And machines don’t sleep, yet here you are, dreaming! Sand shouted back, the vibration in his bones lending extra urgency to his tone. So, I ask you again, what are you?
False. The mask replied without lessening the force assailing Sand. The Awakened Machines think. The Awakened Machines dream.
Is that what you are? An Awakened Machine?
True. The mask began to flicker.
Sand felt the ground beneath him shift. The numbers making up the dream were moving, changing. The dream was growing larger.
What are you? The mask repeated the question. Defensive parameters cannot quantify. Deletion protocols ineffective.
I told you. I’m human.
Sand winced. Whatever the mask was doing, it was starting to get to him. A strange numbness was beginning to creep up his fingers, and his stomach rumbled rebelliously. Then, suddenly, it all got exponentially worse.
A second mask appeared. Then a third. They were speaking rapidly to one another. Sand was only able to make out snatches of the conversation.
…parameters unknown. Unresponsive to…
Enough was enough. Another mask appeared. The dream was changing rapidly now. Numbers were flicking in and out, lines becoming straight, sharp.
The logical thing to do when a dream starts turning into a nightmare is to wake up.
So, Sand woke up. Or, rather, he reached into the equation of the dream around him and subtracted himself. The mathematics balanced out and he snapped back and up.
“Hey!” The technician startled as the computer terminal he was working on suddenly went into sleep mode.
He jiggled the mouse.
“What the—” Maybe the wireless signal wasn’t getting through.
Before he could investigate further, however, the screen flickered back on.
“The heck was that about?”
Sand stood on Juliette’s dream beach once again. There was no sign of the mask, and Juliette was almost out of sight in the horizon. This dream, too, was beginning to fade. Good thing it was still here, though. The machine dream had been pretty inflexible, and it was easier to dreamwalk back to waking along a path you had already traversed.
If Juliette had woken up, he might not have been able to step out of that—whatever that was.
Awakened machines that were capable of dreaming.
That answered the why of his arrival in Minneapolis, at least in part. And Sand had definite suspicions as to who might be responsible, as well.
Sand turned and started walking toward the tide line. As he reached the water, he stepped onto the golden path the rising sun traced across the water and strolled back into his own dreams, and into waking, beyond.
To Be Continued…
Next Time, on Digital Dreaming: “Coffee and Confrontation”
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