Jay often worried if fusion-hoppers were not around he might never have met Abby and a life without Abby would be impossible for him. Abby’s parents had died in a “supposed” freak hopper accident in one of the early models. She distrusted ISECs explanations for the crash and she distrusted hoppers in general. She understandably hated the new mode of transport and hated going in them. She knew from the polish of the explanations there had been some cover-up on what had happened to the hopper that killed her parents. Jay still remembered traffic on the motorway, but by the time he was old enough to wear deodorant the hoppers had annihilated the combustion engine. They were so cheap that everyone had them. Nuclear powered and completely safe, it wasn’t long until they abandoned traditional motor vehicle aesthetics and started resembling cartoon characters and pop stars’ faces. Imagination was the only limit for design. As a kid, he would count how many Millennium Falcons or USS Enterprise hoppers he could see on any one ride. But even knowing the hoppers were safe, and that the AI record was flawless, Jay had an aversion to them. He had seen the dream, he knew they were fallible and he knew people were willing to kill to keep it covered up. One day soon he would have the proof, and make them pay. In the mean time they both walked when they could, in an unknown bond of solidarity. Very few ground cars ventured along the old, poorly maintained road systems. Almost all the traffic lived in the air now. Any ground traffic was likely to be police, or perhaps the people they were on the ground looking for. Jay still liked to walk, people thought it was dangerous because of criminals and failing infrastructure, but the truth was the people he bumped into on the ground were scared ragamuffins on the run or hiding for their own reasons. If you left them alone, they left you alone.
The front door to his POD beeped. He pulled on some fresh jeans and an adjustable molecular sweater and walked from the bedchamber into the main room of the POD. A hologram of the visitor awaited him, floating with the Mona Lisa smile she often had.
He opened the door and let her in. She had been visiting a friend for a week and just returned.
“You look like shit,” she said, taking off her coat and setting it down. She wore cutoff jeans like his and a cheerful yellow top.
“Bad night, not much sleep.” He didn’t lie.
“Bad dreams again?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“When are you going to see someone Jay, you must get some real help with this,” she said. “I worry that this DNA work is messing with your head properly this time. It’s time you sat down and told me everything boyo!” The worry, etched on her forehead, convinced the DNA changes were screwing with his wiring permanently and to be honest these days he was not so sure either. He knew that when he was riding the influx in the void every night keeping himself lucid to chase dreams that he was not sleeping properly. It had come naturally to him either an ability from birth or something introduced by his medical treatments as a kid. The real frustration lay in the final link to modifying his dream signature so he could pass into others dreams unnoticed, the Trojan Horse, or like a virus faking your immune system. It was the virus analogy which first led them to understanding that genome mods altered mental frequency outputs, and as such could alter dream world control.
“Max knows what he’s doing.” He replied in a way he hoped was reassuring.
“All I am saying is this is real now, injecting yourself with DNA sequences is heavy shit. She was right, they had spoken about this many time over the years, and in different contexts as they grew older, but here now as adult to adult with stakes getting higher, it was time for a level set.
He also needed to come clean about these mysterious non-traceable pings on his firewall, he had not told her or Max yet. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, taking a deep breath of her. It was time for Abby to know everything because however morally bad it was, it was her dreams that he had been able to enter and hers alone, it had shown him what was possible, he had only done it once for real but had never told her. It wasn’t long after they first kissed properly that he made the dream intrusion. He felt scared, delighted and excited all at the same time about the kiss but was so worried about what Abby was thinking that the night after in his sleep he had, without trying, stumbled into her nightmare. Abby of all people should understand. Ever since she had come to stay with his family, when he was twelve and she was thirteen, she had been the one person he could tell everything to.
She said she had told him everything too, but she still could not unblock the hopper crash that had killed her parents, it was classic post-traumatic stress, but of course she didn’t know he knew that. He closed his eyes dropping his head on her shoulder and slipping a version of sub consciousness. This would seem like a nano second passing for Abby but for him a refuge of some minuets to reflect in. Time did not obey the same rules in the dreaming void he had found, it seemed eccentric and erratic; he certainly had not figured it all out yet. What he had learned that as a rule, if you were in a day dream or very light subconscious state that real time slowed down or inside the dream void it sped up. The opposite occurred when you got closer to real sleep where the dreams were richer, deeper; then time in the void seem to speed up while real time slowed down or stayed constant.
While he had to tell Abby the truth about his intrusion into her dream today, here, and now, he was not anywhere near ready to tell her everything. He found himself wondering if he would tell her the whole story when it was time. He was terrified if he was honest with himself about what it might do to her if she found out, and just as terrified of what it might do to their relationship.
Back in the evidence cavern in the tower he reviewed the replay of her dream, despite the years of slow progress he was close to the end, he needed to find just a few more crucial fragments. Even though the hopper crash itself was important, he had seen it many times. He fast forwarded through the terrifying screams, the frantic attempts by her father to grasp her as they plummeted to earth like a stone. Her father’s failure to grab her ironically being what saved her that day. As a part of the roof of the hopper fell under the stress of the gravity plunge it effectively shielded her off from the main Hopper Cabin. It was the main cabin that took the full impact of the crash, the fallen panel had buffeted seven-year-old Abby back against the top side of the hopper exposed to the sky. The windows blew out by the immense pressure of the impact, thus allowing her to surf free of the wreckage. Then at a reduced velocity the same panel flipped over just before she hit the ground, landing on top of her. If only her parents had known that by not pulling her into the main cabin they had saved her life, their souls might be a little more at peace today.
Next there was a white flash followed by nothing. He calculated it to be five minutes of nothing because he had not found a trace of anything until; eyes flipping open the world presented vertical as she lay horizontal unable to move. Her little body flattened to the floor by the panel that saved her. Heavy enough to keep her there but not heavy enough to hurt her badly. That official part of the story they had told her was true, in fact most of the story they told her was true, just made official and impersonal. But just like a good fake news story, the facts deliberately left out turned the story in to a catastrophic lie. She could see her parents lying on the floor some twenty meters away surrounded by debris. Red, blue and yellow flashing lights flickering from vehicles in her mother’s dead eyes. As he immersed himself in the replay he felt the emotional shock infiltrate her body even at that young age she knew her mother was dead. But there were no lights in her father’s closed eyes and his hand was twitching. He was alive, more emotional shock, adrenaline surging into her young heart, but not enough to shift the weight above her. She was about to scream out when two floating droid machines came into view. One, metallic grey and low enough for her to see part of and insignia on its lower body. It was an early version of the combined ISEC & NEST logo. Since then it had evolved considerably. The droid floated just level with the waists of two people standing over her parents. Men, but the panel was too heavy to allow her to turn her head upwards to see their faces. The other droid was white displaying no logo as it floated up from her father withdrawing what looked like a cable from his body and retracting it into its housing.
“He’s alive.” A perfectly human female voice emanated from the droid.
“Will he survive?” one man asked with a London accent.
“If he does he will never walk or move again, his spine is snapped completely in two separate places. Most of his ribs are broken, it’s a miracle he survived.” The white droid seemed to stumble on the word miracle.
Jay forced himself back into a mentally conscious state and focused again on Abby. She gave him only a moments odd glance, he checked the seconds since he had put his head on her shoulder with his AI via his NWI’s, 2.5 seconds. He hadn’t managed to calm himself much at all having not planned to go to the evidence cavern.
Abby was always grateful and loving towards his parents, but she didn’t want to take their name or call them Mom and Dad. Jay’s parents had always wanted another kid but his mum couldn’t bear any more so they were on a foster and adoption list. Abby should have helped heal wounds for them both but she had not, at least not for them. But for Jay, she was the one who kept away the school bullies, looking out for him with ruthless efficiency, his minder and compass.
He took a deep breath. He knew he needed to give her the whole context before just blurting out he had violated her full dream once. He had never been into her full dream space again and he didn’t count the work he was doing on piecing back the missing parts as a violation, maybe he should but he was resolute to fix it.
“I remember rocking a lot with my arms around my legs like this when they put be in the military hospital.” It had been years since he’d rocked himself, but the position was immediately calming.
Abby nodded. He loved that she seemed to want nothing else than to listen to him. Even his parents had never made him feel as loved as she did, just by being her.
“Anyway, we were in and out of that facility while I was very young, but you know all this.” he said. “I got to be friends with some of the nurses, but the doctors always scared me. I remember one time they must have put me under, because I woke up with part of my hair shaved off, and a tube up my nose. My head hurt something fierce, they’d put things in my skull, I think it was nano-bots.” He rubbed the spot where he could still feel a bump. “I didn’t understand why these things were happening to me. I could never talk to anyone about it, really, before you came into my life.” He wanted her to understand how much he loved her and the dream intrusion was an accident, he didn’t set out with that purpose in mind. She had shown him not only what he was capable of in the waking world, but she had also accidentally allowed him to realise his potential for being powerful in dream as well. Sometimes when he was younger he imagined himself as a kind of dream vigilante, but he was not so innocent any more. He knew he could alter people by altering their dreams, and he knew how effective dreams were on influencing people’s waking actions. His desire to chase after people lies that lay hidden in their dreams had become a powerful motivator burning within him but for now the vigilante Jay needed to remain hidden.
She leaned over and squeezed his hand. The scent of her, the closeness of her, made him want her, but she deserved to know the whole story. It was good to talk about something that had facts instead of just speculation.
“And it helped, right?” Abby asked.
“To a degree,” Jay said. “As you know, they were nano-bionics that permanently altered some of the synaptic pathways between my conscious and subconscious, which meant I could deliberately put a stop to some of what bothered me in the nightmares.” He could remember the doctors, their military snappishness, but the way they’d looked at his dad made him understand they were doing the best they could. “Toward the end of my stay, even more doctors had come to talk to me and look at my head. They had so many questions about my dreams.” He shook his head. “That was when I understood for the first time that they didn’t really know what they were doing or looking for. That adults were fallible and scared of something.”
“After that,” he said, “I don’t know, it was after you’d come to live with us, one time when I’d been away, and I came home, and you and Mom and Dad threw me a little party, do you remember? I think that time they really did do something to make a difference because sleeping got a bit easier after that.”
“Was that the time on the Mersey River?” she said. “With that dreary boat?”
He laughed. “And the guy that kept trying to get me to buy you a flower? That was a time machine, that boat, taking us back to the 1970’s.”
He hesitated to tell her the next part, although she already knew some of it. It had been around then that his dream life had become something he could cultivate, controlled lucid dreaming. As he grew older, he found that he could not only stop dreams and replay them, but that he could manipulate the dreams and put them back into his subconscious, where they would play out for the most part however he wanted them to when he next slept. He could become the hero rather than the victim with a simple tweak in the story. It gave him a measure of peace, back then at least. He did not mention this is where the spark of a journey started for him on his quest to be in other peoples dream space. Around then he started to really focus on building more of his dream tower, finessing it and adding caverns and rooms. He formalized the room in which he held the keys to unlock her past. He knew he could get her answers to her unasked questions about her parents. What he didn’t know was, did she want the answers, or even consciously whether she knew she even had the questions. Questions he saw in the subconscious fire that raged inside her every day, heard it in the back of her words, felt it in the intensity of their physical love, noticed it in the fringes of her emotions and sometimes how hard it was for her to totally commit. All these things constantly twisted over and over in Jays mind.
“Then, from the age of twelve onwards, encouraged every day by you Abby and limited by teenage A&B NET restrictions, I did as much research on dreaming as it was possible for a teenager to do.” he paused and looked her in the eyes, then asked. “Was there some reason you so desperately wanted me to understand my dreams?” His heart skipped, had he pushed her too far?
“No dope head,” she said shoving him playfully. “All I ever wanted was for you to be at peace.” She brushed her hand over his forehead and peered at a spot there almost as if trying to see into his brain.
Encouraged by Abby he’d read everything from Freud, to technical books and research journals on mental illness. Abby studied alongside him too, and Jay learned long after it was too late for her to change it that Abby, without telling him, had chosen to major in Neuroscience so she could understand his issues more clearly. At the time he was furious with her for being so focused on him, but he found himself feeling a little happy that her support for him also went that deep. Another guilty secret he kept inside.
“Anyway,” Jay said. “You remember how it turned out, some of the neural signals my brain gave off weren’t like anything they had ever seen. My first memories I have are of my dreams, and nightmares.” he said. “Sometimes I could remember the images for a few hours after I woke up, but I did not tell the doctors that, because by then I really just wanted to go home. The Nano-bionics or the drugs made it easier to pull out the dream images and look at them after that.” He paused again and looked at her, there were a few more things she should know before he confessed.
“What, Jay? You’re starting to freak me out a little now.”
“As you know, the dream involving the man and numbers comes two or three times a week to me, and has done my whole life on a loop in my own dreams. He unzips space right next to me and steps through.” He thought back to other people’s loops. Abby’s loops.
He slipped into his dream state once more, on demand. Throwing his head backwards on the couch to hide the few seconds of real time that would pass.
He was back in Abby’s nightmare, sometimes he was just pulled into it without any rhyme or reason. Although at present he was sure it was his own anxiety about how much to tell her that was pulling him in, the scene played.
“We can’t afford for this to leak out and ruin the launch of the Nest and Human and AI unification process. The trust in the consensual part of the process is critical. In the worlds eyes it must be responsible for wiping out all our imperfections including lying as part of the contract. If there is a flicker of distrust, people will not do it, they will not trust the melding processes.” The man in the darker pants drooled out in his American accent. He dropped a cigarette and stubbed it out badly, Jay watched on as Abby followed the smoke as it continued to rise.
“Yes, we agree no leaks. We cannot speak for Sally who is still dark and silent, but the rest of us concur.” The grey droid spoke.
“Ok, you’re sure?” The man in dark pants addressed the same Grey Droid.
“We said yes, while sadly still imperfect in some ways. ……..” here, a gap in the dream he had not yet found but was sure it was the other person’s real name, and then it continued, “But when we come to a decision, it is unanimous. We did manage to eradicate indecision from the human influence as part of the unification process.” The Grey Droid finished and spun, suddenly and quickly ordering the area clear of all personnel immediately. The suddenness of it he could sense alarm little Abby.
Jay paused the dream scene. One damn second missing still, he was sure it was the name of the man in the darker pants that the droid was speaking of in that missing second, so important now.
Then he came awake again and went back to the description of his own dream loop.