Though I'd never bought so much as a lottery ticket, I immediately got his compulsion: for me, it was Beating The Crowd, finding the path of least resistance, filling the gaps, guessing the short queue, dodging the traffic, changing lanes with a whisper to spare-moving with precision and grace and, above all, expedience.
   On that fateful return, I checked into the Fort Wilderness Campground, pitched my tent, and fairly ran to the ferry docks to catch a barge over to the Main Gate.
   Crowds were light until I got right up to Main Gate and the ticketing queues. Suppressing an initial instinct to dash for the farthest one, beating my ferrymates to what rule-of-thumb said would have the shortest wait, I stepped back and did a quick visual survey of the twenty kiosks and evaluated the queued-up huddle in front of each. Pre-Bitchun, I'd have been primarily interested in their ages, but that is less and less a measure of anything other than outlook, so instead I carefully examined their queuing styles, their dress, and more than anything, their burdens.
   You can tell more about someone's ability to efficiently negotiate the complexities of a queue through what they carry than through any other means-if only more people realized it. The classic, of course, is the unladen citizen, a person naked of even a modest shoulderbag or marsupial pocket. To the layperson, such a specimen might be thought of as a sure bet for a fast transaction, but I'd done an informal study and come to the conclusion that these brave iconoclasts are often the flightiest of the lot, left smiling with bovine mystification, patting down their pockets in a fruitless search for a writing implement, a piece of ID, a keycard, a rabbit's foot, a rosary, a tuna sandwich.
   No, for my money, I'll take what I call the Road Worrier anytime. Such a person is apt to be carefully slung with four or five carriers of one description or another, from bulging cargo pockets to clever military-grade strap-on pouches with biometrically keyed closures. The thing to watch for is the ergonomic consideration given to these conveyances: do they balance, are they slung for minimum interference and maximum ease of access? Someone who's given that much consideration to their gear is likely spending their time in line determining which bits and pieces they'll need when they reach its headwaters and is holding them at ready for fastest-possible processing.
   This is a tricky call, since there are lookalike pretenders, gear-pigs who pack everything because they lack the organizational smarts to figure out what they should pack-they're just as apt to be burdened with bags and pockets and pouches, but the telltale is the efficiency of that slinging. These pack mules will sag beneath their loads, juggling this and that while pushing overloose straps up on their shoulders.
   I spied a queue that was made up of a group of Road Worriers, a queue that was slightly longer than the others, but I joined it and ticced nervously as I watched my progress relative to the other spots I could've chosen. I was borne out, a positive omen for a wait-free World, and I was sauntering down Main Street, USA long before my ferrymates.
   Returning to Walt Disney World was a homecoming for me. My parents had brought me the first time when I was all of ten, just as the first inklings of the Bitchun society were trickling into everyone's consciousness: the death of scarcity, the death of death, the struggle to rejig an economy that had grown up focused on nothing but scarcity and death. My memories of the trip are dim but warm, the balmy Florida climate and a sea of smiling faces punctuated by magical, darkened moments riding in OmniMover cars, past diorama after diorama.
   I went again when I graduated high school and was amazed by the richness of detail, the grandiosity and grandeur of it all. I spent a week there stunned bovine, grinning and wandering from corner to corner. Someday, I knew, I'd come to live there.
   The Park became a touchstone for me, a constant in a world where everything changed. Again and again, I came back to the Park, grounding myself, communing with all the people I'd been.
   That day I bopped from land to land, ride to ride, seeking out the short lines, the eye of the hurricane that crowded the Park to capacity. I'd take high ground, standing on a bench or hopping up on a fence, and do a visual reccy of all the queues in sight, try to spot prevailing currents in the flow of the crowd, generally having a high old obsessive time. Truth be told, I probably spent as much time looking for walk-ins as I would've spent lining up like a good little sheep, but I had more fun and got more exercise.
   The Haunted Mansion was experiencing a major empty spell: the Snow Crash Spectacular parade had just swept through Liberty Square en route to Fantasyland, dragging hordes of guests along with it, dancing to the JapRap sounds of the comical Sushi-K and aping the movements of the brave Hiro Protagonist. When they blew out, Liberty Square was a ghost town, and I grabbed the opportunity to ride the Mansion five times in a row, walking on every time.
   The way I tell it to Lil, I noticed her and then I noticed the Mansion, but to tell the truth it was the other way around.
   The first couple rides through, I was just glad of the aggressive air conditioning and the delicious sensation of sweat drying on my skin. But on the third pass, I started to notice just how goddamn cool the thing was. There wasn't a single bit of tech more advanced than a film-loop projector in the whole place, but it was all so cunningly contrived that the illusion of a haunted house was perfect: the ghosts that whirled through the ballroom were ghosts, three-dimensional and ethereal and phantasmic. The ghosts that sang in comical tableaux through the graveyard were equally convincing, genuinely witty and simultaneously creepy.
   My fourth pass through, I noticed the detail, the hostile eyes worked into the wallpaper's pattern, the motif repeated in the molding, the chandeliers, the photo gallery. I began to pick out the words to "Grim Grinning Ghosts," the song that is repeated throughout the ride, whether in sinister organ-tones repeating the main theme troppo troppo or the spritely singing of the four musical busts in the graveyard.
   It's a catchy tune, one that I hummed on my fifth pass through, this time noticing that the overaggressive AC was, actually, mysterious chills that blew through the rooms as wandering spirits made their presence felt. By the time I debarked for the fifth time, I was whistling the tune with jazzy improvisations in a mixed-up tempo.
   That's when Lil and I ran into each other. She was picking up a discarded ice-cream wrapper-I'd seen a dozen castmembers picking up trash that day, seen it so frequently that I'd started doing it myself. She grinned slyly at me as I debarked into the fried-food-and-disinfectant perfume of the Park, hands in pockets, thoroughly pleased with myself for having so completely experienced a really fine hunk of art.
   I smiled back at her, because it was only natural that one of the Whuffie-kings who were privileged to tend this bit of heavenly entertainment should notice how thoroughly I was enjoying her work.
   "That's really, really Bitchun," I said to her, admiring the titanic mountains of Whuffie my HUD attributed to her.
   She was in character, and not supposed to be cheerful, but castmembers of her generation can't help but be friendly. She compromised between ghastly demeanor and her natural sweet spirit, and leered a grin at me, thumped through a zombie's curtsey, and moaned "Thank you-we do try to keep it spirited."
   I groaned appreciatively, and started to notice just how very cute she was, this little button of a girl with her rotting maid's uniform and her feather-shedding duster. She was just so clean and scrubbed and happy about everything, she radiated it and made me want to pinch her cheeks-either set.
   The moment was on me, and so I said, "When do they let you ghouls off? I'd love to take you out for a Zombie or a Bloody Mary."
   Which led to more horrifying banter, and to my taking her out for a couple at the Adventurer's Club, learning her age in the process and losing my nerve, telling myself that there was nothing we could possibly have to say to each other across a century-wide gap.
   While I tell Lil that I noticed her first and the Mansion second, the reverse is indeed true. But it's also true-and I never told her this-that the thing I love best about the Mansion is:
   It's where I met her.
   Dan and I spent the day riding the Mansion, drafting scripts for the telepresence players who we hoped to bring on-board. We were in a totally creative zone, the dialog running as fast as he could transcribe it. Jamming on ideas with Dan was just about as terrific as a pass-time could be.
   I was all for leaking the plan to the Net right away, getting hearts-and-minds action with our core audience, but Lil turned it down.
   She was going to spend the next couple days quietly politicking among the rest of the ad-hoc, getting some support for the idea, and she didn't want the appearance of impropriety that would come from having outsiders being brought in before the ad-hoc.
   Talking to the ad-hocs, bringing them around-it was a skill I'd never really mastered. Dan was good at it, Lil was good at it, but me, I think that I was too self-centered to ever develop good skills as a peacemaker. In my younger days, I assumed that it was because I was smarter than everyone else, with no patience for explaining things in short words for mouth-breathers who just didn't get it.
   The truth of the matter is, I'm a bright enough guy, but I'm hardly a genius. Especially when it comes to people. Probably comes from Beating The Crowd, never seeing individuals, just the mass-the enemy of expedience.
   I never would have made it into the Liberty Square ad-hoc on my own. Lil made it happen for me, long before we started sleeping together. I'd assumed that her folks would be my best allies in the process of joining up, but they were too jaded, too ready to take the long sleep to pay much attention to a newcomer like me.
   Lil took me under her wing, inviting me to after-work parties, talking me up to her cronies, quietly passing around copies of my thesis-work. And she did the same in reverse, sincerely extolling the virtues of the others I met, so that I knew what there was to respect about them and couldn't help but treat them as individuals.
   In the years since, I'd lost that respect. Mostly, I palled around with Lil, and once he arrived, Dan, and with net-friends around the world. The ad-hocs that I worked with all day treated me with basic courtesy but not much friendliness.
   I guess I treated them the same. When I pictured them in my mind, they were a faceless, passive-aggressive mass, too caught up in the starchy world of consensus-building to ever do much of anything.
   Dan and I threw ourselves into it headlong, trolling the Net for address lists of Mansion-otakus from the four corners of the globe, spreadsheeting them against their timezones, temperaments, and, of course, their Whuffie.
   "That's weird," I said, looking up from the old-fashioned terminal I was using-my systems were back offline. They'd been sputtering up and down for a couple days now, and I kept meaning to go to the doctor, but I'd never gotten 'round to it. Periodically, I'd get a jolt of urgency when I remembered that this meant my backup was stale-dating, but the Mansion always took precedence.
   "Huh?" he said.
   I tapped the display. "See these?" It was a fan-site, displaying a collection of animated 3-D meshes of various elements of the Mansion, part of a giant collaborative project that had been ongoing for decades, to build an accurate 3-D walkthrough of every inch of the Park. I'd used those meshes to build my own testing fly-throughs.
   "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. … 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.
   I was mid-babble when my systems came back online. The public chatter in the room sprang up on my HUD.
   And then I'm going to tear off every stitch of clothing and jump you.
   And then what?
   I'm going to bang you till you limp.
   Jesus, Lil, you are one rangy cowgirl.
   My eyes closed, shutting out everything except for the glowing letters. Quickly, they vanished. I opened my eyes again, looking at Lil, who was flushed and distracted. Dan looked scared.
   "What's going on, Dan?" I asked quietly. My heart hammered in my chest, but I felt calm and detached.
   "Jules," he began, then gave up and looked at Lil.
   Lil had, by that time, figured out that I was back online, that their secret messaging had been discovered.
   "Having fun, Lil?" I asked.
   Lil shook her head and glared at me. "Just go, Julius. I'll send your stuff to the hotel."
   "You want me to go, huh? So you can bang him till he limps?"
   "This is my house, Julius. I'm asking you to get out of it. I'll see you at work tomorrow-we're having a general ad-hoc meeting to vote on the rehab."
   It was her house.
   "Lil, Julius-" Dan began.
   "This is between me and him," Lil said. "Stay out of it."
   I dropped my papers-I wanted to throw them, but I dropped them, flump, and I turned on my heel and walked out, not bothering to close the door behind me.
   Dan showed up at the hotel ten minutes after I did and rapped on my door. I was all-over numb as I opened the door. He had a bottle of tequila-my tequila, brought over from the house that I'd shared with Lil.
   He sat down on the bed and stared at the logo-marked wallpaper. I took the bottle from him, got a couple glasses from the bathroom and poured.
   "It's my fault," he said.
   "I'm sure it is," I said.
   "We got to drinking a couple nights ago. She was really upset. Hadn't seen you in days, and when she did see you, you freaked her out. Snapping at her. Arguing. Insulting her."
   "So you made her," I said.
   He shook his head, then nodded, took a drink. "I did. It's been a long time since I …"
   "You had sex with my girlfriend, in my house, while I was away, working."
   "Jules, I'm sorry. I did it, and I kept on doing it. I'm not much of a friend to either of you.
   "She's pretty broken up. She wanted me to come out here and tell you it was all a mistake, that you were just being paranoid."
   We sat in silence for a long time. I refilled his glass, then my own.
   "I couldn't do that," he said. "I'm worried about you. You haven't been right, not for months. I don't know what it is, but you should get to a doctor."
   "I don't need a doctor," I snapped. The liquor had melted the numbness and left burning anger and bile, my constant companions. "I need a friend who doesn't fuck my girlfriend when my back is turned."
   I threw my glass at the wall. It bounced off, leaving tequila-stains on the wallpaper, and rolled under the bed. Dan started, but stayed seated. If he'd stood up, I would've hit him. Dan's good at crises.
   "If it's any consolation, I expect to be dead pretty soon," he said. He gave me a wry grin. "My Whuffie's doing good. This rehab should take it up over the top. I'll be ready to go."
   That stopped me. I'd somehow managed to forget that Dan, my good friend Dan, was going to kill himself.
   "You're going to do it," I said, sitting down next to him. It hurt to think about it. I really liked the bastard. He might've been my best friend.
   There was a knock at the door. I opened it without checking the peephole. It was Lil.
   She looked younger than ever. Young and small and miserable. A snide remark died in my throat. I wanted to hold her.
   She brushed past me and went to Dan, who squirmed out of her embrace.
   "No," he said, and stood up and sat on the windowsill, staring down at the Seven Seas Lagoon.
   "Dan's just been explaining to me that he plans on being dead in a couple months," I said. "Puts a damper on the long-term plans, doesn't it, Lil?"
   Tears streamed down her face and she seemed to fold in on herself. "I'll take what I can get," she said.
   I choked on a knob of misery, and I realized that it was Dan, not Lil, whose loss upset me the most.
   Lil took Dan's hand and led him out of the room.
   I guess I'll take what I can get, too, I thought.

Chapter 6

   Lying on my hotel bed, mesmerized by the lazy turns of the ceiling fan, I pondered the possibility that I was nuts.
   It wasn't unheard of, even in the days of the Bitchun Society, and even though there were cures, they weren't pleasant.
   I was once married to a crazy person. We were both about 70, and I was living for nothing but joy. Her name was Zoya, and I called her Zed.
   We met in orbit, where I'd gone to experience the famed low-gravity sybarites. Getting staggering drunk is not much fun at one gee, but at ten to the neg eight, it's a blast. You don't stagger, you bounce, and when you're bouncing in a sphere full of other bouncing, happy, boisterous naked people, things get deeply fun.
   I was bouncing around inside a clear sphere that was a mile in diameter, filled with smaller spheres in which one could procure bulbs of fruity, deadly concoctions. Musical instruments littered the sphere's floor, and if you knew how to play, you'd snag one, tether it to you and start playing. Others would pick up their own axes and jam along. The tunes varied from terrific to awful, but they were always energetic.
   I had been working on my third symphony on and off, and whenever I thought I had a nice bit nailed, I'd spend some time in the sphere playing it. Sometimes, the strangers who jammed in gave me new and interesting lines of inquiry, and that was good. Even when they didn't, playing an instrument was a fast track to intriguing an interesting, naked stranger.
   Which is how we met. She snagged a piano and pounded out barrelhouse runs in quirky time as I carried the main thread of the movement on a cello. At first it was irritating, but after a short while I came to a dawning comprehension of what she was doing to my music, and it was really good. I'm a sucker for musicians.
   We brought the session to a crashing stop, me bowing furiously as spheres of perspiration beaded on my body and floated gracefully into the hydrotropic recyclers, she beating on the 88 like they were the perp who killed her partner.
   I collapsed dramatically as the last note crashed through the bubble. The singles, couples and groups stopped in midflight coitus to applaud. She took a bow, untethered herself from the Steinway, and headed for the hatch.
   I coiled my legs up and did a fast burn through the sphere, desperate to reach the hatch before she did. I caught her as she was leaving.
   "Hey!" I said. "That was great! I'm Julius! How're you doing?"
   She reached out with both hands and squeezed my nose and my unit simultaneously-not hard, you understand, but playfully. "Honk!" she said, and squirmed through the hatch while I gaped at my burgeoning chub-on.
   I chased after her. "Wait," I called as she tumbled through the spoke of the station towards the gravity.
   She had a pianist's body-re-engineered arms and hands that stretched for impossible lengths, and she used them with a spacehand's grace, vaulting herself forward at speed. I bumbled after her best as I could on my freshman spacelegs, but by the time I reached the half-gee rim of the station, she was gone.
   I didn't find her again until the next movement was done and I went to the bubble to try it out on an oboe. I was just getting warmed up when she passed through the hatch and tied off to the piano.
   This time, I clamped the oboe under my arm and bopped over to her before moistening the reed and blowing. I hovered over the piano's top, looking her in the eye as we jammed. Her mood that day was 4/4 time and I-IV-V progressions, in a feel that swung around from blues to rock to folk, teasing at the edge of my own melodies. She noodled at me, I noodled back at her, and her eyes crinkled charmingly whenever I managed a smidge of tuneful wit.
   She was almost completely flatchested, and covered in a fine, red downy fur, like a chipmunk. It was a jaunter's style, suited to the climate-controlled, soft-edged life in space. Fifty years later, I was dating Lil, another redhead, but Zed was my first.
   I played and played, entranced by the fluidity of her movements at the keyboard, her comical moues of concentration when picking out a particularly kicky little riff. When I got tired, I took it to a slow bridge or gave her a solo. I was going to make this last as long as I could. Meanwhile, I maneuvered my way between her and the hatch.
   When I blew the last note, I was wrung out as a washcloth, but I summoned the energy to zip over to the hatch and block it. She calmly untied and floated over to me.
   I looked in her eyes, silvered slanted cat-eyes, eyes that I'd been staring into all afternoon, and watched the smile that started at their corners and spread right down to her long, elegant toes. She looked back at me, then, at length, grabbed ahold of my joint again.
   "You'll do," she said, and led me to her sleeping quarters, across the station.
   We didn't sleep.
   Zoya had been an early network engineer for the geosynch broadband constellations that went up at the cusp of the world's ascent into Bitchunry. She'd been exposed to a lot of hard rads and low gee and had generally become pretty transhuman as time went by, upgrading with a bewildering array of third-party enhancements: a vestigial tail, eyes that saw through most of the RF spectrum, her arms, her fur, dogleg reversible knee joints and a completely mechanical spine that wasn't prone to any of the absolutely inane bullshit that plagues the rest of us, like lower-back pain, intrascapular inflammation, sciatica and slipped discs.
   I thought I lived for fun, but I didn't have anything on Zed. She only talked when honking and whistling and grabbing and kissing wouldn't do, and routinely slapped upgrades into herself on the basis of any whim that crossed her mind, like when she resolved to do a spacewalk bare-skinned and spent the afternoon getting tin-plated and iron-lunged.
   I fell in love with her a hundred times a day, and wanted to strangle her twice as often. She stayed on her spacewalk for a couple of days, floating around the bubble, making crazy faces at its mirrored exterior. She had no way of knowing if I was inside, but she assumed that I was watching. Or maybe she didn't, and she was making faces for anyone's benefit.
   But then she came back through the lock, strange and wordless and her eyes full of the stars she'd seen and her metallic skin cool with the breath of empty space, and she led me a merry game of tag through the station, the mess hall where we skidded sloppy through a wobbly ovoid of rice pudding, the greenhouses where she burrowed like a gopher and shinnied like a monkey, the living quarters and bubbles as we interrupted a thousand acts of coitus.
   You'd have thought that we'd have followed it up with an act of our own, and truth be told, that was certainly my expectation when we started the game I came to think of as the steeplechase, but we never did. Halfway through, I'd lose track of carnal urges and return to a state of childlike innocence, living only for the thrill of the chase and the giggly feeling I got whenever she found some new, even-more-outrageous corner to turn. I think we became legendary on the station, that crazy pair that's always zipping in and zipping away, like having your party crashed by two naked, coed Marx Brothers.
   When I asked her to marry me, to return to Earth with me, to live with me until the universe's mainspring unwound, she laughed, honked my nose and my willie and shouted, "YOU'LL DO!"
   I took her home to Toronto and we took up residence ten stories underground in overflow residence for the University. Our Whuffie wasn't so hot earthside, and the endless institutional corridors made her feel at home while affording her opportunities for mischief.
   But bit by bit, the mischief dwindled, and she started talking more. At first, I admit I was relieved, glad that my strange, silent wife was finally acting normal, making nice with the neighbors instead of pranking them with endless honks and fanny-kicks and squirt guns. We gave up the steeplechase and she had the doglegs taken out, her fur removed, her eyes unsilvered to a hazel that was pretty and as fathomable as the silver had been inscrutable.
   We wore clothes. We entertained. I started to rehearse my symphony in low-Whuffie halls and parks with any musicians I could drum up, and she came out and didn't play, just sat to the side and smiled and smiled with a smile that never went beyond her lips.
   She went nuts.
   She shat herself. She pulled her hair. She cut herself with knives. She accused me of plotting to kill her. She set fire to the neighbors' apartments, wrapped herself in plastic sheeting, dry-humped the furniture.
   She went nuts. She did it in broad strokes, painting the walls of our bedroom with her blood, jagging all night through rant after rant. I smiled and nodded and faced it for as long as I could, then I grabbed her and hauled her, kicking like a mule, to the doctor's office on the second floor. She'd been dirtside for a year and nuts for a month, but it took me that long to face up to it.
   The doc diagnosed nonchemical dysfunction, which was by way of saying that it was her mind, not her brain, that was broken. In other words, I'd driven her nuts.
   You can get counseling for nonchemical dysfunction, basically trying to talk it out, learn to feel better about yourself. She didn't want to.
   She was miserable, suicidal, murderous. In the brief moments of lucidity that she had under sedation, she consented to being restored from a backup that was made before we came to Toronto.
   I was at her side in the hospital when she woke up. I had prepared a written synopsis of the events since her last backup for her, and she read it over the next couple days.
   "Julius," she said, while I was making breakfast in our subterranean apartment. She sounded so serious, so fun-free, that I knew immediately that the news wouldn't be good.
   "Yes?" I said, setting out plates of bacon and eggs, steaming cups of coffee.
   "I'm going to go back to space, and revert to an older version." She had a shoulderbag packed, and she had traveling clothes on.
   Oh, shit. "Great," I said, with forced cheerfulness, making a mental inventory of my responsibilities dirtside. "Give me a minute or two, I'll pack up. I miss space, too."
   She shook her head, and anger blazed in her utterly scrutable hazel eyes. "No. I'm going back to who I was, before I met you."
   It hurt, bad. I had loved the old, steeplechase Zed, had loved her fun and mischief. The Zed she'd become after we wed was terrible and terrifying, but I'd stuck with her out of respect for the person she'd been.
   Now she was off to restore herself from a backup made before she met me. She was going to lop 18 months out of her life, start over again, revert to a saved version.
   Hurt? It ached like a motherfucker.
   I went back to the station a month later, and saw her jamming in the sphere with a guy who had three extra sets of arms depending from his hips. He scuttled around the sphere while she played a jig on the piano, and when her silver eyes lit on me, there wasn't a shred of recognition in them. She'd never met me.
   I died some, too, putting the incident out of my head and sojourning to Disney World, there to reinvent myself with a new group of friends, a new career, a new life. I never spoke of Zed again-especially not to Lil, who hardly needed me to pollute her with remembrances of my crazy exes.
   If I was nuts, it wasn't the kind of spectacular nuts that Zed had gone. It was a slow, seething, ugly nuts that had me alienating my friends, sabotaging my enemies, driving my girlfriend into my best friend's arms.
   I decided that I would see a doctor, just as soon as we'd run the rehab past the ad-hoc's general meeting. I had to get my priorities straight.
   I pulled on last night's clothes and walked out to the Monorail station in the main lobby. The platform was jammed with happy guests, bright and cheerful and ready for a day of steady, hypermediated fun. I tried to make myself attend to them as individuals, but try as I might, they kept turning into a crowd, and I had to plant my feet firmly on the platform to keep from weaving among them to the edge, the better to snag a seat.
   The meeting was being held over the Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland, just steps from where I'd been turned into a road-pizza by the still-unidentified assassin. The Adventureland ad-hocs owed the Liberty Square crew a favor since my death had gone down on their turf, so they had given us use of their prize meeting room, where the Florida sun streamed through the slats of the shutters, casting a hash of dust-filled shafts of light across the room. The faint sounds of the tiki-drums and the spieling Jungle Cruise guides leaked through the room, a low-key ambient buzz from two of the Park's oldest rides.
   There were almost a hundred ad-hocs in the Liberty Square crew, almost all second-gen castmembers with big, friendly smiles. They filled the room to capacity, and there was much hugging and handshaking before the meeting came to order. I was thankful that the room was too small for the de rigeur ad-hoc circle-of-chairs, so that Lil was able to stand at a podium and command a smidge of respect.
   "Hi there!" she said, brightly. The weepy puffiness was still present around her eyes, if you knew how to look for it, but she was expert at putting on a brave face no matter what the ache.
   The ad-hocs roared back a collective, "Hi, Lil!" and laughed at their own corny tradition. Oh, they sure were a barrel of laughs at the Magic Kingdom.
   "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.
   I wasn't nuts after all.
   The doctor's office in the Main Street infirmary was clean and white and decorated with posters of Jiminy Cricket in doctors' whites with an outsized stethoscope. I came to on a hard pallet under a sign that reminded me to get a check-up twice a year, by gum! and I tried to bring my hands up to shield my eyes from the over bright light and the over-cheerful signage, and discovered that I couldn't move my arms. Further investigation revealed that this was because I was strapped down, in full-on four-point restraint.
   "Waaagh," I said again.
   Dan's worried face swam into my field of vision, along with a serious-looking doctor, apparent 70, with a Norman Rockwell face full of crow'sfeet and smile-lines.
   "Welcome back, Julius. I'm Doctor Pete," the doctor said, in a kindly voice that matched the face. Despite my recent disillusion with castmember bullshit, I found his schtick comforting.
   I slumped back against the palette while the doc shone lights in my eyes and consulted various diagnostic apparati. I bore it in stoic silence, too confounded by the horrible Waaagh sounds to attempt more speech. The doc would tell me what was going on when he was ready.
   "Does he need to be tied up still?" Dan asked, and I shook my head urgently. Being tied up wasn't my idea of a good time.
   The doc smiled kindly. "I think it's for the best, for now. Don't worry, Julius, we'll have you up and about soon enough."
   Dan protested, but stopped when the doc threatened to send him out of the room. He took my hand instead.
   My nose itched. I tried to ignore it, but it got worse and worse, until it was all I could think of, the flaming lance of itch that strobed at the tip of my nostril. Furiously, I wrinkled my face, rattled at my restraints. The doc absentmindedly noticed my gyrations and delicately scratched my nose with a gloved finger. The relief was fantastic. I just hoped my nuts didn't start itching anytime soon.
   Finally, the doctor pulled up a chair and did something that caused the head of the bed to raise up so that I could look him in the eye.
   "Well, now," he said, stroking his chin. "Julius, you've got a problem. Your friend here tells me your systems have been offline for more than a month. It sure would've been better if you'd come in to see me when it started up.
   "But you didn't, and things got worse." He nodded up at Jiminy Cricket's recriminations: Go ahead, see your doc! "It's good advice, son, but what's done is done. You were restored from a backup about eight weeks ago, I see. Without more tests, I can't be sure, but my theory is that the brain-machine interface they installed at that time had a material defect. It's been deteriorating ever since, misfiring and rebooting. The shut-downs are a protective mechanism, meant to keep it from introducing the kind of seizure you experienced this afternoon. When the interface senses malfunction, it shuts itself down and boots a diagnostic mode, attempts to fix itself and come back online.
   "Well, that's fine for minor problems, but in cases like this, it's bad news. The interface has been deteriorating steadily, and it's only a matter of time before it does some serious damage."
   "Waaagh?" I asked. I meant to say, All right, but what's wrong with my mouth?
   The doc put a finger to my lips. "Don't try. The interface has locked up, and it's taken some of your voluntary nervous processes with it. In time, it'll probably shut down, but for now, there's no point. That's why we've got you strapped down-you were thrashing pretty hard when they brought you in, and we didn't want you to hurt yourself."
   Probably shut down? Jesus. I could end up stuck like this forever. I started shaking.