"I wasn't thinking-I was just acting. It was an episode or something. Does that mean I'm nuts?"
   "Oh, probably," Doctor Pete said, offhandedly. "But let's worry about one thing at a time. You can die if you want to, that's your right. I'd rather you lived, if you want my opinion, and I doubt that I'm the only one, Whuffie be damned. If you're going to live, I'd like to record you saying so, just in case. We have a backup of you on file-I'd hate to have to delete it."
   "Yes," I said. "Yes, I'd like to be restored if there's no other option." It was true. I didn't want to die.
   "All right then," Doctor Pete said. "It's on file and I'm a happy man. Now, are you nuts? Probably. A little. Nothing a little counseling and some R&R wouldn't fix, if you want my opinion. I could find you somewhere if you want."
   "Not yet," I said. "I appreciate the offer, but there's something else I have to do first."
   Dan took me back to the room and put me to bed with a transdermal soporific that knocked me out for the rest of the day. When I woke, the moon was over the Seven Seas Lagoon and the monorail was silent.
   I stood on the patio for a while, thinking about all the things this place had meant to me for more than a century: happiness, security, efficiency, fantasy. All of it gone. It was time I left. Maybe back to space, find Zed and see if I could make her happy again. Anywhere but here. Once Dan was dead-God, it was sinking in finally-I could catch a ride down to the Cape for a launch.
   "What's on your mind?" Dan asked from behind me, startling me. He was in his boxers, thin and rangy and hairy.
   "Thinking about moving on," I said.
   He chuckled. "I've been thinking about doing the same," he said.
   I smiled. "Not that way," I said. "Just going somewhere else, starting over. Getting away from this."
   "Going to take the refresh?" he asked.
   I looked away. "No," I said. "I don't believe I will."
   "It may be none of my business," he said, "but why the fuck not? Jesus, Julius, what're you afraid of?"
   "You don't want to know," I said.
   "I'll be the judge of that."
   "Let's have a drink, first," I said.
   Dan rolled his eyes back for a second, then said, "All right, two Coronas, coming up."
   After the room-service bot had left, we cracked the beers and pulled chairs out onto the porch.
   "You sure you want to know this?" I asked.
   He tipped his bottle at me. "Sure as shootin'," he said.
   "I don't want refresh because it would mean losing the last year," I said.
   He nodded. "By which you mean 'my last year,'" he said. "Right?"
   I nodded and drank.
   "I thought it might be like that. Julius, you are many things, but hard to figure out you are not. I have something to say that might help you make the decision. If you want to hear it, that is."
   What could he have to say? "Sure," I said. "Sure." In my mind, I was on a shuttle headed for orbit, away from all of this.
   "I had you killed," he said. "Debra asked me to, and I set it up. You were right all along."
   The shuttle exploded in silent, slow moving space, and I spun away from it. I opened and shut my mouth.
   It was Dan's turn to look away. "Debra proposed it. We were talking about the people I'd met when I was doing my missionary work, the stone crazies who I'd have to chase away after they'd rejoined the Bitchun Society. One of them, a girl from Cheyenne Mountain, she followed me down here, kept leaving me messages. I told Debra, and that's when she got the idea.
   "I'd get the girl to shoot you and disappear. Debra would give me Whuffie-piles of it, and her team would follow suit. I'd be months closer to my goal. That was all I could think about back then, you remember."
   "I remember." The smell of rejuve and desperation in our little cottage, and Dan plotting my death.
   "We planned it, then Debra had herself refreshed from a backup-no memory of the event, just the Whuffie for me."
   "Yes," I said. That would work. Plan a murder, kill yourself, have yourself refreshed from a backup made before the plan. How many times had Debra done terrible things and erased their memories that way?
   "Yes," he agreed. "We did it, I'm ashamed to say. I can prove it, too-I have my backup, and I can get Jeanine to tell it, too." He drained his beer. "That's my plan. Tomorrow. I'll tell Lil and her folks, Kim and her people, the whole ad-hoc. A going-away present from a shitty friend."
   My throat was dry and tight. I drank more beer. "You knew all along," I said. "You could have proved it at any time."
   He nodded. "That's right."
   "You let me …" I groped for the words. "You let me turn into …" They wouldn't come.
   "I did," he said.
   All this time. Lil and he, standing on my porch, telling me I needed help. Doctor Pete, telling me I needed refresh from backup, me saying no, no, no, not wanting to lose my last year with Dan.
   "I've done some pretty shitty things in my day," he said. "This is the absolute worst. You helped me and I betrayed you. I'm sure glad I don't believe in God-that'd make what I'm going to do even scarier."
   Dan was going to kill himself in two days' time. My friend and my murderer. "Dan," I croaked. I couldn't make any sense of my mind. Dan, taking care of me, helping me, sticking up for me, carrying this horrible shame with him all along. Ready to die, wanting to go with a clean conscience.
   "You're forgiven," I said. And it was true.
   He stood.
   "Where are you going" I asked.
   "To find Jeanine, the one who pulled the trigger. I'll meet you at the Hall of Presidents at nine a.m.."
   I went in through the Main Gate, not a castmember any longer, a Guest with barely enough Whuffie to scrape in, use the water fountains and stand in line. If I were lucky, a castmember might spare me a chocolate banana. Probably not, though.
   I stood in the line for the Hall of Presidents. Other guests checked my Whuffie, then averted their eyes. Even the children. A year before, they'd have been striking up conversations, asking me about my job here at the Magic Kingdom.
   I sat in my seat at the Hall of Presidents, watching the short film with the rest, sitting patiently while they rocked in their seats under the blast of the flash-bake. A castmember picked up the stageside mic and thanked everyone for coming; the doors swung open and the Hall was empty, except for me. The castmember narrowed her eyes at me, then recognizing me, turned her back and went to show in the next group.
   No group came. Instead, Dan and the girl I'd seen on the replay entered.
   "We've closed it down for the morning," he said.
   I was staring at the girl, seeing her smirk as she pulled the trigger on me, seeing her now with a contrite, scared expression. She was terrified of me.
   "You must be Jeanine," I said. I stood and shook her hand. "I'm Julius."
   Her hand was cold, and she took it back and wiped it on her pants.
   My castmember instincts took over. "Please, have a seat. Don't worry, it'll all be fine. Really. No hard feelings." I stopped short of offering to get her a glass of water.
   Put her at her ease, said a snotty voice in my head. She'll make a better witness. Or make her nervous, pathetic-that'll work, too; make Debra look even worse.
   I told the voice to shut up and got her a cup of water.
   By the time I came back, the whole gang was there. Debra, Lil, her folks, Tim. Debra's gang and Lil's gang, now one united team. Soon to be scattered.
   Dan took the stage, used the stageside mic to broadcast his voice. "Eleven months ago, I did an awful thing. I plotted with Debra to have Julius murdered. I used a friend who was a little confused at the time, used her to pull the trigger. It was Debra's idea that having Julius killed would cause enough confusion that she could take over the Hall of Presidents. It was."
   There was a roar of conversation. I looked at Debra, saw that she was sitting calmly, as though Dan had just accused her of sneaking an extra helping of dessert. Lil's parents, to either side of her, were less sanguine. Tom's jaw was set and angry, Rita was speaking angrily to Debra. Hickory Jackson in the old Hall used to say, I will hang the first man I can lay hands on from the first tree I can find.
   "Debra had herself refreshed from backup after we planned it," Dan went on, as though no one was talking. "I was supposed to do the same, but I didn't. I have a backup in my public directory-anyone can examine it. Right now, I'd like to bring Jeanine up, she's got a few words she'd like to say."
   I helped Jeanine take the stage. She was still trembling, and the ad-hocs were an insensate babble of recriminations. Despite myself, I was enjoying it.
   "Hello," Jeanine said softly. She had a lovely voice, a lovely face. I wondered if we could be friends when it was all over. She probably didn't care much about Whuffie, one way or another.
   The discussion went on. Dan took the mic from her and said, "Please! Can we have a little respect for our visitor? Please? People?"
   Gradually, the din decreased. Dan passed the mic back to Jeanine. "Hello," she said again, and flinched from the sound of her voice in the Hall's PA. "My name is Jeanine. I'm the one who killed Julius, a year ago. Dan asked me to, and I did it. I didn't ask why. I trusted-trust-him. He told me that Julius would make a backup a few minutes before I shot him, and that he could get me out of the Park without getting caught. I'm very sorry." There was something off-kilter about her, some stilt to her stance and words that let you know she wasn't all there. Growing up in a mountain might do that to you. I snuck a look at Lil, whose lips were pressed together. Growing up in a theme park might do that to you, too.
   "Thank you, Jeanine," Dan said, taking back the mic. "You can have a seat now. I've said everything I need to say-Julius and I have had our own discussions in private. If there's anyone else who'd like to speak-"
   The words were barely out of his mouth before the crowd erupted again in words and waving hands. Beside me, Jeanine flinched. I took her hand and shouted in her ear: "Have you ever been on the Pirates of the Carribean?"
   She shook her head.
   I stood up and pulled her to her feet. "You'll love it," I said, and led her out of the Hall.

Chapter 10

   I booked us ringside seats at the Polynesian Luau, riding high on a fresh round of sympathy Whuffie, and Dan and I drank a dozen lapu-lapus in hollowed-out pineapples before giving up on the idea of getting drunk.
   Jeanine watched the fire-dances and the torch-lighting with eyes like saucers, and picked daintily at her spare ribs with one hand, never averting her attention from the floor show. When they danced the fast hula, her eyes jiggled. I chuckled.
   From where we sat, I could see the spot where I'd waded into the Seven Seas Lagoon and breathed in the blood-temp water, I could see Cinderella's Castle, across the lagoon, I could see the monorails and the ferries and the busses making their busy way through the Park, shuttling teeming masses of guests from place to place. Dan toasted me with his pineapple and I toasted him back, drank it dry and belched in satisfaction.
   Full belly, good friends, and the sunset behind a troupe of tawny, half-naked hula dancers. Who needs the Bitchun Society, anyway?
   When it was over, we watched the fireworks from the beach, my toes dug into the clean white sand. Dan slipped his hand into my left hand, and Jeanine took my right. When the sky darkened and the lighted barges puttered away through the night, we three sat in the hammock.
   I looked out over the Seven Seas Lagoon and realized that this was my last night, ever, in Walt Disney World. It was time to reboot again, start afresh. That's what the Park was for, only somehow, this visit, I'd gotten stuck. Dan had unstuck me.
   The talk turned to Dan's impending death.
   "So, tell me what you think of this," he said, hauling away on a glowing cigarette.
   "Shoot," I said.
   "I'm thinking-why take lethal injection? I mean, I may be done here for now, but why should I make an irreversible decision?"
   "Why did you want to before?" I asked.
   "Oh, it was the macho thing, I guess. The finality and all. But hell, I don't have to prove anything, right?"
   "Sure," I said, magnanimously.
   "So," he said, thoughtfully. "The question I'm asking is, how long can I deadhead for? There are folks who go down for a thousand years, ten thousand, right?"
   "So, you're thinking, what, a million?" I joked.
   He laughed. "A million? You're thinking too small, son. Try this on for size: the heat death of the universe."
   "The heat death of the universe," I repeated.
   "Sure," he drawled, and I sensed his grin in the dark. "Ten to the hundred years or so. The Stelliferous Period-it's when all the black holes have run dry and things get, you know, stupendously dull. Cold, too. So I'm thinking-why not leave a wake-up call for some time around then?"
   "Sounds unpleasant to me," I said. "Brrrr."
   "Not at all! I figure, self-repairing nano-based canopic jar, mass enough to feed it-say, a trillion-ton asteroid-and a lot of solitude when the time comes around. I'll poke my head in every century or so, just to see what's what, but if nothing really stupendous crops up, I'll take the long ride out. The final frontier."
   "That's pretty cool," Jeanine said.
   "Thanks," Dan said.
   "You're not kidding, are you?" I asked.
   "Nope, I sure ain't," he said.
   They didn't invite me back into the ad-hoc, even after Debra left in Whuffie-penury and they started to put the Mansion back the way it was. Tim called me to say that with enough support from Imagineering, they thought they could get it up and running in a week. Suneep was ready to kill someone, I swear. A house divided against itself cannot stand, as Mr. Lincoln used to say at the Hall of Presidents.
   I packed three changes of clothes and a toothbrush in my shoulderbag and checked out of my suite at the Polynesian at ten a.m., then met Jeanine and Dan at the valet parking out front. Dan had a runabout he'd picked up with my Whuffie, and I piled in with Jeanine in the middle. We played old Beatles tunes on the stereo all the long way to Cape Canaveral. Our shuttle lifted at noon.
   The shuttle docked four hours later, but by the time we'd been through decontam and orientation, it was suppertime. Dan, nearly as Whuffie-poor as Debra after his confession, nevertheless treated us to a meal in the big bubble, squeeze-tubes of heady booze and steaky paste, and we watched the universe get colder for a while.
   There were a couple guys jamming, tethered to a guitar and a set of tubs, and they weren't half bad.
   Jeanine was uncomfortable hanging there naked. She'd gone to space with her folks after Dan had left the mountain, but it was in a long-haul generation ship. She'd abandoned it after a year or two and deadheaded back to Earth in a support-pod. She'd get used to life in space after a while. Or she wouldn't.
   "Well," Dan said.
   "Yup," I said, aping his laconic drawl. He smiled.
   "It's that time," he said.
   Spheres of saline tears formed in Jeanine's eyes, and I brushed them away, setting them adrift in the bubble. I'd developed some real tender, brother-sister type feelings for her since I'd watched her saucer-eye her way through the Magic Kingdom. No romance-not for me, thanks! But camaraderie and a sense of responsibility.
   "See you in ten to the hundred," Dan said, and headed to the airlock. I started after him, but Jeanine caught my hand.
   "He hates long good-byes," she said.
   "I know," I said, and watched him go.
   The universe gets older. So do I. So does my backup, sitting in redundant distributed storage dirtside, ready for the day that space or age or stupidity kills me. It recedes with the years, and I write out my life longhand, a letter to the me that I'll be when it's restored into a clone somewhere, somewhen. It's important that whoever I am then knows about this year, and it's going to take a lot of tries for me to get it right.
   In the meantime, I'm working on another symphony, one with a little bit of "Grim Grinning Ghosts," and a nod to "It's a Small World After All," and especially "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow."
   Jeanine says it's pretty good, but what does she know? She's barely fifty.
   We've both got a lot of living to do before we know what's what.


   I could never have written this book without the personal support of my friends and family, especially Roz Doctorow, Gord Doctorow and Neil Doctorow, Amanda Foubister, Steve Samenski, Pat York, Grad Conn, John Henson, John Rose, the writers at the Cecil Street Irregulars and Mark Frauenfelder.
   I owe a great debt to the writers and editors who mentored and encouraged me: James Patrick Kelly, Judith Merril, Damon Knight, Martha Soukup, Scott Edelman, Gardner Dozois, Renee Wilmeth, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Claire Eddy, Bob Parks and Robert Killheffer.
   I am also indebted to my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden and my agent Donald Maass, who believed in this book and helped me bring it to fruition.
   Finally, I must thank the readers, the geeks and the Imagineers who inspired this book.
   Cory Doctorow
   San Francisco
   September 2002

About the author:

   Cory Doctorow is Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, www.eff.org, and maintains a personal site at www.craphound.com. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing at www.boingboing.net, with more than 250,000 visitors a month. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2000 Hugo Awards. Born and raised in Toronto, he now lives in San Francisco. He enjoys using Google to look up interesting facts about long walks on the beach.

Other books by Cory Doctorow:

   A Place So Foreign and Eight More
   - short story collection, forthcoming from Four Walls Eight Windows in fall 2003, with an introduction by Bruce Sterling
   Essential Blogging, O'Reilly and Associates, 2002
   - with Rael Dornfest, J. Scott Johnson, Shelley Powers, Benjamin Trott and Mena G. Trott
   The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction, Alpha Books, 2000
   - co-written with Karl Schroeder