Jay Maison forced himself back into the dream space. He’d been relentless in his quest for answers, every morning since the night he had once found himself unexpectedly caught up in Abby’s nightmare. He closed and slowed his mind. While in her nightmare, his perspective was locked to hers and he could not change it unlike when he replayed his own dreams. To keep focused he would clench a dream muscle using discipline he had tenaciously learned in his short life so far, and relying unknowingly on millions of years of dormant dream evolution locked in his genome he would go chasing the nightmare of the girl he loved. He had seen the entire nightmare only once, that first night, and so he knew at the end of it she got to meet her nemesis. The epicenter of all her anger and hate, however well she hid it, he knew this nightmare was what drove her on every day, a dark emotional coil keeping her steady. Piecing the nightmare back together was no easy task, every fragment had to be searched for in his own lucid dream world. Once he had won the battle of finding a lost fragment, he grasped it with his mind and fled to his dream tower and the plateau level at its very top. There in the center stood a cold slab of stone to support his body. Connecting with the stone was always his cue he had made it back safely from the uncertain, seemingly ruleless land of dreams. His dream tower; his own construction within dreams, a solid artifact of rationality he had carved out over the years of his life. His own refuge in the black bottomless void of dreams. After arriving on his plateau, he would breath and relax before very slowly flowing out of his energy state into a cavern he had created specifically for this nightmare of hers. Here he would occupy a more familiar looking dream avatar, the one he always used when not on a specific task. As if in a crime scene replay, he gathered the evidence. The work was painstakingly slow and hard, even for a person of his dreaming abilities. The method he used was to float in the dreaming void, a stream of people’s subconscious thoughts, colliding violently together in the space where everyone went when they dreamed or daydreamed. The void had many layers but this influx layer was chaotic. He would leave his normal avatar on his plateau and raise his body up slowly into the influx until it was buffeting through his own subconscious like a ghost metro car on some out of control theme park ride. New dreams came and went, but he’d noticed over the years, much of the influx was on repeat, as if in a long loop. People’s dreams seemed to match patterns, some of them very uniform and very clear to him, almost like a familiar taste or smell that you didn’t know you remembered until you experienced it again. Others were wild spirals of chaos with no rhyme or reason, but even these had familiarity, an index. He couldn’t read dream sequences all at once, it was too overwhelming, but if he felt one rattle through him that he could relate to, or saw a repeat frame of one he had witnessed before, he could hone in on it and experience it. Just the section, not the whole dream, he could replay the section like a flick, and eventually he learned how to glue them together. It was this sampling process that enabled him to interrogate the loop of dreams and find lost fragments to Abby’s nightmare, fragments that she didn’t remember. Abby knew a lot about his dreaming abilities but not all of it yet, and she certainly didn’t know about this project. The more he had investigated the looping dreams, the ones that stayed in the flux night after night, he realized they were mostly manifestations of real events that had happened in people’s lives which they were now trying to escape or free themselves from. He guessed that for many reasons that were still mostly unclear to him, the dreams remained locked tight into their subconscious; only to come out for exercise when the mind went into a subconscious state. He felt deep sadness in many of these loops, a fleeting crash of emotion, violating his own emotional sub structure as he sampled them. His desire to rush after the loop and try desperately to help whoever was in such suffering was almost too much to bear sometimes. He would often wake crying real tears for them. Danger also lurked in the dark corners of these dreams, sometimes so deep was the fear and danger it chilled him to the very bone. For this sojourn, at least he’d had enough and he woke with a start, his sheets damp, and his heart pounding. Lying back down, he tried to focus as hard as he could on the details before they could slip away. Things hadn’t gone exactly to plan again and he needed to remember everything so he could make changes later with Max. Despite all the work Max had put into modifying his DNA so he could properly control others dreams, the precise control still wasn’t there which was frustrating. Frustrating because it was a control he enjoyed in his own dreams so why not other people’s? Max was on a CRISPER sponsored degree specializing on forcing DNA manipulations to take hold in the body much more quickly than today’s doctors were able, and with the help of artificial intelligence it was revolutionizing medicine. Their real end game was to enable Jay to have more predictable dream control by modifying his genome, tinkering with DNA patterns that clearly already had their secrets locked and loaded into its primal core. Early on they had made good progress, big changes, big results, and more stability. Not the complete control needed to land in other people’s dreams though and time had passed, and now they were down to their best guesses. He could sample, view and experience; but not enter people’s dreams yet apart from that one time with Abby. Jay knew that intruding on people’s dreams was immoral, but he had a burning desire to try to set some things straight in the world, and he knew from his own dreams that it was possible. He wanted to use this ability to get into the dreams of corrupt, bad people, find out what their secrets were, then somehow expose the person or provide evidence the world could not refute. Fake news was in his opinion one of the modern world’s worst crimes. The Nest assured the humans they had all but eradicated the problem by applying filters against the news-pods. Underground networks, comprised of many thousands of hackers and volunteers puppeting millions of fake online personalities to promote opinion. Jay wasn’t at all convinced the AI story of applying smart filters was even remotely accurate. Perhaps in time, he could even find out what burned in the core of NEST AI, did they have a subconscious too? He needed more time and for Max’s genome mods to work so he could penetrate deep into people’s dreams, to witness the crimes, then he could act.
He got up from bed and wearing his boxers and pajama pants, he wandered over to his office, just down the Eco Architecture Pod (POD) hallway pondering the question of NEST dreaming. He knew standard AI was more binary, like his own AI. He punched in his access code and the door slid open. Before entering he looked out through his window at another Manchester day. The solar balloons were just firing up over the city, and a sun-like glow was starting to seep out across the landscape as if someone was dashing yellow paint over the buildings. He thought of the saying about how only the death of the ozone layer could bring sun to Manchester. It was no joke that the ozone layer died, replaced by the Atmos-Zone, an electrostatic atmosphere and the solar balloons powered by cheap fusion, technology had saved humanity but only just. A technology that only AI could give them and the collapsing ozone was what finally pushed the courts and ISEC to allow Damien to push ahead with his AI experiment on the FBI super computer. The birth of AI as it was called.
It was 5 am and faced now with the conscious world he chewed a nonexistent fingernail. Someone was getting suspicious of all the work he and Max were doing, not only could he sense it, but people were trying hard to get past his personal online security, and with that thought constantly gnawing away at him he went to the office.
The inside of the office presented more like a lab than and office and certainly not what a normal teenager usually needed for studying history and mathematics. Downstairs he could hear other students up and about, maybe still up from the night before, it was Saturday and the college wasn’t strict on discipline. He closed the door and used his near wave implant(NWI)to call up the lights, then asked his holopad to project his computer’s visual display. Jay was against implants in general and not just because they were ruled out for him at an early age due to some neurological issues. He was labelled like some outcast of the modern world. “Not suitable for Neural Jack Implants (NJIs). NJIs connected your cerebral cortex to the A-NET, but he needed a method to send and receive data from his personal AI and to interface with the NET’s so he had relented to the less intrusive NWI, it suited him better than the implants his friends all had.
He locked the room because he did not want other students bumbling into his space and seeing the newly released holopad. It was out of the price range of most of his peers and would make them curious and suspicious. Most of the equipment in his office would perplex a computer engineer, although on his parents’ credit accounts it registered only as “computer hardware.”
The room chimed as it sealed itself to the outside world. He called out his access code, and up popped a DNA sequence spiraling in front of him like some ancient helter skelter. This is where the hard grind happened, logging, and re-tweaking his genome with Max’s help. Finding the magic pattern to free him to enter people’s dreams at will. They should be making more progress but something wasn’t right and the nights of failures were wearing thin on them both. He slumped down in a chair and stared into the spirals, lost in thought.
His setup at home had been decent for early work but nowhere near powerful enough. But now with the advances in tech and the relative privacy of college life, he knew he had a chance of figuring this out. He knew he was lucky that his parents were well off by most standards. Jay and his family lived in Manchester and ISEC, had recently moved European headquarters there away from Geneva and the Large Hadron Collider for safety reasons. His father, an engineer by trade, had landed a good job there & his mother once a lawyer, was now in flight school. Planes and space shuttles, we’re almost all piloted by AI these days but space bound crafts carrying humans had to have a fully able human crew. The dead man’s handle again, or was it a false hope, a placebo humans still needed to hang onto? Jay opted for the latter.
He placed his finger in the analyzer for a blood sample. While he waited for the results, he reached into the image and pulled out the specific strand of DNA that he was interested in, and stretched it out into the air in front of him. It was only by the modified virus carriers that Max had invented, nano-bots carrying and replicating the changes in factories that the changes could take place so quickly. Bio factories at atomic scale sitting like gun boat platforms floating in the blood stream. There was a beep, and his results spiraled out of the holopad next to the spiral already present. He pulled out the same DNA strain and expanded it to compare the two to make sure his blood did in fact now contain the DNA mods from the injections he took before bed. His personal AI confirmed that they were the same, and matched the new one with the modification. Science on the bleeding edge: he had faith in the process, but what he was doing still gave him the willies. He dated both samples, stored them away, destroyed the physical evidence, and encrypted the files. He turned his attention to the red blinking dots buried in the background of the holo-grid in front of him. His personal AI Chameleon was under instructions for most issues not to disturb him for an hour after he woke up so he could focus on remembering dream details. He did however leave annoying clues when he needed to interface, like these blinking red lights. Jay referred to AI as alternate intelligence, not sharing society’s insecurities about new intelligence having to be artificial. He knew the NEST was the next generation of human evolution, he loved the science behind it and one day hoped to make the transition himself. But right now, he didn’t trust the motives of ISEC and by default the NEST. For basic AI he didn’t believe in adding fake human interface routines and consequently his relationship with Chameleon was tight but some might call their interactions curt.
“So, what’s the blinker for?” He called out to the empty room, ignoring his NWI capabilities as often as he could. Chameleon replied through the house audio.
“I’ve monitored more unusual attempts to break through your firewall, there were twenty-two overnight.” Chameleon had found traces of bots that had left their infected cargo at the door of the firewall and fled back into the safety of the unregulated C-NET. He hadn’t been able to trace even one.
“Crap,” he mumbled under his breath, a shiver running up his spine. It was getting out of hand.
“I assume they were all high grade and left no trace routes back?”
“You assume correctly,” Chameleon replied flatly.
“And no reply from Dupie?”
“I would have alerted you as requested Jay.”
Jay grunted back at him. The bots were a deep worry, what he was doing with his DNA was highly illegal, and someone was starting to get nosey. He needed to talk to Dupie a college hacker who had sold him his extra protection for the firewalls.
“Ok” he sighed. Unsealing the office, he left to lie back down on his bed. The solar balloons were up to full strength now, and if you managed not to look at the sky, it seemed as if what he imagined real sun to be like was flooding the city. He paused at the window to close the blinds. From his twenty-fourth-floor POD, he could just see the end of the old M6 motorway that was now half a mile wide, where twice a day they could hear the roar of Mark Nine Shuttle landings. On a particularly clear day he could glimpse the huge towers that made up the main complex of ISEC, where his father worked. The POD was a big selling point of the college, a fully self-sustained habitat, it felt like living in a beehive. He did not even have to remember to feed it, every month a bot came around and fed sand into a chute in the hallway. From his bed, he could see the recyc water pulsing under the skin of the wall. It was a fine place to live, but he missed Abby.