Chapter 5 - The Elsewhere
The Elsewhere is a place beyond the constraints of space and time. Some believe it to be removed from both; others believe that it encompasses all of reality at every point in time. Which of these is the truth is ultimately not important, at least not to the Dreamers who live there.
The Elsewhere consists of three main parts; the floating island upon which everything is situated, the forest surrounding the Elsewhere Mansion, and of course the Elsewhere Mansion itself, a towering pile of wood, metal, stone, and synthetics that has somehow come together in a mishmash of building styles to form a structure that is far more stable than it appears.
The mansion is divided internally into floors, each floor belonging to a particular Dreamer. Each floor has a social area that all of the Dreamers can access and a private area accessible only to those who the master of the floor allows. Floors are connected via a large number of 'gray rooms', which range from direct floor-to-floor passageways (stairways and the like), to needlessly complex (such as The Hedge Maze), to downright strange (such as The Tea Room, which is empty save for a snooty-looking butler type who always carries a glass of ice tea on a silver tray. I am told the tea is quite tasty).
While teleportation is possible within the Elsewhere, teleporting to the Elsewhere itself is impossible for all but the most skilled of Dreamers. Fortunately, we have an alternative: The CPD. The CPD (short for Conveniently Placed Door) isn't always convenient, isn't necessarily placed, and often isn't actually a door. It is, however, an opening that can be summoned by a Dreamer needing to transit between the Elsewhere and the realm we refer to as 'the mainstream'. While the creator of the CPD is considered another Elsewhere mystery, the residents of Elsewhere are certainly glad of its presence.
The door itself seems to be triggered by thought, usually a Dreamer wishing to transition between the Elsewhere and the mainstream. It normally opens to wherever the Dreamer in question wanted to go, but some of the stronger-willed Dreamers can 'lock' the Elsewhere side of the door in place, essentially making all incoming Dreamers arrive in the same place. This is why One arrived not on his own floor, but on the floor known as 'The Library'.
Looking around and seeing shelves of tomes both ancient and new instead of his collection of movies and games, One let out a snort. "Huh. Either my floor's been redecorated, or someone's a bastard."
"I heard that, One." Came the reply from somewhere beyond the stacks.
The books, always a bit on the skittish side, rustled slightly on the shelves. One eyed them warily, but the tomes quickly settled back into their places without incident. He navigated his way through the maze of books until he found himself in the main foyer of the Library. A large wooden table with a fine dark polish occupied the center of the foyer, surrounded by a wild array of chairs, each modeled after a certain Dreamer's idea of comfort. A large fireplace occupied the back of the foyer, a few brave books laying on top of the stonework to enjoy the warmth. They weren't the only ones; a man in a rocking chair sat at a comfortable distance from the fire, a book in his hands. Without looking up, the man motioned One to approach.
Eyeing the plush armchair at the main table longingly, One headed toward the distant fireplace. The lighting grew dim as he approached until the only light came from the crackling fire, the flickering flames sending shadows scurrying across the dark bookshelves.
Much like One, the Dreamer sitting in the rocking chair didn't look particularly noteworthy. There's something benign about khakis and denim button-down shirts that belies the idea that a person might be one of the more powerful beings in the known universe. Still, this man (known to the other Dreamers as 'Teach') is the closest thing the Elsewhere has ever had to a leader.
Teach is a kind-hearted soul who is constantly scouring reality for ways that the Dreamers can help the inhabitants of the mainstream, more commonly referred to among Dreamers as 'norms'. A person might wonder why he would bother with these assignments. After all, we Dreamers have a considerable amount of power at our fingertips. There is literally nothing to keep us from remaining at the Elsewhere for eternity, amusing ourselves as we see fit.
It was Teach's belief, however, that our powers were given to us to make reality a better place. "To bring happiness to others is to bring happiness to oneself", he once told me. If so, then he has much cause for happiness himself; no other Dreamer had completed as many assignments as Teach. During his time as a Dreamer, Teach stopped wars, averted disasters that would have destroyed whole galaxies, and so much more.
Not all Dreamers are as selfless as Teach, however. As such, he sometimes he has to resort to trickery to get other Dreamers to take assignments. No one else knows more about the other Dreamers than Teach, and no one else knows how to prey on secret weaknesses or past guilt to get them on his side, which is why One approached the elder Dreamer with such reluctance.
"So." said One, coming to a halt by Teach's chair, "What thankless assignment are you going to try to shove down my throat now, Teach?"
The man in the chair carefully marked his place in his book and set it on the arm of his chair, commenting, "Now, now, One. Let's keep our dialogue civil. I was just wondering how you were doing. After all, it's been over twenty years since you've been in the Elsewhere."
One crossed his arms. "I'm fine, thanks. Which way to my floor?"
Teach gestured to the space beside him. "Have a seat, One."
"Is it too much to ask that we have a friendly conversation?"
Letting out a resigned sigh, One muttered, "I suppose not."
He motioned to the library tables behind him. The puffy blue armchair he eyed earlier whizzed through the air and landed gently behind him. As One sat down, he asked, "What's been going on since I left?"
"Well let's see; Jay's been hounding Mom for some of his memory fragments regarding the time he spent on Earth, Two and Fate have been fighting something fierce lately; you might want to watch out if you're around Two anytime in the near future. Max just perfected his portable holographic projector, and Melody has been teaching Atraius how to play the harp."
"Nice to know the Elsewhere hasn't collapsed without me."
Teach chuckled. "Indeed. How about you, One? How have you been?"
"Overworked." One replied wearily, "Got stuck on a chain of assignments."
"Really? Tell me about it."
One took a deep breath and told Teach everything; the meteor incident on the desert world of Janis, fixing the trajectory of Algos, and hunting down a particularly nasty nightmare in the Dream Realm.
Teach looked impressed. "No wonder you've been gone so long! Even with the time distortion in the Dream Realm, you must've been active for at least fifty years."
One put a hand to his head. "Felt like a lot longer. I think I could navigate the Dream Realm with my eyes closed."
Teach laughed appreciatively. "I know the feeling."
"Anyway, after dispelling the nightmare, I went to Vinta for a little vacation."
"Creator knows you deserve a break." Teach started to pick up his book again.
One snorted. "The Creator must've not gotten the memo. I was there for about an hour when I nearly get crushed by some knight from Earth."
Teach's hand froze a few inches from the leather binding of his book. "A knight, you say?"
"Yeah, from the Knights of the Star no less. I mean, how does a guy from Earth end up on a planet millions of miles away?"
"What was this knight's name?" Teach asked quietly, avoiding One's gaze.
"Mikaen or Mikean or something like that." Shaking his head, One continued, "Anyway, I pointed him to Homestead. Elduran said he'd take care of things for me."
"Elduran and Kathryn Thistlethorn? From the Ackibar Assignment?"
"Yeah. The kid's got a few issues he needs to work out. To be honest, I was glad to be rid of him; even with Elduran helping him, it's gonna take months to fight that dude's personal demons."
Teach looked at One for a long moment. "One," He said eventually, "I have to ask you to do me a favor."
One stared disbelievingly at Teach. "Cyber-friggin-cripes, dude! I let my guard down one second, thinking that maybe just for once you aren't going to try to shove an assignment on me, and you go and do it!"
Rising to his feet, One said firmly, "You said it yourself, I deserve a vacation!"
"This is the last assignment, I swear. Look, it's about Mikaen."
"Why am I not surprised?"
"He's in trouble, One!"
"Of course he's in trouble; he just got flung half-way across the galaxy! That doesn't mean I have to go help him!"
Teach frowned. "Are you saying he's not worth saving?"
"Of course not!" One replied, "I'm just saying maybe Jay or Galen can take this one. Neither of them has had an assignment in decades!"
"I'm sorry, One, but it has to be you. Let me explain-"
"Screw it. I'm outta here." One stalked away, muttering beneath his breath.
"One!" Teach called out, "This isn't just some twitch assignment! Earth could be in danger!"
One snorted as he exited the room via stairwell. "Big deal. Earth's always in danger."
Someone behind him snorted in response. "Tell me about it. If I had a dime for every time that ball of mud avoided becoming cosmic dust, I'd … well, I'd have an ass-load of dimes."
The speaker, a lanky young man with light brown hair and a mischievous look on his face, was sitting on the stairs going up. As One turned, the young man stood up and grinned.
One's face split into a wide grin. "Two! Good to see you, dude!"
Narrator Number Two slapped his partner on the back. "Likewise. The Matinee's downstairs today, by the way."
One was glad to hear this. The floors of the Elsewhere tend to move around from time to time. Teach brought in a famous explorer to try and map it out; that was about twenty years ago, and we're still waiting for him to turn up again.
As they began to descend the stairwell, One told Two, "You wouldn't believe the crap I've been through."
Two smirked at One, saying, "I know; I heard your conversation with Teach. Way to put that goody two-shoes in his place."
"Yeah, well even I get sick of it sometimes," said One as he reached the bottom of the stairwell and pushed open the door to his floor.
Bookshelves lined the walls of One's floor, but these weren't filled with the historical texts and biographies like those in the Library. Fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, and adventure novels, movies, and games were crammed into every opening on the shelves. Near the back end of the floor stood an enormous television that earned One's floor the nickname, 'The Matinee'. As he walked though the floor, the shelves automatically moved out of his way, merging seamlessly with other shelves in his wake.
"It's nice to be home." One said as he eased himself into his puffy blue easy chair.
Two plopped himself on a battered sofa directly across from the television and reached for one of the controllers lying on the table beside him. "Wanna play something?"
One considered it for a moment before shaking his head. "Nah. You go ahead, though."
With a shrug, Two waved a hand at the television. It activated immediately, along with one of the game consoles. One set his feet on a velvet ottoman and pulled a drink from his chair's side compartment. Soda in hand, he watched as Two played a video game of a norm sport that had been popular before the Devastation. One was never fond of sports games, seeing as they depict the mundane rather than the extraordinary. Two, however, has a way of altering mundane sports games to make them interesting and (more importantly), fun. The landmines on the playing field are an excellent example.
One of the linemen of the computer-controlled team was making a run for the goal when he abruptly exploded into a million flaming bits. Two roared with laughter at the look of horror on the faces of the former football player's teammates as the ball bounced across the field to Two's quarterback. Unfortunately for Two, objects with at least a smattering of intelligence that exist in the Elsewhere have a strange tendency to become fully intelligent. The computer controlled team pulled out shotguns and systematically eradicated Two's entire team.
"What the … aww!" Tossing aside the controller and crossing his arms, Two muttered, "Stupid cheating game."
One said, "It wouldn't cheat if you stopped goading it."
Two waved One's remark aside. "What's the fun of a sports game if you can't gloat when you win?"
One couldn't see the fun in sports games at all, land mines or no, but refrained from saying so.
Standing up, Two asked, "Grab me something to drink, would ya, bud?"
Nodding, One reached under his chair for another drink only to find a book entitled, "History of the Earth, year 2031 A.D., abridged" crammed inside the cooler.
He pulled the book out, feeling more than a little annoyed. "Cute. Looks like Teach isn't giving up."
"Huh?" Two glanced at One, his eyes catching on the book. "History of the … heh. Subtle, isn't he?"
One tossed the book haphazardly behind him and pulled a drink out of his cooler for Two. After tossing his friend the drink, One returned to his chair in a bad mood. This was just the kind of thing One expected: Teach didn't get his way, so now he was going to harass One until he caved. No wonder Ukaroh left.
Shaking his head, One muttered, "Not this time."
Two glanced back at the book. "What's he want you to do now? Another planet-patching job?"
"I don't know." One said, rubbing his forehead. "Something about some stupid norm I ran into earlier."
Still looking at the book, Two tossed the controller to One. "Let me see."
One scoffed as he tossed the book to Two. "You can read? Wow, things have changed."
Two made a rude gesture at One before opening the book. He flipped through a few pages of it before snorting in disgust. "Geez, no pornography, no naughty language. This is exactly why I don't hang around the Library." He tossed the book aside in disgust.
The book slid to a halt beside One's chair, still open. Even though he knew he'd be better off leaving it alone, One picked up the book.
"Careful, One." Two warned.
"Relax. It's not like I'm just gonna up and go because of words in a book." Sitting down, One browsed through the pages, muttering as he went along. "Found in Bridges, helped found the Knights of the Star, lost his fiancée, vanished mysteriously near M-Rip in Nevada."
One slammed the book shut. "See? I have no desire to suddenly rush off to his aid."
Two slapped One on the back, saying with pride, "That's my bro! Now grab a controller so we can play something!"
One set the book aside and picked up his game controller. Within moments, One and Two were immersed in their favorite joint venture; blowing up alien monsters, evil robots, and other nasty creatures. They often did that sort of thing in the mainstream, but enjoyed games more since they didn't have to clean up the mess afterwards
While playing, One commented, "I heard you and Fate are at it again."
"Oh, she's just being a typical woman; nosy, overbearing, and whiney. Probably her time of the month or something."
One knew his partner too well to accept that as an answer. "What did you do this time? Itching powder in her underwear drawer? Turned her black makeup neon? Let another aggressive religious group on her floor?"
Two pretended to look insulted. "Wha … me? I would never play such juvenile jokes on a sister Dreamer! I'm hurt that you think so lowly of me, One."
One gave Two a look that made it clear he didn't believe him.
Grinning impishly, Two said, "Let's just say, I've seen a side of Fate most people haven't seen before."
"Fine, don't tell me. Probably better if I don't know about it anyway; she won't come after me."
One continued playing for a while, trying to ignore his sleepiness until a particularly deep yawn made him finally put down his controller. "That's enough for me, I think. I'm heading to bed."
Jerking a thumb at the window, Two said, "It's still daylight outside."
With a wave of One's hand, daylight faded until only darkness lay outside the window.
Shrugging, Two asked, "Mind if I keep playing for a while?"
"Sure. Try to keep it down though."
As One walked through the door to the private section of his floor, Two called out, "Goodnight, bro."