Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
By Cory Doctorow
Public Domain Books
Ad-hocracy works well, for the most part. Lil’s folks had taken over the running of Liberty Square with a group of other interested, compatible souls. They did a fine job, racked up gobs of Whuffie, and anyone who came around and tried to take it over would be so reviled by the guests they wouldn’t find a pot to piss in. Or they’d have such a wicked, radical approach that they’d ouster Lil’s parents and their pals, and do a better job.
It can break down, though. There were pretenders to the throne – a group who’d worked with the original ad-hocracy and then had moved off to other pursuits – some of them had gone to school, some of them had made movies, written books, or gone off to Disneyland Beijing to help start things up. A few had deadheaded for a couple decades.
They came back to Liberty Square with a message: update the attractions. The Liberty Square ad-hocs were the staunchest conservatives in the Magic Kingdom, preserving the wheezing technology in the face of a Park that changed almost daily. The newcomer/old-timers were on-side with the rest of the Park, had their support, and looked like they might make a successful go of it.
So it fell to Lil to make sure that there were no bugs in the meager attractions of Liberty Square: the Hall of the Presidents, the Liberty Belle riverboat, and the glorious Haunted Mansion, arguably the coolest attraction to come from the fevered minds of the old-time Disney Imagineers.
I caught her backstage at the Hall of the Presidents, tinkering with Lincoln II, the backup animatronic. Lil tried to keep two of everything running at speed, just in case. She could swap out a dead bot for a backup in five minutes flat, which is all that crowd-control would permit.
It had been two weeks since Dan’s arrival, and though I’d barely seen him in that time, his presence was vivid in our lives. Our little ranch-house had a new smell, not unpleasant, of rejuve and hope and loss, something barely noticeable over the tropical flowers nodding in front of our porch. My phone rang three or four times a day, Dan checking in from his rounds of the Park, seeking out some way to accumulate personal capital. His excitement and dedication to the task were inspiring, pulling me into his over-the-top-and-damn-the-torpedoes mode of being.
“You just missed Dan,” she said. She had her head in Lincoln’s chest, working with an autosolder and a magnifier. Bent over, red hair tied back in a neat bun, sweat sheening her wiry freckled arms, smelling of girl-sweat and machine lubricant, she made me wish there were a mattress somewhere backstage. I settled for patting her behind affectionately, and she wriggled appreciatively. “He’s looking better.”
His rejuve had taken him back to apparent 25, the way I remembered him. He was rawboned and leathery, but still had the defeated stoop that had startled me when I saw him at the Adventurer’s Club. “What did he want?”
“He’s been hanging out with Debra – he wanted to make sure I knew what she’s up to.”
Debra was one of the old guard, a former comrade of Lil’s parents. She’d spent a decade in Disneyland Beijing, coding sim-rides. If she had her way, we’d tear down every marvelous rube goldberg in the Park and replace them with pristine white sim boxes on giant, articulated servos.
The problem was that she was really good at coding sims. Her Great Movie Ride rehab at MGM was breathtaking – the Star Wars sequence had already inspired a hundred fan-sites that fielded millions of hits.
She’d leveraged her success into a deal with the Adventureland ad-hocs to rehab the Pirates of the Caribbean, and their backstage areas were piled high with reference: treasure chests and cutlasses and bowsprits. It was terrifying to walk through; the Pirates was the last ride Walt personally supervised, and we’d thought it was sacrosanct. But Debra had built a Pirates sim in Beijing, based on Chend I Sao, the XIXth century Chinese pirate queen, which was credited with rescuing the Park from obscurity and ruin. The Florida iteration would incorporate the best aspects of its Chinese cousin – the AI-driven sims that communicated with each other and with the guests, greeting them by name each time they rode and spinning age-appropriate tales of piracy on the high seas; the spectacular fly-through of the aquatic necropolis of rotting junks on the sea-floor; the thrilling pitch and yaw of the sim as it weathered a violent, breath-taking storm – but with Western themes: wafts of Jamaican pepper sauce crackling through the air; liquid Afro-Caribbean accents; and swordfights conducted in the manner of the pirates who plied the blue waters of the New World. Identical sims would stack like cordwood in the space currently occupied by the bulky ride-apparatus and dioramas, quintupling capacity and halving load-time.
“So, what’s she up to?”
Lil extracted herself from the Rail-Splitter’s mechanical guts and made a comical moue of worry. “She’s rehabbing the Pirates – and doing an incredible job. They’re ahead of schedule, they’ve got good net-buzz, the focus groups are cumming themselves.” The comedy went out of her expression, baring genuine worry.
She turned away and closed up Honest Abe, then fired her finger at him. Smoothly, he began to run through his spiel, silent but for the soft hum and whine of his servos. Lil mimed twiddling a knob and his audiotrack kicked in low: “All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not, by force, make a track on the Blue Ridge, nor take a drink from the Ohio. If destruction be our lot, then we ourselves must be its author – and its finisher.” She mimed turning down the gain and he fell silent again.
“You said it, Mr. President,” she said, and fired her finger at him again, powering him down. She bent and adjusted his hand-sewn period topcoat, then carefully wound and set the turnip-watch in his vest-pocket.
I put my arm around her shoulders. “You’re doing all you can – and it’s good work,” I said. I’d fallen into the easy castmember mode of speaking, voicing bland affirmations. Hearing the words, I felt a flush of embarrassment. I pulled her into a long, hard hug and fumbled for better reassurance. Finding no words that would do, I gave her a final squeeze and let her go.
She looked at me sidelong and nodded her head. “It’ll be fine, of course,” she said. “I mean, the worst possible scenario is that Debra will do her job very, very well, and make things even better than they are now. That’s not so bad.”
This was a 180-degree reversal of her position on the subject the last time we’d talked, but you don’t live more than a century without learning when to point out that sort of thing and when not to.
My cochlea struck twelve noon and a HUD appeared with my weekly backup reminder. Lil was maneuvering Ben Franklin II out of his niche. I waved good-bye at her back and walked away, to an uplink terminal. Once I was close enough for secure broadband communications, I got ready to back up. My cochlea chimed again and I answered it.
“Yes,” I subvocalized, impatiently. I hated getting distracted from a backup – one of my enduring fears was that I’d forget the backup altogether and leave myself vulnerable for an entire week until the next reminder. I’d lost the knack of getting into habits in my adolescence, giving in completely to machine-generated reminders over conscious choice.
“It’s Dan.” I heard the sound of the Park in full swing behind him – children’s laughter; bright, recorded animatronic spiels; the tromp of thousands of feet. “Can you meet me at the Tiki Room? It’s pretty important.”
“Can it wait for fifteen?” I asked.
“Sure – see you in fifteen.”
I rung off and initiated the backup. A status-bar zipped across a HUD, dumping the parts of my memory that were purely digital; then it finished and started in on organic memory. My eyes rolled back in my head and my life flashed before my eyes.