Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 66 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

Taking a guest around Disney World was like programming a playlist for a date or a car-trip. Sammy had done it three or four times for people he was trying to win over (mostly women he was trying to screw) and he refined his technique every time.

So he took her to the Carousel of Progress. It was the oldest untouched ride in the park, a replica of the one that Walt himself had built for GE at the 1964 World’s Fair. There had been attempts to update it over the years, but they’d all been ripped out and the show restored to its mid-sixties glory.

It was a revolving theater where robots danced and sang and talked through the American Century, from the last days of the coal stove up to the dawn of the space age. It had a goofy, catchy song, cornball jokes, and he relished playing guide and telling his charges about the time that the revolving theater had trapped a careless castmember in its carousel and crushed her to death. That juxtaposition of sunny, goofy American corporate optimism and the macabre realities of operating a park where a gang of half-literate minimum-wage workers spent their days shovelling the world’s rich children into modified threshing machines—it was delicious.

Suzanne’s body language told him the whole story from the second she sat down, arms folded, a barely contained smirk on her lips. The lights played over the GE logo, which had acquired an even more anachronistic luster since the last time he’d been. Now that GE had been de-listed from the NYSE, it was only a matter of time before they yanked the sponsorship, but for now, it made the ride seem like it was part time-machine. Transported back to the corporate Pleistocene, when giant dinocorps thundered over the plains.

The theater rotated to the first batch of singing, wise-cracking robots. Her eyebrows shot up and she shook her head bemusedly. Out came the second batch, the third—now they were in the fabulous forties and the Andrews Sisters played while grandma and grandpa robot watched a bulging fish-eye TV and sister got vibrated by an electric slimming belt. The jokes got worse, the catchy jingle—”There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every daaaaay!”—got repeated with more vigor.

“It’s like an American robot performance of Triumph of the Will” she whispered to him, and he cracked up. They were the only two in the theater. It was never full, and he himself had taken part in spitball exercises brainstorming replacements, but institutionally, Disney Parks couldn’t bring itself to shut it down. There was always some excuse—rabid fans, historical interest, competing priorities—but it came down to the fact that no one wanted to bring the axe down on the robot family.

The final segment now, the whole family enjoying a futuristic Christmas with a high-tech kitchen whose voice-activated stove went haywire. All the robots were on stage for the segment, and they exhorted the audience to sing and clap along. Sammy gave in and clapped, and a second later, Suzanne did, too, laughing at the silliness of it all. When the house lights came up and the bored—but unsquashed—castmember spieled them out of the ride, Sammy had a bounce in his step and the song in his head.

“That was terrible!” Suzanne said.

“Isn’t it great?”

“God, I’ll never get that song out of my head.” They moved through the flashing lights of Tomorrowland.

“Look at that—no line on Space Mountain,” Sammy said, pointing.

So they rode Space Mountain—twice. Then they caught the fireworks. Then Sammy took her over to Tom Sawyer Island on a maintenance boat and they sat up in the tree house and watched as the park heaved and thronged, danced and ran, laughed and chattered.

“Hear the rustling?”

“Yeah, what is that, rabbits or something?”

“Giant rats.” Sammy grinned in the dark. “Giant, feral rats.”

“Come on, you’re joking.”

“Cross my heart. We drain the lake every now and then and they migrate to the island. No predators. Lots of dropped french fries—it’s ratopia here. They get as big as cats. Bold little fuckers too. No one likes to be here alone at night.”

“What about us?”

“We’re together.”

The rustling grew louder and they held their breath. A bold rat like a raccoon picked its way across the path below them. Then two more. Suzanne shivered and Sammy did, too. They were huge, feral, menacing.

“Want to go?”

“Hell yes,” she said. She fumbled in her purse and came out with a bright little torch that shone like a beacon. You weren’t supposed to use bright lights on the island after hours while the rest of the park was open, but Sammy was glad of it.

Back on the mainland, they rode Big Thunder Mountain and moseyed over to the new, half-rebuilt Fantasyland. The zombie maze was still open, and they got lost in it amid the groans, animatronic shamblers, and giggling kids running through the hedges.

Something happened in the maze. Between entering it and leaving it, they lost their cares. Instead of talking about the park and Hackelberg, they talked about ways of getting out of the maze, talked about which zombie was coming next, about the best zombie movies they’d ever seen, about memorable Halloweens. As they neared the exit, they started to strategize about the best ride to go on next. Suzanne had done the Haunted Mansion twice when she first arrived and now—

“Come on, it’s such a cliche,” Sammy said. “Anyone can be a Haunted Mansion fan. It’s like being a Mickey fan. It takes real character to be a Goofy fan.”

“You’re a Goofy fan, I take it?”

“Indeed. And I’m also a Jungle Cruise man.”

“More corny jokes?”

“’We’ve been dying to have you’—talk about cornball humor.”

They rode both. The park was closing, and all around them, people were streaming away from the rides. No lines at all, not even in front of the rollercoasters, not even in front of Dumbo, not even in front of the ultra-violent fly-over of the world of the zombies (nee Peter Pan’s Flight, and a perennial favorite).

“You know, I haven’t just enjoyed the park like this in years.” He was wearing a huge foam Goofy hat that danced and bobbed on his head, trying to do little pas-de-deux with the other Goofy hats in the vicinity. It also let out the occassional chuckle and snatch of song.

“Shut up,” Suzanne said. “Don’t talk about magic. Live magic.”

They closed the park, letting themselves get herded off of Main Street along with the last stragglers. He looked over his shoulder as they moved through the arches under the train-station. The night crew was moving through the empty Main Street, hosing down the streets, sweeping, scrubbing. As he watched, the work lights came on, throwing the whole thing into near-daylight illumination, making it seem less like an enchanted wonderland and more like a movie set, an artifice. A sham.

It was one in the morning and he was exhausted. And Hackelberg was going to sue.

“Sammy, what do you want me to do, blackmail him?”

“I don’t know—sure. Why not? You could call him and say, ‘I hear you’re working on this lawsuit, but don’t you think it’s hypocritical when you’ve been doing all this bad stuff—’”

“I don’t blackmail people.”

“Fine. Tell your friends, then. Tell some lawyers. That could work.”

“Sammy, I think we’re going to have to fight this suit on its merits, not on the basis of some sneaky intel. I appreciate the risk you’re putting yourself to—”

“We ripped off some of Lester’s code for the DiaB.” He blurted it out, not believing he was hearing himself say it. “I didn’t know it at the time. The libraries were on the net and my guys were in a hurry, and they just imported it into the build and left it there—they rewrote it with the second shipment, but we put out a million units running a library Lester wrote for volumetric imaging. It was under some crazy viral open source license and we were supposed to publish all our modifications, and we never did.”

Suzanne threw her head back and laughed, long and hard. Sammy found himself laughing along with her.

“OK,” she said. “OK. That’s a good one. I’ll tell Lester about it. Maybe he’ll want to use it. Maybe he’ll want to sue.”

Sammy wanted to ask her if she’d keep his name out of it, but he couldn’t ask. He’d gone to Hackelberg with the info as soon as he’d found out and they’d agreed to keep it quiet. The Imagineers responsible had had a very firm talking to, and had privately admitted to a curious and aghast Sammy over beers that everyone everywhere did this all the time, that it was so normal as to be completely unremarkable. He was pretty sure that a judge wouldn’t see it that way.

Suzanne surprised him by giving him a strong, warm hug. “You’re not the worst guy in the world, Sammy Page,” she said. “Thanks for showing me around your park.”

<<< Back to Part 65

Continue to Part 67>>>

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 is now available in print from Tor Books. You can read all previous installments of Makers on on our index page.


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