Chapter Fourteen – Why Dream of Women when You could Dream of Dragons?
On the surface of Old Sypherie, the rakka rakka were dancing across the dusty ground as energetically as they pleased. They climbed over the cinders and the charcoal remains of what were once mighty and ancient trees. Gobbling up the forest had been delightful fun for them, and it had been ever so delicious. They even had ten new young to speak for it.
Happy days were what the rakka rakka were having, and their brains were far too simple for them to be able to worry about the way they were making the Rirans suffer. Shuttles left the planet now and then, but they hardly ever came in. The rakka rakka were able to play on the surface wholly undisturbed.
Of course, none of them were thinking about what would happen when they ran out of things to gobble up, or when there was nothing left that the lava hadn’t melted. They really weren’t forward thinkers.
Sendrick, on the other hand, knew better. After a few days of making certain that his human specimen was stable, and downloading all of his computer files to multiple back-ups, he’d sent word for a ship or shuttle – whichever was willing to risk dealing with the annoyance that were the rakka rakka – big enough to help him and everyone else get out of the bunker and flee to New Sypherie. Everyone was packing furiously, desperate to get off the heated planet before it was too late.
“Let those red devils have the place,” Doctor Sendrick’s new motto went, “and see where it gets them when there’s nothing left to consume.”
Systems were now failing at random times, and upkeep was a difficult matter to attend to. The cooling system was the most important thing to maintain, for if it shut down, everything else would collapse under the heat. There was a crew working to look after it, and everyone else packed their things for them and ensured that they had food enough to keep up their energy.
Sendrick, meanwhile, still took some time each day to gather data on the human. He’d finally managed to configure his dream receptor to work with the human brain, and was ready to record Endan’s dreams.
“Now lad,” he said as he placed several sensors on the human’s head, “this system will scan your brain for any dream you’ve had and process the data into something that I can then read and see.”
“So you can watch my dreams each night?” Endan asked dubiously. He had never really cared for brain scans or psychology, knowing how some groups on Earth had abused those fields in the past.
“No no no. You can tell me yourself about new dreams that you have. What I want to know is your old dreams. I also want to know how the k’zshyrk you were injected with affects the part of your brain where dreams are stored.”
“Why does that even matter? Dreams are just images that your brain goes through to process what’s going on in your subconscious.”
“You are missing a major part of the puzzle, young man,” Sendrick corrected him, trying not to sound too frustrated. “Now that we know you’re missing an important person in your life, I can look into your dreams and find out whether he – or she – is in there. If not, perhaps the venom has hurt you more than we ever thought possible.”
“And how is that going to help me find – whoever it is?”
“Be patient, my boy. We cannot find anyone of yours down here now, can we? We have to get off this hunk of rock-waiting-to-melt first!”
Endan gave an impatient sigh, hoping that the shuttle would get there soon.
“Now,” Sendrick said as he finished placing the senors on the human’s head, “sit back and relax. We are going to get started.”
Endan laid his head against the back of the armchair. It had probably once been cushy, but its dull yellow fabric now only served to be scratchy and uncomfortable. He’d long since resigned himself to having to ignore the old doctor’s choice in keeping such furniture around, and forced himself to ignore the scratching. He’d forgotten about everything else; why not this?
Professor Sendrick crossed the room and turned down the lights. “Close your eyes,” the old man told him.
As Endan let his eyelids shut, he could hear Sendrick’s shoes cross the floor. Then there was the click of a switch, and the faint hum of a screen coming to life.
“You will soon begin to feel something, but it will not hurt in the least. Let it flow through you, and open up to it. It helps if you imagine doors opening.”
Endan nodded, and let his breathing become steady. There was something like a tingling inside his head, but it was not exactly a physical sensation. It was more like his neurons firing in rapid succession as the sensors searched for something. His eyelids started to twitch with what felt like rapid eye movement, except that he knew he was still awake. Visions started to fly past his eyes, flutters and glimpses that eventually stayed before him for longer and longer.
By the time there was something there long enough to play out, it was like an old recorded video playing back, the audio faint and muffled, the images grainy and somewhat blurred. There was a field of clover, the leaves larger than they could have been in reality, and he was running through it. Then there was the scent of heather, and he looked down to see an ocean of purple flowers at his ankles. A breeze picked up, and he thought he heard the heather whispering to him, urging him to keep running.
“Did I really dream this before?” Endan asked out loud.
“Don’t talk,” Doctor Sendrick said in a tone of warning. “You’ll disturb the dream. Just let it play out.”
Back in the dream, Endan ventured onward. He realized that he held something in his hands, a folded piece of cloth. He unfolded it and started down at the bars of green, white and orange. Why was this broad rectangle so familiar to him? He’d seen it before; his dream self knew what it was, but would not share any information with his present self.
The breeze grew stronger, and the cloth flew of out his hands. He chased it up a sunny hill, and the orange darkened into a band of red. He reached out for it, and realized that there was a figure at the top of the hill. It was completely blurry, but it stood there as sure as anything else. The sheet of cloth caught on the figure’s body like a haphazard toga, the red and green fluttering on either side of it. Where the band of white touched the body, the outline of an eagle appeared, perched on a thorny plant that he couldn’t pin down the name of. Then a snake slithered up the figure’s leg, and the eagle caught it in its beak, as though it had never been a mere image at all.
Endan stopped in his tracks when he saw the drawing come to life. He blinked, and when he looked around again, the heather and the clover where gone. The hill was now an island in the middle of a lake, and he was ankle-deep in its waters. As he walked up onto the shore, he saw hundreds of cinnamon-skinned warriors kneel before the blurry figure at the top.
“What – no, this dream!” Endan cried out. He opened his eyes and turned around to look at Sendrick. “I remember it now. But the first time I dreamt it, I could actually see who that person was. What’s the problem now?”
He was breathing hard, desperate to restore his vision, to set things right.
“Calm down,” the old man told him. He pressed a few buttons on his machinery and stepped around to sit across from the human. “If you get too worked up, you access the nightmares.”
“Why can I not see the person anymore?”
“Think about it, young man. Do you feel anything in your heart? Is this the person whom you are missing?”
“I – I – “ He tried not to breathe too hard, but he could feel himself shaking. “Maybe… I don’t know.”
“Then try this: were you possibly thinking of this person when the K’zzyrch injected you with their venom?”
Endan thought about it for a moment. “Maybe. But… whoever it is, they are very important to me.”
“Endan, if you were thinking of this person when you were poisoned, that could be why it’s so hard to remember them.” He looked up and nodded to Mesilde and Callina as they entered the room. “The venom affects the most active neurons the worst, especially those related to memory.”
“I have to know who it is,” Endan told them, ready to let his tears flow. “Will looking at another dream help me?”
Sendrick shrugged. “They could… but it’s no guarantee.”
Callina and her friend sat on a narrow couch nearby, and the old man gave her a brief explanation of what they were up to. She glanced at the image on the dream scanner screen, the blurry figure with the cloth covering it. “Perhaps I can help a little. Is it male or female?” she asked him.
“I cannot even tell that. I just know that this is the person I need to get back to… the one those damned reptiles stole from me!”
“This is really serious, then,” Mesilde said, suddenly very interested in what was going on. “How did you meet this person?”
“I… I think it was years ago. We were both…” He sighed in defeat. “I don’t know, but we both happened to be doing the same thing, and that brought us together.”
“That’s a start,” Callina told him. “So… this person wasn’t part of your family yet.”
“No… no, but –” He forced his mind to focus, and came up with one more fact. “I think I loved them like family.”
“Well, was it a lover or a friend?” Sendrick suggested.
“If it was a lover, it would have to be a woman,” Callina added.
Mesilde was not so sure of that. “How do you know? Maybe he loved a man. There are those among most aliens who love their own gender.”
“It was not a man!” Endan shouted, which caught all of them off guard. “I mean… I’m sorry. I don’t know why I shouted. I just… I just need her back.”
“A child, maybe?” Mesilde tried quickly, hoping to get back on his good side. “Perhaps you have a child out there somewhere.”
That was when Endan’s eyes really did well up. He stared at her, clenched his teeth, and wiped away the first few teardrops.
“Were you right?” Callina whispered to her friend when she realized that Endan was crying.
“She…” he whimpered, his voice strained and his throat swelling with emotion. “She said something to me once… about children.”
“It’s coming back to him!” Doctor Sendrick uttered, on the edge of his seat as he stared at Endan.
“Who was she?” Callina pressed, hoping that he would say more.
He didn’t answer them directly, but went on about her. “We were lying in bed together… it seems like so long ago. I told her, ‘as long as we’re together…’ And now look at us! I have no idea where she is, if she’s carrying my child – I just want her back in my arms!”
Callina looked between her grandfather and her friend as Endan hid his face in his hands and wept uncontrollably. Mesilde rushed to his side and rubbed his back, afraid of what he might do if he got much more emotional.
“He’s not a monster,” Sendrick told her, noticing how nervous she looked. “He will not change form. Just get him to calm down and maybe we can try another dream now that he knows more about whom he is missing.”
Mesilde nodded, sat on the arm of the chair, and leaned in close to Endan. She whispered a song into his ear, something slow and sweet, rubbing his back all the while. Even Callina and the old man felt calmer to hear it; she had a real talent for song.
“We’re going to help you,” Mesilde whispered, so faintly that Sendrick could not hear her. “You’ll get her back. Just let us help you.”
Trembling, Endan turned to look into her eyes. “I won’t stop until I find her.” His voice shook, and she could barely understand him, but it was enough.
“She is the love of your life, is she not?” Mesilde asked, giving the others the briefest of glances. “The woman most dear to your heart.”
He nodded, though it was a nod that could almost be mistaken for the way his body shook. “My wonderful, amazing cinnamon girl,” he told them, his voice dissolving into a groan.
Sendrick scratched his chin as he watched the two of them talking. “This really is serious. It’s a good thing we’re leaving this place soon.” He stood up and walked over to his machinery. “Listen, we should try to find your k’zshyrk dream. It might have some clues in it that we can use.”
“Dreams again?” Endan complained.
“Endan, listen,” Callina began in a soothing voice “these dreams brought on by the venom may be connected to the one you lost. Please, give it a chance.”
“Fine,” he sighed, as though giving up on something. He sat up, wiped his face on his sleeve, and laid his head on the back of the chair as though he were completely exhausted.
Doctor Sendrick switched on the dream sensors and Endan closed his eyes. He sensed Mesilde getting up and moving to sit with her friend once again. The tingling and the hum came back to him, and he heard Callina whisper one more thing to her friend before he faded into his storehouse of dreams.
“No wonder he was so shy about being naked in front of me.”
The image of a serpentine dragon wrapped itself around his brain, hissing and threatening to scratch. He could her Sendrick’s muffled voice telling him that that was only the venom that veiled his mind. Endan ignored it, and it faded away. Then he found himself in a wide and expansive room, something like the throne rooms of old, but far more empty and shadowy. He was standing on a length of rick purple carpet, which was edged in golden stitch. Before him, on a raised platform, was a throne carved from solid, cold stone. Dozens of dragons surrounded the throne, most of them hatchlings, the largest one not much bigger than a great hound. They were curled up on the floor, paying him no mind whatsoever.
What Endan was really interested in was the woman sitting on the throne. She was tall and scaly, a black crest tracing down her back. Her scales shone like copper, and she wore a gown of purple silk over her curves. Her breasts were full and ample, her belly large and round. She was looking at him with a sort of cunning curiosity, and he knew at once that he ought to kneel before her.
“My lady,” he intoned.
She rose from her throne, descended the narrow steps of the platform, and walked past him, stopping only to lay a hand on his shoulder for a moment.
His vision went bright, and when it faded and he could see again, he was in another room. The copper-scaled reptile was on a four-poster bed, sweating and groaning, clutching the blankets in her fists. There was another lizard-like creature in the room, also female, guiding her through the pain she was experiencing. But he could not understand their words, and he was too afraid to help, even to hold her hand, despite the distinct feeling that he’d put her in that situation.
After a while, her offspring slipped from between her legs. He could not have explained why a reptile was giving live birth, but there it was, no shell, slippery and corded like a baby mammal. As the midwife laid the infant on the woman’s coppery chest, he stepped forward, staring down in awe at what he saw. It was a human baby, the skin a rich shade of cinnamon, the hair bright blond like his own. It suckled on her breast, and the mother smiled proudly up at him.
Again everything was bright white, and when it subsided he, too, was on the bed. It must have been quite some time later, for he was inside her, moving with her as she moaned and cried out for more. He was appalled that he was in bed with this lizard-like woman, furious with himself for finding such pleasure in her loins. When he felt his passion climax, his real body started to scream, and he grabbed at his head.
“Do not rip them off!” Callina warned him. She and Mesilde went to grab his hands and keep him still, but he went on shaking his head. “Grandfather, you have to end the program!”
Endan was screaming as Doctor Sendrick rushed through a series of buttons. The humming slowly died down and quieted as the old man watched him closely.
“No! Stop it!” Endan called out. “That isn’t Citlally!”
“He’s safe now,” the old man told them.
The girls worked quickly to take off all of the dream sensors, and together embraced him and rocked him to keep him calm. As Mesilde sang, Callina whispered to him.
“It was just a dream. It wasn’t real. We know you would never sleep with anyone but the one you love.”
“It’s over,” Sendrick told him as he came over and sat down. “And you know what? Something very good came of this experience.”
Endan glared at the old man who was now packing his pipe full of shreds of cured leaves, panting furiously, his face red, tears flooding down his eyes.
“What good could there possibly be in having her taken from me?!”
“Well, now, my boy,” Sendrick replied calmly as he lit his pipe. He took a few puffs from it before going on. “You remembered her name.”