We, Who Dream
By: Steve Carr
Dr. Penrock's eyes shot open as if he had been jolted with an electric current. He sat bolt upright, gasping for air, his thin silver Mylar coverlet bunched up in his arms, its green and gold Hopeland insignia wadded in his tightly clenched fists. He shook his head, erasing the image from his brain of a sleep madness center overflowing with patients, and then realized that goosebumps had arisen on his arms from the cold air circulating in the bedroom. He glanced over at his wife, Lucia, who lay beside him on her sleep pad, curled in a fetal position with her coverlet pulled over her head. He threw his legs over the edge of his sleeping pad and pulled the coverlet around his shoulders before getting up and going to the window. He wiped condensation from the translucent plastic and looked down at Strength Avenue, ninety-seven stories down. A line of pedestrians stretched from the work transport pods all the way down the entire quarter-mile length of street, disappearing around the far corner. Even from a distance, he could see they were hunched and bowed, trying to fend off the icy winds.
"What's going on?" Lucia asked, peeking her bald head out from under her coverlet.
"The city's weather system is malfunctioning again," he answered, still staring out the window. "The outside has gotten inside."
"Luckily we live near the transport hub and don't need to be outside for very long," she mumbled as she rolled onto her back.
"The pods seem to be malfunctioning also," he said.
She groaned loudly and pulled the coverlet over her head.
"I have a meeting after work," he said. "So, I'll be home a little late."
She slid the coverlet down her face to just below her eyes and peered at him, owl-like. "Another damned meeting?" she blurted. "A meeting with who?"
"No one you know," he replied nonchalantly.
"Should I worry that you're having an affair with someone?" she asked with a nervous laugh. "Having a doctor who is a senior physician for a sex mate, even briefly, is highly prized."
"Is that what I am to you, a prize?" he asked.
"Not always," she answered with a giggle. "Sometimes you mumble gibberish while you're sleeping. It keeps me awake. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were having dreams." She then pulled the coverlet back over her head.
He turned from the window and let the coverlet drop to the floor. "Our apartment warming system should soon begin functioning at full capacity," he said, unable to disguise the uncertainty of his statement in his voice. He walked into the hygiene chamber and moments later sighed with relief as the cleaning heat transmitted from the walls of the chamber washed over his naked body, whisking away dead cells and any sprouting hairs. He squatted and released his body's waste products onto the floor of the chamber and waited until they evaporated under a disintegrating spray before stepping back out into the bedroom, feeling cleansed inside and out.
He opened the closet door and took out his doctor's one-piece white jumpsuit from a rod on which hung two dozen exact duplicates of his suit. He stepped into it, pulled it up his legs and over his torso, slid his arms into the wrist-length sleeves, and zipped it up. Before leaving the bedroom, he grabbed a white ballcap-styled hat from a rack of them and placed it on his shaved head and placed the coverlet back on the bed. As he left the room, he looked back to see Lucia peeking at him from under the coverlet.
In the kitchen he programmed the meal-a-tron to make a cup of black coffee and a slice of buttered toast. Moments later a slice of white bread floating in a bowl of boiling water appeared on the metal serving plate. A small puddle of butter mixed with coffee grounds sat beside the bowl.
He left his apartment and took the elevator to the building's lobby, running into Dr. Losche at the doors leading to outside. Dr. Losche was ten years younger and had just completed his internship at a sleep madness center on the other side of Hopeland. His left eye constantly twitched, as if he was winking at rapid speed. "Is anything in your apartment functioning properly?" he asked, blocking Dr. Penrock from going out.
"Our hygiene chamber is working, but that's about it," Dr. Penrock replied.
"Lucky you," Dr, Penrock said. "I'll need to get a cleaning at the center, which as you know, could get a doctor killed. There's no way to defend yourself when you're naked and aren't carrying a stun wand, is there?"
Dr Penrock couldn't stop looking at Dr. Losche's eye. The twitching was one of the first signs of sleep madness. He wanted to ask if Dr. Losche was taking the prescribed Colaxyn to halt the progression of the disease, but decided it wasn't any of his business and wouldn't be unless the doctor ended up on one of the wards of the sleep madness center where he worked. "You know the motto," Dr. Penrock said, "doctors serve until death." He hesitated before adding, "But no one tells us before we become doctors that it may be our patients who kill us in a fit of sleep madness rage."
The two men left the building and walked to the end of the end of line, passing dozens of other doctors, all dressed exactly alike, some that they knew, but most who were strangers who worked at one of the many sleep madness centers scattered around the city. The one advantage to being a doctor, was that given the vagaries of the city's weather-control system, their suits provided insulation against the cold and when needed, the heat.
Also, in the line were quite a few of the Orange Hats. Their bright orange uniforms stood out amidst the drab gray clothing worn by the pedestrians and in bright contrast to the white suits worn by the doctors. The Orange Hats wore dark orange-tinted sunglasses, orange helmets, and carried weapons strapped to their bodies. They didn't acknowledge or speak to anyone, not even each other. They were the eyes of the city. And the fists of the government.
Dr. Penrock stepped out of the transport pod, shook off the residual tingling sensation of having his body teleported at hypersonic speed in a matter of seconds, and walked across the paved grounds of the sleep madness center, following behind a small group of other doctors who had converged after arriving at different transport hubs. Their chatter was lively, but a repetition of most of the current talk about sleep madness.
"Why hasn't there been more pharmacological advances in treating sleep madness? Colaxyn treats the symptoms but does nothing to treat the underlying cause of the madness."
"Not dreaming is the cause of all this, plain and simple. It has been the problem since most people stopped dreaming or were born without the ability to dream over forty years ago."
"You can't fight the natural transformation and evolution of the human brain."
From inside the doorway to the center he turned and watched two Orange Hats chase a man across the lot. Neither they or the man said anything; it was just the slapping of their shoes on the pavement that echoed. The Orange Hats raised their weapons and fired, turning the running man into a million sparkling particles that hung in the air for a moment before vanishing.
He walked past two Orange Hats standing guard on the other side of the doorway and then had his retina scanned at the check-in desk to verify his identity, grabbed a stun wand from the rack beside the elevator and then took the elevator to the sixteenth floor. As soon as the door opened, he was tackled by a patient who pinned him to the floor and was preparing to bite him, and would have hadn't two other doctors intervened, subduing the patient with their stun wands. The patient lay on the floor, his entire body convulsing as they helped Dr. Penrock to his feet.
"Who is that?" Dr. Penrock asked looking down at the patient, a young man with a slight five o'clock shadow, something rarely seen.
"He was brought in last night practically bouncing off the walls. We assumed it was sleep madness. We didn't know he was a dreamer when we hooked him up to a neuro-helmet. We see so few dreamers anymore," one of the doctors, a female with a large bruise on her right cheek, replied. "The quickest way to turn a dreamer violent is put a neuro-helmet on their head. It's a dead give-away that someone is a dreamer and not suffering from sleep madness."
"Save me from the textbook lesson on sleep states," Dr. Penrock said. "What's the ward count?"
"We released six, but eleven more were brought in. We're overflowing once again. We haven't another neuro-helmet available on this ward." she answered.
"And we're running low on Colaxyn again," the other doctor added.
Dr. Penrock glanced down at the young man on the floor who had stopped moving. "Treat him and then release him," he said to the other doctors.
"Shouldn't we turn him over to the Orange Hats?" the female doctor asked. "These dreamers are a danger to society."
"I said treat and release him," Dr. Penrock replied, sternly. "I'll take a look at the new arrivals before doing the usual rounds." He walked down the corridor and before entering the ward saw the two doctors kneel down next to the man on the floor.
By the time Dr. Penrock left work the city had fixed its weather system and the outside air was balmy and slightly breezy. He avoided the transport hub, noting from a distance that it hadn't been fixed and a long line stood waiting for the next available pod to appear. He walked briskly for several blocks before turning into an alleyway, one of the few holdovers from before the city was almost entirely modernized. He stood at a metal door for several minutes before tapping on it with his knuckles. The door was opened slowly by a middle-aged woman who wore a bright blue scarf wrapped around her bald head. They didn't speak as he walked in. She shut the door behind him. Wordlessly they walked down a dark, narrow hallway where at the end they stopped at another door and waited a few moments before it opened. The room they entered was lit by floating light-globes that cast dancing shadows on the old brick walls. The smell of age and dust hung in the air. Seated around an old overturned crate were three other women and two men of various ages. Dr. Penrock and the woman with blue scarf sat down with the others.
"They mean to kill us all," Thomas Sturgill said from his seat at one end of the crate. "We're perceived as a threat to a non-dreaming world."
"We know that," Carly Tillis, a young woman with sunken cheeks and dark rimmed eyes, said. "Is there anything we can do?"
"I only recently started dreaming," said one of the other women.
"Me too," said one of the men.
Dr. Penrock shuffled nervously in his chair. "Same here."
"I've been a dreamer my entire life," Thomas said, "and unfortunately I have no idea why a few of us are born dreaming and others like you three don't start dreaming until later in life, but the outcome is the same if you're not very careful. The Orange Hats have orders to disintegrate you without question if you are found out." He looked at Dr. Penrock. "Can you tell us anything new, doctor?"
Dr. Penrock cleared his throat. "Sleep madness is pervasive, and it is directly related to the human brain no longer producing dreams, but nothing can be done about it. We treat the madness but can't induce dreaming."
"What does that mean?" Carly asked, on the verge of tears.
"It means that we, who dream, aren't going to be permitted to live in a world where dreaming has become virtually non-existent," Thomas replied.
The young woman who had said she had only recently begun dreaming, meekly raised her hand. "Excuse me, but I've been keeping that I dream from my husband, but I think he has become suspicious. He says I talk in my sleep. He has bought into the propaganda that dreamers are dangerous and should be reported. What should I do?"
Thomas turned to Dr. Penrock. "I know of no way to hide that we dream other than keeping our mouths shut about it. You know of anything else we can do?"
Dr. Penrock thought about Lucia. "Just pray that our loved ones don't see us as the monsters we're portrayed as."
Dr. Penrock stood outside his apartment building and stared up at the gleaming metal of its one hundred and thirty floors. In the darkness of early night, the light in the windows glowed soft and welcoming. When he opened the doors to enter the lobby, Dr. Losche, who was standing at the elevator, turned and gazed at him with glassy, vacant eyes. His left eye was no longer twitching.
"When I saw you this morning, I was worried you were coming down with sleep madness," Dr. Penrock said.
"I took a larger than recommended dose of Colaxyn," he replied, his speech slurred. "The dosage could have killed me but better that than having the insides of my head scrambled by a neuro-helmet. Some people are never able to remember even the smallest details afterward. It could have meant the end of me being a doctor."
"I'll be home the rest of the evening, so call me if you need anything," Dr. Penrock replied.
"You're such a nice guy," Dr. Losche said. "It's a shame about your wife being a dreamer."
"A dreamer? What are you talking about?"
"She told me so herself when I ran into her on the street as she was coming home from work. She didn't want to upset you but wanted a doctor's opinion on what she could to to stop dreaming." Dr. Losche leaned against the wall and pushed the elevator button. "It's too bad I had to call the Orange Hats, but it's our civic duty to report dreamers, isn't it?"
Dr. Penrock grabbed Dr. Losche by the collar, shook him as hard as he could, unable to find the words to express his anger, and then tossed him aside just as the elevator door opened. He leapt into the elevator and bolted from it as soon as it reached his floor. He opened the door to his apartment just as another elevator at the opposite end of the hall opened and several Orange Hats stepped out.
Lucia was standing in the middle of the living room.
"You're a dreamer?" Dr. Penrock asked her, slamming the door closed and running to her.
Her eyes opened wide, searching his for clues to his feelings. "I was afraid to tell you," she said.
Just then the door was kicked open by the Orange Hats.
The only thing he could think to say to her was, "What do you dream about?"
"I dream about you, my love" she replied as the Orange Hats raised their weapons, aimed them at her and turned her into particles of quickly fading light.