Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 43 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

It was two weeks before Death Waits could sit up and prod at a keyboard with his broken hands. Some of his pals brought a laptop around and they commandeered a spare dining tray to keep it on—Death’s lap was in no shape to support anything heavy with sharp corners.

The first day, he was reduced to tears of frustration within minutes of starting. He couldn’t use the shift key, couldn’t really use the mouse—and the meds made it hard to concentrate and remember what he’d done.

But there were people on the other end of that computer, human friends whom he could communicate with if only he could re-learn to use this tool that he’d lived with since he was old enough to sit up on his own.

So laboriously, peck by peck, key by key, he learned to use it again. The machine had a mode for disabled people, for cripples, and once he hit on this, it went faster. The mode tried to learn from him, learn his tremors and mis-keys, his errors and cursing, and so emerge something that was uniquely his interface. It was a kind of a game to watch the computer try to guess what was meant by his mashed keystrokes and spastic pointer-movements—he turned on the webcam and aimed it at his eye, and switched it to retinal scanner mode, giving it control of the pointer, then watched in amusement as the formerly wild leaping of the cursor every time a needle or a broken bone shifted inside his body was becalmed into a graceful, normalized curve.

It was humiliating to be a high-tech cripple and the better the technology worked, the more prone it was to reducing him to tears. He might be like this for the rest of his life. He might never walk without a limp again. Might never dance. Might never be able to reach for and lift objects again. He’d never find a woman, never have a family, never have grandkids.

But this was offset by the real people with their real chatter. He obsessively flew through the Brazilian mode, strange and wonderful but nowhere near what he loved from “his” variation on the ride. He could roll through all the different changes he’d made with his friends to the ride in Florida, and he became subtly attuned to which elements were wrong and which were right.

It was on one of these flythroughs that he encountered The Story, leaping out of the ride so vividly that he yelped like he’d flexed his IV into a nerve again.

There it was—irrefutable and indefinable. When you rode through there was an escalating tension, a sense of people who belonged to these exhibits going through hard changes, growing up and out.

Once he’d seen it, he couldn’t un-see it. When he and his pals had started to add their own stuff to the ride, the story people had been giant pains in the ass, accusing them of something they called “narricide”—destroying the fragile story that humanity had laid bare there.

Now that he’d seen it too, he wanted to protect it. But he could see by skimming forward and back through the changelog and trying different flythroughs that the story wasn’t being undermined by the goth stuff they were bringing in; it was being enhanced. It was telling the story he knew, of growing up with an indefinable need to be different, to reject the mainstream and to embrace this subculture and aesthetic.

It was the story of his tribe and sub-species and it got realer the more he played it. God, how could he have missed it? It made him want to cry, though that might have been the meds. Some of it made him want to laugh, too.

He tried, laboriously, to compose a message-board post that expressed what he was feeling, but every attempt came out sounding like those story mystics he’d battled. He understood now why they’d sounded so hippy-trippy.

So he rode the ride, virtually, again and again, spotting the grace-notes and the sly wit and the wrenching emotion that the collective intelligence of all those riders had created. Discovered? It was like the story was there all along, lurking like the statue inside a block of marble.

Oh, it was wonderful. He was ruined, maybe forever, but it was wonderful. And he’d been a part of it.

He went back to writing that message-board post. He’d be laid in that bed for a long time yet. He had time to rewrite.

<<< Back to Part 42

Continue to Part 44>>>

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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