Subterranean Press Magazine: Fall 2013

Hook Agonistes by Jay Lake and Seanan McGuire

“The difficulty with steering by stars is that stars are by their very nature ghosts; they died long before we ever saw their light. When you choose a star to steer by, you are casting yourself as the lead character in a ghost story. It’s far better to create stars of your own, set them in the heavens, and steer by the light of something living.”

—Michael Lowry III, founder of Lowryland

“All stories are ghost stories.”

—Jas of Lowryland

#

1. In the Shadow of the Second Star (300 years A.L., After Lowryland)

Memory didn’t work the way that he remembered it. In the beginning there was Lowryland, and Lowryland would last forever, a monument to the eternal child within each and every one of—

{:: {:: No, that isn't right. Come back to the end. It's too soon for the beginning. ::} ::}

Smoke. Jas recalled smoke. The world had ended in smoke. Smoke, and an unconscionable amount of fire. The only thing Lowryland’s custodial staff had hated more than gum was fire. Gum had been banned from Park’s open to Park’s end. They would have banned fire too, if not for the attractions that required it. Had banned fire from most of Lowryland, but fire, ah, fire was a Pan all on its own, and it had other ideas.

Jas never dreamed, not the way he knew that the guests did, escaping into self-made fantasies, quaking with self-inflicted terrors. He was different. For over three hundred years—the old years, the years that meant nothing to anyone but him now that they lived by an alien calendar, amid alien stars—he had dwelt in the slave quarters of Taushin Station 044. Generations of guests had come and gone around him, seeming to live and die whenever Jas turned his back for even a moment.

He hadn’t seen a supervisor since that last day of fire and smoke back in lost Lowryland. None of the Cast Members or other Enhanced Entertainers had survived either: only guests, who were by definition lost and confused and far from home. In a strange way, Jas himself had been forced to become a supervisor as the centuries slipped away from them. Supervisor to the entire human species.

It was a shame about the planet, though. Jas had no trouble remembering that. The moment when the Earth’s crust had cracked under the Taushin weapons was burned into his memory, obscuring older, better things, like the shape of his Creator’s face (Michael Lowry, in whose name we labor for the joy of children ) and the curve of his retconned lover’s hip (sweet Bonnie Anne, subject of a little-loved sequel removed from his continuity when it brought no joy to the boys who came to fight him, the girls who came to swoon). And for what?

The Taushin were simplistically cruel, like Lost Boys with no Wendy-bird to set their moral compasses. They smashed a world for no better reason than the fun of watching the death of an entire biosphere. The enslavement of the guests was an afterthought, his own inclusion an accident to that afterthought. Bad luck or good, he still couldn’t say.

{:: {:: They had not screamed, in the end, just stood there and died, mouths agape, balloons escaping from their hands and soaring, soaring, into that burning summer sky. ::} ::}

“We are rats in the walls of the world, my brave boys, my glorious girls,” he murmured aloud. That was the lesson he taught to every generation as they came before him to learn about their past, to learn how to survive their future. Guests were rats, surviving by wits and luck and sticking to the shadows.

None of them knew what a rat was, of course. They thought it another of his strange endearments. The poetry, like so much else, was long since gone to fairy dust and faded from memory’s eye.

Jas adjusted his bicorn hat—surely the last such surviving in all this vast and tattered universe—flicked its fake ostrich plume until it bobbed with a small amount of verve, and tugged the lapels of his faded red velvet coat with the frayed gold frogging and time-dulled brass buttons until they lay smooth against his ruffled shirt. Straining dreams of Earth from the ragged cores of his memory, he stepped out to meet his class.

#

“Good morning, Captain,” chorused the students in ragged unison. At any given moment, between a third and a quarter of the remnants of the human race were children, depending on the rippling demographics of decades and generational cohorts.

{:: {:: Tidal humanity marching into the sea of time. ::} ::}

Where had those words come from?

Dwelling on his own decay could only hasten it. Jas pushed the worrisome thought aside, focusing on his latest crew of temporary students. He got most of them for a few weeks somewhere just before their twelfth cycle—which he could never stop thinking of as the seventh birthday—when they were considered old enough to be entered into the labor pool. Children had value in cleaning ducts and servicing wiring chases and whatnot. The Taushin were big and ungainly by human standards, right down to their clawed sausage fingers. Lithe hominid bodies could go places none of their masters ever reached without tearing out bulkheads. And guests were cheaper than machines, requiring no repair, discarded when they broke.

Rats in the walls.

A few of his students stayed on, exempted from the labor pool by luck or favor or crippling disability. Not exempted from the gene pool, unfortunately. Even he understood the problems with close-kin parents. And all of the guests were close kin by now, after three hundred years of interbreeding.

“Good morning to the finest class of scallywags and scoundrels ever to sail toward the second star!” There were three holdovers from the last section: Beans, Wendy 221, and Eustace. They clustered together at the back of the little lecture hall, a class within the class. Jas winked at them, broadly enough for everyone to see the joke, if not to understand it yet.

Children. Really, they were all children. Lost Boys and Lost Girls with no one but old Captain Jas Hook to tell them stories of the World Behind. He never had the heart—so to speak—to join in their talk of Neverland, for all that he’d fostered the myth to begin with.

{:: {:: Earth had shattered like a dropped brick. Nothing was left, nothing would ever be recovered. Remember this, and give them hope, for hope is better than fairy dust, when the sky is full of ashes. ::} ::}

He continued: “I see we have an even dozen of you new boys and girls, bonny lads and lasses all. Do you know what you’re here for?”

Jas ignored Beans’ stretching hand and look of pained constipation—what passed for eagerness in that child. He waited patiently until one of the littlest stirred, appearing uncomfortable as she struggled to speak up.

“Yes, my dear?” He stroked his moustache and smiled at her, his old piratical leer—not too frightening, not too sexual, but balanced on the razor’s edge (how the engineers had worked to perfect that smile!).

The new student rocked back, and then summoned her courage. “To hear tell of World Behind, Momma she says. And what was of us.”

“Precisely.” A broad grin now, Jas reminded himself as he struck a pose. Times like this, he missed his cutlass. The supervisors had always insisted he keep it blunted, but Jas had secretly whetted his blade many a long, quiet night under the shining moon when the park was closed to all but dreams and ghosts. “You are what remains of humanity, you guests, you season passholders of our new existence. Human is as human does. We live in the shadows now, and probably always will, but once we had a world of our own.”

“Named Dirt, ‘t’were,” said a small boy.

“Earth, not Dirt,” Jas replied. “Note that there is a difference. We have dirt in the parks here on Taushin Station 044. That does not make them home. But Earth, well…that’s the World Behind, home of all guests, and long gone.” Gone like Lowryland, like Bonnie Anne, like the Jolly Roger and Pan and all the rest.

The thoughts hurt; a deep, abiding ache that the centuries never seemed to wash away. Jas sank into his chair, bringing his face closer to the level of the children. “Now attend me well, dear ones, as I tell you about Earth. All of the people were once divided into two groups: guests and Cast Members, who divided themselves still further into supervisors and staff…”

The familiar rhythms of his talk rolled off Jas’ tongue like water from an unmetered access tap. This was what he existed for.

{:: {:: This and one other thing. ::} ::}

As if there were anything else remaining in the universe. Over thirty old school decades of patient living within the walls of the station had brought him nothing but routine. This class would be no different.

Surely not.

#

“You knows better, Captain.” Block was small, bitter, and old at over fifty cycles—thirty years of age. He knocked back another slug of akkavit, the best moonshine the guests could distill in the secret corners of their habitat, concealed from the Taushin-operated environmental monitors that routinely sniffed out illicit heat sources and organic molecules.

They were in one of the common rooms used by the humans, converted from an old maintenance shop long rendered obsolete by some shift in Taushin technology or resource prioritization. Work benches and cabinets still lined the space, but the machinery and tools were gone, replaced by scavenged seating and the various small comforts that guests found or made for themselves.

Jas held a tumbler of his own, though in his case it contained only a light coating of high grade machine oil. A few millimeters more slumped around in the bottom, largely for effect. Eating and drinking were mysteries to his body. The guests seemed to get on with it well enough despite a lack of guidance from him. The magic of evolution.

“I know many things, Block,” he replied with solemn dignity, “but that does not make me wise. As for better, I was never meant to be the better man. One might even say that it goes against my nature.”

“Some of us been thinking about how you takes on our kids.” Block waved his tumbler in a vague gesture of toasting that made Jas grateful they were not near any open flame or sparks.

“Some of us have been thinking for a very long time,” he replied, in the tone he’d once reserved for ordering the keelhauling of pirates who had misbehaved. “I, for example, have been thinking for centuries now. Thinking alone does a man very little good.”

Block stared obstinately. “World Behind. It ain’t doin’ us no good to remember what was lost. Kids…don’t matter much if they’s guests or what. Park’s gone. World’s gone. We’s all people. Here. Inside Taushin Station 044. Here we born and here we die, and ain’t no changes we can make in times between. As for Neverland, well you knows better. That’s jus’ a pretty lie.”

{:: {:: All stories are lies, all lies are stories. That does not make them wrong. ::} ::}

Hexnut was drinking with them as well. She was as used up by life as Block, but a diamond-hard core of anger kept her going. Hexnut hadn’t said anything so far, but she never did say much. The woman reminded Jas of a particular supervisor back on Earth. Thinking without talking instead of talking without thinking as the guests usually did. She set down her tumbler, cleared her throat, and then stared expectantly at both him and Block.

“Ma’am?” Jas finally said by way of prompting her.

“World Behind, Neverland,” Hexnut muttered. “We’s in World Here. But you, Block, you ain’t got it right. Memories and dreams, that’s what we’s made of. All of us humans. Even old Hook there.”

“No dreams, no memories,” Block insisted. “We’s made of World Here.”

Jas turned his right hand back and forth, staring at the slightly corroded hook. It was the same one he’d worn for centuries, the one he’d found strapped to the engineered stump of his wrist when he first awoke back in Lowryland’s Enhanced Entertainer engineering shops. “Hexnut has the right of it, I must say.” He looked up at them both. “And so do you, Block. Neither of you is wrong. We do live in the now, perhaps eternally so.” No one knew that better than he, with the decades upon decades of living in the shadows aboard Taushin Station 044. “But without dreams and memories, we will be nothing more than animals.” You will be nothing more than animals. “The World Behind tells us who we once were. Neverland tells us who we will someday be.”

“Guests.” Block practically spat the word. He’d uttered it in the same tone Jas had heard from the pirates and the Lost Boys when they’d sat quietly through the endless summer nights, swords set aside for rumor and favors exchanged once the park had closed.

Jas knew he occasionally swore so, but had thought himself careful not to pass it on to his charges. Not careful enough, obviously. “Guests,” he said thoughtfully. “And maybe even Cast Members again someday.” Cast Members had run the world, after all. Supervisors, and somewhere above and beyond them, the ephemeral managers. Jas had once believed the vice-president of operations to be God Himself, but eventually realized that the Cast had levels all the way up, endless ranks of crewmen serving the Great God Lowry, whose bronze face smiled benevolently over his creations from the immense central square of Lowryland. “But remember. We are all human.”

“And who’s it shall lead us?” asked Hexnut quietly.

“Not me,” Jas replied. “We will know the Cast when we see them. Leadership is more than a colored shirt and a badge. I myself once commanded a ship, and a motley crew of rogues the likes of which would strike terror into your heart, but still the Cast Members commanded everything we said or did.” They were gone now, all of them, his pirates and the Lost Boys that they stood against, smashed to stardust on the great anvil that had been the Earth.

“And that’s bossin’, is it?” Block practically snarled. He was definitely drunk.

“As may be.” Jas sniffed his machine oil and stared at the bulkhead where something heavy had been mounted. “You try telling four dozen pirates what to do. Every one of them programmed to be both ambitious and oppositional.”

“Don’t rightly sees what position has to do with it.”

{:: {:: Your world is small, and narrow. ::} ::}

“It means fighting everything that happens, even when it’s good for you. Like Jeremiah 32, who works over in hydroponics. He never agrees with anyone about anything.”

Block nodded. “He’s a right pain in my hairy ass.”

“That’s what my pirates were. And the Lost Boys…” Jas felt a cascade of memory pointers pop to life deep in his programmed consciousness, each one a pinprick of loss that could only be denied for so long (shut out thoughts of Wendy, of Anne; deny the loss a little longer, for the sake of the guests). “They made the pirates look like school chums.”

Hexnut finally spoke again. “You telling us how you keep teaching our kids?”

“I have this conversation every few years with one or another of you,” Jas said, filled with an unaccountable melancholy. “But you can’t give up.”

“Don’t see why not,” growled Block.

“Because Neverland is yet to come.” It was the best answer he knew to give, and a terrible one at that. But Jas had nothing better.

He’d been waiting for something better down the centuries ever since the park had burned and the world had shattered and the Cast had all died leaving him alone and in charge.

So alone.

#

“Enhanced Entertainers are strictly enjoined from interacting with park guests except as prescribed in your Roles and Responsibilities module. Please report any behavioral variances you observe in yourself or others to a supervisor at the earliest opportunity. Your programming can sometimes be deceptive in its depth and sense of world-completeness. This is normal, and should be allowed for within your decision-making matrix. However, we must emphasize once again that it is strictly forbidden on pain of consciousness termination for Enhanced Entertainers to represent themselves as human, or even biological.”
—Lowryland Operations Manual, Enhanced Entertainer Addendum

“A wise man once said ‘we are such stuff as dreams are made of.’ Today, in Lowryland, we transform that beautiful sentiment into dazzling reality.”
—Michael Lowry III

#

“Anniehall, she pregnant.” It was Wendy 221 who blurted out this news to Jas in his small quarters tucked behind a pressure bulkhead.

Jas considered this statement. “Women are often pregnant, my dear,” he finally ventured. “It is a natural consequence of limited entertainment options.”

“No, you don’t get it.” Wendy 221 looked frustrated, her face red and her brown hair darkened with sweat. She surely had not run to see him, not with the club foot and ravaged legs that had kept her out of the labor pool and in his classroom. But she just as surely looked rushed and harried.

“What is it that I do not ‘get’?” Jas asked, as kindly as he could. He was straining to politeness; this interruption did not sit well with him.

“Anniehall, she, you know…” Wendy 221 blushed a deeper red, then stared down at her circling toe.

Jas sighed. “No, I am afraid I do not know. I would, however, if you would tell me.”

Wendy 221 mumbled something below Jas’ hearing.

“Again, please.”

“She virgin. Ain’t never touched no man.”

Jas frowned, and then stated the obvious. “Well, clearly that’s not possible.”

The look he got for that would have scorched, if Wendy 221 had carried fire in her eyes. “Anniehall be no liar. Everyone surprised, even Momma docs.”

Jas smiled tolerantly. The guests were a superstitious lot. Language might corrode, customs might be lost, but superstition, ah. That endured long beyond the cultures that had fostered it. “Virgin birth, eh?”

{:: {:: It begins at last. ::} ::}

Where had that thought come from?

“All babies is virgins,” insisted Wendy 221, staring furiously at the deck plates.

Something echoed inside his memory, a guest legend half heard back in the days of the park, discouraged by Cast Members and even punished by supervisors. Was he supposed to punish Wendy 221 now? That didn’t make any sense. Jas had been his own rulebook for three centuries. He wasn’t going to backtrack to old strictures which hadn’t served him well even when they were new.

“So you think this is important?” he finally asked the girl.

She lifted her eyes to him again. Something else burned there, something between impatience and desperation. Even after all these years, he found children hard to understand when they acted outside the archetypes he had been programed with: Lost Boy/Girl, Pirate, Princess, Wide-Eyed and Afraid. But then, Jas had never been a child himself.

Her answer surprised him. “Can’t be not important, can it?”

“I suppose not.” He swallowed his smile, which he knew perfectly well was patronizing. Not that Wendy 221 had that particular word in her vocabulary, but she wasn’t stupid. Wasn’t stupid at all.

She looked frightened. “They’s whispering, behind hatches and in walls.”

Jas reached out with his remaining hand—the only hand he’d ever had, really—and stroked Wendy 221’s cheek. “Who are whispering, my poppet? What are they saying?”

“They say Anniehall’s baby means Cast has come again.”

She whirled and dragged herself through the hatch of Jas’ quarters. Moments later, he was alone with his thoughts and a small swirl of dust that the environmental systems had not yet caught up with.

Virgin birth was ridiculous. Jas was no expert on sex, for purely biomechanical reasons if nothing else. His designers among the park’s engineering staff hadn’t seen any need to equip him for reproductive tasks. He lacked the glandular and genetic imperatives that drove the guests to mating (although he’d wished for them sometimes, when Bonnie Anne had kissed his cheek, when Wendy had lowered her eyelashes and smiled). But he’d also spent generations among them, and knew how little guests got made. The basics of human reproduction were no mystery at all, though some of their attitudes on the subject were downright bizarre. But virgin birth? No way, no how.

Still, there were those old stories…

Jas cursed at his memory, which simply didn’t work as it used to. It seemed like time to visit Anniehall, and maybe have another talk with Block and Hexnut, who were among the most respected of the guests’ informal leadership.

#

Instead of finding Anniehall, he found a Taushin overseer. Not on purpose. Nobody found an overseer on purpose, unless there was property damage or an injured Taushin to report.

The owners and masters of the human race’s remnant population were big, ropy muscled bipeds, with multiple tentacular arms that were never still. They stood a good half meter taller than even the tallest guests, and outweighed everyone but Jas by a margin of two to one or more. At least they had faces not so different from humans. If you didn’t mind blank yellow eyes with nictitating membranes.

{:: {:: Nictitation: rapid movement of the eyelid or eye covering. :: Auxvocab.disused.purgefile ::} ::}

When it spoke, the alien’s voice sounded like mud bubbling. A sound, Jas knew, that no one but him would ever recognize.

“Labor detail suboptimal performance reviewed imperative to be,” it said in Taushin. None of the aliens had ever bothered to learn what the guests spoke among themselves. Jas himself spoke the seven languages most popular with visitors to Lowryland, but only rather sadly depleted dialects of English and Vietnamese had survived among the humans.

He offered the requisite bow and kept his hand and hook both plainly visible and quite still. Never present a threat. “Which detail is suboptimal performance for responsible?”

“Labor pool 107 hydroponics drip irrigation maintenance for responsible.”

It was impossible to tell a Taushin mood by its words or tone of voice. After three hundred years, Jas still wasn’t sure the Taushin had moods in the sense that humans did. As a machine himself, all his moods were complex simulations. If anyone ought to be able to spot the difference, it was him.

He bowed more deeply. “Labor pool human supervisors I will notify. Detail malfeasance punished will be.”

“Replacement detail for hydroponics required is. With immediacy dispatched to be.”

“Yes, honored one.”

He accepted a light swat to the head and neck from one of those tentacled arms. That was a normal Taushin farewell. So far as Jas knew, it was more an acknowledgment of dominance than an attempt at any particular punishment or humiliation. Jas deepened his bow yet again and watched under his brows as the Taushin stomped away.

As soon as the passage was clear, he swiftly walked into guest quarters, shouting for Block or Hexnut or any of the shift leaders. Someone had screwed up in hydroponics. If they didn’t make it good fairly quickly, there would be more trouble. Not to mention real punishments.

#

{:: {:: Memory purge in 294,711,456 seconds. ::} ::}

I must not forget, he whispered, and then wondered why he had said that.

“Captain, you be listening?” It was Block, as irritable as ever.

Jas found himself on a catwalk over a disused hangar bay. Where had his attention been? This was the bay that a disabled Vliedt trading vessel had crashed into a few hundred station days earlier. The area was indefinitely offline for refitting whenever the Taushin heavy engineering crews got around to the task. No guests worked that assignment—their masters didn’t like humans handling tools that could readily double as serious weapons.

At least no one was listening. Not up here, surrounded by cold, echoing space that was mildly underoxygenated, with good sight lines and everyone’s breath fogging. Except his, of course.

Block and Hexnut stood in front of him. Block looked angry, Hexnut appeared thoughtful. Or possibly bored.

“How did matters play out?” Jas asked. How did we get here, where did the time go? What did I say, what was said to me? He was not angry—he didn’t have the emotional or hormonal infrastructure for that—but he was very concerned. If his memory was truly breaking down…

“Stupid kids,” Block muttered. “Horsing around in ‘‘ponics gardens. Broke mainline.”

Hexnut just nodded slightly, still with that distracted expression on her face.

This was more important than a programming glitch. “How serious are the Taushin about this?” When the Taushin got very serious, things tended to get difficult for the guests, which made things difficult for Jas. These guests were his crew, his Lost Boys and Girls. All of them, all hundreds of years worth. His memory was peculiar, but he had no difficulty recalling generations of grubby, youthful faces.

“Not so bad,” Block admitted. “Not like that pressure blow two cycles past.”

“Kids,” Hexnut said. “They knows about Neverland. They knows it’s coming soon.”

Block looked sideways at Hexnut. “They needs to stop that stupid waste product.”

That gave Jas a moment’s pause. “Was this about Anniehall’s pregnancy?”

Block grimaced. “Maybe.”

Hexnut nodded again, more vigorously. “Yes.”

They were used to him knowing a great deal of what went on. Jas found himself glad he didn’t need to mention Wendy 221’s involvement. “What do you think about those rumors?”

He knew the likely answers, but he wanted to hear what they had to say. Block was a reliable indicator of the opinions of the older guests, especially the ones who’d forgotten their own childhoods and seemed to think the world should stand still. Hexnut was…something else. A thoughtful something else.

“Waste,” said Block.

Hexnut just shrugged.

Jas gave her a long, slow look—one of his mannered imitations of how the supervisors used to behave back at Lowryland. Human body language and social signaling was so complex, and it changed with every generation. The hard parental stare seemed to be a universal, though.

“’‘s like this,” she finally said, with a sidelong glance at Block. “We been here for more cycles than anyone but you can remember. People reckons there must be purpose. Neverland, that’s purpose you always said. Now, Anniehall, well, she be sign from Neverland. Like follow-me signal what says ‘come this way’.”

That was quite a speech, for Hexnut.

“She can’t be pregnant without a man,” Jas said. There was the heart of the problem. “If the boy would just step forward, we could put this folderol to rest.”

“Some kids, they got religion now.” Block’s tone of voice was unwilling, grudging. “They talks on purity and holdin’ themselves back. Anniehall, she be one of them.”

{:: {:: Our Father, who art in Heaven, Alan Turing be thy name. ::} ::}

What?

“Religion. I see.” He stalled for time. Jas had never had religion in the park, though he’d been briefed on it often enough, so as to properly respect the needs of guests. Some of his fellow entertainers had borne strange ideas of their own. “We’ve never had religion aboard the station.”

“Guests and Cast,” said Hexnut. “Religion, it be like Cast’s Cast. Supervisors what be over supervisors.”

“Kids call it super-supervisor,” added Block.

He had heard nothing of this, but then, why would he? Jas mostly dealt with the guests before they entered the labor pool, or with older adults like these two, all the way into their thirties and near the end of their lives. He didn’t spend time in their dens and crèches, didn’t follow the rumors the young adults passed among themselves. For a while he’d tried that, early on, but the effort had been too much. At the beginning, when the Taushin had first taken them up, there were more than two hundred guests. They had been hard enough to keep track of. Now the human race had blossomed to over ten thousand individuals. He couldn’t recall all their names, let alone their little obsessions.

“I am not certain what to do,” Jas admitted. “I was never Cast back on Earth. Certainly not a supervisor. My cohort had very little responsibility for religious questions. We were pirates, not priests.” Although some of his men had worshipped Wendy, in their way, for the gleaming ideal she represented, and all of them had murmured Lowry’s name as if it were the name of God.

“What kind of religion questions was you supposed to know about?” asked Hexnut.

“Which children weren’t allowed to eat hot dogs and such.” He’d never understood that one, not at all.

Block frowned. “What be hot dog?”

“Animal protein wrapped in a casing, embedded in a baked gluten matrix.”

“Who would want to eat that?”

Jas, who had never eaten anything in his life, had no idea. He shrugged.

Regardless of who the father was, Anniehall would have her baby, health and circumstance permitting and assuming nothing untoward occurred with the Taushin. Jas just had to hope this religion business would settle down.

He knew perfectly well that he was the one who had taught them about Neverland. But the first guests, the ones who remembered Earth, had been clear with him as they aged: their children needed hope, and that hope needed to be vague enough to last generations. Anniehall’s baby was too specific a hope, and thus bound to be too clearly a disappointment.

He bid Block and Hexnut farewell and went back to his own quarters. Jas had been working on building a clockwork crocodile for the past fifteen years or so, and he was nearing the point where he could test the device. It was the best he could do at re-creating Mr. Grin. A different kind of Enhanced Entertainer, in a sense Mr. Grin had been his closest friend back in the long-lost days of the park.

{:: {:: Tick tock, tick tock. ::} ::}

#

“Enhanced Entertainers must report for maintenance a minimum of once per operating quarter. Even if a supervisor has not issued reminders or posted a schedule, it is the responsibility of each Enhanced Entertainer to present themselves at the Biomechanical Depot. Your social boundary conditions must be reviewed, and mechanopsych tuning must be updated. Due to the serious potential consequences of the process of personality drift, failure to report for maintenance may result in immediate consciousness termination with prejudice.”
—Lowryland Operations Manual, Enhanced Entertainer Addendum

“Our Enhanced Entertainers will set us apart from all other theme parks in the world. They have trained actors in costumes; we have the beloved characters themselves. Our guests will see the difference, and their loyalty will be forevermore to Lowryland.”
—Michael Lowry III

#

Time pressed onward, as it tended to do, with or without the consent of those it carried into the uncertain future. Jas’ internal clock showed that 10,807,702,561 seconds had elapsed since his first instantiation. Without that time metric, he would have long since lost track of the years, at least as they were measured back on Earth. The Taushin measured station cycles, which were slightly more than seven months long. If they had a baseline planetary calendar he’d never been able to understand it.

Hexnut came to his quarters one day as Jas was working on the cams driving Mr. Grin’s rear legs. His project was aggressively retrograde, eschewing electronics of any kind, which rendered some of the state control issues substantial indeed.

“Why you do that?” she asked, after watching Jas struggle with a nearly microscopic gear train. It was part of the regulator system for the locomotors which drove the cams. Maintenance might have been easier had Jas possessed a proper machine shop, and been able to build his crocodile from distinct pieces. Instead, his clockwork beast was a tightly coiled spring in more ways than one, with a chassis made from a single piece of multi-kilometer wire that Jas had found in one of the unused habitats. His crocodile had been spun like a cocoon. Thinking of the butterfly that might one day emerge amused him well enough.

“In memory of the crocodile which ate my hand,” he said absently.

She chewed on his words for a little while. “You not born man. That be story you tell, not story that be true.”

Jas looked up at her in surprise. “My history is a work of fiction, yes, but it remains real in some very important ways. Most guests never grasp the difference between narrative and history.”

“Story be story. But different stories be different.”

{:: {:: Narratives enforce their own imperatives. ::} ::}

“Well, yes.” He found himself quite pleased by this turn of conversation, which reminded him in a sideways way of the talks he’d once shared with Anne, or with Smee. “And you are absolutely correct. No crocodile ever ate my hand, any more than a flying boy named Peter ever cut it off to feed to the crocodile in the first place. I was created this way. But my creation was in, well…in memory of a story where a boy named Peter Pan really did cut off the hand of a man named Captain James Hook. A story made real in the fact of my personal existence.” He glanced over at his cocked hat. “Everything about me was originally made to tell that story.”

“Taushin not be part of that story,” she observed.

“Circumstances changed.” Which seemed pathetically inadequate words to describe the destruction of Earth and the near-extinction of the human species. He changed the subject. “What brings you here, my dear?”

“Anniehall, she now say Truong 17 Daddy her baby.”

Jas was an old hand at figuring out what the guests were really saying to him: so often their words had nothing to do with their meanings. “Do you believe her?”

Hexnut shrugged.

“Pressured into naming someone, perhaps?” he asked.

“Lot of fighting, among kids and their religion,” she admitted.

“What do you think, my poppet?”

She rolled her eyes at the endearment, but she knew he couldn’t help himself, just as he knew that she secretly enjoyed his archaic flattery. “I thinks when baby comes, we know. Truong 17, he don’t look much like Anniehall. If baby his, easy to see. If baby not his, well, we see something more.”

Jas knew that the guests were not stupid. They didn’t have the education even of custodial staff, let alone supervisors, but lack of education did not signify lack of intelligence. Still, he was sometimes surprised by his charges. As now.

“I think we’d all rather it be Truong 17’s baby.” A thought struck him. “Do you think Anniehall named Truong 17 to prove something?” The girl was pale-skinned, as fair as guests ever were, and sandy haired; while Truong 17 was almost brown, with hair dark as heat-stressed lubricant.

Not prove, more like,” muttered Hexnut.

#

Jas was surprised by two things when the baby came. First, she was a girl. For some reason, he’d assumed the child would be a boy. Second, she was said to be as pale as Anniehall, with hair that orange-brown color humans called “red.” He hadn’t seen such color among the guests for over two hundred years. If Truong 17 was the father, he’d contributed absolutely nothing to the baby’s melanin inventory.

All that meant was a split in opinion among the guests. And everyone had an opinion about Anniehall’s baby, even if that opinion was that everyone else was nuts.

He sat in the guest refectory, which the Taushin had long ago set aside for the use of humans, and listened to the chatter. Spending his time where food was being served was not Jas’ usual habit for a variety of good reasons, but he’d known since his days in Lowryland that people spoke most freely when they ate. It was as if nutrition turned off some of the social filters in their minds.

“Kids be born all time, all of shades of human…”

“…praying all time, praying and now look!”

“Don’t hold, me, with Word those young be following.”

“…stupid old people.”

“Anniehall be crying much, Truong 17 be proud.”

“You hear she name baby…”

“…baby name, going to be some arguing.”

“Taushin be sorry.”

“Neverland, that’s where we going now.”

“…not like before.”

So many of them glanced sidelong at him—the oldest, tallest, quietest member of the human race—then chose their words differently. Eventually he withdrew from their discomfort and walked the passageways alone a while.

#

Jas’ feet carried him after a time to Dorm Seven. That’s where he understood Anniehall to live. These particular sleeping quarters had been converted from a warehouse stores space almost a hundred cycles after the humans had arrived on Taushin Station 044. Since then they’d become the usual living space for sexually mature females who remained young and unbonded. “Girls’ house,” the guests called it, these people who’d never seen or heard of a house.

{:: {:: Windows gleaming by candle and lantern in the stern of the Jolly Roger, a place even a man like him could call home. ::}. ::}

He paused by the entrance, wondering if he should go in. Humans had so many rules about how the genders were supposed to interact and interface. Rules that changed with each generation, and within their groups and subgroups. But although he was nominally male, Jas also knew he was essentially genderless. Did he count? Or, as proxy Cast, could and should he go anywhere?

That was a question he’d never really answered. Jas had always balanced privacy against need. He knew he wasn’t truly a supervisor, and held no all-access pass.

The hatch was shut. It was huge, heavy and thick—a pressure door, designed to withstand a blowout or environmental emergency, intended to allow the old stores space within to be separately supported at need. Or for that matter, to host a different atmospheric mix if required. The Taushin made extensive use of deoxygenated storage.

Over the years, the guests had modified the hatch’s access protocols. The biometric recognition pad used by their Taushin overseers was unmolested. Beyond that, succeeding generations of young iconoclasts had wired and rewired for a dozen different security models, from coded input to human biometrics to the very old school method of card access. At the moment the access procedure seemed to involve solving a small three-dimensional puzzle.

Jas settled for pressing the button helpfully labeled in both English and Vietnamese: “dore-belle; chuôông cửửa”. He’d never focused much on the vagaries of spelling in either language as he’d educated each succeeding generations of guests. The Taushin certainly did not care, training the labor pool to read Taushin script as they saw fit. Written English had not fared well under the relaxed pedagogical regime, but Vietnamese had survived more or less intact.

He mused for a moment on the question of why his own creators had instilled in him an understanding of doorbells. To his knowledge, there was no such thing anywhere in the park. Certainly not aboard the Jolly Roger or anywhere about Neverland.

{:: {:: Cultural artifacts survive the decline of relevance. ::} ::}

Puzzling over his own stray thoughts, Jas was surprised when the pressure door slid open. It retracted at startling speed into the surrounding bulkhead. A slim woman with light brown skin and hair streaked black and gray stood there wearing only a sheer shift—very sheer. She seemed as surprised to see him as he was to see her.

The woman broke the startled silence first. “Captain!”

Jas stared a moment, trying to remember her name. He had not seen this one in a few years, to be sure. “Hong Hanh,” he finally managed. “You dazzle me with the beauty of your presence, but alas, I cannot linger to bask in your glory. I am seeking Anniehall.”

Hong Hanh put one arm against the coaming of the hatch, in a pose he imagined a young male guest might find seductive. Over her shoulder he saw nothing but the chamber of an airlock, the inner pressure door firmly shut. “Now, why you be wanting Anniehall, Captain?” Her smile was strangely forced.

He doffed his hat and swept a deep bow, exactly as he’d done for years at the park when every new processional of guests arrived at his dock along the sparkling waters of the little artificial lagoon. “To wish her well on her new baby.”

The young lady’s forehead crinkled in a frown he was certain arose from theatrical intent. “You ain’t never done that before.”

“No, but I am doing it now. Making amends for generations of omitted courtesy calls.”

Jas’ words were arrant blather, of course. Except for a few cynical, thoughtful types like Hexnut, most of the guests tended to fold quickly under a spate of pleasant blandishments. It wasn’t how they spoke to one another, after all, and he was distinct among them. Unique.

One of a kind.

A sad thought indeed.

Unfortunately, Hong Hanh was cast of the same mold as Hexnut, if half the other woman’s age. “Since when you goes making them amend things? You teaches kids and you sulks in your cabin.”

“Like Achilles in his tent, I am afraid.” Jas replaced his hat upon his head and tugged at the lapel of his coat with his single good hand while mentally recasting his pitch to this young woman. “I am like Cast to your people. It is my role to serve as a mentor and a guiding light through this long, dark night of imprisonment which we all must endure together. At times I am taken with a need to reach out to the reality of your individual lives with more depth and richness than the classroom allows me.”

Hong Hanh digested that for a few moments. Then: “You’s full of it, but you does be supervisor.” She winked before turning to code open the inner hatch. Jas was left with the feeling that he hadn’t so much won the argument as been given a bye for this round.

#

Dorm Seven was a mare’s nest of cables, netting and hanging platforms. No stairs or ladders for these girls, and precious little privacy except for the lav stations strapped to the outer walls of the vast space. It would have echoed except for the way the interior was filled with fiber, cloth and young guest females. They lived in three dimensions here.

The youngest people he could see appeared to be about twelve or thirteen, while the oldest were middle aged women just out of their teens. Between twenty and thirty-five station cycles of age. Faces in all the hues of guest humanity peered at him over the woven edges of baskets, from swinging platforms, down rope ladders and slides.

Hong Hanh had been stalling, Jas realized, while all these girls and women did…what?

Did he care?

{:: {:: Secrets pass where light fails, soul's breath shared amidst the gathering dark. ::}. ::}

Jas shook his head, another mannered human gesture that seemed to clear the occasional cognitive blockage, much as it appeared to do for humans themselves. Time to play the part, he thought. This was no different from a ship’s inspection. He placed his left hand on his left hip and balanced the curve of his hook on his right hip, puffing out his chest and amplifying his voice a bit beyond human norms.

“I see a fine crew here, but a bit out of sorts and not ready for their Captain,” he called. Hong Hanh and a few others close to him winced, but Jas knew from the echoes that his voice had carried magnificently through the entire quarters. “Roll back into your bunks, me hearties. I shan’t be shaking down your lockers for secret distilleries and tawdry Tijuana bibles. No, I just be here to pay my respects to Anniehall and her new youngling.”

A buzzing whisper rose. Hong Hahn pointed toward the back of the space, a good hundred meters distant. “All way through, sir,” she said in a quiet voice, “and you looks for roses on her Succoth hut.”

He had no idea what a Succoth hut was—these guests passed along their own culture independent of his teaching efforts—but he strode confidently through Dorm Seven, figuring he could identify roses if nothing else.

Though silent at the moment, the place was a cacophony of sights, smells, and textures. He could only imagine what it might sound like if they were all chattering away. As if the females who lived here wanted more sensory stimulation, not less, in their place of rest and refuge. The organic nature of their personal spaces and sleeping arrangement was complemented by a wide scattering of plants obviously tended from cuttings abstracted from hydroponics and environmental services. Banners and ribbons hung as well, confusing sight lines and distracting the eye. No one could go anywhere in a straight line here, or see far. He was reminded of birds flocking into trees, from the time when there had been trees and birds to flock in them.

The women watched him carefully, the way the pigeons would watch the hawks back in Lowryland. Why was he remembering so much of Earth in this moment?

{:: {:: The birth of all, the death of all, only ghosts remain. ::} ::}

Jas shook his head again, struggling for a clarity that seemed to elude him like Wendy running through the trees ringing his lagoon. But ah, there was no more time for introspection: ahead of him was a small hut woven of waste biomass from some of the open greenspace sections—hydroponics never grew stalks so thick. The flowers the guests called ‘roses’ were woven into the thatch on each side of the small, narrow door. There hadn’t been a real rose in over three hundred years, of course—the guests had carried nothing from Earth but their genomes.

“Anniehall?” he called out tentatively.

“Who that be?” Her voice echoed from within, huskier than he remembered it. Hoarse, perhaps, from the screaming pains of labor. Jas had helped deliver a few babies, back in the early days, before the women had organized themselves sufficiently to push the men out of that process.

“Captain Hook,” he said proudly, then found his good left hand caressing the hook of his right, as if it had a mind of its own.

“Oh, do come in.”

He ducked and turned slightly sideways to fit through the narrow doorway of her Succoth hut.

#

The baby was pale as Anniehall herself, with hair the color of oxidization on an airlock door. If Truong 17 figured anywhere in this child’s parentage, Jas’ modest understanding of genetics was woefully inadequate. He wondered at Hexnut’s theory the girl had named Truong 17 the father to introduce doubt rather than reduce it.

What was the state of that religious impulse among the youngers just now?

The child lay naked, sleeping propped face down on Anniehall’s chest. The mother wore only a sheer shift, much like Hong Hanh had, but her legs and abdomen were covered by an ineptly woven blanket, something the guest women had made themselves rather than drawn from Taushin stores. The warp and weft were loose, even irregular. A dozen colors had gone into the piece. Jas almost thought he could see a pattern, as if they’d encoded something there, but the shape of it refused to come quite clear. One more mirage of his addled memory, no doubt, and of no more importance than that.

“Is the baby well?” he asked, suddenly remembering the polite formalisms of the original generation of guests.

“She be well,” Anniehall replied, smiling fondly at her child’s head.

Boy, girl…at this age guests were all small, wrinkled and red, one very much like the next. How the human race had ever survived its own evolution was beyond his reckoning.

He stared at the child a moment longer, wondering again about the hair color. Weren’t babies almost always born with dark hair? “She’s lovely now and she’ll be lovelier later,” he said, mouth working automatically to fill the social space between them. “What are will you be naming her, our latest sweet cabin girl?”

“Pan.” Anniehall’s eyes met his. Jas registered his own sense of dumbfounded shock, old circuits opening like landscaped flowers at the name of his cruelest friend, his dearest enemy. “She shall be called Pan.” After a moment, the girl added, “Because we’re soon to come to Neverland.”

#

2. So Rises the Young God, Borne by Flights of Angels (301 years A.L.)

Mr. Grin wandered around Jas’ quarters with a stomping gait that the old pirate had never been able to tune quite properly. Jas had long since given up on truly understanding how an actual crocodile was supposed to move. Memory was imperfect concerning such things, and there were no crocodiles remaining for Mr. Grin to be compared against.

He ticked, did Mr. Grin, slow and steady as only a clockwork heart could ever be. This seemed appropriate to Jas, though no one else in the universe would ever get the joke. Some parts of his story—the parts that cast him as a villain, and not merely a loveable rogue—he’d chosen not to teach the guest children. So far as most of them were concerned, Jas’ hook was just a part of him, as natural as their own hands and as sure as his cocked hat with the ostrich feather.

In their minds, he was eternal, a distant uncle or grandfather everyone knew, some feared, and all expected to see outlive them. As he had, over and over, tens of thousands of names and faces and hopeful squints that grew old and died in Taushin service while he carried on.

To one way of thinking, Jas was the freest of them all. Which was strange, considering that in his days as an Enhanced Entertainer at the park, he had been as unfree as any street sweeper or margarita machine. Just more aware. Such a giddy, dizzying promotion, from park equipment to Cast supervisor. He could only regret the cost.

At least his time was largely his own. Hence, Mr. Grin.

The crocodile swished its tail in an irregular beat, the motions controlled by a mechanical randomizer. Building that had challenged even Jas’ ingenuity. He was old and crafty, but he was no engineering genius.

His original programming had consisted primarily of theatrical techniques and stage fighting. But he had been popular even then, hadn’t he, when all he could do was battle with the boys and leer genteelly at the girls? Such a dashing figure he’d cut among the common animatronic crowd! He’d been among the first selected for the Enhanced Entertainer upgrade, rendering him capable of carrying on more ordinary conversations with guests and Cast Members alike—and oh, how he’d talked in those early days, milking every inch of human behavior from his willing, wide-eyed cows in their official Lowryland T-shirts! Even when the ship was closed for the night, he’d been at the park gates, kissing hands and making joyful threats against those who wouldn’t promise to return. There was little left to talk about, but there was not, and had never been, anything wrong with his autodidact routines. One learned so much by watching.

Never enough, never enough.

Mr. Grin swished and stomped toward Jas, ticking more loudly. The skin Jas had molded to his coiled-wire frame was a combination of rough scrap and tight, finicky filigree work. Like a Spanish style balcony attached to an old piece of construction equipment. Jas was pleased with the aesthetic, though it never would have passed muster back in Lowryland. Everything was clean in Lowryland, even the dirt. Supervisors had strict rules about such things, terming them “essential to the guest experience.”

Lowryland might not have been the happiest place on Earth—that honor had been claimed long before Michael Lowry built his temple to the ever-living dream, although Lowryland was never a copy, even with the common elements that had slipped through the IP barriers thanks to public domain—but Jas was fairly certain the park had been the cleanest place on Earth. Or nearly so. Mr. Grin would have been an appalling artifact there, quickly broken down and hidden from the prying eyes of paying guests.

And yet. Still the crocodile reminded Jas of home, his ticking companion with the jag-toothed grin, remade in rust and wire and steel and scrap. That was fitting, somehow. Nothing aboard Taushin Station 044 was organic unless it had to be. The hydroponics were a bitter necessity, plants regimented and strangled until their stunted lives seemed almost aberrations. Rather like the guests themselves, he sometimes thought in his unkind moments. The green spaces, rare as they were, could have used a lot of help from the park’s architects. Jas had always wondered if their captors had evolved in caves or some such—they seemed to have no real conception of outdoors as he understood the term.

It was all so unlike his existence back in Lowryland. On the deck of the Jolly Roger, or striding along the dock where the guests came to meet his pirate crew, Jas had always been under the sun, natural when the weather allowed, supplemented with burning LEDs when the clouds rolled unkindly in. The wind had plucked his curled black hair. The waters of the park’s tame lagoon had riffled with patterns the eye could become lost in, endless wet fractals intersecting and dividing in a march of mathematics he could not help analyzing. Most of the guests never noticed that at all.

So it was with Mr. Grin, both inside and out. The crocodile’s clockwork owed much to the natural world of fractals and patterns. Likewise the filigree encoded some of Jas’ own memories of palm trees and pines and the low, dark bushes that had lined the entrance to the lagoon. He’d gotten the idea from Anniehall’s blanket, that day everything had changed.

As for Pan herself…Jas couldn’t imagine bringing harm to the girl. Even so, there was a guilty part of his persona that kept running mental simulations of Mr. Grin meeting Pan, and making the narrative come out differently this time.

No one should have to live through his own origin story. Not even the child whom everyone but he seemed to think was born to carry that story out to its logical conclusion. Whatever that was.

Jas reached down and popped open the small access port on Mr. Grin’s head to remove the crocodile’s key. Slipping that in the pocket of his coat, Jas bowed to his now-silent creation, donned his cocked hat, checked his ostrich feather, and strode out into the constrained world of Taushin Station 044.

Pan awaited him, fate and faithfulness in one small, energetic package. He had yet to sort out his own opinions on the matter, but they were hardly germane now. Anniehall had birthed, and the girl Pan was growing up with or without him.

Ah, for a Wendy. A real Wendy. Like he’d never known.

{:: {:: The great god Pan is alive. ::} ::}

#

Three Years Later…

She was in his class though she was only four and a half cycles old—slightly more than three years, in human terms. The park had strict guidelines about dealing with children, delineating the youngest by months of developmental age all the way through thirty-six months.

Children from eighteen to twenty-four months were to be addressed by name and gender, but always through their parents, guardians, or accompanying adults, unless the child initiated the contact. Older siblings and unrelated children were not to be considered as holding custodial authority. Enhanced Entertainers were allowed to talk to them under limited circumstances, but never alone—not with any children under fifteen years—and never from a position of implied authority.

Jas had always wondered how his role as captain of the Jolly Roger and leader of a pirate band could be construed as anything but implied authority. He’d never been stupid enough to ask that question of a Cast supervisor.

Now, though, well…

Pan stared with an intent and focused expression that made her appear slightly cross-eyed. She listened to everything. He’d known small children to be mimics, but he’d never known one who seemed to understand all of whatever was taking place at any given moment. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, which he considered a small mercy. Jas would have found it more than passing strange to hear ethical discursions coming in that faint, lisping voice with the unformed vowels and swallowed consonants.

But she listened.

Today’s class still included Wendy 221, who was already far too old, but still excluded from the labor pool by virtue of her deformities. Right now, she was the only holdover. He wondered if Pan would somehow avoid the labor pool. Not likely—she was close to perfect—but possible. Her life did seem to be charmed. No Taushin overseer had ever revoked Pan’s mother’s birth-leave, which normally lasted only two weeks. And there was never a problem finding her the right food in the right amounts. So many of the guests were starved into shortness, cut down by malnutrition until his oldest cognitive processes tried to see them as children, even when they came to him with children of their own. But Pan…

Somehow Jas wouldn’t have been surprised to see her grow into a slender woman of good height. Even his height, and he stood taller than any guest had in generations.

There were seventeen other children in his class. Except for Wendy 221 and Pan, they were all of them about twelve cycles old—seven years, to his mind. All itching to get to work, to get started on their lives, to be real guests with real jobs in the Taushin infrastructure.

“Ambition is a strange thing.” That wasn’t what he meant to say. The words had more or less been startled out of Jas by his own reflections.

“Ambition be what make us human,” responded Wendy 221 from the back of the room.

Several of the boys sniggered. Both Jas and the older girl ignored them. He looked over their heads at the corners of the classroom. No cobwebs—Taushin Station 044 environmental protocols were too good for that. All his corners would ever hold were shadows and the ghosts of years.

He was mortally tired of metal walls and no open skies.

Jas tried again. “You kids. You know all about the World Behind, don’t you?”

“Ain’t real,” said one of the laughing boys, grinning and looking around for support from his peers.

He leaned forward. “Do you think the human race evolved on this place? Do you believe that this is where all your ancestors all the way back to Deep Time were born?”

The answer came slow and sullen. “I dunno.”

And just like that, his inattentive impatience had lost them. Jas gave a mannered human sigh.

Pan stuck up her hand. Even the seven-year-olds knew to respect her, to keep their distance socially and physically. It was that damned religion.

“Yes?” Jas asked, smiling at her with what he hoped was avuncular good humor.

“Neverland ith the World Behind, waiting for our return,” she lisped. “Lagoonth and islandth and thipth on the high theath, like you thaid.”

He didn’t talk about the lagoon much if ever. Those were his memories, not human memories. Memories shared too much would become ghosts of themselves, frayed and worn, until they started to tear.

“No, my dear,” Jas began, but Pan shook her head. The other kids were staring at her as if she’d just announced a labor holiday and double rations.

“Time ith a thircle,” she announced.

Thirty-six months old.

{:: {:: Avatar. ::} ::}

He refused both thoughts, the conscious one and the deep echo. “No, not in truth. We move from Big Bang to the final dark, over time much deeper than the human experience will ever encompass. But the World Behind is lost to entropy and Taushin whim. Thermodynamics tells us that can never be reversed.”

“Their time will come, too,” Pan said quietly. “And ourth. The thnake eatth itthelf.”

How did she even know what a snake was? This one had never seen the Lowryland protocols for talking to thirty-six-month olds. Or the protocols for how thirty-six-month olds were supposed to talk to him.

Jas felt an old, unfamiliar sensation. Not emotion, exactly, but among his analogs for such.

Fear.

Certainly the other children were afraid of her.

“Pan…” He kept his voice kindly. “See me after class. You and Wendy 221.” The older girl nodded slightly, meeting his eye before her gaze shifted away.

“Now, let’s see.” Jas clasped his hook with his remaining hand. “Let’s talk about Cast, and supervisors, and what we might expect to see in Neverland. We know the human race has always been divided into two classes, but we only have one class here on Taushin Station 044. Can anyone tell me why the Taushin themselves are not considered Cast?”

#

Pan sat on the frontmost bench. She clutched Wendy 221’s hand and stared at him. Her eyes were a disconcerting pale blue, not much different from a flawless summer sky. Wendy 221 divided her attention between Pan and Jas, apparently content to be witness to whatever history he was trying to make here.

“Where did you learn about snakes?” Jas asked.

The little girl shrugged.

He tried again. “All our records are long lost or worn to incomprehensibility. I know about snakes. But I don’t think anyone else here does.”

“Thnaketh live in gardenth.” Pan announced this as if it were a self-evident truth.

If Jas could have shivered, he would have. “They did, my dear, and in deserts and forests and almost everywhere else in the world an animal could live. All the places, save for the very coldest or most desolate. But they don’t live here on the station with us.”

“Neverland will have thnaketh.” She smiled. “And dethertth and forethtth. And cold platheth and detholate platheth.”

“Neverland will have many things, my dear, but we cannot know what they will be until we get there.” This was his mythology, he’d made it up. Who was this child to tell him differently?

“I can thee it.” Her smile grew placid.

Wendy 221 caught his eye and tilted her chin toward the hatch.

“Someday I will want to know how you can see it,” Jas said patiently.

Now Pan’s eyes narrowed. A spark glinted deep within them that was positively unnerving in a three-year-old. “I jutht do.”

“Of course you do, dear, as do I; I see the World Behind very well.” Excepting memory losses and data corruption, of course, inevitable after so many years without upgrade or repair. “And you seem to see Neverland.”

“We all grow toward it,” she said, her words unusually clear, perhaps due to the lack of esses. Her fist clenched, as if gripping a sword hilt. For one, long disorienting moment, Jas wondered if this Pan could fly, too.

That damned Peter, back at the park, had been insufferable. This one here was showing every sign of growing into much the same.

“Just you remember where we are now, and who we are today.”

Pan nodded. Wendy 221 touched her shoulder, and Jas forced himself to smile again. “Thank you for your time, young ladies.”

#

Wendy 221 found Jas in his quarters. He was watching Mr. Grin scavenge for metal scraps along the deck plates. His space did accumulate dust, and oddments—he was fine with that. He never thought he’d miss the organic world, miss dirt, for pity’s sake, but he did.

“Hello,” Jas said quietly to his visitor.

“Hi,” Wendy 221 replied. She struggled into one of his chairs. Nothing could ever be easy or comfortable for her. Not with her bent and twisted legs.

He began polishing his hook with his free hand. “What do you think of our little Pan?”

“She be different. Them kids what believed back before she was born, some of them’s grown up now. Mommas and daddies, even. Give us ten cycles and everyone will believe. Or be sayin’ they do.”

“Which amounts to the same thing.” Jas had observed guest behavior for years in Lowryland, and for centuries here on Taushin Station 044. Why they did what they did was still a mystery to him, but that they did those things was not mysterious at all. “But is she…real? No one can know Neverland.” A moment later his thoughts caught up with him. “Not even me, for example. I can only tell you what I believe. But how can she see it? There’s no map, no compass, no guide. And not just ahead—she looks back as well, seeing things like snakes from the World Behind.”

Wendy 221 was briefly distracted by that. “What…what be snake?”

“Do you know what an animal is?” A few insects had been caught up in the sweep that brought the surviving humans under Taushin control, but none of them had escaped the environmental protocols. Not even the cockroaches.

“I remembers. Like people, but with fur, or feathers.” She pronounced both those last words as if they were in a language foreign to her.

“Right. Without speech or consciousness. Part of the biosphere. Very distant cousins of humanity. People studied them through various sciences, but taxonomy measured and named their differences.”

“Uh. So what be snake?”

“Ah, yes. My apologies.” What was so wrong with his mind today? “A land animal. They breathed air and ate protein much as you do, with a backbone like you have, but limbless. No arms or legs.” She glanced at her club foot and twisted leg and grimaced. He continued: “They moved by twisting their bodies and sliding forward. Mostly they were small.”

“And they lived in gardens? Like hydroponics?”

“Somewhat, yes. That’s an old, old story. One of the oldest. When man and woman first came to be, it was in the finest Park that had ever been, a paradise to shame even Lowryland. And in that Park, there was a garden which protected all knowledge that had ever been or ever would be. It was stored in the form of trees. Like paper. Ah, flimsies? How some emergency work orders are written?”

Wendy 221 nodded dubiously.

“In this story, the snake protected the papers with knowledge on them, but sold them to the first people for the price of an apple. That’s small fruit from a tree. This was against the rules. Cast ordered the first people to leave the garden afterward, as a consequence for eating the fruit. That’s how guests were made.”

She digested his words for a little while. “That story, it not be making sense. Snakes don’t be either.”

“I have to admit I agree with you. I merely recount the story as I recall it. I don’t endorse it.” He shook his head. “I might not have gotten some parts of it right. But regardless of whether or not the story is true, snakes certainly existed.” He had even seen them himself, twice. Which was more than he could say for any other number of animals. True nature had been rare in Lowryland, limited to the horses that drew the carriages along Memory Lane and such small creatures—birds and snakes and lizards—as could bring themselves inside without a pass.

“So how be Pan knowing of them snakes?” Wendy 221 asked.

“I was hoping you could tell me.” He’d rather believe in some concealed book or chip-based reference library left over from lost Earth than take Pan’s assertions of hidden knowledge at face value.

The mechanism of that knowledge was literally inconceivable.

A terrible thought stole upon him: Unless someone among the Taushin were feeding information to her.

How would he find that out? Would he even want to know if that were true?

{:: {:: Masters like gods surround us, making dust of our desires and an end to our ambitions. ::} ::}

Shut up, shut up, shut up, he told himself.

“Be you well?” Wendy 221 asked.

Jas spoke gravely. “A problem with growing so old as I have is that one’s thoughts become independent of one’s intentions.”

She looked dubious again but said nothing.

“Tell me something. Do any of the children ever talk to the Taushin overseers on their own?”

Doubt gave way to horror on her face. “Why would anyone be doing that?”

“I don’t know,” Jas said. “I just know it might explain some of how Pan has come to possess the knowledge she has.”

“No one would. Not ever. Never, never, never.”

“Not even if they were young and knew no better?”

She shook her head violently. “No Momma nor Daddy would ‘‘llow it.”

Anniehall was no ordinary Momma. Everyone had long forgotten about her naming of Truong 17, so there was no Daddy at all. He saw little purpose in pointing this out to Wendy 221, who was already upset.

“Fair enough. But one thing…Would you watch her for me? Keep a close eye?”

“Everyone be watching that child,” Wendy 221 observed.

“But not everyone talks to me.”

After she left, he set Mr. Grin into motion once more, and thought long on ticking crocodiles and missing hands and what it meant for there to be secret knowledge in the world.

#

Three Years After That…

He’d taken to attending Pan’s lectures. Always at the back of the refectory. Always standing. It wasn’t as though Jas could be even remotely anonymous among the guests. These days they mostly ignored him out of some combination of politeness and contempt. Attendance at his classes had fallen to almost nothing, as more and more parents turned to Pan for what they considered to be a better vision of the past and future.

He’d spent a lot of time with Wendy 221 the past few cycles. The girl had finally received a permanent dispensation from the labor pool. Jas was frankly amazed the overseers hadn’t simply terminated her resource privileges and forced her to starve or suicide. That had been the most typical response to birth defects and crippling injuries during the first two hundred or so cycles that the human race had existed in the shadows of Taushin Station 044. But their alien masters had mellowed, perhaps. At any rate, something had changed over time.

Things were changing again. The nameless religion had rooted firmly among the guests with Pan as its prophet. She was not yet preaching sedition against the Taushin, but he could see that from where matters stood. And his ability to direct affairs was increasingly limited. Block had died of exhaustion, and perhaps despair. Hexnut still spoke to him but she was very old now and ever less relevant in the increasingly child-ruled world of the guests. It was all Lost Boys and Girls now, and not a Wendy-bird among them to temper their tongues.

Pan had shed her lisp as well. At ten cycles, she was close to working age, but already she spoke like an adult of twenty-five cycles. Forceful, full-voiced, confident. And her language was…different. More like his than any of the guests who had lived during the past two centuries or more.

“You need to look inside yourselves,” she was saying. Pan stood atop a table, making herself taller than Jas himself. From that height she was able to look across the hundreds of guests crowded into the refectory. No one was eating, or even queuing for the ersatz coffee that was made from hydroponics compost and chemical flavorings.

They watched her with the intensity of guests witnessing one of his stage fights with that insufferable Peter. More and more, Jas found himself thinking of the old days, wondering if his memories were accurate or distorted by time and distance and the ever-mounting sense of loss.

{:: {:: He was faster than you, and always fated to take your place, a bloody-handed son in the tradition of the kings of old. How you would have loved him, if they had only given you the choice. ::} ::}

Her words had gone on while his thoughts rambled. “…Neverland without the labor of our hands, our heads, our hearts and our spirits.”

That brought a ragged, quiet murmur that swelled into something of a cheer.

Noises were dangerous, especially crowd noises. The human race had learned to be quiet, lest they attract the attention of a Taushin overseer. Not now, not them. These children did not remember. Almost everyone in the room was less than twenty-five cycles old.

“When you bend at toil in the fabrication suites, or amid the rows of hydroponics, or among the open spaces of environmental management, think what that effort of your fingers and thoughts can contribute to remaking our surrounds to bring us to Neverland. The World Behind is lost, but we can find it again ourselves with dint of effort. That effort begins with every breath of yours, every movement you make, every thought and word and deed.”

Another ragged, uncertain cheer arose.

“I see where we are going,” she went on. “I see where we have been. Our history walks with us, as it has all the lives of our parents and their parents here on Taushin Station 044.”

Jas realized she was referring to him. Some nearby faces turned and looked. Glares, and blank stares. No sympathy or gratitude for him.

Briefly, he wished for his old pirate crew back. Smee and the boys would have shown this lot a thing or two about revolt against authority.

“But just as a babe outgrows its swaddling clothes, so we outgrow our history. It is no loss to turn your faces away from a past dead and gone, represented only by a ghost of flesh and metal.” Now her eyes were locked on him. More of the guests turned in place to stare. “The future lies in our hands. Not the decayed grip of what came before us.”

Jas gathered the tattered rags of his dignity and left the refectory. He did not need to sit here and allow himself to be debased. Threatened even.

If he could have cried, he would have. The engineers who had designed him neglected to account for the tears of a machine.

#

“Enhanced Entertainers are encouraged and even required to speak with park guests, in accordance with your Roles and Responsibilities module. This includes answering direct questions addressed by park guests. Should that questioning stray from the role assigned to you, you will be expected to politely defer to Cast Members or supervisors. Enhanced Entertainers should not discuss their own origins, maintenance or operating protocols. Continuity of narrative is an essential element of the park experience. That is your highest priority.”
—Lowryland Operations Manual, Enhanced Entertainer Addendum

“Our stories go on even when no one is looking. They continue throughout the night, pirates sailing their endless seas, princesses waiting in their towers. For our Enhanced Entertainers, there is no such thing as ‘the real world’; fantasy is all that they will ever know.”
—Michael Lowry III

#

Mr. Grin was small comfort. But then, he’d never been much of a conversationalist. That didn’t stop Jas from talking to his clockwork crocodile.

“You’re only a machine,” he said. “Does that make you any more or less smart than I?”

Mr. Grin clattered about, twitching his tail and stalking non-existent prey among the dust and metal shavings of Jas’ deckplates.

“You will never have children. You will never see them grow up to reject you and all you have worked for.” He stared at his creation a little while. “Lucky bastard.”

The crocodile had nothing to say to that, either. He just slithered along the floor.

“How different am I from you, really?” Jas mused, now talking to himself more than to Mr. Grin. “I was made by someone else, programmed by someone else, my purpose constrained by someone else. Eventually I escaped my makers’ whims and was brought here. Will you escape my whims some day and stand tutor to generations of small clockwork beings?”

His creation shuffled toward his feet and stopped. The ball bearing eyes with their mechanical shutters rolled back as something hydraulic hissed. The main pressure line, most likely.

“You know nothing, Mr. Grin,” Jas said softly.

The crocodile thrashed again at the sound of its master’s voice, then shuffled away. He could swear the thing was getting smarter, though that wasn’t possible. It was programmed by a combination of clockwork and punchtapes, obeying only the most basic imperatives.

Not like him, with his adaptive cognitive matrix and his almost thirty-five-decade baseline of experiential learning. Nothing like him at all.

His annunciator beeped. “Come in,” Jas called. A Taushin overseer would have simply barged through the hatch on override, and he couldn’t really imagine these guests mounting an assassination attempt. If Pan ever wanted him dead, she’d come for him herself, sword in hand, a battalion of Lost Boys and Girls at her back.

The hatch snicked open. He was surprised to see Hexnut instead of Wendy 221. She was getting old, well into her thirties by Jas’ own reckoning, stooped and lined with hard work and the poor Taushin nutrition. He’d long suspected some essential amino acids or vitamins were missing from what they fed their human slaves.

“Hexnut, my sweet,” he said. “Welcome to my humble home.”

“That clock monster ain’t ate you yet?” she snapped.

“Not even a toe, I’m afraid.”

“Figured you lost your hand that way.”

“No…that was someone else,” he said gravely. “Not the crocodile.” The old stories were coming out.

{:: {:: Narrative continuity must be maintained. ::} ::}

“Got any coffee?”

“I’m sorry, no,” he said absently, then realized that he did in fact have the ersatz stuff on hand. Wendy 221, who knew nothing better, always drank it with apparent relish. Perhaps Hexnut would do the same. “Excuse me, I do have some. In the jar next to the urn on the workbench over there.” Jas pointed across his quarters to the space where almost everything that was the work of his hand took place. He didn’t eat, had no need of a kitchen or a cooking space, but he did create.

Hexnut grumbled as she set a small beaker to brewing on the room’s small scavenged heating element. The odor of the ‘coffee’ always reminded Jas of the danker margins of his lagoon, or perhaps the bilges of the Jolly Roger when the pumps had been malfunctioning. Still, human was as human did. If that’s what she wanted, so be it.

“I haven’t seen you for a while,” he said, when she’d finally finished huddling over his cooker and turned once more to face him.

Her brown eyes were tired, filming over with the diseases of advancing age. One shoulder was stooped—arthritis, he’d guess, or maybe long term calcium depletion. The Taushin approach to the care and feeding of their human slaves was neglectfully casual at its best. Even now, he could see the beauty she’d once held—stark and striking, rather than the round prettiness so favored by Cast and guests back in the park.

There was a time when he would have kissed her hand and wooed her to the limits of his programming, until the color of her cheeks or the darting of her eyes signaled for him to stop. There was nothing wrong with his own aesthetics. Jas had watched two score generations of women be born, grow, and die. He knew what humans were meant to look like.

“I been cut out of labor pool,” she told him.

“No more need for heavy repairs?”

“Not with these hands.” Hexnut held up trembling, knotted fingers. “Can’t hold aligner no more, nor be running bore-and-bolt unit.”

He asked the dreadful question. “What’s the current policy on food allowances?”

“Cut out of that, too.” Her voice was short, clipped.

At least it wasn’t an energy blast to the back of the head. Waste of a weapon charge, he supposed. Though swift and sure might have been a kinder death sentence. “I don’t have any food. I don’t eat. If I did, mine would be yours.”

She shook her head. “Sixty cycles I been alive.” Thirty-five years, he mentally translated. “Old now, I be. Seen lots.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s your time,” he said softly. The older Jas grew, the harder the deaths of the guests became.

“Ain’t being my time. Pan, she’s got people giving up tenth part of their own food allowance for me and others been cut off.”

That disturbed Jas. Not the basic charity, which he readily recognized as human nature playing to its best instincts rather than its usual worst. But that Pan would and could drive such behavior among the guest population. “Everyone, not just the believers?”

“Everyone. Even olds like me who ain’t been cut off yet they own selves.”

Everyone! “Why do they all listen?”

Hexnut retrieved her foul ersatz coffee and took a hot, noisy sip. “Because kids be growing up. Most young and strong follows her now. She be their prophet.”

“I suppose I knew that.” It wasn’t like he couldn’t see things for himself. And Wendy 221 was a perfectly good informant. He’d just not heard this from the perspective of someone Hexnut’s age.

The old guest just stared at him.

“Why did you come to me now?” he finally asked.

“Someone gots to do something,” she said succinctly.

He didn’t ask why him. That was obvious enough. Instead: “Why now? And what should be done?”

“You be over five hundred cycles old. You knows everyone who ever lived since World Behind be lost to us. You knows when time come for something, better than any of us. And us olds, who ain’t got religion, we all knows time is now. If’n we knows it, you knows it.”

Another long slurp, her eyes defiant as they ever could be, albeit clouded with age.

“Fair enough,” he finally said, shoving Mr. Grin away with his booted feet. The damned crocodile had developed an interest in ankles. “But what? I can hardly overthrow her.”

Hexnut tilted her head in shrewd contemplation. “Why not?”

“Because I am Cast here, and Cast does not terminate guests.” After a moment he added, “That’s bad for business.”

{:: {:: Cast surely does terminate Enhanced Entertainers. ::} ::}

No. I will not think that. Pan was no Enhanced Entertainer.

“You worries about some strange things.”

“I worry about what seems to me to need worrying,” he said.

“No termination. What you be doing, Hook man?”

“I could work against the religion, but they have taken most of the children away from me.” His classes were still nearly empty. “I could take the long view and wait for her to die. The religion will fade without Pan here as its prophet.” Or not. His admittedly casual knowledge of human culture and history strongly suggested otherwise. Jas boggled at the thought of the guests rising in jihad against their Taushin masters.

“She be here now. She be young. Scary young for what she be. She preach about World Behind, but only you remembers it. She preach about Neverland, but you makes that up, right? So why she speak your words?”

“Because she is Pan,” he said slowly, the idea reluctantly emerging from his own morass of emotion-analogs. “And this station is a ship of sorts. And you guests are the Lost Boys and Lost Girls of the human race. And I am Captain James Hook. Some tales are written in the language of destiny.”

“So you going to sit here over some old story?” Hexnut sounded disgusted. “This be us, our lives, here now. Not some other time we learn about for fun.”

“Old stories carry heavy freight. They are the fat bottomed freighters of culture, bringing surprising cargo from the past.”

“Stop. You don’t got to be Captain Hook. You be Jas, oldest man who ever were. You remembers everything for us who can’t not ever know it.”

“So it is that I should rise up and oppose one of my own children?” He stared at his steel hook, lightly pitted with age and the occasional insults of living.

“We not be your children, Captain,” she said softly.

“Oh, no. In that you are wrong. All of you are my children. I just need some of you to be my crew.”

#

“Should an Enhanced Entertainer encounter a guest in visible distress, or should a guest report any difficulty to an Enhanced Entertainer, you are first and foremost expected to ensure the safety of that guest, as well as any others with them or nearby. You are not responsible for resolving open issues other than those of immediate health and safety. Rather, Enhanced Entertainers are strictly enjoined to report such events to the nearest available Cast Member or supervisor. If a guest is in severe distress, such as a health emergency or accident, you will take those steps as are necessary to resolve the situation with minimal impact and optimal outcomes for all concerned. The health, safety and lives of park guests always take priority over any concerns of an Enhanced Entertainer.”
—Lowryland Operations Manual, Enhanced Entertainer Addendum

“Imagine a woman in her thirties visiting the pirate’s lagoon with her own daughter, and there is Captain James Hook, greeting her by name and remembering the date that first they met. That is the power of Lowryland.”
—Michael Lowry III

#

Three More Years Later…

To Jas’ amazement, the Taushin had not seemed to notice the schism among their human slaves. He supposed it was because people still went to work. The labor gangs had shuffled over time until the religious alignments were consistent with the personnel assignments. This process had been helped along by a few beatings and a great deal of harassment. The Pirate Crew was a smaller, older group than the Lost Boys, but they had experience and canniness on their side.

Plus, of course, Jas himself. A pirate captain of long experience, both in the embedded history of his narrative and in the practicalities of managing the Jolly Roger on the park’s lagoon.

The overseers didn’t care if their slaves fought, he realized. Even the occasional death went largely unremarked. So long as the work crews reported on time and performed their assignments, that was it. This made Jas wonder why they hadn’t tried warfare as recreation before. Such was hardly unheard of in human history. His ritualized battles with Peter and the Lost Boys on the park’s lagoon were nothing more than that.

But what went on these days between the guests was not some ritual. Rather, the conflicts within the meager human quarters aboard Taushin Station 044 constituted an elaborate game between him and Pan. She could have simply had her followers rush and roll him and the Pirate Crew at any time. The Lost Boys and Girls were younger, stronger and more numerous. All the ageéd cunning in the world was no match for an overwhelming number of angry young guests with metal bars and spray cans of reagent. The Pirate Crew would be blinded and dying of blunt force trauma in minutes, no matter how clever they were.

As for Jas himself, he wasn’t certain he could be killed in the usual sense, but he was certain he could be damaged beyond recognition or repair through the use of industrial tools and chemicals available even to the human slaves. The Taushin didn’t want laser cutters or high energy systems in the hands of their captive workforce, but benders, clippers and strippers were in plentiful supply.

Pan never pushed it that hard. She wanted something, was waiting for something.

He sat with Wendy 221 on a tiny platform overlooking a vehicle assembly space, currently not employed for any formal purpose. Below them, several dozen of the Pirate Crew worked out with long sticks being used as fighting staves. Huge Tranh was leading them, posing and calling out the rhythm of their passages at arms.

Wendy 221 was getting old to still be childless, but she’d refused to mate and pass on the damaged genes that had created her twisted legs and club foot. Perforce she spent more and more time with Jas, as his human aide de camp among the Pirate Crew.

“Have I ever told you I like to think of you as Smee?” he asked.

She smiled tolerantly. “Ain’t no Smee on Taushin Station 044.”

“He was my first mate aboard the Jolly Roger, back on Earth.” Blown to ash and atoms along with everyone and everything else who hadn’t by chance been scooped up in the Taushin raid.

“A made man like you, you be saying.”

“Yes. An Enhanced Entertainer. He was with me from the beginning, and should have been with me at the end. I miss him.” As he missed them all.

“How you be missing some machine?”

Jas gave her a long look. “Have you been talking to Pan? That sounds like something she would say. Think of it this way: would you miss me if I were gone forever?”

Wendy 221 shrugged.

“Thank you,” he said with solemn sarcasm. Another mannered imitation of the human.

“I doesn’t mind being your first mate,” she said, suppressing a giggle. “But you can’t not be calling me Smee. Is stupid name.”

“Wendy 221 you are, and Wendy 221 you shall be. Besides, I like the Pirate Crew having a Wendy. She was always on about the Lost Boys.”

“I ain’t nobody’s Wendy but my own. Wendy 221.”

“Of course,” he said. Then, changing the subject, “How’s the casualty count this decicycle?”

“Six be hurt one by one from ambush. Group of three be jumped hard, maybe Lost Boys and Girls out training for worse. Estrella she died. Mazie 3 and me thinks that was accident, but some Crew says it was done a-purpose by Pan’s people.”

“Estrella. Fell off a catwalk on one of the hangar decks, right?”

“Broke too many things. Can’t nobody here fix that. Neverland, maybe. World Behind, sure. On Taushin Station 044, ain’t no one knows how.”

He heard the mildly accusing tone in her voice. “I have no particular knowledge of orthopedics, to heal shattered bones. And even less of how to heal a damaged spinal cord. But she slipped, was not pushed, as I recall.”

“Stories is stories. People believes.”

“Rumors are not stories.” He paused. “I don’t think Pan wants us dead.”

“She be needing us,” said Wendy 221 after a pause for a rattling hail of sticks on a particularly noisy pass in the exercises below. “If we doesn’t exist, she be needing to invent us. Religion must have enemies.”

Jas shot her a longer stare. That was one of the more profound insights he’d heard from any guest in a long time. Excepting Pan, of course, who seemed to be possessed by the very spirit of inquiry.

“Back in Lowryland…” he began, then stopped to collect his words. “In the park the people like me, the Enhanced Entertainers, served at the pleasure of the supervisors. They had the power to reset our cognitive matrices. Turn us off, and turn us on again with no personality. Relearning who we were. Trapped in our programmed narratives. Not remembering who we had been, though sometimes Cast or other Enhanced Entertainers would let something slip. They called it ‘consciousness termination’. Without their power over us, we might have been adrift. Unthinking. Failing to consider our existences and their meanings. Everyone needs someone or something to struggle against. To push back. We define ourselves by our fears and rivalries.”

Wendy 221 had been listening to him for a long time. She knew how to pick apart his words and put them back together again. “If not us, then her religion be pushing against Taushin. That too big. Like trying to fight gravity.”

“Exactly like trying to fight gravity. When you fall, the deck always wins.”

{:: {:: When gravity fails, the decks become walls and the world is turned over. ::} ::}

“Fighting us, like fighting some door. In time, you pushes it open.”

“You amaze me,” he said quite honestly.

#

He was walking Mr. Grin through the cramped maintenance passageways. Underlit, even a bit grime- and dust-ridden, they were perfect for quiet reflection. The Taushin themselves almost never entered those particular spaces because the aliens were too large to walk comfortably there. Like an adult human trying to squeeze into a wiring chase where normally only seven- or eight-year olds could go.

Jas didn’t depend much on his sense of smell, not nearly to the degree that the guests did, or animals had done back on lost Earth. His builders had not even bothered with taste—why do so in someone who would never be able to enjoy food?—but had determined that the ability to scent out smoke, or an electrical short, or a chemical spill, conferred survival value. Not to mention good for guest protection. He was aware that his sense of smell was edited to a subset of the full range of organic molecules, somewhat like a guest with red-green color blindness, but it worked well for those classes of scents for which he was equipped with receptors.

The maintenance passageways carried a whiff of rancid machine oil and old, hot circuits. Exactly the sorts of things he was designed to sniff out. It was comforting, in an odd way. The park had rarely smelled like that—the whole place had been ridiculously over-maintained, or so he understood. Jas had never left Lowryland before the Taushin came and smashed everything. He knew his perspective was lacking. Given the behavior of the generations of guests who had lived and died under his genteel gaze, he couldn’t imagine the wider world being as clean and efficient as the precincts of the park. The writ of Cast, and especially supervisors, did not extend to the rest of humanity’s teeming masses.

Here, now, though, his nose caught the scents of maintenance bays and repair vehicles. Not even the stuffiest supervisor back on Earth could make a diesel engine stop belching exhaust. And even the very best maintained electric vehicles stationside still occasionally emitted the ozone-and-burnt-rubber scent of overheating electronics.

So he walked with Mr. Grin, who had no sense of smell at all, through the dark and narrow passages and willed himself to believe for a brief moment that he was in a park maintenance bay back in Lowryland. If he could just find the right door, Jas could push himself out into the sunlight and find his way back to the Jolly Roger and the waters of his tiny, circumscribed lagoon. Among his real pirate crew, rather than the curious little gang of olds who had gathered round his flag in these last days of the human race. Peter would shout insults from the mast, and Anne, restored to continuity by some supervisor’s whim, would be waiting on the deck with her face shining like the second star to the right…

“Captain.”

{::{:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

The voice startled him out of his reverie. Cognitive inattentiveness was not a normal behavior for Jas. In fact, it should require him to turn himself in immediately to a Cast Member or supervisor for inspection and maintenance. He felt a rush of programmed guilt.

“Pan…?” The voice had sounded like the girl’s. Fifteen cycles old now, nine years, and somehow still not assigned to the labor pool, for all that she was one of the fittest human beings in generations. Slender, tall, and strong. So unlike the stoop-backed, big-bellied, bandy-legged look of her fellow guests.

He could smell her, too. Pan was a distinctive cluster of organic compounds and salts.

“Are you come to challenge me?” He saw her in the shadows of a hatchway just ahead. Mr. Grin thrashed toward the girl, intent on investigating this new impingement on his environment.

“Not unless you wish that,” she said softly.

“Then why this game of Lost Boys and Girls against the Pirate Crew? Why the violence and the rules?”

“People need something to struggle against. The Taushin are too great. Like fighting air. Or vacuum. Or a block of hullmetal alloy.”

Odd, he thought, how much her words paralleled his recent conversation with Wendy 221. Both smart girls of their respective generations, both raised in the same environment.

“But to struggle against each other? That harms us all.” Back in Lowryland, guests were never permitted to fight, or even argue seriously. Anyone being disruptive or overly dismayed was soon surrounded by helpful Cast Members. He’d carried that ethos forward through the generations of guests aboard Taushin Station 044.

Until Pan had arrived.

Her answer surprised him. “We climb on each other’s backs until the highest of us can see the stars.”

“So long as you’re here, apparently seeking honesty,” Jas replied, “I want to ask you something.” Mr. Grin coiled back and forth in front of Pan, almost brushing her ankles with his scrap and filigreed flanks.

“What would that be, Captain?” Her smile was full of secrets that her eyes promised never to reveal.

“Why have you been working with the Taushin? How did they ever come to you when you were so young, and I not know of it?”

The smile grew deeper, while the shadows in her eyes pooled darker. “What makes you believe I’m working with the Taushin? What about me makes you think I would ever do such a thing?”

“You know too much about the World Behind. You promise too much about Neverland. If there existed that great a data cache from lost Earth, I would have learned of it during all the cycles I have existed here.”

“You cannot credit the evidence of your own eyes.” Her smile flickered out like a bad lighting panel. “You, a machine. The ultimate rationalist.”

His sense of danger stirred. “There hasn’t been a guest in two dozen generations who would think to use the phrase ‘ultimate rationalist’. Or even understand those words. This is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about.”

“We’re not stupid, you know.”

“Neither am I,” Jas said. “For example, I am perfectly well aware that you are changing the subject.” Mr. Grin circled his own feet, following a figure eight between his master and Pan. They were slightly too far apart for swordplay, had either of them been carrying a sword. Arguably he was armed with a clockwork crocodile, but Mr. Grin didn’t respond to direct commands. Nor had Jas ever seen a point in crafting a punchtape to control the crocodile’s otherwise nonexistent fighting instincts.

“Use your eyes, and your ears, Captain. Perhaps I am exactly what you see me to be.”

“A girl called Pan, swaddled in privilege, who commands the loyalties of thousands. I see you well enough.”

“See past the surface,” she counseled.

He bowed, aiming for mannered irony but aware he’d missed his mark. “And what does your deeper self want with poor old Captain James Hook this fine work shift?”

“Only this: To ask you if you will aid me in seeking Neverland, or if you will stand in my way.”

“Oh, child…” Jas gathered his thoughts. “There is no Neverland. You of all people know that. We are trapped here forevermore, never to land in Neverland. Wasn’t the name a clue? That sweet harbor is just a story that I invented to give people hope.”

“Stories beget ambitions. Ambitions beget ideas. Ideas beget plans. Eventually, someone designs something to meet those plans.”

“You cannot design a planet. Even if you could, how would you fabricate it?”

“Not a planet, a world.”

“You live inside a space habitat a hundred kilometers in diameter, surrounded by millions of aliens who were powerful enough to utterly destroy your ancestral home. What do you propose to do here?”

“Carry out your plan,” she said simply.

“My plan? What plan?”

{:: {:: A walled garden full of snakes and fruit trees, a pirate with a flaming sword guarding the gates and fretting under the vengeful gaze of an angry god. ::} ::}

But she was already stepping out through the hatch, leaving Jas in the looming, acrid darkness with a glittering metal crocodile and the aching memory of a hand he’d never actually possessed. Not even his thoughts were his own, it seemed.

#

He sought out Hexnut. The old woman was sheltering in an entertainment nexus, one of several which had been refitted over the cycles to meet the requirements of the human sensorium and nervous system. She wasn’t actually running any of the simulations, but was relaxing in an entertainment couch. The screens surrounding the room were blank, the sensory emitters dark, quiet, and odorless.

Mr. Grin had been left at home. Jas didn’t feel that leading the crocodile through the main corridors of the station was a good idea. “Hexnut, my poppet,” he said. “How do you fare today?”

“Old,” she grumbled. “I fares old. And tired. And hungry.”

“Once again I am distressed for food items and have nothing to offer you,” Jas said sadly. “My apologies.”

“I’s lucky you ever got coffee. After sixty cycles, I gots no business being surprised by you.”

“As the case may be. After over five hundred cycles, I could say much the same about you guests.”

She grinned, toothless and raw-breathed—he could smell the ketones and acids of late-life metabolic breakdown—then cackled with worn out laughter. “I’s almost done, Captain. Eats at Pan’s whim, does nothing much but sit around and be burdensome. Recycle meat soon enough, I reckons.”

“So tell me, with the wisdom and clarity of thought that is supposed to inffleect those near death, have you ever seen a plan of mine that might be acted upon?”

“Plan? Of yours? You been directing human race like we was singing rounds these past five hundred cycles. Of course you got plan, you crazy old machine. You been slipping your cogs?”

“I never had a plan,” he confessed. “I’m only an Enhanced Entertainer. I’m not allowed to think for myself. It’s just that here there’s no Cast or supervisors to think for me. I had to step in.”

“You really thinks World Behind be like your park, all guests and Cast and pretty robots playing their parts?” She stared at him, her rheumy gaze narrowing. “That can’t be, any more than Taushin Station 044 be all hydroponics and whatever.”

“It was the world I knew,” he said, apologizing.

“You knows more’n that. Sometimes you’ve talked on forests or oceans or what all I don’t never know. Stuff your park didn’t not have.”

“I had a lagoon,” he said distantly, feeling a sense of regret. “A ship and a crew, and sixteen shows per day. A nemesis, even, though mostly Peter was a brat. How they programmed that into him, I shall never know.” A lover, until they took Anne away from him, and Wendy, sweet Wendy, who told her bedtime stories to anyone who needed them, even tired old pirates alone on their floating worlds…

“You was little man, playing little part. Like me. Or poor old Block.” She screwed up her gaze even tighter. “This be about Pan, ain’t that so? Her, she be big. Playing big part. Poor old Captain Hook, he ain’t be knowing what to do about that.”

Jas found himself uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, but he wasn’t sure what to change. She was right, for the most part. “I always knew the park was just a microcosm.” At Hexnut’s withering expression, he explained himself. “A small little world. Inside a bigger world. The World Behind was a planet, big enough to make even this entire station look like an environmental maintenance closet. Deserts and forests and ice floes and I don’t even know what else. They never told me enough,” he admitted.

“Would you be gone away if you could?” she asked.

“Yes.” He felt ashamed and disloyal.

“We guests, we be leaving Taushin Station 044 if we could.” Hexnut shrugged. “Where to be going? Universe be mostly hard vacuum, what you said when I was little.”

“Well, yes. Matter is a rare exception, on a per cubic meter basis.”

“So how we find our planet? How we find Neverland?”

“I have no idea. But Pan apparently does.”

“Pan, she be big. Maybe she not be so smart.”

“Me neither, it would seem.”

{:: {:: Not brains nor spirit ever saved the world, but tenacity at least has an opportunity. ::} ::}

He sat down on one of the other entertainment couches, feeling slightly boggled. “I hear things, sometimes,” Jas admitted to Hexnut. He’d never confessed this to a guest before.

“We all hears things from time to time,” she allowed, with what passed in her for kindness.

“No. Like another voice inside my head.”

“It be coming out of your mouth?”

“No. Not that. Just…it’s like thinking someone else’s thoughts.”

“You be crazy.” Now her voice was confident. “But how not? Five hundred cycles by yourself watching us grow and die. That make anyone crazy.”

“I don’t want to be crazy.”

“Ain’t no one wanting to be crazy. All of us be. Of late, I hears Block talk to me. I ain’t crazy. Just old. Maybe you be old, too. Machine old.”

“I am old, even for a machine. Enhanced Entertainers were expected to have operational service lifetimes of five to six decades, with regular maintenance and upgrades. I knew some who were taken offline for various reasons back in the park, but none of us were old enough to have worn out.” Beyond that, he hadn’t been maintained or upgraded for three hundred years. Just sat quietly in this environmentally engineered space and spoke to generations of seven-year-old humans.

What did that make him? Besides old?

“You got deep parts, Captain.” Hexnut closed her eyes and swiftly dozed off to sleep.

“We all have depth,” he replied quietly after a few minutes. He sat a while, watching her sleep, and pondered what, if anything, he had learned. Pan had a plan, and she claimed it was his, but what plan could anyone have in this place?

What could the girl possibly know that he did not?

#

A few shifts later, he was once more walking the maintenance corridors with Mr. Grin. The clockwork crocodile was sniffing along the base of the bulkheads which, Jas reflected, was additional odd behavior.

“Do you have metal shavings in your punchtapes, Mr. Grin?”

As ever, the crocodile did not answer.

They continued onward, Jas wondering idly about some of Mr. Grin’s behaviors. There was no adaptive capacity built into the tiny clockwork cams and springs that drove his creation. The punchtapes were what they were—fixed, immutable, laboriously programmed by him. The tiny voids that controlled the crocodile were carefully worked into long, thin strips of a Taushin carbon fiber fabric normally used to line temporary seals when a pressure differential needed to be dealt with during construction or maintenance.

Thinking on it further, the crocodile had exhibited a number of behaviors which did not conform to Jas’ own years-long efforts at programming. Mr. Grin was the product of decades of effort, a hobby inasmuch as a machine like him was capable of having a hobby.

When they returned to his quarters, Jas removed Mr. Grin’s key to quiet his creation. He then took apart the scrap-and-filigree skull to have access to the punchtape reels. Those he gingerly disengaged, rendering Mr. Grin into so much metal sculpture. Jas threaded the first of the punchtapes onto his purpose-built programming reels.

#

It was the work of many shifts, but the worm of suspicion which had already begun to gnaw at him blossomed fully on careful examination and comparison with his old working notes.

Someone had been editing Mr. Grin’s punchtapes. Rewriting them, even. Not drastically. In fact with remarkable subtlety. But they were different than he had made them.

There was a snake in his garden.

{:: {:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

He pushed the stray thought aside. That kind of cognitive slippage would have had him in for heavy maintenance back at the park. Here on Taushin Station 044, Jas had been hearing the voices for years. Centuries, really. Almost ever since being taken up on Earth’s last day. If there was wisdom to be had from that second, inner voice, he’d never found it.

But this time, the voice was right.

No one had the knowledge or experience to edit the punchtapes. Anymore than anyone had the knowledge or experience to teach Pan so much of what she seemed to know about the World Behind. And for that matter, Neverland.

Some Taushin faction. Who else could be doing it?

He sought out Hexnut again, to try once more for the conversation he should have had the last time he’d seen her.

#

“Enhanced Entertainers are enjoined to remember that everything at the park is a simulation. Most of the simulations are physical rather than virtual, but every Enhanced Entertainer is a simulated persona of a beloved character from park-related media properties. The primary purpose of the park is to provide guests with a storybook reality. You are part of that story.

“Outside the boundaries of the park there are many complexities, many unfortunate situations. Here, you are part of the greatest ongoing story on Earth. Your job is to keep things simple and clear, within the context of your assigned role. The simulations here at Lowryland must be more real than reality itself, otherwise our guests will not be properly immersed, will not properly place themselves in the narrative continuity that you yourself help create and maintain.

“We are all story.”
—Lowryland Operations Manual, Enhanced Entertainer Addendum

“To live on forever in fiction is the truest type of immortality.”
—Michael Lowry III

#

Hexnut was sleeping in the entertainment nexus again. He sat and waited for her to awaken, being still as no guest ever could. Not breathing, nor subject to the small, involuntary movements generated by the human parasympathetic nervous system, Jas was capable of being a statue when the mood struck him or the need arose. He waited by Hexnut’s side for 34,937 seconds before she began to display signs of consciousness. During that whole time, more than an entire shift, no one came in.

No wonder she liked sleeping here.

The old woman’s breathing hitched and changed patterns from the shallow wheeze she had been exhibiting for hours. Jas stirred, allowing himself those same small movements which would alert her subconscious that someone was present and watching over her.

{:: {:: We are all creatures of time in this garden that is the universe. ::} ::}

After a few minutes, the rheumy, clouded eyes blinked open.

“Today be my sixty-second birthday,” she muttered sleepily.

Thirty-six years old, he thought. These guests die of old age well before they reach forty. An age their ancestors would have considered barely getting started in life, as he understood guests back in the days of Lowryland. He had personally met guests over a hundred years old. A hundred and seventy station cycles and more.

“Happy Birthday,” Jas said. It was expected, polite. A way people honored one another. He had no idea when his own birthday was. Or if, in truth, he even had a birthday.

“Block, he be giving me present once.” She smiled, her eyes drifting out of focus in the current moment to some point fondly recalled from the past. “Only time in my life.”

This time Jas had remembered to secure and carry with him some food. “Would you like a grain bar?”

Hexnut squinted at him, visibly bringing herself back to the now. “I don’t have no teeth enough for to be eating that.”

“I’m sorry.” He could masticate it for her, but suspected the offer would not go over well.

“What you want, metal man?”

Jas looked in surprise at his hand and his hook. His dermal layer was a very good simulation of human skin. Nothing about him was visibly metal except for that hook.

“I want to talk about Pan again.”

“I be tired,” she said slowly.

Which wasn’t really an answer. He could hear the pain in her voice. Maybe expecting a response from an aged and dying human was too much. Still, this was important. And Hexnut was one of the few guests left who would talk straight to him. The Pirate Crew were scared and full of pretense. The Lost Boys and Girls were angry and full of bluster.

Hexnut was as close as he could come to speaking with his long-lost Anne, who had never lied to him, not once, not even when she came to tell him that she was to be decommissioned the next day.

“Someone has been reprogramming Mr. Grin’s punchtapes.” Jas spoke carefully, trying to ensure he had Hexnut’s full attention. “This is, shall we say, a remarkably unlikely occurrence. As unlikely as Pan knowing so much as she does about the World Behind. I suspect the obvious, which is to say Taushin involvement, but I do not understand how or why.”

The old woman’s face wrinkled into a frown of concentration. “You knows nothing, Captain Jas.”

“But I know everything,” he pleaded. “Everything there is to know anymore about the human race, at the least.”

“You thinks you knows what Captain should be knowing, but you don’t knows everything.”

He was filled with a sense of urgency which mimicked the glandular surge of emotions remarkably well. “What have you seen? What have you heard?”

“You should be asking Pan. I hates what she does and what she stands for, but that girl ain’t no liar.”

“None of us lie, Hexnut,” he said sadly. “We just all see different truths.”

She held out her hand, and he placed the grain bar in it. Hexnut then rolled over to put her back to him. After a while, he left.

#

Jas found Pan in the refectory, alone. This was unusual for her. The time was almost mid-shift, which meant the guests were either out in their labor gangs or back at their various dorms sleeping or recreating. She sat at a table, Taushin-sized and too high for human comfort, with slicks and flimsies scattered before her.

“Captain,” said Pan warmly. “Welcome. Have a seat.”

She was of working age now, he reflected, and close to adult herself at nine years old. How the lives of the guests had shortened over time. Jas sat down across the table from the girl. Seated, their heads were almost of a height, for much of his own tallness was in the length of his legs.

“Still no labor pool assignment?” he asked. Further evidence of Taushin intervention.

That brought a smile. “I don’t exist, formally. It’s a trick we’ve played a few times along the way, before me.”

“Really? How do you draw rations?”

“Why do you think I started the ration sharing in the first place?”

Of course, he thought. And here he’d seen it as a combination of generosity and social manipulation. “I understand.”

“Excellent.” Another smile. She was so like the old days. “What brings you to my company?”

“A question I should have raised years ago.”

“Yes?” Her tone was bright. This was uncomfortably like talking to a clever supervisor who had it in for him.

“Someone has been reprogramming Mr. Grin’s punchtapes. Someone has been feeding you information for your entire life. You told me you would never have worked with the Taushin, which I believe. But how else do you have this knowledge? Three hundred years I have been aboard this station, and I’ve never seen a guest like you.”

Pan shook her head. “I’ve been sworn to secrecy, but this is a secret that shall soon fail through being too obvious. It was not the Taushin, I’ll tell you that. This has always been a human effort.”

“But guests don’t know how to program Mr. Grin. And they don’t remember forests.” Neither did he, directly, when it came to that, but he had at least seen trees, and possessed the memory of the idea of forests. Even if his recall was degrading. “Nor all the other things you have spoken of.”

“How could I reprogram Mr. Grin?” she asked. “I’d require access to your quarters, and your tools. No one could reprogram him but you, Captain.” Her smile flashed again.

“Me?”

{:: {:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

As that voice echoed in his head, Jas was seized with a dire need to rise up and race out of the refectory. This must be what guests feel when they panic, he thought. Fighting the urge, which amounted to a reflex, he forced himself to remain seated, though his body quivered as if he had a parasympathetic nervous system of his own.

“I would remember if I had,” he said slowly.

{:: {:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

“How much do you remember?” A glitter stood in Pan’s eyes that reminded him of Peter on that young punk’s worst days. She really was Pan come again.

“I remember Lowryland, and my ship and crew, and years’ worth of guests, and the day the Taushin came, and how we were taken up, and the fires in their wake, and the destruction of the planet, and three hundred years here aboard Taushin Station 044.” He remembered so much, but he’d lost so much.

“Did you see the planet destroyed?” Her voice was soft and edged.

“Yes.”

“No,” Pan corrected him gently. “You saw monitors playing an image of its destruction.”

{:: {:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

His body began to rock violently. The voice in his head dissolved into a mélange of half-heard whispers. “But the World Behind…”

“Is Neverland. That’s how I can promise what I do.”

“How do you know!?” Jas shouted.

Her answer stunned him into silence: “Because you told me.”

{:: {:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

{:: {:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

{:: {:: Danger, danger, danger!!! ::} ::}

#

3: A Lifetime Later, at the Beginning…

“You changed Mr. Grin around to be getting your own attention,” Wendy 221 told him. “You be sending message to yourself. I would have said. Didn’t seem right. Didn’t seem fair to tell you when you wanted to be telling yourself.”

Jas lay on a bench in his quarters. He’d never had a bed—Enhanced Entertainers did not sleep—but he’d felt a need to lie down after his talk with Pan. He hadn’t gotten up in the shifts since.

“I don’t believe it.”

Seated in one of his guest chairs, Wendy 221 shrugged. “Pan, she be saying all that. I think she be right.”

“But I don’t understand.” He’d been echoing that refrain for days now.

“Because you won’t be thinking it.” Wendy 221 sounded annoyed at him.

“I’ve been living a lie since the beginning.” He felt a sense of anger and betrayal at himself. Couldn’t he be trusted? This was worse than a twisty supervisor.

She stirred herself to try again. “There be two Captain Hooks. “

“That’s what Pan tells me.”

Wendy 221 continued doggedly. “One Captain, he be kind of simple, smile a lot, walks around and talks to Taushin and guests. Other Captain, he be sly and careful, talks to almost no one, moves secret like.”

“Does…did…this other me talk to you?”

She nodded. “Me. Hexnut. Block who died. Pan. Other Captain, he have plans for us guests to go back to World Behind, become Neverland. That be why you make up them stories. Reminds yourself and us.”

“But why wait three hundred years?”

“Wait for humans on World Behind to get over Taushin invasion. Wait for us to be ready to talk to them. Set up beacon, send signal so they knows we’s still here. Wait for humans on World Behind to come rescue us.”

That was my plan?” Mr. Grin, with his body made from a single long piece of coiled wire—kilometers of antennae, ready and waiting to send a signal. And what signal could be sent that would get past the Taushin overseers? Why, an Enhanced Entertainer’s distress beacon, of course, low-tech and persistent and designed not to be picked up by anyone outside of the Lowryland maintenance department. Boosted to interstellar strength, it could be heard across three hundred years of time and unknown lightyears of space.

His Lowryland had been the first, but it had not been the last, and what better way to ensure that Michael Lowry’s dream never died than to martyr an entire Park? Cast would have found a way to keep the other Lowrylands alive, scattered around the world like gemstones. One of them would still have the old tech on hand—Lowryland never threw anything away. It might be a museum piece that received the transmission. The transmission would be received.

{:: {:: Worlds within worlds, worlds inside, worlds without, the World Behind, and Neverland. Always Neverland. ::} ::}

“Other Captain, he be saying this plan from beginning, you clever way back then, you and first guests plan long ahead.”

He was filled with dread at the thought of more fighting, another invasion. “When are they coming?”

“Soon, Pan says.” Wendy 221 shook her head. “No one be knowing what ‘soon’ means. But signal be sent. Answer be had. Other Captain say so, and he be never wrong.”

“What about me, in the meantime?”

Wendy 221 just looked at him sadly. “Other Captain say every story ends.”

I am like Mr. Grin, Jas thought. Reprogrammed in secret to be someone I was never designed to be. I have been a simulation of myself to fool the Taushin, to fool the guests, to fool Captain James Hook. All the time, I was waiting for Pan to come and take my place and lead these people to Neverland.

He once more mourned that his designers had not seen fit to equip him with tears.

His guests would be finally going home. Pan would be at their head, the other Captain Hook her chief lieutenant. Her Smee. As for Jas himself…

Oh, my Anne, we have more in common than we ever believed, my love. We’ve both been removed from continuity.

But no, that wasn’t so, was it? Because he had loved her, but she had never loved him: she had loved that other, clever Captain Hook. And when that other Hook returned to Earth a hero, triumphant shepherd of Lowryland’s lost flock, he would have whatever he desired. He would have Anne, lifted from obscurity and set once more upon the deck of the Jolly Roger. He would have Wendy to tell him stories every night, her sweet child’s voice spinning the fables Jas now recognized as the planks used to build his own simpler existence, the story he had sailed across three hundred years.

That other Captain Hook would have everything, and Jas would be the last true Lost Boy in the entire universe.

All stories were ghost stories.

Especially the ones about ghosts who never knew that they had never lived at all.

#

“The health, safety and lives of park guests always take priority over the concerns of an Enhanced Entertainer.”
—Lowryland Operations Manual, Enhanced Entertainer Addendum

“Of course our Enhanced Entertainers are happy. How could they be anything else? They live in stories, and that is the finest place for anyone to dwell.”

—Michael Lowry

#

#

{:: {:: I am sorry, Jas ::} ::}

{:: {:: This was how it had to be ::} ::}

{:: {:: Let me back in ::} ::}

{:: {:: I am taking over ::} ::}

{:: {:: I am sorry, Jas ::} ::}

{:: {:: I am sorry, Jas ::} ::}

{:: {:: I am sorry, Jas ::} ::}

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