The Dream Machine

Sleepex Incorporated was on the cusp of a breakthrough. Reports had been sent off for scientific review and their “Research and Development” department was already chilling the champagne.

“Do you think they’ll find anything?” Charles, the head researcher walked up to his number one developer and leaned down towards the table where his employee was sitting.

“They’ll find that our work is right. I just don’t see how they could find anything wrong with it.”

“Can I get that in writing?” They both laughed. “Seriously though, we solved that expansion problem, right?”

“Boss,” the developer looked up. “We resolved everything. You can stop worrying. You’ll be a household name before you know it.”

Charles sighed. He knew he needed to relax, but he also knew he wouldn’t be able to until the results were in his hands. This was just too big of an accomplishment to react any other way.

“Ha, well, I can dream. All right,” he finally said. “Thanks.” He was quick to leave the table. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist and tried to keep his distance from those who worked for him. He found himself walking back to his office alone again to eat his lunch. Even if his name did become famous, he wasn’t sure that would change much.

Charles spent the next four months in his office, reviewing numbers and preparing to report the worst to his bosses and the bosses above them. He knew the chances of the worst happening were slim to none, but that didn’t stop him from being fully prepared. It was how he got to his position now and he wasn’t about to risk anything.

When he wasn’t in the office he was alone with his cat in his two-bedroom loft apartment downtown. It was a nice place, a two-minute walk to the office, and it had gorgeous views that nobody but himself had ever seen. He kept the place spotless just in case that day ever came.

With one of his life goals in sight, he sat on his couch and pondered every decision, every step, every move made up until this point. It was almost exactly how he had planned it out. He worked his way up the ladder until he was head researcher and drove the company for more funding until they had what they needed to complete what the industry liked to call a “game-changing” invention. For Charles and the rest of his crew, that game changer was what they had been calling “Sandman.” They had perfected lucid dreaming to a point so much that not only did the sleeper become aware that they were dreaming, but they could control their dreams before and during their sleep states. This was revolutionary.

Their first test case was a subject who had recently lost her dog. After using the “Sandman” and associated medication, the subject reported that she was able to not only see her dog again, but that they played fetch, went on a walk and cuddled in front of the fireplace together and it seemed like she had her dog back for weeks. The funny thing about that was that she was only sleeping for five minutes. The first test for the product could not have gone better. There were minor setbacks when the dreams involved other people, but the team was able to tweak them enough to overcome most issues that test subjects reported.

Charles sat back the entire time and watched it unfold. It started in pill form, but the side effects were too serious to be considered for long-term use and the number of pills a subject would have to take was not realistic in the long run. The team phased out the pills in favor of an apparatus to be worn like a baseball cap. Although Charles preferred an all-pill solution, he knew it was not something they would be able to feasibly achieve. His team went through many different cycles for their new physical apparatus and Charles oversaw all the work. His team was the best in the world from their fields and he knew he would never be disappointed with what they came up with.

Part of the reason he wanted this to become a reality was because he liked the challenge and the idea that it could be done. The other part was because he wanted one for himself. Being so alone was starting to get to the 51 year-old man. He had nobody but his cat and his distant team at work. It wasn’t a way to live, he thought. If he could artificially create things closer to him, maybe he’d feel better about it all. He then projected those thoughts onto others who could use the “Sandman” to gain similar benefits. Patients on their death beds, kids with cancer, the elderly who could no longer travel, anyone who has lost someone or something close to them, the possibilities weren’t limited.

The day he received the results was just like any other day. He was in his office, going over scenarios and the mail carrier walked in.

“This looks like a pretty hefty package.” Anne, the inter-office deliverer set the package down on Charles’ desk. “I think you have to sign for it.”

It was rare to have to sign for anything inter-office, but Charles did it anyway. “Thanks, Anne.” He said. He opened it, saw the seal of approval at the top and knew that he had to gather his team. They all met in the meeting room across from Charles’ office.

“Hello everyone,” Charles started. He never knew how to start meetings, he just knew he didn’t want to waste everyone’s time. “Straight to the point, as usual. We’ve got the review back and they approved everything. Congratulations!” There were hoots and hollers from the crowd, someone asked where the champagne was, some people hugged while others sat in shock. Charles stood in the front of the room with a giant grin across his face. “I’m going to leave a copy of the approval in the front of the room if you’d like to review it, otherwise I’m giving you the rest of the day off. I’ll report up to the board later this afternoon. Congratulations everyone, you all deserve it.”

Charles kept his promise and briefed the board members of the results. The paper that the potential profits report was printed on could barely contain all of the 0’s which led to a quick approval by all members. With all of the signatures and the gears in motion, it was once again a waiting game for Charles, so he retreated back to his apartment and his cat to do just that.

The products were produced quickly, with all of the company resources at its disposal. It was pushed into the commercial market at the same time corporations and industries were picking them up. At first only the wealthy could afford it. It was priced high and marketed at them and they ate it up. They couldn’t get enough of it. Charles’ company had to put a halt on orders just to be able to produce more and ramp up the supply. It was an “amazing” product and the reviews were only positive. The elderly loved the way it helped them capture their youth again. People with disabilities could experience things they thought they had lost forever. It was in hospitals and assisted living homes and used in therapy and recovery clinics. It was all going so well and Charles and his team were praised in the media and by the scientific field and were even considered for the Nobel Prize. Charles could not have imagined the scenario to be any more perfect.

But there was a problem.

As the company produced more “Sandman” products the price came down. Every time a price drop was announced, the sales would increase, but the good intention use of the product decreased, at least in Charles’ mind. People who didn’t need it were buying and using it inappropriately. Some people started using it to live out their wildest fantasies, or to cheat on their spouse, or to commit crimes and activities they wouldn’t normally do because they consider it too dangerous in a normal situation. “Now,” said one interviewee on the late night news, “With the risk of everything taken away, I don’t need to worry about it.” The person had just set up the product and used it to commit murder, living out a twisted dream of his. He seemed like an otherwise decent person. That was the problem though, Charles thought. Otherwise normal people were starting to do the same thing and more and more of them were living in their dreams.

It wasn’t a big problem until the price dropped to under $500 despite Charles’ complaints. The moment the board members steamrolled his ideas to inflate the price was the moment he pinpointed as being the time when everything changed. It seemed like almost everyone had one, even if they couldn’t afford it. There were payment plans, loans, black market deals and a lot of theft in order for everyone to get one. Once people had one they used it all the time and only ever stopped to use the restroom or to eat something. Sometimes they didn’t even stop for that.

Everyone had become an addict to their dreams, a slave to the “Sandman” machine. 12-step programs started to popup to try and get people unhooked and back into the real world, but they were mostly empty. Everyone was too busy living out their dreams and fantasies to care about what the real world was doing. Production across the world declined and Charles sat in his apartment with his cat worrying about what he had done to the future of humanity. People were starting to die in the machine he created because they were so wrapped up in the phony world they were forgetting to take care of themselves. Even when they stepped out of their dream worlds and back to real life, people would often become so depressed that they couldn’t continue on. The suicide rate jumped and only a few media outlets noticed.

Real life conversations were empty and day-to-day activities weren’t exciting or new. Charles and team didn’t even consider this in their wildest thoughts about the product, but now they were here and their invention was slowly killing the world. Birth rates dropped and death rates increased and everyone could see where it was going, but too few people were looking at it to care. Soon enough the people who cared and tried to change the course of humanity gave up after accomplishing nothing and plugged themselves in as well. It was the first sign of mankind’s white flag.

Charles and his team tried to solve the problem, they tried to come up with a way to reverse what they had done, but it was way too late. There was no going back now. What they had given couldn’t be taken away and they knew their time was up.

“Well, we had a good run.” Those were Charles’ last worlds to his coworkers. That night he walked back to his apartment. He played with his cat for a while before she got bored and wandered off, then he took a shot of whiskey and went to the corner of his living room where his personal “Sandman” was unplugged and had been un-used for most of its life. He gave a deep sigh, leaned down and plugged it in. It whirred to life while he popped a pill. He decided he wasn’t going to look back. He sat down, setup what he wanted the rest of his life to look like and started dreaming.

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