Dispatch | May 13 | 12:02pm
Wake up, Neo...
Those weren’t the words the laptop usually displayed when it woke me up. Plus, I was already awake. There was also a tiny message in the corner of the screen.
Video chat requested.
I clicked on it. A whole new program opened up, showing a video feed of the pixelated chin under a big dark hood I recognized as the Dude. He was on the throne-chair thing he sat in when I visited him. The new window had the title Internal Video-Audio Network, because that’s how they name things. Yeah, IVAN was probably the program I saw the Dude through when we first met. Maybe I could use it later to call him back.
I looked at the webcam just above the laptop’s screen. “How ya doing, Dude?”
A clip played. “The details of my life are quite inconsequential.” Then the playback voice changed to Bruce Willis from Die Hard. “I figured since I waxed Tony and Marco and his friend here, I figured you and Karl and Franco might be a little lonely, so I wanted to give you a call.”
I nodded and said the next line from that scene but didn’t try to imitate the voice. “That’s very kind of you. I assume you’re our mysterious party crasher.” I knew how to play this game, and I got to be Hans.
He smiled and played Bruce Willis making a buzzer sound. “Sorry Hans, wrong guess. Would you like to go for Double Jeopardy where the scores can really change?”
No, I was sure that was right. He was just saying the next line in the scene. We were communicating, and I knew what came next. I started to have the feeling I understood the Dude’s movies well enough to really get into his head, get him to do anything. “But you’ve got it backwards.” I skipped a couple lines so I could be Bruce Willis. “I’m the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench–“
“The pain in the ass.” The Dude had his system cut me off and finish that line. He tapped his fingers on the giant armrest and cued audio of a guy with a tense voice. “This company is one of the top software companies in the world because every single employee understands that they are part of a whole. Thus if an employee has a problem, the company has a problem.”
I didn’t know what that was from. “Yeah, but… The company is my problem, so where does that leave you?”
Another voice came from his side of the connection. “What if, and believe me this is a hypothetical, but what if you were offered some kind of a stock option equity sharing program. Would that do anything for you?”
“I’m happy to take your money, Dude, but I can’t let the system keep trapping all these programmers at their computers.” I just wish I knew how to stop it.
The Dude played a monotone. “Ah. Yeah. So I guess we should probably go ahead and have a little talk. Hmm?” Then came a deep voice. “What you have to realize is that many of these minds are not ready to be unplugged.”
“That’s not true. My whole outlook changed during my months of driving around. Just get these people outside once in a while. You’re the keymaster. You designed this whole little world. You can change–“
“Uh, negative.” His playback interrupted me. “I am a meat popsicle.”
“Right, because you showed me that the system is keeping your schedule for you, but you’re still alive. You still have free will.”
He gave that some thought. Then he shook his head, called up another clip and leaned into the camera as Doctor Evil played. “I’ve been frozen for thirty years, okay? Throw me a frickin’ bone here!”
I took a deep breath to gather my thoughts and tried to explain it using a line from Ghostbusters. “Let me tell you something about myself. I come home from work, to my place, and all I have is my work, okay? There’s nothing else in my life.” I broke character. “If you don’t figure out how to change it, I’m gonna figure out how to shut the system down.”
He answered back with more Ghostbusters. “Try to understand. This is a high-voltage laser containment system. Simply turning it off would be like dropping a bomb on the city.” Everything is so dramatic with him.
I shook my head. I had another plan. Lanning told me the Dude spoke using his favorite movies. As long as we were speaking in Ghostbusters, I wanted to expand the vocabulary. “Everything you are doing is bad. I want you to know this.” That was from Ghostbusters 2. The Dude didn’t answer, so I tried another one. “Wow, that is one ugly dude.” That was from Winston, the character he named me after. The Dude still didn’t answer, even though I was speaking his language. “What, no ‘He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him?’ Nothing?” Wrong guess. It wasn’t working. Why one Ghostbusters and not the other one?
After a pause, the Dude played something from Ghostbusters 1. “Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities. We didn’t have to produce anything…” While it kept playing, I clicked over to the Sarah window behind Ivan to see what she thought of all this.
1ADBD9BB - #Dude contacting #winston 1ADBD9EB - #winston playing along
She understood what was going on in our conversation. That was scary. Then another line showed up in the log.
1ADBDA01 - #Dude and #winston quoting movies
I got chills. I wonder how aware the system is, if that was it starting to come to life. Maybe it just guessed that because the Dude only ever quoted movies. At least it didn’t know enough to say which movies. I’m still a little bit smarter. The Dude’s clip finished. “…I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”
I clicked back to Ivan, but I didn’t try to give the Dude another line. “Wait, the private sector?” I thought about that. “Isn’t that us?” He nodded. I was starting to catch on. I thought about his line. “Oh, you expect results.” He shook his head. Wrong guess again.
His speakers tried to explain. “It’s a complicated case, Maude. Lotta ins, lotta outs. Fortunately I’ve been adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber.”
I lifted my wine bottle and my coffee into view of the camera. “You too, huh?” It felt strange to have to show that to the man I used to think was watching me every second, but I wanted him to know where all his money went.
He picked up his own coffee cup and took a sip while the next clip played. “I don’t see what this has to do with, uh, do you have any kahlua?”
I put down my drinks. “You don’t care about that?” Of course, Harry smoked in that office all the time. The Dude had to know about that, and Sarah knows I drink on the job. She probably told him. It’s pretty lame to find out I’m not even breaking any rules.
The speakers played something else. “Pretend you’re me. Make a managerial decision. You find this. What would you do?”
The Dude asking me for advice, that was my opening. I just needed the right line. I thought about my new responsibility of making sure all the nerds were fed and my old job doing the same thing door to door. I thought about all the hundreds of those stupid deadline texts Hans sent out to the drivers with time limits they were never going to make. “I tell you what I’d do… The time limits for deliveries are dumb. Turn them off.” He stared at me, and I realized I could kinda say that with a Die Hard line. “Hans, you motherfucker. You made your point. Let them pull back.”
He played back the next line in that scene. “Thank you, Mr. Cowboy, I’ll take it under advisement.” I didn’t know if that was a yes or no.
“I mean–” I reached for something else. “I’d be very, very careful who you talk to about that, because the person who wrote that is dangerous.” I stared at the camera lens, smiling. That was from Fight Club.
The Dude straightened up in his chair as he played some Fight Club in response. “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
I laughed. “If that’s about me, I’m way past that. Casimir always told us the band wouldn’t last long, that we should live the time as hard as we could.” I felt a tightness in my heart, but talking about Casimir wasn’t making me as sad as it used to. Strange.
“Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth.”
I froze. Was that a recording, or did the Dude actually talk? I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe we were really having a conversation. I had to be careful not to scare him. I talked slow. “That picture of you at one of our concerts, I been wondering if that inspired any of this.”
“Fight Club was the beginning. Now it’s moved out of the basement. It’s called Project Mayhem.” That time, it was definitely playback.
“Yeah, new project, new life.” I talked softer, my hand reaching for the pain in my chest. “But I don’t think I ever really believed the band was gonna end.”
“Hey, even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart.” Tyler Durden’s words coming out of the Dude’s speakers.
“Is that why you hired Harry and me, to help out the people who inspired you when their thing fell apart?” I looked around at the office that used to be my friend’s. What ever happened to Harry anyway?
“Think of everything we’ve accomplished, man. Out these windows, we will view the collapse of financial history.” That was another line from Fight Club.
“With surveillance everywhere? That’s the opposite of what Effective Disorder stood for. Jeez, did you learn anything from us?”
He cued one more Fight Club line. “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing. Like the first monkey shot into space.”
I shook my head. “That’s from the movie. What about you?”
The Dude leaned forward, enough that the shadow of his hood covered what little I could see of his face, but nothing played. There was a long pause on the other end of the video chat.
I leaned forward too. “Dude?”
His voice was quiet and nervous. “Never stop fighting.” He was actually talking to me. “Having small evils to fight makes people stronger to fight the big ones later on.” His shoulders slumped, and his head dropped as he reached out his hand. With a quick gesture in the air, Ivan closed and the Dude disappeared, leaving me alone with Sarah.