Monday, March 31, 2014

To die and die again: a dream story

Another interesting dream strikes again. I've pieced it together from the mostly-coherent flashes, a tale of the unconscious mind rounded out with any missing details filled in. Last night, it seems, I had vampires and aliens on my mind.


Immortality wasn't what I expected. It involves a lot more dying, for one thing.

I didn't ask to be made a vampire. Didn't want it, and waking up in a private military clinic with five other victims--all attacked the same night by the same rogue--to be told I could never be free to wander was, in a way, the first time I died.

Three women, three men; we lived in a secluded old ranch-turned-holding-facility out in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, with a few scores of military, scientist, and caretaker staff. We weren't even the main event, more of a sideshow to the paranormal investigation and study unit. Although they offered us blood at regular intervals, to a one we refused. It was a doldrums life, a two-year of idleness broken by moments of bonding with the others and the occasional poke of a labwork needle. We wanted to be cured; we had hopes. The staff weren't unkind, either; we might have been metaphorically leashed, but we were still people and we were lonely to find friends where we could. And besides, I suspect they thought even then the government had more in mind for us if we couldn't be cured.

To be sure, we were a little faster and stronger, and those of us who'd been bound by glasses now enjoyed good vision. The sun didn't bother us, and we neither wanted nor needed blood; food we still enjoyed, but sleep became more a recreation than a necessity. So the staff were more amiable coworkers than friends; the only people who really got it were the other five. Even though we argued and on occasion hated each other, we became a family to replace the one we'd all lost, over countless games of Parcheesi, Mariokart, Monopoly, and marathon Chess.

Then came the war. Contrary to what you'd think, we weren't made into soldiers. Nobody knew how we'd react to battle, not even us; and of the six only three really had a military mindset. Me? I was peaceful; I still sometimes rescued drowning worms from the patio after rainstorms. Our friendly staff surrendered when the soldiers knocked, and the most senior were carted off to become bargaining chips to the incoming soldiers. In their place came the enemy, who were content to leave us as resources for investigation. We weren't soldiers; and Mike and me and Kinsey were so soft I think the other three were afraid we'd break if anyone made trouble.

Even in the beginning it was all about protecting the gentle ones.

But enemy were human; they were people and people just want to be people, at the end of the day. The angry watchdog occupation force learned to work with the remaining staff, and the remaining staff learned that if they were captive, they could still perform experiments and collect data and try to concoct new cures; and if the data went to someone else at least it was still available to the world, and they even got paid for it, albeit in a different kind of currency. So even our new bosses became bearable.

The seven months of occupation, though, led to a deficit of supply. When winter set in it became evident there wouldn't be enough food to go around for everyone. At first we were afraid to cut back on food, but we found starvation didn't affect us. We got hungry, yes, but after a week it stopped hurting. They still fed us once a week, a single hearty meal each, but otherwise we stopped eating to make more for the others.

After a while even that became a struggle to provide. The six of us volunteered to hibernate, because we'd discovered we could, and by then we were tired. I think all of us hoped we'd just not wake up. So we lay down on slabs of marble, in a place like mausoleum but inside the house proper. And we slept without intending to wake up.

Except we did. They woke us six months later. The occupation was gone and it was mostly our original staff again; but this was terrible, not wonderful, because the invasion was coming, the enemy were coming back and they were bringing the invaders. While we'd slept we'd been transferred to a brick building in the closest town, where our staff could help defend the town, and the town help defend them. Because the invaders were death.

The machines came the third day. Spheres with a single round eye, walking by three tentacle-like metal arms, they continually scanned for human life, and when they found it, they destroyed it with a laser. But these wouldn't fire until life was confirmed, because the shots drained batteries, and so even swarms with plans to eradicate populations didn't waste shots.

Which is why they woke us, the undead. Those of us for whom heartbeats and breathing were optional.

I encountered them first--you might say I was the only one to even see them, this time around, but I'm not sure how it works, really. What I know is that I was alone in the building, sitting on a slab of marble and watching, when the machine crawled up the building on its three prehensile arms. At first the eye staring at me glowed red, the color of a negative life scan, but then I moved and it turned green--and relaxed and it became red again. That was how I discovered that every time we moved our hearts beat just a little.

When it stayed red for full ten seconds, it turned away, and I moved closer. When it turned back my way I let myself fall to the floor, feigning death, and it stayed red. We played cat-and-mouse until I worked up the courage to hit it from behind, chopping it bare-handed and discovering, to my surprise, I'd grown stronger in my sleep, because my hand when right through the metal shell and into the circuitry. Luckily I'd avoided the power source, the gyroscope, and the most charged parts, and landed in the controlling wires; holding on by the hole I made I dug through the wires as it spun and spun, trying to focus to fire on the on its head. Tearing out first one wire, I discovered the green one took out the lasers, and the blue one stopped it moving, and yellow powered it off. I'm not sure what the black or the white or the red did, but one must have communicated something to the troops.

I heard the boots coming and decided to play dead again, because why not. My luck wasn't so bad that any of them recognized me, and my unblinking eyes and lack of pulse convinced them I was a full casualty. Ten, twenty, forty of them crowded in to the building, up to the room, to talk strategy and regroup in a discreet, reinforced location with a good view of the town.

When one stepped over me, grenades hanging heavy from his belt, it occurred to me that strategy-talkers were probably leaders, and an army without leaders could be repelled.

They were surprised when the dead woman sat up and grabbed a grenade. But they weren't surprised for long.

I, on the other hand, welcomed death. Because surely even I wouldn't survive this. And I didn't.

But I did.

To find myself crossing the courtyard in a warless Alaska, newly turned, escorted by old friends who'd long since passed. To find myself sitting for my very first breakfast with five other newly turned vampires, who'd never seen me before, and who had no memory of the life that was to come.

What was I to do? They were so innocent. And none of them would believe me--I didn't believe it happened, not fully. A trick of my psyche, perhaps. But three years, the arguments, the sensations, the faces and the tragedies and the guilt of watching people starve--my mind quailed to think such things were unreal, not with the detail I'd lived them in. So I lived and waited and watched the news, and stockpiled perishables when I could convince the staff to take me to town or buy me some.

The others watched me, and came to know me differently; as the so-sad woman who might have been driven just a bit mad by it all, harmless but always stockpiling food she didn't particularly need to eat. This time I showed them immediately that food was mostly optional, and worked on learning my limitations, my capabilities. I bounced off trees and punched dummies; I broke brick walls until I broke my hand and roped the scientists into helping me measure things, in the name of science.

And when the war hit, and people began to starve, I showed them the supplies. But only half remained, because we had a thief. He was caught; he had been smuggling my supplies away, and now they were half-gone.

It was still more than our friends had had last time. And from the beginning we didn't eat. That was Mike asked, and I told him: I told him we'd lived it all before. We decided to tell the others I'd had a vision after being turned, because he didn't really believe me, I could tell.

But my information on the eyes was correct, and it made a difference when the war became the invasion. It helped the troops confirm what had been suspected the first time, that the machines weren't human technology, although heaven knows why the enemy thought their new allies wouldn't turn on them one day, after the continent had been cleared of us to make room for others.

I died earlier this time around, out on the front lines, tracking down an eyeball, when another caught me from behind. Turns out holes in the chest didn't kill us, although those took a week or two to heal; but beheadings did.

I swore, just before I died, that if I woke up again, I'd start sooner and find a way to stop the enemy.

This time when I sat down to my first breakfast with the others in Alaska, Mike said he believed me. That he'd lived a whole life, and that I had told them the very first night I'd had visions of the future. None of them had believed me at first. I had watched the news and listened to politics, and tried to keep up with what was going on. And that eventually, when the war started, they listened to me. I'd tried to fight but it was Mike, this time, who'd gotten caught out in front. Who had died.

I remembered none of this.

We told the scientists we'd had a vision, that we had a purpose for existence. That we'd seen a glimpse of the future and we intended to stop it, if only they'd help us. But Mike and I agreed--we should keep the others safe. Give them their innocence and their happiness, as much as possible. So we taught them to avoid eating, and told them our limits, and shared the vulnerabilities of the machines, and made them stockpile.

And then Mike and I went to Washington and tried to stop things from happening, listened in on politics and offered advice. There was one senator who pushed for war, and the others became fevered, and fell into his sway.

I died being caught spying in his office.

As soon as I sat down, Mike told me he believed me. For him, it was the first time he'd told me so.

We didn't know how many lives we had. We didn't know how many chances we got. Perhaps we all six had to die at once to stay dead? Maybe we were alive for the purpose of saving the world. Maybe we all had to die at least once, or we had a number of lives shared between us. We didn't know. Mike died twice more, and me three times, neither remembering the lives of the others, and never managing to save the world. But it always started the same, and the others always reacted the same unless we did something different.

Then time I died, and it was Sarah the next morning at the table who beat Mike to the punch. Three times, actually, because I died first that life, too, and then it was Mike who died. With three people it was easier, and we reported, each first morning after dying, what had happened in the previous life, with three clueless friends who didn't know us sitting at our table and watching us with frightened, wide eyes.

Once we made it six years. Jack, when he joined us, said we made it eight under one of his lives. Every time we woke up, the one who had died was a little stronger than before.

Kinsey was the last. We did everything we could to spare her. The theory that we had to each die once to all be dead was still on the table, and we were approaching a total death count of twenty-five, which seemed an ominous number. Mike said we'd all agreed to share our death count to figure out whose death had come most recently; that person would recount the latest strategy and lead in revising it, having had the most recent experience.

We stopped the war on life twenty-four, when Mike to me had gone from nine to twelve and Jack from four to six. That time, invasion came from the sky; and while we were prepared for the machines, the aliens were better armed than the enemy ever had been. I died under a gun I'd never seen before. It hurt, though.

We passed twenty-five without problem, and Kinsey was still safe. But then we started focusing on preparing for the aliens, and the war happened again, and this time we were careless and they discovered us and our plots, thanks to my food thief whom I'd decided to outwit instead of reveal, and took her. We tried to save her but it was a trap. We died, all six of us, at once. The last thing I heard was Sara saying, "How about the courtyard this time, guys?"

I stood awkwardly in the courtyard until Mike showed up, looking embarrassed until he saw me. "I guess I'm not the only one who heard her?" he asked. Apparently, all of us had.

The thought that we might all need to die exactly five times meant we kept sending Kinsey to safety, until I died and found she'd gone from two to seven without anyone else gaining. "Turns out Brazil isn't safe," was all she said. Since Sara's grudge against Jack refusing to talk about death number seven, and her suspicion that had wracked up our total death count by five before I got him to admit the end of that life (a undercover ending that had gone wrong, and was in fact quite embarrassing, not some secret betrayal as Sara expected), we'd all agreed that confidentiality was okay.

Still the question of "Why" and "when" plagued us, and we all spend a lifetime in research, investigating our turner and letting the war and invasion happen, a one-life sacrifice in a search for answers so at least one of us would know. He'd been a war hero, living peacefully outside town, enjoying life. Seventy-eight years later, he'd gone crazy and bitten the six of us all in a single night, gorging on blood. They'd beheaded him and collected us.

We passed fifty, and a hundred. Jack tried for a while to make us all celebrate one Christmas every time together, so we'd have some kind of shared memory. Apparently we'd had one Christmas in his life that had been happy, pure joy. No one else remembered it. Sara never remembered the time I gave her a rescued puppy, and it grew strong and healthy, always made her smile, and saved her life from the fire that killed me. I understood.

That ended after Tom said he didn't want to see us fight again, after our plans took us far and wide. I got it going again, though, "when it'll not interfere too much, or make us fight." So occasionally, instead of every life, we would get together and have one good Christmas, and one good shared memory.

On death count total one-hundred-and-twenty seven, with all six of us running around 24-7 on an intricate schedule, with Kinsey running away to the other capital and befriending their VP, and Jack and me in Washington assassinating the warmonger, and Sara getting us out and pinning the blame on the food-thief, and Tom and Mike feeding info on the alien technology to the war department, we stopped the invasion and prevented the war.

And all lived.

What do you do, when your purpose is over? We'd lived and died so many times, and watched our friends die over and over, only to have to befriend them again. So many heartbreaks. So many years in battles.

They asked us what we wanted in reward.

I asked to die. We'd all lived and we could do it again, I figured. But maybe, maybe this time it would be over.

Sara dittoed me. So did Tom, and Jack, and Mike. Because we all wanted the same thing: for it to all be over.

Kinsey wasn't sure. She wasn't eager to live, but she wasn't ready to die; she'd only wracked up a death count of twenty-two, which was the least of all of us.

Why had we all been turned? What was the purpose of vampires? Kinsey, even knowing how our maker had died, volunteered to live. As she said, "you never know when we'll need more."

They asked us if we were sure, over and over and over. Then they asked us how. Kinsey will get a medal of honor tomorrow, straight from the hands of the president. This time they've made our hibernation slabs in a circle, so we lay on our stomachs and see each other, close enough to hold hands as the morphine kicks in, with the guillotines rigged to all go off as the same time.

And if the world ever needs more vampires, if someone has to go mad and make a bunch of new ones, they'll have the information we left to guide them. Kinsey will write it up.

Until that day, if you read this, you'll find a mausoleum room in a ranch in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, with six slabs and five bodies, or maybe six if Kinsey has come home to us, if the world needs vampires again. They'll seal it up when she's gone, they promised us that.

It's a bit selfish of the five of us to ask this. But if there's one thing we all agree on, it's that we never want to die alone again.