A Business Dinner
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Jack Aldrin flinched and looked up from his tablet as the car swerved at an intersection. The man shook his head and continued to view the documents. Page after page of latest shipments, exhibited and sold items, commodities negotiated over with other, smaller dealers flickered on the screen. Each and every document bore Aldrin’s digital signature.

This week's results were rather mediocre for the sales representative. He could only hope that everything will go as planned at the upcoming meeting. Aldrin opened the bookmarks and frowned as an item's description appeared on the screen:

Status Withdrawn from the auction due to discovered flaws
Demand Medium
Value 12,000$ for a copy
Availability Supply contract is avoided. Five available copies are placed in stock.
Description A 30-cm vinyl record from 2018. The product is a copy of the purchased item YFH54/DS197/0F001, presumably produced by the "Oneiroi Collective". The recording features various sounds that are capable of inducing a state similar to lucid dreaming in the listener. The contents of the record tent to change slightly in-between the listenings, the record itself does not require a “restart” and keeps playing until the user leaves the dream voluntarily. The product is highly valued by customers as an effective means of stress relief and treatment of sleep-related disorders. A non-anomalous player comes with a copy as a gift.
Marshall, Carter and Dark, LLP

The man put his tablet aside and began to sort through possible concessions, demands, and proposals in his head. Failure was not an option. His career perspectives directly depended on this agreement. Aldrin opened his planner and tried to find an entry about this business dinner — what if he got the time wrong? His thoughts were interrupted by his driver's soft voice, announcing that the car drove up to the tower of Millennium Trade Center. The man sprinkled a breath freshener into his mouth and headed to the meeting.

The tower's high-speed elevator reached the top floor in no time; the upscale restaurant “Classique” was situated on the roof. The maître d' met the familiar visitor with a smile and led him to his favorite table on the very edge, which provided a wonderful view of the neighboring towers as well as the dazzling web of night streets. Stars in the sky were shining brightly despite the city's glow. The waiter, wasting no time, brought a bottle of Aldrin's favorite white wine. The man didn't want to drink this night, but still accepted the compliment.

"A wonderful night, isn't it, Mr. Aldrin?" sang the maître d', sincerely smiling.

"Indeed, Mr. Trigul. My guest will be here any minute, I'll refrain from ordering until then."

"Don't worry, Mr. Aldrin. Mr. Temnikov was very worried about your personal time, so he called and informed us about his preferences,” the maître d' snapped his fingers and pointed the waiters to Aldrin's table. "He also apologized for his possible slight lateness. Please."

The sales representative ordered a seafood dish and began to look at the glowing city. Quiet applause rang out as the pianist finished another piece and bowed his head politely. Aldrin didn't recognize the next melody, yet it seemed strikingly pleasant and very familiar. Just like the pianist's appearance.

A voice with a slight accent called the sales representative by name. The man turned around.

"Good evening, Mr. Aldrin, I apologize again for this delay."

A blue-eyed man in his forties, dressed in a snow-white suit with a gray handkerchief was standing near the table. Aldrin hurriedly got up and shook the guest's hand.

The men sat at the table. As the waiters poured wine and placed the dishes, the guests sat silently with friendly smiles on their faces. Finally, the staff left their table.

"Mr. Temnikov, I'm very glad to see you. I'm sure this long-awaited meeting will benefit us all."

"Of course. We're also full of optimism," Temnikov responded with a smile.

"To success!" Aldrin raised his glass.

"And trust," his guest added.

The guests put aside their glasses and began to eat. The dish Oneiroi representative ordered turned out to be a rabbit in white sauce.

"To be fair, it is very unusual to have a conversation with a member of Oneiroi collective in such a simple way. This is an honor for us. I believe signing this agreement will benefit us all"

"Yes, Mr. Aldrin, as we informed you in the preliminary letter, Oneiroi are interested in your offer on the distribution of our items. The collective has long been looking for methods to properly distribute some… ahem… tools. Your offer is very generous, giving us an opportunity to distribute our wares through a reputable organization. The financial part is also important for Oneiroi, despite everything the uninitiated might tell you."

Both guests laughed and drained their glasses. On the stage, a small jazz band finished performing a blues-style composition and was rewarded with a round of applause. An attractive woman in a red dress got up from the nearest table along with her companion and went dancing.

"Mr. Aldrin… Mr. Aldrin…" Temnikov gently called his interlocutor.

"Oh, sorry, I got distracted by this beautiful couple," Aldrin gave a guilty smile and returned to the meal.

"Actually, we have another proposal for your collective. You see, because of our unscrupulous suppliers, we now have a rather irritating problem."

"I'm afraid I'm not authorized to conduct additional negotiations. But I'll gladly hear your suggestions," said the Oneiroi representative while finishing off the veal and starting with the dessert.

"Mr. Temnikov… Recently, a certain vinyl record found its way into our hands. Probably, of your production. A very valuable item. We didn't sell it, but…"

"Decided to forge it instead," said the other man, making an expressive gesture with his ice cream spoon.

"Ahem… Well, yes. Needless to say, our suppliers couldn't handle this task properly. Our customers have suffered. And now MC&D's reputation is hanging in balance."

"And what is your suggestion?" Temnikov pushed the pudding away and glared at Aldrin.

"We need your help. They are stuck there, in a dream. Nothing can awaken them, not even stopping the records. We value all customers, but these are especially important. A senator, an Archbishop and a CEO of a large corporation. Frankly, we really screwed up, Mr. Temnikov."

"I hear you, Mr. Aldrin. Oneiroi are aware of this problem, but I'm afraid you have little understanding of what happened there. In simple terms, this problem does not have an on/off button."

"Marshall, Carter and Dark LLP will reimburse all costs and pay generously for troubling. Please get them out of there," Aldrin pleaded.

"Good. We are ready to provide such a service. Once," Temnikov said with pressure, "as a gesture of goodwill and a demonstration of reliability. I guess we can sign the collaboration agreement right now."

"Here? But how? We need to draft a document, and, I think, we still need to negotiate some other points…"

"Everything has long been agreed upon and all necessary documents are here with me. Let's finish right here," Temnikov knocked on the now empty table with his knuckles. "Otherwise, we will have to wait for the next night."

Temnikov smiled broadly. Aldrin abruptly jumped up from his seat, gazing at the Oneiroi representative with fright.

"Yes, Mr. Aldrin, that's right. But I want to assure you right away that this dream is fully yours. Everything around." The man spread his arms. "Is your creation. Probably, in your dreams, our meeting should look exactly like this. And actually, this stands true for me as well"

"So you're not real!?" Aldrin exclaimed in terror. Frightened by his own scream, the man looked around. The jazz band, waiters and maître d' disappeared. The restaurant was now completely empty.

"What a strange, yet at the same time, obvious question to ask in a dream. Is any of it real?" Temnikov smiled, "I won't play games with you, Mr. Aldrin, I'll just say it as it is. I'm just a dream. An Idea. My voice, my appearance, my manners, even my name, are all made up. By you."

Aldrin sat down and turned his head towards the city. The view had slightly changed.

"So, this meeting is an empty shell, just my ordinary dream…" the sales representative grubbed his head, "I'm so confused."

"This is the only place where we could meet safely," said Temnikov, putting aside his cup of coffee, "As a demonstration of our trustworthiness, Oneiroi decided not to visit your dream personally, sending me, a representative, instead. Some people are not pleased when strangers penetrate their heads. Especially people of high standing, such as yourself."

"But you did penetrate!"

"And we return to the question of me being real. Your head is clear, the Oneiroi simple gave you their conditions and provided a place where you can consider them. A perk of our trade," Temnikov smiled.

Aldrin fumbled for his cigarette case and reached for a cigarette. Gently, but resolutely, Temnikov covered the silver box with his hand, shook his head and said:

"You don't need neither fire nor smoke in dreams."

Aldrin obediently closed the cigarette case.

"I don't remember anything prior to our meeting. How did I get into the car, how did we agree…"

"Your people were looking for a way to meet with us for quite a long time. At some point, we decided to make contact. Our courier gave you a package with instructions and everything you needed. Since we are talking right now, that means you have risked this meeting and, it's worth saying, you are a very brave person. Or maybe this deal matters a lot to you."

Temnikov finished his coffee and began to look at the city. A rumble of thunder rolled somewhere in the distance.

"Oh, what a nuisance. We need to hurry. You know, we are investing a lot of money in international research to reduce noise pollution, but it’s pointless to go against the forces of nature."

Temnikov grabbed Aldrin by the wrist and leaned forward.

"Listen carefully, Aldrin. Your dream will soon fall apart, so there is no time for ceremonies. We're all in favor of honest dialogue, so we won't give you a reason to think that we're trying to deceive you on our own territory. Yes, your dream only lasts several pitiful minutes, of which you'll remember mere seconds, but we'll give you what you need. After waking up, you will find a transcript of everything that happened here. Word by word. And a ready-made collaboration agreement. You are business people, right? You love these papers."

Temnikov took out two folded documents from his inside pocket. The wind rose around the tower. Glittering lightning illuminated the platform and the rain began to pour.

"So, do we have a deal!?" Temnikov gave Aldrin a pen.

A hurricane twirled pieces of dust and raindrops around the tower. The rain gradually turned into a storm. The water flooded everything around, streamed from his wet hair to his face, getting into his eyes. Temnikov covered the papers with the flap of his jacket. Another flash illuminated his contorted face.

"Make up your mind!" screamed Temnikov.

"I… I can't! To make such decisions in a dream… This document can change at any moment just like everything else did!" Aldrin quickly looked around.

"It was you who composed it! This is your dream, your contract!"

Sounds of crushing concrete and breaking windows echoed through the roof. With deafening noise, the neighboring towers began to crumble. Lightning strikes were getting louder and louder. Aldrin couldn't hear Temnikov's screams and leaned close to his lips.

"We have no issues with it! We can sign our copy here!" Temnikov shouted over the roar of wind and thunder, "and you can sign yours at home! No risks!"

Aldrin gave a thumb up and nodded. Temnikov began to quickly put squiggles on the papers. The platform started vibrating, seemingly ready to fall down at any moment.

"Hurry, hurry!" Screamed Aldrin to Temnikov who then stamped a seal on the contract.

"Done," said Temnikov in a loud and unexpectedly calm manner. The man handed over both copies to the sales representative and shook his hand.

"Sleep well and have a great day."

After these words, the roof instantly collapsed and Aldrin fell into the dark, vast void.

Jack Aldrin flinched and got out of bed. Squared windows of his room were generously watered with streams of rain, thunder could be heard in a distance. The man looked at the clock, it showed 4 AM. There was still plenty of time to sleep.

Aldrin got up and went to the kitchen to pour himself some milk. The bright light of the refrigerator slashed his eyes, forcing him to squint.

"What an interesting dream it was", thought the sales representative, searching for a pack of milk in the fridge, "An Oneiroi representative, a dinner in "Classique". A pretty good dinner. But then that rain… Wait a minute. A dream? Oneiroi?"

Aldrin looked around in dismay. The man put the glass aside and walked around his mansion, looking into several rooms. After calming down and rejecting his grim thoughts, he returned to bed and fell asleep again. Hidden by the gloom, a stack of damp papers was laying on the bedside table.

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