I was hanging in the air watching old Mr Turner saddle his horse when my internal alarm chimed.
He had slept the night out on the high plain and time being elastic here I had stayed with him. My main purpose was to reinforce his belief that he was wearing bullet proof boots but the environment he had conjured up was so breathtaking that I had spent most of the time just gazing at the stars glinting against the deep blue of the night sky. His world was so beautiful, I could have stayed forever. In fact I had serious plans to do just that.
First however, I had to convince him about his boots as the last time out he had got involved in a gunfight and shot himself in the foot whilst trying to execute a fast draw. Never underestimate the ability of a man to do something stupid. I had long since ensured his conviction that the rest of him was bulletproof, I had simply never imagined that he would shoot his own foot.
My alarm chimed again, this time more stridently and with a sigh of frustration I set my reinforcement to automatic repeat and cut the connection.
Back in my own reality I scanned across the rest of the dreamers. The problem showed immediately, a red light blinking above an automated booth. One of the regulars, a government minister, a vicious sick minded man who dreamt always of rape and torture, had accessed more enhancement than he could handle. His imagined phantoms had grown too strong and turned on their maker. Dreams being reality to those in them, particularly at that level of enhancement, he was in serious danger of screaming his last breath in the very tortures he had devised for others.
For a moment or so I was tempted not to intervene, but I wanted no upset just then so I quickly stitched together a rescue scenario and inserted it into his dream as the certain knowledge of friends who would aid him. His face smoothed as he gradually regained control, so I left him to awake naturally.
I will never forget the first time I was ordered to enhance such dreams. As a young, newly aware telepath I thought I had been drafted into the centre to be employed for the public good. Instead I found myself a prisoner, my talent used for the exclusive benefit of our rulers.
For two long years, I had dealt with such men, heightening and enhancing their dream sensations, and I had grown sick of the worlds they created. Hells full of pain and despair, power structures where they knew no restraints. Not that they suffered of course, they were always the ones inflicting the tortures and always, always demanding more and more enhancement of their victims’ agonies.
Despite the demands made on me, I had not wasted my time at the Centre, indeed I had learned a great deal. Far more than my “Masters” could imagine. I was ready now to make my move.
Imagination was the key. A philosopher, a Frenchman called Rene Descartes had once postulated “Cogito ergo sum…I think, therefore I am.” Logic then led to the conclusion that the opposite ie “I am, therefore I think” must necessarily be true. Corporeal existence was considered essential to continued thought.
I disagreed. What is existence? An imprint on the senses, the exercise of imagination, a mere thought if you will. Thought, that once extant, cannot be recalled, therefore must be permanent of itself in some other reality…dreams perhaps? It seemed clear to me that such dreams must continue after the physical death of the dreamer and that was where my friend old Mr Turner came in.
How a man with such a clean decent mind came to be a ruler I’ll never know. I do know that I felt an immediate affinity with his dream world and determined that my future lay within it.
His dreams were always the same. He is young again of course, strong, supple, handsome. A drifter in the 1800s Mid West of America riding to the rescue of the widow Annie Baines who was in danger of being evicted from her small farm by an evil rancher. It always ended the same, the rancher was defeated and he and Annie fell in love and settled down together to run the farm and raise a family. I was going to be Annie.
I’d planned it all very carefully. Once I had taken over his dream old Mr Turner would be found dead, at his age no one would question it. I myself having entered his dream, would seal it off and the Centre would be left with a non functioning telepath, a simple case of overload burn out. I would be quietly disposed of.
* * * *
We have been together here for some years now, we have three lovely children and the farm is doing well. Most evenings after supper we sit out on the veranda and watch the western sky flame with glory as the sun goes down. Sometimes we all ride out and spend the night on the high plain.
The Centre is just a bad dream I have now and then…this is my reality and I will protect it for ever.
Sometimes Mr Turner looks puzzled, but it doesn’t last long.