Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 29 of 61

“Those are terrific,” Dan said. “That guy must be a total fiend.” The meshes’ author had painstakingly modeled, chained and animated every ghost in the ballroom scene, complete with the kinematics necessary for full motion. Where a “normal” fan-artist might’ve used a standard human kinematics library for the figures, this one had actually written his own from the ground up, so that the ghosts moved with a spectral fluidity that was utterly unhuman.

“Who’s the author?” Dan asked. “Do we have him on our list yet?”

I scrolled down to display the credits. “I’ll be damned,” Dan breathed.

The author was Tim, Debra’s elfin crony. He’d submitted the designs a week before my assassination.

“What do you think it means?” I asked Dan, though I had a couple ideas on the subject myself.

“Tim’s a Mansion nut,” Dan said. “I knew that.”

“You knew?”

He looked a little defensive. “Sure. I told you, back when you had me hanging out with Debra’s gang.”

Had I asked him to hang out with Debra? As I remembered it, it had been his suggestion. Too much to think about.

“But what does it mean, Dan? Is he an ally? Should we try to recruit him? Or is he the one that’d convinced Debra she needs to take over the Mansion?”

Dan shook his head. “I’m not even sure that she wants to take over the Mansion. I know Debra, all she wants to do is turn ideas into things, as fast and as copiously as possible. She picks her projects carefully. She’s acquisitive, sure, but she’s cautious. She had a great idea for Presidents, and so she took over. I never heard her talk about the Mansion.”

“Of course you didn’t. She’s cagey. Did you hear her talk about the Hall of Presidents?”

Dan fumbled. “Not really. . . I mean, not in so many words, but –“

“But nothing,” I said. “She’s after the Mansion, she’s after the Magic Kingdom, she’s after the Park. She’s taking over, goddamn it, and I’m the only one who seems to have noticed.”

I came clean to Lil about my systems that night, as we were fighting. Fighting had become our regular evening pastime, and Dan had taken to sleeping at one of the hotels on-site rather than endure it.

I’d started it, of course. “We’re going to get killed if we don’t get off our asses and start the rehab,” I said, slamming myself down on the sofa and kicking at the scratched coffee table. I heard the hysteria and unreason in my voice and it just made me madder. I was frustrated by not being able to check in on Suneep and Dan, and, as usual, it was too late at night to call anyone and do anything about it. By the morning, I’d have forgotten again.

From the kitchen, Lil barked back, “I’m doing what I can, Jules. If you’ve got a better way, I’d love to hear about it.”

“Oh, bullshit. I’m doing what I can, planning the thing out. I’m ready to go. It was your job to get the ad-hocs ready for it, but you keep telling me they’re not. When will they be?”

“Jesus, you’re a nag.”

“I wouldn’t nag if you’d only fucking make it happen. What are you doing all day, anyway? Working shifts at the Mansion? Rearranging deck chairs on the Great Titanic Adventure?”

“I’m working my fucking ass off. I’ve spoken to every goddamn one of them at least twice this week about it.”

“Sure,” I hollered at the kitchen. “Sure you have.”

“Don’t take my word for it, then. Check my fucking phone logs.”

She waited.

“Well? Check them!”

“I’ll check them later,” I said, dreading where this was going.

“Oh, no you don’t,” she said, stalking into the room, fuming. “You can’t call me a liar and then refuse to look at the evidence.” She planted her hands on her slim little hips and glared at me. She’d gone pale and I could count every freckle on her face, her throat, her collarbones, the swell of her cleavage in the old vee-neck shirt I’d given her on a day-trip to Nassau.

“Well?” she asked. She looked ready to wring my neck.

“I can’t,” I admitted, not meeting her eyes.

“Yes you can — here, I’ll dump it to your public directory.”

Her expression shifted to one of puzzlement when she failed to locate me on her network. “What’s going on?”

So I told her. Offline, outcast, malfunctioning.

“Well, why haven’t you gone to the doctor? I mean, it’s been weeks. I’ll call him right now.”

“Forget it,” I said. “I’ll see him tomorrow. No sense in getting him out of bed.”

But I didn’t see him the day after, or the day after that. Too much to do, and the only times I remembered to call someone, I was too far from a public terminal or it was too late or too early. My systems came online a couple times, and I was too busy with the plans for the Mansion. Lil grew accustomed to the drifts of hard copy that littered the house, to printing out her annotations to my designs and leaving them on my favorite chair — to living like the cavemen of the information age had, surrounded by dead trees and ticking clocks.

Being offline helped me focus. Focus is hardly the word for it — I obsessed. I sat in front of the terminal I’d brought home all day, every day, crunching plans, dictating voicemail. People who wanted to reach me had to haul ass out to the house, and speak to me.

I grew too obsessed to fight, and Dan moved back, and then it was my turn to take hotel rooms so that the rattle of my keyboard wouldn’t keep him up nights. He and Lil were working a full-time campaign to recruit the ad-hoc to our cause, and I started to feel like we were finally in harmony, about to reach our goal.

I went home one afternoon clutching a sheaf of hardcopy and burst into the living room, gabbling a mile-a-minute about a wrinkle on my original plan that would add a third walk-through segment to the ride, increasing the number of telepresence rigs we could use without decreasing throughput.

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