Chapter 106

               The world was numbers and letters, swirling and dancing in a dysfunctional ballet where the conductor was madness and the symphony chaos. Amidst this vortex she floated, eyes half-open as she stared into the moving insanity. This was all there was. This was all there had ever been. This was all there ever would be.

                Except… that last part wasn’t entirely true. She could feel something different, something new. It pushed on the edges of her consciousness, like a dull knife skimming across taut plastic. This bothered her, it was wrong. There was supposed to be nothing, only she and the vortex.

                Then, without warning, the force pushed through her guards and Alice found herself staring at Mary, who was now beside her. Reality came rushing back in a wave of awareness that surged over her, purging the fog of the dream and leaving her re-awakened, despite still being technically asleep.

                “You did it!” Alice cried, clapping her hands together.

                “I know! I didn’t think I was going to for a while, but I finally started to… feel…” Mary’s word’s trailed off as she finally took in her surroundings. The letters and numbers whizzed about, filling every visible space save only for the spot in the center where she and Alice floated. “This is an… interesting dream.”

                “Huh? Oh, yeah I’ve been having this one for the past week. Probably from all the stress about my Subtlety assignment.”

                “Didn’t you crack the first part?”

                “Sure, but tell that to my subconscious.” Alice paused for a moment, pressing a manicured nail gently against her cheek. “On second thought, why I don’t I tell it that myself?” She closed her eyes, and in the span of blink the vortex was gone. In its place was a veranda overlooking a sparkling ocean, with a table already set for two guests.

                “That’s impressive,” Mary said. “Jill didn’t have nearly as much initial control, even after realizing we were in a dream.”

                “Jill hasn’t spent the last three months doing visualization and meditation exercises,” Alice countered. “Besides, since you gave me the rundown of what to expect, I went in knowing what I was capable of.” She settled down on the ground, nondescript clothing now replaced by a flowing white dress, and took one of the open seats.

                Mary glanced down at herself and realized she was not, to her surprise, adorned in the clothes her real body was wearing. Instead, she was wearing her HCP uniform. After a moment’s reflection, she realized it did make a certain amount of sense. The uniform was what she was most familiar with, how she most frequently saw herself. When grabbing a mental avatar, this was the logical outfit to dress her in. Logical or not, she didn’t like the idea of lounging in her uniform, so with a slight exertion of willpower she garbed herself in a t-shirt and jeans.

                “We’re having lunch overlooking a literal dream-view and you still won’t dress up a bit?”

                “Not happening.” Mary walked over and took the other free chair. “If I give you encouragement here you’ll try to dress me like a doll in the real world.”

                “What on earth would make you suggest such a thing?” Alice pressed her hand to her chest in mock-surprise.

                “Our years of friendship, the last few weeks with Camille, the number of times you’ve tried, just take your pick.”

                Alice stuck out her tongue in a very impolite manner. “Spoilsport. Well, since we’re here, do you want some wine or food?” Her own hand now held a crystal glass with a dark red liquid inside. “I don’t have the taste down pat, but it’s not bad.”

                “I’m good with tea,” Mary replied, holding up the cup that had suddenly appeared in her hand. “This is actually really convenient. With a little practice dream-diving could be a lot of fun.”

                “Fun? You could open a business selling whole vacations like this. Think about it: the person is completely aware, has full control over their environment, can go anywhere they can imagine, and can drink or eat anything without calories? I’m tempted to book you up for the whole summer.” Alice helped herself to one of the chocolates that were now in the center of the table. “So, you’ve successfully dream-dived while you were conscious, and into a person with high defenses no less. What’s next?”

                “I’m not really sure. I need to talk to Professor Stone, but it’s possible that this is the end of my experimentation. I mean, I did it. It’s pretty much over now.”

                “Really? I see ample new grounds for you to explore,” Alice replied. “For example, what if you tried bringing other people with you? Like having four sleeping people touching part of you, and bringing them all together in a single mind.”

                “There’s no precedent to believe I could do that,” Mary pointed out.

                “There was no precedent to believe you could do this either, until you did it,” Alice rebutted. “And if you can manage it, think of the usefulness. Group vacations aside, you could hold team meetings so secret that not even telepaths would be able to overhear them.”

                Mary nodded, that was true. A sleeping mind usually sounded like a soft murmur of static to most telepaths. She could pick up some things, though only in cases of extreme emotion, but she was unique in that aspect of her abilities. Professor Stone had enlightened her to the fact that, despite what she’d grown up thinking, very few telepaths could get any information from a passed-out mind. Sleep was, in fact, one of the few great defenses against a telepath.

                “Okay, that might be useful. I guess I could at least pitch the idea to the professor. And maybe I could work on staying in a mind when someone actively tries to force me out, or slipping in without letting them become aware.” Now that she’d looked at the potential for new avenues of her power, Mary felt the ideas bubbling forth. She was nowhere near done experimenting, and that thought filled her with excitement.

                “Sounds like your schedule is going to get busy pretty soon. As will mine, once I wake up and have to deal with my stupid assignment. But for now, you just completed a big milestone and we’re celebrating.” Alice put her hand in the air, bringing it back down with an enormous chocolate layer cake balanced impossibly on her fingers.

                “You know, you may just have a point about the benefits of dream-vacations,” Mary said, eyeing the tiered dessert hungrily.