Slumber Co.

by Vince Gardner

Jones?

Right here chief he answered, sitting at his desk behind the partition. Jones had long since moved his desk, with my help of course, behind the partition so that no one could see what he was doing on his operator's console. Gideon Kitzmiller, known as chief to Jones, was high level management and directly in charge of the DreamEng department and therefore, both Jones' superior and mine. A visit from Kitzmiller meant one of two things; someone had either screwed up royally or someone important was becoming a client. Based on the tone of his voice, it was the latter and the fact that he was holding the familiar green dossier further reinforced my theory. He caught my eye as I was attempting to look busy pressing my piston stamp against another console.

You too he said as he walked by and I followed him over to Jones' desk.

Big day today he said simply, mostly to Jones.

Isn't every day a big day here at Slumber Co? asked Jones, eyes never leaving his console screen.

Gold star for you said Kitzmiller shortly, but it's especially big today.

New client, important guy, you want me to personally input his requests said Jones with the tone of someone who had been through the same process for 12, or maybe it was 13 years; ever since Dream Engineering and subsequently Slumber Co, took off.

You got it said Kitzmiller and he tossed the green dossier on the cluttered desk below Jones' waving arms, preoccupied with his consoles' touch screen at the moment.

Kitzmiller stood there for another few seconds in silence, hands in his pocket as Jones' continued to manipulate the console screen with his fingers. Well? he questioned him after checking his watch.

I'm inputting something to McGregor's dream he said as if to a child.

He can do that said Kitzmiller, indicating me without looking or gesturing, get started on him, now he ordered and he tapped the dossier with his finger. He stood there for a few moments longer, staring at Jones until he stopped touching his screen and picked up the dossier. He then he turned on his heel and walked off back to the top floor.

Who do we got there? I asked, doctor, businessman, politician?

Bors he said, opening the dossier.

Bors? I asked incredulously, Wulfric Bors?

None other he stated as he flipped through the dossier.

Wulfric Bors was a controversial figure to say the least. In a nutshell, ever since Dream Engineering became a reality, Bors had been an outspoken opponent and now he was here in our lab, requesting the very thing he had campaigned for 15 years against.

Roughly fifteen years ago, Dream Engineering had been perfected by the lab coats here at Slumber Co and it was approved for the public not long after that. Since then, it had become a sort of goal for many to spend the rest of your life living out your dream in stasis here at Slumber Co, which people like Jones could program to anything you wanted. Naturally, preserving a human body and the operating costs of such a process were extremely high and while advertised for the general public, the only people who could really afford it where the wealthiest individuals or if you had a very well-paying job and saved up a lot of cash, you could maybe make it in when you retired.

People were reluctant at first, but the few trial runs we had given and the ovations they had produced were proof enough for many that they seemed happy to live the rest of their lives in stasis but in their head, they were doing everything they had ever wanted to.

This complicated and expensive process naturally had its opposition, mostly technophobics, naturalists, religious nuts, people like that or even crusaders for the poor who thought that it was elitist as only the rich could afford it. Wulfric Bors was one of these opponents and most often the face of the opposition.

That hypocritical son of a bitch I cursed. Years ago, Bors had attempted to get a bill passed which, while not making Dream Engineering illegal, would definitely have made things immensely more difficult and cost many of us our jobs, it failed but it wasn't as one sided as I would have preferred it to be.

Guess what his Dream is? requested Jones, ignoring the absurdity of Bors actually participating in the Dream Engineering process.

Big tits? I guessed.

Jones looked up at me before uttering Obviously, but what else?

Probably one of those ancient hippie commune things with no medicine and only herbal shit that doesn't work I joked. Bors, in addition to being an opponent of Dream Engineering, was one of the old world stalwarts who objected to nanotechnology, matter transporting and just about any technology under 50 years old that people like me and Jones have been using since we were born.

Secret agent he revealed. Secret agent or super spy was a popular choice, nowhere near as popular as the jet-setting playboy which was top of the picks, but it was still quite common.

You don't find it strange that Bors is coming in for Dream Engineering? I asked.

Moderately he answered, still reading the dossier, finish off McGregor and I'll get started on Bors, gotta be done by 4 said Jones.

Jones was what we call a DreamEng, short for Dream Engineer, who programmed and handled all the dream input for the clients, that was his only job and he was very good at it. I was a utility man, I was adapt at most of the chores and jobs in the entire building but proficient at none. McGregor's changes were minor and programmable by me but I had nowhere near the expertise to complete a complicated Dream such as the one that Bors had demanded, which judging by the dossier size, was quite complex indeed.

I took McGregor's dossier to my utility console and got to work, changing it in under an hour. Dr G. McGregor had chosen the lifestyle of millionaire playboy as so many others had, but he requested a change to maximize enjoyment which was on a trial run right now so he had to be monitored to see if he was receiving the new adjustment well. This adjustment monitoring equates to me sitting here on the console and watching his signs to make sure nothing goes wrong for the full day, which is fine by me; leave the maintenance to the maintenance men and the dream engineering to the DreamEng's.

I awaited Bors arrival and soon, four o'clock came around and promptly through the door, escorted by Kitzmiller himself, was Wulfric Bors.

Mr Bors, this is the engineering room, Mr Jones' is our most senior DreamEng and he has personally been engineering your Dream to your exact specifications, right Mr Jones? asked Kitzmiller to Jones who had yet to leave his console. Jones said nothing for a short time continuing to fly his fingers over his touch screen, then he made a dramatic motion, stabbing at the screen with his index finger which I can only assume was the Save function and exclaimed Just finished with a loud melodramatic exhale.

I'll leave you to them and please Mr Bors, enjoy your Dream wished Kitzmiller and he left the room again. Jones finally left his console and walked up to Bors with me behind him.

This isn't a very cozy room observed Bors, noticing the cold steel look of the lab and the many bright blinking lights of the scores of machinery and electronics.

It's just a place to store your physical body Wulfric, you won't ever see this place again, no galvanized steel and neon lights in here assured Jones, reaching out and tapping Bors forehead. Bors' eyes followed Jones fingers and he nodded in approval.

Mr Kitzmiller had a very strict policy on questioning clients, as is to be expected from a company that handles clients' deepest and quite often perverted and weird desires, but I could still not resist the urge to ask.

Mr Bors, would it be impolite if I were to ask you why you decided to have a Dream engineered? I asked in the most polite, non-backfiring way I could think of.

Guess it doesn't matter now hmm mused Bors and he paced a bit through the lab while Jones and I watched. Naturally, there were non-disclosure agreements to keep us in check to stop us from breathing a word of people's requests and Bors was aware of this.

I was never really an opponent of Dream Engineering or any new technology's really, but all those rich old men who made their money in a different time, well, they needed a face to rebel against the new technology which they can't keep up with said Bors.

So I made it me, simple as that he said. They funded me, I hid enough of their funding money to get my ticket to the Dream he explained shortly. Really, it's a plan James Bond villains would have been envious of chuckled Bors. I didn't ask him what a James Bond was but I assume he read it in some of his ancient tomes of the past.

So it was just an act? I asked.

Precisely, and frankly I think what you're doing is amazing admitted Bors. Worthy of amazement he clarified.

So when do we start? he asked, eager to begin.

Right this way ushered Jones and he took him to what we called the Body Room which was where we stored the physical bodies for automated maintenance while we controlled the brain from our consoles. Jones set him up in what would eventually be his, and everyone else who could afford the service, coffin. The human body, even with the most expensive maintenance could not last forever, it was a room where you said goodbye to the frail flesh and bones of your old life.

Jones and I attached Wulfric Bors to his unit exited the room, Jones returning to his console.

C'mere he beckoned me and I came to the front of his console.

Other side he said, annoyed, and I walked around to behind his seat at looked at the blue screen displayed the words CLIENT #4724 BORS, WULFRIC W. across the top with a lot of other jargon I could barely make sense of.

Uh huh? I asked.

Jones continued, as usual, to be quite silent as he went through the short process of integrating and executing the Dream program he had just engineered while I watched. He pressed the giant flashing Execute button in the centre of his screen with his finger and watched it load in with his hands behind his head and his feet up on his desktop, his favourite position.

The familiar screen displaying a visual representation of the Dream was displayed and I could see Bors holding some sort of gun as he was sneaking through a giant mansion loaded with soldiers, much like those old books and films that seemed to be so popular so long ago.

Kitzmiller and the rest of upper management did not like us to dwell on the screen of dream monitoring, calling it an invasion of privacy, but short checkups were mandatory to make sure everything was going according to plan and the client was at maximum satisfaction.

That piece of shit almost cost us our jobs said Jones, but he didn't say it to me, he just kind of said it out loud so I didn't respond.

Just so he can get in here himself while Joe's like us will never be able to make enough money to ever have a Dream said Jones, we're gonna die in our houses like peasants while rich people like him live their Dream until they die.

Yep, and don't forget the obligatory twenty years he's added to his life for going into stasis I added and Jones nodded. There was no illnesses that would affect you in the Body Room, again thanks to the men in lab coats, and no stress on the body and proper nutrients added a long time to your brain's longevity.

I think that gun he has is a little too powerful, don't you? asked Jones.

Too powerful? I questioned, peering at the dream monitor, shit Jones, that thing still shoots metal bullets, they haven't even made those for eons I countered.

Anyways, it's what he asked for so he has to deal with it I concluded, but Jones had not come to the same conclusion.

Yes, it is what he wanted said Jones ponderously.

He spun sideways to his secondary screen and opened up a slew of code and numbers which trailed down the screen like rain.

Watch him said Jones and I kept my eyes on the screen displaying Bors' hand which was squeezing the trigger and killing people in his Dream. Jones moved his hands like lightning and after he pressed Execute, the primitive bullet shooting weapon in Bors gloved hand was instantly replaced by a long yellow tube which I had trouble identifying at first until Bors gripped it hard and it ruptured, expelling some whitish goo.

Is that a banana? I asked.

Let's see him try to kill some people with that said Jones with a rare smile. I watched Bors' hands and could only imagine the look of utter confusion on his face as instead of gripping metal he was holding a burst banana peel.

Haha, pretty funny I laughed, you should probably change that back though, you never know who is watching.

Why do you think my console is facing away from the door? asked Jones, and don't think that Kitzmiller or any of the people that have the authorization to spy on me can do it if I don't want them too said Jones. I'm senior DreamEng, nobody knows what I do unless I want them to he surmised.

Jones may be lacking in the social skill department but his skill with computers was unparalleled, hence his position as senior DreamEng in the first and foremost Dream Engineering company. Frankly, he was too good at his job, he finished all his work far too quickly and after a dozen years of inputting similar code into computers, he had grown quite bored and disillusioned with the whole process.

Check this out he said, chuckling to himself quietly as he went back into the code.

I looked at the screen, excited for what Jones was going to do next. I watched Bors drop the banana and retrieve a knife from somewhere on him as he approached a man dressed in all black and sunglasses wielding an archaic assault rifle. Right about as Bors was about to strike, the man suddenly became completely naked, and very well endowed, and his head turned into a big snowball. The knife got stuck in the snowball head and the naked man spun around and began to chase him down the hallways his penis flailing wildly and exaggeratedly.

I laughed loudly, How did you even think of that?

It just came to me answered Jones.

Jones continued to mess with Bors' Dream, such as turning a voluptuous lady in a red dress into a greasy, pock-marked delivery boy and equipping Bors with a pair of irremovable mittens connected with a string. Time flew until six o'clock and it was quitting time so we retreated to our quarters and ended the day, the amusing memories of adjusting Bors' Dream still fresh in my mind.

We had never done this before, at least I haven't. I don't know what Jones did behind that desk all day but it was certainly entertaining.

I entered the lab the next morning and as usual, checked the console for a list of things that needed attention. One of the stasis pods was leaking, someone in the basement needed a rewiring of wires according to the very specific note and many more tasks filled my utility console screen. Once these were attended to it was mid-afternoon and I returned to find Jones at his usual position, leaned back at his console with one hand behind his head and the other scratching his beard.

Busy day? I asked.

Nope he returned monotonously.

Anything exciting on the dream watch? I asked. He shook his head slowly with his eyes closed and I stood there awkwardly for a while with my hands in my pockets.

Can you cover for me? he asked.

I guess, but what if they call me away? I asked.

He shrugged and stood up, disappearing for the remainder of the afternoon as he often liked to do when it was a slow day and his boredom overwhelmed him. I had no idea what he did in his spare time.

A week passed before we got a new client and as usual, I was leaning against the wall when I heard the door about to slide open. I grabbed the nearest tool to me and again pretended I was busy repairing the nearest machine.

Act's getting a little stale, maybe try pretending you're working in different places, every time I come in here you're standing there advised the casual voice of Kitzmiller as he stepped through the door.

And every time you're holding that damn piston stamp he added as he passed by me on his way to Jones. It was rare to see Kitzmiller more than a couple times a month and seeing him for two clients in a row was particularly uncommon. That meant another important person I concluded as he handed Jones a green dossier.

And you thought Bors was important said Kitzmiller over his shoulder as he walked away.

Jones was one of the most detached men ever met in my life, never had I seen him laugh heartily or get mad or really enjoy anything and he always seemed to be off in his own little world but when he picked up the dossier his eyes widened.

No goddamn way he said. I shuffled over to him rather quickly and he turned the dossier over and allowed me to view the name across the front; Boldrin, Charles D.

While Bors was known as a controversial figure, Chuck Boldrin was a man widely hated by the entire world. An extremely successful businessman notorious for shady dealings and a complete moral deficiency, Boldrin made headlines first thirty years ago as an uprising metal tycoon rivalling the reigning metal power at the time, Armistice Inc. He made headlines five years after that when the entire top half of Armistice Inc was destroyed in an explosion, killing hundreds. Their stocks plummeted, Boldrin picked them up and took charge of the leaderless company's manufacturing facilities, dissolving Armistice Inc into his own company and successfully monopolizing the metal industry which was in a new era of prosperity after discovering the many uses of precious metals.

Naturally, Boldrin was a prime suspect in the explosion but a man with prior bombing convictions came forth, claiming to have done it all by himself and of his own volition and was subsequently convicted and punished by means of disintegration. The executed man's large family then came into a large amount of money received through the lottery as the media claimed it and were able to live the rest of their former poverty stricken life in luxury. Boldrin's lawyers, money and high connections were attributed as the reason he never saw a courtroom but most of the general populace believed he committed these acts and simply paid off the dead man's family and everyone hated him but had no choice but to buy metals from him as there was no one else to buy from and anyone else was too scared to try and raise a rival company.

What are you gonna do? I asked Jones, wondering if he was facing a moral dilemma about this.

I'm going to program his Dream, it's my job replied Jones, just like I thought he would, evidently I was more spiteful of this son of a bitch than Jones was.

Jones spent the day programming the Dream with lightning speed while I was putting my many skills to use elsewhere, killing rodents in the lower levels of Slumber Co and by the time I came back up, Jones was gone and had went home and I didn't see him until two days later when Chuck Boldrin and Kitzmiller walked through the door.

I had taken Kitzmiller's advice and when he came in, I was sitting at the utility console attempting to code complex elements but failing miserably, and by complex elements I do indeed mean possums playing hopscotch.

Good morning Mr Kitzmiller I greeted him as he walked by me.

Uh huh he mumbled, Well Mr Boldrin, this is our Senior DreamEng Mr Jones and he has been very busy the last few days programming your Dream, I will leave you to him now and thank you for choosing Slumber Co said Kitzmiller and he shook Boldrin's hand.

Boldrin was a large, hefty elderly man in a business suit with a perpetual scowl, large jowls and sunken eyes.

Who are you? he asked me.

I'm just the utility man I responded and he snorted, mumbling about janitors.

So Jones, let's get this started, I don't like to be kept waiting Boldrin commanded, with the air of a man whose demands are met immediately anywhere else in his life.

Yes sir Mr Boldrin said Jones and I was deeply resisting the urge to snap off a sarcastic salute to him.

I followed him and Jones into the Body Room.

What's the janitor doing in here? he grunted at Jones, sticking his thumb at me.

He's not the janitor, he's part of our staff and a capable programmer responded Jones in a monotonous voice. Boldrin wasn't happy about it but he allowed me to stay and we got him hooked up.

Asshole muttered Jones as we left the Body Room and he plopped in his plush computer chair.

Oh this is gonna be fun said Jones and he rubbed his hands together before flying them over the console screens.

What are you going to do, give him a banana for a gun? I asked him jokingly.

That's hardly suitable replied Jones, he doesn't deserve the air he's breathing.

Huh, what are you gonna do? I asked him, very curious.

Jones tapped the side of his nose slowly, Nothing.

A bleep noise sounded from my console and I was called to the maintenance shaft by the head maintenance man to assist with something rodent-related again.

Damn, I gotta go I responded, irked that I would not be able to see what Jones was going to do.

Duty calls he said, and I left, when I returned, Jones was gone again.

One of the other DreamEng's was in the next day, Jones had the day off. I was sitting in my chair, feet up on the wall and the DreamEng was pacing around the room, talking to an apple explaining it programming code. Suddenly, the room filled with bright red light and an alarm blared and I slid off my chair onto the floor.

Shit! shouted the DreamEng and he raced over to his console. The sound had startled me and when I got up I saw the DreamEng working the console with half the dexterity of Jones but twice the enthusiasm.

It's client 4725, that's Boldrin! he exclaimed.

Predictably, the red siren was indicative of an extremely shitty situation and it took less than 30 seconds for the door to zip open and five people in lab coats with a medical cart came bolting through and I opened the Body Room door for them. I didnt know a lot, but I knew Boldrin was in serious trouble.

They spent fifteen minutes in there while I stood outside, face pressed against the glass viewing window as the DreamEng monitored the vitals on his console and attempted to find the root of the problem. Kitzmiller came in at some point but remained quiet and viewed beside me as the medical professionals did their best to save Boldrin's life.

The head doctor pulled off his gloves and left the room with the other four doctors inside to address Kitzmiller.

He's dead he said simply.

Dead repeated Kitzmiller, how the hell does that happen?

We won't know until later but it looks like a heart problem theorized the doctor.

You're not leaving here until it's done, you got it? ordered Kitzmiller, and you report to me every half an hour until you've figured out the problem.

The doctor nodded, it had happened only a few times before and Kitzmiller took it extremely seriously each time, as he should.

I watched the medical crew wheel Boldrin's flabby carcass from the Body Room and take him out. The DreamEng was looking through the code to determine if a programming error was to blame.

Code's solid, everything seems fine he said quietly after a few hours of searching. Kitzmiller would ordinarily order the DreamEng to stay but I knew he was going to wait for Jones to do it instead.

Man was old, and fat, probably his ticker I suggested and the DreamEng mostly ignored me, as the majority of the Slumber Co staff tends to do.

I left at the usual time and the next day Jones was back.

Chuck Bo-- I started when I saw him.

Yeah I know he said.

That he die- I started again.

Yeah he repeated.

Was it fro- I tried again.

Chief says it was his heart, that it gave out said Jones. So I was right, it was his heart. It felt good.

The cause? I asked.

They don't know, it just gave out, just pahhhh said Jones. He held his hands in a circle and then slowly deflated them along with his sound effect.

Wow, nobody's died that young in there since that one guy who stroked out I reminisced. Boldrin was about 70 but most people in stasis lived to at least 100.

Yeah, it's weird allright said Jones.

Jones was usually a quiet man but there was something I was detecting in his short sentences that wasn't always there, something in the background. Perhaps amusement, or joy?

Something you wanna share? I asked him.

Oh no, just feeling good he said and he smirked while looking at the roof. It was that exact moment that I realized that Jones had, in one way or another, killed Boldrin. I had no idea how, especially in a way that the doctors couldn't figure out, but I know he did it. Working 13 years with a guy gets you to know him pretty intimately, even if he barely talks.

Of course, shortly after we got a visit from Kitzmiller who wanted to speak with Jones.

Blackman couldn't find anything wrong in the code chief, and neither can I, he was old and fat was Jones' answer to Kitzmiller's questions and he shrugged.

Well, keep looking he ordered and he went, obviously flustered that Jones couldn't determine the problem.

I don't think Kitzmiller suspected Jones, because why would he? The months went by without another incident and soon it was two years until another mysterious death occurred. It was a different death, this fellow's heart was fine but his brain was not. It also coincidentally happened to afflict a known notorious foreign dictator whom Jones and the rest of the free world was not particularly fond of. Again, the autopsy was inconclusive and the code searching revealed nothing because, as I mentioned, if Jones didn't want you to find it, you weren't going to, especially not by the likes of Blackman and the rest of the Slumber Co employees.

I noticed surges in Jones apathetic behaviour during these two events, both Boldrin's death and the foreign dictator's, but I never questioned him about it, it was enough that I knew and he didn't seem to care.

Three years passed when another figure came through, this one was also some sort of crooked politician/warlord, much like the foreign dictator from two years ago, and as I suspected the moment he was put in the Body Room, he soon too fell victim to a freak death but this one took a week to happen.

Kitzmiller was getting very suspicious and interrogated the lethargic Jones who responded with a series of I don't know, I'm not a doctor, the code's fine and that's all I know responses.

It didn't take long until one morning I was sitting at home, watching the Underground News, as it is a quicker and less-objective news source, feed on my home console screen when I saw the front page display an attention-grabbing headline.

Slumber Co. employee questioned in bizarre deaths said the headline and below it was a familiar unsmiling bearded face in full colour. I threw myself forward and spilled my full cup onto the ground and didn't care.

Slumber Company's Senior Dream Engineer Steve Jones has been detained by police in response to suspicious deaths under his watch for controversial figures Charles Chuck Boldrin, Abhisehek Ghazali and Dragomir Kozlov. Police had been investigating the previous cases and were able to collect enough evidence to make Jones a suspect and he remains in police custody. Several co-workers of Jones have been detained as well, including Vice President Gideon Kitzmiller who is believed to be able to provide information on Jones.

I couldn't believe it, I sat there with cold coffee soaking into my crotch, watching the underground newsfeed that was telling me that the invincible Jones had been arrested for a triple murder. I always knew he had done it but I never thought they would catch him.

Then it dawned on me, would I get detained too? Or worse, arrested? Would they know that I knew and didn't say anything? Would Jones shift the blame to me, to save himself, to throw me under the bus? He certainly could do it if he wanted, but would he? My mind was racing and I needed to calm down and collect myself. I held my head in my hand, staring at the dark stain of coffee on my underwear when there was a knock on the door and I spun my head to look around at it.

Police, open the door now! shouted an officer. There it was, what I had been dreading since I read the headline. The only question now was the reasoning; was I being arrested, or called as a witness, or to provide information, or as a prime suspect? Do I spill the beans on Jones, before he shifts the blame to me? I didn't have time to decide though, the door flew off its hinges as a burly officer with a battering ram charged into the room and tackled me to the floor.

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