“So all I have to do is sleep, and I get paid?” a man asked two men standing before him. “There’s no danger involved?” They shook their heads. “There’s no requirements?” Another shake. “And you’ll pay me how much?” he asked.
“About 50k, give or take depending on how much we make off the study,” replied Marc, the smaller of the two.
“And it’s only for a week?” the original man asked.
“About a week, depending on how much data you are able to acquire. It might be faster if you do everything we ask of you, Jerry,” said Eduardo, the tall dark fellow.
“How will I know what to do, again?” Jerry asked, scratching his shaggy mop.
“You will be wearing a headset that is wired to us. Because you will only be just asleep you should be able to hear every word we say. That’s part of the point, you’ll be dreaming, but you’ll also be lucid. It should feel like you are awake, but it is important to remember that you are not. You will simply be in your dream world, and everything that happens there is only up here,” said Marc tapping the side of his head.
“So, why exactly do you need this data?” Jerry asked.
“In order to perfect our LDT, lucid dreaming technology. We’re trying to expand our ability to explore our own minds and help people get to know themselves,” Eduardo replied. “But we need to prove that it is 100% safe. Of course we already know it is through personal experiments, but companies won’t accept that.”
“And all I have to do is sleep?” Jerry clarified just to make sure he was not already dreaming. They nodded in union. “I’m in,” he said.
“Alright, just sign here, here, and here,” Marc said, whipping a clipboard and paperwork out of thin air. Jerry moved the pen in the right motions, but the paper itself blurred before his eyes.
“Okay, you’re all signed up, just step right this way and we’ll get you situated, calibrated, and ready to sleep,” Eduardo said, leading Jerry away by the arm. His eyes started to flutter close, sleep already upon him. He barely saw the bed before he hit it and consciousness left.
“Jerry, can you hear me? Let me know when you can hear me,” said a voice in his ear. The man shook his head, fighting to clear sleep from his mind. “Take it easy, you don’t want to wake yourself up fully. Let it come slowly,” said a voice he identified as Marc. Jerry gently allowed his brain to adjust.
“There you go,” said another voice, Eduardo. “Now open your eyes, tell us what you see.” Jerry opened his eyes, waiting for the haziness to dissipate before looking around.
“I’m in a room, in a bed. There’s like a dresser and a few other things,” he replied sitting up.
“Alright, well go ahead and explore. If you need us, we’re right here,” Marc said as Jerry swung his legs off the bed. He raised a hand to examine it, but it looked the same as in the daytime. Just a hand. He wobbled standing up, but regained his balance and shuffled towards the door.
“You’re right, it feels just like real life. Just like I woke up, but I’m still asleep…” he trailed off as he opened the door and found himself in a hotel. Not any hotel by the looks of it, but one that he would never be able to afford. Just then a cleaning lady walked by and gave him a strange look. “These people, are they like real world people?” Jerry asked.
“The people are all people you’ve seen before, whether you know them or you’ve just seen them in brief passing. Your brain is conjuring them to substitute what you know you should see,” Eduardo explained.
“Go ahead and explore for a little bit, but then we have a job for you,” Marc added. Jerry immediately took off, following his nose to the breakfast hall.
“Can I eat?” he asked admiring the trays of breakfast foods. Most of them were already picked over by the earlier crowd, but quite a bit remained.
“You can, but remember it won’t actually nourish your body. You’ll have to eat when you wake up as well,” Marc said. Jerry immediately began to dig in, piling his plate high with food and gobbling it up.
“This tastes really good for dream food,” he mumbled around a mouthful. By the time the plate disappeared he felt a heavy weight in his gut. “And I actually feel full,” he commented, though this caused passerby’s to cast him strange glances.
“Your mind thinks you are eating, and therefore rewards you with a full stomach feeling. Just remember it’s not real. And I recommend not stuffing yourself, because your mind can also make you vomit,” Eduardo said. Having their voices in his ear would have been disturbing, if it wasn’t so entertaining.
“Now that you’ve sated your mind’s hunger would you please interact with that host over there? We have to make sure they are able to communicate clearly,” Marc said.
“What do I say?” Jerry asked.
“It doesn’t matter, just talk to him for a few minutes, then excuse yourself,” Marc replied. Jerry shrugged his shoulders and strode up to the host looking man they indicated.
“Hello good sir, wonderful breakfast this morning,” he said to the pouty looking chap. The man raised his head, took a full body lookover of Jerry’s pajamas, and fixed him with an odd stare.
“Yes, I am sure it was. Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked with a snivelly voice.
“No thank you, you’ve done enough. Have a good day,” Jerry replied as he walked away. “Was that alright?” he asked the voices in his ear.
“Perfect. Your mind must be very rude to conjure up such people,” Eduardo commented. Jerry shrugged.
“What can I say, I’m not the people person. Now where to?” he asked, beginning to enjoy this illusion. No matter what he did, no one would know he did it, because it would only be in his mind. Yet it would feel so real. So many possibilities…
“Well, since we’re testing the limits of this simulation, go to the closet two doors down and put on what you find there,” Marc replied. Jerry waltzed down the hall, feeling he owned at least this world. Reaching a door he assumed to be the correct one, he opened it and a light flicked on. Before him lay a simple janitors closet stocked with mops, brooms, and the like.
“Go to the far end and look under the tarp,” Eduardo instructed. He did as told, but what he found shocked him into momentary silence. Underneath the tarp lay a few guns, stacks of ammunition, and a metal thing with wires poking everywhere.
“And this is…” Jerry trailed off as he took everything in.
“This is the test. We need to know how well destruction will work in lucid dreaming. Press the blue button on the bomb, it’ll set it for seven minutes. That will be how much time you have to go into the lobby and shoot as many people as you can,” Marc replied and Jerry hesitated.
“Remember, none of this is real. It’s all in your mind. And we can’t pay you if you don’t test everything we need you to,” Eduardo added. It only took Jerry a moment longer to strap the automatic gun to his back, holster a few handguns, and pause with his finger just resting on the blue button.
“What happens if this goes off with me in the building?” he asked, needing that reassurance of the right thing.
“You’ll wake up. It is, after all, just a dream,” Marc said. Jerry’s finger inched forward before he quickly hopped to his feet and headed back towards the lobby. A cleaning woman came around the corner. Saying a little prayer and asking for forgiveness, Jerry open fired at her. The first bullet only made her scream, the next couple stopped it. Between the gun shots and the shrill cry the place fell apart. Doors flung open as people came to see the disturbance and died a few seconds later. By the time Jerry reached the lobby at least twenty people lost their lives, then twenty or so more. He watched as the host he talked to earlier fell, knees crumpling as the life drained from him, eyes wide open with bewilderment.
“This is like a nightmare,” Jerry whispered to himself when no other life remained. He stared at the red pooling and staining the green carpet and felt a sickness in his stomach. Then he remembered the bomb, and though he knew it wouldn’t kill him, he high-tailed it from the lobby out onto the street. Just before he reached the door he ditched his weapons. Outside the building he casually strolled down the sidewalk. Just a few seconds later the building exploded and tossed him to his hands and knees. Screams echoed behind him, but he refused to turn and look as he leapt to his feet and continued walking away.
“Are you still there?” he asked the people in his head. “Was that enough?” For a moment he waited for an answer, but none appeared. “Hello? Guys?” he said, but he only heard a faint buzzing sound. Reaching up to his ear he found a little plastic piece embedded in it. He stared at it for a while before placing it in his pocket. “How do I wake up?” he asked no one in particular as he walked down the street. This part of his dream neighborhood was unfamiliar, until he recognized a bar he went to a long time ago. It was still his city, maybe he could find her.
Finally he had a purpose, and began striding toward her place while sirens sounded all over.
“Definitely a nightmare,” he mumbled to himself as he started running. The closer he got to her house, the more he remembered why he needed the money.
“I can’t keep supporting you, you need to… to do something!” she shouted at him while throwing a bag his way. “Just get out, I can’t live my life like this,” she said, her face contorted with anger, but her words tinged with sorrow.
Would she accept him back when he didn’t have the money?
“It’s just a dream. Maybe Dream Evangeline is nicer,” he said to himself as he reached the apartment they shared not that long ago. He bounded up the stairs to the door labelled 23 and knocked a few times. For a moment he began to worry that she wouldn’t appear before the door swung open and there she stood with a benign look upon her face.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. For a moment his words abandoned him.
“I found a job,” he said just as the news on the tv in the background spoke up.
Breaking news, the Perry Hotel blew up, suspect caught on video but on the run.
A picture of a man talking to a host flashed up on the screen and Jerry’s blood ran cold when it zoomed in on his face. Evangeline looked as well before slowly turning back around. Her face filled with shock, she opened and closed her mouth a few times.
“What did you do?” she whispered.
“It’s just a dream,” he muttered, his eyes stuck on the tv screen.
“This is reality Jerry. You’re a murderer,” she almost screamed. Then she downcast her eyes, hand cradling her stomach. “I’m carrying the baby of a murderer,” she whispered to herself in a daze. Her fierce eyes captured his. “Either go turn yourself in or kill yourself, either way get out of my life Jerry,” she said slamming the door.
Jerry took a few stunned steps away and sat down on the top of the staircase. He brought the ear piece out of his pocket and ran fingers over it. I’m a murderer, he thought. Another voice whispered, you’re a father…
Marc’s voice reminded him: Remember, it’s only a dream… “If it’s just a dream, I need to wake up,” he said to himself, his hand finding a gun hidden in the waistband of his pants. Bringing the cold metal to the side of his head he focused on his love and her parting words. “I’m coming. I’ll do better next time,” he whispered, then pulled the trigger.