Project D: Fifth Segment
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Time is running out.
“What do you want to be?”
“What do you want to be?”
“WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?!”
Aiden bolted up in his bed, his bed, not some chair in a white room surrounded by wires and beeping monitors. The preliminary trials had been taking their toll on him over the past few months, filling his head with questions and images and people to the point where he didn’t know anymore what was real and what was fake.
Was he actually even home right now? Or was this just another dream?
Standing up, he shuffled over the mirror and stared at himself for a moment. What do you want to be? seemed to be the question everyone wanted to ask. It didn’t seem important at the moment.
“What are you right now?” he murmured, squinting at his reflection.
His hand reached out to touch the glass. He didn’t go through it. No Alice here. Or White Rabbits for that matter. He could pinch his skin. His numbers on his clocks weren’t moving too fast or displaying in reverse. There didn’t seem to be a guy rummaging around in his brain.
The name came to him like a fuzzy memory, something he could barely latch onto before it was gone again, but he knew it was there. The man had come a few times now during the prelims, Aiden remembered that much, but he couldn’t recall the guy’s face no matter how much he tried to bring it to his mind’s eye.
He did remember the important things, the lessons he was being taught. He remembered that he could, on some level, control what was happening in the dreams. He could choose if he wanted to. He didn’t have to be just a directionless character in some television drama, his audience being the Dream Monitors who would decide his ultimate future. He could be aware, conscious even inside his subconscious, make decisions based on logic and not dream emotion.
It was odd, learning to control his own dreams. It was harder learning how to do it while pretending he didn’t know how to do it.
“They’re always watching.”
Of course the were. Their damn name was ‘Monitors.’ Monitoring was their job. He wondered how their two years of Sequence Submersion had gone in order to determine the rest of their lives would be spent watching other people’s dream submersions.
He wondered how many of them were like…Drake...and had tipped the scales in their favor to do just that. Because Drake’s existence had proven there were people out there who could and had. Moles in the system. Because that was what they had wanted.
But what did he want? Aiden was being given this option, this ability to choose his fate, his future, all on his own if he wanted to. But what if he didn’t know what he wanted? He was sixteen, for god’s sake. How the hell was he supposed to know what he wanted to do for the rest of his life? Wasn’t that the point of Submersion? To take away the stress of choosing? To let their subconscious desires decide their own fates? Isn’t that what supposedly made their whole world a ‘better place?’
Funny how when he’d started all this he’d been so nervous about the Dream Station deciding his future, but that he knew he could have a chance to decide for himself, he almost didn’t want it. It felt like way too much responsibility. He wasn’t that great with responsibility.
What do you want to be?
Drake lay back on his cot, adrift on his little boat in the middle of his favorite lake. Submersion for his proteges would be beginning soon and he just wasn’t certain if all of them would be ready.
Zamir was a kid who knew what he wanted, or more precisely, he knew exactly what he didn’t want. Lean towards the arts, shy away from dock work. It was a simple thought. Or should’ve been. He just wasn’t the best at keeping control while in dream state, pulled too easily by his fears and emotions. That made it incredibly difficult to mask his brain waves whenever he flipped from subconscious to conscious thinking, which was dangerous in a world where lucidity inside a Sequence was heavily frowned upon. Hell, that first time Drake had caught up with him in the desert had nearly been a catastrophe. They’d almost been discovered before the Infiltration had fully begun.
Maya was a trooper, a model subject. Almost. She’d been completely calm after Drake had lured her off the streets and explained to her what was happening. Thoughtful, curious, had a lot of questions, and seemed willing to roll with this sudden open door he was giving her. Of course, that also could’ve been classified as a drawback. She trusted easily, not to the point of being overly naive, but he was glad he was one of the good guys and not a snoop, or worse, a test. He needed to work with her closely so she would be able to tell the difference, to know if she was dealing with a friendly Infiltrator or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Trust the wrong person and she’d be nailing her own coffin.
Jeannie...Drake wasn’t even sure what to think of Jeannie. If Maya was too trusting, Jeannie was pretty much on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. She questioned everything and wanted to know how everything worked, and of course when he couldn’t tell her literally everything because a lot of things needed to be confidential for the sake of the other Infiltrators, it made her even more suspicious. On the other hand, caution was a good trait to have, plus she was just sort of a funny kid. Weird, but funny. If anyone could invent their way out of probably any sticky situation, it would be her. She just needed to step back from all the paranoia for a moment and see her own potential.
Dez was a talker, a complete social butterfly, and comical in a more intentional way. He used humor a lot when he got anxious, which Drake thought was a fine defense. If cracking jokes was a normal reaction to fears, all he had to do was keep that up to mask anything he didn’t want the Monitors to see. Those stronger brain waves would be good to hide the bumps and blips of flipping into conscious lucidity. He was a little cocky at times though, pumped to get out there and test what his limits were, and that sort of thing would get him flagged for sure. He was the ‘Why can’t I just fly over the heads of anything scary?’ type when he needed to be the ‘I don’t know I’m in a dream and therefore I don’t know I can just fly over anything scary’ type. Forcing himself to behave as he would in real life should he be attacked by zombies was going to be difficult for him.
And then there was Aiden. Drake wasn’t sure what to think about Aiden. The kid was troubled by something, but he hid it well. That was a good trait for tricking people in the real world. On the other token, as good as he seemed to be about hiding himself from said real world, he sucked at hiding in the dream world. He wasn’t cocky like Dez was, but he was the type who would just unthinkingly hit pause on the whole damn Sequence and walk around without a care as if he owned the place. It was just the logical thing to do in a dangerous situation, except the point was that he wasn’t allowed to be consciously logical when in Submersion. What he needed to learn was how to actually face the bad things and how to hide his true gifts from prying eyes. If he cared enough to. Which was problem B. Drake wasn’t entirely certain whether Aiden wanted to come out of his Submersion, or if he was fine with blowing the whistle on everything and letting himself get his brain jettisoned to the void.
Five kids all with their own challenges, and with only a short time left before they’d go into Submersion it was going to be hard to get them where they all needed to be. There was only so much he could do during prelims to keep himself from getting detected by the Monitors. There just wasn’t enough time.
Drake closed his eyes. Yes, it was easier with the visors and the headset at headquarters, slipping into a premade system where he could ride some digital waves, but he was a top notch Infiltrator. There didn’t always used to be fancy machines paving the way for him, or the for the generations of dreamwalkers who came before him. It was dark somewhere in the world, which meant odds were good that at least one of his kids was sleeping. All he had to do was reach out...
Dez was having a good dream, some nonsense thing with snack cakes and an amusement park and his friends nearby crashing into each other on their skateboards. Of course, he hadn’t known it was a dream until right this moment when his mysterious “mentor” had to come and ruin it.
“Damn, Drake! Can’t I just enjoy myself for once?” he huffed, spitting out his piece of cake which suddenly tasted like nothing at all, now that he was realizing it was, in fact, nothing. “You come when the dreams get bad, man! Don’t interrupt when it’s good!”
Drake, currently in the form of just another punk kid, smiled and shrugged. “Sorry, kiddo. Emergency called. I had a sudden idea and I could use your help.”
The news brought a smile to Dez’s face. “Oh, so you recognize my awesome powers as the chosen one?”
Of course Drake couldn’t even give him that much. The guy just sat there smiling and shaking his head. “No, but you are asleep right now and that makes you the most useful to me in the moment.”
Useful was better than nothing, Dez supposed. And after hearing Drake out, he was more than happy to be coincidentally useful. It seemed like they were all going to have a new superpower, and it was starting with him.
Dreamwalking, Drake called it. Not just the power to think consciously in his own dreams, to steer them subtly where he wanted them to go, but to actually walk into other people’s dreams.
“Why are you showing me this again?” Dez asked after the fiftieth time that night of trying to step into Drake’s mind.
“Because there are five of you,” the man revealed, sounding none too pleased about that. “Five of you, and I can’t help all of you all the time once you’re under. You’ll have to help each other. Do you understand? I’m breaking protocol with this so it’s important you know how to do it well and do it discreetly. Master this, and I believe you can all get out of Submersion alive.”
Five of them. It was that news that finally made Dez kick himself into serious overdrive on this thing. It wasn’t just him. There were four others just like him who needed to keep each other alive. He just hoped the others would take it just as seriously, because if they didn’t, it sounded like they’d all be screwed.