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Beautiful Dreamer

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Chapter 2

“Hey, Central! We got someone new!” Mall Rat called out to the foreboding room with its disconcerting pulsing glow.

It took a few moments for my eyes to make sense of what it was looking at. The room was boxy with a substantial console hanging from the ceiling, cabling lacing across its surface. Closer to the floor, it was adorned with keyboards, monitors, and all likes of technical apparatus I had no capacity to name. At the centre of the techno garble was an eggshell-shaped floating chair, empty of an occupant. I peered around, wondering if anyone would show up to receive us. It did not take long before two hidden voices expressed their regard.

“Someone new?”

“This will be interesting.”

From behind the console, two waif-like versions of me made themselves known; dissimilar enough that they could pass as my cousins or non-existent sisters. They were tall with pasty complexions, where I was slightly sun kissed. The one on the left looked at me passively with grey eyes. Her extraordinary long curtain of black hair draped down her back. She complimented her elegant model appearance with a satin slip dress and delicate ballet flats. The other’s ice blue gaze speared me into place. Her solid grey hair with no hint of cosmetic alteration was as unnerving and alien, cut short, a picture of a low-maintenance person, dressed to match in a comfortable t-shirt and baggy pants.

“Hi, Central, Data. I’d like you to meet the new girl!”

Introductions over with, Mall Rat shoved me towards the pair and their scrutiny. I was presented for judgment, frozen by their united stare, a flower wilting beneath a blistering wind.

“Hello, I’m Central.” The one with the black hair introduced herself, hand pointing to her name tag in case my aforementioned slow brain needed a reminder.

“And I am Data,” added the other in a stunted, emotionless manner. Close enough to read the smaller numbers beneath the nicknames, I could see that Central’s was 00001 and Data’s was 00100. Appropriate numbers given their apparent authority, I thought wryly, although I could not help but wonder what 00002 through 00099 were like. The pair seemed harmless based on my first impression.

Central took a seat on the chair, sinking into its plushness, with Data standing next to the armrest. It was time to start the proceedings, the matter of me.

“Thank you, Mall Rat. Can you wait by the door while we catalogue?” Central giving the cue that my escort’s duty was done. I was not okay with the arrangement, preferring the company of the ditz over the two unknowns. I looked to Mall Rat, begging her with my eyes to not abandon me there.

“Sure. See you outside, newbie.” Mall Rat gave a giggle then waved farewell. As she stepped outside and closed the door behind, I silently cursed her ineptitude. I turned back to Central, Data, and the scary console, praying that there wouldn’t be probes. Please, not the probes.

“Hello, Ruta. Welcome to the Ruta Leonas citadel.” Central’s warm smile was conducive of someone who wasn’t going to subject me to ruthless experimentation. Maybe she was a master of deception. My nagging mind did not doubt that it was a possibility. Anything was possible in a dream. Data was jabbing at the console, tapping something into the system, she incapable of demonstrating feigned pleasantries. They were the opposite ends of the spectrum.

“I am 00001 of Sleepverse. And this here is our Data from the Pi dimension.” She gestured towards the indifferent girl still plugging away at the system.

“Hmm,” Data snorted, acknowledging that stuff was said but nothing more. It was a wonder how someone with my face could be so rude. Central carried on talking.

“You must be one of the Unaccounted. Data is collecting the files of the different Selves we think you might be. In the meantime, we’d like to know a little bit about yourself and the dimension which you’re from.”

“Okay…?” All of what was said I equated to gobbledygook.

“Feel free to speak your mind. This is a safe space. We do not pass judgment on our Selves.” An open invitation to confess my unique qualities and deepest, darkest secrets. I pursed my lips, mulling over what of me was demented. Nothing. Aside the odd name-calling, a bit of swearing, and the occasional acts of sheer pettiness, I was otherwise squeaky clean with no criminal record. Outwardly, I shrugged.

I started with the obvious. “Well… I… come from Earth?” Didn’t sound confident about that one.

Data locked onto my apparent confusion. “Are you unsure?” Specific, down to the detail. She hovered over the console, poised for an input.

“Yes, yes I am,” I stated matter-of-factly. Wasn’t ET. Heck, three generations of my family were born in Canada and continued to occupy someone else’s ancestral lands to that day. “I am sure of it.”

“Carry on.”

“My birthdate is August 25th. I’m fifteen years old. I live in Vancouver, Canada—”

“You can stop,” Central interjected, putting a halt to my biographical details. She turned to Data. “Amnesia.” Data affirmed the information, unquestioning, as she proceeded to add more data points to their strange catalogue of Rutas.

“Wait a second. I don’t have amnesia.” Central and Data eyed me in unison, both giving me the look of doubt. Said like someone who had amnesia. I had to prove I wasn’t crazy. “I’ve never hit my head, had a concussion, been in a coma, passed out, forgot where I was,” I said, counting them off on my fingers. “None of that. Geez, I can still remember the time when I was four and some kid stole my tricycle and dumped it in a ditch.” Best defence I could come up with was the time the neighbourhood girl, Danielle, took my bike and trashed it. Because, like a petty person, I never forgave her. The memory was etched into my spiteful brain. Never got her back for it, neither. The pair running the show were nonplussed, eyebrows going up in plain skepticism.

“You’d be one of the few in a long line of Selves who introduced themselves with unifying traits. We all have the same birthday!” Data was intense, body shaking with rife indignation at precious time wasted. The information I had given them was useless nuance when it should have been obvious to me that a bunch of copies of myself would have the same name, age, and so on. It seemed logical. I reprimanded my mistake with a smack to my forehead.

“Let her fill in the details,” Central shushed her companion, then beckoned for me to continue.

“Well, I don’t know what’s different to you. ’K, so I have a mom, dad, brother. All alive and in good health. No pets, but had a few goldfish when I was eight. I’m in high school. Grades are Bs. Except PE. I’m getting a C in PE.”

“I could tell.” Shots fired. Data betrayed a sly sneer. Central cast a reprimanding look, a reminder that the colourful commentary was not appreciated. Same back to her. Skinny twig of a girl probably couldn’t lift a textbook.

“Carry on,” she urged. This was a weird interview.

“I don’t have a lot of hobbies. Mostly hang out with my friends at their place talking about school, boys, whatever is on TV. The usual. No boyfriend yet.”

“Are you straight?” Data’s bluntness stabbed with ice pick sharpness, exposing my core sexuality. I retreated into my crossed arms for protection, trying to guard myself from the indignant assault on my character. “Well? Are you?”

“First of all, that’s a rude question. Also, it’s none of your business!” Best to assume people were flexible unless proven otherwise, and even then, only if they said so themselves without being interrogated.

“Just answer the question. It’s not that difficult. We ask all the Selves this,” Data exasperated, adding a further passive-aggressive sigh as one did when talking to the ignorant. Did that imply that some of these other copies of me weren’t? Were some of them bisexual, or perhaps lesbians? I dwelled on it for far too long, pondering if I liked Cassie’s looks not because she was pretty, but because I was into her. I scrunched my face as I thought about kissing her soft, puckering lips.

“I’m into boys.” Ack, that came out wrong! “I, I-uh, I mean like boys. I only like boys.” Such a simple question left me blindsided and stammering. The heat from my cheeks threatened to cremate me in an overwhelming fury of mortified embarrassment. Could I sink into the floor and die now?

Central ignored my blunder, peering over her shoulder at what Data was reviewing on her screen. At a sideways angle, I could see some profiles being pulled, then came the word that Mall Rat used to describe me. “Basic.”

“Yes… but that would be impossible for an 85000 to be Basic. She would have shown up with the first group.” Data tucked her fingers under her chin, eyes scanning across her monitor, consumed with deep thought.

“We would have met her already. Fifteen years is too long.” Central was pondering. I was not privy to their insight, standing there, staring blankly at the pair of them, having no idea what they were talking about. Dream riddles are the worst. Get to sit around for days mulling the hidden meaning behind what was most likely a bad case of dubious sushi. Or maybe the reason I had a surgery dream and then this one was my own vanity. Too much looking at the mirror, wondering if the spot on my nose was going to turn into a giant zit.

Central swivelled in her chair, leaning forward in a pose reminiscent of a shrink analyzing their patient. Begin the deep psychoanalysis deserving of the serial killer that I was not.

“Do you have any conditions? Diseases?”

Reflexively, my hand went to my nose, double-checking that it was still there. The possible zit hadn’t turned into a colossal wart. “Not that I know of.”

“Okay, maybe I should rephrase this. For your dimension, it might be normal. Do you intake a lot of caffeine?”

Shake of the head.

“Do you use stimulants?”

“I don’t do drugs.”

“Are your people always on the go? Do they not sit down? Do they not relax?”

“No? Well, some people always seem to be ‘go, go, go,’ but I am the type of person who likes to sleep in on the weekends.” I was unashamed to admit that I got out of bed at the ripe ol’ time of noon some days.

Central and Data exchanged visible uncertainties.

“Where did you find yourself in the Citadel? What room?”

First, they were asking if I was a person who could pull indefinite all-nighters, and then followed with where I started the current portion of the dream sequence from. I looked around the room, at its blank walls and imposing centre console. Unnerving, but I’d have preferred to show up there first, than how I entered the Citadel place.

“I fell from the sky. Okay, the ceiling. I guess from the top floor. Why?”

There were more side eyes made between the pair, a silent yet palpable expression of doubt, then Central said, “Can you wait outside for a moment while we discuss?” She not answering my question, dismissing me instead.


I went outside to find Mall Rat was there waiting for me, leaned up against the wall and humming a nursery rhyme ditty to herself. Mary Had A Little Lamb, my typical default.

“Hey.” I interrupted her nonchalant act of being a wallflower.

“Hey! How did it go? Figured out who you are yet?”

“No. And I have a feeling what I said bothered them.” In saying so, I felt a huge sense of shame, that somehow I’d failed.

Mall Rat, who was in the middle of reaching out to comfort me, recoiled, her hand retreating. Strange. I may have been embarrassed by it, but for it to be repulsive was an uncharacteristic reaction.

“It wasn’t anything bad. I don’t steal things, kick puppies, or kill people. Nothing like that. Just that… I don’t know.” I shook my head. “What’s Basic?” I could practically see the wheels in her head turning, trying to come up with an explanation or perhaps the rationale to why I was asking.

“Basic is,” she started with a disquieting tone, “the most average of the Selves. They are all accounted for on day one. But high numbers, anything close to 90k, can’t be Basic.” I could see it then, the fear and the uncertainty.

“Why is 90000 important?”

Mall Rat staggered backwards, hand clutching her name tag.

“This isn’t funny anymore.”

My own cogs were spinning. My naivety was scary to her, to Data, to Central. From what little I could piece together, I showed up late and had no clue what this place was, nor who these people were. That was what bothered them. I was an outsider standing in a building full of copies of myself. A bunch of clones who carried on with their merry lives, interacting and playing with each other. The place, like breathing, was innate and a necessary function of their lives. I was the outsider. My lack of knowledge frightened them.

I pursed my lips, unsure of what to say or how to reassure the girl. Trapped in a nightmare where the copies of myself thought I was the walking horror.

“Look, I—”

The door parted with a gentle creak.

“Come in.” Data was waiting.

“See you in a bit.” I waved to the stunned-silent Mall Rat, following Data inside.

Central was pacing in front of her chair, incoherent mumbling following her as she went. At the sight of me she sat down, though she still fidgeted, tapping the armrest with her fingertips in a spastic beat of anxiety. Data joined her by her side, the cold gaze having gone from below freezing to North Pole in winter. My arms seized. They had the look of critical inquisitiveness in their eyes, of children who wanted to see how long it would take a butterfly to die once its wings were plucked. And they were staring at me.

My typical nocturnal escapades last for about thirty minutes, and time was almost up. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to endure the perturbed insights into my own mind for much longer, but I was not enjoying what my subconscious was hinting at.

“High number, shows up late, no powers, no room, sleeps…”

“Does not know her number, does not know her dimension’s number nor its name, does not know who we are…” The pair postulated in drawls, expressing aloud every item that bothered them, everything about what I was not and what I needed to be for them to be happy. To be judged by myself was cruel. The inferno inside me burned, coming out in scornful contempt as I mocked their predicament. It wasn’t my problem that they didn’t understand who I was. I know who I am, my inner self-doubt was not going to get the best of me.

“So what? In a few minutes I’m going to wake up from this dream, nightmare, whatever, and you’ll go bye-bye and this pseudo psychoanalysis won’t be a problem!” I cackled, cynicism unmasked. “This is one of the stupidest ones I have ever had, and believe me, I’ve had some pretty dumb ones. But hey, for once it isn’t volcano fields trying to boil me alive, chasing tornadoes, or having my teeth fall out. Whatever!” I laughed some more, mocking myself to my faces as they looked on, completely stunned by my revelations. “Go on, keep interrogating me. Make me question myself, my vanity, and my life choices so far. This is funny!”

It was indeed humorous watching my clone and other Self stare in combined stupefaction at the mention that the whole setup was a construct of my sleeping mind. It felt great to tell off my subconscious. I straightened up, proud that I had conquered my inner demons.

“Anyway, toodle-loo. I’m going to go for a walk around this place before I wake up.” Without further ado, I sauntered out the door, leaving behind the pair of skinny mes to contemplate the meaning of their own fragile non-existences.

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