Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 35 of 61

“Everybody knows why we’re here, right?” Lil said, with a self-deprecating smile. She’d been lobbying hard for weeks, after all. “Does anyone have any questions about the plans? We’d like to start executing right away.”

A guy with deliberately boyish, wholesome features put his arm in the air. Lil acknowledged him with a nod. “When you say ‘right away,’ do you mean –“

I cut in. “Tonight. After this meeting. We’re on an eight-week production schedule, and the sooner we start, the sooner it’ll be finished.”

The crowd murmured, unsettled. Lil shot me a withering look. I shrugged. Politics was not my game.

Lil said, “Don, we’re trying something new here, a really streamlined process. The good part is, the process is short. In a couple months, we’ll know if it’s working for us. If it’s not, hey, we can turn it around in a couple months, too. That’s why we’re not spending as much time planning as we usually do. It won’t take five years for the idea to prove out, so the risks are lower.”

Another castmember, a woman, apparent 40 with a round, motherly demeanor said, “I’m all for moving fast — Lord knows, our pacing hasn’t always been that hot. But I’m concerned about all these new people you propose to recruit — won’t having more people slow us down when it comes to making new decisions?”

No, I thought sourly, because the people I’m bringing in aren’t addicted to meetings.

Lil nodded. “That’s a good point, Lisa. The offer we’re making to the telepresence players is probationary — they don’t get to vote until after we’ve agreed that the rehab is a success.”

Another castmember stood. I recognized him: Dave, a heavyset, self-important jerk who loved to work the front door, even though he blew his spiel about half the time. “Lillian,” he said, smiling sadly at her, “I think you’re really making a big mistake here. We love the Mansion, all of us, and so do the guests. It’s a piece of history, and we’re its custodians, not its masters. Changing it like this, well. . .” he shook his head. “It’s not good stewardship. If the guests wanted to walk through a funhouse with guys jumping out of the shadows saying ‘booga-booga,’ they’d go to one of the Halloween Houses in their hometowns. The Mansion’s better than that. I can’t be a part of this plan.”

I wanted to knock the smug grin off his face. I’d delivered essentially the same polemic a thousand times — in reference to Debra’s work — and hearing it from this jerk in reference to mine made me go all hot and red inside.

“Look,” I said. “If we don’t do this, if we don’t change things, they’ll get changed for us. By someone else. The question, Dave, is whether a responsible custodian lets his custodianship be taken away from him, or whether he does everything he can to make sure that he’s still around to ensure that his charge is properly cared for. Good custodianship isn’t sticking your head in the sand.”

I could tell I wasn’t doing any good. The mood of the crowd was getting darker, the faces more set. I resolved not to speak again until the meeting was done, no matter what the provocation.

Lil smoothed my remarks over, and fielded a dozen more, and it looked like the objections would continue all afternoon and all night and all the next day, and I felt woozy and overwrought and miserable all at the same time, staring at Lil and her harried smile and her nervous smoothing of her hair over her ears.

Finally, she called the question. By tradition, the votes were collected in secret and publicly tabulated over the data-channels. The group’s eyes unfocussed as they called up HUDs and watched the totals as they rolled in. I was offline and unable to vote or watch.

At length, Lil heaved a relieved sigh and smiled, dropping her hands behind her back.

“All right then,” she said, over the crowd’s buzz. “Let’s get to work.”

I stood up, saw Dan and Lil staring into each other’s eyes, a meaningful glance between new lovers, and I saw red. Literally. My vision washed over pink, and a strobe pounded at the edges of my vision. I took two lumbering steps towards them and opened my mouth to say something horrible, and what came out was “Waaagh.” My right side went numb and my leg slipped out from under me and I crashed to the floor.

The slatted light from the shutters cast its way across my chest as I tried to struggle up with my left arm, and then it all went black.

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