I don't know where I am or what year it is. Doesn't matter because I've been training. I got this. So when I look over and see Stanton, I lift my chin up in greeting.
"Hey, dude" he replies.
Stanton carefully holds two keg cups. I watch him gingerly pick his way across the floor. When he sits down on the couch, beer sloshes into his lap. Stanton looks down, confused. Then he laughs and lifts a cup at me.
"Drink, fucker!" we chime in unison.
We drink cheap keg beer. I take a sip because I'm drunk and lazy. Too lazy to stand in the beer line. Stanton pounds one beer and tosses the cup on the floor. He belches and looks around, annoyed.
"Probably taking a shit" I answer.
We both start laughing and toast each other again. My brain knows our obese, red-headed friend Duncan Herschberger is famous for huge bowel movements. Usually in social settings.
"What's so funny, guys?" asks Herschberger suddenly appearing.
"You! Fat ass!" mocks Stanton. "Where were you?"
"Gettin' my drink on!" grins Herschberger. "What's up with you pussys?"
Stanton suddenly stands up. His face is flushed and he staggers backwards but Herschberger props him up. He points at a guy who walks in holding a bottle of vodka.
"It's Schmidt!" Stanton bellows. "He's got weed! Schmiddy! You gotta sack?!"
"About the biggest fucking sack you ever saw!" yells Schmidt grabbing his crotch.
Stanton lurches off, spilling more beer. He grabs Schmidt and they walk outside.
"Kade?" asks Herschberger, holding an imaginary joint to his lips. "You in?"
I shake my head. Work order says attend Sorority party. Consume six or more alcoholic beverages. Snort speed with emos by railroad tracks.
"Hey" says the deadpan voice.
We look up. It's my boss. Right on time.
Drea is a short, chunky, gloomy girl in black. Pretty much the exact opposite to the sorority girls around here. But no one seems to notice or care. This is the weirdest Dream yet, thinks Kade.
"Dre!" bellows Herschberger.
"Duncan" she smiles.
"You know, Drea" smirks Herschberger, "I think I should date emo chicks. What do you think about that?"
"I think you'll need to ditch that stupid hat" she says.
"Aw" pouts Herschberger. He takes off his Linkin Park hat and looks at it sadly. "I'll sacrifice it for love."
After Herschberger leaves to get stoned, Drea sits next to me and we recap.
"How many beers?" she asks.
"Eight" I respond. "Well, maybe seven. I spilled a few times."
"Good progress" she nods. "Well, lets wrap this one up. It's time to go snort speed."
Drea's tribe wears only black. The emos. I stand out. But like my boss at the sorority house, I somehow fit in. I joke with them, mock my friends and snort their speed. The icicle stabs my brain. I swoon in the head rush and scream obscenities at a freight train. A low, half-moon makes our skin glow.
Another job well done.
More training. Deceased cultures and the bizarre landscapes of the planet flash into Kade's brain. Program builds the past from archives of video, images, files and whatever else the machines carried to space. A majority of the Dream requests come from a time period that existed about 1,700 years ago. Some of the ghosts were actually alive then. A thought that never fails to make Kade's skin crawl when he enters their Dreams.
"Never forget the five senses" lectures his boss. "Senses make the Dream! Let's discuss taste and smell. All you know is Town air. Pure oxygen-"
There is a POP! A blue orb appears. Kade sighs. It's his DAB.
"Supervisor Drea!" speaks the DAB conversationally. "Hello. My name is Steve."
Drea frowns at the blue orb.
"100% oxygen is actually toxic," it continues. "Town air is comprised of 78% nitrogen-"
"Not now," mutters Kade.
"Oh. Sorry." The blue orb POPs back to nothing.
The silence is awkward. Drea stares. Kade squirms.
"You!" she says pointing. "You're a criminal!"
"Orbs track criminals! Why isn't that in your file?!"
"I don't know," Kade shrugs. "I'm not a-"
"Why's it blue?" demands Drea. "The DCE are red."
"DCE?" asks Kade.
Drea rolls her eyes. "Drone Compliance Enforcers! Criminal trackers! The red orbs!"
"Oh" says Kade. Some of his friends have red orbs following them. Stupid Program never told him what it meant.
"What is that thing?" demands Drea. "Am I in danger?"
"Danger?" Kade says confused. "No, Drea. It's just my DAB."
"DAB? What does DAB stand for?"
"DAB stands for...uh..?" ponders Kade. He shrugs. "It likes to be called Steve."
After 99 supervised Dreams, Kade had to do 100 alone. He looked at the menu and picked one at random. A nostalgic Dream.
He appeared with a cup of coffee in his hand. The first thing he felt was the wind. A violent wind, screaming. The winter chill tore at his clothes. He stood before the Ferry Building. He looked around, found the the pier and walked out to the view. Across the choppy, wind whipped sea stood a bridge. The Bay Bridge. This was the Dream target.
Kade was supposed to lose himself in the Dream. So he did. He smelled and tasted brine from the bay. His kept his hands warm from his coffee. He observed. Shadows lengthened as the planet rotated away from the giving star. Solar beams pierced the atmosphere at odd angles. Kade bathed in hues of fiery orange, pink and purple.
The ancestral home, he thought.
Then noise. A slapping fury of feather and bird screams shattered the spell. Kade looked down the pier. A tall, slender girl with pink hair, held her hand towards the painted sky. Seagulls hovered and swirled around. She fed the birds, one by one.
"Forgot about your bridge?" questions a voice behind him.
Kade turns and sees a man. A nondescript man.
"What?" asks Kade.
"Abomination" says the man turning away from the pink haired girl. "That was what they called you right?"
"I'm sorry but you have mistaken me for-"
"There are others you know" continues the man. "People in Dreams that know we're not real."
"Who are you?"
"A Dreamer! Like you," smiles the man. "I just thought I'd pop in and see if there's anything you want?"
"Want? Like what?"
"Like do you want to know what would happen if I threw you off this pier?" smiles the man. "Do you think Program will teach you how to swim?"
The man started to walk forward.
"Did you know Dream violence or death can actually kill you? Your heart can only suffer so much. Though Program would probably save you" muses the man. "But what if Program failed?"
Kade realized he was edging backwards when he felt the pier railing behind him. The man stood before him.
"I would like to shake your hand" smiles the man reaching out to Kade.
Kade flinches and then POP! The blue DAB appears.
"Stop!" it commands.
Kade and the man look up. The DAB hangs between them. It's voice is different, thinks Kade. It sounds more menacing.
"Now how did you do that?" the man laughs. "Very impressive!"
"Final warning!" barks the DAB.
The man steps back from Kade and casually leans against the railing. He looks over the edge at the chaotic, green sea.
"See you Kade" he says.
Then he vaults over the railing. Kade looks over the railing. The man's face stares up at him as he falls. He winks right before he hits the water. Then he's gone.