Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2 of 65)
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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. Copyright 2003 Cory Doctorow
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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."