Monday, November 07, 2005

Chapter 9

Jaden did indeed have a bewildering number of questions. He hardly knew where to start, so he shook his head, dislodging them all and shuffling them like cards, then picked one at random.

"How on Earth was I able to see other people's dreams on my computer? You had something to do with that, didn't you? You must have."

"Ah, yes, well," Prof. Oddbury looked a bit embarrassed. "I'm afraid that was a bit of an accident. You see, iTunes 6.0 came out recently, with video support, and when I upgraded it automatically indexed my entire library of collected dreams."

He gestured towards a desk at the side of the room, and Jaden realized that there was a familiar piece of equipment among all the unusual ones: a Power Mac G5. It had a "Think Different" sticker on the side. Different indeed, he thought. Prof. Oddbury continued.

"Very handy, actually. I quite like it as an organizational tool. Of course, what I didn't realize was that it also happened to be sharing my files with the entire network. Most undesirable. I found out while I was collecting more samples and noticed an unusual amount of network traffic that was slowing things down. Needless to say, I've disabled the sharing feature now. Luckily, I don't think anyone else had stumbled across it. Just you, and that doesn't make much difference in the end anyway, does it?"

"Oh? Does it? I don't know."

"Well, you were in this already, weren't you? We would have met fairly soon, regardless. I've just been trying to gather a bit more data over the last few days."

"Was I? Data? You mean more dreams? Do you have any of my dreams in there? Can I see?" Jaden's techie side was pulling through the general confusion. It sounded like there could be some seriously cool geekery up in that apartment.

"Well not just dreams, of course, though in a way I suppose you could say it's all dreams. All related, anyway. I – well, I could show you a bit of it now, really. Come over here."

Prof. Oddbury forged a path across the room to the desk, and woke up a monitor that was sitting on it, connected to the G5. iTunes was in the foreground of the screen, and it was queued up to a file with Jaden's name and the date from two nights ago.

"Hey! I know what dream that was. Can we watch it? I want to see if it’s the same as I remember."

"Ah, that. Well, no, not just now. I started running some further analyses on it this afternoon, and I'm afraid the file won't play while that is going on. Takes too much in the way of resources, you see, even for a G5."

Behind the iTunes window was another, larger window, black and covered with flashing numbers and graphs in different colors. It seemed to be measuring phlogiston levels, ephemery quotients, cross-existential blur variance, and a host of other quantities and qualities Jaden had never heard of. He stared at it entranced, until Oddbury reached over to the keyboard and hid the analysis program. On the computer's desktop was a photograph of a surreal and intricate statue. It was vaguely boat-like in form, but covered with an array of pipes and spears and trumpets and faces and baffling gadgets and machinery.

"I know what that is!" Jaden said, surprised to find something here to which that applied. "I saw that when I went to England in college. It's… it's… " he snapped his fingers, trying to remember.

"The Navigators, by David Kemp. One of my favorites. This one is at Hay's Galleria in Southwark. Of course, it was only a pale copy of the one at the Academy, but considering he had only seen it in his dreams, he made quite a remarkable reproduction." He nodded thoughtfully at it, with a fond expression.

"What academy was it, that had the original?" Jaden asked.

"Why, the Royal Academy of Oneironautical Science, of course! Ah, but of course you haven't heard of it. Pity it's been closed down so long. When I was there, back in aught-five – "

"What?" Jaden interrupted. "How old are you? I mean, not to be rude or anything, but…"

"Hmm? Oh, well I'd say that at last count I was around, ooh, say a hundred and forty-two."


"Yes. Being in my line of work does funny things to the aging process. I still feel like a spry young eighty-five year old. But as I was saying, back in my Academy days, we didn't have all this computer equipment to help us out. No! We had to do it all by abacus!" Jaden raised an eyebrow at this. "Well, by hand, anyway. But the point is, it's certainly easier now that everything's digitized."

"I saw that your business card said 'oneironaut' on it. What does that mean?"

"From the Greek, of course! Oneiros — of dreams and dreaming, nautes – sailor. One who travels in dreams. Don't you remember your Greek, boy?"

"Never had any, actually. Not really standard curriculum these days."

"Bah! Well, that's what we were about. Dreams! Very prestigious research, though top secret. A matter of national security, even. Did you know that Britain shares a larger border with the dreamlands than any other country? It's true! Hundreds of places, thousands even, with old magic, or just thin twilight areas with low reality quotients. They all had to be monitored for unusual activity. Edward VII was quite keen on that. Wanted no surprises. I'm sorry to say the current Queen doesn't take it quite as seriously."

"So what are you doing out here in California?" Jaden asked.

"Oh, I retired a number of years ago, moved to Santa Barbara actually. Some old grapevines still carry news, though, and when I got wind of what was going on, I took it upon myself to set up temporary facilities here to do what I could."

"And… what exactly is going on?"

Prof. Oddbury's usually energetic demeanor grew more somber. He turned back to the computer. "Why don't we begin by taking a look at this."

On the screen he pulled up a map of what Jaden recognized as his neighborhood. It had very little detail though, and seemed to be in a sort of bas relief, like a sonar image. For the most part it was a pale blue, darker on the edges of roads and buildings.

"What you see here is a relative reality map. Blue indicates the world we live in, what we generally refer to as 'reality.' This is from approximately one week ago, in the daytime. At night, it is a bit different, something like this." He pressed a button which put an overlay of sorts on the map, adding small patches of light purple in various places. "At night the borders between reality and the dreamlands are much thinner. The dreamlands are represented by red here, so we see purple where they are nearest to us."

He brought up another screen of images, this time a row of several smaller maps.

"This represents the data I have been collecting over the last several days. Notice the change?"

Each image had a map with progressively more purple on it, and the final one had actual patches of pure red.

"What does that mean?" Jaden asked. "The dreamlands are getting closer?"

"Yes, but not only that. From the looks of it, someone is trying to break through." His tone of voice gave Jaden the shivers.

"And this relates to me… how?" Was there still a chance this was all just a big joke?

"The answer to that," Oddbury replied with a nod towards Jaden's side, "is there at the end of your right arm."


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