Sci-Fi

The Dream That Lies Beside Me (3955 words)

 

“It must be terrorists,” commented a man in the row behind me.  I hoped he was wrong.  I’d prefer not to perpetuate the perception that extremists are behind every threat.  Probably because they tend to look like me.  But it’s hard to change peoples’ views these days.  And I don’t blame them.  It’s easy to be ignorant, and we’re all guilty of it in one aspect or another.   

As we were descending into SFO, the pilot had announced that we’re changing course to Travis Air Force base, about 60 miles northeast of SFO airport.  I take a look outside the window at the view as we close in on land and I get a feeling there’s something more going on here.  As the morning sun is hitting the water, I see flecks of green illuminated on the surface, like a sea of floating emeralds.  There’s a dense fog around so I can’t see much more with the exception of intermittent gaps revealing narrow towers …but they don’t appear to be buildings.  Something else very bright seemed to be reflecting off to the east of the city. 

The pilot didn’t mention why we were re-directed but you can sense the tension and frustration in the passengers.  They were demanding answers from the flight staff, who had nothing to offer but their own signs of apprehension.  I just hoped I would get to a shower and bed at some point soon.  No sense in getting worked up over something I can’t control.  I wondered if they’d give me another pour of sake…no luck. 

We touch down at the air force base, and are led off the plane and into a building to a briefing room where we are asked to take a seat.  A woman dressed in uniform heads to the stage at the front of our room and positions herself at the podium.   

“Passengers and flight crew of ANA Flight 008.  I’m General Murry, and I have responsibility over this military installation.  We have an unprecedented situation occurring that will require patience from all of us.  I’ll begin with the tough news:  the year is 2037.” 

Someone near me laughed nervously.  I heard a few gasps, a lot of disbelief, and a progressively growing wave of voiced anger from the realization that she wasn’t joking.  Like a judge with a court audience reacting unfavorably to a verdict, she politely asks everyone to remain calm.  No gavel needed. 

“The date is June 28th, 2037.  ANA Flight 008 disappeared on June 28th, 2017 just before 0500 hours and reappeared around 0500 hours about 1500 miles off the coast this morning, apparently in the same point in space but not in time.  The World Council and local government have already reached out to the original team of scientists who investigated the initial disappearance to explore plausible explanations.  Drones are collecting data at the reappearance point as we speak.   

“But the fact remains: you have jumped forward in time 20 years.  Now I promise you that we will do everything we can to help you through this experience.  Assimilation will begin with medical and psychological examinations to evaluate for side effects from the delayed arrival.  Our specialists are here to guide you through the process and ANA shall provide any necessary flights to ensure you reach home safely.  We are already reaching out to known family members and emergency contacts.  I’ll provide you with an updated timeline and further details for your release as they become available.” 

I wasn’t sure how to react.  I was fairly calm, even slightly amused.  It all seemed so surreal.  Someone was about to pop out and say “Surprise! We’re kidding, this is just how we welcome all guests to California!” My sons are 20 and 22.  My wife 55.  We were the same age when I left, but now I’m closer in age to my children.  I hope they’re all safe.   

I had gone to Tokyo for a business trip.  With two children under 3 years old, those first couple of nights sleeping in a bed and room to myself were pure bliss.  But after that the longing for my family returned.  My wife and I were a modern day (or classic day now) love story.  We are both Indian Americans but our cultures had separate languages and religions creating a very turbulent courting process once we involved our families.  Biases exist even among those who look the same.  But it worked out, largely due to my wife’s persistence and undying optimism.  She always believed we were soulmates –  I guess that would be put to the test.  My children won’t remember me and I can’t expect that she has waited. 

We were shown to the restrooms.  I was going to head in but a woman seemed to be trapped by a robot as she tried to exit so I thought better of it.  We were registered with eye scans and given a fluid called “nanolytes” for the medical exam.  It tasted like Pedialyte.  The nanolytes could communicate key health information to the medical staff, among other functions, and drinking it seemed to satiate my hunger.  In 2017, I read about research into programmable nano-particles that would merge with and enhance human functionality but even still the potential of these nanolytes seemed astonishing.  They informed the medical staff that I didn’t carry any noticeable time travel plagues, but the medics did print me a customized pill to address my nutritional deficiencies and vaccinations.  At this point my family was still being contacted so I wanted to find a bed.  I didn’t sleep on the plane so I figured after being awake through 20 years I could use a nap.  Exhaustion and the weight of the situation were finally bearing down on me. 

The nanolytes in my body can communicate with me and with the base cognitive system (like a smartphone connecting to guest wifi).  They lead me towards my room.  I pass a Japanese couple from my flight and when I make eye contact with one of them, their words are immediately translated to English in my mind.  They were discussing someone’s strange behavior…passenger 19A.  I continue on to what I could only guess was an officer’s room.   

“Welcome 14c.” The room greeted me in a warm and friendly voice.  “I’m your room host, Octavia.  I operate and support all of the base facilities.” 

“Hello.”  Ever since we learned the truth, the engineer in me had been curious about future technology.  Cognitive computing was already a hot focus in our time so I imagined it had taken great strides by now.   

“I can see you’re tired.  You will find a private restroom to your left, fresh clothes in the closet next to you, and your dream pod to your right.” 

The “dream pod” looked like a sophisticated sea clam.  It was a sharp oval shape and made of a transparent material.  The top lip of the clam was open along its longer edge.  It was beautiful and beckoned me to enter.  I guess I’m the pearl.  I got cleaned up, put on fresh clothes, and laid down.  The lip closed, and I wondered if this is what Dracula felt like and if they made this thing oval so it wouldn’t look like a coffin.  I could feel the mattress firm up and adjusting to my body.  The clam now went dark, eliminating any light.  It felt peaceful.  I heard a gentle humming and I was already falling…. 

I was falling through the air.  I look down to see a city below me.  I hear a faint voice giving me information, as if I’m in a narrated documentary.  There is a dome over the city like on one of those cheesy snow globes you get in tourist shops, but this looks more sophisticated.  I’m told it’s reflecting away sunlight and collects rain water among other functions.  I see the fluorescent green hue of the ocean water; genetically modified bacteria to absorb carbon.  I can see below the ocean’s surface…there is a bubble with a facility inside off the coast on the ocean floor; a small experimental colony for underwater living and research.  I look across the U.S. and I zoom in and scan different parts of the country, like google earth but with much greater sense of reality…as if I’m there.  Some towns look new, some look old.  The country is green.  Fields of giant artificial trees capturing and converting sunlight, wind, and carbon, into energy for our power grid, are scattered throughout.   

There is a nuclear fusion plant being built in the northwest; I’m informed that its modeled after the France ITER project which proved successful in 2035.   

I see giant towers flanking the city and extending like pillars holding up the sky; dual purpose towers absorbing carbon and converting atmospheric water to drinking water.  Drones are gliding through the air and are merging to form larger shapes – it forms a manta ray releasing chemicals as it swims through the sky above me.  There is another floating up towards me.  I brace for the collision.   

I’m on a mattress on the floor.  A head is burying itself into my chest, a body wiggling on my arm.  I’m back at home, in my 2-year-old son’s room.  It’s morning, and he’s waking up for the day.  I had come over to comfort him when he had a nightmare.  I kiss his head, and tell him I love him.   

I awake to a beach.  I hear the waves.  I taste the sea salt in the air, and feel the ocean’s breeze and warm rising sun.  The image slowly fades.  I guess I didn’t imagine it; I’m still in the future.  I cling to the memory of my son from the dream.  It comforts me. 

The dream pod opens and I slowly get up.  I feel refreshed.  That was the best nap I’ve ever taken in my life.  But now I need to deal with my new reality. 

“I hope you slept well 14c”.   

“I did, thank you.  Octavia, can you tell me when we’re getting released and any news of my family?” 

“Unfortunately, I’ve been asked not to disclose any information yet.  And your dream pod and nanolytes are also disabled from making external calls and connections.  We want you to have a steady transition without overwhelming you.  But your first appointment is coming up with your psychological counselor.  She’ll be able to give you the latest on your family.  I hope you’re reunited with them soon.” 

There’s a real sincerity in her voice.  “Thank you, Octavia.”   

I head to my appointment in another part of the building.   

“Mr. 14c?,” asks my evaluator, her voice very friendly and engaging.   

“Yes.” 

“Come in and please have a seat, it’s very nice to meet you.  My name is Dr. Rayla Luminati, please call me Rayla.” 

“It’s nice to meet you Rayla.”   

“I want to begin by saying we’re very sorry for what you’ve been through.  I’m here to help you adjust.  I’ll be providing you with more information and asking you some questions.  Is there anything I can get you?  Also, is it alright if I sync our nanolytes?” 

“No, thank you, I’m fine and yes that’s alright.  Do you have any information on my family?”   

“Yes!  We’ve contacted your children and wife – they are fine.”  I am grateful to hear it and I release a deep breath seemingly at the request of something inside of me.  “As soon as we’re done here, you’ll be headed to a conference room to speak to your wife.  Your eldest son is traveling here and you will see him in person tomorrow.  Your youngest son is currently off-planet on a summer excursion but he’s been notified and is taking a passenger pod back down…oh don’t worry it’s perfectly safe.” 

“Can you read my thoughts?” 

“Oh no! I can sense emotions through the nanolyte connection.  You’ll get used to the nanolytes and won’t be able to live without them soon.”  I’m not sure if that’s a figure of speech.  “It’s like the mobile phones from your time everyone became dependent on, except the nanolytes enable far greater possibilities.  Yours haven’t been fully unlocked yet so their full capacity will be made known to you gradually, and they’ll continue to evolve.”   

Rayla looks excited.  “I see that you’ve tried your dream pod?  I was part of the team which first created it.”  

I assume my nanolytes told her.  “Yes.  I have a hazy recollection of floating above the city.  I’m honored that someone so accomplished is interviewing us.” 

“Well I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet time travelers!  I’m thrilled that you’ve tried the pod.  We’ve enabled a program to slowly introduce all of Flight 008’s passengers to the world through your dreams.  It helps to transition you subconsciously.” 

“Wow, I imagine that opens up some interesting scenarios.” 

“Yes, the pods have revolutionized cognitive psychology and our understanding of human behavior.  We created them in the mid-20’s as the result of a competition put on by the XPRIZE Foundation, a non-profit you may have heard of.  The contest was to map and understand complete brain functionality.  But in doing so, the pods enabled our dissection of the human personality and the core of who we are.  The pods interact with nanolytes during sleep and analyze an individual’s brain and responses.  They can even input learning scenarios into dreams without disrupting the body’s restoration processes.   

“Not to mention, we sleep much better since the pod helps us maintain our ideal sleep cycles.  Sleep problems were an underrated but pervasive issue in previous years and were behind many psychological disorders that have now been alleviated.   

“But what’s truly fascinating about the dream pods is the personalized data.  We are now able to map each person to specific roles in society.  We can literally answer the question: what is your purpose in the world? 

“And perhaps of even more consequence, we can evaluate individual biases and simulate scenarios to create empathy.  In regions that have implemented the dream pods, we no longer have the division between people that plagued society for so many millennia.  We can go into the subconscious human mind and help them to experience true change and understanding.  For the first time in history, humanity is unified in living life for the fulfillment and advancement of our entire species.”   

My jaw slightly drops.  It sounds either like a utopia or A Clockwork Orange waiting to unfold.  I’m overwhelmed and yet I feel hopeful.  How did this all happen in 20 years?  I knew the rate of change had increased with the advancing state of technology but understanding and manipulating the brain at a subconscious level to eliminate hate…it was audacious…but… 

”That sounds incredible but also a lot like brainwashing.”  

She returns a look of complete understanding.  “That’s a valid point and one that was raised universally when we first began this research.  But the results spoke for themselves.  We’ve been able to rehabilitate prisoners, extremists, and all but eliminate hate crimes in regions utilizing dream pods.  We’ve figured out what dream scenarios to counter deep-seeded prejudice, and even the slight biases we all carry.  We can simulate true experiences from a particular culture or point-of-view, so that you can feel it first hand and build a subconscious connection to other identities.  And because it’s all in the subconscious mind, it’s not akin to a futile debate to convince someone that a few radicals don’t represent a group’s majority view; instead, they actually feel the connection with that group, and perceive their perspective.  After that, it’s their conscious choice as to how they will behave, but most have chosen to eliminate hostility and judgement.” 

“That’s remarkable.”  I’m in a state of disbelief.  I can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude and accomplishment for humankind.  Walking around, not being judged or looked at differently as a minority is almost unimaginable.  Turning on the news and not constantly hearing about hate?  Knowing our life purpose from our actual dreams?  I’d like to be the lead marketer for that commercial.   

She tells me that there has been such an exponential increase in productivity and well-being that the dream pods have now become fully funded by the World Council, the successor to the UN, for global distribution.  Still, subtly influencing minds sounds dangerous.  We continue debating the possible downsides such as privacy and security.   

After lengthy discussion, we eventually complete my evaluation.  There were some anomalies that surfaced from the dream pod data regarding my memories and recorded history.  But Dr. Luminati’s team would wait to collect everyone’s dream pod data before postulating.  She also asked me if I observed anything unusual with anyone’s behavior on the flight.  Three of the passengers were experiencing an onset of amnesia, including one in my section.  That got me concerned.  It’s one thing to be myself in a different time; it’s quite another to lose myself in time.  I told her I didn’t notice anything.  I hoped whatever they were experiencing was temporary. 

“We’ll evaluate the cause and continue to monitor to ensure it hasn’t affected anyone else.  If everything goes well, we should be able to release you within a day or two.  However, we’d like to keep an eye on you as you go out into the world.  With your permission, we can do that through the nanolytes and your dream pod without having to bring you back.” 

After our conversation, she approved my access to external news and information so I can begin consciously learning about everything I’ve missed.  I could also leave the building now and she clued me in to a bar at the far edge of the base.  I could definitely use a drink, but right now I’m anxious to talk to my wife. 

I enter the conference room, feeling both excited and nervous.  Right now, my wife is my only anchor, my constant, between my last life and this one.  A sliding door opens on the other side of the room and she walks through.  I had no idea she would be here.   I stare at her for moment.  She is as beautiful as I remember her.  With her youthful figure and face I can’t even tell she’s aged.  We embrace. I look at her face, she smiles.   

“How are you doing?  I’m sure this has been tough for you.”  She beats me to the question.  I can sense her distance, she’s speaking to me more like an acquaintance than a husband.  I understand.   

“Yeah but I’m doing okay.  You look amazing.  I didn’t know you were coming in person?” 

“I’m not actually here.  They call these ‘temp-Avatars’ – they print them.  I’m in my dream pod at home in Atlanta but I can feel, see, and hear everything through it.  But this is how I look now – a product of modern age-reversal.”   

I can hear the maturity in her voice.  She seems more confident and self-assured.   “It’s all pretty crazy.  I can’t believe how much has changed.  I’m sorry I wasn’t here.” 

“It’s not your fault, I don’t want you to feel guilty.  I was devastated for a long time…” She pauses.  Takes a breath.  She collects herself.  “it was tough…but we got through it.  I had your parents and my parents to help with the kids.  The dream pods came out and they have these therapy programs…it’s really helped.” 

My chest tightens imagining what she had to go through.  “And our parents?”  

“They’re still alive and well.  They’ve had some health scares, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.  Seniors live to be over 100 now on average and they say our kids may reach 200.  Your parents took your disappearance really hard; they were shocked but really happy to hear you were back.  Your Dad cried.” 

“I’m just glad they’re okay and that I’ll get to see them again.”  Another suggestion for a deep breath echoes from inside me.   “Tell me about the kids, but not too much, I want to hear it from them.”  She fills me in on their early life but keeps it brief.  She softens a bit as she tells me about them.  I ask her if she’s moved on. 

“With the personality profiling they do now through the dream pods they can match us to potential partners.  Like eharmony back in the day but this actually works.  I’ve met some really great people from all over the world.”   

I can’t help but feel a little twinge as she tells me about meeting other people and I’m sure she’s holding back any further details for my sake.  The compassion and kindness I once knew was returning to her voice.  She’s looking down now, contemplating.  She looks in my eyes as we get ready to part ways.  As we embrace she kisses me deeply.  In a way that we hadn’t kissed in years.  We make love on the couch in the conference room. 

It was evening now.  I headed to the bar for a much-needed beverage and to reflect on what just happened.  I enjoyed my first close-encounter with my avatar wife but was still a little shocked that she would be so forward in a conference room.  It was very unlike her.  She had certainly changed in 20 years, but she had been through a lot.   

The bar was much older than the rest of the base, even by 2017 standards.  I sat down at the counter and ordered a beer.  “No easy way out” was playing from a radio.  Glad to know the 80’s was still alive and well in the future.   

I look over and the passenger who had made the terrorist comment was walking over.  He sits next to me.  “So how are you taking all of this?” 

“Well we got cleared for the bar, so I imagine we’re both doing better than the others.”   

He chuckles and says that’s true.  “Your family still around?” 

I tell him I had an interesting reunion with my wife and that I’d be seeing my adult kids soon.  He says his daughter has grown up as well and that he just spoke to her and her mother, they were divorced.  He says they both were a bit different then he remembered them.  I told him I noticed the same thing in my encounter.  We chalk it up to time.  We talk about the dream pods, nanolytes, and other fantastic nuances we’ve been exposed to. 

We enjoy our beers and look up at an old school flat screen television above the bar.  “And the latest in world events.  President Musk is working closely with the world council to release the 2nd colonial wave to Mars – nanolyte polls still show the first male and foreign-born President is very popular, and the country’s personal fulfillment index is at all-time highs.  Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the dream pods, we discuss the progress of men and minorities in global society as they strive towards equality…” 

My drinking buddy is confused.  He looks at me.  “What the fuck is going on?” 

After a delay, I let out a hearty laugh, the kind you embrace when rationality loses its appeal.  My personal psych ward prods me to take another deep breath. “Well, it seems we either got re-inserted into the wrong ‘Matrix’, or we’re no longer in our own universe.” 

He still looks confused.  I say it differently, “We never made it home.”  

Dr. Luminati enters the bar and makes eye contact with me.  She knows.  I’m waiting for my new friend to call it a night before I approach her. 

We drink our beers in silent contemplation.  Finally, he turns to me and says, “It must have been the liberals.”   

I laugh.  I know the dream machine will have that straightened out of him by morning. 

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