Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 42 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

Hilda left Perry after a couple hours working the ticket-booth together. She wanted to go for a shower and a bit of an explore, and it was a secret relief to both of them to get some time apart after all that time living in each others’ pockets. They were intimate strangers still, not yet attuned to each others’ moods and needs for privacy, and a little separation was welcome.

Welcome, too, was Perry’s old post there in at the ticket counter, like Lucy’s lemonade stand in Peanuts. The riders came on thick, a surprising number of them knew his name and wanted to know how his arm was. They were all watching the drama unfold online. They knew about the Brazilian rides coming online and the patch Lester had run. They all felt a proprietary interest in this thing. It made him feel good, but a little weird. He could deal with having friends, and customers, but fans?

When he got off work, he wandered over to the shantytown with a bunch of the vendors, to have a customary after-work beer and plate of ribs. He was about to get his phone out and find Hilda when he spotted her, gnawing on a greasy bone with Suzanne and Eva.

“Well, hello!” he said, delighted, skipping around the barbecue pit to collect a greasy kiss from Hilda, and more chaste but equally greasy pecks on the cheek from Suzanne and Eva. “Looks like you’ve found the best place in town!”

“We thought we’d show her around,” Suzanne said. She and Eva had positioned each other on either side of Hilda, using her as a buffer, but it was great to see that they were on something like speaking terms. Perry had no doubt that Suzanne hadn’t led Kettlewell on (they all had crushes on her, he knew it), but that didn’t mean that Eva wouldn’t resent her anyway. If their positions were reversed, he would have had a hard time controlling his jealousy.

“They’ve been wonderful,” Hilda said, offering him a rib. He introduced her to the market-stall sellers who’d come over with him and there was more greasy handshaking and hugging, and the proprietor of the joint started handing around more ribs, more beers, and someone brought out a set of speakers and suction-cupped their induction-surfaces to a nearby wall, and Perry dropped one of his earbuds into them and set it to shuffle and they had music.

Kids ran past them in shrieking hordes, playing some kind of big game that they’d all been obsessed with. Perry saw that Ada and Lyenitchka were with them, clutching brightly colored mobiles and trying to read their screens while running away from another gang of kids who were clearly “it,” taking exaggerated care not to run into invisible obstacles indicated on the screens.

“It was great to get back into the saddle,” Perry said, digging into some ribs, getting sauce on his fingers. “I had no idea how much I’d been missing it.”

Hilda nodded. “I could tell, anyway. You’re a junkie for it. You’re like the ones who show up all googly-eyed about the ‘story’ that’s supposedly in there. You act like that’s a holy box.”

Suzanne nodded solemnly. “She’s right. The two of you, you and Lester, you’re so into that thing, you’re the biggest fanboys in the world. You know what they call it, the fans, when they get together to chat about the stuff they love? Drooling. As in, ‘Did you see the drool I posted this morning about the new girl’s bedroom scene?’ You drool like no one’s business when you talk about that thing. It’s a holy thing for you.”

“You guys sound like you’ve been comparing notes,” Perry said, making his funny eyebrow dance.

Eva arched one of her fine, high eyebrows in response. In some ways, she was the most beautiful of all of them, the most self-assured and poised. “Of course we were, sonny. Your young lady here needed to know that you aren’t an axe-murderer.” The women’s camaraderie was almost palpable. Suzanne and Eva had clearly patched up whatever differences they’d had, which was probably bad news for Kettlewell.

“Where is Lester, anyway?” He hadn’t planned on asking, but Suzanne’s mention of his name led him to believe he could probably get away with it.

“He’s talking to Brazil,” Suzanne said. “It’s all he’s done, all day long.”

Talking to Brazil. Wow. Perry’d thought of Brazil as a kind of abstract thing, fifty rogue nodes on the network that had necessitated a hurried software patch. Not as a bunch of people. But of course, there they were, in Brazil, real people by the dozens, maybe even hundreds, building rides.

“He doesn’t speak Spanish, though,” Perry said.

“Neither do they, dork,” Hilda said, giving him an elbow in the ribs. “Portuguese.”

“They all speak some English and he’s using automated translation stuff for the hard concepts.”

“Does that work? I mean, any time I’ve tried to translate a web-page in Japanese or Hebrew, it’s kind of read like noun noun noun noun verb noun random.”

Suzanne shook her head. “That’s how most of the world experiences most of the net, Perry. Anglos are just about the only people on earth who don’t read the net in languages other than their own.”

“Well, good for Lester then,” he said.

Suzanne made a sour face that let him know that whatever peace prevailed between her and Lester, it was fragile. “Good for him,” she said.

“Where are the boys?”

“Landon and Tjan have them,” Eva said. “They’ve been holed up with your lawyers going over strategy with them. When I walked out, they were trying to get the firm’s partners to take shares in the corporation that owns the settlement in lieu of cash up front.”

“Man that’s all too weird for me,” Perry said. “I wish we could just run this thing like a business: make stuff people want to give us money for, collect the money, and spend it.”

“You are such a nerd fatalist,” Suzanne said. “Getting involved in the more abstract elements of commerce doesn’t make you into a suit. If you don’t participate and take an interest, you’ll always be out-competed by those who do.”

“Bull,” Perry said. “They can get a court to order us to make pi equal to three, or to ensure that other people don’t make Mickey heads in their rides, or that our riders don’t think of Disney when they get into one of our chairs, but they’ll never be able to enforce it.”

Suzanne suddenly whirled on him. “Perry Gibbons, you aren’t that stupid, so stop acting like you are.” She touched his cast. “Look at this thing on your arm. Your superior technology can not make inferior laws irrelevant. You’re assuming that the machinery of state is unwilling to completely shut you down in order to make you comply with some minor law. You’re totally wrong. They’ll come after you and break your head.”

Perry rocked back on his heels. He was suddenly furious, even if somewhere in his heart of hearts he knew that she was right and he was mostly angry at being shown up in front of Hilda. “I’ve been hearing that all my life, Suzanne. I don’t buy it. Look, it just keeps getting cheaper and easier to make something like what we’ve built. To get a printer, to get goop, to make stuff, to download stuff, to message and IM with people who’ll help you make stuff. To learn how to make it. Look, the world is getting better because we’re getting better at routing around the bullies. We can play their game, or we can invent a new game.

“I refuse to be sucked into playing their game. If we play their game, we end up just like them.”

Suzanne shook her head sadly. “It’s a good thing you’ve got Tjan and Kettlewell around then, to do the dirty work. I just hope you can spare them a little pity from atop your moral high-ground.”

She took Eva by the arm and led her away, leaving Perry, shaking, with Hilda.

“Bitch,” he said, kicking the ground. He balled his hands into fists and then quickly relaxed them as his broken arm ground and twinged from the sudden tensing.

Hilda took him by the arm. “You two clearly have a lot of history.”

He took a couple deep breaths. “She was so out of line there. What the hell, anyway? Why should I have to—” He stopped. He could tell when he was repeating himself.

“I don’t think that she would be telling you that stuff if she didn’t think you needed to hear it.”

“You sound like you’re on her side. I thought you were a fiery young revolutionary. You think we should all put on suits and incorporate?”

“I think that if you’ve got skilled people willing to help you, you owe it to them to value their contribution. I’ve heard you complain about ‘suits’ twenty times in the past week. Two of those suits are on your side. They’re putting themselves on the line, just like you. Hell, they’re doing the shit-work while you get to do all the inventing and fly around the country and get laid by hot groupies.”

She kissed his cheek, trying to make a joke of it, but she’d really hurt his feelings. He felt like weeping. It was all out of his control. His destiny was not his to master.

“OK, let’s go apologize to Kettlewell and Tjan.”

She laughed, but he’d only been halfway kidding. What he really wanted to do was have a big old dinner at home with Lester, just the two of them in front of the TV, eating Lester’s fatkins cuisine, planning a new invention. He was tired of all these people. Even Suzanne was an outsider. It had just been him and Lester in the old days, and those had been the best days.

Hilda put her arm around his shoulders and nuzzled his neck. “Poor Perry,” she said. “Everyone picks on him.”

He smiled in spite of himself.

“Come on, sulkypants, let’s go find Lester and he can call me ‘Yoko’ some more. That always cheers you up.”

<<< Back to Part 41

Continue to Part 43>>>

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 index page.


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