This dream was different.
For as long as Rip could remember he could fly. Since the festival last year, he realized he could also observe his dreams while he remained fully engaged within them. It was almost as though he was in two places at once, both dreamer and voyeur. More recently, Rip had experimented with changing his dreams, but tonight the flying dream was different and the change was coming from somewhere else. Although the sensation was subtle, more a feeling of disquiet than any obvious departure from the regularly repeating dream, the result was disturbing and Rip knew that it was profoundly important.
As was commonly the case in this dream, he had soared high over the city of Rosalis, looking out over the far northern reaches of the Altaxian Empire across fertile green pasture, an expansive river delta and the azure ocean beyond. Rip felt strong thermal currents from the afternoon sun rising beneath him, and although they were not intimately connected with this mode of ‘mind-flying’, a technique that seemed to be the deeper objective of the dream, the warmth and movement of the air felt reassuring, providing a pleasant physical sensation that made the flying seem somehow real and invigorating.
There had also been a brief encounter with another White Spark. Although these adrenaline charged battles were not always part of the dream, they had increased in recent times. The flyer had come from the direction of the sun and was almost upon Rip before he was aware of any physical danger. Somehow he had managed to block the Spark’s Katana with his own, a mere instant before the attack would have decapitated him. With the failed strike, Rip’s assailant had lost momentum and Rip was able to immediately catch his attacker across the cheek with a powerful ripost. With blood flowing freely from the White Spark’s face, he began falling rapidly as the concentration required for flight gave way to pain. These battle elements had become increasingly common dream sequences and they always managed to fully test his competency with his ever increasing array of hard-won martial skills.
The change that Rip felt wasn’t so much the dream itself or the shorter than usual combat sequence. Rip knew from his Tutors and Decsquad comrades that the story lines and challenges contained within the dreams were individually spoon feed by the Sentinels. Something far more fundamental was changing. The whole dream environment was different, somehow it felt wrong and there was something else, a type of frailness that Rip couldn’t put his finger on. It was as though the whole world was loosing color, the sounds muted and there was no longer any feeling from the thermals or his momentum through the dream landscape. He knew instinctively that the Sentinels would punish him severely, possibly even kill or reset him, if he didn’t dream the right dreams. Rip had already been through some corrective sessions when his early dream changing ability had been discovered. The Sentinals had called it ‘tertiary tampering’ and their methods of reformation were brutal, at least those that Rip could remember. Reformation punishments were a common response to a host of military infractions and performance failures, however the Sentinals seemed particularly unforgiving when it came to dream breaches, almost as if they considered them akin to high treason.
Since the last punishment, Rip had kept his observations and changing awareness of his dreams a closely guarded secret. He had only discussed his ability to observe his own dream on a single occasion with Lex, and even then he was reticent to share detail, especially when Lex revealed he never actually remembered any details of his own dreams. Rip was certainly not about to share this dramatic new development, even if he could actually describe what had transpired beyond some vague foreboding. Just as Rip’s voyeur half was considering how he might even broach such a risky conversation, the Altaxian landscape passing below his aerial view suddenly evaporated into grey fog. More concerning, the sky ahead became tessellated and translucent, as though it had suddenly been transformed into a fractured mosaic seen poorly through wet paper. Rip’s own arm outstretched in front of him began to take on a similar appearance.
Rip awoke in a cold sweat, breathing rapidly and shallowly with a painful knot in his stomach. Something was really wrong with the dream.
Once Rip had regained some composure he whispered to himself without confidence “probably just a glitch with the Sentinals.” He vowed to wait and hear if any of his Decsquad comrades mentioned anything unusual about their own dreams once the day’s training was underway. Rip wasn’t confident, he couldn’t remember anything like this happening before and the Sentinals weren’t known for mistakes. Deciding to remain awake until reveille, only an hour or so away, Rip almost convinced himself that by the evening things would be back to normal, or at least back to yesterday’s normal. If he made sure he was exhausted, perhaps he would stop tampering with his own dreams and everything would be all right again.