Illustration by Idiots’Books
As mentioned previously, the first “book” of Makers has been serialized on Salon as a novella titled Themepunks. This installment of Makers marks the beginning of the second “book”, which has never before seen the light of public scrutiny. Enjoy!—Pablo Defendini
The drive from Orlando down to Hollywood got worse every time Sammy took it. The turnpike tolls went up every year and the road surface quality declined, and the gas prices at the clip-joints were heart-attack-inducing. When Sammy started at Disney Imagineering a decade before, the company had covered your actual expenses—just collect the receipts and turn them in for cash back. But since Parks had been spun off into a separate company with its own shareholders, the new austerity measures meant that the bean-counters in Burbank set a maximum per-mile reimbursement and never mind the actual expense.
Enough of this competitive intelligence work and Sammy would go broke.
Off the turnpike, it was even worse. The shantytowns multiplied and multiplied. Laundry lines stretched out in the parking-lots of former strip-malls. Every traffic-light clogged with aggressive techno-tchotchke vendors, the squeegee bums of the twenty-first century, with their pornographic animatronic dollies and infinitely varied robot dogs. Disney World still sucked in a fair number of tourists (though not nearly so many as in its golden day), but they were staying away from Miami in droves. The snowbirds had died off in a great demographic spasm over the past decade, and their children lacked the financial wherewithal to even think of over-wintering in their parents’ now-derelict condos.
The area around the dead Wal-Mart was particularly awful. The shanties here rose three, even four stories into the air, clustered together to make medieval street-mazes. Broward County had long since stopped enforcing the property claims of the bankruptcy courts that managed the real-estate interests of the former owners of the fields and malls that had been turned into the new towns.
By the time he pulled into the Wal-Mart’s enormous parking lot, the day had heated up, his air-con had conked, and he’d accumulated a comet-tail of urchins who wanted to sell him a computer-generated bust of himself in the style of a Roman emperor—they worked on affiliate commission for some 3D printer jerk in the shanties, and they had a real aggressive pitch, practically flinging their samples at him.
He pushed past them and wandered through the open-air market stalls, a kind of cruel parody of the long-gone Florida flea-markets. These gypsies sold fabricated parts that could be modded to make single-shot zip guns and/or bongs and/or illegal-gain wireless antennae. They sold fruit smoothies and suspicious “beef” jerky. They sold bootleg hardcopies of Mexican fotonovelas and bound printouts of Japanese fan-produced tentacle-porn comics. It was all damnably eye-catching and intriguing, even though Sammy knew that it was all junk.
Finally, he reached the ticket-window in front of the Wal-Mart and slapped down five bucks on the counter. The guy behind the counter was the kind of character that kept the tourists away from Florida: shaven-headed, with one cockeyed eyebrow that looked like a set of hills, a three-day beard and skin tanned like wrinkled leather.
“Hi again!” Sammy said, brightly. Working at Disney taught you to talk happy even when your stomach was crawling—the castmember’s grin.
“Back again?” the guy behind the counter laughed. He was missing a canine tooth and it made him look even more sketchy. “Christ, dude, we’ll have to invent a season’s pass for you.”
“Just can’t stay away,” Sammy said.
“You’re not the only one. You’re a hell of a customer for the ride, but you haven’t got anything on some of the people I get here—people who come practically every day. It’s flattering, I tell you.”
“You made this, then?”
“Yeah,” he said, swelling up with a little pigeon-chested puff of pride. “Me and Lester, over there.” He gestured at a fit, greying man sitting on a stool before a small cocktail bar built into a scavenged Orange Julius stand—God knew where these people got all their crap from. He had the look of one of the fatkins, unnaturally thin and muscled and yet somehow lazy, the combination of a ten kilocalorie diet, zero body-fat and non-steroidal muscle enhancers. Ten years ago, he would have been a model, but today he was just another ex-tubbalard with a serious food habit. Time was that Disney World was nigh-unnavigable from all the powered wheelchairs carting around morbidly obese Americans who couldn’t walk from ride to ride, but these days it looked more like an ad for a gymnasium, full of generically buff fatkins in tight-fitting clothes.
“Good work!” he said again in castmemberese. “You should be very proud!”
The proprietor smiled and took a long pull off a straw hooked into the distiller beside him. “Go on, get in there—flatterer!”
Sammy stepped through the glass doors and found himself in an air-conditioned cave of seemingly infinite dimension. The old Wal-Mart had been the size of five football fields, and a cunning arrangement of curtains and baffles managed to convey all that space without revealing its contents. Before him was the ride vehicle, in a single shaft of spotlight.
Gingerly, he stepped into it. The design was familiar—there had been a glut of these things before the fatkins movement took hold, stair-climbing wheelchairs that used gyro-stabilizers to pitch, yaw, stand and sit in a perpetual controlled fall. The Disney World veterans of their heyday remembered them as failure-prone behemoths that you needed a forklift to budge when they died, but the ride people had done something to improve on the design. These things performed as well as the originals, though they were certainly knock-offs—nohow were these cats shelling out fifty grand a pop for the real deal.
The upholstered seat puffed clouds of dust into the spotlight’s shaft as he settled into the chair and did up his lap-belt. The little LCD set into the control panel lit up and started to play the standard video spiel, narrated in grizzled voice-over.
WELCOME TO THE CABINET OF WONDERS
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN AMERICA HELD OUT THE PROMISE OF A NEW WAY OF LIVING AND WORKING. THE NEW WORK BOOM OF THE TEENS WAS A PERIOD OF UNPARALLELED INVENTION, A CAMBRIAN EXPLOSION OF CREATIVITY NOT SEEN SINCE THE TIME OF EDISON—AND UNLIKE EDISON, THE PEOPLE WHO INVENTED THE NEW WORK REVOLUTION WEREN’T RIP-OFF ARTISTS AND FRAUDS.
THEIR MARVELOUS INVENTIONS EMERGED AT THE RATE OF FIVE OR SIX PER WEEK. SOME DANCED, SOME SANG, SOME WERE HELPMEETS AND SOME WERE MERE JESTERS.
TODAY, NEARLY ALL OF THESE WONDERFUL THINGS HAVE VANISHED WITH THE COLLAPSE OF NEW WORK. THEY’VE ENDED UP BACK IN THE TRASH HEAPS THAT INSPIRED THEM.
HERE IN THE CABINET OF WONDERS, WE ARE PRESERVING THESE LAST REMNANTS OF THE GOLDEN AGE, A SINGLE BEACON OF LIGHT IN A TIME OF DARKNESS.
AS YOU MOVE THROUGH THE RIDESPACE, PLEASE REMAIN SEATED. HOWEVER, YOU MAY PAUSE YOUR VEHICLE TO GET A CLOSER LOOK BY MOVING THE JOYSTICK TOWARD YOURSELF. PULL THE JOYSTICK UP TO CUE NARRATION ABOUT ANY OBJECT.
MOVE THE JOYSTICK TO THE LEFT, TOWARDS THE MINUS-ONE, IF YOU THINK AN ITEM IS UGLY, UNWORTHY OR MISPLACED. MOVE THE JOYSTICK TO THE RIGHT, TOWARD THE PLUS-ONE, IF YOU THINK AN ITEM IS PARTICULARLY PLEASING. YOUR FEEDBACK WILL BE FACTORED INTO THE CONTINUOUS REARRANGEMENT OF THE CABINET, WHICH TAKES PLACE ON A MINUTE-BY-MINUTE BASIS, DRIVEN BY THE ROBOTS YOU MAY SEE CRAWLING AROUND THE FLOOR OF THE CABINET.
THE RIDE LASTS BETWEEN TEN MINUTES AND AN HOUR, DEPENDING ON HOW OFTEN YOU PAUSE.
PLEASE ENJOY YOURSELF, AND REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE GOLDEN.
This plus-one/minus-one business was new to him. It had been a mere four days since he’d been up here, but like so many other of his visits, they’d made major rehabs to their ride in the amount of time it would have taken Imagineering to write a memo about the possibility of holding a design-review meeting.
He velcroed his camera’s wireless eye to his lapel, tapped the preset to correct for low light and motion, and hit the joystick. The wheelchair stood up with wobbly grace, and began to roll forward on two wheels, heeling over precipitously as it cornered into the main space of the ride. The gyros could take it, he knew, but it still thrilled him the way that a fast, out-of-control go-kart did, miles away from the safe rides back in Disney.
The chair screeched around a corner and pulled into the first scene, a diorama littered with cross-sectioned cars. Each one was kitted out with different crazy technologies—dashboard gods that monitored and transmitted traffic heuristics, parallel-parking autopilots, peer-to-peer music-sharing boxes, even an amphibious retrofit on a little hybrid that apparently worked, converting the little Bug into a water-Bug.
The chair swooped around each one, pausing while the narration played back reminisces by the inventors, or sometimes by the owners of the old gizmos. The stories were pithy and sweet and always funny. These were artifacts scavenged from the first days of a better nation that had died a-borning.
Then on to the kitchen, and the bathrooms—bathroom after bathroom, with better toilets, better showers, better tubs, better floors and better lights—bedrooms, kids’ rooms. One after another, a hyper museum.
The decor was miles ahead of where it had been the last time he’d been through. There were lots of weird grace-notes, like taxidermied alligators, vintage tourist pennants, chintz lamps, and tiny dioramae of action figures.
He paused in front of a fabric printer surrounded by custom tees and knit caps and 3D video-game figurines machine-crocheted from bright yarns, and was passed by another chair. In it was a cute woman in her thirties, white-blond shaggy hair luminous in the spotlight over the soft-goods. She paused her chair and lovingly reached out to set down a pair of appliqued shorts with organic LEDs pulsing and swirling around the waistband. “Give it a plus-one, OK? These were my best sellers,” she said, smiling a dazzling beach-bunny smile at him. She wheeled away and paused at the next diorama to set down a doll-house in a child’s room diorama.
Wow—they were getting user-generated content in the ride. Holy crap.
He finished out the ride with a keen hand on the plus-one/minus-one lever, carefully voting for the best stuff and against the stuff that looked out of place—like a pornographic ceramic bong that someone had left in the midst of a clockwork animatronic jug-band made from stitched-together stuffed animals.
Then it was over, and he was debarking in what had been the Wal-Mart’s garden center. The new bright sun made him tear up, and he fished out his shades.
“Hey, mister, c’mere, I’ve got something better than sunglasses for you!” The guy who beckoned him over to a market-stall had the look of an aging bangbanger: shaved head, tattoos, ridiculous cycling shorts with some gut hanging over them.
“See these? Polarizing contact-lenses—prescription or optically neutral. Everyone in India is into these things, but we make ‘em right here in Florida.” He lifted a half-sphere of filmy plastic from his case and peeled back his eyelid and popped it in. His whole iris was tinted black, along with most of the whites of his eyes. Geometric shapes like Maori tattoos were rendered in charcoal grey across the lenses. “I can print you up a set in five minutes, ten bucks for plain, twenty if you want them bit-mapped.”
“I think I’ll stick with my shades, thanks,” Sammy said.
“C’mon, the ladies love these things. Real conversation starter. Make you look all anime and shit, guy like you can try this kind of thing out for twenty bucks, you know, won’t hurt.”
“That’s all right,” Sammy said.
“Just try a pair on, then, how about that. I printed an extra set last Wednesday and they’ve only got a shelf-life of a week, so these’ll only be good for another day. Fresh in a sealed package. You like ‘em. you buy a pair at full price, c’mon that’s as good as you’re going to get.”
Before Sammy knew it, he was taking receipt of a sealed plastic packet in hot pink with a perforated strip down one side. “Uh, thanks…” he said, as he began to tuck it into a pocket. He hated hard-sells, he was no good at them. It was why he bought all his cars online now.
“Naw, that’s not the deal, you got to try them on, otherwise how can you buy them once you fall in love with ‘em? They’re safe man, go on, it’s easy, just like putting in a big contact lens.”
Sammy thought about just walking away, but the other vendors were watching him now, and the scrutiny sapped his will. “My hands are too dirty for this,” he said. The vendor silently passed him a sealed sterile wipe, grinning.
Knowing he was had, he wiped his hands, tore open the package, took out the lenses and popped them one at a time into his eyes. He blinked a couple times. The world was solarized and grey, like he was seeing it through a tinted windscreen.
“Oh man, you look bad-ass,” the vendor said. He held up a hand mirror.
Sammy looked. His eyes were shiny black beads, like a mouse’s eyes, solid save for a subtle tracery of Mickey Mouse heads at the corners. The trademark infringement made him grin, hard and spitless. He looked ten years younger, like those late-teen hipsters whose parents dragged them to Walt Disney World, who showed up in bangbanger threads and sneered and scratched their groins and made loud remarks about how suckballs it all was. His conservative buzz-cut looked more like a retro-skinhead thing, and his smooth-shaved, round cheeks made him boyish.
“Those are good for two days tops—your eyes start getting itchy, you just toss ‘em. You want a pair that’s good for a week, twenty dollah with the Mickeys. I got Donalds and Astro Boys and all kinds of shit, just have a look through my flash book. Some stuff I drew myself, even.”
Playing along now, Sammy let himself be led on a tour of the flash-book, which featured the kind of art he was accustomed to seeing in tattoo parlor windows: skulls and snakes and scorpions and naked ladies. Mickey Mouse giving the finger, Daisy Duck with a strap-on, Minnie Mouse as a dominatrix. The company offered a bounty for turning in trademark infringers, but somehow he doubted that the company lawyers would be able to send this squatter a cease-and-desist letter.
In the end, he bought one of each of the Disney sets.
“You like the mouse, huh?”
“Sure,” he said.
“I never been. Too expensive. This is all the ride I want, right here.” He gestured at the dead Wal-Mart.
“You like that huh?”
“Man, it’s cool! I go on that sometimes, just to see what it’s turned into. I like that it’s always different. And I like that people add their own stuff. It makes me feel, you know…”
Suddenly, the vendor dropped his hard-case bangbanger facade. “Those were the best days of my life. I was building 3D printers, making them run. My older brother liked to fix cars, and so did my old man, but who needs a car, where you going to go? The stuff I built, man, it could make anything. I don’t know why or how it ended, but while it was going, I felt like the king of the goddamned world.”
It felt less fun and ironic now. There were tears bright on the vendor’s black-bead eyes. He was in his mid-twenties, younger than he’d seemed at first. If he’d been dressed like a suburban home-owner, he would have looked like someone smart and accomplished, with lively features and clever hands. Sammy felt obscurely ashamed.
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I spent those years working a straight job, so it didn’t really touch me.”
“That’s your loss, man,” the vendor said. The printer behind him was spitting out the last of Sammy’s contact-lenses, in sealed plastic wrap. The vendor wrapped them up and put them in a brown liquor-store bag.
Sammy plodded through the rest of the market with his paper bag. It was all so depressing. The numbers at Disney World were down, way down, and it was his job to figure out how to bring them up again, without spending too much money. He’d done it before a couple of times, with the live-action role-playing stuff, and with the rebuild of Fantasyland as an ironic goth hangout (being a wholly separate entity from the old Walt Disney Company had its advantages). But to do it a third time—Christ, he had no idea how he’d get there. These weird-ass Wal-Mart squatters had seemed promising, but could you possibly transplant something like this to a high-throughput, professional location-based entertainment product?
The urchins were still in the parking lot with their Roman emperor busts. He held his hands out to ward them off and found himself holding onto a bust of his own head. One of the little rats had gotten a 3D scan of his head while he was walking by and had made the bust on spec. He looked older in Roman emperor guise than he did in his mind’s eye, old and tired, like an emperor in decline.
“Twenty dollah man, twenty, twenty,” the kid said. He was about 12, and still chubby, with long hair that frizzed away from his head in a dandelion halo.
“Ten,” Sammy said, clutching his tired head. It was smooth as epoxy resin, and surprisingly light. There was a lot of different goop you could run through those 3D printers, but whatever they’d used for this, it was featherweight.
The kid looked shrewd. “Twenty dollah and I get rid of these other kids, OK?”
Sammy laughed. He passed the kid a twenty, taking care to tuck his wallet deep into the inside pocket of his jacket. The kid whistled shrilly and the rest of the kids melted away. The entrepreneur made the twenty disappear, tapped the side of his nose, and took off running back into the market stalls.
It was hot and muggy and Sammy was tired, and the drive back to Orlando was another five hours if the traffic was against him—and these days, everything was against him.
<<< Back to Part 12
Continue to Part 14>>>
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As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’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.