Stephen Goldin's Blog
And Not Make Dreams Your Master
The corridor stretched to infinity. Bright tubes of fluorescence shone down on the smooth white walls and floor. A man and a woman ran down the empty hallway. Their shoes should have clattered on the shiny linoleum, but there was no sound in the eerie passage--just the blank walls rushing past. Time was against them, time was the enemy. If they didn't reach their target soon, the terrorists would destroy Los Angeles with their homemade atom bomb. But the corridor went on and on, and the man and woman ran and ran, never pausing for breath, never stopping to rest. They faced an eternity of running through the silent hall, while around them the world held its breath. They never looked at each other, and their feet glided silently over the smooth floor. They ran.
The end of the hall came suddenly. As they turned the corner a man appeared holding a rifle. He was dressed all in black, with the terrorists' insignia of a red cobra sewn on the left shoulder. He raised his rifle slowly, ever so slowly, to shoot at the pair approaching him.
The running man quickened his pace to deal with this menace, pulling ahead of his female companion. As he did so, the guard... changed. His outline wavered and became blurry. He separated into two images of the same guard, Siamese twins holding identical rifles in menacing postures. He/they barred the way, refusing further access.
The running man stopped with impossible quickness to fight this bifurcated threat, but actually the guard seemed to be more of a threat to him/themselves than to anyone else. His/their outlines blurred still further, and jumped around the floor, literally trying to pull him/themselves together. The lights dimmed and the walls of the corridor flickered in and out of existence. The fragile thread of reality was on the verge of crumbling.
Then suddenly everything was right again. The walls steadied, the lights brightened. There was only the one guard with one rifle, determined to keep these two intruders away--and totally unaware of his personality split just moments ago.
The running man swung a fist at the guard, his arm drifting in a lazy arc toward the terrorist's face. The punch connected solidly, and the impact was like hitting a pillow. The guard's face exploded in a shower of sparks that rained like fairy dust to the ground. His headless body sagged slowly to the floor, melting into a flesh-colored puddle and then evaporating altogether.
There was a slight ringing sound that only the man and woman could hear. "Come on," the man said to his companion. "There's not much time left. The bomb'll go off in five minutes."
The woman nodded silently and turned into the cross-corridor from which the guard had come. She began running again, and the man joined her, just as the world was fading out around them....
Wayne Corrigan lay in his dimly lit cubicle, panting from the exertion. There was the moment of disorientation he always experienced when switching from Dream to reality, that instant of not knowing what was true and what was pretense; then the world solidified again, and he was "home."
Funny how I think of this place as home, he thought. I'm only here a few hours every three days, playing make-believe. And yet, there were times when all that mattered, all that was real to him, was in this small booth, and the outside world faded to insignificance.
He opened his eyes slowly to stare up at the dim whiteness of the ceiling. His scalp tingled from two dozen fiery prickings, and the sensation reminded him that there was still work to do. This was only an intermission--the last intermission of the evening. Then he'd be trapped in reality again until his next performance.
Wayne ran quickly through his post-transition routine. He flexed his fingers and toes, letting the flavor of reality seep back into them. As they came to life once more, he pulled the feeling upward through his body, into the muscles of his legs and arms, lighting the warmth in his torso, finally reaching into his head and neck. Then the brief isometrics, to tell his body he was back in command and banish the stiffness that had stolen it while he was away in Dreamland.
It never failed to amaze him how tired his body got while it was actually lying still and peaceful on a couch. But he'd seen the studies, read the technical reports. In Dreams, the brain still sent commands to the muscles, but inhibiting factors usually kept the body from following through. Since he had to project more of his Dreams than ordinary people did, it was only natural his body suffered.
Ernie White, the engineer on duty tonight, poked his head into the cubicle.
"Is Sleeping Beauty awake yet?" he asked.
Wayne smiled, and the effort made him wince; his facial muscles were stiff, too.
"I think you want the lady next door."
"If I do, it's impolite of you to notice." White's face, black as an ebony carving, vanished from the doorway.
Groaning from the effort, Wayne rose slowly into a sitting position. His head just missed scraping the ceiling of the cubicle--which had not, after all, been built for sitting or standing in. He gingerly lifted his own private crown of thorns, the Dreamcap, off his head and set it down on the couch beside him, then edged his way over to the door.
The bright lights in the room outside made his eyes water after the dimness of the cubicle. Wayne blinked back the tears as he slid out of his cocoon and looked over to his left, where White was helping Janet Meyers out of her own chamber. Janet was blinking against the light as badly as Wayne was, but Wayne recovered first. He took advantage of her moment of blindness to observe her in detail.
From a purely technical standpoint, Janet Meyers was not a classic beauty. She was a little too tall and her bones were a little too thick. Her face was round, and there were some barely noticeable freckles on her cheeks. Her brown hair was dry and never perfectly in place; a few strands always managed to fly away somewhere, usually across her forehead. She was well-proportioned; any man with reasonable taste would give her a long, lingering glance, although he might not turn around as she passed to give her a second.
There was nothing special about her that couldn't be found in hundreds of other women. So why do I act like some goddamn teenage virgin when I'm around her? Wayne wondered angrily.
She became accustomed to the light and looked over at him. Wayne quickly shifted his gaze to the clock over the door to the engineering booth, then got angry with himself for feeling guilty because he was looking at her. Silly schoolboy games, he thought. I should have outgrown those years ago.
"Any problems in there?" White asked them. "I thought I saw the dials jumping for a second."
That reminded Wayne of the horrible screw-up with the guard in the hallway.
"Just a little trouble coordinating an image," he said. "We were positioning a character differently, and he got fuzzy and jumped around a little before I finally took control of him."
"It was my fault," Janet said. "He was your character, you were supposed to handle him. I should have given you full control from the moment he appeared. I just didn't think. Sorry."
"It's not your fault," Wayne insisted, feeling very protective. "How can they expect perfection when they change scripts on us at the last moment? We hardly had time to look it over, not much chance to rehearse--"
"It was only a little jumpiness, just for a second or two," Janet continued. "Probably made for good comic relief, if anyone in the audience even noticed. Or if there is an audience, for that matter."
"Twenty-two thousand of them, according to the computer," White said.
Wayne scowled. Mort Schulberg wouldn't be happy with so low a rating--but then, he was seldom happy with anything.
"And Janet just worked two days ago," he continued in her defense. "She's got to be worn out. It's the sort of thing that could happen to anyone."
"Hey, you don't got to apologize to me," the engineer grinned. "I just twiddle the dials, remember?"
"We've got ten minutes," Janet interrupted, glancing at the clock herself. "That mistake is history, but if we want to avoid any more of them we'd better coordinate."
She and Wayne walked into the Ready Room, where a sketch of their set had been quickly drawn up for them to study before they started.
"Corridor is twenty meters long," she said almost mechanically. "Men stationed here, here, and here. A metal grill gate, like the kind shops use to lock up at night, right across here, raised by a button over here. Two men past the gate. Think you can dismantle the bomb yourself?"
The question made Wayne feel suddenly insecure. Even though he was the newest Dreamer on the staff here, he did have previous experience elsewhere. He tried to cover his feelings with some lighthearted banter.
"I'll have to, won't I? Too late to change the script now. Besides, you'll have your hands full with all those guards."
"That's for sure. I'll have to ask Bill how come there's always more each time. He's turning me into a damned Amazon!"
"Maybe if you smile nicely at him he'll give you a love story next time."
"God, I hope not!" The vehemence in her voice surprised Wayne. "If there's anything I don't want it's a pile of sappy garbage for frustrated housewives. I'd rather fight the Mongol hordes singlehanded."
She looked up and saw the strange expression on Wayne's face.
"What's the matter with you?" she asked.
Wayne looked quickly away.
"Nothing," he said. Her reaction let him know all too plainly how she was feeling about romance at the moment.
"We'd better decide who's going to handle which parts of the scene so we don't have any more confusion. I'd hate to ruin the ending."
They spent the next few minutes going over the scene step by step, discussing which of them would be responsible for visualizing which parts and which characters. Ernie White finally came in to break the discussion up, telling them to get back into their cubicles now if they were going to start on time. As they climbed back into their separate chambers, Janet suddenly flashed Wayne a smile and a quick V-for-Victory sign. It relieved somewhat the depression that had been overtaking him, and he eased himself into his cubicle.
Sitting upright on the couch, he picked up the Dreamcap and held it for a moment in his lap, turning it over and looking at it from all sides. It wasn't much to see: two crossing arcs of plastic with a circular rim to form the framework of a skullcap, with wires leading from the back down to the floor. The quadrants of the cap were filled with an almost invisible wire mesh that came together at twenty-four node points corresponding to areas of the brain. And yet this simple device had created whole new industries, and a revolution in personal entertainment.
The first real explorations into the workings of the brain had begun decades ago. Electroencephalograms charted the course of brain waves so they could be cataloged and identified. Researchers found that different areas within the brain were responsible for different bodily functions. It was learned that portions of the brain could be stimulated externally to modify behavior--the best example being the classic experiment with rats who'd had electrodes planted in the so-called pleasure centers of their brains. These rats were willing to cross over an area of severe electrical shock just so they could press a bar that stimulated these pleasure centers. Starving rats would not willingly cross that barrier to get food, yet otherwise healthy rats would risk almost anything for a jolt to the pleasure center.
Experiments to map the areas of the brain became ever more finely tuned, until eventually psychologists and neurologists could pinpoint with complete accuracy where most of the common functions of the brain were stored. This in itself was an enormous advance for medical science. Many crippling illnesses could be shown to be caused by dysfunctions within the relevant brain tissue; in many cases, microsurgery could correct or alleviate the condition, rescuing millions of people from debilitation.
The areas that interested psychologists the most, though, were those controlling the higher brain functions: learning, retention, recall, thought processes, imagination, and so forth. Many neurologists had already suspected that some forms of schizophrenia were caused, not by emotional childhood traumas, but by simple chemical imbalances within the brain. Using the accumulating body of knowledge about the brain's mechanisms, they proved that these imbalances literally caused patients to perceive the world differently from other people, thus accounting for their different behavior. As a sidelight to this research, they also discovered how "normal" people perceived the universe.
To the great surprise of many, this turned out to be remarkably simple to chart. Except for those people with physical disorders--which were now easily identifiable--everyone stored the same kinds of images in the same places within their brains. By stimulating the same spot in two different people, it was possible to conjure identical images within their minds. At first, these experiments could only be done by the old-fashioned method of surgically implanting electrodes within the brain itself--but shortly thereafter, a method was found to stimulate these areas using electromagnetic waves instead of electrodes. The new method had obvious advantages: it could be applied externally, so there was no need of surgery, and it could be guided by computer with pinpoint accuracy to the desired location within the brain, leaving all the areas around that site unaffected. A helmet--the direct forebear of the Dreamcap--was designed for the subject to wear. By stimulating the correct sites within the subject's brain, it was possible to produce an exact series of images in his mind, controlled by an outside influence.
At first, knowledge of the new techniques was limited to neurological specialists, and the applications were primarily in the field of psychotherapy. By scanning the output of a brain, analysts could visualize what their patients were actually seeing. For those patients suffering from delusions and physical misperceptions, the therapist could then substitute more correct images for the false ones. It was literally possible to change the way a person thought by altering the way he perceived reality.
But the implications of this discovery were too broad to be left in the laboratory. In totalitarian countries around the world, the Dreamcap quickly became the primary instrument of brainwashing and thought-control. If a dissident wouldn't cooperate with his government, the ruling powers could imprison him in a mental institution--a cover the old Soviet Union and other dictatorships had used for many years--and impress their own thoughts into his mind. If the dissident's mind accepted the new perceptions as its own, the person was pronounced "cured" and released into society. If the dissident's mind refused to accept the new perceptions, his tormentors would keep at him, continually bombarding his brain with new images until his mind could no longer determine what was an outside influence and what was its own thought. The prisoner was then quite certifiably crazy, which justified his continued imprisonment. In either case, his ability to stand against the government's power was effectively crushed.
Such uses of the technique were banned as utterly abhorrent throughout the free world, although there were persistent rumors that the CIA and other intelligence organizations did maintain their own brainwashing "clinics." But free enterprise was not about to let such a powerful tool go undeveloped--not when there were potentially billions of dollars to be made.
It was frequently pointed out that the average person spent roughly a third of his life asleep. Aside from the fact that sleep allowed the body to rid itself of the day's accumulation of poisons, and that the normal mind had a definite need to dream, sleep had little to recommend it. It was a colossal time-waster. People's sleeping hours were a vast, untapped resource waiting to be developed and exploited. The Dreamcap offered an ideal way to do this.
One way was through education. Although nothing could supplant the traditional teacher-student learning experience in school, the Dreamcaps were a godsend to the field of adult education. People who worked hard at a job all day could still find time, while they slept, to learn a second language or catch up on the latest theories of organic gardening. "News magazines" of sleep could keep the citizenry informed through articles dealing with world conditions. The most popular use by far, though, was in the entertainment industry. After dealing with mundane problems during the day, most people were happy to put such cares behind them and lose themselves in a world of fantasy. The Dream broadcast industry provided the ultimate in escapist entertainment.
In all previous entertainment media, the medium itself came between the storyteller and the audience--the printed page in the case of books, or a screen in the case of movies and TV. The audience had to rely on the artificial images the storyteller provided and translate those images into personal symbols within the mind. In Dreams, all that had radically changed. The images were supplied directly into the viewer's brain, and the viewer felt as though he were actually undergoing the experiences. He could spend his night actually being a spy, or a detective, or the greatest swordsman in seventeenth century France, then wake up in the morning with full memory of what had happened. He could go out and face the new day with a feeling of having been greater than he was, of having lived through an adventure without any personal risk.
Wayne Corrigan was an important part of the new entertainment industry, one of the select few people with imaginations vivid enough to be Dreamers. He and Janet Meyers and the other Dreamers projected the images that sleepers at home picked up on their own Dreamcaps. He created a role and broadcast it through his headset. His images were amplified and transmitted across wires to homes throughout Los Angeles, where they were impressed by Dreamcaps into the minds of his audience, allowing them to live the adventure along with him. In turn, each home Dreamcap sent a signal back to the studio when it was tuned in, allowing the studio to monitor its precise ratings and bill its customers accordingly.
One of the earliest problems discovered was one of sex role identification. Most men wanted to identify with male roles in Dreams, and most women wanted female roles. (There was an aberrant minority that seemed to prefer "cross-gender identification," but the major broadcasters ignored them.) In some cases, it was possible for a given adventure to star a genderless protagonist who appealed to both sexes, but those stories were more limited in scope, and not nearly as popular as the ones with full identification.
One solution to the problem was the "Masterdream." In this sort, the Dreamer created not one, but a number of different roles for various members of the audience to identify with, as they chose. The Masterdreamer would then move these characters through his Dream world to fit the story he was telling. Since he could create both male and female roles simultaneously, anyone could tune in to such a Dream without upset.
The Masterdreamers were a rare breed, though. They had to be able to visualize an entire world all at once, and to keep individual characters moving through it simultaneously without confusion. The Masterdreamer ran his entire stage, and moved people through it like puppets. It was a difficult art to master, and the staff here at Dramatic Dreams had only one Masterdreamer--a genius named Vince Rondel.
The more common solution was to have separate Dreams for men and women. Usually such Dreams would be totally separated from one another, although in an emergency--such as frequently happened at a small company like Dramatic Dreams with a tiny staff of writers and performers--the two roles could work together within the same Dream world. That was what was happening tonight: Wayne and Janet were portraying a team of government agents working together on the same case. The men in the audience received Wayne's impressions, identified with him, and thought of Janet merely as another important character; for the women in the audience, it was the other way around.
For most Dreamers, this kind of Dream was easier to maintain than a Masterdream, because there was a straight one-to-one relationship between Dreamer and viewer. The viewer saw only what the Dreamer saw, and the Dreamer needn't worry about maintaining portions of the world that were not in the present scene.
The disadvantage was that when two Dreamers were operating in the same Dream, accidents could occur--such as the guard in the corridor. Wayne and Janet had each been visualizing him differently, and as a result the image became fuzzy and jumped around until Janet relinquished control of him to Wayne. Since both Dreamers had an equal ability to affect the action within the Dream, coordination between them was essential.
Wayne was very grateful that Dreams did not run straight through. Research had shown that Dreams were most effective when broken into fourteen-minute acts, with fourteen-minute breaks between them. Dreaming was such an intense experience that the body needed time to relax from one session before entering another. The scenario writers had learned to gauge the length of their scenes accordingly, and Dreamers universally considered the intermissions a blessing. It gave them time to recover from the previous scene, stretch their muscles, remind themselves what they were doing, discuss technical problems with the engineer on duty, and--in the case of two or more auxiliary Dreamers working in tandem--it gave them the chance to go over their mistakes and improve their coordination.
Wayne took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he settled the Dreamcap on his head. Twenty-two thousand people were tuned in to this Dream, from what Ernie White had said. That wasn't very many, not in a city the size of Los Angeles. Granted he was a new talent on a small local station, and it took time to build up a decent following. But Janet was a better Dreamer than he was, he knew that; she was one of the established artists at Dramatic Dreams, with a following of her own. Her presence in this one should have brought in a lot of women to bolster his ratings, maybe introduce a few new people to his style. Instead, he seemed to be dragging her down to his level.
Damn it, I know I'm good! he thought resentfully. I may not be another Vince Rondel, but I know I can do better than this. How in hell can I break out of this slump?
A blue light flashed in the ceiling, his thirty second cue. Wayne lay back on his couch, wriggled himself into a comfortable position, and began the self-hypnosis routine all Dreamers learned to get them into a trance state for better projection. He forced his mind to shed all extraneous thoughts. Above all else, he was a professional. He had a story to tell. He did not take his own problems and prejudices into the Dream with him; that was the surest way to get himself fired. As long as he was Dreaming, it didn't matter to him whether there was one person or a million on the other end of the line. Ratings were only a problem in real life; to any dedicated Dreamer, the Dreams themselves were all that mattered.
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