"That would be very nice," I said, quietly. "I'm at the hotel."
   "Give me ten minutes," he said, and rang off.
   He found me on my patio, looking out at the Castle and the peaks of Space Mountain. To my left spread the sparkling waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon, to my right, the Property stretched away for mile after manicured mile. The sun was warm on my skin, faint strains of happy laughter drifted with the wind, and the flowers were in bloom. In Toronto, it would be freezing rain, gray buildings, noisome rapid transit (a monorail hissed by), and hard-faced anonymity. I missed it.
   Dan pulled up a chair next to mine and sat without a word. We both stared out at the view for a long while.
   "It's something else, isn't it?" I said, finally.
   "I suppose so," he said. "I want to say something before the doc comes by, Julius."
   "Go ahead."
   "Lil and I are through. It should never have happened in the first place, and I'm not proud of myself. If you two were breaking up, that's none of my business, but I had no right to hurry it along."
   "All right," I said. I was too drained for emotion.
   "I've taken a room here, moved my things."
   "How's Lil taking it?"
   "Oh, she thinks I'm a total bastard. I suppose she's right."
   "I suppose she's partly right," I corrected him.
   He gave me a gentle slug in the shoulder. "Thanks."
   We waited in companionable silence until the doc arrived.
   He bustled in, his smile lines drawn up into a sour purse and waited expectantly. I left Dan on the patio while I took a seat on the bed.
   "I'm cracking up or something," I said. "I've been acting erratically, sometimes violently. I don't know what's wrong with me." I'd rehearsed the speech, but it still wasn't easy to choke out.
   "We both know what's wrong, Julius," the doc said, impatiently. "You need to be refreshed from your backup, get set up with a fresh clone and retire this one. We've had this talk."
   "I can't do it," I said, not meeting his eye. "I just can't-isn't there another way?"
   The doc shook his head. "Julius, I've got limited resources to allocate. There's a perfectly good cure for what's ailing you, and if you won't take it, there's not much I can do for you."
   "But what about meds?"
   "Your problem isn't a chemical imbalance, it's a mental defect. Your brain is broken, son. All that meds will do is mask the symptoms, while you get worse. I can't tell you what you want to hear, unfortunately. Now, If you're ready to take the cure, I can retire this clone immediately and get you restored into a new one in 48 hours."
   "Isn't there another way? Please? You have to help me-I can't lose all this." I couldn't admit my real reasons for being so attached to this singularly miserable chapter in my life, not even to myself.
   The doctor rose to go. "Look, Julius, you haven't got the Whuffie to make it worth anyone's time to research a solution to this problem, other than the one that we all know about. I can give you mood-suppressants, but that's not a permanent solution."
   "Why not?"
   He boggled. "You can't just take dope for the rest of your life, son. Eventually, something will happen to this body-I see from your file that you're stroke-prone-and you're going to get refreshed from your backup. The longer you wait, the more traumatic it'll be. You're robbing from your future self for your selfish present."
   It wasn't the first time the thought had crossed my mind. Every passing day made it harder to take the cure. To lie down and wake up friends with Dan, to wake up and be in love with Lil again. To wake up to a Mansion the way I remembered it, a Hall of Presidents where I could find Lil bent over with her head in a President's guts of an afternoon. To lie down and wake without disgrace, without knowing that my lover and my best friend would betray me, had betrayed me.
   I just couldn't do it-not yet, anyway.
   Dan-Dan was going to kill himself soon, and if I restored myself from my old backup, I'd lose my last year with him. I'd lose his last year.
   "Let's table that, doc. I hear what you're saying, but there're complications. I guess I'll take the mood-suppressants for now."
   He gave me a cold look. "I'll give you a scrip, then. I could've done that without coming out here. Please don't call me anymore."
   I was shocked by his obvious ire, but I didn't understand it until he was gone and I told Dan what had happened.
   "Us old-timers, we're used to thinking of doctors as highly trained professionals-all that pre-Bitchun med-school stuff, long internships, anatomy drills... Truth is, the average doc today gets more training in bedside manner than bioscience. 'Doctor' Pete is a technician, not an MD, not the way you and I mean it. Anyone with the kind of knowledge you're looking for is working as a historical researcher, not a doctor.
   "But that's not the illusion. The doc is supposed to be the authority on medical matters, even though he's only got one trick: restore from backup. You're reminding Pete of that, and he's not happy to have it happen."
   I waited a week before returning to the Magic Kingdom, sunning myself on the white sand beach at the Contemporary, jogging the Walk Around the World, taking a canoe out to the wild and overgrown Discovery Island, and generally cooling out. Dan came by in the evenings and it was like old times, running down the pros and cons of Whuffie and Bitchunry and life in general, sitting on my porch with a sweating pitcher of lemonade.
   On the last night, he presented me with a clever little handheld, a museum piece that I recalled fondly from the dawning days of the Bitchun Society. It had much of the functionality of my defunct systems, in a package I could slip in my shirt pocket. It felt like part of a costume, like the turnip watches the Ben Franklin streetmosphere players wore at the American Adventure.
   Museum piece or no, it meant that I was once again qualified to participate in the Bitchun Society, albeit more slowly and less efficiently than I once may've. I took it downstairs the next morning and drove to the Magic Kingdom's castmember lot.
   At least, that was the plan. When I got down to the Contemporary's parking lot, my runabout was gone. A quick check with the handheld revealed the worst: my Whuffie was low enough that someone had just gotten inside and driven away, realizing that they could make more popular use of it than I could.
   With a sinking feeling, I trudged up to my room and swiped my key through the lock. It emitted a soft, unsatisfied bzzz and lit up, "Please see the front desk." My room had been reassigned, too. I had the short end of the Whuffie stick.
   At least there was no mandatory Whuffie check on the monorail platform, but the other people on the car were none too friendly to me, and no one offered me an inch more personal space than was necessary. I had hit bottom.
   I took the castmember entrance to the Magic Kingdom, clipping my name tag to my Disney Operations polo shirt, ignoring the glares of my fellow castmembers in the utilidors.
   I used the handheld to page Dan. "Hey there," he said, brightly. I could tell instantly that I was being humored.
   "Where are you?" I asked.
   "Oh, up in the Square. By the Liberty Tree."
   In front of the Hall of Presidents. I worked the handheld, pinged some Whuffie manually. Debra was spiked so high it seemed she'd never come down, as were Tim and her whole crew in aggregate. They were drawing from guests by the millions, and from castmembers and from people who'd read the popular accounts of their struggle against the forces of petty jealousy and sabotage-i.e., me.
   I felt light-headed. I hurried along to costuming and changed into the heavy green Mansion costume, then ran up the stairs to the Square.
   I found Dan sipping a coffee and sitting on a bench under the giant, lantern-hung Liberty Tree. He had a second cup waiting for me, and patted the bench next to him. I sat with him and sipped, waiting for him to spill whatever bit of rotten news he had for me this morning-I could feel it hovering like storm clouds.
   He wouldn't talk though, not until we finished the coffee. Then he stood and strolled over to the Mansion. It wasn't rope-drop yet, and there weren't any guests in the Park, which was all for the better, given what was coming next.
   "Have you taken a look at Debra's Whuffie lately?" he asked, finally, as we stood by the pet cemetery, considering the empty scaffolding.
   I started to pull out the handheld but he put a hand on my arm. "Don't bother," he said, morosely. "Suffice it to say, Debra's gang is number one with a bullet. Ever since word got out about what happened to the Hall, they've been stacking it deep. They can do just about anything, Jules, and get away with it."
   My stomach tightened and I found myself grinding my molars. "So, what is it they've done, Dan?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
   Dan didn't have to respond, because at that moment, Tim emerged from the Mansion, wearing a light cotton work-smock. He had a thoughtful expression, and when he saw us, he beamed his elfin grin and came over.
   "Hey guys!" he said.
   "Hi, Tim," Dan said. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
   "Pretty exciting stuff, huh?" he said.
   "I haven't told him yet," Dan said, with forced lightness. "Why don't you run it down?"
   "Well, it's pretty radical, I have to admit. We've learned some stuff from the Hall that we wanted to apply, and at the same time, we wanted to capture some of the historical character of the ghost story."
   I opened my mouth to object, but Dan put a hand on my forearm. "Really?" he asked innocently. "How do you plan on doing that?"
   "Well, we're keeping the telepresence robots-that's a honey of an idea, Julius-but we're giving each one an uplink so that it can flash-bake. We've got some high-Whuffie horror writers pulling together a series of narratives about the lives of each ghost: how they met their tragic ends, what they've done since, you know.
   "The way we've storyboarded it, the guests stream through the ride pretty much the way they do now, walking through the preshow and then getting into the ride-vehicles, the Doom Buggies. But here's the big change: we slow it all down. We trade off throughput for intensity, make it more of a premium product.
   "So you're a guest. From the queue to the unload zone, you're being chased by these ghosts, these telepresence robots, and they're really scary-I've got Suneep's concept artists going back to the drawing board, hitting basic research on stuff that'll just scare the guests silly. When a ghost catches you, lays its hands on you-wham! Flash-bake! You get its whole grisly story in three seconds, across your frontal lobe. By the time you've left, you've had ten or more ghost-contacts, and the next time you come back, it's all new ghosts with all new stories. The way that the Hall's drawing 'em, we're bound to be a hit." He put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels, clearly proud of himself.
   When Epcot Center first opened, long, long ago, there'd been an ugly decade or so in ride design. Imagineering found a winning formula for Spaceship Earth, the flagship ride in the big golf ball, and, in their drive to establish thematic continuity, they'd turned the formula into a cookie-cutter, stamping out half a dozen clones for each of the "themed" areas in the Future Showcase. It went like this: first, we were cavemen, then there was ancient Greece, then Rome burned (cue sulfur-odor FX), then there was the Great Depression, and, finally, we reached the modern age. Who knows what the future holds? We do! We'll all have videophones and be living on the ocean floor. Once was cute-compelling and inspirational, even-but six times was embarrassing. Like everyone, once Imagineering got themselves a good hammer, everything started to resemble a nail. Even now, the Epcot ad-hocs were repeating the sins of their forebears, closing every ride with a scene of Bitchun utopia.
   And Debra was repeating the classic mistake, tearing her way through the Magic Kingdom with her blaster set to flash-bake.
   "Tim," I said, hearing the tremble in my voice. "I thought you said that you had no designs on the Mansion, that you and Debra wouldn't be trying to take it away from us. Didn't you say that?"
   Tim rocked back as if I'd slapped him and the blood drained from his face. "But we're not taking it away!" he said. "You invited us to help."
   I shook my head, confused. "We did?" I said.
   "Sure," he said.
   "Yes," Dan said. "Kim and some of the other rehab cast went to Debra yesterday and asked her to do a design review of the current rehab and suggest any changes. She was good enough to agree, and they've come up with some great ideas." I read between the lines: the newbies you invited in have gone over to the other side and we're going to lose everything because of them. I felt like shit.
   "Well, I stand corrected," I said, carefully. Tim's grin came back and he clapped his hands together. He really loves the Mansion, I thought. He could have been on our side, if we had only played it all right.
   Dan and I took to the utilidors and grabbed a pair of bicycles and sped towards Suneep's lab, jangling our bells at the rushing castmembers. "They don't have the authority to invite Debra in," I panted as we pedaled.
   "Says who?" Dan said.
   "It was part of the deal-they knew that they were probationary members right from the start. They weren't even allowed into the design meetings."
   "Looks like they took themselves off probation," he said.
   Suneep gave us both a chilly look when we entered his lab. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hands shook with exhaustion. He seemed to be holding himself erect with nothing more than raw anger.
   "So much for building without interference," he said. "We agreed that this project wouldn't change midway through. Now it has, and I've got other commitments that I'm going to have to cancel because this is going off-schedule."
   I made soothing apologetic gestures with my hands. "Suneep, believe me, I'm just as upset about this as you are. We don't like this one little bit."
   He harrumphed. "We had a deal, Julius," he said, hotly. "I would do the rehab for you and you would keep the ad-hocs off my back. I've been holding up my end of the bargain, but where the hell have you been? If they replan the rehab now, I'll have to go along with them. I can't just leave the Mansion half-done-they'll murder me."
   The kernel of a plan formed in my mind. "Suneep, we don't like the new rehab plan, and we're going to stop it. You can help. Just stonewall them-tell them they'll have to find other Imagineering support if they want to go through with it, that you're booked solid."
   Dan gave me one of his long, considering looks, then nodded a minute approval. "Yeah," he drawled. "That'll help all right. Just tell 'em that they're welcome to make any changes they want to the plan, if they can find someone else to execute them."
   Suneep looked unhappy. "Fine-so then they go and find someone else to do it, and that person gets all the credit for the work my team's done so far. I just flush my time down the toilet."
   "It won't come to that," I said quickly. "If you can just keep saying no for a couple days, we'll do the rest."
   Suneep looked doubtful.
   "I promise," I said.
   Suneep ran his stubby fingers through his already crazed hair. "All right," he said, morosely.
   Dan slapped him on the back. "Good man," he said.
   It should have worked. It almost did.
   I sat in the back of the Adventureland conference room while Dan exhorted.
   "Look, you don't have to roll over for Debra and her people! This is your garden, and you've tended it responsibly for years. She's got no right to move in on you-you've got all the Whuffie you need to defend the place, if you all work together."
   No castmember likes confrontation, and the Liberty Square bunch were tough to rouse to action. Dan had turned down the air conditioning an hour before the meeting and closed up all the windows, so that the room was a kiln for hard-firing irritation into rage. I stood meekly in the back, as far as possible from Dan. He was working his magic on my behalf, and I was content to let him do his thing.
   When Lil had arrived, she'd sized up the situation with a sour expression: sit in the front, near Dan, or in the back, near me. She'd chosen the middle, and to concentrate on Dan I had to tear my eyes away from the sweat glistening on her long, pale neck.
   Dan stalked the aisles like a preacher, eyes blazing. "They're stealing your future! They're stealing your past! They claim they've got your support!"
   He lowered his tone. "I don't think that's true." He grabbed a castmember by her hand and looked into her eyes. "Is it true?" he said so low it was almost a whisper.
   "No," the castmember said.
   He dropped her hand and whirled to face another castmember. "Is it true?" he demanded, raising his voice, slightly.
   "No!" the castmember said, his voice unnaturally loud after the whispers. A nervous chuckle rippled through the crowd.
   "Is it true?" he said, striding to the podium, shouting now.
   "No!" the crowd roared.
   "NO!" he shouted back.
   "You don't have to roll over and take it! You can fight back, carry on with the plan, send them packing. They're only taking over because you're letting them. Are you going to let them?"
   Bitchun wars are rare. Long before anyone tries a takeover of anything, they've done the arithmetic and ensured themselves that the ad-hoc they're displacing doesn't have a hope of fighting back.
   For the defenders, it's a simple decision: step down gracefully and salvage some reputation out of the thing-fighting back will surely burn away even that meager reward.
   No one benefits from fighting back-least of all the thing everyone's fighting over. For example:
   It was the second year of my undergrad, taking a double-major in not making trouble for my profs and keeping my mouth shut. It was the early days of Bitchun, and most of us were still a little unclear on the concept.
   Not all of us, though: a group of campus shit-disturbers, grad students in the Sociology Department, were on the bleeding edge of the revolution, and they knew what they wanted: control of the Department, oustering of the tyrannical, stodgy profs, a bully pulpit from which to preach the Bitchun gospel to a generation of impressionable undergrads who were too cowed by their workloads to realize what a load of shit they were being fed by the University.
   At least, that's what the intense, heavyset woman who seized the mic at my Soc 200 course said, that sleepy morning mid-semester at Convocation Hall. Nineteen hundred students filled the hall, a capacity crowd of bleary, coffee-sipping time-markers, and they woke up in a hurry when the woman's strident harangue burst over their heads.
   I saw it happen from the very start. The prof was down there on the stage, a speck with a tie-mic, droning over his slides, and then there was a blur as half a dozen grad students rushed the stage. They were dressed in University poverty-chic, wrinkled slacks and tattered sports coats, and five of them formed a human wall in front of the prof while the sixth, the heavyset one with the dark hair and the prominent mole on her cheek, unclipped his mic and clipped it to her lapel.
   "Wakey wakey!" she called, and the reality of the moment hit home for me: this wasn't on the lesson-plan.
   "Come on, heads up! This is not a drill. The University of Toronto Department of Sociology is under new management. If you'll set your handhelds to 'receive,' we'll be beaming out new lesson-plans momentarily. If you've forgotten your handhelds, you can download the plans later on. I'm going to run it down for you right now, anyway.
   "Before I start though, I have a prepared statement for you. You'll probably hear this a couple times more today, in your other classes. It's worth repeating. Here goes:
   "We reject the stodgy, tyrannical rule of the profs at this Department. We demand bully pulpits from which to preach the Bitchun gospel. Effective immediately, the University of Toronto Ad-Hoc Sociology Department is in charge. We promise high-relevance curriculum with an emphasis on reputation economies, post-scarcity social dynamics, and the social theory of infinite life-extension. No more Durkheim, kids, just deadheading! This will be fun."
   She taught the course like a pro-you could tell she'd been drilling her lecture for a while. Periodically, the human wall behind her shuddered as the prof made a break for it and was restrained.
   At precisely 9:50 a.m. she dismissed the class, which had hung on her every word. Instead of trudging out and ambling to our next class, the whole nineteen hundred of us rose, and, as one, started buzzing to our neighbors, a roar of "Can you believe it?" that followed us out the door and to our next encounter with the Ad-Hoc Sociology Department.
   It was cool, that day. I had another soc class, Constructing Social Deviance, and we got the same drill there, the same stirring propaganda, the same comical sight of a tenured prof battering himself against a human wall of ad-hocs.
   Reporters pounced on us when we left the class, jabbing at us with mics and peppering us with questions. I gave them a big thumbs-up and said, "Bitchun!" in classic undergrad eloquence.
   The profs struck back the next morning. I got a heads-up from the newscast as I brushed my teeth: the Dean of the Department of Sociology told a reporter that the ad-hocs' courses would not be credited, that they were a gang of thugs who were totally unqualified to teach. A counterpoint interview from a spokesperson for the ad-hocs established that all of the new lecturers had been writing course-plans and lecture notes for the profs they replaced for years, and that they'd also written most of their journal articles.
   The profs brought University security out to help them regain their lecterns, only to be repelled by ad-hoc security guards in homemade uniforms. University security got the message-anyone could be replaced-and stayed away.
   The profs picketed. They held classes out front attended by grade-conscious brown-nosers who worried that the ad-hocs' classes wouldn't count towards their degrees. Fools like me alternated between the outdoor and indoor classes, not learning much of anything.
   No one did. The profs spent their course-times whoring for Whuffie, leading the seminars like encounter groups instead of lectures. The ad-hocs spent their time badmouthing the profs and tearing apart their coursework.
   At the end of the semester, everyone got a credit and the University Senate disbanded the Sociology program in favor of a distance-ed offering from Concordia in Montreal. Forty years later, the fight was settled forever. Once you took backup-and-restore, the rest of the Bitchunry just followed, a value-system settling over you.
   Those who didn't take backup-and-restore may have objected, but, hey, they all died.
   The Liberty Square ad-hocs marched shoulder to shoulder through the utilidors and, as a mass, took back the Haunted Mansion. Dan, Lil and I were up front, careful not to brush against one another as we walked quickly through the backstage door and started a bucket-brigade, passing out the materials that Debra's people had stashed there, along a line that snaked back to the front porch of the Hall of Presidents, where they were unceremoniously dumped.
   Once the main stash was vacated, we split up and roamed the ride, its service corridors and dioramas, the break-room and the secret passages, rounding up every scrap of Debra's crap and passing it out the door.
   In the attic scene, I ran into Kim and three of her giggly little friends, their eyes glinting in the dim light. The gaggle of transhuman kids made my guts clench, made me think of Zed and of Lil and of my unmediated brain, and I had a sudden urge to shred them verbally.
   No. That way lay madness and war. This was about taking back what was ours, not punishing the interlopers. "Kim, I think you should leave," I said, quietly.
   She snorted and gave me a dire look. "Who died and made you boss?" she said. Her friends thought it very brave, they made it clear with double-jointed hip-thrusts and glares.
   "Kim, you can leave now or you can leave later. The longer you wait, the worse it will be for you and your Whuffie. You blew it, and you're not a part of the Mansion anymore. Go home, go to Debra. Don't stay here, and don't come back. Ever."
   Ever. Be cast out of this thing that you love, that you obsess over, that you worked for. "Now," I said, quiet, dangerous, barely in control.
   They sauntered into the graveyard, hissing vitriol at me. Oh, they had lots of new material to post to the anti-me sites, messages that would get them Whuffie with people who thought I was the scum of the earth. A popular view, those days.
   I got out of the Mansion and looked at the bucket-brigade, followed it to the front of the Hall. The Park had been open for an hour, and a herd of guests watched the proceedings in confusion. The Liberty Square ad-hocs passed their loads around in clear embarrassment, knowing that they were violating every principle they cared about.
   As I watched, gaps appeared in the bucket-brigade as castmembers slipped away, faces burning scarlet with shame. At the Hall of Presidents, Debra presided over an orderly relocation of her things, a cheerful cadre of her castmembers quickly moving it all offstage. I didn't have to look at my handheld to know what was happening to our Whuffie.
   By evening, we were back on schedule. Suneep supervised the placement of his telepresence rigs and Lil went over every system in minute detail, bossing a crew of ad-hocs that trailed behind her, double- and triple-checking it all.
   Suneep smiled at me when he caught sight of me, hand-scattering dust in the parlor.
   "Congratulations, sir," he said, and shook my hand. "It was masterfully done."
   "Thanks, Suneep. I'm not sure how masterful it was, but we got the job done, and that's what counts."
   "Your partners, they're happier than I've seen them since this whole business started. I know how they feel!"
   My partners? Oh, yes, Dan and Lil. How happy were they, I wondered. Happy enough to get back together? My mood fell, even though a part of me said that Dan would never go back to her, not after all we'd been through together.
   "I'm glad you're glad. We couldn't have done it without you, and it looks like we'll be open for business in a week."
   "Oh, I should think so. Are you coming to the party tonight?"
   Party? Probably something the Liberty Square ad-hocs were putting on. I would almost certainly be persona non grata. "I don't think so," I said, carefully. "I'll probably work late here."
   He chided me for working too hard, but once he saw that I had no intention of being dragged to the party, he left off.
   And that's how I came to be in the Mansion at 2 a.m. the next morning, dozing in a backstage break room when I heard a commotion from the parlor. Festive voices, happy and loud, and I assumed it was Liberty Square ad-hocs coming back from their party.
   I roused myself and entered the parlor.
   Kim and her friends were there, pushing hand-trucks of Debra's gear. I got ready to shout something horrible at them, and that's when Debra came in. I moderated the shout to a snap, opened my mouth to speak, stopped.
   Behind Debra were Lil's parents, frozen these long years in their canopic jars in Kissimmee.

Chapter 9

   Lil's parents went into their jars with little ceremony. I saw them just before they went in, when they stopped in at Lil's and my place to kiss her goodbye and wish her well.
   Tom and I stood awkwardly to the side while Lil and her mother held an achingly chipper and polite farewell.
   "So," I said to Tom. "Deadheading."
   He cocked an eyebrow. "Yup. Took the backup this morning."
   Before coming to see their daughter, they'd taken their backups. When they woke, this event-everything following the backup-would never have happened for them.
   God, they were bastards.
   "When are you coming back?" I asked, keeping my castmember face on, carefully hiding away the disgust.
   'We'll be sampling monthly, just getting a digest dumped to us. When things look interesting enough, we'll come on back." He waggled a finger at me. "I'll be keeping an eye on you and Lillian-you treat her right, you hear?"
   "We're sure going to miss you two around here," I said.
   He pishtoshed and said, "You won't even notice we're gone. This is your world now-we're just getting out of the way for a while, letting you-all take a run at it. We wouldn't be going down if we didn't have faith in you two."
   Lil and her mom kissed one last time. Her mother was more affectionate than I'd ever seen her, even to the point of tearing up a little. Here in this moment of vanishing consciousness, she could be whomever she wanted, knowing that it wouldn't matter the next time she awoke.
   "Julius," she said, taking my hands, squeezing them. "You've got some wonderful times ahead of you-between Lil and the Park, you're going to have a tremendous experience, I just know it." She was infinitely serene and compassionate, and I knew it didn't count.
   Still smiling, they got into their runabout and drove away to get the lethal injections, to become disembodied consciousnesses, to lose their last moments with their darling daughter.
   They were not happy to be returned from the dead. Their new bodies were impossibly young, pubescent and hormonal and doleful and kitted out in the latest trendy styles. In the company of Kim and her pals, they made a solid mass of irate adolescence.
   "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" Rita asked, shoving me hard in the chest. I stumbled back into my carefully scattered dust, raising a cloud.
   Rita came after me, but Tom held her back. "Julius, go away. Your actions are totally indefensible. Keep your mouth shut and go away."
   I held up a hand, tried to wave away his words, opened my mouth to speak.
   "Don't say a word," he said. "Leave. Now."
   "Don't stay here and don't come back. Ever," Kim said, an evil look on her face.
   "No," I said. "No goddamn it no. You're going to hear me out, and then I'm going to get Lil and her people and they're going to back me up. That's not negotiable."
   We stared at each other across the dim parlor. Debra made a twiddling motion and the lights came up full and harsh. The expertly crafted gloom went away and it was just a dusty room with a fake fireplace.
   "Let him speak," Debra said. Rita folded her arms and glared.
   "I did some really awful things," I said, keeping my head up, keeping my eyes on them. "I can't excuse them, and I don't ask you to forgive them. But that doesn't change the fact that we've put our hearts and souls into this place, and it's not right to take it from us. Can't we have one constant corner of the world, one bit frozen in time for the people who love it that way? Why does your success mean our failure?
   "Can't you see that we're carrying on your work? That we're tending a legacy you left us?"
   "Are you through?" Rita asked.
   I nodded.
   "This place is not a historical preserve, Julius, it's a ride. If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong place. It's not my goddamn fault that you decided that your stupidity was on my behalf, and it doesn't make it any less stupid. All you've done is confirm my worst fears."
   Debra's mask of impartiality slipped. "You stupid, deluded asshole," she said, softly. "You totter around, pissing and moaning about your little murder, your little health problems-yes, I've heard-your little fixation on keeping things the way they are. You need some perspective, Julius. You need to get away from here: Disney World isn't good for you and you're sure as hell not any good for Disney World."
   It would have hurt less if I hadn't come to the same conclusion myself, somewhere along the way.
   I found the ad-hoc at a Fort Wilderness campsite, sitting around a fire and singing, necking, laughing. The victory party. I trudged into the circle and hunted for Lil.
   She was sitting on a log, staring into the fire, a million miles away. Lord, she was beautiful when she fretted. I stood in front of her for a minute and she stared right through me until I tapped her shoulder. She gave an involuntary squeak and then smiled at herself.
   "Lil," I said, then stopped. Your parents are home, and they've joined the other side.
   For the first time in an age, she looked at me softly, smiled even. She patted the log next to her. I sat down, felt the heat of the fire on my face, her body heat on my side. God, how did I screw this up?
   Without warning, she put her arms around me and hugged me hard. I hugged her back, nose in her hair, woodsmoke smell and shampoo and sweat. "We did it," she whispered fiercely. I held onto her. No, we didn't.
   "Lil," I said again, and pulled away.
   "What?" she said, her eyes shining. She was stoned, I saw that now.
   "Your parents are back. They came to the Mansion."
   She was confused, shrinking, and I pressed on.
   "They were with Debra."
   She reeled back as if I'd slapped her.
   "I told them I'd bring the whole group back to talk it over."
   She hung her head and her shoulders shook, and I tentatively put an arm around her. She shook it off and sat up. She was crying and laughing at the same time. "I'll have a ferry sent over," she said.
   I sat in the back of the ferry with Dan, away from the confused and angry ad-hocs. I answered his questions with terse, one-word answers, and he gave up. We rode in silence, the trees on the edges of the Seven Seas Lagoon whipping back and forth in an approaching storm.
   The ad-hoc shortcutted through the west parking lot and moved through the quiet streets of Frontierland apprehensively, a funeral procession that stopped the nighttime custodial staff in their tracks.
   As we drew up on Liberty Square, I saw that the work-lights were blazing and a tremendous work-gang of Debra's ad-hocs were moving from the Hall to the Mansion, undoing our teardown of their work.
   Working alongside of them were Tom and Rita, Lil's parents, sleeves rolled up, forearms bulging with new, toned muscle. The group stopped in its tracks and Lil went to them, stumbling on the wooden sidewalk.
   I expected hugs. There were none. In their stead, parents and daughter stalked each other, shifting weight and posture to track each other, maintain a constant, sizing distance.
   "What the hell are you doing?" Lil said, finally. She didn't address her mother, which surprised me. It didn't surprise Tom, though.
   He dipped forward, the shuffle of his feet loud in the quiet night. "We're working," he said.
   "No, you're not," Lil said. "You're destroying. Stop it."
   Lil's mother darted to her husband's side, not saying anything, just standing there.
   Wordlessly, Tom hefted the box he was holding and headed to the Mansion. Lil caught his arm and jerked it so he dropped his load.
   "You're not listening. The Mansion is ours. Stop. It."
   Lil's mother gently took Lil's hand off Tom's arm, held it in her own. "I'm glad you're passionate about it, Lillian," she said. "I'm proud of your commitment."
   Even at a distance of ten yards, I heard Lil's choked sob, saw her collapse in on herself. Her mother took her in her arms, rocked her. I felt like a voyeur, but couldn't bring myself to turn away.
   "Shhh," her mother said, a sibilant sound that matched the rustling of the leaves on the Liberty Tree. "Shhh. We don't have to be on the same side, you know."
   They held the embrace and held it still. Lil straightened, then bent again and picked up her father's box, carried it to the Mansion. One at a time, the rest of her ad-hoc moved forward and joined them.
   This is how you hit bottom. You wake up in your friend's hotel room and you power up your handheld and it won't log on. You press the call-button for the elevator and it gives you an angry buzz in return. You take the stairs to the lobby and no one looks at you as they jostle past you.
   You become a non-person.
   Scared. I trembled when I ascended the stairs to Dan's room, when I knocked at his door, louder and harder than I meant, a panicked banging.
   Dan answered the door and I saw his eyes go to his HUD, back to me. "Jesus," he said.
   I sat on the edge of my bed, head in my hands.
   "What?" I said, what happened, what happened to me?
   "You're out of the ad-hoc," he said. "You're out of Whuffie. You're bottomed-out," he said.
   This is how you hit bottom in Walt Disney World, in a hotel with the hissing of the monorail and the sun streaming through the window, the hooting of the steam engines on the railroad and the distant howl of the recorded wolves at the Haunted Mansion. The world drops away from you, recedes until you're nothing but a speck, a mote in blackness.
   I was hyperventilating, light-headed. Deliberately, I slowed my breath, put my head between my knees until the dizziness passed.
   "Take me to Lil," I said.
   Driving together, hammering cigarette after cigarette into my face, I remembered the night Dan had come to Disney World, when I'd driven him to my-Lil's-house, and how happy I'd been then, how secure.
   I looked at Dan and he patted my hand. "Strange times," he said.
   It was enough. We found Lil in an underground break-room, lightly dozing on a ratty sofa. Her head rested on Tom's lap, her feet on Rita's. All three snored softly. They'd had a long night.
   Dan shook Lil awake. She stretched out and opened her eyes, looked sleepily at me. The blood drained from her face.
   "Hello, Julius," she said, coldly.
   Now Tom and Rita were awake, too. Lil sat up.
   "Were you going to tell me?" I asked, quietly. "Or were you just going to kick me out and let me find out on my own?"
   "You were my next stop," Lil said.
   "Then I've saved you some time." I pulled up a chair. "Tell me all about it."
   "There's nothing to tell," Rita snapped. "You're out. You had to know it was coming-for God's sake, you were tearing Liberty Square apart!"
   "How would you know?" I asked. I struggled to remain calm. "You've been asleep for ten years!"
   "We got updates," Rita said. "That's why we're back-we couldn't let it go on the way it was. We owed it to Debra."
   "And Lillian," Tom said.
   "And Lillian," Rita said, absently.
   Dan pulled up a chair of his own. "You're not being fair to him," he said. At least someone was on my side.
   "We've been more than fair," Lil said. "You know that better than anyone, Dan. We've forgiven and forgiven and forgiven, made every allowance. He's sick and he won't take the cure. There's nothing more we can do for him."
   "You could be his friend," Dan said. The light-headedness was back, and I slumped in my chair, tried to control my breathing, the panicked thumping of my heart.
   "You could try to understand, you could try to help him. You could stick with him, the way he stuck with you. You don't have to toss him out on his ass."
   Lil had the good grace to look slightly shamed. "I'll get him a room," she said. "For a month. In Kissimmee. A motel. I'll pick up his network access. Is that fair?"
   "It's more than fair," Rita said. Why did she hate me so much? I'd been there for her daughter while she was away-ah. That might do it, all right. "I don't think it's warranted. If you want to take care of him, sir, you can. It's none of my family's business."
   Lil's eyes blazed. "Let me handle this," she said. "All right?"
   Rita stood up abruptly. "You do whatever you want," she said, and stormed out of the room.
   "Why are you coming here for help?" Tom said, ever the voice of reason. "You seem capable enough."
   "I'm going to be taking a lethal injection at the end of the week," Dan said. "Three days. That's personal, but you asked."
   Tom shook his head. Some friends you've got yourself, I could see him thinking it.
   "That soon?" Lil asked, a throb in her voice.
   Dan nodded.
   In a dreamlike buzz, I stood and wandered out into the utilidor, out through the western castmember parking, and away.
   I wandered along the cobbled, disused Walk Around the World, each flagstone engraved with the name of a family that had visited the Park a century before. The names whipped past me like epitaphs.
   The sun came up noon high as I rounded the bend of deserted beach between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian. Lil and I had come here often, to watch the sunset from a hammock, arms around each other, the Park spread out before us like a lighted toy village.
   Now the beach was deserted, the Wedding Pavilion silent. I felt suddenly cold though I was sweating freely. So cold.
   Dreamlike, I walked into the lake, water filling my shoes, logging my pants, warm as blood, warm on my chest, on my chin, on my mouth, on my eyes.
   I opened my mouth and inhaled deeply, water filling my lungs, choking and warm. At first I sputtered, but I was in control now, and I inhaled again. The water shimmered over my eyes, and then was dark.
   I woke on Doctor Pete's cot in the Magic Kingdom, restraints around my wrists and ankles, a tube in my nose. I closed my eyes, for a moment believing that I'd been restored from a backup, problems solved, memories behind me.
   Sorrow knifed through me as I realized that Dan was probably dead by now, my memories of him gone forever.
   Gradually, I realized that I was thinking nonsensically. The fact that I remembered Dan meant that I hadn't been refreshed from my backup, that my broken brain was still there, churning along in unmediated isolation.
   I coughed again. My ribs ached and throbbed in counterpoint to my head. Dan took my hand.
   "You're a pain in the ass, you know that?" he said, smiling.
   "Sorry," I choked.
   "You sure are," he said. "Lucky for you they found you-another minute or two and I'd be burying you right now."
   No, I thought, confused. They'd have restored me from backup. Then it hit me: I'd gone on record refusing restore from backup after having it recommended by a medical professional. No one would have restored me after that. I would have been truly and finally dead. I started to shiver.
   "Easy," Dan said. "Easy. It's all right now. Doctor says you've got a cracked rib or two from the CPR, but there's no brain damage."
   "No additional brain damage," Doctor Pete said, swimming into view. He had on his professionally calm bedside face, and it reassured me despite myself.
   He shooed Dan away and took his seat. Once Dan had left the room, he shone lights in my eyes and peeked in my ears, then sat back and considered me. "Well, Julius," he said. "What exactly is the problem? We can get you a lethal injection if that's what you want, but offing yourself in the Seven Seas Lagoon just isn't good show. In the meantime, would you like to talk about it?"
   Part of me wanted to spit in his eye. I'd tried to talk about it and he'd told me to go to hell, and now he changes his mind? But I did want to talk.
   "I didn't want to die," I said.
   "Oh no?" he said. "I think the evidence suggests the contrary."
   "I wasn't trying to die," I protested. "I was trying to-" What? I was trying to… abdicate. Take the refresh without choosing it, without shutting out the last year of my best friend's life. Rescue myself from the stinking pit I'd sunk into without flushing Dan away along with it. That's all, that's all.