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Armand was bicycling across the Alexanderplatz when a heavy piece of cloth hit him in the face.

He fell over as he snatched it away. The Post-Singularity Platform materialized a large beanbag beneath him to prevent his bruising his plump ass.

His companion, Giselda, glided over to where he lay. She alighted and picked up the cloth.

"It's a towel," she said, "an old-style terry-cloth towel. Like we had when I was a kid."

"What the hell is a towel doing just flying through the sky?"

"It's monogrammed," she said. "It says HIS."

Just then the HERS towel smacked Armand in the face as he started to get up. He grunted and fell backwards clumsily.

Giselda didn't notice his pratfall because she was intently reading a label on the towel.

"Armand," she said without looking up. "What's a Nieman Marcus?"

He had just snatched the second towel from his face and was about to answer when they both looked up at the clap of thunder.

Joe Bob Swoboda was sauntering down the Unter der Linden, smoking a clove-scented cigarette in an ebony holder and leering at the flappers.

He heard a strange sound--like a harp in the breeze--and looked up as a Yamaha grand piano landed on him.

Most of the people on the sidewalk were holograms, and didn't react, but some of the bystanders were real meat, and they looked at each other in surprise and shock. The mess on the sidewalk looked like someone had smashed an especially large black varnished crate full of tomatoes.

A yellow haze of medbots quickly swirled together and sucked into the wreckage like smoke going backwards. In three minutes, Swoboda crawled out--pink and wet, but none the worse for wear.

He pulled his rehabbed clothes out of the mess and began to dress.

"What the hell was this?" he muttered. He heard a gasp, and turned to see one of the flappers pointing to the sky.

He looked and saw what looked like a thunderhead in the distance.

Gert paid the chestnut man with a bucket of paper money. The vendor threw the Weimar currency into a wheelbarrow.

The young lovers went to sit on a nearby park bench. He handed Greta a steaming brown paper bag of roasted chestnuts.

Gert spoke to Greta as they pulled apart the sweet nuts.

"You know, this period really wasn't much fun for the people who actually had to live through it. I mean, can you imagine having to lug sacks of money around for real--instead of just v-fogging them up when you need them?"

"Well, nothing was easy before the Singularity," she said. "How are your chestnuts?"

She didn't hear a reply, so she looked over. Gert was looking up, pop-eyed. She followed his gaze--and saw a tornado swirling above the apartment block on the far side of the park.

Before either had a chance to react, a large golden brown car spun out of the funnel cloud and smashed the tree, the bench, and them all to mush.

This resurrection would take the medbots a little longer than usual.

"Randy, there's a storm over the Weimar Republic."

"Isn't the system handling it?"

"No, you don't understand, it's a real storm. The disruption is so severe, it's actually producing weather."

Pat, the platform AI, wasn't prone to exaggerate, so Randy Dobbs knew this was serious.

"Give me a visual."

A hologram appeared on his console. It showed a tornado over Berlin. Dobbs began to menu ten things at once.

"Zoom in, Pat. I want to see what we have."

The medium range shot showed a swirling funnel of cargo--all types of consumer goods swirling in a maelstrom of materialism.

"Crap," muttered Dobbs. "Some old Jenny must have fallen asleep with her headset on. Why isn't she off-line?"

"Apparently, she's dreaming too hard," said Pat. "Her bandwidth has blown the firewalls. And the countermeasures can't force themselves up the data stream."

"Great! I'm going to lose everything because someone with a greedy imagination has fallen asleep with her v-set on."

"The virtual machines are churning at capacity now," chimed in Pat. "The creativity is causing a firestorm-like drain of v-fog towards the funnel cloud. And the medbots are sucking up fog, too."

"She's going to crash the whole platform," said Dobbs. "Do we know who it is?"

"No, but I got the address before I lost control," said Pat.

"Good boy," he said. "How far away is it, real-world?"

"Half a kilometer."

Normally, anyone who fell asleep with a v-set on got a swift virtual whack upside the head.

"This old lady dozed off too fast and started dreaming too hard," Dobbs thought. "Time to get real with her."

He had a lot to think about in the 15 minutes it took him to jog over to the address on the Freidrichstrasse.

He'd been at the post as platform manager four real decades.

Although it really was a fail-safe-type of job, he always liked to think the platform needed him.

When he was young he actually worked, at a factory where real cars were made. Welded and screwed and painted and all that--before the Singularity kicked in and the noosphere dropped the SCMs out of the sky.

The meat revolt against the Santa Claus Machines was quickly suppressed. "Nobody shoots at Santa Claus," his manager said as they padlocked the factory a few days before the nanobots arrived.

By that last nightfall, he was transported to a new platform drifting in the rings of Saturn. Twenty years old and nothing to do but enjoy the good life.

Problem was, he was a workaholic.

When the Singularity God asked for a human volunteer as manager, he was the only person to hit reply. The job was his.

All these years, he kept himself occupied with the normal pleasures humans enjoyed as the pets of the Singularity God.

"The only thing I haven't had is self-esteem," he thought, as he dodged a flying liquor cabinet. "Nobody else seems to care."

He had to keep ducking into doorways to avoid getting hit by cargo thrown out of the funnel cloud. The few people on the street were wandering around and whimpering like children. They'd never seen an out-of-control environment before.

"The God has failed," he thought as he crossed in the middle of a block. "Well, God helps those who help themselves. Today I earn my paycheck.

He chuckled at the memory of paper paychecks. He hadn't seen one in 40 years.

As he ran onto the sidewalk, he saw a real old man--that is, a man who was actually old--who called to him from a doorway.

"You need some help?"

Dobbs nodded, and the old man dashed out to join him.

"I was a fireman in the before times."

"Great, you've actually seen disasters. That's why you're so cool. Follow me."

The pair slid up against a wall as a gun safe crashed on the sidewalk.

"Careful." Dobbs held him back as a Piper Cub crashed into the middle of an intersection. "With the fog all being sucked into this storm, the medbots may not be able to take care of us."


Continued . . .

Lou Antonelli is a longtime newspaper editor and reporter with multiple awards from Texas Press Association in editorial, column and feature writing. Antonelli's first published story was Silvern, published by RevolutionSF in June 2003, of which Dialogue is a follow-up to, or sorts. His second story published here, Silence is Golden, earned an Honorable Mention in Gardner Dozois' 21st annual Year's Best SF, while Pen Pal and The Rocket-Powered Cat earned similar kudos in the 22nd annual edition.


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