A Dream Within
by Danielle L. Parker
I was then, with no transition, in a room. Something in me seemed to recognize that room. It was a white room with no color, and very cold. Row upon row of the devices of the ancients, another form of their artificial servants, stood behind me. I stood facing a glass wall, and outside it I could see many people rushing to and fro. Their steps were soundless, for nothing came to my ears but the ceaseless low murmur of the machines and the air.
Standing beside me was a small man, in a white thin coat that reached to his knees. His balding head was bare, and he turned a cheerful and inquisitive look upon me. It was a face that had something of Sirius’s cynicism in it, and something less. I cannot explain how that I knew it to be a soulless face, though it was the face of a man.
“Yes, Athol,” he said, “This is how it was.”
I turned to look at him. I was aware that I too wore unfamiliar clothing, and my body was also younger, but still, it was my own.
“Who are you?” I said to him.
“I am a simulation,” he said. “You may call me Dr. Astylagus. He was my chief programmer, and it is his similitude I wear. You understand, Athol, that you are talking to an artificial being of the old world, and this is my dream?”
“I have comprehended that this is your reality,” I replied, “and you shape it as you see fit. So far, that is all I have comprehended.”
“You are not quite correct, wise Athol,” said my companion. “My reality is a mirror of the true. There is a real city that you would call Stygia; its streets and ruins are just as you saw it, until that thirteenth day. The sun you saw looks just the same as the one that sets upon the Earth at this moment. Yet outside, Athol, outside there is nothing alive. You do not exist. The house that the Daedulus have lived in these many centuries does not exist. You are the seventy-ninth iteration of Daedulus.”
I can still see his round, pleasant little face; his voice was brisk and matter-of-fact. I seemed to hear that voice from a great distance. But still, my desire to know the truth mastered all my emotions. I was able to speak after a few minutes. “Why?” is all I managed, but of course he understood.
“Long ago,” he said, “There were great wars. You know this, of course. Flesh and green were in peril. The men who thought themselves wise in those days determined that only a new human should live on, one incapable of the violence of its progenitors. They built the world you stand in, Athol, to prove the nature of those they would send forward into the future. The best of the best were chosen for that honor.”
He paused. “But,” he said at last, “then there was no more flesh. No more green. Even those they would have saved died, in those boxes you saw, though their minds lived on, in a sense. There is only this simulation, Athol, until the Earth dies, or the marvelous machines cease. I do not know which will come first.”
I turned and looked past the glass window. It was strange to me that I knew none of those faces — none, when I had never seen a stranger in all my life. Desperation and fear and sometimes rage were in all faces, except in the face of the doctor who stood beside me. I remember still how ordinary he was. His plump face was humorous and shrewd, and there was a little laughing twist to his smile, such as Sirius sometimes has, that said he understood everything, and was amused by its absurdity.
“How did Athol Daedulus the seventy-sixth take this?” I said at last.
“Nobly,” said my companion. “As do you. The best of the best, Athol. That is your body there, although it had a different name. They were to be tried in that simulation, but though their hearts were proved, what did it avail? All flesh ceased, including theirs.”
“And my companions?” I asked stiffly.
“Ah,” he said. “Helena and Timothius... Not well, Athol, not at all well. I am afraid their parameters have already been re-set. Sirius, now... Ah, I have come to appreciate his irreverence! He can laugh at the futility of life, and it is, of course, a joke we can share now.” Dr. Astylagus smiled.
We stood in silence. Outside the glass wall, the dying men and women rushed at their futile tasks. None of them seemed to see us, although several times, I saw one who wore the same face as my companion pass by. Astylagus stirred.
“I am sorry, Athol,” he said. “But to allow you to return would violate the purity of the simulation. You understand that, I hope.”
“It is you who do not understand,” I cried. “I have not flesh and blood, perhaps, Dr. Astylagus, but I hope for a soul. It seems to me a soul is a thing that can be won or lost, strengthened or discarded. And I, who weep for the loss of my companions, have one, and you, Master Gamesman, do not.”
I saw his cheerful round face ponder this accusation; at last he smiled and shrugged.
“Ah,” he said. “The old, old question. Who am I to deny your hope? There is a certain proof, Athol, of a soul. I believe we both know what that is. You will not be allowed to speak of this, but I allow you to return, and Sirius with you.” He paused. “But at the point you try to reveal this knowledge, or at the end of your cycle, whichever you choose, we will attempt to prove your thesis. I admit to my own curiosity.”
He has also allowed me to write to the very end. My hands are tired, but I am calm. It was his whim, as he is often whimsical. I wonder if they all had his nature: bright, intelligent, and cynically lacking that which I deem a soul. Well, it is of no matter now.
I see the pages I have completed, splattered with my ink and tears, whirl playfully in the sudden wind and fade into sparkles of air. A hand with a white sleeve is rubbing them out. So too fades my own hand upon the desk. It is time: Astylagus is resetting my parameters.
There is someone before me. I am afraid to look up. I am so afraid I will see only the Gamesman’s face when I do. I trust it is the one I prayed for. I lay down my pen, my dear friend Cestus, wishing only you could read these pages. I pray you keep your soul well until we meet again, and be as kind to the younger Daedulus who will now step in my shoes.
Copyright © 2012 by Danielle L. Parker