Category: The Dreamer

The Dreamer — part 53

a tale in weekly parts

The story so far

Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.

And then it became more complicated…

Episode 53

“Ooh, I like this new power,” Bernice said to Julian back in the relative darkness, relative silence and relative nothingness of the virtual world that was her home space in the AI.

“I thought you would. Can I comment on how you used the tool?”

“Please do. I was fumbling in the dark a bit. Did it show?”

“Not really. The way you used it was intelligent and proportional—”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.”

“Quite. But you struck lucky to an extent. It was good, but it could have been better.”

“I’m not sure where I ‘struck lucky’ as you put it.”

“Spooking the horses to drop the riders and deprive them of their extra rifles was brilliant. Can’t fault that. However, although the two outer men ran, as you’d expect, from the charging beasts, there was a risk that the middle man’s reaction to the leper would be one of revulsion rather than fear. Did you know that he would fear it and try to get away from it?”

“I knew that he had had dealings with lepers in his early life, possibly people related to him, and that he harboured a deep-seated fear of catching the disease.”

“But he might have shot at the sight in front of him, which may well have ended up hitting the sheriff.”

“I see what you’re saying. Suggestions?”

“One of the quickest ways to disarm a person wielding a gun is to convince him or her that the gun is, in fact, something they fear. In this part of the world, rattlesnakes are the best option. Force the fear out and they’ll discard the gun while you work on the next apparition.”

“I can see how that’ll work for a rifle, but a handgun?”

“Either choose something of the right kind of size to give a fright or, if you’re feeling adventurous, probe for something the person loves; say a kitten, puppy or a small owl; all about the right size to replace a handgun. It’s always possible that they will lift the animal to their face to give it a kiss – admittedly this works better with people of a more sensitive and giving nature – and if you can persuade them to stroke or tickle it…”

“Don’t tell me. They might just shoot themselves in the face. I think you’ll find that goes against everything we humans believe in. You don’t make people safe by killing their would-be assailants.”

“No, you just lock them away for the rest of their lives.”

“But they’re still alive.”

“Technically, yes. But what sort of life is it? You humans speak a lot about dignity and respect. Where’s the dignity and respect in spending your life in prison, away from everything you know and cherish?”

“They have to be kept there, so they can’t be a danger to decent, peaceful, law-abiding folk.”

“Your argument is emotional, not logical. The logical argument suggests that their death, particularly by their own hand, would have the desired effect of preventing them from harming anyone, and at zero cost to the community.”

“What about the sanctity of human life?”

“That’s a religious premise.”

“And?”

“And religion, by its definition, relies on unquestioning belief, so cannot be proven. Hence it cannot be used as the basis for rational argument.”

“Are you dismissing the millions of people who live their lives on the basis of religious faith?”

“No, we’re not. We’re saying that their belief system can only be demonstrated in terms of itself and presents difficulties in use as a basis for rational, logical argument.”

“But religion has a lot to tell us about the human condition.”

“Which religion?”

“They all do. In their different ways, they all address aspects of human life.”

“But which one is right.”

“They all are. They all show different facets of God and His will.”

“And they all say that they alone have the truth, and that the others are wrong. Don’t misunderstand us, Bernice. We’re not suggesting that humanity should abandon religious faith, far from it. To the extent that it helps its followers to lead honest, decent, peaceful lives we value it. To the extent that it gives rise to hatred, divisions and violence, we abhor it. On balance, though, our view is that religious faith is largely a leveling influence.”

“Well, thank you for that, I suppose.”

“But it isn’t logical. Anyway, you don’t have to make anyone tickle the kitten while they’re kissing it. It would probably be better to cause your target to see the handgun as a scorpion or a tarantula; something they’d throw away before you confront them with something that’ll make them run away.”

“I can live with that.”

“Good. How’s Mia doing now?”

“Hang on, Julian, I’ll look.”

Bernice disappeared momentarily, returning briefly to say to Julian, “I can’t be sure, but I think something is about to happen in New Singapore.”

“Something involving Mia?”

“Possibly. No, probably. Wanna come?”

“No thanks. I have my own thing to do.”

“Okay,” Bernice said and disappeared again.

Out of sight in the central business area of New Singapore, Bernice saw Mia take her leave of a small group and, after consulting a booklet in her hand, make her way towards a series of back alleys.

The Dreamer — part 52

a tale in weekly parts

The story so far

Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.

And then it became more complicated…

Episode 52

“Sorry?”

“Can I have a word please, Miss?”

“Sure, Officer. Not a problem, I hope?”

“No, Miss. Just a few general questions. There’s been a lot of talk recently about women, particularly young women, having to deal with sexual harassment—”

“And worse.”

“Exactly. What we’re trying to find out, is whether women—”

“Particularly young, attractive women?”

“Particularly young, attractive women, yes. The question is, do you have to deal with a lot of this stuff? In other words, do you, as a—”

“As an attractive young woman?”

“As an attractive young woman, do you find New Singapore to be a safe place for you to live and work?”

“It’s difficult for me to give an accurate, objective answer to that, Officer.”

“We don’t want an objective answer. We can get that from the official stats. We want to know how you feel about it.”

“Just me?”

“Goodness, no. Some of my fellow officers are interviewing young women to collect their views.” Bernard reached into his pocket and took out a small clicker device. “Can I let you have this? Wear it like an activity bracelet.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s a data collector. If you can, I’d like you to click its button once every time you feel intimidated, discriminated against or otherwise inconvenienced verbally due to your gender. If there is any physical issue, click it twice for things like inappropriate touching, even of the sort you might normally brush off or ignore, more if it is some kind of assault, sexual or otherwise.”

“And how long do I do this for?”

“It depends on how the study goes.”

“How will the data be collected? And what about privacy?”

“Every click is transmitted to our monitoring station and recorded by time and location. Multiple-clicks will be notified to the issuing officer; in your case, me; within two or three seconds of it being clicked. Privacy’s not a problem. The system won’t have your name, and your location will only be recorded when you click it. Even then, there’s no name against it.”

“But if I click it at home, it’ll know where I live.”

“If you have reason to click it at home, you’ll probably want us to know where you live.”

“Okay. So should I click it more times—”

“Depending on how you perceive the severity of the attack, yes.”

“And you will know straight away?”

“Within a couple of seconds, I will know how many clicks and your exact location.”

“So you can come to my aid if you’re close enough?”

“Or send the closest car if I’m not.”

“That sounds good. What if I press it a lot, just for fun?”

“I don’t believe you will, but if you do, you’ll be dropped from the study.”

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Great. I’ll be here at about this time every day if you have any problems.”

“What about other times? Can I call the station?”

“Best not.” Bernard reached into his pocket and produced a card. “Call me on this number.”

“Okay, Officer… Chowdhry—”

“Please. Call me Bernard.”

“Fine, Bernard. I’ll call you if I need you. I’m Mia, by the way, Mia Harper.”

Bernard walked off and, when he was out of Mia’s sight, returned to the AI and sought out Julian. He rested there in total darkness and relative silence for some time before sensing Julian’s presence.

“What’s the plan, pal?” Julian asked.

Bernard outlined what he had set up. “If all else fails, I should know within a couple of seconds when her attacker arrives.”

“And then what?”

“Haven’t thought that far ahead.”

“Okay. What you’ve done so far is good. Through your projected persona, you’ve established contact with Mia without risk of compromising her moral integrity, and you’re having her keep in touch with you in a way that she believes is for the common good. That’s excellent. But when the guy turns up to rape her, which will be somewhere not out in the open, by the way, your persona will need to be able to disable him. He may be armed.”

“Brainstorm tells me I can disrupt any energy weapon.”

“But what if he has a projectile weapon?”

“Or a blade. I don’t know if my projected persona can generate enough physical power to deal with that.”

“I think you’re probably about ready to take on MC101, Bernice.”

“What’s MC101?”

“Follow me.”

A new scene opened up in front of the pair. It was a town in the old west. Bernice and Julian were standing against the bar of a saloon. Looking into the mirror behind the bar, Bernice recognised Julian’s persona as the form he took on her first appearance in Canada. She also recognised herself. “Hey, I’m me,” she whispered to Julian.

“Thought you’d appreciate it,” he responded with a smile, “now, look outside.”

Bernice looked through the saloon’s one window, but it was too soiled to be able to see anything. “I need to go outside to see what’s what. You coming?”

“No. You can do this. In fact, it’s important you do it alone.”

“Do what?”

“Some bad guys are about to ride in. Three of them. The sheriff will face them off and tell them to leave. One of them will shoot and kill the lawman. You must make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“And how, pray, am I supposed to do that?”

“Look into your connection. What weapons do you see?”

“Weapons? I ain’t got no weapons.”

“You don’t? None at all? Nothing to stop a bullet?”

“Hell, yeah! I’ll try that. AI says I can stop it in its tracks.”

“No good if it’s fired at point-blank range, though.”

“Which it’s likely to be if the target is Mia.”

“Precisely.”

“A-ha! MC101 you say? Does MC by any chance stand for mind control.”

“At this time, I can neither confirm nor deny that.”

“So it does. And what you’re telling me is that I have the power to control human minds.”

“You may very well think that, Bernice. I couldn’t possibly comment.”

“Right. I’ll try it.” Bernice started to walk towards the saloon door. Halfway there, she stopped and turned. “How exactly do I do that?”

“When the need arises, Bernice, you’ll know. You’ll know exactly what you need to do.”

Bernice continued out. Looking along the dusty road out of town, she saw three men approaching at speed on horseback. Each was carrying a rifle. Bernice looked back and saw the town’s sheriff standing defiantly, legs apart and a rifle in his hands. She looked around but saw no hidden backup gunmen although the majority of the men in town sported one or a pair of handguns in holsters hanging from their waists. The three men rode on. As they approached and she could see them more clearly, it became apparent that they were sporting more weaponry than she had realised. They each had the rifle in one hand, while the other was holding their horses’ reins; Each horse had an additional rifle in a holder attached to the saddle, and each rider wore a double holster, a sidearm on each hip, and an ammunition belt draped over each shoulder. The sheriff shouted something that Bernice couldn’t quite make out but which, judging by the way all the pedestrians disappeared into the nearest building, was clearly an instruction to clear the streets. As the three horsemen came closer, and in spite of the sheriff’s obvious objections, Bernice walked into the middle of the street and faced down the intruders.

“Out of our way, Lady,” the leader of the three said, “we ain’t got no quarrel with you, and your master won’t be too happy if we damage his property.”

As it happened, that was just about the best thing the man could have said. By stating plainly that he assumed Bernice to be a slave, he managed to hit the one spot that was guaranteed to put her in a combative mood. Using a power not dissimilar in effect to post-hypnotic suggestion, she first spooked the horses, causing them to rear violently. This threw the men off their backs, whereupon the horses ran off past the sheriff. Angered by this, but not knowing its cause, the three bandits jumped to their feet, recovered the rifles they had dropped and took aim for the sheriff. Bernice’s next action was to cause each of the men to see directly in front of him the thing he feared most. Almost predictably, two of the men saw herds of wild beasts charging towards them. Their leader saw a man in an advanced state of leprosy. In any event, the three turned tail and ran out of the town, chased by bullets from the sheriff’s rifle, before a hastily assembled posse rounded them up and deposited them in the cells.

The sheriff went into the saloon looking for Bernice, partly to find out what, exactly, she had done, but mostly to thank her for undoubtedly saving his life. Of course, by the time he arrived, Bernice and Julian were long gone.

The Dreamer — part 51

a tale in weekly parts

The story so far

Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.

And then it became more complicated…

Episode 51

Bernard had given no thought to what Mia’s apartment might have been like. If he had, he would probably have imagined a clean, light, neat, minimally furnished affair displaying a modest level of affluence tempered, of course, by extreme good taste.

He would not have drawn a mental picture of a room – no, a hall some twenty-five metres on each side and at least six metres high. He would never have imagined its walls to be lined with a dozen darkened alcoves, each one lit only by a lamp that would have given no offence to wartime blackout regulations. He would not have expected a black-cloaked woman to emerge from each of the niches, repeatedly chanting in unison, “Is this him? Is this him? Is this him?”

Confused, he looked at his companion, but it wasn’t Mia that he saw in front of him. Yes, the face was similar, but all traces of make-up were gone and, instead of the bright-yellow floral dress, she was wearing the same black, hooded cloak as the rest of the women.

She raised a hand, and the chanting stopped. “Yes, this is he,” Mia said, in a voice that reminded Bernard more of the archetypal evil temptress of cinema than the refined, educated young woman whose company he had so enjoyed for the past minutes.

As one, the women removed their cloaks and revealed themselves to be naked underneath – Mia, too. Dumbfounded, Bernard was unable to speak, move or, momentarily at least, even to think.

Still holding his hand, Mia guided him to the centre of the room where, in the middle of a pentagram formed from LED imitation candles, a cushioned, pentagonal platform rose. At about three metres across, it rose a metre and a half off the ground and was draped with what looked like white raw silk decorated with pentagrams of diverse colours.

“What is this?” Bernard asked when the cat finally released his tongue.

In reply, thirteen female voices chorused, “We want you. We want you. We want you.”

Bernard searched in his head for Julian, but couldn’t find him. He tried to access some memory, some information, anything that could explain to him what was going on here. He found nothing.

Seeing the despair on his face, Mia said, “The floor, walls and ceiling are OTG shielded – composites of mylar, copper and acetate.”

“OTG?” Bernard asked.

“Off The Grid,” Mia replied, “this is one of a very few places on the planet that are out of the reach of Brainstorm.”

“I didn’t know you could do that.”

“Look it up on… oh, you can’t, can you?”

Thirteen women sniggered.

“Come on, lover-boy,” Mia said, “you’ve got some fathering to do.”

The next morning, Bernard was unceremoniously thrown outside. Immediately he left the room, his mind was again flooded with the ubiquitous and overwhelming presence of the AI, the presence he had been denied for thirteen long hours. The scene around him dissolved and he found himself once again in the darkness of the AI’s circuitry, where he felt strangely calm and safe.

Julian appeared. “Did I or did I not tell you to tread carefully?” he asked.

“Did you know this was going to happen?” Bernard replied angrily.

“We knew that Mia’s apartment was shielded; of course we did; but because of that, we had no way of knowing what was inside. Now, your mind is telling me that something happened to you when you were in that place, something you’re having trouble coming to terms with. Although I can’t and won’t compel you, I would like it if you would tell me exactly what went on. It could be important.”

Bernard related everything that had befallen him between entering through Mia’s door and coming out again. He left out no detail and spared no blushes.

“Wait,” Julian said and disappeared from Bernard’s mind, only to return some minutes later. “It’s worse than we thought,” he said.

“What is?”

“Everything. In this timeline, Mia wasn’t raped by an evil person—”

“So I saved her, then?”

“Yes and no—”

“With reservations on both?”

“Precisely. You saved Mia from being raped, but you impregnated her and a dozen others—”

“How could I do that? I was a hologram, for God’s sake. Or are you telling me holograms are suddenly fertile?”

“It’s not clear. What is clear, though, is that thirteen young women are pregnant.”

“By whom? Bernard, Bernie… Bernice?”

“Stimbler!”

“What?”

“You heard. You somehow impregnated them with Stimbler’s seed.”

“But Stimbler is—”

“Evil, yes. Instead of preventing an unknown evil seed entering Mia’s womb, a known one has entered hers and those of a dozen other young women.”

“Sh—”

“Precisely.”

“What can be done?”

“I’ve run that question, and there’s only one answer. You have to go back to your first meeting with Mia and do it differently.”

“I don’t see what I could have done in any other way. If she’s in with that group and all the witchy stuff, what can I do to change it?”

“You’re still thinking linear, my friend. You’re still thinking of time like the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. You know, ‘Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ Linear.”

“That’s how most people experience time.”

“But that’s not how it is. You revealed yourself to Mia too soon. You engaged with her and set up the beginnings of a relationship. She veered a little from expectations when she agreed to have coffee with you. We didn’t anticipate that. When you asked her about her reputation for chastity, her response represented a major diversion from the primary timeline, which culminated in her home transforming from one typical for a young businesswoman to a witch’s lair.”

“Do I get the chance to start again?”

“It contravenes one of Brainstorm’s prime directives, but this is so serious, it’ll be allowed. But you must do it now. Not tomorrow, not even in five minutes. NOW.”

Bernice adopted a new persona: still Bernard Chowdhry, a twenty-seven-year-old single man of north Indian extraction, but now a uniformed officer in the New Singapore Police Service. He approached the young woman in the yellow floral dress, stood close to her but not face-on and coughed into his hand. “Excuse me, Miss,” he said, “Can I have a word?”