Monday, July 16, 2007

Dreamworlds, Chapter 7

She woke up naturally a few hours later. She remembered having a couple dreams after the one where she went to the base, but they had been normal dreams, where she didn't feel pain. It took a few moments for her head to clear, but it was scarcely a minute before she realized what she had done. That last dream was the one they had been looking for. They had waited for her to surrender, and then counted on the fact that when placed in familiar surroundings, she would seek out a friendly face. And she had done exactly as they'd expected. She had caved in, ignoring the fact that she didn't know how she'd gotten on that mountain in the first place. She'd been so tired of being alone, so tired of fighting, that she had led them right where they wanted to go.

Krystle could have screamed. What had she done? She had betrayed everything she believed in! She had surrendered, and given her enemy exactly what they wanted. She felt a knot in the pit of her stomach and her chest tightened in fear. "This is a problem to be dealt with," she tried to tell herself, but for the first time she didn't really believe it. This time, it was a catastrophe.

"Well, I'm glad to see you're awake," said the nurse, bustling into the room. "You slept for a long time."

"Yeah, thanks for waking me up," Krystle said bitterly. She didn't have the energy to fight anymore. The nurse busily checked the monitors by the bed and didn't respond to Krystle's sarcastic comment.

"Did you get everything you wanted?" Krystle asked dully after a moment of silence.

"Yes. There's a team out there right now. They'll bring all your friends in and get information from them, as well." She said it casually, as if she didn't realize that everything Krystle held dear was being destroyed.

"Why not just use me to get the rest of what you need?" she asked. "Why do you have to put the rest of us through this hell?"

"You know too much about the dream. You were able to twist it around and control things that nobody ever has before." She turned from her work and looked directly at Krystle. "You were supposed to confide in Jason, but you turned the conversation around and almost got information from him, instead." The nurse turned back to the monitors. "I've never seen anything like it." There was a note of admiration in her voice, but she continued with her tasks in a very businesslike manner.

That victory was small consolation to Krystle. After all, they'd beaten her in the end. She hadn't been able to remember; she hadn't thought clearly enough, and as a result, the revolution would die. Her friends and family would die. Freedom itself would die.

The nurse filled up the IV. Krystle glanced up at it as the tube was attached to the needle in her arm. "More drugs?" she asked.

"No," replied the nurse. "This one just has nutrients in it. The director wants you awake and aware when he talks to you."

"Joy," Krystle muttered. "When will this little interview happen?" she asked.

"It should be within the hour, I think," the nurse answered.

Krystle sighed. "Then what?" she asked.

The nurse just looked at her.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. Lethal injection, right?"

"Krystle, you're a traitor. You couldn't have expected anything less." The nurse was tight-lipped and businesslike, and her eyes were cold.

"Will it be you who does it?" Krystle asked.

"Yes," she replied shortly.

Krystle just nodded. There didn't seem to be anything left to say. The nurse finished what she was doing and left the room, her high heels clicking sharply on the floor. Krystle didn't watch her go.

The warrior lay there in her bed, for once not struggling against her bonds. She kept imagining her friends, taken unaware and put into the same situations she had been in. Most would try to fight it, as she had. But none would overcome it. She could see no way to beat the dreamworlds. Even death was no escape, there. She saw her father in her mind's eye, struggling to understand what was happening, not understanding that the Coms controlled everything. Everything that he loved would die, and it was all her fault.

Krystle knew this line of thinking would never accomplish anything, but she didn't care. She let herself indulge in despair. What was the point of trying to do anything else? She had betrayed everything she loved, and she would die before the day was done. She would be only the first of many to die; her death would mean nothing.

The door opened and a tall man walked into her room. He closed it behind him deliberately and walked to the foot of her bed. For a moment he said nothing, and Krystle took the time to study his face. He had dark, short curly hair and a wide forehead. His eyes were a light hazel, set far apart. They bored into her, guaging her, evaluating her. His shoulders were wide and he walked with purpose and confidence. It was easy for Krystle to see why he was a director of the Com society. He emanated a powerful presence.

"Krystle Bordran," he said simply.

Krystle didn't answer.

He smiled. "I can understand why you're angry with me," he said. "But I do want to thank you."

"I'll bet."

"You've been invaluable to us. Not only did you help us keep our war going, but because of the information you provided us with, we are now able to crush any resistance."

"You're killing the very things that make life worth living," Krystle stated quietly.

"We are preserving life, and helping people to have a higher quality of living."

"But you take away people's choice. Under your rule, they no longer have the possibility of choosing what kind of life they want to live!"

"Most people don't even know the kind of life they should want. We simply educate them, and then make their lives possible."

"You can say whatever you want. You'll never convince me you're right."

He smiled again. "Defiant to the last. They told me you fight viciously for what you believe in."

Krystle didn't respond, reminded again that her fight had done no good.

The director looked at his watch. "I have to go," he said. "The crew that was sent to retrieve your friends will soon come back, and I intend to be there to greet them."

Krystle closed her eyes, determined not to let this man see her cry. She heard him turn and leave the room, again deliberately closing the door behind him. She waited until she was sure he was out of hearing, then she let out a heart-wrenching sob. Tears fell down her cheeks like rain, releasing the anguish that was tearing her apart.

It wasn't long after the director left that the nurse came back in. She walked to the counter and prepared a syringe full of a clear liquid. Krystle found it disturbing that the means for ending her life had been in the room she had inhabited for so long. The nurse walked over and added the contents of the syringe to the IV.

"Do you want me to stay with you?" the nurse asked quietly.

Krystle shook her head and stifled another sob. "How long?" she asked.

"I added a lethal dose of anesthesia to your normal IV. It'll take about an hour for it to hit your system and take effect."

"Will it hurt?"

"No," she replied. "You'll just fall asleep."

Krystle couldn't resist one last bitter comment at the woman. "So, you torture me for days on end, and then leave me to die without pain or glory or anything. You haven't even left me any kind of meaning to my life."

The nurse pursed her lips, then looked directly into Krystle's face. "You are a traitor, and you deserve everything you've gotten. Serving as your nurse for the past five weeks has been the greatest way I could fulfill my duty to my country. I'm honored that I was the one chosen to end your life." With that, she lifted her chin and quickly walked out of the room.

Krystle watched her go, anger boiling within her chest. Not at the woman, for she probably didn't know any better, but at the director, and at his father, and everybody who'd had a part in destroying their country. She hated them, hated the ignorant people who had allowed it to happen, hated herself for not being able to stop it, or to fix it, or to fight it.

She lay there watching the hands move on the clock and thinking about the life she had lived, all the fights she had fought, the things she had believed in, and the friends she had had. It didn't seem to amount to much, now. The minutes passed and she eventually stopped counting them. The end would come soon enough. She felt a deep despair for the friends she had betrayed and the causes she had failed to protect. She let her tears fall freely. She had accepted her own death years before, when she had begun to fight her war, but she had never dreamed she would feel so alone, so helpless, so hopeless. She began to feel the drugs coursing through her veins as they took effect. She didn't try to fight it. Her thoughts became hazy, giving her a blessed release from the guilt of betrayal. Looking at the clock, she realized that forty-three minutes had passed since the nurse had left the room. Somehow, that seemed important, but she couldn't hold on to it. She began to wiggle her fingers, became fascinated with the fact that they were so heavy. She could hardly lift them off the bed.

Krystle heard the door open a crack. She looked over at it dully.

"Krys!" came an excited voice.

She struggled to come back to her senses. She should know that voice. The door opened and a man walked in wearing a uniform of the Com army. He closed the door and walked quickly over to the bed.

"Krys, it's me..." his excitement was dimming, his face clouding over with worry.

Finally she recognized him. He looked different in the uniform. "Carson..." she mumbled, trying to smile up at him.

"I'm here to get you out," he said, pulling the IV out of her arm and the sensors off her skin.

"How?" Krystle found the wits to ask.

"I saw you get taken that night. I snuck away before they saw me." He smiled a small smile. "We couldn't come in and get you before this, but we knew they'd be coming for us sooner or later. We evacuated everybody from the base and posted guards. We had to wait until today before anything happened, but when the Coms finally came in to get us, we threw nerve gas in after them and closed the door. They never had a chance.

"But, now... you're here," Krystle queried weakly.

"We stole their uniforms. They think we're them, but our cover won't hold for very long." He glanced at her ashen face and began to ramble. "We need to move quickly, Krys. We've all been so worried about you. But we're here for you now, and you're getting out. We're all getting out and we're going underground. They won't find us again. They won't do this to you again. I promise." He was fighting to sound confident, but she could hear a pleading note in his voice.

Her consiousness began to fade. She fought against it, but her eyes closed and her breathing became deep and heavy.

"No, no, no!" Carson said, patting her face. "Don't you fade on me." His voice became desperate. Krystle could hear it dimly, fighting with the drugs for her mind. "You've always fought, Krystle. Don't you dare give up now! You've got to wake up!"

She wanted to. She wanted to open her eyes and tell him everything, ask him how he was there, tell him to be careful... The thought struck her that the ideals she had fought for would not die with her. Her brother lived; that meant others of the revolution were still alive, too. They would go on. They would fight for the cause that had taken her life. She managed a small smile before her muscles relaxed and she lost all control over her body. The last thing she heard before her life slipped away was Carson's anguished voice from far away. "I fight for you, Krystle. We all fight for you."

The End

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Dreamworlds, Chapter 6

Krystle stepped through the doorway and the world behind her vanished. She opened her eyes... and almost screamed. "It didn't work," she whimpered. "It didn't work." Stretched out before her was an endless dark, cold and unfeeling.

Then a soft breeze rustled her hair and she felt something tickle her leg. Lightening flared in the distance and briefly illuminated the landscape. "Crap!" she exclaimed. "It did work!" And then she was running.

In that moment of light Krystle had seen plains stretched out before her. There was no shelter to be seen, and the monsters had been turning to look at her, nostrils flared. She had not gotten a good look, but they had seemed to be eight feet tall, traveling in a pack, and hungry.

Lightning flashed again, and Krystle surveyed the territory before her. It was as she thought. Nothing she could use. Even the grass, though long, was sparse and would offer her no cover. "They can probably smell me anyway," she thought grimly. She could hear them behind her. It felt like a stampede was on her heels, making the ground vibrate with every step.

Out of habit, she analyzed her situation. She was faster than them, but she was losing stamina and wouldn't last at this speed for much longer. The creatures behind her showed no signs of slowing. Her hands went to her belt to search for weapons. She found only a small knife. She smiled. Frightened as she was, she reveled in the feel of air in her lungs, blood pounding through her veins, the fear and anticipation of battle giving her strength. She took the knife out of its sheath and ran with her fingers gripped around the handle, ready to fight should the monsters overtake her. Yes, she was afraid, but this was a battle she knew how to fight. She didn't know how long she'd been here, how long she'd been running from these monsters, but she could remember nothing else. For now, this was her life, and she reveled in it.

There was a snarl behind her, and Krystle glanced back over her shoulder. Another bolt of lightning hit the earth and she once again saw the creatures behind her. They had begun to fight amongst themselves for the lead, but they hadn't slowed at all. Krystle kept running, no longer quite as fast as when she had begun. As she ran, she began to notice that it was easier to see. Glancing around, she realized that the lightning was coming faster, each new bolt shooting down before the last had truly had time to fade. Thunder cracked and rolled overhead in a deafening roar that almost drowned out the sound of the creatures behind her. She expected to feel putrid breath on her neck at any moment, but it never came. It was then that she realized they were toying with her, allowing her to run until she couldn't put up a fight, and then they'd attack.

Krystle slowed her run until she was able to stop sharply and turn to face them. Her breathing was fast and ragged, but she faced them with her back straight, knife raised against the first to challenge her. The creatures slowed, but didn't halt their pursuit. They fanned out, surrounding her. She could hear them shuffling around and snarling in the dark. Krystle stood there, knife up, panting, waiting for the first attack.

It was only a moment before the first one rushed her from the right, arms outstretched, teeth bared. A vicious snarl tore from his throat, challenging her to fight back. Its black eyes glowed yellow in the dim light, and in them Krystle saw the deathly determination of a predator ready to take its kill. Krystle distanced herself from her fear, focused only on the movements of her enemy, carefully guaging every aspect of its attack. It moved rapidly, but Krystle was ready. She sidestepped the creature, slashing at its back with her knife as it rushed by her. It fell into the group of monsters slavering after fresh meat on the other side of the circle. They showed no mercy, even to their own kind The blood from the monster that had attacked her drove them into a frenzy, and within moments it was on the ground, throat torn open, gasping desperately for a last breath. But then they ignored him, left him on the ground to die while they pursued their true quarry. The entire circle advanced toward her, each one craving her death.

Krystle knew the fight was hopeless, but she faced them anyway, turning in a slow circle, knees bent slightly, ready to counter any attack. She heard a rush behind her and whirled to face the advancing monster. She didn't move fast enough to get out of its way, however, and the creature ran full-force into her shoulder, knocking her down and raking her back with its clawed hand. Krystle rolled and jumped back up to her feet. She knew well what would happen if she stayed down. Fast as she moved, however, she had still given the creatures a chance to come closer. As she came up, her knife flashed in the lightning and she drew blood from three monsters before the rest backed off enough to give her room to move. Krystle's back was on fire. She could feel blood soaking her shirt and rolling down into her pants; the creatures were becoming more vicious in response to the smell.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Krystle knew what she had to do. Though it went against all her training, all her instincts, the decision was made before she could think about it. Her heart pounding, she stood straight and tall and spread her arms open wide. She dropped her knife in a gesture of surrender, wincing slightly when she heard it hit the ground. She didn't know why, but she knew it was right. The monsters didn't hesitate. As they rushed her, she sank to her knees and held her breath, waiting to feel sharp teeth and claws sinking into her flesh. She refused to close her eyes, preferring to face these creatures, and the horror that had become her life, with defiance to the last.

But something changed. The ground beneath her bare knees turned hard and cold. Glancing down, Krystle found that she was kneeling on a silver door that flashed and gleamed in the lightning. And there, etched on the door right in front of her knees, was a diamond inscribed in a circle. It was there to save her, and she knew it, but she didn't care. She looked back up to face the demons before her, ignoring the salvation beneath her knees.

Time seemed to slow down for Krystle as she watched the creatures rushing forward. She saw every detail with minute clarity. The cratures were snarling and fighting each other in their haste to be the first to reach her. In a matter of milliseconds she lost any chance of defending herself against the attack. They were on her, knocking her to the ground. One had its teeth clamped on her foot and was dragging her off the door, but another had hold of her arm and was trying to pull her off the other way. Suddenly she couldn't do it anymore. She could smell their rancid breath on her and feel unrelenting teeth piercing into her skin, and she couldn't bear to give in. Terror and determination flowed through her veins, giving her the strength she needed to fight back. With her free hand, she reached for her knife. She felt the blade with her fingertips and lunged for it. She sliced open her fingers when she grabbed it, but she barely felt the pain. Reaching across her body, Krystle swiped the knife at the creature hanging onto her arm. She sliced its nose, making it yelp in pain and jump back, freeing her arm. She tried to sit up to attack the monster chewing on her foot, but before she could move another creature attached itself to her tender midsection. She felt her muscles tearing apart and knew she would never be able to get the monster off her foot. She stabbed at the creature tearing at her stomach, plunging her knife deep into its eye. It reated back, howling in pain and tearing the knife from Krystle's hand. Losing no time, Krystle felt around frantically for the symbol on the door. Her hands were covered in blood and slid around on the slick surface, and she passed over the symbol twice before she felt the grooves in the metal. She felt a straight line beneath her fingertips, and traced enough of it to be able to find the middle. The monster was lunging back down toward her as she placed her hand in the center of the diamond.

"Open sesame," she gasped weakly. The door opened underneath her and she went tumbling through, dragging one of them with her and leaving the others to snap their jaws on thin air. The one hanging onto her leg desappeared as the door closed behind them, and her wounds healed as memory of the world she had just escaped faded from her mind.

She landed hard. She didn't know how far she had fallen, but even though she rolled, she still had the wind knocked out of her. She lay there for a moment, unable to move, gasping desperately for breath. It came painfully and suddenly, and she coughed at the sudden rush of wind into her lungs. Krystle lay on the ground, panting and waiting for her breathing to return to normal. As she lay there, she turned her head, trying to determine where she was. The sun was high overhead, and its light trickled down through the trees to play on the ground below. She could ascertain nothing but that she was on a mountain, surrounded by pine trees and granite rock. When she could move again, Krystle rose to her feet and made her way silently to the closest boulder. It was large, and she only had to bend down slightly to stay covered behind it. She crouched down so she was sitting on her haunches; caution governed her every movement. She didn't know yet what would be waiting for her here. She looked at her surroundings, scrutinizing every shadow. When she was satisfied there was no threat to her, she moved around the rock, slowly, carefully, listening and watching for any sign of movement. Satisfied there was none, Krystle looked up and checked the sky, but there was no threat from above, either. She was alone.

Krystle stood up slowly and walked up the mountain, slightly confused. Birds fluttered from tree to tree above her head, and she saw squirrels scampering around, gathering nuts and chattering at one another. Amidst all the activity, Krystle felt herself becoming strangely calm and peaceful. She knew nobody was watching her, that there was no reason to fear anything. It seemed as though for the first time in her life, she could breathe deeply and had nothing to worry about. She walked through the morning, enjoying the warm spring air and thinking about nothing. She found a trail and followed it for awhile, wondering idly where it would lead her.

An hour later she found herself in a meadow, following the path of a mountain stream. She reached a plateau and stopped to drink at a small pond. She sat on a boulder, soaking her feet in the icy cold water and watching waterbugs skittering over the surface. Krystle glanced down into the valley by the mountain and saw thick foliage covering the ground. The pine trees grew tall and were slightly denser there than anywhere else she had seen on the mountain. Overall, it was no different than any other valley, but something about it struck her. Suddenly she wasn't just alone; she was lonely. She felt as though she hadn't seen a friendly face in years, and that was only a part of the pain that suddenly engulfed her. She walked down into the valley, not sure what she would find, but curious to know what was there.

Animal trails led her through bushes and around tree trunks to the valley floor. She reached the bottom and stood still for a moment, gazing up at the mountains surrounding her. She didn't know how, but she knew this place. She recognized the mountains around her. She looked down toward the end of the valley and knew that if she walked around that boulder...

The promise of finding a friend, of finding anybody that she knew, was too strong to be ignored. She glanced around out of habit to see if she'd been followed, even though she knew she was alone, and then she started running. She reached the boulder quickly and was hardly out of breath when she stopped in front of it. Once again she glanced over her shoulder, then slowly walked around the boulder. It revealed a path that wound up a canyon, as she had known it would. Krystle stayed off the trail, doing her best to step on rocks and fallen branches so she would not leave a trail of her own. It was one of many precautions each member of the revolution followed to keep from being discovered. Several yards in, Krystle saw the two pine trees grown together and broke away from the path the trail took. She angled up the mountain toward the trees. She climbed up, almost to the top, and walked out on one of the brances until she reached the granite wall beside her. There was a small rock shelf that she was able to step to easily from the branch. It was one of two ways to reach the opening of the cave they had dug for their base. The other way involved coming down from the top, but the chances of anybody finding the cave to begin with were very slim.

Krystle crouched down and crawled through the opening. She was immediately enveloped in darkness, but she kept going fearlessly. Ten feet in, she reached the end. The floor suddenly dropped out from underneath her. Krystle turned herself around and swung her legs over, lowering herself until she found the rungs of the ladder. Bracing her hands on the sides of the tunnel, Krystle moved down the dark shaft one rung at a time. She was sweating by the time she reached the bottom. It had been too long since she'd made this climb. Her feet touched the ground and she turned around. She walked forward confidently and reached for the doorknob she knew would be there. It was an old-fashioned hinge door, but didn't put off the electrical charge that could be detected. They tried to keep electrical impulses to a minimum to avoid any chance of being found. So far they had been successful. The walls inside were coated with rubber, which masked the impulses emanating from their computers. They had managed to avoid detection from the Coms and the leeches, freeloaders who would take advantage of anybody and never stayed in one place too long. They disgusted Krystle. But here... here she would find all her friends, her family, her ideals.

She opened the door and walked in, expecting to see the room lit up and bustling with activity. Instead, her world went black.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Dreamworlds, Chapter 5

The first sensation she had was cold, hard stone underneath her. She did not wake up. She had never slept. She was simply there, lying on the ground, in this world that had yet to be discovered. She opened her eyes, and for a moment thought that she had gone blind. The world around her was dark. Not dark, black. There was no light, and there had never been light. It was a void. The air would have been frigid, if she could have believed that there was air. She carefully avoided thinking about what she was breathing, afraid that if she thought too deeply she would lose that precious ability.

Krystle rose to a crouch, balancing on the balls of her feet, ready to move at a moment's notice. But the world was silent. It was eerie, as though everything around her was waiting for something. But there was nothing there to wait. It was a pervading sense of nothing, tensed and waiting for... something. She wanted to yell, to make her presence known, but something inside warned her that such an act might bring the something, and she was almost positive she did not want to meet it.

Slowly and cautiously, Krystle stood. She felt, almost knew, that her movement was a violation of some unspoken code, but nothing happened. She waited there, as tense as the darkness around her, waiting with it for whatever was to come, but as her heartbeats marked the passage of time and still nothing came, doubt and confusion started to plague her mind. What was there to fight in this world? Always before she had needed to fight. She didn't remember that, she simply knew it was true, knew her body and mind were trained for fighting. She took a step forward. Nothing. Another step. Nothing. Each step she took yielded the same result as the step before: a dead and ominous nothing. There was not even a sound to mark her passage.

She began to count her steps, realizing as she did so that it was the safest way to keep her mind occupied. Questions began to sound like bells in her mind. Where was she? Where was she going? How did this world exist? They played over and over in her mind, but she pushed them away, focusing only on the numbers. In some strange way, the counting kept her sane. It was something real, something certain. She knew what it meant to count, and she knew that as long as she kept counting, she would be safe.

"Five, six, seven, eight, nine..." the voice mocked her. Krystle whirled around, expecting to hear or see whoever was talking to her. But the utter blackness around her concealed her enemy perfectly.

"Who are you?" Krystle asked aloud. She couldn't hear the sound of her own voice. The realization shocked her. She tried again. "Who are you?" she said louder. But she heard nothing.

The voice began to laugh, mocking her fear and confusion. "Poor lady," it giggled. "Doesn't know yet that here she doesn't really exist..."

She was tempted to believe it. She could see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing but the cold seeping into her. It would be so easy to sit down and blend into the nothingness around her, to forget herself completely. To surrender.

But the thought of surrender evoked in her a fear more intense than the voice could ever arouse, and with that fear came determination and anger. She would not surrender! The force of feeling that washed over her at the word took her by surprise, but she clung to it, knowing it would help her survive.

"You are nothing, here, love," the voice continued. "There is nothing here for you to be."

Krystle pushed the voice out of her mind, determined to ignore it. She took a step forward, then another, and another. Stubbornly, she began to count again.

But she couldn't do it. With each step, with each heartbeat, the darkness grew heavier. She began to feel a deep despair. She could do nothing in a world where there was nothing. She couldn't fight. There was nothing here to challenge her, nothing for her to fight. There were only her steps. her steps and her numbers, and occasionally the voice in the darkness. She eventually realized that it was inside her head, and she hated it all the more. She knew it was madness, and the voice itself became her fight. It told her lies, and with every ounce of strength she had, she fought it. She reveled in the fight, afraid all the while that she would lose and never again know herself. But she knew that she fought, and she drew strength from the struggle against herself.

In her mind's eye, Krystle could see the path that she had taken, straight from the point where she had begun and stretching out into forever. For all she saw, she could be standing in the same place she had started. She laughed out loud at the thought for the ache in the legs said she had walked miles at least. But there was no sound. Her laughter was swallowed by the nothingness around her. That sobered her, but made the voice in her head begin to laugh maniacally. She silenced it ruthlessly, knowing it for madness, and abruptly sat down. In the moment when despair almost overtook her, Krystle defied all that was around her and thought. For the first time, she listened to the questions in her mind. Where was she? Where was she going? How did this world exist? She had no answers. This world couldn't exist. She could not be there. And yet she was. Krystle began to force her mind to work, to focus on something to help her solve this problem in which she found herself. It was like swimming through molasses. She felt as though she had never thought about anything, and now, when it was most critical, she had to teach herself to think and to somehow arrive at a solution.

She began by questioning everything. She took nothing for granted, and for every question she had she came up with as many answers as she could.

"Who am I?" she asked herself in the darkness.

For a long moment, there was no answer, neither from within nor from without. A voice began to whisper in her mind. She pushed it away at first, afraid of what it meant. But it was persistent. "I am human," it said with perfect clarity. It wasn't voice she had been fighting. It was steady and peaceful. "I am a woman," it reminded her. Krystle paid attention to the voice, recognizing that it spoke truth. The voice continued, "My name is Krystle." Krystle sounded it out in her mind, tried it on her tongue. It felt good. It felt true. "I am a soldier," the voice added. The thought surprised her, gave her courage and strength.

"No!" screamed the madness. "There is nothing! You are nothing!" She pushed the voice away, but it continued in an enticing whisper. "There is only me. Listen to me. My way is easy. There will be no more pain," it crooned to her. "Listen to me, and just let go." It wound like a snake through her thoughts, but she ignored it. "Let go of everything."

"I will not," she said aloud, imagining that she heard her voice in the darkness. She took a deep breath to calm herself, forced herself to ask another question.

"Am I dead?"

Again the voice in her mind soothed her. "No. I still have my body. The ache in my legs is real. Besides, Death would be more crowded than this." The thought was humorous, but she clung only to the logic of it, to the belief it lent her that she still lived and breathed.

"So where am I?" But her mind shied away. She couldn't face that one yet.

The madness laughed sadistically. "You'll never know," it whispered.

"Is this place real?" she persisted doggedly.

"It must be real," said the voice in her mind. "I am here. I am alive. Therefore, in some way, this place must be real."

"Unless you are mad. Not everything you see is real, you know," giggled the madness.

Krystle wanted to scream, to run away from the illogic in her mind that seemed to make so much sense. She didn't know what was real, what was true, what was illusion, what was there to lead her astray. But still she fought. "I am not mad," she told herself firmly. "Not yet. Not ever."

"Are you really sure?" it mocked her.

"Yes. I'm sure. I'm not mad."

"And who are you talking to?"

The question made her stop. Who was she talking to? Herself? She had not asked the question of herself. Had she? Did talking to madness itself make her mad?

"No," she said aloud. Again, there was no sound, but making herself move, making herself think about something outside of her mind calmed her somewhat. She closed her eyes and focused on her problem, on what she wanted to accomplish.

"What do I want to do?" she asked herself aloud, imagining she could hear every word she spoke with her ears, and not just in her mind.

"I want to get out of here," she answered her own question, again out loud.

"But where is here?" whispered the madness. She ignored it. It was not a voice she could have heard aloud.

"How should I get out?" She could almost hear the words. If she strained just a little harder, she knew she would hear them.

The voice in her mind, the one that knew the truth, whispered again. This time, Krystle voiced the words as they came to her. "There is always a door. If I find the door, I can leave."

The madness persisted. "There are no doors, here, love. Here, there is only me."

She feared it was true. But she chose to trust the voice she wanted to hear, the voice that gave her hope. "There is always a door," she repeated. Then she stopped. She had heard it that time. With her ears! She had heard what she said! Tentatively, she tried again. "If I find the door, I can leave." There was no mistaking it that time. She heard every word clearly as she spoke. She began to laugh, just to hear the sound of her voice. Tears of relief streamed down her face until lshe wasn't sure if she was laughing or crying, but she didn't care. It was so good to just hear a real sound, any sound. Her own voice had never sounded so sweet.

Hysterics finally turned to quiet sobbing. Krystle lay down on the hard ground beneath her and cried until her energy was spent. She knew she had to get up, to continue on. She had a door to find. But not now. She couldn't make herself move yet. She lay on the ground and let herself think about nothing. Even the madness inside her was quiet, respecting the emptiness of her mind.

It was out of this stillness that the voice returned. It wasn't the madness. It was the other voice, the one that told her truth. "I can hear," it said. The thought was happy.

"Yes," thought Krystle.

"How did that happen?" it queried.

"I don't know," she replied in her mind. Now that she knew she could hear, instinct once again reminded her to be silent, to give her enemies as little information as she could.

"Think about it," the voice prompted. Then it was gone.

"I don't want to." But once the question had been posed, she couldn't leave it alone. She had to know. She lay still, staring up at nothingness, thinking back through what had happened. She hadn't been able to hear anything but the voices in her mind, at first. It was when she had tried to shut one of them out, and she had begun talking to herself out loud, that her hearing had been restored. But neither action explained why she could suddenly hear again. Maybe the insanity had taken her after all, and she only imagined that she could hear. Maybe everything around her was still silent.

"I don't know," she said aloud, testing. her fear was confirmed. She heard nothing.

"No!" she screamed. Blind terror gripped her. "No! No! NO!" She sprang to her feet, almost falling forward on her face. "I can hear!" she screamed, trying to imagine it, to make herself believe it. She wanted so desperately to believe. "I CAN HEAR!" The sound almost deafened her. After so long with almost absolute silence, the sound of her desperate scream filling the void around her made her ears ache. Startled into silence, Krystle quickly dropped to one knee, chest heaving with each ragged breath. "I can hear," she whispered. And this time she knew why.

"I believe," she said simply.

"That makes no sense," whispered the madness. "Belief does not make something real."

"I believe I am sane," she said simply, willing it to be true , making herself believe. There was no reply.

Almost immediately, she began to question. In all honesty, simple belief in something should not make it real. But it did. Here, somehow, imagination and faith made things real. How could that be true? Her first thought was VR. But that made no sense. When you were in a VR world, you knew that it was virtual reality. The world you saw was not the world you were truly in. Here she had no sense of being in two places at once. She was here completely.

"I am not dead," she said aloud, working through the details again. "I am here, in this void. It's real. I'm not in a VR studio." She slowly stood and began walking again, hoping the movement would send blood to her brain and enable her to think better.

"Where does imagination make things real?" she asked herself. The answer seemed to come much later. Only in imagination itself. She was again swimming in molasses, going around in circles. She knew there was something she was missing and tried to catch it, but it eluded her, teased her, tormented her until she finally relented. She gave up and let her mind go blank, refusing to think of the problem for a few moments. Instead, she hummed a wordless tune, allowing herself to get lost in the creation of it.

A thought struck her, seemingly out of nowhere. It was the voice from within herself, the one that knew Truth. "This is a dream," it told her. Logic immediately began to argue. "This can't be a dream," she told herself. "I feel too much for it to be a dream." She had endured physical pains here that should never have affected her in a dream. And yet, she knew without doubt that she was dreaming. She felt the truth of it.

Again, questions began to plague her. How had she gotten here? How was it so real? How long had she been there? She vaguely remembered worlds, trials, battles she had fought, but how many had she forgotten comepletely? Besides, even if she could remember them all, time in dreams passed differently from time in the real world. She could have been there for two weeks or two years. What was happening in the real world? She abruptly pushed away all her questions, all the confusion, and focused on one thing.

"Every problem has a solution," she told herself. "This one does, too." With a renewed sense of purpose, Krystle set off in search of the doorway that would release her from her own mind.

She had only traveled a few steps when she began to grin mischievously. "Let's try something..." she murmured to herself. Closing her eyes, Krystle imagined an image from her memory. Without bothering to open her eyes, she reached a hand in front of her. There, as she had hoped and believed, was a smooth surface, perpendicular to the floor. She ran her fingers over the front of it and found, at eye level, the symbol she had been searching for. It was a diamond inscribed in a circle. She calmly placed her hand in the middle of it and spoke the words, "Open sesame."

As she had known it would, the door swung outward from her hand, admitting her to a new world.

Dreamworlds, Chapter 4

"...shouldn't be here, girl," she heard through a fog. "What were you thinking?" Krystle tried to open her eyes. It took a Herculean effort, and once she got them open she saw only a white blur. "Don't do that, Krystle," said the voice, an impatient mother dealing with a wayward child. Then the drugs coursing through her IV's hit her system, and she started to drift away again. Just before the world turned dark, she heard a hushed voice across the room. "How did she do that? She shouldn't have been able..." Then Krystle was gone, and she had no time to wonder what it was she shouldn't have been able to do.

She awoke several hours later, completely alert and aware for the first time in what seemed like years. Her body automatically tensed, responding to training ingrained in her mind that told her to be ready to fight any danger. She glanced around her surroundings frantically, relaxing only slightly when she realized that if she was in danger, it was not immediate. Her heartbeat slowing, she looked around again, trying to determine where she was. The walls were white, lit by the glow of flourescent lights on the ceiling. She was lying on a narrow bed, wires connecting her to computers that sat next to her bedside, a steady beeping marking her heartbeat. The beeping continued to slow as she calmed down further, then sped up again as she looked down at her hands and realized she was bound to the bed.

Confusion clouded her mind for a brief moment, and then memory came crashing down on her. Images of dreams, of horrors faced and overcome, of desperate fights she should have never survived, of dangers that could only be real in a nightmare. Each one had been real to her, lived in her mind. She had felt every wound, every ache. How many times had she tasted her own blood from bleeding cuts on her face? No dream could have been as real as what she had been through. No dream could have been that real, except that she also remembered, even more dimly, brief moments of lucidity, moments like this when she had been allowed to be fully awake. Those moments of wakefulness were frequent, but never long. As she searched through her hazy memories she came to realize that this was the first time she had truly known what was happening to her. Always before she had been too confused or too drugged to be able to think clearly. Then she realized what was different. The nurse was gone. She had always told Krystle she was sick, or crazy, and she had believed the woman. Doubtless the drugs continually coursing through Krystle's body were also the nurse's handiwork. Doubtless, too, they had added to her delusions.

Krystle glanced up at the IV. It was empty. She allowed a small smile to cross her lips. It felt good to be herself, to be able to think clearly. But the smile was short-lived. Krystle glanced up at the clock hanging on the wall that was counting each precious second she had to herself. She didn't know how long she would be allowed this freedom, and she had to think fast. Why was she here? How did she get here? What did they want with her? Why in the name of anything good had they tortured her this way? She felt rage and hate and fear well up in her, and for a moment she almost lost the power to think. But her training as a soldier and the weeks she had spent fighting against creatures and elements she could not understand had taught her to channel her anger, to put it aside and think with cold, cruel logic. This she did, but under a calm surface she burned with a desire for revenge.

She dug methodically through her memories, back to the last time she had been able to think clearly.

It had been night. She remembered sneaking out of Com headquarters. She had needed to meet someone. Wait, she was sneaking out of Com headquarters? How could that be right? But it was. She knew that it was. She went back further, to days of pretending to be what she was not, to nights stolen from her supervisors to meet with informants, firends. She remembered, then. She had been a spy. Her training at Sixth Realm, before she had joined the Revolution, made her uniquely qualified to plan battle strategies for their false war. She had done her job well, sending their troops where there would be the least damage while seeming to promote the havoc and chaos that the Coms so desired. She had made it possible for them to keep the war going when it should have been long over, all the while gathering what secrets she could about the internal structure of her enemies' society. That night she had gone to tell her secrets to her brother.


For a moment the rage subsided and fear took its place. They had been watching her. They had to have been. That was the only way they would have caught her. Somebody had figured out that she was a spy, and they had tracked her every move. She remembered seeing her brother, almost reaching him, before the electrical pulses of a laser gun had slammed into her back, rendering her unconsious. She didn't know what had happened after that. Had Carson seen her fall? Had he escaped? She had known so much heartache and fear since that night, but for the first time in five weeks her fear extended beyond herself. What if they had taken Carson? What if they had tortured him the way they had tortured her? If he had broken under the pressure, the Revolution, the freedoms of America itself, would be endangered. Or what if they had let him go? Had followed him back to the base without his knowledge? Krystle didn't know which possibility was worse. Although, it didn't really matter. Either way, her friends and her beliefs would die. Their only hope was if Carson had somehow managed to escape the Coms. Somehow. Krystle held desperately to that hope, knowing that it was probably vain.

She turned her attention to herself, to the problem immediately facing her. Raising herself up on the bed, she studied the room around her. It was plain white, with no furniture but the bed she lay on, the stands that held various screens, a counter that held medical supplies, and a chair in which the nurse usually sat. Krystle grimaced as she looked down at her hands which were still bound to the bed. She remembered twisting and writhing in them countless times before, never with any success. She didn't expect to get free this time either, but she pulled on her bonds compulsively and thought furiously of some way she might get away from her captors.

The minutes passed, and though she rubbed her wrists almost raw, she came no closer to freedom than she had when she was dreaming. She had thought of one possibility, but it would have to be a last resort. It was a desperate plan, based on suppositions and theories, but if it worked it would either force her out of her dream... or she would die. She would be more valuable to the Revolution alive than dead, but she would die before she wilingly gave her enemies any information that could help them. It was a feeble plan of action, but it was the only one she had, and if they put her back in the dreamworld she didn't know how long it would be before they tricked her into telling them something she didn't want them to know.

Footsteps coming down the hall made her freeze. She made herself stop pulling at her bonds and lay her head down. She didn't want them to know she had been awake. That would take away any advantage she had managed to gain by her ten minutes of clarity. She closed her eyes and steadied her breathing, doing her best to look as though she hadn't moved. In her mind she rehearsed her plan, ingraining the importance of it into her subconscious. She hoped it would be enough to make her remember as she dreamed.

The door opened and the nurse stepped in, breathing a sigh of relief. "You're in for a world of trouble, woman," she muttered to herself, "if you can't even keep track of the time." Krystle heard the sharp click of the nurse's shoes move across the floor to the bed. Metal clinked together as the IV was replaced, and Krystle imaged herself in the future. She willed herself to remember, prayed that she would remember, placed more importance on that than on anything she had ever known. She felt the drugs as they hit her arm and spread through her system faster than she had believed they could. Through the wave of dizziness that took her she held to her plan as though it was a lifeline. Her last thought as she faded into darkness was a sure knowledge that she would be able to do what she needed to do.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Dreamworlds, Chapter 3

Warm water splashed over her lips, and she opened her mouth to catch every drop. The trickle that ran over her tongue was small, but to Krystle it felt like a soothing waterfall. She swallowed, and the water was pulled away. She needed more. Krystle slowly opened her eyes, feeling as though the effort would kill her. She was in a dark it was a tent, made of coarse cloth. She felt the fur of some animal skin underneath her. She heard a rustling beside her, and then the movement of a woman moving to put down a waterskin.

"More," Kyrstle said in a weak voice. The woman turned to her and babbled some unintelligible reply, then bustled out of the tent, barking an obvious order at a woman sitting by the wall before letting the tent flap close behind her. Krystle reached for the waterskin, but it was beyond her reach and she couldn't make her body move toward it. The other woman in the room sat quietely sewing some garment that lay heaped in her lap. Krystle looked around her but didn't see much. The tent was small and dark. There were blankets and animal skins piled in the corners, and the floor was laid with some kind of woven reed. She herself lay on a thick fur, with a thin blanket covering her. She still wore her own clothes, bu they would need to be replaced soon. They were filthy and torn in many places. She did not know what had happened to her shoes. Another quick look around her surroundings didn't reveal them.

Muffled voices outside the tent announced their coming before the doors were pushed aside. A woman entered first, her manner deferential to the man who followed her. She held the door back as he strode in, confident and sure of himself. Krystle recognized him instantly, and her breath caught in her chest; she had thought she'd never see him again. "Jason!" she exclaimed as loud as her weak body would allow her. He walked over and knelt beside her to take her hand in his. "You... We..." she stammered. Taking a breath, she tried again. "I thought you were dead!"

"No," he chuckled ruefully. "I'm not dead. Not yet anyway."

"You were lost..."

He laughed outright at this. "I know exaclty where I am, my friend. You're the one who was lost and nearly dead when we found you."

Krystle laughed with him. There was a time when his good-natured teasing would have made her feel inferior, but she had long since proven herself his equal in both fighting and strategy. They had each saved the other's life on numerous occasions.

Their laughter subsided, and Krystle looked up at him seriously. "I missed you," she said quietly.

"I missed you, too." He looked back into her eyes, and for a moment she was reminded of the easy way they had worked together and the strength they had found in each other. Then his eyes pulled away and he continued in a businesslike voice. "But you're here now. No more wandering alone in the desert for you. Soldier or no, your survival skills are pathetic." He tried to smile, but she could hear the worry in his voice.

"Where are we?" she asked, trying to lighten the conversation.

"We're in the Sahara," he replied.

Krystle made a face. She hated the desert. "Why are we here, of all places?"

"I've kindof become the leader of this little tribe. We're heading toward civilization."

"How did you become their leader, oh great one?" she teased.

He smiled. "When I got away from the war I made my way to their village. They took me in, taught me the language, offered me a home..."

"You weren't going to stay, though, right?"

He ran rough-shod over her alarm. "Desert raiders came in and looted the village. The men tried to fight, but they had no chance. Most of them were killed, and the rest were either wounded or too old to fight."

"How did you escape unharmed?"

He dropped her hand and threw his arms open wide. "Who're you talkin' to? I know you haven't seen me in awhile, but I still know how to fight."

Krystle could have laughed. There was something comforting in his old familiar cockiness. She grinned up at him instead. "I don't know, Jase. You could never take me in a fair fight."

"Well," said Jason, mockingly serious, "I wasn't going to tell you this, but that one time when you beat me... I let you win."

This time she did laugh. "Yeah, right, jerk. You couldn't take me if you tried."

He chuckled for a moment, then sat down on the ground and shifted around until he was comfortable. "So, how's your father?" he asked casually.

"He's good," she replied. "The heart attack didn't slow him down at all. He still works as hard as ever."

"I'm glad to hear that. Your dad's a good man."

"Thank you."

"And what about your brother? How's he doing?"

"Taken," she replied shortly.

Jason was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "When did it happen?"

"A couple months ago. He was spying on Com headquarters. We haven't seen him since."

"Carson was a good spy. What happened?" He sounded concerned.

"We don't know. I think maybe he just got too close to one of their sensors. He and Jasmine had had an argument that night, and he was angry. You know how Carson got when he was angry." The words sounded wrong when she said them. "He was usually really good at getting us information. It's been tough without him." No, it hadn't. Had it? She wasn't sure. The story seemed right in her head, but sounded wrong to her ears.

"You have other spies at the base, though, right?"

"We have a few in the States, and a pretty good crew up in Canada, but nothing like we once had. A lot of the men have gone to join the fighting. They followed you, you know." She couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice. "It's stupid! It's just plain stupid. They know the war is just a distraction. We've told them thousands of times. They're killing themselves off, thinking they're doing the right thing but they're just wasting themselves. They're good men, and we need them where their work will count!" She ranted out her frustration, her words flowing before she had time to think.

Jason was quiet for a moment, regarding her with deep, troubled eyes. "The war is not pointless," he said quietly.

"You used to think it was. You were as against it as I am. What happened?"

He sighed. "A man just gets tired, Krystle." He scrubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. "Tired of the waiting, the planning, getting little bits of information that it takes us months, sometimes years to be able to make any sense out of it. And longer than that to come up with any kind of plan. I kept hearing about those people dying, my own family members dying!" His voice was raised. "There are outside forces that come in and invade our land that are more of a real threat than the Coms!" He paused, taking a deep breath. Suddenly he looked at her with an intense gaze. "We're already dying from the inside. I didn't want to have to face an outside force on our land, too. Can you understand that?" He sounded desperate, hopeless, and exhausted. "I just... felt that I could do more out there than I could with you. I wanted to go out and meet danger instead of waiting for it to come to me."

"Jason, we're the real fighters." She struggled to raise herself up on her elbow... and failed. She settled instead for grabbing his hand and staring up into his face. "We have to take down the Coms. If we destroy them, we'll have our nation back. We'll have our freedom again. The war is a diversion, to keep the people scared and confused and focused on the threat outside the States rather than the one inside it. Why did you buy into that ridiculous dogma of theirs?"

"Maybe..." he began, "Maybe they have a point, Krystle."

"You didn't just say that." Krystle was aghast.

"Well, I mean, it's just that..." he sighed and started over, running his suntanned fingers through his dark hair. "Look, I left because I wanted to see some action and feel like I was doing some good. But after seeing the state of another country, I started to think that maybe we don't have it so bad. Yeah, the Coms can be a little oppressive sometimes, but overall we have it way better than just about everybody else."

"They take away our freedoms, Jason, our families and our homes."

"But they give us homes in the first place. We are well-fed and we have clothes on our backs and jobs to go to every day. We have opportunities to learn and grow and live in luxury here. Most people are just trying to survive. They're happy if they have a table with a full meal on it. That's worth something, and we have that here."

Krystle took her hand out of his. She withdrew in on herself. Staring up a t him, she remembered who he had been, what he had believed. He had always been full of fire and passion. Freedom had called to him, lured him on, inspired him, and he in turn had inspired those around him. His had been an uncompromising passion for their cause. He had fueled the people on with his belief and his courage. There was nobody she had admired or believed in more. It had been an honor and a privilege to fight beside him. She suddenly realized what else was different about him... what she had seen in his eyes. He had lost his focus, his faith.

"What happened to you?" she suddenly asked.

He pulled back slightly, confused. "When?"

"The last time I saw you was before you left fo the war. You're different, now. What happened to you?" she repeated.

"War changes people, Krystle. You know that. I saw a lot of death and agony. I knew loneliness. I was there for almost a year before I got out. That's a long time."

"No." She was completely calm, completely detached. The world seemed to become clearer around her, and she proceeded with a complete confidence, a complete knowledge that she was right. "No, it's something else. I fought at your side for six years. I know what fighting does to you. I've been at war as long as you have, but I've never seen you this way."

"Like I sai..." he tried to reply, but she cut him off.

"Why did you leave in the first place? You didn't buy into their dogma. And you didn't go for the action. I know you better than that. You loved getting information and putting the pieces together. You love strategy. You're not one to accept being a simple soldier, and you have no way of becoming a higher officer; you knew that. Why did you leave us, Jason? What happened to you?"

She saw the angry glint in his eye. "What about you?" he shot back. "Why are you here?"

"What?" She wasn't defensive, only confused. She knew what was coming, in her heart of hearts, but she couldn't find the thoughts to define it. But she waited patiently, knowing that it would become clear in a moment.

"You're accusing me of abandoning the cause, and yet you're here in the desert with me. Why did you leave?"

Krystle opened her mouth to answer, but found no words. She thought for a moment, thinking back, trying to remember. "I..." she began.

Suddenly chaos broke loose outside the tent. Horns sounded in alarm and Krystle heard the voices of women and children screaming. She tried to rise from her bed, but her body would not obey her commands. She flopped back down to the floor and looked weakly at Jason. He had his hunting knife out and was halfway to the door. "Stay here," he commanded grimly. Then he was gone.

She obeyed unwillingly. Every nerve in her body screamed at her to get up and join the fight. She knew from hard experience that if she did not fight, she would get seriously hurt. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, giving her strength she did not have and couldn't afford to lose. She rolled to her stomach and pushed herself up so she was sitting on the mat. Panting with effort, Krystle looked around her for something to use as a weapon. Her knife had been taken and was probably hidden away with her shoes. Seeing nothing, she tired to stand up but her legs buckled beneath her. She landed hard on her shoulder and tried unsuccessfully to bite back the cry that escaped her lips.

Krystle heard Jason give a wordless yell outside the tent, and across from her she heard the tent split apart as a knife was forced through the thick fabric. Desperate tears coursed down her cheeks as she watched the knife cut a slit in the tent's wall down to the ground. She tried once more to rise, to face the danger on her feet, but once again, her body rebelled. She yelled once for Jason, knowing he would come to her aid if he could. There was no reply, no answering yell, nothing. Despair overtook her. She was completely helpless, and she knew it. Always before she'd been able to defend herself, and the fact that she had no chance of fighting scared her more than the danger that was entering the tent.

The man who came through the slit he'd made in the heavy cloth was dressed in the tans and greys of the desert raiders. His head was wrapped in cloth that shielded his eyes from the harsh sun and his face was veiled so that only his eyes showed. He entered slowly, cautiously, knees bent and long knife held up to defend against an attack that he expected at any moment. he glanced around quickly, scowling when he found nothing worth looting. He stood up straight, convinced there was nobody there to threaten him, and his scowl turned to a hoarse chuckle when he turned to look at her lying helpless, terrified on the floor.

"Hello," he said. "What have we here? A soft whitey in the leader's tent." His speech was soft and quick, but Krystle had no trouble understanding his words- or his intent. He moved across the tent to her, fingering his blade. "You must be an expensive slave, eh? Good at what you do." He crouched down beside her and fingered her hair. "Don't move, now, slave girl."

Krystle understood the meaning of his words, and tried to be offended, but found that her fear was too strong to allow for any other emotion. Her blood pounded in her ears; she lost all sense of time and place. The battle raged on outside, be she heard only the slick oil of his voice. It slid through her mind like a snake, entrancing her, paralyzing her. her vision started to go dark. She willed herself to stay awake, to stay aware, but her body would not obey. For the first time in her life, Krystle Bordran, warrior of the Sixth Realm, a captain of the Revolution, fainted from fear.