Monday, December 11, 2006

Insomnium

This was the first time that Dan had been at court—summoned to the palace by Calpurnia, mother of Octavian and wife of Aurelian. Young Octavian suffered from recurring nightmares and night terrors.

You might suppose that in the year 2235, psychometry would have cured these maladies. Indeed, psychometry had long succeeded in mapping the fine structure of the brain all the way down to the Plank scale.

And Octavian had been treated by all the best psychographers that imperial resources could commandeer.

But the more they knew about the architecture of the brain, the less they found what they were looking for. They could see everything excepting for what the patient could see. Everything on the outside, but nothing on the inside.

So Calpurnia turned to Dan. She heard about him from her chambermaid Drusilla. And she had her private cosmobile bring him back from the Ganymede, a lunar observatory on one of the Jovian moons.

At least it’s called an observatory. Technically speaking, Ganymede and the other lunar observatories on Neptune, Jupiter, and Saturn are penal colonies.

However, it would be impolitic to call them penal colonies, so “observatory” is the official designation.

High-ranking political prisoners are banished to one of the moons. Of course, it would be cheaper to simply kill them, and, indeed, run-of-the mill enemies of state are routinely executed, but powerful men have powerful friends, so Aurelian found it less provocative to exile his high-ranking enemies rather than kill them.

He also found it amusing to tease them with false hopes of repatriation. Death has such an air of finality about it. It’s hard to torment a corpse. To truly get even with your enemies, you must keep them alive—after a fashion.

I should probably tell you now that some people would consider Aurelian to be a military dictator or emperor. But that, too, would be impolitic.

His official designation is Regent of the United Peoples Confederation.

It was illegal to have a colonist brought back to earth without the explicit permission of Aurelian. But if you happen to be the wife of Aurelian—well, then, the title came with certain understated perks.

At least, that’s how Calpurnia saw her role. Calpurnia was a very dutiful wife. I won’t go so far as to say devoted. No, dutiful is the right word—for she had a very wide-ranging conception of her domestic duties.

She was not his first wife—or only wife. At one time or another, Aurelian had been married to several women—in no particular order. Not to mention the odd mistress or two—or three or four. But who’s counting?

Aurelian was a practical man with a clear sense of priorities. If you can’t have love, settle for sex. If you can’t have sex, settle for money. And two out of three ain’t bad.

But while she wasn’t his first wife, or only wife, it looked like she would be his very last wife. For after he married her, other wives and mistresses began to die or disappear under mysterious circumstances. Snake-bite, shipwreck, or food poisoning—a freak accident, or a wrong turn down a steep embankment. Fire and smoke. Bodies burned beyond recognition. Little things like that.

Now that I think about it, this began even before he married her. When his favorite wife took deathly ill, Calpurnia was there to comfort him. That’s why he married her. At first.

Just between you and me, it had occurred to him on more than one occasion after they tied the knot that Calpurnia might make a good candidate for banishment in her own right. Perhaps Enceladus or Hyperion. Maybe Triton in a pinch.

Unfortunately, the penal colonies were becoming overcrowded—so banishment was on a strictly first come, first serve basis. You couldn’t even place a reservation.

If things continued at the going rate, it would be necessary to either colonize a few of the larger asteroids or rotate the exiles on a time-sharing arrangement.

This is where her special talents came to the fore. Attention to detail.

When her methods were not otherwise applied to matters of hearth and home, they proved to be equally applicable to his political rivals—starting with Marius, his old bunkmate from the academy. Weeding and pruning was the horticultural aspect of statecraft, and in Calpurnia he had a gardener and homemaker in one.

Public executions drew too much tabloid attention to the inner workings of regime, but a discreet assassination from time to time was a healthy purgative for the body politic.

Yes, it was rather sad to see Marius turn all sphacelated from his unfortunate encounter with a puff adder in the bidet, but it was noble sacrifice for the common good. Greater love of hath no man than to lay down the life of a friend. Whoever said you had to be pious to be a man of principle?

Yet I digress.

Calpurnia sent for Dan because he was reputed to be an oneiromantist. His father Yosef had been the high priest in a dynastic, Iron-Age sect. Religious sects were deemed to be subversive by the Confederation. Yosef was convicted of sedition, and banished to Callisto, while his wife and son were sentenced to live on Ganymede.

Who better to treat a boy suffering from nightmares and night terrors than a professional oneiromantist?

Dan slept on a couch in Octavian’s bedroom. As an oneiromantist, Dan was both an oneiropompist and an oneiropolist, for he could receive dreams as well as send them.

That night, when Octavian began to experience a night terror, Dan sensed the approaching incubus as well. He projected himself into Octavian’s dream, and cursed the incubus in the name of his God.

The incubus immediately fled in the face of this solemn imprecation, and Octavian reverted to a peaceful sleep.

Calpurnia, who was seated in a chair beside his bed, saw him becoming agitated in his sleep, but the episode quickly passed.

After that, Calpurnia decided to keep Dan at court. She had a cot put in Octavian’s room so that Dan could share the same bedroom with her son and intervene whenever a nightmare or night terror came upon him.

Strictly speaking, Dan didn’t need to be in the same room with a dreamer to monitor his dreams. Distance was no obstacle.

But the trick with oneiromancy was learning how to filter out all the dreams of all the other dreamers to concentrate on some one dream in particular. You need to become acquainted with the individual to individuate his dreams.

As the weeks wore into months, Calpurnia was puzzled by Dan’s lack of a social life. During the day he divided his time between reading his Holy Book and going for long walks in the hill country outside the capital to pray and mediate.

Sometimes he’d take Octavian along since he was only a few years older than the heir presumptive, and they had become fast friends.

Of course, the Scriptures were banned, possession of which was punishable by death, but Dan insisted on having a copy, so she had a rare, contraband edition smuggled into his quarters from the Museum of Ancient History.

The Curator complained to the Regent, but as Aurelian often said, he and his household were above the law.

Calpurnia was worried about his isolation. Surely he was a lonely. On several occasions she tried introducing him to one of the harem girls who used to work at the palace.

After she married Aurelian, it became increasingly difficult to recruit harem girls because they had a way of disappearing. So the remaining girls left the palace for steadier employment at the local escort service.

But although Dan was not inattentive to their undeniable charms, his rigid religious scruples kept him from acquiescing to their intriguing propositions.

As an enlightened woman, it also occurred to her that he might prefer boys to girls. The local escort service had several on hand for well-paying customers.

But after his indignant reaction to her solicitous overtures, she could see that he was a hopelessly old-fashioned young man.

What she didn’t understand, and what he didn’t explain, is that he was already leading a double life.

As an oneiromantist, his dream life was just as vivid, detailed, and real as his waking hours. There he could visit his father and mother, brother and sister, as well as his girlfriend from Ganymede—by sharing their dreams.

And by tapping into their memories, he could also meet his long dead grandparents.

As soon as he fell asleep he awoke on the other side, in a parallel world like his waking world. A collective reverie.

There were differences. Time passed at a different rate in his dream world. Indeed, time was discontinuous in his dream world.

He never knew what day or year it would be when he fell asleep. Would he dream about the past or the future?

When it was day here, it was night there. In the dream world he would “wake up” at sundown and “fall asleep” at sunup—returning to the waking world. Sunlight here, moonlight there. A mirror image of the waking world.

So Dan actually had an active social life—or should I say, nightlife? As such, he liked to take it easy whenever he was awake. “Sleep off” the effects of his sleep, as if were.

But there was more in his dreams than socializing. And that’s why he kept mum about his double life.

Because Aurelian was an educated man of science, he didn’t believe in the superstitious mumbo-jumbo of oneiromancy.

As such, it never occurred to him that having a full-time oneiromantist on the premises—especially one belonging to a persecuted sect—was a security risk. Indeed, Dan was far more dangerous to the regime than any of Aurelian’s other enemies.

Not that Dan was malicious or murderous. Indeed, he was rather fond of Octavian, in a big-brotherly sort of way. He had taken the opportunity to catechize young Octavian in the ways of Morgenstern—the God of Dan’s venerable sect.

Octavian might make a beneficent ruler some day. But that was a distant and uncertain prospect.

Although Dan had access to most parts of the palace, the more sensitive areas of the capital were off-limits. The Confederation was a technocratic police state.

But you didn’t need a security clearance to read other minds. Dan could interject himself into the dreams of Aurelian and other members of the cabinet. He could pose as friends and associates. Elicit top-secret information. Pick their innermost memories.

Dreamers had a way of losing all their inhibitions when speaking with imaginary characters. After all, they weren’t real—or were they?

He could travel back into the past by trolling their past recollections. He could go anywhere by going wherever their memories went.

It was only a matter of time before Dan knew the schematics for military computers and other classified technology.

As an oneiropompist, he could make a dreamer believe he was awake. Make him believe the dream was real. Inject delusive, life-like dreams into his dream state.

And that’s how he liberated the colonies. He made the technicians unwittingly repatriate his people while unwittingly dispatching Aurelian and his apparatchiks into exile on the lunar colonies of Neptune, Jupiter, and Saturn. A bloodless, painless coup d’etat.

One moment, Aurelian thought he was reviewing a military processional from the palace balcony, the next moment he awoke on Amalthea, where he had sentenced his most hated enemies to languish in exile. It gave new meaning to a rude awakening.

After that, Dan made the computer technicians unwittingly erase the software and fry the hardware of the police state.

Many years later, Dan died in his sleep. Or should I say—he never awoke from his dream? He kept on dreaming as the sun rose over a new world.

4 comments:

  1. interesting...

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  2. I really liked this.

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