Previous: Chapter 2, “Caribous Snooze”
Sand took one more slow, measured look across the coffee shop. With a rough idea of the layout of the place—and which tables were occupied—he settled back into his chair and closed his eyes.
It was always easier to see with his eyes closed. Sand looked out over the coffee shop a second time and in the darkness behind his eyelids, dreaming images swam into focus. Everyone carries a subconscious version of themselves with them—self-image, avatar, dream self, call it what you will—and Sand could perceive those images, as he had, inadvertently, with the barista. Sand took a moment to savor the sight of a small frost giant serving large cups of hot coffee to customers. That was not something one saw everyday.
The other coffee shop patrons looked more or less as they did when Sand had his eyes open. The woman at the counter, for example. Confident, commanding, well-dressed, her dream self edged over into downright imperious, and the clothes she wore looked like their price tag had spontaneously sprouted an extra zero. She thought very highly of herself, indeed.
The man at the table to his left, in contrast, clearly suffered from self-confidence issues. He wasn’t all that bad looking, but his dream self was plain to the point of severity, and fidgeted constantly. You could tell a lot about a person by how they saw themselves in their dreams.
His dream image was also clearer than some of the others Sand could see. Not so sharp as it would be if he were truly dreaming, however. Daydreaming, perhaps. Or dozing, slightly.
He wasn’t the dreamer, though.
Without moving his head, Sand shifted his gaze to another corner of the coffee shop.
And found something staring back at him.
A soft beep awakened the technician. His head jerked up out of the cradle of his arms, breaking a small chain of drool that had held him tethered to his desk. Blinking, he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“Hello,” he said, squinting at the too-bright screen. “What do you have for me, then?”
Lysander Scot’s sleeping face gazed back from beyond the pixelated prison of the screen.
It was a mask.
Lysander stared at it.
It stared back.
Or rather, it seemed to. There were no eyes, just two empty spaces where eyes might otherwise be. The rest of the face was smooth. Expressionless. Just a simple, white mask. A simple white mask in the crystal clear focus of a deep dreamer.
It gleamed, surrounded by a jagged aura of white light. It hovered almost-but-not-quite over the face of a young man sitting next to the door. A young man who was, last Sand had seen him, very much awake and flirting with the young woman sitting across from him.
Her dreaming self was quite pretty, if indistinct. As Sand watched, however, a soft white light haloed her hair and a second mask began to slowly take shape. With a sharp twist, the mask suddenly snapped into full focus and jerked around to stare back at Sand.