Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 28 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

As it turned out, his prison infirmary time didn’t last long at all. Kettlewell had faded fast from the riot, headed back to the guesthouse and got the lawyers on the phone. He’d shown them the stream off of Perry’s phone and they were in front of a judge before Perry reached the jail.

Perry was led out of the infirmary with his arm in a sling. His face was still painfully swollen, and he’d managed to turn an ankle as well. At least his hearing was coming back.

Kettlewell took Perry’s good arm and gave him a soulful hug that embarrassed him. Kettlewell led him outside, to where a big cab was waiting. In it were the family Kettlewell, Lester, and Suzanne. Lester had a couple bandages taped to his face and when Suzanne smiled, he saw her lips were stained red and one of her front teeth had been knocked out.

He managed a brave smile. “Looks like you guys got the full treatment, huh?”

Suzanne squeezed his hand. “Nothing that can’t be fixed.” Ada and Pascal looked goggle-eyed at them. Ada was popping Korean lotus-bean walnut cakes into her mouth from a greasy paper bag, and she offered them silently to Perry, who took one just to be polite, but found after the first bite that he wasn’t really hungry after all.

Kettlewell and Perry fought about what to do next, but Kettlewell prevailed. He took them to a private doctor who photographed them and examined them and x-rayed them, documenting everything while Ada Kettlewell played camera-woman with her phone, videoing it all.

“I don’t think suing the police is going to help, Landon,” Perry said. Suzanne nodded vigorously. The three victims were in paper examining gowns, and the Kettlewells were still in street clothes, which gave them a real advantage in the self-confidence department.

“It’ll help if we cash out a big settlement—it’ll bankroll our defense against the Disney trademark claims. IP lawyers charge more than God per hour. I got the injunction lifted, but we’re still going to have to go to court, and that’s not going to be cheap.”

It needled Perry—he didn’t like the idea of being embroiled in the legal system in the first place, and while he could grudgingly admit a certain elegance in using cash settlements from the law to fund their defense in court, the whole business made him squirm.

Eva sat down beside him. “I can tell this sucks for you, Perry.” Ada whispered the word sucks and giggled, and Eva rolled her eyes. “But there’s fifty people we didn’t bail out in there, who are all of them going to have to figure out their own way through the legal system. You can’t run a business if your customers risk a solid beating and jail time just for showing up.”

I don’t want to run a business, he thought, but he knew that was petulant. He was the man with the roll of bills down his pants. “There are fifty people still in the slam?”

Kettlewell nodded. Suzanne had her camera out and she was recording. It had been a long time since Perry had really felt the camera’s eye on him. It was one thing to be recorded by some friends for remembrance, but now Suzanne’s camera seemed like the gaze of posterity. He needed to rise to it, he knew.

“Let’s get them out. All of them.”

Kettlewell raised his eyebrows. “And how do you plan on doing that?”

“We’ll charge it to the business,” Perry said. Lester chuckled and gave him a thump on the back. “It’s a legit expense—these are our customers after all.”

Kettlewell shook his head at all of them, then he left the doctor’s office. He already had his phone stuck to his head and was talking with the lawyer before he got out of earshot.

Perry and Lester and Suzanne and Eva exchanged mischievous glances, grinning with unexpected delight. Pascal, riding on Eva’s hip, woke up and started crying and Eva handed him to Lester while she went for the diaper bag.

“Here we go again,” Lester said, wrinkling his nose and holding the wailing Pascal at arm’s length.

Suzanne got it all with her phone, then she flipped it shut and gave Lester a hard kiss on the cheek.

“Fatherhood would suit you,” she said.

He went bright red. “Don’t you get any ideas,” he said. Suzanne laughed and skipped away, looking all of ten.

Perry felt huge. Larger than life. The adventure was beginning anew, with these good people whom he loved like family. He had the work and the people, and who needed anything more.

It was a feeling that lasted all the way back to the ride.

But then he surveyed the ride itself and found it in utter ruins, far worse than it had been left when he’d been dragged out of it. Every single exhibit was smashed, strewn here and there.

He couldn’t believe it. He brought up the clean-up lights, flooding the place, and then he saw what he’d missed at first: the smashed exhibits were not smashed exhibits—they were replicas of smashed exhibits. At every ride in the country, police had gone in smashing, and every other ride in the country had faithfully reproduced the damage, dutiful printers churning out replica detritus and dutiful robots placing it with micrometer precision.

He began to laugh and couldn’t stop. Lester came in and immediately got the joke and laughed along with him. They managed to stop laughing just long enough to explain it to Suzanne and Kettlewell, who didn’t find it nearly as funny as they did. Suzanne took pictures.

Finally he got down to business, opening the change-log and rolling the ride back through the “revisions” to its unsmashed state. It would take the robots a long time to set everything right again, but at least he didn’t have to oversee it.

Instead, he tracked down as many of the market-stall vendors as he could locate in the shantytown and made sure they were all right—they were, though they’d lost some inventory. He comped them all a month’s rent and made sure they knew that steps were being taken to keep it from happening again. He knew that they could make nearly as much money selling from a roadside or online, and he wanted to keep them happy. Besides, it wasn’t their fault.

He was exhausted and his arm was really starting to gripe him. He found himself stopping in the street every few steps to rub his eyes and force himself on. Francis came on him when he was like that, leaning against the prefab concrete wall of one of the tall, twisty shanties, and he took Perry’s car-keys away and drove him home. Perry was in too much of a state by the time he got there to think about how Francis would get back—he was already lying in bed before it occurred to him that the old man with the gimpy leg probably walked the ten miles home.

He woke up later that night to sex noises from Lester’s room and he recognized Suzanne’s voice. Later, he woke again to hear the tail end of another argument between Lester and Suzanne, and then Suzanne storming out of the apartment. Oh, goody, he thought. He lay on his back, trying to find sleep again—the clock said 3AM—and found thoughts of Hilda drifting unbidden into his mind.

It was silly—they’d only spent one night together, and he had to admit that as great as the sex had been, he’d had better with the fatkins gymnasts you could pick up down on South Beach. She was too young for him. She lived in Wisconsin. But there were touches in the ride that had originated with her instantiation—he looked over the logs every now and then—and he found himself contemplating them with sentimental smiles.

He fell asleep again and only woke when he rolled over on his bad arm and yelped himself awake. The smell of waffles, bacon and eggs was strong in the apartment. He couldn’t be bothered to figure out how to shower with his cast on, so he pulled on a pair of shorts and let himself into the living room.

Lester was at the stove, cooking up half a pig and pouring maple batter into the waffle-iron. He waved a spatula at him and pointed out at the terrace. Perry stepped out and saw Suzanne and Tjan and Tjan’s little kids—what were their names? Lyenitchka and the little boy? Man, the whole family was here.

“Your arm is broken,” Lyenitchka said, pointing at him.

Perry nodded gravely. “That’s true. Want to sign my cast?” He was pretty sure that he had a grease-pencil that would mark the surface, though the hospital had sworn that it would shed dirt, ink and anything else he threw at it.

She nodded vigorously. Tjan looked him over and gave a little wave, then Perry went back into the living room and asked his computer to find the grease-pencil.

“Thought you’d be busy in Boston,” he said, while Lyenitchka painstaking spelled out her name, going over the letters to get them to show up dark—the cast surface really didn’t want to suck up any tint.

“Boston came out OK. We had lawyers on tap at the start and the vibe was cool. I incorporated there, so it was easier than you guys had it. But some of the others were hit bad, like San Francisco and Madison.”

Madison?” Perry was alarmed by how alarmed he sounded.

“Mass arrests. The cops there are real hard-cases, with all this antipersonnel gear left over from the stem-cell riots.”

Perry jerked and spoiled Lyenitchka’s writing. He patted her head and set his arm back down where she could get at it. He groaned.

“They’re mostly still in. We’re trying to get them bailed out, but the judge at the arraignment set bail pretty high.”

“I’ll post it,” Perry said. “I can put up my savings or something…”

Tjan looked uncomfortable. “Perry, there are 250 people in the lockup in Wisconsin. Some of them are going to skip out, it’s nearly a certainty. If you bail them all out, you’ll go broke. I mean, it’s good to see you and I’m sorry you got hurt and all respect, but don’t be an idiot.”

Perry felt himself go belligerent. His hands went into fists and his broken wing protested. That brought him back to reality. He forced himself to smile.

“There’s a girl in Madison, I want to make sure she’s OK.”

Tjan and Suzanne stared at him for a second. Then Lester clapped him across the back from behind him, startling him and making him squeak. “Big fella!” he crowed. “I should have known.”

Perry gave him a mock glare. “You have no right to say anything on this score.” He darted a glance at Suzanne and saw that she was blushing. Tjan took this in and nodded, as though his suspicions had just been confirmed.

“Fair enough,” Tjan said. “Let’s make some inquiries about the young lady. What’s her name?”

“Hilda Hammersen.”

Tjan’s eyebrows shot up. “Hilda Hammersen? From the mailing lists? That Hilda?”

Hilda was the queen of the mailing lists—brash, quick, and argumentative, but never the kind of person who started flamewars. Hilda’s arguments were hot and fast, and she always won. Perry had watched her admiringly from the sidelines, only weighing in occasionally, but he seemed to remember now that she’d taken Tjan to the cleaners once on an issue of protocol resolution.

“That’s the one,” Perry said.

“I always pictured her as being about fifty, with a machete between her teeth,” Lester said. “No offense.”

“Lyenitchka, go get my phone from my bed-stand,” Perry said, patting the girl on the shoulder. When she got back he went through his photos of Hilda with them.

Lester made a wolf-whistle and Suzanne punched him in the shoulder and took the phone away.

“She’s very pretty,” Suzanne said, disapprovingly. “And very young.”

“Oh yes, dating younger people is so sleazy,” Lester said with a chuckle. Suzanne squirmed and even Perry had to laugh.

“Guys, here it is. I need to spring Hilda, and we need to do something about all those customers and supporters and so on who went to jail today. We need to fight all the injunctions—all of them—and prevent them from recurring.”

“And we need to eat breakfast, which is ready,” Lester said, gesturing at the table behind him, which was stacked high with waffles, sausages, eggs, toast, and pitchers of juice and carafes of coffee.

Lyenitchka and Sasha looked at each other and ran to the table, taking seats next to one another. The adults followed and soon they were eating. Perry managed a waffle and a sausage, but then he went off to his room. Hilda was in the slam in Madison, and who the hell knew what the antipersonnel stuff the Madison cops used had done to her. He just wanted to get on a fucking plane and go there.

Halfway through his shower, he knew that that was what he was going to do. He packed a shoulder-bag, took a couple more painkillers, and walked out into the living room.

“Guys, I’m going to Madison. I’ll be back in a day or two. We’ll work everything out over the phone, OK?”

Lester and Suzanne came over to him. “You going to be OK, buddy?” Lester said.

“I’ll be fine,” he said.

“We can spring her from here,” Tjan said. “We have the Internet, you know.”

“I know,” Perry said. “You do that, OK? And tell her I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

The security at the airport went bonkers over him. The perfect storm: a fresh arrest, a suspicious cast, and a ticket bought with cash. He missed the first two flights to Chicago, but by mid-afternoon he was landing at O’Hare and submitting to an interim screening procedure before boarding for Madison. His phone rang in the middle of the screening, and the wrinkly old TSA goon-lady primly informed him that he might as well get that since once the phone rings, they have to start the procedure over again.

“Tjan,” he said.

“They can’t spring her today. Tomorrow, though.”

He closed his eyes and shut out the TSA goon. She had a huge bouffant of copper hair, and a midwesterner’s sense of proportionality when it came to eye-shadow and rouge. She was the kind of woman who could call you “honey” and make it sound like “Islamofascist faggot.”

“Why not, Tjan?”

There was a pause. “She’s in the infirmary and they won’t release her until tomorrow.”


“Nothing serious—she took a knock on the head and they want to hold her for observation.”

He pictured a copper’s electrified billy-club coming down on shining blond hair and felt like throwing up.

“Perry? Buddy. She’s OK, really. I had our lawyer visit her in the prison infirmary and she swears she looks great. The lawyer’s name is Candice—she’ll meet you at the airport. OK?”

“Why is she in the prison infirmary, Tjan? Why can’t she be moved to a real hospital?”

“It’s just a liability thing. The police don’t want to risk the suit if she goes complicated on them between hospitals.”


“Seriously, she’s fine. We’ve got a good lawyer on the scene.”

But Perry had a bad feeling. The TSA goon picked up on it and gave him a little bit of extra attention. Acting nervous or agitated in an airport was a one-way ticket to a cavity search.

But then he was lifting off and headed for Madison, and though the time crawled on the one-hour flight, it was, after all, only an hour. He even napped briefly, though a sky marshall woke him shortly after for a random bag-search. His fellow passengers—badly dressed midwesterners and a couple of hipster students—all turned their bags out in the cramped cabin and then got back in their seats for the landing.

Perry had meant to phone in a car reservation at O’Hare, but the extra search had eaten up the time he’d allocated for it, and now all the rental counters were sold out. Reluctantly, he got into a taxi and asked the driver to take him to the office of the lawyers that Tjan had hired.

The cabbie was a young African kid with a shaved head. He had a dent in one temple and more dents in one of his wrists, visible as he let his long hands drape over the steering wheel.

“I know where it is,” he said when Perry gave him the address. “That lawyer, she is very good. She helped me with the Homeland Security.”

The kid was young, 21 or 22, with a studious air, despite his old injuries. They reminded Perry of the shantytowners, people who didn’t always get medical attention for their ailments, people who were often missing a tooth or two, who had mysterious lumps from badly-set bones or scars or funny eyebrows like his. The midwesterners on the plane had been flawless as action-figures, but Perry’s friends and this African kid looked like something carved out of coal and chalk.

Perry was one big jitter from the trip and the coffee and the pills for his arm, but he found himself drawn into conversation as they whizzed past the fields and malls, the factories and office-parks.

“I’m from Gulu, in Uganda. There has been civil war there for thirty five years. I studied chemical engineering through the African Virtual University wiki-program, and qualified for a Chavez scholarship here in Madison.” His accent was light but exotic, the African rolling of the Rs, the British-sounding vowel-shifts. “But the Homeland Security didn’t want to renew my visa last year. They said I had financial irregularities. I was paypalling to a friend in Kampala who withdrew it in shillings and sent it to my family in giros. Homeland Security said that I was money laundering. I thought I’d be sent away or put in prison, but Ms Candice wrote them a letter and they vanished.” He snapped his long, knuckly fingers for emphasis.

“Jesus. Well, that’s good. She’s going to help me get my girlfriend out of jail.” Perry realized he’d just called Hilda his girlfriend, which would be news to her, but there it was.

“You don’t need to worry. She’ll get your friend free.”

Perry nodded and tried to close his eyes and relax. He couldn’t. What the hell had happened to the world. It had seemed so exciting when his father was bringing home new shapes he’d spun off his CAD/CAM rig. When Perry had started to trade designs with people, to effortlessly find people on the net who wanted to collaborate with him and vice-versa. When Perry had started a business making cool art out of free junk and selling it off an Internet connection that was likewise free.

Free, free, free. No need to talk to a government, or grovel for a curator, or put up with an agent or a boss. He’d just assumed all along that he’d end up living in a world where all those parasites and bullies and middlemen would just blow away in the wind.

But they’d all found jobs in the new world. They weren’t needed anymore, but that didn’t mean that they went away. Now they were wanding him in airports and suing him for trademark infringement and busting his girlfriend and breaking his arm and giving hassle to this poor African kid who’d taught himself to be an engineer with a ferchrissakes wiki.

He dry-swallowed another pain-killer and then remembered that taking the pills meant he wouldn’t be able to get a drink, which he could sure as shit use.

“My name’s Perry,” he said.

“Richard,” the driver said. “We’re almost there, Perry. I wish you the very best of luck.”

“You too,” he said. The driver shook his hand warmly after getting his luggage out of the trunk, a limp handshake by North American standards, but gentle and friendly nonetheless. His dented wrist flexed oddly as the half-knit bones there moved.

The lawyer’s office was not what Perry was expecting. It looked like someone’s living room, with a couple of overstuffed sofas, a dozing cat, and the lawyer, Candice, who was a young-looking woman in her mid-twenties. She dressed in jeans and an oversized WSU sweatshirt, with a laptop perched on one knee. She had a friendly, open face, framed with lots of curly brown hair.

“You must be Perry,” she said, setting the laptop down and giving him an unexpected hug. “That was from Hilda. I saw her a couple hours ago. She was very adamant that I pass it on to you.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said, accepting a cup of tea from an insulated jug on a cardboard side-board. “Hilda is all right?”

“Sit down,” the lawyer said.

Perry’s stomach turned a somersault. “Hilda’s all right?”


Perry sat.

“She was gassed with a neurotoxin that has given her a temporary but severe form of Parkinson’s disease. Normally it just renders people immobile, but one in a million has a reaction like this. It’s just bad luck that Hilda was one of them.”

“She was gassed?”

“They all were. There was a hell of a fight, as I understand it. It really looks like it was the cops’ fault. Someone told them that there were printed guns in the ride-location and they used extreme and disproportionate force.”

“I see,” Perry said. His blood whooshed in his ears. Printed guns? No frigging way. Sure, ray-guns in some of the exhibits. But nothing that fired anything. He felt tears begin to stream down his face. The lawyer moved to his sofa and put her arm around his shoulders.

“She’s going to be fine,” Candice said. “The Parkinson’s is rare, but it goes away in 100 percent of the the cases where it occurs. What this means is that we’ve got an amazing chance of taking a huge bite out of the local law that we can use to fund future defense. Tjan told me that that’s the strategy and I think it’s sound. Plus the harder we hit the law today, the more reluctant they’ll be to rush off half-cocked the next time someone trumps up a BS trademark claim. It could be much worse, Perry. There’s a kid who lost an eye to a rubber bullet.”

Perry fisted the tears away. “Let’s go get her,” he said.

“They say she shouldn’t be moved,” Candice said.

“What does our doctor say?”

“I phoned a couple MDs this afternoon and got conflicting stories. Everyone agrees that not moving her is safer than moving her, though. The only disagreement is about how dangerous it would be to move her.”

“Let’s go see her, then.”

“That we can do.”

Perry had trouble with the search at the prison hospital. His cast and their scanners didn’t get along and they couldn’t be satisfied with a hand search. For a couple minutes it looked like he was going to be kept out, but Candice—who had changed into a power-suit before they left the office—put on a stern voice and demanded to speak to the duty sergeant, and then to his commanding officer, and in ten minutes, they were on the hospital ward, where the metal-railed beds had prisoners handcuffed to them.

“Hilda?” She looked sunken and sick, her face slack and her jaw askew. Her eyes opened and rolled crazily, they focused on him. Her body shook through two waves of tremors before she was able to raise a shaking hand toward him, trailing IV tubes. She was trying to say his name, but it wouldn’t come out, just a series of plosive Ps.

But then he took her hand and felt its fine warmth, the calluses he remembered from all those months ago, and he felt better. Actually better. Felt some peace for the first time in a long time.

“Hello, Hilda,” he said, and he was smiling so broadly his face hurt, and tears were running down his cheeks and dripping off his nose and running into his mouth. She was weeping, too, her head vibrating like a bobble-doll. He bent over her and took her head in his hands, burying them in her thick blond hair, and kissed her on the lips. She shook under him, but she kissed him back, he could feel her lips move on his.

They kissed for a long time. He subconsciously took note of the fact that Candice had moved back, giving them some privacy. When the kiss broke, he had an overwhelming desire to tell her he loved her, but they hadn’t taken that step yet, and maybe a prison hospital bed wasn’t the right place to make pronouncements of love.

“I love you,” he said softly, in her ear, kissing the lobe. “I love you, Hilda.”

She cried harder, and made choking sobs. He hugged her as hard as he dared. Candice came back and stood by them.

“They think that she’ll be better in the morning. She’s already much better off than she was just a couple hours ago. Sleep’s the only thing for it. They’ve got her mildly sedated, too.”

Hilda smelled like he remembered, the undersmell beneath her shampoo and the chemicals clinging to her hair. It took him back to their night together, and he stroked her cheek.

“I’ll stay here,” he said.

“I don’t think that they’re going to let you do that, Perry. This is a prison, not a hospital.”

“I’ll stay here,” he said again. “Just make it happen, OK? We’re going to sue them into a smoking hole, right? That’s got to give us some leverage. I’ll stay here.”

She sighed and looked at him for a long time, but he wouldn’t take his eyes off of Hilda. His broken arm throbbed and he was out of painkillers. They’d have painkillers here.

Candice went away, and then, a while later, she came back. “Stay here,” she said. “I’ll come and get you in the morning.”

“Thanks,” he said. Then he thought that he should say something more, and he turned around, but the lawyer had gone.

He fell asleep holding Hilda’s hand with his good hand, and woke up with an unbelievable pain in his broken arm and couldn’t find a nurse. He bit down on the pain and spent a long watch that night staring at Hilda, thinking of all she meant to him and how weird it was that she meant so much when they’d had so brief a moment together. They hadn’t let him bring his phone in, or he’d have taken a thousand pictures of her face in repose. He nodded off again.

He woke when she did, stirring in her bed. Her movements were still weak and feeble, but they lacked the uncontrolled tremors of the night before. He leaned in for a kiss, not caring about his sour breath or hers.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Morning, gorgeous,” she said, and took him in a soft, sleepy hug.

Candice sprung them and took them across town to her doctor, a young man who took great care in examining Hilda, explaining patiently which fluids he was drawing and which tests he planned on running on them. Perry had noticed that midwesterners came in two flavors: big Scandinavian Aryans with giant shoulders and easy smiles, and exchange students and immigrants in varying shades of brown, who looked hurt and bent alongside of the natives—looked like the people he knew from back home, people who didn’t have ready access to medical care or good nutrition in their formative years.

The doctor was Vietnamese, but he was at least a couple generations in, judging by his accent, and he had the same midwestern smile and seemed big and bulky compared with the Vietnamese people Perry knew in Florida. He watched the man peer intently at a screen after taping some electrodes to Hilda’s head, and felt like he’d come to some land of Norse giants.

The doctor eventually told Hilda to go home and rest, and she promised she would. Perry and she got into the back of Candice’s car and cuddled up to one another, dozing. It wasn’t until Perry got back with her to her apartment—every stick of furniture made from clever cardboard—and emptied out his pockets that he remembered to switch his phone on again.

He was down to his boxers and she was in cotton PJs with sexy cowgirls printed on them, and when he powered the phone up, it went bonkers, lighting up like a Christmas tree, vibrating, and making urgent bleats.

“Shit,” he said, and began to sort through the alerts while his back and neck muscles tightened. He sat on the edge of the bed and prodded at the phone with his right hand, holding it awkwardly in his left hand, trying to work around the cast. Hilda took the phone and held it for him so he could work more freely and they both read what was going on.

A second round of lawsuits had been filed that night, and the injunctions had been reinstated. The story about the rides being a source of printed arms and munitions had spread, and in San Francisco the ride had been taken apart by Homeland Security bomb robots that had detonated several key pieces of equipment. Three of the San Francisco ride-crew ended up in the hospital after clashes with overreacting cops.

Hilda nodded and took the phone from him and set it down.

“Right, what’s the game-plan?”

“How should I know?” Perry said. He could hear the whine in his voice. “I just build stuff. Tjan and Candice say that they think we can sue the cops over the brutality and use the money to fund legal defenses, but Disney’s denial-of-service attacking us in the courtroom. They’re also getting all this destruction dealt to us by the cops.”

“You know how you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Let’s break this down into small component pieces and work on solutions to them, then call up the troops and let them know what’s going on. I’ll get a conference call set up while we chat.”

She was still moving slowly and weakly, and he tried to get her to put down her laptop and rest, but she wasn’t having any of it.

And so they worked, dividing the problem up into manageable pieces: incorporating a nonprofit co-op, writing the by-laws, getting the word out through the press, re-opening the rides, putting together scrapbooks of the carnage wrought.

It all seemed do-able once it was reduced to its component parts. Perry put it all online and then conferenced Tjan and Kettlewell in.

“Perry, do you think it’s a good idea to tell our enemies how we plan to respond to them?”

Hilda shook her head and put a hand on Perry’s good arm to calm him down before he answered Kettlewell. “That’s how we do it over on our side. Their side is all about secrecy. Our side trades the advantage of surprise for the advantage of openness. You watch—by tonight we’ll have by-laws drafted, press-releases, exhaustive documentation. You watch.”

On the screen, Lester’s face suddenly hove into view, fish-eye distorted by his proximity to the lens. Hilda gave an amused squeak and pulled back.

“So that’s Yoko, huh?” Lester said, grinning. “Cute! Listen guys, don’t let these suits talk you out of what you’re doing. This is the right thing. I’m on all the message boards and stuff and they’re all champing to do something for real.”

“Yoko?” Hilda said. She raised an adorable eyebrow.

“Just a figure of speech,” Lester said. “I’m Lester. You must be Hilda. Perry’s told us practically nothing about you, which is probably a sign of something or other.”

Hilda regarded Perry with mock coolness. “Oh really?”

“Lester,” Perry said. “I love you like a brother. Shut the fuck up already.”

Lester made a little whipping motion. Suddenly he was gone from the picture, and they saw Suzanne pulling him away by one ear. Hilda snorted. “I like her,” she said. Suzanne gave them a wave and Tjan and Kettlewell came back into frame.

They made their goodbyes and hung up. Now Hilda and Perry were alone, together, in her bedroom, laptops shut, day done—though it was hardly gone noon—and the silence stretched.

“Thanks for coming, Perry,” she said.

“I—” He broke off. He didn’t know what to say. They had only known each other for a day, only had a one-night stand. She probably thought that he was a giant creep. “I was worried.” he said. “Um. You should probably rest up some more, right?”

He got up and headed for the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she said.

“Figured I’d let you rest,” he said with a half-shrug.

“Get in this bed this instant, young man,” she said, slapping the bed beside her. “And get those stinky clothes off before you do—I won’t have you getting my sheets all covered in your travel-grime.”

He felt the foolish grin spread across his face and he skinned out of his clothes as fast as he could with his cast on.

<<< Back to Part 27

Continue to Part 29 >>>




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



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