Somewhere Else by reginac7

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"You're an expert dreamer. There's nothing to worry about."

Melanie Five was an optimist. A calculating one. She expected her programs would work. A game, she called it.

I spent my days anticipating the fear that would grab at me when she arrived in the lab and sent us to sleep. Yet I wondered if it was the open-ended aspect of it all that was the real terror. She gave me freedom to go where I wanted but I didn't know how to stop once I was speeding along. Time emerged like a child's tower of blocks, collapsing as I passed by.

The smallest planet always appeared first. I covered its circumference in two, no, three steps. I felt like a giant walking across the brown and gray rock. Around me in my dream's eye I saw the emptiness, the black night, galaxies in the distance coming toward me or expanding away.

It was the largest planet, though, that made me sense something hidden and waiting. I struggled to penetrate down to its surface but dense clouds stopped me.

"Do you still dream?" I asked Melanie Five once.

"Of course not!" she said. "I stopped that long ago. I have other work now. I am developing a new game, in fact, that will reproduce my earliest years. It should turn out to be great fun."

Her reputation was flawless, over a million dreams that she had experienced and recorded. Part of our training was to live in her image.

"A dream is a fabrication, no more than the firing of synaptic charges. The game is meant to help you know who you are in physical space. You need to put your faith in what you can experience in the dreams and bring that confidence into real life."

I told her I didn't understand.

"You know, Thelonious, if you insist on challenging my methods, one night I might forget to retrieve you from the dream at all. Now, I know you don't want that!" She smiled and pretended to laugh. "You love the freedom your body has in the dream. That's the point of it! Relax. Go to sleep. I'll take care of you."

Her reassurances were hollow. She wasn't there to take care of any of us with our problems in physical space, the disabilities that had brought us to her in the first place. She was there to see how her game played out.

Its essence was solitude. There was only this endless journeying through the black void into unknown star systems and beyond those into distances never seen before or marked in any way. There was only the terror. That was what she monitored with her instruments and careful notes.

What to do? It came to me one day as if the idea had been waiting for me to notice it. As I fitted my false left arm with the old, familiar brace, I remembered. As I applied the necessary cream to the burns that traced much of my body, I remembered. As I slipped awkwardly into my chair and drove it out of the building, I knew. The chip she had inserted into my brain had one flaw. It would let me linger in a place as long as I wanted.

I arrived early for the next session and entered into the dream faster than I ever had before. I heard her shout of approval as I did so.

I approached the largest planet first. Its dense clouds moved in the familiar swirling streams below me. This time I stayed, watching. I had nothing to lose anymore but my fear.

After a while I heard the call from the surface of the planet below, a seductive whistling that resonated through me like the vibration of glass. In the next moment my left arm was my own again, blood and muscle and tissue, and my skin was whole. "You have always been perfect," I heard a voice say. "We have anticipated your arrival."

A vortex emerged, spinning counter-clockwise, and I hovered near it. At the narrow base I saw nothing but the flickering of light, and then a landscape showed itself, filled with life forms, all of them beckoning to me.

I felt the momentum increase as I went down and down and down into the unknown, though I could still hear the voice of Melanie Five.

"Thelonious Dray, wake up! You can't fool me. Your vitals are fine. Wake up, now. Do you understand me? Fear is an excellent instructor. You've done very well. The game is over."

Yes, I thought. So it is. Now.

I let go completely and followed the vortex all the way down to the surface.

The End

~~

Wattpadder reginac7 is a lover of all things SciFi, particularly B-grade movies, and has had many short stories published in her time in various publications. More of her work can be found on her profile. 

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