Author’s Introduction: Welcome to the next chapter of the science fiction, work-in-progress, Paradise. Last week, we were left with the thought that everything had to change. That conversation continues this week.
If you are new to this story, chapters 1-14 are all online. The tale is being shared as it is written. That means it’s a first draft with very little editing. If you are enjoying it, please share with someone else or on social media.
Neither Sam or Max spoke for several minutes. I was weak and made my way to a chair to sit down. Nothing that was happening made sense to me, but the look on both their faces told me that they thought this piece of information was game changing.
Another few minutes passed in silence. Then, suddenly, Max was back on her feet.
“We have to wake everyone.” She was back in emergency mode and headed toward the door.
“No,” Sam grabbed her arm and swung her back around. “What if?”
Some new realization hit Max and she reached out to grab Sam like the room had suddenly been tipped and she needed stability to keep from falling.
“No, we can’t.” Max nearly whispered.
Finally I couldn’t stand it.
“What is going on?” The words came out much louder than I expected.
They both turned to look at me. Max walked over and closed the med bay door, turning the wheel on it to make sure it was locked closed. Her action send a chill up my spine, though I wasn’t sure why.
Sam came and sat next to me while Max grabbed a chair from across the room and sat it in front of us. The chair was so close that our knees touched when she sat down.
Max opened mouth, but the words that she spoke were so soft that I had to read her lips to understand. “Who have you told?”
My normal voice volume turned Max’s face into a fierce expression. Sam put her hand on my arm.
“We have to be quiet,” Sam whispered. “Just in case.”
“Quiet?” I was flabbergasted. “We are in a bunker. The walls are concrete and steel. The door is solid metal. Who could possibly hear us?”
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My speech brought further rage to Max’s face.
“If you weren’t the general,” she hissed at me.
“I…,” I stopped and lowered my voice. “I don’t understand what is happening here.”
My honest truth seemed to soften Max a little.
“Roman,” Sam started slowly. “The implications are enormous. If they can be anything, they can be anywhere.”
“It wasn’t real!” I chuckled out loud in spite of myself.
“There is nothing funny about this!” Max was back on her feet and walked to the other side of the room. Something told me she moved to keep from hitting me.
“I’m sorry. I really am. But, Sam, really. You told me the compound was a construct created by bots in my brain. Why would anything in that world trouble you? It wasn’t real.”
“Oh, Roman.” There were tears in Sam’s eyes. She turned and looked at Max and Max visibly relaxed. “We sometimes forget that you don’t remember.”
Max made her way back over to us and sat down. “This is how a construct works,” she began. “The Plax know that our brains will reject anything that isn’t possible. For that reason, the construct is carefully crafted to create a world that will feel real, a world where the subject won’t question the new reality.”
“Yes?” I still didn’t understand.
“The brain can accept certain new stimuli, but in the end, everything must be believable. Probably part of the reason your construct failed was because your brain knew that paradise wasn’t possible. Part of your brain could not reconcile the devastation you have seen in the real world with the wonders of the unreality.”
“That part I understand.”
“The Plax are not creative,” she went on. “Their initial constructs didn’t work because the subject immediately knew it wasn’t real. The subjects that survived described an endless room that was either white or black. No walls, windows, floor or ceiling. No objects. It was immediately clear it couldn’t be real.
“What the Plax miss in creativity they make up in ingenuity. They didn’t know what the Earth had looked like before we destroyed it. Not really. So they figured out a way to access our dreams. They turned our dreams into a weapon.”
“How would I have ever dreamt of paradise if I’ve never seen it?”
“They don’t have to use the subject’s dreams. Any dreams that they harvest can be used. Dreams are effective because our brains are designed to accept them. Even impossible things are acceptable in a dream because our brain instinctively knows that dreaming is essential to mental health.”
“Okay?” I was still a long way from understanding. “How does a dream change anything in the real world?”
“It goes back to their inability to be creative.” It was Sam’s turn to try to explain. “The Plax can create worlds that we will believe in, worlds that our minds can accept. Our dreams gave them that power.”
Still no lights were coming on.
“The dream data can help them to create our worlds.” Her voice stuck a little and she paused before going on. “We… we have never imagined the Plax. No one ever dreamed of them or what they might be. They knew they had to be part of any construct because that is the only way they can control and improve the construct. They have to be part of the construct so they can manage what happens and improve it for future victims.”
“I think I understand, at least some,” I told them. “But I don’t understand why the fact that I saw shapeshifters upset you so much.”
“No creativity,” Max barked. “They couldn’t change what they are. That means that most likely they inserted themselves as they actually are.”
“But that would mean…” A cold chill was creeping up my spine.
“That would mean that they are shapeshifters. It also means they can be anywhere. Or anyone.”
“There’s only one way we can know.” Sam was looking at Max as she spoke.
Max understood perfectly. “We’re going to have to catch one.”
Author Note: That’s it until next Tuesday. Again, please share this story with others. I’m also interested in your input. Let me know your thoughts below. Thank you!