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-rw-r--r--CHANGELOG29
-rw-r--r--COPYRIGHT16
-rw-r--r--data/README16
-rw-r--r--data/v1/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml1
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/_sisu/image/won_benkler_7_2.pngbin0 -> 78574 bytes
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_for_the_win.rb94
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_magic_kingdom.rb94
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/list.yml5
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml25
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/accelerando.charles_stross.sst8
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/content.cory_doctorow.sst2
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow.sst2967
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/for_the_win.cory_doctorow.sst7234
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/free_culture.lawrence_lessig.sst2
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/free_for_all.peter_wayner.sst2
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/little_brother.cory_doctorow.sst4
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/the_cathedral_and_the_bazaar.eric_s_raymond.sst2
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/the_wealth_of_networks.yochai_benkler.sst2
-rw-r--r--data/v2/samples/viral_spiral.david_bollier.sst2
-rw-r--r--man/man1/sisu-markup-samples.112
20 files changed, 10511 insertions, 6 deletions
diff --git a/CHANGELOG b/CHANGELOG
index e56a240..f009bbe 100644
--- a/CHANGELOG
+++ b/CHANGELOG
@@ -6,11 +6,34 @@ Reverse Chronological:
%% STABLE MANIFEST
+%% sisu-markup-samples_2.0.7.orig.tar.gz (2010-10-11:41/1)
+http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/archive/pool/non-free/s/sisu-markup-samples/sisu-markup-samples_2.0.7.orig.tar.gz
+ sisu-markup-samples_2.0.7.orig.tar.gz
+ sisu-markup-samples_2.0.7-1.dsc
+ sisu-markup-samples_2.0.7-1.diff.gz
+
+ [debian in freeze for squeeze, the only changes are documentation related]
+
+ * The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler, missing image added/included, fix
+
+ * Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Cory Doctorow markup sample added
+
+ * For the Win, Cory Doctorow markup sample added
+
+ * COPYRIGHT and data/README updated
+
+ * yml list and promo updated
+
+ * manpage updated
+
+ * Other related updates to inclusion of two new markup samples, primarily
+ associated linking documents
+
%% sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6.orig.tar.gz (2010-08-24:34/2)
http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/archive/pool/non-free/s/sisu-markup-samples/sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6.orig.tar.gz
- sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6.orig.tar.gz
- sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6-1.dsc
- sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6-1.diff.gz
+ adc3653d1577ff0bfd1e706d568c1ccae2482e155b2d9944fc1a732953915e31 15771014 sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6.orig.tar.gz
+ cdddb78af7550103ad23f55aa8295bfcbea9ff1058f066bfe5cdbb897a4c7f25 1290 sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6-1.dsc
+ fa43001e84d16646618c0cb372d475f35ebe43f5ed49b7c6d65f18c2d496725c 15800854 sisu-markup-samples_2.0.6-1.diff.gz
[debian in freeze for squeeze, the only changes are documentation related]
diff --git a/COPYRIGHT b/COPYRIGHT
index c007258..e0bb8fc 100644
--- a/COPYRIGHT
+++ b/COPYRIGHT
@@ -128,6 +128,14 @@ Copyright: Cory Doctorow, 2008
License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 3.0
URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/>
+Text: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
+ URL: <http://craphound.com/down>
+Author: Cory Doctorow
+ URL: <http://craphound.com>
+Copyright: Cory Doctorow, 2003
+License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 1.0
+ URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/>
+
Text: Little Brother
URL: <http://craphound.com/littlebrother>
Author: Cory Doctorow
@@ -136,6 +144,14 @@ Copyright: Cory Doctorow, 2008
License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 3.0
URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/>
+Text: For the Win
+ URL: <http://craphound.com/ftw>
+Author: Cory Doctorow
+ URL: <http://craphound.com>
+Copyright: Cory Doctorow, 2010
+License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 3.0
+ URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/>
+
Text: Accelerando
URL: <http://www.accelerando.org/>
Author: Charles Stross
diff --git a/data/README b/data/README
index b3ad64f..9749284 100644
--- a/data/README
+++ b/data/README
@@ -93,6 +93,14 @@ maintained and often that the works be used only non-commercially
License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 3.0
URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/>
+ Text: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
+ URL: <http://craphound.com/down>
+ Author: Cory Doctorow
+ URL: <http://craphound.com>
+ Copyright: Cory Doctorow, 2003
+ License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 1.0
+ URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/>
+
Text: Little Brother
URL: <http://craphound.com/littlebrother>
Author: Cory Doctorow
@@ -101,6 +109,14 @@ maintained and often that the works be used only non-commercially
License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 3.0
URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/>
+ Text: For the Win
+ URL: <http://craphound.com/ftw>
+ Author: Cory Doctorow
+ URL: <http://craphound.com>
+ Copyright: Cory Doctorow, 2010
+ License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 3.0
+ URL: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/>
+
Text: Accelerando
URL: <http://www.accelerando.org/>
Author: Charles Stross
diff --git a/data/v1/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml b/data/v1/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml
index 9b9e3da..8fc3713 100644
--- a/data/v1/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml
+++ b/data/v1/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml
@@ -49,6 +49,7 @@ site:
url: http://raa.ruby-lang.org/project/sisu/
vs:
title: Viral Spiral
+ subtitle: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own
author: David Bollier
year: 2009
url: viral_spiral.david_bollier
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/_sisu/image/won_benkler_7_2.png b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/image/won_benkler_7_2.png
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..fe2ac37
--- /dev/null
+++ b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/image/won_benkler_7_2.png
Binary files differ
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_for_the_win.rb b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_for_the_win.rb
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..6d82e6c
--- /dev/null
+++ b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_for_the_win.rb
@@ -0,0 +1,94 @@
+# coding: utf-8
+=begin
+ * Name: SiSU - Simple information Structuring Universe - Structured information, Serialized Units
+ * Author: Ralph Amissah
+ * http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu
+ * http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/SiSU/download
+ * Description: Skin prepared for Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
+ * License: Same as SiSU see http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu
+ * Notes: Site default appearance variables set in defaults.rb
+ Generic site wide modifications set here scribe_skin.rb, and this file required by other "scribes" instead of defaults.rb
+=end
+module SiSU_Viz
+ require SiSU_lib + '/defaults'
+ class Skin
+ #% path
+ def path_root # the only parameter that cannot be changed here
+ './sisu/'
+ end
+ def path_rel
+ '../'
+ end
+ #% url
+ def url_home
+ 'http://craphound.com/ftw'
+ end
+ def url_author
+ 'http://craphound.com'
+ end
+ def url_txt # text to go with url usually stripped url
+ 'craphound.com/ftw'
+ end
+ #% color
+ def color_band1
+ '"#ffffff"'
+ end
+ #% text
+ def text_hp
+ 'craphound.com/ftw'
+ end
+ def text_home
+ 'For The Win'
+ end
+ #% icon
+ def icon_home_button
+ 'for_the_win_doctorow.png'
+ end
+ def icon_home_banner
+ icon_home_button
+ end
+ #% banner
+ def banner_home_button
+ %{<table summary="home button" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor=#{color_white}><a href="#{url_home}">#{png_home}</a></td></tr></table>\n}
+ end
+ def banner_home_and_index_buttons
+ %{<table><tr><td width="20%"><table summary="home and index buttons" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor=#{color_white}><a href="#{url_home}" target="_top">#{png_home}</a></td><td width="40%"><center><table summary="buttons" border="1" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#f1e8de"><font face="arial" size="2"><a href="toc.html" target="_top">&nbsp;This&nbsp;text&nbsp;sub-&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;Table&nbsp;of&nbsp;Contents&nbsp;</a></font>#{table_close}</center></td><td width="20%">&nbsp;#{table_close}}
+ end
+ def banner_band
+ %{<table summary="band" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor="#ffffff">
+ <p class="tiny_left"><a href="#{url_home}/" target="_top">For The Win</a></p>
+ <p class="tiny_left"><a href="#{url_author}/" target="_top">Cory Doctorow</a></p>
+ #{table_close}}
+ end
+ #def banner_band
+ # %{<table summary="band" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor=#{color_white}><a href="#{url_home}" target="_top">#{png_home}</a>#{table_close}}
+ #end
+ #% credits
+ def credits_splash
+ %{<table summary="credits" align="center" bgcolor="#ffffff"><tr><td><font color="black"><center>
+<a href="http://craphound.com/ftw">The author's original pdf is available</a> at<br /><a href="http://craphound.com/ftw">craphound.com/ftw</a><br />
+available at<br /><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Win-Cory-Doctorow/dp/0765322161">Amazon.com</a> and <br />
+<a href="http://search.barnesandnoble.com/For-the-Win/Cory-Doctorow/e/9780765322166">Barnes & Noble</a><br />
+This book is Copyright Cory Doctorow © 2010<br />
+Under a Creative Commons License,<br />
+Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0:<br />
+&lt;<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/">http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/</a>&gt;<br />
+</center></font></td></tr></table>}
+ end
+ end
+ class TeX
+ def header_center
+ "\\chead{\\href{#{@vz.url_home}}{craphound.com/ftw}}"
+ end
+ def home_url
+ "\\href{#{@vz.url_home}}{craphound.com/ftw}"
+ end
+ def home
+ "\\href{#{@vz.url_home}}{For The Win}"
+ end
+ def owner_chapter
+ "Document owner details"
+ end
+ end
+end
+__END__
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_magic_kingdom.rb b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_magic_kingdom.rb
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..b000239
--- /dev/null
+++ b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/doc/skin_magic_kingdom.rb
@@ -0,0 +1,94 @@
+# coding: utf-8
+=begin
+ * Name: SiSU - Simple information Structuring Universe - Structured information, Serialized Units
+ * Author: Ralph Amissah
+ * http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu
+ * http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/SiSU/download
+ * Description: Skin prepared for Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
+ * License: Same as SiSU see http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu
+ * Notes: Site default appearance variables set in defaults.rb
+ Generic site wide modifications set here scribe_skin.rb, and this file required by other "scribes" instead of defaults.rb
+=end
+module SiSU_Viz
+ require SiSU_lib + '/defaults'
+ class Skin
+ #% path
+ def path_root # the only parameter that cannot be changed here
+ './sisu/'
+ end
+ def path_rel
+ '../'
+ end
+ #% url
+ def url_home
+ 'http://craphound.com/down'
+ end
+ def url_author
+ 'http://craphound.com'
+ end
+ def url_txt # text to go with url usually stripped url
+ 'craphound.com/down'
+ end
+ #% color
+ def color_band1
+ '"#ffffff"'
+ end
+ #% text
+ def text_hp
+ 'craphound.com/down'
+ end
+ def text_home
+ 'Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom'
+ end
+ #% icon
+ def icon_home_button
+ 'magic_kingdom_doctorow.png'
+ end
+ def icon_home_banner
+ icon_home_button
+ end
+ #% banner
+ def banner_home_button
+ %{<table summary="home button" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor=#{color_white}><a href="#{url_home}">#{png_home}</a></td></tr></table>\n}
+ end
+ def banner_home_and_index_buttons
+ %{<table><tr><td width="20%"><table summary="home and index buttons" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor=#{color_white}><a href="#{url_home}" target="_top">#{png_home}</a></td><td width="40%"><center><table summary="buttons" border="1" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#f1e8de"><font face="arial" size="2"><a href="toc.html" target="_top">&nbsp;This&nbsp;text&nbsp;sub-&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;Table&nbsp;of&nbsp;Contents&nbsp;</a></font>#{table_close}</center></td><td width="20%">&nbsp;#{table_close}}
+ end
+ def banner_band
+ %{<table summary="band" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor="#ffffff">
+ <p class="tiny_left"><a href="#{url_home}/" target="_top">Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom</a></p>
+ <p class="tiny_left"><a href="#{url_author}/" target="_top">Cory Doctorow</a></p>
+ #{table_close}}
+ end
+ #def banner_band
+ # %{<table summary="band" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td align="left" bgcolor=#{color_white}><a href="#{url_home}" target="_top">#{png_home}</a>#{table_close}}
+ #end
+ #% credits
+ def credits_splash
+ %{<table summary="credits" align="center" bgcolor="#ffffff"><tr><td><font color="black"><center>
+<a href="http://craphound.com/down">The author's original pdf is available</a> at<br /><a href="http://craphound.com/down">craphound.com/down</a><br />
+available at<br /><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Down-Magic-Kingdom-Cory-Doctorow/dp/076530953X">Amazon.com</a> and <br />
+<a href="http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Down-and-Out-in-the-Magic-Kingdom/Cory-Doctorow/e/9780765309532">Barnes & Noble</a><br />
+This book is Copyright Cory Doctorow © 2003<br />
+Under a Creative Commons License,<br />
+Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0<br />
+&lt;<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/">http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/</a>&gt;<br />
+</center></font></td></tr></table>}
+ end
+ end
+ class TeX
+ def header_center
+ "\\chead{\\href{#{@vz.url_home}}{craphound.com/down}}"
+ end
+ def home_url
+ "\\href{#{@vz.url_home}}{craphound.com/down}"
+ end
+ def home
+ "\\href{#{@vz.url_home}}{Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom}"
+ end
+ def owner_chapter
+ "Document owner details"
+ end
+ end
+end
+__END__
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/list.yml b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/list.yml
index 388ef36..e02a153 100644
--- a/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/list.yml
+++ b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/list.yml
@@ -13,9 +13,14 @@ open_society:
- ffa
- catb
- littlebrother
+ - magickingdom
+ - ftw
sisu_icon:
site:
- sisu_icon
+ruby:
+ site:
+ - ruby_logo
fsf:
site:
- fsf
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml
index 9b9e3da..a52f874 100644
--- a/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml
+++ b/data/v2/samples/_sisu/skin/yml/promo.yml
@@ -49,6 +49,7 @@ site:
url: http://raa.ruby-lang.org/project/sisu/
vs:
title: Viral Spiral
+ subtitle: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own
author: David Bollier
year: 2009
url: viral_spiral.david_bollier
@@ -194,6 +195,18 @@ site:
-
title: Wikipedia entry
url: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow
+ magickingdom:
+ title: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
+ author: Cory Doctorow
+ year: 2003
+ url: down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow
+ links:
+ -
+ title: Home
+ url: http://craphound.com/down
+ -
+ title: Wikipedia entry
+ url: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_and_Out_in_the_Magic_Kingdom
littlebrother:
title: Little Brother
author: Cory Doctorow
@@ -206,6 +219,18 @@ site:
-
title: Wikipedia entry
url: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Brother_(Cory_Doctorow_novel)
+ ftw:
+ title: For the Win
+ author: Cory Doctorow
+ year: 2008
+ url: for_the_win.cory_doctorow
+ links:
+ -
+ title: Home
+ url: http://craphound.com/ftw
+ -
+ title: Wikipedia entry
+ url: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_The_Win_(Cory_Doctorow_novel)
search:
sisu_books_libre_sisusearch:
type: sisusearch
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/accelerando.charles_stross.sst b/data/v2/samples/accelerando.charles_stross.sst
index c750493..24eabd8 100644
--- a/data/v2/samples/accelerando.charles_stross.sst
+++ b/data/v2/samples/accelerando.charles_stross.sst
@@ -34,7 +34,15 @@
{ Syntax }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/sample/syntax/accelerando.charles_stross.sst.html
{@ Amazon.com}http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0441014151
{@ Barnes & Noble}http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0441014151
+ {Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow
{ Little Brother, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/little_brother.cory_doctorow
+ {For the Win, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/for_the_win.cory_doctorow
+ { Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_culture.lawrence_lessig
+ { The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/the_wealth_of_networks.yochai_benkler
+ { Viral Spiral, David Bollier@ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/viral_spiral.david_bollier
+ { Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/democratizing_innovation.eric_von_hippel
+ { Two Bits, Christopher Kelty @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/two_bits.christopher_kelty
+ { Free as in Freedom (on Richard M. Stallman), Sam Williams @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_as_in_freedom.richard_stallman_crusade_for_free_software.sam_williams
% book cover shot (US) book cover shot (UK)
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/content.cory_doctorow.sst b/data/v2/samples/content.cory_doctorow.sst
index d19adb1..88d90cf 100644
--- a/data/v2/samples/content.cory_doctorow.sst
+++ b/data/v2/samples/content.cory_doctorow.sst
@@ -30,7 +30,9 @@
{@ Wikipedia }http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow
{@ Amazon.com}http://www.amazon.com/Content-Selected-Technology-Creativity-Copyright/dp/1892391813
{@ Barnes & Noble}http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Content/Cory-Doctorow/e/9781892391810/?itm=1&USRI=content+cory+doctorow
+ {Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow
{ Little Brother, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/little_brother.cory_doctorow
+ {For the Win, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/for_the_win.cory_doctorow
{ Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_culture.lawrence_lessig
{ The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/the_wealth_of_networks.yochai_benkler
{ Viral Spiral, David Bollier@ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/viral_spiral.david_bollier
diff --git a/data/v2/samples/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow.sst b/data/v2/samples/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow.sst
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..b9aa6a2
--- /dev/null
+++ b/data/v2/samples/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow.sst
@@ -0,0 +1,2967 @@
+% SiSU 2.0
+
+@title: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
+
+% http://www.craphound.com/down
+
+@creator:
+ :author: Doctorow, Cory
+
+% doctorow@craphound.com
+
+@rights:
+ :copyright: Copyright © 2003 Cory Doctorow
+ :license: Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0. That means, you are free: <br> to Share - to copy, distribute and transmit the work; <br> to Remix - to adapt the work; <br> Under the following conditions: <br> Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work); <br> Noncommercial - You may not use this work for commercial purposes; <br> Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. <br> For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. <br> The best way to do this is with a link http://craphound.com/down <br> Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get my permission. More info here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/ See the end of this document for the complete legalese. <br> RELICENSED from Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/1.0/
+
+% Tor Books, January 2003
+
+@classify:
+ :subject: novel
+ :topic_register: SiSU:markup sample:book;book:novel;fiction:counterculture|young adult|science fiction
+ :type: fiction
+ :oclc: 50645482
+ :isbn: 0765304368
+
+% Realizing his boyhood dream of moving to the twentieth-century artistic creation of Disney World, Jules becomes incensed by a new group that would change the Hall of Presidents by replacing the audioanimatronics with brain interfaces.
+
+% :loc: #___#
+
+@date:
+ :published: 2003-01-09
+ :modified: 2010-09-16
+
+% :added_to_site: 20YY-MM-DD
+
+@make:
+ :breaks: new=:C; break=1
+ :skin: skin_magic_kingdom
+
+@links: { Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom home }http://craphound.com/down
+ {Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow
+ {@ Wikipedia }http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_and_Out_in_the_Magic_Kingdom
+ {@ Amazon.com}http://www.amazon.com/Down-Magic-Kingdom-Cory-Doctorow/dp/076530953X
+ {@ Barnes & Noble}http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Down-and-Out-in-the-Magic-Kingdom/Cory-Doctorow/e/9780765309532
+ {Little Brother, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/little_brother.cory_doctorow
+ {For the Win, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/for_the_win.cory_doctorow
+ {CONTENT, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/content.cory_doctorow
+ {Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_culture.lawrence_lessig
+ {The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/the_wealth_of_networks.yochai_benkler
+ {Two Bits, Christopher Kelty @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/two_bits.christopher_kelty
+ {Free as in Freedom (on Richard M. Stallman), Sam Williams @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_as_in_freedom.richard_stallman_crusade_for_free_software.sam_williams
+ {Free For All, Peter Wayner @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_for_all.peter_wayner
+ {The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric S. Raymond @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/the_cathedral_and_the_bazaar.eric_s_raymond
+
+:A~ @title @author
+
+1~blurbs Blurbs:
+
+He sparkles! He fizzes! He does backflips and breaks the furniture! Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow!
+
+Bruce Sterling
+
+Author, /{The Hacker Crackdown}/ and /{Distraction}/
+
+In the true spirit of Walt Disney, Doctorow has ripped a part of our common culture, mixed it with a brilliant story, and burned into our culture a new set of memes that will be with us for a generation at least.
+
+Lawrence Lessig
+
+Author, /{The Future of Ideas}/
+
+Cory Doctorow doesn't just write about the future&nbsp;–&nbsp;I think he lives there. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom isn't just a really good read, it's also, like the best kind of fiction, a kind of guide book. See the Tomorrowland of Tomorrow today, and while you're there, why not drop by Frontierland, and the Haunted Mansion as well? (It's the Mansion that's the haunted heart of this book.) Cory makes me feel nostalgic for the future&nbsp;–&nbsp;a dizzying, yet rather pleasant sensation, as if I'm spiraling down the tracks of Space Mountain over and over again. Visit the Magic Kingdom and live forever!
+
+Kelly Link
+
+Author, /{Stranger Things Happen}/
+
+Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is the most entertaining and exciting science fiction story I've read in the last few years. I love page-turners, especially when they are as unusual as this novel. I predict big things for Down and Out—it could easily become a breakout genre-buster.
+
+Mark Frauenfelder
+
+Contributing Editor, /{Wired Magazine}/
+
+Imagine you woke up one day and Walt Disney had taken over the world. Not only that, but money's been abolished and somebody's developed the Cure for Death. Welcome to the Bitchun Society—and make sure you're strapped in tight, because it's going to be a wild ride. In a world where everyone's wishes can come true, one man returns to the original, crumbling city of dreams—Disney World. Here in the spiritual center of the Bitchun Society he struggles to find and preserve the original, human face of the Magic Kingdom against the young, post-human and increasingly alien inheritors of the Earth. Now that any experience can be simulated, human relationships become ever more fragile; and to Julius, the corny, mechanical ghosts of the Haunted Mansion have come to seem like a precious link to a past when we could tell the real from the simulated, the true from the false.
+
+Cory Doctorow—cultural critic, Disneyphile, and ultimate Early Adopter—uses language with the reckless confidence of the Beat poets. Yet behind the dazzling prose and vibrant characters lie ideas we should all pay heed to. The future rushes on like a plummeting roller coaster, and it's hard to see where we're going. But at least with this book Doctorow has given us a map of the park.
+
+Karl Schroeder
+
+Author, /{Permanence}/
+
+Cory Doctorow is the most interesting new SF writer I've come across in years. He starts out at the point where older SF writers' speculations end. It's a distinct pleasure to give him some Whuffie.
+
+Rudy Rucker
+
+Author, /{Spaceland}/
+
+Cory Doctorow rocks! I check his blog about ten times a day, because he's always one of the first to notice a major incursion from the social-technological-pop-cultural future, and his voice is a compelling vehicle for news from the future. Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom is about a world that is visible in its outlines today, if you know where to look, from reputation systems to peer-to-peer adhocracies. Doctorow knows where to look, and how to word-paint the rest of us into the picture.
+
+Howard Rheingold
+
+Author, /{Smart Mobs}/
+
+Doctorow is more than just a sick mind looking to twist the perceptions of those whose realities remain uncorrupted - though that should be enough recommendation to read his work. /{Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom}/ is black comedic, sci-fi prophecy on the dangers of surrendering our consensual hallucination to the regime. Fun to read, but difficult to sleep afterwards.
+
+Douglas Rushkoff
+
+Author of /{Cyberia}/ and /{Media Virus!}/
+
+“Wow! Disney imagineering meets nanotechnology, the reputation economy, and Ray Kurzweil's transhuman future. As much fun as Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and as packed with mind bending ideas about social changes cascading from the frontiers of science.”
+
+Tim O'Reilly
+
+Publisher and Founder, O'Reilly and Associates
+
+Doctorow has created a rich and exciting vision of the future, and then wrote a page-turner of a story in it. I couldn't put the book down.
+
+Bruce Schneier
+
+Author, /{Secrets and Lies}/
+
+Cory Doctorow is one of our best new writers: smart, daring, savvy, entertaining, ambitious, plugged-in, and as good a guide to the wired world of the twenty-first century that stretches out before us as you're going to find.
+
+Gardner Dozois
+
+Editor, /{Asimov's SF}/
+
+Cory Doctorow's “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” tells a gripping, fast-paced story that hinges on thought-provoking extrapolation from today's technical realities. This is the sort of book that captures and defines the spirit of a turning point in human history when our tools remake ourselves and our world.
+
+Mitch Kapor
+
+Founder, Lotus, Inc., co-founder Electronic Frontier Foundation
+
+1~prologue PROLOGUE
+
+I lived long enough to see the cure for death; to see the rise of the Bitchun Society, to learn ten languages; to compose three symphonies; to realize my boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World; to see the death of the workplace and of work.
+
+I never thought I'd live to see the day when Keep A-Movin' Dan would decide to deadhead until the heat death of the Universe.
+
+Dan was in his second or third blush of youth when I first met him, sometime late-XXI. He was a rangy cowpoke, apparent 25 or so, all rawhide squint-lines and sunburned neck, boots worn thin and infinitely comfortable. I was in the middle of my Chem thesis, my fourth Doctorate, and he was taking a break from Saving the World, chilling on campus in Toronto and core-dumping for some poor Anthro major. We hooked up at the Grad Students' Union—the GSU, or Gazoo for those who knew—on a busy Friday night, summer-ish. I was fighting a coral-slow battle for a stool at the scratched bar, inching my way closer every time the press of bodies shifted, and he had one of the few seats, surrounded by a litter of cigarette junk and empties, clearly encamped.
+
+Some duration into my foray, he cocked his head at me and raised a sun-bleached eyebrow. “You get any closer, son, and we're going to have to get a pre-nup.”
+
+I was apparent forty or so, and I thought about bridling at being called son, but I looked into his eyes and decided that he had enough realtime that he could call me son anytime he wanted. I backed off a little and apologized.
+
+He struck a cig and blew a pungent, strong plume over the bartender's head. “Don't worry about it. I'm probably a little over accustomed to personal space.”
+
+I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard anyone on-world talk about personal space. With the mortality rate at zero and the birth-rate at non-zero, the world was inexorably accreting a dense carpet of people, even with the migratory and deadhead drains on the population. “You've been jaunting?” I asked—his eyes were too sharp for him to have missed an instant's experience to deadheading.
+
+He chuckled. “No sir, not me. I'm into the kind of macho shitheadery that you only come across on-world. Jaunting's for play; I need work.” The bar-glass tinkled a counterpoint.
+
+I took a moment to conjure a HUD with his Whuffie score on it. I had to resize the window—he had too many zeroes to fit on my standard display. I tried to act cool, but he caught the upwards flick of my eyes and then their involuntary widening. He tried a little aw-shucksery, gave it up and let a prideful grin show.
+
+“I try not to pay it much mind. Some people, they get overly grateful.” He must've seen my eyes flick up again, to pull his Whuffie history. “Wait, don't go doing that—I'll tell you about it, you really got to know.
+
+“Damn, you know, it's so easy to get used to life without hyperlinks. You'd think you'd really miss 'em, but you don't.”
+
+And it clicked for me. He was a missionary—one of those fringe-dwellers who act as emissary from the Bitchun Society to the benighted corners of the world where, for whatever reasons, they want to die, starve, and choke on petrochem waste. It's amazing that these communities survive more than a generation; in the Bitchun Society proper, we usually outlive our detractors. The missionaries don't have such a high success rate—you have to be awfully convincing to get through to a culture that's already successfully resisted nearly a century's worth of propaganda—but when you convert a whole village, you accrue all the Whuffie they have to give. More often, missionaries end up getting refreshed from a backup after they aren't heard from for a decade or so. I'd never met one in the flesh before.
+
+“How many successful missions have you had?” I asked.
+
+“Figured it out, huh? I've just come off my fifth in twenty years—counterrevolutionaries hidden out in the old Cheyenne Mountain NORAD site, still there a generation later.” He sandpapered his whiskers with his fingertips. “Their parents went to ground after their life's savings vanished, and they had no use for tech any more advanced than a rifle. Plenty of those, though.”
+
+He spun a fascinating yarn then, how he slowly gained the acceptance of the mountain-dwellers, and then their trust, and then betrayed it in subtle, beneficent ways: introducing Free Energy to their greenhouses, then a gengineered crop or two, then curing a couple deaths, slowly inching them toward the Bitchun Society, until they couldn't remember why they hadn't wanted to be a part of it from the start. Now they were mostly off-world, exploring toy frontiers with unlimited energy and unlimited supplies and deadheading through the dull times en route.
+
+“I guess it'd be too much of a shock for them to stay on-world. They think of us as the enemy, you know—they had all kinds of plans drawn up for when we invaded them and took them away; hollow suicide teeth, booby-traps, fall-back-and-rendezvous points for the survivors. They just can't get over hating us, even though we don't even know they exist. Off-world, they can pretend that they're still living rough and hard.” He rubbed his chin again, his hard calluses grating over his whiskers. “But for me, the real rough life is right here, on-world. The little enclaves, each one is like an alternate history of humanity—what if we'd taken the Free Energy, but not deadheading? What if we'd taken deadheading, but only for the critically ill, not for people who didn't want to be bored on long bus-rides? Or no hyperlinks, no ad-hocracy, no Whuffie? Each one is different and wonderful.”
+
+I have a stupid habit of arguing for the sake of, and I found myself saying, “Wonderful? Oh sure, nothing finer than, oh, let's see, dying, starving, freezing, broiling, killing, cruelty and ignorance and pain and misery. I know I sure miss it.”
+
+Keep A-Movin' Dan snorted. “You think a junkie misses sobriety?”
+
+I knocked on the bar. “Hello! There aren't any junkies anymore!”
+
+He struck another cig. “But you know what a junkie /{is}/, right? Junkies don't miss sobriety, because they don't remember how sharp everything was, how the pain made the joy sweeter. We can't remember what it was like to work to earn our keep; to worry that there might not be /{enough}/, that we might get sick or get hit by a bus. We don't remember what it was like to take chances, and we sure as shit don't remember what it felt like to have them pay off.”
+
+He had a point. Here I was, only in my second or third adulthood, and already ready to toss it all in and do something, /{anything}/, else. He had a point—but I wasn't about to admit it. “So you say. I say, I take a chance when I strike up a conversation in a bar, when I fall in love… and what about the deadheads? Two people I know, they just went deadhead for ten thousand years! Tell me that's not taking a chance!” Truth be told, almost everyone I'd known in my eighty-some years were deadheading or jaunting or just /{gone}/. Lonely days, then.
+
+“Brother, that's committing half-assed suicide. The way we're going, they'll be lucky if someone doesn't just switch 'em off when it comes time to reanimate. In case you haven't noticed, it's getting a little crowded around here.”
+
+I made pish-tosh sounds and wiped off my forehead with a bar-napkin—the Gazoo was beastly hot on summer nights. “Uh-huh, just like the world was getting a little crowded a hundred years ago, before Free Energy. Like it was getting too greenhousey, too nukey, too hot or too cold. We fixed it then, we'll fix it again when the time comes. I'm gonna be here in ten thousand years, you damn betcha, but I think I'll do it the long way around.”
+
+He cocked his head again, and gave it some thought. If it had been any of the other grad students, I'd have assumed he was grepping for some bolstering factoids to support his next sally. But with him, I just knew he was thinking about it, the old-fashioned way.
+
+“I think that if I'm still here in ten thousand years, I'm going to be crazy as hell. Ten thousand years, pal! Ten thousand years ago, the state-of-the-art was a goat. You really think you're going to be anything recognizably human in a hundred centuries? Me, I'm not interested in being a post-person. I'm going to wake up one day, and I'm going to say, ‘Well, I guess I've seen about enough,’ and that'll be my last day.”
+
+I had seen where he was going with this, and I had stopped paying attention while I readied my response. I probably should have paid more attention. “But why? Why not just deadhead for a few centuries, see if there's anything that takes your fancy, and if not, back to sleep for a few more? Why do anything so /{final}/?”
+
+He embarrassed me by making a show of thinking it over again, making me feel like I was just a half-pissed glib poltroon. “I suppose it's because nothing else is. I've always known that someday, I was going to stop moving, stop seeking, stop kicking, and have done with it. There'll come a day when I don't have anything left to do, except stop.”
+
+On campus, they called him Keep-A-Movin' Dan, because of his cowboy vibe and because of his lifestyle, and he somehow grew to take over every conversation I had for the next six months. I pinged his Whuffie a few times, and noticed that it was climbing steadily upward as he accumulated more esteem from the people he met.
+
+I'd pretty much pissed away most of my Whuffie—all the savings from the symphonies and the first three theses—drinking myself stupid at the Gazoo, hogging library terminals, pestering profs, until I'd expended all the respect anyone had ever afforded me. All except Dan, who, for some reason, stood me to regular beers and meals and movies.
+
+I got to feeling like I was someone special—not everyone had a chum as exotic as Keep-A-Movin' Dan, the legendary missionary who visited the only places left that were closed to the Bitchun Society. I can't say for sure why he hung around with me. He mentioned once or twice that he'd liked my symphonies, and he'd read my Ergonomics thesis on applying theme-park crowd-control techniques in urban settings, and liked what I had to say there. But I think it came down to us having a good time needling each other.
+
+I'd talk to him about the vast carpet of the future unrolling before us, of the certainty that we would encounter alien intelligences some day, of the unimaginable frontiers open to each of us. He'd tell me that deadheading was a strong indicator that one's personal reservoir of introspection and creativity was dry; and that without struggle, there is no real victory.
+
+This was a good fight, one we could have a thousand times without resolving. I'd get him to concede that Whuffie recaptured the true essence of money: in the old days, if you were broke but respected, you wouldn't starve; contrariwise, if you were rich and hated, no sum could buy you security and peace. By measuring the thing that money really represented—your personal capital with your friends and neighbors—you more accurately gauged your success.
+
+And then he'd lead me down a subtle, carefully baited trail that led to my allowing that while, yes, we might someday encounter alien species with wild and fabulous ways, that right now, there was a slightly depressing homogeneity to the world.
+
+On a fine spring day, I defended my thesis to two embodied humans and one prof whose body was out for an overhaul, whose consciousness was present via speakerphone from the computer where it was resting. They all liked it. I collected my sheepskin and went out hunting for Dan in the sweet, flower-stinking streets.
+
+He'd gone. The Anthro major he'd been torturing with his war-stories said that they'd wrapped up that morning, and he'd headed to the walled city of Tijuana, to take his shot with the descendants of a platoon of US Marines who'd settled there and cut themselves off from the Bitchun Society.
+
+So I went to Disney World.
+
+In deference to Dan, I took the flight in realtime, in the minuscule cabin reserved for those of us who stubbornly refused to be frozen and stacked like cordwood for the two hour flight. I was the only one taking the trip in realtime, but a flight attendant dutifully served me a urine-sample-sized orange juice and a rubbery, pungent, cheese omelet. I stared out the windows at the infinite clouds while the autopilot banked around the turbulence, and wondered when I'd see Dan next.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 1
+
+My girlfriend was 15 percent of my age, and I was old-fashioned enough that it bugged me. Her name was Lil, and she was second-generation Disney World, her parents being among the original ad-hocracy that took over the management of Liberty Square and Tom Sawyer Island. She was, quite literally, raised in Walt Disney World and it showed.
+
+It showed. She was neat and efficient in her every little thing, from her shining red hair to her careful accounting of each gear and cog in the animatronics that were in her charge. Her folks were in canopic jars in Kissimmee, deadheading for a few centuries.
+
+On a muggy Wednesday, we dangled our feet over the edge of the Liberty Belle's riverboat pier, watching the listless Confederate flag over Fort Langhorn on Tom Sawyer Island by moonlight. The Magic Kingdom was all closed up and every last guest had been chased out the gate underneath the Main Street train station, and we were able to breathe a heavy sigh of relief, shuck parts of our costumes, and relax together while the cicadas sang.
+
+I was more than a century old, but there was still a kind of magic in having my arm around the warm, fine shoulders of a girl by moonlight, hidden from the hustle of the cleaning teams by the turnstiles, breathing the warm, moist air. Lil plumped her head against my shoulder and gave me a butterfly kiss under my jaw.
+
+“Her name was McGill,” I sang, gently.
+
+“But she called herself Lil,” she sang, warm breath on my collarbones.
+
+“And everyone knew her as Nancy,” I sang.
+
+I'd been startled to know that she knew the Beatles. They'd been old news in my youth, after all. But her parents had given her a thorough—if eclectic—education.
+
+“Want to do a walk-through?” she asked. It was one of her favorite duties, exploring every inch of the rides in her care with the lights on, after the horde of tourists had gone. We both liked to see the underpinnings of the magic. Maybe that was why I kept picking at the relationship.
+
+“I'm a little pooped. Let's sit a while longer, if you don't mind.”
+
+She heaved a dramatic sigh. “Oh, all right. Old man.” She reached up and gently tweaked my nipple, and I gave a satisfying little jump. I think the age difference bothered her, too, though she teased me for letting it get to me.
+
+“I think I'll be able to manage a totter through the Haunted Mansion, if you just give me a moment to rest my bursitis.” I felt her smile against my shirt. She loved the Mansion; loved to turn on the ballroom ghosts and dance their waltz with them on the dusty floor, loved to try and stare down the marble busts in the library that followed your gaze as you passed.
+
+I liked it too, but I really liked just sitting there with her, watching the water and the trees. I was just getting ready to go when I heard a soft /{ping}/ inside my cochlea. “Damn,” I said. “I've got a call.”
+
+“Tell them you're busy,” she said.
+
+“I will,” I said, and answered the call subvocally. “Julius here.”
+
+“Hi, Julius. It's Dan. You got a minute?”
+
+I knew a thousand Dans, but I recognized the voice immediately, though it'd been ten years since we last got drunk at the Gazoo together. I muted the subvocal and said, “Lil, I've got to take this. Do you mind?”
+
+“Oh, /{no}/, not at all,” she sarcased at me. She sat up and pulled out her crack pipe and lit up.
+
+“Dan,” I subvocalized, “long time no speak.”
+
+“Yeah, buddy, it sure has been,” he said, and his voice cracked on a sob.
+
+I turned and gave Lil such a look, she dropped her pipe. “How can I help?” she said, softly but swiftly. I waved her off and switched the phone to full-vocal mode. My voice sounded unnaturally loud in the cricket-punctuated calm.
+
+“Where you at, Dan?” I asked.
+
+“Down here, in Orlando. I'm stuck out on Pleasure Island.”
+
+“All right,” I said. “Meet me at, uh, the Adventurer's Club, upstairs on the couch by the door. I'll be there in—” I shot a look at Lil, who knew the castmember-only roads better than I. She flashed ten fingers at me. “Ten minutes.”
+
+“Okay,” he said. “Sorry.” He had his voice back under control. I switched off.
+
+“What's up?” Lil asked.
+
+“I'm not sure. An old friend is in town. He sounds like he's got a problem.”
+
+Lil pointed a finger at me and made a trigger-squeezing gesture. “There,” she said. “I've just dumped the best route to Pleasure Island to your public directory. Keep me in the loop, okay?”
+
+I set off for the utilidor entrance near the Hall of Presidents and booted down the stairs to the hum of the underground tunnel-system. I took the slidewalk to cast parking and zipped my little cart out to Pleasure Island.
+
+I found Dan sitting on the L-shaped couch underneath rows of faked-up trophy shots with humorous captions. Downstairs, castmembers were working the animatronic masks and idols, chattering with the guests.
+
+Dan was apparent fifty plus, a little paunchy and stubbled. He had raccoon-mask bags under his eyes and he slumped listlessly. As I approached, I pinged his Whuffie and was startled to see that it had dropped to nearly zero.
+
+“Jesus,” I said, as I sat down next to him. “You look like hell, Dan.”
+
+He nodded. “Appearances can be deceptive,” he said. “But in this case, they're bang-on.”
+
+“You want to talk about it?” I asked.
+
+“Somewhere else, huh? I hear they ring in the New Year every night at midnight; I think that'd be a little too much for me right now.”
+
+I led him out to my cart and cruised back to the place I shared with Lil, out in Kissimmee. He smoked eight cigarettes on the twenty minute ride, hammering one after another into his mouth, filling my runabout with stinging clouds. I kept glancing at him in the rear-view. He had his eyes closed, and in repose he looked dead. I could hardly believe that this was my vibrant action-hero pal of yore.
+
+Surreptitiously, I called Lil's phone. “I'm bringing him home,” I subvocalized. “He's in rough shape. Not sure what it's all about.”
+
+“I'll make up the couch,” she said. “And get some coffee together. Love you.”
+
+“Back atcha, kid,” I said.
+
+As we approached the tacky little swaybacked ranch-house, he opened his eyes. “You're a pal, Jules.” I waved him off. “No, really. I tried to think of who I could call, and you were the only one. I've missed you, bud.”
+
+“Lil said she'd put some coffee on,” I said. “You sound like you need it.”
+
+Lil was waiting on the sofa, a folded blanket and an extra pillow on the side table, a pot of coffee and some Disneyland Beijing mugs beside them. She stood and extended her hand. “I'm Lil,” she said.
+
+“Dan,” he said. “It's a pleasure.”
+
+I knew she was pinging his Whuffie and I caught her look of surprised disapproval. Us oldsters who predate Whuffie know that it's important; but to the kids, it's the /{world}/. Someone without any is automatically suspect. I watched her recover quickly, smile, and surreptitiously wipe her hand on her jeans. “Coffee?” she said.
+
+“Oh, yeah,” Dan said, and slumped on the sofa.
+
+She poured him a cup and set it on a coaster on the coffee table. “I'll let you boys catch up, then,” she said, and started for the bedroom.
+
+“No,” Dan said. “Wait. If you don't mind. I think it'd help if I could talk to someone… younger, too.”
+
+She set her face in the look of chirpy helpfulness that all the second-gen castmembers have at their instant disposal and settled into an armchair. She pulled out her pipe and lit a rock. I went through my crack period before she was born, just after they made it decaf, and I always felt old when I saw her and her friends light up. Dan surprised me by holding out a hand to her and taking the pipe. He toked heavily, then passed it back.
+
+Dan closed his eyes again, then ground his fists into them, sipped his coffee. It was clear he was trying to figure out where to start.
+
+“I believed that I was braver than I really am, is what it boils down to,” he said.
+
+“Who doesn't?” I said.
+
+“I really thought I could do it. I knew that someday I'd run out of things to do, things to see. I knew that I'd finish some day. You remember, we used to argue about it. I swore I'd be done, and that would be the end of it. And now I am. There isn't a single place left on-world that isn't part of the Bitchun Society. There isn't a single thing left that I want any part of.”
+
+“So deadhead for a few centuries,” I said. “Put the decision off.”
+
+“No!” he shouted, startling both of us. “I'm /{done}/. It's /{over}/.”
+
+“So do it,” Lil said.
+
+“I /{can't}/,” he sobbed, and buried his face in his hands. He cried like a baby, in great, snoring sobs that shook his whole body. Lil went into the kitchen and got some tissue, and passed it to me. I sat alongside him and awkwardly patted his back.
+
+“Jesus,” he said, into his palms. “Jesus.”
+
+“Dan?” I said, quietly.
+
+He sat up and took the tissue, wiped off his face and hands. “Thanks,” he said. “I've tried to make a go of it, really I have. I've spent the last eight years in Istanbul, writing papers on my missions, about the communities. I did some followup studies, interviews. No one was interested. Not even me. I smoked a lot of hash. It didn't help. So, one morning I woke up and went to the bazaar and said good bye to the friends I'd made there. Then I went to a pharmacy and had the man make me up a lethal injection. He wished me good luck and I went back to my rooms. I sat there with the hypo all afternoon, then I decided to sleep on it, and I got up the next morning and did it all over again. I looked inside myself, and I saw that I didn't have the guts. I just didn't have the guts. I've stared down the barrels of a hundred guns, had a thousand knives pressed up against my throat, but I didn't have the guts to press that button.”
+
+“You were too late,” Lil said.
+
+We both turned to look at her.
+
+“You were a decade too late. Look at you. You're pathetic. If you killed yourself right now, you'd just be a washed-up loser who couldn't hack it. If you'd done it ten years earlier, you would've been going out on top—a champion, retiring permanently.” She set her mug down with a harder-than-necessary clunk.
+
+Sometimes, Lil and I are right on the same wavelength. Sometimes, it's like she's on a different planet. All I could do was sit there, horrified, and she was happy to discuss the timing of my pal's suicide.
+
+But she was right. Dan nodded heavily, and I saw that he knew it, too.
+
+“A day late and a dollar short,” he sighed.
+
+“Well, don't just sit there,” she said. “You know what you've got to do.”
+
+“What?” I said, involuntarily irritated by her tone.
+
+She looked at me like I was being deliberately stupid. “He's got to get back on top. Cleaned up, dried out, into some productive work. Get that Whuffie up, too. /{Then}/ he can kill himself with dignity.”
+
+It was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. Dan, though, was cocking an eyebrow at her and thinking hard. “How old did you say you were?” he asked.
+
+“Twenty-three,” she said.
+
+“Wish I'd had your smarts at twenty-three,” he said, and heaved a sigh, straightening up. “Can I stay here while I get the job done?”
+
+I looked askance at Lil, who considered for a moment, then nodded.
+
+“Sure, pal, sure,” I said. I clapped him on the shoulder. “You look beat.”
+
+“Beat doesn't begin to cover it,” he said.
+
+“Good night, then,” I said.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 2
+
+Ad-hocracy works well, for the most part. Lil's folks had taken over the running of Liberty Square with a group of other interested, compatible souls. They did a fine job, racked up gobs of Whuffie, and anyone who came around and tried to take it over would be so reviled by the guests they wouldn't find a pot to piss in. Or they'd have such a wicked, radical approach that they'd ouster Lil's parents and their pals, and do a better job.
+
+It can break down, though. There were pretenders to the throne—a group who'd worked with the original ad-hocracy and then had moved off to other pursuits—some of them had gone to school, some of them had made movies, written books, or gone off to Disneyland Beijing to help start things up. A few had deadheaded for a couple decades.
+
+They came back to Liberty Square with a message: update the attractions. The Liberty Square ad-hocs were the staunchest conservatives in the Magic Kingdom, preserving the wheezing technology in the face of a Park that changed almost daily. The newcomer/old-timers were on-side with the rest of the Park, had their support, and looked like they might make a successful go of it.
+
+So it fell to Lil to make sure that there were no bugs in the meager attractions of Liberty Square: the Hall of the Presidents, the Liberty Belle riverboat, and the glorious Haunted Mansion, arguably the coolest attraction to come from the fevered minds of the old-time Disney Imagineers.
+
+I caught her backstage at the Hall of the Presidents, tinkering with Lincoln II, the backup animatronic. Lil tried to keep two of everything running at speed, just in case. She could swap out a dead bot for a backup in five minutes flat, which is all that crowd-control would permit.
+
+It had been two weeks since Dan's arrival, and though I'd barely seen him in that time, his presence was vivid in our lives. Our little ranch-house had a new smell, not unpleasant, of rejuve and hope and loss, something barely noticeable over the tropical flowers nodding in front of our porch. My phone rang three or four times a day, Dan checking in from his rounds of the Park, seeking out some way to accumulate personal capital. His excitement and dedication to the task were inspiring, pulling me into his over-the-top-and-damn-the-torpedoes mode of being.
+
+“You just missed Dan,” she said. She had her head in Lincoln's chest, working with an autosolder and a magnifier. Bent over, red hair tied back in a neat bun, sweat sheening her wiry freckled arms, smelling of girl-sweat and machine lubricant, she made me wish there were a mattress somewhere backstage. I settled for patting her behind affectionately, and she wriggled appreciatively. “He's looking better.”
+
+His rejuve had taken him back to apparent 25, the way I remembered him. He was rawboned and leathery, but still had the defeated stoop that had startled me when I saw him at the Adventurer's Club. “What did he want?”
+
+“He's been hanging out with Debra—he wanted to make sure I knew what she's up to.”
+
+Debra was one of the old guard, a former comrade of Lil's parents. She'd spent a decade in Disneyland Beijing, coding sim-rides. If she had her way, we'd tear down every marvelous rube goldberg in the Park and replace them with pristine white sim boxes on giant, articulated servos.
+
+The problem was that she was /{really good}/ at coding sims. Her Great Movie Ride rehab at MGM was breathtaking—the Star Wars sequence had already inspired a hundred fan-sites that fielded millions of hits.
+
+She'd leveraged her success into a deal with the Adventureland ad-hocs to rehab the Pirates of the Caribbean, and their backstage areas were piled high with reference: treasure chests and cutlasses and bowsprits. It was terrifying to walk through; the Pirates was the last ride Walt personally supervised, and we'd thought it was sacrosanct. But Debra had built a Pirates sim in Beijing, based on Chend I Sao, the XIXth century Chinese pirate queen, which was credited with rescuing the Park from obscurity and ruin. The Florida iteration would incorporate the best aspects of its Chinese cousin—the AI-driven sims that communicated with each other and with the guests, greeting them by name each time they rode and spinning age-appropriate tales of piracy on the high seas; the spectacular fly-through of the aquatic necropolis of rotting junks on the sea-floor; the thrilling pitch and yaw of the sim as it weathered a violent, breath-taking storm—but with Western themes: wafts of Jamaican pepper sauce crackling through the air; liquid Afro-Caribbean accents; and swordfights conducted in the manner of the pirates who plied the blue waters of the New World. Identical sims would stack like cordwood in the space currently occupied by the bulky ride-apparatus and dioramas, quintupling capacity and halving load-time.
+
+“So, what's she up to?”
+
+Lil extracted herself from the Rail-Splitter's mechanical guts and made a comical moue of worry. “She's rehabbing the Pirates—and doing an incredible job. They're ahead of schedule, they've got good net-buzz, the focus groups are cumming themselves.” The comedy went out of her expression, baring genuine worry.
+
+She turned away and closed up Honest Abe, then fired her finger at him. Smoothly, he began to run through his spiel, silent but for the soft hum and whine of his servos. Lil mimed twiddling a knob and his audiotrack kicked in low: “All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa /{combined}/ could not, by force, make a track on the Blue Ridge, nor take a drink from the Ohio. If destruction be our lot, then we ourselves must be its author—and its finisher.” She mimed turning down the gain and he fell silent again.
+
+“You said it, Mr. President,” she said, and fired her finger at him again, powering him down. She bent and adjusted his hand-sewn period topcoat, then carefully wound and set the turnip-watch in his vest-pocket.
+
+I put my arm around her shoulders. “You're doing all you can—and it's good work,” I said. I'd fallen into the easy castmember mode of speaking, voicing bland affirmations. Hearing the words, I felt a flush of embarrassment. I pulled her into a long, hard hug and fumbled for better reassurance. Finding no words that would do, I gave her a final squeeze and let her go.
+
+She looked at me sidelong and nodded her head. “It'll be fine, of course,” she said. “I mean, the worst possible scenario is that Debra will do her job very, very well, and make things even better than they are now. That's not so bad.”
+
+This was a 180-degree reversal of her position on the subject the last time we'd talked, but you don't live more than a century without learning when to point out that sort of thing and when not to.
+
+My cochlea struck twelve noon and a HUD appeared with my weekly backup reminder. Lil was maneuvering Ben Franklin II out of his niche. I waved good-bye at her back and walked away, to an uplink terminal. Once I was close enough for secure broadband communications, I got ready to back up. My cochlea chimed again and I answered it.
+
+“Yes,” I subvocalized, impatiently. I hated getting distracted from a backup—one of my enduring fears was that I'd forget the backup altogether and leave myself vulnerable for an entire week until the next reminder. I'd lost the knack of getting into habits in my adolescence, giving in completely to machine-generated reminders over conscious choice.
+
+“It's Dan.” I heard the sound of the Park in full swing behind him—children's laughter; bright, recorded animatronic spiels; the tromp of thousands of feet. “Can you meet me at the Tiki Room? It's pretty important.”
+
+“Can it wait for fifteen?” I asked.
+
+“Sure—see you in fifteen.”
+
+I rung off and initiated the backup. A status-bar zipped across a HUD, dumping the parts of my memory that were purely digital; then it finished and started in on organic memory. My eyes rolled back in my head and my life flashed before my eyes.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 3
+
+The Bitchun Society has had much experience with restores from backup—in the era of the cure for death, people live pretty recklessly. Some people get refreshed a couple dozen times a year.
+
+Not me. I hate the process. Not so much that I won't participate in it. Everyone who had serious philosophical conundra on that subject just, you know, /{died}/, a generation before. The Bitchun Society didn't need to convert its detractors, just outlive them.
+
+The first time I died, it was not long after my sixtieth birthday. I was SCUBA diving at Playa Coral, near Veradero, Cuba. Of course, I don't remember the incident, but knowing my habits at that particular dive-site and having read the dive-logs of my SCUBA-buddies, I've reconstructed the events.
+
+I was eeling my way through the lobster-caves, with a borrowed bottle and mask. I'd also borrowed a wetsuit, but I wasn't wearing it—the blood-temp salt water was balm, and I hated erecting barriers between it and my skin. The caves were made of coral and rocks, and they coiled and twisted like intestines. Through each hole and around each corner, there was a hollow, rough sphere of surpassing, alien beauty. Giant lobsters skittered over the walls and through the holes. Schools of fish as bright as jewels darted and executed breath-taking precision maneuvers as I disturbed their busy days. I do some of my best thinking under water, and I'm often slipping off into dangerous reverie at depth. Normally, my diving buddies ensure that I don't hurt myself, but this time I got away from them, spidering forward into a tiny hole.
+
+Where I got stuck.
+
+My diving buddies were behind me, and I rapped on my bottle with the hilt of my knife until one of them put a hand on my shoulder. My buddies saw what was up, and attempted to pull me loose, but my bottle and buoyancy-control vest were firmly wedged. The others exchanged hand signals, silently debating the best way to get me loose. Suddenly, I was thrashing and kicking, and then I disappeared into the cave, minus my vest and bottle. I'd apparently attempted to cut through my vest's straps and managed to sever the tube of my regulator. After inhaling a jolt of sea water, I'd thrashed free into the cave, rolling into a monstrous patch of spindly fire-coral. I'd inhaled another lungful of water and kicked madly for a tiny hole in the cave's ceiling, whence my buddies retrieved me shortly thereafter, drowned-blue except for the patchy red welts from the stinging coral.
+
+In those days, making a backup was a lot more complicated; the procedure took most of a day, and had to be undertaken at a special clinic. Luckily, I'd had one made just before I left for Cuba, a few weeks earlier. My next-most-recent backup was three years old, dating from the completion of my second symphony.
+
+They recovered me from backup and into a force-grown clone at Toronto General. As far as I knew, I'd laid down in the backup clinic one moment and arisen the next. It took most of a year to get over the feeling that the whole world was putting a monstrous joke over on me, that the drowned corpse I'd seen was indeed my own. In my mind, the rebirth was figurative as well as literal—the missing time was enough that I found myself hard-pressed to socialize with my pre-death friends.
+
+I told Dan the story during our first friendship, and he immediately pounced on the fact that I'd gone to Disney World to spend a week sorting out my feelings, reinventing myself, moving to space, marrying a crazy lady. He found it very curious that I always rebooted myself at Disney World. When I told him that I was going to live there someday, he asked me if that would mean that I was done reinventing myself. Sometimes, as I ran my fingers through Lil's sweet red curls, I thought of that remark and sighed great gusts of contentment and marveled that my friend Dan had been so prescient.
+
+The next time I died, they'd improved the technology somewhat. I'd had a massive stroke in my seventy-third year, collapsing on the ice in the middle of a house-league hockey game. By the time they cut my helmet away, the hematomae had crushed my brain into a pulpy, blood-sotted mess. I'd been lax in backing up, and I lost most of a year. But they woke me gently, with a computer-generated precis of the events of the missing interval, and a counselor contacted me daily for a year until I felt at home again in my skin. Again, my life rebooted, and I found myself in Disney World, methodically flensing away the relationships I'd built and starting afresh in Boston, living on the ocean floor and working the heavy-metal harvesters, a project that led, eventually, to my Chem thesis at U of T.
+
+After I was shot dead at the Tiki Room, I had the opportunity to appreciate the great leaps that restores had made in the intervening ten years. I woke in my own bed, instantly aware of the events that led up to my third death as seen from various third-party POVs: security footage from the Adventureland cameras, synthesized memories extracted from Dan's own backup, and a computer-generated fly-through of the scene. I woke feeling preternaturally calm and cheerful, and knowing that I felt that way because of certain temporary neurotransmitter presets that had been put in place when I was restored.
+
+Dan and Lil sat at my bedside. Lil's tired, smiling face was limned with hairs that had snuck loose of her ponytail. She took my hand and kissed the smooth knuckles. Dan smiled beneficently at me and I was seized with a warm, comforting feeling of being surrounded by people who really loved me. I dug for words appropriate to the scene, decided to wing it, opened my mouth and said, to my surprise, “I have to pee.”
+
+Dan and Lil smiled at each other. I lurched out of the bed, naked, and thumped to the bathroom. My muscles were wonderfully limber, with a brand-new spring to them. After I flushed I leaned over and took hold of my ankles, then pulled my head right to the floor, feeling the marvelous flexibility of my back and legs and buttocks. A scar on my knee was missing, as were the many lines that had crisscrossed my fingers. When I looked in the mirror, I saw that my nose and earlobes were smaller and perkier. The familiar crow's-feet and the frown-lines between my eyebrows were gone. I had a day's beard all over—head, face, pubis, arms, legs. I ran my hands over my body and chuckled at the ticklish newness of it all. I was briefly tempted to depilate all over, just to keep this feeling of newness forever, but the neurotransmitter presets were evaporating and a sense of urgency over my murder was creeping up on me.
+
+I tied a towel around my waist and made my way back to the bedroom. The smells of tile-cleaner and flowers and rejuve were bright in my nose, effervescent as camphor. Dan and Lil stood when I came into the room and helped me to the bed. “Well, this /{sucks}/,” I said.
+
+I'd gone straight from the uplink through the utilidors—three quick cuts of security cam footage, one at the uplink, one in the corridor, and one at the exit in the underpass between Liberty Square and Adventureland. I seemed bemused and a little sad as I emerged from the door, and began to weave my way through the crowd, using a kind of sinuous, darting shuffle that I'd developed when I was doing field-work on my crowd-control thesis. I cut rapidly through the lunchtime crowd toward the long roof of the Tiki Room, thatched with strips of shimmering aluminum cut and painted to look like long grass.
+
+Fuzzy shots now, from Dan's POV, of me moving closer to him, passing close to a group of teenaged girls with extra elbows and knees, wearing environmentally controlled cloaks and cowls covered with Epcot Center logomarks. One of them is wearing a pith helmet, from the Jungle Traders shop outside of the Jungle Cruise. Dan's gaze flicks away, to the Tiki Room's entrance, where there is a short queue of older men, then back, just as the girl with the pith helmet draws a stylish little organic pistol, like a penis with a tail that coils around her arm. Casually, grinning, she raises her arm and gestures with the pistol, exactly like Lil does with her finger when she's uploading, and the pistol lunges forward. Dan's gaze flicks back to me. I'm pitching over, my lungs bursting out of my chest and spreading before me like wings, spinal gristle and viscera showering the guests before me. A piece of my nametag, now shrapnel, strikes Dan in the forehead, causing him to blink. When he looks again, the group of girls is still there, but the girl with the pistol is long gone.
+
+The fly-through is far less confused. Everyone except me, Dan and the girl is grayed-out. We're limned in highlighter yellow, moving in slow-motion. I emerge from the underpass and the girl moves from the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse to the group of her friends. Dan starts to move towards me. The girl raises, arms and fires her pistol. The self-guiding smart-slug, keyed to my body chemistry, flies low, near ground level, weaving between the feet of the crowd, moving just below the speed of sound. When it reaches me, it screams upwards and into my spine, detonating once it's entered my chest cavity.
+
+The girl has already made a lot of ground, back toward the Adventureland/Main Street, USA gateway. The fly-through speeds up, following her as she merges with the crowds on the street, ducking and weaving between them, moving toward the breezeway at Sleeping Beauty Castle. She vanishes, then reappears, forty minutes later, in Tomorrowland, near the new Space Mountain complex, then disappears again.
+
+“Has anyone ID'd the girl?” I asked, once I'd finished reliving the events. The anger was starting to boil within me now. My new fists clenched for the first time, soft palms and uncallused fingertips.
+
+Dan shook his head. “None of the girls she was with had ever seen her before. The face was one of the Seven Sisters—Hope.” The Seven Sisters were a trendy collection of designer faces. Every second teenage girl wore one of them.
+
+“How about Jungle Traders?” I asked. “Did they have a record of the pith helmet purchase?”
+
+Lil frowned. “We ran the Jungle Traders purchases back for six months: only three matched the girl's apparent age; all three have alibis. Chances are she stole it.”
+
+“Why?” I asked, finally. In my mind's eye, I saw my lungs bursting out of my chest, like wings, like jellyfish, vertebrae spraying like shrapnel. I saw the girl's smile, an almost sexual smirk as she pulled the trigger on me.
+
+“It wasn't random,” Lil said. “The slug was definitely keyed to you—that means that she'd gotten close to you at some point.”
+
+Right—which meant that she'd been to Disney World in the last ten years. That narrowed it down, all right.
+
+“What happened to her after Tomorrowland?” I said.
+
+“We don't know,” Lil said. “Something wrong with the cameras. We lost her and she never reappeared.” She sounded hot and angry—she took equipment failures in the Magic Kingdom personally.
+
+“Who'd want to do this?” I asked, hating the self-pity in my voice. It was the first time I'd been murdered, but I didn't need to be a drama-queen about it.
+
+Dan's eyes got a far-away look. “Sometimes, people do things for reasons that seem perfectly reasonable to them, that the rest of the world couldn't hope to understand. I've seen a few assassinations, and they never made sense afterwards.” He stroked his chin. “Sometimes, it's better to look for temperament, rather than motivation: who /{could}/ do something like this?”
+
+Right. All we needed to do was investigate all the psychopaths who'd visited the Magic Kingdom in ten years. That narrowed it down considerably. I pulled up a HUD and checked the time. It had been four days since my murder. I had a shift coming up, working the turnstiles at the Haunted Mansion. I liked to pull a couple of those shifts a month, just to keep myself grounded; it helped to take a reality check while I was churning away in the rarified climate of my crowd-control simulations.
+
+I stood and went to my closet, started to dress.
+
+“/{What}/ are you doing?” Lil asked, alarmed.
+
+“I've got a shift. I'm running late.”
+
+“You're in no shape to work,” Lil said, tugging at my elbow. I jerked free of her.
+
+“I'm fine—good as new.” I barked a humorless laugh. “I'm not going to let those bastards disrupt my life any more.”
+
+/{Those bastards}/? I thought—when had I decided that there was more than one? But I knew it was true. There was no way that this was all planned by one person: it had been executed too precisely, too thoroughly.
+
+Dan moved to block the bedroom door. “Wait a second,” he said. “You need rest.”
+
+I fixed him with a doleful glare. “I'll decide that,” I said. He stepped aside.
+
+“I'll tag along, then,” he said. “Just in case.”
+
+I pinged my Whuffie. I was up a couple percentiles—sympathy Whuffie—but it was falling: Dan and Lil were radiating disapproval. Screw 'em.
+
+I got into my runabout and Dan scrambled for the passenger door as I put it in gear and sped out.
+
+“Are you sure you're all right?” Dan said as I nearly rolled the runabout taking the corner at the end of our cul-de-sac.
+
+“Why wouldn't I be?” I said. “I'm as good as new.”
+
+“Funny choice of words,” he said. “Some would say that you /{were}/ new.”
+
+I groaned. “Not this argument again,” I said. “I feel like me and no one else is making that claim. Who cares if I've been restored from a backup?”
+
+“All I'm saying is, there's a difference between /{you}/ and an exact copy of you, isn't there?”
+
+I knew what he was doing, distracting me with one of our old fights, but I couldn't resist the bait, and as I marshalled my arguments, it actually helped calm me down some. Dan was that kind of friend, a person who knew you better than you knew yourself. “So you're saying that if you were obliterated and then recreated, atom-for-atom, that you wouldn't be you anymore?”
+
+“For the sake of argument, sure. Being destroyed and recreated is different from not being destroyed at all, right?”
+
+“Brush up on your quantum mechanics, pal. You're being destroyed and recreated a trillion times a second.”
+
+“On a very, very small level—”
+
+“What difference does that make?”
+
+“Fine, I'll concede that. But you're not really an atom-for-atom copy. You're a clone, with a copied /{brain}/—that's not the same as quantum destruction.”
+
+“Very nice thing to say to someone who's just been murdered, pal. You got a problem with clones?”
+
+And we were off and running.
+
+The Mansion's cast were sickeningly cheerful and solicitous. Each of them made a point of coming around and touching the stiff, starched shoulder of my butler's costume, letting me know that if there was anything they could do for me… I gave them all a fixed smile and tried to concentrate on the guests, how they waited, when they arrived, how they dispersed through the exit gate. Dan hovered nearby, occasionally taking the eight minute, twenty-two second ride-through, running interference for me with the other castmembers.
+
+He was nearby when my break came up. I changed into civvies and we walked over the cobbled streets, past the Hall of the Presidents, noting as I rounded the corner that there was something different about the queue-area. Dan groaned. “They did it already,” he said.
+
+I looked closer. The turnstiles were blocked by a sandwich board: Mickey in a Ben Franklin wig and bifocals, holding a trowel. “Excuse our mess!” the sign declared. “We're renovating to serve you better!”
+
+I spotted one of Debra's cronies standing behind the sign, a self-satisfied smile on his face. He'd started off life as a squat, northern Chinese, but had had his bones lengthened and his cheekbones raised so that he looked almost elfin. I took one look at his smile and understood—Debra had established a toehold in Liberty Square.
+
+“They filed plans for the new Hall with the steering committee an hour after you got shot. The committee loved the plans; so did the net. They're promising not to touch the Mansion.”
+
+“You didn't mention this,” I said, hotly.
+
+“We thought you'd jump to conclusions. The timing was bad, but there's no indication that they arranged for the shooter. Everyone's got an alibi; furthermore, they've all offered to submit their backups for proof.”
+
+“Right,” I said. “Right. So they just /{happened}/ to have plans for a new Hall standing by. And they just /{happened}/ to file them after I got shot, when all our ad-hocs were busy worrying about me. It's all a big coincidence.”
+
+Dan shook his head. “We're not stupid, Jules. No one thinks that it's a coincidence. Debra's the sort of person who keeps a lot of plans standing by, just in case. But that just makes her a well-prepared opportunist, not a murderer.”
+
+I felt nauseated and exhausted. I was enough of a castmember that I sought out a utilidor before I collapsed against a wall, head down. Defeat seeped through me, saturating me.
+
+Dan crouched down beside me. I looked over at him. He was grinning wryly. “Posit,” he said, “for the moment, that Debra really did do this thing, set you up so that she could take over.”
+
+I smiled, in spite of myself. This was his explaining act, the thing he would do whenever I fell into one of his rhetorical tricks back in the old days. “All right, I've posited it.”
+
+“Why would she: one, take out you instead of Lil or one of the real old-timers; two, go after the Hall of Presidents instead of Tom Sawyer Island or even the Mansion; and three, follow it up with such a blatant, suspicious move?”
+
+“All right,” I said, warming to the challenge. “One: I'm important enough to be disruptive but not so important as to rate a full investigation. Two: Tom Sawyer Island is too visible, you can't rehab it without people seeing the dust from shore. Three, Debra's coming off of a decade in Beijing, where subtlety isn't real important.”
+
+“Sure,” Dan said, “sure.” Then he launched an answering salvo, and while I was thinking up my answer, he helped me to my feet and walked me out to my runabout, arguing all the way, so that by the time I noticed we weren't at the Park anymore, I was home and in bed.
+
+With all the Hall's animatronics mothballed for the duration, Lil had more time on her hands than she knew what to do with. She hung around the little bungalow, the two of us in the living room, staring blankly at the windows, breathing shallowly in the claustrophobic, superheated Florida air. I had my working notes on queue management for the Mansion, and I pecked at them aimlessly. Sometimes, Lil mirrored my HUD so she could watch me work, and made suggestions based on her long experience.
+
+It was a delicate process, this business of increasing throughput without harming the guest experience. But for every second I could shave off of the queue-to-exit time, I could put another sixty guests through and lop thirty seconds off total wait-time. And the more guests who got to experience the Mansion, the more of a Whuffie-hit Debra's people would suffer if they made a move on it. So I dutifully pecked at my notes, and found three seconds I could shave off the graveyard sequence by swiveling the Doom Buggy carriages stage-left as they descended from the attic window: by expanding their fields-of-vision, I could expose the guests to all the scenes more quickly.
+
+I ran the change in fly-through, then implemented it after closing and invited the other Liberty Square ad-hocs to come and test it out.
+
+It was another muggy winter evening, prematurely dark. The ad-hocs had enough friends and family with them that we were able to simulate an off-peak queue-time, and we all stood and sweated in the preshow area, waiting for the doors to swing open, listening to the wolf-cries and assorted boo-spookery from the hidden speakers.
+
+The doors swung open, revealing Lil in a rotting maid's uniform, her eyes lined with black, her skin powdered to a deathly pallor. She gave us a cold, considering glare, then intoned, “Master Gracey requests more bodies.”
+
+As we crowded into the cool, musty gloom of the parlor, Lil contrived to give my ass an affectionate squeeze. I turned to return the favor, and saw Debra's elfin comrade looming over Lil's shoulder. My smile died on my lips.
+
+The man locked eyes with me for a moment, and I saw something in there—some admixture of cruelty and worry that I didn't know what to make of. He looked away immediately. I'd known that Debra would have spies in the crowd, of course, but with elf-boy watching, I resolved to make this the best show I knew how.
+
+It's subtle, this business of making the show better from within. Lil had already slid aside the paneled wall that led to stretch-room number two, the most recently serviced one. Once the crowd had moved inside, I tried to lead their eyes by adjusting my body language to poses of subtle attention directed at the new spotlights. When the newly remastered soundtrack came from behind the sconce-bearing gargoyles at the corners of the octagonal room, I leaned my body slightly in the direction of the moving stereo-image. And an instant before the lights snapped out, I ostentatiously cast my eyes up into the scrim ceiling, noting that others had taken my cue, so they were watching when the UV-lit corpse dropped from the pitch-dark ceiling, jerking against the noose at its neck.
+
+The crowd filed into the second queue area, where they boarded the Doom Buggies. There was a low buzz of marveling conversation as we made our way onto the moving sidewalk. I boarded my Doom Buggy and an instant later, someone slid in beside me. It was the elf.
+
+He made a point of not making eye contact with me, but I sensed his sidelong glances at me as we rode through past the floating chandelier and into the corridor where the portraits' eyes watched us. Two years before, I'd accelerated this sequence and added some random swivel to the Doom Buggies, shaving 25 seconds off the total, taking the hourly throughput cap from 2365 to 2600. It was the proof-of-concept that led to all the other seconds I'd shaved away since. The violent pitching of the Buggy brought me and the elf into inadvertent contact with one another, and when I brushed his hand as I reached for the safety bar, I felt that it was cold and sweaty.
+
+He was nervous! /{He}/ was nervous. What did /{he}/ have to be nervous about? I was the one who'd been murdered—maybe he was nervous because he was supposed to finish the job. I cast my own sidelong looks at him, trying to see suspicious bulges in his tight clothes, but the Doom Buggy's pebbled black plastic interior was too dim. Dan was in the Buggy behind us, with one of the Mansion's regular castmembers. I rang his cochlea and subvocalized: “Get ready to jump out on my signal.” Anyone leaving their Buggy would interrupt an infrared beam and stop the ride system. I knew I could rely on Dan to trust me without a lot of explaining, which meant that I could keep a close watch on Debra's crony.
+
+We went past the hallway of mirrors and into the hallway of doors, where monstrous hands peeked out around the sills, straining against the hinges, recorded groans mixed in with pounding. I thought about it—if I wanted to kill someone on the Mansion, what would be the best place to do it? The attic staircase-- the next sequence—seemed like a good bet. A cold clarity washed over me. The elf would kill me in the gloom of the staircase, dump me out over the edge at the blind turn toward the graveyard, and that would be it. Would he be able to do it if I were staring straight at him? He seemed terribly nervous as it was. I swiveled in my seat and looked him straight in the eye.
+
+He quirked half a smile at me and nodded a greeting. I kept on staring at him, my hands balled into fists, ready for anything. We rode down the staircase, facing up, listening to the clamour of voices from the cemetery and the squawk of the red-eyed raven. I caught sight of the quaking groundkeeper animatronic from the corner of my eye and startled. I let out a subvocal squeal and was pitched forward as the ride system shuddered to a stop.
+
+“Jules?” came Dan's voice in my cochlea. “You all right?”
+
+He'd heard my involuntary note of surprise and had leapt clear of the Buggy, stopping the ride. The elf was looking at me with a mixture of surprise and pity.
+
+“It's all right, it's all right. False alarm.” I paged Lil and subvocalized to her, telling her to start up the ride ASAP, it was all right.
+
+I rode the rest of the way with my hands on the safety bar, my eyes fixed ahead of me, steadfastly ignoring the elf. I checked the timer I'd been running. The demo was a debacle—instead of shaving off three seconds, I'd added thirty. I wanted to cry.
+
+I debarked the Buggy and stalked quickly out of the exit queue, leaning heavily against the fence, staring blindly at the pet cemetery. My head swam: I was out of control, jumping at shadows. I was spooked.
+
+And I had no reason to be. Sure, I'd been murdered, but what had it cost me? A few days of “unconsciousness” while they decanted my backup into my new body, a merciful gap in memory from my departure at the backup terminal up until my death. I wasn't one of those nuts who took death /{seriously}/. It wasn't like they'd done something /{permanent}/.
+
+In the meantime, I /{had}/ done something permanent: I'd dug Lil's grave a little deeper, endangered the ad-hocracy and, worst of all, the Mansion. I'd acted like an idiot. I tasted my dinner, a wolfed-down hamburger, and swallowed hard, forcing down the knob of nausea.
+
+I sensed someone at my elbow, and thinking it was Lil, come to ask me what had gone on, I turned with a sheepish grin and found myself facing the elf.
+
+He stuck his hand out and spoke in the flat no-accent of someone running a language module. “Hi there. We haven't been introduced, but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your work. I'm Tim Fung.”
+
+I pumped his hand, which was still cold and particularly clammy in the close heat of the Florida night. “Julius,” I said, startled at how much like a bark it sounded. /{Careful}/, I thought, /{no need to escalate the hostilities.}/ “It's kind of you to say that. I like what you-all have done with the Pirates.”
+
+He smiled: a genuine, embarrassed smile, as though he'd just been given high praise from one of his heroes. “Really? I think it's pretty good—the second time around you get a lot of chances to refine things, really clarify the vision. Beijing—well, it was exciting, but it was rushed, you know? I mean, we were really struggling. Every day, there was another pack of squatters who wanted to tear the Park down. Debra used to send me out to give the children piggyback rides, just to keep our Whuffie up while she was evicting the squatters. It was good to have the opportunity to refine the designs, revisit them without the floor show.”
+
+I knew about this, of course—Beijing had been a real struggle for the ad-hocs who built it. Lots of them had been killed, many times over. Debra herself had been killed every day for a week and restored to a series of prepared clones, beta-testing one of the ride systems. It was faster than revising the CAD simulations. Debra had a reputation for pursuing expedience.
+
+“I'm starting to find out how it feels to work under pressure,” I said, and nodded significantly at the Mansion. I was gratified to see him look embarrassed, then horrified.
+
+“We would /{never}/ touch the Mansion,” he said. “It's /{perfect}/!”
+
+Dan and Lil sauntered up as I was preparing a riposte. They both looked concerned—now that I thought of it, they'd both seemed incredibly concerned about me since the day I was revived.
+
+Dan's gait was odd, stilted, like he was leaning on Lil for support. They looked like a couple. An irrational sear of jealousy jetted through me. I was an emotional wreck. Still, I took Lil's big, scarred hand in mine as soon as she was in reach, then cuddled her to me protectively. She had changed out of her maid's uniform into civvies: smart coveralls whose micropore fabric breathed in time with her own respiration.
+
+“Lil, Dan, I want you to meet Tim Fung. He was just telling me war stories from the Pirates project in Beijing.”
+
+Lil waved and Dan gravely shook his hand. “That was some hard work,” Dan said.
+
+It occurred to me to turn on some Whuffie monitors. It was normally an instantaneous reaction to meeting someone, but I was still disoriented. I pinged the elf. He had a lot of left-handed Whuffie; respect garnered from people who shared very few of my opinions. I expected that. What I didn't expect was that his weighted Whuffie score, the one that lent extra credence to the rankings of people I respected, was also high—higher than my own. I regretted my nonlinear behavior even more. Respect from the elf—/{Tim}/, I had to remember to call him Tim—would carry a lot of weight in every camp that mattered.
+
+Dan's score was incrementing upwards, but he still had a rotten profile. He had accrued a good deal of left-handed Whuffie, and I curiously backtraced it to the occasion of my murder, when Debra's people had accorded him a generous dollop of props for the levelheaded way he had scraped up my corpse and moved it offstage, minimizing the disturbance in front of their wondrous Pirates.
+
+I was fugueing, wandering off on the kind of mediated reverie that got me killed on the reef at Playa Coral, and I came out of it with a start, realizing that the other three were politely ignoring my blown buffer. I could have run backwards through my short-term memory to get the gist of the conversation, but that would have lengthened the pause. Screw it. “So, how're things going over at the Hall of the Presidents?” I asked Tim.
+
+Lil shot me a cautioning look. She'd ceded the Hall to Debra's ad-hocs, that being the only way to avoid the appearance of childish disattention to the almighty Whuffie. Now she had to keep up the fiction of good-natured cooperation—that meant not shoulder-surfing Debra, looking for excuses to pounce on her work.
+
+Tim gave us the same half-grin he'd greeted me with. On his smooth, pointed features, it looked almost irredeemably cute. “We're doing good stuff, I think. Debra's had her eye on the Hall for years, back in the old days, before she went to China. We're replacing the whole thing with broadband uplinks of gestalts from each of the Presidents' lives: newspaper headlines, speeches, distilled biographies, personal papers. It'll be like having each President /{inside}/ you, core-dumped in a few seconds. Debra said we're going to /{flash-bake}/ the Presidents on your mind!” His eyes glittered in the twilight.
+
+Having only recently experienced my own cerebral flash-baking, Tim's description struck a chord in me. My personality seemed to be rattling around a little in my mind, as though it had been improperly fitted. It made the idea of having the gestalt of 50-some Presidents squashed in along with it perversely appealing.
+
+“Wow,” I said. “That sounds wild. What do you have in mind for physical plant?” The Hall as it stood had a quiet, patriotic dignity cribbed from a hundred official buildings of the dead USA. Messing with it would be like redesigning the stars-and-bars.
+
+“That's not really my area,” Tim said. “I'm a programmer. But I could have one of the designers squirt some plans at you, if you want.”
+
+“That would be fine,” Lil said, taking my elbow. “I think we should be heading home, now, though.” She began to tug me away. Dan took my other elbow. Behind her, the Liberty Belle glowed like a ghostly wedding cake in the twilight.
+
+“That's too bad,” Tim said. “My ad-hoc is pulling an all-nighter on the new Hall. I'm sure they'd love to have you drop by.”
+
+The idea seized hold of me. I would go into the camp of the enemy, sit by their fire, learn their secrets. “That would be /{great}/!” I said, too loudly. My head was buzzing slightly. Lil's hands fell away.
+
+“But we've got an early morning tomorrow,” Lil said. “You've got a shift at eight, and I'm running into town for groceries.” She was lying, but she was telling me that this wasn't her idea of a smart move. But my faith was unshakeable.
+
+“Eight a.m. shift? No problem—I'll be right here when it starts. I'll just grab a shower at the Contemporary in the morning and catch the monorail back in time to change. All right?”
+
+Dan tried. “But Jules, we were going to grab some dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, remember? I made reservations.”
+
+“Aw, we can eat any time,” I said. “This is a hell of an opportunity.”
+
+“It sure is,” Dan said, giving up. “Mind if I come along?”
+
+He and Lil traded meaningful looks that I interpreted to mean, /{If he's going to be a nut, one of us really should stay with him}/. I was past caring—I was going to beard the lion in his den!
+
+Tim was apparently oblivious to all of this. “Then it's settled! Let's go.”
+
+On the walk to the Hall, Dan kept ringing my cochlea and I kept sending him straight to voicemail. All the while, I kept up a patter of small-talk with him and Tim. I was determined to make up for my debacle in the Mansion with Tim, win him over.
+
+Debra's people were sitting around in the armchairs onstage, the animatronic presidents stacked in neat piles in the wings. Debra was sprawled in Lincoln's armchair, her head cocked lazily, her legs extended before her. The Hall's normal smells of ozone and cleanliness were overridden by sweat and machine-oil, the stink of an ad-hoc pulling an all-nighter. The Hall took fifteen years to research and execute, and a couple of days to tear down.
+
+She was au-naturel, still wearing the face she'd been born with, albeit one that had been regenerated dozens of times after her deaths. It was patrician, waxy, long, with a nose that was made for staring down. She was at least as old as I was, though she was only apparent 22. I got the sense that she picked this age because it was one that afforded boundless reserves of energy.
+
+She didn't deign to rise as I approached, but she did nod languorously at me. The other ad-hocs had been split into little clusters, hunched over terminals. They all had the raccoon-eyed, sleep-deprived look of fanatics, even Debra, who managed to look lazy and excited simultaneously.
+
+/{Did you have me killed}/? I wondered, staring at Debra. After all, she'd been killed dozens, if not hundreds of times. It might not be such a big deal for her.
+
+“Hi there,” I said, brightly. “Tim offered to show us around! You know Dan, right?”
+
+Debra nodded at him. “Oh, sure. Dan and I are pals, right?”
+
+Dan's poker face didn't twitch a muscle. “Hello, Debra,” he said. He'd been hanging out with them since Lil had briefed him on the peril to the Mansion, trying to gather some intelligence for us to use. They knew what he was up to, of course, but Dan was a fairly charming guy and he worked like a mule, so they tolerated him. But it seemed like he'd violated a boundary by accompanying me, as though the polite fiction that he was more a part of Debra's ad-hoc than Lil's was shattered by my presence.
+
+Tim said, “Can I show them the demo, Debra?”
+
+Debra quirked an eyebrow, then said, “Sure, why not. You'll like this, guys.”
+
+Tim hustled us backstage, where Lil and I used to sweat over the animatronics and cop surreptitious feels. Everything had been torn loose, packed up, stacked. They hadn't wasted a moment—they'd spent a week tearing down a show that had run for more than a century. The scrim that the projected portions of the show normally screened on was ground into the floor, spotted with grime, footprints and oil.
+
+Tim showed me to a half-assembled backup terminal. Its housing was off, and any number of wireless keyboards, pointers and gloves lay strewn about it. It had the look of a prototype.
+
+“This is it—our uplink. So far, we've got a demo app running on it: Lincoln's old speech, along with the civil-war montage. Just switch on guest access and I'll core-dump it to you. It's wild.”
+
+I pulled up my HUD and switched on guest access. Tim pointed a finger at the terminal and my brain was suffused with the essence of Lincoln: every nuance of his speech, the painstakingly researched movement tics, his warts and beard and topcoat. It almost felt like I /{was}/ Lincoln, for a moment, and then it passed. But I could still taste the lingering coppery flavor of cannon-fire and chewing tobacco.
+
+I staggered backwards. My head swam with flash-baked sense-impressions, rich and detailed. I knew on the spot that Debra's Hall of the Presidents was going to be a hit.
+
+Dan took a shot off the uplink, too. Tim and I watched him as his expression shifted from skepticism to delight. Tim looked expectantly at me.
+
+“That's really fine,” I said. “Really, really fine. Moving.”
+
+Tim blushed. “Thanks! I did the gestalt programming—it's my specialty.”
+
+Debra spoke up from behind him—she'd sauntered over while Dan was getting his jolt. “I got the idea in Beijing, when I was dying a lot. There's something wonderful about having memories implanted, like you're really working your brain. I love the synthetic clarity of it all.”
+
+Tim sniffed. “Not synthetic at all,” he said, turning to me. “It's nice and soft, right?”
+
+I sensed deep political shoals and was composing my reply when Debra said: “Tim keeps trying to make it all more impressionistic, less computer-y. He's wrong, of course. We don't want to simulate the experience of watching the show—we want to /{transcend it}/.”
+
+Tim nodded reluctantly. “Sure, transcend it. But the way we do that is by making the experience /{human}/, a mile in the presidents' shoes. Empathy-driven. What's the point of flash-baking a bunch of dry facts on someone's brain?”
+
+1~ CHAPTER 4
+
+One night in the Hall of Presidents convinced me of three things:
+
+_1 That Debra's people had had me killed, and screw their alibis,
+
+_1 That they would kill me again, when the time came for them to make a play for the Haunted Mansion,
+
+_1 That our only hope for saving the Mansion was a preemptive strike against them: we had to hit them hard, where it hurt.
+
+Dan and I had been treated to eight hours of insectile precision in the Hall of Presidents, Debra's people working with effortless cooperation born of the adversity they'd faced in Beijing. Debra moved from team to team, making suggestions with body language as much as with words, leaving bursts of inspired activity in her wake.
+
+It was that precision that convinced me of point one. Any ad-hoc this tight could pull off anything if it advanced their agenda. Ad-hoc? Hell, call them what they were: an army.
+
+Point two came to me when I sampled the Lincoln build that Tim finished at about three in the morning, after intensive consultation with Debra. The mark of a great ride is that it gets better the second time around, as the detail and flourishes start to impinge on your consciousness. The Mansion was full of little gimcracks and sly nods that snuck into your experience on each successive ride.
+
+Tim shuffled his feet nervously, bursting with barely restrained pride as I switched on public access. He dumped the app to my public directory, and, gingerly, I executed it.
+
+God! God and Lincoln and cannon-fire and oratory and ploughs and mules and greatcoats! It rolled over me, it punched through me, it crashed against the inside of my skull and rebounded. The first pass through, there had been a sense of order, of narrative, but this, this was gestalt, the whole thing in one undifferentiated ball, filling me and spilling over. It was panicky for a moment, as the essence of Lincolness seemed to threaten my own personality, and, just as it was about to overwhelm me, it receded, leaving behind a rush of endorphin and adrenaline that made me want to jump.
+
+“Tim,” I gasped. “Tim! That was…” Words failed me. I wanted to hug him. What we could do for the Mansion with this! What elegance! Directly imprinting the experience, without recourse to the stupid, blind eyes; the thick, deaf ears.
+
+Tim beamed and basked, and Debra nodded solemnly from her throne. “You liked it?” Tim said. I nodded, and staggered back to the theatre seat where Dan slept, head thrown back, snores softly rattling in his throat.
+
+Incrementally, reason trickled back into my mind, and with it came ire. How dare they? The wonderful compromises of technology and expense that had given us the Disney rides—rides that had entertained the world for two centuries and more—could never compete head to head with what they were working on.
+
+My hands knotted into fists in my lap. Why the fuck couldn't they do this somewhere else? Why did they have to destroy everything I loved to realize this? They could build this tech anywhere—they could distribute it online and people could access it from their living rooms!
+
+But that would never do. Doing it here was better for the old Whuffie—they'd make over Disney World and hold it, a single ad-hoc where three hundred had flourished before, smoothly operating a park twice the size of Manhattan.
+
+I stood and stalked out of the theater, out into Liberty Square and the Park. It had cooled down without drying out, and there was a damp chill that crawled up my back and made my breath stick in my throat. I turned to contemplate the Hall of Presidents, staid and solid as it had been since my boyhood and before, a monument to the Imagineers who anticipated the Bitchun Society, inspired it.
+
+I called Dan, still snoring back in the theater, and woke him. He grunted unintelligibly in my cochlea.
+
+“They did it—they killed me.” I knew they had, and I was glad. It made what I had to do next easier.
+
+“Oh, Jesus. They didn't kill you—they offered their backups, remember? They couldn't have done it.”
+
+“Bullshit!” I shouted into the empty night. “Bullshit! They did it, and they fucked with their backups somehow. They must have. It's all too neat and tidy. How else could they have gotten so far with the Hall so fast? They knew it was coming, they planned a disruption, and they moved in. Tell me that you think they just had these plans lying around and moved on them when they could.”
+
+Dan groaned, and I heard his joints popping. He must have been stretching. The Park breathed around me, the sounds of maintenance crews scurrying in the night. “I do believe that. Clearly, you don't. It's not the first time we've disagreed. So now what?”
+
+“Now we save the Mansion,” I said. “Now we fight back.”
+
+“Oh, shit,” Dan said.
+
+I have to admit, there was a part of me that concurred.
+
+My opportunity came later that week. Debra's ad-hocs were showboating, announcing a special preview of the new Hall to the other ad-hocs that worked in the Park. It was classic chutzpah, letting the key influencers in the Park in long before the bugs were hammered out. A smooth run would garner the kind of impressed reaction that guaranteed continued support while they finished up; a failed demo could doom them. There were plenty of people in the Park who had a sentimental attachment to the Hall of Presidents, and whatever Debra's people came up with would have to answer their longing.
+
+“I'm going to do it during the demo,” I told Dan, while I piloted the runabout from home to the castmember parking. I snuck a look at him to gauge his reaction. He had his poker face on.
+
+“I'm not going to tell Lil,” I continued. “It's better that she doesn't know—plausible deniability.”
+
+“And me?” he said. “Don't I need plausible deniability?”
+
+“No,” I said. “No, you don't. You're an outsider. You can make the case that you were working on your own—gone rogue.” I knew it wasn't fair. Dan was here to build up his Whuffie, and if he was implicated in my dirty scheme, he'd have to start over again. I knew it wasn't fair, but I didn't care. I knew that we were fighting for our own survival. “It's good versus evil, Dan. You don't want to be a post-person. You want to stay human. The rides are human. We each mediate them through our own experience. We're physically inside of them, and they talk to us through our senses. What Debra's people are building—it's hive-mind shit. Directly implanting thoughts! Jesus! It's not an experience, it's brainwashing! You gotta know that.” I was pleading, arguing with myself as much as with him.
+
+I snuck another look at him as I sped along the Disney back-roads, lined with sweaty Florida pines and immaculate purple signage. Dan was looking thoughtful, the way he had back in our old days in Toronto. Some of my tension dissipated. He was thinking about it—I'd gotten through to him.
+
+“Jules, this isn't one of your better ideas.” My chest tightened, and he patted my shoulder. He had the knack of putting me at my ease, even when he was telling me that I was an idiot. “Even if Debra was behind your assassination—and that's not a certainty, we both know that. Even if that's the case, we've got better means at our disposal. Improving the Mansion, competing with her head to head, that's smart. Give it a little while and we can come back at her, take over the Hall—even the Pirates, that'd really piss her off. Hell, if we can prove she was behind the assassination, we can chase her off right now. Sabotage is not going to do you any good. You've got lots of other options.”
+
+“But none of them are fast enough, and none of them are emotionally satisfying. This way has some goddamn /{balls}/.”
+
+We reached castmember parking, I swung the runabout into a slot and stalked out before it had a chance to extrude its recharger cock. I heard Dan's door slam behind me and knew that he was following behind.
+
+We took to the utilidors grimly. I walked past the cameras, knowing that my image was being archived, my presence logged. I'd picked the timing of my raid carefully: by arriving at high noon, I was sticking to my traditional pattern for watching hot-weather crowd dynamics. I'd made a point of visiting twice during the previous week at this time, and of dawdling in the commissary before heading topside. The delay between my arrival in the runabout and my showing up at the Mansion would not be discrepant.
+
+Dan dogged my heels as I swung towards the commissary, and then hugged the wall, in the camera's blindspot. Back in my early days in the Park, when I was courting Lil, she showed me the A-Vac, the old pneumatic waste-disposal system, decommissioned in the 20s. The kids who grew up in the Park had been notorious explorers of the tubes, which still whiffed faintly of the garbage bags they'd once whisked at 60 mph to the dump on the property's outskirts, but for a brave, limber kid, the tubes were a subterranean wonderland to explore when the hypermediated experiences of the Park lost their luster.
+
+I snarled a grin and popped open the service entrance. “If they hadn't killed me and forced me to switch to a new body, I probably wouldn't be flexible enough to fit in,” I hissed at Dan. “Ironic, huh?”
+
+I clambered inside without waiting for a reply, and started inching my way under the Hall of Presidents.
+
+My plan had covered every conceivable detail, except one, which didn't occur to me until I was forty minutes into the pneumatic tube, arms held before me and legs angled back like a swimmer's.
+
+How was I going to reach into my pockets?
+
+Specifically, how was I going to retrieve my HERF gun from my back pants-pocket, when I couldn't even bend my elbows? The HERF gun was the crux of the plan: a High Energy Radio Frequency generator with a directional, focused beam that would punch up through the floor of the Hall of Presidents and fuse every goddamn scrap of unshielded electronics on the premises. I'd gotten the germ of the idea during Tim's first demo, when I'd seen all of his prototypes spread out backstage, cases off, ready to be tinkered with. Unshielded.
+
+“Dan,” I said, my voice oddly muffled by the tube's walls.
+
+“Yeah?” he said. He'd been silent during the journey, the sound of his painful, elbow-dragging progress through the lightless tube my only indicator of his presence.
+
+“Can you reach my back pocket?”
+
+“Oh, shit,” he said.
+
+“Goddamn it,” I said, “keep the fucking editorial to yourself. Can you reach it or not?”
+
+I heard him grunt as he pulled himself up in the tube, then felt his hand groping up my calf. Soon, his chest was crushing my calves into the tube's floor and his hand was pawing around my ass.
+
+“I can reach it,” he said. I could tell from his tone that he wasn't too happy about my snapping at him, but I was too wrapped up to consider an apology, despite what must be happening to my Whuffie as Dan did his slow burn.
+
+He fumbled the gun—a narrow cylinder as long as my palm—out of my pocket. “Now what?” he said.
+
+“Can you pass it up?” I asked.
+
+Dan crawled higher, overtop of me, but stuck fast when his ribcage met my glutes. “I can't get any further,” he said.
+
+“Fine,” I said. “You'll have to fire it, then.” I held my breath. Would he do it? It was one thing to be my accomplice, another to be the author of the destruction.
+
+“Aw, Jules,” he said.
+
+“A simple yes or no, Dan. That's all I want to hear from you.” I was boiling with anger—at myself, at Dan, at Debra, at the whole goddamn thing.
+
+“Fine,” he said.
+
+“Good. Dial it up to max dispersion and point it straight up.”
+
+I heard him release the catch, felt a staticky crackle in the air, and then it was done. The gun was a one-shot, something I'd confiscated from a mischievous guest a decade before, when they'd had a brief vogue.
+
+“Hang on to it,” I said. I had no intention of leaving such a damning bit of evidence behind. I resumed my bellycrawl forward to the next service hatch, near the parking lot, where I'd stashed an identical change of clothes for both of us.
+
+We made it back just as the demo was getting underway. Debra's ad-hocs were ranged around the mezzanine inside the Hall of Presidents, a collection of influential castmembers from other ad-hocs filling the pre-show area to capacity.
+
+Dan and I filed in just as Tim was stringing the velvet rope up behind the crowd. He gave me a genuine smile and shook my hand, and I smiled back, full of good feelings now that I knew that he was going down in flames. I found Lil and slipped my hand into hers as we filed into the auditorium, which had the new-car smell of rug shampoo and fresh electronics.
+
+We took our seats and I bounced my leg nervously, compulsively, while Debra, dressed in Lincoln's coat and stovepipe, delivered a short speech. There was some kind of broadcast rig mounted over the stage now, something to allow them to beam us all their app in one humongous burst.
+
+Debra finished up and stepped off the stage to a polite round of applause, and they started the demo.
+
+Nothing happened. I tried to keep the shit-eating grin off my face as nothing happened. No tone in my cochlea indicating a new file in my public directory, no rush of sensation, nothing. I turned to Lil to make some snotty remark, but her eyes were closed, her mouth lolling open, her breath coming in short huffs. Down the row, every castmember was in the same attitude of deep, mind-blown concentration. I pulled up a diagnostic HUD.
+
+Nothing. No diagnostics. No HUD. I cold-rebooted.
+
+Nothing.
+
+I was offline.
+
+Offline, I filed out of the Hall of Presidents. Offline, I took Lil's hand and walked to the Liberty Belle load-zone, our spot for private conversations. Offline, I bummed a cigarette from her.
+
+Lil was upset—even through my bemused, offline haze, I could tell that. Tears pricked her eyes.
+
+“Why didn't you tell me?” she said, after a hard moment's staring into the moonlight reflecting off the river.
+
+“Tell you?” I said, dumbly.
+
+“They're really good. They're better than good. They're better than us. Oh, God.”
+
+Offline, I couldn't find stats or signals to help me discuss the matter. Offline, I tried it without help. “I don't think so. I don't think they've got soul, I don't think they've got history, I don't think they've got any kind of connection to the past. The world grew up in the Disneys—they visit this place for continuity as much as for entertainment. We provide that.” I'm offline, and they're not—what the hell happened?
+
+“It'll be okay, Lil. There's nothing in that place that's better than us. Different and new, but not better. You know that—you've spent more time in the Mansion than anyone, you know how much refinement, how much work there is in there. How can something they whipped up in a couple weeks possibly be better that this thing we've been maintaining for all these years?”
+
+She ground the back of her sleeve against her eyes and smiled. “Sorry,” she said. Her nose was red, her eyes puffy, her freckles livid over the flush of her cheeks. “Sorry—it's just shocking. Maybe you're right. And even if you're not—hey, that's the whole point of a meritocracy, right? The best stuff survives, everything else gets supplanted.
+
+“Oh, shit, I hate how I look when I cry,” she said. “Let's go congratulate them.”
+
+As I took her hand, I was obscurely pleased with myself for having improved her mood without artificial assistance.
+
+Dan was nowhere to be seen as Lil and I mounted the stage at the Hall, where Debra's ad-hocs and a knot of well-wishers were celebrating by passing a rock around. Debra had lost the tailcoat and hat, and was in an extreme state of relaxation, arms around the shoulders of two of her cronies, pipe between her teeth.
+
+She grinned around the pipe as Lil and I stumbled through some insincere compliments, nodded, and toked heavily while Tim applied a torch to the bowl.
+
+“Thanks,” she said, laconically. “It was a team effort.” She hugged her cronies to her, almost knocking their heads together.
+
+Lil said, “What's your timeline, then?”
+
+Debra started unreeling a long spiel about critical paths, milestones, requirements meetings, and I tuned her out. Ad-hocs were crazy for that process stuff. I stared at my feet, at the floorboards, and realized that they weren't floorboards at all, but faux-finish painted over a copper mesh—a Faraday cage. That's why the HERF gun hadn't done anything; that's why they'd been so casual about working with the shielding off their computers. With my eye, I followed the copper shielding around the entire stage and up the walls, where it disappeared into the ceiling. Once again, I was struck by the evolvedness of Debra's ad-hocs, how their trial by fire in China had armored them against the kind of bush-league jiggery-pokery that the fuzzy bunnies in Florida—myself included—came up with.
+
+For instance, I didn't think there was a single castmember in the Park outside of Deb's clique with the stones to stage an assassination. Once I'd made that leap, I realized that it was only a matter of time until they staged another one—and another, and another. Whatever they could get away with.
+
+Debra's spiel finally wound down and Lil and I headed away. I stopped in front of the backup terminal in the gateway between Liberty Square and Fantasyland. “When was the last time you backed up?” I asked her. If they could go after me, they might go after any of us.
+
+“Yesterday,” she said. She exuded bone-weariness at me, looking more like an overmediated guest than a tireless castmember.
+
+“Let's run another backup, huh? We should really back up at night and at lunchtime—with things the way they are, we can't afford to lose an afternoon's work, much less a week's.”
+
+Lil rolled her eyes. I knew better than to argue with her when she was tired, but this was too crucial to set aside for petulance. “You can back up that often if you want to, Julius, but don't tell me how to live my life, okay?”
+
+“Come on, Lil—it only takes a minute, and it'd make me feel a lot better. Please?” I hated the whine in my voice.
+
+“No, Julius. No. Let's go home and get some sleep. I want to do some work on new merch for the Mansion—some collectible stuff, maybe.”
+
+“For Christ's sake, is it really so much to ask? Fine. Wait while I back up, then, all right?”
+
+Lil groaned and glared at me.
+
+I approached the terminal and cued a backup. Nothing happened. Oh, yeah, right, I was offline. A cool sweat broke out all over my new body.
+
+Lil grabbed the couch as soon as we got in, mumbling something about wanting to work on some revised merch ideas she'd had. I glared at her as she subvocalized and air-typed in the corner, shut away from me. I hadn't told her that I was offline yet—it just seemed like insignificant personal bitching relative to the crises she was coping with.
+
+Besides, I'd been knocked offline before, though not in fifty years, and often as not the system righted itself after a good night's sleep. I could visit the doctor in the morning if things were still screwy.
+
+So I crawled into bed, and when my bladder woke me in the night, I had to go into the kitchen to consult our old starburst clock to get the time. It was 3 a.m., and when the hell had we expunged the house of all timepieces, anyway?
+
+Lil was sacked out on the couch, and complained feebly when I tried to rouse her, so I covered her with a blanket and went back to bed, alone.
+
+I woke disoriented and crabby, without my customary morning jolt of endorphin. Vivid dreams of death and destruction slipped away as I sat up. I preferred to let my subconscious do its own thing, so I'd long ago programmed my systems to keep me asleep during REM cycles except in emergencies. The dream left a foul taste in my mind as I staggered into the kitchen, where Lil was fixing coffee.
+
+“Why didn't you wake me up last night? I'm one big ache from sleeping on the couch,” Lil said as I stumbled in.
+
+She had the perky, jaunty quality of someone who could instruct her nervous system to manufacture endorphin and adrenaline at will. I felt like punching the wall.
+
+“You wouldn't get up,” I said, and slopped coffee in the general direction of a mug, then scalded my tongue with it.
+
+“And why are you up so late? I was hoping you would cover a shift for me—the merch ideas are really coming together and I wanted to hit the Imagineering shop and try some prototyping.”
+
+“Can't.” I foraged a slice of bread with cheese and noticed a crumby plate in the sink. Dan had already eaten and gone, apparently.
+
+“Really?” she said, and my blood started to boil in earnest. I slammed Dan's plate into the dishwasher and shoved bread into my maw.
+
+“Yes. Really. It's your shift—fucking work it or call in sick.”
+
+Lil reeled. Normally, I was the soul of sweetness in the morning, when I was hormonally enhanced, anyway. “What's wrong, honey?” she said, going into helpful castmember mode. Now I wanted to hit something besides the wall.
+
+“Just leave me alone, all right? Go fiddle with fucking merch. I've got real work to do—in case you haven't noticed, Debra's about to eat you and your little band of plucky adventurers and pick her teeth with the bones. For God's sake, Lil, don't you ever get fucking angry about anything? Don't you have any goddamned passion?”
+
+Lil whitened and I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. It was the worst thing I could possibly have said.
+
+Lil and I met three years before, at a barbecue that some friends of her parents threw, a kind of castmember mixer. She'd been just 19—apparent and real—and had a bubbly, flirty vibe that made me dismiss her, at first, as just another airhead castmember.
+
+Her parents—Tom and Rita—on the other hand, were fascinating people, members of the original ad-hoc that had seized power in Walt Disney World, wresting control from a gang of wealthy former shareholders who'd been operating it as their private preserve. Rita was apparent 20 or so, but she radiated a maturity and a fiery devotion to the Park that threw her daughter's superficiality into sharp relief.
+
+They throbbed with Whuffie, Whuffie beyond measure, beyond use. In a world where even a zeroed-out Whuffie loser could eat, sleep, travel and access the net without hassle, their wealth was more than sufficient to repeatedly access the piffling few scarce things left on earth over and over.
+
+The conversation turned to the first day, when she and her pals had used a cutting torch on the turnstiles and poured in, wearing homemade costumes and name tags. They infiltrated the shops, the control centers, the rides, first by the hundred, then, as the hot July day ticked by, by the thousand. The shareholders' lackeys—who worked the Park for the chance to be a part of the magic, even if they had no control over the management decisions—put up a token resistance. Before the day was out, though, the majority had thrown in their lots with the raiders, handing over security codes and pitching in.
+
+“But we knew the shareholders wouldn't give in as easy as that,” Lil's mother said, sipping her lemonade. “We kept the Park running 24/7 for the next two weeks, never giving the shareholders a chance to fight back without doing it in front of the guests. We'd prearranged with a couple of airline ad-hocs to add extra routes to Orlando and the guests came pouring in.” She smiled, remembering the moment, and her features in repose were Lil's almost identically. It was only when she was talking that her face changed, muscles tugging it into an expression decades older than the face that bore it.
+
+“I spent most of the time running the merch stand at Madame Leota's outside the Mansion, gladhanding the guests while hissing nasties back and forth with the shareholders who kept trying to shove me out. I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of the utilidor, with a couple dozen others, in three hour shifts. That was when I met this asshole”—she chucked her husband on the shoulder—“he'd gotten the wrong sleeping bag by mistake and wouldn't budge when I came down to crash. I just crawled in next to him and the rest, as they say, is history.”
+
+Lil rolled her eyes and made gagging noises. “Jesus, Rita, no one needs to hear about that part of it.”
+
+Tom patted her arm. “Lil, you're an adult—if you can't stomach hearing about your parents' courtship, you can either sit somewhere else or grin and bear it. But you don't get to dictate the topic of conversation.”
+
+Lil gave us adults a very youthful glare and flounced off. Rita shook her head at Lil's departing backside. “There's not much fire in that generation,” she said. “Not a lot of passion. It's our fault—we thought that Disney World would be the best place to raise a child in the Bitchun Society. Maybe it was, but…” She trailed off and rubbed her palms on her thighs, a gesture I'd come to know in Lil, by and by. “I guess there aren't enough challenges for them these days. They're too cooperative.” She laughed and her husband took her hand.
+
+“We sound like our parents,” Tom said. “'When we were growing up, we didn't have any of this newfangled life-extension stuff—we took our chances with the cave bears and the dinosaurs!'” Tom wore himself older, apparent 50, with graying sidewalls and crinkled smile-lines, the better to present a non-threatening air of authority to the guests. It was a truism among the first-gen ad-hocs that women castmembers should wear themselves young, men old. “We're just a couple of Bitchun fundamentalists, I guess.”
+
+Lil called over from a nearby conversation: “Are they telling you what a pack of milksops we are, Julius? When you get tired of that, why don't you come over here and have a smoke?” I noticed that she and her cohort were passing a crack pipe.
+
+“What's the use?” Lil's mother sighed.
+
+“Oh, I don't know that it's as bad as all that,” I said, virtually my first words of the afternoon. I was painfully conscious that I was only there by courtesy, just one of the legion of hopefuls who flocked to Orlando every year, aspiring to a place among the ruling cliques. “They're passionate about maintaining the Park, that's for sure. I made the mistake of lifting a queue-gate at the Jungleboat Cruise last week and I got a very earnest lecture about the smooth functioning of the Park from a castmember who couldn't have been more than 18. I think that they don't have the passion for creating Bitchunry that we have—they don't need it—but they've got plenty of drive to maintain it.”
+
+Lil's mother gave me a long, considering look that I didn't know what to make of. I couldn't tell if I had offended her or what.
+
+“I mean, you can't be a revolutionary after the revolution, can you? Didn't we all struggle so that kids like Lil wouldn't have to?”
+
+“Funny you should say that,” Tom said. He had the same considering look on his face. “Just yesterday we were talking about the very same thing. We were talking—” he drew a breath and looked askance at his wife, who nodded—“about deadheading. For a while, anyway. See if things changed much in fifty or a hundred years.”
+
+I felt a kind of shameful disappointment. Why was I wasting my time schmoozing with these two, when they wouldn't be around when the time came to vote me in? I banished the thought as quickly as it came—I was talking to them because they were nice people. Not every conversation had to be strategically important.
+
+“Really? Deadheading.” I remember that I thought of Dan then, about his views on the cowardice of deadheading, on the bravery of ending it when you found yourself obsolete. He'd comforted me once, when my last living relative, my uncle, opted to go to sleep for three thousand years. My uncle had been born pre-Bitchun, and had never quite gotten the hang of it. Still, he was my link to my family, to my first adulthood and my only childhood. Dan had taken me to Gananoque and we'd spent the day bounding around the countryside on seven-league boots, sailing high over the lakes of the Thousand Islands and the crazy fiery carpet of autumn leaves. We topped off the day at a dairy commune he knew where they still made cheese from cow's milk and there'd been a thousand smells and bottles of strong cider and a girl whose name I'd long since forgotten but whose exuberant laugh I'd remember forever. And it wasn't so important, then, my uncle going to sleep for three milliennia, because whatever happened, there were the leaves and the lakes and the crisp sunset the color of blood and the girl's laugh.
+
+“Have you talked to Lil about it?”
+
+Rita shook her head. “It's just a thought, really. We don't want to worry her. She's not good with hard decisions—it's her generation.”
+
+They changed the subject not long thereafter, and I sensed discomfort, knew that they had told me too much, more than they'd intended. I drifted off and found Lil and her young pals, and we toked a little and cuddled a little.
+
+Within a month, I was working at the Haunted Mansion, Tom and Rita were invested in Canopic jars in Kissimee with instructions not to be woken until their newsbots grabbed sufficient interesting material to make it worth their while, and Lil and I were a hot item.
+
+Lil didn't deal well with her parents' decision to deadhead. For her, it was a slap in the face, a reproach to her and her generation of twittering Polyannic castmembers.
+
+For God's sake, Lil, don't you ever get fucking angry about anything? Don't you have any goddamned passion?
+
+The words were out of my mouth before I knew I was saying them, and Lil, 15 percent of my age, young enough to be my great-granddaughter; Lil, my lover and best friend and sponsor to the Liberty Square ad-hocracy; Lil turned white as a sheet, turned on her heel and walked out of the kitchen. She got in her runabout and went to the Park to take her shift.
+
+I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling fan as it made its lazy turns, and felt like shit.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 5
+
+When I finally returned to the Park, 36 hours had passed and Lil had not come back to the house. If she'd tried to call, she would've gotten my voicemail—I had no way of answering my phone. As it turned out, she hadn't been trying to reach me at all.
+
+I'd spent the time alternately moping, drinking, and plotting terrible, irrational vengeance on Debra for killing me, destroying my relationship, taking away my beloved (in hindsight, anyway) Hall of Presidents and threatening the Mansion. Even in my addled state, I knew that this was pretty unproductive, and I kept promising that I would cut it out, take a shower and some sober-ups, and get to work at the Mansion.
+
+I was working up the energy to do just that when Dan came in.
+
+“Jesus,” he said, shocked. I guess I was a bit of a mess, sprawled on the sofa in my underwear, all gamy and baggy and bloodshot.
+
+“Hey, Dan. How's it goin'?”
+
+He gave me one of his patented wry looks and I felt the same weird reversal of roles that we'd undergone at the U of T, when he had become the native, and I had become the interloper. He was the together one with the wry looks and I was the pathetic seeker who'd burned all his reputation capital. Out of habit, I checked my Whuffie, and a moment later I stopped being startled by its low score and was instead shocked by the fact that I could check it at all. I was back online!
+
+“Now, what do you know about that?” I said, staring at my dismal Whuffie.
+
+“What?” he said.
+
+I called his cochlea. “My systems are back online,” I subvocalized.
+
+He started. “You were offline?”
+
+I jumped up from the couch and did a little happy underwear dance. “I /{was}/, but I'm not /{now}/.” I felt better than I had in days, ready to beat the world—or at least Debra.
+
+“Let me take a shower, then let's get to the Imagineering labs. I've got a pretty kickass idea.”
+
+The idea, as I explained it in the runabout, was a preemptive rehab of the Mansion. Sabotaging the Hall had been a nasty, stupid idea, and I'd gotten what I deserved for it. The whole point of the Bitchun Society was to be more reputable than the next ad-hoc, to succeed on merit, not trickery, despite assassinations and the like.
+
+So a rehab it would be.
+
+“Back in the early days of the Disneyland Mansion, in California,” I explained, “Walt had a guy in a suit of armor just past the first Doom Buggy curve, he'd leap out and scare the hell out of the guests as they went by. It didn't last long, of course. The poor bastard kept getting punched out by startled guests, and besides, the armor wasn't too comfortable for long shifts.”
+
+Dan chuckled appreciatively. The Bitchun Society had all but done away with any sort of dull, repetitious labor, and what remained—tending bar, mopping toilets—commanded Whuffie aplenty and a life of leisure in your off-hours.
+
+“But that guy in the suit of armor, he could /{improvise}/. You'd get a slightly different show every time. It's like the castmembers who spiel on the Jungleboat Cruise. They've each got their own patter, their own jokes, and even though the animatronics aren't so hot, it makes the show worth seeing.”
+
+“You're going to fill the Mansion with castmembers in armor?” Dan asked, shaking his head.
+
+I waved away his objections, causing the runabout to swerve, terrifying a pack of guests who were taking a ride on rented bikes around the property. “No,” I said, flapping a hand apologetically at the white-faced guests. “Not at all. But what if all of the animatronics had human operators—telecontrollers, working with waldoes? We'll let them interact with the guests, talk with them, scare them… We'll get rid of the existing animatronics, replace 'em with full-mobility robots, then cast the parts over the Net. Think of the Whuffie! You could put, say, a thousand operators online at once, ten shifts per day, each of them caught up in our Mansion… We'll give out awards for outstanding performances, the shifts'll be based on popular vote. In effect, we'll be adding another ten thousand guests to the Mansion's throughput every day, only these guests will be honorary castmembers.”
+
+“That's pretty good,” Dan said. “Very Bitchun. Debra may have AI and flash-baking, but you'll have human interaction, courtesy of the biggest Mansion-fans in the world—”
+
+“And those are the very fans Debra'll have to win over to make a play for the Mansion. Very elegant, huh?”
+
+The first order of business was to call Lil, patch things up, and pitch the idea to her. The only problem was, my cochlea was offline again. My mood started to sour, and I had Dan call her instead.
+
+We met her up at Imagineering, a massive complex of prefab aluminum buildings painted Go-Away Green that had thronged with mad inventors since the Bitchun Society had come to Walt Disney World. The ad-hocs who had built an Imagineering department in Florida and now ran the thing were the least political in the Park, classic labcoat-and-clipboard types who would work for anyone so long as the ideas were cool. Not caring about Whuffie meant that they accumulated it in plenty on both the left and right hands.
+
+Lil was working with Suneep, AKA the Merch Miracle. He could design, prototype and produce a souvenir faster than anyone—shirts, sculptures, pens, toys, housewares, he was the king. They were collaborating on their HUDs, facing each other across a lab-bench in the middle of a lab as big as a basketball court, cluttered with logomarked tchotchkes and gabbling away while their eyes danced over invisible screens.
+
+Dan reflexively joined the collaborative space as he entered the lab, leaving me the only one out on the joke. Dan was clearly delighted by what he saw.
+
+I nudged him with an elbow. “Make a hardcopy,” I hissed.
+
+Instead of pitying me, he just airtyped a few commands and pages started to roll out of a printer in the lab's corner. Anyone else would have made a big deal out of it, but he just brought me into the discussion.
+
+If I needed proof that Lil and I were meant for each other, the designs she and Suneep had come up with were more than enough. She'd been thinking just the way I had—souvenirs that stressed the human scale of the Mansion. There were miniature animatronics of the Hitchhiking Ghosts in a black-light box, their skeletal robotics visible through their layers of plastic clothing; action figures that communicated by IR, so that placing one in proximity with another would unlock its Mansion-inspired behaviors—the raven cawed, Mme. Leota's head incanted, the singing busts sang. She'd worked up some formal attire based on the castmember costume, cut in this year's stylish lines.
+
+It was good merch, is what I'm trying to say. In my mind's eye, I was seeing the relaunch of the Mansion in six months, filled with robotic avatars of Mansion-nuts the world 'round, Mme. Leota's gift cart piled high with brilliant swag, strolling human players ad-libbing with the guests in the queue area…
+
+Lil looked up from her mediated state and glared at me as I pored over the hardcopy, nodding enthusiastically.
+
+“Passionate enough for you?” she snapped.
+
+I felt a flush creeping into face, my ears. It was somewhere between anger and shame, and I reminded myself that I was more than a century older than her, and it was my responsibility to be mature. Also, I'd started the fight.
+
+“This is fucking fantastic, Lil,” I said. Her look didn't soften. “Really choice stuff. I had a great idea—” I ran it down for her, the avatars, the robots, the rehab. She stopped glaring, started taking notes, smiling, showing me her dimples, her slanted eyes crinkling at the corners.
+
+“This isn't easy,” she said, finally. Suneep, who'd been politely pretending not to listen in, nodded involuntarily. Dan, too.
+
+“I know that,” I said. The flush burned hotter. “But that's the point—what Debra does isn't easy either. It's risky, dangerous. It made her and her ad-hoc better—it made them sharper.” /{Sharper than us, that's for sure}/. “They can make decisions like this fast, and execute them just as quickly. We need to be able to do that, too.”
+
+Was I really advocating being more like Debra? The words'd just popped out, but I saw that I'd been right—we'd have to beat Debra at her own game, out-evolve her ad-hocs.
+
+“I understand what you're saying,” Lil said. I could tell she was upset—she'd reverted to castmemberspeak. “It's a very good idea. I think that we stand a good chance of making it happen if we approach the group and put it to them, after doing the research, building the plans, laying out the critical path, and privately soliciting feedback from some of them.”
+
+I felt like I was swimming in molasses. At the rate that the Liberty Square ad-hoc moved, we'd be holding formal requirements reviews while Debra's people tore down the Mansion around us. So I tried a different tactic.
+
+“Suneep, you've been involved in some rehabs, right?”
+
+Suneep nodded slowly, with a cautious expression, a nonpolitical animal being drawn into a political discussion.
+
+“Okay, so tell me, if we came to you with this plan and asked you to pull together a production schedule—one that didn't have any review, just take the idea and run with it—and then pull it off, how long would it take you to execute it?”
+
+Lil smiled primly. She'd dealt with Imagineering before.
+
+“About five years,” he said, almost instantly.
+
+“Five years?” I squawked. “Why five years? Debra's people overhauled the Hall in a month!”
+
+“Oh, wait,” he said. “No review at all?”
+
+“No review. Just come up with the best way you can to do this, and do it. And we can provide you with unlimited, skilled labor, three shifts around the clock.”
+
+He rolled his eyes back and ticked off days on his fingers while muttering under his breath. He was a tall, thin man with a shock of curly dark hair that he smoothed unconsciously with surprisingly stubby fingers while he thought.
+
+“About eight weeks,” he said. “Barring accidents, assuming off-the-shelf parts, unlimited labor, capable management, material availability…” He trailed off again, and his short fingers waggled as he pulled up a HUD and started making a list.
+
+“Wait,” Lil said, alarmed. “How do you get from five years to eight weeks?”
+
+Now it was my turn to smirk. I'd seen how Imagineering worked when they were on their own, building prototypes and conceptual mockups—I knew that the real bottleneck was the constant review and revisions, the ever-fluctuating groupmind consensus of the ad-hoc that commissioned their work.
+
+Suneep looked sheepish. “Well, if all I have to do is satisfy myself that my plans are good and my buildings won't fall down, I can make it happen very fast. Of course, my plans aren't perfect. Sometimes, I'll be halfway through a project when someone suggests a new flourish or approach that makes the whole thing immeasurably better. Then it's back to the drawing board… So I stay at the drawing board for a long time at the start, get feedback from other Imagineers, from the ad-hocs, from focus groups and the Net. Then we do reviews at every stage of construction, check to see if anyone has had a great idea we haven't thought of and incorporate it, sometimes rolling back the work.
+
+“It's slow, but it works.”
+
+Lil was flustered. “But if you can do a complete revision in eight weeks, why not just finish it, then plan another revision, do /{that}/ one in eight weeks, and so on? Why take five years before anyone can ride the thing?”
+
+“Because that's how it's done,” I said to Lil. “But that's not how it /{has}/ to be done. That's how we'll save the Mansion.”
+
+I felt the surety inside of me, the certain knowledge that I was right. Ad-hocracy was a great thing, a Bitchun thing, but the organization needed to turn on a dime—that would be even /{more}/ Bitchun.
+
+“Lil,” I said, looking into her eyes, trying to burn my POV into her. “We have to do this. It's our only chance. We'll recruit hundreds to come to Florida and work on the rehab. We'll give every Mansion nut on the planet a shot at joining up, then we'll recruit them again to work at it, to run the telepresence rigs. We'll get buy-in from the biggest super-recommenders in the world, and we'll build something better and faster than any ad-hoc ever has, without abandoning the original Imagineers' vision. It will be unspeakably Bitchun.”
+
+Lil dropped her eyes and it was her turn to flush. She paced the floor, hands swinging at her sides. I could tell that she was still angry with me, but excited and scared and yes, passionate.
+
+“It's not up to me, you know,” she said at length, still pacing. Dan and I exchanged wicked grins. She was in.
+
+“I know,” I said. But it was, almost—she was a real opinion-leader in the Liberty Square ad-hoc, someone who knew the systems back and forth, someone who made good, reasonable decisions and kept her head in a crisis. Not a hothead. Not prone to taking radical switchbacks. This plan would burn up that reputation and the Whuffie that accompanied it, in short order, but by the time that happened, she'd have plenty of Whuffie with the new, thousands-strong ad-hoc.
+
+“I mean, I can't guarantee anything. I'd like to study the plans that Imagineering comes through with, do some walk-throughs—”
+
+I started to object, to remind her that speed was of the essence, but she beat me to it.
+
+“But I won't. We have to move fast. I'm in.”
+
+She didn't come into my arms, didn't kiss me and tell me everything was forgiven, but she bought in, and that was enough.
+
+My systems came back online sometime that day, and I hardly noticed, I was so preoccupied with the new Mansion. Holy shit, was it ever audacious: since the first Mansion opened in California in 1969, no one had ever had the guts to seriously fuxor with it. Oh, sure, the Paris version, Phantom Manor, had a slightly different storyline, but it was just a minor bit of tweakage to satisfy the European market at the time. No one wanted to screw up the legend.
+
+What the hell made the Mansion so cool, anyway? I'd been to Disney World any number of times as a guest before I settled in, and truth be told, it had never been my absolute favorite.
+
+But when I returned to Disney World, live and in person, freshly bored stupid by the three-hour liveheaded flight from Toronto, I'd found myself crowd-driven to it.
+
+I'm a terrible, terrible person to visit theme-parks with. Since I was a punk kid snaking my way through crowded subway platforms, eeling into the only seat on a packed car, I'd been obsessed with Beating The Crowd.
+
+In the early days of the Bitchun Society, I'd known a blackjack player, a compulsive counter of cards, an idiot savant of odds. He was a pudgy, unassuming engineer, the moderately successful founder of a moderately successful high-tech startup that had done something arcane with software agents. While he was only moderately successful, he was fabulously wealthy: he'd never raised a cent of financing for his company, and had owned it outright when he finally sold it for a bathtub full of money. His secret was the green felt tables of Vegas, where he'd pilgrim off to every time his bank balance dropped, there to count the monkey-cards and calculate the odds and Beat The House.
+
+Long after his software company was sold, long after he'd made his nut, he was dressing up in silly disguises and hitting the tables, grinding out hand after hand of twenty-one, for the sheer satisfaction of Beating The House. For him, it was pure brain-reward, a jolt of happy-juice every time the dealer busted and every time he doubled down on a deckfull of face cards.
+
+Though I'd never bought so much as a lottery ticket, I immediately got his compulsion: for me, it was Beating The Crowd, finding the path of least resistance, filling the gaps, guessing the short queue, dodging the traffic, changing lanes with a whisper to spare—moving with precision and grace and, above all, /{expedience}/.
+
+On that fateful return, I checked into the Fort Wilderness Campground, pitched my tent, and fairly ran to the ferry docks to catch a barge over to the Main Gate.
+
+Crowds were light until I got right up to Main Gate and the ticketing queues. Suppressing an initial instinct to dash for the farthest one, beating my ferrymates to what rule-of-thumb said would have the shortest wait, I stepped back and did a quick visual survey of the twenty kiosks and evaluated the queued-up huddle in front of each. Pre-Bitchun, I'd have been primarily interested in their ages, but that is less and less a measure of anything other than outlook, so instead I carefully examined their queuing styles, their dress, and more than anything, their burdens.
+
+You can tell more about someone's ability to efficiently negotiate the complexities of a queue through what they carry than through any other means—if only more people realized it. The classic, of course, is the unladen citizen, a person naked of even a modest shoulderbag or marsupial pocket. To the layperson, such a specimen might be thought of as a sure bet for a fast transaction, but I'd done an informal study and come to the conclusion that these brave iconoclasts are often the flightiest of the lot, left smiling with bovine mystification, patting down their pockets in a fruitless search for a writing implement, a piece of ID, a keycard, a rabbit's foot, a rosary, a tuna sandwich.
+
+No, for my money, I'll take what I call the Road Worrier anytime. Such a person is apt to be carefully slung with four or five carriers of one description or another, from bulging cargo pockets to clever military-grade strap-on pouches with biometrically keyed closures. The thing to watch for is the ergonomic consideration given to these conveyances: do they balance, are they slung for minimum interference and maximum ease of access? Someone who's given that much consideration to their gear is likely spending their time in line determining which bits and pieces they'll need when they reach its headwaters and is holding them at ready for fastest-possible processing.
+
+This is a tricky call, since there are lookalike pretenders, gear-pigs who pack /{everything}/ because they lack the organizational smarts to figure out what they should pack—they're just as apt to be burdened with bags and pockets and pouches, but the telltale is the efficiency of that slinging. These pack mules will sag beneath their loads, juggling this and that while pushing overloose straps up on their shoulders.
+
+I spied a queue that was made up of a group of Road Worriers, a queue that was slightly longer than the others, but I joined it and ticced nervously as I watched my progress relative to the other spots I could've chosen. I was borne out, a positive omen for a wait-free World, and I was sauntering down Main Street, USA long before my ferrymates.
+
+Returning to Walt Disney World was a homecoming for me. My parents had brought me the first time when I was all of ten, just as the first inklings of the Bitchun society were trickling into everyone's consciousness: the death of scarcity, the death of death, the struggle to rejig an economy that had grown up focused on nothing but scarcity and death. My memories of the trip are dim but warm, the balmy Florida climate and a sea of smiling faces punctuated by magical, darkened moments riding in OmniMover cars, past diorama after diorama.
+
+I went again when I graduated high school and was amazed by the richness of detail, the grandiosity and grandeur of it all. I spent a week there stunned bovine, grinning and wandering from corner to corner. Someday, I knew, I'd come to live there.
+
+The Park became a touchstone for me, a constant in a world where everything changed. Again and again, I came back to the Park, grounding myself, communing with all the people I'd been.
+
+That day I bopped from land to land, ride to ride, seeking out the short lines, the eye of the hurricane that crowded the Park to capacity. I'd take high ground, standing on a bench or hopping up on a fence, and do a visual reccy of all the queues in sight, try to spot prevailing currents in the flow of the crowd, generally having a high old obsessive time. Truth be told, I probably spent as much time looking for walk-ins as I would've spent lining up like a good little sheep, but I had more fun and got more exercise.
+
+The Haunted Mansion was experiencing a major empty spell: the Snow Crash Spectacular parade had just swept through Liberty Square en route to Fantasyland, dragging hordes of guests along with it, dancing to the JapRap sounds of the comical Sushi-K and aping the movements of the brave Hiro Protagonist. When they blew out, Liberty Square was a ghost town, and I grabbed the opportunity to ride the Mansion five times in a row, walking on every time.
+
+The way I tell it to Lil, I noticed her and then I noticed the Mansion, but to tell the truth it was the other way around.
+
+The first couple rides through, I was just glad of the aggressive air conditioning and the delicious sensation of sweat drying on my skin. But on the third pass, I started to notice just how goddamn cool the thing was. There wasn't a single bit of tech more advanced than a film-loop projector in the whole place, but it was all so cunningly contrived that the illusion of a haunted house was perfect: the ghosts that whirled through the ballroom were /{ghosts}/, three-dimensional and ethereal and phantasmic. The ghosts that sang in comical tableaux through the graveyard were equally convincing, genuinely witty and simultaneously creepy.
+
+My fourth pass through, I noticed the /{detail}/, the hostile eyes worked into the wallpaper's pattern, the motif repeated in the molding, the chandeliers, the photo gallery. I began to pick out the words to “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” the song that is repeated throughout the ride, whether in sinister organ-tones repeating the main theme troppo troppo or the spritely singing of the four musical busts in the graveyard.
+
+It's a catchy tune, one that I hummed on my fifth pass through, this time noticing that the overaggressive AC was, actually, mysterious chills that blew through the rooms as wandering spirits made their presence felt. By the time I debarked for the fifth time, I was whistling the tune with jazzy improvisations in a mixed-up tempo.
+
+That's when Lil and I ran into each other. She was picking up a discarded ice-cream wrapper—I'd seen a dozen castmembers picking up trash that day, seen it so frequently that I'd started doing it myself. She grinned slyly at me as I debarked into the fried-food-and-disinfectant perfume of the Park, hands in pockets, thoroughly pleased with myself for having so completely /{experienced}/ a really fine hunk of art.
+
+I smiled back at her, because it was only natural that one of the Whuffie-kings who were privileged to tend this bit of heavenly entertainment should notice how thoroughly I was enjoying her work.
+
+“That's really, really Bitchun,” I said to her, admiring the titanic mountains of Whuffie my HUD attributed to her.
+
+She was in character, and not supposed to be cheerful, but castmembers of her generation can't help but be friendly. She compromised between ghastly demeanor and her natural sweet spirit, and leered a grin at me, thumped through a zombie's curtsey, and moaned “Thank you—we /{do}/ try to keep it /{spirited}/.”
+
+I groaned appreciatively, and started to notice just how very cute she was, this little button of a girl with her rotting maid's uniform and her feather-shedding duster. She was just so clean and scrubbed and happy about everything, she radiated it and made me want to pinch her cheeks—either set.
+
+The moment was on me, and so I said, “When do they let you ghouls off? I'd love to take you out for a Zombie or a Bloody Mary.”
+
+Which led to more horrifying banter, and to my taking her out for a couple at the Adventurer's Club, learning her age in the process and losing my nerve, telling myself that there was nothing we could possibly have to say to each other across a century-wide gap.
+
+While I tell Lil that I noticed her first and the Mansion second, the reverse is indeed true. But it's also true—and I never told her this—that the thing I love best about the Mansion is:
+
+It's where I met her.
+
+Dan and I spent the day riding the Mansion, drafting scripts for the telepresence players who we hoped to bring on-board. We were in a totally creative zone, the dialog running as fast as he could transcribe it. Jamming on ideas with Dan was just about as terrific as a pass-time could be.
+
+I was all for leaking the plan to the Net right away, getting hearts-and-minds action with our core audience, but Lil turned it down.
+
+She was going to spend the next couple days quietly politicking among the rest of the ad-hoc, getting some support for the idea, and she didn't want the appearance of impropriety that would come from having outsiders being brought in before the ad-hoc.
+
+Talking to the ad-hocs, bringing them around—it was a skill I'd never really mastered. Dan was good at it, Lil was good at it, but me, I think that I was too self-centered to ever develop good skills as a peacemaker. In my younger days, I assumed that it was because I was smarter than everyone else, with no patience for explaining things in short words for mouth-breathers who just didn't get it.
+
+The truth of the matter is, I'm a bright enough guy, but I'm hardly a genius. Especially when it comes to people. Probably comes from Beating The Crowd, never seeing individuals, just the mass—the enemy of expedience.
+
+I never would have made it into the Liberty Square ad-hoc on my own. Lil made it happen for me, long before we started sleeping together. I'd assumed that her folks would be my best allies in the process of joining up, but they were too jaded, too ready to take the long sleep to pay much attention to a newcomer like me.
+
+Lil took me under her wing, inviting me to after-work parties, talking me up to her cronies, quietly passing around copies of my thesis-work. And she did the same in reverse, sincerely extolling the virtues of the others I met, so that I knew what there was to respect about them and couldn't help but treat them as individuals.
+
+In the years since, I'd lost that respect. Mostly, I palled around with Lil, and once he arrived, Dan, and with net-friends around the world. The ad-hocs that I worked with all day treated me with basic courtesy but not much friendliness.
+
+I guess I treated them the same. When I pictured them in my mind, they were a faceless, passive-aggressive mass, too caught up in the starchy world of consensus-building to ever do much of anything.
+
+Dan and I threw ourselves into it headlong, trolling the Net for address lists of Mansion-otakus from the four corners of the globe, spreadsheeting them against their timezones, temperaments, and, of course, their Whuffie.
+
+“That's weird,” I said, looking up from the old-fashioned terminal I was using—my systems were back offline. They'd been sputtering up and down for a couple days now, and I kept meaning to go to the doctor, but I'd never gotten 'round to it. Periodically, I'd get a jolt of urgency when I remembered that this meant my backup was stale-dating, but the Mansion always took precedence.
+
+“Huh?” he said.
+
+I tapped the display. “See these?” It was a fan-site, displaying a collection of animated 3-D meshes of various elements of the Mansion, part of a giant collaborative project that had been ongoing for decades, to build an accurate 3-D walkthrough of every inch of the Park. I'd used those meshes to build my own testing fly-throughs.
+
+“Those are terrific,” Dan said. “That guy must be a total /{fiend}/.” The meshes' author had painstakingly modeled, chained and animated every ghost in the ballroom scene, complete with the kinematics necessary for full motion. Where a “normal” fan-artist might've used a standard human kinematics library for the figures, this one had actually written his own from the ground up, so that the ghosts moved with a spectral fluidity that was utterly unhuman.
+
+“Who's the author?” Dan asked. “Do we have him on our list yet?”
+
+I scrolled down to display the credits. “I'll be damned,” Dan breathed.
+
+The author was Tim, Debra's elfin crony. He'd submitted the designs a week before my assassination.
+
+“What do you think it means?” I asked Dan, though I had a couple ideas on the subject myself.
+
+“Tim's a Mansion nut,” Dan said. “I knew that.”
+
+“You knew?”
+
+He looked a little defensive. “Sure. I told you, back when you had me hanging out with Debra's gang.”
+
+Had I asked him to hang out with Debra? As I remembered it, it had been his suggestion. Too much to think about.
+
+“But what does it mean, Dan? Is he an ally? Should we try to recruit him? Or is he the one that'd convinced Debra she needs to take over the Mansion?”
+
+Dan shook his head. “I'm not even sure that she wants to take over the Mansion. I know Debra, all she wants to do is turn ideas into things, as fast and as copiously as possible. She picks her projects carefully. She's acquisitive, sure, but she's cautious. She had a great idea for Presidents, and so she took over. I never heard her talk about the Mansion.”
+
+“Of course you didn't. She's cagey. Did you hear her talk about the Hall of Presidents?”
+
+Dan fumbled. “Not really… I mean, not in so many words, but—”
+
+“But nothing,” I said. “She's after the Mansion, she's after the Magic Kingdom, she's after the Park. She's taking over, goddamn it, and I'm the only one who seems to have noticed.”
+
+I came clean to Lil about my systems that night, as we were fighting. Fighting had become our regular evening pastime, and Dan had taken to sleeping at one of the hotels on-site rather than endure it.
+
+I'd started it, of course. “We're going to get killed if we don't get off our asses and start the rehab,” I said, slamming myself down on the sofa and kicking at the scratched coffee table. I heard the hysteria and unreason in my voice and it just made me madder. I was frustrated by not being able to check in on Suneep and Dan, and, as usual, it was too late at night to call anyone and do anything about it. By the morning, I'd have forgotten again.
+
+From the kitchen, Lil barked back, “I'm doing what I can, Jules. If you've got a better way, I'd love to hear about it.”
+
+“Oh, bullshit. I'm doing what I can, planning the thing out. I'm ready to /{go}/. It was your job to get the ad-hocs ready for it, but you keep telling me they're not. When will they be?”
+
+“Jesus, you're a nag.”
+
+“I wouldn't nag if you'd only fucking make it happen. What are you doing all day, anyway? Working shifts at the Mansion? Rearranging deck chairs on the Great Titanic Adventure?”
+
+“I'm working my fucking /{ass}/ off. I've spoken to every goddamn one of them at least twice this week about it.”
+
+“Sure,” I hollered at the kitchen. “Sure you have.”
+
+“Don't take my word for it, then. Check my fucking phone logs.”
+
+She waited.
+
+“Well? Check them!”
+
+“I'll check them later,” I said, dreading where this was going.
+
+“Oh, no you /{don't}/,” she said, stalking into the room, fuming. “You can't call me a liar and then refuse to look at the evidence.” She planted her hands on her slim little hips and glared at me. She'd gone pale and I could count every freckle on her face, her throat, her collarbones, the swell of her cleavage in the old vee-neck shirt I'd given her on a day-trip to Nassau.
+
+“Well?” she asked. She looked ready to wring my neck.
+
+“I can't,” I admitted, not meeting her eyes.
+
+“Yes you can—here, I'll dump it to your public directory.”
+
+Her expression shifted to one of puzzlement when she failed to locate me on her network. “What's going on?”
+
+So I told her. Offline, outcast, malfunctioning.
+
+“Well, why haven't you gone to the doctor? I mean, it's been /{weeks}/. I'll call him right now.”
+
+“Forget it,” I said. “I'll see him tomorrow. No sense in getting him out of bed.”
+
+But I didn't see him the day after, or the day after that. Too much to do, and the only times I remembered to call someone, I was too far from a public terminal or it was too late or too early. My systems came online a couple times, and I was too busy with the plans for the Mansion. Lil grew accustomed to the drifts of hard copy that littered the house, to printing out her annotations to my designs and leaving them on my favorite chair—to living like the cavemen of the information age had, surrounded by dead trees and ticking clocks.
+
+Being offline helped me focus. Focus is hardly the word for it—I obsessed. I sat in front of the terminal I'd brought home all day, every day, crunching plans, dictating voicemail. People who wanted to reach me had to haul ass out to the house, and /{speak}/ to me.
+
+I grew too obsessed to fight, and Dan moved back, and then it was my turn to take hotel rooms so that the rattle of my keyboard wouldn't keep him up nights. He and Lil were working a full-time campaign to recruit the ad-hoc to our cause, and I started to feel like we were finally in harmony, about to reach our goal.
+
+I went home one afternoon clutching a sheaf of hardcopy and burst into the living room, gabbling a mile-a-minute about a wrinkle on my original plan that would add a third walk-through segment to the ride, increasing the number of telepresence rigs we could use without decreasing throughput.
+
+I was mid-babble when my systems came back online. The public chatter in the room sprang up on my HUD.
+
+/{And then I'm going to tear off every stitch of clothing and jump you.}/
+
+/{And then what?}/
+
+/{I'm going to bang you till you limp.}/
+
+/{Jesus, Lil, you are one rangy cowgirl.}/
+
+My eyes closed, shutting out everything except for the glowing letters. Quickly, they vanished. I opened my eyes again, looking at Lil, who was flushed and distracted. Dan looked scared.
+
+“What's going on, Dan?” I asked quietly. My heart hammered in my chest, but I felt calm and detached.
+
+“Jules,” he began, then gave up and looked at Lil.
+
+Lil had, by that time, figured out that I was back online, that their secret messaging had been discovered.
+
+“Having fun, Lil?” I asked.
+
+Lil shook her head and glared at me. “Just go, Julius. I'll send your stuff to the hotel.”
+
+“You want me to go, huh? So you can bang him till he limps?”
+
+“This is my house, Julius. I'm asking you to get out of it. I'll see you at work tomorrow—we're having a general ad-hoc meeting to vote on the rehab.”
+
+It was her house.
+
+“Lil, Julius—” Dan began.
+
+“This is between me and him,” Lil said. “Stay out of it.”
+
+I dropped my papers—I wanted to throw them, but I dropped them, /{flump}/, and I turned on my heel and walked out, not bothering to close the door behind me.
+
+Dan showed up at the hotel ten minutes after I did and rapped on my door. I was all-over numb as I opened the door. He had a bottle of tequila—/{my}/ tequila, brought over from the house that I'd shared with Lil.
+
+He sat down on the bed and stared at the logo-marked wallpaper. I took the bottle from him, got a couple glasses from the bathroom and poured.
+
+“It's my fault,” he said.
+
+“I'm sure it is,” I said.
+
+“We got to drinking a couple nights ago. She was really upset. Hadn't seen you in days, and when she /{did}/ see you, you freaked her out. Snapping at her. Arguing. Insulting her.”
+
+“So you made her,” I said.
+
+He shook his head, then nodded, took a drink. “I did. It's been a long time since I…”
+
+“You had sex with my girlfriend, in my house, while I was away, working.”
+
+“Jules, I'm sorry. I did it, and I kept on doing it. I'm not much of a friend to either of you.
+
+“She's pretty broken up. She wanted me to come out here and tell you it was all a mistake, that you were just being paranoid.”
+
+We sat in silence for a long time. I refilled his glass, then my own.
+
+“I couldn't do that,” he said. “I'm worried about you. You haven't been right, not for months. I don't know what it is, but you should get to a doctor.”
+
+“I don't need a doctor,” I snapped. The liquor had melted the numbness and left burning anger and bile, my constant companions. “I need a friend who doesn't fuck my girlfriend when my back is turned.”
+
+I threw my glass at the wall. It bounced off, leaving tequila-stains on the wallpaper, and rolled under the bed. Dan started, but stayed seated. If he'd stood up, I would've hit him. Dan's good at crises.
+
+“If it's any consolation, I expect to be dead pretty soon,” he said. He gave me a wry grin. “My Whuffie's doing good. This rehab should take it up over the top. I'll be ready to go.”
+
+That stopped me. I'd somehow managed to forget that Dan, my good friend Dan, was going to kill himself.
+
+“You're going to do it,” I said, sitting down next to him. It hurt to think about it. I really liked the bastard. He might've been my best friend.
+
+There was a knock at the door. I opened it without checking the peephole. It was Lil.
+
+She looked younger than ever. Young and small and miserable. A snide remark died in my throat. I wanted to hold her.
+
+She brushed past me and went to Dan, who squirmed out of her embrace.
+
+“No,” he said, and stood up and sat on the windowsill, staring down at the Seven Seas Lagoon.
+
+“Dan's just been explaining to me that he plans on being dead in a couple months,” I said. “Puts a damper on the long-term plans, doesn't it, Lil?”
+
+Tears streamed down her face and she seemed to fold in on herself. “I'll take what I can get,” she said.
+
+I choked on a knob of misery, and I realized that it was Dan, not Lil, whose loss upset me the most.
+
+Lil took Dan's hand and led him out of the room.
+
+/{I guess I'll take what I can get, too}/, I thought.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 6
+
+Lying on my hotel bed, mesmerized by the lazy turns of the ceiling fan, I pondered the possibility that I was nuts.
+
+It wasn't unheard of, even in the days of the Bitchun Society, and even though there were cures, they weren't pleasant.
+
+I was once married to a crazy person. We were both about 70, and I was living for nothing but joy. Her name was Zoya, and I called her Zed.
+
+We met in orbit, where I'd gone to experience the famed low-gravity sybarites. Getting staggering drunk is not much fun at one gee, but at ten to the neg eight, it's a blast. You don't stagger, you /{bounce}/, and when you're bouncing in a sphere full of other bouncing, happy, boisterous naked people, things get deeply fun.
+
+I was bouncing around inside a clear sphere that was a mile in diameter, filled with smaller spheres in which one could procure bulbs of fruity, deadly concoctions. Musical instruments littered the sphere's floor, and if you knew how to play, you'd snag one, tether it to you and start playing. Others would pick up their own axes and jam along. The tunes varied from terrific to awful, but they were always energetic.
+
+I had been working on my third symphony on and off, and whenever I thought I had a nice bit nailed, I'd spend some time in the sphere playing it. Sometimes, the strangers who jammed in gave me new and interesting lines of inquiry, and that was good. Even when they didn't, playing an instrument was a fast track to intriguing an interesting, naked stranger.
+
+Which is how we met. She snagged a piano and pounded out barrelhouse runs in quirky time as I carried the main thread of the movement on a cello. At first it was irritating, but after a short while I came to a dawning comprehension of what she was doing to my music, and it was really /{good}/. I'm a sucker for musicians.
+
+We brought the session to a crashing stop, me bowing furiously as spheres of perspiration beaded on my body and floated gracefully into the hydrotropic recyclers, she beating on the 88 like they were the perp who killed her partner.
+
+I collapsed dramatically as the last note crashed through the bubble. The singles, couples and groups stopped in midflight coitus to applaud. She took a bow, untethered herself from the Steinway, and headed for the hatch.
+
+I coiled my legs up and did a fast burn through the sphere, desperate to reach the hatch before she did. I caught her as she was leaving.
+
+“Hey!” I said. “That was great! I'm Julius! How're you doing?”
+
+She reached out with both hands and squeezed my nose and my unit simultaneously—not hard, you understand, but playfully. “Honk!” she said, and squirmed through the hatch while I gaped at my burgeoning chub-on.
+
+I chased after her. “Wait,” I called as she tumbled through the spoke of the station towards the gravity.
+
+She had a pianist's body—re-engineered arms and hands that stretched for impossible lengths, and she used them with a spacehand's grace, vaulting herself forward at speed. I bumbled after her best as I could on my freshman spacelegs, but by the time I reached the half-gee rim of the station, she was gone.
+
+I didn't find her again until the next movement was done and I went to the bubble to try it out on an oboe. I was just getting warmed up when she passed through the hatch and tied off to the piano.
+
+This time, I clamped the oboe under my arm and bopped over to her before moistening the reed and blowing. I hovered over the piano's top, looking her in the eye as we jammed. Her mood that day was 4/4 time and I-IV-V progressions, in a feel that swung around from blues to rock to folk, teasing at the edge of my own melodies. She noodled at me, I noodled back at her, and her eyes crinkled charmingly whenever I managed a smidge of tuneful wit.
+
+She was almost completely flatchested, and covered in a fine, red downy fur, like a chipmunk. It was a jaunter's style, suited to the climate-controlled, soft-edged life in space. Fifty years later, I was dating Lil, another redhead, but Zed was my first.
+
+I played and played, entranced by the fluidity of her movements at the keyboard, her comical moues of concentration when picking out a particularly kicky little riff. When I got tired, I took it to a slow bridge or gave her a solo. I was going to make this last as long as I could. Meanwhile, I maneuvered my way between her and the hatch.
+
+When I blew the last note, I was wrung out as a washcloth, but I summoned the energy to zip over to the hatch and block it. She calmly untied and floated over to me.
+
+I looked in her eyes, silvered slanted cat-eyes, eyes that I'd been staring into all afternoon, and watched the smile that started at their corners and spread right down to her long, elegant toes. She looked back at me, then, at length, grabbed ahold of my joint again.
+
+“You'll do,” she said, and led me to her sleeping quarters, across the station.
+
+We didn't sleep.
+
+Zoya had been an early network engineer for the geosynch broadband constellations that went up at the cusp of the world's ascent into Bitchunry. She'd been exposed to a lot of hard rads and low gee and had generally become pretty transhuman as time went by, upgrading with a bewildering array of third-party enhancements: a vestigial tail, eyes that saw through most of the RF spectrum, her arms, her fur, dogleg reversible knee joints and a completely mechanical spine that wasn't prone to any of the absolutely inane bullshit that plagues the rest of us, like lower-back pain, intrascapular inflammation, sciatica and slipped discs.
+
+I thought I lived for fun, but I didn't have anything on Zed. She only talked when honking and whistling and grabbing and kissing wouldn't do, and routinely slapped upgrades into herself on the basis of any whim that crossed her mind, like when she resolved to do a spacewalk bare-skinned and spent the afternoon getting tin-plated and iron-lunged.
+
+I fell in love with her a hundred times a day, and wanted to strangle her twice as often. She stayed on her spacewalk for a couple of days, floating around the bubble, making crazy faces at its mirrored exterior. She had no way of knowing if I was inside, but she assumed that I was watching. Or maybe she didn't, and she was making faces for anyone's benefit.
+
+But then she came back through the lock, strange and wordless and her eyes full of the stars she'd seen and her metallic skin cool with the breath of empty space, and she led me a merry game of tag through the station, the mess hall where we skidded sloppy through a wobbly ovoid of rice pudding, the greenhouses where she burrowed like a gopher and shinnied like a monkey, the living quarters and bubbles as we interrupted a thousand acts of coitus.
+
+You'd have thought that we'd have followed it up with an act of our own, and truth be told, that was certainly my expectation when we started the game I came to think of as the steeplechase, but we never did. Halfway through, I'd lose track of carnal urges and return to a state of childlike innocence, living only for the thrill of the chase and the giggly feeling I got whenever she found some new, even-more-outrageous corner to turn. I think we became legendary on the station, that crazy pair that's always zipping in and zipping away, like having your party crashed by two naked, coed Marx Brothers.
+
+When I asked her to marry me, to return to Earth with me, to live with me until the universe's mainspring unwound, she laughed, honked my nose and my willie and shouted, “YOU'LL /{DO}/!”
+
+I took her home to Toronto and we took up residence ten stories underground in overflow residence for the University. Our Whuffie wasn't so hot earthside, and the endless institutional corridors made her feel at home while affording her opportunities for mischief.
+
+But bit by bit, the mischief dwindled, and she started talking more. At first, I admit I was relieved, glad that my strange, silent wife was finally acting normal, making nice with the neighbors instead of pranking them with endless honks and fanny-kicks and squirt guns. We gave up the steeplechase and she had the doglegs taken out, her fur removed, her eyes unsilvered to a hazel that was pretty and as fathomable as the silver had been inscrutable.
+
+We wore clothes. We entertained. I started to rehearse my symphony in low-Whuffie halls and parks with any musicians I could drum up, and she came out and didn't play, just sat to the side and smiled and smiled with a smile that never went beyond her lips.
+
+She went nuts.
+
+She shat herself. She pulled her hair. She cut herself with knives. She accused me of plotting to kill her. She set fire to the neighbors' apartments, wrapped herself in plastic sheeting, dry-humped the furniture.
+
+She went nuts. She did it in broad strokes, painting the walls of our bedroom with her blood, jagging all night through rant after rant. I smiled and nodded and faced it for as long as I could, then I grabbed her and hauled her, kicking like a mule, to the doctor's office on the second floor. She'd been dirtside for a year and nuts for a month, but it took me that long to face up to it.
+
+The doc diagnosed nonchemical dysfunction, which was by way of saying that it was her mind, not her brain, that was broken. In other words, I'd driven her nuts.
+
+You can get counseling for nonchemical dysfunction, basically trying to talk it out, learn to feel better about yourself. She didn't want to.
+
+She was miserable, suicidal, murderous. In the brief moments of lucidity that she had under sedation, she consented to being restored from a backup that was made before we came to Toronto.
+
+I was at her side in the hospital when she woke up. I had prepared a written synopsis of the events since her last backup for her, and she read it over the next couple days.
+
+“Julius,” she said, while I was making breakfast in our subterranean apartment. She sounded so serious, so fun-free, that I knew immediately that the news wouldn't be good.
+
+“Yes?” I said, setting out plates of bacon and eggs, steaming cups of coffee.
+
+“I'm going to go back to space, and revert to an older version.” She had a shoulderbag packed, and she had traveling clothes on.
+
+/{Oh, shit.}/ “Great,” I said, with forced cheerfulness, making a mental inventory of my responsibilities dirtside. “Give me a minute or two, I'll pack up. I miss space, too.”
+
+She shook her head, and anger blazed in her utterly scrutable hazel eyes. “No. I'm going back to who I was, before I met you.”
+
+It hurt, bad. I had loved the old, steeplechase Zed, had loved her fun and mischief. The Zed she'd become after we wed was terrible and terrifying, but I'd stuck with her out of respect for the person she'd been.
+
+Now she was off to restore herself from a backup made before she met me. She was going to lop 18 months out of her life, start over again, revert to a saved version.
+
+Hurt? It ached like a motherfucker.
+
+I went back to the station a month later, and saw her jamming in the sphere with a guy who had three extra sets of arms depending from his hips. He scuttled around the sphere while she played a jig on the piano, and when her silver eyes lit on me, there wasn't a shred of recognition in them. She'd never met me.
+
+I died some, too, putting the incident out of my head and sojourning to Disney World, there to reinvent myself with a new group of friends, a new career, a new life. I never spoke of Zed again—especially not to Lil, who hardly needed me to pollute her with remembrances of my crazy exes.
+
+If I was nuts, it wasn't the kind of spectacular nuts that Zed had gone. It was a slow, seething, ugly nuts that had me alienating my friends, sabotaging my enemies, driving my girlfriend into my best friend's arms.
+
+I decided that I would see a doctor, just as soon as we'd run the rehab past the ad-hoc's general meeting. I had to get my priorities straight.
+
+I pulled on last night's clothes and walked out to the Monorail station in the main lobby. The platform was jammed with happy guests, bright and cheerful and ready for a day of steady, hypermediated fun. I tried to make myself attend to them as individuals, but try as I might, they kept turning into a crowd, and I had to plant my feet firmly on the platform to keep from weaving among them to the edge, the better to snag a seat.
+
+The meeting was being held over the Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland, just steps from where I'd been turned into a road-pizza by the still-unidentified assassin. The Adventureland ad-hocs owed the Liberty Square crew a favor since my death had gone down on their turf, so they had given us use of their prize meeting room, where the Florida sun streamed through the slats of the shutters, casting a hash of dust-filled shafts of light across the room. The faint sounds of the tiki-drums and the spieling Jungle Cruise guides leaked through the room, a low-key ambient buzz from two of the Park's oldest rides.
+
+There were almost a hundred ad-hocs in the Liberty Square crew, almost all second-gen castmembers with big, friendly smiles. They filled the room to capacity, and there was much hugging and handshaking before the meeting came to order. I was thankful that the room was too small for the /{de rigueur}/ ad-hoc circle-of-chairs, so that Lil was able to stand at a podium and command a smidge of respect.
+
+“Hi there!” she said, brightly. The weepy puffiness was still present around her eyes, if you knew how to look for it, but she was expert at putting on a brave face no matter what the ache.
+
+The ad-hocs roared back a collective, “Hi, Lil!” and laughed at their own corny tradition. Oh, they sure were a barrel of laughs at the Magic Kingdom.
+
+“Everybody knows why we're here, right?” Lil said, with a self-deprecating smile. She'd been lobbying hard for weeks, after all. “Does anyone have any questions about the plans? We'd like to start executing right away.”
+
+A guy with deliberately boyish, wholesome features put his arm in the air. Lil acknowledged him with a nod. “When you say ‘right away,’ do you mean—”
+
+I cut in. “Tonight. After this meeting. We're on an eight-week production schedule, and the sooner we start, the sooner it'll be finished.”
+
+The crowd murmured, unsettled. Lil shot me a withering look. I shrugged. Politics was not my game.
+
+Lil said, “Don, we're trying something new here, a really streamlined process. The good part is, the process is /{short}/. In a couple months, we'll know if it's working for us. If it's not, hey, we can turn it around in a couple months, too. That's why we're not spending as much time planning as we usually do. It won't take five years for the idea to prove out, so the risks are lower.”
+
+Another castmember, a woman, apparent 40 with a round, motherly demeanor said, “I'm all for moving fast—Lord knows, our pacing hasn't always been that hot. But I'm concerned about all these new people you propose to recruit—won't having more people slow us down when it comes to making new decisions?”
+
+/{No}/, I thought sourly, /{because the people I'm bringing in aren't addicted to meetings}/.
+
+Lil nodded. “That's a good point, Lisa. The offer we're making to the telepresence players is probationary—they don't get to vote until after we've agreed that the rehab is a success.”
+
+Another castmember stood. I recognized him: Dave, a heavyset, self-important jerk who loved to work the front door, even though he blew his spiel about half the time. “Lillian,” he said, smiling sadly at her, “I think you're really making a big mistake here. We love the Mansion, all of us, and so do the guests. It's a piece of history, and we're its custodians, not its masters. Changing it like this, well…” he shook his head. “It's not good stewardship. If the guests wanted to walk through a funhouse with guys jumping out of the shadows saying ‘booga-booga,’ they'd go to one of the Halloween Houses in their hometowns. The Mansion's better than that. I can't be a part of this plan.”
+
+I wanted to knock the smug grin off his face. I'd delivered essentially the same polemic a thousand times—in reference to Debra's work—and hearing it from this jerk in reference to /{mine}/ made me go all hot and red inside.
+
+“Look,” I said. “If we don't do this, if we don't change things, they'll get changed /{for}/ us. By someone else. The question, /{Dave}/, is whether a responsible custodian lets his custodianship be taken away from him, or whether he does everything he can to make sure that he's still around to ensure that his charge is properly cared for. Good custodianship isn't sticking your head in the sand.”
+
+I could tell I wasn't doing any good. The mood of the crowd was getting darker, the faces more set. I resolved not to speak again until the meeting was done, no matter what the provocation.
+
+Lil smoothed my remarks over, and fielded a dozen more, and it looked like the objections would continue all afternoon and all night and all the next day, and I felt woozy and overwrought and miserable all at the same time, staring at Lil and her harried smile and her nervous smoothing of her hair over her ears.
+
+Finally, she called the question. By tradition, the votes were collected in secret and publicly tabulated over the data-channels. The group's eyes unfocussed as they called up HUDs and watched the totals as they rolled in. I was offline and unable to vote or watch.
+
+At length, Lil heaved a relieved sigh and smiled, dropping her hands behind her back.
+
+“All right then,” she said, over the crowd's buzz. “Let's get to work.”
+
+I stood up, saw Dan and Lil staring into each other's eyes, a meaningful glance between new lovers, and I saw red. Literally. My vision washed over pink, and a strobe pounded at the edges of my vision. I took two lumbering steps towards them and opened my mouth to say something horrible, and what came out was “Waaagh.” My right side went numb and my leg slipped out from under me and I crashed to the floor.
+
+The slatted light from the shutters cast its way across my chest as I tried to struggle up with my left arm, and then it all went black.
+
+I wasn't nuts after all.
+
+The doctor's office in the Main Street infirmary was clean and white and decorated with posters of Jiminy Cricket in doctors' whites with an outsized stethoscope. I came to on a hard pallet under a sign that reminded me to get a check-up twice a year, by gum! and I tried to bring my hands up to shield my eyes from the over bright light and the over-cheerful signage, and discovered that I couldn't move my arms. Further investigation revealed that this was because I was strapped down, in full-on four-point restraint.
+
+“Waaagh,” I said again.
+
+Dan's worried face swam into my field of vision, along with a serious-looking doctor, apparent 70, with a Norman Rockwell face full of crow'sfeet and smile-lines.
+
+“Welcome back, Julius. I'm Doctor Pete,” the doctor said, in a kindly voice that matched the face. Despite my recent disillusion with castmember bullshit, I found his schtick comforting.
+
+I slumped back against the pallet while the doc shone lights in my eyes and consulted various diagnostic apparati. I bore it in stoic silence, too confounded by the horrible Waaagh sounds to attempt more speech. The doc would tell me what was going on when he was ready.
+
+“Does he need to be tied up still?” Dan asked, and I shook my head urgently. Being tied up wasn't my idea of a good time.
+
+The doc smiled kindly. “I think it's for the best, for now. Don't worry, Julius, we'll have you up and about soon enough.”
+
+Dan protested, but stopped when the doc threatened to send him out of the room. He took my hand instead.
+
+My nose itched. I tried to ignore it, but it got worse and worse, until it was all I could think of, the flaming lance of itch that strobed at the tip of my nostril. Furiously, I wrinkled my face, rattled at my restraints. The doc absentmindedly noticed my gyrations and delicately scratched my nose with a gloved finger. The relief was fantastic. I just hoped my nuts didn't start itching anytime soon.
+
+Finally, the doctor pulled up a chair and did something that caused the head of the bed to raise up so that I could look him in the eye.
+
+“Well, now,” he said, stroking his chin. “Julius, you've got a problem. Your friend here tells me your systems have been offline for more than a month. It sure would've been better if you'd come in to see me when it started up.
+
+“But you didn't, and things got worse.” He nodded up at Jiminy Cricket's recriminations: Go ahead, see your doc! “It's good advice, son, but what's done is done. You were restored from a backup about eight weeks ago, I see. Without more tests, I can't be sure, but my theory is that the brain-machine interface they installed at that time had a material defect. It's been deteriorating ever since, misfiring and rebooting. The shut-downs are a protective mechanism, meant to keep it from introducing the kind of seizure you experienced this afternoon. When the interface senses malfunction, it shuts itself down and boots a diagnostic mode, attempts to fix itself and come back online.
+
+“Well, that's fine for minor problems, but in cases like this, it's bad news. The interface has been deteriorating steadily, and it's only a matter of time before it does some serious damage.”
+
+“Waaagh?” I asked. I meant to say, /{All right, but what's wrong with my mouth?}/
+
+The doc put a finger to my lips. “Don't try. The interface has locked up, and it's taken some of your voluntary nervous processes with it. In time, it'll probably shut down, but for now, there's no point. That's why we've got you strapped down—you were thrashing pretty hard when they brought you in, and we didn't want you to hurt yourself.”
+
+/{Probably shut down}/? Jesus. I could end up stuck like this forever. I started shaking.
+
+The doc soothed me, stroking my hand, and in the process pressed a transdermal on my wrist. The panic receded as the transdermal's sedative oozed into my bloodstream.
+
+“There, there,” he said. “It's nothing permanent. We can grow you a new clone and refresh it from your last backup. Unfortunately, that backup is a few months old. If we'd caught it earlier, we may've been able to salvage a current backup, but given the deterioration you've displayed to date… Well, there just wouldn't be any point.”
+
+My heart hammered. I was going to lose two months—lose it all, never happened. My assassination, the new Hall of Presidents and my shameful attempt thereon, the fights with Lil, Lil and Dan, the meeting. My plans for the rehab! All of it, good and bad, every moment flensed away.
+
+I couldn't do it. I had a rehab to finish, and I was the only one who understood how it had to be done. Without my relentless prodding, the ad-hocs would surely revert to their old, safe ways. They might even leave it half-done, halt the process for an interminable review, present a soft belly for Debra to savage.
+
+I wouldn't be restoring from backup.
+
+I had two more seizures before the interface finally gave up and shut itself down. I remember the first, a confusion of vision-occluding strobes and uncontrollable thrashing and the taste of copper, but the second happened without waking me from deep unconsciousness.
+
+When I came to again in the infirmary, Dan was still there. He had a day's growth of beard and new worrylines at the corners of his newly rejuvenated eyes. The doctor came in, shaking his head.
+
+“Well, now, it seems like the worst is over. I've drawn up the consent forms for the refresh and the new clone will be ready in an hour or two. In the meantime, I think heavy sedation is in order. Once the restore's been completed, we'll retire this body for you and we'll be all finished up.”
+
+Retire this body? Kill me, is what it meant.
+
+“No,” I said. I thrilled in my restraints: my voice was back under my control!
+
+“Oh, really now.” The doc lost his bedside manner, let his exasperation slip through. “There's nothing else for it. If you'd come to me when it all started, well, we might've had other options. You've got no one to blame but yourself.”
+
+“No,” I repeated. “Not now. I won't sign.”
+
+Dan put his hand on mine. I tried to jerk out from under it, but the restraints and his grip held me fast. “You've got to do it, Julius. It's for the best,” he said.
+
+“I'm not going to let you kill me,” I said, through clenched teeth. His fingertips were callused, worked rough with exertion well beyond the normal call of duty.
+
+“No one's killing you, son,” the doctor said. Son, son, son. Who knew how old he was? He could be 18 for all I knew. “It's just the opposite: we're saving you. If you continue like this, it will only get worse. The seizures, mental breakdown, the whole melon going soft. You don't want that.”
+
+I thought of Zed's spectacular transformation into a crazy person. /{No, I sure don't}/. “I don't care about the interface. Chop it out. I can't do it now.” I swallowed. “Later. After the rehab. Eight more weeks.”
+
+The irony! Once the doc knew I was serious, he sent Dan out of the room and rolled his eyes up while he placed a call. I saw his gorge work as he subvocalized. He left me bound to the table, to wait.
+
+No clocks in the infirmary, and no internal clock, and it may have been ten minutes or five hours. I was catheterized, but I didn't know it until urgent necessity made the discovery for me.
+
+When the doc came back, he held a small device that I instantly recognized: a HERF gun.
+
+Oh, it wasn't the same model I'd used on the Hall of Presidents. This one was smaller, and better made, with the precise engineering of a surgical tool. The doc raised his eyebrows at me. “You know what this is,” he said, flatly. A dim corner of my mind gibbered, /{he knows, he knows, the Hall of Presidents}/. But he didn't know. That episode was locked in my mind, invulnerable to backup.
+
+“I know,” I said.
+
+“This one is high-powered in the extreme. It will penetrate the interface's shielding and fuse it. It probably won't turn you into a vegetable. That's the best I can do. If this fails, we will restore you from your last backup. You have to sign the consent before I use it.” He'd dropped all kindly pretense from his voice, not bothering to disguise his disgust. I was pitching out the miracle of the Bitchun Society, the thing that had all but obsoleted the medical profession: why bother with surgery when you can grow a clone, take a backup, and refresh the new body? Some people swapped corpuses just to get rid of a cold.
+
+I signed. The doc wheeled my gurney into the crash and hum of the utilidors and then put it on a freight tram that ran to the Imagineering compound, and thence to a heavy, exposed Faraday cage. Of course: using the HERF on me would kill any electronics in the neighborhood. They had to shield me before they pulled the trigger.
+
+The doc placed the gun on my chest and loosened my restraints. He sealed the cage and retreated to the lab's door. He pulled a heavy apron and helmet with faceguard from a hook beside the door.
+
+“Once I am outside the door, point it at your head and pull the trigger. I'll come back in five minutes. Once I am in the room, place the gun on the floor and do not touch it. It is only good for a single usage, but I have no desire to find out I'm wrong.”
+
+He closed the door. I took the pistol in my hand. It was heavy, dense with its stored energy, the tip a parabolic hollow to better focus its cone.
+
+I lifted the gun to my temple and let it rest there. My thumb found the trigger-stud.
+
+I paused. This wouldn't kill me, but it might lock the interface forever, paralyzing me, turning me into a thrashing maniac. I knew that I would never be able to pull the trigger. The doc must've known, too—this was his way of convincing me to let him do that restore.
+
+I opened my mouth to call the doc, and what came out was “Waaagh!”
+
+The seizure started. My arm jerked and my thumb nailed the stud, and there was an ozone tang. The seizure stopped.
+
+I had no more interface.
+
+The doc looked sour and pinched when he saw me sitting up on the gurney, rubbing at my biceps. He produced a handheld diagnostic tool and pointed it at my melon, then pronounced every bit of digital microcircuitry in it dead. For the first time since my twenties, I was no more advanced than nature had made me.
+
+The restraints left purple bruises at my wrists and ankles, where I'd thrashed against them. I hobbled out of the Faraday cage and the lab under my own power, but just barely, my muscles groaning from the inadvertent isometric exercises of my seizure.
+
+Dan was waiting in the utilidor, crouched and dozing against the wall. The doc shook him awake and his head snapped up, his hand catching the doc's in a lightning-quick reflex. It was easy to forget Dan's old line of work here in the Magic Kingdom, but when he smoothly snagged the doc's arm and sprang to his feet, eyes hard and alert, I remembered. My old pal, the action hero.
+
+Quickly, Dan released the doc and apologized. He assessed my physical state and wordlessly wedged his shoulder in my armpit, supporting me. I didn't have the strength to stop him. I needed sleep.
+
+“I'm taking you home,” he said. “We'll fight Debra off tomorrow.”
+
+“Sure,” I said, and boarded the waiting tram.
+
+But we didn't go home. Dan took me back to my hotel, the Contemporary, and brought me up to my door. He keycarded the lock and stood awkwardly as I hobbled into the empty room that was my new home, as I collapsed into the bed that was mine now.
+
+With an apologetic look, he slunk away, back to Lil and the house we'd shared.
+
+I slapped on a sedative transdermal that the doc had given me, and added a mood-equalizer that he'd recommended to control my “personality swings.” In seconds, I was asleep.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 7
+
+The meds helped me cope with the next couple of days, starting the rehab on the Mansion. We worked all night erecting a scaffolding around the facade, though no real work would be done on it—we wanted the appearance of rapid progress, and besides, I had an idea.
+
+I worked alongside Dan, using him as a personal secretary, handling my calls, looking up plans, monitoring the Net for the first grumblings as the Disney-going public realized that the Mansion was being taken down for a full-blown rehab. We didn't exchange any unnecessary words, standing side by side without ever looking into one another's eyes. I couldn't really feel awkward around Dan, anyway. He never let me, and besides we had our hands full directing disappointed guests away from the Mansion. A depressing number of them headed straight for the Hall of Presidents.
+
+We didn't have to wait long for the first panicked screed about the Mansion to appear. Dan read it aloud off his HUD: “Hey! Anyone hear anything about scheduled maintenance at the HM? I just buzzed by on the way to the new H of P's and it looks like some big stuff's afoot—scaffolding, castmembers swarming in and out, see the pic. I hope they're not screwing up a good thing. BTW, don't miss the new H of P's—very Bitchun.”
+
+“Right,” I said. “Who's the author, and is he on the list?”
+
+Dan cogitated a moment. “/{She}/ is Kim Wright, and she's on the list. Good Whuffie, lots of Mansion fanac, big readership.”
+
+“Call her,” I said.
+
+This was the plan: recruit rabid fans right away, get 'em in costume, and put 'em up on the scaffolds. Give them outsized, bat-adorned tools and get them to play at construction activity in thumpy, undead pantomime. In time, Suneep and his gang would have a batch of telepresence robots up and running, and we'd move to them, get them wandering the queue area, interacting with curious guests. The new Mansion would be open for business in 48 hours, albeit in stripped-down fashion. The scaffolding made for a nice weenie, a visual draw that would pull the hordes that thronged Debra's Hall of Presidents over for a curious peek or two. Buzz city.
+
+I'm a pretty smart guy.
+
+Dan paged this Kim person and spoke to her as she was debarking the Pirates of the Caribbean. I wondered if she was the right person for the job: she seemed awfully enamored of the rehabs that Debra and her crew had performed. If I'd had more time, I would've run a deep background check on every one of the names on my list, but that would've taken months.
+
+Dan made some small talk with Kim, speaking aloud in deference to my handicap, before coming to the point. “We read your post about the Mansion's rehab. You're the first one to notice it, and we wondered if you'd be interested in coming by to find out a little more about our plans.”
+
+Dan winced. “She's a screamer,” he whispered.
+
+Reflexively, I tried to pull up a HUD with my files on the Mansion fans we hoped to recruit. Of course, nothing happened. I'd done that a dozen times that morning, and there was no end in sight. I couldn't seem to get lathered up about it, though, nor about anything else, not even the hickey just visible under Dan's collar. The transdermal mood-balancer on my bicep was seeing to that—doctor's orders.
+
+“Fine, fine. We're standing by the Pet Cemetery, two cast members, male, in Mansion costumes. About five-ten, apparent 30. You can't miss us.”
+
+She didn't. She arrived out of breath and excited, jogging. She was apparent 20, and dressed like a real 20 year old, in a hipster climate-control cowl that clung to and released her limbs, which were long and double-kneed. All the rage among the younger set, including the girl who'd shot me.
+
+But the resemblance to my killer ended with her dress and body. She wasn't wearing a designer face, rather one that had enough imperfections to be the one she was born with, eyes set close and nose wide and slightly squashed.
+
+I admired the way she moved through the crowd, fast and low but without jostling anyone. “Kim,” I called as she drew near. “Over here.”
+
+She gave a happy shriek and made a beeline for us. Even charging full-bore, she was good enough at navigating the crowd that she didn't brush against a single soul. When she reached us, she came up short and bounced a little. “Hi, I'm Kim!” she said, pumping my arm with the peculiar violence of the extra-jointed. “Julius,” I said, then waited while she repeated the process with Dan.
+
+“So,” she said, “what's the deal?”
+
+I took her hand. “Kim, we've got a job for you, if you're interested.”
+
+She squeezed my hand hard and her eyes shone. “I'll take it!” she said.
+
+I laughed, and so did Dan. It was a polite, castmembery sort of laugh, but underneath it was relief. “I think I'd better explain it to you first,” I said.
+
+“Explain away!” she said, and gave my hand another squeeze.
+
+I let go of her hand and ran down an abbreviated version of the rehab plans, leaving out anything about Debra and her ad-hocs. Kim drank it all in greedily. She cocked her head at me as I ran it down, eyes wide. It was disconcerting, and I finally asked, “Are you recording this?”
+
+Kim blushed. “I hope that's okay! I'm starting a new Mansion scrapbook. I have one for every ride in the Park, but this one's gonna be a world-beater!”
+
+Here was something I hadn't thought about. Publishing ad-hoc business was tabu inside Park, so much so that it hadn't occurred to me that the new castmembers we brought in would want to record every little detail and push it out over the Net as a big old Whuffie collector.
+
+“I can switch it off,” Kim said. She looked worried, and I really started to grasp how important the Mansion was to the people we were recruiting, how much of a privilege we were offering them.
+
+“Leave it rolling,” I said. “Let's show the world how it's done.”
+
+We led Kim into a utilidor and down to costuming. She was half-naked by the time we got there, literally tearing off her clothes in anticipation of getting into character. Sonya, a Liberty Square ad-hoc that we'd stashed at costuming, already had clothes waiting for her, a rotting maid's uniform with an oversized toolbelt.
+
+We left Kim on the scaffolding, energetically troweling a water-based cement substitute onto the wall, scraping it off and moving to a new spot. It looked boring to me, but I could believe that we'd have to tear her away when the time came.
+
+We went back to trawling the Net for the next candidate.
+
+By lunchtime, there were ten drilling, hammering, troweling new castmembers around the scaffolding, pushing black wheelbarrows, singing “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and generally having a high old time.
+
+“This'll do,” I said to Dan. I was exhausted and soaked with sweat, and the transdermal under my costume itched. Despite the happy-juice in my bloodstream, a streak of uncastmemberly crankiness was shot through my mood. I needed to get offstage.
+
+Dan helped me hobble away, and as we hit the utilidor, he whispered in my ear, “This was a great idea, Julius. Really.”
+
+We jumped a tram over to Imagineering, my chest swollen with pride. Suneep had three of his assistants working on the first generation of mobile telepresence robots for the exterior, and had promised a prototype for that afternoon. The robots were easy enough—just off-the-shelf stuff, really—but the costumes and kinematics routines were something else. Thinking about what he and Suneep's gang of hypercreative super-geniuses would come up with cheered me up a little, as did being out of the public eye.
+
+Suneep's lab looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Imagineer packs rolled in and out with arcane gizmos, or formed tight argumentative knots in the corners as they shouted over whatever their HUDs were displaying. In the middle of it all was Suneep, who looked like he was barely restraining an urge to shout Yippee! He was clearly in his element.
+
+He threw his arms open when he caught sight of Dan and me, threw them wide enough to embrace the whole mad, gibbering chaos. “What wonderful flumgubbery!” he shouted, over the noise.
+
+“Sure is,” I agreed. “How's the prototype coming?”
+
+Suneep waved absently, his short fingers describing trivialities in the air. “In due time, in due time. I've put that team onto something else, a kinematics routine for a class of flying spooks that use gasbags to stay aloft—silent and scary. It's old spy-tech, and the retrofit's coming tremendously. Take a look!” He pointed a finger at me and, presumably, squirted some data my way.
+
+“I'm offline,” I reminded him gently.
+
+He slapped his forehead, took a moment to push his hair off his face, and gave me an apologetic wave. “Of course, of course. Here.” He unrolled an LCD and handed it to me. A flock of spooks danced on the screen, rendered against the ballroom scene. They were thematically consistent with the existing Mansion ghosts, more funny than scary, and their faces were familiar. I looked around the lab and realized that they'd caricatured various Imagineers.
+
+“Ah! You noticed,” Suneep said, rubbing his hands together. “A very good joke, yes?”
+
+“This is terrific,” I said, carefully. “But I really need some robots up and running by tomorrow night, Suneep. We discussed this, remember?” Without telepresence robots, my recruiting would be limited to fans like Kim, who lived in the area. I had broader designs than that.
+
+Suneep looked disappointed. “Of course. We discussed it. I don't like to stop my people when they have good ideas, but there's a time and a place. I'll put them on it right away. Leave it to me.”
+
+Dan turned to greet someone, and I looked to see who it was. Lil. Of course. She was raccoon-eyed with fatigue, and she reached out for Dan's hand, saw me, and changed her mind.
+
+“Hi, guys,” she said, with studied casualness.
+
+“Oh, hello!” said Suneep. He fired his finger at her—the flying ghosts, I imagined. Lil's eyes rolled up for a moment, then she nodded exhaustedly at him.
+
+“Very good,” she said. “I just heard from Lisa. She says the indoor crews are on-schedule. They've got most of the animatronics dismantled, and they're taking down the glass in the Ballroom now.” The Ballroom ghost effects were accomplished by means of a giant pane of polished glass that laterally bisected the room. The Mansion had been built around it—it was too big to take out in one piece. “They say it'll be a couple days before they've got it cut up and ready to remove.”
+
+A pocket of uncomfortable silence descended on us, the roar of the Imagineers rushing in to fill it.
+
+“You must be exhausted,” Dan said, at length.
+
+“Goddamn right,” I said, at the same moment that Lil said, “I guess I am.”
+
+We both smiled wanly. Suneep put his arms around Lil's and my shoulders and squeezed. He smelled of an exotic cocktail of industrial lubricant, ozone, and fatigue poisons.
+
+“You two should go home and give each other a massage,” he said. “You've earned some rest.”
+
+Dan met my eye and shook his head apologetically. I squirmed out from under Suneep's arm and thanked him quietly, then slunk off to the Contemporary for a hot tub and a couple hours of sleep.
+
+I came back to the Mansion at sundown. It was cool enough that I took a surface route, costume rolled in a shoulderbag, instead of riding through the clattering, air-conditioned comfort of the utilidors.
+
+As a freshening breeze blew across me, I suddenly had a craving for /{real}/ weather, the kind of climate I'd grown up with in Toronto. It was October, for chrissakes, and a lifetime of conditioning told me that it was May. I stopped and leaned on a bench for a moment and closed my eyes. Unbidden, and with the clarity of a HUD, I saw High Park in Toronto, clothed in its autumn colors, fiery reds and oranges, shades of evergreen and earthy brown. God, I needed a vacation.
+
+I opened my eyes and realized that I was standing in front of the Hall of Presidents, and that there was a queue ahead of me for it, one that stretched back and back. I did a quick sum in my head and sucked air between my teeth: they had enough people for five or six full houses waiting here—easily an hour's wait. The Hall /{never}/ drew crowds like this. Debra was working the turnstiles in Betsy Ross gingham, and she caught my eye and snapped a nod at me.
+
+I stalked off to the Mansion. A choir of zombie-shambling new recruits had formed up in front of the gate, and were groaning their way through “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” with a new call-and-response structure. A small audience participated, urged on by the recruits on the scaffolding.
+
+“Well, at least that's going right,” I muttered to myself. And it was, except that I could see members of the ad-hoc looking on from the sidelines, and the looks weren't kindly. Totally obsessive fans are a good measure of a ride's popularity, but they're kind of a pain in the ass, too. They lipsynch the soundtrack, cadge souvenirs and pester you with smarmy, show-off questions. After a while, even the cheeriest castmember starts to lose patience, develop an automatic distaste for them.
+
+The Liberty Square ad-hocs who were working on the Mansion had been railroaded into approving a rehab, press-ganged into working on it, and were now forced to endure the company of these grandstanding megafans. If I'd been there when it all started—instead of sleeping!—I may've been able to massage their bruised egos, but now I wondered if it was too late.
+
+Nothing for it but to do it. I ducked into a utilidor, changed into my costume and went back onstage. I joined the call-and-response enthusiastically, walking around to the ad-hocs and getting them to join in, reluctantly or otherwise.
+
+By the time the choir retired, sweaty and exhausted, a group of ad-hocs were ready to take their place, and I escorted my recruits to an offstage break-room.
+
+Suneep didn't deliver the robot prototypes for a week, and told me that it would be another week before I could have even five production units. Though he didn't say it, I got the sense that his guys were out of control, so excited by the freedom from ad-hoc oversight that they were running wild. Suneep himself was nearly a wreck, nervous and jumpy. I didn't press it.
+
+Besides, I had problems of my own. The new recruits were multiplying. I was staying on top of the fan response to the rehab from a terminal I'd had installed in my hotel room. Kim and her local colleagues were fielding millions of hits every day, their Whuffie accumulating as envious fans around the world logged in to watch their progress on the scaffolding.
+
+That was all according to plan. What wasn't according to plan was that the new recruits were doing their own recruiting, extending invitations to their net-pals to come on down to Florida, bunk on their sofas and guest-beds, and present themselves to me for active duty.
+
+The tenth time it happened, I approached Kim in the break-room. Her gorge was working, her eyes tracked invisible words across the middle distance. No doubt she was penning yet another breathless missive about the magic of working in the Mansion. “Hey, there,” I said. “Have you got a minute to meet with me?”
+
+She held up a single finger, then, a moment later, gave me a bright smile.
+
+“Hi, Julius!” she said. “Sure!”
+
+“Why don't you change into civvies, we'll take a walk through the Park and talk?”
+
+Kim wore her costume every chance she got. I'd been quite firm about her turning it in to the laundry every night instead of wearing it home.
+
+Reluctantly, she stepped into a change-room and switched into her cowl. We took the utilidor to the Fantasyland exit and walked through the late-afternoon rush of children and their adults, queued deep and thick for Snow White, Dumbo and Peter Pan.
+
+“How're you liking it here?” I asked.
+
+Kim gave a little bounce. “Oh, Julius, it's the best time of my life, really! A dream come true. I'm meeting so many interesting people, and I'm really feeling creative. I can't wait to try out the telepresence rigs, too.”
+
+“Well, I'm really pleased with what you and your friends are up to here. You're working hard, putting on a good show. I like the songs you've been working up, too.”
+
+She did one of those double-kneed shuffles that was the basis of any number of action vids those days and she was suddenly standing in front of me, hand on my shoulder, looking into my eyes. She looked serious.
+
+“Is there a problem, Julius? If there is, I'd rather we just talked about it, instead of making chitchat.”
+
+I smiled and took her hand off my shoulder. “How old are you, Kim?”
+
+“Nineteen,” she said. “What's the problem?”
+
+Nineteen! Jesus, no wonder she was so volatile. /{What's my excuse, then?}/
+
+“It's not a problem, Kim, it's just something I wanted to discuss with you. The people you-all have been bringing down to work for me, they're all really great castmembers.”
+
+“But?”
+
+“But we have limited resources around here. Not enough hours in the day for me to stay on top of the new folks, the rehab, everything. Not to mention that until we open the new Mansion, there's a limited number of extras we can use out front. I'm concerned that we're going to put someone on stage without proper training, or that we're going to run out of uniforms; I'm also concerned about people coming all the way here and discovering that there aren't any shifts for them to take.”
+
+She gave me a relieved look. “Is /{that}/ all? Don't worry about it. I've been talking to Debra, over at the Hall of Presidents, and she says she can pick up any people who can't be used at the Mansion—we could even rotate back and forth!” She was clearly proud of her foresight.
+
+My ears buzzed. Debra, one step ahead of me all along the way. She probably suggested that Kim do some extra recruiting in the first place. She'd take in the people who came down to work the Mansion, convince them they'd been hard done by the Liberty Square crew, and rope them into her little Whuffie ranch, the better to seize the Mansion, the Park, the whole of Walt Disney World.
+
+“Oh, I don't think it'll come to that,” I said, carefully. “I'm sure we can find a use for them all at the Mansion. More the merrier.”
+
+Kim cocked quizzical, but let it go. I bit my tongue. The pain brought me back to reality, and I started planning costume production, training rosters, bunking. God, if only Suneep would finish the robots!
+
+“What do you mean, ‘no’?” I said, hotly.
+
+Lil folded her arms and glared. “No, Julius. It won't fly. The group is already upset that all the glory is going to the new people, they'll never let us bring more in. They also won't stop working on the rehab to train them, costume them, feed them and mother them. They're losing Whuffie every day that the Mansion's shut up, and they don't want any more delays. Dave's already joined up with Debra, and I'm sure he's not the last one.”
+
+Dave—the jerk who'd pissed all over the rehab in the meeting. Of course he'd gone over. Lil and Dan stood side by side on the porch of the house where I'd lived. I'd driven out that night to convince Lil to sell the ad-hocs on bringing in more recruits, but it wasn't going according to plan. They wouldn't even let me in the house.
+
+“So what do I tell Kim?”
+
+“Tell her whatever you want,” Lil said. “You brought her in—you manage her. Take some goddamn responsibility for once in your life.”
+
+It wasn't going to get any better. Dan gave me an apologetic look. Lil glared a moment longer, then went into the house.
+
+“Debra's doing real well,” he said. “The net's all over her. Biggest thing ever. Flash-baking is taking off in nightclubs, dance mixes with the DJ's backup being shoved in bursts into the dancers.”
+
+“God,” I said. “I fucked up, Dan. I fucked it all up.”
+
+He didn't say anything, and that was the same as agreeing.
+
+Driving back to the hotel, I decided I needed to talk to Kim. She was a problem I didn't need, and maybe a problem I could solve. I pulled a screeching U-turn and drove the little runabout to her place, a tiny condo in a crumbling complex that had once been a gated seniors' village, pre-Bitchun.
+
+Her place was easy to spot. All the lights were burning, faint conversation audible through the screen door. I jogged up the steps two at a time, and was about to knock when a familiar voice drifted through the screen.
+
+Debra, saying: “Oh yes, oh yes! Terrific idea! I'd never really thought about using streetmosphere players to liven up the queue area, but you're making a lot of sense. You people have just been doing the /{best}/ work over at the Mansion—find me more like you and I'll take them for the Hall any day!”
+
+I heard Kim and her young friends chatting excitedly, proudly. The anger and fear suffused me from tip to toe, and I felt suddenly light and cool and ready to do something terrible.
+
+I padded silently down the steps and got into my runabout.
+
+Some people never learn. I'm one of them, apparently.
+
+I almost chortled over the foolproof simplicity of my plan as I slipped in through the cast entrance using the ID card I'd scored when my systems went offline and I was no longer able to squirt my authorization at the door.
+
+I changed clothes in a bathroom on Main Street, switching into a black cowl that completely obscured my features, then slunk through the shadows along the storefronts until I came to the moat around Cinderella's castle. Keeping low, I stepped over the fence and duck-walked down the embankment, then slipped into the water and sloshed across to the Adventureland side.
+
+Slipping along to the Liberty Square gateway, I flattened myself in doorways whenever I heard maintenance crews passing in the distance, until I reached the Hall of Presidents, and in a twinkling I was inside the theater itself.
+
+Humming the Small World theme, I produced a short wrecking bar from my cowl's tabbed pocket and set to work.
+
+The primary broadcast units were hidden behind a painted scrim over the stage, and they were surprisingly well built for a first generation tech. I really worked up a sweat smashing them, but I kept at it until not a single component remained recognizable. The work was slow and loud in the silent Park, but it lulled me into a sleepy reverie, an autohypnotic swing-bang-swing-bang timeless time. To be on the safe side, I grabbed the storage units and slipped them into the cowl.
+
+Locating their backup units was a little trickier, but years of hanging out at the Hall of Presidents while Lil tinkered with the animatronics helped me. I methodically investigated every nook, cranny and storage area until I located them, in what had been a break-room closet. By now, I had the rhythm of the thing, and I made short work of them.
+
+I did one more pass, wrecking anything that looked like it might be a prototype for the next generation or notes that would help them reconstruct the units I'd smashed.
+
+I had no illusions about Debra's preparedness—she'd have something offsite that she could get up and running in a few days. I wasn't doing anything permanent, I was just buying myself a day or two.
+
+I made my way clean out of the Park without being spotted, and sloshed my way into my runabout, shoes leaking water from the moat.
+
+For the first time in weeks, I slept like a baby.
+
+Of course, I got caught. I don't really have the temperament for Machiavellian shenanigans, and I left a trail a mile wide, from the muddy footprints in the Contemporary's lobby to the wrecking bar thoughtlessly left behind, with my cowl and the storage units from the Hall, forgotten on the back seat of my runabout.
+
+I whistled my personal jazzy uptempo version of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” as I made my way from Costuming, through the utilidor, out to Liberty Square, a few minutes before the Park opened.
+
+Standing in front of me were Lil and Debra. Debra was holding my cowl and wrecking bar. Lil held the storage units.
+
+I hadn't put on my transdermals that morning, and so the emotion I felt was unmuffled, loud and yammering.
+
+I ran.
+
+I ran past them, along the road to Adventureland, past the Tiki Room where I'd been killed, past the Adventureland gate where I'd waded through the moat, down Main Street. I ran and ran, elbowing early guests, trampling flowers, knocking over an apple cart across from the Penny Arcade.
+
+I ran until I reached the main gate, and turned, thinking I'd outrun Lil and Debra and all my problems. I'd thought wrong. They were both there, a step behind me, puffing and red. Debra held my wrecking bar like a weapon, and she brandished it at me.
+
+“You're a goddamn idiot, you know that?” she said. I think if we'd been alone, she would've swung it at me.
+
+“Can't take it when someone else plays rough, huh, Debra?” I sneered.
+
+Lil shook her head disgustedly. “She's right, you are an idiot. The ad-hoc's meeting in Adventureland. You're coming.”
+
+“Why?” I asked, feeling belligerent. “You going to honor me for all my hard work?”
+
+“We're going to talk about the future, Julius, what's left of it for us.”
+
+“For God's sake, Lil, can't you see what's going on? They /{killed}/ me! They did it, and now we're fighting each other instead of her! Why can't you see how /{wrong}/ that is?”
+
+“You'd better watch those accusations, Julius,” Debra said, quietly and intensely, almost hissing. “I don't know who killed you or why, but you're the one who's guilty here. You need help.”
+
+I barked a humorless laugh. Guests were starting to stream into the now-open Park, and several of them were watching intently as the three costumed castmembers shouted at each other. I could feel my Whuffie hemorrhaging. “Debra, you are purely full of shit, and your work is trite and unimaginative. You're a fucking despoiler and you don't even have the guts to admit it.”
+
+“That's /{enough}/, Julius,” Lil said, her face hard, her rage barely in check. “We're going.”
+
+Debra walked a pace behind me, Lil a pace before, all the way through the crowd to Adventureland. I saw a dozen opportunities to slip into a gap in the human ebb and flow and escape custody, but I didn't try. I wanted a chance to tell the whole world what I'd done and why I'd done it.
+
+Debra followed us in when we mounted the steps to the meeting room. Lil turned. “I don't think you should be here, Debra,” she said in measured tones.
+
+Debra shook her head. “You can't keep me out, you know. And you shouldn't want to. We're on the same side.”
+
+I snorted derisively, and I think it decided Lil. “Come on, then,” she said.
+
+It was SRO in the meeting room, packed to the gills with the entire ad-hoc, except for my new recruits. No work was being done on the rehab, then, and the Liberty Belle would be sitting at her dock. Even the restaurant crews were there. Liberty Square must've been a ghost town. It gave the meeting a sense of urgency: the knowledge that there were guests in Liberty Square wandering aimlessly, looking for castmembers to help them out. Of course, Debra's crew might've been around.
+
+The crowd's faces were hard and bitter, leaving no doubt in my mind that I was in deep shit. Even Dan, sitting in the front row, looked angry. I nearly started crying right then. Dan—oh, Dan. My pal, my confidant, my patsy, my rival, my nemesis. Dan, Dan, Dan. I wanted to beat him to death and hug him at the same time.
+
+Lil took the podium and tucked stray hairs behind her ears. “All right, then,” she said. I stood to her left and Debra stood to her right.
+
+“Thanks for coming out today. I'd like to get this done quickly. We all have important work to get to. I'll run down the facts: last night, a member of this ad-hoc vandalized the Hall of Presidents, rendering it useless. It's estimated that it will take at least a week to get it back up and running.
+
+“I don't have to tell you that this isn't acceptable. This has never happened before, and it will never happen again. We're going to see to that.
+
+“I'd like to propose that no further work be done on the Mansion until the Hall of Presidents is fully operational. I will be volunteering my services on the repairs.”
+
+There were nods in the audience. Lil wouldn't be the only one working at the Hall that week. “Disney World isn't a competition,” Lil said. “All the different ad-hocs work together, and we do it to make the Park as good as we can. We lose sight of that at our peril.”
+
+I nearly gagged on bile. “I'd like to say something,” I said, as calmly as I could manage.
+
+Lil shot me a look. “That's fine, Julius. Any member of the ad-hoc can speak.”
+
+I took a deep breath. “I did it, all right?” I said. My voice cracked. “I did it, and I don't have any excuse for having done it. It may not have been the smartest thing I've ever done, but I think you all should understand how I was driven to it.
+
+“We're not /{supposed}/ to be in competition with one another here, but we all know that that's just a polite fiction. The truth is that there's real competition in the Park, and that the hardest players are the crew that rehabbed the Hall of Presidents. They /{stole}/ the Hall from you! They did it while you were distracted, they used /{me}/ to engineer the distraction, they /{murdered}/ me!” I heard the shriek creeping into my voice, but I couldn't do anything about it.
+
+“Usually, the lie that we're all on the same side is fine. It lets us work together in peace. But that changed the day they had me shot. If you keep on believing it, you're going to lose the Mansion, the Liberty Belle, Tom Sawyer Island—all of it. All the history we have with this place—all the history that the billions who've visited it have—it's going to be destroyed and replaced with the sterile, thoughtless shit that's taken over the Hall. Once that happens, there's nothing left that makes this place special. Anyone can get the same experience sitting at home on the sofa! What happens then, huh? How much longer do you think this place will stay open once the only people here are /{you?}/”
+
+Debra smiled condescendingly. “Are you finished, then?” she asked, sweetly. “Fine. I know I'm not a member of this group, but since it was my work that was destroyed last night, I think I would like to address Julius's statements, if you don't mind.” She paused, but no one spoke up.
+
+“First of all, I want you all to know that we don't hold you responsible for what happened last night. We know who was responsible, and he needs help. I urge you to see to it that he gets it.
+
+“Next, I'd like to say that as far as I'm concerned, we are on the same side—the side of the Park. This is a special place, and it couldn't exist without all of our contributions. What happened to Julius was terrible, and I sincerely hope that the person responsible is caught and brought to justice. But that person wasn't me or any of the people in my ad-hoc.
+
+“Lil, I'd like to thank you for your generous offer of assistance, and we'll take you up on it. That goes for all of you—come on by the Hall, we'll put you to work. We'll be up and running in no time.
+
+“Now, as far as the Mansion goes, let me say this once and for all: neither me nor my ad-hoc have any desire to take over the operations of the Mansion. It is a terrific attraction, and it's getting better with the work you're all doing. If you've been worrying about it, then you can stop worrying now. We're all on the same side.
+
+“Thanks for hearing me out. I've got to go see my team now.”
+
+She turned and left, a chorus of applause following her out.
+
+Lil waited until it died down, then said, “All right, then, we've got work to do, too. I'd like to ask you all a favor, first. I'd like us to keep the details of last night's incident to ourselves. Letting the guests and the world know about this ugly business isn't good for anyone. Can we all agree to do that?”
+
+There was a moment's pause while the results were tabulated on the HUDs, then Lil gave them a million-dollar smile. “I knew you'd come through. Thanks, guys. Let's get to work.”
+
+I spent the day at the hotel, listlessly scrolling around on my terminal. Lil had made it very clear to me after the meeting that I wasn't to show my face inside the Park until I'd “gotten help,” whatever that meant.
+
+By noon, the news was out. It was hard to pin down the exact source, but it seemed to revolve around the new recruits. One of them had told their net-pals about the high drama in Liberty Square, and mentioned my name.
+
+There were already a couple of sites vilifying me, and I expected more. I needed some kind of help, that was for sure.
+
+I thought about leaving then, turning my back on the whole business and leaving Walt Disney World to start yet another new life, Whuffie-poor and fancy-free.
+
+It wouldn't be so bad. I'd been in poor repute before, not so long ago. That first time Dan and I had palled around, back at the U of T, I'd been the center of a lot of pretty ambivalent sentiment, and Whuffie-poor as a man can be.
+
+I slept in a little coffin on-campus, perfectly climate controlled. It was cramped and dull, but my access to the network was free and I had plenty of material to entertain myself. While I couldn't get a table in a restaurant, I was free to queue up at any of the makers around town and get myself whatever I wanted to eat and drink, whenever I wanted it. Compared to 99.99999 percent of all the people who'd ever lived, I had a life of unparalleled luxury.
+
+Even by the standards of the Bitchun Society, I was hardly a rarity. The number of low-esteem individuals at large was significant, and they got along just fine, hanging out in parks, arguing, reading, staging plays, playing music.
+
+Of course, that wasn't the life for me. I had Dan to pal around with, a rare high-net-Whuffie individual who was willing to fraternize with a shmuck like me. He'd stand me to meals at sidewalk cafes and concerts at the SkyDome, and shoot down any snotty reputation-punk who sneered at my Whuffie tally. Being with Dan was a process of constantly reevaluating my beliefs in the Bitchun Society, and I'd never had a more vibrant, thought-provoking time in all my life.
+
+I could have left the Park, deadheaded to anywhere in the world, started over. I could have turned my back on Dan, on Debra, on Lil and the whole mess.
+
+I didn't.
+
+I called up the doc.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 8
+
+Doctor Pete answered on the third ring, audio-only. In the background, I heard a chorus of crying children, the constant backdrop of the Magic Kingdom infirmary.
+
+“Hi, doc,” I said.
+
+“Hello, Julius. What can I do for you?” Under the veneer of professional medical and castmember friendliness, I sensed irritation.
+
+/{Make it all good again}/. “I'm not really sure. I wanted to see if I could talk it over with you. I'm having some pretty big problems.”
+
+“I'm on-shift until five. Can it wait until then?”
+
+By then, I had no idea if I'd have the nerve to see him. “I don't think so—I was hoping we could meet right away.”
+
+“If it's an emergency, I can have an ambulance sent for you.”
+
+“It's urgent, but not an emergency. I need to talk about it in person. Please?”
+
+He sighed in undoctorly, uncastmemberly fashion. “Julius, I've got important things to do here. Are you sure this can't wait?”
+
+I bit back a sob. “I'm sure, doc.”
+
+“All right then. When can you be here?”
+
+Lil had made it clear that she didn't want me in the Park. “Can you meet me? I can't really come to you. I'm at the Contemporary, Tower B, room 2334.”
+
+“I don't really make house calls, son.”
+
+“I know, I know.” I hated how pathetic I sounded. “Can you make an exception? I don't know who else to turn to.”
+
+“I'll be there as soon as I can. I'll have to get someone to cover for me. Let's not make a habit of this, all right?”
+
+I whooshed out my relief. “I promise.”
+
+He disconnected abruptly, and I found myself dialing Dan.
+
+“Yes?” he said, cautiously.
+
+“Doctor Pete is coming over, Dan. I don't know if he can help me—I don't know if anyone can. I just wanted you to know.”
+
+He surprised me, then, and made me remember why he was still my friend, even after everything. “Do you want me to come over?”
+
+“That would be very nice,” I said, quietly. “I'm at the hotel.”
+
+“Give me ten minutes,” he said, and rang off.
+
+He found me on my patio, looking out at the Castle and the peaks of Space Mountain. To my left spread the sparkling waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon, to my right, the Property stretched away for mile after manicured mile. The sun was warm on my skin, faint strains of happy laughter drifted with the wind, and the flowers were in bloom. In Toronto, it would be freezing rain, gray buildings, noisome rapid transit (a monorail hissed by), and hard-faced anonymity. I missed it.
+
+Dan pulled up a chair next to mine and sat without a word. We both stared out at the view for a long while.
+
+“It's something else, isn't it?” I said, finally.
+
+“I suppose so,” he said. “I want to say something before the doc comes by, Julius.”
+
+“Go ahead.”
+
+“Lil and I are through. It should never have happened in the first place, and I'm not proud of myself. If you two were breaking up, that's none of my business, but I had no right to hurry it along.”
+
+“All right,” I said. I was too drained for emotion.
+
+“I've taken a room here, moved my things.”
+
+“How's Lil taking it?”
+
+“Oh, she thinks I'm a total bastard. I suppose she's right.”
+
+“I suppose she's partly right,” I corrected him.
+
+He gave me a gentle slug in the shoulder. “Thanks.”
+
+We waited in companionable silence until the doc arrived.
+
+He bustled in, his smile lines drawn up into a sour purse and waited expectantly. I left Dan on the patio while I took a seat on the bed.
+
+“I'm cracking up or something,” I said. “I've been acting erratically, sometimes violently. I don't know what's wrong with me.” I'd rehearsed the speech, but it still wasn't easy to choke out.
+
+“We both know what's wrong, Julius,” the doc said, impatiently. “You need to be refreshed from your backup, get set up with a fresh clone and retire this one. We've had this talk.”
+
+“I can't do it,” I said, not meeting his eye. “I just can't—isn't there another way?”
+
+The doc shook his head. “Julius, I've got limited resources to allocate. There's a perfectly good cure for what's ailing you, and if you won't take it, there's not much I can do for you.”
+
+“But what about meds?”
+
+“Your problem isn't a chemical imbalance, it's a mental defect. Your /{brain}/ is /{broken}/, son. All that meds will do is mask the symptoms, while you get worse. I can't tell you what you want to hear, unfortunately. Now, If you're ready to take the cure, I can retire this clone immediately and get you restored into a new one in 48 hours.”
+
+“Isn't there another way? Please? You have to help me—I can't lose all this.” I couldn't admit my real reasons for being so attached to this singularly miserable chapter in my life, not even to myself.
+
+The doctor rose to go. “Look, Julius, you haven't got the Whuffie to make it worth anyone's time to research a solution to this problem, other than the one that we all know about. I can give you mood-suppressants, but that's not a permanent solution.”
+
+“Why not?”
+
+He boggled. “You /{can't}/ just take dope for the rest of your life, son. Eventually, something will happen to this body—I see from your file that you're stroke-prone—and you're going to get refreshed from your backup. The longer you wait, the more traumatic it'll be. You're robbing from your future self for your selfish present.”
+
+It wasn't the first time the thought had crossed my mind. Every passing day made it harder to take the cure. To lie down and wake up friends with Dan, to wake up and be in love with Lil again. To wake up to a Mansion the way I remembered it, a Hall of Presidents where I could find Lil bent over with her head in a President's guts of an afternoon. To lie down and wake without disgrace, without knowing that my lover and my best friend would betray me, /{had}/ betrayed me.
+
+I just couldn't do it—not yet, anyway.
+
+Dan—Dan was going to kill himself soon, and if I restored myself from my old backup, I'd lose my last year with him. I'd lose /{his}/ last year.
+
+“Let's table that, doc. I hear what you're saying, but there're complications. I guess I'll take the mood-suppressants for now.”
+
+He gave me a cold look. “I'll give you a scrip, then. I could've done that without coming out here. Please don't call me anymore.”
+
+I was shocked by his obvious ire, but I didn't understand it until he was gone and I told Dan what had happened.
+
+“Us old-timers, we're used to thinking of doctors as highly trained professionals—all that pre-Bitchun med-school stuff, long internships, anatomy drills... Truth is, the average doc today gets more training in bedside manner than bioscience. ‘Doctor’ Pete is a technician, not an MD, not the way you and I mean it. Anyone with the kind of knowledge you're looking for is working as a historical researcher, not a doctor.
+
+“But that's not the illusion. The doc is supposed to be the authority on medical matters, even though he's only got one trick: restore from backup. You're reminding Pete of that, and he's not happy to have it happen.”
+
+I waited a week before returning to the Magic Kingdom, sunning myself on the white sand beach at the Contemporary, jogging the Walk Around the World, taking a canoe out to the wild and overgrown Discovery Island, and generally cooling out. Dan came by in the evenings and it was like old times, running down the pros and cons of Whuffie and Bitchunry and life in general, sitting on my porch with a sweating pitcher of lemonade.
+
+On the last night, he presented me with a clever little handheld, a museum piece that I recalled fondly from the dawning days of the Bitchun Society. It had much of the functionality of my defunct systems, in a package I could slip in my shirt pocket. It felt like part of a costume, like the turnip watches the Ben Franklin streetmosphere players wore at the American Adventure.
+
+Museum piece or no, it meant that I was once again qualified to participate in the Bitchun Society, albeit more slowly and less efficiently than I once may've. I took it downstairs the next morning and drove to the Magic Kingdom's castmember lot.
+
+At least, that was the plan. When I got down to the Contemporary's parking lot, my runabout was gone. A quick check with the handheld revealed the worst: my Whuffie was low enough that someone had just gotten inside and driven away, realizing that they could make more popular use of it than I could.
+
+With a sinking feeling, I trudged up to my room and swiped my key through the lock. It emitted a soft, unsatisfied _bzzz_ and lit up, “Please see the front desk.” My room had been reassigned, too. I had the short end of the Whuffie stick.
+
+At least there was no mandatory Whuffie check on the monorail platform, but the other people on the car were none too friendly to me, and no one offered me an inch more personal space than was necessary. I had hit bottom.
+
+I took the castmember entrance to the Magic Kingdom, clipping my name tag to my Disney Operations polo shirt, ignoring the glares of my fellow castmembers in the utilidors.
+
+I used the handheld to page Dan. “Hey there,” he said, brightly. I could tell instantly that I was being humored.
+
+“Where are you?” I asked.
+
+“Oh, up in the Square. By the Liberty Tree.”
+
+In front of the Hall of Presidents. I worked the handheld, pinged some Whuffie manually. Debra was spiked so high it seemed she'd never come down, as were Tim and her whole crew in aggregate. They were drawing from guests by the millions, and from castmembers and from people who'd read the popular accounts of their struggle against the forces of petty jealousy and sabotage—i.e., me.
+
+I felt light-headed. I hurried along to costuming and changed into the heavy green Mansion costume, then ran up the stairs to the Square.
+
+I found Dan sipping a coffee and sitting on a bench under the giant, lantern-hung Liberty Tree. He had a second cup waiting for me, and patted the bench next to him. I sat with him and sipped, waiting for him to spill whatever bit of rotten news he had for me this morning—I could feel it hovering like storm clouds.
+
+He wouldn't talk though, not until we finished the coffee. Then he stood and strolled over to the Mansion. It wasn't rope-drop yet, and there weren't any guests in the Park, which was all for the better, given what was coming next.
+
+“Have you taken a look at Debra's Whuffie lately?” he asked, finally, as we stood by the pet cemetery, considering the empty scaffolding.
+
+I started to pull out the handheld but he put a hand on my arm. “Don't bother,” he said, morosely. “Suffice it to say, Debra's gang is number one with a bullet. Ever since word got out about what happened to the Hall, they've been stacking it deep. They can do just about anything, Jules, and get away with it.”
+
+My stomach tightened and I found myself grinding my molars. “So, what is it they've done, Dan?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
+
+Dan didn't have to respond, because at that moment, Tim emerged from the Mansion, wearing a light cotton work-smock. He had a thoughtful expression, and when he saw us, he beamed his elfin grin and came over.
+
+“Hey guys!” he said.
+
+“Hi, Tim,” Dan said. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
+
+“Pretty exciting stuff, huh?” he said.
+
+“I haven't told him yet,” Dan said, with forced lightness. “Why don't you run it down?”
+
+“Well, it's pretty radical, I have to admit. We've learned some stuff from the Hall that we wanted to apply, and at the same time, we wanted to capture some of the historical character of the ghost story.”
+
+I opened my mouth to object, but Dan put a hand on my forearm. “Really?” he asked innocently. “How do you plan on doing that?”
+
+“Well, we're keeping the telepresence robots—that's a honey of an idea, Julius—but we're giving each one an uplink so that it can flash-bake. We've got some high-Whuffie horror writers pulling together a series of narratives about the lives of each ghost: how they met their tragic ends, what they've done since, you know.
+
+“The way we've storyboarded it, the guests stream through the ride pretty much the way they do now, walking through the preshow and then getting into the ride-vehicles, the Doom Buggies. But here's the big change: we /{slow it all down}/. We trade off throughput for intensity, make it more of a premium product.
+
+“So you're a guest. From the queue to the unload zone, you're being chased by these ghosts, these telepresence robots, and they're really scary—I've got Suneep's concept artists going back to the drawing board, hitting basic research on stuff that'll just scare the guests silly. When a ghost catches you, lays its hands on you—wham! Flash-bake! You get its whole grisly story in three seconds, across your frontal lobe. By the time you've left, you've had ten or more ghost-contacts, and the next time you come back, it's all new ghosts with all new stories. The way that the Hall's drawing 'em, we're bound to be a hit.” He put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels, clearly proud of himself.
+
+When Epcot Center first opened, long, long ago, there'd been an ugly decade or so in ride design. Imagineering found a winning formula for Spaceship Earth, the flagship ride in the big golf ball, and, in their drive to establish thematic continuity, they'd turned the formula into a cookie-cutter, stamping out half a dozen clones for each of the “themed” areas in the Future Showcase. It went like this: first, we were cavemen, then there was ancient Greece, then Rome burned (cue sulfur-odor FX), then there was the Great Depression, and, finally, we reached the modern age. Who knows what the future holds? We do! We'll all have videophones and be living on the ocean floor. Once was cute—compelling and inspirational, even—but six times was embarrassing. Like everyone, once Imagineering got themselves a good hammer, everything started to resemble a nail. Even now, the Epcot ad-hocs were repeating the sins of their forebears, closing every ride with a scene of Bitchun utopia.
+
+And Debra was repeating the classic mistake, tearing her way through the Magic Kingdom with her blaster set to flash-bake.
+
+“Tim,” I said, hearing the tremble in my voice. “I thought you said that you had no designs on the Mansion, that you and Debra wouldn't be trying to take it away from us. Didn't you say that?”
+
+Tim rocked back as if I'd slapped him and the blood drained from his face. “But we're not taking it away!” he said. “You /{invited}/ us to help.”
+
+I shook my head, confused. “We did?” I said.
+
+“Sure,” he said.
+
+“Yes,” Dan said. “Kim and some of the other rehab cast went to Debra yesterday and asked her to do a design review of the current rehab and suggest any changes. She was good enough to agree, and they've come up with some great ideas.” I read between the lines: the newbies you invited in have gone over to the other side and we're going to lose everything because of them. I felt like shit.
+
+“Well, I stand corrected,” I said, carefully. Tim's grin came back and he clapped his hands together. /{He really loves the Mansion}/, I thought. /{He could have been on our side, if we had only played it all right.}/
+
+Dan and I took to the utilidors and grabbed a pair of bicycles and sped towards Suneep's lab, jangling our bells at the rushing castmembers. “They don't have the authority to invite Debra in,” I panted as we pedaled.
+
+“Says who?” Dan said.
+
+“It was part of the deal—they knew that they were probationary members right from the start. They weren't even allowed into the design meetings.”
+
+“Looks like they took themselves off probation,” he said.
+
+Suneep gave us both a chilly look when we entered his lab. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hands shook with exhaustion. He seemed to be holding himself erect with nothing more than raw anger.
+
+“So much for building without interference,” he said. “We agreed that this project wouldn't change midway through. Now it has, and I've got other commitments that I'm going to have to cancel because this is going off-schedule.”
+
+I made soothing apologetic gestures with my hands. “Suneep, believe me, I'm just as upset about this as you are. We don't like this one little bit.”
+
+He harrumphed. “We had a deal, Julius,” he said, hotly. “I would do the rehab for you and you would keep the ad-hocs off my back. I've been holding up my end of the bargain, but where the hell have you been? If they replan the rehab now, I'll /{have}/ to go along with them. I can't just leave the Mansion half-done—they'll murder me.”
+
+The kernel of a plan formed in my mind. “Suneep, we don't like the new rehab plan, and we're going to stop it. You can help. Just stonewall them—tell them they'll have to find other Imagineering support if they want to go through with it, that you're booked solid.”
+
+Dan gave me one of his long, considering looks, then nodded a minute approval. “Yeah,” he drawled. “That'll help all right. Just tell 'em that they're welcome to make any changes they want to the plan, /{if}/ they can find someone else to execute them.”
+
+Suneep looked unhappy. “Fine—so then they go and find someone else to do it, and that person gets all the credit for the work my team's done so far. I just flush my time down the toilet.”
+
+“It won't come to that,” I said quickly. “If you can just keep saying no for a couple days, we'll do the rest.”
+
+Suneep looked doubtful.
+
+“I promise,” I said.
+
+Suneep ran his stubby fingers through his already crazed hair. “All right,” he said, morosely.
+
+Dan slapped him on the back. “Good man,” he said.
+
+It should have worked. It almost did.
+
+I sat in the back of the Adventureland conference room while Dan exhorted.
+
+“Look, you don't have to roll over for Debra and her people! This is /{your}/ garden, and you've tended it responsibly for years. She's got no right to move in on you—you've got all the Whuffie you need to defend the place, if you all work together.”
+
+No castmember likes confrontation, and the Liberty Square bunch were tough to rouse to action. Dan had turned down the air conditioning an hour before the meeting and closed up all the windows, so that the room was a kiln for hard-firing irritation into rage. I stood meekly in the back, as far as possible from Dan. He was working his magic on my behalf, and I was content to let him do his thing.
+
+When Lil had arrived, she'd sized up the situation with a sour expression: sit in the front, near Dan, or in the back, near me. She'd chosen the middle, and to concentrate on Dan I had to tear my eyes away from the sweat glistening on her long, pale neck.
+
+Dan stalked the aisles like a preacher, eyes blazing. “They're /{stealing}/ your future! They're /{stealing}/ your /{past}/! They claim they've got your support!”
+
+He lowered his tone. “I don't think that's true.” He grabbed a castmember by her hand and looked into her eyes. “Is it true?” he said so low it was almost a whisper.
+
+“No,” the castmember said.
+
+He dropped her hand and whirled to face another castmember. “Is it true?” he demanded, raising his voice, slightly.
+
+“No!” the castmember said, his voice unnaturally loud after the whispers. A nervous chuckle rippled through the crowd.
+
+“Is it true?” he said, striding to the podium, shouting now.
+
+“No!” the crowd roared.
+
+“NO!” he shouted back.
+
+“You don't /{have to}/ roll over and take it! You can fight back, carry on with the plan, send them packing. They're only taking over because you're letting them. Are you going to let them?”
+
+“NO!”
+
+Bitchun wars are rare. Long before anyone tries a takeover of anything, they've done the arithmetic and ensured themselves that the ad-hoc they're displacing doesn't have a hope of fighting back.
+
+For the defenders, it's a simple decision: step down gracefully and salvage some reputation out of the thing—fighting back will surely burn away even that meager reward.
+
+No one benefits from fighting back—least of all the thing everyone's fighting over. For example:
+
+It was the second year of my undergrad, taking a double-major in not making trouble for my profs and keeping my mouth shut. It was the early days of Bitchun, and most of us were still a little unclear on the concept.
+
+Not all of us, though: a group of campus shit-disturbers, grad students in the Sociology Department, were on the bleeding edge of the revolution, and they knew what they wanted: control of the Department, oustering of the tyrannical, stodgy profs, a bully pulpit from which to preach the Bitchun gospel to a generation of impressionable undergrads who were too cowed by their workloads to realize what a load of shit they were being fed by the University.
+
+At least, that's what the intense, heavyset woman who seized the mic at my Soc 200 course said, that sleepy morning mid-semester at Convocation Hall. Nineteen hundred students filled the hall, a capacity crowd of bleary, coffee-sipping time-markers, and they woke up in a hurry when the woman's strident harangue burst over their heads.
+
+I saw it happen from the very start. The prof was down there on the stage, a speck with a tie-mic, droning over his slides, and then there was a blur as half a dozen grad students rushed the stage. They were dressed in University poverty-chic, wrinkled slacks and tattered sports coats, and five of them formed a human wall in front of the prof while the sixth, the heavyset one with the dark hair and the prominent mole on her cheek, unclipped his mic and clipped it to her lapel.
+
+“Wakey wakey!” she called, and the reality of the moment hit home for me: this wasn't on the lesson-plan.
+
+“Come on, heads up! This is /{not}/ a drill. The University of Toronto Department of Sociology is under new management. If you'll set your handhelds to ‘receive,’ we'll be beaming out new lesson-plans momentarily. If you've forgotten your handhelds, you can download the plans later on. I'm going to run it down for you right now, anyway.
+
+“Before I start though, I have a prepared statement for you. You'll probably hear this a couple times more today, in your other classes. It's worth repeating. Here goes:
+
+“We reject the stodgy, tyrannical rule of the profs at this Department. We demand bully pulpits from which to preach the Bitchun gospel. Effective immediately, the University of Toronto Ad-Hoc Sociology Department is /{in charge}/. We promise high-relevance curriculum with an emphasis on reputation economies, post-scarcity social dynamics, and the social theory of infinite life-extension. No more Durkheim, kids, just deadheading! This will be /{fun}/.”
+
+She taught the course like a pro—you could tell she'd been drilling her lecture for a while. Periodically, the human wall behind her shuddered as the prof made a break for it and was restrained.
+
+At precisely 9:50 a.m. she dismissed the class, which had hung on her every word. Instead of trudging out and ambling to our next class, the whole nineteen hundred of us rose, and, as one, started buzzing to our neighbors, a roar of “Can you believe it?” that followed us out the door and to our next encounter with the Ad-Hoc Sociology Department.
+
+It was cool, that day. I had another soc class, Constructing Social Deviance, and we got the same drill there, the same stirring propaganda, the same comical sight of a tenured prof battering himself against a human wall of ad-hocs.
+
+Reporters pounced on us when we left the class, jabbing at us with mics and peppering us with questions. I gave them a big thumbs-up and said, “Bitchun!” in classic undergrad eloquence.
+
+The profs struck back the next morning. I got a heads-up from the newscast as I brushed my teeth: the Dean of the Department of Sociology told a reporter that the ad-hocs' courses would not be credited, that they were a gang of thugs who were totally unqualified to teach. A counterpoint interview from a spokesperson for the ad-hocs established that all of the new lecturers had been writing course-plans and lecture notes for the profs they replaced for years, and that they'd also written most of their journal articles.
+
+The profs brought University security out to help them regain their lecterns, only to be repelled by ad-hoc security guards in homemade uniforms. University security got the message—anyone could be replaced—and stayed away.
+
+The profs picketed. They held classes out front attended by grade-conscious brown-nosers who worried that the ad-hocs' classes wouldn't count towards their degrees. Fools like me alternated between the outdoor and indoor classes, not learning much of anything.
+
+No one did. The profs spent their course-times whoring for Whuffie, leading the seminars like encounter groups instead of lectures. The ad-hocs spent their time badmouthing the profs and tearing apart their coursework.
+
+At the end of the semester, everyone got a credit and the University Senate disbanded the Sociology program in favor of a distance-ed offering from Concordia in Montreal. Forty years later, the fight was settled forever. Once you took backup-and-restore, the rest of the Bitchunry just followed, a value-system settling over you.
+
+Those who didn't take backup-and-restore may have objected, but, hey, they all died.
+
+The Liberty Square ad-hocs marched shoulder to shoulder through the utilidors and, as a mass, took back the Haunted Mansion. Dan, Lil and I were up front, careful not to brush against one another as we walked quickly through the backstage door and started a bucket-brigade, passing out the materials that Debra's people had stashed there, along a line that snaked back to the front porch of the Hall of Presidents, where they were unceremoniously dumped.
+
+Once the main stash was vacated, we split up and roamed the ride, its service corridors and dioramas, the break-room and the secret passages, rounding up every scrap of Debra's crap and passing it out the door.
+
+In the attic scene, I ran into Kim and three of her giggly little friends, their eyes glinting in the dim light. The gaggle of transhuman kids made my guts clench, made me think of Zed and of Lil and of my unmediated brain, and I had a sudden urge to shred them verbally.
+
+No.
+
+No. That way lay madness and war. This was about taking back what was ours, not punishing the interlopers. “Kim, I think you should leave,” I said, quietly.
+
+She snorted and gave me a dire look. “Who died and made you boss?” she said. Her friends thought it very brave, they made it clear with double-jointed hip-thrusts and glares.
+
+“Kim, you can leave now or you can leave later. The longer you wait, the worse it will be for you and your Whuffie. You blew it, and you're not a part of the Mansion anymore. Go home, go to Debra. Don't stay here, and don't come back. Ever.”
+
+Ever. Be cast out of this thing that you love, that you obsess over, that you worked for. “Now,” I said, quiet, dangerous, barely in control.
+
+They sauntered into the graveyard, hissing vitriol at me. Oh, they had lots of new material to post to the anti-me sites, messages that would get them Whuffie with people who thought I was the scum of the earth. A popular view, those days.
+
+I got out of the Mansion and looked at the bucket-brigade, followed it to the front of the Hall. The Park had been open for an hour, and a herd of guests watched the proceedings in confusion. The Liberty Square ad-hocs passed their loads around in clear embarrassment, knowing that they were violating every principle they cared about.
+
+As I watched, gaps appeared in the bucket-brigade as castmembers slipped away, faces burning scarlet with shame. At the Hall of Presidents, Debra presided over an orderly relocation of her things, a cheerful cadre of her castmembers quickly moving it all offstage. I didn't have to look at my handheld to know what was happening to our Whuffie.
+
+By evening, we were back on schedule. Suneep supervised the placement of his telepresence rigs and Lil went over every system in minute detail, bossing a crew of ad-hocs that trailed behind her, double- and triple-checking it all.
+
+Suneep smiled at me when he caught sight of me, hand-scattering dust in the parlor.
+
+“Congratulations, sir,” he said, and shook my hand. “It was masterfully done.”
+
+“Thanks, Suneep. I'm not sure how masterful it was, but we got the job done, and that's what counts.”
+
+“Your partners, they're happier than I've seen them since this whole business started. I know how they feel!”
+
+My partners? Oh, yes, Dan and Lil. How happy were they, I wondered. Happy enough to get back together? My mood fell, even though a part of me said that Dan would never go back to her, not after all we'd been through together.
+
+“I'm glad you're glad. We couldn't have done it without you, and it looks like we'll be open for business in a week.”
+
+“Oh, I should think so. Are you coming to the party tonight?”
+
+Party? Probably something the Liberty Square ad-hocs were putting on. I would almost certainly be persona non grata. “I don't think so,” I said, carefully. “I'll probably work late here.”
+
+He chided me for working too hard, but once he saw that I had no intention of being dragged to the party, he left off.
+
+And that's how I came to be in the Mansion at 2 a.m. the next morning, dozing in a backstage break room when I heard a commotion from the parlor. Festive voices, happy and loud, and I assumed it was Liberty Square ad-hocs coming back from their party.
+
+I roused myself and entered the parlor.
+
+Kim and her friends were there, pushing hand-trucks of Debra's gear. I got ready to shout something horrible at them, and that's when Debra came in. I moderated the shout to a snap, opened my mouth to speak, stopped.
+
+Behind Debra were Lil's parents, frozen these long years in their canopic jars in Kissimmee.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 9
+
+Lil's parents went into their jars with little ceremony. I saw them just before they went in, when they stopped in at Lil's and my place to kiss her goodbye and wish her well.
+
+Tom and I stood awkwardly to the side while Lil and her mother held an achingly chipper and polite farewell.
+
+“So,” I said to Tom. “Deadheading.”
+
+He cocked an eyebrow. “Yup. Took the backup this morning.”
+
+Before coming to see their daughter, they'd taken their backups. When they woke, this event—everything following the backup—would never have happened for them.
+
+God, they were bastards.
+
+“When are you coming back?” I asked, keeping my castmember face on, carefully hiding away the disgust.
+
+'We'll be sampling monthly, just getting a digest dumped to us. When things look interesting enough, we'll come on back.” He waggled a finger at me. “I'll be keeping an eye on you and Lillian—you treat her right, you hear?”
+
+“We're sure going to miss you two around here,” I said.
+
+He pishtoshed and said, “You won't even notice we're gone. This is your world now—we're just getting out of the way for a while, letting you-all take a run at it. We wouldn't be going down if we didn't have faith in you two.”
+
+Lil and her mom kissed one last time. Her mother was more affectionate than I'd ever seen her, even to the point of tearing up a little. Here in this moment of vanishing consciousness, she could be whomever she wanted, knowing that it wouldn't matter the next time she awoke.
+
+“Julius,” she said, taking my hands, squeezing them. “You've got some wonderful times ahead of you—between Lil and the Park, you're going to have a tremendous experience, I just know it.” She was infinitely serene and compassionate, and I knew it didn't count.
+
+Still smiling, they got into their runabout and drove away to get the lethal injections, to become disembodied consciousnesses, to lose their last moments with their darling daughter.
+
+They were not happy to be returned from the dead. Their new bodies were impossibly young, pubescent and hormonal and doleful and kitted out in the latest trendy styles. In the company of Kim and her pals, they made a solid mass of irate adolescence.
+
+“Just what the hell do you think you're doing?” Rita asked, shoving me hard in the chest. I stumbled back into my carefully scattered dust, raising a cloud.
+
+Rita came after me, but Tom held her back. “Julius, go away. Your actions are totally indefensible. Keep your mouth shut and go away.”
+
+I held up a hand, tried to wave away his words, opened my mouth to speak.
+
+“Don't say a word,” he said. “Leave. Now.”
+
+“/{Don't stay here and don't come back. Ever}/,” Kim said, an evil look on her face.
+
+“No,” I said. “No goddamn it no. You're going to hear me out, and then I'm going to get Lil and her people and they're going to back me up. That's not negotiable.”
+
+We stared at each other across the dim parlor. Debra made a twiddling motion and the lights came up full and harsh. The expertly crafted gloom went away and it was just a dusty room with a fake fireplace.
+
+“Let him speak,” Debra said. Rita folded her arms and glared.
+
+“I did some really awful things,” I said, keeping my head up, keeping my eyes on them. “I can't excuse them, and I don't ask you to forgive them. But that doesn't change the fact that we've put our hearts and souls into this place, and it's not right to take it from us. Can't we have one constant corner of the world, one bit frozen in time for the people who love it that way? Why does your success mean our failure?
+
+“Can't you see that we're carrying on your work? That we're tending a legacy you left us?”
+
+“Are you through?” Rita asked.
+
+I nodded.
+
+“This place is not a historical preserve, Julius, it's a ride. If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong place. It's not my goddamn fault that you decided that your stupidity was on my behalf, and it doesn't make it any less stupid. All you've done is confirm my worst fears.”
+
+Debra's mask of impartiality slipped. “You stupid, deluded asshole,” she said, softly. “You totter around, pissing and moaning about your little murder, your little health problems—yes, I've heard—your little fixation on keeping things the way they are. You need some perspective, Julius. You need to get away from here: Disney World isn't good for you and you're sure as hell not any good for Disney World.”
+
+It would have hurt less if I hadn't come to the same conclusion myself, somewhere along the way.
+
+I found the ad-hoc at a Fort Wilderness campsite, sitting around a fire and singing, necking, laughing. The victory party. I trudged into the circle and hunted for Lil.
+
+She was sitting on a log, staring into the fire, a million miles away. Lord, she was beautiful when she fretted. I stood in front of her for a minute and she stared right through me until I tapped her shoulder. She gave an involuntary squeak and then smiled at herself.
+
+“Lil,” I said, then stopped. /{Your parents are home, and they've joined the other side}/.
+
+For the first time in an age, she looked at me softly, smiled even. She patted the log next to her. I sat down, felt the heat of the fire on my face, her body heat on my side. God, how did I screw this up?
+
+Without warning, she put her arms around me and hugged me hard. I hugged her back, nose in her hair, woodsmoke smell and shampoo and sweat. “We did it,” she whispered fiercely. I held onto her. /{No, we didn't}/.
+
+“Lil,” I said again, and pulled away.
+
+“What?” she said, her eyes shining. She was stoned, I saw that now.
+
+“Your parents are back. They came to the Mansion.”
+
+She was confused, shrinking, and I pressed on.
+
+“They were with Debra.”
+
+She reeled back as if I'd slapped her.
+
+“I told them I'd bring the whole group back to talk it over.”
+
+She hung her head and her shoulders shook, and I tentatively put an arm around her. She shook it off and sat up. She was crying and laughing at the same time. “I'll have a ferry sent over,” she said.
+
+I sat in the back of the ferry with Dan, away from the confused and angry ad-hocs. I answered his questions with terse, one-word answers, and he gave up. We rode in silence, the trees on the edges of the Seven Seas Lagoon whipping back and forth in an approaching storm.
+
+The ad-hoc shortcutted through the west parking lot and moved through the quiet streets of Frontierland apprehensively, a funeral procession that stopped the nighttime custodial staff in their tracks.
+
+As we drew up on Liberty Square, I saw that the work-lights were blazing and a tremendous work-gang of Debra's ad-hocs were moving from the Hall to the Mansion, undoing our teardown of their work.
+
+Working alongside of them were Tom and Rita, Lil's parents, sleeves rolled up, forearms bulging with new, toned muscle. The group stopped in its tracks and Lil went to them, stumbling on the wooden sidewalk.
+
+I expected hugs. There were none. In their stead, parents and daughter stalked each other, shifting weight and posture to track each other, maintain a constant, sizing distance.
+
+“What the hell are you doing?” Lil said, finally. She didn't address her mother, which surprised me. It didn't surprise Tom, though.
+
+He dipped forward, the shuffle of his feet loud in the quiet night. “We're working,” he said.
+
+“No, you're not,” Lil said. “You're destroying. Stop it.”
+
+Lil's mother darted to her husband's side, not saying anything, just standing there.
+
+Wordlessly, Tom hefted the box he was holding and headed to the Mansion. Lil caught his arm and jerked it so he dropped his load.
+
+“You're not listening. The Mansion is /{ours}/. /{Stop}/. /{It}/.”
+
+Lil's mother gently took Lil's hand off Tom's arm, held it in her own. “I'm glad you're passionate about it, Lillian,” she said. “I'm proud of your commitment.”
+
+Even at a distance of ten yards, I heard Lil's choked sob, saw her collapse in on herself. Her mother took her in her arms, rocked her. I felt like a voyeur, but couldn't bring myself to turn away.
+
+“Shhh,” her mother said, a sibilant sound that matched the rustling of the leaves on the Liberty Tree. “Shhh. We don't have to be on the same side, you know.”
+
+They held the embrace and held it still. Lil straightened, then bent again and picked up her father's box, carried it to the Mansion. One at a time, the rest of her ad-hoc moved forward and joined them.
+
+This is how you hit bottom. You wake up in your friend's hotel room and you power up your handheld and it won't log on. You press the call-button for the elevator and it gives you an angry buzz in return. You take the stairs to the lobby and no one looks at you as they jostle past you.
+
+You become a non-person.
+
+Scared. I trembled when I ascended the stairs to Dan's room, when I knocked at his door, louder and harder than I meant, a panicked banging.
+
+Dan answered the door and I saw his eyes go to his HUD, back to me. “Jesus,” he said.
+
+I sat on the edge of my bed, head in my hands.
+
+“What?” I said, what happened, what happened to me?
+
+“You're out of the ad-hoc,” he said. “You're out of Whuffie. You're bottomed-out,” he said.
+
+This is how you hit bottom in Walt Disney World, in a hotel with the hissing of the monorail and the sun streaming through the window, the hooting of the steam engines on the railroad and the distant howl of the recorded wolves at the Haunted Mansion. The world drops away from you, recedes until you're nothing but a speck, a mote in blackness.
+
+I was hyperventilating, light-headed. Deliberately, I slowed my breath, put my head between my knees until the dizziness passed.
+
+“Take me to Lil,” I said.
+
+Driving together, hammering cigarette after cigarette into my face, I remembered the night Dan had come to Disney World, when I'd driven him to my—/{Lil's}/—house, and how happy I'd been then, how secure.
+
+I looked at Dan and he patted my hand. “Strange times,” he said.
+
+It was enough. We found Lil in an underground break-room, lightly dozing on a ratty sofa. Her head rested on Tom's lap, her feet on Rita's. All three snored softly. They'd had a long night.
+
+Dan shook Lil awake. She stretched out and opened her eyes, looked sleepily at me. The blood drained from her face.
+
+“Hello, Julius,” she said, coldly.
+
+Now Tom and Rita were awake, too. Lil sat up.
+
+“Were you going to tell me?” I asked, quietly. “Or were you just going to kick me out and let me find out on my own?”
+
+“You were my next stop,” Lil said.
+
+“Then I've saved you some time.” I pulled up a chair. “Tell me all about it.”
+
+“There's nothing to tell,” Rita snapped. “You're out. You had to know it was coming—for God's sake, you were tearing Liberty Square apart!”
+
+“How would you know?” I asked. I struggled to remain calm. “You've been asleep for ten years!”
+
+“We got updates,” Rita said. “That's why we're back—we couldn't let it go on the way it was. We owed it to Debra.”
+
+“And Lillian,” Tom said.
+
+“And Lillian,” Rita said, absently.
+
+Dan pulled up a chair of his own. “You're not being fair to him,” he said. At least someone was on my side.
+
+“We've been more than fair,” Lil said. “You know that better than anyone, Dan. We've forgiven and forgiven and forgiven, made every allowance. He's sick and he won't take the cure. There's nothing more we can do for him.”
+
+“You could be his friend,” Dan said. The light-headedness was back, and I slumped in my chair, tried to control my breathing, the panicked thumping of my heart.
+
+“You could try to understand, you could try to help him. You could stick with him, the way he stuck with you. You don't have to toss him out on his ass.”
+
+Lil had the good grace to look slightly shamed. “I'll get him a room,” she said. “For a month. In Kissimmee. A motel. I'll pick up his network access. Is that fair?”
+
+“It's more than fair,” Rita said. Why did she hate me so much? I'd been there for her daughter while she was away—ah. That might do it, all right. “I don't think it's warranted. If you want to take care of him, sir, you can. It's none of my family's business.”
+
+Lil's eyes blazed. “Let me handle this,” she said. “All right?”
+
+Rita stood up abruptly. “You do whatever you want,” she said, and stormed out of the room.
+
+“Why are you coming here for help?” Tom said, ever the voice of reason. “You seem capable enough.”
+
+“I'm going to be taking a lethal injection at the end of the week,” Dan said. “Three days. That's personal, but you asked.”
+
+Tom shook his head. /{Some friends you've got yourself}/, I could see him thinking it.
+
+“That soon?” Lil asked, a throb in her voice.
+
+Dan nodded.
+
+In a dreamlike buzz, I stood and wandered out into the utilidor, out through the western castmember parking, and away.
+
+I wandered along the cobbled, disused Walk Around the World, each flagstone engraved with the name of a family that had visited the Park a century before. The names whipped past me like epitaphs.
+
+The sun came up noon high as I rounded the bend of deserted beach between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian. Lil and I had come here often, to watch the sunset from a hammock, arms around each other, the Park spread out before us like a lighted toy village.
+
+Now the beach was deserted, the Wedding Pavilion silent. I felt suddenly cold though I was sweating freely. So cold.
+
+Dreamlike, I walked into the lake, water filling my shoes, logging my pants, warm as blood, warm on my chest, on my chin, on my mouth, on my eyes.
+
+I opened my mouth and inhaled deeply, water filling my lungs, choking and warm. At first I sputtered, but I was in control now, and I inhaled again. The water shimmered over my eyes, and then was dark.
+
+I woke on Doctor Pete's cot in the Magic Kingdom, restraints around my wrists and ankles, a tube in my nose. I closed my eyes, for a moment believing that I'd been restored from a backup, problems solved, memories behind me.
+
+Sorrow knifed through me as I realized that Dan was probably dead by now, my memories of him gone forever.
+
+Gradually, I realized that I was thinking nonsensically. The fact that I remembered Dan meant that I hadn't been refreshed from my backup, that my broken brain was still there, churning along in unmediated isolation.
+
+I coughed again. My ribs ached and throbbed in counterpoint to my head. Dan took my hand.
+
+“You're a pain in the ass, you know that?” he said, smiling.
+
+“Sorry,” I choked.
+
+“You sure are,” he said. “Lucky for you they found you—another minute or two and I'd be burying you right now.”
+
+/{No}/, I thought, confused. /{They'd have restored me from backup}/. Then it hit me: I'd gone on record refusing restore from backup after having it recommended by a medical professional. No one would have restored me after that. I would have been truly and finally dead. I started to shiver.
+
+“Easy,” Dan said. “Easy. It's all right now. Doctor says you've got a cracked rib or two from the CPR, but there's no brain damage.”
+
+“No /{additional}/ brain damage,” Doctor Pete said, swimming into view. He had on his professionally calm bedside face, and it reassured me despite myself.
+
+He shooed Dan away and took his seat. Once Dan had left the room, he shone lights in my eyes and peeked in my ears, then sat back and considered me. “Well, Julius,” he said. “What exactly is the problem? We can get you a lethal injection if that's what you want, but offing yourself in the Seven Seas Lagoon just isn't good show. In the meantime, would you like to talk about it?”
+
+Part of me wanted to spit in his eye. I'd tried to talk about it and he'd told me to go to hell, and now he changes his mind? But I did want to talk.
+
+“I didn't want to die,” I said.
+
+“Oh no?” he said. “I think the evidence suggests the contrary.”
+
+“I wasn't trying to die,” I protested. “I was trying to—” What? I was trying to… /{abdicate}/. Take the refresh without choosing it, without shutting out the last year of my best friend's life. Rescue myself from the stinking pit I'd sunk into without flushing Dan away along with it. That's all, that's all.
+
+“I wasn't thinking—I was just acting. It was an episode or something. Does that mean I'm nuts?”
+
+“Oh, probably,” Doctor Pete said, offhandedly. “But let's worry about one thing at a time. You can die if you want to, that's your right. I'd rather you lived, if you want my opinion, and I doubt that I'm the only one, Whuffie be damned. If you're going to live, I'd like to record you saying so, just in case. We have a backup of you on file—I'd hate to have to delete it.”
+
+“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I'd like to be restored if there's no other option.” It was true. I didn't want to die.
+
+“All right then,” Doctor Pete said. “It's on file and I'm a happy man. Now, are you nuts? Probably. A little. Nothing a little counseling and some RandR wouldn't fix, if you want my opinion. I could find you somewhere if you want.”
+
+“Not yet,” I said. “I appreciate the offer, but there's something else I have to do first.”
+
+Dan took me back to the room and put me to bed with a transdermal soporific that knocked me out for the rest of the day. When I woke, the moon was over the Seven Seas Lagoon and the monorail was silent.
+
+I stood on the patio for a while, thinking about all the things this place had meant to me for more than a century: happiness, security, efficiency, fantasy. All of it gone. It was time I left. Maybe back to space, find Zed and see if I could make her happy again. Anywhere but here. Once Dan was dead—God, it was sinking in finally—I could catch a ride down to the Cape for a launch.
+
+“What's on your mind?” Dan asked from behind me, startling me. He was in his boxers, thin and rangy and hairy.
+
+“Thinking about moving on,” I said.
+
+He chuckled. “I've been thinking about doing the same,” he said.
+
+I smiled. “Not that way,” I said. “Just going somewhere else, starting over. Getting away from this.”
+
+“Going to take the refresh?” he asked.
+
+I looked away. “No,” I said. “I don't believe I will.”
+
+“It may be none of my business,” he said, “but why the fuck not? Jesus, Julius, what're you afraid of?”
+
+“You don't want to know,” I said.
+
+“I'll be the judge of that.”
+
+“Let's have a drink, first,” I said.
+
+Dan rolled his eyes back for a second, then said, “All right, two Coronas, coming up.”
+
+After the room-service bot had left, we cracked the beers and pulled chairs out onto the porch.
+
+“You sure you want to know this?” I asked.
+
+He tipped his bottle at me. “Sure as shootin',” he said.
+
+“I don't want refresh because it would mean losing the last year,” I said.
+
+He nodded. “By which you mean ‘my last year,’” he said. “Right?”
+
+I nodded and drank.
+
+“I thought it might be like that. Julius, you are many things, but hard to figure out you are not. I have something to say that might help you make the decision. If you want to hear it, that is.”
+
+What could he have to say? “Sure,” I said. “Sure.” In my mind, I was on a shuttle headed for orbit, away from all of this.
+
+“I had you killed,” he said. “Debra asked me to, and I set it up. You were right all along.”
+
+The shuttle exploded in silent, slow moving space, and I spun away from it. I opened and shut my mouth.
+
+It was Dan's turn to look away. “Debra proposed it. We were talking about the people I'd met when I was doing my missionary work, the stone crazies who I'd have to chase away after they'd rejoined the Bitchun Society. One of them, a girl from Cheyenne Mountain, she followed me down here, kept leaving me messages. I told Debra, and that's when she got the idea.
+
+“I'd get the girl to shoot you and disappear. Debra would give me Whuffie—piles of it, and her team would follow suit. I'd be months closer to my goal. That was all I could think about back then, you remember.”
+
+“I remember.” The smell of rejuve and desperation in our little cottage, and Dan plotting my death.
+
+“We planned it, then Debra had herself refreshed from a backup—no memory of the event, just the Whuffie for me.”
+
+“Yes,” I said. That would work. Plan a murder, kill yourself, have yourself refreshed from a backup made before the plan. How many times had Debra done terrible things and erased their memories that way?
+
+“Yes,” he agreed. “We did it, I'm ashamed to say. I can prove it, too—I have my backup, and I can get Jeanine to tell it, too.” He drained his beer. “That's my plan. Tomorrow. I'll tell Lil and her folks, Kim and her people, the whole ad-hoc. A going-away present from a shitty friend.”
+
+My throat was dry and tight. I drank more beer. “You knew all along,” I said. “You could have proved it at any time.”
+
+He nodded. “That's right.”
+
+“You let me…” I groped for the words. “You let me turn into…” They wouldn't come.
+
+“I did,” he said.
+
+All this time. Lil and he, standing on /{my}/ porch, telling me I needed help. Doctor Pete, telling me I needed refresh from backup, me saying no, no, no, not wanting to lose my last year with Dan.
+
+“I've done some pretty shitty things in my day,” he said. “This is the absolute worst. You helped me and I betrayed you. I'm sure glad I don't believe in God—that'd make what I'm going to do even scarier.”
+
+Dan was going to kill himself in two days' time. My friend and my murderer. “Dan,” I croaked. I couldn't make any sense of my mind. Dan, taking care of me, helping me, sticking up for me, carrying this horrible shame with him all along. Ready to die, wanting to go with a clean conscience.
+
+“You're forgiven,” I said. And it was true.
+
+He stood.
+
+“Where are you going” I asked.
+
+“To find Jeanine, the one who pulled the trigger. I'll meet you at the Hall of Presidents at nine a.m..”
+
+I went in through the Main Gate, not a castmember any longer, a Guest with barely enough Whuffie to scrape in, use the water fountains and stand in line. If I were lucky, a castmember might spare me a chocolate banana. Probably not, though.
+
+I stood in the line for the Hall of Presidents. Other guests checked my Whuffie, then averted their eyes. Even the children. A year before, they'd have been striking up conversations, asking me about my job here at the Magic Kingdom.
+
+I sat in my seat at the Hall of Presidents, watching the short film with the rest, sitting patiently while they rocked in their seats under the blast of the flash-bake. A castmember picked up the stageside mic and thanked everyone for coming; the doors swung open and the Hall was empty, except for me. The castmember narrowed her eyes at me, then recognizing me, turned her back and went to show in the next group.
+
+No group came. Instead, Dan and the girl I'd seen on the replay entered.
+
+“We've closed it down for the morning,” he said.
+
+I was staring at the girl, seeing her smirk as she pulled the trigger on me, seeing her now with a contrite, scared expression. She was terrified of me.
+
+“You must be Jeanine,” I said. I stood and shook her hand. “I'm Julius.”
+
+Her hand was cold, and she took it back and wiped it on her pants.
+
+My castmember instincts took over. “Please, have a seat. Don't worry, it'll all be fine. Really. No hard feelings.” I stopped short of offering to get her a glass of water.
+
+/{Put her at her ease}/, said a snotty voice in my head. /{She'll make a better witness. Or make her nervous, pathetic—that'll work, too; make Debra look even worse}/.
+
+I told the voice to shut up and got her a cup of water.
+
+By the time I came back, the whole gang was there. Debra, Lil, her folks, Tim. Debra's gang and Lil's gang, now one united team. Soon to be scattered.
+
+Dan took the stage, used the stageside mic to broadcast his voice. “Eleven months ago, I did an awful thing. I plotted with Debra to have Julius murdered. I used a friend who was a little confused at the time, used her to pull the trigger. It was Debra's idea that having Julius killed would cause enough confusion that she could take over the Hall of Presidents. It was.”
+
+There was a roar of conversation. I looked at Debra, saw that she was sitting calmly, as though Dan had just accused her of sneaking an extra helping of dessert. Lil's parents, to either side of her, were less sanguine. Tom's jaw was set and angry, Rita was speaking angrily to Debra. Hickory Jackson in the old Hall used to say, /{I will hang the first man I can lay hands on from the first tree I can find}/.
+
+“Debra had herself refreshed from backup after we planned it,” Dan went on, as though no one was talking. “I was supposed to do the same, but I didn't. I have a backup in my public directory—anyone can examine it. Right now, I'd like to bring Jeanine up, she's got a few words she'd like to say.”
+
+I helped Jeanine take the stage. She was still trembling, and the ad-hocs were an insensate babble of recriminations. Despite myself, I was enjoying it.
+
+“Hello,” Jeanine said softly. She had a lovely voice, a lovely face. I wondered if we could be friends when it was all over. She probably didn't care much about Whuffie, one way or another.
+
+The discussion went on. Dan took the mic from her and said, “Please! Can we have a little respect for our visitor? Please? People?”
+
+Gradually, the din decreased. Dan passed the mic back to Jeanine. “Hello,” she said again, and flinched from the sound of her voice in the Hall's PA. “My name is Jeanine. I'm the one who killed Julius, a year ago. Dan asked me to, and I did it. I didn't ask why. I trusted—trust—him. He told me that Julius would make a backup a few minutes before I shot him, and that he could get me out of the Park without getting caught. I'm very sorry.” There was something off-kilter about her, some stilt to her stance and words that let you know she wasn't all there. Growing up in a mountain might do that to you. I snuck a look at Lil, whose lips were pressed together. Growing up in a theme park might do that to you, too.
+
+“Thank you, Jeanine,” Dan said, taking back the mic. “You can have a seat now. I've said everything I need to say—Julius and I have had our own discussions in private. If there's anyone else who'd like to speak—”
+
+The words were barely out of his mouth before the crowd erupted again in words and waving hands. Beside me, Jeanine flinched. I took her hand and shouted in her ear: “Have you ever been on the Pirates of the Carribean?”
+
+She shook her head.
+
+I stood up and pulled her to her feet. “You'll love it,” I said, and led her out of the Hall.
+
+1~ CHAPTER 10
+
+I booked us ringside seats at the Polynesian Luau, riding high on a fresh round of sympathy Whuffie, and Dan and I drank a dozen lapu-lapus in hollowed-out pineapples before giving up on the idea of getting drunk.
+
+Jeanine watched the fire-dances and the torch-lighting with eyes like saucers, and picked daintily at her spare ribs with one hand, never averting her attention from the floor show. When they danced the fast hula, her eyes jiggled. I chuckled.
+
+From where we sat, I could see the spot where I'd waded into the Seven Seas Lagoon and breathed in the blood-temp water, I could see Cinderella's Castle, across the lagoon, I could see the monorails and the ferries and the busses making their busy way through the Park, shuttling teeming masses of guests from place to place. Dan toasted me with his pineapple and I toasted him back, drank it dry and belched in satisfaction.
+
+Full belly, good friends, and the sunset behind a troupe of tawny, half-naked hula dancers. Who needs the Bitchun Society, anyway?
+
+When it was over, we watched the fireworks from the beach, my toes dug into the clean white sand. Dan slipped his hand into my left hand, and Jeanine took my right. When the sky darkened and the lighted barges puttered away through the night, we three sat in the hammock.
+
+I looked out over the Seven Seas Lagoon and realized that this was my last night, ever, in Walt Disney World. It was time to reboot again, start afresh. That's what the Park was for, only somehow, this visit, I'd gotten stuck. Dan had unstuck me.
+
+The talk turned to Dan's impending death.
+
+“So, tell me what you think of this,” he said, hauling away on a glowing cigarette.
+
+“Shoot,” I said.
+
+“I'm thinking—why take lethal injection? I mean, I may be done here for now, but why should I make an irreversible decision?”
+
+“Why did you want to before?” I asked.
+
+“Oh, it was the macho thing, I guess. The finality and all. But hell, I don't have to prove anything, right?”
+
+“Sure,” I said, magnanimously.
+
+“So,” he said, thoughtfully. “The question I'm asking is, how long can I deadhead for? There are folks who go down for a thousand years, ten thousand, right?”
+
+“So, you're thinking, what, a million?” I joked.
+
+He laughed. “A /{million}/? You're thinking too small, son. Try this on for size: the heat death of the universe.”
+
+“The heat death of the universe,” I repeated.
+
+“Sure,” he drawled, and I sensed his grin in the dark. “Ten to the hundred years or so. The Stelliferous Period—it's when all the black holes have run dry and things get, you know, stupendously dull. Cold, too. So I'm thinking—why not leave a wake-up call for some time around then?”
+
+“Sounds unpleasant to me,” I said. “Brrrr.”
+
+“Not at all! I figure, self-repairing nano-based canopic jar, mass enough to feed it—say, a trillion-ton asteroid—and a lot of solitude when the time comes around. I'll poke my head in every century or so, just to see what's what, but if nothing really stupendous crops up, I'll take the long ride out. The final frontier.”
+
+“That's pretty cool,” Jeanine said.
+
+“Thanks,” Dan said.
+
+“You're not kidding, are you?” I asked.
+
+“Nope, I sure ain't,” he said.
+
+They didn't invite me back into the ad-hoc, even after Debra left in Whuffie-penury and they started to put the Mansion back the way it was. Tim called me to say that with enough support from Imagineering, they thought they could get it up and running in a week. Suneep was ready to kill someone, I swear. /{A house divided against itself can}/ not /{stand}/, as Mr. Lincoln used to say at the Hall of Presidents.
+
+I packed three changes of clothes and a toothbrush in my shoulderbag and checked out of my suite at the Polynesian at ten a.m., then met Jeanine and Dan at the valet parking out front. Dan had a runabout he'd picked up with my Whuffie, and I piled in with Jeanine in the middle. We played old Beatles tunes on the stereo all the long way to Cape Canaveral. Our shuttle lifted at noon.
+
+The shuttle docked four hours later, but by the time we'd been through decontam and orientation, it was suppertime. Dan, nearly as Whuffie-poor as Debra after his confession, nevertheless treated us to a meal in the big bubble, squeeze-tubes of heady booze and steaky paste, and we watched the universe get colder for a while.
+
+There were a couple guys jamming, tethered to a guitar and a set of tubs, and they weren't half bad.
+
+Jeanine was uncomfortable hanging there naked. She'd gone to space with her folks after Dan had left the mountain, but it was in a long-haul generation ship. She'd abandoned it after a year or two and deadheaded back to Earth in a support-pod. She'd get used to life in space after a while. Or she wouldn't.
+
+“Well,” Dan said.
+
+“Yup,” I said, aping his laconic drawl. He smiled.
+
+“It's that time,” he said.
+
+Spheres of saline tears formed in Jeanine's eyes, and I brushed them away, setting them adrift in the bubble. I'd developed some real tender, brother-sister type feelings for her since I'd watched her saucer-eye her way through the Magic Kingdom. No romance—not for me, thanks! But camaraderie and a sense of responsibility.
+
+“See you in ten to the hundred,” Dan said, and headed to the airlock. I started after him, but Jeanine caught my hand.
+
+“He hates long good-byes,” she said.
+
+“I know,” I said, and watched him go.
+
+The universe gets older. So do I. So does my backup, sitting in redundant distributed storage dirtside, ready for the day that space or age or stupidity kills me. It recedes with the years, and I write out my life longhand, a letter to the me that I'll be when it's restored into a clone somewhere, somewhen. It's important that whoever I am then knows about this year, and it's going to take a lot of tries for me to get it right.
+
+In the meantime, I'm working on another symphony, one with a little bit of “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” and a nod to “It's a Small World After All,” and especially “There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”
+
+Jeanine says it's pretty good, but what does she know? She's barely fifty.
+
+We've both got a lot of living to do before we know what's what.
+
+1~acknowledgements Acknowledgements:
+
+I could never have written this book without the personal support of my friends and family, especially Roz Doctorow, Gord Doctorow and Neil Doctorow, Amanda Foubister, Steve Samenski, Pat York, Grad Conn, John Henson, John Rose, the writers at the Cecil Street Irregulars and Mark Frauenfelder.
+
+I owe a great debt to the writers and editors who mentored and encouraged me: James Patrick Kelly, Judith Merril, Damon Knight, Martha Soukup, Scott Edelman, Gardner Dozois, Renee Wilmeth, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Claire Eddy, Bob Parks and Robert Killheffer.
+
+I am also indebted to my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden and my agent Donald Maass, who believed in this book and helped me bring it to fruition.
+
+Finally, I must thank the readers, the geeks and the Imagineers who inspired this book.
+
+Cory Doctorow
+
+San Francisco
+
+September 2002
+
+1~note-2004 A note about this book, February 12, 2004:
+
+As you will see, when you read the text beneath this section, I released this book a little over a year ago under the terms of a Creative Commons license that allowed my readers to freely redistribute the text without needing any further permission from me. In this fashion, I enlisted my readers in the service of a grand experiment, to see how my book could find its way into cultural relevance and commercial success. The experiment worked out very satisfactorily.
+
+When I originally licensed the book under the terms set out in the next section, I did so in the most conservative fashion possible, using CC's most restrictive license. I wanted to dip my toe in before taking a plunge. I wanted to see if the sky would fall: you see writers are routinely schooled by their peers that maximal copyright is the only thing that stands between us and penury, and so ingrained was this lesson in me that even though I had the intellectual intuition that a "some rights reserved" regime would serve me well, I still couldn't shake the atavistic fear that I was about to do something very foolish indeed.
+
+It wasn't foolish. I've since released a short story collection ( { A Place So Foreign and Eight More }http://craphound.com/place and a second novel ( { Eastern Standard Tribe }http://craphound.com/est ) in this fashion, and my career is turning over like a goddamned locomotive engine. I am thrilled beyond words (an extraordinary circumstance for a writer!) at the way that this has all worked out.
+
+And so /{now}/ I'm going to take a little bit of a plunge. Today, in coincidence with my talk at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference ( { Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books }http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/et2004/view/e_sess/4693 ).
+
+I am re-licensing this book under a far less restrictive Creative Commons license, the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This is a license that allows you, the reader, to noncommercially "remix" this book -- you have my blessing to make your own translations, radio and film adaptations, sequels, fan fiction, missing chapters, machine remixes, you name it. A number of you assumed that you had my blessing to do this in the first place, and I can't say that I've been at all put out by the delightful and creative derivative works created from this book, but now you have my explicit blessing, and I hope you'll use it.
+
+Here's the license in summary:
+
+http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/
+
+You are free:
+
+_1 * to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work
+
+_1 * to make derivative works
+
+Under the following conditions:
+
+_1 Attribution. You must give the original author credit.
+
+_1 Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
+
+_1 Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
+
+_1 * For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work.
+
+_1 * Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the author. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.
+
+And here is the license in full:
+
+_1 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0
+
+_1 CREATIVE COMMONS CORPORATION IS NOT A LAW FIRM AND DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL SERVICES. DISTRIBUTION OF THIS DRAFT LICENSE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. CREATIVE COMMONS PROVIDES THIS INFORMATION ON AN "AS-IS" BASIS. CREATIVE COMMONS MAKES NO WARRANTIES REGARDING THE INFORMATION PROVIDED, AND DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR DAMAGES RESULTING FROM ITS USE.
+
+_1 License
+
+_1 THE WORK (AS DEFINED BELOW) IS PROVIDED UNDER THE TERMS OF THIS CREATIVE COMMONS PUBLIC LICENSE ("CCPL" OR "LICENSE"). THE WORK IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT AND/OR OTHER APPLICABLE LAW. ANY USE OF THE WORK OTHER THAN AS AUTHORIZED UNDER THIS LICENSE IS PROHIBITED.
+
+_1 BY EXERCISING ANY RIGHTS TO THE WORK PROVIDED HERE, YOU ACCEPT AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE TERMS OF THIS LICENSE. THE LICENSOR GRANTS YOU THE RIGHTS CONTAINED HERE IN CONSIDERATION OF YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF SUCH TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
+
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+
+_2 1. "Collective Work" means a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology or encyclopedia, in which the Work in its entirety in unmodified form, along with a number of other contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work (as defined below) for the purposes of this License.
+
+_2 2. "Derivative Work" means a work based upon the Work or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted, except that a work that constitutes a Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work for the purpose of this License.
+
+_2 3. "Licensor" means the individual or entity that offers the Work under the terms of this License.
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+_1 2. Fair Use Rights. Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use, first sale or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws.
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+_1 3. License Grant. Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work as stated below:
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+_2 1. to reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collective Works, and to reproduce the Work as incorporated in the Collective Works;
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+_1 4. Restrictions. The license granted in Section 3 above is expressly made subject to and limited by the following restrictions:
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+_2 1. You may distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work only under the terms of this License, and You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License with every copy or phonorecord of the Work You distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform. You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work that alter or restrict the terms of this License or the recipients' exercise of the rights granted hereunder. You may not sublicense the Work. You must keep intact all notices that refer to this License and to the disclaimer of warranties. You may not distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work with any technological measures that control access or use of the Work in a manner inconsistent with the terms of this License Agreement. The above applies to the Work as incorporated in a Collective Work, but this does not require the Collective Work apart from the Work itself to be made subject to the terms of this License. If You create a Collective Work, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Collective Work any reference to such Licensor or the Original Author, as requested. If You create a Derivative Work, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Derivative Work any reference to such Licensor or the Original Author, as requested.
+
+_2 2. You may distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform a Derivative Work only under the terms of this License, and You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License with every copy or phonorecord of each Derivative Work You distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform. You may not offer or impose any terms on the Derivative Works that alter or restrict the terms of this License or the recipients' exercise of the rights granted hereunder, and You must keep intact all notices that refer to this License and to the disclaimer of warranties. You may not distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Derivative Work with any technological measures that control access or use of the Work in a manner inconsistent with the terms of this License Agreement. The above applies to the Derivative Work as incorporated in a Collective Work, but this does not require the Collective Work apart from the Derivative Work itself to be made subject to the terms of this License.
+
+_2 3. You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. The exchange of the Work for other copyrighted works by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall not be considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation, provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation in connection with the exchange of copyrighted works.
+
+_2 4. If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work or any Derivative Works or Collective Works, You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and give the Original Author credit reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing by conveying the name (or pseudonym if applicable) of the Original Author if supplied; the title of the Work if supplied; in the case of a Derivative Work, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Derivative Work (e.g., "French translation of the Work by Original Author," or "Screenplay based on original Work by Original Author"). Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Derivative Work or Collective Work, at a minimum such credit will appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit.
+
+_1 5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer
+
+_2 1. By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor's knowledge after reasonable inquiry:
+
+_3 1. Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of the rights granted hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory license fees, residuals or any other payments;
+
+_3 2. The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights, common law rights or any other right of any third party or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party.
+
+_2 2. EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY STATED IN THIS LICENSE OR OTHERWISE AGREED IN WRITING OR REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THE WORK IS LICENSED ON AN "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY WARRANTIES REGARDING THE CONTENTS OR ACCURACY OF THE WORK.
+
+_1 6. Limitation on Liability. EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, AND EXCEPT FOR DAMAGES ARISING FROM LIABILITY TO A THIRD PARTY RESULTING FROM BREACH OF THE WARRANTIES IN SECTION 5, IN NO EVENT WILL LICENSOR BE LIABLE TO YOU ON ANY LEGAL THEORY FOR ANY SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF THIS LICENSE OR THE USE OF THE WORK, EVEN IF LICENSOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
+
+_1 7. Termination
+
+_2 1. This License and the rights granted hereunder will terminate automatically upon any breach by You of the terms of this License. Individuals or entities who have received Derivative Works or Collective Works from You under this License, however, will not have their licenses terminated provided such individuals or entities remain in full compliance with those licenses. Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 will survive any termination of this License.
+
+_2 2. Subject to the above terms and conditions, the license granted here is perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright in the Work). Notwithstanding the above, Licensor reserves the right to release the Work under different license terms or to stop distributing the Work at any time; provided, however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under the terms of this License), and this License will continue in full force and effect unless terminated as stated above.
+
+_1 8. Miscellaneous
+
+_2 1. Each time You distribute or publicly digitally perform the Work or a Collective Work, the Licensor offers to the recipient a license to the Work on the same terms and conditions as the license granted to You under this License.
+
+_2 2. Each time You distribute or publicly digitally perform a Derivative Work, Licensor offers to the recipient a license to the original Work on the same terms and conditions as the license granted to You under this License.
+
+_2 3. If any provision of this License is invalid or unenforceable under applicable law, it shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the remainder of the terms of this License, and without further action by the parties to this agreement, such provision shall be reformed to the minimum extent necessary to make such provision valid and enforceable.
+
+_2 4. No term or provision of this License shall be deemed waived and no breach consented to unless such waiver or consent shall be in writing and signed by the party to be charged with such waiver or consent.
+
+_2 5. This License constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the Work licensed here. There are no understandings, agreements or representations with respect to the Work not specified here. Licensor shall not be bound by any additional provisions that may appear in any communication from You. This License may not be modified without the mutual written agreement of the Licensor and You.
+
+1~note-2003 A note about this book, January 9, 2003:
+
+“Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” is my first novel. It's an actual, no-foolin' words-on-paper book, published by the good people at Tor Books in New York City. You can buy this book in stores or online, by following links like this one:
+
+http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0765304368/downandoutint-20
+
+So, what's with this file? Good question.
+
+I'm releasing the entire text of this book as a free, freely redistributable e-book. You can download it, put it on a P2P net, put it on your site, email it to a friend, and, if you're addicted to dead trees, you can even print it.
+
+Why am I doing this thing? Well, it's a long story, but to shorten it up: first-time novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don't have a lot of promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth. I'm not bad at word-of-mouth. I have a blog, Boing Boing ( http://boingboing.net ), where I do a /{lot}/ of word-of-mouthing. I compulsively tell friends and strangers about things that I like.
+
+And telling people about stuff I like is /{way}/, /{way}/ easier if I can just send it to 'em. Way easier.
+
+What's more, P2P nets kick all kinds of ass. Most of the books, music and movies ever released are not available for sale, anywhere in the world. In the brief time that P2P nets have flourished, the ad-hoc masses of the Internet have managed to put just about /{everything}/ online. What's more, they've done it for cheaper than any other archiving/revival effort ever. I'm a stone infovore and this kinda Internet mishegas gives me a serious frisson of futurosity.
+
+Yeah, there are legal problems. Yeah, it's hard to figure out how people are gonna make money doing it. Yeah, there is a lot of social upheaval and a serious threat to innovation, freedom, business, and whatnot. It's your basic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, and as a science fiction writer, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenaria are my stock-in-trade.
+
+I'm especially grateful to my publisher, Tor Books ( http://www.tor.com/ ) and my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden ( http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite ) for being hep enough to let me try out this experiment.
+
+All that said, here's the deal: I'm releasing this book under a license developed by the Creative Commons project ( http://creativecommons.org/ ). This is a project that lets people like me roll our own license agreements for the distribution of our creative work under terms similar to those employed by the Free/Open Source Software movement. It's a great project, and I'm proud to be a part of it.
+
+Here's a summary of the license:
+
+http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/1.0
+
+_* Attribution. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work. In return, licensees must give the original author credit.
+
+_* No Derivative Works. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display and perform only unaltered copies of the work—not derivative works based on it.
+
+_* Noncommercial. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work. In return, licensees may not use the work for commercial purposes—unless they get the licensor's permission.
+
+And here's the license itself:
+
+http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/1.0-legalcode
+
+_1 THE WORK (AS DEFINED BELOW) IS PROVIDED UNDER THE TERMS OF THIS CREATIVE COMMONS PUBLIC LICENSE (“CCPL” OR “LICENSE”). THE WORK IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT AND/OR OTHER APPLICABLE LAW. ANY USE OF THE WORK OTHER THAN AS AUTHORIZED UNDER THIS LICENSE IS PROHIBITED.
+
+_1 BY EXERCISING ANY RIGHTS TO THE WORK PROVIDED HERE, YOU ACCEPT AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE TERMS OF THIS LICENSE. THE LICENSOR GRANTS YOU THE RIGHTS CONTAINED HERE IN CONSIDERATION OF YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF SUCH TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
+
+_1 Definitions
+
+_2 “Collective Work” means a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology or encyclopedia, in which the Work in its entirety in unmodified form, along with a number of other contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work (as defined below) for the purposes of this License.
+
+_2 “Derivative Work” means a work based upon the Work or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted, except that a work that constitutes a Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work for the purpose of this License.
+
+_2 “Licensor” means the individual or entity that offers the Work under the terms of this License.
+
+_2 “Original Author” means the individual or entity who created the Work.
+
+_2 “Work” means the copyrightable work of authorship offered under the terms of this License.
+
+_2 “You” means an individual or entity exercising rights under this License who has not previously violated the terms of this License with respect to the Work, or who has received express permission from the Licensor to exercise rights under this License despite a previous violation.
+
+_1 2. Fair Use Rights. Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use, first sale or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws.
+
+_1 3. License Grant. Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work as stated below:
+
+_2 1. to reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collective Works, and to reproduce the Work as incorporated in the Collective Works;
+
+_2 2. to distribute copies or phonorecords of, display publicly, perform publicly, and perform publicly by means of a digital audio transmission the Work including as incorporated in Collective Works;
+
+_1 The above rights may be exercised in all media and formats whether now known or hereafter devised. The above rights include the right to make such modifications as are technically necessary to exercise the rights in other media and formats. All rights not expressly granted by Licensor are hereby reserved.
+
+_1 4. Restrictions. The license granted in Section 3 above is expressly made subject to and limited by the following restrictions:
+
+_2 1. You may distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work only under the terms of this License, and You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License with every copy or phonorecord of the Work You distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform. You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work that alter or restrict the terms of this License or the recipients' exercise of the rights granted hereunder. You may not sublicense the Work. You must keep intact all notices that refer to this License and to the disclaimer of warranties. You may not distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work with any technological measures that control access or use of the Work in a manner inconsistent with the terms of this License Agreement. The above applies to the Work as incorporated in a Collective Work, but this does not require the Collective Work apart from the Work itself to be made subject to the terms of this License. If You create a Collective Work, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Collective Work any reference to such Licensor or the Original Author, as requested.
+
+_2 2. You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. The exchange of the Work for other copyrighted works by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall not be considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation, provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation in connection with the exchange of copyrighted works.
+
+_2 3. If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work or any Collective Works, You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and give the Original Author credit reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing by conveying the name (or pseudonym if applicable) of the Original Author if supplied; the title of the Work if supplied. Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Collective Work, at a minimum such credit will appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit.
+
+_1 5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer
+
+_2 1. By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor's knowledge after reasonable inquiry:
+
+_3 1. Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of the rights granted hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory license fees, residuals or any other payments;
+
+_3 2. The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights, common law rights or any other right of any third party or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party.
+
+_2 2. EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY STATED IN THIS LICENSE OR OTHERWISE AGREED IN WRITING OR REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THE WORK IS LICENSED ON AN “AS IS” BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY WARRANTIES REGARDING THE CONTENTS OR ACCURACY OF THE WORK.
+
+_1 6. Limitation on Liability. EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, AND EXCEPT FOR DAMAGES ARISING FROM LIABILITY TO A THIRD PARTY RESULTING FROM BREACH OF THE WARRANTIES IN SECTION 5, IN NO EVENT WILL LICENSOR BE LIABLE TO YOU ON ANY LEGAL THEORY FOR ANY SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF THIS LICENSE OR THE USE OF THE WORK, EVEN IF LICENSOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
+
+_1 7. Termination
+
+_2 1. This License and the rights granted hereunder will terminate automatically upon any breach by You of the terms of this License. Individuals or entities who have received Collective Works from You under this License, however, will not have their licenses terminated provided such individuals or entities remain in full compliance with those licenses. Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 will survive any termination of this License.
+
+_2 Subject to the above terms and conditions, the license granted here is perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright in the Work). Notwithstanding the above, Licensor reserves the right to release the Work under different license terms or to stop distributing the Work at any time; provided, however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under the terms of this License), and this License will continue in full force and effect unless terminated as stated above.
+
+_1 8. Miscellaneous
+
+_2 1. Each time You distribute or publicly digitally perform the Work or a Collective Work, the Licensor offers to the recipient a license to the Work on the same terms and conditions as the license granted to You under this License.
+
+_2 2. If any provision of this License is invalid or unenforceable under applicable law, it shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the remainder of the terms of this License, and without further action by the parties to this agreement, such provision shall be reformed to the minimum extent necessary to make such provision valid and enforceable.
+
+_2 3. No term or provision of this License shall be deemed waived and no breach consented to unless such waiver or consent shall be in writing and signed by the party to be charged with such waiver or consent.
+
+_2 4. This License constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the Work licensed here. There are no understandings, agreements or representations with respect to the Work not specified here. Licensor shall not be bound by any additional provisions that may appear in any communication from You. This License may not be modified without the mutual written agreement of the Licensor and You.
+
+
+1~bio About the author:
+
+Cory Doctorow is Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, www.eff.org, and maintains a personal site at www.craphound.com. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing at www.boingboing.net, with more than 250,000 visitors a month. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2000 Hugo Awards. Born and raised in Toronto, he now lives in San Francisco. He enjoys using Google to look up interesting facts about long walks on the beach.
+
+1~other_works Other books by Cory Doctorow:
+
+/{A Place So Foreign and Eight More}/
+
+– short story collection, forthcoming from Four Walls Eight Windows in fall 2003, with an introduction by Bruce Sterling
+
+/{Essential Blogging}/, O'Reilly and Associates, 2002
+
+– with Rael Dornfest, J. Scott Johnson, Shelley Powers, Benjamin Trott and Mena G. Trott
+
+/{The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction}/, Alpha Books, 2000
+
+– co-written with Karl Schroeder
+
+% <!-- <rdf:RDF xmlns="http://web.resource.org/cc/" xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/" xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#"> <Work rdf:about="http://craphound.com/down">
+
+Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
+2003-1-9
+A novel by Cory Doctorow:
+
+Jules is a young man barely a century old. He's lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphonies...and to realize his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.
+
+Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long&#45;ago twentieth century. Now in the care of a network of volunteer "ad&#45;hocs" who keep the classic attractions running as they always have, enhanced with only the smallest high&#45;tech touches.
+
+Now, though, it seems the "ad hocs" are under attack. A new group has taken over the Hall of the Presidents and is replacing its venerable audioanimatronics with new, immersive direct&#45;to&#45;brain interfaces that give guests the illusion of being Washington, Lincoln, and all the others. For Jules, this is an attack on the artistic purity of Disney World itself. Worse: it appears this new group has had Jules killed. This upsets him. (It's only his fourth death and revival, after all.) Now it's war: war for the soul of the Magic Kingdom, a war of ever&#45;shifting reputations, technical wizardry, and entirely unpredictable outcomes.
+
+Bursting with cutting-edge speculation and human insight, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom reads like Neal Stephenson meets Nick Hornby: a coming-of-age romantic comedy and a kick-butt cybernetic tour de force.
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+% SiSU 2.0
+
+@title: For the Win
+
+@creator:
+ :author: Doctorow, Cory
+
+% doctorow@craphound.com
+
+@rights:
+ :copyright: Cory Doctorow
+ :license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. That means, you are free: <br> to Share -- to copy, distribute and transmit the work; <br> to Remix -- to adapt the work; <br> Under the following conditions: <br> * Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). <br> * Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. <br> * Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. <br> For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link http://craphound.com/ftw <br> Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get my permission. More info here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ See the end of this document for the complete legalese.
+
+@classify:
+ :subject: novel
+ :topic_register: SiSU:markup sample:book;book:novel;fiction:counterculture|young adult|science fiction
+ :type: fiction
+ :oclc: 468976621
+ :isbn: 9780765322166
+
+% A group of teens from around the world find themselves drawn into an online revolution arranged by a mysterious young woman known as Big Sister Nor, who hopes to challenge the status quo and change the world using her virtual connections.
+
+% :loc: #___#
+
+@date:
+ :modified: 2010-09-16
+
+% :published: 20YY-MM-DD
+% :added_to_site: 20YY-MM-DD
+
+@make:
+ :num_top: 1
+ :breaks: new=:C; break=1
+ :skin: skin_for_the_win
+
+@links: { Little Brother home }http://craphound.com/ftw
+ {For the Win, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/for_the_win.cory_doctorow
+ {@ Wikipedia }http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_The_Win_(Cory_Doctorow_novel)
+ {@ Amazon.com}http://www.amazon.com/Win-Cory-Doctorow/dp/0765322161
+ {@ Barnes & Noble}http://search.barnesandnoble.com/For-the-Win/Cory-Doctorow/e/9780765322166
+ {Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/down_and_out_in_the_magic_kingdom.cory_doctorow
+ {Little Brother, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/little_brother.cory_doctorow
+ {CONTENT, Cory Doctorow @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/content.cory_doctorow
+ {Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_culture.lawrence_lessig
+ {The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/the_wealth_of_networks.yochai_benkler
+ {Two Bits, Christopher Kelty @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/two_bits.christopher_kelty
+ {Free as in Freedom (on Richard M. Stallman), Sam Williams @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_as_in_freedom.richard_stallman_crusade_for_free_software.sam_williams
+ {Free For All, Peter Wayner @ SiSU}http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/free_for_all.peter_wayner
+ {The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric S. Raymond @ SiSU }http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/the_cathedral_and_the_bazaar.eric_s_raymond
+
+:A~ @title @author
+
+1~introduction- INTRODUCTION
+
+/{For the Win}/ is my second young adult novel, and, like my 2008 book /{Little Brother}/, it is meant to do more than tell a story. /{For the Win}/ is a book about economics (a subject that suddenly got a lot more relevant about halfway through the writing of this book, when the world's economy slid unceremoniously into the toilet and got stuck there), justice, politics, games and labor. /{For the Win}/ connects the dots between the way we shop, the way we organize, and the way we play, and why some people are rich, some are poor, and how we seemed to get stuck there.
+
+I hope that readers of this book will be inspired to dig deeper into the subjects of "behavioral economics" (and related subjects like "neuroeconomics") and to start asking hard questions about how we end up with the stuff we own, and what it costs our human brothers and sisters to make those goods, and why we think we need them.
+
+But it's a poor politics that can only express itself by choosing to buy or not buy something. Sometimes (often!), you need to organize to make a difference.
+
+This is the golden age of organizing. If there's one thing the Internet's changed forever, it's the relative difficulty and cost of getting a bunch of people in the same place, working for the same goal. That's not always good (thugs, bullies, racists and loonies never had it so good), but it is fundamentally /{game-changing}/.
+
+It's hard to remember just how difficult this organizing stuff used to be: how hard it was to do something as trivial as getting ten friends to agree on dinner and a movie, let alone getting millions of people together to raise money for a political candidate, get the vote out, protest corruption, or save an endangered and beloved institution.
+
+The net doesn't solve the problem of injustice, but it solves the first hard problem of righting wrongs: getting everyone together and keeping them together. You still have to do the even /{harder}/ work of risking life, limb, personal fortune, reputation,
+
+Every wonderful thing in our world has fight in its history. Our rights, our good fortune, our happiness and all that is sweet was paid for, once upon a time, by principled people who risked everything to change the world for the better. Those risks are not diminished one iota by the net. But the rewards are every bit as sweet.
+
+1~audiobook- AUDIOBOOK
+
+The good folks at Random House Audio produced a /{fantastic}/ audio edition of this book. You can buy it on CD, or you can buy the MP3 version from a variety of online booksellers. { I also sell it myself on my site }http://craphound.com/?cat=10
+
+Unfortunately, you can't buy this book from the world's most popular audiobook vendors: Apple's iTunes and Amazon's Audible. That's because neither store would allow me to sell the audiobook on terms that I believe are fair and just.
+
+Specifically, Apple refused to carry the book unless it had "digital rights management" on it. This is the technology that locks music to Apple's devices. It's illegal to move DRM-crippled files to devices that Apple hasn't blessed, which means that if I encourage you to buy my works through Apple, I lose the ability to choose to continue to sell to you from Apple's competition at some later date in the future. That seems like a bad deal for both of us.
+
+To its credit, Audible (which supplies all of the audiobooks on iTunes) /{was}/ willing to sell this book without DRM, but they insisted on including their extremely onerous "end user license agreement," which /{also}/ prohibits moving my book to a device that Audible hasn't approved. To make it easy for them, I offered to simply record a little intro that said, "Cory Doctorow and Random House Audio grant you permission to use this book in any way that does not violate copyright law." That way, they wouldn't have to make /{any}/ changes to their site or the agreements you have to click through to use it. But Audible refused.
+
+I wouldn't sell this book through Wal-Mart if they insisted that you could only shelve it on a Wal-Mart bookcase and I won't sell it through any online retailer that imposes the same requirement on your virtual bookshelves. That's also why you won't find my books for sale for the Kindle or iPad stores -- both stores insist on the right to lock you into terms that I believe are unfair and bad for both of us.
+
+I'm pretty bummed about this. For the record, I would gladly sell through both Apple and Audible if they'd let me sell it without DRM, and under the world's shortest EULA ("Don't violate copyright law.") In the meantime, I thank you in advance for patronizing online audiobook sellers who respect the rights of both authors and audiences. And I am especially grateful to Random House Audio for backing me in this fight to get a fair deal for all of us.
+
+1~copyright- THE COPYRIGHT THING
+
+The Creative Commons license at the top of this file probably tipped you off to the fact that I've got some pretty unorthodox views about copyright. Here's what I think of it, in a nutshell: a little goes a long way, and more than that is too much.
+
+I like the fact that copyright lets me sell rights to my publishers and film studios and so on. It's nice that they can't just take my stuff without permission and get rich on it without cutting me in for a piece of the action. I'm in a pretty good position when it comes to negotiating with these companies: I've got a great agent and a decade's experience with copyright law and licensing (including a stint as a delegate at WIPO, the UN agency that makes the world's copyright treaties). What's more, there's just not that many of these negotiations -- even if I sell fifty or a hundred different editions of /{For the Win}/ (which would put it in top millionth of a percentile for fiction), that's still only a hundred negotiations, which I could just about manage.
+
+I /{hate}/ the fact that fans who want to do what readers have always done are expected to play in the same system as all these hotshot agents and lawyers. It's just /{stupid}/ to say that an elementary school classroom should have to talk to a lawyer at a giant global publisher before they put on a play based on one of my books. It's ridiculous to say that people who want to "loan" their electronic copy of my book to a friend need to get a /{license}/ to do so. Loaning books has been around longer than any publisher on Earth, and it's a fine thing.
+
+Copyright laws are increasingly passed without democratic debate or scrutiny. In Great Britain, where I live, Parliament has just passed the Digital Economy Act, a complex copyright law that allows corporate giants to disconnect whole families from the Internet if anyone in the house is accused (without proof) of copyright infringement; it also creates a "Great Firewall of Britain" that is used to censor any site that record companies and movie studios don't like. This law was passed without any serious public debate in Parliament, rushed through using a dirty process through which our elected representatives betrayed the public to give a huge, gift-wrapped present to their corporate pals.
+
+It gets worse: around the world, rich countries like the US, the EU and Canada have been negotiating a secret copyright treaty called "The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement" (ACTA) that has all the problems that the Digital Economy Act had and then some. The plan is to agree to this in secret, without public debate, and then force the world's poorest countries to sign up for it by refusing to allow them to sell goods to rich countries unless the do. In America, the plan is to pass it without Congressional debate, using the executive power of the President. Though this began under Bush, the Obama administration has pursued it with great enthusiasm.
+
+So if you're not violating copyright law right now, you will be soon. And the penalties are about to get a lot worse. As someone who relies on copyright to earn my living, this makes me sick. If the big entertainment companies set out to destroy copyright's mission, they couldn't do any better than they're doing now.
+
+So, basically, /{screw that}/. Or, as the singer, Wobbly and union organizer Woody Guthrie so eloquently put it:
+
+"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."
+
+1~donations- DONATIONS AND A WORD TO TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS
+
+Every time I put a book online for free, I get emails from readers who want to send me donations for the book. I appreciate their generous spirit, but I'm not interested in cash donations, because my publishers are really important to me. They contribute immeasurably to the book, improving it, introducing it to audiences I could never reach, helping me do more with my work. I have no desire to cut them out of the loop.
+
+But there has to be some good way to turn that generosity to good use, and I think I've found it.
+
+Here's the deal: there are lots of teachers and librarians who'd love to get hard-copies of this book into their kids' hands, but don't have the budget for it (teachers in the US spend around $1,200 out of pocket each on classroom supplies that their budgets won't stretch to cover, which is why I sponsor a classroom at Ivanhoe Elementary in my old neighborhood in Los Angeles; you can adopt a class yourself { here }http://www.adoptaclassroom.org/ ).
+
+There are generous people who want to send some cash my way to thank me for the free ebooks.
+
+I'm proposing that we put them together.
+
+If you're a teacher or librarian and you want a free copy of /{For the Win}/, email freeftwbook@gmail.com with your name and the name and address of your school. It'll be posted to http://craphound.com/ftw/donate/ by my fantastic helper, Olga Nunes, so that potential donors can see it.
+
+If you enjoyed the electronic edition of /{For the Win}/ and you want to donate something to say thanks, go to http://craphound.com/ftw/donate/ and find a teacher or librarian you want to support. Then go to Amazon, BN.com, or your favorite electronic bookseller and order a copy to the classroom, then email a copy of the receipt (feel free to delete your address and other personal info first!) to freeftwbook@gmail.com so that Olga can mark that copy as sent. If you don't want to be publicly acknowledged for your generosity, let us know and we'll keep you anonymous, otherwise we'll thank you on the donate page.
+
+I've done this with three of my titles now, and gotten more than a thousand books into the hands of readers through your generosity. I am more grateful than words can express for this -- one of my readers called it "paying your debts forward with instant gratification." That's a heck of a thing, isn't it?
+
+1~dedications- ABOUT THE BOOKSTORE DEDICATIONS
+
+Many scenes in this file have been dedicated to bookstores: stores that I love, stores that have helped me discover books that opened my mind, stores that have helped my career along. The stores didn't pay me anything for this -- I haven't even told them about it -- but it seems like the right thing to do. After all, I'm hoping that you'll read this ebook and decide to buy the paper book, so it only makes sense to suggest a few places you can pick it up!
+
+1~dedication- Dedication:
+
+For Poesy: Live as though it were the early days of a better nation.
+
+:B~ Part I: The gamers and their games, the workers at their work
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to BakkaPhoenix Books in Toronto, Canada. Bakka is the oldest science fiction bookstore in the world, and it made me the mutant I am today. I wandered in for the first time around the age of 10 and asked for some recommendations. Tanya Huff (yes, }/ the /{Tanya Huff, but she wasn't a famous writer back then!) took me back into the used section and pressed a copy of H. Beam Piper's "Little Fuzzy" into my hands, and changed my life forever. By the time I was 18, I was working at Bakka -- I took over from Tanya when she retired to write full time -- and I learned life-long lessons about how and why people buy books. I think every writer should work at a bookstore (and plenty of writers have worked at Bakka over the years! For the 30th anniversary of the store, they put together an anthology of stories by Bakka writers that included work by Michelle Sagara (AKA Michelle West), Tanya Huff, Nalo Hopkinson, Tara Tallan --and me!) }/
+
+_1 {~^ BakkaPhoenix Books }http://www.bakkaphoenixbooks.com/: 697 Queen Street West, Toronto ON Canada M6J1E6, +1 416 963 9993
+
+In the game, Matthew's characters killed monsters, as they did every single night. But tonight, as Matthew thoughtfully chopsticked a dumpling out of the styrofoam clamshell, dipped it in the red hot sauce and popped it into his mouth, his little squadron did something extraordinary: they began to /{win}/.
+
+There were eight monitors on his desk, arranged in two ranks of four, the top row supported on a shelf he'd bought from an old lady scrap dealer in front of the Dongmen market. She'd also sold him the monitors, shaking her head at his idiocy: at a time when everyone wanted giant, 30" screens, why did he want this collection of dinky little 9" displays?
+
+/{So they'd all fit on his desk}/.
+
+Not many people could play eight simultaneous games of Svartalfaheim Warriors. For one thing, Coca Cola (who owned the game), had devoted a lot of programmer time to preventing you from playing more than one game on a single PC, so you had to somehow get eight PCs onto one desk, with eight keyboards and eight mice on the desk, too, and room enough for your dumplings and an ashtray and a stack of Indian comic books and that stupid war-axe that Ping gave him and his notebooks and his sketchbook and his laptop and --
+
+It was a crowded desk.
+
+And it was noisy. He'd set up eight pairs of cheap speakers, each glued to the appropriate monitor, turned down low to the normal hum of Svartalfaheim -- the clash of axes, the roar of ice-giants, the eldritch music of black elves (which sounded a lot like the demo programs on the electric keyboards his mother had spent half her life manufacturing). Now they were all making casino noise, /{pay off}/ noises, as his raiding party began to clean up. The gold rolled into their accounts. He was playing trolls -- it was trolls versus elves in Svartalfaheim, though there was an expansion module with light elves and some kind of walking tree -- and he'd come through an instanced dungeon that was the underground lair of a minor dark elvish princeling. The lair was only medium hard, with a lot of crappy little monsters early on, then a bunch of dark elf cannon-fodder to be mown down, some traps, and then the level-boss, a wizard who had to be taken out by the spell-casters in Matthew's party while the healers healed them and the tanks killed anything that tried to attack them.
+
+So far, so good. Matthew had run and mapped the dungeon on his second night in-world, a quick reccy that showed that he could expect to do about 400 gold's worth of business there in about 20 minutes, which made it a pretty poor way to earn a living. But Matthew kept /{very}/ good notes, and among his notes was the fact that the very last set of guards had dropped some mareridtbane, which was part of the powerful Living Nightmare spell in the new expansion module. There were players all over Germany, Switzerland and Denmark who were buying mareridtbane for 800 gold per plant. His initial reccy had netted him /{five}/ plants. That brought the total expected take from the dungeon up to 4,400 gold for 20 minutes, or 13,200 gold per hour -- which, at the day's exchange, was worth about $30, or 285 Renminbi.
+
+Which was -- he thought for a second -- more than 71 bowls of dumplings.
+
+/{Jackpot.}/
+
+His hands flew over the mice, taking direct control over the squad. He'd work out the optimal path through the dungeon now, then head out to the Huoda internet cafe and see who he could find to do runs with him at this. With any luck, they could take -- his eyes rolled up as he thought again -- a /{million}/ gold out of the dungeon if they could get the whole cafe working on it. They'd dump the gold as they went, and by the time Coca Cola's systems administrators figured out anything was wrong, they'd have pulled almost $3000 out of the game. That was a year's rent, for one night's work. His hands trembled as he flipped open a notebook to a new page and began to take notes with his left hand while his right hand worked the game.
+
+He was just about to close his notebook and head for the cafe -- he needed more dumplings on the way, could he stop for them? Could he afford to? But he needed to eat. And coffee. Lots of coffee -- when the door splintered and smashed against the wall bouncing back before it was kicked open again, admitting the cold fluorescent light from outside into his tiny cave of a room. Three men entered his room and closed the door behind them, restoring the dark. One of them found the lightswitch and clicked it a few times without effect, then cursed in Mandarin and punched Matthew in the ear so hard his head spun around on his neck, contriving to bounce off the desk. The pain was blinding, searing, sudden.
+
+"Light," one of the men commanded, his voice reaching Matthew through the high-pitched whine of his ringing ear. Clumsily, he fumbled for the desk-lamp behind the Indian comics, knocked it over, and then one of the men seized it roughly and turned it on, shining it full on Matthew's face, making him squint his watering eyes.
+
+"You have been warned," the man who'd hit him said. Matthew couldn't see him, but he didn't need to. He knew the voice, the unmistakable Wenjhou accent, almost impossible to understand. "Now, another warning." There was a /{snick}/ of a telescoping baton being unfurled and Matthew flinched and tried to bring his arms up to shield his head before the weapon swung. But the other two had him by the arms now, and the baton whistled past his ear.
+
+But it didn't smash his cheekbone, nor his collarbone. Rather, it was the screen before him that smashed, sending tiny, sharp fragments of glass out in a cloud that seemed to expand in slow motion, peppering his face and hands. Then another screen went. And another. And another. One by one, the man dispassionately smashed all eight screens, letting out little smoker's grunts as he worked. Then, with a much bigger, guttier grunt, he took hold of one end of the shelf and tipped it on its edge, sending the smashed monitors on it sliding onto the floor, taking the comics, the clamshell, the ashtray, all of it sliding to the narrow bed that was jammed up against the desk, then onto the floor in a crash as loud as a basketball match in a glass factory.
+
+Matthew felt the hands on his shoulders tighten and he was lifted out of his chair and turned to face the man with the accent, the man who had worked as the supervisor in Mr Wing's factory, almost always silent. But when he spoke, they all jumped in their seat, never sure of whether his barely contained rage would break, whether someone would be taken off the factory floor and then returned to the dorm that night, bruised, cut, sometimes crying in the night for parents left behind back in the provinces.
+
+The man's face was calm now, as though the violence against the machines had scratched the unscratchable itch that made him clench and unclench his fists at all times. "Matthew, Mr Wing wants you to know that he thinks of you as a wayward son, and bears you no ill will. You are always welcome in his home. All you need to do is ask for his forgiveness, and it will be given." It was the longest speech Matthew had ever heard the man give, and it was delivered with surprising tenderness, so it was quite a surprise when the man brought his knee up into Matthew's balls, hard enough that he saw stars.
+
+The hands released him and he slumped to the floor, a strange sound in his ears that he realized after a moment must have been his voice. He was barely aware of the men moving around his tiny room as he gasped like fish, trying to get air into his lungs, air enough to scream at the incredible, radiant pain in his groin.
+
+But he did hear the horrible electrical noise as they tasered the box that held his computers, eight PCs on eight individual boards, stuck in a dented sheet-metal case he'd bought from the same old lady. The ozone smell afterwards sent him whirling back to his grandfather's little flat, the smell of the dust crisping on the heating coil that the old man only turned on when he came to visit. He did hear them gather up his notebooks and tread heavily on the PC case, and pull the shattered door shut behind them. The light from the desklamp painted a crazy oval on the ceiling that he stared at for a long time before he got to his feet, whimpering at the pain in his balls.
+
+The night guard was standing at the end of the corridor when he limped out into the night. He was only a boy, even younger than Matthew -- sixteen, in a uniform that was two sizes too big for his skinny chest, a hat that was always slipping down over his eyes, so he had to look up from under the brim like a boy wearing his father's hat.
+
+"You OK?" the boy said. His eyes were wide, his face pale.
+
+Matthew patted himself down, wincing at the pain in his ear, the shooting stabbing feeling in his neck.
+
+"I think so," he said.
+
+"You'll have to pay for the door," the guard said.
+
+"Thanks," Matthew said. "Thanks so much."
+
+"It's OK," the boy said. "It's my job."
+
+Matthew clenched and unclenched his fists and headed out into the Shenzhen night, limping down the stairs and into the neon glow. It was nearly midnight, but Jiabin Road was still throbbing with music, food and hawkers and touts, old ladies chasing foreigners down the street, tugging at their sleeves and offering them "beautiful young girls" in English. He didn't know where he was going, so he just walked, fast, fast as he could, trying to walk off the pain and the enormity of his loss. The computers in his room hadn't cost much to build, but he hadn't had much to begin with. They'd been nearly everything he owned, save for his comics, a few clothes -- and the war-axe. Oh, the war-axe. That was an entertaining vision, picking it up and swinging it over his head like a dark elf, the whistle of its blade slicing the air, the meaty /{thunk}/ as it hit the men.
+
+He knew it was ridiculous. He hadn't been in a fight since he was ten years old. He'd been a /{vegetarian}/ until last year! He wasn't going to hit anyone with a war axe. It was as useless as his smashed computers.
+
+Gradually, he slowed his pace. He was out of the central area around the train station now, in the outer ring of the town center, where it was dark and as quiet as it ever got. He leaned against the steel shutters over a grocery market and put his hands on his thighs and let his sore head droop.
+
+Matthew's father had been unusual among their friends -- a Cantonese who succeeded in the new Shenzhen. When Premier Deng changed the rules so that the Pearl River Delta became the world's factory, his family's ancestral province had filled overnight with people from the provinces. They'd "jumped into the sea" -- left safe government factory jobs to seek their fortune here on the south Chinese coast -- and everything had changed for Matthew's family. His grandfather, a Christian minister who'd been sent to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution -- had never made the adjustment, a problem that struck many of the native Cantonese, who seemed to stand still as the outsiders raced past them to become rich and powerful.
+
+But not Matthew's father. The old man had started off as a driver for a shoe-factory boss -- learning to drive on the job, nearly cracking up the car more than once, though the owner didn't seem to mind. After all, he'd never ridden in a car before he'd made it big in Shenzhen. But he got his break one day when the pattern-maker was too sick to work and all production ceased while the girls who worked on the line argued about the best way to cut the leather for a new order that had come in.
+
+Matthew's father loved to tell this story. He'd heard the argument go back and forth for a day as the line jerked along slowly, and he'd sat on his chair and thought, and thought, and then he'd stood up and closed his eyes and pictured the calm ocean until the thunder of his heartbeat slowed to a normal beat. Then he'd walked into the owner's office and said, "Boss, I can show you how to cut those hides."
+
+It was no easy task. The hides were all slightly different shapes -- cows weren't identical, after all -- and parts of them were higher grade than others. The shoe itself, an Italian men's loafer, needed six different pieces for each side, and only some of them were visible. The parts that were inside the shoe didn't need to come from the finest leather, but the parts outside did. All this Matthew's father had absorbed while sitting in his chair and listening to the arguments. He'd always loved to draw, always had a good head for space and design.
+
+And before his boss could throw him out of the office, he'd plucked up his courage and seized a pen off the desk and rooted a crumpled cigarette package out of the trash -- expensive foreign cigarettes, affected by all the factory owners as a show of wealth -- torn it open and drawn a neat cowhide, and quickly shown how the shoes could be fit to the hide with a minimum of wastage, a design that would get ten pairs of shoes per hide.
+
+"Ten?" the boss said.
+
+"Ten," Matthew's father said, proudly. He knew that the most that Master Yu, the regular cutter, ever got out of a hide was nine. "Eleven, if you use a big hide, or if you're making small shoes."
+
+"You can cut this?"
+
+Now, before that day, Matthew's father had never cut a hide in his life, had no idea how to slice the supple leather that came back from the tanner. But that morning he'd risen two hours early, before anyone else was awake, and he'd taken his leather jacket, a graduation present from his own father that he'd owned and treasured for ten years, and he'd taken the sharpest knife in the kitchen, and he'd sliced the jacket to ribbons, practicing until he could make the knife slice the leather in the same reliable, efficient arcs that his eyes and mind could trace over them.
+
+"I can try," he said, with modesty. He was nervous about his boldness. His boss wasn't a nice man, and he'd fired many employees for insubordination. If he fired Matthew's father, he would be out a job and a jacket. And the rent was due, and the family had no savings.
+
+The boss looked at him, looked at the sketch. "OK, you try."
+
+And that was the day that Matthew's father stopped being Driver Fong and became Master Fong, the junior cutter at the Infinite Quality Shoe Factory. Less than a year later, he was the head cutter, and the family thrived.
+
+Matthew had heard this story so many times growing up that he could recite it word-for-word with his father. It was more than a story: it was the family legend, more important than any of the history he'd learned in school. As stories went, it was a good one, but Matthew was determined that his own life would have an even better story still. Matthew would not be the second Master Fong. He would be Boss Fong, the first -- a man with his own factory, his own fortune.
+
+And like his father, Matthew had a gift.
+
+Like his father, Matthew could look at a certain kind of problem and /{see}/ the solution. And the problems Matthew could solve involved killing monsters and harvesting their gold and prestige items, better and more efficiently than anyone else he'd ever met or heard of.
+
+Matthew was a gold farmer, but not just one of those guys who found themselves being approached by an Internet cafe owner and offered seven or eight RMB to keep right on playing, turning over all the gold they won to the boss, who'd sell it on by some mysterious process. Matthew was Master Fong, the gold farmer who could run a dungeon once and tell you exactly the right way to run it again to get the maximum gold in the minimum time. Where a normal farmer might make 50 gold in an hour, Matthew could make 500. And if you watched Matthew play, you could do it too.
+
+Mr Wing had quickly noticed Matthew's talent. Mr Wing didn't like games, didn't care about the legends of Iceland or England or India or Japan. But Mr Wing understood how to make boys work. He displayed their day's take on big boards at both ends of his factory, treated the top performers to lavish meals and baijiu parties in private rooms at his karaoke club where there were beautiful girls. Matthew remembered these evenings through a bleary haze: a girl on either side of him on a sofa, pressed against him, their perfume in his nose, refilling his glass as Mr Wing toasted him for a hero, extolling his achievements. The girls oohed and aahed and pressed harder against him. Mr Wing always laughed at him the next day, because he'd pass out before he could go with one of the girls into an even /{more}/ private room.
+
+Mr Wing made sure all the other boys knew about this failing, made sure that they teased "Master Fong" about his inability to hold his liquor, his shyness around girls. And Matthew saw exactly what Boss Wing was doing: setting Matthew up as a hero, above his friends, then making sure that his friends knew that he wasn't /{that}/ much of a hero, that he could be toppled. And so they all farmed gold harder, for longer hours, eating dumplings at their computers and shouting at each other over their screens late into the night and the cigarette haze.
+
+The hours had stretched into days, the days had stretched into months, and one day Matthew woke up in the dorm room filled with farts and snores and the smell of 20 young men in a too-small room, and realized that he'd had enough of working for Boss Wing. That was when he decided that he would become his own man. That was when he set out to be Boss Fong.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Amazon.com, the largest Internet bookseller in the world. Amazon is }/ amazing /{-- a "store" where you can get practically any book ever published (along with practically everything else, from laptops to cheese-graters), where they've elevated recommendations to a high art, where they allow customers to directly communicate with each other, where they are constantly inventing new and better ways of connecting books with readers. Amazon has always treated me like gold -- the founder, Jeff Bezos, even posted a reader-review for my first novel! -- and I shop there like crazy (looking at my spreadsheets, it appears that I buy something from Amazon approximately every}/ six days /{). Amazon's in the process of reinventing what it means to be a bookstore in the twenty-first century and I can't think of a better group of people to be facing down that thorny set of problems.}/
+
+_1 {~^ Amazon }http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0765322161/downandoutint-20
+
+Wei-Dong Goldberg woke one minute before his alarm rang, the glowing numbers showing 12:59. 1AM in Los Angeles, 6PM in China, and it was time to go raiding.
+
+He wiped the sleep out of his eyes and climbed out of his narrow bed -- his mom still put his goddamned Spongebob sheets on it, so he'd drawn beards and horns and cigarettes on all the faces in permanent marker -- and crossed silently to his school-bag and retrieved his laptop, then felt around on his desk for the little Bluetooth earwig, screwing it into his ear.
+
+He made a pile of pillows against the headboard and sat cross-legged against them, lifting the lid and firing up his gamespy, looking for his buds, all the way over there in Shenzhen. As the screen filled with names and the games they could be found in, he smiled to himself. It was time to play.
+
+Three clicks later and he was in Savage Wonderland, spawning on his clockwork horse with his sword in his hand, amid the garden of talking, hissing flowers, ready to do battle. And there were his boys, riding up alongside of him, their clockwork mounts snorting and champing for battle.
+
+"Ni hao!" he said into his headset, in as loud a whisper as he dared. His father had a bladder problem and he got up all night long and never slept very deeply. Wei-Dong couldn't afford that. If his parents caught him at it one more time, they'd take away his computer. They'd ground him. They'd send him to a military academy where they shaved your head and you got beaten up in the shower because it built character. He'd been treated to all these threats and more, and they'd made an impression on him.
+
+Not enough of an impression to get him to stop playing games in the middle of the night, of course.
+
+"Ni hao!" he said again. There was laughter, distant and flanged by network churn.
+
+"Hello, Leonard," Ping said. "You are learning your Chinese well, I see." Ping still called him /{Leonard}/, but at least he was talking in Mandarin to him now, which was a big improvement. The guys normally liked to practice their English on him, which meant he couldn't practice his Chinese on /{them}/.
+
+"I practice," he said.
+
+They laughed again and he knew that he'd gotten something wrong. The intonation. He was always getting it wrong. He'd say, "I'll go aggro those demons and you buff the cleric," and it would come out, "I am a bowl of noodles, I have beautiful eyelashes." But he was getting better. By the time he got to China, he'd have it nailed.
+
+"Are we raiding?" he said.
+
+"Yes!" Ping said, and the others agreed. "We just need to wait for the gweilo." Wei-Dong loved that he wasn't the gweilo anymore. Gweilo meant "foreign devil," and technically, he qualified. But he was one of the raiders now, and the gweilos were the paying customers who shelled out good dollars or euros or rupees or pounds to play alongside of them.
+
+Here was the gweilo now. You could tell because he frequently steered his horse off the path and into the writhing grasp of the living plants, having to stop over and over to hack away their grasping vines. After watching this show for a minute or two, he rode out and cast a protection spell around them both, and the vines sizzled on the glowing red bubble that surrounded them both.
+
+"Thanks," the gweilo said.
+
+"No problem," he said.
+
+"Woah, you speak English?" The gweilo had a strong New Jersey accent.
+
+"A little," Wei-Dong said, with a smile. /{Better than you, dummy}/, he thought.
+
+"OK, let's do this thing," the gweilo said, and the rest of the party caught up with them.
+
+The gweilo had paid them to raid an instance of The Walrus's Garden, a pretty hard underwater dungeon that had some really good drops in it -- ingredients for potions, some pretty good weapons, and, of course, lots of gold. There were a couple prestige items that dropped there, albeit rarely -- you could get a vorpal blade and helmet if you were very lucky. The deal was, the gweilo paid them to run the instance with him, and he could just hang back and let the raiders do all the heavy lifting, but he'd come forward to deal the coup de grace to any big bosses they beat down, so he'd get the experience points. He got to keep the gold, the weapons, the prestige items, all of it -- and all for the low, low cost of $75. The raiders got the cash, the gweilo got to level up fast and pick up a ton of treasure.
+
+Wei-Dong often wondered what kind of person would pay strangers to help them get ahead in a game? The usual reason that gweilos gave for hiring raiders was that they wanted to play with their friends, and their friends were all more advanced than them. But Wei-Dong had joined games after his friends and being the noob in his little group, he'd just asked his buds to take him raiding with them, twinking him until his character was up to their level. So if this gweilo had so many pals in this game that he wanted to level up to meet them, why couldn't he get them to power-level his character up with them? Why was he paying the raiders?
+
+Wei-Dong suspected that it was because the guy had no friends.
+
+"Go d /{damn}/ would you look at that?" It was at least the tenth time the guy had said it in ten minutes as they rode to the seashore. This time it was the tea-party, a perpetual melee that was a blur of cutlery whistling through the air, savage chairs roaming in packs, chasing luckless players who happened to aggro them, and a crazy-hard puzzle in which you had to collect and arrange the crockery just so, stunning each piece so that it wouldn't crawl away before you were done with it. It was pretty cool, Wei-Dong had to admit (he'd solved the puzzle in two days of hard play, and gotten the teapot for his trouble, which he could use to summon genies in moments of dire need). But the gweilo was acting like he'd never seen computer graphics, ever.
+
+They rode on, chattering in Chinese on a private channel. Mostly, it was too fast for Wei-Dong to follow, but he caught the gist of it. They were talking about work -- the raids they had set up for the rest of the night, the boss and his stupid rules, the money and what they'd do with it. Girls. They were always talking about girls.
+
+At last they were at the seaside, and Wei-Dong cast the Red Queen's Air Pocket, using up the last of his oyster shells to do so. They all dismounted, flapping their gills comically as they sloshed into the water ("Go d /{damn}/," breathed the gweilo).
+
+The Walrus's Garden was a tricky raid, because it was different every time you ran it, the terrain regenerating for each party. As the spellcaster, Wei-Dong's job was to keep the lights on and the air flowing so that no matter what came, they'd see it in time to prepare and vanquish it. First came the octopuses, rising from the bottom with a puff of sand, sailing through the water toward them. Lu, the tank, positioned himself between the party and the octopuses, and, after thrashing around and firing a couple of missiles at them to aggro them, went totally still as, one after another, they wrapped themselves around him, crushing him with their long tentacles, their faces crazed masks of pure malevolence.
+
+Once they were all engrossed in the tank, the rest of the party swarmed them, the four of them drawing their edged weapons with a watery /{clang}/ and going to work in a writhing knot. Wei-Dong kept a close eye on the tank's health and cast his healing spells as needed. As each octopus was reduced to near death, the raiders pulled away and Wei-Dong hissed into his mic, "Finish him!" The gweilo fumbled around for the first two beasts, but by the end, he was moving efficiently to dispatch them.
+
+"That was /{sick}/," the gweilo said. "Totally badass! How'd that guy absorb all that damage, anyway?"
+
+"He's a tank," Wei-Dong said. "Fighter class, heavy armor. Lots of buffs. And I was keeping up the healing spells the whole time."
+
+"I'm fighter class, aren't I?"
+
+/{You don't know?}/ This guy had a /{lot}/ more money than brains, that was for sure.
+
+"I just started playing. I'm not much of a gamer. But you know, all my friends --"
+
+/{I know}/, Wei-Dong thought. /{All the cool kids you knew were doing it, so you decided you had to keep up with them. You don't have any friends -- yet. But you think you will, if you play.}/ "Sure," he said. "Just stick close, you're doing fine. You'll be leveled up by breakfast time." That was another mark against the gweilo: he had the money to pay for a power-levelling session with their raiding guild, but he wasn't willing to pay the premium to do it in a decent American timezone. That was good news for the rest of the guild, sure -- it saved them having to find somewhere to do the run during daylight hours in China, when the Internet cafes were filled with straights -- but it meant that Wei-Dong had to be up in the middle of the night and then drag his butt around school all the next day.
+
+Not that it wasn't worth it.
+
+Now they were into the crags and caves of the garden, dodging the eels and giant lobsters that surged out of their holes as they passed. Wei-Dong found some more oyster shells and surreptitiously picked them up. Technically, they were the gweilo's to have first refusal over, but they were needed if he was going to keep on casting the Air Pocket, which he might have to do if they kept up at this slow pace. And the gweilo didn't notice, anyway.
+
+"You're not in China, are you?" the gweilo asked.
+
+"Not exactly," he said, looking out the window at the sky over Orange County, the most boring ZIP code in California.
+
+"Where are you guys?"
+
+"They're in China. Where I live, you can see the Disneyland fireworks show every night."
+
+"Go d /{damn}/," the gweilo said. "Ain't you got better things to do than help some idiot level up in the middle of the night?"
+
+"I guess I don't," he said. Mixed in behind were the guys laughing and catcalling in Chinese on their channel. He grinned to hear them.
+
+"I mean, hell, I can see why someone in China'd do a crappy job for a rotten 75 bucks, but if you're in America, dude, you should have some /{pride}/, get some real work!"
+
+"And why would someone in China want to do a crappy job?" The guys were listening in now. They didn't have great English, but they spoke enough to get by.
+
+"You know, it's /{China}/. There's /{billions}/ of 'em. Poor as dirt and ignorant. I don't blame 'em. You can't blame 'em. It's not their fault. But hell, once you get out of China and get to America, you should /{act}/ like an American. We don't do that kind of work."
+
+"What makes you think I 'got out of China'?"
+
+"Didn't you?"
+
+"I was born here. My parents were born here. Their parents were born here. Their parents came here from Russia."
+
+"I didn't know they had Chinese in Russia."
+
+Wei-Dong laughed. "I'm not Chinese, dude."
+
+"You aren't? Well, go d /{damn}/ then, I'm sorry. I figured you were. What are you, then, the boss or something?"
+
+Wei-Dong closed his eyes and counted to ten. When he opened them again, the carpenters had swum out of the wrecked galleon before them, their T-squares and saws at the ready. They moved by building wooden boxes and gates around themselves, which acted as barricades, and they worked /{fast}/. On the land, you could burn their timbers, but that didn't work under the sea. Once they had you boxed in, they drove long nails through boards around you. It was a grisly, slow way to die.
+
+Of course, they had the gweilo surrounded in a flash, and they all had to pile on to fight them free. Xiang summoned his familiar, a boar, and Wei-Dong spelled it its own air bubble and it set to work, tearing up the planks with its tusks. When at last the carpenters managed to kill it, it turned into a baby and floated, lifeless, to the ocean's surface, accompanied by a ghostly weeping. Savage Wonderland /{looked}/ like it was all laughs, but it was really grim when you got down to it, and the puzzles were hard and the big bosses were /{really}/ hard.
+
+Speaking of bosses: they put down the last of the carpenters and as they did, a swirling current disturbed the sea-bottom, kicking up sand that settled slowly, revealing the vorpal blade and armor, encrusted in barnacles. And the gweilo gave a whoop and a holler and dove for it clumsily, as they all shouted at once for him to stop, to wait, and then --
+
+And then he triggered the trap that they all knew was there.
+
+And then there was /{trouble.}/
+
+The Jabberwock did indeed have eyes of flame, and it did make a "burbling" sound, just like it said in the poem. But the Jabberwock did a lot more than give you dirty looks and belch. The Jabberwock was /{mean}/, it soaked up a lot of damage, and it gave as good as it got. It was fast, too, faster than the carpenters, so one minute you could be behind it and then it would do a barrel roll -- its tail like a whip, cracking and knocking back anything that got in its way -- and it would be facing you, rearing up with its spindly claws splayed, its narrow chest heaving. The jaws that bite, the claws that catch -- and once they'd caught you, the Jabberwock would beat you against the hardest surface in reach, doing insane damage while you squirmed to get free. And the burbling? Not so much like burping, really: more like the sound of meat going through a grinder, a nasty sound. A /{bloody}/ sound.
+
+The first time Wei-Dong had managed to kill a Jabberwock -- after a weekend's continuous play -- he'd crashed hard and had nightmares about that sound.
+
+"Nice going, jackass," Wei-Dong said as he hammered on his keyboard, trying to get all his spells up and running without getting disemboweled by the nightmare beast before them. It had Lu and was beating the everloving piss out of him, but that was OK, it was just Lu, his job was to get beaten up. Wei-Dong cast his healing spells at Lu while he swam back as fast as he could.
+
+"Now, that's not nice," the gweilo said. "How the hell was I supposed to know --"
+
+"You weren't. You didn't know. You don't know. That's the /{point}/. That's why you hired /{us}/. Now we're going to use up all our spells and potions fighting this thing --" he broke off for a second and hit some more keys "-- and it's going to take /{days}/ to get it all back, just because you couldn't wait at the back like you were /{supposed}/ to."
+
+"I don't have to take this," the gweilo said. "I'm a customer, dammit."
+
+"You want to be a /{dead}/ customer, buddy?" Wei-Dong said. He'd barely had any time to talk with his guildies on the whole raid, he'd been stuck talking to this dumb English speaker. Now the guy was mouthing off to him. It made him want to throw his computer against the wall. See what being nice gets you?
+
+If the gweilo replied, Wei-Dong didn't hear it, because the Jabberwock was really pouring on the heat. He was out of potions and healing spells and Lu wasn't going to last much longer. Oh, /{crap}/. It had Ping in its other claw now, and it was worrying at his armor with a long fang, trying to peel him like a grape. He tabbed over to his voice-chat controller and dialled up the Chinese channel to full, tuning out the gweilo.
+
+It was a chaos of fast, profane dialect, slangy Chinese that mixed in curse-words from Japanese comics and Indian movies. The boys were all hollering, too fast for him to get more than the sense of things.
+
+There was Ping, though, calling for him. "Leonard! Healing!"
+
+"I'm out!" he said, hating how this was all going. "I'm totally empty. Used it all up on Lu!"
+
+"That's it, then," Ping said. "We're dead." They all howled with disappointment. In spite of himself, Wei-Dong grinned. "You think he'll reschedule, or are we going to have to give him his money back?"
+
+Wei-Dong didn't know, but he had a feeling that this goober wasn't going to be very cooperative if they told him that he'd gotten up in the middle of the night for nothing. Even if it was his fault.
+
+He sucked in some whistling breaths through his nose and tried to calm down. It was almost 2AM now. In the house around him, all was silent. A car revved its engine somewhere far away, but the night was so quiet the sound carried into his bedroom.
+
+"OK," he said. "OK, let me do something about this."
+
+Every game had a couple of BFGs, Big Friendly Guns (or at least /{some}/ kind of Big Gun), that were nearly impossible to get and nearly impossible to resist. In Savage Wonderland, they were also nearly impossible to re-load: the rare monster blunderbuss that you had to spend /{months}/ gathering parts for fired huge loads of sharpened cutlery from the Tea Party, and just collecting enough for a single load took eight or nine hours of gameplay. Impossible to get -- impossible to load. Practically no one had one.
+
+But Wei-Dong did. Ignoring the shouting in his headset, he backed off to the edge of the blunderbuss's range and began to arm it, a laborious process of dumping all that cutlery into the muzzle. "Get in front of it," he said. "In front of it, now!"
+
+His guildies could see what he was doing now and they were whooping triumphantly, arraying their toons around its front, occupying its attention, clearing his line of fire. All he needed was one...more...second.
+
+He pulled the trigger. There was a snap and a hiss as the powder in the pan began to burn. The sound made the Jabberwock turn its head on its long, serpentine neck. It regarded him with its burning eyes and it dropped Ping and Lu to the oceanbed. The powder in the pan flared -- and died.
+
+/{Misfire}/!
+
+/{Ohcrapohcrapohcrap,}/ he muttered, hammering, /{hammering}/ on the re-arm sequence, his fingers a blur on the mouse-buttons. "Crapcrapcrapcrap."
+
+The Jabberwock smiled, and made that wet meaty sound again. /{Burble burble, little boy, I'm coming for you}/. It was the sound from his nightmare, the sound of his dream of heroism dying. The sound of a waste of a day's worth of ammo and a night's worth of play. He was a dead man.
+
+The Jabberwock did one of those whipping, rippling barrel-rolls that were its trademark. The currents buffeted him, sending him rocking from side to side. He corrected, overcorrected, corrected again, hit the re-arm button, the fire button, the re-arm button, the fire button --
+
+The Jabberwock was facing him now. It reared back, flexing its claws, clicking its jaws together. In a second it would be on him, it would open him from crotch to throat and eat his guts, any second now --
+
+/{Crash!}/ The sound of the blunderbuss was like an explosion in a pots-and-pans drawer, a million metallic clangs and bangs as the sea was sliced by a rapidly expanding cone of lethal, screaming metal tableware.
+
+The Jabberwock /{dissolved}/, ripped into a slowly rising mushroom of meat and claws and leathery scales. The left side of its head ripped toward him and bounced off him, settling in the sand. The water turned pink, then red, and the death-screech of the Jabberwock seemed to carom off the water and lap back over him again and again. It was a /{fantastic}/ sound.
+
+His guildies were going nuts, seven thousand miles away, screaming his name, and not /{Leonard,}/ but /{Wei-Dong}/, chanting it in their Internet Cafe off Jiabin Road in Shenzhen. Wei-Dong was grinning ferociously in his bedroom, basking in it.
+
+And when the water cleared, there again were the vorpal blade and helmet in their crust of barnacles, sitting innocently on the ocean floor. The gweilo -- the gweilo, he'd forgotten all about the gweilo! -- moved clumsily toward it.
+
+"I don't think so," said Ping, in pretty good English. His toon moved so fast that the gweilo probably didn't even see him coming. Ping's sword went snicker-snack, and the gweilo's head fell to the sand, a dumb, betrayed expression on its face.
+
+"What the --"
+
+Wei-Dong dropped him from the chat.
+
+"That's your treasure, brother," Ping said. "You earned it."
+
+"But the money --"
+
+"We can make the money tomorrow night. That was /{killer, dude}/!" It was one of Ping's favorite English phrases, and it was the highest praise in their guild. And now he had a vorpal blade and helmet. It was a good night.
+
+They surfaced and paddled to shore and conjured up their mounts again and rode back to the guild-hall, chatting all the way, dispatching the occasional minor beast without much fuss. The guys weren't too put out at being 75 bucks' poorer than they'd expected. They were players first, business people second. And that had been /{fun}/.
+
+And now it was 2:30 and he'd have to be up for school in four hours, and at this rate, he was going to be lying awake for a /{long}/ time. "OK, I'm going to go guys," he said, in his best Chinese. They bade him farewell, and the chat channel went dead. In the sudden silence of his room, he could hear his pulse pounding in his ears. And another sound -- a tread on the floor outside his door. A hand on the doorknob --
+
+/{Crapcrapcrap}/
+
+He manged to get the lid of the laptop down and his covers pulled up before the door opened, but he was still holding the machine under the sheets, and his father's glare from the doorway told him that he wasn't fooling anyone. Wordlessly, still glaring, his father crossed the room and delicately removed the earwig from Wei-Dong's ear. It glowed telltale blue, blinking, looking for the laptop that was now sleeping under Wei-Dong's artistically redecorate Spongebob sheets.
+
+"Dad --" he began.
+
+"Leonard, it's 2:30 in the morning. I'm not going to discuss this with you right now. But we're going to talk about it in the morning. And you're going to have a long, long time to think about it afterward." He yanked back the sheet and took the laptop out of Wei-Dong's now-limp hand.
+
+"Dad!" he said, as his father turned and left the room, but his father gave no indication he'd heard before he pulled the bedroom door firmly and authoritatively shut.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Borderlands Books, San Francisco's magnificent independent science fiction bookstore. Borderlands is not just notorious for its brilliant events, signings, book clubs and such, but also for its amazing hairless Egyptian cat, Ripley, who likes to perch like a buzzing gargoyle on the computer at the front of the store. Borderlands is about the friendliest bookstore you could ask for, filled with comfy places to sit and read, and staffed by incredibly knowledgeable clerks who know everything there is to know about science fiction. Even better, they've always been willing to take orders for my book (by net or phone) and hold them for me to sign when I drop into the store, then they ship them within the US for free! }/
+
+_1 {~^ Borderlands Books }http://www.borderlands-books.com/: 866 Valencia Ave, San Francisco CA USA 94110 +1 888 893 4008
+
+Mala missed the birdcalls. When they'd lived in the village, there'd been birdsong every morning, breaking the perfect peace of the night to let them know that the sun was rising and the day was beginning. That was when she'd been a little girl. Here in Mumbai, there were some sickly rooster calls at dawn, but they were nearly drowned out by the neverending trafficsong: the horns, the engines revving, the calls late in the night.
+
+In the village, there'd been the birdcalls, the silence, and peace, times when everyone wasn't always watching. In Mumbai, there was nothing but the people, the people everywhere, so that every breath you breathed tasted of the mouth that had exhaled it before you got it.
+
+She and her mother and her brother slept together in a tiny room over Mr Kunal's plastic-recycling factory in Dharavi, the huge squatter's slum at the north end of the city. During the day, the room was used to sort plastic into a dozen tubs -- the plastic coming from an endless procession of huge rice-sacks that were filled at the shipyards. The ships went to America and Europe and Asia filled with goods made in India and came back filled with garbage, plastic that the pickers of Dharavi sorted, cleaned, melted and reformed into pellets and shipped to the factories so that they could be turned into manufactured goods and shipped back to America, Europe and Asia.
+
+When they'd arrived at Dharavi, Mala had found it terrifying: the narrow shacks growing up to blot out the sky, the dirt lanes between them with gutters running in iridescent blue and red from the dye-shops, the choking always-smell of burning plastic, the roar of motorbikes racing between the buildings. And the eyes, eyes from every window and roof, all watching them as mamaji led her and her little brother to the factory of Mr Kunal, where they were to live now and forevermore.
+
+But barely a year had gone by and the smell had disappeared. The eyes had become friendly. She could hop from one lane to another with perfect confidence, never getting lost on her way to do the marketing or to attend the afternoon classes at the little school-room over the restaurant. The sorting work had been boring, but never hard, and there was always food, and there were other girls to play with, and mamaji had made friends who helped them out. Piece by piece, she'd become a Dharavi girl, and now she looked on the newcomers with a mixture of generosity and pity.
+
+And the work -- well, the work had gotten a lot better, just lately.
+
+It started when she was in the games-cafe with Yasmin, stealing an hour after lessons to spend a few Rupees of the money she'd saved from her pay-packet (almost all of it went to the family, of course, but mamaji sometimes let her keep some back and advised her to spend it on a treat at the cornershop). Yasmin had never played Zombie Mecha, but of course they'd both seen the movies at the little filmi house on the road that separated the Muslim and the Hindu sections of Dharavi. Mala /{loved}/ Zombie Mecha, and she was good at it, too. She preferred the PvP servers where players could hunt other players, trying to topple their giant mecha-suits so that the zombies around them could swarm over it, crack open its cockpit cowl and feast on the av within.
+
+Most of the girls at the game cafe came in and played little games with cute animals and trading for hearts and jewels. But for Mala, the action was in the awesome carnage of the multiplayer war games. It only took a few minutes to get Yasmin through the basics of piloting her little squadron and then she could get down to /{tactics}/.
+
+That was it, that was what none of the other players seemed to understand: /{tactics}/ were /{everything}/. They treated the game like it was a random chaos of screeching rockets and explosions, a confusion to be waded into and survived, as best as you could.
+
+But for Mala, the confusion was something that happened to other people. For Mala, the explosions and camera-shake and the screech of the zombies were just minor details, to be noted among the Big Picture, the armies arrayed on the battlefield in her mind. On that battlefield, the massed forces took on a density and a color that showed where their strengths and weaknesses were, how they were joined to each other and how pushing one this one, over here, would topple that one over there. You could face down your enemies head on, rockets against rockets, guns against guns, and then the winner would be the luckier one, or the one with the most ammo, or the one with the best shields.
+
+But if you were /{smart}/, you didn't have to be lucky, or tougher. Mala liked to lob rockets and grenades /{over}/ the opposing armies, to their left and right, creating box-canyons of rubble and debris that blocked their escape. Meanwhile, a few of her harriers would be off in the weeds aggroing huge herds of zombies, getting them /{really}/ mad, gathering them up until they were like locusts, blotting out the ground in all directions, leading them ever closer to that box canyon.
+
+Just before they'd come into view, her frontal force would peel off, running away in a seeming act of cowardice. Her enemies would be buoyed up by false confidence and give chase -- until they saw the harriers coming straight for them, with an unstoppable, torrential pestilence of zombies hot on their heels. Most times, they were too shocked to do /{anything}/, not even fire at the harriers as they ran straight for their lines and /{through}/ them, into the one escape left behind in the box-canyon, blowing the crack shut as they left. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the zombies to overwhelm and devour your opponents, while you snickered and ate a sweet and drank a little tea from the urn by the cashier's counter. The sounds of the zombies rending the armies of her enemies and gnawing their bones was /{particularly}/ satisfying.
+
+Yasmin had been distracted by the zombies, the disgusting entrails, the shining rockets. But she'd seen, oh yes, she'd /{seen}/ how Mala's strategies were able to demolish much larger opposing armies and she got over her squeamishness.
+
+And so on they played, drawing an audience: first the hooting derisive boys (who fell silent when they watched the armies fall before her, and who started to call her "General Robotwalla" without even a hint of mockery), and then the girls, shy at first, peeking over the boys' shoulders, then shoving forward and cheering and beating their fists on the walls and stamping their feet for each dramatic victory.
+
+It wasn't cheap, though. Mala's carefully hoarded store of Rupees shrank, buffered somewhat by a few coins from other players who paid her a little here and there to teach them how to really play. She knew she could have borrowed the money, or let some boy spend it on her -- there was already fierce competition for the right to go over the road to the drinkswalla and buy her a masala Coke, a fizzing, foaming spicy explosion of Coke and masala spice and crushed ice that soothed the rawness at the back of her throat that had been her constant companion since they'd come to Dharavi.
+
+But nice girls from the village didn't let boys buy them things. Boys wanted something in return. She knew that, knew it from the movies and from the life around her. She knew what happened to girls who let boys take care of their needs. There was always a reckoning.
+
+When the strange man first approached her, she thought about nice girls and boys and what they expected, and she wouldn't talk to him or meet his eye. She didn't know what he wanted, but he wasn't going to get it from her. So when he got up from his chair by the cashier as she came into the cafe, rose and crossed to intercept her with his smart linen suit and good shoes and short, neatly oiled hair, and small moustache, she'd stepped around him, stepped past him, pretended she didn't hear him say, "Excuse me, miss," and "Miss? Miss? Please, just a moment of your time."
+
+But Mrs Dibyendu, the owner of the cafe, shouted at her, "Mala, you listen to this man, you listen to what he has to say to you. You don't be rude in my shop, no you don't!" And because Mrs Dibyendu was also from a village, and because her mother had said that Mala could play games but only in Mrs Dibyendu's cafe, Mrs Dibyendu being the sort of person you could trust not to allow improper doings, or drugs, or violence, or criminality, Mala stopped and turned to the man, silent, expecting.
+
+"Ah," he said. "Thank you." He nodded to Mrs Dibyendu. "Thank you." He turned back to her, and to the army of boys and girls who'd gathered around her, /{her}/ army, the ones who called her General Robotwallah and meant it.
+
+"I hear that you are a very good player," he said. Mala waggled her chin back and forth, half-closing her eyes, letting her chin say, /{Yes, I'm a good player, and I'm good enough that I don't need to boast about it.}/
+
+"Is she a good player?"
+
+Mala turned to her army, who had the discipline to remain silent until she gave them the nod. She waggled her chin at them: /{go on}/.
+
+And they erupted in an enthused babble, extolling the virtues of their General Robotwallah, the epic battles they'd fought and won against impossible odds.
+
+"I have some work for good players."
+
+Mala had heard rumors of this. "You represent a league?"
+
+The man smiled a little smile and shook his head. He smelled of citrusy cologne and betel, a sweet combination of smells she'd never smelled before. "No, not a league. You know that in the game, there are players who don't play for fun? Players who play to make money?"
+
+"The kind of money you're offering to us?"
+
+His chin waggled and he chuckled. "No, not exactly. There are players who play to build up game-money, which they sell on to other players who are too lazy to do the playing for themselves."
+
+Mala thought about this for a moment. The containers went out of India filled with goods and came back filled with garbage for Dharavi. Somewhere out there, in the America of the filmi shows, there was a world of people with unimaginable wealth. "We'll do it," she said. "I've already got more credits than I can spend. How much do they pay for them?"
+
+Again, the chuckle. "Actually," he said, then stopped. Her army was absolutely silent now, hanging on his every word. From the machines came the soft crashing of the wars, taking place in the world inside the network, all day and all night long. "Actually, that's not exactly it. We want you and your friends to destroy them, kill their avs, take their fortunes."
+
+Mala thought for another instant, puzzled. Who would want to kill these other players? "You're a rival?"
+
+The man waggled his chin. /{Maybe yes, maybe no.}/
+
+She thought some more. "You work for the game!" she said. "You work for the game and you don't want --"
+
+"Who I work for isn't important," the man said, holding up his fingers. He wore a wedding ring on one hand, and two gold rings on the other. He was missing the top joints on three of his fingers, she saw. That was common in the village, where farmers were always getting caught in the machines. Here was a man from a village, a man who'd come to Mumbai and become a man in a neat suit with a neat mustache and gold rings glinting on what remained of his fingers. Here was the reason her mother had brought them to Dharavi, the reason for the sore throat and the burning eyes and the endless work over the plastic-sorting tubs.
+
+"What's important is that we would pay you and your friends --"
+
+"My army," she said, interrupting him without thinking. For a moment his eyes flashed dangerously and she sensed that he was about to slap her, but she stood her ground. She'd been slapped plenty before. He snorted once through his nose, then went on.
+
+"Yes, Mala, your army. We would pay you to destroy these players. You'd be told what sort of mecha they were piloting, what their player-names were, and you'd have to root them out and destroy them. You'd keep all their wealth, and you'd get Rupees, too."
+
+"How much?"
+
+He made a pained expression, like he had a little gas. "Perhaps we should discuss that in private, later? With your mother present?"
+
+Mala noticed that he didn't say, "Your parents," but rather, "Your mother." Mrs Dibyendu and he had been talking, then. He knew about Mala, and she didn't know about him. She was just a girl from the village, after all, and this was the world, where she was still trying to understand it all. She was a general, but she was also a girl from the village. General Girl From the Village.
+
+So he'd come that night to Mr Kunal's factory, and Mala's mother had fed him thali and papadams from the women's papadam collective, and they'd boiled chai in the electric kettle and the man had pretended that his fine clothes and gold belonged here, and had squatted back on his heels like a man in the village, his hairy ankles peeking out over his socks. No one Mala knew wore socks.
+
+"Mr Banerjee," mamaji said, "I don't understand this, but I know Mrs Dibyendu. If she says you can be trusted..." She trailed off, because really, she didn't know Mrs Dibyendu. In Dharavi, there were many hazards for a young girl. Mamaji would fret over them endlessly while she brushed out Mala's hair at night, all the ways a girl could find herself ruined or hurt here. But the money.
+
+"A lakh of rupees every month," he said. "Plus a bonus. Of course, she'll have to pay her 'army' --" he'd given Mala a little chin waggle at that, /{see, I remember}/ "-- out of that. But how much would be up to her."
+
+"These children wouldn't have any money if it wasn't for my Mala!" mamaji said, affronted at their imaginary grasping hands. "They're only playing a game! They should be glad just to play with her!" Mamaji had been furious when she discovered that Mala had been playing at the cafe all these afternoons. She thought that Mala only played once in a while, not with every rupee and moment she had spare. But when the man -- Mr Banerjee -- had mentioned her talent and the money it could earn for the family, suddenly mamaji had become her daughter's business manager.
+
+Mala saw that Mr Banerjee had known this would happen and wondered what else Mrs Dibyendu had told him about their family.
+
+"Mamaji," she said, quietly, keeping her eyes down in the way they did in the village. "They're my army, and they need paying if they play well. Otherwise they won't be my army for long."
+
+Mamaji looked hard at her. Beside them, Mala's little brother Gopal took advantage of their distraction to sneak the last bit of eggplant off Mala's plate. Mala noticed, but pretended she hadn't, and concentrated on keeping her eyes down.
+
+Mamaji said, "Now, Mala, I know you want to be good to your friends, but you have to think of your family first. We will find a fair way to compensate them -- maybe we could prepare a weekly feast for them here, using some of the money. I'm sure they could all use a good meal."
+
+Mala didn't like to disagree with her mother, and she'd never done so in front of strangers, but --
+
+But this was her army, and she was their general. She knew what made them tick, and they'd heard Mr Banerjee announce that she would be paid in cash for their services. They believed in fairness. They wouldn't work for food while she worked for a lakh (a /{lakh}/ -- /{100,000}/ rupees! The whole family lived on 200 rupees a day!) of cash.
+
+"Mamaji," she said, "it wouldn't be right or fair." It occurred to Mala that Mr Banerjee had mentioned the money in front of the army. He could have been more discreet. Perhaps it was deliberate. "And they'd know it. I can't earn this money for the family on my own, Mamaji."
+
+Her mother closed her eyes and breathed through her nose, a sign that she was trying to keep hold of her temper. If Mr Banerjee hadn't been present, Mala was sure she would have gotten a proper beating, the kind she'd gotten from her father before he left them, when she was a naughty little girl in the village. But if Mr Banerjee wasn't here, she wouldn't have to talk back to her mother, either.
+
+"I'm sorry for this, Mr Banerjee," Mamaji said, not looking at Mala. "Girls of this age, they become rebellious -- impossible."
+
+Mala thought about a future in which instead of being General Robotwallah, she had to devote her life to begging and bullying her army into playing with her so that she could keep all the money they made for her family, while their families went hungry and their mothers demanded that they come home straight from school. When Mr Banerjee mentioned his gigantic sum, it had conjured up a vision of untold wealth, a real house, lovely clothes for all of them, Mamaji free to spend her afternoons cooking for the family and resting out of the heat, a life away from Dharavi and the smoke and the stinging eyes and sore throats.
+
+"I think your little girl is right," Mr Banerjee said, with quiet authority, and Mala's entire family stared at him, speechless. An adult, taking Mala's side over her mother? "She is a very good leader, from what I can see. If she says her people need paying, I believe that she is correct." He wiped at his mouth with a handkerchief. "With all due respect, of course. I wouldn't dream of telling you how to raise your children, of course."
+
+"Of course..." Mamaji said, as if in a dream. Her eyes were downcast, her shoulders slumped. To be spoken to this way, in her own home, by a stranger, in front of her children! Mala felt terrible. Her poor mother. And it was all Mr Banerjee's fault: he'd mentioned the money in front of her army, and then he'd brought her mother to this point --
+
+"I will find a way to get them to fight without payment, Mamaji --" But she was cut short by her mother's hand, coming up, palm out to her.
+
+"Quiet, daughter," she said. "If this man, this /{gentleman}/, says you know what you're doing, well, then I can't contradict him, can I? I'm just a simple woman from the village. I don't understand these things. You must do what this gentleman says, of course."
+
+Mr Banerjee stood and smoothed his suit back into place with the palms of his hands. Mala saw that he'd gotten some chana on his shirt and lapel, and that made her feel better somehow, like he was a mortal and not some terrible force of nature who'd come to destroy their little lives.
+
+He made a little namaste at Mamaji, hands pressed together at his chest, a small hint of a bow. "Good night, Mrs Vajpayee. That was a lovely supper. Thank you." he said. "Good night, General Robotwallah. I will come to the cafe tomorrow at three o'clock to talk more about your missions. Good night, Gopal," he said, and her brother looked up at him, guiltily, eggplant still poking out of the corner of his mouth.
+
+Mala thought that Mamaji might slap her once the man had left, but they all went to bed together without another word, and Mala snuggled up to her mother the same as she did every night, stroking her long hair. It had been shining and black when they left the village, but a year later, it was shot through with grey and it felt wiry. Mamaji's hand caught hers and stilled it, the callouses on her fingers rough.
+
+"Sleep, daughter," she murmured. "You have an important job, now. You need your sleep."
+
+The next morning, they avoided one another's eyes, and things were hard for a week, until she brought home her first pay-packet, folded carefully in the sole of her shoe. Her army had carved through the enemy forces like the butcher's cleaver parting heads from chickens. There had been a large bonus in their pay-packet, and even after she'd paid Mrs Dibyendu and bought everyone masala Coke at the Hotel Hajj next door, and paid the army their wages, there was almost 2,000 rupees left, and she took Mamaji into the smallest sorting room in the loft of the factory, up the ladder. Mamaji's eyes lit up when she saw the money, and she'd kissed Mala on the forehead and taken her in the longest, fiercest hug of their lives together.
+
+And now it was all wonderful between them. Mamaji had begun to look for a place for them further towards the middle of Dharavi, the old part where the tin and scrap buildings had been gradually replaced with brick ones, where the potters' kilns smoked a clean woodsmoke instead of the dirty, scratchy plastic smoke near Mr Kunal's factory. Mala had new school-clothes, new shoes, and so did Gopal, and Mamaji had new brushes for her hair and a new sari that she wore after her work-day was through, looking pretty and young, the way Mala remembered her from the village.
+
+And the battles were /{glorious}/.
+
+She entered the cafe out of the melting, dusty sun of late day and stood in the doorway. Her army was already assembled, practicing on their machines, passing gupshup in the shadows of the dark, noisy room, or making wet eyes at one another through the dim. She barely had time to grin and then hide the grin before they noticed her and climbed to their feet, standing straight and proud, saluting her.
+
+She didn't know which one of them had begun the saluting business. It had started as a joke, but now it was serious. They vibrated at attention, all eyes on her. They had on better clothes, they looked well-fed. General Robotwallah was leading her army to victory and prosperity.
+
+"Let's play," she said. In her pocket, her handphone had the latest message from Mr Banerjee with the location of the day's target. Yasmin was at her usual place, at Mala's right hand, and at her left sat Fulmala, who had a bad limp from a leg that she'd broken and that hadn't healed right. But Fulmala was smart and fast, and she grasped the tactics better than anyone in the cafe except Mala herself. And Yasmin, well, Yasmin could make the boys behave, which was a major accomplishment, since left to their own they liked to squabble and one-up each other, in a reckless spiral that always ended badly. But Yasmin could talk to them in a way that was stern like an older sister, and they'd fall into line.
+
+Mala had her army, her lieutenants, and her mission. She had her machine, the fastest one in the cafe, with a bigger monitor than any of the others, and she was ready to go to war.
+
+She touched up her displays, rolled her head from side to side, and led her army to battle again.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Barnes and Noble, a US national chain of bookstores. As America's mom-and-pop bookstores were vanishing, Barnes and Noble started to build these gigantic temples to reading all across the land. Stocking tens of thousands of titles (the mall bookstores and grocery-store spinner racks had stocked a small fraction of that) and keeping long hours that were convenient to families, working people and others potential readers, the BandN stores kept the careers of many writers afloat, stocking titles that smaller stores couldn't possibly afford to keep on their limited shelves. BandN has always had strong community outreach programs, and I've done some of my best-attended, best-organized signings at BandN stores, including the great events at the (sadly departed) BandN in Union Square, New York, where the mega-signing after the Nebula Awards took place, and the BandN in Chicago that hosted the event after the Nebs a few years later. Best of all is that BandN's "geeky" buyers really Get It when it comes to science fiction, comics and manga, games and similar titles. They're passionate and knowledgeable about the field and it shows in the excellent selection on display at the stores. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Barnes and Noble, nationwide }http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Little-Brother/Cory-Doctorow/e/9780765322166/?itm=6
+
+Gold. It's all about gold.
+
+But not regular gold, the sort of thing you dig out of the ground. That stuff was for the last century. There's not enough of it, for one thing: all the gold ever dug out of the ground in the history of the world would only amount to a cube whose sides were the length of a tennis court. And curiously, there's also too much of it: all the certificates of gold ownership issued into the world add up to a cube twice that size. Some of those certificates don't amount to anything -- and no one knows which ones. No one has independently audited Fort Knox since 1956 FCK. For all we know, it's empty, the gold smuggled out and sold, put in a vault, sold as certificates, then stolen again and put into another vault, used as the basis for more certificates.
+
+Not regular gold.
+
+/{Virtual}/ gold.
+
+Call it what you want: in one game it's called "Credits," in another, "Volcano Bucks." There are groats, Disney Dollars, cowries, moolah, and Fool's Gold, and a million other kinds of gold out there. Unlike real gold, there's no vault of reserves backing the certificates. Unlike money, there's no government involved in their issue.
+
+Virtual gold is issued by companies. Game companies. Game companies who declare, "So many gold pieces can buy this piece of armor," or "So many credits can buy this space ship" or "So much Jools can buy this zeppelin." And because they say it, it is true. Countries and their banks have to mess around with the ugly business of convincing citizens to believe what they say: the government may say, "This social security check will provide for all your needs in a month," but that doesn't mean that the merchants who supply those needs will agree.
+
+Companies don't have this problem. When Coca Cola says that 76 groats will buy you one dwarvish axe in Svartalfaheim Warriors, that's it: the price of an axe is 76 groats. Don't like it? Go play somewhere else.
+
+Virtual money isn't backed by gold or governments: it's backed by /{fun}/. So long as a game is fun, players somewhere will want to buy into it, because as fun as the game is, it's always more fun if you're one of the haves, with all the awesome armor and killer weapons, than if you're some lowly noob have-not with a dagger, fighting your way up to your first sword.
+
+But where there's money to be spent, there's money to be made. For some players, the most fun game of all is the game that carves them out a slice of the pie. Not all the action belongs to the giant companies up on their tall offices and the games they make. Plenty of us can get in on the action from down below, where the grubby little people are.
+
+Of course, this makes the companies /{bonkers}/. They're big daddy, they know what's best for their worlds. They are /{in control}/. They design the levels and the difficulty to make it all perfectly balanced. They design the puzzles. They decree that light elves can't talk to dark elves, that players on Russian servers can't hop onto the Chinese servers, that it would take the average player 32 hours to attain the Von Klausewitz drive and 48 hours to earn the Order of the Armored Penguin. If you don't like it, you're supposed to /{leave}/: you're not supposed to just /{buy}/ your way out of it. Or if you do, you should have the decency to buy it from /{them}/.
+
+And here's a little something they won't tell you, these Gods of the Virtual: they /{can't}/ control it. Kids, crooks, and weirdos all over the world have riddled their safe little terrarrium worlds with tunnels leading to the great outdoors. There are multiple, competing interworld exchanges: want to swap out your Zombie Mecha wealth for a fully loaded spaceship and a crew of jolly space-pirates to crew it? Ten different gangs want your business -- they'll fix you right up with someone else's spaceship and take your mecha, arms and ammo into inventory for the next person who wants to immigrate to Zombie Mecha from some other magical world.
+
+And the Gods are powerless to stop it. For every barrier they put up, there are hundreds of smart, motivated players of the Big Game who will knock it down.
+
+You'd think it'd be impossible, wouldn't you? After all, these aren't mere games of cops and robbers, played out in real cities filled with real people. They don't need an all-points bulletin to find a fugitive at large: every person in the world is in the database, and they own the database. They don't need a search warrant to find the contraband hiding under your floorboards: the floorboards, the contraband, the house and you are all in the database -- and they own the database.
+
+It should be impossible, but it isn't, and here's why: the biggest sellers of gold and treasure, levels and experience in the worlds /{are the game companies themselves}/. Oh, they don't /{call}/ it power-levelling and gold-farming -- they package it with prettier, more palatable names, like "accelerated progress bonus pack" and "All Together Now(TM)" and lots of other redonkulous names that don't fool anyone.
+
+But the Gods aren't happy with merely turning a buck on players who are too lazy to work their way up through the game. They've got a much, much weirder game in play. They sell gold to people /{who don't even play the game}/. That's right: if you're a bigshot finance guy and you're looking for somewhere to stash a million bucks where it will do some good, you can buy a million dollars' worth of virtual gold, hang onto it as the game grows and becomes more and more fun, as the value of the gold rises and rises, and then you can sell it back for real money through the official in-game banks, pocketing a chunky profit for your trouble.
+
+So while you're piloting your mecha, swinging your axe or commanding your space fleet, there's a group of weird old grownups in suits in fancy offices all over the world watching your play eagerly, trying to figure out if the value of in-game gold is going to go up or down. When a game starts to suck, everyone rushes to sell out their holdings, getting rid of the gold as fast as they can before its value it obliterated by bored gamers switching to a competing service. And when the game gets /{more}/ fun, well, that's an even bigger frenzy, as the bidding wars kick up to high gear, every banker in the world trying to buy the same gold for the same world.
+
+Is it any wonder that eight of the 20 largest economies in the world are in virtual countries? And is it any wonder that playing has become such a serious business?
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Secret Headquarters in Los Angeles, my drop-dead all-time favorite comic store in the world. It's small and selective about what it stocks, and every time I walk in, I walk out with three or four collections I'd never heard of under my arm. It's like the owners, Dave and David, have the uncanny ability to predict exactly what I'm looking for, and they lay it out for me seconds before I walk into the store. I discovered about three quarters of my favorite comics by wandering into SHQ, grabbing something interesting, sinking into one of the comfy chairs, and finding myself transported to another world. When my second story-collection, OVERCLOCKED, came out, they worked with local illustrator Martin Cenreda to do a free mini-comic based on Printcrime, the first story in the book. I left LA about a year ago, and of all the things I miss about it, Secret Headquarters is right at the top of the list. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Secret Headquarters }http://www.thesecretheadquarters.com/: 3817 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026 +1 323 666 2228
+
+Matthew stood outside the door of the Internet cafe, breathing deeply. On the walk over, he'd managed to calm down a little, but as he drew closer, he became more and more convinced that Boss Wing's boys would be waiting for him there, and all his friends would be curled up on the ground, beaten unconscious. He'd brought four of the best players with him out of Boss Wing's factory, and he knew that Boss Wing wasn't happy about that /{at all}/.
+
+He was hyperventilating, his head swimming. He still hurt. It felt like he had a soccer ball-sized red sun of pain burning in his underwear and one of the things he wanted most and least to do was to find a private spot to have a look in there. There was a bathroom in the cafe, so that was that, it was time to go inside.
+
+He walked up the four flights of stairs painfully, passing under the gigantic murals from gamespace, avoiding the plastic plants on each landing that reeked of piss from players who didn't want to wait for the bathroom. From the third floor up, he was enveloped in the familiar cloud of body odor, cigarette smoke and cursing that told him he was on his way to his true home.
+
+In the doorway, he paused and peered around, looking for any sign of Boss Wing's goons, but it was business as usual: rows and rows of tables with PCs on them, a few couples sharing machines, but mostly, it was boys playing, skinny, with their shirts rolled up over their bellies to catch any breeze that might happen through the room. There were no breezes, just the eddies in the smoke caused by the growl of all those PC fans whining as they sucked particulate-laden smoky air over the superheated motherboards and monster video cards.
+
+He slunk past the sign-in desk, staffed tonight by a new kid, someone else just arrived from the provinces to find his fortune here in bad old Shenzhen. Matthew wanted to grab the kid and carry him to the city limits, explaining all the way that there was no fortune to be found here anymore, it all belonged to men like Boss Wing. /{Go home,}/ he thought at the boy, /{Go home, this place is done.}/
+
+His boys were playing at their usual table. They had made a pyramid from alternating layers of Double Happiness cigarette packs and empty coffee cups. They looked up as he neared them, smiling and laughing at some joke. Then they saw the look on his face and they fell silent.
+
+He sat down at a vacant chair and stared at their screens. They'd been playing, of course. They were always playing. When they worked in Boss Wing's factory, they'd pull an 18 hour shift and then they'd relax by playing some more, running their own characters through the dungeons they'd been farming all day long. It's why Boss Wing had such an easy time recruiting for his factory: the pitch was seductive. "Get paid to play!"
+
+But it wasn't the same when you worked for someone else.
+
+He tried to find the words to start and couldn't.
+
+"Matthew?" It was Yo, the oldest of them. Yo actually had a family, a wife and a young daughter. He'd left Boss Wing's factory and followed Matthew.
+
+Matthew stared at his hands, took a deep breath, and made a decision: "Sorry, I just had a little fight on the way over here. I've got good news, though: I've got a way to make us all very rich in a very short time." And, from memory, Master Fong described the way he'd found into the rich dungeon of Svartalfaheim Warriors. He commandeered a computer and showed them, showed them how to shave the seconds off the run, where to make sure to stop and grab and pick up. And then they each took up a machine and went to work.
+
+In time, the ache in his pants faded. Someone gave him a cigarette, then another. Someone brought him some dumplings. Master Fong ate them without tasting them. He and his team were at work, and they were making money, and someday soon, they'd have a fortune that would make Boss Wing look like a small-timer.
+
+Sometime during the shift, his phone rang. It was his mother. She wanted to wish him a happy birthday. He had just turned 17.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Powell's Books, the legendary "City of Books" in Portland, Oregon. Powell's is the largest bookstore in the world, an endless, multi-storey universe of papery smells and towering shelves. They stock new and used books on the same shelves -- something I've always loved -- and every time I've stopped in, they've had a veritable mountain of my books, and they've been incredibly gracious about asking me to sign the store-stock. The clerks are friendly, the stock is fabulous, and there's even a Powell's at the Portland airport, making it just about the best airport bookstore in the world for my money! }/
+
+_1 {~^ Powell's Books }http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?isbn=9780765322166: 1005 W Burnside, Portland, OR 97209 USA +1 800 878 7323
+
+Wei-Dong's game-suspension lasted all of 20 minutes. That's how long it took him to fake a migraine, get a study-pass, sneak into the resource center, beat the network filter and log on. It was getting very late back in China, but that was OK, the boys stayed up late when they were working, and they were glad to have him.
+
+Wei-Dong's real name wasn't Wei-Dong, of course. His real name was Leonard Goldberg. He'd chosen Wei-Dong after looking up the meanings of Chinese names and coming up with Strength of the East, which he liked the sound of. This system for picking names worked well for the Chinese kids he knew -- when their parents immigrated to the States, they'd just pick some English name and that was it. Why not? Why was it better to pick a name because your grandfather had it than because you liked the sound of it?
+
+He'd tried to explain this to his parents, but it didn't make much of an impression on them. They were cool with him being interested in other cultures, but that didn't mean he could get out of having a Bar-Mitzvah or that they would call him Wei-Dong. And it didn't mean that they approved of him being up all night with his buds in China, making money.
+
+Wei-Dong knew that this could all be seen as very lame, an outcast kid so desperate to make friends that he abandoned his high school altogether and sucked up to someone in another hemisphere with free labor instead. But it wasn't like that. Wei-Dong had plenty of friends at Ronald Regan Secondary School. Plenty of kids thought that China was the most interesting place in the world, loved the movies and the food and the comics and the games. And there were lots of Chinese kids in school too and while a couple clearly thought he was weird, lots more got it. After all, most of them were into India the way he was into China, so they had that in common.
+
+And so what if he was skipping a class? It was Social Studies, ferchrissakes! They were supposed to be studying China, but Wei-Dong knew about ten times more about the subject than the teacher did. As he whispered in Mandarin into his earwig, he thought that this was like an independent study project. His teachers should be giving him bonus marks.
+
+"Now what?" he said. "What's the mission?"
+
+"We were thinking of running the Walrus's Garden a few more times, now that we've got it fresh in our heads. Maybe we could pick up another vorpal blade." That's what the guys did when there weren't any paying gweilos -- they went raiding for prestige items. It wasn't the most exciting thing of all, but you never knew what might happen.
+
+"I'm into it," he said. He had a free period after this one, then lunch, so technically he could play for three hours solid. They'd all be ready to log off and go to bed by then, anyway.
+
+"You're a good gweilo, you know?" Wei-Dong knew Ping was kidding. He didn't care if the guys called him gweilo. It wasn't a racist term, not really, not like "chink" or "slant-eye." Just a term of affection. And as nicknames went, "Foreign ghost" was actually kind of cool.
+
+So they hit the Garden and ran it and they did pretty well, and they went and put the money in the guild bank and went back for more. Then they did it again. Somewhere in there, the bell rang. Somewhere in there, some of his friends came and talked to him and he muted the earwig and said some things back to them, but he didn't really know what he'd said. Something.
+
+Then, on the third run, the bad thing happened. They were almost to the shore, and they'd banished their mounts. Wei-Dong was prepping the Queen's Air Pocket, dipping into the monster supply of oyster shells he'd built up on the previous runs.
+
+And out they came, a dozen knights on huge, fearsome black steeds, rising out of the water in unison, rending the air with the angry chorus of their mounts and their battle-cries. The water fountained up around them and they fell upon Wei-Dong and his guildies.
+
+He shouted something into his earwig, a warning, and all around him in the resource center, kids looked up from their conversations to stare at him. He'd become a dervish, hammering away at his keyboard and mousing furiously, his eyes fixed on the screen.
+
+The black riders moved with eerie synchrony. Either they were monsters -- monsters such as Wei-Dong had never encountered -- or they were the most practiced, cooperative raiding party he'd ever seen. He had his vorpal blade out now, and his guildies were all fighting as well. In his earwig, they cursed in the Chinese dialects of six different provinces. Under other circumstances, Wei-Dong would have taken notes, but now he was fighting for his life.
+
+Lu had bravely taken the point between the riders and the party, the huge tank standing fast with his mace and broadsword, engaging all twelve of the knights without regard for his own safety. Wei-Dong poured healing spells on him as he attempted to make his own mark on the riders with the vorpal blade, three times as long as he was.
+
+The vorpal blade could do incredible damage, but it wasn't easy to use. Twice, Wei-Dong accidentally sliced into members of his own party, though not badly -- thank God, or he'd never hear the end of it -- but he couldn't get a cut in on the black knights, who were too fast for him.
+
+Then Lu fell, going down on one knee, pierced through the throat by a pike wielded by a rider whose steed's eyes were the icy blue of the Caterpillar's mist. The rider lifted Lu into the air, his feet kicking limply, and another knight beheaded him with a contemptuous swing of his sword. Lu fell in two pieces to the gritty beach sand and in the earwig, he cursed them, using an expression that Wei-Dong had painstakingly translated into "Screw eight generations of your ancestors."
+
+With Lu down, the rest of them were practically helpless. They fought valiantly, coordinating their attacks, pouring on fire from their magic items and best spells, but the black knights were unbeatable. Before he died, Wei-Dong managed to hit one with the vorpal blade and had the momentary satisfaction of watching the knight stagger and clutch at his chest, but then the fighter closed with him, drawing a pair of short swords that he spun like a magician doing knife tricks. There was no question of parrying him, and seconds later, Wei-Dong was in the sand, watching the knight's spiked boot descend on his face, hearing the crunch of his cheekbones and nose shattering under the weight. Then he was respawning in the distant Lake of Tears, naked and unarmed, and he had to corpse-run to the body of his toon before the bastards got his vorpal blade.
+
+He heard his guildies dying in the earwig, one after another, as he ran, ghostly and ethereal, across the hills and dales of Wonderland. He reached his corpse just in time to watch the knights loot the body, and the bodies of his teammates. He rose up again, helpless and unarmed and made flesh by the body of his toon, vulnerable.
+
+One of the knights sent him a chat-request. He clicked it, silencing the background noises from Shenzhen.
+
+"You farmers aren't welcome here anymore, Comrade," the voice said. It had an accent he didn't recognize. Maybe Russian? And the speaker was just a kid! "We're patrolling now. You come back again, we'll hunt and kill you again, and again, and again. You understand me, Chinee?" Not just a kid: a /{girl}/ -- a little girl, threatening him from somewhere in the world.
+
+"Who put you in charge, /{missy}/?" he said. "And what makes you think I'm Chinese, anyway?"
+
+There was a nasty laugh. "Missy, huh? I'm in charge because I just kicked your ass, and because I can kick it again, as many times as I need to. And I don't care if you're in China, Vietnam, Indonesia -- it doesn't make a difference. We'll kill you and all the farmers in Wonderland. This game isn't farmable anymore. I'm done talking to you now." And the black knight decapitated him with contemptuous ease.
+
+He flipped back to the guild channel, ready to tell them about what had just happened, his mind reeling, and that's when he looked up into the face of his father, standing over him, with a look on his face that could curdle milk.
+
+"Get up, Leonard," he said. "And come with me."
+
+He wasn't alone. There was Mr Adams, the vice-principal, and the school's rent-a-cop, Officer Turner, and the guidance counsellor, Ms Ramirez. They presented him with the stony faces of Mount Rushmore, faces without a hint of mercy. His father reached over and took the earwig out of his ear, gently, carefully. Then, with exactly the same care, he dropped the earwig to the polished concrete floor of the resource centre and brought his heel down on it, the /{crunch}/ loud in the perfectly silent room.
+
+Leonard stood up. The room was full of kids pretending not to look at him. They were all looking at him. He followed his father into the hallway and as the door swung shut, he heard, unmistakably, the sound of a hundred giggles in unison.
+
+They boxed him in on the walk to the vice-principal's office, trapping him. Not that he'd run -- he had nowhere to run /{to}/, but it still made him feel claustrophobic. This was not good. This was very, very bad.
+
+Here's how bad it was: "You're going to send me to /{military school}/?"
+
+"Not military school," Ms Ramirez said. She said it with that maddening, patronizing guidance-counsellor tone. "The Martindale Academy has no military or martial component. It's merely a very structured, supervised environment. They have a fantastic track record in helping students like you concentrate on grades and pull themselves out of academic troubles. They've got a beautiful campus in a beautiful location, and Martindale boys go on to fill many important --"
+
+And on and on. She'd swallowed the sales brochure like a burrito and now it was rebounding on her. He tuned her out and looked at his father. Benny Rosenbaum wasn't the sort of person you could read easily. The people who worked for him at Rosenbaum Shipping and Logistics called him The Wall, because you couldn't get anything past him, under him, through him, or over him. Not that he was a hardcase, but he couldn't be swayed by emotional arguments: if you tried to approach him with anything less than fully computerized logic, you might as well forget it.
+
+But there were little tells, little ways you could figure out what the weather was like in old Benny. That thing he was doing with his watch strap, working at the catch, that was one of them. So was the little jump in the hinge of his jaw, like he was chewing an invisible wad of gum. Combine those with the fact that he was away from his work in the middle of the day, when he should be making sure that giant steel containers were humming around the globe -- well, for Leonard, it meant that the lava was pretty close to the surface of Mount Benny this afternoon.
+
+He turned to his dad. "Shouldn't we be talking about this as a family, Dad? Why are we doing this here?"
+
+Benny regarded him, fiddled with his watch strap, nodded at the guidance counsellor and made a little "go-on" gesture that betrayed nothing.
+
+"Leonard," she said. "Leonard, you need to understand just how serious this has become. You're one term paper away from flunking two of your subjects: history and biology. You've gone from being an A student in math, English and social studies to a C-minus. At this rate, you'll have blown the semester by Thanksgiving. Put it this way: you've gone from being in the ninetieth percentile of Ronald Regan Secondary School Sophomores to the /{twelfth}/. This is a signal, Leonard, from you to us, and it's signalling, S-O-S, S-O-S."
+
+"We thought you were on drugs," his father said, absolutely calm. "We actually tested a hair follicle from your pillow. I had a guy follow you around. Near as I can tell, you smoke a little pot with your friends, but you don't actually see your friends anymore, do you?"
+
+"You tested my hair?"
+
+His father made that go-on gesture of his, an old favorite of his. "And had you followed. Of course we did. We're in charge of you. We're responsible for you. We don't own you, but if you screw up so bad that you end up spending the rest of your life as a bum, it'll be down to us, and we'll have to bail you out. You understand that, Leonard? We're responsible for you, and we'll do whatever we have to in order to make sure you don't screw up your life."
+
+Leonard bit back a retort. The sinking feeling that had started with the crushing of his earwig had sunk as low as it would go. Now his palms were sweating, his heart was racing, and he had no idea what would come out of his mouth the next time we spoke.
+
+"We used to call this an intervention, when I was your age," the vice-principal said. He still looked like the real-estate agent he'd been before he switched to teaching, the last time the market had crashed. He was affable, inoffensive, his eyes wide and trustworthy. They called him Babyface Adams in the halls. But Leonard knew about salesmen, knew that no matter how friendly they appeared, they were always on the lookout for weaknesses to exploit. "And we'd do it for drug addicts. But I don't think you're addicted to drugs. I think you're addicted to games."
+
+"Oh come /{on}/," Leonard said. "There's no such thing. I can show you the research papers. Game addiction? That's just something they thought up to sell newspapers. Dad, come on, you don't really believe this stuff, do you?"
+
+His dad pointedly refused to meet his gaze, directing his attention to the Vice-Principal.
+
+"Leonard, we know you're a very smart young man, but no one is so smart as to never need help. I don't want to argue definitions of addictions with you --"
+
+"/{Because you'll lose.}/" Leonard spat it out, surprising himself with the vehemence. Old Babyface smiled his affable, salesman's smile: /{Oh yes, good sir, you're certainly right there, very clever of you. Now, may I show you something in a mock-Tudor split-level with a three-car garage and an above-ground pool?}/
+
+"You're a very smart young man, Leonard. It doesn't matter if you're medically addicted, psychologically dependent, or just --" he waved his hands, looking for the right words -- "or if you just spend too darn much time playing games and not enough time in the real world. None of that matters. What matters is that you're in trouble. And we're going to help you with that. Because we care about you and we want to see you succeed."
+
+It suddenly sank in. Leonard knew how these things went. Somewhere, right now, Officer Turner was cleaning out his locker and loading its contents into a couple of paper Trader Joe's grocery sacks. Somewhere, some secretary was taking his name off of the rolls of each of his classes. Right now, his mother was packing his suitcase back at home, filling it with three or four changes of clothes, a fresh toothbrush -- and nothing else. When he left this room, he'd disappear from Orange County as thoroughly as if he'd been snatched off the street by serial killers.
+
+Only it wouldn't be his mutilated body that would surface in a few months time, decomposed and grisly, an object lesson to all the kiddies of Ronald Reagan High to be on the alert for dangerous strangers. It would be his mutilated /{personality}/ that would surface, a slack-jawed pod-person who'd been crammed into the happy-well-adjusted-citizen mold that would carry him through an adulthood as a good, trouble-free worker-bee in the hive.
+
+"Dad, come /{on}/. You can't just do this to me! I'm your son! I deserve a chance to pull my grades up, don't I? Before you send me off to some brainwashing center?"
+
+"You had your chance to pull your grades up, Leonard," Ms Ramirez said, and the Vice-Principal nodded vigorously. "You've had all semester. If you plan on graduating and going on to university, this is the time to do something drastic to make sure that happens."
+
+"It's time to go," his father said, ostentatiously checking his watch. Honestly, who still wore a watch? He had a phone, Leonard knew, just like all normal people. An old-fashioned wind-up watch was about as useful in this day and age as an ear-trumpet or a suit of chain-mail. He had a whole case full of them -- dozens of them. His father could have all the ridiculous affectations and hobbies he wanted, spend a small fortune on them, and no one wanted to send /{him}/ off to the nuthouse.
+
+It was so goddamned /{unfair}/. He wanted to shout it as they led him out to his father's impeccable little Huawei Darter. He bought new one every year, getting a chunky discount straight from the factory, who loaded his personal car into its own container and craned it into one of Dad's big ships in port in Guangzhou. The car smelled of the black licorice sweets that Dad sucked on, and of the giant steel thermos-cup of coffee that Dad slipped into the cup-holder every morning, refilling through the day at a bunch of diners where they called him by his first name and let him run a tab.
+
+And outside the windows, through the subtle grey tint, the streets of Anaheim whipped past, rows of identical houses branching off of a huge, divided arterial eight-lane road. He'd known these streets all his life, he'd walked them, met the panhandlers that worked the tourist trade, the footsore Disney employees who'd missed the shuttle, hiking the mile to the cast-member parking, the retired weirdos walking their dogs, the other larval Orange County pod-people who were still too young or poor or unlucky to have a car.
+
+The sky was that pure blue that you got in OC, no clouds, a postcard smiley-face sun nearly at noontime high, perfect for tourist shots. Leonard saw it all for the first time, really /{saw}/ it, because he knew he was seeing it for the last time.
+
+"It's not so bad," his dad said. "Stop acting like you're going to prison. It's a swanky boarding school, for chrissakes. And not one of those schools where they beat you down in the bathroom or anything. They're practically hippies up there. Your mother and I aren't sending you to the gulag, kid."
+
+"It doesn't matter what you say, Dad. Just forget it. Here's the facts: you've kidnapped me from my school and you're sending me away to some place where they're supposed to 'fix' me. You haven't given me any say in this. You haven't consulted me. You can say how much you love me, how much it's for my own good, talk and talk and talk, but it won't change those facts. I'm sixteen years old, Dad. I'm as old as Zaidy Shmuel was when he married Bubbie and came to America, you know that?"
+
+"That was during the war --"
+
+"Who cares? He was your grandfather, and he was old enough to start a family. You can bet your ass he wouldn't have stood still for being kidnapped --" His father snorted. "/{Kidnapped}/ because his hobbies weren't his parents' idea of a good time. God! What the hell is the matter with you? I always knew you were kind of a prick, but --"
+
+His father calmly steered the car to the curb and pulled over, changing three lanes smoothly, with a shoulder-check before each, weaving through the tourist traffic and gardeners' pickup trucks without raising a single horn. He popped the emergency brake with one hand and his seatbelt with the other, twisting in his seat to bring his face right up to Leonard's.
+
+"You are on thin goddamned ice, kid. You can make me the villain if you want to, if you need to, but you know, somewhere in that hormone-addled teenaged brain of yours, that this was /{your}/ doing. How many times, Leonard? How many times have we talked to you about balance, about keeping your grades up, taking a little time out of your game? How many chances did you get before this?"
+
+Leonard laughed hotly. There were tears of rage behind his eyes, trying to get out. He swallowed hard. "Kidnapped," he said. "Kidnapped and shipped away because you don't think I'm getting good enough grades in math and English. Like any of it matters -- when was the last time you solved a quadratic equation Dad? Who /{cares}/ if I get into a good university? What am I going to get a degree in that will help me survive the next twenty years? What did you get your degree in, again, Dad? Oh, that's right, /{Ancient Languages.}/ Bet /{that}/ comes up a lot when you're shipping giant containers of plastic garbage from China, huh?"
+
+His father shook his head. Behind them, cars were braking and honking at each other as they maneuvered around the stopped Huawei. "This isn't about me, son. This is about you -- about pissing away your life on some stupid game. At least speaking Latin helps me understand Spanish. What are you going to make of all your hours and years of killing dragons?"
+
+Leonard fumed. He knew the answer to this, somewhere. The games were taking over the world. There was money to be made there. He was learning to work on teams. All this and more, these were the reasons for playing, and none of them were as important as the most important reason: it just /{felt right}/, adventuring in-world --
+
+There was a particularly loud shriek of brakes from behind them, and it kept coming, getting louder and louder, and there was a blare of horns, too, and the sound didn't stop, got louder than you could have imagined it getting. He turned his head to look over his shoulder and --
+
+/{Crash}/
+
+The car seemed to leap into the air, rising up first on its front tires in a reverse-wheelie and then the front wheels spun and the car shot forward ten yards in a second. There was the sound of crumpling metal, his father's curse, and then a clang like temple bells as his head bounced off the dashboard. The world went dark.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to New York City's Books of Wonder, the oldest and largest kids' bookstore in Manhattan. They're located just a few blocks away from Tor Books' offices in the Flatiron Building and every time I drop in to meet with the Tor people, I always sneak away to Books of Wonder to peruse their stock of new, used and rare kids' books. I'm a heavy collector of rare editions of Alice in Wonderland, and Books of Wonder never fails to excite me with some beautiful, limited-edition Alice. They have tons of events for kids and one of the most inviting atmospheres I've ever experienced at a bookstore. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Books of Wonder }http://www.booksofwonder.com/: 18 West 18th St, New York, NY 10011 USA +1 212 989 3270
+
+Mala was in the world with a small raiding party, just a few of her army. It was late -- after midnight -- and Mrs Dibyendu had turned the cafe over to her idiot nephew to run things. These days, the cafe stayed open when Mala and her army wanted to use it, day or night, and there were always soldiers who'd vie for the honor of escorting General Robotwallah home afterwards. Mamaji -- Mamaji had a new fine flat, with two complete rooms, and one of them was all for Mamaji alone, hers to sleep in without the snuffling and gruffling of her two children. There were places in Dharavi where ten or fifteen might have shared that room, sleeping on coats -- or each other. Mamaji had a mattress, brought to her by a strong young man from Chor Bazaar, carried with him on the roof of the Marine Line train through the rush hour heat and press of bodies.
+
+Mamaji didn't complain when Mala played after midnight.
+
+"More, just there," Sushant said. He was two years older than her, the tallest of them all, with short hair and a crazy smile that reminded her of the face of a dog that has had its stomach rubbed into ecstasy.
+
+And there they were, three mecha in a triangle, methodically clubbing zombies in the head, spattering their rotten brains and dropping them into increasing piles. Eventually, the game would send out ghouls to drag away the bodies, but for now, they piled waist deep around the level one mechas.
+
+"I have them," Yasmin said, her scopes locking on. This was a new kind of mission for them, wiping out these little trios of mecha who were grinding endlessly against the zombies. Mr Banerjee had tasked them to this after the more aggressive warriors had been hunted to extinction by their army. According to Mr Banerjee, these were each played by a single person, someone who was getting paid to level up basic mecha to level four or five, to be sold at auction to rich players. Always in threes, always grinding the zombies, always in this part of the world, like vermin.
+
+"Fire," she said, and the pulse weapons fired concentric rings of force into the trio. They froze, systems cooked, and as Mala watched, the zombies swarmed over the mechas, toppling them, working relentlessly at them, until they had found their way inside. A red mist fountained into the sky as they dismembered the pilots.
+
+"Nice one," she said, arching her back over her chair, slurping the dregs of a cup of chai that had grown cold at her side. Mrs Dibyendu's idiot nephew was standing barefoot in the doorway of the cafe, spitting betel into the street, the sweet smell wafting back to her. The sleep was gathering in her mind, waiting to pounce on her, so it was time to go. She turned to tell her army so when her headphones filled with the thunder of incoming mechas, and /{lots}/ of them.
+
+She slammed her bottom down into the seat and spun around, fingers flying to the keyboard, eyes on the screen. The enemy mecha were coming in locked in a megamecha configurations, fifteen -- no /{twenty}/ -- of them joined together to form a bot so huge that she looked like a gnat next to it.
+
+"To me!" she cried, and "Formation," and her soldiers came to their keyboard, her army initiating their own megamecha sequence, but it took too long and there weren't enough of them, and though they fought bravely, the giant enemy craft tore them to pieces, lifting each warbot and peering inside its cowl as it ripped open the armor and dropped the squirming pilot to the surging zombie tide at its feet. Too late, Mala remembered her strategy, remembered what it had been like when she had /{always}/ commanded the weaker force, the defensive footing she should have put her army on as soon as she saw how she was outmatched.
+
+Too late. An instant later, her own mecha was in the enemy's clutches, lifted to its face, and as she neared it, the lights on her console changed and a soft klaxon sounded: the bot was attempting to infiltrate her own craft's systems, to interface with them, to pwn them. That was another game within this game, the hack-and-be-hacked game, and she was very good at it. It involved solving a series of logic puzzles, solving them faster than the foe, and she clicked and typed as she figured out how to build a bridge using blocks of irregular size, as she figured out how to open a lock whose tumblers had to be clicked just so to make the mechanism work, as she figured out --
+
+She wasn't fast enough. Her army gathered around her as her console locked up, the enemy inside her mecha now, running it from bootloader to flamethrower.
+
+"Hello," a voice said in her headphones. That was something you could do, when you controlled another player's armor -- you could take over its comms. She thought of yanking out the headphones and switching to speaker so that her army could listen in too, but some premonition stayed her hand. This enemy had gone to some trouble to talk to her, personally, so she would hear what it had to say.
+
+"My name is Big Sister Nor," she said, and it /{was}/ a she, a woman's voice, no, a /{girl's}/ voice -- maybe something in between. Her Hindi was strangely accented, like the Chinese actors in the filmi shows she'd seen. "It's been a pleasure to fight you. Your guild did very well. Of course, we did better." Mala heard a ragged cheer and realized that there were dozens of enemies on the chat channel, all listening in. What she had mistaken for static on the channel was, in fact, dozens of enemies, somewhere in the world, all breathing into their microphones as this woman spoke.
+
+"You are very good players," Mala said, whispering it so that only her mic heard.
+
+"I'm not just a player, and neither are you, my dear." There was something sisterly in that voice, none of the gloating competitiveness that Mala felt for the players she'd bested in the game before. In spite of herself, Mala found she was smiling a little. She rocked her chin from side to side -- /{Oh, you're a clever one, do go on}/ -- and her soldiers around her made the same gesture.
+
+"I know why you fight. You think you're doing an honest job of work, but have you ever stopped to consider why someone would pay you to attack other workers in the game?"
+
+Mala shooed away her army, making a pointed gesture toward the door. When she was alone, she said, "Because they muck up the game for the real players. They interfere."
+
+The giant mecha shook its head slowly. "Are you really so blind? Do you think the syndicate that pays you does so because they care about whether the game is /{fun}/? Oh, dear."
+
+Mala's mind whirred. It was like solving one of those puzzles. Of course Mr Banerjee didn't care about the other players. Of course he didn't work for the game. If he worked for the game, he could just suspend the accounts of the players Mala fought. Cleaner and neater. The solution loomed in her mind's eye. "They're business rivals, then?"
+
+"Oh yes, you are as clever as I thought you must be. Yes indeed. They are business rivals. Somewhere, there is a group of players just like them, being paid to level up mecha, or farm gold, or acquire land, or do any of the other things that can turn labor into money. And who do you suppose the money goes to?"
+
+"To my boss," she said. "And his bosses. That's how it goes." Everyone worked for someone.
+
+"Does that sound fair to you?"
+
+"Why not?" Mala said. "You work, you make something or do something, and the person you do it for pays you something for your work. That's the world, that's how it works."
+
+"What does the person who pays you do to earn his piece of your labor?"
+
+Mala thought. "He figures out how to turn the labor into money. He pays me for what I do. These are stupid questions, you know."
+
+"I know," Big Sister Nor said. "It's the stupid questions that have some of the most surprising and interesting answers. Most people never think to ask the stupid questions. Do you know what a union is?"
+
+Mala thought. There were unions all over Mumbai, but none in Dharavi. She'd heard many people speak of them, though. "A group of workers," she said. "Who make their bosses pay them more." She thought about all she'd heard. "They stop other workers from taking their jobs. They go on strike."
+
+"That's what unions /{do}/, all right. But it's not much of a sense of what they are. Tell me this: if you went to your boss and asked for more money, shorter hours, and better working conditions, what do you think he'd say?"
+
+"He'd laugh at me and send me away," Mala said. It was an unbelievably stupid question.
+
+"You're almost certainly right. But what if all the workers he went to said the same thing? What if, everywhere he went, there were workers saying, 'We are worth so much,' and 'We will not be treated this way,' and 'You cannot take away our jobs unless there is a just reason for doing so'? What if all workers, everywhere, demanded this treatment?"
+
+Mala found she was shaking her head. "It's a ridiculous idea. There's always someone poor who'll take the job. It doesn't matter. It won't work." She found that she was furious. "Stupid!"
+
+"I admit that it's all rather improbable," the woman said, and there was an unmistakable tone of amusement in her voice. "But think for a moment about your employer. Do you know where his employers are? Do you know where the players you're fighting are? Where their customers are? Do you know where I am?"
+
+"I don't see why that matters --"
+
+"Oh, it matters. It matters because although all these people are all over the world, there's no real distance between them. We chat here like neighbors, but I am in Singapore, and you are in India. Where? Delhi? Kolkata? Mumbai?"
+
+"Mumbai," she admitted.
+
+"You don't sound like Mumbai," she said. "You have a lovely accent. Uttar Pradesh?"
+
+Mala was surprised to hear the state of her birth and her village guessed so easily. "Yes," she said. She was a girl from the village, she was General Robotwallah and this woman had taken the measure of her very quickly.
+
+"This game is headquartered in America, in a city called Atlanta. The corporation is registered in Cyprus, in Europe. The players are all over the world. These ones that you've been fighting are in Vietnam. We'd been having a lovely conversation before you came and blew them all to pieces. We are everywhere, but we are all here. Anyone your boss ever hired to do your job would end up here, and we could find that worker and talk to them. Wherever your boss goes, his workers will all come and work here. And we will have a chat like this with them, and talk to them about what a world we could have, if all workers cooperated to protect each others' interests."
+
+Mala was still shaking her head. "They'd just blow you away. Hire an army like me. It's a stupid idea."
+
+The giant metamecha lifted her up to its face, where its giant teeth champed and clanged. "Do you think there's an army that could best us?"
+
+Mala thought that maybe her army could, if they were in force, if they were prepared. Then she thought of how much successful war you'd have to persecute to win one of these giant beasts. "Maybe not. Maybe you can do what you say you can do." She thought some more. "But in the meantime, we wouldn't have any work."
+
+The giant metal face nodded. "Yes, that's true. At first you may not find yourself with your wages. And maybe your fellow workers would contribute a little to help you out. That's another thing unions do -- it's called strike pay. But eventually, you, and me, and all of us, would enjoy a world where we are paid a living wage, and where we labor under livable conditions, and where our workplaces are fair and decent. Isn't that worth a little sacrifice?"
+
+There it was, "You ask me to make a sacrifice. Why should I sacrifice? We are poor. We fight for a very little, because we have even less. Why do you think that we should sacrifice? Why don't /{you}/ sacrifice?"
+
+"Oh, sister, we've all sacrificed. I understand that this is all very new to you, and that it will take some getting used to. I'm sure we'll see each other again, someday. After all, we all play in the same world here, don't we?"
+
+Mala realized that the breathing she'd heard, the other voices on the chat channel, had all fallen silent. For a short time, it had just been Mala and this woman who called her "sister."
+
+"What is your name?"
+
+"I'm Nor-Ayu," she said. "But they call me 'Big Sister Nor.' All over the world, they call me this. What do I call you?"
+
+Mala's name was on the tip of her tongue, but she did not say it. Instead, she said, "General Robotwallah."
+
+"A very good name," Big Sister Nor said. "It was my pleasure to meet you." With that, the giant mecha dropped her and turned and lumbered away, crushing zombies under its feet.
+
+Mala stood up and felt the many pops and snaps of her spine and muscles. She had been sitting for, oh, hours and hours.
+
+She rolled her head from side to side on her neck, working out the stiffness there and she saw Mrs Dibyendu's idiot nephew watching her. His lip was pouched with reeking betel saliva, and he was staring at her with a frankness that made her squirm right to the pit of her stomach.
+
+"You stayed behind for me," he said, a huge grin on his face. His teeth were brown. He wasn't really an idiot -- not soft in the head, anyway. But he was very thick and very slow, with a brutal strength that Mrs Dibyendu always described as his "special fortitude." Mala thought he was just a thug. She'd seen him walking in the narrow streets of Dharavi. He never shifted for women or old people, making them go around him even when it meant stepping into mud or worse. And he chewed betel all the time. Lots of people chewed betel, it was like smoking, but her mother detested the habit and had told her so many times that it was a "low" habit and dirty that she couldn't help but think less of betel chewers.
+
+He regarded her with his bloodshot eyes. She suddenly felt very vulnerable, the way she'd felt all the time, when they'd first come to Dharavi. She took a step to the right and he took a step to the right as well. That was a line crossed: once he blocked her exit, he'd announced his intention to hurt her. That was basic military strategy. He had made the first move, so he had the initiative, but he'd also showed his hand quickly, so --
+
+She feinted left and he fell for it. She lowered her head like a bull and butted it into the middle of his chest. Already off-balance, he went down on his back. She didn't stop moving, didn't look back, just kept going, thinking of that charging bull, running over him as she made for the doorway without stopping. One heel came down on his ribcage, the next on his face, mashing his lips and nose. She wished that something had gone /{crunch}/ but nothing did.
+
+She was out the door in an instant and into the cool air of the dark, dark Dharavi night. Around her, the sound of rats running over the roofs, the distant sounds of the roads, snoring. And many other, less identifiable sounds, sounds that might have been lurkers hiding in the shadows around them. Muffled speech. A distant train.
+
+Suddenly, sending her army away didn't seem like such a good idea.
+
+Behind her, she heard a much clearer sound of menace. The idiot nephew crashing through the door, his shoes on the packed earth road. She slipped back into an alley between two buildings, barely wider than her, her feet splashing through some kind of warm liquid that wafted an evil stench up to her nose. The idiot nephew lumbered past into the night. She stayed put. He lumbered back, looking in all directions for her.
+
+There she stood, waiting for him to give up, but he would not. Back and forth he charged. He'd become the bull, enraged, tireless, stupid. She heard his voice rasping in his chest. She had her mobile phone in her hand, her other hand cupped over it, shielding the treacherous light it gave off from its tiny screen. It was 12:47 now, and she had never been alone at this hour in all her 14 years.
+
+She could text someone in her army -- they would come to get her, wouldn't they? If they were awake, or if their phones' chirps woke them. No one was awake at this hour, though. And how to explain? What to say?
+
+She felt like an idiot. She felt ashamed. She should have predicted this, should have been the general, should have employed strategy. Instead, she'd gotten boxed in.
+
+She could wait. All night, if necessary. No need to let her army know of her weakness. Idiot nephew would tire or the sun would rise, it was all the same to her.
+
+Through the thin walls of the houses on either side of her, the sound of snoring. The evil smell rose up from the liquid below her in the ditch, and something slimy was squishing between her toes. It burned at her skin. The rats scampered overhead, sounding like rain on the tin roofs. Stupid, stupid, stupid, it was her mantra, over and over in her mind.
+
+The bull was tiring. The next time he passed, his breath came in terrible wheezes that blew the stink of betel before him like sweet rot. She could wait for his next pass, then run.
+
+It was a good plan. She hated it. He had -- He'd threatened her. He'd scared her. He should /{pay}/. She was the General Robotwallah, not merely some girl from the village. She was from Dharavi, tough. Smart.
+
+He wheezed past and she slipped out of the alley, her feet coming free of the muck with audible /{plops}/. He was facing away from her still, hadn't heard her yet, and he had his back to her. The stupid boys in her army only fought face to face, talked about the "honor" of hitting from behind. Honor was just stupid boy-things. Victory beat honor.
+
+She braced herself and ran toward him, both arms stiff, hands at shoulder-height. She hit him high and kept moving, the way he had before, and down he fell again, totally unprepared for the assault from the rear. The sound he made on the dirt was like the sound of a goat dropping at the butcher's block. He was trying to roll over and she turned around and ran at him, jumping up in the air and landing with both muddy feet on his head, driving his face into the mud. He shouted in pain, the sound muffled by the dirt, and then lay, stunned.
+
+She went back to him then, and knelt at his head, his hairy earlobe inches from her lips.
+
+"I wasn't waiting for you at the cafe. I was minding my own business," she said. "I don't like you. You shouldn't chase girls or the girls might turn around and catch you. Do you understand me? Tell me you understand me before I rip out your tongue and wipe your ass with it." They talked like this on the chat-channels for the games all the time, the boys did, and she'd always disapproved of it. But the words had power, she could feel it in her mouth, hot as blood from a bit tongue.
+
+"Tell me you understand me, idiot!" she hissed.
+
+"I understand," he said, and the words came mashed, from mashed lips and a mashed nose.
+
+She turned on her heel and began to walk away. He groaned behind her, then called out, "Whore! Stupid whore!"
+
+She didn't think, she just acted. Turned around, ran at his still-prone body, indistinct in the dusk, one step, two step, like a champion footballer coming in for a penalty kick and then she /{did}/ kick him, the foetid water spraying off her shoe's saturated toe as it connected with his big, stupid ribcage. Something snapped in there -- maybe several somethings, and oh, didn't that feel /{wonderful}/?
+
+He was every man who'd scared her, who'd shouted filthy things after her, who'd terrorized her mother. He was the bus driver who'd threatened to put them out on the roadside when they wouldn't pay him a bribe. Everything and everyone that had ever made her feel small and afraid, a girl from the village. All of them.
+
+She turned around. He was clutching at his side and blubbering now, crying stupid tears on his stupid cheeks, luminous in the smudgy moonlight that filtered through the haze of plastic smoke that hung over Dharavi. She would up and took another pass at him, one step, two step, /{kick}/, and /{crunch}/, that satisfying sound from his ribs again. His sobs caught in his chest and then he took a huge, shuddering breath and /{howled}/ like a wounded cat in the night, screamed so loud that here in Dharavi, the lights came on and voices came to the windows.
+
+It was as though a spell had been broken. She was shaking and drenched in sweat, and there were people peering at her in the dark. Suddenly she wanted to be home as fast as possible, if not faster. Time to go.
+
+She ran. Mala had loved to run through the fields as a little girl, hair flying behind her, knees and arms pumping, down the dirt roads. Now she ran in the night, the reek of the ditch water smacking her in the nose with each squelching step. Voices chased her through the night, though they came filtered through the hammer of her pulse in her ears and later she could not say whether they were real or imagined.
+
+But finally she was home and pelting up the steps to the third-floor flat she had rented for her family. Her thundering footsteps raised cries from the downstairs neighbors, but she ignored them, fumbled with her key, let herself in.
+
+Her brother Gopal looked up at her from his mat, blinking in the dark, his skinny chest bare. "Mala?"
+
+"It's OK," she said. "Nothing. Sleep, Gopal."
+
+He slumped back down. Mala's shoes stank. She peeled them off, using just the tips of her fingers, and left them outside the door. Perhaps they would be stolen -- though you would have to be desperate indeed to steal those shoes. Now her feet stank. There was a large jug of water in the corner, and a dipper. Carefully, she carried the dipper to the window, opened the squealing shutter, and poured the water slowly over the her feet, propping first one and then the other on the windowsill. Gopal stirred again. "Be quiet," he said, "it's sleep-time."
+
+She ignored him. She was still out of breath, and the reality of what she'd done was setting in for her. She had kicked the idiot nephew -- how many times? Two? Three? And something in his body had gone /{crack}/ each time. Why had he blocked her? Why had he followed her into the night? What was it that made the big and the strong take such sport in terrorizing the weak? Whole groups of boys would do this to girls and even grown women sometimes -- follow them, calling after them, touching them, sometimes it even led to rape. They called it "Eve-teasing" and they treated it like a game. It wasn't a game, not if you were the victim.
+
+Why did they make her do it? Why did all of them make her do it? The sound of the crack had been so satisfying then, and it was so sickening now. She was shaking, though the night was so hot, one of those steaming nights where everything was slimy with the low-hanging, soupy moisture.
+
+And she was crying, too, the crying coming out without her being able to control it, and she was ashamed of that, too, because that's what a girl from the village would do, not brave General Robotwallah.
+
+Calloused hands touched her shoulders, squeezed them. The smell of her mother in her nose: clean sweat, cooking spice, soap. Strong, thin arms encircled her from behind.
+
+"Daughter, oh daughter, what happened to you?"
+
+And she wanted to tell Mamaji everything, but all that came out were cries. She turned her head to her mother's bosom and heaved with the sobs that came and came and came in waves, feeling like they'd turn her inside out. Gopal got up and moved into the next room, silent and scared. She noticed this, noticed all of it as from a great distance, her body sobbing, her mind away somewhere, cool and remote.
+
+"Mamaji," she said at last. "There was a boy."
+
+Her mother squeezed her harder. "Oh, Mala, sweet girl --"
+
+"No, Mamaji, he didn't touch me. He tried to. I knocked him down. Twice. And I kicked him and kicked him until I heard things breaking, and then I ran home."
+
+"Mala!" her mother held her at arm's length. "Who was he?" Meaning, /{Was he someone who can come after us, who can make trouble for us, who could ruin us here in Dharavi?}/
+
+"He was Mrs Dibyendu's nephew, the big one, the one who makes trouble all the time."
+
+Her mothers fingers tightened on her arms and her eyes went wide.
+
+"Oh, Mala, Mala -- oh, no."
+
+And Mala knew exactly what her mother meant by this, why she was consumed with horror. Her relationship with Mr Banerjee came from Mrs Dibyendu. And the flat, their lives, the phone and the clothes they wore -- they all came from Mr Banerjee. They balanced on a shaky pillar of relationships, and Mrs Dibyendu was at the bottom of it, all resting on her shoulders. And the idiot nephew could convince her to shrug her shoulders and all would come tumbling down -- the money, the security, all of it.
+
+That was the biggest injustice of all, the injustice that had driven her to kick and kick and kick -- this oaf of a boy knew that he could get away with his grabbing and intimidation because she couldn't afford to stop him. But she had stopped him and she could not -- would not -- be sorry.
+
+"I can talk with Mr Banerjee," she said. "I have his phone number. He knows that I'm a good worker -- he'll make it all better. You'll see, Mamaji, don't worry."
+
+"Why, Mala, why? Couldn't you have just run away? Why did you have to hurt this boy?"
+
+Mala felt some of the anger flood back into her. Her mother, her own mother --
+
+But she understood. Her mother wanted to protect her, but her mother wasn't a general. She was just a girl from the village, all grown up. She had been beaten down by too many boys and men, too much hurt and poverty and fear. This was what Mala was destined to become, someone who ran from her attackers because she couldn't afford to anger them.
+
+She wouldn't do it.
+
+No matter what happened with Mr Banerjee and Mrs Dibyendu and her stupid idiot nephew, she was not going to become that person.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Borders, the global bookselling giant that you can find in cities all over the world -- I'll never forget walking into the gigantic Borders on Orchard Road in Singapore and discovering a shelf loaded with my novels! For many years, the Borders in Oxford Street in London hosted Pat Cadigan's monthly science fiction evenings, where local and visiting authors would read their work, speak about science fiction and meet their fans. When I'm in a strange city (which happens a lot) and I need a great book for my next flight, there always seems to be a Borders brimming with great choices -- I'm especially partial to the Borders on Union Square in San Francisco. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Borders worldwide }http://www.bordersstores.com/locator/locator.jsp
+
+If you want to get rich without making anything or doing anything that anyone needs or wants, you need to be /{fast}/.
+
+The technical term for this is /{arbitrage}/. Imagine that you live in an apartment block and it's snowing so hard out that no one wants to dash out to the convenience store. Your neighbor to the right, Mrs Hungry, wants a banana and she's willing to pay $0.50 for it. Your neighbor to the left, Mr Full, has a whole cupboard full of bananas, but he's having a hard time paying his phone bill this month, so he'll sell as many bananas as you want to buy for $0.30 apiece.
+
+You might think that the neighborly thing to do here would be to call up Mrs Hungry and tell her about Mr Full, letting them consummate the deal. If you think that, forget getting rich without doing useful work.
+
+If you're an arbitrageur, then you think of your neighbors' regrettable ignorance as an opportunity. You snap up all of Mr Full's bananas, then scurry over to Mrs Hungry's place with your hand out. For every banana she buys, you pocket $0.20. This is called arbitrage.
+
+Arbitrage is a high-risk way to earn a living. What happens if Mrs Hungry changes her mind? You're stuck holding the bananas, that's what.
+
+Or what happens if some other arbitrageur beats you to Mrs Hungry's door, filling her apartment with all the bananas she could ever need? Once again, you're stuck with a bunch of bananas and nowhere to put them (though a few choice orifices do suggest themselves here).
+
+In the real world, arbitrageurs don't drag around bananas -- they buy and sell using networked computers, surveying all the outstanding orders ("bids") and asks, and when they find someone willing to pay more for something than someone else is paying for it, they snap up that underpriced item, mark it up, and sell it.
+
+And this happens very, very quickly. If you're going to beat the other arbitrageurs with the goods, if you're going to get there before the buyer changes her mind, you've got to move faster than the speed of thought. Literally. Arbitrage isn't a matter of a human being vigilantly watching the screens for price-differences.
+
+No, arbitrage is all done by automated systems. These little traderbots rove the world's networked marketplaces, looking for arbitrage opportunities, buying something and selling it in less than a microsecond. A good arbitrage house conducts a /{billion}/ or more trades every day, squeezing a few cents out of each one. A billion times a few cents is a lot of money -- if you've got a fast computer cluster, a good software engineer, and a blazing network connection, you can turn out /{ten or twenty million}/ dollars a day.
+
+Not bad, considering that all you're doing is exploiting the fact that there's a person over here who wants to buy something and a person over there who wants to sell it. Not bad, considering that if you and all your arbitraging buddies were to vanish tomorrow, the economy and the world wouldn't even notice. No one needs or wants your "service" but it's still a sweet way to get rich.
+
+The best thing about arbitrage is that you don't need to know a single, solitary thing about the stuff you're buying and selling in order to get rich off of it. Whether it's bananas or a vorpal blade, all you need to know about the things you're buying is that someone over /{here}/ wants to buy them for more than someone over /{there}/ wants to sell them for. Good thing, too -- if you're closing the deal in less than a microsecond, there's no time to sit down and google up a bunch of factoids about the merchandise.
+
+And the merchandise is pretty weird. Start with the fact that a lot of this stuff doesn't even exist -- vorpal blades, grabthar's hammers, the gold of a thousand imaginary lands.
+
+Now consider that people trade more than gold: the game Gods sell all kinds of funny money. How about this one:
+
+Offered: Svartalfaheim Warriors bonds, worth 100,000 gold, payable six months from now. This isn't even /{real}/ fake gold -- it's the promise of real fake gold at some time in the future. Stick that into the market for a couple months, baby, and watch it go. Here's a trader who'll pay five percent more than it was worth yesterday -- he's betting that the game will get more popular some time between now and six months from now, and so the value of goods in the game will go up at the same time.
+
+Or maybe he's betting that the game Gods will just raise the price on everything and make it harder to clobber enough monsters to raise the gold to get it, driving away all but the hardest-core players, who'll pay anything to get their hands on the dough.
+
+Or maybe he's an idiot.
+
+Or maybe he thinks /{you're}/ an idiot and you'll give him ten percent tomorrow, figuring that he knows something you don't.
+
+And if you think that's weird, here's an even better one!
+
+Coca-Cola sells you a six-month Svartalfaheim Warriors 100,000 gold bond, but you're worried that it's going to fall in value between now and D-Day, when the bond matures. So you find another trader and you ask him for some insurance: you offer him $1.50 to insure your bond. If the bond goes up in value, he gets to keep the $1.50 and you get to keep the profits from the bond. If the bond goes down in value, he has to pay you the difference. If that's more than $1.50, he's losing money.
+
+This is basically an insurance policy. If you go to a life-insurance company and ask them for a policy on your life, they'll make a bet on how likely it is that you're going to croak, and charge you enough that, on average, they make a profit (providing they're guessing accurately at your chances of dying). So if the trader you're talking to thinks that Svartalfaheim Warriors is going to tank, he might charge you $10, or $100.
+
+So far, so good, right?
+
+Now, here's where it gets even weirder. Follow along.
+
+Imagine that there's a third party to this transaction, some guy sitting on the sidelines, holding onto a pot of money, trying to figure out what to do with it. He watches you go to the trader and buy an insurance policy for $1.50 -- if Svartalfaheim Warriors gets better, you're out $1.50, if it gets worse, the trader has to make up the difference.
+
+After you've sealed your deal, this third party, being something of a ghoul, goes up to the same trader and says, "Hey, how about this? I want to place the same bet you've just placed with that guy. I'll give you $1.50 and if his bond goes up, you keep it. If his bond goes down, you pay me /{and}/ him the difference." Essentially, this guy is betting that your bond is junk, and so maybe he finds a taker.
+
+Now he's got this bet, which is worth nothing if your bond goes up, and worth some unknown amount if your bond craters. And you know what he does with it?
+
+/{He sells it}/.
+
+He packages it up and finds some sucker who wants to buy his $1.50 bet on your bond for more than the $1.50 he'll have to cough up if your bond goes up. And the sucker buys it and then /{he}/ sells it. And then another sucker buys it and /{he}/ sells it. And before you know it, the 100,000 gold-piece bond you bought for $15 has $1,000 worth of bets hanging off of it.
+
+And /{this}/ is the kind of thing an arbitrageur is buying and selling. He's not carrying bananas from Mr Full to Mrs Hungry -- he's buying and selling bets on insurance policies on promises of imaginary gold.
+
+And this is what he calls an honest day's work.
+
+Nice work if you can get it.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Compass Books/Books Inc, the oldest independent bookstore in the western USA. They've got stores up and down California, in San Francisco, Burlingame, Mountain View and Palo Alto, but coolest of all is that they run a killer bookstore in the middle of Disneyland's Downtown Disney in Anaheim. I'm a stone Disney park freak (see my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom if you don't believe it), and every time I've lived in California, I've bought myself an annual Disneyland pass, and on practically every visit, I drop by Compass Books in Downtown Disney. They stock a brilliant selection of unauthorized (and even critical) books about Disney, as well as a great variety of kids books and science fiction, and the cafe next door makes a mean cappuccino. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Compass Books/Books Inc }http://www.booksinc.net/NASApp/store/Product;jsessionid=abcF-ch09-pbU6m7ZRrLr?s=showproductandisbn=0765322166
+
+Matthew Fong and his employees raided through the night and into the next day, farming as much gold as they could get out of their level while the getting was good. They slept in shifts, and they co-opted anyone who made the mistake of asking what they were up to, dragooning them into mining the dungeon with them.
+
+All the while, Master Fong was getting the gold out of their accounts as fast as it landed in them. He knew that once the game Gods got wind of his operation, they'd swoop in, suspend everyone's accounts, and seize any gold they had in their inventory. The trick was to be sure that there wasn't anything for them to seize.
+
+So he hopped online and hit the big brokerage message-boards. These weren't just grey-market, they were blackest black, and you needed to know someone heavy to get in on them. Matthew's heavy was a guy from Sichuan, skinny and shaky, with several missing teeth. He called himself "Cobra," and he'd been the one who'd introduced Matthew to Boss Wing all those months before. Cobra worked for someone who worked for someone who worked for one of the big cartels, tough criminal organizations that had all the markets for turning game-gold into cash sewn up.
+
+Cobra had given him a login and a briefing on how to do deals on the brokernet. Now as the night wore on, he picked his way through the interface, listing his gold and setting an asking price that was half of the selling price listed on the white, above-ground gold-store that gweilos used to buy the game gold from the brokers.
+
+He waited, and waited, and waited, but no one bought his gold. Every game world was divided into local servers and shards, and when you signed up, you needed to set which server you wanted to play on. Once you'd picked a server, you were stuck there -- your toon couldn't just wander between the parallel universes. This made buying and selling gold all the more difficult: if a gweilo wanted to buy gold for his toon on server A, he needed to find a farmer who had mined his gold on server A. If you mined all your gold on server B, you were out of luck.
+
+That's where the brokers came in. They bought gold from everyone, and held it in an ever-shifting network of accounts, millions of toons who fanned out all over the worlds and exchanged small amounts of gold at irregular intervals, to fool the anti-laundering snoops in the game logic that relentlessly hunted for farmers and brokers to bust.
+
+Avoiding those filters was a science, one that had been hammered together over decades in the real world before it migrated to the games. If a big pension fund in the real world wanted to buy half a billion dollars' worth of stock in Google, the last thing they want to do is tip off everyone else that they're about to sink that much cash into Google. If they did, everyone else would snap up Google stock before they could get to it, mark it up, and gouge them on it.
+
+So anyone who wants to buy a lot of anything -- who wants to move a lot of money around -- has to know how to do it in a way that's invisible to snoops. They have to be statistically insignificant, which means that a single big trade has to be broken up into millions of little trades that look like ordinary suckers buying and selling a little stock for the hell of it.
+
+No matter what secrets you're trying to keep and no matter who you're trying to keep them from, the techniques are the same. In every game world there were thousands of seemingly normal characters doing seemingly normal things, giving each other seemingly normal sums of money, but at the end of the day, it all added up to millions of gold in trade, taking place right under the noses of the game Gods.
+
+Matthew down-priced his gold, seeking the price at which a broker would deign to notice him and take it off of him. All the trading took place in slangy, rapid Chinese -- that was one of the ways the brokers kept their hold on the market, since there weren't that many Russians and Indonesians and Indians who could follow it and play along -- replete with insults and wheedles. Eventually, Matthew found the magic price. It was lower than he'd hoped for, but not by much, and now that he'd found it, he was able to move the team's gold as fast as they could accumulate it, shuttling dummy players in and out of the dungeon they were working to take the cash to bots run by the brokers.
+
+Finally, it dried up. First, the amount of gold in the dungeon sharply decreased, with the gold dropping from 12,000 per hour to 8,000, then 2,000, then a paltry 100. The mareridtbane disappeared next, which was a pity, because he was able to sell that directly, hawking it in the big towns, pasting and pasting and pasting his offer into the chat where the real players could see it. And then in came the cops, moderators with special halos around them who dropped canned lectures into the chat, stern warnings about having violated the game's terms of service.
+
+And then the account suspensions, the games vanishing from one screen after another, popping like soap bubbles. They were all dropped back to the login screens and they slumped, grinning crazy and exhausted, in their seats, looking at each other in exhausted relief. It was over, at last.
+
+"How much?" Lu asked, flung backwards over his chair, not opening his eyes or lifting his head. "How much, Master Fong?"
+
+Matthew didn't have his notebooks anymore, so he'd been keeping track on the insides of Double Happiness cigarette packages, long, neat tallies of numbers. His pen flickered from sheet to sheet, checking the math one final time, then, quietly, "$3,400."
+
+There was a stunned silence. "How much?" Lu had his eyes open now.
+
+Matthew made a show of checking the figures again, but that's all it was, a show. He knew that the numbers were right. "Three thousand, four hundred and two dollars and fourteen cents." It was double the biggest score they'd ever made for Boss Wing. It was the most money any of them had ever made. His share of it was more than his father made in a month. And he'd made it in one night.
+
+"Sorry, /{how much}/?"
+
+"8,080 bowls of dumplings, Lu. That much."
+
+The silence was even thicker. That was a lot of dumplings. That was enough to rent their own place to use as a factory, a place with computers and a fast internet connection and bedrooms to sleep in, a place where they could earn and earn, where they could grow rich as any boss.
+
+Lu leapt out of his chair and whooped, a sound so loud that the entire cafe turned to look at them, but they didn't care, they were all out of their seats now, whooping and dancing around and hugging each other.
+
+And now it was the day, a new day, the sun had come up and gone down and risen in their long labor in the cafe, and they had won. It was a new day for them and for everyone around them.
+
+They stepped out into the sun and there were people on the streets, throngs buying and selling, touts hustling, pretty girls in good clothes walking arm in arm under a single parasol. The heat of the day was like a blast furnace after the air-conditioned cool of the cafe, but that was good, too -- it baked out the funk of cigarette-mouth, coffee-mouth, no-food-mouth. Suddenly, none of them were sleepy. They all wanted to eat.
+
+So Matthew took them out for breakfast. They were his team, after all. They took over the back table at an Indian restaurant near the train station, a place he'd overheard his uncle Yiu-Yu telling his parents about, bragging about some business associate who took him there. Very sophisticated. And he'd read so much about Indian food in his comics, he couldn't wait to try some.
+
+All the other customers in there were either foreigners or Hong Kong people, but they didn't let that get to them. The boys sat at their back table and played with their forks and ate plate after plate of curry and fresh hot flatbreads called naan, and it was delicious and strange and the perfect end to what had turned out to be the perfect night.
+
+Halfway through the dessert -- delicious mango ice-cream -- the sleeplessness finally caught up with them all. They sat on their seats in their torpor, hands over their bellies, eyes half-open, and Matthew called for the check.
+
+They stepped out again into the light. Matthew had decided to go to his parents' place, to sleep on the sofa for a little while, before figuring out what to do about his smashed room with its smashed door.
+
+As they blinked in the light, a familiar Wenjhou accented voice said, "You aren't a very smart boy, are you?"
+
+Matthew turned. Boss Wing's man was there, and three of his friends. They rushed forward and grabbed the boys before they could react, one of them so big that he grabbed a boy in each hand and nearly lifted them off their feet.
+
+His friends struggled to get free, but Boss Wing's man methodically slapped them until they stopped.
+
+Matthew couldn't believe that this was happening -- in broad daylight, right here next to the train station! People crossed the street to avoid them. Matthew supposed he would have done so too.
+
+Boss Wing's man leaned in so close Matthew could smell the fish he'd had for lunch on his breath. "Why are you a stupid boy, Matthew? You didn't seem stupid when you worked for Boss Wing. You always seemed smarter than these children." He flapped his hand disparagingly at the boys. "But Boss Wing, he trained you, sheltered you, fed you, paid you -- do you think it's honorable or fair for you to take all that investment and run out the door with it?"
+
+"We don't owe Boss Wing anything!" Lu shouted. "You think you can make us work for him?"
+
+Boss Wing's man shook his head. "What a little hothead. No one wants to force you to do anything, child. We just don't think it's fair for you to take all the training and investment we made in you and run across the street and start up a competing business. It's not right, and Boss Wing won't stand for it."
+
+The curry churned in Matthew's stomach. "We have the right to start our own business." The words were braver than he felt, but these were /{his}/ boys, and they gave him bravery. "If Boss Wing doesn't like the competition, let him find another line of work."
+
+Boss Wing's man didn't give him any forewarning before he slapped Matthew so hard his head rang like a gong. He stumbled back two steps, then tripped over his heels and fell on his ass, landing on the filthy sidewalk. Boss Wing's man put a foot on his chest and looked down at him.
+
+"Little boy, it doesn't work like that. Here's the deal -- Boss Wing understands if you don't want to work at his factory, that's fine. He's willing to sell you the franchise to set up your own branch operation of his firm. All you have to do is pay him a franchise fee of 60 percent of your gross earnings. We watched your gold-sales from Svartalfaheim. You can do as much of that kind of work as you like, and Boss Wing will even take care of the sales end of things for you, so you'll be free to concentrate on your work. And because it's your firm, you get to decide how you divide the money -- you can pay yourself anything you like out of it."
+
+Matthew burned with shame. His friends were all looking at him, goggle eyed, scared. The weight from the foot on his chest increased until he couldn't draw a breath.
+
+Finally, he gasped out, "/{Fine}/," and the pressure went away. Boss Wing's man extended a hand, helped him to his feet.
+
+"Smart," he said. "I knew you were a smart boy." He turned to Matthew's friends. "Your little boss here is a smart man. He'll take you places. You listen to him now."
+
+Then, without another word, he turned on his heel and walked away, his men following him.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Anderson's Bookshops, Chicago's legendary kids' bookstore. Anderson's is an old, old family-run business, which started out as an old-timey drug-store selling some books on the side. Today, it's a booming, multi-location kids' book empire, with some incredibly innovative bookselling practices that get books and kids together in really exciting ways. The best of these is the store's mobile book-fairs, in which they ship huge, rolling bookcases, already stocked with excellent kids' books, direct to schools on trucks -- voila, instant book-fair! }/
+
+_1 {~^ Anderson's Bookshops }http://site.booksite.com/5156/search/?q=for%20the%20win%20doctorowandsearch=yesandcustcat=: 123 West Jefferson, Naperville, IL 60540 USA +1 630 355 2665
+
+The car that had plowed into Wei-Dong's father's car was driven by a very exasperated, very tired British man, fat and bald, with two angry kids in the back seat and an angry wife in the front seat.
+
+He was steadily, quietly cursing in British, which was a lot like cursing in American, but with a lot more "bloodies" in it. He paced the sidewalk beside the wrecked Huawei, his wife calling at him from inside the car to get back in the bloody car, Ronald, but Ronald wasn't having any of it.
+
+Wei-Dong sat on the narrow strip of grass between the road and the sidewalk, dazed in the noon sun, waiting for his vision to stop swimming. Benny sat next to him, holding a wad of kleenex to staunch the bleeding from his broken nose, which he'd bounced off of the dashboard. Wei-Dong brought his hands up to his forehead to finger the lump there again. His hands smelled of new plastic, the smell of the airbag that he'd had to punch his way out of.
+
+The fat man crouched next to him. "Christ, son, you look like you've been to the wars. But you'll be all right, right? Could have been much worse."
+
+"Sir," Benny Rosenbaum said, in a quiet voice muffled by the kleenex. "Please leave us alone now. When the police come, we can all talk, all right?"
+
+"'Course, 'course." His kids were screaming now, hollering from the back seat about getting to Disneyland, when were they getting to Disneyland? "Shut it, you monsters," he roared. The sound made Wei-Dong flinch back. He wobbled to his feet.
+
+"Sit down, Leonard," his father said. "You shouldn't have gotten out of the car, and you certainly shouldn't be walking around now. You could have a concussion or a spinal injury. Sit down," he repeated, but Wei-Dong needed to get off the grass, needed to walk off the sick feeling in his stomach.
+
+Uh-oh. He barely made it to the curb, hands braced on the crumpled, flaking rear section of the Huawei, before he started to barf, a geyser of used food that shot straight out of his guts and flew all over the wreck of the car. A moment later, his father's hands were on his shoulders, steadying him. Angrily, he shook them off.
+
+There were sirens coming now, and the fat man was talking intensely to old Benny, though it was quiet enough that Wei-Dong could only make out a few words -- /{insurance, fault, vacation}/ -- all in a wheedling tone. His father kept trying to get a word in, but the guy was talking over him. Wei-Dong could have told him that this wasn't a good strategy. Nothing was surer to make Volcano Benny blow. And here it came.
+
+"/{Shut your mouth for a second, all right? Just SHUT IT.}/"
+
+The shout was so loud that even the kids in the back seat went silent.
+
+"YOU HIT US, you goddamned idiot! We're not going to go halves on the damage. We're not going to settle this for cash. I don't /{care}/ if you're jetlagged, I don't /{care}/ if you didn't buy the extra insurance on your rental car, I don't /{care}/ if this will ruin your vacation. You could have killed us, you understand that, moron?"
+
+The man held up his hands and cringed behind them. "You were parked in the middle of the road, mate," he said, a note of pleading in his voice.
+
+Everyone was watching them, the kids and the guy's wife, the rubberneckers who slowed down to see the accident. The two men were totally focused on each other.
+
+In other words, no one was watching Wei-Dong.
+
+He thought about the sound his earwig made, crunching under his father's steel-toed shoe, heard the sirens getting closer, and...
+
+He...
+
+Left.
+
+He sidled away toward the shrubs that surrounded a mini-mall and gas-station, nonchalant, clutching his school-bag, like he was just getting his bearings, but he was headed toward a gap there, a narrow one that he just barely managed to squeeze through. He popped through into the parking lot around the mini-mall, filled with stores selling $3 t-shirts and snow-globes and large bottles of filtered water. On this side of the shrubs, the world was normal and busy, filled with tourists on their way to or from Disneyland.
+
+He picked up his pace, keeping his face turned away from the stores and the CCTV cameras outside of them. He felt in his pocket, felt the few dollars there. He had to get away, far away, fast, if he was going to get away at all.
+
+And there was his salvation, the tourist bus that rolled through the streets of the Anaheim Resort District, shuttling people from hotels to restaurants to the parks, crowded with sugared-up kids and conventioneers with badges hanging around their necks, and it was trundling to the stop just a few yards away. He broke into a run, stumbled from the pain that seared through his head like a lightning bolt, then settled for walking as quickly as he could. The sirens were very, very loud now, right there on the other side of the shrubs, and he was almost at the bus and there was his father's voice, calling his name and there was the bus and --
+
+-- his foot came down on the bottom step, his back foot came up to join it, and the impatient driver closed the doors behind him and released the air-brake with a huge sigh and the bus lurched forward.
+
+"Wei-Dong Rosenbaum," he whispered to himself, "you've just escaped a parental kidnapping to a military school, what are you going to do now?" He grinned. "I'm going to Disneyland!"
+
+The bus trundled down Katella, heading for the bus-entrance, and then it disgorged its load of frenetic tourists. Wei-Dong mingled with them, invisible in the mass of humanity skipping past the huge, primary-colored traffic pylons. He was on autopilot, remained on autopilot as he unslung his school-bag to let the bored security goon paw through it.
+
+He'd had a Disneyland annual pass since he was old enough to ride the bus. All the kids he knew had them too -- it beat going to the mall after school, and even though it got boring after a while, he could think of no better place to disappear into while thinking through his next steps.
+
+He walked down Main Street, heading for the little pink castle at the end of the road. He knew that there were secluded benches on the walkways around the castle, places where he could sit down and think for a moment. His head felt like it was full of candy floss.
+
+First thing he did after sitting down was check his phone. The ringer had been off -- school rules -- but he'd felt it vibrating continuously in his pocket. Fifteen missed calls from his father. He dialled up his voicemail and listened to his dad rant about coming back /{right now}/ and all the dire things that would happen to him if he didn't.
+
+"Kid, whatever you think you're doing, you're wrong about it. You're going to come home eventually. The sooner you call me back, the less trouble we're going to have. And the longer you wait -- /{you listen to this, Leonard}/ -- the longer you wait, /{the worse it's going to be}/. There are worse things than boarding school, kid. Much, much worse."
+
+He stared vacantly at the sky, listening to this, and then he dropped the phone as though he'd been scorched by it.
+
+/{It had a GPS in it}/. They were always using phones to find runaways and bad guys and lost hikers. He picked the phone up off the pavement and slid the back out and removed the battery, then put it in his jacket pocket, returning the phone to his jeans. He wasn't much of a fugitive.
+
+The police had been on the way to the accident when he left. They'd arrived minutes later. The old man had decided that he'd run away, so he'd be telling the cops that. He was a minor, and truant, and he'd been in a car accident, and hell, face it, his family was rich. That meant that the police would pay attention to his dad, which meant that they'd be doing everything they could to locate him. If they hadn't yet figured out where his phone was, they'd know soon enough -- they'd run the logs and find the call from Disneyland to his voicemail.
+
+He started moving, shoving his way through the crowds, heading back up Main Street. He ducked around behind a barbershop quartet and realized that he was standing in front of an ATM. They'd be shutting down his card any second, too -- or, if they were smart, they'd leave the card live and use it to track him. He needed cash. He waited while a pair of German tourists fumbled with the machine and then jammed his card into it and withdrew $500, the most the machine would dispense. He hit it again for another $500, self-conscious now of the inch-thick wad of twenties in his hand. He tried for a third withdrawal, but the machine told him he'd gone to his daily limit. He didn't think he had much more than $1,000 in the bank, anyway -- that was several years' worth of birthday money, plus a little from his summer job working at a Chinese PC repair shop at a mini-mall in Irvine.
+
+He folded the wad and stuck it in his pocket and headed out of the park, not bothering with the hand-stamp. He started to head for the street, but then he turned on his heel and headed toward the Downtown Disney shopping complex and the hotels that attached to it. There were cheap tour-buses that went from there up to LA, down to San Diego, to all the airports. There was no easier, cheaper way to get far from here.
+
+The lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel soared to unimaginable heights, giant beams criss-crossing through the cavernous space. Wei-Dong had always liked this place. It always seemed so /{rendered}/, like an imaginary place, with the intricate marble inlays on the floor, the ten-foot-high stained-glass panels set into the sliding doors, the embroidered upholstery on the sofas. Now, though, he just wanted to get through it and onto a bus to --
+
+Where?
+
+Anywhere.
+
+He didn't know what he was going to do next, but one thing he did know, he wasn't going to be sent away to some school for screwups, kicked off the Internet, kicked off the games. His father wouldn't have allowed anyone to do this to /{him}/, no matter what problems he was having. The old man would never let himself be pushed around and shaken up like this.
+
+His mother would worry -- but she always worried, didn't she? He'd send her email once he got somewhere, an email every day, let her know that he was OK. She was good to him. Hell, the old man was good to him, come to that. Mostly. But he was seventeen now, he wasn't a kid, he wasn't a broken toy to be shipped back to the manufacturer.
+
+The man behind the concierge desk didn't bat an eye when Wei-Dong asked for the schedule for the airport shuttles, just handed it over. Wei-Dong sat down in the darkest corner by the stone fireplace, the most inconspicuous place in the whole hotel. He was starting to get paranoid now, he could recognize the feeling, but it didn't help soothe him as he jumped and stared at every Disney cop who strolled through the lobby, doubtless he was looking as guilty as a mass-murderer.
+
+The next bus was headed for LAX, and the one after, for the Santa Monica airport. Wei-Dong decided that LAX was the right place to go. Not so he could get on a plane -- if his dad had called the cops, he was sure they'd have some kind of trace on at the ticket-sales windows. He didn't know exactly how that worked, but he understood how bottlenecks worked, thanks to gaming. Right now, he could be anywhere in LA, which meant that they'd have to devote a gigantic amount of effort in order to find him. But if he tried to leave by airplane, there'd be a much smaller number of places they'd have to check to catch him -- the airline counters at four or five airports in town -- and that was a lot more practical.
+
+But LAX also had cheap buses to /{everywhere}/ in LA, buses that went to every hotel and neighborhood. It would take a long time, sure -- an hour and a half from Disneyland to LAX, another hour or two to get back to LA, but that was fine. He needed time -- time to figure out what he was going to do next.
+
+Because when he was totally honest with himself, he had to admit that he had no freaking idea.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to the University Bookstore at the University of Washington, whose science fiction section rivals many specialty stores, thanks to the sharp-eyed, dedicated science fiction buyer, Duane Wilkins. Duane's a real science fiction fan -- I first met him at the World Science Fiction Convention in Toronto in 2003 -- and it shows in the eclectic and informed choices on display at the store. One great predictor of a great bookstore is the quality of the "shelf review" -- the little bits of cardboard stuck to the shelves with (generally hand-lettered) staff-reviews extolling the virtues of books you might otherwise miss. The staff at the University Bookstore have clearly benefited from Duane's tutelage, as the shelf reviews at the University Bookstore are second to none. }/
+
+_1 {~^ The University Bookstore }http://www4.bookstore.washington.edu/_trade/ShowTitleUBS.taf?ActionArg=TitleandISBN=9780765322166 4326 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105 USA +1 800 335 READ
+
+Mala woke early, after a troubled sleep. In the village, she'd often risen early, and listened to the birds. But there was no birdsong when her eyes fluttered open, only the sussuration of Dharavi -- cars, rats, people, distant factory noises, goats. A rooster. Well, that was a kind of bird. A little smile touched her lips, and she felt slightly better.
+
+Not much, though. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, stretched her arms. Gopal still slept, snoring softly, lying on his stomach the way he had when he was a baby. She needed the toilet, and, as it was light out, she decided that she would go out to the communal one a little ways away, rather than using the covered bucket in the room. In the village, they'd had a proper latrine, deep dug, with a pot of clean water outside of it that the women kept filled all the time. Here in Dharavi, the communal toilet was a much more closed-in, reeking place, never very clean. The established families in Dharavi had their own private toilets, so the public ones were only used by newcomers.
+
+It wasn't so bad this morning. There were ladies who got up even earlier than her to slosh it out with water hauled from the nearby communal tap. By nightfall, the reek would be eye-watering.
+
+She loitered in the street in front of the house. It wasn't too hot yet, or too crowded, or too noisy. She wished it was. Maybe the noise and the crowds would drown out the worry racing through her mind. Maybe the heat would bake it out.
+
+She'd brought her mobile out with her. It danced with notifiers about new things she could pay to see -- shows and cartoons and political messages, sent in the night. She flicked them away impatiently and scrolled through her address-book, stopping at Mr Banerjee's name and staring at it. Her finger poised over the send button.
+
+It was too early, she thought. He'd be asleep. But he never was, was he? Mr Banerjee seemed to be awake at all hours, messaging her with new targets to take her army to. He'd be awake. He'd have been up all night, talking to Mrs Dibyendu.
+
+Her finger hovered over the Send button.
+
+The phone rang.
+
+She nearly dropped it in surprise, but she managed to settle it in her hand and switch off the ringer, peer at the face. Mr Banerjee, of course, as though he'd been conjured into her phone by her thoughts and her staring anxiety.
+
+"Hello?" she said.
+
+"Mala," he said. He sounded grave.
+
+"Mr Banerjee." It came out in a squeak.
+
+He didn't say anything else. She knew this trick. She used it with her army, especially on the boys. Saying nothing made a balloon of silence in your opponent's head, one that swelled to fill it, until it began to echo with their anxieties and doubts. It worked very well. It worked very well, even if you knew how it worked. It was working well on her.
+
+She bit her lip. Otherwise she would have blurted something, maybe /{He was going to hurt me}/ or /{He had it coming}/ or /{I did nothing wrong}/.
+
+Or, /{I am a warrior and I am not ashamed}/.
+
+/{There}/. There was the thought, though it wanted to slip away and hide behind /{He was going to hurt me}/, that was the thought she needed, the platoon she needed to bring to the fore. She marshalled the thought, chivvied it, turned it into an orderly skirmish line and marched it forward.
+
+"Mrs Dibyendu's idiot nephew tried to assault me last night, in case you haven't heard." She waited a beat. "I didn't let him do it. I don't think he'll try it again."
+
+There was a snort, very faint, down the phone line. A suppressed laugh? Barely contained anger? "I heard about it, Mala. The boy is in the hospital."
+
+"Good," she said, before she could stop herself.
+
+"One of his ribs broke and punctured his lung. But they say he'll live. Still, it was quite close."
+
+She felt sick. Why? Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn't he have left her alone? "I'm glad he'll live."
+
+"Mrs Dibyendu called me in the night to tell me that her sister's only son had been attacked. That he'd been attacked by a vicious gang of your friends. Your 'army'."
+
+Now /{she}/ snorted. "He says it because he's embarrassed to have been so badly beaten by me, just me, just a girl."
+
+Again, the silence ballooned in the conversation. /{He's waiting for me to say I'm sorry, that I'll make it up somehow, that he can take it from my wages.}/ She swallowed. /{I won't do it. The idiot made me attack him, and he deserved what he got.}/
+
+"Mrs Dibyendu," he began, then stopped. "There are expenses that come from something like this, Mala. Everything has a cost. You know that. It costs you to play at Mrs Dibyendu's cafe. It costs me to have you do it. Well, this has a cost, too."
+
+Now it was her turn to be quiet, and to think at him, as hard as she can, /{Oh yes, well, I think I already exacted payment from idiot nephew. I think he's paid the cost.}/
+
+"Are you listening to me?"
+
+She made a grunt of assent, not trusting herself to open her mouth.
+
+"Good. Listen carefully. The next month, you work for /{me}/. Every rupee is mine, and I make this bad thing that you've brought down on yourself go away."
+
+She pulled the phone away from her head as if it had gone red hot and burned her. She stared at the faceplate. From very far away, Mr Banerjee said, "/{Mala?}/ /{Mala?}/" She put the phone back to her head.
+
+She was breathing hard now. "It's impossible," she said, trying to stay calm. "The army won't fight without pay. My mother can't live without my pay. We'll lose our home. No," she repeated, "it's not possible."
+
+"Not possible? Mala, it had better be possible. Whether or not you work for me, I will have to make this right with Mrs Dibyendu. It's my duty, as your employer, to do this. And that will cost money. You have incurred a debt that I must settle for you, and that means that you have to be prepared to settle with /{me}/."
+
+"Then don't settle it," she said. "Don't give her one rupee. There are other places we can play. Her nephew brought it on himself. We can play somewhere else."
+
+"Mala, did anyone /{see}/ this boy lay his hands on you?"
+
+"No," she said. "He waited until we were alone."
+
+"And why were you alone with him? Where was your army?"
+
+"They'd already gone home. I'd stayed late." She thought of Big Sister Nor and her metamecha, of the union. Mr Banerjee would be even angrier if she told him about Big Sister Nor. "I was studying tactics," she said. "Practicing on my own."
+
+"You stayed alone with this boy, in the middle of the night. What happened, really, Mala? Did you want to see what it was like to kiss him like a fillum star, and then it got out of control? Is that how it happened?"
+
+"/{No!}/" She shouted it so loud that she heard people groaning in their beds, calling sleepily out from behind their open windows. "I stayed late to practice, he tried to stop me. I knocked him down and he chased me. I knocked him down and then I taught him why he shouldn't have chased me."
+
+"Mala," he said, and she thought he was trying to sound fatherly now, stern and old and masculine. "You should have known better than to put yourself in that position. A general knows that you win some fights by not getting into them at all. Now, I'm not an unreasonable man. Of course, you and your mother and your army all need my money if you're going to keep fighting. You can borrow a wage-packet from me during this month, something to pay everyone with, and then you can pay it back, little by little, over the next year or so. I'll take five in twenty rupees for 12 months, and we'll call it even."
+
+It was hope, terrible, awful hope. A chance to keep her army, her flat, her respect. All it would cost her was one quarter of her earnings. She'd have three quarters left. Three quarters was better than nothing. It was better than telling Mamaji that it was all over.
+
+"Yes," she said. "All right, fine. But we don't play at Mrs Dibyendu's cafe anymore."
+
+"Oh, no," he said. "I won't hear of it. Mrs Dibyendu will be glad to have you back. You'll have to apologize to her, of course. You can bring her the money for her nephew. That will make her feel better, I'm sure, and heal any wounds in your friendship."
+
+"Why?" There were tears on her cheeks now. "Why not let us go somewhere else? Why does it matter?"
+
+"Because, Mala, I am the boss and you are the worker and that is the factory you work in. That's why." His voice was hard now, all the lilt of false concern gone away, leaving behind a grinding like rock on rock.
+
+She wanted to put the phone down on him, the way they did in the movies when they had their giant screaming rows, and threw their phones into the well or smashed them on the wall. But she couldn't afford to destroy her phone and she couldn't afford to make Mr Banerjee angry.
+
+So she said, "All right," in a quiet little voice that sounded like a mouse trying not to be noticed.
+
+"Good girl, Mala. Smart girl. Now, I've got your next mission for you. Are you ready?"
+
+Numbly, she memorized the details of the mission, who she was going to kill and where. She thought that if she did this job quickly, she could ask him for another one, and then another -- work longer hours, pay off the debt more quickly.
+
+"Smart girl, good girl," he said again, once she'd repeated the details back to him, and then he put the phone down.
+
+She pocketed her phone. Around her, Dharavi had woken, passing by her like she was a rock in a river, pressing past her on either side. Men with shovels and wheelbarrows, boys with enormous rice-sacks on each shoulder, filled with grimy plastic bottles on their way to some sorting house, a man with a long beard and kufi skullcap and kurta shirt hanging down to his knees leading a goat with a piece of rope. A trio of women in saris, their midriffs stretched and striated with the marks of the babies they'd borne, carrying heavy buckets of water from the communal tap. There were cooking smells in the air, a sizzle of dhal on the grill and the fragrant smell of chai. A boy passed by her, younger than Gopal, wearing flapping sandals and short pants, and he spat a stream of sickly sweet betel at her feet.
+
+The smell made her remember where she was and what had happened and what she had to do now.
+
+She went past the Das family on the ground floor and trudged up the stairs to their flat. Mamaji and Gopal were awake and bustling. Mamaji had fetched the water and was making the breakfast over the propane burner, and Gopal had his school uniform shirt and knee-trousers on. The Dharavi school he attended lasted for half the day, which gave him a little time to play and do homework and then a few more hours to work alongside of Mamaji in the factory.
+
+"Where have you been?" Mamaji said.
+
+"On the phone," she said, patting the little pocket sewn of her tunic. "With Mr Banerjee." She waggled her chin from side to side, saying /{I've had business}/.
+
+"What did he say?" Mamaji's voice was quiet and full of false nonchalance.
+
+Mamaji didn't need to know what transpired between Mr Banerjee and her. Mala was the general and she could manage her own affairs.
+
+"He said that all was forgiven. The boy deserved it. He'll make it fine with Mrs Dibyendu, and it will be fine." She waggled her chin from side to side again -- /{It's all fine. I've taken care of it}/.
+
+Mamaji stared into the pan and the food sizzling in it and nodded to herself. Though she couldn't see, Mala nodded back. She was General Robotwallah and she could make it all good.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Forbidden Planet, the British chain of science fiction and fantasy book, comic, toy and video stores. Forbidden Planet has stores up and down the UK, and also sports outposts in Manhattan and Dublin, Ireland. It's dangerous to set foot in a Forbidden Planet -- rarely do I escape with my wallet intact. Forbidden Planet really leads the pack in bringing the gigantic audience for TV and movie science fiction into contact with science fiction books -- something that's absolutely critical to the future of the field. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Forbidden Planet, UK, Dublin and New York City }http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/
+
+Wei-Dong had been to downtown LA once, on a class trip to the Disney Concert Hall, but then they'd driven in, parked, and marched like ducklings into the hall and then out again, without spending any time actually wandering around. He remembered watching the streets go by from the bus window, faded store windows and slow-moving people, check-cashing places and liquor stores. And Internet cafes. Lots and lots of Internet cafes, especially in Koreatown, where every strip mall had a garish sign advertising "PC Baang" -- Korean for net-cafe.
+
+But he didn't know exactly where Koreatown was, and he needed an Internet cafe to google it, and so he caught the LAX bus to the Disney Concert Hall, thinking he could retrace the bus-route and find his way to those shops, get online, talk to his homies in Guangzhou, figure out the next thing.
+
+But Koreatown turned out to be harder to find and farther than he'd thought. He asked the bus-driver for directions, who looked at him like he was crazy and pointed downhill. And so he started walking, and walking, and walking for block after dusty block. From the window of the school-bus, downtown LA had looked slow-moving and faded, like a photo left too long in a window.
+
+On foot, it was frenetic, the movement of the buses, the homeless people walking or wheeling or hobbling past him, asking him for money. He had $1000 in his front jeans pocket, and it seemed to him that the bulge must be as obvious as a boner at the blackboard in class. He was sweating, and not just from the heat, which seemed ten degrees hotter than it had been in Disneyland.
+
+And now he wasn't anywhere near Koreatown, but had rather found his way to Santee Alley, the huge, open-air pirate market in the middle of LA. He'd heard about the place before, you saw it all the time in news-specials about counterfeit goods busts, pictures of Mexican guys being led away while grimly satisfied cops in suits or uniform baled up mountains of fake shirts, fake DVDs, fake jeans, fake games.
+
+Santee Alley was a welcome relief from the streets around it. He wandered deep into the market, the storefronts all blaring their technobrega and reggaton at him, the hawkers calling out their wares. It was like the real market on which all the hundreds of in-game markets he'd visited had been based upon and he found himself slowing down and looking in at the gangster clothes and the bad souvenir junk and the fake electronics. He bought a big cup of watermelon drink and a couple of empanadas from a stall, carefully drawing a single twenty from his pocket without bringing out the whole thing.
+
+Then he'd found an Internet cafe, filled with Guatemalans chatting with their families back home, wearing slick and tiny earwigs. The girl behind the counter -- barely older than him -- sold him one that claimed to be a Samsung for $18, and then rented him a PC to use it with. The fake earwig fit as well as his real one had, though it had a rough seam of plastic running around its length while his had been as smooth as beach-glass.
+
+But it didn't matter. He had his network connection, he had his earwig, and he had his game. What more could he need?
+
+Well, his posse, for starters. They were nowhere to be found. He checked his new watch and pressed the button that flipped it to the Chinese timezone. 5AM. Well, that explained it.
+
+He checked his inventory, checked the guild-bank. He hadn't been able to do the corpse run after he'd been snatched out of the game by his father and the Ronald Reagan High Thought Police, so he didn't expect to have his vorpal blade still, but he did, which meant that one of the gang had rescued it for him, which was awfully thoughtful. But that was just what guildies did for each other, after all.
+
+It was coming up to dinner-time on the east coast, which meant that Savage Wonderland was starting to fill up with people getting home from work. He thought about the black riders who slaughtered them that morning and wondered who they'd been. There were plenty of people who hunted gold farmers, either because they worked for the game or for a rival gold-farm clan, or because they were bored rich players who hated the idea of poor people invading "their" space and working where they played.
+
+He knew he should flip to his email and check for messages from his parents. He didn't like using email, but his parents were addicted to it. No doubt they were freaking out by now, calling out the army and navy and the national guard to find their wayward son. Well, they could freak out all they wanted. He wasn't going to go back and he didn't need to go back.
+
+He had $1000 in his pocket, he was nearly 18 years old, and there were lots of ways to get by in the big city that didn't involve selling drugs or your body. His guildies had shown him that. All you needed to earn a living was a connection to the net and a brain in your head. He looked around the cafe at the dozens of Guatemalans talking to home on their earwigs, many not much older than him. If they could earn a living -- not speaking the language, not legal to work, no formal education, hardly any idea of how to use technology beyond the little bit of knowledge necessary to call home on the cheap -- then surely he could. His grandfather had come to America and found a job when he was Wei-Dong's age. It was a family tradition, practically.
+
+It wasn't that he didn't love his parents. He did. They were good people. They loved him in their way. But they lived in a bubble of unreality, a bubble called Orange County, where they still had rows of neat identical houses and neat identical lives, while around them, everything was collapsing. His father couldn't see it, even though hardly a day went by that he didn't come home and complain bitterly about the containers that had fallen off his ship in yet another monster storm, about the price of diesel sailing through the stratosphere, about the plummeting dollar and the skyrocketing Renminbi and the ever-tightening belts of Americans whose orders for goods from South China were clobbering his business.
+
+Wei-Dong had figured all this out because he paid attention and he saw things as they were. Because he talked to China, and China talked back to him. The fat and comfortable world he'd grown up in was not permanent; scratched in the sand, not carved in stone. His friends in China could see it better than anyone else could. Lu had worked as a security guard in a factory in Shilong New Town, a city that made appliances for sale in Britain. It had taken Wei-Dong some time to understand this: the entire city, four million people, did nothing but make appliances for sale in Britain, a country with eighty million people.
+
+Then, one day, the factories on either side of Lu's had closed. They had all made goods for a few different companies, employing armies of young women to run the machines and assemble the pieces that came out of them. Young women always got the best jobs. Bosses liked them because they worked hard and didn't argue so much -- at least, that's what everyone said. When Lu left his village in Sichuan province to come to south China, he'd talked to one of the girls who had come home from the factories for the Mid-Autumn Festival, a girl who'd left a few years before and found wealth in Dongguan, who'd bought her parents a fine new two-storey house with her money, who came home every year for the Festival in fine clothes with a new mobile phone in a designer bag, looking like an alien or a model stepped fresh out of a magazine ad.
+
+"If you go to a factory and it's not full of young girls, don't take a job there," was her advice. "Any place that can't attract a lot of young girls, there's something wrong with it." But the factory that Lu worked at -- all the factories in Shilong New Town -- were filled with young girls. The only jobs for men were as drivers, security guards, cleaners and cooks. The factories boomed, each one a small city itself, with its own kitchens, its own dormitories, its own infirmary and its own customs checkpoint where every vehicle and visitor going in or out of the wall got checked and inspected.
+
+And these indomitable cities had crumbled. The Highest Quality Dishwasher Company factory closed on Monday. The Boundless Energy Enterprises hot-water heater plant went on Wednesday. Every day, Lu saw the bosses come in and out in their cars, waving them through after they'd flicked their IDs at him. One day, he steeled his nerve and leaned in the window, his face only inches from that of the man who paid his wages every month.
+
+"We're doing better than the neighbors, eh, Boss?" He tried for a jovial smile, the best he could muster, but he knew it wasn't very good.
+
+"We do fine," the boss had barked. He had very smooth skin and a smart sport-coat, but his shoulders were dusted with dandruff. "And no one says otherwise!"
+
+"Just as you say, boss," Lu said, and leaned out of the window, trying to keep his smile in place. But he'd seen it in the boss's face -- the factory would close.
+
+The next day, no bus came to the bus-stop. Normally, there would have been fifty or sixty people waiting for the bus, mostly young men, the women mostly lived in the dorms. Security guards and janitors didn't rate dorm rooms. That morning, there were eight people waiting when he arrived at the bus-stop. Ten minutes went by and a few more trickled to the stop, and still no bus came. Thirty minutes passed -- Lu was now officially late for work -- and still no bus came. He canvassed his fellow waiters to see if anyone was going near his factory and might want to share a taxi -- an otherwise unthinkable luxury, but losing his job even was more unthinkable.
+
+One other guy, with a Shaanxi accent, was willing, and that's when they noticed that there didn't seem to be any taxis cruising on the road either. So Lu, being Lu, walked to work, fifteen kilometers in the scorching, melting, dripping heat, his security guard's shirt and coat over his arm, his undershirt rolled up to bare his belly, the dust caking up on his shoes. And when he arrived at the Miracle Spirit condenser dryer factory and found himself in a mob of thousands of screeching young women in factory-issue smocks, crowded around the fence and the double-padlocked rattling it and shouting at the factory's darkened doors. Many of the girls had small backpacks or duffel-bags, overstuffed and leaking underwear and makeup on the ground.
+
+"What's going on?" he shouted at one, pulling her out of the mob.
+
+"The bastards shut the factory and put us out. They did it at shift-change. Pulled the fire-alarm and screamed 'Fire' and 'Smoke' and when we were all out here, they ran out and padlocked the gate!"
+
+"Who?" He'd always thought that if the factory were going to shut down, they'd use the security guards to do it. He'd always thought that he, at least, would get one last paycheck out of the company.
+
+"The bosses, six of them. Mr Dai and five of his supervisors. They locked the front gate and then they drove off through the back gate, locking it behind them. We're all locked out. All my things are in there! My phone, my money, my clothes --"
+
+Her last paycheck. It was only three days to payday, and, of course, the company had kept their first eight weeks' wages when they all started working. You had to ask your boss's permission if you wanted to change jobs and keep the money -- otherwise you'd have to abandon two months' pay.
+
+Around Lu, the screams rose in pitch and small, feminine fists flailed at the air. Who were they shouting at? The factory was empty. The factory was empty. If they climbed the fence, cutting the barbed wire at the top, and then broke the locks on the factory doors, they'd have the run of the place. They couldn't carry out a condenser dryer -- not easily, anyway -- but there were plenty of small things: tools, chairs, things from the kitchen, the personal belongings of the girls who hadn't thought to bring them with when the fire alarm sounded. Lu knew about all the things that could be smuggled out of the factory. He was a security guard. Or had been. Part of his job had been to search the other employees when they left to make sure they weren't stealing. His supervisor, Mr Chu, had searched /{him}/ at the end of each shift, in turn. He wasn't sure who, if anyone, searched Mr Chu.
+
+He had a small multitool that he clipped to his belt every morning. Having a set of pliers, a knife, and a screwdriver on you all the time changed the way you saw the world -- it became a place to be cut, sliced, pried and unscrewed.
+
+"Is that your only jacket?" he shouted into the ear of the girl he'd been talking to. She was a little shorter than him, with a large mole on her cheek that he rather liked.
+
+"Of course not!" she said. "I have three others inside."
+
+"If I get you those three, can I use this one?" He unfolded the pliers on his multitool. They were joined by a set of cogs that compounded the leverage of a squeezing palm, and the jaws of the plier were inset with a pair of wicked-sharp wire-cutters. The girl in his village had worked for a time in the SOG factory in Dongguan and she'd given him a pair and wished him good luck in South China.
+
+The girl with three more jackets looked up at the barbed wire. "You'll be cut to ribbons," she said.
+
+He grinned. "Maybe," he said. "I think I can do it, though."
+
+"Boys," she hollered in his ear. He could smell her breakfast congee on her breath, mixed with toothpaste. It made him homesick. "All right. But be careful!" She shrugged out of the jacket, revealing a set of densely muscled arms, worked to lean strength on the line. He wrapped it around his left hand, then wrapped his own coat around that, so that his hand looked like a cartoon boxing-glove, trailing sleeves flapping down beneath it.
+
+It wasn't easy to climb the fence with one hand wrapped in a dozen thicknesses of fabric, but he'd always been a great climber, even in the village, a daring boy who'd gotten a reputation for climbing anything that stood still: trees, houses, even factories. He had one good hand, two feet, and one bandaged hand, and that was enough to get up the fifteen feet to the top. Once there, he gingerly wrapped his left hand around the razorwire, careful to pull straight down on it and not to saw from side to side. He had a vision of himself slipping and falling, the razorwire slicing his fingers from his hand so that they fell to the other side of the fence, wriggling like worms in the dust as he clutched his mangled hand and screamed, geysering blood over the girls around him.
+
+/{Well, you'd better not slip, then}/, he thought grimly, carefully unfolding the multitool with his other hand, flipping it around like a butterfly knife (a move he'd often practiced, playing gunfighter in his room or when no one else was around at the gate). He gingerly slid it around the first coil of wire and squeezed down, watching the teeth on the gears mesh and strain at one another, turning the leverage of his right hand into hundreds of pounds of pressure bearing down right at the cutting edge of the pliers. They bit into the wire, caught, and then parted it.
+
+The coil of wire sprang free with a /{twoingggg}/ sound, and he ducked away just in time to avoid having his nose -- and maybe his ear and eye -- sliced off by the wire.
+
+But now he could transfer his left hand to the top of the fence, and put more weight on it, and reach for the second coil of wire with the cutters, hanging way out from the fence, as far as he could, to avoid the coil when it sprang free. Which it did, parting just as easily as the other coil had, and flying directly at him, and it was only by releasing his feet and dangling one-handed from the fence, slamming his body into it, that he avoided having his throat cut. As it was, the wire made a long scratch in the back of his scalp, which began to bleed freely down his back. He ignored it. Either it was shallow and would stop on its own, or it was deep and he'd need medical attention, but either way, he was going to clear the fencetop.
+
+All that remained now were three strands of barbed wire, and they were tougher to cut than the razorwire had been, but the barbs were widely spaced and the wire itself was less prone to crazy twanging whipsaws than the coiled razorwire. As each one parted, there was a roar of approval from the girls below him, and even though his scalp was stinging fiercely, he thought this might just be his finest hour, the first time in his life that he'd been something more than a security guard who'd left his backwards town to find insignificance in Guandong province.
+
+And now he was able to unwind the jackets from around his hand and simply hop over the fence and clamber down the other side like a monkey, grinning all the way at the horde of young girls who were coming up the other side in a great wave. It wasn't long before the girl with three more jackets caught him up. He shook out her jacket -- sliced through in four or five places -- like a waiter offering a lady her coat, and she delicately slid those muscular arms into it and then she turned him around and poked at his scalp.
+
+"Shallow," she said. "It'll bleed a lot, but you'll be OK." She planted a sisterly kiss on his cheek. "You're a good boy," she said, and then ran off to join the stream of girls who were entering the factory through a smashed door.
+
+Shortly, he found himself alone in the factory yard, amid the neat gravel pathways and the trimmed lawns. He let himself into the factory but he couldn't actually bring himself to take anything, though they owed him nearly three months' wages. Somehow, it seemed to him that the girls who'd used the tools should have their pick of the tools, that the men who'd cooked the meals should have their pick of the things from the kitchens.
+
+Finally, he settled on one of the communal bicycles that were neatly parked near the factory gates. These were used by all the employees equally, and besides, he needed to get home and walking back with a scalp wound in the mid-day heat didn't sound like much of a plan.
+
+On the way home, the world seemed much changed. He'd become a criminal, for one thing, which seemed to him to be quite a distance from a security guard. But it was more than that: the air seemed clearer (later, he read that the air /{was}/ clearer, thanks to all the factories that had shut down and the buses that had stayed parked). Most of the shops seemed closed and the remainder were tended by listless storekeepers who sat on their stoops or played Mah-Jongg on them, though it was the middle of the day. All the restaurants and cafes were shut. At a train-crossing, he watched an intercity train shoot past, every car jammed with young women and their bags, leaving Shilong New Town to find their way somewhere else where there was still work.
+
+Just like that, in the space of just a week or two, this giant city had died. It had all seemed so incredibly powerful when he'd arrived, new paved roads and new stores and new buildings, and the factories soaring against the sky wherever you looked.
+
+By the time he reached home -- dizzy from the aching cut on his scalp, sweaty, hungry -- he knew that the magical city was just a pile of concrete and a mountain of workers' sweat, and that it had all the permanence of a dream. Somewhere, in a distant land he barely knew the name of, people had stopped buying washing machines, and so his city had died.
+
+He thought he'd lie down for just the briefest of naps, but by the time he got up and gathered a few things into a duffel-bag and got back on his bike, not bothering to lock the door of his apartment behind him, the train station was barricaded, and there was a long line of refugees slogging down the road to Shenzhen, two days' walk away at least. He was glad he'd taken the bicycle then. Later, he found a working ATM and drew out some cash, which was more reassuring than he'd anticipated. For a while there, it had seemed like the world had come to an end. It was a relief to find out that it was just his little corner.
+
+In Shenzhen, he'd started hanging out in Internet cafes, because they were the cheapest places to sit indoors, out of the heat, and because they were filled with young men like him, scraping by. And because he could talk to his parents from there, telling them made-up stories about his non-existent job-search, promising that he'd start sending money home soon.
+
+And that was where the guild found him, Ping and his friends, and they had this buddy on the other side of the planet, this Wei-Dong character who'd hung rapt on every turn of his tale, who'd told him that he'd written it up for a social studies report at school, which made them all laugh. And he'd found happiness and work, and he'd found a truth, too: the world wasn't built on rock, but rather on sand, and it would shift forever.
+
+Wei-Dong didn't know how much longer his father's business would last. Maybe thirty years -- but he thought it would be a lot less than that. Every day, he woke in his bedroom under his Spongebob sheets and thought about which of these things he could live without, just how /{basic}/ his life could get.
+
+And here it was, the chance to find out. When his great-grandparents had been his age, they'd been war-refugees, crossing the ocean on a crowded boat, travelling on stolen papers, an infant in his great-grandmother's arms and another in her belly. If they could do it, Wei-Dong could do it.
+
+He'd need a place to stay, which meant money, which meant a job. The guild would cut him in for his share of the money from the raids, but that wasn't enough to survive in America. Or was it? He wondered how much the Guatemalans around him earned at their illegal dishwashing and cleaning and gardening jobs.
+
+In any event, he wouldn't have to find out, because he had something they didn't have: a Social Security Number. And yes, that meant that eventually his parents would be able to find him, but in another month, he'd be 18 and it'd be too late for them to do anything about it if he didn't want to cooperate.
+
+In those hours where he'd planned for the demise of his family's fortune, he'd settled quickly on the easiest job he could step into: Mechanical Turk.
+
+The Turks were an army of workers in gamespace. All you had to do was prove that you were a decent player -- the game had the stats to know it -- and sign up, and then log in whenever you wanted a shift. The game would ping you any time a player did something the game didn't know how to interpret -- talked too intensely to a non-player character, stuck a sword where it didn't belong, climbed a tree that no one had bothered to add any details too -- and you'd have to play spot-referee. You'd play the non-player character, choose a behavior for the stabbed object, or make a decision from a menu of possible things you might find in a tree.
+
+It didn't pay much, but it didn't take much time, either. Wei-Dong had calculated that if he played two computers -- something he was sure he could keep up -- and did a new job every twenty seconds on each, he could make as much as the senior managers at his father's company. He'd have to do it for ten hours a day, but he'd spent plenty of weekends playing for 12 or even 14 hours a day, so hell, it was practically money in the bank.
+
+So he used the rented PC to sign onto his account and started filling in the paperwork to apply for the job. All the while, he was conscious of his rarely-used email account and of the messages from his parents that surely awaited him. The forms were long and boring, but easy enough, even the little essay questions where you had to answer a bunch of hypothetical questions about what you'd do if a player did this or said that. And that email from his parents was lurking, demanding that he download it and read it --
+
+He flipped to a browser and brought up his email. It had been weeks since he'd last checked it and it was choked with hundreds of spams, but there, at the top:
+
+RACHEL ROSENBAUM -- WHERE ARE YOU???
+
+Of course his mother was the one to send the email. It was always her on email, sending him little encouraging notes through the school day, reminding him of his grandparents' and cousins' and father's birthdays. His father used email when he had to, usually at two in the morning when he couldn't sleep for worry about work and he needed to bawl out his managers without waking them up on the phone. But if the phone was an option, Dad would take it.
+
+WHERE ARE YOU???
+
+The subject-line said it all, didn't it?
+
+/{Leonard, this is crazy. If you want to be treated like an adult, start acting like one. Don't sneak around behind our backs, playing games in the middle of the night. Don't run off to God-knows-where to sulk.}/
+
+/{We can negotiate this like family, like grownups, but first you'll have to COME HOME and stop behaving like a SPOILED BRAT. We love you, Leonard, and we're worried about you, and we want to help you. I know when you're 17 it's easy to feel like you have all the answers --}/
+
+He stopped reading and blew hot air out his nostrils. He hated it when adults told him he only felt the way he did because he was /{young}/. As if being young was like being insane or drunk, like the convictions he held were hallucinations caused by a mental illness that could only be cured by waiting five years. Why not just stick him in a box and lock it until he turned 22?
+
+He began to hit reply, then realized that he was logged in without going through an anonymizer. His guildies were big into these -- they were servers that relayed your traffic, obscuring your identity and the addresses you were trying to avoid. The best ones came from Falun Gong, the weird religious cult that the Chinese government was bent on stamping out. Falun Gong put new relays online every hour or so, staying a hop ahead of the Great Firewall of China, the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-controlling server-farm that was supposed to keep 1.6 billion Chinese people from looking at the wrong kind of information.
+
+No one in the guild had much time for Falun Gong or its quirky beliefs, but everyone agreed that they ran a tight ship when it came to punching holes in the Great Firewall. A quick troll through the ever-rotating index-pages for Falun Gong relays found Wei-Dong a machine that would take his traffic. /{Then}/ he replied to his Mom. Let her try to run his backtrail -- it would dead-end with a notorious Chinese religious cult. That'd give her something to worry about all right!
+
+/{Mom, I'm fine. I'm acting like an adult (taking care of myself, making my own decisions). It might have been wrong to lie to you guys about what I was doing with my time, but kidnapping your son to military school is about as non-adult as you can get. I'll be in touch when I get a chance. I love you two. Don't worry, I'm safe.}/
+
+Was he, really? As safe as his great-grandparents had been, stepping off the ship in New York. As safe as Lu had been, bicycling the cracked road to Shenzhen.
+
+He'd find a place to stay -- he could google "cheap hotel downtown los angeles" as well as the next kid. He had money. He had a SSN. He had a job -- two jobs, counting the guild work -- and he had plenty of practice missions he'd have to run before he'd start earning. And it was time to get down to it.
+
+#
+
+:B~ Part II: Hard work at play
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to the incomparable Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, California. The Mysterious Galaxy folks have had me in to sign books every time I've been in San Diego for a conference or to teach (the Clarion Writers' Workshop is based at UC San Diego in nearby La Jolla, CA), and every time I show up, they pack the house. This is a store with a loyal following of die-hard fans who know that they'll always be able to get great recommendations and great ideas at the store. In summer 2007, I took my writing class from Clarion down to the store for the midnight launch of the final Harry Potter book and I've never seen such a rollicking, awesomely fun party at a store. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Mysterious Galaxy }http://www.mystgalaxy.com/book/9780765322166: 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302 San Diego, CA USA 92111 +1 858 268 4747
+
+They came for the workers in the game and in the real world, a coordinated assault that left Big Sister Nor's organization in tatters.
+
+On that fateful night, she'd taken up the back room of Headshot, a PC Baang in the Geylang district in Singapore, a neighborhood that throbbed all night long from the roaring sex-trade from the legal brothels and the illegal street-hookers. Any time after dark, the Geylang's streets were choked with people, from adventurous diners eating in the excellent all-night restaurants (almost all of them halal, which always made her smile) to guest workers and Singaporeans on the prowl for illicit thrills to the girls dashing out on their breaks to the all-night supermarkets to do their shopping.
+
+The Geylang was as unbuttoned as Singapore got, one of the few places where you could be "out of bounds" -- doing something that was illegal, immoral, unmentionable, or bad for social harmony -- without attracting too much attention. Headshot strobed all night long with networked poker games, big shoot-em-up tournaments, guestworkers phoning home on the cheap, shouting over the noise-salad of all those games, and, on that night, Big Sister Nor and her clan.
+
+They called themselves the Webblies, which was an obscure little joke that pleased Big Sister Nor an awful lot. Nearly a century ago, a group of workers had formed a union called the Industrial Workers of the World, the first union that said that all workers needed to stick up for each other, that every worker was welcome no matter the color of his skin, no matter if the worker was a woman, no matter if the worker did "skilled" or "unskilled" work. They called themselves the Wobblies.
+
+Information about the Wobblies was just one of the many "out of bounds" subjects that were blocked on the Singaporean Internet, and so of course Big Sister Nor had made it her business to find out more about them. The more she read, the more sense this group from out of history made for the world of /{right now}/ -- everything that the IWW had done needed doing /{today}/, and what's more, it would be easier today than it had been.
+
+Take organizing workers. Back then, you'd have to actually get into the factory or at least stand at its gates to talk to workers about signing a union card and demanding better conditions, higher wages and shorter hours. Now you could reach those same people online, from anywhere in the world. Once they were members, they could talk to all the other members, using the same tools.
+
+She'd decided to call her little group the Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web, the IWWWW, and that was another of those jokes that pleased her an awful lot. And the IWWWW had grown and grown and grown. Gold farmers were easy pickings: working in terrible conditions all over the world, for terrible wages, hated by the game-runners and the rich players alike. They already understood about working in teams, they'd already formed their own little guilds -- and they were better at using the Internet than their bosses would ever be.
+
+Now, a year later, the IWWWW had over 20,000 members signed up in six countries, paying dues and filling up a fat strike fund that had finally been called into use, in Shenzhen, the last place Big Sister Nor had ever expected to see a walkout.
+
+But they had, they had! The boss, some character named Wing, had declared a lock-in at three of his "factories" -- Internet cafes that he'd taken over to support his burgeoning army of workers -- in order to take advantage of a sploit in Mushroom Kingdom, a Mario-based MMO that had a huge following in Brazil. One of his workers had found a way to triple the gold they took out of one of the dungeons, and he wanted to extract every penny he could before Nintendo-Sun caught on to it.
+
+The next thing she knew, her phone was rattling with urgent messages relayed from her various in-game identities to tell her that the workers had knocked aside the factory management and guards and stormed out, climbing the sides of the buildings or the utility poles and cutting the cafes' network links. They'd formed up out front and begun to chant impromptu slogans -- mostly adapted from their in-game battle-cries. And now they wanted to know what to do.
+
+"It's a wildcat strike," Big Sister Nor said to her lieutenants, The Mighty Krang and Justbob, the former a small Chinese guy with frosted purple tips in his hair, the latter a Tamil girl in a beautiful, immaculate sari and silk slippers -- a girl who had previously run with one of the most notorious girl-gangs in Asia and spent three years in prison for her trouble. "They've walked out in Shenzhen." She forwarded the tweets and blips and alerts off her phone, then showed them her screen while they waited for the forwards to land on their devices.
+
+"It's crazy," The Mighty Krang said, dancing from foot to foot, excitedly. "It's crazy, it's crazy, it's --"
+
+"Wonderful," Justbob said, planting her palms on his shoulders and bringing him back to the earth. "And overdue. I predicted this. I predicted it from the start. As soon as you start collecting dues for a 'strike fund,' someone's going to go on strike. And la-la, here we are, wildcatting the night away."
+
+The next step was to head for headquarters, the back room at Headshot, to slam themselves into their chairs and to hit the worlds, spreading the word to all 20,000 members about the first-ever strike. Big Sister Nor went to work on a plan:
+
+1. Spread the word to the rank-and-file
+
+2. Recruit in-world pickets to block the work-site so that Boss Wing couldn't bring in scabs -- replacement workers -- to get the job done
+
+3. Get the strike-leaders on the phone and talk about human-rights lawyers, strike-pay, sleeping quarters for any workers who relied on the factory for dorm-beds
+
+4. Get footage and real-time reports from the strikers out to the human rights wires, get the strike-leaders on interviews with the press
+
+She'd done this before, in real life, on the other side of things, as a wildcat strike leader walking off the line when the bosses at her weaving factory in Taman Makmur announced pay cuts because their big European distributor had cut its orders. It happened every year, but it made her so angry -- the workers didn't get bonuses, sharing in the good fortune when distributors increased their orders, but they were made to share the burden when orders went down. Well, forget it, enough was enough. She'd stood up in the middle of the factory floor and denounced the bosses for the greedy, immoral bastards they were, and when the security moved in to take her, she'd stood proud and strong, ready to be beaten for her insolence.
+
+Instead, her fellow workers had risen to her defense, the young women around her getting to their feet and surrounding her, cheering her, ululating cries shouting around waggling tongues that bounced off the ceiling and filled the room and her heart, making them all brave, so that the security men moved back, and they'd taken over the factory, blocking the gates, shutting it down, and then someone from the Malaysian Union of Textile Employees had been there to get them to sign cards, and someone had made her picket captain and then --
+
+And then it had all come crashing down around them, police vans moving in, the police forming a line and ordering them to disperse, to get back to work, to stop this foolishness before someone got hurt, barking the orders through a bullhorn, glaring at them from beneath their riot helmets, banging their truncheons on their shields, spraying them with teargas.
+
+Their line wavered, disintegrated, retreated. But they reformed in an alley near the factory, amid a gang of staring children, and the women from the MUTE collared the children and sent them running to get milk -- cow's milk, goat's milk, anything they could find, and the MUTE organizers had rinsed their eyes with the milk, holding their faces still while they coughed and gagged. The fat-soluble CS gas rinsed away, leaving them teary but able to see, and the coughs dispersed, and someone produced a bag of charcoal-filter cycling masks, and someone else had a bag of swimming goggles, and the women put them on and pulled their hijabs over their noses, over the masks, so that they looked like some species of snouted animal, and they reformed their line and marched back, chanting their slogans.
+
+The police gassed them again, but this time, the picket captains were able to hold the line, to send brave women forward to grab the smoking cannisters and throw them back over police lines. For a moment, it looked like the police would charge, but the strikers and the organizers had been feeding a photostream to the Internet using mobile phones that tunneled through the national firewall, getting them up on the human rights wires, and so the Ministry of Labour was getting phone calls from the foreign press, and they were on the phone to the Ministry of Justice, and the police withdrew.
+
+The first skirmish was over, and the strikers settled in for a long siege. No one got in or out of the factory without being harangued by hundreds of young women, shoving literature detailing their working conditions and grievances and demands through the windows of their cars and buses. Some replacement workers got in, some picked fights, some turned around and left. A unionized trucker refused to cross their line, and wouldn't take away the load he'd been charged with picking up, so it just sat there on the docks.
+
+The days turned into weeks, and they fed their families as best as they could with the strike pay, which came to a third of what they'd earned in the plant, but the factory owners -- a subsidiary of a Dutch company -- were hurting too. The MUTE organizers explained that the parent company had to release its quarterly statement to its shareholders, who would demand to know why this major factory was sitting idle instead of making money. The organizers offered confident reassurances that when this happened, the workers' demands would be met, the strike settled, and they could get back to work.
+
+So they hung in there, keeping their spirits up on the line, and then --
+
+The factory closed.
+
+Big Sister Nor found out about it one night as she was playing Theater of War VII, a game she'd played since she was a little girl. One of her guildies was a girl whose brother had passed by the factory on his way home from school, and he'd seen them moving the machines out of the plant, driving away in huge lorries.
+
+She'd texted everyone she knew, /{Get to the factory now}/, but by the time they got there, the factory was dead, empty, the gates chained shut. No one from the union met them. None of them answered her calls.
+
+And the women she'd called sister, the women who'd saved her when she'd said /{enough}/, they all looked to her and said, /{What do we do now?}/
+
+And she hadn't known. She'd managed to hold the tears in until she got home, but then they'd flowed, and her parents -- who'd doubted her and harangued her every step of the way -- scolded her for her foolishness, told her it was her fault that all her friends were jobless.
+
+She'd lain in bed that night, miserable, and had been woken by the soft chirp of her phone.
+
+/{I'm outside.}/ It was Affendi, the MUTE organizer she'd been closest to. /{Come to the door}/.
+
+She'd crept outside on cat's feet and barely had time to make out Affendi's outline before she collapsed into Nor's arms. She had been beaten bloody, her eyes blacked, two of her fingers broken, her lips mashed and one of her teeth missing. She managed a mangled smile and whispered, "It's all part of the job."
+
+The cheap hotel where the four organizers had shared a room was raided just after dinner, the police taking them away. They'd been prepared for this, had lawyers standing by to help them when it happened, but they didn't get to call lawyers. They didn't go to the jailhouse. Instead, they'd been taken to a shantytown behind the main train-station and three policemen had stood guard while a group of private security forces from the plant had taken turns beating them with truncheons and fists and boots, screaming insults at them, calling them whores, tearing at their clothes, beating their breasts and thighs.
+
+It only stopped when one of the women fell unconscious, bleeding from a head-wound, eyelids fluttering. The men had fled then, after taking their money and identity papers, leaving them weeping and hurt. Affendi had managed to hide her spare mobile phone -- a tiny thing the size of a matchbook -- in the elastic of her underpants, and that had enabled her to call the MUTE headquarters for help. Once the ambulance was on its way, she'd come to get Nor.
+
+"They'll probably come for you, too," she said. "They usually try to make an example of the workers who start trouble."
+
+"But you told me that they were going to have to give in because of their shareholders --"
+
+Affendi held up a broken hand. "I thought they would. But they decided to leave. We think they're probably going to Indonesia. The new laws there make it much harder to organize the workers. That's how it goes, sometimes." She shrugged, then winced and sucked air over her teeth. "We thought they'd want to stay put here. The provincial government gave them too much to come here -- tax breaks, new roads, free utilities for five years. But there are new Special Economic Zones in Indonesia that have even better deals." She shrugged again, winced again. "You may be all right here, of course. Maybe they'll just move on. But I thought you should be given the chance to get somewhere safe with us, if you wanted to."
+
+Nor shook her head. "I don't understand. Somewhere safe?"
+
+"The union has a safe-house across the provincial line. We can take you there tonight. We can help you find work, get set up. You can help us unionize another factory."
+
+A light rain fell, pattering off the palms that lined her street and splashing down in wet, fat drops, bringing an earthy smell up from the soil. A fat drop slid off an unseen leaf overhead and spattered on Nor's neck, reminding her that she'd gone out of the house without her hijab, something she almost never did. It seemed to her an omen, like her life was changing in every single way.
+
+"Where are we going?"
+
+"You find out when we get there. I don't know either. That's why it's a safe house -- no one knows where it is unless they have to. MUTE organizers have been murdered, you understand."
+
+/{Why didn't you tell me this when all this started?}/ She wanted to say. But her parents /{had}/ told her. Management had warned them, through bullhorns, that they were risking everything. She'd laughed at them, filled with the feeling of sisterhood and safety, of /{power}/. That feeling was gone now.
+
+And she'd gone with Affendi, and she'd worked in a factory that was much like the factory she'd left, and there had been a union fight much like the one she'd fought, but this time, they were better prepared and the workers had called Nor "Big Sister," a term of endearment that had scared her a little, coming from the mouths of women much older than her, coming from young girls who could never appreciate the danger.
+
+And this time, the owners hadn't fled, the workers had won better conditions, and Big Sister Nor found that she didn't want to make textiles anymore. She found that she had a taste for the fight.
+
+Now there was a young man, someone called Matthew Fong, in Shenzhen, and he was relying on her to help him win his dignity, fair wages, and a safe and secure workplace. And he was doing it in China, where unofficial unions were illegal and where labor organizers sometimes disappeared into prison for years.
+
+The Mighty Krang could speak a beautiful Mandarin as well as his native Cantonese, so he was in charge of giving soundbites to the foreign Chinese press, that network of news-resources serving the hundreds of millions of people of Chinese ancestry living abroad. They were key, because they were intimately connected to the whole sprawling enterprise of imports and exports, and when they spoke, the bureaucrats in Beijing listened. And The Mighty Krang could put on a voice that was so smoothly convincing you'd swear it was a newscaster.
+
+Justbob was in charge of moral support for the strikers, talking to them in broken Cantonese and Singlish and gamer-speak on conference calls, keeping their morale up. She could work three phones and two computers like a human octopus, her attention split across a dozen conversations without losing the thread in any of them.
+
+And Big Sister Nor? She was in-world, in several worlds, rallying Webblies to the site of the Mushroom Kingdom, finding gamers converging from all over Asia -- where it was night -- and from Europe -- where it was day -- and America -- where it was morning. Management had wasted no time moving replacement workers in. There were always desperate subcontractors out in the provinces of China, ten kids in a dead industrial town in Dongbei who'd been lured to computers with pretty talk about getting paid to play. Across a dozen different shards of the same Mushroom Kingdom world, a dozen alternate realities, they came, and Big Sister Nor played general in a skirmish against them, as strikers blocked the entrance to the dungeon and sent a stream of pro-union chats and URLs to them even as they fought them to keep them out of the dungeon.
+
+The battle wasn't much of a fight, not at first. The replacement workers were there to kill dumb non-player characters in a boring, predictable way that wouldn't trigger the Mechanical Turks and bring their operation to the attention of Nintendo-Sun. They were all seasoned gamers, and they were used to teamplay, and many of the Webblies had never fought side-by-side before. But the Webblies were fighting for the movement, and the replacement workers -- they called them "scabs," another old word from out of history -- were fighting because they didn't know what else to do.
+
+It was a rout. The scabs were sent back to their respawn points by the thousand, unable to return to work until they'd done their corpse runs, and the Webblies raised their swords and shot fireballs into the sky and cheered in a dozen languages.
+
+The news was good from Shenzhen, too, judging from what Justbob was saying into her headsets and typing onto her screens. The strike-line was holding, and while the police were there, they hadn't moved in -- in fact, it sounded like they'd moved to hold back the private factory security!
+
+Silently, Big Sister Nor thanked Matthew Fong for picking a fight that -- seemingly -- they'd be able to win. She shouted up to Ezhil in the front of Headshot, calling for ginseng bubble-tea all around, the ginseng root would give them all a little shot of energy. Couldn't live on caffeine and taurine alone!
+
+"Ezhil!" she shouted a minute later, looking up from her mouse. "Bubble tea!" If she'd been paying attention, she would have noticed the squeak in his voice as he promised right away, right away.
+
+But her attention was fixed on her screens, because that's where it was all suddenly going very wrong indeed. What she'd taken for strikers' victorious fireballs launched into the sky were landing among the players now, inflicting major damage. Just as she was noticing this, a volley of skidding, spiked turtle-shells came sliding in from offscreen, in twelve worlds at once.
+
+/{Ambush!}/
+
+She barked the word into her headset in Mandarin, then Cantonese, then Hindi, then English. The cry was taken up by the players and they rallied, forming battle-squares, healers in the middle, tanks on the outside, nimble thieves and scouts spreading out into the mushroom forests, looking for the ambush.
+
+This would work much better if they were a regular guild, all playing on the side of the evil Bowser or of the valiant Princess Peach, because if you were all on the same side, the game would coordinate your movements for you, give you radar for where and how all the other players were moving. But the strikers were from both sides of Mushroom Kingdom's moral coin, and as far as the game was concerned, they were sworn enemies. Their IMs were unintelligible to one another, and the default option for any "opposing" av you clicked on was ATTACK, leading to a lot of accidental skirmishes.
+
+But gold farmers knew all about playing their own game, one that lived on top of the game that the companies wanted them to play. The game's communications tools were powerful and easy, but nothing (apart from the ridiculous "agreement" you had to click every time you started up the game) kept you from using anything you wanted. They favored free chat systems developed to help corporate work-groups collaborate; since these services always had free demo-versions available, hoping to snag some office-person into buying 30,000 licenses for their mega-corp. These systems even allowed them to stream screen-caps from their own computers, and Big Sister Nor saw to it that these were arranged sequentially, forming a huge, panoramic view of the entire battlefield.
+
+She flicked through the battlescenes and the communications hub, fingers flying on the keyboard. They had a Koopa Turbo Hammer in seven of the worlds, a huge, whirling god-hammer that could clobber a score of attackers on a single throw, and she had it brought forward, using the scouts' screencaps to pinpoint the enemies' positions, conferring them to the hammer-throwers, a passel of hulking Kongs with protruding fangs and enormous, hairy chests.
+
+That was seven battles down; in the remaining five, she ordered the Peaches to form up with their umbrellas at the ready, then had two Bowsers "bounce" each of them, sticking to them while doing minimum damage. The Peaches unfurled their umbrellas and sailed into the air, taking their Bowsers with them, to drop behind enemy lines, ready to breathe fire and stomp the opposing forces. This was a devastating attack, one that was only possible if you played the farmers' game, cooperating through a side-channel -- normally, Bowsers and Princess Peaches were on the opposite sides of the Great War that was at the center of the Mushroom Kingdom story.
+
+It should have worked -- the hammers, the Bowsers, the skilled players of a dozen guilds, bristling with armament and armor, spelling and firing and skirmishing.
+
+It should have worked -- but it hadn't.
+
+The mysterious attackers -- she'd branded them "Pinkertons" in her mind, after the strike-breaking goons from the Pinkerton Detective Agency who'd been the old Wobblies' worst enemies -- had seemingly endless numbers, and every attack they launched seemed to do maximum damage. Meanwhile, they were able to pull off incredible dodges and defenses against the strikers' attacks. And their aim! Every fireball, every turtle, every sound-bomb, every flung axe found its target with perfect accuracy.
+
+It was almost as though they were --
+
+-- Cheating!
+
+That had to be it. They were using aimhacks, dodgehacks, all the prohibited add-on software that the game was supposed to be able to spot and disable. Somehow, they'd gotten past the game's defenses. It didn't matter. The game was always stacked against gold farmers.
+
+"Pull back!" she shouted. "Retreat!" This was going to have to be guerrilla war, jungle war, hiding in the bushes and sniping at them as they'd sniped at her. She'd lure them into the clearing that marked the dungeon's entrance and then they'd slip around them into the mushroom forest, using their superior coordination to trump the hacks and numbers the Pinkertons had on their side. In her headset, she heard the ragged breathing, the curses in six languages, the laughter and shouting of players all over the world, listening to her rap out commands in all the different versions of Mushroom Kingdom that they were fighting in.
+
+She found that she was grinning. This was /{fun.}/ This was a /{lot}/ more fun than being tear-gassed.
+
+It had been Big Sister Nor's idea to use the games for organizing. Why risk your neck in the factory or standing at its gates when you could slip right in among the workers, no matter where they were in the world, and talk to them about joining up? Plenty of the MUTE old guard had thought she was crazy, but there was lots of support, too -- especially when Nor showed them that they could reach the Indonesian textile workers who'd inherited her job when her factory had closed up and moved on, simply by logging into Spirals of the Golden Snail, a game that had taken the whole Malay peninsula by storm.
+
+It didn't matter where you fought, it mattered whether you won. And the more she thought about it, the more she realized that they could win in-game. The bosses were better at firing teargas at them, but they were better at lobbing fireballs, pulsed energy weapons, photon torpedoes and savage flying fish -- and they always would be. What's more, a striker who lost a skirmish in-game merely had to re-spawn and do a corpse-run, possibly losing a little inventory in the process. A striker who lost a skirmish AFK -- away from keyboard -- might end up dead.
+
+Big Sister Nor lived in perpetual fear of having someone's death on her hands.
+
+The battle was turning again. The Pinkertons had all fallen for her gambit, letting them rush past and back into the mushroom forest, effectively trading places. Now they were digging in the woods, laying little ambushes, fortifying positions and laying down withering fire from all directions. The breathing, gasping, triumphant muttering voices in her head and the hastily clattered in-game chat gave her a feeling like the battle was resting delicately balanced on her fingertips, every shift and change dancing felt as a tremor against the sensitive pads of her fingers.
+
+Big Sister Nor called for her bubble tea again, realizing that a very long time indeed had gone by since she'd first ordered it. This time, no one answered. The skin on the back of her neck prickled and she slipped her headphones off her head. Justbob and The Mighty Krang caught on a second later, removing their earwigs. There was no noise at all from the front of Headshot, none of the normal hyperactive calling of gamer-kids, or the shouts of guestworkers phoning home on cheap earwigs.
+
+Big Sister Nor stood up quietly and quickly and backed up against the wall, motioning to the others to do the same. On her screen, she saw another rally by the Pinkertons, who'd taken advantage of the sudden lack of strategic leadership to capture several of the small striker strongholds. She inched her way toward the door and very, very, /{very}/ slowly tilted her head to see around the frame, then whipped it back as quick as she could.
+
+/{RUN}/, she mouthed to her lieutenants, and they broke for the rear entrance, the escape hatch that Big Sister Nor always made sure of before she holed up to do union work.
+
+On their heels came the Pinkertons, the real world Pinkertons, Malay men in workers' clothes, poor men, men armed with stout sticks and a few chains, men who'd been making their way to the door when Big Sister Nor chanced to look around it.
+
+They shouted after them now, excited and tight voices, like the catcalls of drunken boys on streetcorners when they were feeling the bravery of numbers and hormones and liquor. That was a dangerous sound. It was the sound of fools egging each other on.
+
+Big Sister Nor hit the crashbar on the rear door with both palms, slamming into it with the full weight of her body. The door's gas-lift was broken, so it swung back like a mousetrap, and it was a good thing it did, because it moved so fast that the two Pinkertons waiting to bar their exit didn't have time to get out of the way. One was knocked over on his ass, the other was slammed into the cinderblock wall with a jarring thud that Big Sister Nor felt in her palms.
+
+The door rebounded into her, knocking her back into The Mighty Krang, who caught her, pushed her on, hands on her shoulderblades, breath ragged in her ears.
+
+They were in a dark, narrow, stinking alley behind that connected two of the Lorangs, the small streets that ran off Geylang Road, and it was time to R and G -- to run and gun, what you did when all your other plans collapsed. Big Sister Nor had thought this through far enough to make sure they had a back door, but no farther than that.
+
+The Pinkertons were close behind, but they were all squeezed down into the incredibly narrow confines of the alleyway, and no one could really run or move faster than a desperate shuffle.
+
+But then they broke free into the next Lorang, and Big Sister Nor broke left, hoping to make it far enough up the road to get into sight of the diners at the all-night restaurants.
+
+She didn't make it.
+
+One of the men threw his truncheon at her and it hit her square between her shoulders, knocking the breath from her and causing her to go down on one knee. Justbob twined one hand in her blouse and hauled her to her feet with a sound of tearing cloth, and dragged her on, but they'd lost a step to her fall, and now the men were on them.
+
+Justbob whirled around, snarling, shouting a worldless cry, using the movement as inertia for a wild roundhouse kick that connected with one of the Pinkertons, a man with sleepy eyes and a thick mustache. Justbob's foot caught him in the side, and they all heard the sound of his ribs breaking under the toe of her demure sandal with its fake jewels. The sandal flew on and clattered to the road with the cheap sound of paste gems.
+
+The men hadn't expected that, and there was a moment when they stopped in their tracks, staring at their fallen comrade, and in that instant, Big Sister Nor thought that -- just maybe -- they could get away. But Justbob's chest was heaving, her face contorted in rage, and she /{leapt}/ at the next man, a fat man in a sweaty sportcoat, thumbs aiming at his eyes, and as she reached him, the man beside him lifted his truncheon and brought it down, glancing off her high, fine cheekbone and then smashing against her collarbone.
+
+Justbob howled like a wounded dog and fell back, landing a hard punch in her attacker's groin as she fell back.
+
+But now the Pinkertons were on them, and their arms were raised, their truncheons held high, and as the first one swung into Big Sister Nor's left breast, she cried out and her mind was filled with Affendi and her broken fingers, her unrecognizably bruised face. Somewhere, just a few tantalizing meters up the Lorang, night people were eating a huge feast of fish and goat in curry, the smells in the air. But that was there. Here, Big Siter Nor was infinitely far from them, and the truncheons rose and fell and she curled up to protect her head, her breasts, her stomach, and in so doing exposed her tender kidneys, her delicate short-ribs, and there she lay, enduring a season in hell that went on for an eternity and a half.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Chapters/Indigo, the national Canadian megachain. I was working at Bakka, the independent science fiction bookstore, when Chapters opened its first store in Toronto and I knew that something big was going on right away, because two of our smartest, best-informed customers stopped in to tell me that they'd been hired to run the science fiction section. From the start, Chapters raised the bar on what a big corporate bookstore could be, extending its hours, adding a friendly cafe and lots of seating, installing in-store self-service terminals and stocking the most amazing variety of titles. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Chapters/Indigo }http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/For-The-Win-Cory-Doctorow/9780765322166-item.html
+
+Connor Prikkel sometimes thought of math as a beautiful girl, the kind of girl that he'd dreamt of wooing, dating, even marrying, while sitting in the back of any class that wasn't related to math, daydreaming. A beautiful girl like Jenny Rosen, who'd had classes with him all through high-school, who always seemed to know the answer no matter what the subject, who had a light dusting of freckles around her nose and a quirky half-smile. Who dressed in jeans that she'd tailored herself, in t-shirts she'd modded, stitching multiple shirts together to make tight little half-shirts, elaborate shawls, mock turtelnecks.
+
+Jenny Rosen had seemed to have it all: beauty and brains and, above all, rationality: she didn't like the way that store-bought jeans fit, so she hacked her own. She didn't like the t-shirts that everyone wore, so she changed the shirts to suit her taste. She was funny, she was clever, and he'd been completely, head-over-heels in love with her from sophomore English right through to senior American History.
+
+They'd been friendly through that time, though not really friends. Connor’s friends were into gaming and computers, Jenny's friends were jocks and school-paper kids. But friendly, sure, enough to say hello in the hallway, enough to become lab partners in sophomore physics (she was a careful taker of notes, and her hair-stuff smelled /{amazing}/, and their hands brushed against each other a hundred times that semester).
+
+And then, in senior year, he'd asked her out to a movie. Then she'd asked him to a track rally. Then he'd asked her to work with him on an American History project on Chinese railway workers that involved going to Chinatown after school, and there they'd had a giant dim sum meal and then sat in a park and talked for hours, and then they'd stopped talking and started kissing.
+
+And one thing led to another, and the kissing led to more kissing, and then their friends all started to whisper, "Did you hear about Connor and Jenny?" and she met his parents and he met hers. And it had all seemed perfect.
+
+But it wasn't perfect. Anything but.
+
+In the four months, two weeks and three days that they were officially a couple, they had approximately 2,453,212 arguments, each more blazing than the last. Theoretically, he understood everything he needed to about her. She loved sports. She loved to use her mind. She loved humor. She loved silly comedies and slow music without words.
+
+And so he would go away and plan out exactly how to deliver all these things to her, plugging in her loves like variables into an equation, working out elaborate schemes to deliver them to her.
+
+But it never worked. He'd work it out so that they could go to a ball game at ATandT Park and she'd want to go see a concert at Cow Palace instead. He'd take her to see a new wacky comedy and she'd want to go home and work on an overdue assignment. No matter how hard he tried to get her reality and his theory to match up, he always failed.
+
+In his heart of hearts, he knew it wasn't her fault. He knew that he had some deficiency that caused him to live in the imaginary world he sometimes thought of as "theory-land," the country where everything behaved as it was supposed to.
+
+After graduation, through his bachelor's degree in pure math at Berkeley, his Masters in Signal Processing at Caltech, and the first year of a PhD in economics at Stanford, he had occasion to date lots of beautiful women, and every time, he found himself ground to pulp between the gears of real-world and theory-land. He gave up on women and his PhD on a fine day in October, telling the prof who was supposed to be his advisor that he could find someone else to teach his freshman math courses, grade his papers, and answer his email.
+
+He walked off the Stanford campus and into the monied streets of Palo Alto, and he packed up his car and drove to his new job, as chief economist for Coca Cola's games division, and finally, he found a real world that matched the beautiful elegance of theory-land.
+
+Coca Cola ran or franchised anywhere from a dozen to thirty game-worlds at any given time. The number of games went up or down according to the brutal, elegant logic of the economics of fun:
+
+a certain amount of difficulty
+
+plus
+
+a certain amount of your friends
+
+plus
+
+a certain amount of interesting strangers
+
+plus
+
+a certain amount of reward
+
+plus
+
+a certain amount of opportunity
+
+equalled
+
+fun
+
+.
+
+That was the equation that had come to him one day early in his second semester of the PhD grind, a bolt of inspiration like the finger of god reaching down into his brain. The magic was that equals sign, just before the fun, because once you could express fun as a function of other variables, you could establish its relationship to those variables -- if we reduce the difficulty and the number of your friends playing, can we increase the reward and make the fun stay the same?
+
+This line of thought drove him to phone in a sick-call to his advisor and head straight home, where he typed and drew and scribbled and thought and thought and thought, and he phoned in sick the next day, and the next -- and then it was the weekend, and he let his phone run down, shut off his email and IM, and worked, eating when he had to.
+
+By the time he found himself shoving fingerloads of butter into his mouth, having emptied the fridge of all else, he knew he was onto something.
+
+He called them the Prikkel equations, and they described in elegant, pure, abstract math the relationship between all the variables that went into fun, and how fun equalled money, inasmuch as people would pay to play fun games, and would pay more for items that had value in those games.
+
+Technically, he should have sent the paper to his advisor. He'd signed a contract when he was accepted to the University giving ownership of all his ideas to the school forever, in exchange for the promise of someday adding "PhD" to his name. It hadn't seemed like a good idea at the time, but the alternative was the awesomely craptacular job-market, and so he'd signed it.
+
+But he wasn't going to give this to Stanford. He wasn't going to /{give}/ it to anybody. He was going to /{sell}/ it.
+
+He didn't go back to campus after that, but rather plunged into a succession of virtual worlds, plotting the time in hours it took him to achieve different tasks, and comparing that to the price of gold in the black-, grey- and white-market exchanges for in-game wealth.
+
+Each number slotted in perfectly, just where he'd expected it to go. His equations /{fit}/, and the world fit his equations. He'd finally found a place where the irrational was rendered comprehensible. And what's more, he could /{manipulate}/ the world using his equations.
+
+He decided to do a little fantasy trading: working from his equations, he'd predicted that the gold in MAD Magazine's Shlabotnik's Curse was wildly undervalued. It was an incredibly fun game -- or at least, it satisfied the fun equation -- but for some reason, game money and elite items were going for peanuts. Sure enough, in 36 hours, his imaginary MAD Money was worth $130 in imaginary real money.
+
+Then he took his $130 stake and sank it into four other game currencies, spreading out his bets. Three of the four hit the jackpot, bringing his total up to $200 in imaginary dollars. Now he decided to spend some real money -- he already knew that he wasn't going back to campus, so that meant his grad student grant would vanish shortly. He'd need to pay the rent while he searched for a buyer for his equations.
+
+He'd already proven to his own satisfaction that he could predict the movement of game currencies, but now he wanted to branch out into the weirder areas of game economics: elite items, the rare prestige items that were insanely difficult to acquire in-game. Some of them had a certain innate value -- powerful weapons and armor, ingredients for useful spells -- but others seemed to hold value by sheer rarity or novelty. Why should a purple suit of armor cost ten times as much as the red one, given that both suits of armor had exactly the same play value?
+
+Of course, the purple one was much harder to come by. You had to either buy it with unimaginable mountains of gold -- so players who saw your av sporting it would assume that you had played your ass off to earn for it -- or pull off some fantastic stunt to get it, like doing a 60-player raid on a nigh-unkillable boss. Like a designer label on an otherwise unimpressive article of clothing, these items were valuable because people who saw them assumed they had to cost a lot or be hard to get, and thought more of the owner for having them. In other words, they cost a lot because...they cost a lot!
+
+So far, so good -- but could you use Prikkel's Equations to predict /{how much}/ they'd cost? Connor thought so. He thought you could use a formula that combined the fun quotient of the game and the number of hours needed to get the item, and derive the "value" of any elite item from purple armor to gold pinstripes on your spaceship to a banana-cream pie the size of an apartment block.
+
+Yes, it would work. Connor was sure of it. He started to calculate the true value of various elite items, casting about for undervalued items. What he discovered surprised him: while virtual currency tended to rest pretty close to its real value, plus or minus five percent, the value-gap in elite items was /{gigantic}/. Some items routinely traded for two or three hundred percent of their real value -- as predicted by his Equations, anyway -- and some traded at a pittance.
+
+Never for a moment did he doubt his equations, though a more humble or more cautious person might have. No, Connor looked at this paradoxical picture and the first thing that came into his head wasn't "Oops." It was /{BUY}/!
+
+And he bought. Anything that was undervalued, he bought, in great storehouses, so much that he had to create alts and secondaries in many worlds, because his primary characters couldn't /{carry}/ all the undervalued junk he was buying. He spent a hundred dollars -- two hundred -- three hundred, snapping up assets, spreadsheeting their nominal value. On paper, he was incredibly, unspeakably rich. On paper, he could afford to move out of his one-bedroom apartment that was a little too close to the poor and scary East Palo Alto for his suburban tastes, buy a McMansion somewhere on the peninsula, and go into business full time, spending his days buying magic armor and zeppelins and flaming hamburgers, and his evening opening checks.
+
+In reality, he was going broke. The theory said that these assets were wildly undervalued. The marketplace said otherwise. He'd cornered the market on several kinds of marvellous gew-gaws, but no one seemed to actually want to buy them from him. He remembered Jenny Rosen, and all the crushing ways that theory and reality could sometimes stop communicating with one another.
+
+When the first red bills came in, he stuck them under his keyboard and kept buying. He didn't need to pay his cell phone bill. He didn't need his cell-phone to buy magic lizards. His student loans? He wasn't a student anymore, so he didn't see why he should worry about them -- they couldn't kick him out of school. Car payments? Let them repo it (and they did, one night, at 2AM, and he waved goodbye to the little hunk of junk as the repo man drove it away, then turned back to his keyboard). Credit card bills? So long as there was one card that was still good, one card he could use to pay the subscription fees for his games, that was all that mattered.
+
+Living close to East Palo Alto had its advantages: for one thing, there were food-banks there, places where he could line up with other poor people to get giant bricks of government cheese, bags of day-old bread, boxes of irregular and unlovely root-vegetables. He fried all the latter in an all-day starch festival and froze them, and then he proceeded to live off of cheese and potato sandwiches, and one morning, he realized that his entire body and everything that came out of it -- breath, burps, farts, even his urine -- smelled of cheese sandwiches. He didn't care. There were ostrich plumes to buy.
+
+Disaster struck: he lost track of which credit card he was ignoring and had half of his accounts suspended when his monthly subscription fees bounced. Half his wealth, wiped out. And the other card wasn't far behind.
+
+He thought he could probably call his parents and grovel a bit and get a bus ticket to Petaluma, hole up in his folks' basement and lick his wounds and be yet another small-town failure who came home with his tail between his legs. He'd need a roll of quarters and a payphone, of course, because his cellphone was now an inert, unpaid, debt-haunted brick. Lucky for him, East Palo Alto was the kind of place where you got lots of people who were too poor even to go into debt with a cell-phone, people who also needed to use payphones.
+
+He tucked himself into his grimy bed on a Wednesday morning and thought, /{Tomorrow, tomorrow I will call them.}/
+
+But tomorrow he didn't. And Friday he didn't, though he was now out of government cheese and wasn't eligible for more until Monday. He could eat potato sandwiches. He couldn't buy assets anymore, but he was still tracking them, watching them trade and identifying the bargains he /{would}/ buy, if only he had a little more liquidity, a little more cashish.
+
+Saturday, he brushed his teeth, because he remembered to do that sometimes, and his gums bled and there were sores on the insides of his mouth and /{now}/ he was ready to call his parents, but it was 11PM somehow, how did the day shoot past, and they went to bed at 9 every night. He'd call them on Sunday.
+
+And on Sunday -- on Sunday -- on that magical, wonderful Sunday, on Sunday --
+
+THE MARKET MOVED!
+
+There he was, pricing assets, recording their values in his spreadsheet, and he realized that the asset he was booking -- a steampunk leather gasmask adorned with a cluster of huge leathery ear-trumpets and brass cogs and rivets (no better than a standard gasmask in the blighted ecotastrophe world that was Rising Seas, but infinitely cooler) -- had already been entered onto his sheet, weeks before. Indeed, he'd booked the mask when its real world cash value was about $0.18, against the $4.54 the Equations predicted. And now he was booking it at $1.24, which meant that the 750 of them he had in inventory had just jumped from $135 to $930, a profit of $795.
+
+There was a strange sound. He realized after a moment that it was his stomach, growling for food. He could flip his gasmasks now, take the $795 onto one of his PayPal debit cards, and eat like a king. He might even be able to buy back some of his lost accounts and recover his assets.
+
+But Connor did not consider doing this, even for a second. He dashed to the sink and filled up three cooking pots with water and brought them back to his desk, along with a cup. He filled the cup and drank it, filled it and drank it, filling his stomach with water until it stopped demanding to be filled. This was California, after all, where people paid good money to go to "retreats" for "liquid fasting" and "detox." So he could wait out food for a day or two... After all, his Equations predicted that these things should go to $3,405. He was just getting started.
+
+And now the gasmasks were rising. He'd get up, go to the bathroom -- his kidneys were certainly getting a workout! -- and return to check the listings on the official exchange sites and the black-market ones where the gold-farmers hung out. He had a little formula for calculating the real price, using these two prices as a kind of beacon. No matter how he calculated it, his gasmasks were rising.
+
+And yes, some of his other assets were rising, too. A robot dog, up from $1.32 to $1.54, still pretty far off from the $8.17 he'd predicted, but he owned a thousand of the things, which meant that he'd just made $1,318.46 here, and he was just getting started.
+
+Up and up the prices went, as asset after asset attained liftoff, and he began to suspect that his asset-buying spree had coincided with an inter-world depression across all virtual economies, which accounted for the huge quantities of undervalued assets he'd found lying around. There was probably an interesting cause for all those virtual economies slumping at once, but that was something to study another day. As it was, he was more interested in the fact that the economies were bouncing back while he was sitting on mountains of dirt-cheap imaginary gewgaws, knickknacks, tchotchkes and white-elephants, and that their values were taking off like crazy.
+
+And now it was time to convert some of those assets to money and some of that money to food, rent, and paid-off bills. His collection of articulated tentacles from Nemo's Adventures on the Ocean Floor were maturing nicely -- he'd bought them at $0.22, priced them at $3.21, and now they were trading at $3.27 -- so he dumped them, and regretted that he'd only bought 400 of them. Still, he managed to dump them for a handy $1150 profit (by the time he'd sold 300 of them, the price had started to tip down again, as the supply of tentacles increased and the demand diminished).
+
+The money dribbled into his PayPal account and he used that to order three pizzas, a gallon of orange juice and ten boxes of salad, paid off his suspended accounts, and sent $400 to his landlord against the $3500 he owed for two months' rent, along with a begging letter promising to pay the rest off within a day or two.
+
+While he waited for the pizzas to arrive, he decided he'd better shower and shave and try to do something about his hair, which had started to go into dreadlocks from a month without seeing a hairbrush. In the end, he just cut the tangles out, and got dressed in something other than his filthy housecoat for the first time in a week -- marvelling at how his jeans hungoff his prominent hips, how his t-shirt clung to his wasted chest, his ribs like a xylophone through the pale skin. He opened all the windows, aware of the funk of body-odor and stale computer-filtered air in his apartment, and realized as he did that it was morning, and thanked his lucky stars that he lived in a college town, where you could get a pizza delivered at 8:30AM.
+
+He barfed after eating the first pizza, getting most of it into the big pot he'd used to hold his drinking water, big chunks of crust and pepperoni, reeking of sour stomach-acid. He didn't let that put him off. His PayPal account was now bulging, up to $50,000, and he was just getting started. He switched to salads and juice, figuring it would take a little while to get used to food again, and not having the time just now to take a long bio-break. His body would have to wait. He ordered an urn of coffee from a place that catered corporate meetings, the kind of thing that held 80 cups' worth, and threw in a plate of sliced veggie and some pastries.
+
+Selling was getting easier now. The economies were bouncing back, and from the tone of the thank-you messages he got from his buyers, he understood that there was a kind of reverse-panic in the air, a sense that players all over the world were starting to worry that if they didn't buy this junk now, they'd never be able to buy it, because the prices would go up and up and up forever.
+
+And it was then that he had his second great flash, the second time that the finger of God reached down and touched his mind, with a force that shook him out of his chair and set him to pacing his living room like a tiger, muttering to himself.
+
+Once, when he'd been working on his Masters, he'd participated in a study for a pal in the economics department. They'd locked twenty five grad students into a room and given each of them a poker chip. "You can do whatever you want with those chips," the experimenter had said. "But you might want to hang onto them. Every hour, on the hour, I'm going to unlock this door and give you twenty dollars for each poker chip you're holding. I'll do this eight times, for the next eight hours. Then I'll unlock the door for a final time and you can go home and your poker chips will be worthless -- though you'll be able to keep all the money you've acquired over the course of the experiment."
+
+He'd snorted and rolled his eyes at the other grad students, who were mostly doing the same. It was going to be a loooong eight hours. After all, everyone knew what the value of the poker chips were: $160 in the first hour, $140 in the next, $120 in the next and so on. What would be the point of trading a poker chip to anyone else for anything less than it was worth?
+
+For the first hour, they all sat around and griped about how boring it all was. Then, the experimenter walked back into the room with a tray of sandwiches and 25 $20 bills. "Poker chips, please," he said, and they dutifully held out their chips, and one by one, each received a crisp new $20 bill.
+
+"One down, seven to go," someone said, once the experimenter had left. The sandwiches were largely untouched. They waited. They flirted in a bored way, or made small talk. The hour ticked past.
+
+Then, at 55 minutes past the hour, one guy, a real joker with red hair and mischievous freckles, got out of the beat-up old orange sofa turned to the prettiest girl in the room, a lovely Chinese girl with short hair and homemade clothes that reminded Connor of Jenny's fashion, and said, "Rent me your poker chip for five minutes? I'll pay you $20."
+
+That cracked the entire room up. It was the perfect demonstration of the absurdity of sitting around, waiting for the $20 hour. The Chinese girl laughed, too, and they solemnly traded. In came the grad student, five minutes later, with another wad of twenties and a cooler filled with smoothies in tetrapaks. "Poker chips, please," he said, and the joker held up his two chips. They all grinned at one another, like they'd gotten one over on the student, and he grinned a little too and handed two twenties to the redhead. The Chinese girl held up her extra twenty, showing that she had the same as everyone else. Once he'd gone, Red gave her back her chip. She pocketed it and went back to sitting in one of the dusty old armchairs.
+
+They drank their smoothies. There were murmured conversations, and it seemed like a lot of people were trading their chips back and forth. Connor laughed to see this, and he wasn't the only one, but it was all in fun. Twenty dollars was the going rate for an hour's rental, after all -- the exactly and perfectly rational sum.
+
+"Give me your poker-chip for 20 minutes for $5?" The asker was at the young end of the room, about 22, with a soft, cultured southern accent. She was also very pretty. He checked the clock on the wall: "It's only half past," he said. "What's the point?"
+
+She grinned at him. "You'll see."
+
+A five dollar bill was produced and the poker-chip left his custody. The pretty southern girl talked with another girl, and after a moment, $10 traded hands, rather conspicuously. "Hey," he began, but the southern girl tipped him a wink, and he fell silent.
+
+Anxiously, he watched the clock, waiting for the 20 minutes to tick past. "I need the chip back," he said, to the southern girl.
+
+She shrugged. "You need to talk to her," she said, jerking her thumb over her shoulder, then she ostentatiously pulled a paperback novel -- /{The Fountainhead}/ -- out of her backpack and buried her nose in it. He felt a complicated emotion: he wanted to laugh, and he wanted to shout at the girl. He chose laughter, conscious of all the people watching him, and approached the other girl, who was tall and solidly built, with a no-nonsense look that went perfectly with her no-nonsense clothes and haircut.
+
+"Yes?" she said, when he approached her.
+
+"You've got my chip," he said.
+
+"No," she said. "I do not."
+
+"But the chip she sold you, I'd only rented it to her."
+
+"You need to take it up with her," the girl who had his chip said.
+
+"But it's my chip," he said. "It wasn't hers to sell to you." He didn't want to say, /{I'm also pretty intimidated by anyone who has the gall to pull a stunt like that.}/ Was it his imagination, or was the southern girl smiling to herself, a smug little smile?
+
+"Not my problem, I'm afraid," she said. "Too bad."
+
+Now /{everyone}/ was watching very closely and he felt himself blushing, losing his cool. He swallowed and tried to put on a convincing smile. "Yeah, I guess I really should be more careful who I trust. Will you sell me my chip?"
+
+"My chip," she said, flipping it in the air. He was tempted to try and grab it out of the air, but that might have led to a wrestling match right here, in front of everyone. How embarrassing!
+
+"Yeah," he said. "Your chip."
+
+"OK," she said. "$15."
+
+"Deal," he said, thinking, /{I've already earned $45 here, I can afford to let go of $15.}/
+
+"In seven minutes," she said. He looked at the clock: it was 11:54. In seven minutes, she'd have gotten his $20. Correction: /{her}/ $20.
+
+"That's not fair," he said.
+
+She raised one eyebrow at him, hoisting it so high it seemed like it'd touch her hairline. "Oh really? I think that this chip is worth $120. $15 seems like a bargain to you."
+
+"I'll give you $20," the redhead said.
+
+"$25," said someone else, laughing.
+
+"Fine, fine," Connor said, hastily, now blushing so hard he actually felt light-headed. "$15."
+
+"Too late," she said. "The price is now $25."
+
+He heard the room chuckle, felt it preparing to holler out a new price -- $40? $60? -- and he quickly snapped, "$25" and dug out his wallet.
+
+The girl took his money -- how did he know she would give him the chip? He felt like an idiot as soon as it had left his hand -- and then the experimenter came in. "Lunch!" he called out, wheeling in a cart laden with boxed salads, vegetarian sushi, and a couple buckets of fried chicken. "Poker chips!" The twenties were handed around.
+
+The girl with his money spent an inordinate amount of time picking out her lunch, then, finally, turned to him with a look of fakey surprise, and said, "Oh right, here," and handed him his chip. The guy with the red hair snickered.
+
+Well, that was the beginning of the game, the thing that turned the next five hours into one of the most intense, emotional experiences he'd ever taken part in. Players formed buying factions, bought out other players, pooled their wealth. Someone changed the wall clock, sneakily, and then they all spent 30 minutes arguing about who's watch or phone was more accurate, until the researcher came back in with a handful of twenties.
+
+In the sixth hour of the experiment, Connor suddenly realized that he was in the minority, an outlier among two great factions: one of which controlled nearly all the poker chips, the other of which controlled nearly all the cash. And there was only two hours left, which meant that his single chip was worth $40.
+
+And something began to gnaw at his belly. Fear. Envy. Panic. The certainty that, when the experiment ended, he'd be the only poor one, the only one without a huge wad of cash. The savvy traders around them had somehow worked themselves into positions of power and wealth, while he'd been made tentative by his bad early experience and had stood pat while everyone else created the market.
+
+So he set out to buy more chips. Or to sell his chip. He didn't care which -- he just wanted to be rich.
+
+He wasn't the only one: after the seventh hour, the entire marketplace erupted in a fury of buying and selling, which made /{no damned sense}/ because now, /{now}/ the chips were all worth exactly $20 each, and in just a few minutes, they'd be absolutely worthless. He kept telling himself this, but he also found himself bidding, harder and harder, for chips. Luckily, he wasn't the most frightened person in the room. That turned out to be the redhead, who went after chips like a crackhead chasing a rock, losing all the casual cool he'd started with and chasing chips with money, IOUs.
+
+Here's the thing, cash should have been /{king}/. The cash would still be worth something in an hour. The poker chips were like soap bubbles, about to pop. But those holding the chips were the kings and queens of the game, of the market. In seven short hours, they'd been conditioned to think of the chips as ATMs that spat out twenties, and even though their rational minds knew better, their hearts were all telling them to corner the chip.
+
+At 4:53, seven minutes before his chip would have its final payout, he sold it to the Fountainhead lady for $35, smirking at her until she turned around and sold it to the redhead for $50. The researcher came into the room, handed out his twenties, thanked them for their time, and sent them on their way.
+
+No one met anyone else's eye as they departed. No one offered anyone else a phone number or email address or IM. It was as if they'd all just done something they were ashamed of, like they'd all taken part in a mob beating or a witch-burning, and now they just wanted to get away. Far away.
+
+For years, Connor had puzzled over the mania that had seized that room full of otherwise sane people, that had found a home in his own heart, had driven him like an addiction. What had brought him to that shameful place?
+
+Now, as he watched the value of his virtual assets climb and climb and climb, climb higher than his Equations predicted, higher than any sane person should be willing to spend on them, he /{understood}/.
+
+The emotion that had driven them in that experimenter's lab, that was driving the unseen bidders around the world: it wasn't greed.
+
+It was /{envy}/.
+
+Greed was predictable: if one slice of pizza is good, it makes sense that your intuition will tell you that five or ten slices would be even better.
+
+But envy wasn't about what was good: it was about what someone else thought was good. It was the devil who whispered in your ear about your neighbor's car, his salary, his clothes, his girlfriend -- better than yours, more expensive than yours, more beautiful than yours. It was the dagger through your heart that could drive you from happiness to misery in a second without changing a single thing about your circumstances. It could turn your perfect life into a perfect mess, just by comparing it to someone who had more/better/prettier.
+
+Envy is what drove that flurry of buying and selling in the lab. The redhead, writing IOUs and emptying his wallet: he'd been driven by the fear that he was missing out on what the rest of them were getting. Connor had sold his chip in the last hour because everyone else seemed to have gotten rich selling theirs. He could have kept his chip to himself for eight hours and walked out $160 richer, and used the time to study, or snooze, or do yoga in the back. But he'd felt that siren call: /{Someone else is getting rich, why aren't you?}/
+
+And now the markets were running and /{everything}/ was shooting up in value: his collection of red oxtails (useful in the preparation of the Revelations spell in Endtimes) should have been selling at $4.21 each. He'd bought them for $2.10 each. They were presently priced at /{$14.51 each}/.
+
+It was insane.
+
+It was wonderful.
+
+Connor knew it couldn't last. Eventually, there would be a marketwide realization that these were overpriced -- just as the market had recently realized that they had been underpriced. Bidding would cease. The last, most scared person who bought an overpriced game asset would be unable to flip it, would have to pay for it.
+
+Rationally, he supposed he should sell at his Equation-predicted number. Anything higher was just a bet on someone else's irrationality. But still -- would he really be better off flipping his 50 oxtails for $200, when he could wait a few minutes and sell them for $700? It didn't have to be all or nothing. He divided his assets up into two groups; the ones he'd bought most cheaply, he set aside to allow to rise as far as they could. They represented his lowest-risk inventory, the cheapest losses to absorb. The remaining assets, he flipped at the second they reached the value predicted by his Equations.
+
+He quickly sold out of the second group, leaving him to watch the speculative assets climb higher and higher. He had a dozen games open on his computer, flipping from one to the next, monitoring the chatter and their associated websites and marketplaces, getting a sense for where they were going. Filtering the tweets and the status messages on the social networks, he felt a curious sense of familiarity: they were going nuts out there in a way that was almost identical to the craziness that had swept over the group in the poker-chip experiment. In their hearts, everyone knew that peacock plumes and purple armor were vastly overvalued, but they also knew that some people were getting rich off of them, and that if the prices kept climbing that they'd never be able to own one themselves.
+
+Nevermind that they never wanted to own one /{before}/, of course! The important thing wasn't what they needed or loved, it was the idea that someone else would have something that they couldn't have.
+
+Connor had made his second great discovery: Envy, not greed, was the most powerful force in any economy.
+
+(Later, when Connor was writing articles about this for glossy magazines and travelling all over the world to talk about it, plenty of people from marketing departments would point out that they'd known this for generations had spent centuries producing ads that were aimed squarely at envy's solar plexus. It was true, he had to admit -- but it was also true that practically every economist he'd ever met had considered marketing people to be a bunch of shallow, foolish court jesters with poor math skills and had therefore largely ignored them)
+
+He watched the envy mount, and tried to get a feel for it all, to track the sentiments as they bubbled up. It was hard -- practically impossible, honestly -- because it was all spread out and no one had written the chat programs and the games and the social networks and the twitsites to track this kind of thing. He ended up with a dozen browsers open, each with dozens of tabs, flipping through them in a high speed blur, not reading exactly, but skimming, absorbing the /{sense}/ of how things were going. He could feel the money and the thoughts and the goods all balanced on his fingertips, feel their weight shifting back and forth.
+
+And so he felt it when things started to go wrong. It was a bunch of subtle indicators, a blip in prices in this market, a joyous tweet from a player who'd just discovered an easy-to-kill miniboss with a huge storehouse stuffed with peacock feathers. The envy bubble was collapsing. Someone had popped it and the air was whooshing out.
+
+SELL!
+
+At that moment, his speculative assets were theoretically worth over /{four hundred thousand dollars}/, but ten minutes later, it was $250,000 and falling like a rock. He knew this one too -- fear -- fear that everyone else got out while the getting was good, that the musical chairs had all been filled, that you were the most scared person in a chain of terrorized people who bought overpriced junk because someone even more scared would buy it off of you.
+
+But Connor could rise above the fear, fly over it, flip his assets in a methodical, rapidfire way. He got out with over $120,000 in cash, plus the $80,000 he'd gotten from his "rationally priced" assets, and now his PayPal accounts were bulging with profits and it was all over.
+
+Except it wasn't.
+
+One by one, his game accounts began to shut down, his characters kicked out, his passwords changed. He was limp with exhaustion, his hands trembling as he typed and re-typed his passwords. And then he noticed the new email, from the four companies that controlled the twelve games he'd been playing: they'd all cut him off for violating their Terms of Service. Specifically, he'd "Interfered with the game economy by engaging in play that was apt to cause financial panic."
+
+"What the hell does that mean?" he shouted at his computer, resisting the urge to hurl his mouse at the wall. He'd been awake for over 48 hours now, had made hundreds of thousands of dollars in a mere weekend, and had been graced with a thunderbolt of realization about the way that the world's economy ran. Oh, and he'd validated his Equations.
+
+He could solve this problem later.
+
+He didn't even make it into bed. He curled up on the floor, in a nest of pizza boxes and blankets, and slept for 18 hours, until he was awoken by the bailiff who came to evict him for being three months behind on the rent.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to San Francisco's Booksmith, ensconced in the storied Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, just a few doors down from the Ben and Jerry's at the exact corner of Haight and Ashbury. The Booksmith folks really know how to run an author event -- when I lived in San Francisco, I used to go down all the time to hear incredible writers speak (William Gibson was unforgettable). They also produce little baseball-card-style trading cards for each author -- I have two from my own appearances there. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Booksmith }http://thebooksmith.booksense.com/: 1644 Haight St. San Francisco CA 94117 USA +1 415 863 8688
+
+Yasmin didn't see Mala anymore. If you weren't in the gang, "General Robotwallah" didn't want to talk to you.
+
+And Yasmin didn't want to be in the gang.
+
+She, too, had had a visit from Big Sister Nor. The woman had made sense. They did all the work, they made almost none of the money. Not just in games, either -- her parents had spent their whole lives toiling for others, and those others had gotten wealthier and wealthier, and they'd stayed in Dharavi.
+
+Mr Banerjee had paid Mala's army more than any other slum-child could earn, it was true, and they were getting paid for playing their game, which had felt like a miracle -- at first. But the more Yasmin thought about it, the less miraculous it became. Big Sister Nor showed her pictures, in-game, of the workers whose jobs they'd been disrupting. Some had been in Indonesia, some had been in Thailand, some had been in Malaysia, some had been in China. And lots of them had been in India, in Sri Lanka, in Pakistan, and in Bangladesh, where her parents had come from. They looked like her. They looked like her friends.
+
+And /{they}/ were just trying to earn money, too. They were just trying to help their families, the way Mala's army had. "You don't have to hurt other workers to survive," Big Sister Nor told her. "We can all thrive together."
+
+Day after day, Yasmin had snuck into Mrs Dibyendu's Internet cafe before the Army met -- not at Mrs Dibyendu's, but at a new Internet shop a little further down the road, near the women's papadam collective -- and chatted with Big Sister Nor and listened to her stories of how it could be.
+
+She'd never talked about it with anyone else in the army. As far as they knew, she was Mala's loyal lieutenant, sturdy and dependable. She had to enforce discipline in the ranks, which meant keeping the boys from fighting too much and keeping the girls from ganging up on one another with hissing, whispered rumors. To them, she was a stern, formidable fighter, someone to obey unconditionally in battle. She couldn't approach them to say, "Have you ever thought about fighting for workers instead of fighting against them?"
+
+No matter how much Big Sister Nor wanted her to.
+
+"Yasmin, they listen to you, la, they love you and look up to you. You say it yourself." Her Hindi was strangely accented and peppered with English and Chinese words. But there were lots of funny accents in Dharavi, dialects and languages from across Mother India.
+
+Finally, she agreed to do it. Not to talk to the soldiers, but to talk to Mala, who had been her friend since Yasmin had found her carrying a huge sack of rice home from Mr Bhatt's shop with her little brother, looking lost and scared in the alleys of Dharavi. She and Mala had been inseparable since then, and Yasmin had always been able to tell her anything.
+
+"Good morning, General," she said, falling into step beside Mala as she trekked to the community tap with a water-can in each hand. She took one can from Mala and took her now free hand and gave it a sisterly squeeze.
+
+Mala grinned at her and squeezed back, and the smile was like the old Mala, the Mala from before General Robotwallah had come into being. "Good morning, Lieutenant." Mala was pretty when she smiled, her serious eyes filled with mischief, her square small teeth all on display. When she smiled like this, Yasmin felt like she had a sister.
+
+They talked in low voices as they waited for the tap, passing gupshup about their families. Mala's mother had met a man at Mr Bhatt's factory, a man whose parents had come to Mumbai a generation before, but from the same village. He'd grown up on stories about life in the village, and he could listen to Mala's mamaji tell stories of that promised land all day long. He was gentle and had a big laugh, and Mala approved. Yasmin's Nani, her grandmother, had been in touch with a matchmaker in London, and she was threatening to find Yasmin a husband there, though her parents were having none of it.
+
+Once they had the water, Yasmin helped Mala carry it back to her building, but stopped her before they got there, in the lee of an overhanging chute that workers used to dump bundled cardboard from a second-story factory down to carriers on the ground. The factory hadn't started up yet, so it was quiet now.
+
+"Big Sister Nor asked me to talk to you, Mala."
+
+Mala stiffened and her smile faded. They weren't talking as sisters anymore. The hard look, the General Robotwallah look, was in her eyes. "What did she say to you?"
+
+"The same she said to you, I imagine. That the people we fight against are also workers, like us. Children, like us. That we can live without hurting others. That we can work with them, with workers everywhere --"
+
+Mala held up her hand, the General's command for silence in the war-room. "I've heard it, I've heard it. And what, you think she's right? You want to give it all up and go back to how we were before? Back to school, back to work, back to no money and no food and being afraid all the time?"
+
+Yasmin didn't remember being afraid all the time, and school hadn't been that bad, had it? "Mala," she said, placatingly. "I just wanted to talk about this with you. You've saved us, all of us in the Army, brought us out of misery and into riches and work. But we work and work for Mr Banerjee, for his bosses, and our parents work for bosses, and the children we fight in the game work for bosses, and I just think --" She drew in a breath. "I think I have more in common with the workers than I do with the bosses. That maybe, if we all come together, we can demand a better deal from all of them --"
+
+Mala's eyes blazed. "You want to lead the Army, is that it? You want to take us on this mission of yours to make /{friends}/ with everyone, to join with them to fight Mr Banerjee and the bosses, Mr Bhatt who owns the factory and the people who own the game? And how will you fight, little Yasmin? Are you going to upset the entire world so that it's finally /{fair}/ and /{kind}/ to everyone?"
+
+Yasmin shrank back, but she took a deep breath and looked into the General's terrible eyes. "What's so wrong with kindness, Mala? What's so terrible about surviving without harming other people?"
+
+Mala's lip curled up in a snarl of pure disgust. "Don't you know by now, Yasmin? Haven't you figured it out yet? Look around us!" She waved her water can wildly, nearly clubbing an old woman who was inching past, bearing her own water cans. "Look around! You know that there are people all over the world who have fine cars and fine meals, servants and maids? There are people all over the world who have /{toilets}/, Yasmin, and /{running water}/, and who get to each have their own bedroom with a fine bed to sleep in! Do you think those people are going to give up their fine beds and their fine houses and cars for /{you}/? And if they don't give it up, where will it come from? How many beds and cars are there? Are there enough for all of us? In this world, Yasmin, there just isn't enough. That means that there are going to be losers and winners, just like in any game, and you get to decide if you want to be a winner or a loser."
+
+Yasmin mumbled something under her breath.
+
+"What?" Mala shouted at her. "What are you saying, girl? Speak up so I can hear you!"
+
+"I don't think it's like that. I think we can be kind to other people and that they will be kind to us. I think that we can stick together, like a team, like the army, and we can all work together to make the world a better place."
+
+Mala laughed, but it sounded forced, and Yasmin thought she saw tears starting in her friend's eyes. "You know what happens when you act like that, Yasmin? They find a way to destroy you. To force you to become an animal. Because /{they're}/ animals. They want to win, and if you offer them your hand, they'll slice off your fingers. You have to be an animal to survive."
+
+Yasmin shook her head, negating everything. "It's not true, Mala! Our neighbors here, they're not animals. They're people. They're good people. We have nothing and yet we all cooperate. We help each other --"
+
+"Oh fine, maybe you can make a little group of friends here, people who would have to look you in the eye if they did you a dirty trick. But it's a big world. Do you think that Big Sister Nor's friends in Singapore, in China, in America, in Russia -- do you think /{they'll}/ think twice before they destroy you? In Africa, in --" She waved her arm, taking in all the countries she didn't know the names of, filled with teeming masses of predatory workers, ready to take their jobs from them. "Listen: do you really care so much for Chinese and Russians and all those other people? Will you take bread out of your mouth to give it to them? For a bunch of /{foreigners}/ who wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire?"
+
+Yasmin thought she knew her friend, but this was like nothing she'd ever heard from Mala before. Where had all this Indian patriotism come from? "Mala, it's foreigners who own all the games we're playing. Who cares if they're foreigners? Isn't the fact that they're people enough? Didn't you used to rage about the stupid caste system and say that everyone deserved equality?"
+
+"Deserved!" Mala spat the word out like a curse. "Who cares what you deserve, if you don't get it. Fill your belly with deserve. Sleep on a bed of deserve. See what you get from deserve!"
+
+"So your army is about taking whatever they can get, even if it hurts someone else?"
+
+Mala stood up very straight. "That's right, it's /{my}/ army, Yasmin. My army! And you're not a part of it anymore. Don't bother coming around again, because, because --"
+
+"Because I'm not your friend or your lieutenant anymore," Yasmin said. "I understand, General Mala Robotwallah. But your army won't last forever and our sisterhood might have, if you'd only valued it more. I'm sorry you are making this decision, General Robotwallah, but it's yours to make. Your karma." She set down the water-can and turned on her heel and started away, back stiff, waiting for Mala to jump on her back and wrestle her into the mud, waiting for her to run up and hug her and beg her for forgiveness. She got to the next corner, a narrow laneway between more plastic recycling factories, and contrived to look back over her shoulder as she turned, pretending to be dodging to avoid a pair of goats being led by an old Tamil man.
+
+Mala was standing tall as a soldier, eyes burning into her, and they transfixed her for a moment, froze her in her tracks, so that she really /{did}/ have to dodge around the goats. When she looked back again, the General had departed, her skinny arms straining with her water-cans.
+
+Big Sister Nor told her to be understanding.
+
+"She's still your friend," the woman said, her voice emanating from the gigantic robot that stood guard over a group of Webbly gold-farmers who were methodically raiding an old armory, clearing out the zombies and picking up the cash and weapon-drops that appeared every time they ran the dungeon. "She may not know it, but she's on the side of workers. The other side -- the boss's side -- they'll use her services, but they'll never let her into their camp. The best she can hope for is to be a cherished pet, a valuable bit of hired muscle. I don't think she'll stay put for that, do you?"
+
+But it wasn't much comfort. In one morning, Yasmin had lost her best friend and her occupation. She started going to school again, but she'd fallen behind in the work in the six months she'd been away and now the master wanted her to stay back a year and sit with the grade four students, which was embarrassing. She'd always been a good student and it galled her to sit with the younger kids -- and to make things worse, she was tall for her age and towered over them. Gradually, she stopped attending the school.
+
+Her parents were outraged, of course. But they'd been outraged when Yasmin had joined the army, too, and her father had beaten her for ten days running, while she refused to cry, refused to have her will broken. In the end, they'd been won over by her stubbornness. And, of course, by the money she brought home.
+
+Yasmin could handle her parents.
+
+Mrs Dibyendu's Internet Cafe was a sad place now that the Army had moved on. Mala had forced that on Mr Banerjee, and had counted it as a great show of her strength when she prevailed. But Yasmin thought she never would have won the argument if Mrs Dibyendu hadn't been so eager to get rid of the Army.
+
+Yasmin doubted that Mrs Dibyendu had anticipated the effect that the Army's departure would have on her little shop, though. Once the Army had gone, every kid in Dharavi had moved with them -- no one under the age of 30 would set foot in the cafe. No one except Yasmin, who now sat there all day long, fighting for the workers.
+
+"You are very good at this," Justbob told her. She was Big Sister Nor's lieutenant, and her Hindi was terrible, so they got by in a broken English that each could barely understand. Nevertheless, Justbob's play was aggressive and just this side of reckless, utterly fearless, and she screamed out fearsome battle-cries in Tamil and Chinese when she played, which made Yasmin laugh even as the hairs on her arms stood up. Justbob liked to put Yasmin in charge of strategy while she led the armies of defenders from around the world who played on their side, defending workers from people like Mala.
+
+"Thank you," Yasmin said, and dispatched a squadron to feint at the left flank of a twenty-cruiser unit of rusting battle-cars that bristled with bolted-on machine-guns and grenade launchers. She mostly played Mad Max: Autoduel and Civilization these days, avoiding Zombie Mecha and the other games that Mala and her Army ruled in. Autoduel was huge now, linked to a reality TV show in which crazy white people fought each other in the deserts in Australia with killer cars just like the ones in the game.
+
+The opposing army bought the feint, turning in a wide arc to present their forward guns to her zippy little motorcycle scouts who must have looked like easy pickings -- the fast dirt-bikes couldn't support any real arms or armor, so each driver was limited to hand-weapons, mostly Uzis on full auto, spraying steel-jacketed rounds toward the heavily armored snouts of the enemy, who returned withering fire with tripod-mounted machine-guns and grenades.
+
+But as they turned, they rolled into a double-row of mines Yasmin had laid by stealth at the start of the battle, and then, as the cars rocked and slammed into each other and spun out of control, Justbob's dragoons swept in from the left, and their splendid battle-wagon came in from the right -- a lumbering two-storey RV plated with triple-thick armor, pierced with gun-slits for a battery of flame-throwers and automatic ballistic weapons, mostly firing depleted uranium rounds that cut through the enemy cars like butter. It wasn't hard to outrun the battle-wagon, but there was nowhere for the enemy to go, and a few minutes later, all that was left of the enemy were oily petrol fires and horribly mutilated bodies.
+
+Yasmin zoomed out and booted her command-trike around a dune to where the work-party continued to labor, doing their job, excavating a buried city full of feral mutants and harvesting its rich ammo-dumps and art-treasures for the tenth time that day. Yasmin couldn't really talk to them -- they were from somewhere in China called Fujian, and besides, they were busy. They'd left their boss and formed a worker's co-op that split the earnings evenly, but they'd had to go heavily into debt to buy the computers to do it, and from what Yasmin understood, their families could be hurt or even killed if they missed a payment, since they'd had to borrow the money from gangsters.
+
+It would have been nice if they'd had access to a better source of money, but it certainly wouldn't be Yasmin. Her Army money had run out a few weeks after she'd left Mala, and though the IWWWW paid her a little money to guard union shops, it didn't come to much, especially compared to the money Mr Banerjee had to throw around.
+
+At least she wasn't hurting other poor people to survive. The goons she'd just wiped out would get paid even though they'd lost. And she had to admit it: this was /{fun}/. There was a real thrill in playing the game, playing it well, getting this army of people to follow her lead to cooperate and become an unstoppable weapon.
+
+Then, Justbob was gone. Not even a hastily typed "gtg," she just wasn't on the end of her mic. And there were crashing sounds, shouts in a language Yasmin didn't speak. Distant screaming.
+
+Yasmin flipped over to Minerva, the social networking site that the Webblies favored, as she did a thousand times a day. Minerva had been developed for gamers, and it had all kinds of nice dashboards that showed you what worlds all your friends were in, what kind of battles they were fighting and so on. It was easy to get lost in Minerva, falling into a clicktrance of screencaps of famous battles, trash-talking between guilds, furious arguments about the best way to run a level -- and the endless rounds of gold-farmer bashing. One thing she loved about Minerva was the auto-translate feature, whose database included all kinds of international gamer shorthands and slangs, knowing that Kekekekeke was Korean for LOL and a million other bits of vital dialects. This made Minerva especially useful for the Webblies' global network of guilds, worker co-ops, locals and clans.
+
+Her dashboard was going /{crazy}/. Webblies from all over the world were tweeting about something happening in China, a big strike from a group of gold-farmers who'd walked out on their boss, and were now picketing outside of their factories. Players from all over the world were rushing to a site in Mushroom Kingdom to blockade some sploit that they'd been mining before they walked out. Yasmin hadn't ever played Mushroom Kingdom and she wouldn't be any use there -- you had to know a lot about a world's weapons and physics and player-types before you could do any damage. But judging from the status ticker zipping past, there were plenty of Webblies available on every shard to fill the gap.
+
+She followed the messages as they went by, watched the rallies and the retreats, the victories and defeats, and waited on tenterhooks for the battle to end when the GMs discovered what they were up to and banned everyones' accounts. That was the secret weapon in all these battles: anyone who snitched to the employees of the companies that ran the worlds could destroy both teams, wiping out their accounts and loot in an instant. No one could afford that -- and no one could afford to fight in battles that were so massive that they caught the eye of the GMs, either.
+
+And yet, here were the Webblies, hundreds of them, all risking their accounts and their livelihoods to beat back goons who were trying to break a strike. Yasmin's blood sang -- this was it, this was what Big Sister Nor was always talking about: Solidarity! An injury to one is an injury to all! We're all on the same team -- and we stay together.
+
+There were videos and pictures streaming from the strike, too -- skinny Chinese boys blinking owlishly in the daylight, on busy streets in a distant land, standing with arms linked in front of glass doorways, chanting slogans in Chinese. Passers-by goggled at them, or pointed, or laughed. Mostly they were girls, older than Yasmin, in their late teens and early twenties, very well-dressed, with fashionable haircuts and short skirts and ironed blouses and shining hair. They stared and some of them talked with the boys, who basked in the attention. Yasmin knew about boys and girls and the way they made each other act -- hadn't she seen and used that knowledge when she was Mala's lieutenant?
+
+And now more and more of the girls were joining the boys -- not exactly joining, but crowding around them, standing in clumps, talking amongst themselves. And there were police coming in too, lots of pictures of the police filling in and Yasmin's heart sank. She could see, with her strategist's eye, how the police positions would work in planning a rush at the strikers, shutting off their escape routes, boxing them in and trapping them when the police swept in.
+
+Now the photos slowed, now the videos stopped. Gloved hands reached up and snatched away cameras, covering lenses. The last audiofeed was shouts, angry, scared, hurt --
+
+And now the ticker at the bottom of her screen was going even crazier, messages from the pickets in China about the police rush, and there was a moment of unreality as Yasmin felt that she was reading about an in-game battle again, set in some gameworld modelled on industrial China, a place that seemed as foreign to her as Zombie Mecha or Mad Max. But these were real people, skirmishing with real police, being clubbed with real truncheons. Yasmin's imagination supplied images of people screaming, writhing, trampling each other with all the vividness of one of her games. It was a familiar scene, but instead of zombies, it was young, pale Chinese boys and beautiful, fashionable Chinese girls caught in the crush, falling beneath the truncheons.
+
+And then the messages died away, as everyone on the scene fell silent. The ticker still crawled with other Webblies around the world, someone saying that the Chinese police could shut down all the mobile devices in a city or a local area if they wanted. So maybe the people were still there, still recording and writing it down. Maybe they hadn't all been arrested and taken away.
+
+Yasmin buried her face in her hands and breathed heavily. Mrs Dibyendu shouted something at her, maybe concerned. It was impossible to tell over the song of the blood in her ears and the hammer of the blood in her chest.
+
+Out there, Webblies all over the world were fighting for a better deal for poor people, and what did it matter? How could her solidarity help those people in China? How could they help /{her}/ when she needed it? Where were Big Sister Nor and Justbob and The Mighty Krang now that she needed them?
+
+She stumbled out into the light, blinking, thinking of those skinny Chinese boys and the police in their strategic positions around them. Suddenly, the familiar alleys and lanes of Dharavi felt sinister and claustrophobic, as though people were watching her from every angle, getting ready to attack her. And after all, she was just a girl, a little girl, and not a mighty warrior or a general.
+
+Her treacherous feet had led her down the road, around a corner, behind the yard where the women's baking co-op set out their papadams in the sun, and past the new cafe where Mala and her army fought. They were in there now, the sound of their boisterous play floating out on the air like smoke, like the mouthwatering temptation smells of cooking food.
+
+What were they shouting about? Some battle they'd fought -- a battle in Mushroom Kingdom. A battle against the Webblies. Of course. They were the best. Who else would you hire to fight the armies of the Webblies? She felt a sick lurch in her gut, a feeling of the earth dropping away from beneath her feet. She was alone now, truly alone, the enemy of her former friends. There was no one on her side except for some distant people in a distant land whom she'd never met -- whom she'd probably never meet.
+
+Dispirited, she turned away and headed for home. Her father was away for a few days, travelling to Pune to install a floor for work. He worked in an adhesive tile plant where they printed out fake stone designs on adhesive-backed squares of durable vinyl that could be easily laid in the office towers of Pune's industrial parks. There were always tiles around their home, and Yasmin had never paid them much attention until she started to game with Mala, and then she'd noticed with a shock one day that the strange, angular blurring around the edges of the fine "marble" veins in the tiles were the same compression smears you got when the game's graphics started to choke, "JPEG artifacts," they called them in the message boards. It was as though the little imperfections that make the games slightly unreal were creeping into the real world.
+
+That feeling was with her now as she ghosted away from the cafe, but she was brought back to reality by a tap on her shoulder. She whirled around, startled, feeling, for some reason, like she was about to be punched.
+
+But it was Sushant, the tallest boy in Mala's army, who had never blustered and fought like the other boys, but had stared intently at his screen as though he wished he could escape into it. Yasmin found herself staring straight down his eyes, and he waggled his chin apologetically and smiled shyly at her.
+
+"I thought I saw you passing by," he said. "And I thought --" He dropped his eyes.
+
+"You thought what?" she said. It came out harshly, an anger she hadn't known she'd been feeling.
+
+"I thought I'd come out and..." He trailed off.
+
+"What? What did you think, Sushant?" Her own chin was wagging from side to side now, and she leaned her face down toward his, noses just barely apart. She could smell his lunch of spinach bahji on his breath.
+
+He shrank back, winced. Yasmin realized that he was terrified. Realized that he had probably risked quite a lot just by coming out to talk to her. Discipline was everything in Mala's army. Hadn't Yasmin been in charge of enforcing discipline?
+
+"I'm sorry," she said, backing away. "It's nice to see you again, Sushant. Have you eaten?" It was a formality, because she knew he had, but it was what one friend said to another in Dharavi, in Mumbai -- maybe in all of India, for all Yasmin knew.
+
+He smiled again, a faltering little shy smile. It was heartbreaking to see. Yasmin realized that she'd never said much to him when she was Mala's lieutenant. He'd never needed cajoling or harsh words to get down to work, so she'd practically ignored him. "I thought I'd come out and say hello because we've all missed you. I hoped that maybe you and Mala could --" Again he faltered, and Yasmin felt her own chin jutting out involuntarily in a stubborn, angry way.
+
+"Mala and I have chosen different roads," she said, making a conscious effort to sound calm. "That's final. Does it go well for her and you?"
+
+He nodded. "We win every battle."
+
+"Congratulations."
+
+"But now -- lately -- I've been thinking --"
+
+She waited for him to say more. The moment stretched. Grownups bumped past them and she realized that they probably thought they were courting, being a boy and a girl together. If news of that got back to her father --
+
+But it didn't matter to her anymore. Her father was off installing JPEG artifacts in an IT park in Pune. She was out of the army and out of friends and out of school. What could anything matter.
+
+"I talk to your friends," he said at last.
+
+"My friends?" She didn't know she had any.
+
+"The Webblies. Your new army. They come to me while I fight, send me private messages. At first I ignored them, but lately I've been on drogue, and I have a lot of time to think. And they sent me pictures -- the people I was hurting. Kids like you and me, all over the world. And it made me think." He paused, licked his lips. "About karma. About hurting people to live. About all the things that they say. I don't think I want to do this forever. Or that I can do it forever."
+
+Yasmin was at a loss for words. Were there really other people, right here in Dharavi, right here in Mala's army, who felt as she did? She'd never imagined such a thing, somehow. But here he was.
+
+"You know that Mala's army pays ten times what you can get with the Webblies, right?"
+
+"For now," he said. "That's the point, right? Chee! If we fight now, we can raise the wages of everyone who works for a living instead of owning things for a living, right?"
+
+"I never thought of the division that way. Owning things for a living, I mean."
+
+His shyness receded. He was clearly enjoying having someone to talk to about this. "It all comes down to owning versus working. Someone has to do the organizing, I guess -- there wouldn't be a Zombie Mecha if someone didn't get a lot of people together, working to make all that code. Someone has to pay the game-masters and do all of that. I understand that part. It makes sense to me. My mother works in Mrs Dotta's fabric-dyeing shop. Someone has to buy the dyes, get the cloth, buy the vats and the tools, arrange to sell it once it's done, otherwise, my mother wouldn't have a job. I always stopped there, thinking, all right, if Mrs Dotta does all that work, and makes a job for my mother, why shouldn't she get paid for it?
+
+"But now I think that there's no reason that Mrs Dotta's job is more important than my mother's job. Mamaji wouldn't have a job without Mrs Dotta's factory, but Mrs Dotta wouldn't have a factory without mamaji's work, right?" He waggled his chin defiantly.
+
+"That's right," Yasmin said. She was nervous about being in public with this boy, but she had to admit that it was exciting to hear this all from him.
+
+"So why should Mrs Dotta have the right to fire my mother, but my mother not have the right to fire Mrs Dotta? If they depend on each other, why should one of them always have the power to demand and the other one always have to ask for favors?"
+
+Yasmin felt his excitement, but she knew that there had to be more to it than this. "Isn't Mrs Dotta taking all the risk? Doesn't she have to find the money to start the factory, and doesn't she lose it if the factory closes?"
+
+"Doesn't mamaji risk losing her job? Doesn't Mamaji risk growing sick from the fumes and the chemicals in the dyes? There's nothing eternal or perfect or natural about it! It's just something we all agreed to -- bosses get to be in charge, instead of just being another kind of worker who contributes a different kind of work!"
+
+"And that's what you think you'll get from the Webblies? An end to bosses?"
+
+He looked down, blushing. "No," he said. "No, I don't think so. I think that it's too much to ask for. But maybe the workers can get a better deal. That's what Big Sister Nor talks about, isn't it? Good pay, good places to work, fairness? Not being fired just because you disagree with the boss?"
+
+/{Or the general}/, Yasmin thought. Aloud, she said, "So you'll leave the army? You want to be a Webbly?"
+
+Now he looked down further. "Yes," he said, at last. "Eventually. It all keeps going around and around in my mind. I don't know if I'm ready yet." He risked a look up at her. "I don't know if I'm as brave as you."
+
+Anger surged through her, hot and irrational. How /{dare}/ he talk about her "bravery"? He was just using that as an excuse to go on getting rich in Mala's army. He understood /{so well}/ what was wrong and what needed to be done. Understood it better than Yasmin! But he didn't want to give up his comfort and friendships. That wasn't cowardice, it was /{greed}/. He was too greedy to give it up.
+
+He must have seen this in her face, because he took a step back and held up his hands. "It's not that I won't do it someday -- but I don't know what good it would do for me to do this today, on my own. What would change if I stopped fighting for Mala's army? She's just one general with one army among hundreds all over the world, and I'm just one fighter in the army. I --" He faltered. "What's the sense in giving up so much if it won't make a difference?"
+
+Yasmin's anger boiled in her, ate at her like acid, but she bit her tongue, because that little voice inside her was saying, "You're mostly angry because you thought you had a comrade, someone who'd keep you company, and it turned out that all he wanted to do was confess to you and have you forgive him. And it was true. She was far more upset by her loneliness than by his cowardice, or greed, or whatever it was.
+
+"I. Need. To. Go. Now," she said, biting on the words, keeping the anger out of her voice by sheer force of will.
+
+She didn't wait for him to raise his eyes, just turned on her heel and walked and walked and walked, through the familiar alleys of Dharavi, not going anywhere but trying to escape anyway, like a chained animal pacing off its patch. She was chained -- chained by birth and by circumstance. Her family might have been rich. They might have been high-caste. She might be in another country -- in America, in China, in Singapore, all the distant lands. But she was here, and she had no control over that. There was a whole world out there and this was where fate had put her.
+
+She wouldn't be changing the world. She wouldn't be going to any of those places. She hadn't even left Dharavi, except once with her mother, when she took Yasmin and her brothers on a train to see a beach where it had been hot and sandy and the water had been too dangerous to swim in, so they'd stood on the shore and then walked down a road of smart shops where they couldn't afford to shop, and then they'd waited for the bus again and gone home. Yasmin had seen the multiverses of the games, but she hadn't even seen Mumbai.
+
+Now where? She was tired and hungry, angry and exhausted. Home? It was still afternoon, so her mother and brothers were all out working or in school. That emptiness... It scared her. She wasn't used to being alone. It wasn't a natural state in Dharavi. She was very thirsty, the wind was blowing plastic smoke into her eyes and face, making her nostrils and sinuses and throat raw. Mrs Dibyendu's cafe would have chai, and Mrs Dibyendu would give her a cup of it and some computer time on credit, because Mrs Dibyendu was desperate to save her cafe from bankruptcy now that the army had abandoned it.
+
+Mrs Dibyendu's idiot nephew doled her out a cup of chai grudgingly. He hadn't learned a thing from the savage beating that Mala had laid on him. He still stood too close, still went out Eve teasing with his gang of badmashes. Yasmin knew that he would have loved to take revenge on Mala, and that Mala never went out after dark without three or four of the biggest boys from the army. It made her furious. No matter how much Mala had hurt her, she had the right to go around her home without fearing this idiot. His upper lip was curled in a permanent sneer, thanks to the scar Mala's feet had left behind.
+
+She sat down to a computer, logged in. She was sure that the idiot nephew used all kinds of badware to spy on what they did on the computers, but she'd bought a login fob from one of the shops at the edge of Dharavi, and it did magic, logging her in with a different password every time she sat down, so that her PayPal and game accounts were all safe.
+
+Mindlessly, she plunged back into her usual routine. Login to Minerva, check for Webbly protection missions in the worlds she played. But there were no missions waiting. The Webbly feeds were all afire with chatter about the strike in Shenzhen, rumors of the numbers arrested, rumors of shootings. She watched it tick past helplessly, wondering where all these rumors came from. Everyone seemed to know something that she didn't know. How did they know?
+
+A direct message popped up on her screen. It was from a stranger, but it was someone in the inner Webbly affinity group, which meant that Big Sister Nor, The Mighty Krang, or Justbob had manually approved her. Anyone could join the outer Webblies, but there were very few inner Webblies.
+
+&gt; Hello, can you read this?
+
+It was a full sentence, with punctuation, and the question was as daft as you could imagine. It was the kind of message her father might send. She knew immediately that she was communicating with an adult, and one who didn't game.
+
+&gt; yes
+
+&gt; Our mutual friend B.S.N. has asked me to contact you. You are in Mumbai, correct?
+
+She had a moment's hesitation. This was a very grownup, very non-gamer way to type. Maybe this was someone working for the other side? But Mumbai was as huge as the world. "In Mumbai" was only slightly more specific than "In India" or "On Earth."
+
+&gt; yes
+
+&gt; Where are you? Can I come and get you? I must talk with you.
+
+&gt; talking now lol
+
+&gt; What? Oh, I see. No, I must TALK with you. This is official business. B.S.N. specifically said I must make contact with you.
+
+She swallowed a couple times, drained the dregs of her chai.
+
+&gt; ok
+
+&gt; Splendid. Where shall I come and get you from?
+
+She swallowed again. When they'd gone to the beach, her mother had been very clear on this: /{Don't tell anyone you are from Dharavi. For Mumbaikars, Dharavi is like Hell, the place of eternal torment, and those who dwell here are monsters.}/ This grown up sounded very proper indeed. Perhaps he would think that Dharavi was Hell and would leave her be.
+
+&gt; dharavi girl
+
+&gt; One moment.
+
+There was a long pause. She wondered if he was trying to get in touch with Big Sister Nor, to tell her that her warrior was a slum-child, to find someone better to help.
+
+&gt; You know this place?
+
+It was a picture of the Dharavi Mosque, tall and imposing, looming over the whole Muslim quarter.
+
+&gt; course!!
+
+&gt; I'll be there in about an hour. This is me.
+
+Another picture. It wasn't the middle-aged man in a suit she'd been expecting, but a young man, barely older than a teenager, short gelled hair and a leather jacket, stylish blue-jeans and black motorcycle boots.
+
+&gt; Can you give me your phone number? I will call you when I'm close.
+
+&gt; lol
+
+&gt; I'm sorry?
+
+&gt; dharavi girl -- no phone for me
+
+She'd had a phone, when she was in Mala's army. They all had phones. But it was the first thing to go when she quit the army. She still had it in a drawer, couldn't bear to sell it, but it didn't work as a phone anymore, though she sometimes used it as a calculator (all the games had turned themselves off right after the service was disconnected, to her disappointment).
+
+&gt; Sorry, sorry. Of course. Meet you there in about an hour then.
+
+Her heart thudded in her chest. Meeting a strange man, going on a secret errand -- it was the sort of thing that always ended in terrible tragedy, defilement and murder, in the stories. And an hour from now would be --
+
+&gt; cant meet at the mosque
+
+It would be right in the middle of 'Asr, afternoon prayers, and the Mosque would be mobbed by her father's friends. All it would take would be for one of them to see her with a strange man, with gelled hair, a Hindu judging from the rakhi on his wrist, poking free of the leather jacket. Her father would go /{insane}/.
+
+&gt; meet me at mahim junction station instead by the crash barriers
+
+It would take her an hour to walk there, but it would be safe.
+
+There was a pause. Then another picture: two boys straddling one of the huge cement barriers in front of the station. It was where she and her brothers had waited while their mother queued up for the tickets.
+
+&gt; Here?
+
+&gt; yes
+
+&gt; OK then. I'll be on a Tata 620 scooter.
+
+Another picture of a lovingly polished little bike, a proud purple gas-tank on its skeletal chromed frame. There were thousands of these in Dharavi, driven by would-be badmashes who'd saved up a little money for a pair of wheels.
+
+&gt; ill be there
+
+She handed her cup to idiot nephew, not even seeing the grimace on his face as she dashed past him, out into the roadway, back home to change and put some few things in a bag before her mother or brothers came home. She didn't know where she was going or how long she'd be away, and the last thing she wanted was to have to explain this to her mother. She would leave a note, one of her brothers would read it to her mother. She'd just say, "Away on union business. Back soon. Love you." And that would have to be enough -- because, after all, it was all she knew.
+
+On the long walk to Mahim Junction station, she alternated between nervous excitement and nervous dread. This was foolish, to be sure, but it was also all she had left. If Big Sister Nor vouched for this man -- chee! she didn't even know his name! -- then who was Yasmin to doubt him?
+
+As she got closer to the edge of Dharavi, the laneways widened to streets, wide enough for skinny, shoeless boys to play ditch-cricket in. They shouted things at her, "offending decency," as the schoolteacher, Mr Hossain, had always said when the badmashes gathered outside the school to call things to the girls as they left the classroom. But she knew how to ignore them, and besides, she had picked up her brother Abdur's lathi, using it as a walking stick, having tied a spare hijab underscarf to the top to make it seem more innocuous. They'd played gymnastics games in the schoolyard with sticks like lathis, but without the iron binding on the tip. Still, she felt sure she could swing it fearsomely enough to scare off any badmash who got in her way on this fateful day. It was only at the station that she realized she had no idea how they would carry it on the little scooter.
+
+She'd brought her phone along, just to tell the time with, and now an hour had gone by and there was no sign of the man with the short gelled hair. Another twenty minutes ticked past. She was used to this: nothing in Dharavi ran on precise time except for the calls to prayer from the mosque, the rooster crows in the morning, and the calls to muster in Mala's army, which were always precisely timed, with fierce discipline for stragglers who showed up late for battle.
+
+Trains came in and trains came out. She saw some men she recognized: friends of her father who worked in Mumbai proper, who would have recognized her if she hadn't been wearing her hijab pulled up to her nose and pinned there. She was acutely aware of the Hindu boys' stare. Hindus and Muslims didn't get along, officially. Unofficially, of course, she knew as many Hindus as Muslims in Dharavi, in the army, in school. But on the impersonal, grand scale, she was always /{other}/. They were "Mumbaikars" -- "real" people from Mumbai. Her parents insisted on calling the city "Bombay," the old name of the city from before the fierce Hindu nationalists had changed it, proclaiming that India was for Hindus and Hindus alone. She and her people could go back to Bangladesh, to Pakistan, to one of the Muslim strongholds where they were in the majority, and leave India to the real Indians.
+
+Mostly, it didn't touch her, because mostly, she only met people who knew her and whom she knew -- or people who were entirely virtual and who cared more about whether she was an Orc or a Fire Elf than if she was a Muslim. But here, on the edge of the known world, she was a girl in a hijab, an eye-slit and a long, modest dress and a stout stick, and they were all /{staring}/ at her.
+
+She kept herself amused by thinking about how she would attack or defend the station using a variety of games' weapons-systems. If they were all zombies, she'd array the mechas here, here and here, using the railway bed as a channel to lure combatants into flamethrower range. If they were fighting on motorcycles, she'd circle that way with her cars, this way with her motorcycles, and pull the death-lorry in there. It brought a smile to her face, safely hidden behind the hijab.
+
+And here was the man, pulling into the lot on his green motorcycle, wiping the road dust off his glasses with his shirt-tail before tucking it back into his jacket. He looked around nervously at the people outside the station -- working people streaming back and forth, badmashes and beggars loitering and sauntering and getting in everyone's way. Several beggars were headed toward him now, children with their hands outstretched, some of them carrying smaller children on their hips. Even over the crowd noises, Yasmin could hear their sad, practiced cries.
+
+She reached under her chin and checked the pin holding her hijab in place, then approached the rider, moving through the beggars as though they weren't there. They shied away from her lathi like flies dodging a raised hand. He was so disconcerted by the beggars that it took him a minute to notice the veiled young girl standing in front of him, clutching a meter-and-a-half long stick bound in iron.
+
+"Yasmin?" His Hindi was like a fillum star's. Up close, he was very handsome, with straight teeth and a neatly trimmed little mustache and a strong nose and chin.
+
+She nodded.
+
+He looked at her lathi. "I have some bungee cables," he said. "I think we can attach that to the side of the bike. And I brought you a helmet."
+
+She nodded again. She didn't know what to say. He moved to the locked carrier-box on the back of his bike, pushing away a little beggar-boy who'd been fingering the lock, and pushed his thumb into the locking mechanism's print-reader. It sprang open and he fished inside, coming up with a helmet that looked like something out of a manga cartoon, streamlined, with intricate designs etched into its surface in hot yellow and pink. On the front of the helmet was a sticker depicting Sai Baba, the saint that both Muslims and Hindus agreed upon. Yasmin thought this was a good omen -- even if he was a Hindu boy, he'd brought her a helmet that she could wear without defiling Islam.
+
+She took the manga Sai Baba helmet from him, noting that the sticker was holographic and that Sai Baba turned to look her straight in the eye as she hefted it. It was heavier than it looked, with thick padding inside. No one in Dharavi wore crash-helmets on motorcycles -- and the boy wasn't wearing one, either. But as she contemplated the narrow saddle, she thought about falling off at 70 kilometers per hour on some Mumbai road and decided that she was glad he'd brought it. So she nodded a third time and lifted it over her head. It went on slowly, her head pushing its way in like a hand caught in a tangled sleeve, pushing to displace the fabric, which slowly gave way. Then she was inside it, and the sounds around her were dead and distant, the sights all tinted yellow through the one-way mirrored eye-visor. She felt tentatively at her head -- which felt like it would loll forward under the helmet's weight if she turned her face too quickly -- and found the visor's catch and lifted it up. The sound got a little brighter and sharper.
+
+Meanwhile, the boy had been affixing the lathi along the bike's length, to the amusement of the beggar children, who offered laughing advice and mockery. He had a handful of bungee cords that he'd extracted from the bike's box, and he wrapped them again and again around the pole, finding places on the bike's skeletal chrome to fix the hooks, testing the handlebars to ensure that he could still steer. At last he grunted, stood, dusted his hands off on his jeans and turned to her.
+
+"Ready?"
+
+She drew in a deep breath, spoke at last. "Where are we going?"
+
+"Andheri," he said. "Near the film studios."
+
+She nodded as though she knew where that was. In a way, of course, she did: there were plenty of movies about, well, the golden age of making movies, when Andheri had been /{the}/ place to be, glamorous and bustling. But most of those movies had been about how Andheri's sun had set, with all the big filmi production places moving away. What would it be like today?
+
+"And when will we come back?"
+
+He waggled his chin, thinking. "Tonight, certainly. I'll make sure of that. And some union people can come back with us and make sure you get to your door safely. I've thought of everything."
+
+"And what is your name?"
+
+He stared at her for a moment, his jaw hanging open in surprise. "OK, I didn't think of everything! I'm Ashok. Do you know how to ride a scooter?"
+
+She shook her head. She'd seen plenty of people riding on motorcycles and scooters, in twos and even in threes and fours -- sometimes a whole family, with children on mothers' laps on the back -- but she'd never gotten on one. Standing next to it now, it seemed insubstantial and well, /{slippery}/, the kind of thing that was easier to fall off of than to stay on.
+
+"OK," he said, waggling his chin, considering her clothing. "It's harder with the dress," he said. "You'll have to sit side-saddle." He climbed up on the bike's saddle and demonstrated, keeping his knees together and pressed against the bike's side, twisting his body around. "You'll have to hold onto me very tight." He grinned his movie-star grin.
+
+Yasmin realized what a mistake this had all been. This strange man. His motorcycle. Going off to Mumbai, away from Dharavi, to a strange place, for a strange reason. And he had her lathi, which wasn't even hers, and if she turned on her heel and went back into Dharavi, she'd still have to explain the missing lathi to her brother, and the note to her mother. And now she was going to get killed in Mumbai traffic with a total stranger on the way to Bollywood's favorite ghost-town.
+
+But as hopeless as it was, it wasn't as hopeless as being alone, not in the army, not in school, not in the Webblies. Not as hopeless as being poor Yasmin, the Dharavi girl, born in Dharavi, bred in Dharavi.
+
+She levered herself sidesaddle onto the bike and Ashok climbed over the saddle and sat down, his leather jacket pressed up against her side. She tried to square her hips to face forward, and found herself in such a precarious position that she nearly tipped over backwards.
+
+"You have to hold on," Ashok said, and the beggar children jeered and made rude gestures. Shutting her eyes, she put her arms around his waist, feeling how skinny he was under that fancy jacket, and interlaced her fingers around his stomach. It was less precarious now, but she still felt as though she would fall at any second -- and they weren't even moving yet!
+
+Ashok kicked back the bike's stand and revved the engine. A cloud of biodiesel exhaust escaped from the tailpipe, smelling like old cooking oil -- it probably started out as old cooking oil, of course -- spicy and stale. Yasmin's stomach gurgled and she blushed beneath her hijab, sure he could feel the churning of her empty stomach. But he just turned his head and said, "Ready?"
+
+"Yes," she said, but her voice came out in a squeak.
+
+They barely made it fifty meters before she shouted "Stop! Stop!" in his ear. She had never been more afraid in all her life. She forced her fingers to unlace themselves and drew her trembling hands back into her lap.
+
+"What's wrong?"
+
+"I don't want to die!" she shouted. "I don't want to die on your maniac bike in this maniac traffic!"
+
+He waggled his chin. "It's the dress," he said. "If you could only straddle the seat."
+
+Yasmin patted her thighs miserably, then she hiked up her dress, revealing the salwar -- loose trousers -- she wore beneath it. Ashok nodded. "That'll do," he said. "But you need to tie up the legs, so they don't get caught in the wheel. He flipped open his cargo box again and passed her two plastic zip-strips which she used to tie up each ankle.
+
+"Right, off we go," he said, and she straddled the bike, putting her arms around his waist again. He smelled of his hair gel and of leather, and of sweat from the road. She felt like she'd gone to another planet now, even though she could still see Mahim Junction behind her. She squeezed his waist for dear life as he revved the engine and maneuvered the bike back into traffic.
+
+She realized that he'd been taking it easy for her sake before, driving relatively slowly and evenly in deference to her precarious position. Now that she was more secure, he drove like the baddest badmash she'd ever seen in any action film. He gunned the little bike up the edge of the ditch, beside the jerky, slow traffic, always on the brink of tipping into the stinking ditch, being killed by a swerving driver or a door opening suddenly so the driver could spit out a stream of betel; or running over one of the beggars who lined the road's edge, tapping on the windows and making sad faces at the trapped motorists.
+
+She'd piloted a million virtual vehicles in her career as a gamer, at high speeds, through dangerous terrain. It wasn't remotely the same, even with the helmet's reality-filtering padding and visor. She could hear her own whimpering in her head. Every nerve in her body was screaming /{Get off this thing while you can}/! But her rational mind kept on insisting that this boy clearly rode his bike through Mumbai every day and managed to survive.
+
+And besides, there was so much Mumbai to see as they sped down the road, and that was much more interesting than worrying about imminent death. As they sped down the causeway, they neared a huge suspension bridge, eight lanes wide, all white concrete and steel cables, proudly proclaimed to be the Bandra-Worli Sea Link by an intricate sign in Hindi and English. They sped up the ramp to it, riding close to the steel girders that lined the bridge's edge, and beneath them, the sea sparkled blue and seemed so close that she could reach down and skim her fingertips in the waves. The air smelled of salt and the sea, the choking traffic fumes whipped away by a wind that ruffled her dress and trousers, pasting them to her body. Her fear ebbed away as they crossed the bridge, and did not come back as they rolled off of it, back into Mumbai, back into the streets all choked with traffic and people. They swerved around saddhus, naked holy men covered in paint. They swerved around dabbahwallahs, men who delivered home-cooked lunches from wives to husbands all over the city, in tiffin pails arranged in huge wooden frames, balanced upon their heads.
+
+She knew they were almost at Andheri when they passed the gigantic Infinity Mall, and then turned alongside a high, ancient brick wall that ran for hundreds of meters, fencing in a huge estate that had to be one of the film studios. Outside the wall, along the drainage ditch, was a bustling market of hawkers, open-air restaurants, beggars, craftsmen, and, among them, film-makers in smart suits with dark glasses, clutching mobile phones as they picked their way along. The bike swerved through all this, avoiding a long line of expensive, spotless dark cars that ran the length of the wall in an endless queue to pass through the security checkpoint at the gatehouse.
+
+She took all this in as they sped down the length of the wall, cornering sharply at the end, following it along to a much narrower gate. Two guards with rifles attached to their belts by chains stood before it, and they hefted their guns as Ashok drew nearer. Then he drew closer still and the guards recognized him and stepped away, revealing the narrow gap in the wall that was barely wide enough for the bike to pass through, though Ashok took it at speed, and Yasmin gasped when her billowing sleeves rasped against the ancient, pitted brick.
+
+Passing through the gate was like passing into another world. Before them, the studios spread forever, the farthest edge lost in the pollution haze. Roads and pathways mazed the grounds, detouring around the biggest buildings Yasmin had ever seen, huge buildings that looked like train stations or airplane hangars from war films. The grounds were all manicured grass, orderly fruit trees, and workmen going back and forth on mysterious errands with toolbelts jangling around their waists, carrying huge bundles of pipe and lumber and cloth.
+
+Ashok drove them past the hangars -- those must be the sound-stages where they shot the movies, there was a good studio-map in Zombie Mecha where you could fight zombies through a series of wood-backed film scenery -- and toward a series of low-slung trailers that hugged the wall to their left. Each one had a miniature fence in front of it, and a small flower-garden, so neat and tidy that at first she thought the flowers must be fake.
+
+Finally, Ashok slowed the bike and then coasted to a stop, killing the engine. The engine noise still hummed in her ears, though, and she continued to feel the thrum of the bike in her legs and bum. She unlocked her hands from around Ashok's waist, prying her fingers apart, and stepped off the bike, catching her toe on the lathi and falling to the grass. Blushing, she got to her feet, unsteady but upright.
+
+Ashok grinned at her. "You all right there, sister?"
+
+She wanted to say something sharp and cutting in response, but nothing came. The words had been beaten out of her by the ride. Suddenly, she felt as though she could hardly breathe, and the fabric of her hijab seemed filled with road dust that it released into her nose and mouth with every inhalation. She carefully undid the pin and moved her hijab so that it no longer covered her face.
+
+Ashok stared at her in horror. "You -- you're just a little girl!"
+
+She bridled and the words came to her again. "I am /{14}/ -- there were girls my age with husbands and babies in Dharavi! I'm a skilled fighter and commander. I'm no little girl!"
+
+He blushed a purple color and clasped his hands at his chest apologetically. "Forgive me," he said. "But -- Well, I assumed you were 18 or 19. You're tall. I've brought you all this way and you're, well, you're a child! Your parents will be mad with worry!"
+
+She gave him her best steely glare, the one she used to make the boys in the Army behave when they were getting too, well, /{boyish}/. "I left them a note. And I'll be back tonight. And I'm old enough to worry about this sort of thing on my own account, thank you very much. Now, you've dragged me halfway across India for some mysterious purpose, and I'm sure that it wasn't just to have me stand around here talking about my family life."
+
+He recovered himself and grinned again. "Sorry, sorry. Right, we're here for a meeting. It's important. The Webblies have never had much contact with real unions, but now that Nor is in trouble, she's asked me to take up her cause with the unions here. There's meetings like this happening all over the world today -- in China and Indonesia, in Pakistan and Mexico and Guatemala. The people waiting for us inside -- they're labor leaders, representatives of the garment-workers' union, the steelworkers' union, even the Transport and Dock Workers' union -- the biggest unions in Mumbai. With their support, the Webblies can have access to money, warm bodies for picket lines, influence and power. But they don't know anything about what you do -- they've never played a game. They think that the Internet is for email and pornography. So you're here -- /{we're}/ here -- to explain this to them."
+
+She swallowed a few times. There was so much in all that she didn't understand -- and what she /{did}/ understand, she wasn't very happy about. For example, this /{real}/ union business -- the Webblies were a real union! But there was more pressing business than her irritation, for example: "What do you mean /{we're here to explain}/? Are you a gamer?"
+
+He shook his head ruefully. "Haven't got the patience for it. I'm an economist. Labor economist. I've spent a lot of time with BSN, working out strategy with her."
+
+She wasn't exactly certain what an economist was, but she also felt that admitting this might further undermine her credibility with this man who had called her a child. "I need my lathi," she said.
+
+"You don't need a lathi in this meeting," he said. "No one will attack us."
+
+"Someone will steal it," she said.
+
+"This isn't Dharavi," he said. "No one will steal it."
+
+That did it. She could talk about the problems in Dharavi. /{She}/ was a Dharavi girl. But this stranger had no business saying bad things about her home. "I need my lathi in case I have to beat your brains out with it for rubbishing my home," she said, between gritted teeth.
+
+"Sorry, sorry." He squatted down beside the bike and began to unravel the bungee cords from around the lathi. She also went down on one knee and began to worry at the zipstraps that tied up her trouser legs at the ankles, but they only went in one direction, and once they'd locked tight, they wouldn't loosen. Ashok looked up from the bungee cords.
+
+"You need to cut them off," he said. "Here, one moment." He fished in his trouser-pocket and came up with a wicked flick-knife that he snapped open. He took gentle hold of the strap on her right ankle and slid the blade between it and her leg. She held her breath as he sliced through the strap, then flicked the knife closed, turned to her other leg, and, grasping her ankle, cut away the other strap. He looked up at her. Their eyes met, then she looked away.
+
+"Be careful," she said, though he'd finished. He handed her the lathi. She gripped it with numb fingers, nearly dropped it, gripped it.
+
+"OK," he said. "OK." He shook his head. "The people in there don't know anything about you or what you do. They are a little, you know, old fashioned." He smiled and seemed to be remembering something. "Very old fashioned, in some cases. And they're not very good with children. Young people, I mean." He held up his hands as she raised her lathi. "I only mean to warn you." He considered her. "Maybe you could cover your face again?"
+
+Yasmin considered this for a moment. Of course, she didn't want to cover her face. She wanted to just go in as herself. Why shouldn't she be able to? But wearing the hijab had some advantages, and one was that no one would ask you why you were covering your face. Ashok had clearly believed she was much older until she'd undraped it.
+
+Wordlessly, she unpinned the fabric, brought it across her face, and repinned it. He gave her a happy thumbs up and said, "All right! They're good people, you know. Very good people. They want to be on our side." He swallowed, thought some, rocked his chin from side to side. "But perhaps they don't know that yet."
+
+He marched to the door, which was made of heavy metal screen over glass, and opened it, then gestured inside with a grand sweep of his arm. Trying to look as dignified as possible, she stepped into the gloom of the trailer, where it was cool and smelled of betel and chai and bleach, and where a lazy ceiling fan beat the air, trailing long snot-trails of dust.
+
+This was what she noticed first, and not the people sitting around the room on sofas and easy-chairs. Those people were sunk deep into their chairs and sitting silently, their eyes lost in shadow. But after a moment, they began to shift minutely, staring at her. Ashok entered behind her and said, "Hello! Hello! I'm glad you could all make it!"
+
+And then they stood, and they were all much older than her, much older than Ashok. The youngest was her mother's age, and he was fat and sleek and had great jowls and short hair in a fringe around his ears. There were three others, another man in kurta pyjamas with a Muslim skull cap and two very old women in sarees that showed the wrinkled skin on their bellies.
+
+Ashok introduced them around, Mr Phadkar of the steelworkers' union, Mr Honnenahalli of the transport and dock workers' union, and Mrs Rukmini and Mrs Muthappa, both from the garment workers' union. "These good people are interested in Big Sister Nor's work and so she asked me to bring you round to talk to them. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Yasmin, a trusted activist within the IWWWW organization. She is here to answer your questions."
+
+They all greeted her politely, but their smiles never reached their eyes. Ashok busied himself in a corner where there was a chai pot and cups, pouring out masala chai for everyone and bringing it around on a tray. "I will be your chaiwallah," he said. "You just all talk."
+
+Yasmin's throat was terribly dry, but she was veiled, and so she passed on the chai, but quickly regretted it as the talk began.
+
+"I understand that your 'work' is just playing games, is that right?" said Mr Honnenahalli, the fat man who worked with the Transport and Dock Workers' union.
+
+"We work in the games, yes," Yasmin said.
+
+"And so you organize people who play games. How are they workers? They sound like players to me. In the transport trade, we work."
+
+Yasmin rocked her chin from side to side and was glad of her veil. She remembered her talk with Sushant. "We work the way anyone works, I suppose. We have a boss who asks us to do work, and he gets rich from our work."
+
+That made the two old aunties smile, and though it was dark in the room, she thought it was a genuine one.
+
+"Sister," said Mr Phadkar, he in the skullcap, "tell us about these games. How are they played?"
+
+So she told them, starting with Zombie Mecha, aided by the fact that Mr Phadkar had actually seen one of the many films based on the game. But as she delved into character classes, leveling up, unlocking achievements, and so on, she saw that she was losing them.
+
+"It all sounds very complicated," Mr Honnenahalli said, after she had spoken for a good thirty minutes, and her throat was so dry it felt like she had eaten a mouthful of sand and salt. "Who plays these games? Who has time?"
+
+This was something she often heard from her father, and so she told Mr Honnenahalli what she always told him. "Millions of people, rich and poor, men and women, boys and girls, all over the world. They spend crores and crores of rupees, and thousands of hours. It's a game, yes, but it's also as complicated as life in some ways."
+
+Mr Honnenahalli twisted his face up into a sour lemon expression. "People in life /{make}/ things that matter. They don't just --" He flapped a hand, miming some kind of pointless labor. "They don't just press buttons and play make believe."
+
+She felt her cheeks coloring and was glad again of the veil. Ashok held up a hand. "If a humble chai-wallah may intervene here." Mr Honnenahalli gave him a hostile look, but he nodded. "'Pressing buttons and playing make believe' describes several important sectors of the economy, not least the entire financial industry. What is banking, if not pressing buttons and asking everyone to make believe that the outcomes have value?"
+
+The old aunties smiled and Mr Honnenahalli grunted. "You're a clever bugger, Ashok. You can always be clever, but clever doesn't feed people or get them a fair deal from their employers."
+
+Ashok nodded as though this point had never occurred to him, though Yasmin was pretty certain from his smile that he'd expected this, too. "Mr Honnenahalli, there are over 9,000,000 people working in this industry, and it turns over 500 crore rupees every year. It's averaging six percent quarterly growth. And eight of the 20 largest economies in the world are not countries, they're games, issuing their own currency, running their own fiscal policies, and setting their own labor laws."
+
+Mr Honnenahalli scowled, making his jowls wobble, and raised his eyebrows. "They have labor policies in these games?"
+
+"Oh yes," Ashok said. "Their policy is that no one may work in their worlds without their permission, that they have absolute power to set wages, hire and fire, that they can exile you if they don't like you or for any other reason, and that anyone caught violating the rules can be stripped of all virtual property and expelled without access to a trial, a judge, or elected officials."
+
+That got their attention. Yasmin filed away that description. She'd heard Big Sister Nor say similar things, but this was better put than any previous rendition. And there was no denying its effect on the room -- they jolted as if they'd been shocked and all opened their mouths to say something, then closed them.
+
+Finally, one of the aunties said, "Tell me, you say that nine million people work in these places: where? Bangalore? Pune? Kolkata?" These were the old IT cities, where the phone banks and the technology companies were.
+
+Ashok nodded, "Some of them there. Some right here in Mumbai." He looked at Yasmin, clearly waiting for her to say something.
+
+"I work in Dharavi," she said. And did she imagine it, or did their noses all wrinkle up a little, did they all subtly shift their weight away from her, as though to escape the shit-smell of a Dharavi girl?
+
+"She works in Dharavi," Ashok said. "But only a million or two work here in India. The majority are in China, or Indonesia, or Vietnam. Some are in South America, some are in the United States. Wherever there is IT, there are people who work in the games."
+
+Now the auntie sat back. "I see," she said. "Well, that's very interesting, Ashok, but what do we have to do with China? We're not in China."
+
+Yasmin shook her head. "The game isn't in China," she said, as though explaining something to a child. "The game is everywhere. The players are all in the same place."
+
+Mr Phadkar said, "You don't understand, sister. Workers in these places compete with our workers. The big companies go wherever the work is cheapest and most unorganized. Our members lose jobs to these people, because they don't have the self-respect to stand up for a fair wage. We can't compete with the Chinese or the Indonesians or the Vietnamese -- even the beggars here expect better wages than they command!"
+
+Mr Honnenahalli patted his belly and nodded. "We are Indian workers. We represent them. These workers, what happens to them -- it's none of our affair."
+
+Ashok nodded. "Well, that's fine for your unions and your members. But the union that Yasmin works for --"
+
+Mr Honnenahalli snorted, and his jowls shook. "It's not a union," he said. "It's a gang of kids playing games!"
+
+"It's tens of thousands of organized workers in solidarity with one another," Ashok said, mildly, as though he was a teacher correcting a student. "In 14 countries. Look, these players, they're already organized in guilds. That's practically unions already. You worry that union jobs in India might become non-union jobs in Vietnam -- well, here's how you can organize the workers in Vietnam, too! The companies are multinational -- why should labor still stick to borders? What does a border mean, anyway?"
+
+"Plenty, if the border is with Pakistan. People /{die}/ for borders, sonny. You can sit there, with your college education, and talk about how borders don't matter, but all that means is that you're totally out of touch with the average Indian worker. Indian workers want Indian jobs, not jobs for Chinese or what-have-you. Let the Chinese organize the Chinese."
+
+"They /{are}/," Yasmin broke in. "They're striking in China right now! A whole factory walked out, and the police beat them down. And I helped them with their picket line!"
+
+Mr Honnenahalli prepared to bluster some more, but one of the old aunties laid a frail hand on his forearm. "How did you help with a picket-line in China from Dharavi, daughter?"
+
+And so Yasmin told them the story of the battle of Mushroom Kingdom, and the story of the battle of Shenzhen, and what she'd seen and heard.
+
+"Wildcat strikes," Mr Honnenahalli said. "Craziness. No strategy, no organization. Doomed. Those workers may never see the light of day again."
+
+"Not unless their comrades rally to them," Ashok said. "Comrades like Yasmin and her group. You want to see something workers are prepared to fight for? You need to get to an internet cafe and see. See who is out of touch with workers. You can talk all you want about 'Indian workers,' but until you find solidarity with /{all}/ workers, you'll never be able to protect your precious /{Indian workers}/." He was losing his temper now, losing that schoolmasterish cool. "Those workers got bad treatment from their employer so they went out. Their jobs can just be moved -- to Vietnam, to Cambodia, to Dharavi -- and their strike broken. Can't you /{see it}/? /{We finally have the same tools as the bosses}/! For a factory owner, all places are the same, and it's no difference whether the shirts are sewn here or there, so long as they can be loaded onto a shipping container when it's done. But now, for us, all places are the same too! We can go anywhere just by sitting down at a computer. For forty years, things have gotten harder and harder for workers -- now it's time to change that."
+
+Yasmin felt herself grinning beneath the veil. That's it, Ashok, give it to him! But then she saw the faces of the old people in the room: stony and heartless.
+
+"Those are nice words," one of the aunties said. "Honestly. It's a beautiful vision. But my workers don't have computers. They don't go to Internet cafes. They dye clothing all day. When their jobs go abroad, they can't chase them with your computers."
+
+"They can be part of the Webblies too!" Yasmin said. "That's the beauty of it. The ones who work in games, we can go anywhere, organize anywhere, and wherever your workers are, we are too! We can go anywhere, no one can keep us out. We can organize dyers anywhere, through the gamers."
+
+Mr Honnenahalli nodded. "I thought so. And when this is all done, the Webblies organize all the workers in the world, and our unions, what happens to them? They melt away? Or they're absorbed by you? Oh yes, I understand very well. A very neat deal all around. You certainly do play games over there at the Webblies."
+
+Ashok and Yasmin both started to speak at once, then both stopped, then exchanged glances. "It's not like that," Yasmin said. "We're offering to help. We don't want to take over."
+
+Mr Honnenahalli said, "Perhaps you don't, but perhaps someone else does. Can you speak for everyone? You say you've never met this Big Sister Nor of yours, nor her lieutenants, the Mighty Whatever and Justbob."
+
+"I've met them dozens of times," Yasmin said quietly.
+
+"Oh, certainly. In the game. What is the old joke from America? On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Perhaps these friends of yours are old men or little children. Perhaps they're in the next Internet cafe in Dharavi. The Internet is full of lies and tricks and filth, little sister --" Her back stiffened. It was one thing to be called 'sister,' but 'little sister' wasn't friendly. It was a dismissal. "And who's to say you haven't fallen for one of these tricks?"
+
+Ashok held up a hand. "Perhaps this is all a dream, then. Perhaps you are all figments of my imagination. Why should we believe in anything, if this is the standard all must rise to? I've spoken to Big Sister Nor many times, and to many other members of the IWWWW around the world. You represent two million construction workers -- how many of them have /{you}/ met? How are we to know that /{they}/ are real?"
+
+"This is getting us all nowhere," one of the aunties said. "You were very kind to come and visit with us, Ashok, and you, too, Yasmin. It was very courteous for you to tell us what you were up to. Thank you."
+
+"Wait," Ashok said. "That can't be all! We came here to ask you for help -- for /{solidarity}/. We've just had our first strike, and our executive cell is offline and missing --" Yasmin turned her head at this. What did that mean? "And we need help: a strike fund, administrative support, legal assistance --"
+
+"Out of the question," Mr Honnenahalli said.
+
+"I'm afraid so," said Mr Phadkar. "I'm sorry, brother. Our charter doesn't allow us to intervene with other unions -- especially not the sort of organization you represent."
+
+"It's impossible," said one of the aunties, her mouth tight and sorry. "This just isn't the sort of thing we do."
+
+Ashok went to the kettle and set about making more chai. "Well, I'm sorry to have wasted your time," he said. "I'm sure we'll figure something out."
+
+They all stared at one another, then Mr Honnenahalli stood with a wheeze, picking up an overstuffed briefcase at his feet and leaving the little building. Mr Phadkar followed, smiling softly at the aunties and waving tentatively at Yasmin. She didn't meet his eye. One of the aunties got up and tried to say something to Ashok, but he shrugged her off. She went back to her partner and helped her to her old, uncertain feet. The pair of them squeezed Yasmin's shoulders before departing.
+
+Once the door had banged shut behind them, Ashok turned and hissed /{bainchoad}/ at the room. Yasmin had heard worse words than this every day in the alleys of Dharavi and in the game-room when the army was fighting, and hearing it from this soft boy almost made her giggle. But she heard the choke in his voice, like he was holding back tears, and she didn't want to smile anymore. She reached up and unhooked her hijab, repinning it around her neck, freeing her face to cool in the sultry air the fan whipped around them. She crossed to Ashok and took a cup of tea from him and sipped it as quickly as she could, relishing the warm wet against her dry, scratchy throat. Now that her face was clear of hijab, she could smell the strong reek of old betel spit, and saw that the baseboards of the scuffed walls were stained pink with old spittle.
+
+"Ashok," she said, using the voice she'd used to enforce discipline in the army. "Ashok, look at me. What was that -- that /{meeting}/ about? Why was I here?"
+
+He sat down in the chair that Mr Phadkar had just vacated and sipped at his chai.
+
+"Oh, I've made a bloody mess of it all, I have," he said.
+
+"Ashok," she said, that stern note in her voice. "Complain later. Talk now. What did you just drag me halfway across Mumbai for?"
+
+"I've been working on this meeting for months, ever since Big Sister Nor asked me to. I told her that I thought the trade unions here would embrace the Webblies, would see the power of a global labor movement that could organize everywhere all at once. She loved the idea, and ever since then, I've been sweet-talking the union execs here, trying to get them to see the potential. With their members helping us -- and with our members helping them -- we could change the world. Change it like that!" He snapped his fingers. "But then the strike broke out, and Big Sister Nor told me she needed help /{right now}/, otherwise those comrades would end up in jail forever, or worse. She said she thought you'd be able to help, and we were all going to talk about it before we came down, but then, when I was riding to get you --" He broke off, drank chai, stared out the grimy, screened in windows at the manicured grounds of the film studio. "I got a call from The Mighty Krang. They were beaten. Badly. All three of them, though Krang managed to escape. Big Sister Nor is in hospital, unconscious. The Mighty Krang said he thought it was one of the Chinese factory owners -- they've been getting meaner, sending in threats. And they've got lots of contacts in Singapore."
+
+Yasmin finished her chai. Her hair itched with dust and sweat, and she slid a finger up underneath it and scratched at a bead of sweat that was trickling down her head. "All right," she said. "What had you hoped for from those old people?"
+
+"Money," he said. "Support. They have the ear of the press. If their members demanded justice for the workers in Shenzhen, rallied at the Chinese consulates all around India..." He waved his hands. "I'm not sure, to be honest. It was supposed to happen weeks from now, after I'd done a lot more whispering in their ears, finding out what they wanted, what they could give, what we could give them. It wasn't supposed to happen in the middle of a strike." He stared miserably at the floor.
+
+Yasmin thought about Sushant, about his fear of leaving Mala's army. As long as soldiers like him fought for the other side, the Webblies wouldn't be able to blockade the strikes in-game. So. So she'd have to stop Mala's army. Stop all the armies. The soldiers who fought for the bosses were on the wrong side. They'd see that.
+
+"What if we helped ourselves?" she said. "What if we got so big that the unions had to join us?"
+
+"Yes, what if, what if. It's so easy to play what if. But I can't see how this will happen."
+
+"I think I can get more fighters in the games. We can protect any strike."
+
+"Well, that's fine for the games, but it doesn't help the players. Big Sister Nor is still in hospital. The Webblies in Shenzhen are still in jail."
+
+"All I can do is what I can do," Yasmin said. "What can you do? What do economists do?"
+
+He looked rueful. "We go to university and learn a lot of maths. We use the maths to try to predict what large numbers of people will do with their money and labor. Then we try to come up with recommendations for influencing it."
+
+"And this is what you do with your life?"
+
+"Yes, I suppose it all sounds bloody pointless, doesn't it? Maybe that's why I'm willing to take the games so seriously -- they're no less imaginary than anything else I do. But I became an economist because nothing made sense without it. Why were my parents poor? Why were our cousins in America so rich? Why would America send its garbage to India? Why would India send its wood to America? Why does anyone care about gold?
+
+"That was the really strange one. Gold is such a useless thing, you know? It's heavy, it's not much good for making things out of -- too soft for really long-wearing jewelry. Stainless steel is much better for rings." He tapped an intricate ring on his right hand on the arm of the chair. "There's not much of it, of course. All the gold we've ever dug out of the ground would form a cube with sides the length of a tennis court." Yasmin had seen pictures of tennis courts, but she wasn't clear how big this actually was. Not very large, she supposed. "We dig it out of one hole in the ground and then put it in another hole in the ground, some vault somewhere, and call it money. It seemed ridiculous.
+
+"But everyone /{knows}/ gold is valuable. How did they all agree on this? That's where I started to get really fascinated. Because gold and money are really closely related. It used to be that money was just an easy way of carrying around gold. The government would fill a hole in the ground with gold, and then print notes saying, 'This note is worth so many grams of gold.' So rather than carrying heavy gold around to buy things, we could carry around easy paper money.
+
+"It's funny, isn't it? We dig gold out of holes in the ground, weigh it, and then put it in another hole in the ground! What good is gold? Well, it puts a limit on how much money a government can make. If they want to make more money, they have to get more gold from somewhere. "
+
+"Why does it matter how much money a country prints?"
+
+"Well, imagine that the government decided to print a crore of rupees for every person in India. We'd all be rich, right?"
+
+Yasmin thought for a moment. "No, of course not. Everything would get more expensive, right?"
+
+He waggled his chin. He was sounding like a schoolteacher again. "Very good," he said. "That's inflation: more money makes everything more expensive. If inflation happened evenly, it wouldn't be so bad. Say your pay doubled overnight, and so did all the prices -- you'd be all right, because you could just buy as much as you could the day before, though it 'cost' twice as much. But there's a problem with this. Do you know what it is?"
+
+Yasmin thought. "I don't know." She thought some more. Ashok was nodding at her, and she felt like it was something obvious, almost visible. "I just don't know."
+
+"A hint," he said. "Savings."
+
+She thought about this some more. "Savings. If you had money saved, it wouldn't double along with wages, right?" She shook her head. "I don't see why that's such a problem, though. We've got some money saved, but it's just a few thousand rupees. If wages doubled, we'd get that back quickly from the new money coming in."
+
+He looked surprised, then laughed. "I'm sorry," he said. "Of course. But there are some people and companies and governments that have a /{lot}/ of savings. Rich people might save crores of rupees -- those savings would be cut in half overnight. Or a hospital might have many crores saved for a new wing. Or the government or a union might have crores in savings for pensions. What if you work all your life for a pension of two thousand rupees a month, and then, a year before you're supposed to start collecting it, it gets cut in half?"
+
+Yasmin didn't know anyone who had a pension, though she'd heard of them. "I don't know," she said. "You'd work, I suppose."
+
+"You're not making this easy," Ashok said. "Let me put it this way: there are a lot of powerful, rich people who would be very upset if inflation wiped out their savings. But governments are very tempted by inflation. Say you're fighting an expensive war, and you need to buy tanks and pay the soldiers and put airplanes in the sky and keep the missiles rolling out of the factories. That's expensive stuff. You have to pay for it somehow. You could borrow the money --"
+
+"Governments borrow money?"
+
+"Oh yes, they're shocking beggars! They borrow it from other governments, from companies -- even from their own people. But if you're not likely to win the war -- or if victory will wipe you out -- then it's unlikely anyone will voluntarily lend you the money to fight it. But governments don't have to rely on voluntary payments, do they?"
+
+Yasmin could see where this was going. "They can just tax people."
+
+"Correct," he said. "If you weren't such a clearly sensible girl, I'd suggest you try a career as an economist, Yasmin! OK, so governments can just raise taxes. But people who have to pay too much tax are unlikely to vote for you the next time around. And if you're a dictator, nothing gets the revolutionaries out in the street faster than runaway taxation. So taxes are only of limited use in paying for a war."
+
+"Which is why governments like inflation, right?"
+
+"Correct again! First, governments can print a lot of money that they can use to buy missiles and tanks and so on, all the while borrowing even more, as fast as they can. Then, when prices and wages all go up and up -- say, a hundred times -- then suddenly it's very easy to repay all that money they borrowed. Maybe it took a thousand workers' tax to add up to a crore of rupees before inflation, and now it just takes one. Of course, the person who loaned you the money is in trouble, but by that time, you've won the war, gotten reelected, and all without crippling your country with debt. Bravo."
+
+Yasmin turned this over. She found it surprisingly easy to follow -- all she had to do was think of what happened to the price of goods in the different games she played, going up and down, and she could easily see how inflation would work to some players' benefit and not others. "But governments don't have to use inflation just to win wars, do they?" She thought of the politicians who came through Dharavi, grubbing for the votes the people there might deliver. She thought of their promises. "You could use inflation to build schools, hospitals, that sort of thing. Then, when the debt caught up with you, you could just use inflation to wipe it out. You'd get a lot of votes that way, I'm quite sure."
+
+"Oh yes, that's the other side of the equation. Governments are always trying to get re-elected with guns or butter -- or both. You can certainly get a lot of votes by buying a lot of inflationary hospitals and schools, but inflation is like fatty food -- you always pay the price for it eventually. Once hyperinflation sets in, no one can pay the teachers or nurses or doctors, so the next election is likely to end your career.
+
+"But the temptation is powerful, very powerful. And that's where gold comes in. Can you think of how?"
+
+Yasmin thought some more. Gold, inflation; inflation, gold. They danced in her head. Then she had it. "You can't make more money unless you have more gold, right?"
+
+He beamed at her. "Gold star!" he said. "That's it exactly. That's what rich people like about gold. It is a disciplinarian, a policeman in the treasury, and it stops government from being tempted into funding their folly with fake money. If you have a lot of savings, you want to discipline the government's money-printing habits, because every rupee they print devalues your own wealth. But no government has enough gold to cover the money they've printed. Some governments fill their vaults with other valuable things, like other dollars or euros."
+
+"So dollars and euros are based on gold, then?"
+
+"Not at all!" No, they're backed by other currencies, and by little bits of metal, and by dreams and boasts. So at the end of the day, it's all based on nothing!"
+
+"Just like game-gold!" she said.
+
+"Another gold star! Even /{gold}/ isn't based on gold! Most of the time, if you buy gold in the real world, you just buy a certificate saying that you own some bar of gold in some vault somewhere in the world. The postman doesn't deliver a gold-brick through your mail-slot. And here's the dirty secret about gold: there is more gold available through certificates of deposit than has ever been dug out of the ground."
+
+"How is that possible?"
+
+"How do you think it's possible?"
+
+"Someone's printing certificates without having the gold to back them up?"
+
+"That's a good theory. Here's what I think happens. Say you have a vault full of gold in Hong Kong. Call it a thousand bars. You sell the thousand bars' worth of gold through the certificate market, and lock the door. Now, some time later, someone -- a security guard, an executive at the bank -- walks into the vault and walks out again with ten gold bars from the middle of the pile. These ten bars of gold are sold at a metals market, and they end up in a vault in Switzerland, which prints certificates for /{its}/ gold holdings and sells them on. Then, one day, an executive at the Swiss bank helps himself to ten bars from /{that}/ vault and they get sold on the metals market. Before you know it, your ten bars of gold have been sold to a hundred different people."
+
+"It's inflation!"
+
+He clapped. "Top pupil! Correct. There's a saying from physics, 'It's turtles all the way down.' Do you know it? It comes from a story about a British physicist, Bertrand Russell, who gave a lecture about the universe, how the Earth goes around the Sun and so on. And a little old granny in the audience says, 'It's all rubbish! The world is flat and rests on the back of a turtle!' And Russell says, 'If that's so, what does the turtle stand on?' And the granny says, 'You can't fool me, sonny, it's turtles all the way down!'" In other words, what lives under the illusion is yet another illusion, and under that one is another illusion again. Supposedly good currency is backed by gold, but the gold itself doesn't exist. Bad currency isn't backed by gold, it's backed by other currencies, and /{they}/ don't exist. At the end of the day, all that any of this is based on is, what, can you tell me?"
+
+"Belief," Yasmin said. "Or fear, yes? Fear that if you stop believing in the money, you won't be able to buy anything. It /{is}/ just like game-gold! I remember one time when Zombie Mecha started charging for buffs that used to be free and overnight, all the players left. The people who were left behind were so desperate, walking around, trying to hawk their gold and weapons, offering prices that were tiny compared to just a few days before. It was like everyone had stopped believing in Zombie Mecha and then it stopped existing! And then the game dropped its prices and people came back and the prices shot back up again."
+
+"We call it 'confidence'," Ashok said. "If you have 'confidence' in the economy, you can use its money. If you don't have confidence in the economy, you want to get away from it and get it away from you. And it's turtles all the way down. There's almost nothing that's worth /{anything}/, except for confidence. Go to a steel foundry here in Mumbai and you'll find men risking their lives, working in the fires of hell in their bare feet without helmets or gloves, casting steel to make huge round metal plates to cover the sewer entrances in America. Why do they do it? Because they are given rupees -- which are worth nothing unless you have confidence in them. And why are they given rupees? Because someone -- the boss -- thinks that he'll get dollars for his steel discs. What are dollars worth?"
+
+"Nothing?"
+
+"/{Nothing!}/ Unless you believe in them. And what about the discs -- what good are they? They're the wrong size for the sewer openings in Mumbai. You could melt them down and do something else with them, but apart from that, they're just bloody heavy biscuits that serve no useful purpose. So why does any of this happen?"
+
+Yasmin said, "Oh, that's simple. You really don't know?"
+
+"It's easy? Please, tell me. It's not easy for me and I've been studying it all my life."
+
+"It all happens because it's a /{game}/!"
+
+He looked offended. "Maybe it's a game for the rich and powerful -- but it's not any fun for the poor and the workers and the savers who get the wrong end of it."
+
+"Games don't need to be /{fun}/, they only have to be, I don't know, /{interesting}/? No, /{captivating}/! There are so many times when I find myself playing and playing and playing, and I can't stop even though it's all gotten very boring and repetitive. 'One more quest,' I tell myself. 'One more kill.' And then again, 'One more, one more, one more.' The important thing about a game isn't how fun it is, it's how easy it is to start playing and how hard it is to stop."
+
+"Aha. OK, that makes sense. What, specifically, makes it hard to stop?"
+
+"Oh, many little things. For example, in Zombie Mecha, if you stop playing without going to a mecha-base, you get 'fatigued.' So when you come back to the game, you play worse and earn fewer points for making the same kills and running the same dungeons. So you think, 'OK, I'm done for today, time to go back to a base.' And you run for a base, which is never very close to the quests, and on the way, you get a new quest, a short one that has a lot of good rewards. You do the quest. Now you head for the base again, but again, you find yourself on a quest, but this one is a little longer than it seemed, and now even more time has gone by. Finally, you reach the base, but you've played so much that you've almost levelled up, and it would be a pity to stop playing now when just a few random kills would get you to the next level and then you can buy some very good new weapons and training at the base, so you hunt down some of the biters around the base-entrance, and now you level up, and you get some good new weapons, and you've also just unlocked many new quests. These quests are given to you when you reach the base, and some of them look very interesting, and now some of your friends have joined you, so you can group with them and run the quests together, which will be much quicker and a lot more fun. And by the time you stop, it's been three, sometimes four hours more play than you thought you'd do."
+
+"This happens a lot?"
+
+"Oh yes. Many times a week for me. And I don't even play for points -- I play to help the union! The more play you do, the more sense it makes to keep on playing. All this business with gold and rupees and dollars and steel plates -- we play that game all the time, don't we? So of course it works. Everyone plays it because everyone has played it all their lives."
+
+"I can see why Big Sister Nor told me I must talk with you," he said. "You're a very clever girl."
+
+She looked down.
+
+"What do we do about Big Sister Nor?"
+
+"She thinks we need to find money and support for the strikers. I think she needs money and support for /{herself}/. She says she's fine, but she's in hospital and it sounds like she was badly beaten."
+
+"How do we get her support from here? They're so far away." Thinking: /{Mumbai's opposite corner is far away for me -- China might as well be the moon or the Mushroom Kingdom.}/ "And how do we know that Big Sister Nor will be safe where she is?"
+
+"Both good questions," he said. "It's frustrating. They're so close when we're all online, but so far when we need to do something that involves the physical world." He began to pace. "This is Big Sister Nor's department. She sees a way to tie up the virtual world and the real world, to move work and ideas and money from one to the other."
+
+"Maybe we should just concentrate on the games, then? They're the part we know how to use."
+
+"But these people are in trouble in the real world," Ashok said, balling his hands into fists.
+
+And Yasmin found herself giggling, and then laughing, really laughing. It was so obvious!
+
+"Oh, Ashok," she said, "oh, yes, they certainly are."
+
+And she knew just what to do about it.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Waterstone's, the national UK bookselling chain. Waterstone's is a chain of stores, but each one has the feel of a great independent store, with tons of personality, great stock (especially audiobooks!), and knowledgeable staff. Of particular note is the Manchester Deansgate store, which has an *{outstanding}* sf section. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Waterstones }http://www.waterstones.com/
+
+Lu didn't know where to go. Boss Wing's dormitories were out of the question, of course. And while he knew a dozen Internet cafes in Shenzhen where he could sit and log on to the game, he didn't really want to be playing just then. Not with everyone else in jail.
+
+But he had to sit down. He'd been hit hard in the head and on the shoulder and he was very dizzy. He'd thrown up once already, holding onto a bus-stop pole and leaning over the gutter, earning a disapproving cluck from an old woman who walked past hauling a huge barrow full of electronic waste.
+
+He had thought of texting Matthew and the others, to find out if the police had them in custody, but he was afraid that the police would track him back if he did, using the phone network to locate him and pick him up.
+
+It had all felt so /{wonderful}/. They'd stood up from their computers, chanting angrily, the war-chants from the games, which Boss Wing and his goons never played, and so it had all been totally perplexing to them. Their faces had gone from puzzlement to anger to fear as all the boys in the room stood together and marched out of the cafe, blocking the doorways so that no one could come in.
+
+And there had been girls, and old grannies, and young men stopping to admire them as they stood, shoulder to shoulder, chanting bravely at the cowardly goons from Boss Wing's factory, goons who'd been so tough just a few minutes before, willing to slap you in the head if you talked too much, ready to dock your pay, too. Ever since they'd tried to go out on their own, life had gotten steadily worse. Boss Wing had a huge operation, with plenty of in-game muscle to stand guard against rich players who hunted the gold farmers for sport, but he was cruel and cheap and you were lucky if you saw half the wages you'd earned after all the fines for "breaking rules" had been charged against your salary.
+
+Their phones rang and buzzed with photos from other Boss Wing factories where the workers had gone out too, and there were wars in Mushroom Kingdom as the Webblies kept anyone else from working their zone. And the police came and they'd stayed brave, Matthew and Ping and all his friends. They were workers, they were warriors, they were an army and their cause was just. They would not be intimidated.
+
+And then the gas came. And then the clubs started swinging. And then the screams had started. And then Lu had run, run through the stinging clouds of gas and the chaos of battle -- so like and so unlike the million battles he'd fought in the games -- and he'd thrown up and now --
+
+Now he had no idea where to go.
+
+And then his phone rang. The number was blanked out, which made his pulse hammer in his throat. Did the secret police blank out the number when they called you? But if the secret police knew he existed and had his phone number, they could just pick him up where he stood, using the phone's damned tracking function.
+
+It wasn't the police. With trepidation, he slid his finger over the talk button on the screen.
+
+"Wei?" he said, cautiously.
+
+"Lu? Is that you?" The call had the weird, echoey sound of a cheap net-calling service, the digital fuzz of packets that travelled third class on the global network. The accent was difficult, too, thick-tongued and off-kilter. He knew the sound and he knew the voice.
+
+"/{Wei-Dong}/?"
+
+"Yes!"
+
+"Wei-Dong in /{America}/?" He hadn't heard from the strange gweilo since they'd gone to Boss Wing and Ping had had to kick him out of the guild. Boss Wing didn't allow them to raid with outside people, or even talk to them in game. He had spyware on all his PCs that told him when you broke those rules, and you lost a day's wages for the first offense, a week's wages for the second.
+
+"Lu, it's me! Look, did I just see you and Ping getting beaten up by the cops?"
+
+"I don't know, did you?" The disorientation from his head wound was fierce, and he wondered if he was really having this conversation. It was very strange.
+
+"I -- I just saw you getting beaten up on a video from Shenzhen. I think I did. Was it you?"
+
+"We just got beaten up," he said. "I'm hurt."
+
+"Are you badly hurt? I couldn't reach Ping, so I tried you." He was excited, his voice tight. "What happened?"
+
+Lu was still grappling with the idea that the gweilo had just called him from thousands of kilometers away. "You saw me on the Internet in America?"
+
+"Every gamer in the world saw you, Lu! You couldn't have timed it better! After dinner is the busiest time on the servers, and the word went around like nothing I've ever seen before. Everyone in every game was chatting about it, passing around links to the video streams and the photos. It was even on the real news! My neighbor banged on my wall and asked me if I knew anything about it. It was incredible!"
+
+"You saw me getting beaten up on the Internet?"
+
+"Dude, /{everyone}/ saw you getting beaten up on the Internet."
+
+Lu didn't know what to say. "Did I look good?"
+
+Wei-Dong laughed like a hyena. "You looked /{great}/!"
+
+A dam broke, Lu laughed and laughed and laughed, as all the tension flooded out of him. He finally stopped, knowing that if he didn't he'd throw up again. He was by the train station now, in the heavy foot-traffic, all kinds of people moving purposefully around him as he stood still, a woozy island in the rushing stream. He backed up to a stairwell in front of a beauty parlor and sank to his haunches, squatting and holding the phone to his head.
+
+"Wei-Dong?"
+
+"Yes."
+
+"Why are you calling me?"
+
+There was an uncomfortable silence on the line, broken by soft digital flanging. "I wanted to help you," he said at last. "Help the Webblies."
+
+"You know about the Webblies?" Lu had half-believed that Matthew had made them up, a fantasy army of thousands of imaginary friends who would fight for them.
+
+"Know about them? Lu, they're the ass-kickingest guild in the world! No one can beat them! Coca-Cola Games is sending us three memos a day about them!"
+
+"Why does Coca-Cola send you memos?"
+
+"Oh." More silence. "Didn't I tell you? I'm working for them now. I'm a Turk."
+
+"Oh," said Lu. He knew about the Turks, but he never really thought about what kind of people would work in ten second increments making up dialog for non-player characters or figuring out what happened when you shot an office chair with a blunderbuss. "That must be interesting."
+
+Wei-Dong made a wet noise. "It's miserable," he said. "I run four different sessions at once, and I'm barely earning enough to pay the rent. And they make so much money off of us! Last month, they announced quarterly profits and games with Turks are earning 30 percent more than the ones without. They're hiring more Turks as fast as they can -- it's all over the board here. But our wages aren't going up. So I've been thinking of the Webblies, you know..." He trailed off. "Like maybe you guys can help us if we help you? We all play for our money, right? So why shouldn't we be on the same side."
+
+"Sounds right to me," Lu said. He was still trying to comprehend the fact that the Webblies were apparently famous with American teenagers. "Wait," he said, playing back Wei-Dong's accented, ungrammatical speech. "You're paying rent?"
+
+"Yeah," Wei-Dong said. "Yeah! Living on my own now. It's great! I have a crappy room in a, not sure what you call it, a hotel, kind of. But for people who don't have any money. But I can get wireless here and I've got four machines and there's plenty of stuff I can walk to, at least compared to home --" He began to babble about his favorite restaurants and the clubs that had all-ages nights and a million tiny irrelevant details about Los Angeles, which might as well have been the Mushroom Kingdom for all that it mattered to Lu. He let it wash over him and tried to think of places he could go to recuperate. He fleetingly wished for his mother, who always knew some kind of traditional Chinese remedy for his ailments. They often didn't work, but sometimes they did, and his mother's gentle application of them worked their own magic.
+
+He was suddenly, nauseously, overwhelmingly homesick. "Wei-Dong," he said, interrupting the virtual tour of Los Angeles. "I need to think now. I don't know what to do. I'm hurt, I'm on the street, and I can't call anyone in case the police trace the call. What do I do?"
+
+"Oh. Well. I don't know exactly. I was hoping that you'd know what /{I}/ should do, to tell you the truth. I want to get involved!"
+
+"I think I want to get /{uninvolved}/." Lu's homesickness was turning to anger. Who was this /{boy}/ to call him from the other side of the world, demanding to "get involved?" Didn't he have enough problems of his own? "What can you do for me from there? What is any of this -- this /{garbage}/ worth? How will everyone going to jail make my life better? How will having my head beaten in help make things better? How?"
+
+"I don't know." Wei-Dong's voice was small and hurt. Lu struggled to control his anger. The gweilo wanted to help. It wasn't his fault he didn't know how to help. Lu didn't know how to help, either.
+
+"I don't know either," Lu said. "Why don't you think about how to help and call me back. I need to find somewhere to rest, maybe a nurse or a doctor. OK?"
+
+"Sure," the gweilo said. "Sure. Of course. I'll call you back soon, don't worry."
+
+Every time a Hong Kong train came into the Shenzhen Railway Station, it disgorged a massive crowd of people: Hong Kong people in sharp business styles, rich kids, foreigners, and workers from Shenzhen returning from contracts abroad, clutching backpacks. The dense group got broken up by the taxi-rank and the shopping mall, and emerged as a diffuse cloud onto the street where Lu had been talking. Now he worked his way back through this crowd, listening to snatches of hundreds of conversations about business, manufacturing -- and gold farming.
+
+It was on everyone's lips, talk about the strike, about the police action, about the farmers. Of course most people in China had heard of gold farming and all the stories about the money you could make by just playing video games, but you never heard this kind of business-person talking about it. Not smart, fancy people with obvious wealth and power, the kind of people who skipped back and forth between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, talking rapidly into their earwigs, telling other people what to do.
+
+What had the gweilo said? /{Everyone saw you getting beaten up on the Internet!}/ Were these people looking closely at him? Now it seemed they were. Of course, he was bloody, staring, red-eyed. Why wouldn't they stare at him? But maybe --
+
+"You're one of them, aren't you?" She was 22 or 23, with perfect fingernails on the hand she rested on his arm, coming on him from behind. He gave an involuntary squeak and jump, and she giggled a little. "You must be," she said. She held up her phone. "I watched the video five times on the train. You should see the commentary. So ugly!"
+
+He knew about this. Any time something that made the government look bad managed to find its way online, there was an army of commenters who'd tweet and post and comment about how the government was in the right, how the story was all wrong, how the people in it were guilty of all kinds of terrible things. Lu knew he shouldn't believe any of it, but it was impossible to read it all without feeling a little niggle of doubt, then a little more, and then, like an ice-cube on a bruise, the outrage he'd felt at first would go numb.
+
+The thought that he, himself, was at the center of one of these smear-storms made him feel like he was going to throw up again. The girl must have seen this, for she gave his arm a little squeeze. "Oh, don't look so serious. You looked great on the video. I'm sure no one believes all that rubbish!" She pursed her lips. "Well, of course, that's not true. I'm sure lots of people believe it. But they're fools. And so many more were inspired, I'm sure. I'm Jie."
+
+"Lu," Lu said, after trying and failing to come up with an alias. He was not cut out to be a fugitive. "It was nice to meet you," he said, and shrugged her hand off and set off deeper into the crowd.
+
+She grabbed his arm again. "Oh, please stop. We need to talk. Please?"
+
+He stopped. He didn't have much experience with girls, but something about her voice made him want to stay. "Why do we need to talk?"
+
+"I want to get your story," she said. "For my show."
+
+"Your /{show}/?"
+
+She leaned in close -- so close he could smell her perfume -- and whispered, "I'm Jiandi," she said.
+
+He looked at her blankly.
+
+She shook her head. "Jiandi," she hissed. "Jiandi! From the Factory Girl Show!"
+
+He shrugged. "What kind of show?"
+
+"Every night!" she said. "At 9PM! Twelve million factory workers listen to me! They phone me with their problems. We go out over the net, audio, through the, uh," she dropped her voice, "the Falun Gong proxies."
+
+"Oh," he said, and began to move away.
+
+"It's not religious," she said. "I just help them with their problems. The --" she dropped her voice "/{proxies}/ are just how we get the show into the factories. They try to block me because we tell the truth about the work conditions -- the girls who are sexually pressured by their bosses, the marketing rip-offs, the wage rip offs, lock-ins --"
+
+"OK," he said. "I get the picture. Thank you but no."
+
+"Come /{on}/," she said and looked deep into his eyes. Hers were dark and lined with thin, precise green eye-pencil, and her eyebrows were shaped into surprised, sophisticated arches. "You look like you need a place to clean up, and maybe a meal. I can get that for you."
+
+"You can?"
+
+"Lu, I'm /{famous}/! I have advertisers who pay a /{lot}/ to sponsor my show. I have millions of supporters all over Shenzhen, even in Guangzhou and Dongguan. Even in Shanghai and Beijing! I'm a hero to them, Lu. I can put your story into the ears of every worker in the Pearl River Delta like /{that}/!" She snapped her fingers in front of his nose, making him blink and start back again. She laughed. "You're cute," she said. "Come on, it'll be wonderful."
+
+"Where do we go?" he said, cautiously.
+
+"Oh, I have a place," she said.
+
+She grabbed his hand -- her fingers were dry and cool, and touched with cold spots where the rings she wore met his skin. She led him away through the crowd, which seemed to part magically before her. It had all become like a dream now, with the pain crowding Lu's vision into a hazy-edged tunnel. He wondered if she'd have something for the pain. He wondered if she knew any traditional medicine, if she'd mix him up a bitter tea with complicated scents and small bits of hard things floating in it. All this he wondered, and the streets and sidewalks slipped past beneath their feet like magic. You could automatically follow your guildies in game, just click on them and select follow, and the whole guild could do that when there was a lot of distance to cover, so that only one player had to pay attention on the long march across the world, while the others relaxed and smoked and ate and used the toilet, while their characters trailed like a string of pack-animals behind the leader.
+
+That's what this felt like, like he was a character whose player had stepped out for a cigarette and a piss-break and the character bumped along mindlessly behind the leader.
+
+"Do you live here?" he said as they reached the lobby of a tall apartment building. It was a "handshake building," so close to the building next to it that the tenants could lean out their windows and shake hands with their neighbors across the lane. The lobby smelled of cooking and sweat, but it was clean and there was a working intercom and lock at the door.
+
+"No," she said. "I do some of my shows from here. There are two or three of them, to confuse the jingcha." He thought it was funny to hear her use the gamer clan term for police. She saw it, and said, "Oh yes, the zengfu think I'm very biantai and they'd PK me if they could." He laughed at this, because it was nearly impenetrable slang -- the government think I'm a pervert so they want to "player-kill" -- destroy -- me if they can. It was one thing to hear a boy with his shirt rolled up over his belly and a cigarette hanging out of his face saying this, another to hear this delicate, preciously made-up girl.
+
+The elevator was broken, so she led him up five flights of stairs, the walls decorated with lavish graffiti: murals of curse-words, scenes of factory life, phone numbers you could call to buy fake identity papers, degrees, certificates. Lu's own dorm room was in a building that Boss Wing rented, and he climbed twice this many stairs every day, but this climb felt like it was going to kill him. On Jie’s floor, there was an old lady squatting by the stairway door, in the hall. She nodded at the two of them.
+
+"Mrs Yun," Jie said, "I would like you to meet Hui. He is a mechanic who has come to repair my air-conditioner." The old lady nodded curtly and looked away.
+
+Jie attacked one of the apartment doors with a key ring, opening four different locks with large, elaborate, thick keys and then putting her shoulder into the door, which swung heavily back, clanging against a door-stop with a metallic sound. She motioned him inside and closed the door, shooting the four bolts from the inside and slapping at several light-switches.
+
+The apartment had two big rooms, the living room in which they stood, and a connecting bedroom that he could see from the doorway. There was a little kitchen area against the wall beside them, and the rest of the room was taken up with a sofa and a large desk with chairs on either side of it, covered in a litter of recording gear: a mixer, several large sets of headphones, and a couple of skinny mics on stands. Every centimeter of wall-space was /{covered}/ in paper: newspaper clippings, letters, drawings -- all liberally sprinkled with stickers, hearts, cute animal doodles.
+
+Jie waved her hand at it: "My studio!" she said, and twirled around. "All my fan-mail and my press." She ran her fingers lightly over a wall. Peering more closely at it, Lu saw that every letter began "Dear Jiani" and that they were all written in neat, girlish hands. "I have a post-box in Macau. My friends send the letters there and they scan them and email them to me. All right under the zengfu's nose!"
+
+"And the old lady in the hall?"
+
+She flopped down on the sofa, her skirt riding up around her thighs, and kicked her shoes in expert arcs to the mat by the door. "Our building's answer to the bound-foot grannies' detective squad," she said, and he laughed again at the slang. Back in Nanjing, they'd used this term to talk about the little old ladies who were always snooping around, gossiping about who was doing something evil or wicked. They didn't really have bound feet -- the practice of binding little girls' feet to the point where they grew up unable to walk properly was dead, and he'd never seen a real bound foot outside of a museum, though the grannies would always exclaim over the girls' feet, passing evil remarks if a girl had large feet, cooing if she had small ones -- but they acted all pinched anyway.
+
+"And she'll believe that I'm a repairman? I don't have any tools!"
+
+"Oh, no," Jie laughed again. It was a pretty sound. Lu could see how she'd be a very popular netshow host. That laugh was infectious. "No, she'll think we're having sex!"
+
+He felt himself turning red and stammering. "Oh -- Uh --"
+
+Now she was howling with laughter, head flung back, hair fanned out over the sofa-cushions. "You should see your face! Look, so long as Grandma Mao out there thinks I'm just a garden-variety slut, she won't suspect that I'm really Jiandi, Scourge of the Politburo and Voice of the Pearl River Delta, all right? Now, get your shoes off and let's have a look at that head-wound."
+
+He did as he was bade, neatly lining his shoes up by the doorway and stepping gingerly onto the dusty wooden floor. Jia stood and led him by the shoulders to one of the rolling chairs by the desk and pushed him down on it, then leaned over him and stared intently at his scalp. "OK," she said. "First of all, you need to switch shampoo, you have very greasy hair, it's shameful. Second of all, you appear to have a pigeon's egg growing out of your head, which has got to sting a little. I'll tell you what, I'll get you something cold to hold on it for a few moments, then I want you to go have a shower and clean it out well. It looks like it bled a little, but not much, which is lucky for you, since scalp wounds usually bleed like crazy. Then, once we've got you into a more civilized state, I'll put you on the Internet and make you even more famous. Sound good?"
+
+He opened his mouth to object, but she was already spinning away and digging through the small fridge, crouching, hair falling over her shoulders in a way that Lu couldn't stop staring it. Now she had a bag of frozen Hahaomai chicken dumplings -- he recognized the packaging, it was what they ate for dinner most nights in Boss Wing's dormitory -- and was wrapping it in a tea-towel, and pressing it to his head. It felt like it weighed 500 kilos and had been cooled to absolute zero, but it also made his head stop throbbing almost immediately. He slumped in the chair and closed his eyes and held the dumplings to the spot where the zengfu -- the slang was infectious -- had given him a love-tap. He tracked Jia's movements around him by the sounds she made and the puffs of perfume and hair stuff whenever she passed close. This was not bad, he thought -- a lot better than things had been an hour ago when he'd been crouching in front of the station talking to the gweilo.
+
+"Right," she said, "take these." He opened his eyes and saw that she was holding out two chalky pills and a glass of water for him.
+
+"What are they?" he said, narrowing his eyes at the glare of the sunset light streaming in the window. He'd been nearly asleep.
+
+"Poison," she said. "I've decided to put you out of your misery. Take them."
+
+He took them.
+
+"The shower's through there," she said, pointing toward the bedroom. "There's a towel on the toilet-seat, and I found some pajamas that should fit you. We'll rinse out your clothes and put them on the heater to dry while we talk. No offense, Mr Labor Hero, but you smell like something long dead."
+
+He was blushing again, he could tell, and there was nothing for it but to duck and scurry through the bedroom -- he had a jumbled impression of a narrow bed with a thin blanket crumbled at the bottom, a litter of stuffed animals, and mounds of fake handbags overflowing with clothing and toiletries. Then he was in the bathroom, the sink-lip covered in mysterious pots and potions, all the oddments of a girl which a million billboards hinted at, but which he'd never seen in place, lids askew, powder spilling out. It was all so much less glamorous than it appeared on the billboards, where everything looked like it was slightly wet and glistening, but it was much more exciting.
+
+Every horizontal space in the shower seemed to support some kind of bottle. Lu bought big two liter jugs of shower gel that he could use as shampoo, too, but after squinting at the labels, he found one that appeared to be for bodies and another for hair, and made use of both. The water on his head felt like little sharp stones beating against it, and his shoulder began to throb as he rubbed the shampoo in. After the shower, he cleared the steam off the mirror and craned around to get a look at it, and could just make out the huge, raised bruise there, a club-shaped purple bruised line surrounded by a halo of greeny-yellow swelling.
+
+"There's something you can wear on the bed," Jia yelled from the other side of the door. He cautiously turned the knob and found that she'd drawn a curtain across the door to the bedroom, leaving him alone in naked semi-darkness. On the bed, neatly folded, a pair of track pants and a t-shirt for an employment bureau, the kind of thing they gave out to the people who stood in front of them all day long, paid for every person they brought in to apply for a job. It was a tight fit, but he got it on, and balled up his clothes, which really did stink, and peeked around the curtain.
+
+"Hello?"
+
+"Come on out here, beautiful!" she said, as he stepped out, his bare feet on the dusty tile. She leaned in and sniffed at him with a delicate little sniffle. "Mmmm, you chose the dang-gui shampoo. Very good. Very good for ladies' reproductive issues." She patted his stomach. "You'll have a little baby there in no time!"
+
+He now felt like he would faint from embarrassment, literally, the room spinning around him.
+
+She must have seen it in his face, for she stopped laughing and gave his hand a squeeze. "Don't worry," she said. "It's only teasing. Dang-gui is good for everything. Your mother must have given it to you." And yes, he realized now, that was where he knew that smell from -- he remembered wishing that his mother was there to give him some herbs, and that wish must have guided his hand among the many bottles in her shower.
+
+"Do you live here?" he said.
+
+"In this pit?" She made a face. "No, no! This is just one of my studios. It helps to have a lot of places where I can work. Makes life harder for the zengfu."
+
+"But the clothes, the bed?"
+
+"Just a few things I leave for the nights when I work late. My show can go all night, sometimes, depending on how many callers I have." She smiled again. She had dimples. He hadn't ever noticed a girl's dimples before. The head injury was making him feel woozy. Or maybe it was love.
+
+"And now?"
+
+"And now we talk to you about what you've seen," she said. "My show starts in --" she looked at the face of her phone -- "12 minutes. Just enough time for you to have a drink and get comfortable." She fished in her fridge and brought out a water filter jug and filled a glass from a small rack next to the tiny sink. He took it and drank it greedily and she fetched him the filter, setting it down on one side of the desk before settling into the chair on the other side.
+
+She began to click and type and furrow her brow in an adorable way, slipping on a set of huge headphones, positioning a mic. She waved to him and he settled into the opposite chair, refilling his glass.
+
+"What kind of show is this again?"
+
+"You are such a /{boy}/!" she said, looking up from her screen, fingers still punishing her keyboard with insectile clicks from her manicured fingernails.
+
+He looked down at himself. "I suppose I am," he said.
+
+"What I mean is, if you were a girl, you'd know all about this. Every factory girl listens to me, believe it. I start broadcasting after dinner, and they all log in and call in and chat and phone and tell me all their troubles and I tell them what they need to hear. Mostly, it comes down to this: if your boss wants to screw you, find another job, or be prepared to be screwed in more ways than one. If your boyfriend is a deadbeat who won't work and borrows money from you, get a new boyfriend, even if he is the 'love of your life.' If your girlfriends are talking trash about you, confront them, have a good cry, and start over. If your girlfriend is screwing your boyfriend, get rid of both of them. If you are screwing your girlfriend's boyfriend, stop -- dump him, confess to her, and don't do it again." She was ticking these off on her fingers like a shopping list.
+
+"It sounds a little repetitive," he said. He wondered if she was making it up, or possibly delusional. Could there really be a show that every factory girl listened to that he'd never heard of? He thought of how little the factory girls in Shilong New Town had talked to him when he worked as a security guard and decided that yes, it was totally possible.
+
+"It's very repetitive, but we all like it that way, my girls and me. Some problems are universal. Some things you just can't say too often. Anyway, that's not all there is to it. We have variety! We have you!"
+
+"Me," he said. "You're going to put me on a show with all these girls on it? Why? Won't that make the police want to get me even more?"
+
+"Darling, the police already want you. Remember the video. Your face is everywhere. The more famous you are, the harder it will be for them to arrest you. Trust me."
+
+"How can you be sure? Have you ever done this before?"
+
+"Every day," she said, eyes wide. "I'm my own case study. The police have been after me for two years now, and I've stayed out of their clutches. I do it by being too popular to catch!"
+
+"I don't think I understand how that works," he said.
+
+She looked at the face of her phone. "We've only got a minute. Here, quickly, I'll explain: if you're a fugitive, being poor is hard. Even harder than for non-fugitives. It's expensive being on the run. You need lots of places to live. Lots of different phones that you can abandon. You need to be able to pay li --" bribes -- "and you need to be able to move fast. Being famous means that you have access to money and favors from a lot of different people. My listeners keep me going, either through direct donations or through my advertisers."
+
+"You have ads? Who would buy an ad on a fugitive's radio show?"
+
+She shrugged. "The Taiwanese," she said. The island of Taiwan had considered itself separate from China since 1949 but China had never stopped laying claim to it -- without much success. "Falun Gong, sometimes." She saw the look of shock on his face. "Don't worry, /{I'm}/ not religious. But I'll take their money. They don't care if I make fun of them on the show, so long as I run their ads, too."
+
+He shook his head. "It's all too strange," he said.
+
+She held up her hand for silence and swung down a little mic from one of the headphones' earpieces. "Hello, girls!" she called into the mic, clicking her mouse. "It's your best friend here, Sister Jiandi, the friend you can always rely on, the friend who will never let you down, the friend you can confide all your secrets in -- provided you don't mind eight million factory girls finding out about it!" She giggled at her own joke. "Oh, sisters, it's going to be a good night, I can tell! I have a special surprise for you a little later, but first, let's talk! Tonight I'm using Amazon France chat, chat.amazon.fr, so go and sign up now. You'll get me at jiandi88888. Remember to use a couple of the latest FLG proxies before you make the call -- and it looks like the translation services at Yahoo.ru and 123india.in are both unblocked at the moment, which should make it easier to sign up. Well, what are you waiting for? Get signed up!"
+
+She clicked something and he heard a blaring ad for Falun Gong start in his headphone and he slipped one off the side of his head. Jie swung her mic away and pointed a finger at him. "Feeling the magic yet?"
+
+"This is it? This is your big show?"
+
+"Oh yes," she said. "We'll probably have to switch chats three or four times tonight, as they update the firewall. It's fun! Wait, you'll see." In his ear, the ad was wrapping up and he slipped the other headphone back into place.
+
+"Talk to me," Jie said, her voice full of warmth. It took him a moment to realize she was talking into her mic, to her audience, not to him. Her fingers were working the keyboard and mouse.
+
+"Hello?"
+
+"Yes, darling, hello. You're live. Talk, talk! We've only got all night!"
+
+"Oh, um --" The voice was female, with a strong Henan accent, and it was scared.
+
+"It's OK, sweetie, my heart, it's OK. Tell me." Jie's voice was a coo, a purr, a seduction. Her eyes were moist, her lips pursed in a gesture of pure caring. Lu wanted to tell her /{his}/ secrets.
+
+"It's just that --" The voice stopped. Crying noises. In the background, the sounds of a busy factory dorm, girlish calls and laughter and conversation. Jie made soothing shhh shhh sounds. "It's my boss," the girl said. "He was so /{nice}/ to me at first. He said he was taking an interest in me because we are both from Henan. He said that he would protect me. Show me around the city. We went to nice places. A restaurant in the stock exchange. He took me to the Windows on the World park and we dressed up like ancient warriors."
+
+"And he wanted something in return, didn't he?"
+
+"I knew he would. I listen to your show. But I thought it would be different for me. I thought he was different. But he --" She broke off. "After he kissed me, he told me he wanted to do more. Everything. He told me I owed it to him. That I'd understood that when I accepted his invitation, and that I would be cheating him if I didn't --" She began to cry.
+
+Jie made a face, twirled her finger in an impatient gesture. Lu was horrified by her callousness. But when the crying stopped, her voice was again full of compassion and understanding.
+
+"Oh, sweet child, you've been done badly, haven't you? Well, of course you knew it would happen, but the heart and the head don't always agree with each other, do they? The question isn't whether you acted like a fool -- because you did, you acted like a perfect fool -- the question is what you can do about it now. Am I right?"
+
+"Yes." The voice was so tiny and soft he could barely hear it. He pictured a girl shrunk to the size of a mouse, trembling in fear.
+
+"Well, that's simple. Not easy, but simple. Forfeit your last eight weeks' wages and walk out of the factory first thing tomorrow morning. Go down to a job-broker on Xi Li street and find something -- anything -- that can get you started again. Then you call your boss's wife -- is he married?"
+
+"Yes." The voice was a little bigger now.
+
+"Call his wife and tell her everything. Tell her what he did, what he said, what you said back. Tell her you're sorry, and tell her you're sorry her husband is such a sack of rotten, stinking garbage. Tell her you walked away on the pay he was holding back, and that you've left your job. And then you start to work again. And no matter what your new boss says or does, don't go out with him. Do you understand?"
+
+"Call his wife --"
+
+"Call his wife, walk away from your pay, and start over. There's nothing else that will work. You can't talk to this man. He has raped you -- that's what it is, you know, when someone in power coerces you into sex, it's rape, just rape -- and he'll do it again and again and again. He'll do it to the other girls in the factory. You tell as many as you can why you're leaving. In fact, you tell me what factory you work in and the name of your boss, right now, and then millions and millions of girls will know about it, too. They'll steer clear of this dog, and maybe you'll save a few souls with your bravery. What do you say?"
+
+"You want me to name my boss? Now? But I thought this was confidential --"
+
+"You don't /{have}/ to. But do you want another girl to go through what you just went through? What do you think would have happened if you had heard another girl speak his name on this show, last month, before you went out with him. What will you do? Will you save your sisters from the pain you're in? Or will you protect your bruised ego and let the next girl suffer, and the next?" She waited a moment. The girl on the phone said nothing, though the sounds of people moving around the dorm could still be faintly heard. Lu imagined her under her blanket on her bunk, hand over the mouthpiece of her phone, whispering her secrets to millions of girls. What a strange world. "Well?"
+
+"I'll do it," the girl said.
+
+"What's that? Say it loud!"
+
+"I'll do it!" the girl said, and let out a little laugh, and the laugh was echoed by the girlish voices near her, as the girls in her dorm realized that the confession they'd been listening into on their computers and phones and radios had been emanating from a bunk in their midst. There was a squeal of feedback as one of the radios got too close to the phone, and Jie's fingers clicked at the keyboard, squelching the feedback but somehow leaving the other squeals, the girlish squeals. They were cheering her, the girls in the dorm, cheering her and chanting her name, her real name, now on the radio, but it didn't matter, because the girl was laughing harder than ever.
+
+"It's Bau Peixiong," she said, laughing. "Bau Peixiong at the HuaXia sports factory." She laughed, a liberated sound.
+
+"OK, OK, girls," Jie said into her mic, in a commanding tone. The voices quieted. "Now, your sister has just made a sacrifice for all of you, so you need to help her. She needs money -- your pig of a boss won't give her the eight weeks' pay he's holding onto, especially not after she calls his wife. She needs help packing, help finding a job. Someone there is thinking of changing jobs, someone there knows where there's a job for this girl. Tell her. Help her move out. Help her find the new job. This is your duty to your sister. Promise me!"
+
+From the phone, a babble of girls saying, "I promise! I promise!"
+
+"Very good," Jie said. "Now, stay tuned friends, for soon I will be unveiling a wonderful surprise!" A mouseclick and then there was another ad, this time for a company that provided fake credentials for people looking for work, guaranteed to pass database lookups. Both of them slipped their headphones off and Jie drained her water-glass, a little trickle sliding down her chin and throat. Lu suppressed a groan. She was /{so}/ beautiful, and all that power and confidence --
+
+"That was a pretty good opener, wasn't it?" she said, raising her eyebrows at him.
+
+"Is it like this all the time?"
+
+"Oh, that was a particularly good one. But yes, most nights it goes like that. Six or seven hours' worth of it. You still think it'd get repetitious?"
+
+"I can see how that would stay interesting."
+
+"After all, you kill the same monsters over and over again all night long, don't you? That must be pretty dull."
+
+He considered this. "Not really," he said. "It's the teamwork, I guess. All of us working together, and it's not really the same every time -- the games vary the monster-spawning a lot. Sometimes you get really good drops, too -- that can be very exciting! You're going down a corridor you've cleared a dozen times, and you discover that this time it's filled with 200 vampires and then one of them drops an epic sword, and it's not boring at all anymore." He shrugged. "My guildie Matthew says it's intermittent reinforcement."
+
+She held up a finger and said, "Hold on to that," and clicked and started talking into her mic again, taking a call from another factory girl, this one more angry than sad. "I had a friend who was selling franchises for a line of herbal remedies," she said, and Jie rolled her eyes.
+
+"Go on," she said. "Sounds like a great opportunity." The sarcasm in her voice was unmistakable.
+
+"That's what I thought," the girl said. She sounded like she wanted to punch something. "At first I thought it was about selling the herbal remedies, and I liked that, because my mother always gave me herbs when I was sick as a girl, and I thought that a lot of the girls here would want to buy the remedies too because they missed home."
+
+"Yes," Jie said. "Who wouldn't want to remember her mommy?"
+
+"Exactly! Just what I thought. And my friend told me about how much money I could make, but not from selling the herbs! She said that selling the herbs would be my 'downliners' job, and that I would manage them. I would be a boss!"
+
+"Who wouldn't want to be a boss?"
+
+"Right! She said that she was recruiting me to be in the top layer of the organization, and that I would then go and recruit two of my friends to be my salespeople. They'd each pay me for the right to sign up more downliners, and that all the downliners would buy herbs from me and then I would get a share of all their profits. She showed me how if my two downliners signed up two more, and each of /{them}/ signed up two more, and so on, that I would have hundreds of downliners working for me in just a few days! And if I only got a few RMB from each one, I'd be making thousands every month, just for signing up two people."
+
+"A very generous friend," Jie said, and though she sounded like she was joking, she wasn't smiling.
+
+"Yes, yes! That's what I thought. And all I needed to do was pay her one small fee for the right to sell downline, and she would supply me with herbs and sales kits and everything else I needed. She said that she was signing me up because I was Fujianese, like her, and she wanted to take care of me. She said I should find girls who were still back in the village, girls I'd gone to school with, and call them and sign them up, because they needed to make money."
+
+"Why would girls in the village need herbal remedies? Wouldn't they have their mothers?"
+
+That stopped the angry, fast-talking girl. "I didn't think of that," she said, at last. "It seemed like I was going to be a hero for everyone, and like I would escape from the factory and get rich. My friend said she was going to quit in a few weeks and get her own apartment. I thought about moving out of the dorm, having money to send home --"
+
+"You dreamed about money and all that it could buy you, but you didn't devote the same attention to figuring out whether this thing could possibly work, right?"
+
+Another silence. "Yes," she said. "I have to say that this is true."
+
+"And then?"
+
+"It started OK. I sold a few downlines, but they were having trouble making their downline commitments. And then my friend, she started to ask me for her percentage of my income. When I told her I wasn't receiving the income my downliners owed me, she changed."
+
+"Go on." Jie's eyes were fixed on the wall behind Lu's head. She was in another world, it seemed, picturing the girl and her problem.
+
+"She got angry. She said that I had made a commitment to her, and that she had made commitments to her uplines based on this, and that I would have to pay her so that she could pay the people she owed. She made me feel like I'd betrayed her, betrayed the incredible opportunity. She said I was just a simple girl from a village, not fit to be a business-woman. She called me all day, over and over, screaming, 'Where's my money?'"
+
+"So what did you do?"
+
+"I finally went to her. I cried. I told her I didn't know what to do. And she told me that I knew, but that I didn't have the courage to do it. She told me I had to go to my downliners, get tough on them, get the money out of them. And if they wouldn't pay, I'd have to get the money some other way: from my parents, my friends, my savings. I could get new downliners next month."
+
+"And so you called up your downliners?"
+
+"I did." She drew in a heaving breath. "At first, I was gentle and kind to them, but my friend called me over and over again, and I got angry. Angry at them, not at her. It was their fault that I was having to spend all this time and energy, that I couldn't sleep or eat. And so I got meaner. I threatened them, begged them, shouted at them. These two girls, they were my old friends. I'd known them since we were little babies. I knew their secrets. I threatened to call my friend's father and tell him that she had let a boy take naked pictures of her when she was 15. I threatened to tell my other friend's sister that she had kissed her boyfriend."
+
+"Did they pay what they owed you?"
+
+"At first. The first month, they paid. The next month, though, I had to call them and shout at them some more. It was like I was sitting above myself, watching a crazy stranger say these terrible things to my old, old friends. But they paid again. And then, in the third month --" She stopped abruptly. The silence swelled. Lu felt it getting thicker, staticky.
+
+"What happened?"
+
+"Then one friend ate rat poison." Her voice was a tiny, far-away whisper. More silence. "I had told her that I would go to her father and -- and --" Silence. "It was how her mother had committed suicide when we were both small. The same kind of poison. Her father was a hard man, an Old One Hundred Names who had lived through the Cultural Revolution. He has no mercy on him. When she couldn't get the money, she stole it. Got caught. He was going to find out. And if he didn't, I would tell him about the photos she'd taken. And she couldn't face that. I drove her to kill herself. It was me. I killed her."
+
+"She killed herself," Jie said, her voice full of compassion. "It's the women's disease in China. We're the only country in the world where more women commit suicide than men. You can't take the blame for this." She paused. "Not all of it."
+
+"That's not all," the girl said, all the anger gone out of her voice now, nothing left behind but distilled despair.
+
+"Of course not," Jie said. "You still owe for this month. And next month, and the month after."
+
+"My friend, the one who brought me into this, she knows... /{things}/... about me. The kind of things I knew about my friends. Things that could cost me my job, my home, my boyfriend..."
+
+"Of course. That's how cuanxiao works." Lu had heard the term before. "Network sales," is what it meant. There was always someone trying to sell you something as part of a cuanxiao scheme. He used to laugh at it. Now it seemed a lot more serious. "And somewhere, upline from here, there's someone else in the cuanxiao, who has something on her. And there are preachers who can convince you that you'll make a fortune with cuanxiao, and that you just need to inspire your family and friends."
+
+"You know him? Mr Lee. My friend took me to a meeting. Mr Lee seemed like he was on fire, and he made me so sure that I would become rich if only --"
+
+"I don't know Mr Lee. But there are hundreds of Mr Lees in Guandong province. You know what we call them? Pharoahs, like the Egyptian kings they buried in pyramids. That's because they sit on top of a pyramid of fools like you. Beneath the pharoah, there's a pair of downliners, and beneath them, two pairs, and beneath them, two more pairs, and so on, all passing money up the power to some feudal idiot from the countryside who knows how to talk a good line and has never worked a day in his life. Did you ever study math?"
+
+"I got a gold medal in our canton's Math Olympiad!"
+
+"That's very good! Math is useful in this world. Let's do a little math. If each level of the pyramid has double the number of members of the previous level, how many members are there on the 10th level of the pyramid?"
+
+"What? Oh. Um. 2 to the 10. That's --" /{1024}/ Lu thought to himself. "1024, right?"
+
+"Exactly. How many on the 30th level?"
+
+"Um..."
+
+Lu pulled out his phone, used the calculator, did some figuring.
+
+"Um...."
+
+"Oh, just guess."
+
+"It's big. A hundred thousand? No! About five hundred thousand."
+
+"You should give your medal back, sister. It's over a billion." Jie tapped some numbers into her keyboard. "1,073,741,824 to be precise. There's 1.6 billion people in China. Your herb salespeople were supposed to recruit new downliners every two weeks. At that rate --" She typed some more. "It would be just over a year before every person in China was working in your pyramid, even the tiny babies and the oldest grannies."
+
+"Oh."
+
+"You know about network selling, you must have. What year are you?" Meaning, how many years since you left the village?
+
+"Four," the girl admitted. "I did know it. Of course. But I thought this was different. I thought because there was a real product and because it was only two people at a time --"
+
+"I don't think you thought about any of that, sister. I think you thought about having a big apartment and a lot of money. Isn't that right?"
+
+"There was money, though! It was working for weeks! My friend had made so much --"
+
+"What level of the pyramid was she on? 10? 20? When you're stealing from the new people to pay the old people, it's a good deal for the old people. Not so good for the new people. People like you or your downliners."
+
+"I'm a fool," the girl said. "I'm a monster! I destroyed my friends' lives!" She was sobbing now, screaming out the confession for millions of people to hear.
+
+"It's true," Jie said, mildly. "You're a fool and a monster, just like thousands of other people. Now what are you going to do about it?"
+
+"/{What can I do?}/"
+
+"You can stop snivelling and pull yourself together. Your friend, the one who recruited you? Someone's holding something over her, the way that she was holding something over you. Sit down with her, and do whatever it takes to get her out. The most evil thing about these pyramids is that they turn friend against friend, make us betray the people we love to keep from being betrayed ourselves. Even if you're one of the lucky few at the top who makes some money from it, you pay the price of your integrity, your friendships and your soul. The only way to win is not to play."
+
+"But --"
+
+"But, but, but! Listen, foolish girl! You called me tonight because your soul is stained with the evil that you did. Did you think I would just tell you that it's all right, you did what you had to do, no blame on you? No! You know me, I'm Jiandi. I don't grant absolution. I tell you what you must do to pay for your crimes. You don't get to confess, feel better and walk away. You have to do the hard work now -- you have to set things to right, help your friends, restore your integrity and conscience. Do you hear me?"
+
+"I hear you." Quiet, meek.
+
+"Say it louder." She snapped it like a general giving an order.
+
+"I hear you!"
+
+"LOUDER!"
+
+"I HEAR YOU!"
+
+"Good!" She laughed and rubbed at one ear. "I think they heard you in Macau! Good girl. Go and do right now!"
+
+And she clicked something and another ad rolled in Lu's headphones. He took them off, found that his eyes were moist with tears. "That poor girl," he said.
+
+"There's thousands more like her," Jie said. "It's a sickness, like gambling. It comes from not understanding numbers. They all win their little math medals, but they don't believe in the numbers. Now, you were about to tell me about some kind of reinforcement."
+
+"Intermittent reinforcement," he said. "My friend Matthew, he leads our guild, he told me about it. It comes from experiments with rats. Imagine that you have a rat who gets some food every time he pushes a lever. How often do you think he pushes the lever?"
+
+"As often as he's hungry, I suppose. I kept mice once -- they knew when it was time for food and they'd rush over to the corner of the cage that I dropped their seeds and cheese into."
+
+"Right. Now, what about a lever that gives food every fifth time they press the lever?"
+
+"I don't know -- less?"
+
+"About the same, actually, After a while, the rats figure out that they need five presses for a food pellet and every time they want feeding, they wander over and hit it five times. Now, what about a lever that gives food out at random? Sometimes one press, sometimes one hundred presses?"
+
+"They'd give up, right?"
+
+"Wrong! They press it like crazy, All day and all night. It's like someone who wins a little money in the lottery one week and then plays every week afterward, forever. The uncertainty drives them crazy, it's the most addictive system of all. Matthew says it's the most important part of game design -- one day you manage to kill a really hard NPC with a lucky swing, and it drops some incredibly epic item, and you make more money in ten seconds than you made all week, and you have to keep going back to that spot, looking for a monster like it, thinking it'll happen again."
+
+"But it's random, right?"
+
+"I'm not sure," he said. "Matthew says it is. I sometimes think that the game company deliberately messes up the odds so that when you're just about to quit, you get another jackpot." He shrugged. "That's what I'd do, anyway."
+
+"If it's random, it shouldn't make any difference what you do and where you play. If you flip a coin ten times and it comes up heads ten times in a row, you've got exactly the same chance of it coming up heads an eleventh time than if it had come up all tails, or half and half."
+
+"Matthew says stuff like that all the time. He says that although it may be unlikely that you'll get ten heads in a row, each flip has exactly the same chance."
+
+"Matthew sounds like he knows his math."
+
+"He does. You should meet him sometime." He swallowed. "If he ever gets out of jail, that is."
+
+"Oh, we'll have to do something about that."
+
+She handled six more calls, running the show for another two hours, breaking for commercials and promising all her listeners the most exciting event of their lifetime if they just hung in. At first, Lu listened attentively, but his head hurt and he was so tired, and eventually he slumped in his seat and dozed, drifting in and out of dreams as he listened to Jie berating the foolish factory girls of South China.
+
+He woke to a sprinkle of ice-water on his face, gasped and sat up, opening his eyes just in time to see Jie dancing back away from him, laughing, her face glowing with excitement. "I /{love}/ doing this show!" she said. "You're up next, handsome!"
+
+He looked at his phone and realized that he'd dozed for an hour more, and that it was well past supper time. His stomach rumbled. Jie had taken off her shoes and socks and unbuttoned the top two buttons on her red blouse. Her hair was down and her makeup was smudged. She looked like she was having the time of her life.
+
+"Wha?" his head throbbed and it tasted like something had used his mouth for a toilet.
+
+"Come /{on}/," she said, and moved close again, snapping his headphones on. "It's coming up on 8PM. This is when my listenership peaks. They're back from dinner, they're finished gossiping, and they're all sitting on their beds, tuning in on their computers and phones and radios. And I've been hyping you for /{hours}/. Every pretty girl in the Pearl River Delta is waiting to meet you, are you ready?"
+
+"I -- I --" He suddenly couldn't find his tongue. "Yes!" he managed.
+
+"Get your headset on," she called, dashing around to her side of the desk and pouncing on her seat. "We're live in 10, 9, 8..."
+
+He fumbled with his headset, swung the mic down, reached for the water glass and gulped down too much, choked, tried to keep it in, choked more, spilled water all down his front. Jie laughed aloud, gulping it down as she spoke into her mic.
+
+"We're back, we're back, we're back, and now sisters, I have the special surprise I've been promising you all night! A knight of the people, a hero of the factory, a killer who has hunted pirates in space and dragons in the hills, a professional gold-farmer named --" She broke off. "What name shall I call you by, hero?"
+
+"Oh!" He thought for a second. "Tank," he said. "It's the kind of player I am, the tank."
+
+"A tank!" She giggled. "That's just perfect. Oh, sisters, if only you could see this big, muscled tank I have sitting here in my studio. Let me tell you about Tank. I was watching a little video this afternoon, and like many of you, I found myself watching something amazing: dozens of boys, lined up outside an Internet cafe, blinking and pale as newborn mice in the daylight. It seemed that they were a different kind of factory boy, the legendary gold farmers of Shenzhen, and they were demanding a better job, better pay, better conditions, and an end to their vicious, greedy bosses. Does that sound familiar, sisters?
+
+"The police arrived, the dirty jingcha, with their helmets and clubs and gas, cowards with their faces hidden and their brutal weapons in hand to fight these boys who only wanted justice. But did the boys flee? No! Did they go back to their jobs and apologize to their bosses? No! The mouse army stood its ground, claimed their workplace as their rightful home, the place their work paid for. And what did the jingcha do? Tell me, Tank, what did they do?"
+
+Lu looked at her like she was crazy. She made urgent hand-gestures at him as the silence stretched. "I, that is, they beat us up!"
+
+"They certainly did! Sisters, download this video now, please! Watch as the jingcha charge the boys of Shenzhen, breaking their heads, gassing them, clubbing them. And now, focus on one brave lad off to the left, right at the 14:22 mark. Strong chin, wide eyes, a little freckles over his nose, hair in disarray. See him stand his ground through the charge with his comrades by his side? See the jingcha with his club who comes upon the boy from behind and hits him in the shoulder, knocking him down? See the club come up again and land on the poor boy's head, the blood that flies from the wound?
+
+"That, sisters, is Tank, the boy sitting across from me, bloodied but unbowed, brave and strong, standing up for the rights of workers --" She dissolved into giggles. Lu giggled too, he couldn't help it. "Oh, sorry, sorry. Look, he's a very nice boy, and not bad to look at, and the jingcha laid into his head and shoulder like they were tenderizing a steak, and all he was doing was insisting that he had the right to work like a person and not an animal. And he's not alone. They call it 'The People's Republic of China,' but the people don't get any say in the way it's run. It's all corruption and exploitation.
+
+"I thought the video was amazing, a real inspiration. And then I saw him, our Tank, wandering dazed and bloody through --" she broke off. "Through a location I will not disclose, so that the jingcha won't know which video footage they need to review. I saw him and I told him I wanted to introduce him to you, my friends, and then he told me the most amazing story I've heard, and you /{know}/ I hear a lot of amazing stories here every night. A story about a global movement to improve the lot of workers everywhere, and I hope that's the story he'll tell us tonight. So, Tank, darling, start with your injuries. Could you describe them to our friends out there?"
+
+And Lu did, and then he found himself going from there into the story of how he came to be a gold farmer, what life was like for him, the stories Matthew had told him about how Boss Wing had forced him and his friends to go back to work in his factory, talking and talking until the water was gone and his mouth was dry, and mercifully, she called for another commercial.
+
+He sagged into his chair while she got him some more water. "You should see the chat rooms," she said. "They're all in love with you, 'Tank'. The way you rescued those girls' belongings in Shilong New Town! You're their hero. There are dozens of them who claim that they were there on that day, that they saw you climbing the fence. Listen to this, 'His muscles rippled like iron bands as he clambered up the fence like a mighty jungle creature...'" He snorted water up his sinuses, and Jie gave his bicep a squeeze. "You need to work out some more, Jungle Creature, your muscles have gone all soft!"
+
+"How do you have message boards? Don't they block them?"
+
+"Oh, that's easy," she said. "We just pick a random blog out there on the net, usually one that no one has posted to in a year or two, and we take over the comment board on one of its posts. Once they block it -- or the server crashes -- we switch to another one. It's easy -- and fun!"
+
+He laughed and shook his head, which set his headache going again. He winced and squeezed his head between his hands. "Sheer genius!"
+
+Now the commercial was ending, and they both sat down quickly in their chairs and swung their mics into place. Lu was getting good at this now, the talk coming to him the way it did when he was chatting with his guildies. He'd always been the storyteller of the bunch.
+
+And the story went on -- he told of how the Webblies had come to him and his guildies in game, had talked to them about the need for solidarity and mutual aid to protect themselves from bosses, from players who hunted gold-farmers, from the game company.
+
+"They want to unite Chinese workers," Jie said, nodding sagely.
+
+"No!" He surprised himself with his vehemence. "Uniting Chinese workers would be useless. With gold farming, the work can just move to Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, India -- anywhere workers aren't organized. It's the same with all work now -- your job can move in no time at all to anywhere you can build a factory and dock a container ship. There's no such thing as 'Chinese' workers anymore. Just workers! And so the Webblies organize all of us, everywhere!"
+
+"That's a lot of workers," she said. "How many have you got?"
+
+He hung his head. "Jiandi," he said. "We can all see the counter, and we all cheer when it goes up by a few hundred, but we're a long way off."
+
+"Oh, Tank," she said. "Don't be discouraged. Tens of thousands of people! That's fantastic -- and I'm sure we can get a few members for you. How can my listeners join up?"
+
+"Eh? Oh!" He struggled to remember the procedure for this. "You need to get at least 50 percent of your co-workers to agree to sign up, and then we certify the union for your whole factory."
+
+"Ay-yah! 50 percent! The big factories have 50,000 workers! How do you do that?"
+
+He shrugged. "I'm not sure," he said. "We've been mostly signing up small game-factories, there's not many bigger than 200 workers. It has to be possible, though. Trade unions all over the world have organized factories of every size." He swallowed, understanding how lame he sounded. "Look, this is usually Matthew's side of things. He understands all of it. I'm just the tank, you understand? I stand in the front and soak up all the damage. And you can't talk to Matthew because he's in jail."
+
+"Ah yes, jail. Tell us about what happened today."
+
+So he told them the story of the battle, all those millions of girls out there in the towns of Guangdong, and he found himself...transported. Taken away back to the cafe, the shouting, the police and the screams, his voice drifting to his ears from a long way off through the remembered shouts in his ears. When he stopped, he snapped back to reality and found Jie staring at him with wet eyes and parted lips. He looked at his phone. It was nearly midnight.
+
+He shrugged, dry mouthed. "I -- Well, that's it, I suppose."
+
+"Wow," Jie breathed, and cued up another commercial. "Are you OK?"
+
+"My head feels like it's being crushed between two heavy rocks," he said. He shifted his butt in his chair and winced. "And my shoulder's on fire."
+
+"I've really kept you up," she said. "We're almost done here, though. You're a really tough bastard, you know that?"
+
+He didn't feel tough. Truth be told, he felt pretty terrible about the fact that he'd gotten away while his guildies had all been locked up. Logically he knew that they wouldn't benefit from him being jailed alongside of them, but that was logic, not feelings.
+
+"OK," she said. "We're back. What a /{story}/! Sisters, didn't I tell you I had something special tonight? Alas, it's nearly time to go -- we all need some sleep before we go back to work in the morning, don't we? Just one more thing: /{what are we going to do about this?}/"
+
+Suddenly, she wasn't sleepy and soothing. Her eyes were wide, and she was gripping the edge of her desk tightly. "We come here from our villages looking to do an honest job for decent pay so that we can help our families, so that we can live and survive. What do we get? Slimy perverts who screw us on the job and off! Bastard criminals who destroy anyone who challenges their rackets! Cops who beat us and put us in jail if we dare to challenge the status quo!"
+
+"Sisters, it /{can't go on}/! Tank here said there's no such thing as a Chinese worker anymore, just a worker. I hadn't heard of these Webblies of his before tonight, and I don't know if they're any better than your boss or the thief running the network sales rip-off next door, and I don't care. If there are workers around the world organizing for a better deal, I want to be a part of it, and so do you!
+
+"I'll tell you what's going to happen next. Tank and I are going to find the Webblies and we're going to plan something big. Something /{huge}/! I don't know what it will be, but it's going to change things. There's /{millions}/ of us! Anything we do is /{big}/.
+
+"I have a confession to make." Her voice got quieter. "A sin to confess. I do this show because it makes me money. A lot of money. I have to spend a lot to stay ahead of the zengfu, but there's plenty left over. More than you make, I have to confess. It's been a long time since I was as poor as a factory girl. I'm practically rich. Not boss-rich, but rich, you understand?
+
+"But I'm with you. I didn't start this show to get rich. I started it because I was a factory girl and I cared about my sisters. We've been coming to Guangdong Province since Deng Xiaoping changed the rules and made the factories here grow. It's been generations, sisters, and we come, we poor mice from the country, and we are ground up by the factories we slave in. For every Yuan we send home, our bosses put a hundred in their pockets. And when we're done, then what? We become one of the old grannies begging by the road.
+
+"So listen in tomorrow. We're going to find out more about these Webblies, we're going to make a plan, and we're going to bring it to you. In the meantime, don't take any crap off your bosses. Don't let the cops push you or your sisters and brothers around. And be good to each other -- we're all on the same side."
+
+She clicked her mouse and flipped the lid down on her laptop.
+
+"Whew!" she said. "What a /{night}/!"
+
+"Is your show like this every night?"
+
+"Not this good, Tank. You certainly improved things. I'm glad I kidnapped you from the train station."
+
+"I am too," he said. He was so tired. "I guess I'll call you tomorrow about the next show? Maybe we could meet in the morning and try to reach the Webblies or find a way to try to call my guildies and see if they're all still in jail?"
+
+"Call me? Don't be stupid, Tank. I'm not letting you out of my sight."
+
+"It's OK," he said. "I can find somewhere to sleep." When he'd first arrived in Shenzhen, he'd spent a couple nights sleeping in parks. He could do that again. It wasn't so bad, if it didn't rain in the night. Had there been clouds that day? He couldn't remember.
+
+"You certainly can -- right through that doorway, right there." She pointed to the bedroom.
+
+He was suddenly wide awake. "Oh, I couldn't --"
+
+"Shut up and go to bed. You've got a head injury, stupid. And you've just given me hours of great radio show. So you need it and you've earned it. Bed. Now."
+
+He was too tired to argue. He stumbled a little on the way to bed, and she swept the clothes and toys and handbags from the bed onto the floor just ahead of him. She pulled the sheet over him and kissed him on the forehead as he settled in. "Sleep, Tank," she whispered in his ear.
+
+He wondered dimly where she would sleep, as she left the room and he heard her typing on her computer again. He fell asleep with the sound of the keys in his ears.
+
+He barely woke when she slid under the covers with him, snuggled up to him and began to snore softly in his ear.
+
+But he was wide awake an hour later when ten police cars pulled up out front of Houhai's buildings, sirens blaring, and a helicopter spotlight bathed the entire building in light as white as daylight. She went rigid beside him under the covers and then practically levitated out of the bed.
+
+"Twenty seconds," she barked. "Shoes, your phone, anything else you need. We won't come back here."
+
+Lu felt obscurely proud of how calm he felt as he stood up and, in an unhurried, calm fashion, picked up his shoes -- factory workers' tennis shoes, cheap and ubiquitous -- and laced them up, then pulled on his jacket, then moved efficiently into the living room, where Jie was hosing solvent over all the flat surfaces in the room. The smell was as sharp as his headache, and intensified it.
+
+She nodded once at him, and then nodded at another pressure-bottle of solvent and said, "You do the bathroom and the bedroom." He did, working quickly. He guessed that this would wipe away anything like a fingerprint or a distinctive kind of dirt. He was done in a minute, or maybe, less, and she was at his elbow with a ziploc baggie full of dust. "Vacuumed out of the seas of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen train," she said. "Skin cells from a good million people. Spread it evenly, please. Quickly now."
+
+The dust got up his nose and made him sneeze, and sunk into the creases of his palms, and it was all a little icky, but his head was clear and full of the sirens and the helicopter's thunder. As he scattered the genetic material throughout, he watched Jie popping the drive out of her computer and dropping the slender stick down her cleavage, and /{that}/ finally broke through his cool. Suddenly, he realized that he'd spent the night sleeping next to this beautiful girl, and he hadn't even /{kissed}/ her, much less touched those mysterious and intriguing breasts that now warmly embraced an extremely compromising piece of storage media, a sliver of magnetic media that could put them both in jail forever.
+
+She looked around and ticked off a mental checklist on her finger. Then she snapped a decisive nod and said, "All right, let's go." She led him out into the corridor, which was brightly lit and empty, leaving him feeling very exposed. She pulled a short prybar out of her purse and expertly pried open the steel door on a fuse-panel by the elevators, revealing neat rows of black plastic breaker switches. She fished in her handbag again and came out with a disposable butane lighter, which she lit, applying the flame to a little twist of white vinyl or shiny paper protruding like a pull-tab from an unobtrusive seam in the panel. It sizzled and flashed and a twist of black smoke rose from it and then the paper burned away, the spark disappearing into the panel.
+
+A second later, the entire panel-face erupted in a shower of sparks, smoke and flame. Jie regarded it with satisfaction as black smoke poured out of the plate. Then all the lights went out and the smoke alarms began to toll, a bone-deep dee-dah dee-dah that drowned out the helicopter, the sirens.
+
+She clicked a little red LED light to life and it bathed her face in demonic light. She looked very satisfied with herself. It made Lu feel calm.
+
+"Now what?" he said.
+
+"Now we stroll out with everyone else who'se running away from the fire alarms."
+
+All through the building, doors were opening, bleary families were emerging, and smoke was billowing, black and acrid. They headed for the staircase, just behind the Bound-Foot Granny who they'd met the day before. In the stairwell, they met hundreds, then thousands more refugees from the building, all carrying armloads of precious possessions, babies, elderly family members.
+
+At the bottom, the police tried to corral them into an orderly group in front of the building, but there were too many people, too much confusion. In the end, it was simple to slip through the police lines and mingle with the crowd of gawkers from nearby buildings who'd turned out to watch.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Vancouver's multilingual Sophia Books, a diverse and exciting store filled with the best of the strange and exciting pop culture worlds of many lands. Sophia was around the corner from my hotel when I went to Van to give a talk at Simon Fraser University, and the Sophia folks emailed me in advance to ask me to drop in and sign their stock while I was in the neighborhood. When I got there, I discovered a treasure-trove of never-before-seen works in a dizzying array of languages, from graphic novels to thick academic treatises, presided over by good-natured (even slapstick) staff who so palpably enjoyed their jobs that it spread to every customer who stepped through the door. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Sophia Books }http://www.sophiabooks.com/: 450 West Hastings St., Vancouver, BC Canada V6B1L1 +1 604 684 0484
+
+Whether you're a revolutionary, a factory owner, or a little-league hockey organizer, there's one factor you can't afford to ignore: the CoaseCost.
+
+Ronald Coase was an American economist who changed everything with a paper he published in 1937 called "The Theory of the Firm." Coase's paper argued that the real business of /{any}/ organization was getting people organized. A religion is a system for organizing people to pray and give money to build churches and pay priests or ministers or rabbis; a shoe factory is a system for organizing people to make shoes. A revolutionary conspiracy is a system for organizing people to overthrow the government.
+
+Organizing is a kind of tax on human activity. For every minute you spend /{doing stuff}/, you have to spend a few seconds making sure that you're not getting ahead or behind or to one side of the other people you're doing stuff with. The seconds you tithe to an organization is the CoaseCost, the tax on your work that you pay for the fact that we're human beings and not ants or bees or some other species that manages to all march in unison by sheer instinct.
+
+Oh, you can beat the CoaseCost: just stick to doing projects that you don't need anyone else's help with. Like, um...Tying your shoes? (Nope, not unless you're braiding your own shoelaces). Toasting your own sandwich (not unless you gathered the wood for the fire and the wheat for the bread and the milk for the cheese on your own).
+
+The fact is, everything you do is collaborative -- somewhere out there, someone else had a hand in it. And part of the cost of what you're doing is spent on making sure that you're coordinating right, that the cheese gets to your fridge and that the electricity hums through its wires.
+
+You can't eliminate Coase costs, but you can lower it. There's two ways of doing this: get better organizational techniques (say, "double-entry book-keeping," an Earth-shattering 13th-century invention that is at the heart of every money-making organization in the world, from churches to corporations to governments), or get better technology.
+
+Take going out to the movies. It's Friday night, and you're thinking of seeing a movie, but you don't want to go alone. Imagine that the year was 1950 -- how would you solve this problem?
+
+Well, you'd have to find a newspaper and see what's playing. Then you'd have to call all your friends' houses (no cellular phones, remember!) and leave messages for them. Then you'd have to wait for some or all of them to call you back and report on their movie preferences. Then you'd have to call them back in ones and twos and see if you could convince a critical mass of them to see the same movie. Then you'd have to get to the theater and locate each other and hope that the show wasn't sold out.
+
+How much does this cost? Well, first, let's see how much the movie is worth: one way to do that is to look at how much someone would have to pay you to convince you to give up on going to the movies. Another is to raise the price of the tickets steadily until you decide not to see a movie after all.
+
+Once you have that number, you can calculate your CoaseCost: you could ask how much it would cost you to pay someone else to make the arrangements for you, or how much you could earn at an after-school job if you weren't playing phone tag with your friends.
+
+You end up with an equation that looks like this:
+
+[Value of the movie] - [Cost of getting your friends together to see it] = [Net value of an evening out]
+
+That's why you'll do something less fun (stay in and watch TV) but simple, rather than going out and doing something more fun but more complicated. It's not that movies aren't fun -- but if it's too much of a pain in the ass to get your friends out to see them, then the number of movies you go to see goes way down.
+
+Now think of an evening out at the movies these days. It's 6:45PM on a Friday night and the movies are going to all start in the next 20-50 minutes. You pull out your phone and google the listings, sorted by proximity to you. Then you send out a broadcast text-message to your friends -- if your phone's very smart, you can send it to just those friends who are in the neighborhood -- listing the movies and the films. They reply-all to one another, and after a couple volleys, you've found a bunch of people to see a flick with. You buy your tickets on the phone.
+
+But then you get there and discover that the crowds are so huge you can't find each other. So you call one another and arrange to meet by the snack bar and moments later, you're in your seats, eating popcorn.
+
+So what? Why should anyone care how much it costs to get stuff done? Because the CoaseCost is the price of being /{superhuman}/.
+
+Back in the old days -- the very, very old days -- your ancestors were solitary monkeys. They worked in singles or couples to do everything a monkey needed, from gathering food to taking care of kids to watching for predators to building nests. This had its limitations: if you're babysitting the kids, you can't gather food. If you're gathering food, you might miss the tiger -- and lose the kids.
+
+Enter the tribe: a group of monkeys that work together, dividing up the labor. Now they're not just solitary monkeys, they're groups of monkeys, and they can do more than a single monkey could do. They have transcended monkeyness. They are /{supermonkeys}/.
+
+Being a supermonkey isn't easy. If you're an individual supermonkey, there are two ways to prosper: you can play along with all your monkey pals to get the kids fed and keep an eye out for tigers, or you can hide in the bushes and nap, pretending to work, only showing up at mealtimes.
+
+From an individual perspective, it makes sense to be the lazy-jerk-monkey. In a big tribe of monkeys, one or two goof-offs aren't going to bankrupt the group. If you can get away with napping instead of working, and still get fed, why not do it?
+
+But if /{everyone}/ does it, so much for supermonkeys. Now no one's getting the fruit, no one's taking care of the kids, and damn, I thought /{you}/ were looking out for the tigers! Too many lazy monkeys plus tigers equals lunch.
+
+So monkeys -- and their hairless descendants like you -- need some specialized hardware to detect cheaters and punish them before the idea catches on and the tigers show up. That specialized hardware is a layer of tissue wrapped around the top of your brain called the neo-cortex -- the "new bark." The neo-cortex is in charge of keeping track of the monkeys. It's the part of your brain that organizes people, checks in on them, falls in love with them, establishes enmity with them. It's the part of your brain that gets thoroughly lit up when you play with Facebook or other social networking sites, and it's the part of your brain that houses the local copies of the people in your life. It's where the voice of your mother telling you to brush your teeth emanates from.
+
+The neocortex is the CoaseCost as applied to the brain. Every sip of air you breathe, every calorie you ingest, every lubdub of your heart goes to feed this new bark that keeps track of the other people in your group and what they're doing, whether they're in line or off the reservation.
+
+The CoaseCost is the limit of your ability to be superhuman. If the CoaseCost of some activity is lower than the value that you'd get out of it, you can get some friends together and /{do it}/, transcend the limitations that nature has set on lone hairless monkeys and /{become a superhuman}/.
+
+So it follows that high Coase costs make you less powerful and low Coase costs make you more powerful. What's more, big institutions with a lot of money and power can overcome high Coase costs: a government can put 10,000 soldiers onto the battlefield with tanks and food and medics; you and your buddies cannot. So high Coase costs can limit /{your}/ ability to be superhuman while leaving the rich and powerful in possession of super-powers that you could never attain.
+
+And that's the real reason the powerful fear open systems and networks. If anyone can set up a free voicecall to anyone else in the world, using the net, then we can all communicate with the same ease that's standard for the high and mighty. If anyone can create and sell virtual wealth in a game, then we're all in the same economic shoes as the multinational megacorps that start the games.
+
+And if any worker, anywhere, can communicate with any other worker, anywhere, for free, instantaneously, without her boss's permission, then, brother, look out, because the CoaseCost of demanding better pay, better working conditions and a slice of the pie just got a /{lot}/ cheaper. And the people who have the power aren't going to sit still and let a bunch of grunts take it away from them.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to the MIT Press Bookshop, a store I've visited on every single trip to Boston over the past ten years. MIT, of course, is one of the legendary origin nodes for global nerd culture, and the campus bookstore lives up to the incredible expectations I had when I first set foot in it. In addition to the wonderful titles published by the MIT press, the bookshop is a tour through the most exciting high-tech publications in the world, from hacker zines like 2600 to fat academic anthologies on video-game design. This is one of those stores where I have to ask them to ship my purchases home because they don't fit in my suitcase. }/
+
+_1 {~^ MIT Press Bookstore }http://web.mit.edu/bookstore/www/: Building E38, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA USA 02139-4307 +1 617 253 5249
+
+Coca Cola Games Command Central had been designed by one of the world's leading film-set designers. The brief had called for a room that looked like you could use it to run an evil empire, launch an intergalactic explorer vessel, or command a high-tech mercenary army. Everything was curved and brushed steel and spotlit and what wasn't chrome was black, except for accents of cracked, worn-out black leather harvested from vintage motorcycle jackets. There were screens everywhere, built into the tables, rolled up in the ceiling or floor, even one on the back of the door. Any wall could be drawn on with special pens that used RFIDs and accelerometers to track their motions and transmit them to a computer that recorded it all and splashed it across wireless multitouch screens that were velcroed up all around the room.
+
+Slick photos of Command Central graced the Coca Cola Games recruiting site and featured in a series of vanity documentaries CCG had commissioned about itself, looking designer-fresh, filled with fit, intense, laughing young people in smart clothes doing intelligent things.
+
+Coca Cola Games Command Central was a lie.
+
+Ten seconds after the game-runners moved into Command Central, every multitouch had been broken or stolen. The recessed terminals set into the tables were obsolete before they were installed and now they suffered an ignominious fate: serving as stands for cutting-edge laptops equipped with graphics cards that ran so hot, their fans sounded like jet-engines.
+
+Fifteen seconds later, every flat surface had been covered with junk-food wrappers, pizza boxes, energy-drink cans, vintage sci-fi novels, used kleenexes, origami orc-helmets folded out of post-it notes, snappy hats, and the infinitely varied junky licensed crap that CCG made from the game, from Pez dispensers to bicycle valve-caps to trading cards to flick-knives.
+
+Twenty seconds after that, the room acquired the game-runner funk, a heady mix of pizza-grease strained through armpit pores, cheap cologne, unwashed hair, vintage Japanese denim, and motor oil.
+
+And now the sleek supergenius lair had become the exclusive meeting-cave for a tribe of savage, hyper-competitive, extremely well-paid game-runners, who holed up in there, gnashing their teeth and shouting at each other for every hour that God sent. No cleaner would enter the room, and even the personal assistants would only go so far as the doorway, where they plaintively called out their bosses' names and dodged the disgusting food-wrappers that were hurled at their heads by the game-runners, who did not take kindly to having their work interrupted.
+
+Connor Prikkel had found His People. Technically he was a vice-president, but no one reported to him, except for a PA whose job it was to fish him out of Command Central a couple times a month, steam-clean him in the corporate gym, stick him in the corporate jet, and fire him into crowds of players and press around the world to explain -- with a superior smirk -- just how Coca Cola Games managed to oversee three of the twenty largest economies in the world.
+
+The rest of the time, Connor's job was to work on his fingerspitzengefuhl. That was a useful word. It was a German word, of course. The Germans had words for /{everything}/, created by the simple expedient of bashing as many smaller words as you needed together until you got one monster mouth-murderer like fingerspitzengefuhl that exactly and precisely conveyed something no other language could even get close to.
+
+Fingerspitzengefuhl means "fingertip feel" -- that feeling you get when you've got the world resting against the thick cushion of nerve-endings on the tips of your fingers. That feeling when you've got a basketball held lightly in your hands, and you know precisely where the next bounce will take it when you let it go. That feeling you get when you're holding onto a baby and you can feel whether she's falling asleep now, or waking up. That feeling you get when your hands are resting lightly on the handlebars of your bike, bouncing down a steep hillside, gentle pressure on the brakes, riding the razor-edged line between doing an end-over and reaching the bottom safely.
+
+Proprioception is your ability to sense where your body is in space relative to everything else. It's a sixth sense, and you don't even know you have it until you lose it -- like when you intertwine your fingers and thread your hands through your arms and find that you wiggle your left finger when you mean to move your right; or when you step on a ghost step at the top of a staircase and your foot lands on nothing.
+
+Fingerspitzengefuhl is proprioception for the world, an extension of your sixth sense into everything around you. You have fingerspitzengefuhl when you can tell, just by the way the air feels, that your class is in a bad mood, or that your teammate is upcourt and waiting for you to pass the ball.
+
+Connor's fingerspitzengefuhl meant that he could feel /{everything}/ that was happening in the games he ran. He could tell when there was a run on gold in Svartalfaheim Warriors, or when Zombie Mecha's credits take a dive. He could tell when there was a huge raiding guild making a run at Odin's Fortress, six hundred humans embodied in six hundred avs, coordinated by generals and captains and lieutenants. He could tell when there was a traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge in Zombie Mecha as too many ronin tried to enter Manhattan to clear out the Flatiron Building and complete the Publishing Quest.
+
+All this knowledge came to him through his ever-rotating, ever-changing feeds -- charts, chat-transcripts, server logs, bars representing load and memory and failover and rate of subscriber churn and every other bit of changing information from in the game. They flickered past in a colorful roll, on the display of his monster widescreen laptop, opacity dialled down to 10 percent in the windows that sat over his playscreens in which he ran four avs in both games.
+
+Every gamerunner had a different way of attaining fingerspitzengefuhl, as personal as the thought you follow to go to sleep or the reason you fall in love. Some like a /{lot}/ of screens -- four or five. Some listened to a lot of read-aloud text and eavesdropped gamechat. Some only watched charts, some only logs, some only game-screens. Coca Cola Games had hired some industrial psychologists to try to come and unpick the game-runners' methods, try to create a system for reproducing and refining it. They'd lasted a day before being tossed out of Command Central amid a torrent of abuse and profanities.
+
+The game-runners didn't want to be systematized. They didn't want to be studied. To be a game-runner was to attain fingerspitzengefuhl and vice-versa. Game-runners didn't need shrinks to tell them when they had fingerspitzengefuhl. When you had fingerspitzengefuhl, you fell into a warm bath, a kind of hyper-alert coma, in which knowledge flowed in and out of every orifice at maximum speed. Fingerspitzengefuhl needed coffee and energy drinks, junk food and loud goddamned music, grunts of your co-workers. Fingerspitzengefuhl didn't need industrial psychology.
+
+Connor's fingerspitzengefuhl was the best. It guided the unconscious dance of his fingers on his laptop, guided him to eavesdrop on the right conversations, to monitor the right action, to spot the Webblies' fight with the Pinkertons as it began. He grunted that special grunt that alerted the rest of his tribe to danger, and stabbed at his screen with a fat finger greased with pizza-oil. The knowledge rippled through the room like a wave, bellies and chins wobbling as the whole tribe tuned into the fight.
+
+"We should pull the plug on this," said Fairfax, a designer who'd worked her way up to Command Central.
+
+"Forget it," said Kaden. "Twenty thousand gold on the Webblies."
+
+"Two-to-one?" said Palmer, the number two economist, who had earned his PhD but hadn't invented the Prikkel Equations.
+
+"No bets," Connor said. "Just watch the play."
+
+"You're such a combat freak," said Kaden. "You chose the wrong specialty. You should have been a military strategist."
+
+"Bad pay, stupid clothes, and you have to work for the government," Connor snapped, noting the stiffened spines of Kaden and Bill, both recruited out of the Pentagon's anti-terror Delta Force command to help analyze the big guilds' command-structures and figure out how to get more money out of them.
+
+"Look at 'em go!" Fairfax said. Connor had a lot of time for her, even though they often disagreed. She'd run big teams of level-designers, graphic artists, AI specialists, programmers, the whole thing, and she had a good top-down and bottom-up view of things.
+
+"They're good," Connor said. He clicked a little and colored each of the avs with a national flag representing the country the IP address of the player was registered to. "And it's a goddamned United Nations of players, look at that. What language are they speaking?" He clicked some more and took over the room's speakers, cleverly recessed into walls and floors, now buried under mountains of pizza-cardboard. The room filled with a gabble of heavily accented English mixed with Mandarin. His ear picked out Indian accents, Chinese, something else -- Malay? Indonesian? There were players from the whole Malay Peninsula in that mob.
+
+"And look at the Pinkertons," Fairfax said. She had a background in programming artificial intelligences, a trade that had changed an awful lot since the Mechanical Turks stepped in to backstop the AIs in game. But she had invented the idea of giving the game's soundtrack its own AI, capable of upping the drama-quotient in the music when momentous things were afoot, and that holistic view of gameplay had landed her a seat in Command Central. She was the one who ordered out for health food and giant salads instead of burgers by the sack and pints of icecream. "They're nearly in the same distribution as the Webblies! Look at this --" she zoomed in on a scrolling list of IP addresses, then pulled up another table, fiddled with their sort order. "Look! These Pinkertons are fighting from a netblock that's within 200 meters of these Webblies! They're neighbors! Oh, this is /{hella weird}/."
+
+It was true. Connor banged out a quick script to find and pair any players who were physically proximate to one another and to try for maps where they were available. Mostly they weren't -- he'd tried tracking down these rats before, tried to see where they lived, but ended up with a dead end. They didn't live on roads -- they lived in illegal squats, shantytowns in the world's slumzones. The best he could do was month-old sat photos of these mazes, revealing mountains of smoldering garbage, toxic open sewers, livestock pens... Connor felt like he should visit one of these places, fly a team of rats out to Command Central in the company jet, stick them in a lab and study them and learn how to exterminate them.
+
+Because there was one chart Connor didn't need to load, the chart showing overall stability of the game economy: his fingerspitzengefuhl was filling him in just fine. The game economy was /{hosed}/.
+
+"OK people, there's plenty to do here. No one else respawns on that shard. Create a new instance for the Caverns so any real players who hit them don't have to wade through that mess. Get every one of those accounts and freeze their assets." Esteban, who headed up customer service, groaned.
+
+"You /{know}/ they're mostly hacked," he said. "There's hundreds of them! We're going to be untangling the assets for /{months}/."
+
+Connor knew it. The legit players whose accounts had been stolen by the warring clans of third-world rip-off artists didn't deserve to have their assets frozen. What's more, there'd be plenty of them whose assets were part of a larger guild bank that might have the wealth of dozens or hundreds of players. Of course the Bad Guys knew this and depended on it, knew it would make the game-runners cautious and slow when it came time to shut down the accounts they were using to smuggle around their illicit wealth.
+
+He made eye-contact with Bill, head of security. They'd been going back and forth over whether it would be worth sucking some of Connor's budget into the security department to develop some forensic software that would ferret out the transaction histories of stolen accounts and figure out what assets the original player legitimately owned and where the dirty money ended up after it left his account. Connor hated to part with budget, especially when it involved Bill, who was a pompous ass who liked to act like he was some kind of super-cybercop rather than a glorified systems administrator.
+
+But sometimes you had to bite the bullet. "We'll handle it," he said. "Right, Bill?" The head of security nodded, and began to pound at his keyboard, no doubt hiring a bunch of his old hacker buddies to come on board for top dollar and write the code.
+
+"Yeah," Bill added. "Don't worry about it, we've got it covered."
+
+One by one, the combatants vanished as their accounts were shut down and frozen out. Some of the soldiers reappeared in the new instance -- a parallel universe containing an identical dungeon, but none of the same players -- using new avs, but they could tell who they were because they originated from the same IP addresses as the kicked accounts. "This is great," Connor said. "If they keep this up, we'll have all their accounts nuked by the end of the day."
+
+But the Pinkertons and Webblies must have had the same thought, because the logins dropped off to near-zero, then zero. The screens shifted, the eating sounds began anew, and Connor went back to his economic charts. As he'd felt, the price of assets, currency and derivatives had gone bonkers. The market somehow knew when there was trouble in Gold Farmer Land, and began to see-saw with the expectation that the price of goods was about to change.
+
+Connor's own holdings had dropped by 18 percent in 25 minutes, costing him a cool $321,498.18.
+
+He popped open a chat to Bill.
+
+&gt; This stuff you're commissioning with my budget
+
+&gt; Yeah?
+
+&gt; I want to use it to run every gold farmer to ground and throw him out of the game
+
+&gt; What?
+
+&gt; It'll be there, in the transaction history. Some kind of fingerprint in play-style and spending that'll let us auto-detect farmers and toss them out. We're going to have a perfect, controlled, farmer-free economy. The first of its kind
+
+&gt; Connor every complex ecosystem has parasites.
+
+&gt; Not this one
+
+&gt; It won't work
+
+&gt; Wanna bet? Let's make it $10K. I'll give you 2-1
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to The Tattered Cover, Denver's legendary independent bookstore. I happened upon The Tattered Cover quite by accident: Alice and I had just landed in Denver, coming in from London, and it was early and cold and we needed coffee. We drove in aimless rental-car circles, and that's when I spotted it, the Tattered Cover's sign. Something about it tingled in my hindbrain -- I knew I'd heard of this place. We pulled in (got a coffee) and stepped into the store -- a wonderland of dark wood, homey reading nooks, and miles and miles of bookshelves. }/
+
+_1 {~^ The Tattered Cover }http://www.tatteredcover.com/book/9780765322166 1628 16th St., Denver, CO USA 80202 +1 303 436 1070
+
+Ashok wove his pretty bike through the narrow alleys of Dharavi, his headlamp slicing through the night. Yasmin's mother would be rigid with worry and anger, and would probably beat her, but it was OK. She and Ashok had sat in that studio shed for hours, talking it through, getting meat on the bones of her idea, and he had left long, detailed messages for Big Sister Nor before getting them back on his bike.
+
+Yasmin tapped him on the shoulder at each junction, showing him which way to turn. Soon they were nearly at her family's house and shouted at him to stop, hollering through the helmet. He killed the engine and the headlight and her bum finally stopped vibrating, her legs complaining about the hours she'd spent gripping the bike with the insides of her thighs. She swung unsteadily off her bike and brought her hands up to her helmet.
+
+Her hands were on her helmet when she heard the voices.
+
+"Is that her?"
+
+"I can't tell."
+
+They were whispering loudly, and a trick of the grilles over the helmet's ear-coverings let her hear the sound as though it was originating from right beside her. She put a firm hand on Ashok's shoulder and squeezed.
+
+"It's her." The voice was Mala's, hard.
+
+Yasmin let go of Ashok's shoulder and brought her hand down to the cables tying the lathi to the bike, while her free hand moved to the helmet's visor, swinging it up. She'd repinned her hijab around her neck and now she was glad she had, as she had pretty good visibility. It had been a long time since she'd been in a physical fight, but she understood the principles of it well, knew her tactics.
+
+The lathi was really well anchored -- Ashok hadn't wanted it to go flying off while they were running down the motorway -- and now she brought her other hand down to work at it blind, keeping her eyes on the shadows around her, listening for the footsteps.
+
+"What about the man?"
+
+"Him too," Mala said.
+
+And then they charged, an army of them, coming from the shadows all around them. "GO!" she said to Ashok, trying to keep him from dismounting the bike, but he got to his feet, squared his shoulders, and faced away from her, to the soldiers who were charging him. A rock or lump of cement clanged off her helmet, making a sound like a cooking pot falling to the floor, and now she tugged as hard as she could at the lathi and at last it sprang free, the steel hooks on the tips of the bunjee cables whipping around and smacking painfully into her hands. She barely noticed, whirling with the two-meter stick held overhead like a cricket-bat.
+
+And pulled up short.
+
+The boy closest to her was Sushant. Sushant, who, that afternoon, had spoken of how he'd longed to join her cause. His face was a mask of terror in the weak light leaking out of the homes around them. The steel tip trembled over her shoulder as her wrists twitched. All she would need to do is unwind the swing, let the long pole and its steel end whistle through the air with all the whip-crack force penned up at the lathi's end and she would bash poor Sushant's head in.
+
+And why not? After all, that's what Mala's army was here for.
+
+All this thought in the blink of an eye, so fast she didn't even register that she'd thought it, but she did not swing the lathi through the air at Sushant's head. Instead, she swept it at his feet, pulling the swing so that it just knocked him backwards, flying into two more soldiers behind him, boys who had once taken orders from her.
+
+"Stand down!" she barked, in the voice of command, and swung the lathi back, sweeping it toward the army's feet like a broom. They took a giant step back in unison, eyes crazed and rolling in the weak light. Sushant was weeping. She'd heard bone break when the lathi's tip met his ankle. He was holding onto the shoulders of the two soldiers he'd knocked over, and they were struggling to keep him upright.
+
+No one said anything and there was just the collective breath of Dharavi, thousands and thousands of chests rising and falling in unison, breathing in each others' air, breathing in the stink of the tanners and the burning reek from the dye factories and the sting of the plastic smoke.
+
+Then Mala stepped forward. In her hand, she held -- what? A bottle?
+
+A bottle. With an oily rag hanging out of the end. A petrol bomb.
+
+"Mala!" she said, and she heard the shock in her own voice. "You'll burn the whole of Dharavi down!" It was the tone of voice you use when shouting into your headset at a guildie who was about to get the party killed by accidentally aggroing some giant boss. The tone that said, /{You're being an idiot, cut it out.}/
+
+It was the wrong tone to use with Mala. She stiffened up and her other hand worked at the wheel of a disposable lighter -- /{snzz}/ /{snzz}/.
+
+Again, she moved before she thought, two running steps while she brought the lathi up over her shoulder, feeling it thunk against something behind her as it sliced up, then slicing it back down again, in that savage, cutting arc, down at Mala's skinny legs, sweeping them with the whole force of her body, and Mala skipped backwards, away from the lathi, stumbled, went over backwards --
+
+-- and the lathi /{connected}/, a solid blow that made a sound like the butcher's knife parting a goat's head from its neck, and Mala's scream was so terrible that it actually brought people to their windows (normally a scream in the night would make them stay back from it). There was bone sticking out of her leg, glinting amid the blood that fountained from the wound.
+
+And still she had the petrol bomb, and still she had the lighter, and now the lighter was lit. Yasmin drew back her foot for a footballer's kick, knowing as she wound up that she could cripple Mala's hand with a good kick, ending her career as General Robotwallah.
+
+Afterwards, she remembered the voice that had chased itself around her head as she drew back for that kick:
+
+/{Do it, do it and end your troubles. Do it because she would do it to you. Do it because it will scare her army out of fighting you and the Webblies. Do it because she betrayed you. Do it because it will keep you safe.}/
+
+And she lowered her foot and instead /{leapt}/ on Mala, pinning her arms with her body. The lighter's flame licked at her arm, burning her, and she ground it out. She could feel Mala's breath, snorting and pained, on her throat. She grabbed Mala's left wrist, shook the hand that held the bomb, smashed it against the ground until it broke and spilled out the stinking petrol into the ditch that ran alongside the shacks. She stood up.
+
+Mala's face was ashen, even in the bad light. The blood smell and the petrol smell were everywhere.
+
+Yasmin looked to Ashok. "You need to take her to the hospital," she said.
+
+"Yes," he said. He was holding onto the side of his head, eye squeezed shut. "Yes, of course."
+
+"What happened to you?"
+
+He shrugged. "Got too close to your lathi," he said and tried for a brave smile. She remembered the /{thunk}/ as she'd drawn back for her swing.
+
+"Sorry," she said.
+
+Mala's army stood at a distance, staring.
+
+"Go!" Yasmin said. "Go. This was a disaster. It was stupid and evil and wrong. I'm not your enemy, you idiots. GO!"
+
+They went.
+
+"We have to splint her," Ashok said. "Make a stretcher, too. Can't move her like that."
+
+Yasmin looked at him, raised an eyebrow.
+
+"My father's a doctor," he said.
+
+Yasmin went into the flat, climbed the stairs. Her mother sat up as she entered the room and opened her mouth to say something, but Yasmin raised on hand to her and, miraculously, she shut up. Yasmin looked around the room, took the chair that sat in one corner, an armload of rags from the bundle they used to keep the room clean, and left, without saying a word.
+
+Ashok broke the chair into splints by smashing it against a nearby wall. It was a cheap thing and went to pieces quickly. Yasmin knelt by Mala and took her hand. Her breathing was shallow, labored.
+
+Mala squeezed her hand weakly. Then she opened her eyes and looked around, confused. Her eyes settled on Yasmin. They looked at each other. Mala tried to pull her hand away. Yasmin didn't let go. The hand was strong, nimble. It had dispatched innumerable zombies and monsters.
+
+Mala stopped struggling, closed her eyes. Ashok brought over the splints and rags and hunkered down beside them.
+
+Just before he began to work on her, Mala said something. Yasmin couldn't quite make it out, but she thought it might be, /{Forgive me.}/
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to Hudson Booksellers, the booksellers that are in practically every airport in the USA. Most of the Hudson stands have just a few titles (though those are often surprisingly diverse), but the big ones, like the one in the AA terminal at Chicago's O'Hare, are as good as any neighborhood store. It takes something special to bring a personal touch to an airport, and Hudson's has saved my mind on more than one long Chicago layover. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Hudson Booksellers }http://www.hudsongroup.com/HudsonBooksellers_s.html
+
+Wei-Dong couldn't get Lu off his mind. A barbarian stabbed a pumpkin and he decided that the sword would be stuck for three seconds and then play a standard squashing sound from his soundboard. He couldn't get Lu off his mind. A pickpocket tried to steal a phoenix's tailfeather, and he made the phoenix turn around and curse the player out, spitting flames, shouting at him in Mandarin, his voice filtered through a gobble-phaser so that it sounded birdy. He couldn't get Lu off his mind. A zombie horde-leader tried to batter his way into a barricaded mini-mall, attempting to go through a "Going out of business" signboard that was only a texture mapped onto an exterior surface that had no interior. Wei-Dong liked the guy's ingenuity, so he decided that it would take 3,000 zombie-minutes to break it down, and when it fell, it would map to the interior of the sporting-goods store where there were some nice clubs, crossbows and machetes.
+
+And he couldn't get Lu off his mind.
+
+He'd always liked Lu. Of all the guys, Lu was the one who really got /{into}/ the games. He didn't just love the money, or the friendship: he loved to /{play}/. He loved to solve puzzles, to take down the big bosses on a huge raid, to unlock new lands and achievements for his avs. Sometimes, as Wei-Dong worked his long shifts making tiny decisions for the game, he thought about how much better it would be to play, thanks to the work he was doing, and imagined the Lu would approve of the artistry. It was nice to be on the other side of the game, making the fun instead of just consuming it. The job was long, it was hard, it didn't pay well, but he was /{part of the show}/.
+
+But this wasn't a show anymore.
+
+His phone started vibrating in his pocket. He took it out, looked at the face, put it on his desk. It was his mom. He'd relented and given her his new number once he turned 18, justifying it to himself on the ground that he was an adult now and she couldn't have him tracked down and dragged back. But really, it was because he couldn't face spending his 18th birthday alone. But he didn't want to talk to her now. He bumped her to voicemail.
+
+She called back. The phone buzzed. He bumped it to voicemail. A second later, the phone buzzed again. He reached to turn it off and then he stopped and answered it.
+
+"Hi, Mom?"
+
+"Leonard," she said. "It's your father."
+
+"What?"
+
+She took a deep breath, let it out. "A heart attack. A big one. They took him to --" She stopped, took in a deep breath. "They took him to the Hoag Center. He's in the ICU. They say it's the best --" Another breath. "It's supposed to be the best."
+
+Wei-Dong's stomach dropped away from him, sinking to a spot somewhere beneath his chair. His head felt like it might fly away. "When?"
+
+"Yesterday," she said.
+
+He didn't say anything. /{Yesterday?}/ He wanted to shriek it. His father had been in the hospital since /{yesterday}/ and no one had told him?
+
+"Oh, Leonard," she said. "I didn't know what to do. You haven't spoken to him since you left. And --"
+
+/{And}/?
+
+"I'll come and see him," he said. "I can get a taxi. It'll take about an hour, I guess."
+
+"Visiting hours are over," she said. "I've been with him all day. He isn't conscious very much. I... They don't let you use your phone there. Not in the ICU."
+
+For months, Wei-Dong had been living as an adult, living a life he would have described as ideal, before the phone rang. He knew interesting people, went to exciting places. He /{played games all day}/, for a living. He knew the secrets of gamespace.
+
+Now he understood that a feeling of intense loneliness had been lurking beneath his satisfaction all along, a bubbling pit of despair that stank of failure and misery. Wei-Dong loved his parents. He wanted their approval. He trusted their judgment. That was why he'd been so freaked out when he discovered that they'd been plotting to send him away. If he hadn't cared about them, none of it would have mattered. Somewhere in his mind, he'd had a cut-scene for his reunion with his parents, inviting them to a fancy, urban restaurant, maybe one of those raw food places in Echo Park that he read about all the time in Metroblogs. They'd have a cultured, sophisticated conversation about the many amazing things he'd learned on his own, and his father would have to scrape his jaw off his plate to keep up his end of the conversation. Afterwards, he'd get on his slick Tata scooter, all tricked out with about a thousand coats of lacquer over thin bamboo strips, and cruise away while his parents looked at each other, marvelling at the amazing son they'd spawned.
+
+It was stupid, he knew it. But the point was, he'd always treated this time as a holiday, a little interlude in his family life. His vision quest, when he went off to become a man. A real Bar-Mitzvah, one that meant something.
+
+The thought that he might never see his father again, never make up with him -- it hit him like a a blow, like he'd swung a hammer at a nail and smashed his hand instead.
+
+"Mom --" His voice came out in a croak. He cleared his throat. "Mom, I'm going to come down tomorrow and see you both. I'll get a taxi."
+
+"OK, Leonard. I think your father would like to see you."
+
+He wanted her to say something about how selfish he'd been to leave them behind, what a bad son he'd been. He wanted her to say something /{unfair}/ so that he could be angry instead of feeling this terrible, awful guilt.
+
+But she said, "I love you, Leonard. I can't wait to see you. I've missed you."
+
+And so he went to bed with a million self-hating thoughts chanting in unison in his mind, and he lay there in his bed in the flophouse hotel for hours, listening to the thoughts and the shouting bums and clubgoers and the people having sex in other rooms and the music floating up from car windows, for hours and hours, and he'd barely fallen asleep when his alarm woke him up. He showered and scraped off his little butt-fluff mustache with a disposable razor and ate a peanut butter sandwich and made himself a quadruple espresso using the nitrous-powered hand-press he'd bought with his first paycheck and called a cab and brushed his teeth while he waited for it.
+
+The cabbie was Chinese, and Wei-Dong asked him, in his best Mandarin, to take him down to Orange County, to his parents' place. The man was clearly amused by the young white boy who spoke Chinese, and they talked a little about the weather and the traffic and then Wei-Dong slept, dozing with his rolled-up jacket for a pillow, sleeping through the caffeine jitter of the quad-shot as the early morning LA traffic crawled down the 5.
+
+And he paid the cabbie nearly a day's wages and took his keys out of his jacket pocket and walked up the walk to his house and let himself in and his mother was sitting at the kitchen table in her housecoat, eyes red and puffy, just staring into space.
+
+He stood in the doorway and looked at her and she looked back at him, then stood uncertainly and crossed to him and gave him a hug that was tight and trembling and there was wetness on his neck where her tears streaked it.
+
+"He went," she breathed into his ear. "This morning, about 3 AM. Another heart attack. Very fast. They said it was practically instant." She cried some more.
+
+And Wei-Dong knew that he would be moving home again.
+
+#
+
+The hospital discharged Big Sister Nor and The Mighty Krang and Justbob two days early, just to be rid of them. For one thing, they wouldn't stay in their rooms -- instead, they kept sneaking down to the hospital's cafeteria where they'd commandeer three or four tables, laboriously pushing them together, moving on crutches and wheelchairs, then spreading out computers, phones, notepads, macrame projects, tiny lead miniatures that The Mighty Krang was always painting with fine camel-hair brushes, cards, flowers, chocolates and shortbread sent by Webbly supporters.
+
+To top it off, Big Sister Nor had discovered that three of the women on her ward were Filipina maids who'd been beaten by their employers, and was holding consciousness-raising meetings where she taught them how to write official letters of complaint to the Ministry of Manpower. The nurses loved them -- they'd voted in a union the year before -- and the hospital administration /{hated}/ them with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns.
+
+So less than two weeks after being beaten within an inch of their lives, Big Sister Nor, The Mighty Krang, and Justbob stepped, blinking, into the choking heat of mid-day in Singapore, wrapped in bandages, splints and casts. Their bodies were broken, but their spirits were high. The beating had been, well, /{liberating}/. After years of living in fear of being jumped and kicked half-to-death by goons working for the bosses, they'd been through it and survived. They'd thrived. Their fear had been burned out.
+
+As they looked at one another, hair sticky and faces flushed from the steaming heat, they began to smile. Then to giggle. Then to laugh, as loud and as deep as their injuries would allow.
+
+Justbob swept her hair away from the eyepatch that covered the ruin of her left eye, scratched under the cast on her arm, and said, "They should have killed us."
+
+:B~ Part III: Ponzi
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to the Harvard Bookstore, a wonderful and eclectic bookshop in the heart of one of the all-time kick-ass world-class bookshopping neighborhoods, the stretch of Mass Ave that runs between Harvard and MIT. The last time I visited the store, they'd just gotten in an Espresso print-on-demand book machine that was hooked up to Google's astonishing library of scanned public-domain books and they could print and bind practically any out of print book from the whole of human history for a few dollars in a few minutes. To plumb the unimaginable depths of human creativity this represented, the store had someone whose job it was to just mouse around and find wild titles from out of history to print and stick on the shelves around the machine. I have rarely felt the presence of the future so strongly as I did that night. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Harvard Bookstore }http://www.harvard.com/: 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138 USA, +1 (617) 661-1515
+
+The inside of the shipping container was a lot worse than Wei-Dong had anticipated. When he'd decided to smuggle himself into China, he'd done a lot of reading on the subject, starting with searches on human trafficking -- which was all horror stories about 130 degree noontimes in a roasting box, crammed in with thirty others -- and then into the sustainable housing movement, where architects were vying to outdo one another in their simple and elegant retrofits of containers into cute little apartments.
+
+Why no one had thought to merge the two disciplines was beyond him. If you're going to smuggle people across the ocean, why not avail yourself of a cute little kit to transform their steel box into a cozy little camper? Was he missing something?
+
+Nope. Other than the fact that people-smugglers were all criminal dirtbags, he couldn't find any reason why a smuggle-ee couldn't enjoy the ten days at sea in high style. Especially if the smuggle-ee was now co-owner of a huge shipping and logistics company based in Los Angeles, with the run of the warehouse and a Homeland Security all-access pass for the port.
+
+It had taken Wei-Dong three weeks to do the work on the container. The mail-order conversion kit said that it could be field-assembled by two unskilled laborers in a disaster area with hand tools in two days. It took him two weeks, which was a little embarrassing, as he'd always classed himself as "skilled" (but there you go).
+
+And he had special needs, after all. He'd read up on port security and knew that there'd be sensors looking for the telltale cocktail of gasses given off by humans: acetone, isoprene, alpha pinene and lots of other exotic exhaust given off with every breath in a specific ratio. So he built a little container inside the container, an airtight box that would hold his gasses in until they were at sea -- he figured he could survive in it for a good ten hours before he used up all the air, provided he didn't exercise too much. The port cops could probe his container all they wanted, and they'd get the normal mix of volatiles boiling off of the paint on the inside of the shipping container, untainted by human exhaust. Provided they didn't actually open his container and then get too curious about the hermetically sealed box inside, he'd be golden.
+
+Anyway, by the time he was done, he had a genuinely kick-ass little nest. He'd loaded up his Dad's Huawei with an entire apartment's worth of IKEA furniture and then he'd hacked it and nailed it and screwed it and glued it into the container's interior, making a cozy ship's cabin with a king-sized bed, a chemical toilet, a microwave, a desk, and a play area. Once they were at sea, he could open his little hatch and string out his WiFi receiver -- tapping into the on-board WiFi used by the crew would be simple, as they didn't devote a lot of energy to keeping out freeloaders while they were in the middle of the ocean -- and his solar panel. He had some very long wires for both, because he'd fixed the waybills so that his container would be deep in the middle of the stack alongside one of the gaps that ran between them, rather than on the outside edge: one percent of shipping containers ended up at the bottom of the sea, tossed overboard in rough waters, and he wanted to minimize the chance of dying when his container imploded from the pressure of hundreds of atmospheres' worth of deep ocean.
+
+Inheritances were handier than he'd suspected. He was able to click onto Huawei's website and order ten power-packs for their all-electric runabouts, each one rated for 80 miles' drive. They were delivered directly to the pier his shipping container was waiting on (he considered the possibility that the power-packs had been shipped to America in the same container he was installing them in, but he knew the odds against it were astronomical -- there were a /{lot}/ of shipping containers arriving on America's shores every second). They stacked neatly at one end of the container, with a barcoded waybill pasted to them that said they were being returned as defective. They arrived charged, and he was pretty sure that he'd be able to keep them charged between the Port of Los Angeles and Shenzhen, using the solar sheets he was going to deploy on the top of the container stack. He'd tested the photovoltaic sheets on his father's Huawei and found that he could fully charge it in six hours, and he'd calculated that he should be able to run his laptop, air conditioner, and water pumps for four days on each stack. 16 days' power would be more than enough to complete the crossing, even if they got hit by bad weather, but it was good to know that recharging was an option.
+
+Water had given him some pause. Humans consume a /{lot}/ of water, and while there was plenty of room in his space capsule -- as he'd come to think of the container -- he thought there had to be a better way to manage his liquid needs on the voyage than simply moving three or four tons of water into the box. He was deep in thought when he realized that the solar sheets were all water-proof and could be easily turned into a funnel that would feed a length of PVC pipe that he could snake from the top of the container stack into the space-capsule, where a couple of sterile hollow drums would hold the water until he was ready to drink it or shower in it. Afterwards, his waste water could just be pumped out onto the ship's deck, where it would wash overboard with all the other water that fell on the ship. If he packed enough water to keep him going on minimal showers and cooking for a week, the odds were good that they'd hit a rainstorm and he'd be topped up -- and if they didn't he could ration his remaining water and arrive in China a little smellier than he'd started.
+
+He loved this stuff. The planning was exquisite fun, a real googlefest of interesting HOWTOs and advice. Lots of parts of the problem of self-sufficiency at sea had been considered before this, though no one had given much thought to the problem of travelling in style and secrecy in a container. He was a pioneer. He was making notes and planning to publish them when the adventure was over.
+
+Of course, he wouldn't mention the /{reason}/ he needed to smuggle himself into China, rather than just applying for a tourist visa.
+
+Wei-Dong's mother didn't know what to make of her son. His father's death had shattered her, and half the time she seemed to be speaking to him from behind a curtain of gauze. He found the anti-depressants her doctor had prescribed and looked up the side-effects and decided that his mother probably wouldn't be in any shape to notice that he was up to something weird. Mostly she just seemed relieved to have him home, and industriously involved in the family business. She hadn't even blinked when he told her he was going to take a road trip up the coast, a nice long drive up to Alaska with minimal net-access, phone activity and so on.
+
+The last cargo to go into the space-capsule was three cardboard boxes, small enough to load into the trunk of the Huawei, which he put in long-term parking and double-locked after he'd loaded them up. Each one was triple-wrapped in water-proof plastic, and inside them were twenty-five thousand-odd prepaid game-cards for various MMOs. The face-value of these cards was in excess of $200,000, though no money changed hands when he collected them, in lots of a few hundred, from Chinese convenience stores all over Los Angeles and Orange County. It had taken three days to get the whole load, and it had been the hairiest part of the gig so far. The cards were part of a regular deal whereby the big gold-farmers used networks of overseas retailers to snaffle up US playtime and ship it back to China, so that their employees could get online using the US servers.
+
+Technically, that meant that all the convenience store clerks he visited were part of a vast criminal underground, but none of them seemed all that dangerous. Still, if any one of them had been suspicious about the white kid with the bad Mandarin accent who was doing the regular pickup, who knew what might happen?
+
+It hadn't, though. Now he had the precious cargo, the boxes of untraceable, non-sequential game-credit that would let him earn game-gold. It was all so weird, now that he sat there on his red leather Ikea sofa, sipping an iced tea and munching a power bar and contemplating his booty.
+
+Under their scratch-off strips, these cards contained unique numbers produced by a big random-number generator on a server in America, then printed in China, then shipped back to America, now destined for China again. He thought about how much simpler it would have been to come up with the random numbers in China in the first place, and chuckled and put his feet up on the boxes.
+
+Of course, if they'd done that, he wouldn't have had any excuse to build the space-capsule and smuggle himself into China.
+
+#
+
+1~ scene # ~#
+
+_1 /{ This scene is dedicated to London's Clerkenwell Tales, located around the corner from my office in Clerkenwell, a wonderful and eclectic neighborhood in central London. Peter Ho, the owner, is a veteran of Waterstone's, and has opened up exactly the kind of small, expertly curated neighborhood store that every bookish person yearns to have in the vicinity. Peter makes a point of stocking small handmade editions from local printers, and as a result, I'm forever dropping in to say hello over my lunch break and leaving with an armload of exquisite and gorgeous books. It's lethal. In a good way. }/
+
+_1 {~^ Clerkenwell Tales }http://www.clerkenwell-tales.co.uk/: 30 Exmouth Market EC1R 4QE London +44 (0)20 7713 8135
+
+Ashok did his best thinking on paper, big sheets of it. He knew that it was ridiculous. The smart thing to do would be to keep all the files digital, encrypted on a shared drive on the net where all the Webblies could get at it. But the numbers made so much more sense when they were written neatly on flip-chart paper and tacked up all around the walls of his "war-room" -- the back room at Mrs Dibyendu's cafe, rented by Mala out of the army's wages from Mr Bannerjee.
+
+Oh yes, Mala was still drawing wages from Mr Bannerjee and her soldiers were still fighting the missions he sent them on. But afterwards, in their own time, they fought their own missions, in Mrs Dibyendu's shop. Mrs Dibyendu was lavishly welcoming to them, grateful for the business in her shop, which had been in danger of drying up and blowing away. Idiot nephew had been sent back to Uttar Pradesh to live with his parents, limping home with his tail between his legs and leaving Mrs Dibyendu to tend her increasingly empty shop on her own.
+
+Mrs Dibyendu didn't mind the big sheets of paper. She /{loved}/ Ashok, smartly dressed and well turned out, and clearly thought that he and Yasmin had something going on. Ashok tried gently to disabuse her of this, but she wasn't having any of it. She brought him sweet chai all day and all night, as he labored over his sheets.
+
+"Ashok," Mala called, limping toward him through the empty cafe, leaning on the trestle-tables that supported the long rows of gasping PCs.
+
+He stood up from the table, wiping the chai from his chin with his hand, wiping his hand on his trousers. Mala made him nervous. He'd visited her in the hospital, with Yasmin, and sat by her bed while she refused to look at either of them. He'd picked her up when she was discharged, and she'd fixed him with that burning look, like a holy woman, and she'd nodded once at him, and asked him how her Army could help.
+
+"Mala," he said. "You're early."
+
+"Not much fighting today," she said, shrugging. "Fighting Webblies is like fighting children. Badly organized children. We knocked over twenty jobsites before lunch and I had to call a break. The Army was getting bored. I've got them on training exercises, fighting battles against each other."
+
+"You're the commander, General Robotwallah, I'm sure you know best."
+
+She had a very pretty smile, Mala did, though you rarely got to see it. Mostly you saw her ugly smiles, smiles that seemed to have too many sharp teeth in them. But her pretty smile was like the sun. It changed the whole room, made your heart glow. He understood how a girl like this could command an Army. He stared at the pretty smile for a minute and his tongue went dry and thick in his mouth.
+
+"I want to talk to you, Ashok. You're sitting here with your paper and your figures, and you keep telling us to wait, wait a little, and you'll explain everything. It's been months, Ashok, and still you say wait, explain. I'm tired of waiting. The Army is tired of waiting. Being double agents was amusing for a little while, and it's fun to fight real Pinkertons at night, but they're not going to wait around forever."
+
+Ashok held his hands out in a placating gesture that often worked on Mala. She needed to know that she was the boss. "Look, it's not a simple matter. If we're going to take on four virtual worlds at once, everything has to run like clockwork, each piece firing after the other. In the meantime --"
+
+She waved at him dismissively. "In the meantime, Bannerjee grows more and more suspicious. The man is an idiot, not a moron. He will eventually figure out that something is going wrong. Or his masters will. And then --"
+
+"And then we'll have to placate him, or misdirect him. General, this is a confidence game, a scam, running on four virtual worlds and twenty real nations, with hundreds of confederates. Confidence games require planning and cunning. It's not enough to go in, guns blazing --"
+
+"You think we don't understand planning? You think we don't understand /{cunning}/? Ashok, you have never fought. You should fight. It would help you understand this business you've gotten into. You think that we're thugs, idiot muscle. Running a battle requires as much skill as anything you do -- I don't have a fine education, I am just a girl from the village, I am just a Dharavi rat, but I am /{smart}/ Ashok, and don't you ever forget it."
+
+The worst part was, she was right. He /{did}/ often think of her as a thug. "Mala, I want to play, but playing would take me away from planning."
+
+"You can't plan if you don't play. I'm the general, and I'm ordering it. You'll join the junior platoon on maneuvers tomorrow at 10AM. There's skirmishing, then theory, then a couple of battles overseen by the senior platoon when they arrive. It will be good for you. They will rag you some, because you are new, but that will be good for you, too."
+
+That look in her eyes, the fiery one, told him that he didn't dare disagree. "Yes, General," he said.
+
+"And you will explain this business to me, now. You will learn my world, I will learn yours."
+
+"Mala --"
+
+"I know, I know. I came in and shouted at you because you were taking too long and now I insist that you take longer." She gave him that smile. She wasn't pretty -- her features were too sharp for pretty -- but she was beautiful when she smiled. She was going to be a heart-breaker when she grew up. /{If}/ she grew up.
+
+"Yes, General."
+
+"Chai!" she called to Mrs Dibyendu, who brought it round quickly, averting her eyes from Mala.
+
+"All right, let's start with the basic theory of the scam. Who is easiest to trick?"
+
+"A fool," she said at once.
+
+"Wrong," he said. "Fools are often suspicious, because they've been taken advantage of. The easiest person to trick is a successful person, the more successful the better. Why is that?"
+
+Mala thought. "They have more money, so it's worth tricking them?"
+
+Ashok waggled his chin. "No, sorry -- by that reasoning, they should be /{more}/ suspicious, not less."
+
+Mala scraped a chair over the floor and sat down and made a face at him. "I give up, tell me."
+
+"It's because if a man is successful at doing one thing, he's apt to assume that he'll be successful at anything. He believes he's a Brahmin, divinely gifted with the wisdom and strength of character to succeed. He can't bear the thought that he just got lucky, or that his parents just got lucky and left him a pile of Rupees. He can't stand the thought that understanding physics or computers or cameras doesn't make him an expert on economics or beekeeping or cookery.
+
+"And his intelligence and his pride work together to make him /{easier}/ to trick. His pride, naturally, but his intelligence, too: he's smart enough to understand that there are lots of ways to get rich. If you tell him a complex tale about how some market works and can be tricked, he can follow along over rough territory that would lose a dumber man.
+
+"And there's a third reason that successful men are easier to trick than fools: they dread being shown up as a fool. When you trick them, you can trick them again, make them believe that the scheme fell through. They don't want to go to the police or tell their friends, because if word gets out that some mighty and powerful man was tricked, he stands to lose his reputation, without which he cannot recover his fortune."
+
+Mala waggled her chin. "It all makes sense, I suppose."
+
+"It does," Ashok said.
+
+"I am a successful and powerful person," she said. Her eyes were cat-slits.
+
+"You are," Ashok said, more cautiously.
+
+"So I would be easier to fool than any of the fools in my army?"
+
+Ashok laughed. "You are so sharp, General, it's a wonder you don't cut yourself. Yes, it's possible that all of this is a giant triple-twist bluff, aimed at fooling you. But what would I want to fool you for? As rich as your Army has made you, you must know that I could be just as rich by working as a junior lecturer in economics at IIT. But General, at the end of the day, you either trust me or you don't. I can't prove to you that you're inside the scheme rather than its target. If you want out, that's fine. It will hurt the plan, but it won't be its death. There's a lot of people involved here."
+
+Mala smiled her sunny smile. "You are a clever man," she said. "And for now, I will trust you. Go on."
+
+"Let's step back a little. Do you want to learn some history?"
+
+"Will it help me understand why you're taking so long?"
+
+"I think so," he said. "I think it's a bloody good story, in any case."
+
+She made a go-on gesture and sipped her chai, her back very erect, her bearing regal.
+
+"Back in the 1930s, the biggest confidence jobs were called 'The Big Store.' They were little stage plays in which there was only one audience-member, the 'mark' or victim. /{Everyone else}/ was in the play. The mark would meet a 'roper' on a train, who would feel him out to see if he had any money. He'd sometimes give him a little taste of the money to be made -- maybe they'd share some mysterious 'found' money that he'd planted. That sort of thing makes the mark trust you more, and also puts him in your power, because now you know that he's willing to cheat a little.
+
+"Once the train pulled into the strange city and the mark got off, every single person he met or talked with would be part of the trick. If the mark was good at finance, the roper would hand him off to a partner, the 'inside man' who would tell him about a scam he had for winning horse races; if the mark was good at horse races, the scam would be about fixing the stock market -- in other words, whatever the mark knew the least about, that was the center of the game.
+
+"The mark would be shown a betting parlor or a stock-broker's office filled with bustling, active people -- so many people that it was impossible to believe that they could /{all}/ be part of a scam. Then he'd have the deal explained to him: the brokerage house or betting parlor got its figures from a telegraph office -- this was before computers -- that would phone in the results. The mark would then be shown the 'telegraph office' -- another totally fake business -- and meet a 'friend' of the inside man who was willing to delay the results by a few minutes, giving them to the roper and the market just quick enough to let them get their bets or buys down. They'd know the winners before the office did, so they'd be betting on a sure thing.
+
+"And they'd try it -- and it would work! The mark could put a few dollars down and walk away with a few hundred. It was an eye-popping experience, a real thrill. The mark's imagination would start to work on him. If he could turn a few dollars into hundreds, imagine what he could do if he could put down /{all}/ his money, along with whatever money he could steal from his business, his family, his friends -- everyone. It wouldn't even be stealing, because he'd be able to pay everyone back once he won big. And he'd go and get all the money he could lay hands on, and he'd lay his bet and he'd lose!
+
+"And it would be his fault. The inside man wouldn't be able to believe it, he'd said, 'Bet on this horse in the first race,' not 'Bet on this horse for first place' or some similar misunderstanding. The mark's bad hearing had cost them everything, all of them. There is a giant scene, and before you know it, the police are there, ready to arrest everyone. Someone shoots the policeman, there's blood and screaming, the place empties out, and the mark counts himself lucky to have escaped with his life. Of course, all the blood and shooting are fakes, too -- so is the policeman. He's got a little blood in a bag in his mouth; they called it a 'cackle-bladder': a fine word, no?
+
+"Now, at this stage, it may be that the mark is completely, totally broke, not one paisa to his name. If that's the case, he gets away and never hears from the roper or the inside man again. He spends the rest of his life broke and broken, hating himself for having misheard the instruction at the critical moment. And he never, ever tells anyone, because if he did, it would expose this great man for a fool.
+
+"But if there's any chance he can get more money -- a friend he hasn't cleaned out, a company bank account he can access -- they may contact him /{again}/ and offer him the chance to 'get even'. You can bet he will -- after all, he's a king among men, destined to rule, who made his fortune because he's better than everyone else. Why wouldn't he play again, since the only reason he lost last time was that he misheard an instruction. Surely that won't happen again!"
+
+"But it does," she said. Her eyes were shining.
+
+"Oh yes, indeed. And again, and again --"
+
+"And again. until he's been bled dry."
+
+"You've learned the first lesson," Ashok said. "Now, onto advanced subjects. You know how a pyramid scheme works, yes?"
+
+She waved dismissively. "Of course."
+
+"Now, the pyramid scheme is just a kind of skeleton, and like a skeleton, you can hang a lot of different bodies off of it. It can look like a plan to sell soap, or a plan to sell vitamins, or something else altogether. But the important thing is, whatever it's selling, it has to seem like a good deal. Think back on the big store -- how do you make something seem like a good deal?"
+
+Mala thought carefully. Ashok could practically see the gears spinning in her head. Wah! She was /{smart}/, this Dharavi girl!
+
+"OK," she said. "OK -- it should be something the mark doesn't know much about."
+
+"Got it in one!" Ashok said. "If the mark is smart and accomplished, she'll assume that she knows everything about everything. Dangle some bait for her that she doesn't really understand and she'll come along. But there's a way to make even familiar subjects unfamiliar. Here, look at this." He typed at the disused computer on a corner of his desk, googled an image of a craps table at a casino.
+
+"This is a gambling game, craps. They play it with dice."
+
+"I've seen men playing it in the street," Mala said.
+
+"This is the casino version. See all the lines and markings?"
+
+She nodded.
+
+"These marks represent different bets -- double if it comes up this way, triple if it comes up that way. The bets can get very, very complicated.
+
+"Now, dice aren't that complicated. There are only 36 ways that a roll can come up: one-one, one-two, one-three, and so on, all that way up to six-six. It should be easy to tell whether a bet is any good: take the chance of rolling two sixes, twice in a row: the odds are 36 times 36 to one. If the bet pays less than those odds, then you will eventually lose money. If the bet pays more than those odds, then you will eventually win money."
+
+Mala shook her head. "I don't really understand."
+
+"Imagine flipping a coin." He took out his wallet and opened a flap and pulled out an old brass Chinese coin, pierced in the center with a square. "One side is heads, one side is tails. Assuming the coin is 'fair' -- that is, assuming that both sides of the coin weigh the same and have the same wind resistance, then the chances of a coin landing with either face showing are 50-50, or 1-in-1, or just 'even'.
+
+"Now we play a fair game. I toss the coin, you call out which side you think it'll land on. If you guess right, you double your bet; if not, I take your money. If we play this game long enough, we'll both have the same amount of money as we started with -- it's a boring game.
+
+"But what if instead I paid you triple if it landed on heads, provided you took the heads-bet? All you need to do is keep putting money on heads, and eventually you'll end up with all my money: when it comes up tails, I win a little; when it comes up heads, you win a lot. Over time, you'll take it all. So if I offered you this proposition, you should take it."
+
+"All right," Mala said.
+
+"But what if it was a very complicated bet? What if there were two coins, and the payout depended on a long list of factors; I'll pay you triple for any double-head or double-tails, provided that it isn't the same outcome as the last time, unless it is the /{third}/ duplicate outcome. Is that a good bet or a bad one?"
+
+Mala shrugged.
+
+"I don't know either -- I'd have to calculate the odds with pen and paper. But what about this: what if I'll pay you /{300 to one}/ if you win according to the rules I just set up. You lay down ten rupees and win, I'll give you /{3,000}/ back?"
+
+Mala cocked her head. "I'd probably take the bet."
+
+"Most people would. It's a fantastic cocktail: mix one part confusing rules and one part high odds, and people will lay down their money all day. Now, tell me this: would you bet ten rupees on rolling the dice double-sixes, thirty times in a row?"
+
+"No!" Mala said. "That's practically impossible."
+
+Ashok spread his hands. "And now you have the second lesson: everyone has some intuition about odds, even if they are, excuse me, a girl who has never studied statistics." Mala colored, but she held her tongue. It was true, after all. "Most people won't bet on nearly impossible things, not even if you give brilliant odds. But you can disguise the nearly impossible by making it do a lot of acrobatics -- making the rules of the game very complicated -- and then lots of people, even smart people, will place bets on propositions that are every bit as unlikely as thirty double-sixes in a row. In fact, smart people are /{especially}/ likely to place those bets --"
+
+Mala held up her hand. "Because they're so smart they think they know everything."
+
+Ashok clapped. "Star pupil! You should have been a con-artist or an economist, if only you weren't such a fine General, General." She grinned. Ashok knew that she loved to hear how good a general she was. He didn't blame her: if he was a Dharavi girl who'd outsmarted the slum and made a life, he'd be a little insecure too. It was just one more thing to like about Mala and her scowling, hard brilliance. "Now, my star pupil, put it all together for me."
+
+She began to recite, counting off on her fingers, like a schoolgirl recounting a lesson. "To make a Ponzi scheme that works, that really works, you need to have
+
+smart people
+
+who are surrounded by con-artists
+
+who are given a chance to bet on something complicated
+
+in a way that they're not good at understanding."
+
+Ashok clapped and Mala gave a small, ironic bow from her seat.
+
+"So that is what I am doing back here. Devising the scheme that will take the economies of four entire worlds hostage, make them ours to smash as we see fit. In order to do that, I need to do some very fine work."
+
+Mala pointed at a chart that was dense with scribbled equations and notations. "Explain," she commanded.
+
+"That is an entirely different sort of lesson," Ashok said. "For a different day. Or perhaps a year."
+
+Mala's eyes narrowed.
+
+"My dear general," Ashok said, laying it on so thick that they both knew he was doing it, and he saw the corners of Mala's lips tremble as they tried to hold back her smile, "If I asked you to explain the order of battle to me, you could do two things: either you could confer some useful, philosophical principles for commanding a force; or you could vomit up a lifetime's statistics and specifics about every weapon, every character class, every technique and tip. The chances are that I'd never memorize a tenth of what you had to tell me. I don't have the background for it. And, having memorized it, I would never be able to put it to use because I wouldn't have had the hard labor that you've put in -- jai ho! -- and so I won't have the skeleton in my mind on which I might lay the flesh of your teaching, my guru." He checked to see if he'd laid it on too thickly, decided he hadn't, grinned and namasted to her, just to ice the biscuit.
+
+Mala nodded regally, keeping her straight face on for as long as she could, but as she left the room, hobbling on her cane, he was sure he heard a girlish peal of giggles from her.
+
+#
+
+Matthew's first plate of dumplings tasted so good he almost choked on the saliva that flooded his mouth. After two months in the labor camp, eating chicken's feet and rice and never enough of either, freezing at night and broiling during the day, he thought that he had perfectly reconstructed the taste of dumplings in his mind. On days when he was digging, each bite of the shovel's tip into the earth was like the moment that his teeth pierced a dumpling's skin, letting the steam and oil escape, the meat inside releasing an aroma that wafted up into his nostrils. On days when he was hammering, the round stones were the tender dumplings in a mountain, the worn ground was the squeaking styrofoam tray. Dumplings danced in his thoughts as he lay on the floor between two other prisoners; they were in his mind when he rose in the morning. The only time he didn't think about dumplings was when he was eating chicken's feet and rice, because they were so awful that they alone had the power to drive the ghost of dumplings from his imagination.
+
+Those were the times he thought about what he was going to do when he got out of jail. What he was going to do in the game. What the Webblies were planning, and how he would play his part in that plan.
+
+The prison official that released him assumed that he was one of the millions of illegal workers with forged papers who'd gone to Canton, to the Pearl River Delta, to seek his fortune. He was half-way through a stern, barked lecture about staying out of trouble and going back to his village in Gui-Zhou or Sichuan or whatever impoverished backwater he hailed from, before the man actually looked down at his records and saw that Matthew was, indeed, Cantonese -- and that he would shortly be transported, at government expense, back to Shenzhen. The man had fallen silent, and Matthew, overcome with the comedy of the moment, couldn't help but thank him profusely -- in Cantonese.
+
+There were dumplings on the train, sold by grim men and women with deep lines cut into their faces by years and worry and hunger and misery. This was the provinces, the outer territories, the mysterious China that had sent millions of girls and boys to Canton to earn their fortunes in the Pearl River Delta. Matthew knew all their strange accents, he spoke their strange Mandarin language, but he was Cantonese, and this was not his people.
+
+Those were not his dumplings.
+
+It wasn't until he debarked at the outskirts of Shenzhen and transferred to a metro subway that he started to feel at home. It wasn't until then that he started to think about dumplings. The girls on the metro were as he remembered them, beautiful and polished and laughing and well fed. Skulking in the doorway of the train, watching his reflection in the dark glass, he saw what an awful skeleton-person he'd become. He had been a young man when he went in, a boy, really. Now he looked five years older, and he was shifty and sunken, and there was a scrub of wispy beard on his cheeks, accentuating their hollowness. He looked like one of the mass of criminals and grifters and scumbags who hung around the train station and the street corners -- tough and desperate as a sewer rat. Unpredictable.
+
+Why not? Sewer rats got lots of dumplings. They had sharp teeth and sharp wits. They were /{fast}/. Matthew grinned at his reflection and the girls on the train gave him a wide berth when they pulled into the next station.
+
+Lu met him at Guo Mao station, up on the street level, where the men and women in brisk suits with brisk walks came and went from the stock exchange, a perfect crowd of people to get lost in. Lu took both of his hands in a long, soulful, silent shake and led them away toward the stock exchange, where the identity counterfeiters were.
+
+These people kept Shenzhen and all of Guandong province running. They could make you any papers you needed: working permits allowing a farm girl to move from Xi'an to Shenzhen and make iPods; papers saying you were a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer; driver's licenses, vendor's licenses -- even pilot's licenses, according to the card one of them gave him. They were old ladies, the friendly face of criminal empires run by hard men with perpetual cigarettes and dandruff on the shoulders of their dark suits.
+
+They walked in silence through the shouting grabbing crowds, the flurries of cards advertising fake documents shoved in their hands by grannies on all sides of them. Lu stopped in front of one granny and bent and whispered in her ear. She nodded once and went back to waving her cards, but she must have signalled a confederate somehow, because a moment later, a young man got up off a bench and wandered into a gigantic electronics mall and they followed him, threading their way through stall after stall of parts for mobile phones -- keyboards, screens, dialpads, diodes -- up an escalator to another floor of parts, up another escalator and another floor, and one more to a floor that was completely deserted. Even the electrical outlets were empty, bare wires dangling from the receptacles, waiting to be hooked up to plugs.
+
+The boy was 100 meters ahead of them, and they trailed after him, slipping into a hallway that led toward the emergency stairs. A little side door was slightly ajar and Lu pushed it open. The boy wasn't there -- he must have taken the stairs -- but there was another boy, younger than Lu or Matthew, sitting in front of a computer, intently playing Mushroom Kingdom. Matthew smiled -- it was always so strange to see a Chinese person playing a game just for the fun of it, rather than as a job. He looked up and nodded at the two of them. Wordlessly, Lu passed him a bundle that the boy counted carefully, mixed Hong Kong dollars and Chinese renminbi. He made the money disappear with a nimble-fingered gesture, then pointed at a stool in a corner of the room with a white screen behind it. Matthew sat -- still without a word -- and saw that there was a little webcam positioned on the boy’s desk, pointing at him. He composed his features in an expression of embarrassed seriousness, the kind of horrible facial expression that all ID carried, and the boy clicked his mouse and gestured at the door. "One hour," he said.
+
+Lu held the door for Matthew and led him down the fire-stairs, back into the mall, back onto the street, back among the counterfeiters, and a short way to a noodle stall that was thronged with people, and that's when Matthew's mouth began to generate so much saliva that he had to surreptitiously blot the corners of his lips on the sleeve of his cheap cotton jacket.
+
+Moment later, he was eating. And eating. And eating. The first bowl was pork. Then beef. Then prawn. Then some Shanghai dumplings, filled with pork. And still he ate. His stomach stretched and the waistband of his jeans pinched him, and he undid the top button and ate some more. Lu goggled at him all the while, fetching more bowls of dumplings as needed, bringing back chili sauce and napkins. He sent and received some texts, and Matthew looked up from his work of eating at those moments to watch Lu's fierce concentration as he tapped on his phone's keypad.
+
+"Who is she?" Matthew asked, as he leaned back and allowed the latest layer of dumplings to settle in his stomach.
+
+Lu ducked his head and blushed. "A friend. She's great. She organized, you know --" He waved his chopsticks in the direction of the counterfeiters' market. "She's -- I don't know what I would have done without her. She's why I'm not in jail."
+
+Matthew smiled wryly. "You'd have gotten out by now." He plucked at his loose shirt. "Though you might be a few sizes smaller."
+
+Lu showed Matthew a picture of a South China girl on his phone. She looked like the perfect model of South China womanhood -- fashionable clothes and hair, a carefully made up double-eyelid, an expression of mischief and, what, power? That sense of being on top of her world and the world in general. Matthew nodded appreciatively. "Lucky Lu," he said.
+
+Lu dropped his voice. "She's amazing," he whispered. "She got me papers, cancelled my phone, let the number go dead, then scooped it up again with a different identity, then forwarded it through a --" he looked around dramatically and pitched his voice even lower -- "Falun Gong switchboard in Macau, then back to this phone. That's why you were able to call me. It's incredible -- I'm still in touch with everyone, but it's all through so many blinds that the zengfu have no idea where I am or how to trace me."
+
+"How does she know all this?" Matthew asked, gently, the dumplings settling like rocks in his stomach. He was a dead man. "How do you know she isn't police herself?"
+
+"She can't be," Lu said. "You'll see why, once we meet up with her. This much I'm sure of."
+
+But Matthew couldn't shake the knowledge that this girl would be taking him back to prison. In prison, everyone had been an informant. If you informed on your fellow prisoners, you got more food, more sleep, lighter duty. The best informants were like little bosses, and the other prisoners courted their favor like they were on the outside, giving them the equivalent of the "3 Gs" -- golf, girls and gambling -- with whatever they could scrape up from the prison's walls. Matthew had never informed and had never been informed upon. He always chose the games he played, and he never played a game he couldn't win.
+
+And so he was numb when he met Jie, who smelled wonderful and had fantastic manners and a twinkling smile. She had his new identity papers, with the right picture, but a different name and identity number, and a fingerprint that he was sure wasn't his own on the back. She chatted amiably as they walked, about inconsequentialities, the weather and the food, football scores and gossip about celebrities, a too-perfect empty-head that made him even more suspicious of this girl and her impeccable acting.
+
+She led them to a small, run-down handshake building in the old Cantonese part of town. This was where Matthew had grown up, the "city-within-a-city" that the Cantonese had been squeezed into as South China ceased to be merely a place and had become a symbol for the New China, the world's factory. Being back in these familiar streets made him even more prickly, giving him the creeping certainty that he would be recognized any second, that some poor boyhood friend of his would be marked by this secret policewoman and sent to prison with him. He steeled himself to keep walking, though with each step he wanted to turn and bolt.
+