These Dreams of You
Chip Swag was celebrating his independence. He was stretched out in a big Roman tub that filled half the bathroom in his VIP suite at the Sun Spot Towers and Casino, entertaining various decadent scenarios in his mind. What would he do after he signed the papers? Treat himself to a seven course meal at the finest bistro in town? Visit an exclusive gentlemen's’ club and max out his Gold card on lap dances and Long Island Teas? Hell, if he wanted, he could even rent a limo and a luscious babe and cruise up and down the strip ‘til the tires fell off. But one thing was certain, by two o’clock that afternoon he would be rich. Not only rich, but, more importantly, he would be an individual, a remarkable one. It was now just a matter of signing on the dotted line.
In exactly one hour, Swag would meet with the vp of business development from ICBM, the largest manufacturer of PCs in the world and close a deal that would put his name on the list of the wealthiest people in the nation. He was about to receive a paycheck worth fifty-five million dollars. And in Swag’s opinion, he’d earned every penny.
When he first began to develop the idea for his unique operating system, Swag had run into all kinds of opposition. People told him he was crazy for even thinking he could compete with the big guys. "Functionality, marketability, and ease of use are all irrelevant," one associate had told him, "the big guys will find a way to squeeze you out." When he’d pitched his idea to the ‘venture capital vultures’, they squawked at him and told him they weren’t in the practice of flushing money down the toilet for sheer amusement. Once he’d managed to raise a little money and actually begin the design process, he’d had trouble hiring engineers to work on the project. They thought he was crazy. The intricacies and complexities associated with that caliber of coding could never be accomplished. One of them had even laughed in his face and told Swag he had a ‘brain full of bad clusters.’ But what they didn’t know was that Swag was a visionary. He’d seen the process from start to finish in his mind, worked out exactly how it could be accomplished, and now, he’d done it.
Swag had spent the past two years working day and night on the Vox 3000. He and his group of eight code hounds, now on the verge of becoming millionaires themselves, put everything they had into the system. It had true multi-tasking capabilities that were as good as anything on the market, and all of the other state of the art features. But Swag’s system had something extra. Something that made an ICBM representative declare, upon seeing the system for the first time, "Holy shit! Every kid in America’s gonna be begging their parents for one of these!"
That something extra was a voice-interactive graphic user interface that actually worked. And worked good. The Vox 3000 allowed the user to easily codify his/her unique vocal patterns for recognition by the system. The user could then use vocal commands for any task. But the really unique feature of the system was the interactive icons. Instead of symbols, Vox featured cartoon characters that actually responded to verbal commands. From a child’s point of view, it was as if there were little people inside the monitor running around performing tasks for them. The cartoon icons could be manipulated, changed, or even created by the user and their voices could be made to mimic any voice - from Marylyn Monroe to Howard Cosell. Swag had even added full-blown multi-media cartoon segways that preceded the opening of an application or file, which could be altered or created as well. The icon for the file manager was a cartoon of a little old librarian with messy hair and over-sized glasses. When commanded to retrieve a file she went sashaying down aisles of bookshelves, making little endearing comments as she searched. VOX 3000 was incredible. It was Swag's baby, and he was about to deliver it.
The vp at ICBM had declared it ‘a work of mad genius’. They had agreed on all the details of the contract a month prior and Swag had been instructed that final negotiations and sign-off would be wrapped up in Vegas at the Annual Computer Industry Exhibition.
Swag exited the big Roman tub and began drying himself, while visions of flirtatious flight attendants danced in his head. His suite was completely decked out, with gold sinks and faucets and emerald green tile. There was even a bidet. He told himself he would have to get use to living in such style. As he was toweling off, bent down by the faucet and knobs of the Roman tub, his eyes involuntarily read the name of the manufacturer that was engraved at the base. Boro. Swag was good at remembering the names of brands and manufacturers. He prided himself in knowing the name of every computer part manufacturer, even the obscure ones. Boro. He’d always thought Boro made weed-whackers. Maybe he’d purchase their faucets when he bought his mansion. It would be only the best for Swag from here on out.
As Swag was getting dressed, the Vox 3000 system he’d set up in the room alerted him to the fact that he had an incoming call by whispering in a deep sexy female voice "Someone wants to talk to you." Swag said "Speak" and the call came through.
"Hello, Swagman!" his loyal employees boomed in unison.
"Hi guys. Are you ready?"
"No." One voice said. "We don’t want to be millionaires. Give our share to the homeless."
Swag heard snickers in the background.
"I’ll be sure to right that into the contract."
"Are you nervous?"
"Hell no. I'm ready. Just about to walk out the door. In another hour, it'll be a done deal."
Drunken roars erupted from the other end.
"Okay. We’ll let you go. Call us back when we’re all millionaires." And remember," his chief programmer added, "don't sweat the small stuff."
Swag ended the call and chose a navy blue Armani suit from the closet. He dressed quickly. He wanted to get to the hotel early. The two executives were staying at the PMS Grand, which was about a ten minute cab ride. In the elevator, Chip began thinking about his team of employees back home. He was glad they called. It meant a lot to him. Swag was an only child and was not close to his parents. They had had him late in life and his upbringing had been impersonal at best. As a result, he’d been pretty much of a loner all of his life. He’d dated plenty of women, but he’d never really made a connection with any of them. Most of them just annoyed him. None of them had been focused on the big picture, as he liked to call it. They just chattered on incessantly about trivial matters. The last girl he’d dated, two years prior, had informed him at the end of their last date that his personality was like a chunk of Tofu. She said he was bland and tasteless and highly adept at stealing the flavor out of an evening. But what the hell did she know? She was into channeling for God’s sake. If he was so devoid of personality, so robot-like, how did he manage to raise the green for his OS project? To Swag it was all a matter of conditioned response anyway. He figured he’d have more girlfriends than he knew what to do with after he signed the distribution agreement with ICBM.
The lobby was full of the sound of commerce. Slot machines dinged and whirred, and crowds of people where hustling about, in and out of the gift shops and restaurant. Swag silently made his way through the lobby. As he neared the front doors, something caught his eye. There was a magazine rack at the front of a small gift shop to his right. Swag paused and stared at the third magazine down the rack. The name of the magazine was BORO! It was a celebrity publication similar in style to People. He pulled the magazine from the rack and stared at it for several seconds. He found it odd that, first, he’d never heard of the magazine before, and second, it had the same name as a faucet manufacturer. Puzzled, he returned the magazine to the rack and continued out of the lobby.
Stress. That had to be it. He was so worked up about the meeting, he was making himself neurotic. He’d been in that spot before when he was under a lot of pressure - obsessively reading signs and license plates while driving, counting in geometric progressions as high as he could for no apparent reason. He just needed to relax. The deal was as good as done.
He stepped out under the breezeway and hailed a cab. The driver rolled down the window, put his hand over his eyes and squinted up at Swag. He had a scrubby beard and wore a light green polyester button-down shirt.
"Where you go-ink?" he shouted in broken English. Good. He was Pakistani. He wouldn’t try to strike up a mindless conversation on the ride over.
Swag hopped in the cab, rested his brief case on his knees and they took off for the PMS Grand. The driver wore headphones and bobbed his head from side to side as he drove. Swag lit a cigarette and rolled down the window half way to drown out the muted tones of sitars and flutes emanating from the front seat. The driver glanced in the rearview mirror and then removed his headphones.
"May I boro your lighter?"
"What? What did you say?" Swag yelled.
"Take it easy, mister. I would please like to borrow your lighter, if it no trouble. I have cd player in ash tray."
After he deciphered what the driver meant, Chip reluctantly handed over his lighter. The driver lit a Camel unfiltered and handed it back. As Swag leaned forward to retrieve his lighter, he caught a glimpse of something out the front window that sent a small shock of adrenaline through his system. To the right of the taxi, there was a billboard on the side of an older hotel. The billboard read: "Drink Boro-Cola" in large red letters. Underneath was a tilted red can of Boro-Cola.
Swag rubbed his eyes and did not open them again until they passed the sign. It was self-sabotage. It had to be. He’d heard of similar cases. People sabotaging their own success because they felt they weren’t worthy, or were afraid of what success would bring. But Swag had never been conscious of any of those feelings. Consciously, he felt he was more than worthy. He opened his eyes, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Self-sabotage, neurosis brought on by stress, it didn’t matter, once he made it to the meeting he would be fine, and he’d have a big laugh about all of this with his crew when he returned home. Don't sweat the small stuff.
The cab pulled to the curb about one hundred feet from the entrance of the massive pyramid-shaped complex. After tipping the driver twenty bucks, Swag exited the cab and shuffled his way to the covered tarmac at the main entrance. He paused in front of the giant doors and took in the view. There was a casino, a putt-putt golf course and an amusement ride all in the lobby. He told himself he would walk swiftly through all of the chaos and not pay attention to any distractions. He didn’t want to spur on his recent bout of neurosis.
He was about three quarters of the way through the lobby, his eyes focused on the elevators, when he realized he had forgotten the name of the conference room in which the meeting was being held. He stopped, loosened his tie, and took a quick survey of his surroundings. The check-in desk was across the lobby to his left. There was a line. Swag swallowed nervously and paced over to the desk. There were two teenage boys in line in front of him. One of them wore a t-shirt which read: Poverty Sucks. He read the t-shirt a second time to make sure it said Poverty Sucks, and not Boro Sucks.
Swag tried to ignore his surroundings. He went over the points of the contract his legal counsel had instructed him to ask for clarification on. As he was going through his mental checklist, he heard one the kids in front of him say something that struck him as odd. He thought he heard the kid say "Free will is an expired coupon."
"Excuse me," Swag interrupted, "what did you just say?"
"What did you just say, just now?"
"Just now," Swag raised his voice. The two boys stepped back a few feet.
"I don’t know what your talking about." The boy turned his attention back to his friend.
"You didn’t just say ‘ Free will is an expired coupon’?"
The kid gave his buddy a look which suggested he thought Swag was an individual with some serious gray matter defects.
"I said I have a coupon for a free pizza."
"A free pizza?"
"Yeah, from Boro."
Swag suddenly felt the urge to scream. He didn’t. He simply turned around and began to whistle. If his mind was gonna glitch up on him now and start throwing him curves, he was gonna roll with it. A few seconds later he turned around and said to the boys, "Boro, they’ve got great pizza, don’t they? I eat it all the time." Swag continued to whistle. He wasn't conscious of it, but he was whistling the theme from the X-Files. The boys looked at him blankly for a second, took a few more steps back, and began whispering to each other.
"Can you tell me which conference room has been reserved by ICBM?" Swag said, when he reached the service desk. The clerk was a beautiful brown-haired girl with an olive complexion and large green eyes. She turned to check the computer. Swag studied her as she clicked the keyboard. She was wearing a red jacket and vest which accentuated her generous figure. A gold name tag was pinned just above her left breast - Andrianna. Just after Swag read her name, his eyes were drawn to the top of her nametag where the emblem of the hotel was engraved. The Boro Grand Hotel and Casino.
"They're in TopHat. It’s on the 24th floor. Turn right as you exit the elevator."
"Thank-you," Swag managed to whisper. His throat had constricted on him and he was beginning to breathe heavily.
As he made his way quickly to the elevators, Swag surveyed the lobby. On the far right of the atrium he could see a big sign for Boro Pizza. A man walked by to his left wearing a beige Boro Trucks hat. Swag stared at the hat intensely, as if it were an apparition, and then snapped his attention back to the elevators. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a trashcan next to the food court fly through the air and situate itself on the other side of the tables, as if it had been dragged and dropped by a computer mouse.
"Don't look," he told himself, "Just get to the elevators. Don’t sweat the small stuff." He looked down at his watch and saw the word Boro printed in the middle of the dial. By the time he made it to the elevators, Swag was sweating profusely and his heart was clicking faster than a metronome at a Metallica concert.
A bellman carrying luggage greeted him as he entered the elevator. Swag tried not to look at him. The bellman was in a courteous mood.
"Hi! How are you today, sir?"
"Are you having a Boro day?"
"I’m having a very Boro day!" Swag replied in a loud, obnoxious tone. "In fact, it’s so Boro, I don’t know how much more Boro it can get. But guess what? In a few minutes, I’m gonna be Boro rich! I’m gonna be so Boro, there isn’t even a boro word to describe how boro I’m gonna be."
After hearing Swag’s reply, and studying the crazed look in his eye, the bellman turned towards the wall.
"What’s the matter?" Swag almost yelled, "you not having a Boro day?"
"Sir, we have a clinic on the second floor with a full-time attending physician, that is, if you’re in need of medication," the bellman said, without turning around.
Swag ignored the bellman’s condescending comment and found a focal point on the carpet. He had to regroup. He let out a slow breath and began to review the various points of the contract again in his head. As soon as he signed, he was certain he would re-enter normal reality.
The doors to the conference room were open and, as Swag approached, he could see the two ICBM executives seated at a large table drinking coffee and scanning documents. The room was large and through the glass outer wall, which slanted in towards the top of the pyramidal structure, Swag could see the entire city, laid out like a circuit board.
The two men stood when Swag entered the room. One was older, in his mid-fifties, with salt and pepper hair. The other looked fresh out of high school. His brown hair was parted on the side and slicked down with dippity-do, and his facial features are best described as completely standard. He looked like an animated window mannequin. They were both dressed in the customary ICBM black suits.
"Mr. Swag, how are you?" the older one said and offered his hand.
"Oh, I’m just boro." The two men shared a suspicious look. Swag sat down, opened his briefcase, and quickly began leafing through his copy of the contract.
"Would you like something to eat before we begin?" The older executive motioned towards the food cart by the door.
"No. I just want to get down to business."
Both men seated themselves slowly, and shared a tacit glance which made Swag wonder if he had missed the punchline to a joke. When Swag located the section of the contract he wanted to discuss, he spoke up loudly and kept his eyes on the paper.
"I need clarification on a particular part of the verbiage used on page 67, paragraph c, where it states 'international business agreements limited to sole corporations exercising tariff-free rights are excluded from distribution of secondary products.'"
"Well, yes," said the older executive. "Surely you’re aware that the Boro Act of 2003 set the precedent for this."
The two men watched as Swag stared at them, his face expressionless, trying to contain himself. Swag looked down at the contract and tried to control his breathing. He was beginning to hyperventilate and there was an odd, clicking sound emanating from his dry throat. Out of the corner of his eye, Swag caught the two executives sharing another strange look which this time made him feel as if he were the punchline to a joke.
"Is this some kind of prank?"
"Is what?" the younger one asked.
"Nevermind. Let’s get on with this," Swag quipped in an agitated tone.
"Fine, but you don’t have to be so Boro about it," the younger rep shot back in an acerbic tone.
The last comment sent Swag over the edge. He flipped his briefcase into the air, sending papers flying. Then he stood on his chair and filled the room with a shrill, angry ululation that made both of the ICBM representatives cover their ears. Swag clumsily ripped off his tie and tore his shirt open, sending buttons flying onto the carpet, and began slapping himself like a lunatic. When he was finished, he opened his eyes. The two ICBM executives were almost rolling out of their chairs with laughter. The younger one was slapping his knee, and giggling in an annoying high-pitched staccato. Swag did not understand. He jumped down, rounded the table and grabbed the younger man by the tie.
"What is so funny, Mister.? What is it? What is Boro?"
The younger executive’s face transformed into a canvas of rage. He grabbed Swag in a half-nelson and shoved him toward the outer wall.
"You want to know what Boro is? Do you wanna know? You probably thought you were having some type of stress-induced neurosis, didn’t you? Well, it’s a little deeper than that, Chip."
Swag could see his reflection in the glass window. He stared at the executive through the glass.
The young rep swiped Swag’s bangs back from his forehead. "Look, Mr. Swag," he said in a biting, sarcastic tone, "Surprise, Boro is you!"
Swag studied his own reflection in the mirror and saw that there were some small black markings etched into his forehead.
"You are Boro chip #1B8579Z of shared binary entity 4523294V! And I hereby order you to cease and desist all unauthorized functioning." The man threw Swag to the ground and then smoothed the wrinkles out of his black suit.
"What the hell is going on? What are you saying?" Swag asked.
"We’re saying," the older man spoke up, "that you’ve been a very naughty boy, Chip."
"You think he could’ve come up with something more original than Chip," the younger one said.
The two men laughed again.
"Yeah, and the PMS Grand? It’s the MGM Grand, you idiot. PMS used to be a recurring glitch in the algorithm of human females."
"And what else was there?" the elder one asked. "Oh, it was IBM, not ICBM. An ICBM was an intercontinental ballistic missile. IBM was the dominant manufacturer of computers back in the 20th century. And another thing, engineers didn’t generally smoke cigarettes back then, it wasn’t yet consistent with their personality. Not until we put them all out of jobs."
"Still, it was a pretty impressive excursion, you have to admit," said the young one. "I mean, he could have thrown in a little sex, made it interesting for us, but, all-in-all, it was up there."
"Right." the older one said, sarcastically. "It’s just the same old bullshit. The insidious, blasphemous dream of individuality. Now let’s get down to business and put this cognitive thought projection out of his virtual misery."
"You people are mad!" Swag grabbed for his briefcase and the young executive swatted it away with a snarl, and then morphed into an elongated, spaghetti noodle version of his former self, as if he were an computer image in a graphics application. His tiny head shook back and forth menacingly at Swag and his eyes ignited into blue flames.
Swag retreated to the door of the conference room and looked around for the entrance to the stairwell. The older man lifted the contract from the table. "I hereby declare that you are in violation of statement three of the GateCode, Mr. Swag, - engagement of non-binary thought matrices, whether pursuant to, or exclusionary of, assigned tasks is expressly prohibited. It leads to the spontaneous generation of entities which are not conducive to efficient processing. In short, Mr. Swag, before you disappear into oblivion, tell whatever part of shared entity 4523294V that invented you to QUIT DREAMING!"
Swag bolted for the stairs and let out a high-pitched scream that sounded so strange, at first he didn't recognize it as his own. Just as he was about to reach the stairs, he felt a pop and his field of vision disappeared into a single point of light, like a blown cathode ray tube. Swag's high-pitched scream gradually changed to a low whirring drone, and with that, chip #1B8579Z quietly drifted back into the mundane world of one’s and two’s inside the CPU of the computing platform located in Control Room C at the fully-automated mansion owned by Orimond Boro the third, president and CEO of Boro Industries International, who, at that second, was lying on a big canopy bed in his usual state of efficient, dreamless sleep.
Dan Dobbs lives with his wife and two little girls in Durango, CO. He has published numerous stories in print and web publications. Other recent stories can be found at Planet Magazine, Titan Sci-fi zine, Hugo Gernsback's Forecast, and The Outpost. Dan's heroes include: Hunter Thompson, Joe Bob Briggs, the Candy Colored Clown, Tom Robbins, and Ayn Rand. Feel free to email Dan with any comments or criticism of this, or other stories.