What if people could bank, sell, and buy their sleep?

It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a sleeper or a dynamo, every service call on a Dynadorm unit leads to an angry or incoherent customer.  That’s why there’s such a high turnover rate for us service techs, never mind the money.  I don’t care what kind of debt you have hanging over your head, the first time you get assaulted by one of these people, no amount of compensation seems worth it.  It’s not the physical trauma of it, it’s the terror of dealing with the unhinged.  There’s nothing more dangerous than some sleep-deprived zombie who’s counting on you to get up and running again.

I’ve had all sorts of weapons pulled on me, dodged my share of thrown objects, and more than once I’ve been forced to threaten a client.  Dynadormophis tells us not to in the handbook and every training session, but they know what goes on at the front line, and you do what you have to do.  They’ll never admit it – that’s what keeps the lawyers off our backs – but every rookie soon learns that corporate doesn’t care what we do so long as the green keeps flowing.  And they expect the green to keep flowing.

After all, it’s the service contracts that keep us in business.  You can rent a Dynadorm fairly cheaply these days, relatively speaking, and outright buying one is within reach of some, but you’d be a fool to think that’s the extent of your investment if you expect the thing to keep working.  I see the same scene over and over again.  That first call usually comes sometime in the first or second year of operation, by which time the unit is well out of warranty and its owner has become financially, emotionally, and/or physically dependent on it.  They can’t believe that the call is going to cost so much, swear up and down that nobody in sales ever made the cost/benefit ratio of a service contract clear to them, then finally stop stamping their feet and cursing long enough to accept our generous offer of applying seventy-five percent of their bill toward a long-term contract.  After that, they’re pretty much hooked.

Dynadorms are actually amazing machines, when you stop to consider it, and given the Rube Goldberg assemblage of theoretical biophysics and fairy dust that makes it all work, nobody should take for granted that they run at all.  Fixing the contraptions requires the knowledge of an engineer, the precision of a surgeon, the intuition of an artist, and the faith of an evangelist.  That’s what our clients fail to understand.  We’re not overeducated grease monkeys following flow charts here.  We get paid a hefty commission because very few people have what it takes to nurse an ailing Dynadorm back to health.  What’s more, we need a psychologist’s insight and a soldier’s brawn to deal with the clientele.

“Time is money, you big, fat moron!” one of my wealthier customers once screamed in my ear as I peered into his smoking console.  I could smell the coffee evaporating off the unit, noticed the concentric sweat rings of a mug on his old-growth hardwood desk, but this guy insisted that he did nothing more than switch it on when sparks shot out of it.  And he called me a moron.

“Mr. Reynolds,” I addressed him curtly, “your contract excludes console damage due to immersion or exposure to excessive moisture or liquids, which, I might add, is why we recommend that Dynadorm units be kept away from any area where beverages are consumed.  That means-“

“You son of a bitch!” he growled.

“That means, of course, that the cost of this repair will be billed to you.  Should the unit be damaged beyond repair, we cannot refund any portion of your existing service contract, though we are offering a ten percent rebate on upgrades, and you can apply the remainder of your contract toward the new unit.”

Mr. Reynolds was coming down, big time, and he and I both knew it.  He ran his trembling fingers through a thinning tangle of graying hair and stared at the panorama of skyscrapers below us.  No doubt he had a number of deals on the line this morning, if the numerous spreadsheets and legal documents on his monitors were any indication.  A less hectic day might have afforded him the luxury of real sleep if necessary, but now was no time to indulge in risky behavior.  Who knew when he had last slept?  The wretched man was minutes away from collapsing into dreamland and staying there for the rest of the week.

“Alright…alright…,” he managed in a quavering voice, ”…alright then…fix it right now or give me the upgrade…I’ll even sign for an emergency boost if I have to, but…” he leaned against the window, “only…only if I absolutely have to.”

Some of the guys I know would have whipped out their emergency boost release and shot him up right then and there, but somebody has to take the higher ground these days.  Sure, Reynolds is screwing anybody, anytime, any chance he gets for as much as he can, but that doesn’t mean I have to.  At least – forgive me for saying so – but at least I can sleep at night.

I disconnected his old 3000 and pulled it out of the rack, because you can’t so much as spill an ounce of Coke or coffee on it without blowing out the circuitry and toasting its gamma drive.  He was lucky he didn’t ruin his storage as well, especially since he had already banked a good month’s worth of repos, but his card tested clean and I was able to slip it into his new 3500.  Now he could download repos online straight to his Dynadorm, if he cared to, though a dynamo like him probably bought his credits for much less through a dealer.  If you’re not going to sleep at all, the habit can get quite expensive.

“Okay, Mr. Reynolds, we’re booted up and ready to go.”

He had plugged in before I could ask him whether he was renting or buying, though for Reynolds, such questions were mere formalities.  He was a different man in a few minutes – they always are – flush with adrenaline, free from tremors, and focused in the eyes.  With the ebbing of his paranoia came the onset of rising confidence, evident in the speed with which he finished the transaction and ushered me out his office.  He showed no signs of remorse or even knowledge of his rudeness, which was not surprising.  Once a dynamo recharged, all drowsy faux paux were left behind like a bad dream.

Sleepers are a different breed, still potentially dangerous but more out of desperation than greed.  I’ve had to threaten a few with physical violence as a matter of self-defense, but most of my intimidation of sleepers involves not-so-subtle reminders that I’m repossessing their Dynadorm if they fall behind on payments.  Some of them have actually fallen to their knees and groveled at my feet.  Pathetic as that sounds, it’s nothing compared to the tomblike atmosphere of their squalid homes and the grim faces of their children.

I might forget to pack a gun if I’m in a hurry to respond to a fat-cat dynamo downtown, but you can be sure I never go down to the bottoms unarmed.  I wouldn’t even take sleeper calls if corporate didn’t force us to, but ten to one it’s the sleepers whose units break down, thanks in part to the reconditioned rentals we give them.  Most of the time they’re desperate enough to sign a service contract, and Dynadormophis probably makes more money off of them than the dynamos.  For every sleeper who gets his Dynadorm repossessed, there are five more poor souls who have scraped together enough of a deposit to give it a shot.  When they can’t hack it anymore, others are ready to take their place.  Like an infestation of carpenter ants, there’s never any shortage of sleepers.

Ask any tech and you’ll get the same answer:  you’re taking your life in your hands just getting to your sleeper.  We’ve lost a few guys who got caught in the crossfire or were just plain jumped before they could get to the right address.  You have to double-check your calls, too, because every punk knows what’s inside a Dynadorm, and they’ll kill you just to strip it and get a week’s worth of groceries or half a tank of gas.

That’s why a sleeper will always ask you to hold your tech ID up to the peephole.  You stand there for a minute or so, sometimes there are shots in the distance or uncomfortably close, and finally half a dozen deadbolts turn and you get to come into some hole where you never wanted to be in the first place.  Sometimes it’s not even the sleeper who answers the door, it’s one of the kids.

Once I was shown in by a little brown boy who couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old.  He had that hardened look of a kid who was raising himself, and every dirty dish on the couch and towel on the floor indicated the same.  He rushed into a pitch-black bedroom and started calling out, “Mama!  Mama!  He’s here!  The sleep machine man is here!  Mama!  Quit wastin’ your sleep!  Wake up, Mama!”

Mama fixed me with the classic sleeper stare as my eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings.  She was too out of it to be angry.  Talking to her was like trying to wake up a teenager before dawn, and though she looked haggard as anything, she probably wasn’t long past the teenage years herself.

“Ms. Johnson, it’s not banking your hours?”

“Wha?” she whispered, a strand of drool stretching from her open mouth.

“Your Dynadorm.  It won’t give you repo credits when you’re sleeping, right?”

She shook her head and looked like she might plop back down on the bed without warning.  “It don’t work no more.  I got nothin’ to sell.  I won’t be able to make no payment if I got nothin’ to sell.”

Even as she spoke I could see the problem, and it had nothing to do with her rental unit.  These sleepers, especially the young ones, get their schedules so screwed up that they don’t know up from down, and then they stop taking even basic care of themselves.  I don’t know what happened to the cover of her docking port, but you could see all the crud that had built up on the contacts after they got exposed to everything that came in contact with her head.  Probably tried to take a shower with the cover broken off.  Lucky for all concerned that it’s a simple and inexpensive swap-out.  She didn’t like it when I made her lay still and pulled her chip out, but I had the replacement in before she knew what hit her.  By this time she was so exhausted that you could practically see her income circling down the somnambulistic drain.  I got her boy to sign off, and I plugged her in.  If she had her wits about her when the eight-hour bank alarm sounded, she would see a nice display of repo credits before she unplugged and slept for herself.

The boy never said a word as I packed up my gear and headed for the door, but he fixed his unblinking eyes upon me as though I were likely to steal something from him.  I heard the deadbolts as soon as the door shut behind me, and I’m certain he yelled something after the last lock turned, though what it was I couldn’t tell.  Whatever it was, he better not have disturbed Mama.  Even the little ones learn quick:  never wake up a sleeper on the job.  That’s why we have bank alarms.

No question it’s a high-stress job, dangerous and demanding.  But outside of our work, a tech lives a pretty good life.  Sleepers spend most of their lives in bed, barely making enough to cover their costs and stumbling through their waking hours in a haze.  Dynamos make more money than anyone can imagine, but then they never stop working either.  We techs are like a throwback to the Twentieth Century:  on call for forty hours a week.  I get a solid six hours of sleep every night, and that leaves me with eighty-six hours a week to spend my money however I please.

And just like Reynolds likes to bark, time is money, right?