Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 58 of 61

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I’d like to be restored if there’s no other option.” It was true. I didn’t want to die.

“All right then,” Doctor Pete said. “It’s on file and I’m a happy man. Now, are you nuts? Probably. A little. Nothing a little counseling and some R&R wouldn’t fix, if you want my opinion. I could find you somewhere if you want.”

“Not yet,” I said. “I appreciate the offer, but there’s something else I have to do first.”

Dan took me back to the room and put me to bed with a transdermal soporific that knocked me out for the rest of the day. When I woke, the moon was over the Seven Seas Lagoon and the monorail was silent.

I stood on the patio for a while, thinking about all the things this place had meant to me for more than a century: happiness, security, efficiency, fantasy. All of it gone. It was time I left. Maybe back to space, find Zed and see if I could make her happy again. Anywhere but here. Once Dan was dead — God, it was sinking in finally — I could catch a ride down to the Cape for a launch.

“What’s on your mind?” Dan asked from behind me, startling me. He was in his boxers, thin and rangy and hairy.

“Thinking about moving on,” I said.

He chuckled. “I’ve been thinking about doing the same,” he said.

I smiled. “Not that way,” I said. “Just going somewhere else, starting over. Getting away from this.”

“Going to take the refresh?” he asked.

I looked away. “No,” I said. “I don’t believe I will.”

“It may be none of my business,” he said, “but why the fuck not? Jesus, Julius, what’re you afraid of?”

“You don’t want to know,” I said.

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“Let’s have a drink, first,” I said.

Dan rolled his eyes back for a second, then said, “All right, two Coronas, coming up.”

After the room-service bot had left, we cracked the beers and pulled chairs out onto the porch.

“You sure you want to know this?” I asked.

He tipped his bottle at me. “Sure as shootin’,” he said.

“I don’t want refresh because it would mean losing the last year,” I said.

He nodded. “By which you mean ‘my last year,'” he said. “Right?”

I nodded and drank.

“I thought it might be like that. Julius, you are many things, but hard to figure out you are not. I have something to say that might help you make the decision. If you want to hear it, that is.”

What could he have to say? “Sure,” I said. “Sure.” In my mind, I was on a shuttle headed for orbit, away from all of this.

“I had you killed,” he said. “Debra asked me to, and I set it up. You were right all along.”

The shuttle exploded in silent, slow moving space, and I spun away from it. I opened and shut my mouth.

It was Dan’s turn to look away. “Debra proposed it. We were talking about the people I’d met when I was doing my missionary work, the stone crazies who I’d have to chase away after they’d rejoined the Bitchun Society. One of them, a girl from Cheyenne Mountain, she followed me down here, kept leaving me messages. I told Debra, and that’s when she got the idea.

“I’d get the girl to shoot you and disappear. Debra would give me Whuffie — piles of it, and her team would follow suit. I’d be months closer to my goal. That was all I could think about back then, you remember.”

“I remember.” The smell of rejuve and desperation in our little cottage, and Dan plotting my death.

“We planned it, then Debra had herself refreshed from a backup — no memory of the event, just the Whuffie for me.”

“Yes,” I said. That would work. Plan a murder, kill yourself, have yourself refreshed from a backup made before the plan. How many times had Debra done terrible things and erased their memories that way?

“Yes,” he agreed. “We did it, I’m ashamed to say. I can prove it, too — I have my backup, and I can get Jeanine to tell it, too.” He drained his beer. “That’s my plan. Tomorrow. I’ll tell Lil and her folks, Kim and her people, the whole ad-hoc. A going-away present from a shitty friend.”

My throat was dry and tight. I drank more beer. “You knew all along,” I said. “You could have proved it at any time.”

He nodded. “That’s right.”

“You let me. . .” I groped for the words. “You let me turn into. . .” They wouldn’t come.

“I did,” he said.

All this time. Lil and he, standing on my porch, telling me I needed help. Doctor Pete, telling me I needed refresh from backup, me saying no, no, no, not wanting to lose my last year with Dan.

“I’ve done some pretty shitty things in my day,” he said. “This is the absolute worst. You helped me and I betrayed you. I’m sure glad I don’t believe in God — that’d make what I’m going to do even scarier.”

Dan was going to kill himself in two days’ time. My friend and my murderer. “Dan,” I croaked. I couldn’t make any sense of my mind. Dan, taking care of me, helping me, sticking up for me, carrying this horrible shame with him all along. Ready to die, wanting to go with a clean conscience.

“You’re forgiven,” I said. And it was true.

He stood.

“Where are you going” I asked.

“To find Jeanine, the one who pulled the trigger. I’ll meet you at the Hall of Presidents at nine a.m..”

I went in through the Main Gate, not a castmember any longer, a Guest with barely enough Whuffie to scrape in, use the water fountains and stand in line. If I were lucky, a castmember might spare me a chocolate banana. Probably not, though.

I stood in the line for the Hall of Presidents. Other guests checked my Whuffie, then averted their eyes. Even the children. A year before, they’d have been striking up conversations, asking me about my job here at the Magic Kingdom.

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