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“They say the moon’s gone missing,” said Carlo Morse. He set another fabule on the checkered tablecloth at Schwarz’s Deli.
Jimmy Ganzer examined the growing collection of dream nuggets. The fabules were tightly patterned little pastel spheres, pockmarked and seamed, scattered across the tabletop like wads of gum. “Nobody goes for space travel dreams anymore,” said Ganzer. “I don’t want to work on that.”
“I don’t mean the moon’s supposed to be in our new fabule for Skaken Recurrent Nightmare,” said Morse. “I’m telling you that the moon has really gone missing. Reports from Shanghai say the moon faded from the sky a few hours ago. Like a burnt-out firework. Everyone’s waiting to see what happens when night hits Europe and the U.S.”
Morse adjusted his augmented-reality necktie, whose dots were in a steady state of undulation. “That’s gotta mean something, don’t ya think?”
“It’s not even sunset yet in L.A.,” said Ganzer carelessly. “So what if there’s no moon?”
Schwarz’s Deli had fed generations of Hollywood creative talent. The gold-framed celebrity photos on the walls were clustered thick as goldfish scales. The joint’s historic clientele included vaudeville hams, silent film divas, radio crooners, movie studio titans, TV soap stars, computer game moguls, and social networkers. The augmented-reality mavens were memorialized by holographic busts on the ceiling. Business was in the air, but it was bypassing Morse and Ganzer. Especially Ganzer.
“We’ve got our own problems,” admitted Morse.
With a practiced gesture, Ganzer formed a vortex in the deli’s all-pervasive bosonic fluxon entertainment field. Then he plucked a lint-covered fabule from the pocket of his baggy sports pants. “Check out my brand-new giant paramecium here.”
Ganzer’s creation oozed from the everting seahorse-valleys that gnarled the fabule’s surface.
Morse rotated the floating dream with his manicured fingertips, admiring it. “I can see every wiggly cilia! This dream is, like, realer than you, man.”
Ganzer nodded in a superior, craftsmanlike fashion. “Yeah, the blank for this fabule uses high-end Chinese nanogoo. It’s got more sensory affect than the human brain can parse.”
Morse smiled at his collaborator. “Jimmy, you’ve brought in the awesome, once again. I knew that you could pull it off. I can’t wait till Presburg shows up to sample this.”
Ganzer’s plain face wrinkled with a sheepish grin of triumph. With a sweep of both his arms, he corralled the dozen other fabules on the tabletop. “Lemme admit something to you,” he said, stuffing the wrinkly spheres into a logo-bearing plastic storage tube. “I haven’t viewed all these episodes of Skaken Recurrent Nightmare. I did pick up on the basic gimmick, though. Bugs.”
“Yeah, Skaken Recurrent Nightmare conveys a different stark raving insect terror every night. The haunting dream you can’t escape.”
“A little corny, though, huh?” said Ganzer.
“I scraped my skull down to the rind for those insects,” said Morse, looking haggard and worn. “They’re festering in my unconscious right now. I can see bugs in the daylight sometimes. They’re in my food. They’re in my shower.”
“Your praying mantis riff in the first episode was pretty classy,” said Ganzer, using his finger to scrape the last glob of cream cheese off his plate. “Having the woman you love devouring your face, bite by bite, while you’re mating? A primal riff like that one hits home. Kind of a turn-on, too.”
“Can I level with you?” said Morse. “We haven’t had another megahit since that first episode of Skaken. Every night, half the human race falls asleep and boots up a total mental inferno. If this new episode doesn’t strike big and—”
“You were right to call on me,” Ganzer assured him.
“Jimmy, are you sure you’re up for this job? I mean—Skaken isn’t like our old indie scene. I’m working with sponsors. We’re government licensed. We’ve got global distribution.”
“Speaking of global—should I try that Chinese oneirine?” said Ganzer. “You gotta respect the rate at which those Chinese fabbers churn out the dream product.”
“I use that stuff when I’m working,” said Morse with a shrug. “On oneirine, I can start work the instant I close my eyes. I lucid-dream while I sleepwalk around my home office. But you do that anyway, Jimmy. You don’t need oneirine. You can hardly tell dreaming from waking.”
“People make too much of that distinction.” Ganzer shrugged. “Reality is socially constructed.”
“The moon isn’t socially constructed,” said Morse.
“Then why’s it gone?”
“The moon’s still up there, Jimmy. The moon has gotta exist in one form or another. The moon is a huge physical object. The moon is like half the size of a planet, even. The moon has gravity and tides.”
Ganzer smiled indulgently and leaned back in his seat. “I bet you think the dark side of the moon really existed before we took pictures of the dark side of the moon.”
“Don’t start on me with the dreamer head games, Jimmy. Presburg is gonna be here any minute. Bitch about the biz, talk about the pastrami, act normal, listen to his rap. Bobby Presburg is easy if you let him talk.”
Under this scolding, Ganzer shifted restlessly in his seat. “The pro dream biz is all about relentless mental focus,” he declared. He wiped his greasy hands on his stained football jersey. “You know what our real problem is? Presburg doesn’t respect our craft! Presburg thinks that us fabbers just idly slumber around, waiting for inspiration! He doesn’t get it about us creatives! We plunge to the red-hot core of the psyche and we seize the deeper reality! That’s how I deliver unique material like my giant flying paramecium.”
“You’re a good guy,” said Morse with a short laugh.
“These days, any punk eight-year-old kid can dream up zombies and vampires! No wonder a pimp like Presburg likes to peddle insect paranoia.”
“Look, Presburg is smarter than you know. The insect theme has been good for Skaken Recurrent Nightmare. We’re getting ads from insecticide manufacturers and exterminator services.”
Ganzer pounded at the checkered café table with his pudgy fist. “Carlo, the truth is that guys like Presburg have polluted dreamland—made it dull! You know why I’m dreaming about single-celled monsters now? Because Presburg hasn’t been there. Germs are special. They’re real, but you can’t see them.”
“You’ve always been the go-to guy for lurking invisible menaces,” Morse admitted.
“Deconstructing reality’s physical subtext is the core of my art! Seeing the unseen, naming the unnamable, and dreaming the undreamable—that’s what Mr. Jimmy Ganzer is all about!”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Morse, fondling Ganzer’s new fabule. The dream-recording had a knobby surface, with clefts between the knobs, and the knobs themselves were tight clusters of smaller knobs. “I’ve been around the dance floor with you a few times. You’re the ultimate old-school indie dreamer, Jimmy. You’re the session man. You’re the fixer.”
“Yeah, okay, sure,” Ganzer admitted, mopping his plate with a last scrap of whole wheat bagel. “I’m a cynical outsider artist, curiously endowed with an ability to slip reality’s surly bonds.”
Morse looked up as the deli’s door jangled aloud. The sun was low in the sky outside, gilding the dusty streets. A strikingly handsome pair of youngsters had slipped into the café, bribing their way past the gateman—a mocking, weather-beaten Ukrainian named Yokl.
“Look at those wannabes,” said Morse. “The kid with the pink tentacles growing out of his neck? And his girl’s got a third eye in the middle of her forehead. They’re here to flash their demos and beg for a deal.”
Ganzer tugged at the elastic waist of his velour track pants. Ganzer always wore sports gear, despite the fact that he never exercised and spent his creative working life soundly asleep. “She’s hot. Costume-play sure has changed, hasn’t it? We’ve gone from dorky hats to riding the bosonic flux.”
The aspiring fabbers slipped into a nearby empty booth. The boy shoved the dirty plates and cups aside with a busy flurry of his pink tentacles.
“Whoa,” Morse remarked.
“That’s a pretty good augment,” said Ganzer. “For a punk wannabe. Moving real objects with his dreams.”
“A ribbonware plug-in for the bosonic flux medium,” said Morse. “From China.”
Ganzer glanced over his shoulder. “Nice projected glow from the girlfriend’s third eye. It’s sweet to see two noobs yearning to get discovered around Schwartz’s.”
“Presburg would eat those kids like pink-elephant cotton candy,” said Morse.
“That reminds me,” said Ganzer. “If your boss man’s picking up our supper tab, we should order something pricey.”
“We just had supper, man. You went through that lox and bagel like a horde of locusts.”
“On come on, that bagel wasn’t supper! That was just a nutritional restorative to sharpen my oneiric brain chemistry.”
Morse lifted his elegant hand and signaled for Maya, their favorite Schwarz’s waitress. The deli was slowly filling up with the early evening crowd.
“They put dreams on cereal boxes now,” Morse muttered, straightening his tailored sleeves. “Dreams are on bubble-gum cards. Remember when our users had to load dreams off a server the size of a beer keg? And the low fidelity—hell, I look back at my old works now, way back in the 2040s, and they’re like crazy-bum finger paintings made with coffee and ketchup.”
“I don’t like to hear you dismiss your best work,” said Ganzer. “Those low-fi dreams that you used to bash out—they had a bright, childlike gusto! I mean, sure, they bombed in the marketplace. But in those days, there was nothing like a dream marketplace.”
“It’s all the work of Hollywood hustlers,” Morse griped. “The lamestream media for the mundane sheeple . . . Sure, we always knew we were selling our souls, but how come we couldn’t get better residuals?”
“Because we were artists once,” Ganzer pointed out. “But we’ve matured into hard-ass bosonic pros. We’re like full-tackle rugby players by now, Carlo. We gotta scrum. Scrum, scrum, scrum. That’s such a great mantra, scrum; my unconscious creative mind finds that word really evocative. Oh, hi, Maya. What’ve you got for us in the way of appetizers? I’m starving.”
Maya the waitress struck a pose at the table and twitched her fingers. Gleaming images of diner chow sprang into life, bright as neon in midair. “We gotcha some nice kosher spring rolls, Mr. Ganzer. Filled with tilapia liver.”
“Could you sprinkle on a little brewer’s yeast? And bring me a big ginseng root beer.”
“Not a problem,” said Maya, steadily chewing her dreamgum. “And how about some unicorn bacon for you, Mr. Morse?”
“Is it real unicorn bacon?”
“Real as unicorn bacon can get!”
Morse nodded. Maya dismissed the menu images with a flip of her wrist and sashayed off.
Morse leaned forward, cracking his knuckles. “How exactly do I frame your episode for Presburg? Just in case he actually asks.”
“The dreamer turns into a paramecium,” said Ganzer. “It’s the classic dream-transformation riff. We should keep it sharp and simple.”
Morse narrowed his eyes with a critical stare. “Does our average dream consumer really want to be a paramecium? Is this, like, the fulfillment of an unconscious urge? An urge to become single-celled?”
“It’s one of those classic dream situations where the central figure is beset by demonic mishaps,” Ganzer explained. “Let’s call our lead Franz Kafka. Skaken Recurrent Nightmare can use the class.”
“But how exactly is Franz turning into a paramecium? I mean, I can totally get it about transforming into your spirit animal—like a vampire bat, or a werewolf, or a cockroach. But a paramecium? Is that even scary?”
“It’s cellular,” Ganzer explained.
“All of it,” said Ganzer. “Everything is cellular. Reality is cellular. I really love that word, cellular. Cellular phone, cellular foam, sleeper cell, cellulite, cellular automata . . . A cell can be anything! For a solid week, I wore augment goggles with a live feed from the microscopic world. I saw cells floating around in mixed reality, twenty-four seven.”
Morse thought this over. “You’ve got a lot of time on your hands, since the divorce.”
“Last night when I created this fabule, I chanted cellular to myself before I fell asleep. Just a simple creative trick, but I know how to get into a working groove.”
Morse nodded. “I used wool blankets for bedsheets when I was fabbing about the lice with the black plague. Sure, I had to sleep alone, but great dreams can only come from creative suffering. Great dreams come fromspiritual suffering. The fabule artist is like Saint Anthony, all alone in the desert, tempted by demons. Weird chimerical beasts, naked demonic chicks, eggs with legs . . .”
“Yeah, man, we’re both like saintly hermits, if only people knew,” said Ganzer, wobbling his head in sympathy. “Those snot-fop critics say that dream-fabbing is a cheap fad! Well, dreams get fabbed in the Bible, man! Dreams get fabbed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth! Dream-fabbing has very deep cultural and philosophical roots—the deepest of any art form ever! Those critics just don’t get us because we’re too profound.”
Morse nodded and glanced at his watch. “Yeah. You bet.”
Carried away by his own eloquence, Ganzer was bouncing eagerly on the red leather of his café seat. “Let’s really ramp this fabule, okay? Like the old days when we were giving dreams away. Forget Presburg’s mainstream soda-pop audience! I want our fabule users to feel their every cell coming into visionary sync! This new fabule can bust our users totally loose from consensus reality!”
“How do you plan to pull that stunt off?”
“It’s cellular. It’s quantum dots. It’s quantum and cellular and bosonic. It’s bosonic cellular quantum dottiness. With ribbons on.”
Morse gazed down at Ganzer’s gnarly fabule, which sat innocently on the table like a wadded piece of bread. “Yeah, those quantum dots. I loved those in your hot demo here. The quantum dots were that floating pepper I saw all around the paramecium, right? That cool, crackly visual effect, like Marvel comics from a hundred years ago.”
Ganzer was pleased. “I like having chaos and dirt in my dreams. I’m like a bluesman with a distorted amp.”
A pink tentacle touched the tabletop. “Hi, guys,” said the tentacle’s owner. The newbie was a handsome, bright-looking kid with olive skin and spiky hair. “Aren’t you Carlo Morse and Jimmy Ganzer?”
“That’s James Ganzer, to you,” Ganzer said.
“I’m Rollo,” said the kid. “And this is Tigra.” That was his girlfriend with the third eye. Ganzer couldn’t stop staring at that eye.
“I’m a ribbonware hacker,” said Tigra, blinking flirtatiously. “Rollo and I are viral.”
“We couldn’t help but overhear you discussing your work with quantum dots,” said Rollo. “Back in Kentucky, I did a lot of work with quantum dots. In film school.”
“You went to film school?” said Morse, wrinkling his nose.
“Of course I didn’t study film,”said the kid, wide-eyed. “More like ribbon theory and subdimensional bosonics.”
“Look, Kentucky, you’re talking to guys who cut their teeth on piezotrodes,” challenged Morse. “I got a closet full of fabules older than you.”
“Tigra and I have been around in Hollywood for a while,” said Rollo. “We’re underground artists.” He used his writhing hot-pink tentacles to set a doll-like figurine on the table. His tentacle brushed against Morse’s hand. Morse jerked his hand away.
“You made a naked statue of your girlfriend?” said Ganzer, nudging the figurine. “Yeah, that’s, uh, real avant-garde.”
“It’s made of pumice,” snickered Rollo. “Green cheese.”
“He means it’s refabulated ribbons from moon rocks,” put in Tigra. “The new plug-in is coded into me. I mean, into my little statue there. You guys plug that in, drop out, take off, and you’ll join us.”
“What’s up with the moon, anyway?” asked Morse.
“Psychogeographic revolution,” said Tigra. “No more secondhand reality. We’re taking control with our dreams.”
Ganzer stared hopefully at the attractive three-eyed woman. “My dreams can get pretty wild.”
“I’d be glad to help you guys realize some wild dreams,” said Tigra, batting her three eyes in rotation. “I mean, the famous dream drama-comedy team of Morse and Ganzer? I’d do you two just for the experience!”
“We don’t do any tutoring sessions,” Morse said. “Do you mind? Our producer will be here any minute.”
“Can we talk to him?” said Rollo.
Wounded, Rollo looked defiant. “Well, producers aren’t gonna matter anymore. Not when reality hacking is finally here.”
Maya the waitress reappeared, both her arms laden with plates. She was used to defending celebrity guests, and she chased the noobs back to their booth.
Maya deftly served them fresh cutlery on kosher burdock leaves.
“Look, how could the moon transform overnight?” said Morse. “I’m a veteran of this business, but I don’t see how that’s remotely possible. I mean, I know that the fabule biz is completely unregulated. But—
“The moon waxes and wanes all the time,” said Ganzer, busy dipping his spring rolls in fish sauce. “Sometimes it’s up there, sometimes it isn’t, and the vast majority of the user base has no idea where it is. And I don’t know why anyone should bother. I mean, the moon can take care of itself. The moon is the very archetype of mankind’s nocturnal dream life.”
“I always hated archetypes.” Morse nodded, munching his unicorn bacon. “Strip-mining other people’s work, that’s what I call that. Archetypes are pure theft of our collective-unconscious preintellectual property.”
“Yadda yadda,” said Ganzer. “Play your tiny, sobbing violin.”
They ate silently for a few minutes.
Eventually Morse shoved his plate of unicorn bacon aside. “My wife used to worship my dreams. I can’t even get her to look at a fabule, nowadays. My wife’s gotten way into musicals. All singing, all dancing, lot of bright color—there’s no plausibility, and no plots either. But much better set design. So she says. I think she’s having an affair with one of her clients. Over at the stroke center. I think our marriage is—”
Ganzer held up a greasy finger for attention. “Franz Kafka awoke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a giant paramecium.”
“Okay. Go for it. Then what?”
“Then a big burst of violent action. Resolution of the inner conflict. Franz Kafka’s maid walks in on him while he’s single-celled. She screams. She attacks him.”
“Who has a maid, these days?”
“Kafka’s in a hotel. She’s the hotel maid. She knocks, and she doesn’t hear any answer because all that Franz the giant paramecium can do is rock back and forth in midair above the bed, wallowing and slobbering.”
“I’ve been there,” said Morse. “Coming off oneirine.”
“The maid sees the giant flying paramecium and she freaks,” continued Ganzer. “An explosive return of repression. She thwacks him with a mop, whack-whack-whack. She’s an attractive woman, somewhat coarse, a motherly, sympathetic person with a sense of humor—but this paramecium beast, she blindly wants to kill it. It’s befouling the room that she cleans every day. Whack-whack-whack. Franz is trying to excuse himself with his floppy paramecium slipper-mouth. He’s like, ‘Bluh glub groo.’ The maid finds his voice menacing and incomprehensible. He’s a slimy man-sized attack-zeppelin. ‘Grumma fleep smee.’”
“That’s the grand finale of a million monster movies,” said Morse. “The monster must be killed. Before it, like, multiplies, finds a job, and gets motor-voter registration.”
“Do you want to hear my pitch, or don’t you?”
“Want a piece of my unicorn bacon?” asked Morse.
Ganzer took a sample. “It’s good,” he observed, then chewed in silence for a moment. “I think the hotel maid should have sex with Franz Kafka the flying paramecium.”
“Oh, sure, why not?” said Morse expansively. “Let the giant paramecium grow suitable protuberances, and manage, against all odds, to win his lady’s favor. After all, we’re talking about a fabule from Jimmy Ganzer, so people’s expectations are way down in the gutter. Jimmy Ganzer’s dreams are the sewer that the gutter drains into.”
“I’ll dream it in, and you can handle the parental-guidance rating,” said Ganzer, raiding Morse’s plate for more bacon. “I’m lonely, so it’ll be hot. Are we done yet?”
“Give me more plot,” said Morse.
“Sex scenes never have plots,” protested Ganzer. “Dreams, musicals, and porn—three utopias of irrational gratification. But you—you want a little logic, right? Do it yourself.”
“Fine,” said Morse. “I’ll fab some pillow talk afterwards between the maid and the paramecium. They’re lying on the bathroom floor. He’s cozily blubbering to her, maybe praising the limpid beauty of her female mitochondria. I’m thinking she sees him as a friendly talking toy. But then—”
“But then!” interrupted Ganzer, getting excited again. “In a spasm of remorse and disgust, the maid slashes Franz open with—with a scythe. And his jelly-flesh pours into the bathtub. No, the toilet—better. More noir.”
“The gelatinous contents of his saclike body pours into the whirling stony vortex,” mused Morse. “I like it. But it shouldn’t be a scythe. They’re five feet long.”
“I love the sound of the word scythe,” said Ganzer loftily. “That primal, agricultural quality. That grim reaping.”
“Make it a sickle,” said Morse. “A little curved sickle, corroded, but with a pink plastic handle. Something vengeful, but girly.”
“Now we’ve got it nailed,” said Ganzer, breaking into a grin. “The maid flushes the toilet and she washes Franz into the sewer. He pollutes the city’s water supply, and everyone catches a bad case of being him.”
“Perfect ending,” said Morse, leaning back in triumph. “That’s a vintage move. Dreams infiltrating real life. Every fabber’s dream. We do the fadeout. We play the Skaken Recurrent Nightmare theme song, and we leave the user with a burning urge to browse into our store and buy some antibacterial lotion. The business model is happy; Presburg’s happy; I’m happy; you’re happy. We’re gonna pull this off.”
“Fine,” said Ganzer. “We’re still on top of the game, bro. At least until this ribbonware stuff brings it to a whole new level.” He fondled the figurine of Tigra and glanced around. “Looks like our underground pair got evicted. That’s great. That means that the ribbonware plug-in from this—”
“Here comes the man,” said Morse, straightening.
Presburg had entered the deli. Yokl the floor manager greeted him personally, then effusively led the big wheel the ten steps across the red-and-black linoleum tiling to the booth where Morse and Ganzer sat.
Morse stood up and shook hands. Ganzer contented himself with a casual “How’s it going, Bobby?”
“Scoot over,” Presburg told Ganzer, seating himself beside him. Presburg was young and whippet-thin. He wore a sprayed-on layer of cotton that showed off his gym-toned torso.
“So,” he said. “Are we gonna save this freakin’ wreck of a series? What’s your game plan?”
“I can get you guys through the next episode,” said Ganzer, knocking the little statue against the table. “If you don’t mind some, uh, stylistic innovations.”
“Innovations aren’t gonna cut it,” said Presburg, shaking his head. “I need something more ontological. More hermeneutic.”
Morse groaned. “Why do you always say that, Bobby? What do those words even mean?”
“It means get off the mattress! Guy buys a dream about a car—he sees it in his driveway when he wakes! Girl buys a dream about a diamond necklace—she’s wearing it in the morning!”
“For all intents and purposes,” said Morse. “In her mind.”
Presburg shook his head. “Not when the studio gets that Chinese ribbonware. You get a billion dreamers all focused on one thing, the sky’s the limit. Like the moon, baby.”
Maya the waitress simpered up and set down a cup of tea. “The usual, Mr. Presburg?”
“Surprise me,” said Presburg with irritation. “I mean, if you can surprise me. Try real hard.”
Maya crossed her eyes and dramatically stuck out her tongue. Presburg ignored her. Maya flounced off.
Presburg reached for the sexy little Tigra figurine. “Whatcha got there?” Ganzer kept it in his hand.
“It’s a tie-in toy,” Morse lied. “Can we talk about my contract, Bobby? And, like I was telling you, I want to bring in Jimmy here as a consultant.”
“No more contracts for Skaken,” said Presburg flatly. “We’re in a paradigm shift. Best I can offer you boys is a consulting fee. No residuals. And it’s up to you how you split it.”
“I’ll walk,” said Morse.
Presburg rolled his eyes.
“I’ll float out the goddamn keyhole!” ranted Morse. “Working on Skaken makes me feel like a grubworm paralyzed by parasitic wasps. That frikkin’ bug metropolis has been filling my brain like maggots in a rotten piece of meat!”
Presburg stopped with his cup of tea halfway to his lips. “Look, I’m about to eat a meal here. You screwballs want a better deal? Bring some serious action to the table! You know a lot of lowlifes, Ganzer. Get me a hot ribbonware plug-in.”
“You’re sure that stuff works?” said Ganzer, giving Morse a look.
Maya the waitress slapped down a plate of twitching live shrimp. Their bodies were shelled, but their heads were still in place. “You can drip Tabasco on them if they slow down kicking, Mr. Presburg.”
“My compliments to the chef,” said Presburg, examining the writhing mass of tortured arthropods. “I was wrong to ever doubt the crew at Schwartz’s. You guys are pros.”
Maya dimpled. “Thanks a lot, Mr. Presburg. You’re a charmer.”
“Maya, you work the noon-to-nine shift, right? Did you happen to notice the moon last night?”
“I don’t care about the moon,” said Maya. “Here in L.A., the sky’s a solid dreamy dome of urban glare. The moon’s way out of style.”
“Thank you,” said Presburg. “You may go. Next witness? Carlo Morse?”
“I see what you’re getting at,” said Morse. “The moon’s goddamn gone.”
Presburg sampled a live, vigorously kicking shrimp. “Not exactly gone,” he said, his mouth full. “Real different. The Chinese ribbonhackers have been dreamfabbing on it. You tell me what that means for our business.”
“No more tides?” said Morse.
“Oh, we’d get decent tides from the sun’s gravity anyway,” said Presburg dismissively. “Think harder.” He bit the body off another shrimp. “Meanwhile, you should try some of these. With that hot sauce, they’re fantastic.”
“Pretty soon food will be totally free,” said Ganzer, intently studying his figurine of Tigra. “We’ll be dreaming garbage into food.”
“The new market,” said Presburg with a quick nod. “Reality is the ultimate medium to productize.”
“If dreams become real . . . ,” put in Ganzer, still fiddling with the figurine. “Well, I’d like to be an amorphous blob. I wanna fly, too. Remember flying dreams, Carlo? Nobody buys those these days.”
“I always really wanted to fly,” mused Morse. “In my flying dreams, I’ll be hovering over people, and talking down to them, and they just answer back in a normal, everyday fashion. There’s no panic, no corny sense of wonder about it—”
“Hey!” exclaimed Ganzer. He’d managed to twist the little Tigra figure’s head loose. He pulled it off the little body. Attached to the head was a gleaming ribbon, like a tiny sword.
“That’s a ribbonware plug-in!” exclaimed Presburg.
With a smooth, nimble motion, Ganzer stabbed the ribbon into the side of his own head.
His gut bulged out; his neck shrank; his head merged into his body. His stained sportswear burst and dropped to the floor in scraps. Ganzer slumped across the table—jiggly, shiny, ciliated, magnificent. A huge paramecium with his slipper-mouth agape.
Presburg jumped to his feet and screamed—a rich scream, filled with vibrato and with a ragged crackle in the upper registers.
“I can fly,” blubbered Ganzer. He floated off the tabletop and drifted toward the room’s low ceiling.
As if guided by fate, Maya came racing across the deli, carrying a big carving knife from the counter men. With a quick gesture, she slit Ganzer open like a hog.
Flying ribbonware shards tumbled out like viruses from an infected cell. Nimble as dragonflies, some of the ribbons plunged themselves into the heads of the people in the deli. And the rest of them surged out the deli door and into the early evening streets.
Yokl the doorman politely ushered them outside, where the populace was gently floating over their abandoned cars.
“Can we fly up there and get a decent dessert on the moon?” said Presburg, his voice sounding odd. He was turning into Jimmy Ganzer. “I mean, this all stands to reason, right? We’ll find Tigra up there, too.”
Morse patted his old friend on the back and gazed into the lambent sky. Something was rising over the dark horizon. A cosmic jewel, with its facets etched in light, slowly turning and unfolding.
“Dream on,” said Morse. “Dream on.”
Copyright 2010 by Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling