It’s All Free

Story and Artwork
Cole Webber

David rubbed his sagging eyeballs and popped the small plastic pill into the machine that at once hummed to life: extracting the powder, bleaching it to his taste with custom acclimated UV rays, and finally spouting hot water over it into his coffee cup. He removed the cup, and the machine flipped itself over like a butterfly knife and dumped the spent capsule in the pneumatic garbage chute. “Can I interest you in anything new from the Ethiopian Blend Range?” The machine clicked in an auto-generated (rather than pre-recorded) female voice. With just a hint of sensuality. “No, no. Not just yet.” It hadn’t even let him finish his first cup. Still, he hadn’t had to pay or it. “Did you remember it from your dreams? I can see about having the — “ He left without answering, or allowing the thing to finish, though its voice followed him with some static interruptions — “recalibrated…”
He sat down at the gleaming table across from his gleaming wife. It still had the price tag on it: not a tag at all but in fact laser etched into the spacecraft grade aluminum. It was given to them partly as an advertisement to their friends, but now their friends were all in on the same program. Who on Earth would buy it? He traced the water drip that bled off of his lip line on the mug, and carried with it small coffee grounds, through the 3999 etched on the surface. Coffee grounds, meant: “The machine’s bugging out.”
“Time for a new one?” The seductive woman’s voice from behind him asked, the machine it stood for using its cantilever design to now scuttle itself into the trash. His wife did not blink. It had been talking to him, Directly: not to her. A new one arrived on their doorstep in an hour. Only then did she notice. But for now:
“Any good dreams on last night honey?”
She was reading the morning celebrity gossip on her slate, and didn’t look up.
He didn’t take the time to say ‘No’ — she already knew that they had not updated the reels or some time now. There were, of course, micro permutations, influenced by the subconscious processes of the viewer. But one’s subconscious processes tended to remain stagnant. There was not much else. “You?” He sighed. “I can’t remember,” she took a sip from her expertly mixed martini, courtesy of another silent machine — that could talk only to her. She had no place to be.
The doorbell didn’t buzz, the door didn’t knock. Instead it let itself in. The new coffee machine crept in like a spider on its cappuccino making spouts and power cables and scurried to a rest on the counter. But someone lingered behind it, breezing in from the empty streets and letting themselves in as well.
“I didn’t realize this was public property,” David scowled.
“Might as well be,” Daphne brightly smiled in perfect lipstick. Belunda nodded in her direction. “Coffee?” She suggested. Already the little creature began to heat up water and spout the steam like cigarette smoke out its ears. Its was a life of service. “No thanks,” Daphne sat down in the chair across from the table, in the bay window. “Did you try the — “
“Ethiopian Blend? No,” David returned to trying to get the code grounds caught up in his fingernails. He was scraping at the foundry holes in the metal like an animal picking at a scab. Belinda bit at him across the room. “Hush,” She looked up to her friend, “Well, can I get you anything else dear?” The machines lay in waiting; I was only an expression.
“No, no, I’m good. Just came to chat, you know, if you want,” She ran a massive diamond ring on her hand through her light blonde hair, with its original orangish red hue now peaking through. “Hal’s still asleep.”
“Sleep till noon, sure,” David was still grumbling to himself, but he would pep up with his first jolt o caffeine. Somehow he still found the time to make un of those not working, even though he — and almost everybody else — did not anymore either.
“Anything new in the dreams?”
“No,” Daphne let the word out like a wind through the air ventilator, longingly looking out at the full houses on the empty street, all factory delivered and exactly alike in luxury, “No… soon, maybe.”
There was a long silence while somebody thought of something else to say, “Soon I’ll forget so much of them, maybe, that they’ll seem new to me though!” Daphne laughed to herself.
There was another long pause. Belinda glanced down to her slate for something to talk about, and anxiously flicked her wrist until she found the right card with the right topic.
“Did you see, Daphne, that Kaylor Kite had even more GUD?”[1]
“Oh lord,” she laughed, “Any more and those bugs are gonna eat their way out of her face!”
The decanting robot rolled over to her, pouring a perfect glass of wine after a perfect amount of time. David glanced at his watch., It was 8:30. He rolled his eyes. “Thanks,” Daphne said to the robot. “I knew you needed it,” it boded back to her, on her own frequency line of course, and hummed back to the kitchen.
“Cheers,”

The grumpiness had not worn off with the first — or even the next five — cups of coffee, and David still sat, not lied, for he still had too much energy, grumbling in the bed sixteen hours later. Belinda pursed her lips and made a light tsk tsk tsk noise out of her mouth. He thought it was designed to scold him, and so he scowled further. “Maybe we should go back to Sweden soon?”
“What’s the point?” He sighed and buried his head into a pillow, holding it over his face while he still remained upright.
“Okay?” She leaned back, “You want to talk to about it?”
But now he was more restless than angry. “I just…” he sighed with a tiredness in his voice that did not match his still straining eyes. Too much damn coffee, he thought, “I just hope there are new dreams tonight.” He rolled over, and shut his eyelids, but they still became jittery, scuttling. She rubbed his back, warmly. “Soon,”
Maybe it wasn’t just the coffee, he thought. Maybe it was that thing in the walls. They said it was safe, but… He thought he could hear its high pitched frequency, see its low amplitude waves rumble out on him like a sea. But he had just fallen asleep. With a little help from the machine.

He was in the basement of his grandparents house. Toys so old they didn’t have battery boxes or power cords littered the floor. It was strangely, ominously, quiet, he spent the next few minutes in the dream — a few seconds upstairs in his bed — checking the various doors. The rooms were darker and longer than he remembered them. He did not find his grandparents, nor his mom or dad, or any of his cousins or aunts or uncles, anywhere. He was alone in a version of this childhood spot, ceiling stretched and walls projected backwards to accommodate an adult him to see from a child’s eye-height. This would have clearly alerted him to being in a dream, if his thinking wasn’t so dreamlike. It seemed perfectly normal, and just as normal that the bright smiling lady should all of a sudden appear. Though logically, she was either some spectre or a thief breaking in. She beamed with all the certainty of his subconscious. Bright patterns and tracings decoupaged together from his favourite actresses, his school crushes, the first porn star he had seen and who was etched deeply, somewhere, without him knowing. Her blonde curls and red lips made her look like she leapt out of a cardboard advertisement from the 40s — far before even he was born. But that was just how desperate he had become to crawl into the past.
He sat on the floor, rolling a train along the carpet without tracks. The tough bristles caught on the tin wheels. She knelt down to speak with him. His chest bubbled like he was on an elementary school playground. “Can I play with you?”
“Sure,” he said absentmindedly, trying to seem disinterested. But she knew what he really thought — she was just exactly it. And a little extra from outside. Above his head, behind his headboard, behind the plaster heating of the wall, a small device no bigger than a dinner plates. Looking like a silver spider web strung over a copper cymbal, silently pushed and prodded the interchange of though waves flowing between it and the man: nudging the slinky back and forth into the correct resonance.
“Where should the train go? Should we make a whole city?”
“Not a whole city?” The boyish version of David said, “Cities are lonely.”
“What an odd thing to say,” the woman said. He looked up, because he was not expecting it, “The city is where all o your friends are, isn’t it?”
He looked to his side, down and out into the long valley that stretched away from his grandparent’s house, built like a slit up and into. On the other side their farm. He shrugged.
She produced a bin of building blocks that rattled their plastic chimes when she dumped it all out. The fairy twinkling caught his attention back. Colourful bricks covered the carpet, as well as several cubes — near perfect cubes, all of them — of ready made pre built structures. He took them up in his hands like dice. For a moment he marvelled at his hands: they seemed to have far less calluses than he had expected, or that he felt himself to have. Then all of a sudden they seemed to have none at all. No fingerprints even. He scraped the baby-bottom skin of his palm against one of the bricks, to see the line it made. Red retreated to white again as the skin normalized. The unnamed woman grabbed his wrist. “Don’t,” she said softly, but still commandingly. He dropped the lone unassembled brick back into the pile, and again moved to the cubical structures. He pawed at them on the floor, on his hands and knees like animals and small children. The woman grabbed onto his back (somewhere Beluynda did the same). A forestation. It seemed to burn hot in his hand. He tossed it aside. A small schoolhouse, unlike one he had ever been in, but yet somehow still painful. He could picture it empty and rotting on a rolling prairie. He tossed this one aside too, and it shattered. An office building: he did not pick it up and in fact hardly glanced at it. It was mere polished steel and glass on each face — or rather, its meticulously sculpted plastic equivalent. It was too boring, to the same, too nondescript. He picked up a house that looked like his, and felt no connection. He let it fall like a loose, limp organ. And finally: a factory. He fumbled it around in his hand. The one thing to break the cubical mould — of any of the buildings it seemed — was a jaunty smokestack protruding firmly. He let it to the ground, just to see. The smokestack did not even crack off of the model. The manipulators hung behind him. He looked back to the woman brightly. She smiled, “A factory,” he declared, handing the box to her, and her taking it knowingly. She placed it at the end o the train track. The train, electric, ran toward it. Like a magnet being pulled. He did not see any wire running from the train tracks. When had they put the train tracks down? He blinked.

He didn’t seem to wake up until he was seated at the shining aluminum table. He took a sip o coffee, and, feeling the warmth down his throat, and then the light in his eyes, the sounds in his ears — nearly choked. He spurted up black water on the table. “Honey?” Belinda looked concerned and yet stern. He coughed a minute more, and then looked at her. Her eyes were scrunched and confused. He deciphered the tone — she was asking. She rolled her eyes: “I said, any knew dreams last night?”
“You know, sometimes David, you never even listen to me,”
But by then he had killed the dead space in his mind with what must have happened that morning in order to transport him from the bed to the table with a cup of coffee. It was no leap of imagination — which would have been strenuous for him. The same thing happened every morning. He thought he heard the telephone ring.
“Not that I can remember…” he hesitated, “But I can’t remember having any of the old ones either…”
Belinda glanced up from her slate and back down. “Me neither,” she added, “thanks for asking.” She returned to swiping, and now a rag on a cylindrical motor drug itself across the table — and the spill — like a slow slug.

David next found himself at the kitchen counter. The coffee-maker steamed idly below him. He had forgotten his thought of a moment before, that he could once more hear the inducer eating out the walls and at his ears, like an army of mosquitoes. He looked down to the device next to the coffee maker, which had seen so little use it had seemed to become part of the counter. Finding it came as a surprise. He darted his hand into the change bowl and picked up the stray coin. It was goldish, but dirtied to more of a bronze. What was this one worth? A one piece? A I’ve piece? It had been so long. When was the last time he had used money? He licked it around and between his fingers like a toy, or more so a mere peanut shell to crush and pick at, prune and middle with. He glanced over again to the coffee machine. To his wife reading, the same. On the counter was the Ethiopian Blend. Had he asked for it? He did not notice it until now.
He absentmindedly went to the door, which opened itself. His wife didn’t call after him. He wandered out into the street, wide and seeming even wider, for, with disuse and the mere erosion of the air currents, all the markings of road lines had whirred themselves away. Gleaming sports cars lined the gleaming sports houses, all abandoned or at the least mostly unused and yet still maintained just for the having of them. In the distance, a show loomed; one so big and undoing, and therefore so unnoticeable, it seemed like a distant rolling hill. A mere part of the landscape, built over, built away from and forgotten. But he saw it now; its reverse waterfall towering through pluming clouds (or smoke?). The smokestack. It was a factory. And it seemed still to be humming, with a deep low rumble that tickled the street from underneath and from so far away. Had that always been there? It seemed entirely familiar, and yet all at once new. He wandered back inside.
“The Factory!” He surprised himself with the enthusiasm with which the word leapt from his throat. His wife jumped, startled and afraid of the unseen and unkempt emotion. “Has it always been there?”
“I… think so…” Belinda trailed of. “I mean, we would’ve heard construction if they built it?” It was as much a question.
“What do they make there?” Belinda was glancing out the window while staying bolted to her seat, dangling, moving, draping precariously to try to see without getting up.
“I don’t know,” David was lost in thoughts that weren’t his own. He looked again at the perfect coffee machine, its levers bent over itself that had once been spider like legs. Maybe they make coffee machines. “I have a bit of a crazy idea thought… I think I’ll go and find out,”
“Hmmmm,” his Wife answered, unimpressed. “And maybe make it there too.”
At this she laughed. “David we have enough — “ she said it almost out of habit, not that she had ever said it. But that it had been taught to her by the television programs — all by their nature from before, from the time of work. “Well, we don’t need money.”
“They don’t need to pay me,” he answered automatically, calmly and confidently. “What else is there to do?” His eyes shot to her pleading, but she had already drilled hers down and back to the slate. He had expected, or perhaps hoped for some dramatism. And like always she couldn’t deliver.
“Well, perhaps that’s true,” she was already trailing off. Already disinterested. He marched out the door.
“May as well give all this stuff back, and go and work somewhere,” he was muttering to himself. But who would he work for? All the people he knew were Ad Men too. Somehow all the people were now modelling to no one. So how did it keep going? Of course it was convenient: it was all too convenient, all of it at you when you didn’t have to be awake, didn’t have to pay attention, didn’t even have to remember — so they said. He nearly tripped over the new free packages on the door, never sent for but plucked from their dream responses.
He wandered to the factory in a half awake haze. He expected to see an endless warehouse of robots humming about, like his rags and dishwasher and coffeepot and kitchen sink. Devices making themselves, and then walking themselves to their mail-order owners. This would have somehow made him the saddest of all. Instead he found Daphne. He nearly spit at her in confusion. She turned around, startled. She leaned against the chain link fence to talk to him.
“Did you get the dream too, the new one?”
“What dream?” It sounded vaguely familiar, but searching through his mind he found nothing.
“I had a dream about this place, or, I thought. A new one,” she shrugged. “Something to do.”
Just when it was getting mysterious, David sighed to himself. Even the young ones are getting old now. ‘Just something to do.’
“You see inside?” She answered him merely by walking in. He followed. He was partially right. There were a great number of robots, twitching themselves to life and going out the loading bay doors on their own, in a mass moving line like a pile of ants. But there was a person. No — more than one. People, clamouring at cardboard and control board very far off, indistinctly. So far away them seemed mask by the haze of distance, of dreams, in this vacuous building.
A woman appeared behind them. Daphne noticed first:
“Did you have the dream too?” David turned around to match her gaze. This new woman seemed familiar… but not in a usual sense. It was not one person, but features of almost everyone he had ever known — or at least remembered.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about?” She flashed a smile just as effortless as her words — all out from red lips. Her teeth looked all exactly alike. David blinked.
“It’s not all robots?” David asked, pointing to the stretching internal world.
“No, not all. There are still some things we need human fingers for,” the woman said. They paused sheepishly like children under her.
“We could…” David began but Daphne finished, “Volunteer? You wouldn’t need to pay us.” He at first glared at her with instinct, but then corrected it and nodded.
“Fine,” the woman said, with the same smile. Adding awkwardly, “We wouldn’t.”
The three wandered off into the vast space.

1: GUD:
an acronym of ‘Gene Up Design’, Procter Prospects’ trademarked name for the procedure, which was a revolutionary form of noninvasive plastic surgery: Implants were designed as organs on complex genome simulation computers, the DNA removed and implanted in a nucleus, this injected into the body with nutrient rich material to give the metabolism and multiplying a head start, and soon the breasts would inflate themselves, the lips plump themselves, and the face straighten out via DNA direction all on the inside. With one pin prick breasts could grow from A cup to double D. Problems arose if the body rejected the foreign virus hosting the DNA and corrections to be built to, or if the new implants — essentially organs without functions, ergo appendices in the shape of implants — took on a life of their own and functioned out of sync with the rest of the body’s systems, like a parasite. But this rarely happened…

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