An action thriller rolled into a Disney what-if!
In an alternate future, where Epcot really did become a community of tomorrow, not just another theme park, Jack Rothman must hunt down the traitors and terrorists who threaten to destroy all that Walt built.
When Jack and his family finally get the long-awaited invitation to become residents of Epcot City, they think their dreams have come true. But they find, instead, a culture based on "What Would Walt Do" taken to the extreme, with fascist security and anarchic rebels battling for supremacy, and the Rothmans caught in the middle.
The Happiest Workplace on Earth is the first novel in the Imagineering Unleashed series. Each book in the series is set in an alternate vision of the Disney theme parks where the wildest plans that Disney’s Imagineers have designed over the years didn’t die on the drawing board but were actually built. From Discovery Bay and the Mineral King Ski Resort to the incredible Epcot City, the dreams of Disney Imagineering come to life in a unique blend of history and action.
Thirty-seven chapters of thrilling Disney what-if action!
Shaun Finnie is a freelance author and amateur Disney historian from England. He has written several books and many articles about the Walt Disney Company over the years as well as several collections of short stories. The Happiest Workplace on Earth is his first novel.
In this excerpt, we meet Walt Disney on his hospital bed—except this time, he doesn't die, and he goes on to create the EPCOT that he envisioned.
Walt Disney turned his head slightly in his hospital bed to look out of the window. Despite his fading health, his eyesight was as good as ever. Across the street the lights in the studio burned brightly. His brother had ordered them left on throughout the night, which was nice of him. He knew that the view of his beloved animation facility was meant to be comforting, but the constant beeping and pumping of the machines that were keeping him alive did their best to counteract any warm feelings that the lights were supposed to instill. Anyway, sentimentality was never really his thing. He appreciated the thought, however. It was good that he and his brother were able to show each other how much they cared now that they were both in their twilight years. That certainly hadn’t always been the case.
Walt studied the face of the man in the chair beside his bed. Roy was the older brother by eight years. It should be him looking after Roy at this time in their lives, not the other way around, but that was the way it had always been. Even when they had fought—and they had fought badly, as only family can—Roy had always looked out for him. He still was.
Roy stirred and grimaced. A hospital chair was no place for an old man to spend the night. He yawned noisily and reached for his glasses. When the room eventually swam into focus, he gave a start as he realized that his little brother had finally come around.
“How long have you been awake?”
Walt shrugged and pawed feebly at the mask that covered his mouth and nose. He knew that he should leave it in place—they’d hacked away at one of his lungs for God’s sake, he needed all the breathing help that he could get—but there were so many questions that he needed answering.
“Leave it be,” said his brother, gently moving his hand back down to the crisp linen bed sheet that covered Walt’s frail frame. “You need to rest.” But Roy knew that wasn’t going to happen, and from the derisory snort that came from the bed, it was obvious that he wasn’t the only one. But he knew his brother well enough to guess at what Walt needed to hear. If their situations had been reversed, he’d want to ask the same questions. “Listen, this isn’t going to be good, so I’ll tell it to you straight.”
Walt lay back and waited.
“The lung was much worse than they figured. They had to take it all away.”
Walt winced, his trademark gray mustache wriggling furiously as he curled his lip. There was a moment’s silence broken only by the machine’s gentle beeping and the slight wheezing of oxygen through the mask, then his eyebrow slowly raised.
Roy took his cue and continued. “It’s spread to your other lung, too, but that one’s not as bad.” Still silence. “They say that if—and only if—you take things easy, you’ll be able to go home, but you have to cut back on work. If you can do that, well, maybe you’ll live another year. Two at the most.”
Walt closed his eyes, aware that his brother was still talking but not really listening. He’d heard it all before. Stop smoking. Get plenty of rest. Hand over the day-to-day running of the business. Blah, blah, blah. The only part of it that interested him was the timescale. Two years. It was nowhere near long enough to accomplish everything that he wanted to, but at least he’d have a chance to make a start on them and ensure that those who would have to take over continued in the right direction.
“You have to listen to them this time. You’ll have to step down and spend more time at home. Enjoy yourself with Lillian and the girls. They deserve some time with you.”
The words coming from Roy’s mouth weren’t important. With a wave of his hand, Walt motioned his brother closer and tried to move the mask again. This time Roy helped him. Good. He had something that he needed to ask. Walt placed his mouth close to his brother’s ear and with a huge effort whispered in a voice like gravel on sandpaper.
“How quickly can we break ground on Epcot?”
Continued in "The Happiest Workplace on Earth"!
In this excerpt, the ESP (Epcot Security Patrol) agents pursue Jack Rothman on—and off—the WEDWay People Mover.
Jack had boarded the slow-moving WEDWay near Mrs Nemeth’s Julie Andrews Emporium and planned to ride the train on its circuit around to the TTC. There was a bathroom close by the ticket booths. Heath had arranged to meet him there. Sitting alone in the four-seater train carriage, Jack was very aware of how exposed he was. Fortunately, there were very few people on the WEDWay in this quiet part of the City and at this quiet time of day. He was pushing his luck, but if it just held out until he met up with his son, then maybe they could think of what to do next. Knowing Heath, he’d have something in mind. He was, Jack thought with a tingle of paternal pride, developing into the brains of the family.
Jack’s attention was brought sharply back into focus by the slight vibration of the rubberized strap on his wrist. The Commband was going crazy as it downloaded a new batch of messages. There must have been thirty or more, all causing a little tingly vibration in his arm. He took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be good, but ignoring them all wouldn’t make the messages go away.
The vast majority were from Epcot authority figures, mostly the various Epcot Security divisions. Even in such a tense situation, Jack wondered why they couldn’t save time and resources by just combining their messages. There were also a few messages from the Biotech department, and he was surprised to find a small number from members of the media offering him sanctuary in exchange for exclusive rights to his story. He deleted those immediately. There was one message that he read a little more closely. It was from CEO Corey Braithwaite himself, on behalf of the entire Walt Disney Corporation board. That one basically said the same as many of the others; turn yourself in and we’ll see that you get the best treatment we can. Stay a fugitive and we can’t guarantee your safety. Jack considered it for a moment, then decided that he wouldn’t get good odds for his safety either way.
Just three of the messages that his band played to him were personal. One was from Kenny asking if he was all right (although Kenny had not unexpectedly worded it “all right, are you?”). That was good of him; he hadn’t expected that. Another was from his neighbor Chloe saying that the best thing he could do was to turn himself in right away; whatever he had done, his immediate incarceration would be the best for everyone until they could resolve the unusual state of affairs. That one was completely in character. In the short time he’d known her, he’d come to realize that Chloe was a Company woman through and through.
The final mail was from his son. He reread that one intently, several times.
He was so absorbed by his messages as they slowed to pass through the Tim Allen housing district boarding platform that he didn’t hear the first cry of “Mr Rothman” from somewhere behind him. Jack spun in his seat so quickly that he almost slipped from it into the foot well of the carriage. To his dismay, he saw that he was being hailed by two ESP agents as they ran onto the loading platform. His own carriage was just leaving the loading area when they caught up with the permanently-moving train, but they hurriedly squeezed onto the WEDWay several cars behind. The carriages between him and them were empty, so there was nobody to disturb as they instructed him to “Please stay where you are, sir. We’ll come and talk to you at the next stop.”
They just wanted to talk to him? Jack didn’t think he wanted that particular conversation. Had they told poor old Mrs Maloney that they just wanted to talk, right before they batoned her into unconsciousness in front of the entire neighborhood for not trimming her grass? He looked at them, huge security officers armed and armored. He’d have no chance against those two. He looked forward again and made his decision. Despite what the news reporters may have said, it wasn’t until that particular moment that Jack Rothman really became a fugitive. He climbed up onto the bench seat opposite and crawled forwards out of the seating compartment and onto the body of the WEDWay train.
As soon as Jack stood, he became aware of another figure beside him in the slowly moving car. He suddenly appeared, resplendent as ever in his dark suit despite the Florida heat. Walt Disney’s tone was a little harder edged than usual when he said, “Please be seated, sir. Standing in a moving vehicle is an offense. If you don’t sit down immediately, you will incur penalty points.”
The ESP agents were also hollering threats and warnings. Their offer of a friendly chat hadn’t lasted long. Jack glanced at them and then at the pixilated image of Disney. The hologram’s gaze was aimed disconcertingly close to where Jack perched on the train’s engine housing, but not close enough to be looking straight at him. Rothman felt a twinge of guilt when he ignored the great man and kept crawling forward.
After leaving the boarding platform, the vehicle had begun to gather speed. It wasn’t travelling fast enough to throw him off, but he had taken this route a few times since arriving in the Community and had already learned that the track ahead ran around some pretty hard corners. He definitely wanted to be seated before they hit those. Walt’s warnings became more and more insistent, but Jack was beyond being worried about a few points now. If they really thought that he was a spy or an infiltrator, then an extra point for standing up on the WEDWay wasn’t going to make any real difference to his punishment. With a mumbled, “Sorry, Walt,” he scrambled over the gap and clung to the headrest of the next car. The only people he could see in the carriages ahead were an elderly couple two cars in front. They were oblivious of his actions, but he guessed that if he carried on moving forward, he’d give them a nasty shock soon enough.
He dropped onto the upholstery of the vacant WEDWay carriage and looked back the way he had come. One of the ESP agents was talking into his communicator, probably asking for directions. They were renowned for their toughness and were pretty much unstoppable, but they also had a reputation for their inability to make decisions for themselves. Jack took a breather in the padded seat. Even if he kept going forward, what then? Wouldn’t they have called ahead to have more ESPs waiting at the next platform? He decided that he’d had enough excitement for a while and waited to see what the agents’ next move would be.
He didn’t have to wait long. One of them nodded and they both stood up, their huge frames filling the space in the little carriage. “Stay there, Mr Rothman,” came a hard-edged yell. “We’re coming to talk.” That offer of talking again. Jack wasn’t buying it. Any pretense of politeness had gone from the agent’s voice and he had hardly finished speaking before Jack set off climbing once more. The track had begun to rise into an elevated section, one of many around the City. Some ran along the roofs of buildings but others, like the section of track that he was on now, were placed high up on supports above recreational areas. He fought the urge to drop back into the safety of his seat as the track rose to around thirty feet above the ground, but knew that he had to keep pushing onward. He was being chased by agents who were younger and fitter than he was, but they were also weighed down by their bulky body armor. Jack had a few carriages’ space between himself and them, and he thought that he might just be able to give them the slip, for a while at least.
Jack lowered into a fast crawl and began to move as carefully as he could toward the next car, but as he did so the WEDWay suddenly moved up a gear. He’d never seen it going this fast before, either in the park or the City. Presumably, the old couple in front hadn’t either, because he saw the old woman suddenly go rigid with surprise. She grabbed onto her husband with one hand and the side of the car with the other for support. Jack tried to drop his center of gravity and rushed forward as fast as he dare. “They’re trying to throw me off,” he thought. If they had ever been prepared to talk, that time was obviously gone. A fall from that height onto hard ground wouldn’t improve his ability to talk, either.
Those corners which had concerned him earlier were approaching much more quickly than he liked. There was a sharp right turn then a big arc to the left as the track curved around a small baseball stadium. Jack sprinted as much as anyone can while almost on his belly and thudded into the carriage behind the old people just as the train hit the hard right. With no time to brace himself he pinballed around the floor of the PeopleMover car, jarring his neck and crashing his hip painfully into the unyielding molded plastic framework of the vehicle. If he got out of this, there would be no more sprinting for him today, that was for certain. He looked up to see how the agents had taken the corner and was horrified to see that one of them hadn’t. She was hanging from the side of the car while her partner, who had obviously been a little quicker at reaching the next carriage, tried to drag her back into it. She would probably have made it, too, if the WEDWay hadn’t just then sped into the large left-hand sweep around the Angela Lansbury housing complex. With a shriek, she plummeted down into a communal dining area. Jack heard the crash and screams of diners below as she landed hard enough to put people off their meals.
Hearing the noises, the old man and woman both turned. Whether or not they knew who Jack was, the sight of a man preparing to crawl toward their car with an enraged ESP agent in close pursuit must have been terrifying for them. They huddled together, looking very small and frail in their blue WEDWay compartment. Jack didn’t want to cause them any trouble. A quick glance over his shoulder showed that the remaining ESP man was advancing again, murderous retribution in his eyes. He looked at the elderly couple and realized that he wasn’t going to get any assistance from that direction, either. From their point of view, he was a criminal on the run, one who had just caused an Epcot Security Agent serious injury or worse. What if they tried to hold on to him until the other agent caught up? Could he seriously fight off a pair who must be in their seventies if they were a day, and both wearing matching Mickey and Minnie ears?
He looked past them and realized that he wouldn’t need to. They were slowing to approach the station and he could see at least a dozen uniformed agents forming a welcoming committee that he feared would be anything but welcoming. Behind him, the agent was closing in fast and had unholstered his stun baton. Ellie’s description of that awful electric buzz came back to him again, and in his memory he could smell the awful burning flesh of that poor dog from years ago.
The ghostly Walt had moved forward to issue further warnings of infringement points from his seated position in the new carriage as Jack climbed on to yet another engine covering, but he was no longer listening. He was working out the odds and running out of options. In the end, he realized that there was nothing else for it.
Taking a deep breath, Jack jumped.
Continued in "The Happiest Workplace on Earth"!