Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 14 of 61

Lil shot me a cautioning look. She’d ceded the Hall to Debra’s ad-hocs, that being the only way to avoid the appearance of childish disattention to the almighty Whuffie. Now she had to keep up the fiction of good-natured cooperation — that meant not shoulder-surfing Debra, looking for excuses to pounce on her work.

Tim gave us the same half-grin he’d greeted me with. On his smooth, pointed features, it looked almost irredeemably cute. “We’re doing good stuff, I think. Debra’s had her eye on the Hall for years, back in the old days, before she went to China. We’re replacing the whole thing with broadband uplinks of gestalts from each of the Presidents’ lives: newspaper headlines, speeches, distilled biographies, personal papers. It’ll be like having each President inside you, core-dumped in a few seconds. Debra said we’re going to flash-bake the Presidents on your mind!” His eyes glittered in the twilight.

Having only recently experienced my own cerebral flash-baking, Tim’s description struck a chord in me. My personality seemed to be rattling around a little in my mind, as though it had been improperly fitted. It made the idea of having the gestalt of 50-some Presidents squashed in along with it perversely appealing.

“Wow,” I said. “That sounds wild. What do you have in mind for physical plant?” The Hall as it stood had a quiet, patriotic dignity cribbed from a hundred official buildings of the dead USA. Messing with it would be like redesigning the stars-and-bars.

“That’s not really my area,” Tim said. “I’m a programmer. But I could have one of the designers squirt some plans at you, if you want.”

“That would be fine,” Lil said, taking my elbow. “I think we should be heading home, now, though.” She began to tug me away. Dan took my other elbow. Behind her, the Liberty Belle glowed like a ghostly wedding cake in the twilight.

“That’s too bad,” Tim said. “My ad-hoc is pulling an all-nighter on the new Hall. I’m sure they’d love to have you drop by.”

The idea seized hold of me. I would go into the camp of the enemy, sit by their fire, learn their secrets. “That would be great!” I said, too loudly. My head was buzzing slightly. Lil’s hands fell away.

“But we’ve got an early morning tomorrow,” Lil said. “You’ve got a shift at eight, and I’m running into town for groceries.” She was lying, but she was telling me that this wasn’t her idea of a smart move. But my faith was unshakeable.

“Eight a.m. shift? No problem — I’ll be right here when it starts. I’ll just grab a shower at the Contemporary in the morning and catch the monorail back in time to change. All right?”

Dan tried. “But Jules, we were going to grab some dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table, remember? I made reservations.”

“Aw, we can eat any time,” I said. “This is a hell of an opportunity.”

“It sure is,” Dan said, giving up. “Mind if I come along?”

He and Lil traded meaningful looks that I interpreted to mean, If he’s going to be a nut, one of us really should stay with him. I was past caring — I was going to beard the lion in his den!

Tim was apparently oblivious to all of this. “Then it’s settled! Let’s go.”

On the walk to the Hall, Dan kept ringing my cochlea and I kept sending him straight to voicemail. All the while, I kept up a patter of small-talk with him and Tim. I was determined to make up for my debacle in the Mansion with Tim, win him over.

Debra’s people were sitting around in the armchairs onstage, the animatronic presidents stacked in neat piles in the wings. Debra was sprawled in Lincoln’s armchair, her head cocked lazily, her legs extended before her. The Hall’s normal smells of ozone and cleanliness were overridden by sweat and machine-oil, the stink of an ad-hoc pulling an all-nighter. The Hall took fifteen years to research and execute, and a couple of days to tear down.

She was au-naturel, still wearing the face she’d been born with, albeit one that had been regenerated dozens of times after her deaths. It was patrician, waxy, long, with a nose that was made for staring down. She was at least as old as I was, though she was only apparent 22. I got the sense that she picked this age because it was one that afforded boundless reserves of energy.

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