Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 19 of 61

She ground the back of her sleeve against her eyes and smiled. “Sorry,” she said. Her nose was red, her eyes puffy, her freckles livid over the flush of her cheeks. “Sorry — it’s just shocking. Maybe you’re right. And even if you’re not — hey, that’s the whole point of a meritocracy, right? The best stuff survives, everything else gets supplanted.

“Oh, shit, I hate how I look when I cry,” she said. “Let’s go congratulate them.”

As I took her hand, I was obscurely pleased with myself for having improved her mood without artificial assistance.

Dan was nowhere to be seen as Lil and I mounted the stage at the Hall, where Debra’s ad-hocs and a knot of well-wishers were celebrating by passing a rock around. Debra had lost the tailcoat and hat, and was in an extreme state of relaxation, arms around the shoulders of two of her cronies, pipe between her teeth.

She grinned around the pipe as Lil and I stumbled through some insincere compliments, nodded, and toked heavily while Tim applied a torch to the bowl.

“Thanks,” she said, laconically. “It was a team effort.” She hugged her cronies to her, almost knocking their heads together.

Lil said, “What’s your timeline, then?”

Debra started unreeling a long spiel about critical paths, milestones, requirements meetings, and I tuned her out. Ad-hocs were crazy for that process stuff. I stared at my feet, at the floorboards, and realized that they weren’t floorboards at all, but faux-finish painted over a copper mesh — a Faraday cage. That’s why the HERF gun hadn’t done anything; that’s why they’d been so casual about working with the shielding off their computers. With my eye, I followed the copper shielding around the entire stage and up the walls, where it disappeared into the ceiling. Once again, I was struck by the evolvedness of Debra’s ad-hocs, how their trial by fire in China had armored them against the kind of bush-league jiggery-pokery that the fuzzy bunnies in Florida — myself included — came up with.

For instance, I didn’t think there was a single castmember in the Park outside of Deb’s clique with the stones to stage an assassination. Once I’d made that leap, I realized that it was only a matter of time until they staged another one — and another, and another. Whatever they could get away with.

Debra’s spiel finally wound down and Lil and I headed away. I stopped in front of the backup terminal in the gateway between Liberty Square and Fantasyland. “When was the last time you backed up?” I asked her. If they could go after me, they might go after any of us.

“Yesterday,” she said. She exuded bone-weariness at me, looking more like an overmediated guest than a tireless castmember.

“Let’s run another backup, huh? We should really back up at night and at lunchtime — with things the way they are, we can’t afford to lose an afternoon’s work, much less a week’s.”

Lil rolled her eyes. I knew better than to argue with her when she was tired, but this was too crucial to set aside for petulance. “You can back up that often if you want to, Julius, but don’t tell me how to live my life, okay?”

“Come on, Lil — it only takes a minute, and it’d make me feel a lot better. Please?” I hated the whine in my voice.

“No, Julius. No. Let’s go home and get some sleep. I want to do some work on new merch for the Mansion — some collectible stuff, maybe.”

“For Christ’s sake, is it really so much to ask? Fine. Wait while I back up, then, all right?”

Lil groaned and glared at me.

I approached the terminal and cued a backup. Nothing happened. Oh, yeah, right, I was offline. A cool sweat broke out all over my new body.

Lil grabbed the couch as soon as we got in, mumbling something about wanting to work on some revised merch ideas she’d had. I glared at her as she subvocalized and air-typed in the corner, shut away from me. I hadn’t told her that I was offline yet — it just seemed like insignificant personal bitching relative to the crises she was coping with.

Besides, I’d been knocked offline before, though not in fifty years, and often as not the system righted itself after a good night’s sleep. I could visit the doctor in the morning if things were still screwy.

So I crawled into bed, and when my bladder woke me in the night, I had to go into the kitchen to consult our old starburst clock to get the time. It was 3 a.m., and when the hell had we expunged the house of all timepieces, anyway?

Lil was sacked out on the couch, and complained feebly when I tried to rouse her, so I covered her with a blanket and went back to bed, alone.

I woke disoriented and crabby, without my customary morning jolt of endorphin. Vivid dreams of death and destruction slipped away as I sat up. I preferred to let my subconscious do its own thing, so I’d long ago programmed my systems to keep me asleep during REM cycles except in emergencies. The dream left a foul taste in my mind as I staggered into the kitchen, where Lil was fixing coffee.

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