Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 15 of 61

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.

She didn’t deign to rise as I approached, but she did nod languorously at me. The other ad-hocs had been split into little clusters, hunched over terminals. They all had the raccoon-eyed, sleep-deprived look of fanatics, even Debra, who managed to look lazy and excited simultaneously.

Did you have me killed? I wondered, staring at Debra. After all, she’d been killed dozens, if not hundreds of times. It might not be such a big deal for her.

“Hi there,” I said, brightly. “Tim offered to show us around! You know Dan, right?”

Debra nodded at him. “Oh, sure. Dan and I are pals, right?”

Dan’s poker face didn’t twitch a muscle. “Hello, Debra,” he said. He’d been hanging out with them since Lil had briefed him on the peril to the Mansion, trying to gather some intelligence for us to use. They knew what he was up to, of course, but Dan was a fairly charming guy and he worked like a mule, so they tolerated him. But it seemed like he’d violated a boundary by accompanying me, as though the polite fiction that he was more a part of Debra’s ad-hoc than Lil’s was shattered by my presence.

Tim said, “Can I show them the demo, Debra?”

Debra quirked an eyebrow, then said, “Sure, why not. You’ll like this, guys.”

Tim hustled us backstage, where Lil and I used to sweat over the animatronics and cop surreptitious feels. Everything had been torn loose, packed up, stacked. They hadn’t wasted a moment — they’d spent a week tearing down a show that had run for more than a century. The scrim that the projected portions of the show normally screened on was ground into the floor, spotted with grime, footprints and oil.

Tim showed me to a half-assembled backup terminal. Its housing was off, and any number of wireless keyboards, pointers and gloves lay strewn about it. It had the look of a prototype.

“This is it — our uplink. So far, we’ve got a demo app running on it: Lincoln’s old speech, along with the civil-war montage. Just switch on guest access and I’ll core-dump it to you. It’s wild.”

I pulled up my HUD and switched on guest access. Tim pointed a finger at the terminal and my brain was suffused with the essence of Lincoln: every nuance of his speech, the painstakingly researched movement tics, his warts and beard and topcoat. It almost felt like I was Lincoln, for a moment, and then it passed. But I could still taste the lingering coppery flavor of cannon-fire and chewing tobacco.

I staggered backwards. My head swam with flash-baked sense-impressions, rich and detailed. I knew on the spot that Debra’s Hall of the Presidents was going to be a hit.

Dan took a shot off the uplink, too. Tim and I watched him as his expression shifted from skepticism to delight. Tim looked expectantly at me.

“That’s really fine,” I said. “Really, really fine. Moving.”

Tim blushed. “Thanks! I did the gestalt programming — it’s my specialty.”

Debra spoke up from behind him — she’d sauntered over while Dan was getting his jolt. “I got the idea in Beijing, when I was dying a lot. There’s something wonderful about having memories implanted, like you’re really working your brain. I love the synthetic clarity of it all.”

Tim sniffed. “Not synthetic at all,” he said, turning to me. “It’s nice and soft, right?”

I sensed deep political shoals and was composing my reply when Debra said: “Tim keeps trying to make it all more impressionistic, less computer-y. He’s wrong, of course. We don’t want to simulate the experience of watching the show — we want to transcend it.”

Tim nodded reluctantly. “Sure, transcend it. But the way we do that is by making the experience human, a mile in the presidents’ shoes. Empathy-driven. What’s the point of flash-baking a bunch of dry facts on someone’s brain?”

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