I’d been frightened in a lot of different ways leading up to my handshake with Agent Haffrun. Grasping her hand, I discovered something interesting about being scared though; past a certain point, the only reaction you can have to fear is to laugh.
A crazy little chuckle escaped my lips before I could stop it. Then an equally crazy smile crept all the way up to my eyes. Generalized panic followed.
All I could imagine for a moment was the unpleasantness that might ensue if she knew someone had discovered who she was. That thought banished my laughter.
“Sorry, I’d thought this was going to be weird.” I said, trying to cover up my reaction.
“I hope it wasn’t too bad. People in your position have had a rough enough time; we try our best not to make it worse.”, Agent Haffrun explained. She was also smiling but her’s was kindly instead of crazy.
She escorted me to one of the lounges on the second floor that was set up as a public conference room. It wasn’t being used by anyone else and there was an old TV tuned to ESPN for entertainment.
“I’ll let the desk officer know you’re waiting here. He’ll send your brother up once they’re back with your car.” Agent Haffrun said before continuing down the hall.
I was alone. For a moment I didn’t think of anything. The stress of the day had kind of shorted out my brain. I couldn’t process the notion that I’d just been speaking with someone from another world. Aliens had done horrible things to my Earth. They’d changed it in fundamental ways.
So why had that one seemed so nice?
My thoughts began to move, sluggishly, and some part of me started screaming that I should tell someone there was an alien in our midst. Another part thought of how impossible it would be to get anyone to believe me. The last part, maybe the biggest part even, just wanted the woman I’d met to be real. I wanted her to be “Agent Haffrun, the kindly interviewer” and not “Agent Haffrun the Alien Agent of Judgment”.
My head was still buzzing with my new sense but it in answer to which Agent Haffrun was real it was silent. It had shown me what she was, but it was up to me to chose what to make of that.
So I stood there and let my thoughts untangle at their own pace and in their own way.
There was too much on my mind to sort through it all at once. Agent Haffrun. Way. The Star Runner’s crew. The Shadow Court. Whatever it was that I could do, or that I had become. So many possibilities.
Searching inside, I looked for which one mattered the most to me and cast away everything else for the time being.
Agent Haffrun might be a foe of humanity, but she didn’t feel like one. I’d need to think about her some more but that could wait. Way was the next big issue, but she was too complex to deal with and probably thought I was dead so she could wait too. The Star Runner’s crew? They could take care of themselves, however clumsy Molly might think they were.
The Shadow Court? I was the least of their worries at this point.
Which left me with myself and whatever it was that was really happening to me.
I’d flown, only I hadn’t. I could sense things, but only in a weird way. I remembered Molly’s life, a girl who’d never been real, except that I’d met her friends…maybe.
It felt like the ground beneath me was shifting sand in an earthquake. Each direction I turned I found things slipping away. I couldn’t trust my senses. I couldn’t trust my memories. I couldn’t trust anything. I should have been upset by that, and I was, but in truth I wasn’t even sure the emotions I felt were real.
Things had tried to kill me. I’d died. Kind of. That scared me, but more in the way reading a horror story would than actually living through those events should have. I knew I wasn’t that courageous, so I had to ask if something else was wrong.
I breathed in. I breathed out. I slowed down and observed myself.
I didn’t feel broken. I didn’t feel great either, but with a chance to catch my breath I was able to reflect on where I was. A lot had changed in a little time. I was off balance, and that was natural. I didn’t know what it would take to regain a stable footing but I knew the first thing I needed was some answers. I needed to know what had changed in me before I could figure out how I was going to deal with all of the other curves that were being thrown my way.
If I had to go anywhere to find those answers, I could have just walked out. The police hadn’t charged me with anything after all and Agent Haffrun was done with me. If James came back and couldn’t find me though he’d probably have a meltdown. Also, Mom and Dad would kill me for wandering off when I was conceivably still in danger.
Instead, I sat down on one of the black cushioned couches and put my feet up on the nearby coffee table. If someone came in it would either look like I was watching TV or had fallen asleep.
“Pen. We really need to talk.” I dreamspoke.
It had felt like “thinking loudly” before, but I’d done it enough times that I could sense the subtle differences between when I was thinking something and when I was projecting it.
“Wow! That’s incredible!” Pen said. He appeared sitting on the edge of coffee table, to the left of my propped-up legs.
“I’ve got a lot of questions for you.” I said.
“I kind of figured you would. Let me tell you the first one you should ask.”
“I told you there are questions I can’t answer because if I did you’d be in more danger right?”, he asked, inviting me to pursue that line of reasoning.
“Yeah, so why is that? Why would I be in more danger? Anything you tell me should keep me from making stupid mistakes. Knowledge is power isn’t it?”
“Not in all cases. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re floating in the ocean, happy as a clam. Then someone tells you there are sharks swimming beneath you. Sharks that can smell the chemicals released in your sweat when you’re afraid. So long as you didn’t know about the sharks, you were fine. As soon as you find out, the fear starts to build up and pretty soon you’re best chums with Mr Toothy.”
“So if you tell me what I want to know, I’ll wind up so afraid that something will eat me?”
“That would be the one of the better cases if you knew everything I do.” Pen said. He got up and started to pace along the edge of the table.
“I mentioned how I’m a special little snowflake as far as this world is concerned right? Part of that is due to the things I know.”, he explained, “The more I share with you, the more you know about the world that I can see? Well if I’m an ice cream sundae to some of the things out there then you’d be the cherry on top.”
“Ok, maybe you’d be more like an extra scoop. I’m not all that I used to be. That’s the other reason I can’t answer your questions.”
“If I don’t know anything though I’m going to go nuts or make some huge mistake. I can’t just pretend nothing has changed. I’ve been trying and it’s not working.” I said. I sounded more frightened than I expected. Maybe the scares weren’t quite as distant as if I’d imagined.
Pen frowned. I couldn’t hear his thoughts, but my meta-awareness came close to telling me what they were. He was weighing the burden of being responsible for something horrible happening to me because I’d made a preventable mistake versus the long term cost I’d pay for knowing what he did.
“Tell me what was incredible.” I asked, sensing that was one of the few paths through his growing certainty that I was better off not knowing.
“Oh, that I wound up with someone like you. Someone talented I mean.”
“Yeah, I was out of it when you rescued me, but I should have been heading towards someone mundane. You took to dream speaking very naturally.”
“It seems pretty simple, and weren’t you the one who gave me that power?” I asked. Everything weird had started with Pen’s arrival so it seemed plausible that anything unusual I could do was related to him.
“Gave you a power? No way. I’m trying my hardest not to mess up your life!”
“Well if you didn’t give me this dream speaking, and the hyper-awareness, and the flying, who did?”
“Wait, the what now? And when were you flying?”
“I don’t know? A half hour ago? Can’t you see what’s going on around me?”
“I was tucked away pretty deep. I didn’t want to attract any more attention to you.”
“So you missed all that stuff with Way and her beast and the sky pirates?”
“Who? And the what? And Sky Pirates!? What the hell has been going on?” Pen asked looking horrified.
“After we talked? I was here in the police station and a blonde girl and this giant shadow monster showed up. They chased me and trashed the place and the cars outside and then I had to fly to get away from her, but I couldn’t and then…” I drew a deep breath and shook my head. Recalling the flight from Way was intense. Part of me was still freaked out about the whole “burned to ash” way it had ended.
“And then a ship with Sky Pirates showed up.” I almost called them ‘my crew’.
“This world doesn’t have Sky Pirates does it?” Pen asked.
“They got shot down though. I did too. Way sort of exploded when I named her. Then I got burned up. Then I woke up here.” Dream speaking about what had happened was harder than simply saying the words would have been. I was much closer to the memories when I was dream speaking them. All the emotions that went with the memories were shared too, which meant I was feeling them again as well.
If I’d been in a different frame of mind, it might have been fun to watch Pen’s reaction to the things I was saying. Confusion turned to bewilderment which then became abject bafflement. By the end he was staring at me mouth open and struggling to find any response at all.
“So now do you see why I need to have some answers?” I said.
“No. I mean yes. I mean maybe. Damn. This is not the way things were supposed to go. Why is nothing ever simple?”
“I don’t know. What was supposed to happen?”
“I wasn’t supposed to get you involved in any of this. Three days. I was only going to need three days. I can remember that much clearly at least. Just three days of recovery and then I’d be out of here.”
“Out of my head?”
“Out of this world.”
“Out of this world like ‘Mars’ or like ‘Dino-Earth’?” I asked. Dino-Earth was one of the more ‘popular’ parallel Earths that we’d created a portal too. We hadn’t managed to bring a real dinosaur back yet but people were still trying.
“That wasn’t a yes or no question.”
“That’s true, it wasn’t. Let’s move on though. You said a bunch of very worrisome things just now.”
“Pretty much everything. I don’t even know where to begin.”
“How about this; I’ll tell you what I think I’ve figured out. If its something that I can work out on my own then you’re not protecting me from anything by trying to keep it a secret.”
“Ok. Let’s start at the beginning then. You said you’re the pendant that I grabbed in my dreams.”
“Assuming that’s the way you saw me, then yes.”
“You were a pendant then and you’re a guy now because you were hurt and you’re recovering.”
“Since you showed up in my dreams and you’re living in my head…”
“I’m not…I’m not ‘in your head’ precisely.” he cut me off.
“Can you explain the difference then?” I asked.
“Yes, but it’ll be safer if you work it out, keep going.”
“Ok. You showed up in my dreams and you said you’re recovering in my dreamspace. Now you say that’s not in my head. So my dreamspace is separate from me. But linked in someway.”
“I know some psychics can do stuff in dreams. It’s supposedly really chaotic though. The mind’s a complete jumble during a dream from what I’ve read.”
“You have psychics here?”
“Yeah. They even teach us a little bit about that in school. The Yellow Submarine Defense was my favorite.” I’d been tested for psychic ability back in kindergarten but, like everyone else in the class, I’d hadn’t displayed anything measurable.
“Interesting. This world is…different than I expected it to be.” he admitted without elaborating any further.
“There’s just one problem from what I know; dreams aren’t external to us. They’re just reprocessed memories and hallucinations brought on serotonin breaking down into a chemical state that’s similar to LSD.”
“Even in psychics?” Pen asked.
“Yeah. From what I’ve read one of the first thing a psychic learns to do instinctively is to disconnect their powers while they’re asleep. Otherwise they’d be broadcasting an acid trip to everyone around them every night.”
“So dreams are simply a part of people then right?”
“Right. Except, you’re here. So two possibilities occur to me. Possibility one: I could be hallucinating you. I could have cracked up and everything I think I’ve seen and done is all just a mad fantasy. Or, possibility two, maybe our dreams aren’t entirely memories and LSD.”
Pen looked worried. I was getting close to something he thought could hurt me. I thought of the sharks he’d talked about. They might smell my fear, but being ignorant didn’t mean I was safe either. If I knew they were there I could try to get into a boat, or at least punch one in the nose or something.
“I’ve ‘woken up’ twice so far tonight.” I said, coming at the idea from a different angle. “Both times were right after I’d been through something amazing. Both times there was proof that what I’d seen wasn’t entirely in my head, and both times I woke up right where I’d been at the start of things going weird.”
“Proof?” Pen asked. He was trying to delay me. Hoping I wouldn’t put together the pieces that I had.
“Yeah, I’ll get to that. So, what does that tell me? I’m dreaming these things? It can’t be that. Or at least not only that. Too many other people are seeing bits of what I’ve experienced. These don’t feel like dreams either.” I said.
“So I’m living the experiences for real then maybe? No, it can’t be that either. I burned to death. If that was real then I’d really be dead now. So what does that leave?”
Pen didn’t answer but he didn’t have to. My vision blurred for a second, bifurcated, and an idea started coming into focus.
I tried an experiment. I focused on my feet and wiggled them. I felt them knock back and forth. I blinked to clear my vision and looked at them. They weren’t moving. My meta-awareness nudged me on – I wasn’t seeing everything.
I blinked again and thought of Pen before I opened my eyes. My feet were moving back and forth, wiggling just the way I felt they should be.
I stood up. And I could feel myself still sitting down at the same time.
I jumped and gave a cheer of glee as understanding clicked into place.
“I’m not dreaming, but I’m not awake either. I’m somewhere between the two. This is what I’ve been doing without realizing it.” I said with a smile. It was stunningly clear once I knew to look for it. The divide in my senses. The way the room I saw while I was standing wasn’t quite the same as the room I’d sat down in.
I tried to refocus my vision without blinking and found it was easy to do. I was sitting on the brown cushioned chair and I was standing on the other side of the table. I could see both worlds at once. The “physical me” and the “dream me” were both “me”.
I waved to myself. The “me” who was standing waved at the “me” on the couch. Physical “me” was too heavy to move a muscle but I could still sense my arms were there. I could still hear through my physical ears too.
I guessed I could force my physical body to move around while I was divided but it would probably be pretty slow. Kind of like a sleepwalker.
My dream self on the other hand? Forget just moving around, I could fly! In fact, I felt like I could do anything with my dream self. Existing in two places at once should been mind breaking but instead it felt perfectly natural. Actually it felt better than that. It felt super.
A thrill of power ran down to the tips of my fingers and toes. I might be swimming with sharks but I wasn’t completely helpless anymore.
It was a heady rush, experiencing the world in such a new way. The worrywort in me helped bring me back to earth though. Nothing was without consequences. I looked at Pen and saw the trepidation written on his face. There was a lot we still needed to get through.