I’ve always had a fascination with dreams, especially since I’ve died in three of them. So, I was enthralled when I watched the film Inception, with its ‘dream within a dream’ premise. I’d been planning a novel where aliens would use dreams as interrogation techniques. Why? Because (a) truth drugs are too easy, and make for boring fiction, (b) telepathy also means no tension, since an interrogator simply reads your mind, and (c) when dreaming, and when remembering dreams, we try to rationalise even if what is happening is not rational, and (d) it is a space where we can access our so-called subconscious.
Dreams tend to be the province of fantasy more than science fiction, but then maybe Scifi is missing a trick – a dream is an altered reality, and if it can be manipulated then Scifi can play with it (as in Cyberpunk Scifi). It becomes less fantasy, and more an exploration of ‘inner’ space. Ever since the classic film Forbidden Planet, I realised that the biggest, scariest monsters are those hiding in our minds (in the ‘Id’).
I didn’t want to use an old cliché where somebody sees something in a dream, has a revelation, all that stuff which has been done to death already. I wanted an alien mind using it to probe one of ours. But to make it more interesting, what the alien is looking for is buried in the subconscious mind. To get at it would not be easy.
The story is as follows (it is chapter 7 in the novel at the moment): A female character (Kat) knows something, but doesn’t know she knows it – an alien (Kalarash) has planted it in her mind. It is an image of something left hidden on a planet, that the Kalarash is going to come back for. It is a weapon of awful magnitude. Another alien (Qorall) wants the information, and tries interrogating Kat, but she can’t tell him even if she wanted to. Qorall isn’t telepathic, and even if he was, he could only access her conscious mind. So, he sends her into a dream. In fact, I used the Inception approach, and she is inside a dream within a dream. As in Inception, the first or upper dream layer doesn't yield results, so he sends her deeper.
Kat only trusts one person, her sister, who died when Kat was a kid. They used to go surfing together, she and her older sister Angelica (‘Angel’). In both dream layers, it is Angelica who is trying to get the information out of her, but in the layer I’ll show you in a minute, Kat is a teenager again. This is because as an adult, Kat is very tough and a bit of a kick-ass character, and so is giving away nothing in the ‘upper’ dream layer.
The dream starts off ‘normal’, but Angel (Qorall) slowly twists the scenario, putting emotional pressure on Kat. Angel brings up characters (Micah, Pierre, Louise) who are people in Kat’s adult life, further confusing Kat-the-teenager, and playing on human psychology to bring the hidden piece of information to the surface. Kat’s own physiology is resisting in the form of a headache that worsens as Qorall gets closer to finding what he is looking for, as the dream slowly but surely transforms into a nightmare…
Kat lay face-down on the beach, the sound of the surf roaring in the background. She wiggled her toes, trying to dislodge the wet sand stuck between them, towel damp underneath her tummy after the last frolic in the waves surfing with her sister. When she was on the long board behind Angel, nothing else mattered, not her damned exams, not even her uncle’s odd behaviour toward her; the way she caught him staring at her when she was bending.
Some boys played football close by; there were always boys close by when Angel was around. Kat had zero interest in boys, and looked the other way whenever her sis kissed one of her boyfriends. Angel said Kat’s time would come, but she was already fifteen, and reckoned her hormones had other plans.
Kat was starting to burn; she knew she should really turn over, or get into the shade. But she wanted a deep tan like her sister. Besides, the sun could block out all kinds of things, bake them out. She heard Angel stir, and teased open an eye, squinting in the blazing sun, to see the silhouette of her sister standing above her, squirting sunscreen into the palms of her hand. Angel promptly straddled Kat’s back, and began rubbing oil into her.
Kat moaned as Angel’s hands repeatedly pressed the grooves on either side of her spine, up and over her shoulders. “Oh God, Angie, that feels good!”
Angel varied her massage routine, eliciting more groans from Kat. The boys stopped their football. She leaned forward, close to Kat’s ear, lingering for effect. “I’m giving them some wet dream material.” They both burst out laughing. Angel dismounted, and sat next to her.
Kat turned over, propped up on her elbows, letting her head roll back, feeling the sun beat down against her small breasts, and her throat. “You’re killing them, sis.”
Angel lay a hand on Kat’s stomach, and drew circles with her finger. “But what a way to go, eh?”
They both laughed again. Kat lay down flat, feeling as light as the cirrus clouds wisping across the azure sky. She shaded her eyes to spy a gull soaring overhead, crying out for its mate somewhere.
“You miss Pierre, don’t you?” Angel said.
Kat did. She hadn’t talked about it, not to anyone else. “Like hell,” she said. She turned toward Angel, saw the frown. The boys were calling lewdly to Angel, but she never took her eyes off Kat. Abruptly Angel’s head turned to face the sea.
“He had no right to just dump you like that.”
Kat’s lips tightened. She didn’t like to talk about it; but she’d never seen her sister so concerned before. Their whole family was pretty stunted on the emotional register. She’d not even talked about it to her new best friend at school, Louise. “He had to go, you know that.”
Angel turned back, a flash of anger, opened her mouth as if to say something, then shook her head. “I know, but I’ve just never understood.”
Kat sat up, moved closer. Angel had always comforted her, been the big sister, stood in for their mother who’d died when Kat was barely two, and had protected her from her Goddam-awful uncle when their father had gone completely off the rails and drunk himself into oblivion. But now Angel was in pain. Kat stretched out her arm and, hesitatingly, placed it over Angel’s shoulders. Angel folded into Kat’s embrace, the first time their caring relationship had ever reversed direction. Kat felt her eyes water. The boys quietened, and moved further towards the breaching waves.
Kat needed to talk about it; had needed to for a long time. She drew in a breath. “Micah said Pierre’s gone to get help.” Her head started to ache; she should get out of the sun; it was so damned hot. She picked up her straw hat and put it on.
“Where on Earth is he going to get help, given the storm that’s coming. Don’t be naïve, Kat, he’s dumped you, that’s all there is to it.”
Kat felt as if she’d been slapped. What had gotten into Angel? “I don’t know any more than what Micah said, I’m not even sure he knows, but –”
“Listen to yourself, Kat. It’s pathetic. Men stick together, cover for each other. Micah, Pierre, they’re all the bloody same. Christ, I should know.” Angel broke free of the embrace, sat apart, dug into her bag and fished out a cigarette, lighting it with a fluency that looked so adult. But Kat hated it when Angel smoked. She only smoked when she was angry – no, when she’d been let down by somebody.
Kat looked away. The boys had moved closer again, yelling something. Suddenly the ball landed right next to Angel, showering them both with a hiss of sand.
Angel was on her feet in a second, shouting. “For God’s sake piss off and leave us alone.” She picked up the ball and gave it a mighty drop-kick toward the ocean. She took a long drag, staring at the boys till they ran off to retrieve their ball, looked down at Kat, and then dropped the cigarette into the sand, burying it.
She knelt down next to Kat and put her arms around her. “Sorry, Sis, I’m being a real bitch today. Forget about it, just forget the whole damned thing.”
Kat shook; if Angel wasn’t there for her, she wouldn’t – couldn’t – cope. But Angel hugged her tight, rocking her. She thought of Pierre, how he’d left, deserted her. But she couldn’t be angry with him anymore; he wasn’t the first to leave her, everyone did sooner or later. But she believed he would come back. Why? She tried to focus. Why would he come back? She flinched at a stabbing pain behind her eyes. God, not another migraine!
Angel released her from the embrace. “I hope he does come back, Kat. For you.”
Something clicked in her mind. “Not for me.”
Angel opened her palms upwards. “Meaning what? Don’t tell me he’s got a crush on me, I couldn’t –”
“No, no,” Kat said, with an urgency to verbalise the revelation while it loitered in her mind. “Something else! The Kalarash were here for half a million years.”
Angel rolled her eyes. “Everyone knows that, Kat. But Louise told me that Micah searched all the caves, the oceans even. Nothing. Gone, the same as Pierre.”
Kat gave her a quizzical look. “How does Louise know Micah?”
Angel put on her cynical face.
“Oh, I see.” Kat felt her face flush. “Well, anyway. The Kalarash did leave something behind.”
“Besides a few Hohash, you mean?”
Kat nodded, just as pain lanced through her left eye. She cried out, cupping a hand over her face, squeezing both eyes closed. Angel moved toward her.
“Come here, let me see.” She pushed Kat’s hand aside. “Open your eye.”
Kat tried, but couldn’t open the left one.
“Open it!” Angel shouted, her voice sounding odd, distorted.
Through her right eye, Kat saw dark shadows as the boys gathered around them. The pain grew, as if someone was pulling a needle through her eye-ball. “Angel, help me, please! Call an ambulance!” The boys hands reached out, pinned Kat to the sand.
Angel’s voice hardened. “OPEN YOUR EYE!”
Kat squirmed, trying to escape the boys’ grip and the blinding pain; she felt her left eye was boiling inside its socket. Angel’s fingers became talons, trying to tear open Kat’s eyelids, but they were glued shut. Through her other eye she saw the gull circling above, framed against a sky of pure fire. It dropped down, wings fluttering, until just above the boys’ heads. It landed on her chest.
“Get it off me! What the fuck is going on? Angel!” She glanced at Angel, but she was busy clawing at Kat’s left eyelids, teeth bared with the effort. The gull leaned closer, its own blood red eyes peering into Kat’s. One of the boys behind the bird unsheathed a knife, and passed it blade-first to Angel, who loomed closer.
“Now we’ll see what you’re hiding, Katrina.” Angel raised the knife high above her in a closed fist...
Does Qorall get the information? You'll have to wait and see. But in my novels, at least people don't die in dreams. Kat will still get to kick some more ass before this is over.
The greatest potential for dramatic tension with dreams or altered realities in science fiction is when characters are not sure if they are in a dream or reality. But that's for another blog...
This is an excerpt from Eden’s Revenge, in progress, the third and final part of the Eden Trilogy:
The Eden Paradox is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook and Barnes and Noble in ebook, and Waterstones in paperback.
Eden’s Trial is available in ebook on Amazon, currently free for Amazon Prime subscribers for a short period.
Eden's Revenge, the finale, is due out December 2012.