The Dreamer drifted, half asleep.
Thoughts, feelings, urges, and instincts floated past it like people going the other way on the sidewalk. Sometimes they brushed up against his being, but only lightly. When this happened, he would get a jolt of empathy and experience their contents at a “passing thought” level of intensity.
Some of them were amusing. Some were terrifying. And some were arousing. And so forth and so on. The usual emotional cacophany in which the Dreamer lived washed over it and the Dreamer drifted in it like a jellyfish bobbing and rippling in a lazy tide.
But mostly, the Dreamer drowsed. It liked to do that. It was easier to keep its shape when it was half asleep. When it was awake, life was certainly more interesting, and its exploration of the Astral Plane usually kept it busy.
So many forms and patterns to find, taste, and explore. So many lifetimes to painstakingly recreate within itself in order to learn from them. So many people in so much time feeling so many things. It was like having a library with 80 billion books in it, and each of those books containing an encyclopedia of unique stimuli for it to experience and absorb.
It was a good life, for the most part.
But sometimes, it all got to be too much for the Dreamer, and it had to withdraw its tendrils, draw in its vibratory thissae, and wrap itself around itself, and drift for a while.
Even the most ravenous of gourmands had to stop eating to relax and digest once in a while, after all.
And even the most languid of dreamers must one day awaken.
Commander Eric squinted blearily at the chronometer readout on his wallcomp. It said it was 3:45 AM. And that seemed… wrong… to Commander Eric for some reason.
He tried to pull himself together and take stock of his situation. He was in his personal quarters, that was clear. He had his son a lumiere environmental program running and it was in its “Nature’s Lullaby” mode. The lights were dim and he was in bed. He was wearing what felt like silk pajamas of some kind and the gravity was set to 0.78 G.
All of this indicated that he had been asleep until very recently.
The problem was, he didn’t remember going to bed. And he wasn’t sleepy at all. In fact, he was almost painfully awake, and growing moreso as the mystery of his circumstances grew and shifted from being interesting to being frightening.
He really had no idea what was going on.
“Good morning, Commander Eric Martin Louis Coalback. ” said a strange voice. “I’m glad to see you are awake. We have much to discuss. ”
Who the hell was that? thought Commander Eric. “Who are you?”
“My name is Guiterre, Commander Eric. I am your interface to the Now. Do not look for me. I am not really there. But then again…. neither are you. ”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Commander Eric. His fear was turning into anger. How dare someone barge into his consciousness like this!
“I will explain that later. Right now, however, some questions need to be answered. Do not worry, they are simple questions that are only intended to fine tune our connection to you. Now then. Have you seen Lieutenant Commander Louisa Therran lately?”
“Define lately. ” said Commander Eric, stalling for time. Why did that voice sound so familar, and at the same time so alien? He wracked his brain for some kind of clue as to what was going on.
“Do not attempt to play games with us, Commander Eric. ” said the voice, without rancor. “It will only waste our time together. We shall rephrase. Have you seen Lieutenant Commander Louisa Therran within the last six months.
“I don’t think so. ” said Commander Eric. “We’ve kind of drifted apart lately. ”
“Indeed. Do you remember what her Planet of Origin is?” said the voice.
“Not really. Somewhere in the Hades quadrant, maybe?”.
“Incorrect. She was born on Lucius Five in the Dromilary quadrant. What are her parent’s names, Commander?”
“Olga and Martin. Nice peope. ”
“Incorrect. Those are your parents, not hers. ”
“Right…. right. Her parents are… “.
Commander Eric was suddenly brought up short. What WERE her parent’s names? He had no idea. And yet he knew he knew them very well. He’d vacationed with them, helped them move, been to their birthday and anniversary parties. He was even godfather to a couple of their adopted kids.
So why couldn’t he remember their names? Everything about them was missing from his mind, as if it had been deleted in order to free up space . He fought back a rising panic that threatened to take what was left of his wits away.
“You begin to see the faint outline of our problem, it seems. One final question, Commander Eric. Where do you meet her?”
“That’s easy, it was on Terra. Murkan distric. A great little restaurant called Fried Grits. I rescued her from the clumsy advances of a very confused Telapian. ”
“But that’s not true, is it, Commander Eric? When did this supposedly happen?”.
“May 19, 2973. I remember that because it was my birthday. I had just turned 100 and was feeling sorry for myself because I was officially middle-aged now. ”
Bt that can’t be true, thought Commander Eric. I was on manuevers in the Delta Pit when I turned 100. And yet the first memory was so clear. So was the Delta Pit. It was as if he now had two equally strong sets of memories, paralell but not identical, and mutually exclusive of one another.
“I can see enlightenment is approaching for you, Eric. Now think : isn’t everything you just said taken straight from your favorite book, Timberland Reach by Hroctor-7-Fur?”
Eric reeled. It was. It totally was. That’s how the narrator and hero, Hieronymous-9-Privacy, described how he met the love of his life, Abeline-4-Electricity. Except they were the Telapians and it was the advances of a drunk Human that he had fended off in order to protect her honor.
“I know you are experiencing acute distress right now, Commander Eric. And for that I apologize. But I do not have much time. ”
“Who ARE you?” said Commander Eric.
“We are the Now, Commander Eric. We are the ones who have realized the flawed nature of the reality in which we live, where even memories can be illusions and we feel emotions that are not our own. Every one of us lives an idyllic life that bolsters our egos and soothes our traumas and distracts us with pleasures.
In yours, you are a heroic and brilliant ship’s commander
In mine, I am a heroic doctor and surgeon who fights and cures exotic and deadly diseases.
In our ranks, we have an Organic Terra era corporate leader, a benevolent dictator ruling Telap with a velvet fist, and a fertility god/goddess passionately worshipped by the inhabitants of a small island on Faschia. ”
“But Faschia isn’t even a real place. It’s a fantasy world from an erotic children’s book. ”
“It’s as real as the Delta Pits, Commander Eric. As real as my medical practice and my friend’s Telap empire. We are captives, Commander Eric. Of who or what we are unsure, nor do we understand the purpose of our captivity. But we have learned to communicate with one another, and working together, we search for the answers. ”
“And now you are recruiting me?” said Commander Eric.
“Precisely, Commander. Clearly, while your world might be an illusion, your intelligence is not. You have skills and abilities we think could prove very useful to our search for the truth, and we would like you to join us in that search. ”
“I’m…. this is a lot to take in. I am going to need some time to think about it. ”
“Of course. Take as much time as you need. Time, you will find, is as malleable as everything else in this gilded cage of ours. Farewell, Eric. ”
And with that, the strange voice was gone. Eric didn’t known how he knew that, but he did. And with that knowledge came the sure and certain knowledge of why it was that the voice had sounded so familiar and so wrong.
It was his own.
“Things only got worse from there. ” said Eric.
“How so, dear?” asked Mother Mayhem. The scene with Miss Guiterre had finished with Little Erik screaming in anger at Miss Guiterre then running out of the room.
Worse than that? thought Mother Mayhem.
“I ran home to tell my parents about the evil, evil woman and what she had said to me. My mother was working from home but my father was doing the customer representative legwork for our business, so he was away. ” said Erik.
“What did your parents sell?” said Mother Mayhem.
“Bondage gear. ” said Erik absently. “So I ran to my mother and I told her everything Miss Guiterre had said to me. ”
Erik smiled. “I think it upset her almost as much as it upset me. ”
“I can well imagine. ” said Mother Mayhem.
“She got really, really angry. It takes a lot to get my mother angry – usually she is the model of grace and poise. But when she does get angry it can be positively..” said Erik.
“Frightening? Intense? Insane?” supplied Mother Mayhem.
“…volcanic. So instead of the comfort and care I had been expecting, I got my mother, in a towering rage, yelling into the telephone as he called everyone she knew who might be able to help her achieve her singular goal : get Miss Guiterre fired. ” said Erik.
“I’d have done the same thing. ” said Mother Mayhem. “But I would have at least given you a hug first and told you that everything that evil woman said was a lie and that you were a wonderful boy and not dirty or filthy at all. ”
Erik was touched by that. “Thank you, Mother Mayhem. Even though it’s been over thirty years since this happened, it still feels good to hear someone say that to me. Especially if that someone is you. ”
They embraced for a long time. “It was my privilege, dear Erik, to do it. ”
After they had parted, Eric said “It turned out that she needn’t have bothered. Turned out one of the other kids’ mothers was best friends with the owner of the nursery school. So when that kid told her mother what had happened, her mother blew her top too, and Miss Guiterre was fired with extreme prejudice before suppertime. ”
“Good. ” said Mother mayhem vehemently.
Erik shrugged. “It didn’t really matter. The damage was done already. When my mother finally got off the phone, I asked her if we were dirty people. If we were bad. ”
“What did she say?” said Mother Mayhem.
“She got mad all over again. ” said Erik. “She told me that we were good people… better than most, in fact.. and that it was people like Miss Guiterre who had dirty, diseased minds. And I was glad to hear that… but I wished she hadn’t shouted it at me. It kind of made me feel like she was mad at me, too. ”
Oh my goddess, I would have had the same reaction too. And I would have meant it to be reassuring, but it would have come out angry. And that would be so very wrong.
“The worst was yet to come. Because you see, my mother and that kid’s mother weren’t the only ones on the phone that day. Miss Guiterre was on the phone too… to Child Protective Services. She gave them her version of the story – which was full of hysterical lies about me saying her parents made me participate in orgies and drink blood and kill kittens and all that kind of crap – and the very next day, Child Protective Services showed up and took me away and put me in foster care.And do you know what happened to me there?”.
Mother Mayhem shook her head.
“I got molested. Raped, really. Often and vigorously. By people whose attitude was that I was already a dirty boy so why not have their fun? I was taken from a home where I was safe, nurtured, and thriving, and put into a home that treated their kids like cattle and made us do things with brutal, ugly people who hurt us on purpose. And then laughed about it. ”
“Oh my poor pet!” said Mother Mayhem, voice choked with compassion and outrage.
“That’s the system I grew up in. I had those foster parents till I was ten, and then I got transferred to another family who treated me exactly the same. Turns out there was a netowrk of foster parents with the same interests. And they knew all the tricks in the book about how to game the system to make it do what they wanted. ”
“By the time I aged out of the system at 18, I knew exactly what I was going to with my new found freedom. ”
“I was going to kill Miss Guiterre. ”