My name is Alex Roglitz. You probably have never heard of me, and that’s for the best, really. I work for an organization called ArtReal. You wouldn’t know them unless you’ve driven past the building, and since it’s out of the way, that’s pretty unlikely, although you may have seen the name in the newspapers before. I’m also employed by StarNet, which you probably have heard of, since it’s our job to keep you safe from any aliens visiting the planet. I’m a xenophobe; I really, really, really despise dealing with aliens. Space aliens. They abducted my mother when I was five. Did I join StarNet to find the bastards that took her? Maybe take out a little pent up rage on them? Well, I can’t honestly deny it. I actually wanted to be a plain, New York City police detective, figuring my telepathic talents would make me a shoe-in. If I couldn’t help myself, then maybe I could help others in times of need. But my psychic test results were faxed over to ArtReal, and now my badge has a tiny map of our solar system worked into its design, all gold with the third planet picked out in silver. So vengeance wasn’t my initial plan…things just worked out that way. StarNet keeps several counselors on staff to try and weed out the guys who’d rather play it fast and loose and lie on the reports they file at the end of the day. I should have been yanked and discarded with the rest, but my psychic ability makes me valuable; if nothing else, it aids tremendously in communication with species whose first language is as far from anything spoken on Earth as German is from Navajo. Then some brainiac decided to hand me a weapon unlike anything that had ever been developed before.
They call her Quasar number 169. Technically, she should be Double A Quasar number 1, but they decided to keep numbering them as they created them, and 168 of them were just completed fields in a database by the time Amanda came around. ArtReal picks the names. I don’t know how they come up with them. She had a real name once, back before she agreed to the Quasaring procedure and became what she is today. Oh, you’re thinking a quasar is a space anomaly, right? A quasi-stellar object, or QSO as astronomers recognize them. ArtReal turns ordinary human beings into quasi-realities, or Quas-R’s. They have, over a span of decades, found a way to liberate a person’s dream self with all dream abilities intact so that it can operate within the wakeful realm. A hundred and sixty-eight of them were at least somewhat transparent, ghost-like in appearance, their bodies kept alive back at the lab while their consciousnesses roamed the streets paired with one of the three people trained to work with them; the Quasar Force. They had a life span of up to two weeks because soon after that their brains, left in a coma-like state, would begin to liquefy. You see, working with beings from other cultures, other planets, is tricky. You can’t just yell, “Freeze!” and expect them to fear Tazers or bullets or pepper spray if those things have no effect on them. The Quasars, convinced they’re only dreaming, are pretty fearless whether they’re facing down an enraged, thirty-foot Tauran, trying to calm a five hundred pound, eight and half foot tall Leonid, or going head to head against a ten foot long, shapeshifting Capricorn. I mean, who’d be afraid of anything if you could fly like Superman, or melt through walls and floors like Caspar the Friendly Ghost? What could stop you if you could become invisible at will, had telekinetic abilities like Carrie, or could suddenly sprout up as tall as King Kong?
What’s to stop the Quasars from running amok and taking over the world? Well, just like the rest of us when we dream, they’re not the brightest bulbs in the package. They sometimes say and do odd things, they’re not known for their amazing attention spans, and if they’re distracted enough they even sometimes just wander away. That’s where I come in. I’m a commander on the Quasar Force, badge 003. While they’re being brainwashed or hypnotized or whatever it is they go through, the candidates are pre-programmed with a crush on their handlers to be. That makes them loyal toward us, makes them protective, and in my specific case makes everything a little more complicated….
You see, Amanda, Quasar 169, didn’t leave her body to materialize as a sometimes solid apparition in the wakeful realm. Somehow her body transformed along with her mind. So there’s no slowly dying body in a glass containment case. She’s as physical as you or I. We’ve been partners for a couple of years now—no one knows her lifespan although guesses of five to seven years get tossed around since that’s how long the average person spends in REM, the dream-state, during an average lifetime. That’s where the designation AA comes in. She was a mistake. They’ve made a couple more like her since then, but not without horrendous complications. Like most people, she doesn’t appear exactly as she would before she was Quasared. We tend to think of ourselves as a bit better looking than we actually are, so our dream selves are almost more like the attractive actors who looked the most like us when they were casting our nightly plays. In her case, Amanda happens to look about fourteen. She would have had to’ve been eighteen to sign the consent forms, so I guess she’s somewhere in her twenties, close to thirty now, but she looks fourteen…and that’s where the awkwardness comes in. Remember when I told you the Quasars have crushes on their handlers? Remember when I told you that I’m telepathic? Geeze…it ain’t easy working with a teenager who thinks she’s in love with you when you’re aware of her thoughts and emotions like they’re your own. I sometimes tell people she’s my daughter, my niece or whatever, but she doesn’t always act like it. So I sometimes have to try and convince myself that I don’t have a crush on her—that it’s only her feelings for me that I’m reacting to, shouldn’t be reacting to…and then sometimes I find myself admitting that I’ve fallen hopelessly in love.
Why does she look fourteen? The scientists with ’Real say it might be that she had a low self-esteem, so she doesn’t see herself as a confident, mature woman. Or maybe she possessed a playful, impish nature that made her feel childlike or kittenish, and that got translated as immature when she transformed. Perhaps she was immature, had some kind of social development issues. Maybe she was a virgin. They say she experienced a nightmare right before she awakened, body and mind still united with her mind the dominating force of her existence. Maybe she felt helpless in that moment and regressed to a more innocent state. No one really knows what happened. They’ve been trying to induce nightmares into Quasars since, but as I said, the ones they’ve tried it on intentionally have turned out with serious mental issues and needed to be destroyed. Amanda is a walking dream. Nobody needs their nightmares running loose in the city, dream abilities intact, terrorizing people as they please.