The three of them scurried away from the castle through the Atlantean city like field mice under a harvest moon, sticking to the shadows of closed shops and avoiding the dancing nightlife in the east district. Clay, looking a bit lankier than usual in that flapping white toga, lagged behind and grabbed Amy’s hand, and continued,
I didn’t think I’d be teaching you like this, but anyway… In a dream, it feels like you are thinking in your head, but you don’t really have a head in a dream, it’s just a psychic projection of one, right? So when you think to yourself, everyone around you hears it–
–Well, that makes sense, Amy thought back, because in a dream, everyone around me is myself.
“We are who we are, darling,” said Georgina, waving them over into a dark nook behind a peddling cart full of sparkly jagged crystals. She pointed to the mountainous hill, half scaffolded by a layered labyrinth of stairs, houses, pools, and shrines, throned by a marvelous golden pantheon. “We’ll climb around back where the hill overlooks the sea.”
Sssshhhh! Clay’s telepathic voice rushed in at Amy, I said don’t think yet! Listen, you can talk directly to me by pushing it into my head, that’s what I’m doing with you right now.
Am I doing it? thought Amy, intensely.
Georgina, in her hooded cloak, leaned into a sliver of moonlight and locked eyes with Amy, then looked down to her hands and seemed relieved that they were gloved, and pushed back another ringlet of iridescent hair into the hood.
“Well, yes, the thought is that all of us will go to my home where it’s safe, but if you’d rather be swallowed by a daeva, that’s your choice, darling. Though I hear the effects are rather unpleasant.” Georgina sprinted for the next shadowed spot and they followed quietly.
I’d say it didn’t work, Amy heard Clay think, ok try this… Imagine that you are whispering the words into my ear when thinking it… Try “Atlantis is awesome!” – just in case you mess it up.
Atlantis is awesome! she attempted, but saying it reminded her of her baby’s iridescent hair in that other dream, and then that made her think of Georgina’s, who replied–
“It used to be, though some of us remain who wish to make Atlantis great again. Come, darlings, just take this staircase on the left, it wraps around to the back of the hill. Be careful not to lose me when they diverge again. We’ll be taking the second stair on the right, then straight on to morning.”
Did you say the thing? Clay thought at Amy, I didn’t hear you!
Amy thoughtfully replied– I think I got it! Clay Clay Clay Clay… Just have to keep my mind on you when I’m doing it. Which is quite the feat considering how beautiful the water is on the other side here, under that big Atlantean moon. We have to admit, this has been a pretty neat trip so far!
Clay shook his head both ways– Let’s just hope we don’t get trapped here, maybe there’s a way to stop the Merfolk from starting a war… because even if you were to wake up at some point, think of your daughter over there, in an alternate dreamline. What kind of future would we leave for her?
I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about time! Amy thought back, reeling.
You know what I mean! Future is just a measurement of relatable change, and a war would affect all of them–all of us– across all dreamlines.
I guess we’ll wait and speak to Georgina, Amy replied, doing all she could to keep focus on Clay while saying another’s name. They had just taken their second right onto skyward stairs when the pinks and violets of dawn brushed across the horizon in lush masterful strokes. Straight ahead, Georgina opened a door to a house lining the edge of the hill, sandwiched between two others of Mediterranean style and color; she waved them in hastily.
“Now that we’re safe,” she said, removing the night-black cloak over an emerald toga to reveal a young face lined with the wisdom of countless years, and a full head of iridescent ringlets that bounced to the beat of her vibrant speech, “my, that’s some hair! Mine would never behave like that, of course.”
Amy reached up and felt her princess Leia-inspired space buns plastered to each side of her head like scarlet cinnamon rolls. In hindsight, it was probably a bad styling choice, but worked great for all of that previous running, along with her shiny silver toga jumpsuit. Plus her new friend seemed rather fond of it…
She’s not a new friend, Amy! Let’s not forget what they do to illegal humans here.
I didn’t think anything! Amy returned. And I’m not illegal, right? I have my guide, and my gloves on.
Oh my bad, I was listening to the narration. Hmm, you should probably answer your ‘new friend’, she was just asking if you’d like some honey milk.
“Yes, please!” Amy said rather eagerly, then thought to Clay as Georgina sauntered off into her small sunshine-yellow kitchen, I’m not illegal, right?
Well… I mean, one could say you don’t meet all of the requirements to visit here… But technically you’re queen of the ocean somewhere out there, so that’s got to count for something.
Clay! -Am- -I- -here- -illegally!? she thought-roared, enunciating each word. I am, aren’t I? It’s that ‘first review’ thing, isn’t it?
Ssshhhh! She’s coming back… If you get too worked up, she might hear you.
A sense of dread swelled up inside, the likes of which Amy had only felt in the worst of dreams, quickly replaced by how embarrassing this was and how it was all Clay’s fault. Before she knew it a fireball had ignited in her upturned palm, poised to slap, when Georgina set the milk down and rushed over, getting as near to the flame as the heat allowed.
“You make fire! Then you can not be the illegal human they are looking for. Any flame maker is welcome in the highest of Atlantean court.”
“Well, it’s just a fireball,” Amy replied, nearly stuttering over the surprise attention, “you know, like my favorite plumber makes. Can’t you do it?”
“No! Tis a lost art, darling. We can not make flame so we must take it from the well. Costs two daeva every time I light my stove…”
Amy shook her head in sympathetic pity, while thinking to Clay – Daeva, she means the correctors?
Yeah, that’s their currency here. I don’t know where they come from, but it seems every living being across the realms is allotted twelve correctors as a kind of personal dream police. It’s like a natural order thing that’s as widely accepted as it is ignored. You have your twelve, and everyone here does too. But Atlanteans don’t use theirs the same as they force humans to, so it became sort of a bargain trade amongst themselves, since any used up correctors regenerate per sunrise. They say the one with the most police controls the most of humanity. I didn’t mention this before?
No! You did not mention this before!
Oh, maybe it’s because you have the dream attention span of a two-year-old!
Her fireball grew larger, singeing Georgina’s curious eyebrows, who backed away and clasped her hands.
“Oh, but darling, I must scan for your implant. Perhaps it is malfunctioning and that’s why the alert was raised. Just a moment and I’ll grab a scanner.” And mumbling as she left for another room– “a flame maker, in my own home. Just wait until the boys in council hear about this.”
“I don’t have a chip!” Amy called out, then to Clay, “And what’s the big deal? There are other humans who visit here, don’t they know how to make a fireball?”
“Beats me… I’ll try it myself…” Clay stuck his left hand out, palm up, but could only conjure a tiny spark that fizzled with a thin plume of smoke. He tried it a few more times and even snapped his other hand’s fingers at it with furrowed brow. “Hmmm…it’s like there’s a suppression field or…”
“Or because our city exists as a simultaneous reflection to an underwater one,” Georgina completed, returning with a small gadget resembling an Apex smartwatch but as a big gaudy ring. Slipping it onto her left’s first finger, she tapped the emerald jewel on top and held a projected sweeping scanner up to Amy’s forehead. “Flame makers don’t merely summon fire, they are conjuring a much older and hidden power– when one summons a piece of their own soul, they don’t need air to combust. With enough strength, she could light up the whole of our wet brethren on the other side. Now turn around darling, I must scan your crown too.”
“I don’t have a chip,” Amy repeated, baring a smug appreciation of her lifelong refusal to get one. (Especially after what it did to her mother.)
“Oh sure you do, darling. The portal would have never let you through without it. At least it shouldn’t. It’s typically the humans without guides who are gobbled up.”
“Yeah about that,” Clay interjected, “speaking as a guide myself, what is it about not having one that’s such a crime? I know some humans can be a total -(he blew a raspberry and turned down his thumb)- but they’re curious creatures, they aren’t all bad. What exactly happens when they get swallowed by a correct- a daeva?”
Georgina turned to Amy, and said, “Have you ever woken up and for a brief period cannot remember who or where you are? It’s almost like gasping for the information? That’s when you’ve been swallowed by a daeva.” Then to Clay, “total annihilation of dream being, that’s what it is. An eclipse of immediate self. A nasty sort of affairs and not all of us Atlanteans agree with the tactics. Still, the curious lion finds its bitter poison. It’s not that we dislike humans, not all of us, but everything they touch becomes a part of them. We have not yet met a single human who can make safe contact, without transcribing their ignorance onto every surface. And Amy, I mean not to offend, darling, but there is too much at balance here in this city. Too much life. We bear a strong responsibility against the ignoring minds of sleeping humans. Thus hand coverings are required and humans are not permitted until they have begun the process of lucid awakening and bear an implant of any fashion, for autonomous control in case of emergency. Even then they must be guided to ensure safe passage and only after the first review.”
“You mean safe for you,” said Amy, wondering if this scanner thing was ever going to finish and confirm that her head was in fact empty. “So that you don’t catch our ignorance. You know, I’ve heard about Atlanteans. Yeah, I’ve seen a documentary or two! And for a utopian race who covets wisdom above all else, you lot are a bunch of weird, rude, entitled specists! No wonder the Merfolk are preparing for war! Like I’m so incredibly ignorant you might be tainted by a single touch.” She ripped off a lilac elbow-length glove and grabbed Clay’s arm, “oh sorry Clay, I touched you, how much stupider you must feel!”
Amy, what are you doing…
Georgina scoffed- “Stupid? Darling, I didn’t say we find humans to be stupid. Well, you meet all kinds, but some are very quite the opposite. When we say that humans are ignorant, we truly mean they have a tendency to ignore just about anything that isn’t aligned with their interests. And when they visit here in spirit form, they tend to completely ignore the law of quantum contact, leaving residues of their intentions with every entanglement.”
Amy blinked quite deliberately while she processed that, and the scanner chimed and flashed yellow.
“Ah here we are,” said Georgina, “your chip is malfunctioning, just as I thought. Though I don’t recognize the make, neither human nor Atlantean…”
“B-but I don’t have any chip, ” Amy stuttered, ignoring Clay who was in deep telepathic explanation of what Georgina had just said. He stopped and grabbed Georgina’s finger, getting a closer look at the screen projecting from her ring’s jewel, depicting a readout of something found in Amy’s head.
“Just as I thought…” he muttered, then looked at Amy and telepathically said, Don’t freak out…
“I DON’T HAVE A CHIP IN MY HEAD!” she repeated at full volume, as if the louder she announced would drown out the flashing readout on the holographic screen. Georgina pressed a few buttons and then typed something.
“I don’t know if I can correct it from here… But perhaps I can wake it up a bit and get some information…” A few more clicks on the holo-screen while Amy began to hyperventilate, and –“here we are… definitely not Atlantean, not even old tech. And it’s not your human CogniCorp’s, which of course was based on ours… Oh, what’s this? Hmmm… That’s not good…”
The ring’s screen flashed red and then made a worried chirp. Georgina said “Ok Index, tell me what’s happening here…” and it responded in a distinctly monotone and genderless voice,
[It appears I’ve been hacked. An unknown account is accessing the Index matrix. I’m reporting data breaches in all core sectors.]
Georgina clacked away at the projected screen– “Well, whoever it is, they don’t seem to be doing anything malicious… Just reading… of course, there’s some very sensitive information that could be disastrous in the wrong hands. Is this the Merfolk? There’s no way they could have developed such tech, not in their condition…” She glared at Amy, “What is your relationship with the wet-lanteans?”
“I haven’t met one before this dream, I swear!”
But Georgina’s reply was cut off by a loud bang outside, and by the time they and half the city’s waking residents made it to the other side of the hill, the marbled shark statue before the castle was found split open and the flame extinguished; the city echoed with gasps as the castle’s watery portal connecting to undersea-Atlantis dissipated with a rippling sluuuurp.
Not good! Clay’s voice rushed in, but maybe we can still phase the ship over somehow. At least for now we don’t have to worry about them staging an invasion. With the portal down, the Merfolk won’t be able to cross over…
But the irony of his assumption dawned across his face as he trailed off, when a similar but much smaller portal appeared above the demolished fire well, swirling like a whirlpool to the rhythmic spin of a mermaid’s tail on the other side, who held a trident in one hand and formed angrily fingered symbols with the other.
“T-this is it,” Georgina stammered, “I told them they would do it… I told them… And after what we did to Nadjia…”
Amy! We need to go! Clay quietly shouted and grabbed her arm to run, but Georgina halted them and said,
“Don’t move, look!”
Shrieks echoed throughout the city below as several Merfolk on the other side swam up the portal and climbed through, but to Amy’s amazement, they emerged as shadowy figures drip-dropping down to the stone path like melting lava, then bounced to life and rounded up nearby Atlanteans and visitors like cattle. More and more portals appeared over the city in a slow advance to the hill, dispensing herds of correctors, encircling as many people as possible but never advancing in on them.
“The Merfolk can’t exist in this simultaneous realm,” Georgina said, a convenient answer to the question Amy was too bugged-out to ask, “but there are no real boundaries in life so they must have some form to exist here. Now you’ve learned one of our filthiest secrets: the Merfolk are our daeva! But such an atrocity to our brethren is but a drop of flame compared to what our leaders have imagined. Come darlings, we must flee– up to the pantheon, we’ll be lucky to escape this by climbing… you guys can fly, perhaps?”
“Apex, give me wings!” Amy yelled into her smartwatch, which, after replying about how depressed it was to exist only as a glorified ‘request-filler’ for some flighty dreamer, chirped agreeably and soon the huge heron-like wings sprung from Amy’s back; the three of them lifted off the hill and flew straight for the temple up top. The ladies touched down delicately on the gold-stone steps as Clay pulled himself up a shiny column, once again failing the landing.
“In here, darlings,” Georgina beckoned hastily, a quick eye on the horrific scene ravaging her city below. “Don’t worry, you’ll have access in my company. Oh, I hope they don’t do anything irreparable… We must fix this!”
Fixing this sounded good to Amy. The entire thing was getting to be too much, and usually she’d wake herself up when dreams got this weird, but she had promised Clay she’d try to wait until he had his spaceship back, and maybe he had a point about her daughter in that other dream… Or this dream…ish… Or whatever. If even a tiny bit of this experience was real, that would mean the baby was real too, so maybe there really could be a way to fix this, for her.
The temple’s golden doors led to a total blackout – Amy couldn’t even hear the sound of their breaths as they hustled through, or their running steps on the ground. She wasn’t even sure if there was a ground, or if she were running, or that she was anywhere at all; she could see nothing, absolutely nothing, and couldn’t see or hear Clay, though she believed him to be running close beside.
Then, like a shooting star that burst into a cascading firework, a huge metropolis appeared ahead, forming on the boundless horizon in flashy, glittering waves. There was still no sky or ground; the city just seemed to appear floating within the dark void, enveloped in its own neon glow.
Amy! Oh good, there you are! Clay’s voice phased in, I was so scared you couldn’t contain the darkness and woke up without me! Georgina, what the hell? A bit of warning would be nice!
Amy shrugged. Apparently, she was too wrapped up in describing the darkness, and too distracted to be scared of it. Georgina’s bouncy ringlets of iridescent hair twirled a pirouette when she wheeled on Clay with curious eyes and her telepathic voice rushed in–
“Aren’t you a guide, darling? I thought they took you through the second gate on field trip at school. Always cutting corners nowadays….”
Oh. Yeah. Clay thought back, just been a while since I graduated. Been busy and all…
Clay! Why can’t I talk? Amy thought-blurted, after trying to speak out loud. He replied, telepathically-
What do you mean? You are talking.
Clay, I’m telling you, I’m moving my mouth but nothing is coming out. La-la-la-la-la!! See? I’m trying to sing on the top of my lungs but… nothing.
Georgina, who must have been listening in, replied– Darlings, you are in one of the most concentrated realms of imagination here. There is nothing like that here, not a mouth to speak, or an ear to hear. No ‘here’ at all. Not even you, my dears, just the city and its people. Yet there are no boundaries in life so you must have some form to exist here… I suspect we appear to the citizens here as the daeva do to us. What you see of me and your… guide, Clay, is just a visual overlay–how you imagine us to look, more so now than ever before. We could be pink elephants if that’s what you desired.
Ok, but if you do that, Clay chimed in, I’d rather be blue. Suits me better.
Just for kicks, Amy tried imagining him as a pink elephant. And it worked! Though she told him he does make a cute blue elephant when she turned him back.
Ok guys! Thought Amy, to both Clay and Georgina– like some kind of telepathic group chat– it’s a miracle I haven’t woken up yet! What do we need to do to get this done? I’m pretty sure it’s Friday tomorrow, and I’ve got yoga… Or something…
Oh, Amy, don’t get dreamy on me yet, Clay thought, stay lucid…
I’m fine! She snapped back, anyway, aren’t we concerned about all the correctors attacking Atlantis? You don’t think they’ll hurt anyone, right?
Georgina’s visually overlaid face seemed to smile when she answered– We have an advantage, a small one, but perhaps it will allow us a chance to do something. You see, darlings, this plane moves much faster than my own, so that they would appear as frozen if you could look in on them.
Ah, so that gives us plenty of time!
Amy! I said don’t talk about time! Then with a sheepish grin to Georgina, Clay added, I did tell her…
It’s fine! Georgina replied with a dismissing wave, that’s an old Atlantean superstition, anyway. I actually find the subject quite humorous.
And thus they walked on groundless ground to the glittering city, joking with a deceivingly light heart about all the many things humans do and say which Atlanteans and guides find funny. Amy pretended to laugh a few times but couldn’t shake the idea that she did in fact have a chip in her head, of an unknown origin at that.
If only her mother knew…
To be continued…