Dream Lord Wars - Chapter 2
BTS: Being a Woman In A Man's Field
Previously on Dream Lord Wars…
Teddie Thorn has created something that will revolutionize the world, but only if the people she brought on to help build her dream will allow it. Meanwhile, Harley is made aware of something that is actively eating dream dust.
Big Lake, California, Para West
After a long and tiring day of meeting with the board and hearing about how thrilled they were with the new laser pointer and how it was going to be adapted into the blah-blah-blah, I was ready for the day to end.
The lab was blissfully quiet, lights turned down, silence filling the large space. I sank into my computer chair and let my head fall back. I should be looking at the analysis and trying to figure out where the glitch in the system was. If I managed to figure out how to get the funding to actually launch the dream lab, I had to make sure it was working.
That, however, wasn’t a priority because no one on the board—and I really did mean no one—was interested in this particular pet project. They “allowed” me to have it because it kept me entertained and kept the other designs flowing in.
But it wasn’t like the other designs I came up were even original. They were copies of things that were already out there. But I had adapted them to my lab and what I needed to make the dream tech work.
That was good enough for them.
Instead of going home and ordering my normal from Ming Chang’s—which did sound good because I hadn’t wanted to eat what they’d offered at the board lunch. I didn’t want to read. I didn’t want to watch a show. I didn’t want to tinker. I didn’t want to eat.
I kicked off my shoes and walked along the slim path between inversion tables. My badge dinged and the heavy metal door with a single window opened with a loud click.
The three rooms on the right were empty, all three occupants having been relocated out of the program. They’d all failed, but with their contracted time elapsed, I had no way of holding them longer.
The first two rooms on the left were also empty, but they’d never been filled.
I stopped at the last door, peering through the small window.
Joey lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, an open book on his blue hospital shirt.
I took a beat and counted my breath. We were running out of time. He was clean now. And he would continue to be clean until he was released. As soon as his feet hit the street, his first call was to a seller and his first stop was a liquor store.
He turned his head to look at me, his expression somber as we stared at each other through the door.
Finally, I stepped inside, closing it behind me. “Hey.”
He grunted and remained quiet.
Since I’d started this, I’d fought with him, held him as he detoxed, pleaded with him, begged him, tried to help him.
He nodded, closing his eyes as he turned his face back to the ceiling.
I just leaned against the door, allowing everything I’d try run through my head again as I tried to figure out what I could have done better, what I should have done instead of what I had done. What conversations should I have had? What symbols should I have used? What should I have done differently?
I should have gotten a degree in psychology, for one. Or gone to school to be a rehab specialist for another. Who thought they could create a tech to save another person especially when that other person didn’t want to be helped.
“It’s not my fault,” he whispered.
That’s what he always said. “Then, who’s fault is it, Joey? You’re the only in control.”
A tear slid down the side of his face. “You’re wrong.”
This was the reason I couldn’t make forward progress with him. In order to change, he’d have to admit he was the problem, but he kept blaming this voice inside his head. I’d had him checked out. He didn’t have any psychological disorders.
“’Kay.” I pushed off the door. “I love you.”
“Yeah.” His jaw clenched and the tips of his fingers went pale against white cover of his book. “Turn off the light when you leave.”
“Yeah.” Swallowing, I closed the door and walked much faster out of there than I had going in. I didn’t even have to think about where I was going. I tapped the architecture set point into the system, stepped onto the inversion table, strapped myself in, and slipped the virtual reality headset.
Focusing on my breath, I fought to hold back the tears. I’d come close to admitting I might have to admit defeat, but it was staring me smack in the face and I just couldn’t do it.
The world slipped away in a pixelated fog and then blinked into place.
The sun lit the roof garden, twinkling on the dew drops settled on the petals and leaves of the pink azalea tree. I listened for the sounds of the city far below me and heard nothing. I couldn’t make the senses work in my programming. Sometimes, I could get sounds, but only if another person or symbol was speaking directly to the dreamer. Anything else ran the system too hot.
Warmth tingled along my skin where the sun settled.
Shaking my head, I flexed my hand. Memories were strong and I’d spent a lot of time up on this rooftop while going to school. All I needed was Mirna to walk through that metal door and—
A dog barked in the distance.
Going still, I sent my senses out into my surroundings. If I was hearing anything, it was in the lab and we shouldn’t have any dogs in the lab.
A siren wailed down the street.
The beat of a song pushed through an open window.
“Oh, my goodness,” a throaty female voice said in an English accent behind me.
I spun around to see a tall, dark woman in a tight-fitting magenta and black leather bodice with black leather strips flowing as a skirt over her magenta leggings. She slid out of the air and touched down lightly on her bare feet.
“Excuse me?” Who was this? I hadn’t created her. She wasn’t in my program.
She turned, running a long-fingered hand over her bald head, her darkly lined eyes wide. “This is impressive.”
“Who are you?”
She released a short breath and turned back to me with a smile, extending her hand. “Ikari. It is an honor to collect someone with such potential.”
I took her hand out of habit and fell into her gaze, which was like nothing I’d ever seen before. They were blue, but not like a normal eye color blue. A dark rim lined the iris and an ice blue light filled in the rest to a slitted pupil. “I don’t understand,” I whispered.
Ikari tugged me closer and wrapped an arm around my shoulders, smiling down at me. “The first time is always the hardest. Step on my foot and don’t look down.”
The grip on my shoulder tightened as the solidness of the rooftop fell away. The sounds of the city increased as we rose higher into the air.
“Incredible,” she said. “But no matter.”
My heart raced as we rose higher and higher into the air. I knew this was a dream, but this was outside of my control in my programming. I reached for the architecture and moved the clouds we were drawing closer to, creating a door for me to dip through.
Her hands slipped as my feet found purchase on the other side and I slammed the door in her face.
Who was this? Was she from another lab? I knew I had competitors. Someone had stolen my designs once already, though they weren’t making headlines with anything yet. Maybe the sound of the dogs was an alert that someone had invaded my lab.
The door behind me shut and Ikari pushed through again, her head tipped to the side in intrigue.
The smell of bacon caught my attention, and without a thought, I reached for the next door, pulling myself through.
The cafeteria on the other side slid sideways as I rushed in, the checkered floor breaking like a splintered raft, and a cloud of iridescent flakes surrounded me in a silence that blanketed my mind.
I reached out to the architecture again.
But felt nothing. It was as if I was trapped in cotton.
Had they drugged me? Was that the reason I couldn’t access the system anymore?
“Stop it,” Ikari said gently. “Why do I always get the troublemakers?”
That question didn’t even make sense. If she’d been sent after me, then… there were no others like me. I was literally the only person on the planet who could do what I did.
And… even I didn’t do that very well.
The cloud stopped moving and dispersed, revealing a wide courtyard with a single weeping willow inside a marble circle. A city sprawled below us. Well, if you could call it that. To the right was a group of rather lopsided homes of varying colors running along several hills in haphazard directions. Below that was a swamp, blue eggs rising from the green waters and appearing smaller as if it was further away somehow, though it was between me and the dilapidated suburb.
There were others, but my attention was pulled away by the shear size of this simulation. The view from up here had to go on for miles. This was almost the highest point of the rolling, clashing cityscapes.
“Kova,” Ikari said in greeting, walking toward another couple floating out of the sky.
The other woman wore a similar outfit with the tight bodice and the strips for a skirt, though hers were blue and white. Her skirt fell above her knees and she had black knee high boots, her lavender hair flowing around her as if a breeze was playing in it. “Troubles?”
“Always,” Ikari said. “Teddie,” she said to me, “I’ll be over there. You’re safe. Don’t do any planing here.”
“Planing?” What was she talking about?”
Kova’s blazing yellow slitted eyes lit up. “You weren’t kidding, were you?”
“I wish I was.”
The man Kova’d brought in stumbled in a small circle, looking as dazed as I was.
Several more pairs came in, with one leather clad person dropping off a stunned normal looking person and then flying back to a dais high above.
“Hey,” a man in loose white linen pants and a colorful tunic said, leaning in to me. “Do you know what’s going on?”
I shook my head. I certainly didn’t. If this was the other dream lab, then had they—I don’t know—found other people like me who could tap into dreams? Were they collecting us all? I mean, they had more money than I did.
“Ladies and gentlemen.”
A clear bell-toned voice filled the air, directing us to look toward the tree.
A woman with the blackest skin I’d ever seen walked out of the tree and over the white granite wall surrounding it. Her white hair cascaded over her pointed ears and down her back, a crown of electric sticks adorning the back of her head. “I am Lady Storm,” she said, stepping gracefully toward us, her naked toes peeking out from under the hem of her long ebony dress. “I bid you greetings and welcome.”
“Where are we?” a man demanded to my left.
She slow blinked her inky black eyes, her white eye lash movement the only indication that she was looking at him and then away. “You are in Dreamland and you are now entered into the Dustman Academy.”
“The what?” I asked.
I wasn’t the only one.
“Those who pass will remain here, performing the job of the dustman as those before you have done for centuries. Those who fail,” she said, opening her arms.
A massive storm rolled out of her chest, reaching toward us like a starved creature.
“—will return to me.” She smiled sweetly and turned back toward the tree. “Learn well, young hopefuls. Dreamland needs you.”
What in the good goddamned hells was going on?
Harley invested the next several days trying to find more information into the dead creations, but she could find nothing. This one chance to prove her place had presented itself and hidden itself all in the same space.
This was so frustrating! Dreamlanders weren’t allowed to dream. They weren’t allowed to wonder, ponder, or think outside the very small boxes they’d been born into. But it didn’t make sense when someone like her was born in the wrong family. She’d been born a cleaner with the gifts of a mechanic.
She still had the ability to clean. The workshop she shared with Master Aldo was proof of that. While the other master workshops were cluttered and disorganized, their shop was tidy, and when things fell or spilled, which was a common occurrence, her cleaner’s ability caught it, righted it, and tidied it up.
That was a useful skill to be sure, but her greatest ability lay within the fixing of things.
Her gift of fixing was unlike any of the other apprentices, and everyone knew it. The only reason she wasn’t excelling was the fact that she wasn’t supposed here.
For one, she was supposed to be a cleaner.
For another, she was a girl.
She slid a bolt in place on the copper worker bot a little harder than she should have. The worker bot wasn’t to blame. It’d had broken a leg when a rock person had accidentally kicked a boulder in its direction in Dustman Lyndra’s dreamplane. Fixing things normally filled Harley with contentment. She knew this was exactly where she needed to be.
But right now, the only thing she could think about was her impending test. If she took the test and passed, she’d be thrown into jail for breaking Dreamlander law and exceeding her class.
If she failed the test, she’d be bonded to one of the apprentices she competed with. She would then have the honor of watching one of her sons take her place when they came of age.
When Roshni had called her to fix the dreamplane, Harley had thought for one brief moment that this was her time. She’d show the council she was capable. She was ready.
But this problem was so much bigger than she was, or she wasn’t smart enough to figure it out. She didn’t know which. She only knew that obviously something was wrong. She simply couldn’t feel what was broken.
Closing her eyes, she set down her tool and let her shoulders slump. All too soon, she’d be losing this. All of this. Opening her eyes again, she took it all in.
The workshop she shared with Master Aldo was large and lit with yellow lights of her own creation. Master Aldo tended to get upset when things didn’t work right or when he couldn’t fix something correctly, so mellow yellow was a great addition to the copper-colored walls as they offered an optimistic energy to the room. The many workbenches throughout the room were neat and tidy. The bins along the walls kept the odds and ends neatly contained.
She was quite proud of that, but, of course, that was just one more brutal reminder that Harley didn’t belong there.
Harley really, really wanted to be here, but she wondered if she had what it took to fight the unwinnable.
Pushing the workbot’s heart-button and it flared a bright blue. “Wake up.”
It buzzed as its fan turned on and then chirped when its three eyes lit up and turned to her on their tentacle stems, focusing on her.
Warmth filled her as she clasped her hands together and sat back on her stool. “Feeling good?”
It stood on two spindly legs, its ball-like hands going out as it assessed its state. Finally, it looked at her again and gave a series of chirps and beeps.
And then fell over as a bolt of energy zapped it, knocking it toward the floor.
The force of her cleaner’s abilities kept the poor thing from knocking its socket head, catching it lightly and then bringing it back to the table.
Harley reached out with that part of her that could feel when something was broken, the air practically singing above her work bench. As the song of pain rose, the rift grew brighter, in a yellowy red light.
Her mouth fell open in shock, but then she closed it. Dreamland herself was broken. That had to be the reason she struggled to find what was wrong. She hadn’t looked at Dreamland Herself. If this wasn’t Her reaching out to Harley for help, then she didn’t know what this was. And she couldn’t think of another way to prove to everyone around her that she was exactly where she needed to be.
Well, if Dreamland needed her, she couldn’t refuse.
Can you take a moment to tell me what you thought of this?
Was there something you didn’t understand?
Was there something you couldn’t see?