Thursday, November 17, 2005

Chapter 21

Jaden was feeling nervous and distracted all day at work on Friday, April 30th. Coupled with his nonfunctional right hand, this made him almost completely unproductive. He had told Stacey and Todd that he was going back for some more tests and some physical therapy, so he would need the next week off since it probably wasn't wise to be trying to do much with his hand in that shape this soon after the accident. Stacey could tell he was a bit more stressed than usual, and eventually just sent him home in the middle of the afternoon, telling him to get some rest. Todd made good-natured dying noises as he contemplated dealing without Jaden for another week, and wished him well on his recovery.

He left gladly, but was unable to rest much when he got home. He wasn't sure if he really needed to or not, though. He was starting his quest at midnight, so a good nap might seem to be in order beforehand. But on the other hand, he'd be asleep for the entire thing, so he wasn't sure a nap would make much difference. Confusing stuff, this dream travel. He busied himself for a while trying to read more of the books he had borrowed, then made himself a quick, light dinner, and headed over to Prof. Oddbury's apartment.

"Tonight's the night, my boy!" Oddbury exclaimed as soon as Jaden entered. "Beltane begins at midnight! The witching hour! I haven't been this excited since my own last trip back in '57."

He spread two maps out on the desk to review with Jaden. One was of their Mountain View neighborhood, and the other was of the dreamlands.

"As you can see, if this building here corresponds to 250 Richards Street," the professor explained, "then the river running along here roughly lines up with this cross street." He pointed to another spot a little ways along the river. "So if you are traveling from my apartment, you should end up approximately here. It should be easy to find your way, since there are not many other buildings nearby."

"Great. So what do I do when I get there?"

"That, I'm afraid, will be up to you. It is impossible to tell precisely what sort of a reception you will get there, so all I can recommend is to use extreme caution and your best judgment."

"Just for the record, I would like to state that I am scared shitless."

"Quite natural, my boy, quite natural. But, nothing ventured nothing gained, eh? Now we must begin the preparations."

From a back room he wheeled out the OneiroPorter. It seemed much smaller and more rickety than Jaden had expected, and he decided not to ask if this was the very one Prof. Oddbury himself had used on his last trip, back in 1957. He would try not to think about that.

Various wires were connected together and plugged in to electrical outlets. Some also ran to the G5 by the desk, and Jaden noted that they seemed to have had Firewire connectors grafted on to the ends of them. The professor explained that this let him set up some extra, automatic monitoring, in addition to the watch he personally would keep on the array of monitors and dials on the machine itself.

Jaden was given his first shot of the appropriately balanced chemical mix an hour early, to let it begin sinking in and to watch for any adverse effects. There were none, but he did begin to feel appropriately sleepy. This had the added benefit of making him feel rather less afraid. At 11:30 PM he lay down on the bed in the middle of the OneiroPorter, which was adjusted for his comfort. The IV was inserted into his arm, and Jaden grew even sleepier, his eyes barely staying open as the professor continued to explain the various wires and dials that were being set up all around him.

Then the professor seemed to be talking very loudly, and pressing something into Jaden's hand, so he tried to pay closer attention. The object was an amulet that was on a cord around his neck, though he couldn't remember having put it on. The professor was saying something about the button on the amulet, and using it only when he was ready to wake up and come back. A nod of acknowledgement seemed to be in order, so Jaden gave one, sleepily, letting his eyes drift closed again. He felt the professor drop the amulet back on his chest, and heard the rustle of a few more adjustments being made, and then he was asleep.

A small clock in the professor's study chimed midnight. It was Beltane. Oddbury took one final glance over Jaden's sleeping form and silently wished him luck. Then he went to the side of the machine and pressed a large red button. He entered various confirmations and security codes, and an envelope of purple light formed inside the machine, around Jaden's body. He stepped back to watch.

* * *

Jaden opened his eyes. He found himself looking out at a sunset over some hills in the middle distance. Apparently the dreamlands were on a slightly different time zone, or else sunset happened at midnight there. A small river ran by a short way away from him, and following it he could see the mansion that he recognized from his vision on Richards Street. Beyond that was a forest.

He felt more awake and alert than he ever had before. If it weren't for what he saw around him, and the knowledge that minutes ago he had been strapped into a bed in Prof. Oddbury's apartment, he would have had trouble believing that he was dreaming. Or in the dreamlands at least. Was it really dreaming, what he was doing? It didn't matter.

Something, however, felt wrong. He looked down at himself and realized in horror what it was. He held his hands up in front of him, but only one appeared. His right arm now stopped completely at the elbow, without even the paralyzed hand and forearm. There was simply nothing.

Once he had adjusted to the shock and calmed down, he told himself there was probably a perfectly understandable explanation for it. After all, the essence of his hand had been captured and imprisoned here in the dreamlands. It seemed logical that while in the dreamlands himself, he would have to play by their rules, and that would mean leaving his hand where it was until he could retrieve it. There probably hadn't been enough of his hand left behind in the waking world to be able to take any of it along with him. Well, this would make things a bit more difficult, but it was all sure to work out in the end.

Jaden put his right elbow back at his side and decided to try not to think about it too much for now. He began walking towards the mansion.

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