by John Andreula
edited by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk
Dreams aren’t predicated on sleep.
A vision of what one is meant for is a dream too.
Reflections on what one could possibly become are, as well.
Some include becoming rich, powerful, famous, or the top in one’s field.
Others want a beautiful partner, hence the phrase, “She’s the girl of my dreams.”
These dreams are just a another way to refer to one’s wishes.
Seth Stanton still wore the same lab coat and pocket protector he had worn in the years when he had worked with Dr. Stefani Wilkins. He still wore the same gunmetal titanium-framed spectacles with round clear lenses that were about an inch in diameter. His former colleague and friend had helped pick the glasses out.
Ever since Wilkins and Stanton had parted ways, a profound coldness formed deep inside of him. He had never cared for anyone in his life more than minimally, besides her. Now there was no one. He was alone once again, with just his thoughts and his ambition. He had only his work, and his dreams of the power it would produce.
The pain of losing Wilkins had long since ceased, or so he told himself whenever he reminisced over their time together. He didn’t realize how much she had actually meant to him until after she had gone. While with her, he had assumed any of his feelings were in relation to their shared work and his incessant lust for the power she had exposed him to. After all, she was the gatekeeper to his understanding of the evolutionarily advanced human beings she had referred to as the Effected.
He still continued experiencing some feeling he couldn’t quite place whenever he reminisced over their shared time. He missed her. He longed for her smell, or one of those brief meaningless glancing touches she would bestow on him when they worked in close proximity. Nonetheless, he would have never a similar experience again.
Instead of dwelling on such worthless feelings, he cauterized the wound through his continual efforts to understand the abilities exhibited in the Effected. He didn’t just move on, he amplified his efforts. Stanton would spend stretches of entire days in one of his now-lavish laboratories. He would take only the occasional breaks for a night spent in one of his homes, where he slept in a bed in cold, utilitarian surroundings.
He went on to establish superficial associations as he packaged his research, data, and findings, to sell to a hungry community of entrepreneurs and investors. They provided him with money, real estate and any other material or corporate support he required. He had gained the attention of many.
Stanton built a corporate structure around himself and his research with ease. He had no shortage of funds or personnel to do so. He maintained ultimate jurisdiction and supervision over his new innovative science, as he was the only person with the knowledge and expertise to head the swiftly-growing enterprise.
Stanton knew people’s affection and their desire could be an asset to him, so he decided he would exploit the opportunity. The scientist carved out additional time studying human relations, management, and personality manipulation. Compared to cerebral modification and engineering, these were elementary; no more difficult than learning another foreign language.
Stanton was confident taking his findings public, unlike the doctor who had always treated any exposure with apprehension. He frequently and vehemently claimed that powered beings existed. They were the indisputable next step in the evolution of humanity.
First came the notice of the high-tech community. The technologically savvy never want to miss the inevitable next wave. Many got behind Stanton’s cause and young science. A mass of developers, analysts, scientists, and researchers abandoned their lucrative careers with well-known and established corporations to be a part of this obvious next big thing. Most even accepted a fraction of what they were making at their previous conglomerates and start-ups in hopes of being on the ground floor of the colossal biological and technological breakthrough driven by the powers of the Effected.
All who worked for Stanton felt satisfied to be employed by a modern-day innovator and genius. They had entered a new frontier in this world of the evolved human with him; but it was a world Seth Stanton controlled.
On the surface, Stanton sought feedback, input, and critique from those he worked with, and those he had allowed to see themselves as his peers. He seemed to welcome discussion in the interest of continually moving forward and improving his results. He manufactured charisma whenever it was called for in order to fend off critics and those who might dig deep into his methods and elusive past.
Privately, Stanton enjoyed the autonomous unilateral domination over the world’s flow of information on the Effected, as well as his technological innovations and, of course, the power resulting from the two.
Stanton wasn’t a recluse, but he wasn’t freely accessible either. While attending to the executive leadership of his company, VIM Inc., he oversaw the day to day operations of VIM’s research and development as well. He remained exclusively dedicated to his work. His passion and his dreams were his only true companions.
What once were dingy labs and tiny offices became complexes of buildings that were staffed with a technical support staff that rivaled the scope of small armies. Each employee was vetted thoroughly. They either believed in Stanton’s publicly-communicated vision of a future with VIM produced power for all people, or they weren’t brought on. He had inspired a cult-like following.
A high profile magazine even ran a multi-issue cover feature on Stanton and the Effected. That was where Stanton was originally dubbed The Controller of a Brave New World. The title seemed to fit well. People started referring to him by this new moniker. Of course, few were brave enough to do so to Stanton’s face. Ironically, he actually liked the nickname. It encompassed what he dreamed in regards to the newly-discovered powers of the world.
Stanton never objected or shied away from the pseudonym. In fact, he encouraged it by not responding when press or others called him by that name. He felt it appropriately described himself and his unspoken goals for his work. He took pride in the world recognizing what he saw as his own greatest character trait. He decided the Controller was what he would be called.
Despite his abundant arrogance, the Controller had concerns about having his darker dealings discovered, so he borrowed from the playbook of many weapons and technology companies’ previously established precedents. He enacted the standard of keeping each employee’s role and production narrow and isolated. Everyone’s work was to be interdependent and separate. Each would design and develop parts that on their own told no clue to intended totality, and when VIM released its products to the world they didn’t just make a splash, they made tidal waves.
The most notable of VIM’s technology releases was a device called Protrekter. This new machine was based on the design of the original Exasberator. Of course, only Stanton and Wilkins new about that grisly tool.
Protrekter resembled a reclining doctor’s table. Each had spinal and cortex cable connections down the center of the table. It connected the user to the internet and a variety of other devices. The machine allowed for an advanced level of cerebral observation and data interpretation through three-dimensional imaging.
In Layman’s terms, Protrekter could recreate a user’s thoughts from the earthly world into the form of a hologram. Despite the necessary alterations users had to impose on their bodies, millions sought out VIM’s coveted device.
The popularity of Stanton’s creation wasn’t just due to its capabilities, it was also owed to its accessibility. Protrekter was offered at a price anyone with a middle class income could afford. Much to the consternation of VIM’s investors who felt a premium should be charged for the innovative toys they were providing the world, the Controller launched the machine for less than the world’s best-selling laptops.
With Protrekter’s release, home entertainment and communication were reinvented. The world fell in love with VIM and its “Controller.”
Media, social advocates, and activists pressed as to where the technological developments had come from. They also inquired about the bewildering concept of offering such large and impressive technology for so cheap. Stanton always sighted his keen and meticulous observation of the Effected, in addition to the complex technologies of blockchain and quantum computing, as giving him insights others couldn’t possibly fathom.
Aside from the odd marginalized conspiracy theorist, almost all accepted Stanton’s words at face value. As always, the public desired what was new and next. Regardless of the human rights violations of VIM’s factory workers in China and elsewhere, the consumeristic masses were willing to overlook much of it in the interest of this wonderful new mode of entertainment.
In truth, Stanton’s scientific advancements had come from what he done beneath the protective cloaking of his company. While the world ate out of Stanton’s palm, the Controller continued much of his efforts underground. He proceeded with capturing and experimenting on various Effected surreptitiously. He wanted to achieve the highest possible level of understanding of the powered. He needed to. It became an addiction that only new insights would quell.
His endeavors were worthless without the clandestine experimentation on the Effected he performed. Their powers were what had truly inspired his inventive mind. It opened the doors that allowed him to visualize and build his new and grand technologies.
Stanton had long since gained understanding as to where the differences in the Effected’s physiology had arisen. In one of his secluded labs he created an enhanced and updated version of his Exasberator machine to take his research further. His original machine was lost the night of the incident in the Philippines. He named the second version “EX-2.”
In addition to all the original applications of its predecessor, the chrome helmet device could interface with non-Effected individuals as well. The Controller decided it was time to begin tests on non-powered humans to see if he could introduce Effected powers into their minds. He would refer to these test subjects as “Pre’s.”
Once connected to the neural cortex of a Pre, the EX-2 allowed the Controller to tinker with a subject’s neural make-up. This jump from the functionality of the original Exasberator allowed for various enhancements to learning and cognitive ability. Most significantly, it allowed him to replicate the powers of any Effected he had previously observed and lobotomized.
Volunteer Pre’s were sourced from prisons, paramilitary and mercenary organizations, and poor communities spanning the globe. Each were paid to participate in the Controller’s experiments. They were told the trials could potentially lead to them having Effected abilities installed within them. To most, this was more valuable than any money they were offered.
The Controller rarely had to pay out though. Test subject after test subject would briefly exhibit the abilities the EX-2 provided, but in turn each would expire within twelve to fourteen hours from the initial cerebral adjustment. The Controller could extend the time within some of the test subjects by completing additional procedures to the subject’s brain, but the clock counted down regardless of the adjustments he made. It appeared those who did not naturally manifest abilities were not meant to have them at all.
These results frustrated the Controller immensely. Something was missing beyond the futurist’s understanding of where and how the powers had derived. Despite all the fantastic breakthroughs resulting in deconstructing various Effecteds’ minds, the Controller was impeded by his limitations regarding synthesizing powers. Ultimately, this was what he was after. The Controller wanted to imbue himself with the superior abilities he had collected.
He then understood he would need to discover new powers in Effected the he had not been exposed to. Or, he would have to find a way to manufacture new abilities.
Despite the ease the Postulant made in locating the Effected, capturing them remained a tiresome chore. Powered people were often scared by the Controller’s teams of operatives. They weren’t exceedingly gentle either. The Effected would oftentimes lash out in order to defend themselves or in attempts to seek refuge. With what the Controller had planned for their minds and bodies, they were correct to be afraid.
The Controller had no objections to forcefully restraining the Effected and taking what he needed, but the intensity of some of the Effected’s powers required new tactics. He lacked the time or the vitality to subdue them in the field himself, and his teams were frequently outgunned and outmatched by the powers held by those they went after. Causalities were far too common on both sides.
Perhaps manufacturing and discovering new powers could be accomplished simultaneously, the Controller thought to himself as he worked under the blue of the fluorescent overhead lights in one his secret laboratories.
He had just received more disappointing news in the form of a phone call from one of his field team leaders. Another Effected had escaped his top retrieval team. He recognized a need to try a different approach.
His current situation required an adjustment in how he approached his work on the Effected. If he would have any chance of finding a person with the necessary power he required, he would need the assistance of some Effected to do so. He needed to proceed in an intelligent and dynamically more gentle way. His typical modus operandi of taking what he needed from the Effected’s mind and then disposing of them would no longer serve. The Controller reflected on those who’s powers would have been useful to him. Many had possessed the necessary disposition and drive to join his new cause if only the thought had occurred to him earlier.
The Controller knew some would be inspired by money, drugs, or power. Some just had an inherent need to be accepted. The scientist knew he could attend to any of these basic necessities in the future. It was as simple as inviting them into his world with promises of greatness. He would exhibit a willingness to assist them in understanding their powers, and then entice them with the possibility of attaining more power. He was reminded of his own drive; he would use theirs wants and need for his own ends.
The Controller returned to his Postulant. It found his first recruit located in the Midwest of the US. The machine’s readings were similar to ones the man had seen before, but the readings were much stronger. He would have to investigate.
What the Controller found was a twenty-something diminutive Caucasian man with a shaved head. The scientist spent three days shadowing him and assessing if his personality and demeanor were a correct fit for the function he required.
The man the machine found was a carny. It would seem he was impervious to burns by fire or chemicals, and he could withstand extreme temperatures of heat. He used his ability to make a meager living from show after show in spectacular displays that crowd after crowd just wrote off as illusory performances.
The carny set logs ablaze in barrels and held his arms inside for extended periods. He removed his arms unmarked; not so much as a spot of red, black, or brown. Afterwards the man climbed into the barrel for an encore. He closed the show by laying on large blocks of dry ice. The Controller almost felt for the young man.
After some eavesdropping, the Controller discovered the man was known only by the name James. Apparently, James had no last name. James had been travelling around North America as a carny for much of his life.
After the final show on the third night, the Controller addressed young James. When pressed about his powers, James claimed they were just tricks he used to perform and make a living. The Controller smiled at the twenty-something who already had lines about his face as if he were in his forties. “You’re meant for so much more than this pitiful ‘living’ you’re earning. You are considerably greater than you could possibly know.”
Not one to stay current on world events, James was unaware that there were others like him. Despite his surprise at the young man’s naivety and ignorance, the Controller continued his pitch. He inputted a few commands on his smart phone and placed it on the dirt ground between them. The phone’s screen lit up brightly and an image rose into the air about two feet above the gunmetal casing.
The image was a hologram. It showed James a recording of a middle-aged man bending steel beams floating in the air in front of him with no more than his bare hands. The clip ended and immediately another began. The second showed an Asian boy in a jungle that leapt gently off the ground and floated in mid air. The boy pressed smoothly back down to the earth and jumped off again. The second jump was more forceful. The image of the boy shot up into the air above them and disappeared into the clouds of the night’s sky.
James stared into the air where the hologram had just vanished for a few moments. “Holy shit.”
The Controller smirked. He knew he had already won over young James. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
James brought his gaze back down from the sky and looked directly at the Controller. “What do you want with me?”
“Excellent question, my friend. Now that I’ve seen what you can do, I want to learn more about your abilities, so I can help you harness and improve them. Then, I want you to help me find more people like you. Together we’re going to build a family, James. Wouldn’t you like that?”
“No freak shows? No more people pointing and laughing at me?”
“We’ll never let them again, James. How’s that sound?”
“What’s the catch?”
“There’s no catch, James. You learn, and I learn. We find others and do it all over again.”
James appeared apprehensive for a moment as he processed all he had seen and heard from this strange older man. The man’s warm smile seem to sooth his concerns. He presumed he had nothing more to lose. “I’m in. What’s your name anyway?”
“You can call me the Controller, and what would you like to be called?” James never knew his parents. They had abandoned him when he could barely walk and talk. He had little memory of them or the night they left him. He was given the name James by his first carnival ringleader at the age of six.
James cherished this idea that he had innate superior abilities. He decided he should a superior name as well. He came to a decision. “Swelter. You can call me Swelter.”
The two shook hands. This was the beginning of a new way of being for the both of them. Swelter accepted his new position and name graciously. The Controller accepted he would have to choke back his urge to subject the young man to his tests.
The scientist recognized the strangeness of the moment. He needed someone again. Besides, if the boy failed, he could always return to his traditional methods.
Bad Dreams is the second arc of an ongoing fiction epic called The Dreamer.
Look out for Bad Dreams Part 3 in two weeks.
In the meantime, if you haven’t read the first arc check it out here.
John Andreula is a writer and dreamer residing in the foothills of Colorado.
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