(This story was written in March 2017 then revised in April 2018)
I close my eyes and soon appear on the other side as my projected self. This is just a test run; I need to see if my new DreamCatcher can produce a satisfactory result.
Hovering hundreds of feet above a vast and desolate ocean, I summon two gigantic monsters. Two reptilian bipedal beasts—magnitudes larger than any creature to ever roam the Earth—slowly rise from the sea. Foamy tidal waves ripple outward as their emergence displaces water. Their top halves now above the surface, the monsters begin fighting. Each blow from their massive arms sends seismic waves that bend space. I pull the boundaries of the sea up around us until we are in a giant air pocket within a sphere of water. The space between the two monsters gets more corrupted as each exchange of attacks deflects pixels off their scaly, now oozing torsos. I turn a single speck of these showering colors pitch black. The black hole expands to absorb the monsters within seconds. The walls of water spiral upwards and condense into the hole as the scene turns abruptly to black.
I wake up and gently pull the cord from the Cerebral Interface (CI) port on the back of my head. Excitedly, I hurry over to the DreamCatcher and output it to the wall monitor. A holographic display appears in front of me, allowing control of the “camera”. The video starts playing and it appears exactly as it did in my head. I spend a few minutes fiddling with the camera angles then save the result.
Everyone’s gonna fucking love this.
I upload it to oTube (the Omnis video-sharing service) with the title “Sea battle dream” and get back in bed for some real sleep.
I awaken the following morning, greeted by the pale light of the sun’s rays penetrating the smoggy sky into the slits between the blinds of my only window. Rolling over to check the time on my cubic bedside dock, I notice that the yellow indicator is flashing.
I wonder how many people saw my video.
I tap the only button on the plastic cube and my dashboard is projected into the air. Here I can see notifications from all of my online accounts in addition to news relevant to my interests.
“Analytics for last oTube upload.”
Statistics are displayed on the green holographic dashboard. The video already has 42,336 views and 1,288 devices are watching it at this moment.
“Show me referral data.”
The data shows that there was a huge spike in views 2 hours ago, with almost all of them originating from a link posted on oNiT—Omnis’s aggregator site for user-generated links and content. The post title: “Insane DreamCatcher video – fake or not?”. People in the comments section are baffled. Many are skeptical of the true origin of the video, with some thinking that it would turn out to be a surprise marketing campaign for a movie. Amused, I press the button again and the display disappears.
I fold up my bed and walk a few feet to the other side of the micro-apartment to take a bottle of NutriLent from the fridge. The dense beverage tastes like… well I have no basis of comparison since it’s all I’ve ever eaten. At least it’s free. Since society replaced almost all jobs with automation, scarcity has become a thing of the past. The government provides all of the jobless with a fixed income, housing, and NutriLent. Of course, there’s a catch. We have to provide a certain service to keep living off the government teet. At night, all of us peons must connect our CI ports to a wall feeder outlet. The intelligence of our robotic workforce is powered by the parallel processing of our brains, nothing artificial about it.
I was born shortly after this plan came into place and have constantly wondered why we continue this charade. We destroy the environment to sustain our meaningless lives. Without struggle, mankind has grown complacent and lazy, seeking only entertainment. The creative minds are dwindling under the idiosyncratic oppression of utter leisure, and there’s nothing I can do about it. The only time I feel truly free is when I dream.
I sit in my chair intending to play Metronomicon (a rhythm game with RPG elements), but after I power up the computer, a message pops up from a user with the nonsense name “nk6u7t6xkp”.
Vis, I’ve been watching you. I know about your talent, and I know that you are tired of this world. If you want to get answers, meet me at the attached coordinates at 1PM.
How does this person know my name?! How are they “watching” me? I briefly try to convince myself that this is just some prank, but then I look up the coordinates and see that they point to the hyperloop station right around the corner from my building.
It’s 12:45. With some hesitation, I get dressed and leave.
I exit the door of my apartment complex and I’m greeted by the bleak cityscape that has enveloped me my whole life. Each building on the block towers to the same height, their brutalist architecture dividing the apartments with vertical and horizontal slats protruding off the gray concrete exterior. Dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers that house the city’s inhabitants, I’m just another ant. Except I’ve never been in tune with the hive mind, and now I feel that I may be leaving the colony altogether as I venture down the sidewalk towards the station. Passing dozens of sleepy faces, I hear not a single conversation. I’m soon at my destination. A big ugly white dome, smooth on top, standing in abrasive contrast to the straight lines of every adjacent structure. The electronic screen above it reassures passersby that Omnis has your back.
Entering the familiar building, I find myself surrounded by crowds of people hundreds of feet below a ceiling marred only by long parallel strips of LED light. A dozen pods—each big enough for 200 people—are down the stairs at the opposite end of the room, ready to zoom under the city at supersonic speeds. I feel a hand tap my shoulder and turn around as my heart rate soars. It’s a lady with a face only a few years older than mine, flowing black hair, and piercing eyes with mismatched irises: one green and one blue.
“We can’t talk safely here, so I need you to plug this communicator into your CI port,” she says.
“What?! I don’t even know you.”
“Yes, but I know you,” she replies, “and if you want to be more than just another digital zombie, you need to do this.” She brandishes a black, rectangular dongle, no thicker than a millimeter and attached to a male CI interface.
“Prove that you’re not just some scammer. What do you know about me?”
“You never knew your parents. You were raised by your uncle Rufus until he disappeared mysteriously 10 years ago. You started toying around with a music production program a couple months ago but got lazy the few weeks, choosing instead to spend your time playing Metronomicon and browsing oNiT.”
I reluctantly plug the dongle into the port, where it’s hidden behind my hair.
“My name is Sanja, by the way.”
I’m visibly startled as those words come from inside my own head.
“We can communicate telepathically through an encrypted channel now,” Sanja explains. “Just talk to me like you normally would. Minus the vocalization,” she says with a grin.
“Will do,” I respond. “Now can you explain what’s going on?”
She starts walking towards the pods and I follow.
“So, Vis, you can control your dreams?”
“Yeah, how did you know?” I respond.
“I’m an Omnis intelligence agent. I was given orders to oversee you several months ago when you posted on oNiT about your dreams. What you experience is referred to as ‘lucid dreaming’, since you’re aware that you’re in a dream. This has always been a rare skill. However, almost no one born since universal automation is capable of it, and as far as we know, no one else can actually control their dreams as well as you.”
“Why?” I ask.
After descending the stairs, Sanja steps into the leftmost pod (TO NICETOWN, the screen above its door reads) and I follow. It’s white and shaped like the head of a sperm for minimum drag. We sit down in the two seats closest to the door facing sideways in one of the two opposing rows.
“Because humanity is being coddled into a primitive state. The struggle used to be an integral part of the human experience; it was only through pain and hardship that people learned to channel their creativity and bring meaning to the world around them,” she explains. “The disappearance of lucid dreaming is just a byproduct of the atrophy of our brains. This whole thing was Omnis’s plan all along; a dumb, sedated populace is ripe for control.”
The pod lurches forward. The g-force of the hyperloop combined with the confirmation of my worst fear makes me dizzy. Our conversation pauses for a few moments.
“So why did you contact me?” I hesitantly resume.
“I guess you could say I’m a double agent,” she says. “I’ve been collecting intel from inside Omnis with the hope that I could figure out how to save us. If everything continues this way, creativity and critical thinking will completely die out. I could sense your discontent since I started monitoring you.”
“I’m not completely sure how to fix all of this,” Sanja continues, “but I know that lucid dreaming has something to do with it since Omnis puts such a high priority on monitoring anyone who experiences it.”
The pod comes to a stop. We get out of our seats and exit into the station. It looks identical to the last one, but everything seems more sinister since Sanja told me the truth. How could Omnis knowingly destroy the most wondrous element of the human mind? I’m so impassioned that I accidentally blurt out loud.
“I’ll do it.”
My face reddens and Sanja laughs before she responds in my head.
“Then let’s go to my place. We have a lot of work to do.”