"Do you trust us, Sofie?"
"Then we need to know more about these dreams. Have they continued this last week?"
"Please Sofie, the cameras may not pick up every slight nod or shake of your head. Verbally, if you can."
"Yes, they have."
"And Daren. Has he been a recurring element again?"
"Are you still having conversations with the boy?"
"Yes, we talk."
"What do you talk about?"
"I mean, they're just dreams. Does it matter?"
"We just talk about life. Life here in the Straights. Life in the wilds. Is that why I've been brought here? Is it because my sleeping mind is dreaming of the wilds? I have no desire to explore these thoughts in waking life Counsellor I swear it."
"I believe you, Sofie. But some colleagues reported you asking questions about the wilds. Talking about strange dreams. This is all just a precaution Sofie. A necessary precaution. Do you trust us?"
Sofie had to think about her response to that question for the first time in her life. Did she trust The Letters? Did she trust this system? She had to. What other choice did she have? //The Straights// kept her safe, and the Letters ran //The Straights// incredibly well. Every need is taken care of, from cradle to grave.
"Does he ever talk about the war?"
"No." Sofie knew this question was coming. In the weeks that had passed since she had been relocated, nothing had changed. Saturdays were always the same, hours upon hours of waiting, some highly invasive poking and prodding, and then the questions. This office. These questions.
"We just want to get this all squared away Sofie, so that you can go home, to your old module."
Her old module, oh how she missed it. With its adjacent rolling green hills and views of the Old Sydney Harbour. Of course most importantly, her workmates. Some of whom had been with her since Crèche. What time was it? 5 pm? 6 pm? They would be hitting the ramp by now, down into the ezone for one earthly delight or another. Could they even imagine the monotony of life in the realignment module? Could she have, just a few weeks ago?
"I mean, surely you'd rather be in the Entertainment Zone right about now?" The counsellor leaned back in her office chair, affecting unusually human movements and patterns of speech as the walls of the room shifted to a blueish green hue, reminiscent of her favourite room in the Crèche. The Crèche she had spent her formative years in, learning all about the virtues of //The Straights//. Loyalty, Gratitude, Trust. They were lucky to be born in one of //The Straights// and not the city, or even worse…the wilds. This is why they donated to the city. This is why they listened to the Letters.
The counsellor rose to her feet and walked around the empty desk before her, coming to a seat directly opposite Sofie. The automaton swiped her right hand over her left forearm then extended an index finger drawing up into the air in a swift singular motion calling forth a neon blue digiscroll. With another motion, this time of her wrist, the counsellor turned a portion of the scroll toward Sofie.
"Is this him? Is this 'Daren'?"
The image was confronting. It was the boy from her dreams alright, though he looked dishevelled. Where she knew him with neatly combed medium length brown hair and impeccable posture, this picture showed a Daren who looked like he had just woken up from a bad night down the ramp. Or a good one, depending on how you look at it. His hair was all over the place, there was a slouch in his step and he seemed to be carrying some sort of weapon in his left hand. It looked like a part of a Serenity Sentinel. His right hand was grasped tightly around the ankle of a human leg, dragging behind him an unconscious body. Or was it dead? Daren had told her that he was a hunter, but it was implied that he hunted the beasts of the wilds, not city dwellers. He could never. But the eyes, there was something about those vibrant pools of grey. The calm determination they displayed, was unmistakably Daren. She shook her head, no. "It can't be. That's a photo. Daren is just a dream!"
The automaton dismissed the scroll and placed a hand on Sofie's shoulder leaning forward until their foreheads almost touched. Sofie was beginning to cry. "There is much that you do not know Sofie. The Letters are looking out for you. Just as they always have. These 'dreams' maybe something more. Daren may be dangerous. I know it's a difficult thing to consider. But we need to know if there is a resemblance? Could this boy be your Daren? Older, younger, the specifics do not matter, could it be the same boy?" Her tone had softened despite Sofie's increasing hysteria. It was almost soothing. Several moments passed. The room was entirely silent save for Sofie's quickening sobs. "The next time you dream Sofie, we need you to ask him about the war. We need to know what their next move is. Can you do that for us? So many lives could be depending on this Sofie, depending on you."
Sofie nodded her head, as the counsellor wrapped warm arms around her. She wept into the comforting embrace. Again she was reminded of her Crèche. Of trust.
*** *** *** ***
"Have you ever left The Straights?"
"No, we aren't allowed."
"It's too dangerous."
"But how do you know all you believe is true when you can't even go look for yourself?"
"They show us videos and images."
"Those things can be faked Fi."
"No, I trust them."
*** *** *** ***
For Daren, the dreams were not new, they were a part of life - a way of life. He had had these dreams for as long as he could remember. In fact, in his 15 short years of life, he must have walked consciously through thousands of dreams, if not more. They always started the same. The sounds came first, unmistakable and jarring, sounds that did not quite fit together. The sound of waves crashing upon the shore, the familiar chirps and beckons of local mountain birds awakening before the first rays of the sun. The distinctions between the songs of the mountain birds and the birds of the sea were subtle, perhaps absent, to the less tuned ears of a city-dweller; but Daren knew these sounds did not belong together. It was jarring, and so he opened his eyes.
The familiar sight of the circle of stones surrounding him provided comfort, much as it always did, against the backdrop of that feeling of not feeling. It was something he would never get used to. That peculiar sensation that came in one's own dream-field from seeing the sharp stones beneath his unadorned feet, from hearing the crunch of the leaves and the breaking of twigs as he oriented himself in the space but never actually feeling their trademark scrapes or stabs against his skin. It was jarring, which meant it was time to go to work.
Daren made his way through the maze-like paths of the stone circle at a leisurely pace until he saw something move to his left. Stopping in his tracks, he turned and came face to beak with a small but proud Stone Bush Curlew perched atop one of the stones lining his current path. He was still about 3 km from the outer edge of the circle where he knew the stone he sought lay.
"Don't." Daren mouthed, shaking his head as the Curlew lifted its left talon and tucked it for a moment beneath its ash-grey tail feathers. A considered movement followed by a curious pause.
"Don't." This time he spoke the words aloud, staring directly into the yellow ringed eye of the bird who had tilted its head to keep Daren in its line of sight. If he could feel in this place, Daren was sure he would feel a tightening in his neck right about now as he braced for the inevitable warning. He stretched it out anyway, preparing himself for what was to come. The Curlew placed its left talon back on the sandy coloured stone and straightened its spine. It opened its beak letting out a bloodcurdling wail, not unlike that of a banshee from the stories he loathed to love as a child. Dipping his head in acknowledgement, Daren turned and broke into a run. He ran as fast as his legs could take him, leaping over lower standing stones and onto new paths where he could shorten the journey. Though it felt like a lot longer, 11 minutes later he was at his destination. The stone he knew would lead to her. To Sofie.
*** *** *** ***
"How did you get here anyway? The Straights are meant to be closed off. Secure"
"Fi, you're dreaming."
"You're asleep right now. Yeah, that's it, pinch yourself. You feel nothing right?"
"Oh my… I'm… Asleep? How?"
"The human mind can do wondrous things Fi. Things even the Letters don't understand. I'm here to wake you."
"Wake me? Wait, slow down, where are you going."
"I'll show you how I got here, do you trust me?"
"Then keep up!"
*** *** *** ***
As she return to the residential block in her new module that night, Sofie felt waves of exhaustion wash over her. This was normal for a Saturday night, and understandable, she told herself. Anyone would be tired after the kind of day she had. She could see, in her new neighbours, the same weight when they returned from their processing days. Some on Tuesday, some on Thursday, but always the demeanour was the same. The slouched back, the dragging feet, the bags under the eyes, the signs of a day spent 'in the wars' as they say - the signs of defeat. Was that what she could see in the image of Daren?
As she entered the elevator of the residence block a drone flew around her in a circle, scanning her eyes, ears and neck as it went. "5th Floor, third station on the left, sleeping quarters 507. Welcome home Sofie" it recited. Sofie paid it no mind, as her thoughts continued to linger on the disturbing image she had just seen. She didn't know what to think. If only Daren could visit her tonight. But the dreams never came on Saturdays. She was just too tired.
She entered her room for the night. She had liked the coziness of the sleeping quarters in this module originally. When she lay flat and stretch she could reach across the entire room. After the day she'd had, it felt restricting. She rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. And on that newly normal Saturday, curled up tight on the hard white floor, the most abnormal thing happened. Sofie dreamt.
*** *** *** ***
"They moved you where?"
"To the realignment module."
"What is that?"
"It's like, a place where people go when they're sick."
"Are you sick Fi? Is everything ok?"
"No, I'm fine! They're just concerned about these dreams."
"No. I like them."
*** *** *** ***
Sofie's dreams were always depressing to Daren. Everything was muted compared to the existence he knew, and he couldn't help but wonder if //The Straights// looked to the waking eye as they do to her slumbering mind. The world he inhabited during his waking hours was one of lush greens and countless shades of grey and brown. Nature had infused every nook and cranny of the wilds with beautiful flowers and curious creatures of every imaginable size, shape and wondrous hue it had at its disposal. Here, however, among the endless rows of lifeless cubes, cylinders and flat bottomed spheres he counted only two shades of grey and neither of them was in any way memorable or interesting. Even the greenery which separated the perfectly aligned three-dimensional shapes lacked any sign of unique character. Every bush was the same height, width and shade as every other and each meticulously placed blade of grass contained the same slight bend close to its tip. Everything was sterile. Everything was manufactured. And nothing truly born.
Tonight, the differences between Daren's world and Sofie's mental reconstruction of her own were even more pronounced. The dull veneer that paint her existence like one of the filters in her online images was even thicker than usual, and fewer people were milling about the ezone than Serenity Sentinels. This was odd, Daren thought. He was used to seeing their extravagantly coloured frames in the residential quarters and work districts, in fact, he quite liked coming upon them as they were the only reminder here in the module that blues, pinks and purples exist. He felt a group of them eye him suspiciously. This was inaccurate of course, as they did not possess eyes with which to view him with suspicion. Their scanners were unmistakably trained on him though and he felt a deep sense of discomfort, something was wrong. As he approached the entry apparatus to the spheroid building he had chosen to use, it turned red. A speaker embedded in the frame of the structure played three times in a robotic voice the same message. "Access denied, trustability index too low. Please see a nearby Serenity Sentinel for assistance with realignment."
The curlew's call echoed in his mind as he noticed the Sentinels closing in on him.
"Shit" Daren muttered under his breath, not silently enough apparently as he heard the same voice from the structure he was now leaning against chide him for his language and mention a further reduction in his trustability index. "Shit, shit, shit!" Daren shifted his weight nervously from side to side as he went over his options. He could fight, but here in Sophie's dream-field, unlike his own, he would feel every blast and blow. No, the best choice was to surrender and see what Sofie's dream had in store for him next. He lowered to his knees, hands in the air above his head.
*** *** *** ***
"Tell me about the war."
"Fi, get these things off me, I came in here peacefu...
"No. Just because you didn't attack the heavily armed Sentinels doesn't mean that I'm safe.
"Can you at least loosen them?"
"No. Tell me.. about.. the war."
"There is no war Fi."
"Stop calling me that. I don't want you to call me that anymore. Only my friends can call me Fi."
"We're not friends?"
"I was going to tell you. You didn't even want to believe you were dreaming at first ok? I'm trying here Sofie. Please, these restraints are really hurting."
"Now. Tell me about the war."
"There isn't much to tell Fi."
"Sorry...' Sofie'… The Letters control the city and use the city officials to track down anyone who isn't in the system. Either to bring them in or…"
"The Letters don't kill people Daren. The Letters help people."
"Is that what they tell you?"
"Why would they lie to us?"
"Why would I lie to YOU?"
"Because you want to use me against the…"
"Yeah… so you see how that could work both ways right?"
"Ok, let's say they do kill people…"
"Ok! Fine! You don't?"
"I've killed people… But only ever to protect."
"Well, they protect us."
"From children? In tents? People who couldn't even get into the straights if they tried!? THINK FI! Why do I need to come to you in your dreams?"
"Why wouldn't I just waltz into one of the modules Fi? Why does the fighting never find its way here? If you're in such dire need of protecting why have you never seen even an ounce of conflict in your life!?"
"I don't know!"
"Exactly! … Fi, I have no reason to lie to you. I have zero power over you. There IS.. no.. war. Just genocide, and people with the audacity to try and survive. Fi, please."
"I told you to stop calling me that!"
"Huaagghh….Ow….. Ha. Hahah. Hahahaha! Oh wow that's amazing."
"Sofie that was incredible."
"Where did your chair go?"
"Sofie, you just showed major control over the dream-field."
"You've been doing it for a while now. I mean you lowered my trustability index, right? And you gave me one in the first place when you wanted to show me the ezone. A whole digital identity inside your brain."
"I'm here to help you Fi."
"I'm here to help you wake up. To learn who you are. To free you. The Letters have lied to you and everyone you know for your entire life. They don't care about you. They only care about justifying their existence so none of you wakes up and tries to shut them down."
"Shake your head all you want. Now that they know what you are they will NEVER let you out of the realignment module. They will use you until they can't and then they will lock you down and throw away the key forever… If you're lucky."
"What do you mean now that they know what I am?"
"You're a Dreamwalker Fi. Like me."
"A Dreamwalker. Yeah. And based on the way my ass feels right now I'm gonna say you could be a great one."
"There's the Fi I know... Sofie. Really. I'm here to help you. Please. You trust me right?"
Sofie didn't need to think this time.
"That word is meaningless."
"Good. Follow me."