Dream Lord Wars - Chapter 4
Previously on Dream Lord Wars…
Teddie discovers more about this pre-existing dreamscape. It’s vast and wild and seems to have been going on for hundreds of years. After meeting Nightmare Keme, she learns how to travel in Dreamland; via the soul. Meanwhile, Harley tries to show Master Aldo what had happened, but can’t recreate it. He doubts her because he didn’t feel the call, but he tells her to follow it if Dreamland calls again.
Big Lake, California, Para West
Imagine Dragons blared through the air, telling me the world was radioactive. The air tasted clean yet sterile and felt condensed and closed in, telling me the door was still closed. The hum of the computers were quiet, meaning they’d all fallen asleep.
I shut off my alarm and the radioactive, laser-eyed bear song stopped.
I’d fallen asleep and I’d been in the dreaming. Well, I mean, in all honesty, I should have been in my architecture. That’s where I should have been, but if the computers were asleep, then…
I unbuckled myself and set the VR headset on the table beside me, sliding off the table with a groan. I felt like I’d been working out all night. I woke the computers up on either side of the inverted table and then shuffled off to the kitchenette further down the hall.
By the time I’d made it back, my joints weren’t quite as stiff and the lights were starting to kick on as people arrived for work. With my coffee and whipped almond milk in hand, I sat down to see what had been recorded.
A lot and nothing.
The logs showed me entering the dream architecture at 9:05 p.m. where I stayed until 10:27 p.m.
But then the system glitched.
For the next three hours, the computer logged me as being in the architecture and being away at the same time, until it decided there was a problem with the system and had closed the simulation on its own.
The cameras inside the architecture picked me up on the roof top I’d created for myself, staring at the world around me without moving. That wasn’t abnormal. The thing we’d discovered was that recording dreams wasn’t like watching a movie. Time was different in the sleeping world. The glitch happened, and then shortly after that, a storm came in and rained on me. I’d stayed there, in the rain, blipping in and out of existence for short periods of time.
At 1:27 a.m., my eyes flared and then became a glowing, slitted yellow with a dark green border around the iris and my ears slowly rose to pointed tips.
I caught my breath and paused the recording, staring at my face. That… that had to be when I’d exchanged Whos with Ikari? It made sense. I didn’t know if it made scientific sense—and the answer was no because there were too many variables, but often the easiest answer was close to true, and the only challenge then became to prove the theory.
Ikari had been human. Or, at least, she had been in her memory, and the woman I’d met had slitted glowing eyes and tipped ears. What if—
I swallowed hard. Was I seriously considering this as a reality?
“What’s this?” Tony asked, setting his energy drink beside her coffee and leaning in.
I hurriedly closed the screen with a keyboard shortcut and turned to him with a grimace. “Nothing. How was your evening?” My tone said I wasn’t really interested.
And I wasn’t. I needed to get into the information. I needed to analyze what I’d recorded.
But I didn’t want anyone else to look at it with me. Truth was, DreamLink, Inc had made it into my lab once before to steal my tech and the only way they would have or could have done that was if someone had betrayed me. If Dreamland was scientifically real and if I could tap into it with my tech, then I needed to be careful who I gave those keys to.
And I certainly didn’t want Barry Brady to get it.
“Not as interesting as yours,” Tony mumbled, glancing at me and then heading over to the other computer station where my brain scans were still on full display. “You clocked a lot of hours last night. A full cycle. A long one. Wow, Ted. This—this is a lot.”
Emily sighed as she dumped her jacket on her chair and sat down, her feet sprawling, her knees knocked together. “Again? You need an intervention.”
I shook my head, my body ready to repeat the same argument we’d had for the past month, but my mind revolting. It was spending too much energy reanalyzing every conversation and color and symbol and sound from the night before. I’d been getting desperate and close for the past three months. Dangerously, dangerously close to a pivotal discovery that I only just now understood. But last night changed everything. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “I would normally take that as you being super aggy, but this?” She spun her pointer finger in a circle pointed at me. “This seems legit. What gives?”
I shook my head. I’d been so hyper focused on curing my brother, but something had happened last night that pulled me out of my head and my needs, and I… I was pretty sure it was Ikari’s Who.
Or—I don’t know, the entire Who process. It was so intimate and exacting. I couldn’t hide but, at the same time, I—
I didn’t need to.
Emily exclaimed over the brain scan readings. “You must have been on quite the journey. Your hippocampus was functioning beautifully, but you were actively somewhere. Look, your cerebrum’s on fire. You were doing something. But look at your parietal lobe. You were trying to figure something out. Your right cingulate gyrus has a spike of activity. Were you coding in there?”
No. I wasn’t… coding.
Holy crap. I was coding. Kind of. That’s what Ikari meant by planing. I had—maybe—tapped into the programming for a dreaming reality that had been existence for millennia.
Holy shit. Elation ripped through me.
Followed by fear. I didn’t know if allowing them to see what I’d experienced was a good idea. I got the sense that what I’d tapped into had to be protected. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but it made sense in a way. If Dreamland was a real place—and I was having a hard time disbelieving that with the proof of my eyes in my feed and my brain scans—and it’d existed in peace for hundreds and thousands of years, then me tapping into it with a machine that would allow anyone to follow couldn’t be a good idea.
This had to be the danger Keme and Ikari were talking about.
Turning back to my station, I buttoned all the files down, installing a new password on the folder and locking everyone out.
“Hey!” Tony shouted, shoving away from the desk, his chair rolling. “What the crap?”
I had to think. I had to process what I’d just seen. I barely knew Tony and Emily. Sure. We’d been working together for about a year, but I didn’t ask about their personal lives. We just worked. I built dreamscapes. They… you know, tried to follow. Tony was crap at it. Emily, at least, was trying. Tony wanted a paper out of this. Emily… well, I didn’t know what she wanted.
“Teddie?” Emily asked, walking toward me slowly, her hand out. “What’s going on? What happened last night?”
I closed my eyes and bowed my head. “I probably need to eat, get some sleep. I—sorry.” I shook my head and met first Emily’s and then Tony’s gazes.
Emily looked concerned. Tony looked like he wanted to punch me in the face.
“Until I can get some rest, I’m putting these files in lockdown. When I come back, we’ll dissect them bit by bit and figure out what happened.”
Emily narrowed her eyes and nodded, a smile slowly blooming.
Tony gnashed his teeth and slammed back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “Whatever.”
“This is my lab.”
“And our discovery.”
Science shouldn’t be an arena where participation awards were handed out, but in all honesty, there was some thievery in discovery, and I had to wonder if Tony was someone I could trust. “When I get back, we’ll go over all of it. It’s just a lot to take in right now.”
“So something did happen,” Emily said.
I closed my eyes and nodded. I could at least give them that. “And until I have a better idea of what I tapped into…” I let my voice drop as I looked at them.
“Oh.” Tony’s eyes widened as he glanced at Emily and then back at me. “Oh.”
It didn’t take me long to gather my things. I shoved my notebooks and pens into my messenger bag, grabbed my jacket because Emily had hers so I thought it might be raining, though I never knew, and I was fast walking down the white halls, that transitioned to glass walls that overlooked the lobby eight floors below, and disappeared into the elevator.
Stepping out of my elevator, I was greeted by a tour group of kids in the lobby. I’d initiated this in an effort to drive educational awareness to the fields we needed in science, development, and discovery. Lots of people wanted to be the scientist and make cool new concoctions, but we couldn’t get lab techs hired. Or people who specialized in equipment maintenance. For that matter, we couldn’t get electricians who could upgrade my next dreamlab. Three of the four contractors we’d reached out to couldn’t get us on the schedule and the fourth was so small they had no idea how to even figure out what to provide for the equipment even though I’d sent them the schematics.
One of the girls in the group spun toward me and her face morphed into that of a horse and back again.
“Stephanie,” an exasperated woman said from behind the group. “What did I tell you about shifting?”
“That we can without getting killed?” Stephanie said flippantly.
“I believe the words I used were, ‘Don’t.’” The woman gave me a tired apologetic look. “It’s been like this for over a year now.”
I barely kept up with politics as long as they didn’t affect me. The “paras” had gone to war and had won. Well, here anyway, and that was great.
I didn’t care. I wasn’t a para. I wasn’t interested in the science of paras. I didn’t think they needed to be feared, but I thought a lot of people in the world were stupid for fearing the things they didn’t understand. Whatever.
It did, however, mean that what the girl had just done by shape shifting or whatever was pretty common.
It really just meant that sometimes it was more challenging to get to my apartment because I might run into a witch throwing a storm in the middle of the street, or a jaguar escaping the bank he’d just held up. So, both of those things had happened during the war, but…
I didn’t really pay attention to current events. As long as I could continue progressing on my work, I didn’t care.
The street was filled with the noise of electricity. The cars had changed over the past year. Or more, really. I didn’t know. There’d been a brief period during the war when we’d been short on fuel. I didn’t know exactly what had changed, but I did know that a lot of the cars were quieter. They didn’t all have the high-pitched whine of the original electric car, but few had the hard rumble of the gas powered ones.
The air had a wet sand smell to it and clouds hung in the air, though they were thin. I had a guess that a storm witch was in the area, though I had no idea if that was even a real thing or not. I could tell you that as unobservant as I was, the weather in Phoenix, Arizona was typically consistent. Or had been. In the past year, we’d had a lot more rain than normal.
Which was probably good with everyone else getting hotter all around us?
I put my jacket on just in case. I really only liked getting wet in the shower, another reason I’d chosen to move Joey and I to Phoenix. I hated wet clothes.
“Hey!” a man shouted behind me. “Stop!”
The woman beside me let out a shriek and moved to the side.
I followed suit, looking to see what was going on.
A tall man and an even taller blonde woman ran. I looked to see who they were chasing.
Another man leapt on top of one of the many cars in the street and hopped effortlessly on top of them, the sky scrapers towering over the scene as the thin clouds released a light mist.
Sighing, I pulled my yellow hood up.
The man giving chase gestured to the woman beside him and then shifted into a massively sized sabertoothed cat.
There was only one man I knew of who could shift into that. Dexx Colt, President Whiskey’s husband. I definitely didn’t want to get involved with that, so I turned the corner, going the long way to my apartment.
I wasn’t the only one. Several pedestrians joined me and the vehicle traffic made way for the para chase.
Langer’s yellow sign rose above the sidewalk and I sighed. It might be a little early for lunch, but Zal didn’t judge me or my hours. Ducking in through the glass door, I stepped into a small diner with six medium-sized tables and a deli counter.
Zal looked up at me, gave me a tired smile, and stepped to the sandwich counter. “Long night? Doesn’t look like an early morning.”
“Look a little rough?” I asked, pushing a small smile onto my face. Zal was nice and always had been.
“You could say that.”
“Yeah, well, then, yes.” I pulled out my wallet.
“Well, then, I’ll fix that.” He spent the next few minutes preparing my sandwich.
And I allowed myself to vacate. Reflection time was hard to find in the public, where people wanted to talk for no reason whatsoever.
Had what I experienced been real?
I wanted to say yes.
If so, then how could I use that to further my work?
Would doing so be bad? Would it cause more damage than what I was trying to fix?
In the wrong hands? Or in any hands? Were my hands bad?
No. I was doing this for the right reasons.
But were my right reasons good enough? I had a hard time seeing boundaries and not stepping over them. Or running through them. Or ignoring they were there if it meant I could figure something else out. I tended to overfocus on solutions.
He took my card and handed me my brown paper wrapped sandwich with as little commentary as needed. He put his hand on mine for a moment and grabbed my attention. “Eat. Feed that brain. And drink the water.” He shoved a water bottle in my other hand.
I smiled at him. “Thanks.”
“Yeah.” He gestured to one of the tables behind me and then turned away to prepare for the next meal rush.
I ate in peace and quiet, wrestling with the idea that pursuing thing might not be a great idea. The old argument of developing science to better people’s lives being turned into weapons kept sneaking in from the sides of my mind. Each time I thought of a new possible dream advancement and how this could help with therapy and advanced learning and PTSD, I thought of a way that someone else could use this same technology to eradicate unwanted thoughts and expressions. Could this be a way to unwrite transgendor expression, for instance? Or creativity? Could this be used to mold people into robot versions of themselves?
But if Dreamland had existed for millennia without that happening, then why would it happen now?
Because if Dreamland existed the way it did, obviously, it had to be run by people with god-like insights. Humans were too short-sighted on instant gratification. Or at the very least the gratification that could be felt or lived in a single lifetime.
I needed sleep. I crumpled the wrapper and stood. “Thank you.”
He smiled at me, keeping the majority of his attention on the customer in front of him. There was quite the line now and I hadn’t noticed.
Shaking myself out of my head and into the present a little more, I pushed for the door.
Someone grabbed my arm and a sharp pain pricked my neck.
I let out a startled yelp as my legs gave out. I blinked, trying to bring my mind back into play as it slipped further away.
“Time for a nap, princess,” the man grumbled.
And then the lights went out.
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Harley spent the next three days waiting to hear from Dreamland to know where to go or what to do, but nothing happened. She repaired the things dreamers broken and returned them to the dreamplanes, she did one repair on an actual dreamplane, and that was about it.
She was beginning to lose hope. Not that Dreamlanders had the capacity or the freedom, really, to hope. Hope was akin to dreaming and only dreamers dreampt. Dreamlanders did their work. They did what was necessary to survive. That was all.
Focusing was so hard when the end was so near. With frustration, she slammed the wrench driver down and slid off the stood, straightening her leather skirt. If she made it to master, the first thing she was doing was making herself a set of pants. Female mechanics weren’t allowed to wear pants, and there were no mater female mechanics. But once she showed them it was possible…
Well, dreams weren’t for Dreamlanders.
She stepped out of Master Aldo’s shop and slid the heavy door closed behind her with a screeching whine, the train whistle blowing loudly in the dark sky above the yellow lights warming the cobblestone streets. Chatter filled the air with light noise, punctuated only slightly by the creak and moaning of the messenger bots as they tottled through the people.
The females wore brightly colored dresses with frills and laces, bustles and top hats. Their status was defined by how well their mechanic husband could fix things. Mechanics wore the cast offs of others, repaired and transitioned to the styles of The Row. They walked together in groups of twos and threes, their children trailing behind them.
A woman with bright red hair and a pale pink top hat narrowed her green eyes, gripping her companion’s slight arm and ushering them down the block, away from Harley.
She rolled her eyes and continued to the Eatery. At least she didn’t have to worry about talking to people—if that was something she wasn’t worried about. She actually enjoyed speaking with others, but at least she didn’t have to deal with their nastiness.
Making her way through the tables, she caught the attention of her favorite food vendor. “Jeomy!”
He looked up, his beakish nose reigning over his dark beard. His nearly black eyes lit up as he smiled at her. “Ah, m’Har-boo, you good be you?”
Travelers spoke in a very broken version of Dreamland, which meant that a lot of people didn’t have the patience to speak with them, but Roshni, Harley’s best friend, was also a traveler, so Harley’d learned. “I be good. Focusing hard, though, no yeah?”
“Ah, I sees, m’boo. I pink bring you. Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Harley leaned against the counter and held her head in her hand. “What be it like traveling you with?”
The light in his eyes dampened. “True is now?”
She nodded. “I think I’m in trouble, Jeomy.”
“Well, if you—”
“Jeomy, please,” Harley said, taking the bowl of pink he’d given her and setting it aside. “I have two options. I take the test and fail and I’m imprisoned, or I don’t take the test, I opt out and marry, watching my sons become master mechanics.”
“And test if you pass take and?”
Harley knew she could pass the test. She was the best apprentice the Row had seen in generations. “They will make sure I fail.”
He tipped his head to the side and then shook his head, taking a step forward and touching her hand. “Dreamlanders do not belong in the in between.”
Harley didn’t miss the fact that his words made sense after he’d touched her. She also knew she wasn’t supposed to go in the in between, but she didn’t know why. “I can. I don’t belong here. I have to find somewhere I can be.”
He released her. “Tear up you will it.”
Harley had a theory. Her mechanic sense told her that he wasn’t speaking riddles and that he knew how to speak quite well. It also said he wasn’t broken.
He just wasn’t completely here. She got the sense that he was somehow stuck in a warped sense of time where it flowed around him differently than it did everyone else. “I think my gift would protect me.”
His dark eyes watched her pensively and then he nodded. “Maybe. Will on it think I.”
Harley nodded and then picked up her chopstick, digging into her pink noodles. She just needed a solution and Dreamland wasn’t offering her much of one.