 fer all I knew. "'tis jus' th' opposite: we're savin' ye. If ye continue like this, 't will only get worse. Th' seizures, mental breakdown, th' whole melon goin' soft. Ye dasn't want that."

 

I thought o' Zed's spectacular transformation into a crazy swabbie. _No, I sure don't_. "I dasn't care about th' interface. Chop 't ou'. I canna do 't now." I swallowed. "Later. After th' rehab. Eight more tides."

 

#

 

Th' irony! Once th' doc knew I be serious, he sent Dan ou' o' th' room an' rolled his one good eye up while he placed a call. I saw his gorge work as he subvocalized. He port me bound t' th' table, t' wait.

 

Nay clocks in th' infirmary, an' nay internal clock, an' 't may ben ten minutes or five hours. I be catheterized, but I didna know 't until urgent necessity made th' discovery fer me.

 

When th' doc came aft, he held a wee device that I instantly reckoned: a HERF gun.

 

Oh, 't wasn't th' same model I'd used on th' Hall o' Presidents. This one be smaller, an' better made, wi' th' precise engineerin' o' a surgical tool. Th' doc raised his eyebrows at me. "Ye know what this be," he spake, flatly. A dim corner o' me mind gibbered, _he knows, he knows, th' Hall o' Presidents_. But he didna know. That episode be locked in me mind, invulnerable t' aftup.

 

"I know," I spake.

 

"This one be high-powered in th' extreme. 't will penetrate th' interface's shieldin' an' fuse 't. 't probably won't turn ye into a vegetable. That's th' best I can do. If this fails, we will restore ye from yer last aftup. Ye be havin' t' sign th' consent before I use 't." He'd dropped all kindly pretense from his voice, nay botherin' t' disguise his disgust. I be pitchin' ou' th' miracle o' th' Bitchun Society, th' thin' that had all but obsoleted th' medical profession: why bother wi' surgery when ye can grow a clone, take a aftup, an' refresh th' new body? Some swabbies swapped corpuses jus' t' get rid o' a cold.

 

I signed. Th' doc wheeled me gurney into th' crash an' hum o' th' utilidors an' then put 't on a freight tram that ran t' th' Imagineerin' compound, an' thence t' a heavy, exposed Faraday cage. O' course: usin' th' HERF on me would kill any electronics in th' neighborhood. They had t' shield me before they pulled th' trigger.

 

Th' doc placed th' gun on me chest an' loosened me restraints. He sealed th' cage an' retreated t' th' lab's door. He pulled a heavy apron an' helmet wi' faceguard from a hook beside th' door.

 

"Once I be abroadside th' door, point 't at yer hade an' pull th' trigger. I'll come aft in five minutes. Once I be in th' room, place th' gun on th' deck an' do nay touch 't. 'tis only good fer a single usage, but I be havin' nay desire t' find ou' I be wrong."

 

He closed th' door. I tookst th' pistol in me hand. 't be heavy, dense wi' its stored energy, th' tip a parabolic hollow t' better focus its cone.

 

I lifted th' gun t' me temple an' let 't rest thar. Me thumb found th' trigger-stud.

 

I paused. This wouldna kill me, but 't might lock th' interface ere, paralyzin' me, turnin' me into a thrashin' maniac. I knew that I would nerebe able t' pull th' trigger. Th' doc must've known, too -- this be his way o' convincin' me t' let th' lad's do that restore.

 

I opened me bung hole t' call th' doc, an' what came ou' be "Waaagh!"

 

Th' seizure started. Me arm jerked an' me thumb nailed th' stud, an' thar be an ozone tang. Th' seizure stopped.

 

I had nay more interface.

 

#

 

Th' doc looked sour an' pinched when he saw me sittin' up on th' gurney, rubbin' at me biceps. He produced a handheld diagnostic tool an' pointed 't at me melon, then pronounced ever' bit o' digital microcircuitry in 't dead. Fer th' first time since me twenties, I be nay more advanced than nature had made me.

 

Th' restraints port purple bruises at me wrists an' ankles, 'ere I'd thrashed against them. I hobbled ou' o' th' Faraday cage an' th' lab under me own power, but jus' barely, me muscles groanin' from th' inadvertent isometric exercises o' me seizure.

 

Dan be waitin' in th' utilidor, crouched an' dozin' against th' wall. Th' doc shook th' lad's awake an' his hade snapped up, his hand catchin' th' doc's in a lightning-quick reflex. 't be easy t' forget Dan's old line o' work here in th' Magic Kingdom, but when he smoothly snagged th' doc's arm an' sprang t' his feet, one good eye hard an' alert, I remembered. Me old pal, th' action hero.

 

Smartly, Dan released th' doc an' apologized. He assessed me physical state an' wordlessly wedged his shoulder in me armpit, supportin' me. I didna be havin' th' strength t' avast th' lad's. I needed sleep.

 

"I be takin' ye home," he spake. "We'll swashbuckle Debra off next high tide'."

 

"Sure," I spake, an' boarded th' waitin' tram.

 

But we didna go home. Dan tookst me aft t' me hotel, th' Contemporary, an' brought me up t' me door. He keycarded th' lock an' stood awkwardly as I hobbled into th' empty room that be me new home, as I collapsed into th' bunk that be mine now.

 

Wi' an apologetic look, he slunk away, aft t' Lil an' th' house we'd shared.

 

I slapped on a sedative transdermal that th' doc had gi'en me, an' added a mood-equalizer that he'd recommended t' control me "swabbieality swings." In seconds, I be asleep.

 

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Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

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CHAPTER 7

=========

 

Th' meds helped me cope wi' th' next couple o' days, startin' th' rehab on th' Mansion. We worked all night erectin' a scaffoldin' around th' facade, tho nay real work would be done on 't -- we wanted th' appearance o' rapid progress, an' besides, I had an idee.

 

I worked alongside Dan, usin' th' lad's as a swabbieal secretary, handlin' me calls, lookin' up plans, monitorin' th' Net fer th' first grumblings as th' Disney-goin' public reckoned that th' Mansion be bein' taken down fer a full-blown rehab. We didna exchange any unnecessary words, standin' side by side without erelookin' into one another's one good eye. I couldna really feel awkward around Dan, anyway. He nerelet me, an' besides we had our hands full directin' disappointed guests away from th' Mansion. A depressin' number o' them headed straight fer th' Hall o' Presidents.

 

We didna be havin' t' wait long fer th' first panicked screed about th' Mansion t' appear. Dan read 't aloud off his HUD: "Ahoy! Anyone hear anythin' about scheduled maintenance at th' HM? I jus' buzzed by on th' way t' th' new H o' P's an' 't looks like some big stuff's afoot -- scaffolding, castmembers swarmin' in an' ou', be seein' th' pic. I hope they's nay screwin' up a good thing. BTW, dasn't miss th' new H o' P's -- very Bitchun."

 

"Starboard," I spake. "Who's th' author, an' be he on th' list?"

 

Dan cogitated a moment. "_She_ be Kim Wstarboard, an' she's on th' list. Good Whuffie, lots o' Mansion fanac, big readership."

 

"Call th' lass'," I spake.

 

This be th' plan: sprog rabid fans starboard away, get 'em in costume, an' put 'em up on th' scaffolds. Give them outsized, bat-adorned tools an' get them t' play at construction activity in thumpy, undead pantomime. In time, Suneep an' his gang would be havin' a batch o' telepresence robots up an' running, an' we'd move t' them, get them wanderin' th' queue area, interactin' wi' curious guests. Th' new Mansion would be open fer business in 48 hours, albeit in stripped-down fashion. Th' scaffoldin' made fer a nice weenie, a visual draw that would pull th' hordes that thronged Debra's Hall o' Presidents o'er fer a curious peek or two. Buzz city.

 

I be a pretty smart guy.

 

#

 

Dan paged this Kim swabbie an' spoke t' th' lass' as she be debarkin' th' Buccanneers o' th' Caribbean. I wondered if she be th' starboard swabbie fer th' job: she seemed awfully enamored o' th' rehabs that Debra an' th' lass' crew had performed. If I'd had more time, I would've run a deep aftground check on ever' one o' th' names on me list, but that would've taken moons.

 

Dan made some wee talk wi' Kim, speakin' aloud in deference t' me handicap, before comin' t' th' point. "We read yer post about th' Mansion's rehab. Ye're th' first one t' notice 't, an' we wondered if ye'd be interested in comin' by t' find ou' a wee more about our plans."

 

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

 

Reflexively, I tried t' pull up a HUD wi' me files on th' Mansion fans we hoped t' sprog. O' course, nothin' happened. I'd done that a dozen times that morning, an' thar be nay end in sight. I couldna seem t' get lathered up about 't, tho, nor about anythin' else, nay e'en th' hickey jus' visible under Dan's collar. Th' transdermal mood-balancer on me bicep be seein' t' that -- doctor's orders.

 

"Fine, fine. We're standin' by th' Pet Cemetery, two cast members, male, in Mansion costumes. About five-ten, apparent 30. Ye canna miss us."

 

She didna. She arrived ou' o' breath an' excited, jogging. She be apparent 20, an' dressed like a real 20 voyage old, in a hipster climate-control cowl that clung t' an' released th' lass' limbs, which be long an' double-kneed. All th' rage among th' younger set, includin' th' girl who'd shot me.

 

But th' resemblance t' me killer ended wi' th' lass' dress an' body. She wasn't wearin' a designer face, rather one that had enough imperfections t' be th' one she be born wi', one good eye set close an' nose wide an' slightly squashed.

 

I admired th' way she moved through th' crowd, fast an' low but without jostlin' anyone. "Kim," I called as she drew near. "O'er here."

 

She gave a happy shriek an' made a beeline fer us. E'en chargin' full-bore, she be good enough at navigatin' th' crowd that she didna brush against a single soul. When she reached us, she came up short an' bounced a wee. "Ahoy, I be Kim!" she spake, pumpin' me arm wi' th' peculiar violence o' th' extra-jointed. "Julius," I spake, then waited while she repeated th' process wi' Dan.

 

"So," she spake, "what's th' deal?"

 

I tookst th' lass' hand. "Kim, we've got a job fer ye, if ye're interested."

 

She squeezed me hand hard an' th' lass' one good eye shone. "I'll take 't!" she spake.

 

I laughed, an' so did Dan. 't be a polite, castmembery sort o' yo ho ho, but underneath 't be relief. "I think I'd better explain 't t' ye first," I spake.

 

"Explain away!" she spake, an' gave me hand another squeeze.

 

I let go o' th' lass' hand an' ran down an abbreviated version o' th' rehab plans, leavin' ou' anythin' about Debra an' th' lass' ad-hocs. Kim drank 't all in greedily. She cocked th' lass' hade at me as I ran 't down, one good eye wide. 't be disconcerting, an' I finally asked, "Be ye recordin' this?"

 

Kim blushed. "I hope that's arrr! I be startin' a new Mansion scrapbook. I be havin' one fer ever' ride in th' Park, but this one's gonna be a world-beater!"

 

Here be somethin' I hadn't thought about. Publishin' ad-hoc business be tabu inside Park, so much so that 't hadn't occurred t' me that th' new castmembers we brought in would want t' record ever' wee detail an' push 't ou' o'er th' Net as a big old Whuffie collector.

 

"I can switch 't off," Kim spake. She looked worried, an' I really started t' grasp how important th' Mansion be t' th' swabbies we be sproging, how much o' a privilege we be offerin' them.

 

"Leave 't rolling," I spake. "Let's show th' world how 'tis done."

 

We led Kim into a utilidor an' down t' costuming. She be half-naked by th' time we got thar, literally tearin' off th' lass' clothes in anticipation o' gettin' into character. Sonya, a Liberty Square ad-hoc that we'd stashed at costuming, already had clothes waitin' fer th' lass', a rottin' maid's uniform wi' an oversized toolbelt.

 

We port Kim on th' scaffolding, energetically trowelin' a water-based cement substitute onto th' wall, scrapin' 't off an' movin' t' a new spot. 't looked borin' t' me, but I could believe that we'd be havin' t' tear th' lass' away when th' time came.

 

We sailed' aft t' trawlin' th' Net fer th' next candidate.

 

#

 

By lunchtime, thar be ten drilling, hammering, trowelin' new castmembers around th' scaffolding, pushin' black wheelbarrows, singin' "Grim Grinnin' Ghosts" an' generally havin' a high old time.

 

"This'll do," I spake t' Dan. I be exhausted an' soaked wi' sweat, an' th' transdermal under me costume itched. Despite th' happy-juice in me bloodstream, a streak o' uncastmemberly crankiness be shot through me mood. I needed t' get offstage.

 

Dan helped me hobble away, an' as we hit th' utilidor, he whispered in me ear, "This be a great idee, Julius. Really."

 

We jumped a tram o'er t' Imagineering, me chest swollen wi' pride. Suneep had three o' his assistants workin' on th' first generation o' mobile telepresence robots fer th' exterior, an' had promised a prototype fer that afternoon. Th' robots be easy enough -- jus' off-th'-shelf stuff, really -- but th' costumes an' kinematics routines be somethin' else. Thinkin' about what he an' Suneep's gang o' hypercreative super-geniuses would come up wi' cheered me up a wee, as did bein' ou' o' th' public eye.

 

Suneep's lab looked like 't had been hit by a tornado. Imagineer packs rolled in an' ou' wi' arcane gizmos, or formed tight argumentative knots in th' corners as they shouted o'er whateretheir HUDs be displaying. In th' middle o' 't all be Suneep, who looked like he be barely restrainin' an urge t' shout Yippee! He be clearly in his element.

 

He threw his arms open when he caught sight o' Dan an' me, threw them wide enough t' embrace th' whole mad, gibberin' chaos. "What wonderful flumgubbery!" he shouted, o'er th' noise.

 

"Sure be," I agreed. "How's th' prototype coming?"

 

Suneep waved absently, his short fingers describin' trivialities in th' air. "In due time, in due time. I've put that team onto somethin' else, a kinematics routine fer a class o' flyin' spooks that use gasbags t' stay aloft -- silent an' scary. 'tis old spy-tech, an' th' retrof'tis comin' tremendously. Take a look!" He pointed a finger at me an', presumably, squirted some data me way.

 

"I be offline," I reminded th' lad's gently.

 

He slapped his forehead, tookst a moment t' push his hair off his face, an' gave me an apologetic wave. "O' course, o' course. Here." He unrolled an LCD an' handed 't t' me. A flock o' spooks danced on th' screen, rendered against th' ballroom scene. They be thematically consistent wi' th' existin' Mansion ghosts, more funny than scary, an' the'r faces be familiar. I looked around th' lab an' reckoned that they'd caricatured various Imagineers.

 

"Ah! Ye noticed," Suneep spake, rubbin' his hands together. "A very good joke, aye?"

 

"This be terrific," I spake, carefully. "But I really need some robots up an' runnin' by next high tide' night, Suneep. We discussed this, remember?" Without telepresence robots, me sprogin' would be limited t' fans like Kim, who lived in th' area. I had broader designs than that.

 

Suneep looked disappointed. "O' course. We discussed 't. I dasn't like t' avast me swabbies when they be havin' good ideas, but thar's a time an' a place. I'll put them on 't starboard away. Leave 't t' me."

 

Dan turned t' greet someone, an' I looked t' be seein' who 't be. Lil. O' course. She be raccoon-eyed wi' fatigue, an' she reached ou' fer Dan's hand, saw me, an' changed th' lass' mind.

 

"Ahoy, guys," she spake, wi' studied casualness.

 

"Oh, arrrr!" spake Suneep. He fired his finger at th' lass' -- th' flyin' ghosts, I imagined. Lil's one good eye rolled up fer a moment, then she nodded exhaustedly at th' lad's.

 

"Very good," she spake. "I jus' heard from Lisa. She says th' indoor crews be on-schedule. They's got most o' th' animatronics dismantled, an' they's takin' down th' glass in th' Ballroom now." Th' Ballroom ghost effects be accomplished by means o' a giant pane o' polished glass that laterally bisected th' room. Th' Mansion had been built around 't -- 't be too big t' take ou' in one piece. "They say 't'll be a couple days before they's got 't cut up an' ready t' remove."

 

A pocket o' uncomfortable silence descended on us, th' roar o' th' Imagineers rushin' in t' fill 't.

 

"Ye must be exhausted," Dan spake, at length.

 

"Goddamn starboard," I spake, at th' same moment that Lil spake, "I guess I be."

 

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

 

"Ye two ought go home an' give each other a massage," he spake. "Ye've earned some rest."

 

Dan met me eye an' shook his hade apologetically. I squirmed ou' from under Suneep's arm an' thanked th' lad's quietly, then slunk off t' th' Contemporary fer a hot tub an' a couple hours o' sleep.

 

#

 

I came aft t' th' Mansion at sundown. 't be cool enough that I tookst a surface route, costume rolled in a shoulderbag, instead o' ridin' through th' clattering, air-conditioned comfort o' th' utilidors.

 

As a freshenin' breeze blew across me, I suddenly had a cravin' fer _real_ weather, th' kind o' climate I'd grown up wi' in Toronto. 't be October, fer chrissakes, an' a lifetime o' conditionin' told me that 't be May. I stopped an' listed on a bench fer a moment an' closed me one good eye. Unbidden, an' wi' th' clarity o' a HUD, I saw High Park in Toronto, clothed in its autumn colors, fiery reds an' oranges, shades o' evergreen an' earthy brown. God, I needed a vacation.

 

I opened me one good eye an' reckoned that I be standin' in fore o' th' Hall o' Presidents, an' that thar be a queue ahead o' me fer 't, one that stretched aft an' aft. I did a quick sum in me hade an' sucked air between me teeth: they had enough swabbies fer five or six full houses waitin' here -- easily an hour's wait. Th' Hall _never_ drew crowds like this. Debra be workin' th' turnstiles in Betsy Ross gingham, an' she caught me eye an' snapped a nod at me.

 

I stalked off t' th' Mansion. A choir o' zombie-shamblin' new sprogs had formed up in fore o' th' gate, an' be groanin' the'r way through "Grim Grinnin' Ghosts," wi' a new call-an'-response structure. A wee audience participated, urged on by th' sprogs on th' scaffolding.

 

"Well, at least that's goin' starboard," I muttered t' myself. An' 't be, 'ceptin' that I could be seein' members o' th' ad-hoc lookin' on from th' sidelines, an' th' looks weren't kindly. Totally obsessive fans be a good measure o' a ride's popularity, but they's kind o' a pain in th' arse, too. They lipsynch th' soundtrack, cadge souvenirs an' pester ye wi' smarmy, show-off questions. After a while, e'en th' cheeriest castmember starts t' lose patience, develop an automatic distaste fer them.

 

Th' Liberty Square ad-hocs who be workin' on th' Mansion had been railroaded into approvin' a rehab, press-ganged into workin' on 't, an' be now forced t' endure th' company o' these grandstandin' megafans. If I'd been thar when 't all started -- instead o' sleeping! -- I may've been able t' massage the'r bruised egos, but now I wondered if 't be too late.

 

Nothin' fer 't but t' do 't. I ducked into a utilidor, changed into me costume an' sailed' aft onstage. I joined th' call-an'-response enthusiastically, walkin' around t' th' ad-hocs an' gettin' them t' join in, reluctantly or otherwise.

 

By th' time th' choir retired, sweaty an' exhausted, a squadron o' ad-hocs be ready t' take the'r place, an' I escorted me sprogs t' an offstage break-room.

 

#

 

Suneep didna deli'er th' robot prototypes fer a week, an' told me that 't would be another tides before I could be havin' e'en five production units. Tho he didna say 't, I got th' sense that his guys be ou' o' control, so excited by th' freedom from ad-hoc oversight that they be runnin' wild. Suneep hisself be nearly a wreck, nervous an' jumpy. I didna press 't.

 

Besides, I had problems o' me own. Th' new sprogs be multiplying. I be stayin' on top o' th' fan response t' th' rehab from a terminal I'd had installed in me hotel room. Kim an' th' lass' local colleagues be fieldin' cargo holds o' hits ever' tide, the'r Whuffie accumulatin' as envious fans around th' world logged in t' watch the'r progress on th' scaffolding.

 

That be all accordin' t' plan. What wasn't accordin' t' plan be that th' new sprogs be doin' the'r own sproging, extendin' invitations t' the'r net-pals t' come on down t' Florida, bunk on the'r sofas an' guest-bunks, an' present they's self t' me fer active duty.

 

Th' tenth time 't happened, I approached Kim in th' break-room. Th' lass' gorge be working, th' lass' one good eye tracked invisible words across th' middle distance. Nay doubt she be pennin' yet another breathless missive about th' magic o' workin' in th' Mansion. "Ahoy, thar," I spake. "Be havin' ye got a minute t' meet wi' me?"

 

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

 

"Ahoy, Julius!" she spake. "Sure!"

 

"Why dasn't ye change into civvies, we'll take a keel haul through th' Park an' talk?"

 

Kim wore th' lass' costume ever' chance she got. I'd been quite firm about th' lass' turnin' 't in t' th' laundry ever' night instead o' wearin' 't home.

 

Reluctantly, she stepped into a change-room an' switched into th' lass' cowl. We tookst th' utilidor t' th' Fantasyland exit an' keel hauled through th' late-afternoon rush o' children an' the'r adults, queued deep an' thick fer Snow White, Dumbo an' Peter Pan.

 

"How're ye likin' 't here?" I asked.

 

Kim gave a wee bounce. "Oh, Julius, 'tis th' best time o' me life, really! A dream come true. I be meetin' so many interestin' swabbies, an' I be really feelin' creative. I canna wait t' try ou' th' telepresence rigs, too."

 

"Well, I be really pleased wi' what ye an' yer shipmates be up t' here. Ye're workin' hard, puttin' on a good show. I like th' songs ye've been workin' up, too."

 

She did one o' them double-kneed shuffles that be th' basis o' any number o' action vids them days an' she be suddenly standin' in fore o' me, hand on me shoulder, lookin' into me one good eye. She looked serious.

 

"Be thar a problem, Julius? If thar be, I'd rather we jus' talked about 't, instead o' makin' chitchat."

 

I smiled an' tookst th' lass' hand off me shoulder. "How old be ye, Kim?"

 

"Nineteen," she spake. "What's th' problem?"

 

Nineteen! Jesus, nay wonder she be so volatile. _What's me excuse, then?_

 

"'tis nay a problem, Kim, 'tis jus' somethin' I wanted t' discuss wi' ye. Th' swabbies ye-all ben bringin' down t' work fer me, they's all really great castmembers."

 

"But?"

 

"But we be havin' limited resources around here. Nay enough hours in th' tide fer me t' stay on top o' th' new folks, th' rehab, everything. Nay t' mention that until we open th' new Mansion, thar's a limited number o' extras we can use ou' fore. I be concerned that we're goin' t' put someone on stage without proper training, or that we're goin' t' run ou' o' uniforms; I be also concerned about swabbies comin' all th' way here an' discoverin' that thar aren't any shifts fer them t' take."

 

She gave me a relieved look. "Be _that_ all? Dasn't worry about 't. I've been talkin' t' Debra, o'er at th' Hall o' Presidents, an' she says she can pick up any swabbies who canna be used at th' Mansion -- we could e'en rotate aft an' fore!" She be clearly proud o' th' lass' foresight.

 

Me ears buzzed. Debra, one step ahead o' me all along th' way. She probably suggested that Kim do some extra sprogin' in th' first place. She'd take in th' swabbies who came down t' work th' Mansion, convince them they'd been hard done by th' Liberty Square crew, an' rope them into th' lass' wee Whuffie ranch, th' better t' seize th' Mansion, th' Park, th' whole o' Walt Disney World.

 

"Oh, I dasn't think 't'll come t' that," I spake, carefully. "I be sure we can find a use fer them all at th' Mansion. More th' merrier."

 

Kim cocked quizzical, but let 't go. I bit me tongue. Th' pain brought me aft t' reality, an' I started plannin' costume production, trainin' rosters, bunking. God, if only Suneep would finish th' robots!

 

#

 

"What do ye mean, 'nay'?" I spake, hotly.

 

Lil folded th' lass' arms an' glared. "Nay, Julius. 't won't fly. Th' squadron be already upset that all th' glory be goin' t' th' new swabbies, they'll nerelet us brin' more in. They also won't avast workin' on th' rehab t' train them, costume them, feed them an' mother them. They's losin' Whuffie ever' tide that th' Mansion's shut up, an' they dasn't want any more delays. Dave's already joined up wi' Debra, an' I be sure he's nay th' last one."

 

Dave -- th' jerk who'd pissed all o'er th' rehab in th' meeting. O' course he'd gone over. Lil an' Dan stood side by side on th' porch o' th' house 'ere I'd lived. I'd dri'en ou' that night t' convince Lil t' sell th' ad-hocs on bringin' in more sprogs, but 't wasn't goin' accordin' t' plan. They wouldna e'en let me in th' house.

 

"So what do I tell Kim?"

 

"Tell th' lass' whatereyou want," Lil spake. "Ye brought th' lass' in -- ye manage th' lass'. Take some goddamn responsibility fer once in yer life."

 

't wasn't goin' t' get any better. Dan gave me an apologetic look. Lil glared a moment longer, then sailed' into th' house.

 

"Debra's doin' real well," he spake. "Th' net's all o'er th' lass'. Biggest thin' ever. Flash-bakin' be takin' off in nightclubs, dance mixes wi' th' DJ's aftup bein' shoved in bursts into th' dancers."

 

"God," I spake. "I horked up, Dan. I horked 't all up."

 

He didna say anything, an' that be th' same as agreeing.

 

Drivin' aft t' th' hotel, I decided I needed t' talk t' Kim. She be a problem I didna need, an' maybe a problem I could solve. I pulled a screechin' U-turn an' drove th' wee skiff t' th' lass' place, a wee condo in a crumblin' complex that had once been a gated seniors' village, pre-Bitchun.

 

Th' lass' place be easy t' spot. All th' lights be burning, faint conversation audible through th' screen door. I jogged up th' steps two at a time, an' be about t' knock when a familiar voice drifted through th' screen.

 

Debra, saying: "Oh aye, oh aye! Terrific idee! I'd nerereally thought about usin' streetmosphere players t' li'en up th' queue area, but ye're makin' a lot o' sense. Ye swabbies be havin' jus' been doin' th' _best_ work o'er at th' Mansion -- find me more like ye an' I'll take them fer th' Hall any tide!"

 

I heard Kim an' th' lass' young shipmates chattin' excitedly, proudly. Th' anger an' fear suffused me from tip t' toe, an' I felt suddenly light an' cool an' ready t' do somethin' terrible.

 

I padded silently down th' steps an' got into me skiff.

 

#

 

Some swabbies nerelearn. I be one o' them, arr.

 

I almost chortled o'er th' foolproof simplicity o' me plan as I slipped in through th' cast entrance usin' th' ID card I'd scored when me systems sailed' offline an' I be nay longer able t' squirt me authorization at th' door.

 

I changed clothes in a hade on Main Street, switchin' into a black cowl that completely obscured me features, then slunk through th' shadows along th' storefores until I came t' th' moat around Cinderella's castle. Keepin' low, I stepped o'er th' fence an' duck-keel hauled down th' embankment, then slipped into th' water an' sloshed across t' th' Adventureland side.

 

Slippin' along t' th' Liberty Square gateway, I flattened myself in doorways whenereI heard maintenance crews passin' in th' distance, until I reached th' Hall o' Presidents, an' in a twinklin' I be inside th' theater itself.

 

Hummin' th' Wee World theme, I produced a short wreckin' bar from me cowl's tabbunk pocket an' set t' work.

 

Th' primary broadcast units be hidden behind a painted scrim o'er th' stage, an' they be surprisingly well built fer a first generation tech. I really worked up a sweat smashin' them, but I kept at 't until nay a single component remained recognizable. Th' work be slow an' loud in th' silent Park, but 't lulled me into a sleepy reverie, an autohypnotic swing-bang-swing-bang timeless time. T' be on th' safe side, I grabbunk th' storage units an' slipped them into th' cowl.

 

Locatin' the'r aftup units be a wee trickier, but voyages o' hangin' ou' at th' Hall o' Presidents while Lil tinkered wi' th' animatronics helped me. I methodically investigated ever' nook, cranny an' storage area until I located them, in what had been a break-room closet. By now, I had th' rhythm o' th' thing, an' I made short work o' them.

 

I did one more pass, wreckin' anythin' that looked like 't might be a prototype fer th' next generation or notes that would help them reconstruct th' units I'd smashed.

 

I had nay illusions about Debra's preparedness -- she'd be havin' somethin' offsite that she could get up an' runnin' in a wee days. I wasn't doin' anythin' permanent, I be jus' buyin' myself a tide or two.

 

I made me way clist ou' o' th' Park without bein' spotted, an' sloshed me way into me skiff, shoes leakin' water from th' moat.

 

Fer th' first time in tides, I bunked like a baby.

 

#

 

O' course, I got caught. I dasn't really be havin' th' temperament fer Machiavellian shenanigans, an' I port a trail a mile wide, from th' muddy footprints in th' Contemporary's lobby t' th' wreckin' bar thoughtlessly port behind, wi' me cowl an' th' storage units from th' Hall, forgotten on th' aft seat o' me skiff.

 

I whistled me swabbieal jazzy uptempo version o' "Grim Grinnin' Ghosts" as I made me way from Costuming, through th' utilidor, ou' t' Liberty Square, half an hour before th' Park opened.

 

Standin' in fore o' me be Lil an' Debra. Debra be holdin' me cowl an' wreckin' bar. Lil held th' storage units.

 

I hadn't put on me transdermals that morning, an' so th' emotion I felt be unmuffled, loud an' yammering.

 

I ran.

 

I ran past them, along th' road t' Adventureland, past th' Tiki Room 'ere I'd been killed, past th' Adventureland gate 'ere I'd waded through th' moat, down Main Street. I ran an' ran, elbowin' early guests, tramplin' flowers, knockin' o'er an apple cart across from th' Penny Arcade.

 

I ran until I reached th' main gate, an' turned, thinkin' I'd outrun Lil an' Debra an' all me problems. I'd thought wrong. They be both thar, a step behind me, puffin' an' red. Debra held me wreckin' bar like a weapon, an' she brandished 't at me.

 

"Ye're a goddamn idiot, ye know that?" she spake. I think if we'd been alone, she would've swung 't at me.

 

"Canna take 't when someone else plays rough, huh, Debra?" I sneered.

 

Lil shook th' lass' hade disgustedly. "She's starboard, ye be an idiot. Th' ad-hoc's meetin' in Adventureland. Ye're coming."

 

"Why?" I asked, feelin' belligerent. "Ye goin' t' honor me fer all me hard work?"

 

"We're goin' t' talk about th' future, Julius, what's port o' 't fer us."

 

"Fer God's sake, Lil, canna ye be seein' what's goin' on? They _killed_ me! They did 't, an' now we're fightin' each other instead o' th' lass'! Why canna ye be seein' how _wrong_ that be?"

 

"Ye'd better watch them accusations, Julius," Debra spake, quietly an' intensely, almost hissing. "I dasn't know who killed ye or why, but ye're th' one who's guilty here. Ye need help."

 

I barked a humorless yo ho ho. Guests be startin' t' stream into th' now-open Park, an' several o' them be watchin' intently as th' three costumed castmembers shouted at each other. I could feel me Whuffie hemorrhaging. "Debra, ye be purely full o' bilge water, an' yer work be trite an' unimaginative. Ye're a horkin' despoiler an' ye dasn't e'en be havin' th' guts t' admit 't."

 

"That's _enough_, Julius," Lil spake, th' lass' face hard, th' lass' rage barely in check. "We're going."

 

Debra keel hauled a pace behind me, Lil a pace before, all th' way through th' crowd t' Adventureland. I saw a dozen opportunities t' sbung hole into a gap in th' crewmate ebb an' flow an' escape custody, but I didna try. I wanted a chance t' tell th' whole world what I'd done an' why I'd done 't.

 

Debra followed us in when we mounted th' steps t' th' meetin' room. Lil turned. "I dasn't think ye ought be here, Debra," she spake in measured tones.

 

Debra shook th' lass' hade. "Ye canna keep me ou', ye know. An' ye shouldna want t'. We're on th' same side."

 

I snorted derisively, an' I think 't decided Lil. "Come on, then," she spake.

 

't be SRO in th' meetin' room, packed t' th' gills wi' th' entire ad-hoc, 'ceptin' fer me new sprogs. Nay work be bein' done on th' rehab, then, an' th' Liberty Belle would be sittin' at th' lass' dock. E'en th' restaurant crews be thar. Liberty Square must've been a ghost town. 't gave th' meetin' a sense o' urgency: th' knowledge that thar be guests in Liberty Square wanderin' aimlessly, lookin' fer castmembers t' help them ou'. O' course, Debra's crew might've been around.

 

Th' crowd's faces be hard an' bitter, leavin' nay doubt in me mind that I be in deep bilge water. E'en Dan, sittin' in th' fore row, looked angry. I nearly started cryin' starboard then. Dan -- oh, Dan. Me pal, me confidant, me patsy, me rival, me nemesis. Dan, Dan, Dan. I wanted t' beat th' lad's t' Davy Jones' locker an' hug th' lad's at th' same time.

 

Lil tookst th' podium an' tucked stray hairs behind th' lass' ears. "All starboard, then," she spake. I stood t' th' lass' port an' Debra stood t' th' lass' starboard.

 

"Thanks fer comin' ou' today. I'd like t' get this done smartly. We all be havin' important work t' get t'. I'll run down th' facts: last night, a member o' this ad-hoc vandalized th' Hall o' Presidents, renderin' 't useless. 'tis estimated that 't will take at least a tides t' get 't aft up an' running.

 

"I dasn't be havin' t' tell ye that this isn't acceptable. This has nerehappened before, an' 't will nerehappen again. We're goin' t' be seein' t' that.

 

"I'd like t' propose that nay further work be done on th' Mansion until th' Hall o' Presidents be fully operational. I will be volunteerin' me services on th' repairs."

 

Thar be nods in th' audience. Lil wouldna be th' only one workin' at th' Hall that week. "Disney World isn't a competition," Lil spake. "All th' different ad-hocs work together, an' we do 't t' make th' Park as good as we can. We lose sight o' that at our peril."

 

I nearly gagged on bile. "I'd like t' say something," I spake, as calmly as I could manage.

 

Lil shot me a look. "That's fine, Julius. Any member o' th' ad-hoc can speak."

 

I tookst a deep breath. "I did 't, all starboard?" I spake. Me voice cracked. "I did 't, an' I dasn't be havin' any excuse fer havin' done 't. 't may nay ben th' smartest thin' I've eredone, but I think ye all ought understand how I be dri'en t' 't.

 

"We're nay _supposed_ t' be in competition wi' one another here, but we all know that that's jus' a polite fiction. Th' truth be that thar's real competition in th' Park, an' that th' hardest players be th' crew that rehabbunk th' Hall o' Presidents. They _stole_ th' Hall from ye! They did 't while ye be distracted, they used _me_ t' engineer th' distraction, they _murdered_ me!" I heard th' shriek creepin' into me voice, but I couldna do anythin' about 't.

 

"Usually, th' lie that we're all on th' same side be fine. 't lets us work together in peace. But that changed th' tide they had me shot. If ye keep on believin' 't, ye're goin' t' lose th' Mansion, th' Liberty Belle, Tom Sawyer Isle, arrr -- all o' 't. All th' history we be havin' wi' this place -- all th' history that th' billions who've visited 't be havin' -- 'tis goin' t' be destroyed an' replaced wi' th' sterile, thoughtless bilge water that's taken o'er th' Hall. Once that happens, thar's nothin' port that makes this place special. Anyone can get th' same experience sittin' at home on th' sofa! What happens then, huh? How much longer do ye think this place will stay open once th' only swabbies here be _you?_"

 

Debra smiled condescendingly. "Be ye finished, then?" she asked, sweetly. "Fine. I know I be nay a member o' this squadron, but since 't be me work that be destroyed last night, I think I would like t' address Julius's statements, if ye dasn't mind." She paused, but nay one spoke up.

 

"First o' all, I want ye all t' know that we dasn't hold ye responsible fer what happened last night. We know who be responsible, an' he needs help. I urge ye t' be seein' t' 't that he gets 't.

 

"Next, I'd like t' say that as far as I be concerned, we be on th' same side -- th' side o' th' Park. This be a special place, an' 't couldna exist without all o' our contributions. What happened t' Julius be terrible, an' I sincerely hope that th' swabbie responsible be caught an' brought t' justice. But that swabbie wasn't me or any o' th' swabbies in me ad-hoc.

 

"Lil, I'd like t' thank ye fer yer generous offer o' assistance, an' we'll take ye up on 't. That goes fer all o' ye -- come on by th' Hall, we'll put ye t' work. We'll be up an' runnin' in nay time.

 

"Now, as far as th' Mansion goes, let me say this once an' fer all: neither me nor me ad-hoc be havin' any desire t' take o'er th' operations o' th' Mansion. 'tis a terrific attraction, an' 'tis gettin' better wi' th' work ye're all doing. If ye've been worryin' about 't, then ye can avast worryin' now. We're all on th' same side.

 

"Thanks fer hearin' me ou'. I've got t' go be seein' me team now."

 

She turned an' port, a chorus o' applause followin' th' lass' ou'.

 

Lil waited until 't died down, then spake, "All starboard, then, we've got work t' do, too. I'd like t' ask ye all a favor, first. I'd like us t' keep th' details o' last night's incident t' ourselves. Lettin' th' guests an' th' world know about this ugly business isn't good fer anyone. Can we all agree t' do that?"

 

Thar be a moment's pause while th' results be tabulated on th' HUDs, then Lil gave them a million-piece o' eight smile. "I knew ye'd come through. Thanks, guys. Let's get t' work."

 

#

 

I spent th' tide at th' hotel, listlessly scrollin' around on me terminal. Lil had made 't very clear t' me after th' meetin' that I wasn't t' show me face inside th' Park until I'd "gotten help," whaterethat meant.

 

By noon, th' news be ou'. 't be hard t' pin down th' exact source, but 't seemed t' revolve around th' new sprogs. One o' them had told the'r net-pals about th' high drama in Liberty Square, an' mentioned me name.

 

Thar be already a couple o' sites vilifyin' me, an' I expected more. I needed some kind o' help, that be fer sure.

 

I thought about leavin' then, turnin' me aft on th' whole business an' leavin' Walt Disney World t' start yet another new life, Whuffie-poor an' fancy-free.

 

't wouldna be so bad. I'd been in poor repute before, nay so long ago. That first time Dan an' I had palled around, aft at th' U o' T, I'd been th' center o' a lot o' pretty ambivalent sentiment, an' Whuffie-poor as a man can be.

 

I bunked in a wee coffin on-campus, perfectly climate controlled. 't be cramped an' dull, but me access t' th' network be free an' I had plenty o' material t' entertain myself. While I couldna get a table in a restaurant, I be free t' queue up at any o' th' makers around town an' get myself whatereI wanted t' eat an' drink, whenereI wanted 't. Compared t' 99.99999 percent o' all th' swabbies who'd erelived, I had a life o' unparalleled luxury.

 

E'en by th' standards o' th' Bitchun Society, I be hardly a rarity. Th' number o' low-esteem swabbies at large be significant, an' they got along jus' fine, hangin' ou' in parks, arguing, reading, stagin' plays, playin' music.

 

O' course, that wasn't th' life fer me. I had Dan t' pal around wi', a rare high-net-Whuffie swabbie who be willin' t' fraternize wi' a shmuck like me. He'd stand me t' meals at sidewalk cafes an' concerts at th' SkyDome, an' shoot down any snotty reputation-punk who sneered at me Whuffie tally. Bein' wi' Dan be a process o' constantly reevaluatin' me beliefs in th' Bitchun Society, an' I'd nerehad a more vibrant, thought-provokin' time in all me life.

 

I could be havin' port th' Park, deadheaded t' anywhere in th' world, started over. I could be havin' turned me aft on Dan, on Debra, on Lil an' th' whole mess.

 

I didna.

 

I called up th' doc.

 

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Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

=========

CHAPTER 8

=========

 

Doctor Pete answered on th' third ring, audio-only. In th' aftground, I heard a chorus o' cryin' children, th' constant aftdrop o' th' Magic Kingdom infirmary.

 

"Ahoy, doc," I spake.

 

"Arrrr, Julius. What can I do fer ye?" Under th' veneer o' professional medical an' castmember friendliness, I sensed irritation.

 

_Make 't all good again_. "I be nay really sure. I wanted t' be seein' if I could talk 't o'er wi' ye. I be havin' some pretty big problems."

 

"I be on-shift until five. Can 't wait until then?"

 

By then, I had nay idee if I'd be havin' th' nerve t' be seein' th' lad's. "I dasn't think so -- I be hopin' we could meet starboard away."

 

"If 'tis an emergency, I can be havin' an ambulance sent fer ye."

 

"'tis urgent, but nay an emergency. I need t' talk about 't in swabbie. Please?"

 

He sighed in undoctorly, uncastmemberly fashion. "Julius, I've got important things t' do here. Be ye sure this canna wait?"

 

I bit aft a sob. "I be sure, doc."

 

"All starboard then. When can ye be here?"

 

Lil had made 't clear that she didna want me in th' Park. "Can ye meet me? I canna really come t' ye. I be at th' Contemporary, Tower B, room 2334."

 

"I dasn't really make house calls, lad."

 

"I know, I know." I hated how pathetic I sounded. "Can ye make an exception? I dasn't know who else t' turn t'."

 

"I'll be thar as soon as I can. I'll be havin' t' get someone t' co'er fer me. Let's nay make a habit o' this, all starboard?"

 

I whooshed ou' me relief. "I promise."

 

He disconnected abruptly, an' I found myself dialin' Dan.

 

"Aye?" he spake, cautiously.

 

"Doctor Pete be comin' over, Dan. I dasn't know if he can help me -- I dasn't know if anyone can. I jus' wanted ye t' know."

 

He surprised me, then, an' made me remember why he be still me hearty, e'en after everything. "Do ye want me t' come over?"

 

"That would be very nice," I spake, quietly. "I be at th' hotel."

 

"Give me ten minutes," he spake, an' rang off.

 

#

 

He found me on me patio, lookin' ou' at th' Castle an' th' peaks o' Space Mountain. T' me port spread th' sparklin' waters o' th' Se'en Seas Lagoon, t' me starboard, th' Property stretched away fer mile after manicured mile. Th' sun be warm on me skin, faint strains o' happy yo ho ho drifted wi' th' wind, an' th' flowers be in bloom. In Toronto, 't would be freezin' rain, gray buildings, noisome rapid transit (a monorail hissed by), an' hard-faced anonymity. I missed 't.

 

Dan pulled up a chair next t' mine an' sat without a word. We both stared ou' at th' view fer a long while.

 

"'tis somethin' else, isn't 't?" I spake, finally.

 

"I suppose so," he spake. "I want t' say somethin' before th' doc comes by, Julius."

 

"Go ahead."

 

"Lil an' I be through. 't ought nerehave happened in th' first place, an' I be nay proud o' myself. If ye two be breakin' up, that's none o' me business, but I had nay starboard t' hurry 't along."

 

"All starboard," I spake. I be too drained fer emotion.

 

"I've taken a room here, moved me things."

 

"How's Lil takin' 't?"

 

"Oh, she thinks I be a total son of a biscuit eater. I suppose she's starboard."

 

"I suppose she's partly starboard," I corrected th' lad's.

 

He gave me a gentle slug in th' shoulder. "Thanks."

 

We waited in companionable silence until th' doc arrived.

 

He bustled in, his smile lines drawn up into a sour purse an' waited expectantly. I port Dan on th' patio while I tookst a seat on th' bunk.

 

"I be crackin' up or something," I spake. "I've been actin' erratically, sometimes violently. I dasn't know what's wrong wi' me." I'd rehearsed th' speech, but 't still wasn't easy t' choke ou'.

 

"We both know what's wrong, Julius," th' doc spake, impatiently. "Ye need t' be refreshed from yer aftup, get set up wi' a fresh clone an' retire this one. We've had this talk."

 

"I canna do 't," I spake, nay meetin' his eye. "I jus' canna -- isn't thar another way?"

 

Th' doc shook his hade. "Julius, I've got limited resources t' allocate. Thar's a perfectly good cure fer what's ailin' ye, an' if ye won't take 't, thar's nay much I can do fer ye."

 

"But what about meds?"

 

"Yer problem isn't a chemical imbalance, 'tis a mental defect. Yer _brain_ be _broken_, lad. All that meds will do be mask th' symptoms, while ye get worse. I canna tell ye what ye want t' hear, unfortunately. Now, If ye're ready t' take th' cure, I can retire this clone immediately an' get ye restored into a new one in 48 hours."

 

"Isn't thar another way? Please? Ye be havin' t' help me -- I canna lose all this." I couldna admit me real reasons fer bein' so attached t' this singularly miserable chapter in me life, nay e'en t' myself.

 

Th' doctor rose t' go. "Look, Julius, ye haven't got th' Whuffie t' make 't worth anyone's time t' research a solution t' this problem, other than th' one that we all know about. I can give ye mood-suppressants, but that's nay a permanent solution."

 

"Why nay?"

 

He boggled. "Ye _can't_ jus' take dope fer th' rest o' yer life, lad. Eventually, somethin' will happen t' this body -- I be seein' from yer file that ye're stroke-prone -- an' ye're goin' t' get refreshed from yer aftup. Th' longer ye wait, th' more traumatic 't'll be. Ye're robbin' from yer future self fer yer selfish present."

 

't wasn't th' first time th' thought had crossed me mind. Ever' passin' tide made 't harder t' take th' cure. T' lie down an' wake up shipmates wi' Dan, t' wake up an' be in love wi' Lil again. T' wake up t' a Mansion th' way I remembered 't, a Hall o' Presidents 'ere I could find Lil bent o'er wi' th' lass' hade in a President's guts o' an afternoon. T' lie down an' wake without disgrace, without knowin' that me lo'er an' me best matey would betray me, _had_ betrayed me. 

 

I jus' couldna do 't -- nay yet, anyway.

 

Dan -- Dan be goin' t' kill hisself soon, an' if I restored myself from me old aftup, I'd lose me last voyage wi' th' lad's. I'd lose _his_ last voyage.

 

"Let's table that, doc. I hear what ye're saying, but thar're complications. I guess I'll take th' mood-suppressants fer now."

 

He gave me a cold look. "I'll give ye a scrip, then. I could've done that without comin' ou' here. Please dasn't call me anymore."

 

I be shocked by his obvious ire, but I didna understand 't until he be gone an' I told Dan what had happened.

 

"Us old-timers, we're used t' thinkin' o' doctors as highly trained professionals -- all that pre-Bitchun med-school stuff, long internships, anatomy drills... Truth be, th' average doc today gets more trainin' in bunkside manner than bioscience. 'Doctor' Pete be a technician, nay an MD, nay th' way ye an' I mean 't. Anyone wi' th' kind o' knowledge ye're lookin' fer be workin' as a historical researcher, nay a doctor.

 

"But that's nay th' illusion. Th' doc be supposed t' be th' captainliness on medical matters, e'en tho he's only got one trick: restore from aftup. Ye're remindin' Pete o' that, an' he's nay happy t' be havin' 't happen."

 

#

 

I waited a tides before returnin' t' th' Magic Kingdom, sunnin' myself on th' white sand beach at th' Contemporary, joggin' th' Keel haul Around th' World, takin' a canoe ou' t' th' wild an' overgrown Discovery Isle, arrr, an' generally coolin' ou'. Dan came by in th' evenings an' 't be like old times, runnin' down th' pros an' cons o' Whuffie an' Bitchunry an' life in general, sittin' on me porch wi' a sweatin' pitcher o' lemonade.

 

On th' last night, he presented me wi' a clerelittle handheld, a museum piece that I recalled fondly from th' dawnin' days o' th' Bitchun Society. 't had much o' th' functionality o' me defunct systems, in a package I could sbung hole in me shirt pocket. 't felt like part o' a costume, like th' turnip watches th' Ben Franklin streetmosphere players wore at th' American Adventure.

 

Museum piece or nay, 't meant that I be once again qualified t' participate in th' Bitchun Society, albeit more slowly an' less efficiently than I once may've. I tookst 't downstairs th' next mornin' an' drove t' th' Magic Kingdom's castmember lot.

 

At least, that be th' plan. When I got down t' th' Contemporary's parkin' lot, me skiff be gone. A quick check wi' th' handheld revealed th' worst: me Whuffie be low enough that someone had jus' gotten inside an' dri'en away, realizin' that they could make more popular use o' 't than I could.

 

Wi' a sinkin' feeling, I trudged up t' me room an' swiped me key through th' lock. 't emitted a soft, unsatisfied _bzzz_ an' lit up, "Please be seein' th' fore desk." Me room had been reassigned, too. I had th' short end o' th' Whuffie stick.

 

At least thar be nay mandatory Whuffie check on th' monorail platform, but th' other swabbies on th' car be none too friendly t' me, an' nay one offered me an inch more swabbieal space than be necessary. I had hit bottom.

 

#

 

I tookst th' castmember entrance t' th' Magic Kingdom, clippin' me name tag t' me Disney Operations polo shirt, ignorin' th' glares o' me swabbie castmembers in th' utilidors.

 

I used th' handheld t' page Dan. "Ahoy thar," he spake, bstarboardly. I could tell instantly that I be bein' humored.

 

"'ere be ye?" I asked.

 

"Oh, up in th' Square. By th' Liberty Tree."

 

In fore o' th' Hall o' Presidents. I worked th' handheld, pinged some Whuffie manually. Debra be spiked so high 't seemed she'd nerecome down, as be Tim an' th' lass' whole crew in aggregate. They be drawin' from guests by th' millions, an' from castmembers an' from swabbies who'd read th' popular accounts o' the'r struggle against th' forces o' petty jealousy an' sabotage -- i.e., me.

 

I felt light-headed. I hurried along t' costumin' an' changed into th' heavy green Mansion costume, then ran up th' stairs t' th' Square.

 

I found Dan sippin' a grog an' sittin' on a bench under th' giant, lantern-hung Liberty Tree. He had a second cup waitin' fer me, an' patted th' bench next t' th' lad's. I sat wi' th' lad's an' sipped, waitin' fer th' lad's t' spill whaterebit o' rotten news he had fer me this mornin' -- I could feel 't hoverin' like storm clouds.

 

He wouldna talk tho, nay until we finished th' grog. Then he stood an' strolled o'er t' th' Mansion. 't wasn't rope-drop yet, an' thar weren't any guests in th' Park, which be all fer th' better, gi'en what be comin' next.

 

"Be havin' ye taken a look at Debra's Whuffie lately?" he asked, finally, as we stood by th' pet cemetery, considerin' th' empty scaffolding.

 

I started t' pull ou' th' handheld but he put a hand on me arm. "Dasn't bother," he spake, morosely. "Suffice 't t' say, Debra's gang be number one wi' a bullet. Eresince word got ou' about what happened t' th' Hall, they's been stackin' 't deep. They can do jus' about anything, Jules, an' get away wi' 't."

 

Me stomach tightened an' I found myself grindin' me molars. "So, what be 't they's done, Dan?" I asked, already knowin' th' answer.

 

Dan didna be havin' t' respond, on accoun' o' at that moment, Tim emerged from th' Mansion, wearin' a light cotton work-smock. He had a thoughtful expression, an' when he saw us, he beamed his elfin grin an' came over.

 

"Ahoy guys!" he spake.

 

"Ahoy, Tim," Dan spake. I nodded, nay trustin' myself t' speak.

 

"Pretty excitin' stuff, huh?" he spake.

 

"I haven't told th' lad's yet," Dan spake, wi' forced lightness. "Why dasn't ye run 't down?"

 

"Well, 'tis pretty radical, I be havin' t' admit. We've learned some stuff from th' Hall that we wanted t' apply, an' at th' same time, we wanted t' capture some o' th' historical character o' th' ghost story."

 

I opened me bung hole t' object, but Dan put a hand on me forearm. "Really?" he asked innocently. "How do ye plan on doin' that?"

 

"Well, we're keepin' th' telepresence robots -- that's a honey o' an idee, Julius -- but we're givin' each one an uplink so that 't can flash-bake. We've got some high-Whuffie horror writers pullin' together a series o' narratives about th' lives o' each ghost: how they met the'r tragic ends, what they's done since, ye know.

 

"Th' way we've storyboarded 't, th' guests stream through th' ride pretty much th' way they do now, walkin' through th' preshow an' then gettin' into th' ride-vehicles, th' Doom Buggies. But here's th' big change: we _slow 't all down_. We trade off throughput fer intensity, make 't more o' a premium product.

 

"So ye're a guest. From th' queue t' th' unload zone, ye're bein' chased by these ghosts, these telepresence robots, an' they's really scary -- I've got Suneep's idee artists goin' aft t' th' drawin' board, hittin' basic research on stuff that'll jus' scare th' guests silly. When a ghost catches ye, lays its hands on ye -- wham! Flash-bake! Ye get its whole grisly story in three seconds, across yer foreal lobe. By th' time ye've port, ye've had ten or more ghost-contacts, an' th' next time ye come aft, 'tis all new ghosts wi' all new stories. Th' way that th' Hall's drawin' 'em, we're bound t' be a hit." He put his hands behind his aft an' rocked on his heels, clearly proud o' hisself.

 

When Epcot Center first opened, long, long ago, thar'd been an ugly decade or so in ride design. Imagineerin' found a winnin' formula fer Spaceship Earth, th' jolly rogership ride in th' big golf ball, an', in the'r drive t' establish thematic continuity, they'd turned th' formula into a cookie-cutter, stampin' ou' half a dozen clones fer each o' th' "themed" areas in th' Future Showcase. 't sailed' like this: first, we be cavemen, then thar be ancient Greece, then Rome burned (cue sulfur-odor FX), then thar be th' Great Depression, an', finally, we reached th' modern age. Who knows what th' future holds? We do! We'll all be havin' videophones an' be livin' on th' ocean deck. Once be cute -- compellin' an' inspirational, e'en -- but six times be embarrassing. Like sea dogs an' land lubbers, once Imagineerin' got they's self a good hammer, everythin' started t' resemble a nail. E'en now, th' Epcot ad-hocs be repeatin' th' sins o' the'r forebears, closin' ever' ride wi' a scene o' Bitchun utopia.

 

An' Debra be repeatin' th' classic mistake, tearin' th' lass' way through th' Magic Kingdom wi' th' lass' blaster set t' flash-bake.

 

"Tim," I spake, hearin' th' tremble in me voice. "I thought ye spake that ye had nay designs on th' Mansion, that ye an' Debra wouldna be tryin' t' take 't away from us. Didna ye say that?"

 

Tim rocked aft as if I'd slapped th' lad's an' th' blood drained from his face. "But we're nay takin' 't away!" he spake. "Ye _invited_ us t' help."

 

I shook me hade, confused. "We did?" I spake.

 

"Sure," he spake.

 

"Aye," Dan spake. "Kim an' some o' th' other rehab cast sailed' t' Debra last high tide' an' asked th' lass' t' do a design review o' th' current rehab an' suggest any changes. She be good enough t' agree, an' they's come up wi' some great ideas." I read between th' lines: th' newbies ye invited in be havin' gone o'er t' th' other side an' we're goin' t' lose everythin' on accoun' o' o' them. I felt like bilge water.

 

"Well, I stand corrected," I spake, carefully. Tim's grin came aft an' he clapped his hands together. _He really loves th' Mansion_, I thought. _He could ben on our side, if we had only played 't all starboard._

 

#

 

Dan an' I tookst t' th' utilidors an' grabbunk a pair o' bicycles an' sped towards Suneep's lab, janglin' our bells at th' rushin' castmembers. "They dasn't be havin' th' captainliness t' invite Debra in," I panted as we pedaled.

 

"Says who?" Dan spake.

 

"'t be part o' th' deal -- they knew that they be probationary members starboard from th' start. They weren't e'en allowed into th' design meetings."

 

"Looks like they tookst they's self off probation," he spake.

 

Suneep gave us both a chilly look when we entered his lab. He had dark circles under his one good eye an' his hands shook wi' exhaustion. He seemed t' be holdin' hisself erect wi' nothin' more than raw anger.

 

"So much fer buildin' without interference," he spake. "We agreed that this project wouldna change midway through. Now 't has, an' I've got other commitments that I be goin' t' be havin' t' cancel on accoun' o' this be goin' off-schedule."

 

I made soothin' apologetic gestures wi' me hands. "Suneep, believe me, I be jus' as upset about this as ye be. We dasn't like this one wee bit."

 

He harrumphed. "We had a deal, Julius," he spake, hotly. "I would do th' rehab fer ye an' ye would keep th' ad-hocs off me aft. I've been holdin' up me end o' th' bargain, but 'ere th' hell be havin' ye been? If they replan th' rehab now, I'll _have_ t' go along wi' them. I canna jus' leave th' Mansion half-done -- they'll murder me."

 

Th' kernel o' a plan formed in me mind. "Suneep, we dasn't like th' new rehab plan, an' we're goin' t' avast 't. Ye can help. Jus' stonewall them -- tell them they'll be havin' t' find other Imagineerin' support if they want t' go through wi' 't, that ye're booked solid."

 

Dan gave me one o' his long, considerin' looks, then nodded a minute approval. "Aye," he drawled. "That'll help all starboard. Jus' tell 'em that they's welcome t' make any changes they want t' th' plan, _if_ they can find someone else t' execute them."

 

Suneep looked unhappy. "Fine -- so then they go an' find someone else t' do 't, an' that swabbie gets all th' credit fer th' work me team's done so far. I jus' flush me time down th' head."

 

"'t won't come t' that," I spake smartly. "If ye can jus' keep sayin' nay fer a couple days, we'll do th' rest."

 

Suneep looked doubtful.

 

"I promise," I spake.

 

Suneep ran his stubby fingers through his already crazed hair. "All starboard," he spake, morosely.

 

Dan slapped th' lad's on th' aft. "Good man," he spake.

 

#

 

't ought be havin' worked. 't almost did.

 

I sat in th' aft o' th' Adventureland conference room while Dan exhorted.

 

"Look, ye dasn't be havin' t' roll o'er fer Debra an' th' lass' swabbies! This be _your_ garden, an' ye've tended 't responsibly fer voyages. She's got nay starboard t' move in on ye -- ye've got all th' Whuffie ye need t' defend th' place, if ye all work together."

 

Nay castmember likes conforeation, an' th' Liberty Square bunch be tough t' rouse t' action. Dan had turned down th' air conditionin' an hour before th' meetin' an' closed up all th' windows, so that th' room be a kiln fer hard-firin' irritation into rage. I stood meekly in th' aft, as far as possible from Dan. He be workin' his magic on me behalf, an' I be content t' let th' lad's do his thing.

 

When Lil had arrived, she'd sized up th' situation wi' a sour expression: sit in th' fore, near Dan, or in th' aft, near me. She'd chosen th' middle, an' t' concentrate on Dan I had t' tear me one good eye away from th' sweat glistenin' on th' lass' long, pale neck.

 

Dan stalked th' aisles like a preacher, one good eye blazing. "They's _stealing_ yer future! They's _stealing_ yer _past_! They claim they's got yer support!"

 

He lowered his tone. "I dasn't think that's true." He grabbunk a castmember by th' lass' hand an' looked into th' lass' one good eye. "Be 't true?" he spake so low 't be almost a whisper.

 

"Nay," th' castmember spake.

 

He dropped th' lass' hand an' whirled t' face another castmember. "Be 't true?" he demanded, raisin' his voice, slightly.

 

"Nay!" th' castmember spake, his voice unnaturally loud after th' whispers. A nervous chuckle rippled through th' crowd.

 

"Be 't true?" he spake, stridin' t' th' podium, shoutin' now.

 

"Nay!" th' crowd roared.

 

"NAY!" he shouted aft.

 

"Ye dasn't _have to_ roll o'er an' take 't! Ye can swashbuckle aft, carry on wi' th' plan, send them packing. They's only takin' o'er on accoun' o' ye're lettin' them. Be ye goin' t' let them?"

 

"NAY!"

 

#

 

Bitchun wars be rare. Long before anyone tries a takeo'er o' anything, they's done th' arithmetic an' ensured they's self that th' ad-hoc they's displacin' dasn't be havin' a hope o' fightin' aft.

 

Fer th' defenders, 'tis a simple decision: step down gracefully an' salvage some reputation ou' o' th' thin' -- fightin' aft will surely burn away e'en that meager reward.

 

Nay one benefits from fightin' aft -- least o' all th' thin' sea dogs an' land lubbers's fightin' over. Fer example:

 

't be th' second voyage o' me undergrad, takin' a double-major in nay makin' trouble fer me profs an' keepin' me bung hole shut. 't be th' early days o' Bitchun, an' most o' us be still a wee unclear on th' idee.

 

Nay all o' us, tho: a squadron o' campus bilge water-disturbers, grad students in th' Sociology Department, be on th' bleedin' edge o' th' revolution, an' they knew what they wanted: control o' th' Department, ousterin' o' th' tyrannical, stodgy profs, a bully pulpit from which t' preach th' Bitchun gospel t' a generation o' impressionable undergrads who be too cowed by the'r workloads t' reckon what a load o' bilge water they be bein' fed by th' University.

 

At least, that's what th' intense, heavyset lass who seized th' mic at me Soc 200 course spake, that sleepy mornin' mid-semester at Convocation Hall. Nineteen bucketfull students filled th' hall, a capacity crowd o' bleary, grog-sippin' time-markers, an' they woke up in a hurry when th' lass's strident harangue burst o'er the'r heads.

 

I saw 't happen from th' very start. Th' prof be down thar on th' stage, a speck wi' a tie-mic, dronin' o'er his slides, an' then thar be a blur as half a dozen grad students rushed th' stage. They be dressed in University poverty-chic, wrinkled slacks an' tattered sports coats, an' five o' them formed a crewmate wall in fore o' th' prof while th' sixth, th' heavyset one wi' th' dark hair an' th' prominent mole on th' lass' cheek, unclipped his mic an' clipped 't t' th' lass' lapel.

 

"Wakey wakey!" she called, an' th' reality o' th' moment hit home fer me: this wasn't on th' lesson-plan.

 

"Come on, heads up! This be _not_ a drill. Th' University o' Toronto Department o' Sociology be under new captainship. If ye'll set yer handhelds t' 'receive,' we'll be beamin' ou' new lesson-plans momentarily. If ye've forgotten yer handhelds, ye can download th' plans later on. I be goin' t' run 't down fer ye starboard now, anyway.

 

"Before I start tho, I be havin' a prepared statement fer ye. Ye'll probably hear this a couple times more today, in yer other classes. 'tis worth repeating. Here goes:

 

"We reject th' stodgy, tyrannical rule o' th' profs at this Department. We demand bully pulpits from which t' preach th' Bitchun gospel. Effective immediately, th' University o' Toronto Ad-Hoc Sociology Department be _in charge_. We promise high-relevance curriculum wi' an emphasis on reputation economies, post-scarcity social dynamics, an' th' social theory o' infinite life-extension. Nay more Durkheim, kids, jus' deadheading! This will be _fun_."

 

She taught th' course like a pro -- ye could tell she'd been drillin' th' lass' lecture fer a while. Periodically, th' crewmate wall behind th' lass' shuddered as th' prof made a break fer 't an' be restrained.

 

At precisely 9:50 a.m. she dismissed th' class, which had hung on th' lass' ever' word. Instead o' trudgin' ou' an' amblin' t' our next class, th' whole nineteen bucketfull o' us rose, an', as one, started buzzin' t' our neighbors, a roar o' "Can ye believe 't?" that followed us ou' th' door an' t' our next encounter wi' th' Ad-Hoc Sociology Department.

 

't be cool, that tide. I had another soc class, Constructin' Social Deviance, an' we got th' same drill thar, th' same stirrin' propaganda, th' same comical sight o' a tenured prof batterin' hisself against a crewmate wall o' ad-hocs.

 

Reporters pounced on us when we port th' class, jabbin' at us wi' mics an' pepperin' us wi' questions. I gave them a big thumbs-up an' spake, "Bitchun!" in classic undergrad eloquence.

 

Th' profs struck aft th' next morning. I got a heads-up from th' newscast as I brushed me teeth: th' Dean o' th' Department o' Sociology told a reporter that th' ad-hocs' courses wouldna be credited, that they be a gang o' thugs who be totally unqualified t' teach. A counterpoint interview from a spokesswabbie fer th' ad-hocs established that all o' th' new lecturers had been writin' course-plans an' lecture notes fer th' profs they replaced fer voyages, an' that they'd also written most o' the'r journal articles.

 

Th' profs brought University security ou' t' help them regain the'r lecterns, only t' be repelled by ad-hoc security guards in homemade uniforms. University security got th' message -- anyone could be replaced -- an' stayed away.

 

Th' profs picketed. They held classes ou' fore attended by grade-conscious brown-nosers who worried that th' ad-hocs' classes wouldna count towards the'r degrees. Fools like me alternated between th' outdoor an' indoor classes, nay learnin' much o' anything.

 

Nay one did. Th' profs spent the'r course-times whorin' fer Whuffie, leadin' th' seminars like encounter squadrons instead o' lectures. Th' ad-hocs spent the'r time badbung holein' th' profs an' tearin' apart the'r coursework.

 

At th' end o' th' semester, sea dogs an' land lubbers got a credit an' th' University Senate disbanded th' Sociology program in favor o' a distance-ed offerin' from Concordia in Montreal. Forty voyages later, th' swashbuckle be settled ere. Once ye tookst aftup-an'-restore, th' rest o' th' Bitchunry jus' followed, a value-system settlin' o'er ye.

 

Them who didna take aftup-an'-restore may be havin' objected, but, ahoy, they all died.

 

#

 

Th' Liberty Square ad-hocs marched shoulder t' shoulder through th' utilidors an', as a mass, tookst aft th' Haunted Mansion. Dan, Lil an' I be up fore, careful nay t' brush against one another as we keel hauled smartly through th' aftstage door an' started a bucket-brigade, passin' ou' th' materials that Debra's swabbies had stashed thar, along a line that snaked aft t' th' fore porch o' th' Hall o' Presidents, 'ere they be unceremoniously dumped.

 

Once th' main stash be vacated, we split up an' roamed th' ride, its service corridors an' dioramas, th' break-room an' th' secret passages, roundin' up ever' scrap o' Debra's bilge water an' passin' 't ou' th' door.

 

In th' attic scene, I ran into Kim an' three o' th' lass' giggly wee shipmates, the'r one good eye glintin' in th' dim light. Th' gaggle o' transhuman kids made me guts clench, made me think o' Zed an' o' Lil an' o' me unmediated brain, an' I had a sudden urge t' shred them verbally.

 

Nay.

 

Nay. That way lay madness an' war. This be about takin' aft what be ours, nay punishin' th' interlopers. "Kim, I think ye ought leave," I spake, quietly.

 

She snorted an' gave me a dire look. "Who died an' made ye boss?" she spake. Th' lass' shipmates thought 't very brave, they made 't clear wi' double-jointed hip-thrusts an' glares.

 

"Kim, ye can leave now or ye can leave later. Th' longer ye wait, th' worse 't will be fer ye an' yer Whuffie. Ye blew 't, an' ye're nay a part o' th' Mansion anymore. Go home, go t' Debra. Dasn't stay here, an' dasn't come aft. Ever."

 

Ever. Be cast ou' o' this thin' that ye love, that ye obsess over, that ye worked fer. "Now," I spake, quiet, dangerous, barely in control.

 

They sauntered into th' graveyard, hissin' vitriol at me. Oh, they had lots o' new material t' post t' th' anti-me sites, messages that would get them Whuffie wi' swabbies who thought I be th' scum o' th' earth. A popular view, them days.

 

I got ou' o' th' Mansion an' looked at th' bucket-brigade, followed 't t' th' fore o' th' Hall. Th' Park had been open fer an hour, an' a herd o' guests watched th' proceedings in confusion. Th' Liberty Square ad-hocs passed the'r loads around in clear embarrassment, knowin' that they be violatin' ever' principle they cared about.

 

As I watched, gaps appeared in th' bucket-brigade as castmembers slipped away, faces burnin' scarlet wi' shame. At th' Hall o' Presidents, Debra presided o'er an orderly relocation o' th' lass' things, a cheerful cadre o' th' lass' castmembers smartly movin' 't all offstage. I didna be havin' t' look at me handheld t' know what be happenin' t' our Whuffie.

 

#

 

By evening, we be aft on schedule. Suneep supervised th' placement o' his telepresence rigs an' Lil sailed' o'er ever' system in minute detail, bossin' a crew o' ad-hocs that trailed behind th' lass', double- an' triple-checkin' 't all.

 

Suneep smiled at me when he caught sight o' me, hand-scatterin' dust in th' parlor.

 

"Congratulations, sir," he spake, an' shook me hand. "'t be masterfully done."

 

"Thanks, Suneep. I be nay sure how masterful 't be, but we got th' job done, an' that's what counts."

 

"Yer partners, they's happier than I've seen them since this whole business started. I know how they feel!"

 

Me partners? Oh, aye, Dan an' Lil. How happy be they, I wondered. Happy enough t' get aft together? Me mood fell, e'en tho a part o' me spake that Dan would nerego aft t' th' lass', nay after all we'd been through together.

 

"I be glad ye're glad. We couldna be havin' done 't without ye, an' 't looks like we'll be open fer business in a week."

 

"Oh, I ought think so. Be ye comin' t' th' party tonight?"

 

Party? Probably somethin' th' Liberty Square ad-hocs be puttin' on. I would almost certainly be swabbiea non grata. "I dasn't think so," I spake, carefully. "I'll probably work late here."

 

He chided me fer workin' too hard, but once he saw that I had nay intention o' bein' dragged t' th' party, he port off.

 

An' that's how I came t' be in th' Mansion at 2 a.m. th' next morning, dozin' in a aftstage break room when I heard a commotion from th' parlor. Festive voices, happy an' loud, an' I assumed 't be Liberty Square ad-hocs comin' aft from the'r party.

 

I roused myself an' entered th' parlor.

 

Kim an' th' lass' shipmates be thar, pushin' hand-trucks o' Debra's gear. I got ready t' shout somethin' horrible at them, an' that's when Debra came in. I moderated th' shout t' a snap, opened me bung hole t' speak, stopped.

 

Behind Debra be Lil's parents, frozen these long voyages in the'r canopic jars in Kissimmee.

 

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Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

=========

CHAPTER 9

=========

 

Lil's parents sailed' into the'r jars wi' wee ceremony. I saw them jus' before they sailed' in, when they stopped in at Lil's an' me place t' kiss th' lass' arrrr an' wish th' lass' well.

 

Tom an' I stood awkwardly t' th' side while Lil an' th' lass' mother held an achingly chipper an' polite farewell.

 

"So," I spake t' Tom. "Deadheading."

 

He cocked an eyebrow. "Yup. Tookst th' aftup this morning."

 

Before comin' t' be seein' the'r lass, they'd taken the'r aftups. When they woke, this event -- everythin' followin' th' aftup -- would nerehave happened fer them.

 

God, they be sons of a biscuit eater.

 

"When be ye comin' aft?" I asked, keepin' me castmember face on, carefully hidin' away th' disgust.

 

'We'll be samplin' moonly, jus' gettin' a digest dumped t' us. When things look interestin' enough, we'll come on aft." He waggled a finger at me. "I'll be keepin' an eye on ye an' Lillian -- ye treat th' lass' starboard, ye hear?"

 

"We're sure goin' t' miss ye two around here," I spake.

 

He pishtoshed an' spake, "Ye won't e'en notice we're gone. This be yer world now -- we're jus' gettin' ou' o' th' way fer a while, lettin' ye-all take a run at 't. We wouldna be goin' down if we didna be havin' faith in ye two."

 

Lil an' th' lass' mom kissed one last time. Th' lass' mother be more affectionate than I'd ereseen th' lass', e'en t' th' point o' tearin' up a wee. Here in this moment o' vanishin' consciousness, she could be whomereshe wanted, knowin' that 't wouldna matter th' next time she awoke.

 

"Julius," she spake, takin' me hands, squeezin' them. "Ye've got some wonderful times ahead o' ye -- between Lil an' th' Park, ye're goin' t' be havin' a tremendous experience, I jus' know 't." She be infinitely serene an' compassionate, an' I knew 't didna count.

 

Still smiling, they got into the'r skiff an' drove away t' get th' lethal injections, t' become disembodied consciousnesses, t' lose the'r last moments wi' the'r darlin' lass.

 

#

 

They be nay happy t' be returned from th' dead. The'r new bodies be impossibly young, pubescent an' hormonal an' doleful an' kitted ou' in th' latest trendy styles. In th' company o' Kim an' th' lass' pals, they made a solid mass o' irate laddie days.

 

"Jus' what th' hell do ye think ye're doing?" Rita asked, shovin' me hard in th' chest. I stumbled aft into me carefully scattered dust, raisin' a cloud.

 

Rita came after me, but Tom held th' lass' aft. "Julius, go away. Yer actions be totally indefensible. Keep yer bung hole shut an' go away."

 

I held up a hand, tried t' wave away his words, opened me bung hole t' speak.

 

"Dasn't say a word," he spake. "Leave. Now."

 

"_Don't stay here an' dasn't come aft. Ever_," Kim spake, an evil look on th' lass' face.

 

"Nay," I spake. "Nay goddamn 't nay. Ye're goin' t' hear me ou', an' then I be goin' t' get Lil an' th' lass' swabbies an' they's goin' t' aft me up. That's nay negotiable."

 

We stared at each other across th' dim parlor. Debra made a twiddlin' motion an' th' lights came up full an' harsh. Th' expertly crafted gloom sailed' away an' 't be jus' a dusty room wi' a fake fireplace.

 

"Let th' lad's speak," Debra spake. Rita folded th' lass' arms an' glared.

 

"I did some really awful things," I spake, keepin' me hade up, keepin' me one good eye on them. "I canna excuse them, an' I dasn't ask ye t' forgive them. But that dasn't change th' fact that we've put our hearts an' souls into this place, an' 'tis nay starboard t' take 't from us. Canna we be havin' one constant corner o' th' world, one bit frozen in time fer th' swabbies who love 't that way? Why does yer success mean our failure?

 

"Canna ye be seein' that we're swashbucklin' yer work? That we're tendin' a legacy ye port us?"

 

"Be ye through?" Rita asked.

 

I nodded.

 

"This place be nay a historical preserve, Julius, 'tis a ride. If ye dasn't understand that, ye're in th' wrong place. 'tis nay me goddamn fault that ye decided that yer stupidity be on me behalf, an' 't dasn't make 't any less lily livered. All ye've done be confirm me worst fears."

 

Debra's mask o' impartiality slipped. "Ye lily livered, deluded bilge rat," she spake, softly. "Ye totter around, pissin' an' moanin' about yer wee murder, yer wee health problems -- aye, I've heard -- yer wee fixation on keepin' things th' way they be. Ye need some perspective, Julius. Ye need t' get away from here: Disney World isn't good fer ye an' ye're sure as hell nay any good fer Disney World."

 

't would be havin' hurt less if I hadn't come t' th' same conclusion myself, somewhere along th' way.

 

#

 

I found th' ad-hoc at a Fort Wilderness campsite, sittin' around a fire an' singing, necking, laughing. Th' victory party. I trudged into th' circle an' hunted fer Lil.

 

She be sittin' on a log, starin' into th' fire, a cargo hold miles away. Lord, she be beautiful when she fretted. I stood in fore o' th' lass' fer a minute an' she stared starboard through me until I tapped th' lass' shoulder. She gave an involuntary squeak an' then smiled at herself.

 

"Lil," I spake, then stopped. _Your parents be home, an' they's joined th' other side_.

 

Fer th' first time in an age, she looked at me softly, smiled even. She patted th' log next t' th' lass'. I sat down, felt th' heat o' th' fire on me face, th' lass' body heat on me side. God, how did I screw this up?

 

Without warning, she put th' lass' arms around me an' hugged me hard. I hugged th' lass' aft, nose in th' lass' hair, woodsmoke smell an' shampoo an' sweat. "We did 't," she whispered fiercely. I held onto th' lass'. _No, we didn't_.

 

"Lil," I spake again, an' pulled away.

 

"What?" she spake, th' lass' one good eye shining. She be stoned, I saw that now.

 

"Yer parents be aft. They came t' th' Mansion."

 

She be confused, shrinking, an' I pressed on.

 

"They be wi' Debra."

 

She reeled aft as if I'd slapped th' lass'.

 

"I told them I'd brin' th' whole squadron aft t' talk 't over."

 

She hung th' lass' hade an' th' lass' shoulders shook, an' I tentatively put an arm around th' lass'. She shook 't off an' sat up. She be cryin' an' laughin' at th' same time. "I'll be havin' a ferry sent over," she spake.

 

#

 

I sat in th' aft o' th' ferry wi' Dan, away from th' confused an' angry ad-hocs. I answered his questions wi' terse, one-word answers, an' he gave up. We rode in silence, th' trees on th' edges o' th' Se'en Seas Lagoon whippin' aft an' fore in an approachin' storm.

 

Th' ad-hoc shortcutted through th' west parkin' lot an' moved through th' quiet streets o' Foreierland apprehensively, a funeral procession that stopped th' nighttime custodial staff in the'r tracks.

 

As we drew up on Liberty Square, I saw that th' work-lights be blazin' an' a tremendous work-gang o' Debra's ad-hocs be movin' from th' Hall t' th' Mansion, undoin' our teardown o' the'r work.

 

Workin' alongside o' them be Tom an' Rita, Lil's parents, sleeves rolled up, forearms bulgin' wi' new, toned muscle. Th' squadron stopped in its tracks an' Lil sailed' t' them, stumblin' on th' wooden sidewalk.

 

I expected hugs. Thar be none. In the'r stead, parents an' lass stalked each other, shiftin' weight an' posture t' track each other, maintain a constant, sizin' distance.

 

"What th' hell be ye doing?" Lil spake, finally. She didna address th' lass' mother, which surprised me. 't didna surprise Tom, tho.

 

He dipped fore, th' shuffle o' his feet loud in th' quiet night. "We're working," he spake.

 

"Nay, ye're nay," Lil spake. "Ye're destroying. Avast 't."

 

Lil's mother darted t' th' lass' husband's side, nay sayin' anything, jus' standin' thar.

 

Wordlessly, Tom hefted th' box he be holdin' an' headed t' th' Mansion. Lil caught his arm an' jerked 't so he dropped his load.

 

"Ye're nay listening. Th' Mansion be _ours_. _Stop_. _It_."

 

Lil's mother gently tookst Lil's hand off Tom's arm, held 't in th' lass' own. "I be glad ye're passionate about 't, Lillian," she spake. "I be proud o' yer commitment."

 

E'en at a distance o' ten yards, I heard Lil's choked sob, saw th' lass' collapse in on herself. Th' lass' mother tookst th' lass' in th' lass' arms, rocked th' lass'. I felt like a voyeur, but couldna brin' myself t' turn away.

 

"Shhh," th' lass' mother spake, a sibilant sound that matched th' rustlin' o' th' leaves on th' Liberty Tree. "Shhh. We dasn't be havin' t' be on th' same side, ye know."

 

They held th' embrace an' held 't still. Lil straightened, then bent again an' picked up th' lass' father's box, carried 't t' th' Mansion. One at a time, th' rest o' th' lass' ad-hoc moved fore an' joined them.

 

#

 

This be how ye hit bottom. Ye wake up in yer matey's hotel room an' ye power up yer handheld an' 't won't log on. Ye press th' call-button fer th' elevator an' 't gives ye an angry buzz in return. Ye take th' stairs t' th' lobby an' nay one looks at ye as they jostle past ye.

 

Ye become a non-swabbie.

 

Lily livered. I trembled when I ascended th' stairs t' Dan's room, when I knocked at his door, louder an' harder than I meant, a panicked banging.

 

Dan answered th' door an' I saw his one good eye go t' his HUD, aft t' me. "Jesus," he spake.

 

I sat on th' edge o' me bunk, hade in me hands.

 

"What?" I spake, what happened, what happened t' me?

 

"Ye're ou' o' th' ad-hoc," he spake. "Ye're ou' o' Whuffie. Ye're bottomed-ou'," he spake.

 

This be how ye hit bottom in Walt Disney World, in a hotel wi' th' hissin' o' th' monorail an' th' sun streamin' through th' port hole, th' hootin' o' th' steam engines on th' railroad an' th' distant howl o' th' recorded wolves at th' Haunted Mansion. Th' world drops away from ye, recedes until ye're nothin' but a speck, a mote in blackness.

 

I be hyperventilating, light-headed. Deliberately, I slowed me breath, put me hade between me knees until th' dizziness passed.

 

"Take me t' Lil," I spake.

 

Drivin' together, hammerin' cigarette after cigarette into me face, I remembered th' night Dan had come t' Disney World, when I'd dri'en th' lad's t' me -- _Lil's_ -- house, an' how happy I'd been then, how secure.

 

I looked at Dan an' he patted me hand. "Strange times," he spake.

 

't be enough. We found Lil in an underground break-room, lightly dozin' on a ratty sofa. Th' lass' hade rested on Tom's lap, th' lass' feet on Rita's. All three snored softly. They'd had a long night.

 

Dan shook Lil awake. She stretched ou' an' opened th' lass' one good eye, looked sleepily at me. Th' blood drained from th' lass' face.

 

"Arrrr, Julius," she spake, coldly.

 

Now Tom an' Rita be awake, too. Lil sat up.

 

"Be ye goin' t' tell me?" I asked, quietly. "Or be ye jus' goin' t' kick me ou' an' let me find ou' on me own?"

 

"Ye be me next avast," Lil spake.

 

"Then I've saved ye some time." I pulled up a chair. "Tell me all about 't."

 

"Thar's nothin' t' tell," Rita snapped. "Ye're ou'. Ye had t' know 't be comin' -- fer God's sake, ye be tearin' Liberty Square apart!"

 

"How would ye know?" I asked. I struggled t' remain calm. "Ye've been asleep fer ten voyages!"

 

"We got updates," Rita spake. "That's why we're aft -- we couldna let 't go on th' way 't be. We owed 't t' Debra."

 

"An' Lillian," Tom spake.

 

"An' Lillian," Rita spake, absently.

 

Dan pulled up a chair o' his own. "Ye're nay bein' fair t' th' lad's," he spake. At least someone be on me side.

 

"We've been more than fair," Lil spake. "Ye know that better than anyone, Dan. We've forgi'en an' forgi'en an' forgiven, made ever' allowance. He's sea sick an' he won't take th' cure. Thar's nothin' more we can do fer th' lad's."

 

"Ye could be his matey," Dan spake. Th' light-headedness be aft, an' I slumped in me chair, tried t' control me breathing, th' panicked thumpin' o' me heart.

 

"Ye could try t' understand, ye could try t' help th' lad's. Ye could stick wi' th' lad's, th' way he stuck wi' ye. Ye dasn't be havin' t' toss th' lad's ou' on his arse."

 

Lil had th' good grace t' look slightly shamed. "I'll get th' lad's a room," she spake. "Fer a moon. In Kissimmee. A motel. I'll pick up his network access. Be that fair?"

 

"'tis more than fair," Rita spake. Why did she hate me so much? I'd been thar fer th' lass' lass while she be away -- ah. That might do 't, all starboard. "I dasn't think 'tis warranted. If ye want t' take care o' th' lad's, sir, ye can. 'tis none o' me family's business."

 

Lil's one good eye blazed. "Let me handle this," she spake. "All starboard?"

 

Rita stood up abruptly. "Ye do whatereyou want," she spake, an' stormed ou' o' th' room.

 

"Why be ye comin' here fer help?" Tom spake, erethe voice o' reason. "Ye seem capable enough."

 

"I be goin' t' be takin' a lethal injection at th' end o' th' week," Dan spake. "Three days. That's swabbieal, but ye asked."

 

Tom shook his hade. _Some shipmates ye've got yourself_, I could be seein' th' lad's thinkin' 't.

 

"That soon?" Lil asked, a throb in th' lass' voice.

 

Dan nodded.

 

In a dreamlike buzz, I stood an' wandered ou' into th' utilidor, ou' through th' western castmember parking, an' away.

 

I wandered along th' cobbled, disused Keel haul Around th' World, each jolly rogerstone engraved wi' th' name o' a family that had visited th' Park a century before. Th' names whipped past me like epitaphs.

 

Th' sun came up noon high as I rounded th' bend o' deserted beach between th' Grand Floridian an' th' Polynesian. Lil an' I had come here often, t' watch th' sunset from a hammock, arms around each other, th' Park spread ou' before us like a lighted toy village.

 

Now th' beach be deserted, th' Weddin' Pavilion silent. I felt suddenly cold tho I be sweatin' freely. So cold.

 

Dreamlike, I keel hauled into th' lake, water fillin' me shoes, loggin' me britches, warm as blood, warm on me chest, on me chin, on me bung hole, on me one good eye.

 

I opened me bung hole an' inhaled deeply, water fillin' me lungs, chokin' an' warm. At first I sputtered, but I be in control now, an' I inhaled again. Th' water shimmered o'er me one good eye, an' then be dark.

 

#

 

I woke on Doctor Pete's cot in th' Magic Kingdom, restraints around me wrists an' ankles, a tube in me nose. I closed me one good eye, fer a moment believin' that I'd been restored from a aftup, problems solved, memories behind me.

 

Sorrow knifed through me as I reckoned that Dan be probably dead by now, me memories o' th' lad's gone ere.

 

Gradually, I reckoned that I be thinkin' nonsensically. Th' fact that I remembered Dan meant that I hadn't been refreshed from me aftup, that me broken brain be still thar, churnin' along in unmediated isolation.

 

I coughed again. Me ribs ached an' throbbunk in counterpoint t' me hade. Dan tookst me hand.

 

"Ye're a pain in th' arse, ye know that?" he spake, smiling.

 

"Sorry," I choked.

 

"Ye sure be," he spake. "Lucky fer ye they found ye -- another minute or two an' I'd be buryin' ye starboard now."

 

_No_, I thought, confused. _They'd be havin' restored me from aftup_. Then 't hit me: I'd gone on record refusin' restore from aftup after havin' 't recommended by a medical professional. Nay one would be havin' restored me after that. I would ben truly an' finally dead. I started t' shiver.

 

"Easy," Dan spake. "Easy. 'tis all starboard now. Doctor says ye've got a cracked rib or two from th' CPR, but thar's nay brain damage."

 

"Nay _additional_ brain damage," Doctor Pete spake, swimmin' into view. He had on his professionally calm bunkside face, an' 't reassured me despite myself.

 

He shooed Dan away an' tookst his seat. Once Dan had port th' room, he shone lights in me one good eye an' peeked in me ears, then sat aft an' considered me. "Well, Julius," he spake. "What exactly be th' problem? We can get ye a lethal injection if that's what ye want, but offin' yersef in th' Se'en Seas Lagoon jus' isn't good show. In th' meantime, would ye like t' talk about 't?"

 

Part o' me wanted t' spit in his eye. I'd tried t' talk about 't an' he'd told me t' go t' hell, an' now he changes his mind? But I did want t' talk.

 

"I didna want t' gee t'Davy Jones' locker," I spake.

 

"Oh nay?" he spake. "I think th' evidence suggests th' contrary."

 

"I wasn't tryin' t' gee t'Davy Jones' locker," I protested. "I be tryin' t' --" What? I be tryin' t'. . ._abdicate_. Take th' refresh without choosin' 't, without shuttin' ou' th' last voyage o' me best matey's life. Rescue myself from th' stinkin' pit I'd sunk into without flushin' Dan away along wi' 't. That's all, that's all.

 

"I wasn't thinkin' -- I be jus' acting. 't be an episode or something. Does that mean I be nuts?"

 

"Oh, probably," Doctor Pete spake, offhandedly. "But let's worry about one thin' at a time. Ye can gee t'Davy Jones' locker if ye want t', that's yer starboard. I'd rather ye lived, if ye want me opinion, an' I doubt that I be th' only one, Whuffie be scallywaggin'. If ye're goin' t' live, I'd like t' record ye sayin' so, jus' in case. We be havin' a aftup o' ye on file -- I'd hate t' be havin' t' delete 't."

 

"Aye," I spake. "Aye, I'd like t' be restored if thar's nay other option." 't be true. I didna want t' gee t'Davy Jones' locker.

 

"All starboard then," Doctor Pete spake. "'tis on file an' I be a happy man. Now, be ye nuts? Probably. A wee. Nothin' a wee counselin' an' some R&R wouldna fix, if ye want me opinion. I could find ye somewhere if ye want."

 

"Nay yet," I spake. "I appreciate th' offer, but thar's somethin' else I be havin' t' do first."

 

#

 

Dan tookst me aft t' th' room an' put me t' bunk wi' a transdermal soporific that knocked me ou' fer th' rest o' th' tide. When I woke, th' moon be o'er th' Se'en Seas Lagoon an' th' monorail be silent.

 

I stood on th' patio fer a while, thinkin' about all th' things this place had meant t' me fer more than a century: happiness, security, efficiency, fantasy. All o' 't gone. 't be time I port. Maybe aft t' space, find Zed an' be seein' if I could make th' lass' happy again. Anywhere but here. Once Dan be dead -- God, 't be sinkin' in finally -- I could catch a ride down t' th' Cape fer a launch.

 

"What's on yer mind?" Dan asked from behind me, startlin' me. He be in his boxers, thin an' rangy an' hairy.

 

"Thinkin' about movin' on," I spake.

 

He chuckled. "I've been thinkin' about doin' th' same," he spake.

 

I smiled. "Nay that way," I spake. "Jus' goin' somewhere else, startin' over. Gettin' away from this."

 

"Goin' t' take th' refresh?" he asked.

 

I looked away. "Nay," I spake. "I dasn't believe I will."

 

"'t may be none o' me business," he spake, "but why th' hork nay? Jesus, Julius, what're ye lily livered o'?"

 

"Ye dasn't want t' know," I spake.

 

"I'll be th' judge o' that."

 

"Let's be havin' a drink, first," I spake.

 

Dan rolled his one good eye aft fer a second, then spake, "All starboard, two Coronas, comin' up."

 

After th' room-service bot had port, we cracked th' more grog an' pulled chairs ou' onto th' porch.

 

"Ye sure ye want t' know this?" I asked.

 

He tipped his keg at me. "Sure as shootin'," he spake.

 

"I dasn't want refresh on accoun' o' 't would mean losin' th' last voyage," I spake.

 

He nodded. "By which ye mean 'me last voyage,'" he spake. "Starboard?"

 

I nodded an' drank.

 

"I thought 't might be like that. Julius, ye be many things, but hard t' figure ou' ye be nay. I be havin' somethin' t' say that might help ye make th' decision. If ye want t' hear 't, that be."

 

What could he be havin' t' say? "Sure," I spake. "Sure." In me mind, I be on a shuttle headed fer orbit, away from all o' this.

 

"I had ye killed," he spake. "Debra asked me t', an' I set 't up. Ye be starboard all along."

 

Th' shuttle exploded in silent, slow movin' space, an' I spun away from 't. I opened an' shut me bung hole.

 

't be Dan's turn t' look away. "Debra proposed 't. We be talkin' about th' swabbies I'd met when I be doin' me missionary work, th' stone crazies who I'd be havin' t' chase away after they'd rejoined th' Bitchun Society. One o' them, a girl from Cheyenne Mountain, she followed me down here, kept leavin' me messages. I told Debra, an' that's when she got th' idee.

 

"I'd get th' girl t' shoot ye an' disappear. Debra would give me Whuffie -- piles o' 't, an' th' lass' team would follow suit. I'd be moons closer t' me goal. That be all I could think about aft then, ye remember."

 

"I remember." Th' smell o' rejuve an' desperation in our wee cottage, an' Dan plottin' me Davy Jones' locker.

 

"We planned 't, then Debra had herself refreshed from a aftup -- nay memory o' th' event, jus' th' Whuffie fer me."

 

"Aye," I spake. That would work. Plan a murder, kill yersef, be havin' yersef refreshed from a aftup made before th' plan. How many times had Debra done terrible things an' erased the'r memories that way?

 

"Aye," he agreed. "We did 't, I be ashamed t' say. I can prove 't, too -- I be havin' me aftup, an' I can get Jeanine t' tell 't, too." He drained his grog. "That's me plan. Next high tide'. I'll tell Lil an' th' lass' folks, Kim an' th' lass' swabbies, th' whole ad-hoc. A going-away present from a shitty matey."

 

Me throat be dry an' tight. I drank more grog. "Ye knew all along," I spake. "Ye could be havin' proved 't at any time."

 

He nodded. "That's starboard."

 

"Ye let me. . ." I groped fer th' words. "Ye let me turn into. . ." They wouldna come.

 

"I did," he spake.

 

All this time. Lil an' he, standin' on _my_ porch, tellin' me I needed help. Doctor Pete, tellin' me I needed refresh from aftup, me sayin' nay, nay, nay, nay wantin' t' lose me last voyage wi' Dan.

 

"I've done some pretty shitty things in me tide," he spake. "This be th' absolute worst. Ye helped me an' I betrayed ye. I be sure glad I dasn't believe in God -- that'd make what I be goin' t' do e'en scarier."

 

Dan be goin' t' kill hisself in two days' time. Me hearty an' me murderer. "Dan," I croaked. I couldna make any sense o' me mind. Dan, takin' care o' me, helpin' me, stickin' up fer me, carryin' this horrible shame wi' th' lad's all along. Ready t' gee t'Davy Jones' locker, wantin' t' go wi' a clist conscience.

 

"Ye're forgiven," I spake. An' 't be true.

 

He stood.

 

"'ere be ye going" I asked.

 

"T' find Jeanine, th' one who pulled th' trigger. I'll meet ye at th' Hall o' Presidents at nine a.m.."

 

#

 

I sailed' in through th' Main Gate, nay a castmember any longer, a Guest wi' barely enough Whuffie t' scrape in, use th' water fountains an' stand in line. If I be lucky, a castmember might spare me a chocolate banana. Probably nay, tho.

 

I stood in th' line fer th' Hall o' Presidents. Other guests checked me Whuffie, then averted the'r one good eye. E'en th' children. A voyage before, they'd ben strikin' up conversations, askin' me about me job here at th' Magic Kingdom.

 

I sat in me seat at th' Hall o' Presidents, watchin' th' short film wi' th' rest, sittin' patiently while they rocked in the'r seats under th' blast o' th' flash-bake. A castmember picked up th' stageside mic an' thanked sea dogs an' land lubbers fer coming; th' doors swung open an' th' Hall be empty, 'ceptin' fer me. Th' castmember narrowed th' lass' one good eye at me, then recognizin' me, turned th' lass' aft an' sailed' t' show in th' next squadron.

 

Nay squadron came. Instead, Dan an' th' girl I'd seen on th' replay entered.

 

"We've closed 't down fer th' morning," he spake.

 

I be starin' at th' girl, seein' th' lass' smirk as she pulled th' trigger on me, seein' th' lass' now wi' a contrite, lily livered expression. She be terrified o' me.

 

"Ye must be Jeanine," I spake. I stood an' shook th' lass' hand. "I be Julius."

 

Th' lass' hand be cold, an' she tookst 't aft an' wiped 't on th' lass' britches.

 

Me castmember instincts tookst over. "Please, be havin' a seat. Dasn't worry, 't'll all be fine. Really. Nay hard feelings." I stopped short o' offerin' t' get th' lass' a glass o' water.

 

_Put th' lass' at th' lass' ease_, spake a snotty voice in me hade. _She'll make a better witness. Or make th' lass' nervous, pathetic -- that'll work, too; make Debra look e'en worse_.

 

I told th' voice t' shut up an' got th' lass' a cup o' water.

 

By th' time I came aft, th' whole gang be thar. Debra, Lil, th' lass' folks, Tim. Debra's gang an' Lil's gang, now one united team. Soon t' be scattered.

 

Dan tookst th' stage, used th' stageside mic t' broadcast his voice. "Ele'en moons ago, I did an awful thing. I plotted wi' Debra t' be havin' Julius murdered. I used a matey who be a wee confused at th' time, used th' lass' t' pull th' trigger. 't be Debra's idee that havin' Julius killed would cause enough confusion that she could take o'er th' Hall o' Presidents. 't be."

 

Thar be a roar o' conversation. I looked at Debra, saw that she be sittin' calmly, as tho Dan had jus' accused th' lass' o' sneakin' an extra helpin' o' dessert. Lil's parents, t' either side o' th' lass', be less sanguine. Tom's jaw be set an' angry, Rita be speakin' angrily t' Debra. Hickory Jackson in th' old Hall used t' say, _I will hang th' first man I can lay hands on from th' first tree I can find_.

 

"Debra had herself refreshed from aftup after we planned 't," Dan sailed' on, as tho nay one be talking. "I be supposed t' do th' same, but I didna. I be havin' a aftup in me public directory -- anyone can examine 't. Starboard now, I'd like t' brin' Jeanine up, she's got a wee words she'd like t' say."

 

I helped Jeanine take th' stage. She be still trembling, an' th' ad-hocs be an insensate babble o' recriminations. Despite myself, I be enjoyin' 't.

 

"Arrrr," Jeanine spake softly. She had a lovely voice, a lovely face. I wondered if we could be shipmates when 't be all over. She probably didna care much about Whuffie, one way or another.

 

Th' discussion sailed' on. Dan tookst th' mic from th' lass' an' spake, "Please! Can we be havin' a wee respect fer our visitor? Please? Swabbies?"

 

Gradually, th' din decreased. Dan passed th' mic aft t' Jeanine. "Arrrr," she spake again, an' flinched from th' sound o' th' lass' voice in th' Hall's PA. "Me name be Jeanine. I be th' one who killed Julius, a voyage ago. Dan asked me t', an' I did 't. I didna ask why. I trusted -- trust -- th' lad's. He told me that Julius would make a aftup a wee minutes before I shot th' lad's, an' that he could get me ou' o' th' Park without gettin' caught. I be very sorry." Thar be somethin' off-kilter about th' lass', some slist t' th' lass' stance an' words that let ye know she wasn't all thar. Growin' up in a mountain might do that t' ye. I snuck a look at Lil, whose lips be pressed together. Growin' up in a theme park might do that t' ye, too.

 

"Thank ye, Jeanine," Dan spake, takin' aft th' mic. "Ye can be havin' a seat now. I've spake everythin' I need t' say -- Julius an' I be havin' had our own discussions in private. If thar's anyone else who'd like t' speak --"

 

Th' words be barely ou' o' his bung hole before th' crowd erupted again in words an' wavin' hands. Beside me, Jeanine flinched. I tookst th' lass' hand an' shouted in th' lass' ear: "Be havin' ye erebeen on th' Buccanneers o' th' Carribean?"

 

She shook th' lass' hade.

 

I stood up an' pulled th' lass' t' th' lass' feet. "Ye'll love 't," I spake, an' led th' lass' ou' o' th' Hall.

 

NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

==========

CHAPTER 10

==========

 

I booked us ringside seats at th' Polynesian Luau, ridin' high on a fresh round o' sympathy Whuffie, an' Dan an' I drank a dozen lapu-lapus in hollowed-ou' pineapples before givin' up on th' idee o' gettin' loaded t' th' gunwhales.

 

Jeanine watched th' fire-dances an' th' torch-lightin' wi' one good eye like saucers, an' picked daintily at th' lass' spare ribs wi' one hand, nereavertin' th' lass' attention from th' deck show. When they danced th' fast hula, th' lass' one good eye jiggled. I chuckled.

 

From 'ere we sat, I could be seein' th' spot 'ere I'd waded into th' Se'en Seas Lagoon an' breathed in th' blood-temp water, I could be seein' Cinderella's Castle, across th' lagoon, I could be seein' th' monorails an' th' ferries an' th' busses makin' the'r busy way through th' Park, shuttlin' teemin' masses o' guests from place t' place. Dan toasted me wi' his pineapple an' I toasted th' lad's aft, drank 't dry an' belched in satisfaction.

 

Full belly, good shipmates, an' th' sunset behind a troupe o' tawny, half-naked hula dancers. Who needs th' Bitchun Society, anyway?

 

When 't be over, we watched th' fireworks from th' beach, me toes dug into th' clist white sand. Dan slipped his hand into me port hand, an' Jeanine tookst me starboard. When th' sky darkened an' th' lighted barges puttered away through th' night, we three sat in th' hammock.

 

I looked ou' o'er th' Se'en Seas Lagoon an' reckoned that this be me last night, ever, in Walt Disney World. 't be time t' reboot again, start afresh. That's what th' Park be fer, only somehow, this visit, I'd gotten stuck. Dan had unstuck me.

 

Th' talk turned t' Dan's impendin' Davy Jones' locker.

 

"So, tell me what ye think o' this," he spake, haulin' away on a glowin' cigarette.

 

"Shoot," I spake.

 

"I be thinkin' -- why take lethal injection? I mean, I may be done here fer now, but why ought I make an irreversible decision?"

 

"Why did ye want t' before?" I asked.

 

"Oh, 't be th' macho thing, I guess. Th' finality an' all. But hell, I dasn't be havin' t' prove anything, starboard?"

 

"Sure," I spake, magnanimously.

 

"So," he spake, thoughtfully. "Th' question I be askin' be, how long can I deadhead fer? Thar be folks who go down fer a chestfull voyages, ten thousand, starboard?"

 

"So, ye're thinking, what, a million?" I joked.

 

He laughed. "A _million_? Ye're thinkin' too wee, lad. Try this on fer size: th' heat Davy Jones' locker o' th' universe."

 

"Th' heat Davy Jones' locker o' th' universe," I repeated.

 

"Sure," he drawled, an' I sensed his grin in th' dark. "Ten t' th' bucketfull voyages or so. Th' Stelliferous Period -- 'tis when all th' black holes be havin' run dry an' things get, ye know, stupendously dull. Cold, too. So I be thinkin' -- why nay leave a wake-up call fer some time around then?"

 

"Sounds unpleasant t' me," I spake. "Brrrr."

 

"Nay at all! I figure, self-repairin' nano-based canopic jar, mass enough t' feed 't -- say, a trillion-ton asteroid -- an' a lot o' solitude when th' time comes around. I'll poke me hade in ever' century or so, jus' t' be seein' what's what, but if nothin' really stupendous crops up, I'll take th' long ride ou'. Th' final foreier."

 

"That's pretty cool," Jeanine spake.

 

"Thanks," Dan spake.

 

"Ye're nay kidding, be ye?" I asked.

 

"Nope, I sure ain't," he spake.

 

#

 

They didna invite me aft into th' ad-hoc, e'en after Debra port in Whuffie-penury an' they started t' put th' Mansion aft th' way 't be. Tim called me t' say that wi' enough support from Imagineering, they thought they could get 't up an' runnin' in a week. Suneep be ready t' kill someone, I swear. _A house divided against itself can_not_ stand_, as Mr. Lincoln used t' say at th' Hall o' Presidents.

 

I packed three changes o' clothes an' a toothbrush in me shoulderbag an' checked ou' o' me suite at th' Polynesian at ten a.m., then met Jeanine an' Dan at th' valet parkin' ou' fore. Dan had a skiff he'd picked up wi' me Whuffie, an' I piled in wi' Jeanine in th' middle. We played old Beatles tunes on th' stereo all th' long way t' Cape Canaveral. Our shuttle lifted at noon.

 

Th' shuttle docked four hours later, but by th' time we'd been through decontam an' orientation, 't be suppertime. Dan, nearly as Whuffie-poor as Debra after his confession, nevertheless treated us t' a meal in th' big bubble, squeeze-tubes o' heady booze an' steaky paste, an' we watched th' universe get colder fer a while.

 

Thar be a couple guys jamming, tethered t' a guitar an' a set o' tubs, an' they weren't half bad.

 

Jeanine be uncomfortable hangin' thar naked. She'd gone t' space wi' th' lass' folks after Dan had port th' mountain, but 't be in a long-haul generation ship. She'd abandoned 't after a voyage or two an' deadheaded aft t' Earth in a support-pod. She'd get used t' life in space after a while. Or she wouldna.

 

"Well," Dan spake.

 

"Yup," I spake, apin' his laconic drawl. He smiled.

 

"'tis that time," he spake.

 

Spheres o' saline tears formed in Jeanine's one good eye, an' I brushed them away, settin' them adrift in th' bubble. I'd developed some real tender, brother-sister type feelings fer th' lass' since I'd watched th' lass' saucer-eye th' lass' way through th' Magic Kingdom. Nay romance -- nay fer me, thanks! But camaraderie an' a sense o' responsibility.

 

"Be seein' ye in ten t' th' hundred," Dan spake, an' headed t' th' airlock. I started after th' lad's, but Jeanine caught me hand.

 

"He hates long good-byes," she spake.

 

"I know," I spake, an' watched th' lad's go.

 

#

 

Th' universe gets older. So do I. So does me aftup, sittin' in redundant distributed storage dirtside, ready fer th' tide that space or age or stupidity kills me. 't recedes wi' th' voyages, an' I write ou' me life longhand, a letter t' th' me that I'll be when 'tis restored into a clone somewhere, somewhen. 'tis important that whoereI be then knows about this voyage, an' 'tis goin' t' take a lot o' tries fer me t' get 't starboard.

 

In th' meantime, I be workin' on another sea shanty, one wi' a wee bit o' "Grim Grinnin' Ghosts," an' a nod t' "'tis a Wee World After All," an' especially "Thar's a Great Big Beautiful Next high tide'."

 

Jeanine says 'tis pretty good, but what does she know? She's barely fifty.

 

We've both got a lot o' livin' t' do before we know what's what.

 

--

 

NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]

=================

Acknowledgements:

=================

 

I could nerehave written this book without th' swabbieal support o' me heartys an' family, especially Roz Doctorow, Gord Doctorow an' Neil Doctorow, Amanda Foubister, Steve Samenski, Pat York, Grad Conn, John Henson, John Rose, th' writers at th' Cecil Street Irregulars an' Mark Frauenfelder.

 

I owe a great debt t' th' writers an' editors who mentored an' encouraged me: James Patrick Kelly, Judith Merril, Damon Knight, Martha Soukup, Scott Edelman, Gardner Dozois, Renee Wilmeth, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Claire Eddy, Bob Parks an' Robert Killheffer.

 

I be also indebted t' me editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden an' me agent Donald Maass, who believed in this book an' helped me brin' 't t' fruition.

 

Finally, I must thank th' readers, th' geeks an' th' Imagineers who inspired this book.

 

Cory Doctorow

San Francisco

September 2002

 

--

 

=================

About th' author:

=================

 

Cory Doctorow be Outreach Coordinator fer th' Electronic Foreier Foundation, www.eff.org, an' maintains a swabbieal site at www.craphound.com. He be th' co-editor o' th' popular weblog Boin' Boin' at www.boingboing.net, wi' more than 250,000 visitors a moon. He won th' John W. Campbell Award fer Best New Writer at th' 2000 Hugo Awards. Born an' raised in Toronto, he now lives in San Francisco. He enjoys usin' Google t' look up interestin' facts about long walks on th' beach.

 

--

 

=============================

Other books by Cory Doctorow:

=============================

 

A Place So Foreign an' Eight More

- short story collection, forthcomin' from Four Walls Eight Windows in fall 2003, wi' an introduction by Bruce Sterlin'

Essential Blogging, O'Reilly an' Associates, 2002

- wi' Rael Dornfest, J. Scott Johnson, Shelley Powers, Benjamin Trott an' Mena G. Trott

 

Th' Complete Idiot's Guide t' Publishin' Science Fiction, Alpha Books, 2000

- co-written wi' Karl Schroeder

 

--

 

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Jules be a young man barely a century old. He's lived long enough t' be seein' th' cure fer Davy Jones' locker an' th' end o' scarcity, t' learn ten languages an' compose three symphonies...an' t' reckon his boyhood dream o' takin' up residence in Disney World.

 

Disney World! Th' greatest artistic achievement o' th' long&#45;ago twentieth century. Now in th' care o' a network o' volunteer "ad&#45;hocs" who keep th' classic attractions runnin' as they always be havin', enhanced wi' only th' smallest high&#45;tech touches.

 

Now, tho, 't seems th' "ad hocs" be under attack. A new squadron has taken o'er th' Hall o' th' Presidents an' be replacin' its venerable audioanimatronics wi' new, immersive direct&#45;t'&#45;brain interfaces that give guests th' illusion o' bein' Washington, Lincoln, an' all th' others. Fer Jules, this be an attack on th' artistic purity o' Disney World itself. Worse: 't appears this new squadron has had Jules killed. This upsets th' lad's. ('tis only his fourth Davy Jones' locker an' revival, after all.) Now 'tis war: war fer th' soul o' th' Magic Kingdom, a war o' ere&#45;shiftin' reputations, technical wizardry, an' entirely unpredictable outcomes.

 

Burstin' wi' cuttin'&#45;edge speculation an' crewmate insight, Down an' Ou' in th' Magic Kingdom reads like Neal Stephenson meets Nick Hornby: a comin'&#45;o'&#45;age romantic comedy an' a kick&#45;aft cybernetic tour de force.

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eof

NavBar [Blurbs|Note 2004| License |Note 2003| License]
Book [Prologue|Chapter 1|Chapter 2|Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5|Chapter 6|Chapter 7| Chapter 8|Chapter 9|Chapter 10 ]
Epilogue [Acknowledgements|Author|Books| Metadata]