Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (1 of 65)
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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. Copyright 2003 Cory Doctorow
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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, spring-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."