The Next Big Thing - By Kevin N. Haw

Original Graphic by CRAIG PURSLEY
Photo of Kevin's Goofy Mug

"Vacuum cleaners?" I asked, unsure if I'd heard my brother correctly or if the phone lines had crossed.

"Why not? It's the next big thing, you know." Kevin replied, more than a little defensively.

"You said that about your last scheme."

"It wasn't a scheme, Andrea" he growled. " was a brilliant idea. I can't help it if the world wasn't ready for an online store run by an artificial intelligence."

"Kevin, your website took credit card numbers and bought stuff people didn't want!"

"Didn't want yet," he retorted. "It used statistical analysis to predict a customer's tastes. Then it simply took the initiative."

"People went bankrupt!"

"I admit, there were glitches… but we fixed them in the Beta release."

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose, like I'd had to since I'd developed a tolerance to aspirin. Being the mother of a three-year-old had taught me a lot about headaches, but Kevin took migraines to new dimensions. I regretted not buying stock in Bayer when I'd had money.

"Forget all that," he said. "What do you know about Chaos Theory?"

"You mean, other than my finances?"

"No. Chaos Theory is a branch of math that tries to deal with complex physical systems. Tiny changes have an enormous impact on the whole system. A butterfly flapping its wings in the Brazilian Rain Forest can cause a hurricane in the Atlantic."

"I've heard that saying before."

"It's not just a saying, Andrea. I've worked with mathematicians, meteorologists, and entomologists for the past year to find the exact patch of rainforest, the species of butterfly, and the equations to tie it all together. With computers, I can create a room-sized hurricane anywhere in North America! We'll make back little Anna's college money in no time!"

I looked down at my daughter playing with her dolls in the center of the living room, unaware of how lucky she was to be an only child.

"And how will this make money?" I asked.

"Look, you know how that guy on the radio who sells an eight pound vacuum cleaner? Mine weighs nothing, a virtual vacuum cleaner. A customer visits my website and it uses caller ID and the GPS system to tell our robot in Brazil to release the right butterfly at the right time. A tiny tornado appears in your living room to sweep away all the dirt and dust! You're going to love it!"

My heart stopped beating as I noticed a sudden draft in the room.

"'Going to'?" I asked icily.

"Yeah. I've set up a demonstration..."

Even as he spoke, a howling wind blew through the window. I leapt up and grabbed Anna, trying to remember which corner of the cellar was safest in a tornado. By then, the wind was a gale, lifting furniture and shattering glass. As I sprinted towards the exit, the phone sailed past, Kevin's voice droning:

"…of course, the problems with shutting it off can be fixed in the next release…"