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Stolen Skies – Part Eleven (Nanowrimo 2022)

The voice came from everywhere, with a devastating clarity that rang through the trunks of my marble trees, sent waves across the tranquil pools and it struck me like a hammer. It’s one word “come” vibrated through me. This must have been what it felt like when angels spoke directly to man – contact with an unknowable force. As the word slowly faded – not a thing that a single word ought to be able to do – I picked myself up off the ground, brushed dust from my hands and legs, then remembered where I was and simply wished myself clean. This I did absently, because all of my other senses were focused intently on detecting the source of that Voice. It had come from all around, seemingly from all points in my ownworld simultaneously. I’d have been tempted to say it came from outside, but that’s a meaningless statement. There’s no “outside” to a dream, it doesn’t take up space in the universe, doesn’t extend into the real in any meaningful way. My dreams only exist inside my mind, or rather inside the field generated by my brain. A dream takes up the space that a memory does. Except, that wasn’t entirely true anymore. The oneirocyte had spread by now through almost all my brain, wrapping it in an artificial layer that supported my dreams and ownworld – perhaps they did have more physical reality than they used to…

“I need you,” I called, lost in my own thoughts. If I’d been thinking clearly, less overwhelmed by my recent experience that my mind was simply labelling angelic in spite of all my profoundly sensible and atheist tendencies. I certainly hadn’t thought to do what I just did.

Scoro and Gex sprouted into existence before my eyes, twisting up out of nothing into their full-fledged ownworld selves. They both looked shocked.

“What the hell Evanith?” demanded Gex. “Did you just summon us into the ownworld?”

“What…” I failed to begin, “…I needed you…”

I’d called and they’d come. I’d ripped them straight out of reality into the ownworld – not even their ownworld, they were in mine, standing in the white dust. Gex in her usual shifting coat of gears and red light, Scoro in his long, vaguely ecclesiastical get-up. We wore what fitted with our created environments. I’d gone simple: basically white and a little light grey.

“You shouldn’t be able to pull us in like that,” said Scoro, “what did you do?”

“I just called…” I tried again.

“I heard thunder, your voice. Blinked, and I was here with you,” Scoro replied.

Well, more new things. Great. Again, if I’d been thinking properly I would have been more concerned about what was happening in the real world – it had only been a few seconds (the many benefits of having time newly installed in our imaginary domain), but in that time both of my companions had presumably just collapsed in the caterpillar. Hopefully they’d been sitting down… and that the soldiers weren’t going to freak out too badly. I filled them in on the Voice. Yeah, I’m going to have to capitalise it. You’d understand if you’d heard it, be grateful I’m not fully capitalising it. It wasn’t a voice like any you’ve ever heard. Probably, that’s assuming it was truly unique to me, and not a universal experience of the numinous, in which case maybe you have heard and felt like this. Cool.

“Well what the fuck does it want,” Gex was pacing anxiously, kicking up little puffs of dust, “you can’t just bust into someone’s ownworld, especially not uninvited. You seems to have the ‘inviting’ part down though Evanith. Are you sure it wasn’t part of you?”

A cheery thought. It made sense: given a lack of personal experience of the matter, I’d always have been happy to write off this kind of deep semi-religious experience as something internal, some facet of the mind tricking us into communion with a deeper part of ourselves, or a separate part we’d never spoken with. It also hinted at fracture, a rift in the mind between conscious and unconscious parts. The opposite of what the oneirocytes did. They pulled those aspects of human experience together so we could apply the conscious to the unconscious and vice versa. If there was a hidden part of my mind, then it would be here, in some form. The form of a massive Voice saying “come”? The fuck was I supposed to go in that case – deeper inward, lose myself in the ownworld? I was beginning to freak out a bit. I’d signed up for mental unity, a community of minds with Gex and Scoro, freedom from the fuck-awful world outside. Instead the city I lived in, had worked in, was gone. We were in the back of a truck with a bunch of terrified trigger-happy soldiers (or so they’d claimed, who knows how easy it is to wear combat fatigues and grab a rifle? Oh, paranoia is so not a good look on me!) Everything I’d hoped to escape from was rather contingent on it still being there to escape from. And now I might be reaching that point where oneirocyte subjects totally lost the plot, psychosis emerging from the broken barrier between wakefulness and dreams, unable to separate an imaginary voice from myself or worse – recognise myself as the author of my dreams. Fuck.

I’d evidently been letting at least some of this train of thought ripple across my face – my imaginary face in the ownworld. I blinked. It wasn’t just my face. My marble trees had sped up, their upward writhing accelerating, branches and twigs flickering above in the light of the three moons who were pulsing alarmingly. This was my mental health directly affecting my dreamed world – mood into structural artifacts. Rain lashed down on the lagoons from their clouds… I saw, rather than felt Gex’s arms go around me. For a heart-stopping moment my viewpoint was god-like – I saw everything simultaneously in my ownworld, saw Gex wrap herself around me, Scoro reaching for my hand. I was so high up, above the trees, above the moons, looking down on my little domain. I perceived its shape: a dome and I lurked high in the firmament, the angelic viewpoint – a newfound sense of omniscience, awful in its utter completeness. It felt like my mind was rushing outwards, every fold in my brain unravelling as it occupied every inch of imagined space in the ownworld, my mind pinkly wrapped around its shape. The ownworld became a literal snowglobe inside my brain, and it shook. Dust and the tiny figures below danced as my mind rattled the dream. The trio stumbled, fell, clawed themselves back to kneeling, clutching at each other. I could see myself, eyes rolled back in my head, limbs trembling spastically as Gex dragged me onto her lap and Scoro tried to stop my fists from battering at the ground. It looked like I was having a seizure. A seizure – in a dream? Unimportant, my presence in the dream was just one aspect of the dream. My view was that of the oneirocyte, that’s what allowed me to look down – every element in this ownworld was equally me, just as much as the walking avatar that I’d assumed, felt, believed was me in the dream. But of course, we dream all of the dream, and all of it is produced by us, not just the tiny facet that looks like us. I slowed the convulsions of my homunculus below, and regarded Scoro and Gex. I wasn’t dreaming them, they had intruded from their own minds via the oneirocytes which we’d been working so hard to integrate. Not all of this was “my” dream. And then I saw it…

I gasped, sat bolt upright, jerking out of Gex’s surprised arms.

“I saw it all – I saw everything,” ah good, the sounding like a lunatic continued as I woke up, kind of, if you could call switching from an omniscient view in the world I had created into the viewpoint of a tiny mote in that dream. My friends evidently agreed – neither looked at me in a way I’d call reassuring.

Gently: “Are you alright Evanith?”

Soothing: “You gave us a bit of a scare there.”

Calming: “Just breathe for a minute.”

All the things that we still weren’t getting about the ownworld and our interactions with the oneirocyte. We didn’t need to breathe here, we didn’t need to limit ourselves to wandering around in these replicas of human form.

“We’re all of the dream,” I said, as my role of idiot prophet rolled on without any conscious effort on my part, “I’m the trees and the air.” For fuck’s sake. And yet I felt – what’s the opposite of tongue-tied – raving, mysteriously loquacious, incapable of just coming out with the words without wrapping them in mystical bollocks. My friends are good friends, and a good friend tries not to let their friends go fucking nuts, especially inside their own dream.

“Cool, cool,” murmured Scoro. The trees had slowed their frantic growth, rain fell normally on water. I was calm now.

“So… you alright?” That “so” drawn out seemingly endlessly, laced with both kindness, care and sarcasm. Thank you Gex, clearly it’s what I needed.

I tried again. “The dreamer is the dream.” Nuts. Again. “I saw everything in the ownworld – all of it, all at the same time – from above! I felt the oneirocytes.”

That got their attention, a proper word, not just quasi-religious muttering.

“You want to expand on that?” Scoro asked, clearly more comfortable dropping into a research role.

“We’ve underestimated what we can do here, and what the oneirocytes are letting our minds do. We’re more than simply ourselves here.”

So saying, I let my human body dissolve, flashed upwards into the sky like a rainbow being fired out of a cannon, and then I saw it, written in the patterns of the tree branches. I could only read it from above. With a sharp intake of breath, from somewhere – the memory of breath I guess, since I’d just abandoned the part of me that might be able to breathe – I re-instantiated my dream body between Scoro and Gex.

“Ignore all that – well, some of it anyway, we’ll figure it out,” wide-eyed, but calm now. I wasn’t going mad: “it was a message, someone’s given us directions. It’s written in the forest.” And so it was, what I’d seen from above was literal map coordinates formed in the shape of the twisting branches. “We’re not alone in here.”

It was someone else, someone who also had an oneirocyte parasite in their brain. The connections that we’d made with each other, possibly even the interchange between the trio that we’d been building had let a door open to someone else. We hadn’t even considered that we might be able to reach the ownworlds of others who had experimented with the dreaming technology. But we knew they were out there, somewhere. When the programme had shut down, most of the subjects and researchers had been removed, redeployed, gone. It was only us and a handful of others that had been left behind in the massive logistical reshuffle that followed. Someone else was out there, had found us. They were calling for us, and they’d given us directions.

“What should we do?” asked Scoro.

“Go to the coordinates, obviously,” Gex retorted, “one: it’s people with oneirocytes, which is bound to be interesting, two: it’s somewhere to go. In case you’d forgotten, we’re currently stuck in a caterpillar in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go.”

All good points. Ah, fuck. The caterpillar. The real world. We’d been gone for a little while… We opened the door in our heads that leads back to the grim, grimy, dark real world, and opened our eyes. The first thing I saw was the barrel of a rifle in my face, then it reversed and everything went dark.

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Stolen Skies

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