Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ninth Day

Back to Jaden again, and we get to find out more about what happened to his arm.

Chapter 11

Prof. Oddbury gestured Jaden back to his armchair and began rooting around in a pile of equipment next to his desk. He brought back a device of several parts and then pulled his own chair closer to Jaden's so he could sit down.

"Extend your right arm, please. And don't worry: this is completely harmless."

Jaden did as he was asked. Oddbury fastened a thick band of some rubbery material around Jaden's bicep, just above the elbow. It was rather like a blood pressure monitor, but the inside seemed to be lined with special sensors. A flat layer of the same material was laid across his lap for his forearm to rest on. A wire connected the band at his elbow to a box the professor was holding, and another wire ran from there to a short, thick wand he held in his hand.

"The idea behind this is fairly simple," Prof. Oddbury explained. "You recall the maps I showed you earlier, showing the relative strengths of this world and the dreamlands over a given area?"

Jaden nodded.

"Well what we're going to do here is to take a similar reading of your arm. The Subcotex™ layer beneath it will filter out any stray signals, and the band at the normal part of your arm will provide a base reading for reference. All clear?"

"Clear enough, I suppose."

"Very good. Now, this sensor," he held up the wand in his hand, "will measure the reality levels of your affected limb against your base level. We'll get it calibrated correctly first."

He pushed a button on the box in his lap and turned it so they could both see the screen on the front of it. The screen lit up with a thin, blue line across the center. He then flipped a switch that was between the two wires on the box so that it pointed to the wire leading to Jaden's arm. A second line appears on the screen. The professor turned a knob until the two lines lay on top of each other.

"There, that does it. This shade of blue indicates your basal reality level, like it did on the maps. Now we'll switch the input line over to the sensor," he flipped the switch so that it pointed to the other wire, "and see what we see."

He held the sensor over Jaden's elbow and a small patch of blue appeared at the top of the screen. As the sensor moved slowly down his arm, the patch expanded, outlining the shape of the limb as it passed over it. It only remained blue near the elbow, however. Almost immediately it became purple and then the blue gradually faded out until, at the hand, it was almost entirely red.

With a sigh, Prof. Oddbury sat back and pressed a button, freezing the image on the screen. Then he detached the band from Jaden's arm and put the rest of the equipment to one side.

"Well, I must admit, it's about what I had expected. Nevertheless…" he shook his head.

"What? What does it mean?"

"Hmm. Well. As you have probably realized by now, this is no ordinary paralysis in your arm. What you want to see on a reading like this, when you are awake and fully existing in this world, is a solid blue throughout. The unusual amount of red you see here indicates that your hand, and a good deal of your arm, has almost entirely crossed over."

"Crossed over? Where to?"

"The dreamlands, of course. Your hand is, in effect, dreaming without you, and it appears to be trapped there. The paralysis it exhibits here is similar to that which overtakes your entire body when you dream normally. The difference is that your hand cannot wake up on its own. It may remain living but paralyzed, though it may also eventually atrophy to the point that it needs to be amputated. Cases like these are extremely rare, however, so not much is known about them and I can't give a very precise forecast."

"But how did this even happen in the first place? I was just in a regular car accident. How do these dreamlands even enter into it?" Jaden covered his right hand in his lap with his left one, protectively.

"I'm afraid that you were rather unlucky in the location of the accident, as well as in the mere fact of it. It so happens that it took place at the convergence of two very strong and ancient power lines, and I am referring to magic here, not electricity."

"Power lines? Magic? But that was Central Expressway! It's not like, Stonehenge or anything."

"Yes, very poor planning about that road. No proper zoning ordinances anywhere these days. An accident like this was bound to happen sooner or later. And granted, Silicon Valley may not be as liberally peppered with such things as jolly old England, but it is not entirely devoid of its own magic."

"Okay, so there were these magic line thingies. What actually happened?"

"Now keep in mind also that this was night time, when the dreamlands are naturally closer to our world, so the boundaries were thin to begin with. A tremendous amount of physical energy was involved in your collision, and being directly atop these power lines, a great deal of it was transmuted into magical energy, which tore the barriers between the worlds."

"But how do you know all this?"

"That's my job, boy! Or at least it was until I retired. Someone's got to keep an eye on these things. An old colleague of mine from the ministry alerted me to this case. Said it could probably use an investigation, but they're terribly short staffed out here. He knew I had moved to California, so he showed me the report and I offered to help out. Something to do, you know. Gets me out of the house. Anyway, where was I?"

"I think we had just torn the barriers between the worlds."

"Ah yes, of course. Now even that, terrible as it sounds, even that alone would most likely not have caused a lasting problem. The rift would have mended itself in seconds after your accident, since there was no sustained focus to the magic keeping it open. So what I believe is that someone – or something – acted very quickly in those few seconds from the other side, in the dreamlands."


"Or something."

"But what? Who?"

"It is hard to say precisely. The dreamlands are inhabited by a mind boggling array of people and creatures. I'm afraid, though, that you may have fallen victim to what we refer to as a trophy hunter."

"And what's that?"

"Trophy hunters are beings take sport in cross-reality hunting, you might say. It's a violent challenge that appeals to some. While we can cross over to the dreamlands nearly every night, we cannot truly be hunted there, since we always just wake up in the end and vanish from that world. It is much harder – nearly impossible at most times – for denizens of that world to come here. But there are some that go to great efforts to break through, however briefly, perhaps taking advantage of border rifts like the one that occurred here, and then bring back trinkets which win them prestige in certain circles. In your case, the hunter seems to have been very bold indeed. I expect you are lucky that he had only a few seconds available to him, and that in the midst of a speeding automobile accident, or he might have taken more than your hand."

"But my hand is still here." Jaden held it up, immobile. "He didn't actually take it, it just doesn't work."

"He took the spirit of your hand, its essence, the part he could carry back to the dreamlands. Without it, your hand is like a person in a coma."

Jaden shivered. "So what can I do? Where is my hand's… spirit… now?"

"That, young lad, is our next challenge. I haven't yet been able to trace it effectively, but now that you and I have had a chance to meet, we can tackle the problem together. However," here the professor glanced at a wall clock and at Jaden's stifled yawn, "I believe you have had quite enough new material for one evening. Go home, get some rest, study your notes – you were taking notes, weren't you? tut, tut – and I will see you again tomorrow. And don't worry about your dreams. I don't expect anything to happen, but I'll have you on the monitor just in case."

Jaden wasn't sure he'd be able to sleep after all he had seen and heard that evening, but he also wasn't sure he could fit anything else new inside his head either, so he took his leave and went back to his own apartment, leaving the door to the janitor's closet as innocent-looking as before.