Makers

Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 39 (of 81)

Illustration by Idiots’Books

Perry got them a cab straight from the airport to the ride. Sweating in the suffocating afternoon heat, his re-casted arm on fire, Hilda had shown him the article about Death Waits while they were being screened for their connection at O’Hare. The TSA guy was swabbing his cast with a black-powder residue detector, and as Perry read it, he let out an involuntary yelp and a jump that sent him back for a full round of tertiary screening. No date with Dr. Jellyfinger, though it was a close thing.

Hilda was deep in her own phone, probing ferociously at it, occasionally picking it up and talking into it, then poking at it some more. Neither of them looked out the windows much, though in his mind, Perry had rehearsed this homecoming as a kind of tour of his territory, picking out which absurd landmarks he’d point out, which funny stories he’d tell, pausing to nuzzle Hilda’s throat.

But by the time he’d absorbed the mailing-list traffic and done a couple phoners with the people back in Madison— particularly Ernie, who was freaking about Death Waits and calling for tight physical security for all their people— they were pulling in at the ride. The cabbie, a Turk, wasn’t very cool about the neighborhood, and he kept slowing down on the side of the road and offering to let them out there, and Perry kept insisting that he take them all the way.

“No, you can’t just drop me here, man. For the tenth time, I’ve got a fucking cast on my broken arm. I’m not carrying my suitcase a mile from here. I live there. It’s safe. God, it’s not like I’m asking you to take me to a war-zone.”

He didn’t want to tip the guy, but he did. The cabbie was just trying to play it safe. Lots of people tried to play it safe. It didn’t make them assholes, even if it did make them ineffectual and useless.

While Perry tipped him, Hilda pulled the suitcase out of the cab’s trunk and she’d barely had time to shut the lid when the driver roared off like he was trying to outrun a sniper.

Perry grimaced. This was supposed to be a triumphant homecoming. He was supposed to be showing off his toys, all he’d wrought, to this girl. The town was all around them and they were about to charge in without even pausing to consider its Dr Seuss wonderment.

“Wait a sec,” Perry said. He took her hand. “See that? That was the first shanty they built. Five stories now.” The building was made of prefab concrete for the first couple stories, then successively lighter materials, with the roof-shack made of bamboo. “The designs are experimental, from the Army Corps of Engineers mostly, but they say they’ll stand a force-five hurricane.” He grimaced again. “Probably not the bamboo one, of course.”

“Of course,” Hilda said. “What’s that one?” She’d picked up on his mood, she knew he wanted to show her around before they ended up embroiled in ride-politics and work again.”

“You’ve got a good eye, my dear. That’s the finest BBQ on the continent. See how the walls are a little sooty looking? That’s carbonized ambrosia, a mix of fat and spice and hickory that you could scrape off and bottle as perfume.”

“Eww.”

“You haven’t tried Lemarr’s ribs yet,” he said, and goosed her. She squeaked and punched him in the shoulder. He showed her the tuck-shops, the kids playing, the tutor’s place, the day-care center, the workshops, taking her on a grand-circle tour of this place he’d help conjure into existence.

“Now there’s someone I haven’t seen in far too long,” Francis said. He’d aged something fierce in the last year, booze making his face subside into a mess of wrinkles and pouches and broken blood-vessels. He gave Perry a hard hug that smelled of booze, and it wasn’t even lunchtime.

“Francis, meet Hilda Hammersen; Hilda, meet Francis Clammer: aerospace engineer and gentleman of leisure.”

He took her hand and feinted a kiss at it, and Hilda good-naturedly rolled her eyes at this.

“What do you think of our lovely little settlement, then, Ms Hammersen?”

“It’s like something out of a fairy-tale,” she said. “You hear stories about Christiania and how good and peaceful it all was, but whenever you see squatters on TV, it’s always crack houses and drive-bys. You’ve really got something here.”

Francis nodded. “We get a bad rap, but we’re no different really from any other place where people take pride in what they own. I built my place, with my two hands. If Jimmy Carter had been there with Habitat for Humanity, we would have gotten no end of good press. Because we did it without a dead ex-president on the scene, we’re crooks. Perry tell you about what the law does around here?’

Perry nodded. “Yeah. She knows.”

Francis patted his cast. “Nice hardware, buddy. So when some Bible-thumping do-gooder gives you a leg up, you’re a folk-hero. Help yourself, you’re a CHUD. It’s the same with you people and your ride. If you had the backing of a giant corporation with claws sunk deep into kids’ brains, you’d be every package-tour operator’s wet dream. Build it yourself in the guts of a dead shopping center, and you’re some kind of slimy underclass.”

“Maybe that’s true,” said Hilda. “But it’s not necessarily true. Back in Madison, the locals love us, they think we do great stuff. After the law came after us, they came by with food and money and helped us rebuild. Scrappy activists get a lot of love in this country, too. Not everyone wants a big corporation to spoon-feed them.”

“Off in hippie college-towns you’ll always find people with enough brains to realize that their neighbors aren’t the boogieman. But there ain’t so many hippie college towns these days. I wish you two luck, but I think you’d be nuts to walk out the door in the morning expecting anything better than a kick in the teeth.”

That made Perry think of Death Waits, and the sense of urgency came back to him. “OK, we have to go now,” he said. “Thanks, Francis.”

“Nice to meet you, young woman,” he said, and when he smiled, it was a painful thing, all pouches and wrinkles and sags, and he gimped away with his limp more pronounced than ever.

They tracked down the crew at the tea-house’s big table. Everyone roared greetings at them when they came through the door, a proper homecoming, but when Perry counted heads, he realized that there was no one watching the ride.

“Guys, who’s running the ride?”

They told him about Brazil then, and Hilda listened with her head cocked, her face animated with surprise, dismay, then delight. “You say there are fifty rides open?”

“All at once,” Lester said. “All in one go.”

“Holy mother of poo,” Hilda breathed. Perry couldn’t even bring himself to say anything. He couldn’t even imagine Brazil in his head—jungles? beaches? He knew nothing about the country. They’d built fifty rides, without even making contact with him. He and Lester had designed the protocol to be open because they thought it would make it easier for others to copy what they’d done, but he’d never thought—

It was like vertigo, that feeling.

“So you’re Yoko, huh?” Lester said finally. It made everyone smile, but the tension was still there. Something big had just happened, bigger than any of them, bigger than the beating that had been laid on Death Waits, bigger than anything Perry had ever done. From his mind to a nation on another continent—

“You’re the sidekick, huh?” Hilda said.

Lester laughed. “Touche. It’s very nice to meet you and thank you for bringing him back home. We were starting to miss him, though God alone knows why.”

“I plan on keeping him,” she said, giving his bicep a squeeze. It brought Perry back to them. The little girls were staring at Hilda with saucer eyes. It made him realize that except for Suzanne and Eva, their whole little band was boys, all boys.

“Well, I’m home now,” he said. He knelt down and showed the girls his cast. “I got a new one,” he said. “They had to throw the old one out. So I need your help decorating this. Do you think you could do the job?”

Lyenitchka looked critically at the surface. “I think we could do the gig,” she said. “What do you think, partner?”

Tjan snorted out his nose, but she was so solemn that the rest kept quiet. Ada matched Lyenitchka’s critical posture and then nodded authoritatively. “Sure thing, partner.”

“It’s a date,” Perry said. “We’re gonna head home and put down our suitcases and come back and open the ride if it’s ready. It’s time Lester got some time off. I’m sure Suzanne will appreciate having him back again.”

Another silence fell over the group, tense as a piano wire. Perry looked from Lester to Suzanne and saw in a second what was up. He had time to notice that his first emotional response was to be intrigued, not sorry or scared. Only after a moment did he have the reaction he thought he should have—a mixture of sadness for his friend and irritation that they had yet another thing to deal with in the middle of a hundred other crises.

Hilda broke the tension—“It was great to meet you all. Dinner tonight, right?”

“Absolutely,” Kettlewell said, seizing on this. “Leave it to us—we’ll book someplace just great and have a great dinner to welcome you guys back.”

Eva took his arm. “That’s right,” she said. “I’ll get the girls to pick it out.” The little girls jumped up and down with excitement at this, and the baby brothers caught their excitement and made happy kid-screeches that got everyone smiling again.

Perry gave Lester a solemn, supportive hug, kissed Suzanne and Eva on the cheeks (Suzanne smelled good, something like sandalwood), shook hands with Tjan and Kettlewell and tousled all four kids before lighting out for the ride, gasping out a breath as they stepped into the open air.

<<< Back to Part 38

Continue to Part 40>>>

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.


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

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