Sep 16 2009 9:00am

Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 32 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

Lester ran the ride basically on his own that week, missing his workshop and his tinkering, thinking of Suzanne, wishing that Perry was back already. He wasn’t exactly a people person, and there were a lot of people.

“I brought some stuff,” the goth kid said as he paid for his ticket, hefting two huge duffel bags. “That’s still OK, right?”

Was it? Damned if Lester knew. The kid had a huge bruise covering half of his face, and Lester thought he recognized him from the showdown—Death Waits, that’s what Perry had said.

“Sure, it’s fine.”

“You’re Lester, right?”

Christ, another one.

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Honest Fred is full of shit. I’ve been reading your posts since forever. That guy is just jealous because your girlfriend outed him for being such a lying asshole.”

“Yeah.” Death Waits wasn’t the first one to say words to this effect—Suzanne had had that honor—and he wouldn’t be the last. But Lester wanted to forget it. He’d liked the moments of fame he’d gained from Suzanne’s writing, from his work on the message boards. He’d even had a couple of fanboys show up to do a little interview for their podcast about his mechanical computer. That had been nice. But “blokes that Suzanne Church is willing to play hide the sausage with”—ugh.

Suzanne was holding it together as far as he could tell. But she didn’t seem as willing to stick her neck out to broker little peaces between Tjan and Kettlewell anymore, and those two were going at it hammer and tongs now, each convinced that he was in charge. Tjan reasoned that since he actually ran one of the most-developed rides in the network that he should be the executive, with Kettlewell as a trusted adviser. Kettlewell clearly felt that he deserved the crown because he’d actually run global businesses, as opposed to Tjan, who was little more than a middle manager.

Neither had said exactly that, but that was only because whenever they headed down that path, Suzanne interposed herself and distracted them.

No one asked Lester or Perry, even though they were the ones who’d invented it all. It was all so fucked up. Why couldn’t he just make stuff and do stuff? Why did it always have to turn into a plan for world domination? In Lester’s experience, most world-domination plans went sour, while a hefty proportion of modest plans to Make Something Cool actually worked out pretty well, paid the bills, and put food on the table.

The goth kid looked expectantly at him. “I’m a huge fan, you know. I used to work for Disney, and I was always watching what you did to get ideas for new stuff we should do. That’s why it’s so totally suckballs that they’re accusing you of ripping them off—we rip you off all the time.”

Lester felt like he was expected to do something with that information—maybe deliver it to some lawyer or whatever. But would it make a difference? He couldn’t get any spit in his mouth over legal fights. Christ—legal fights!

“Thanks. You’re Death Waits, right? Perry told me about you.”

The kid visibly swelled. “Yeah. I could help around here if you wanted, you know. I know a lot about ride-operating. I used to train the ride-runners at Disney, and I could work any position. If you wanted.”

“We’re not really hiring—” Lester began.

“I’m not looking for a job. I could just, you know, help. I don’t have a job or anything right now.”

Lester needed to pee. And he was sick of sitting here taking people’s money. And he wanted to go play with his mechanical computer, anyway.

“Lester? Who’s the kid taking ticket money?” Suzanne’s hug was sweaty and smelled good.

“Look at this,” Lester said. He flipped up his magnifying goggles and handed her the soda can. He’d cut away a panel covering the whole front of the can, and inside he’d painstakingly assembled sixty-four flip-flops. He turned the crank on the back of the can slowly, and the correct combination of rods extended from the back of the can, indicating the values represented on the flip-flops within. “It’s a sixty-four bit register. We could build a shitkicking Pentium out of a couple million of these.”

He turned the crank again. The can smelled of solder and it had a pleasant weight in his hand. The mill beside him hummed, and on his screen, the parts he’d CADded up rotated in wireframe. Suzanne was at his side and he’d just built something completely teh awesome. He’d taken his shirt off somewhere along the afternoon’s lazy, warm way and his skin prickled with a breeze.

He turned to take Suzanne in his arms. God he loved her. He’d been in love with her for years now and she was his.

“Look at how cool this thing is, just look.” He used a tweezer to change the registers again and gave it a little crank. “I got the idea from the old Princeton Institute Electronic Computer Project. All these comp sci geniuses, von Neumann and Dyson and Godel, they brought in their kids for the summer to wind all the cores they’d need for their RAM. Millions of these things, wound by the kids of the smartest people in the universe. What a cool way to spend your summer.

“So I thought I’d prototype the next generation of these, a 64-bit version that you could build out of garbage. Get a couple hundred of the local kids in for the summer and get them working. Get them to understand just how these things work—that’s the problem with integrated circuits, you can’t take them apart and see how they work. How are we going to get another generation of tinkerers unless we get kids interested in how stuff works?”

“Who’s the kid taking ticket money?”

“He’s a fan, that kid that Perry met in jail. Death Waits. The one who brought in the Disney stuff.”

He gradually became aware that Suzanne was rigid and shaking in his arms.

“What’s wrong?”

Her face was purple now, her hands clenched into fists. “What’s wrong? Lester, what’s wrong? You’ve left a total stranger, who, by his own admission, is a recently employee of a company that is trying to bankrupt you and put you in jail. You’ve left him in charge of an expensive, important capital investment, and given him the authority to collect money on your behalf. Do you really need to ask me what’s wrong?”

He tried to smile. “It’s OK, it’s OK, he’s only—”

“Only what? Only your possible doom? Christ, Perry, you don’t even have fucking insurance on that business.”

Did she just call him Perry? He carefully set down the Coke can and looked at her.

“I’m down here busting my ass for you two, fighting cops, letting that shit Freddy smear my name all over the net, and what the hell are you doing to save yourself? You’re in here playing with Coke cans!” She picked it up and shook it. He heard the works inside rattling and flinched towards it. She jerked it out of his reach and threw it, threw it hard at the wall. Hundreds of little gears and ratchets and rods spilled out of it.

“Fine, Lester, fine. You go on being an emotional ten-year-old. But stop roping other people into this. You’ve got people all over the country depending on you and you are just abdicating your responsibility to them. I won’t be a part of it.” She was crying now. Lester had no idea what to say now.

“It’s not enough that Perry’s off chasing pussy, you’ve got to pick this moment to take French leave to play with your toys. Christ, the whole bunch of you deserve each other.”

Lester knew that he was on the verge of shouting at her, really tearing into her, saying unforgivable things. He’d been there before with other friends, and no good ever came of it. He wanted to tell her that he’d never asked for the responsibility, that he’d lived up to it anyway, that no one had asked her to put her neck on the line and it wasn’t fair to blame him for the shit that Freddy was putting her through. He wanted to tell her that if she was in love with Perry, she should be sleeping with Perry, and not him. He wanted to tell her that she had no business reaming him out for doing what he’d always done: sit in his workshop.

He wanted to tell her that she had never once seen him as a sexual being when he was big and fat, but that he had no trouble seeing her as one now that she was getting old and a little saggy, and so where did she get off criticizing his emotional maturity?

He wanted to say all of this, and he wanted to take back his 64-bit register and nurse it back to health. He’d been in a luminous creative fog when he’d built that can, and who knew if he’d be able to reconstruct it?

He wanted to cry, to blubber at her for the monumental unfairness of it all. He stood stiffly up from his workbench and turned on his heel and walked out. He expected Suzanne to call out to him, but she didn’t. He didn’t care, or at least he didn’t want to.

<<< Back to Part 31

Continue to Part 33>>>




As part of the ongoing project of crafting’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.

Doctorow’s Makers will be released in print by Tor Books in October. You can read all previous installments of Makers on on our

Marcus W
1. toryx
I have to say, there are times when all these characters seem like a bunch of children. Oh the other hand, that fits a lot of the so-called adults in the real world too, so maybe it's just incredibly appropriate.
2. Keith.erskine
If this were a movie, we'd be at the part where "boy loses girl". Oh course we could also be at the part where Lester throws the remains of his cola-can computer into the ride, which gets replicated across all the rides, and thus spawns a sentient mechanical computer. =)
Bill Siegel
3. ubxs113
Of course, she's totally right. They are acting like children and totally abdicating responsibility.
Rick Snell
4. ricklynnx
@1: Natch, that whiff of recognition kills. Great segment. And of course (I think) Lester is the one right about Death Waits. Suzanne's getting menopausal, and I guess you're right - it's becoming a little Peyton Place-like. Ah, claustrophobia...
- -
5. heresiarch
ricklynnx @ 4: Hm. A woman is in the midst of a vicious character assassination while trying to get one relationship started while fighting off a desperate crush with the other hand, everyone she loves is arguing about what to do about being sued by a mega-corporation and yet her freakout is because of her ovaries. Nice.
6. AvidReader
Thank you heresiarch @ 5.

Lester does seem emotionally stunted. He's never quite gotten over being overweight, particularly with people (Suzanne) who knew him pre-fatkins. Heck, the term 'fatkins' sounds a little derogatory to me, and yet he identifies with it.

Everyone is having a hard time adjusting to changes and being comfortable with their altered, or yet to be redefined, roles. Look at Kettlewell and Tjan trying to do the same old thing with a new situation. I think a lot more is going to change before the story is finished.
7. Keith.erskine
In other news: life imitates art

The Whuffie Bank
nat ward
8. smonkey
I'm with Lester,
he never asked for this stuff,
he made a judgement and put that kid at the door (like that's the end of the world...its his ride!)
and she's freaking out because of the baggage she brought to the game (crush on other guy, guilt about screwing the ex-fattie, emotional affair with kettlewell, failure to live up to her old ideals as a journalist etc).
sometimes all you can do is walk away and breathe.
9. Jesster

None of the mitigating circumstances you cite is the fault of the object of her "freakout". Do you claim that she was rational, or do you claim that her irrationality was not related to her gender?

I might grant you the latter, but the former is loony.

In the "ovarian" sense.

Lester's response is that of all decent men.
Rick Snell
10. ricklynnx
@5 & @6: Sorry! I guess I'm commenting chiefly on the impression that (I think - hey, remember I said that originally, too!) Lester has a better understanding of Death Waits than Suzanne. She's definitely got plenty to be mad about, but I feel she chose the wrong trigger event.

Yah, Lester's emotionally stunted, and he's still carrying around some baggage from Suzanne's change of heart towards him, and she did call him Perry accidentally, and he sees all that, knows all that, and still had the presence of mind to not escalate the fight by lashing back. I give him pretty high marks on this. (Plus she tore up his way cool register thing.)

AND, he and Perry both feel a little like their project got hijacked by everyone's needs projected onto their cool little pocket world they had carved out, and now they're expected to "grow up" and be responsible adults? I think they'll come around and do it (they have, so far), but I can see their frustration. And *why* is all this responsibility being thrust on them? Because they're talented, that's why, so go figure. :)
11. Paulomus
Suzanne is obviously overreacting because of stress (though she did have some valid points in there). Given the pressure she's under that's fairly understandable. Credit to Lester for recognising it and backing off. We'll see whether his walkout saves the relationship or kills it.

Btw if it is still OK to plug bookshops, I'd like to put a word in for Minotaur Entertainment in Melbourne. They combine games, comics and fan-stuff with a pretty decent science fiction & fantasy bookstore. The place has a lively up-beat vibe to it. It's really a "Makers" kind of place.
12. Onions
So you Lester apologists don't think it was stupid of him to entrust the ride to a guy he knows nothing about, except that he seems nice and used to work for Disney? And all because he was tired of being responsible?? Suzanne flips because she - and everyone - has lost too much, her good reputation for one, for Lester to endanger everything because of a teenage moment. Like it or not, the Ride is his responsibility and he had a massive and whiny brainfail.
Just because we know Death is a nice dude doesn't mean Lester or Suzanne could know that. Men are so fast in blaming everything on ovaries and cycles, instead of stupidity, it sucks.

That said, she was wrong to break his stuff. And it is good he walked away.
13. Onions
Actually, Lester's trust in Death reminds me of Perry's trust in Fred - inviting someone to a party is a lot less dangerous than giving him control over your revenues. And yet we know how that ended.
Agnes Kormendi
14. tapsi
@13: absolutely. And Lester's doing that right after Perry's trust in a stranger proved so ill.

I think it's absolutely rational that Suzanne told Lester off for leaving the operation of the entire ride to a complete stranger. How many of you would trust a stranger with your wallet? And the ride is way bigger than that and Lester just walks away. And freaking out when you see your significant other acting this incredibly irresponsible is menopausal? Wow.

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