Such stuff as dreams are made on
by Eildon Rhymer
Sometimes he dreams that he can fly, but when he awakes, the doctor with the amber eyes tells him that men will never fly, and injects him with gentle drugs to stop him dreaming…
In dreams he flies.
He dreams that he is far above the world, seeing it spread beneath him in patches of green and rust and yellow. He is bathed in blue, and clouds like playful fingers beckon to him, telling him that there is nowhere on earth that he cannot go, if only he chooses to reach out and fly.
He feels air on his face, and he feels the tug on his body as he changes direction, surging high, then plunging low. He skims laughing across the surface of the waves, then rises high, high, high, to a place where nobody can touch him, where nobody can pin him down, where there are no words and no demands and no faces, and nothing exists at all but the joy of being right here, right now, and free.
He woke to find his face damp with tears.
"You were dreaming again?" The doctor with the amber eyes pressed his lips together after speaking, as if he found the existence of dreams distasteful.
"I was dreaming that I could fly." He scraped the heel of his hand over his face, gouging a path through the wetness.
"A common dream, especially for the sick or sick at heart."
"It felt real." His voice was hoarse; they had told him it was from the screaming. "Could I fly… before… this?"
"Men cannot fly. Such a thing is impossible."
They took him away then. They scooped him up and put him in a wheeled chair, and took him out into the scorched square of land beyond the steel door. They showed him creatures with dark feathered wings, soaring in the dust-filled reddened sky – blue, he thought. The sky should be blue – and showed him small creatures with emerald wings, and things that flitted so fast that he could barely see them.
"Small creatures like these can fly," they told him. "Men cannot. Dream all you wish, but your feet will always stay planted on the ground."
He looked at the rocky ground, seamed with sand. His legs were useless, and he was bound to this chair, imprisoned by the wall, trapped by the amber eyes of those who looked after him and denied his dreams. He remembered the sense of freedom that came with having wings. "Never…" he rasped. "Never…"
The mouth beneath the amber eyes curved into a thin smile. "I think we will increase your medication. That will make everything seem better."
The needle sank into his scarred forearm. There was nothing after that, not even the blue.
In dreams he stands on the ocean's edge.
He is in a beautiful city of gleaming silver towers, and he knows that however much he loves it, he will never truly know it. It teases him with secrets – with distant expanses and hidden rooms that he will discover one day yet to come. But for now he is content to stand with his back to the towers, looking up at silver stars in a velvet sky. The air is salty, and the light of two moons dances on the water.
He is completely alone, his hand on the railing, looking up at the sky and the many worlds beyond it. He feels things inside that he knows he will never say, because this place, of all possible places in all possible worlds, is his home.
"It is quite ridiculous to imagine a city floating on water," they told him.
Not ridiculous, he protested. It was true. It was surely true. It felt true. It had to be true.
He said so too many times, his voice cracking into near silence, and still he said it.
So they carried him to a carriage, and bound his wrists to rings at the side of the seat. They drew down the blinds, so he was encased in a dark box that rattled and lurched. He swallowed and swallowed and swallowed, forcing down rising panic.
A long time later, they opened the door, and carried him out, blinking in the sudden orange light. He was on a viewing platform half way up a tall mountain, but the wind on his cheeks was warm and full of sand, and said nothing of the sea.
"There is no such thing as such an expanse of water," they told him. They dragged him forward, dangling him above the drop – "you needed to understand," they told him softly, afterwards – and told him to look at the unending desert below. "Water is scarce and precious," they told him, "and obtained by drilling – there, look, and there, and there. To imagine such an expense…"
He sagged in their arms, suspended over orange oblivion.
"But understandable," said the doctor with the amber eyes. "It is hot, and you were thirsty. Your need for water manifested itself in the dream. Here. Drink this."
It was white and bitter, and he did not remember the journey down the mountain.
In dreams even the dead things talk.
He sits in a dark silver chair, and feels it spring to life beneath him. Blue light surrounds him, but the light that bathes his mind, the light that flows through his veins, is not blue, but is every colour, and no colour. He can reach out through it and command the city to fly. He can call on drones to fly through the air and keep his people safe. Every moment is intensely real, but time no longer exists. If people are talking around him, he can barely hear them. All that matters is this communion with things that he had always been taught were devoid of life.
"Chairs cannot speak."
"I didn't say…" He swallowed; grasped a handful of the blanket, and released it. "…didn't say it talked, not as such." He tried for a laugh. "It was only a dream."
"Chairs cannot speak."
His right leg was healing a little, and when they dragged him upright, he managed to stand, although he had to bite his lip not to whimper as they made him walk. He heard the scrape of something moving against the floor, and a large hand closed on his, driving it down onto the back of the chair. It crushed his fingers round the wood.
"You see how ridiculous these fancies are," the amber eyed doctor said. "You are preventing your own recovery with these dreams. They represent your resistance to the truth. You need to accept reality. Chairs. Cannot. Speak."
"I never…" He swallowed again. "…never said… they could. It's just…"
"Just a dream."
He heard the sound of needles being prepared. He saw his hand on the dead chair's back, and saw the thick band of healing skin at his wrist. The laceration that went from hip to knee was far worse, but now even that was healing. "How did I get injured?" he asked them. "How did I get sick?"
The needle struck him in the neck.
In dreams he is no longer alone.
A woman is facing him with sticks in her hand, her eyes intent, but a smile not far from her lips. She lashes towards him with one stick, and he counters, saying something that makes her latent smile become a reality. Then he is outside in a place full of trees, and the woman is running beside him, turning back to shoot at someone behind them. Then yet another place, and he is waking up somewhere green and white, and she is looking down on him, and she opens her mouth and…
The woman's hair was so black that it was almost blue. As the amber-eyed doctor watched, she said it again. "I am your wife."
"But if you're my wife –" Why don't I remember you? " – why didn't you come here earlier?"
"I did." She looked away, as if overwhelmed by pain. "You did not recognise me. You were lost in a world of… of dreams and hallucinations." She glanced at the doctor as if for confirmation. "You… attacked me."
She nodded. Watched by the doctor, she pulled up her sleeve, showing the rings of dark bruises made by fingers. Then she pulled down the neck of her dress, showing scratch marks across the collarbone.
"I attacked you?" He slumped back into the pillow. "I'm sorry."
"It was not your fault." She touched him, and he felt his flesh grow cold and try to shrink away from the touch. "The doctors are helping you. As soon as you stop all this dreaming nonsense, then you will start getting better. You cannot heal from a sickness that you do not accept is a sickness."
She kissed him, cold lips upon his brow.
This time, the pills were yellow, and came to him in her small pale hand.
In dreams he is never left unprotected.
He is fighting a man who can unleash death with a single blow. He is smashed to the ground, struck, hit, defeated. Once, maybe twice, he scores a hit of his own, and other men clap, and say, "well done, sir," because most of them can't do even that. Outside, though, the man's deadliness is all focused on other people. Wherever he goes, this man will guard his back. He has always been the protector; he will never say, and never need to say, that sometimes it feels wonderful to know that others will protect you, too. It makes you feel warm, as if you truly belong.
"It is entirely understandable," the amber-eyed doctor said. "You have been half a cycle in a hospital bed, and you are scared to death. Of course you are going to dream of being protected. It is the fear talking."
"But we are here to protect you," his wife said, smiling. "Me. The doctors –"
"The needles," he murmured.
"Yes." The doctor looked at him as if this was a breakthrough. "You have to let us help you. Stop running away into this fantasy land of dreams. Accept reality, stop trying to run away, and then and only then will you be able to heal."
"But I don't want to stop dreaming."
The two of them exchanged a look. He tried to refuse the pills, and he tried to fight the needles, but they pinned him down and jabbed him ruthlessly in the back with something that hurt horribly, and brought only darkness.
In dreams a man walks beside him.
The man talks and talks, and the words flow from his mouth like water, and like water, he cannot understand them, but it is enough that they are there. The man snaps his fingers, and raises his hand. He paces up and down, and his face goes through a whole cascade of expressions, from smug to panicked to everything in between.
The man walks beside him to the place with the chair, and that old dream comes flooding back to him. The man stands with him talking on the balcony over the ocean. The man sits beside him as he flies. The man spreads his hand, and then the others are there, too – the woman and the big man – and all four stand beneath the sunset, beneath the stars.
"It is because you want to belong," the doctor told him. "You went through a terrible ordeal and you have lost your memory. You feel adrift. Your dreams have conjured up these imaginary friends –"
"Yes. Remember the proof." The yard, the chair, the mountain. The woman who said she was his wife. These people who cared for him enough to try again and again to help him get better, even though he fought them and took refuse in dreams. "On the one hand, we have the world you see here; on the other, we have a place where cities float on water and men fly and chairs can talk." The doctor laughed sadly. "And we have a sick and troubled man who sees the latter in his dreams. Which one is more likely to be real?"
He knew the answer to that.
There were no more dreams after that.
Some days later, they told him that they were pleased with him. His wife ruffled his hair and told him what a good boy he was to have given up that nonsense of dreaming.
The new pills were purple. His leg was almost healed, but there was no place on his arms that did not bear the mark of needles.
"Now you are co-operating," they told him, "we can tell you the truth."
He gripped a handful of the blanket, and kept his breathing steady as they told him about a ring that allowed travel to other worlds. People from one such world had come through the ring and stolen him away. They had kept him prisoner for a long time, and had treated him very badly, but when that had failed, they had done something to him that resulted in him losing his memory, and then, taking advantage of the blank canvas that was his mind, they had tried to convince him that they were his friends.
"It failed, of course," his wife said proudly. "Although you were very sick and very confused, you managed to escape, but they are furious at being robbed of their prize. They are scouring the worlds trying to get you back."
The doctor patted him on the back of his hand. "We will not let them, of course."
"But…" His wife glanced over her shoulder, at the mirror on the wall. "These people have long preyed on ours. If you agree… If you are brave enough… If you want to…" She took a deep breath. "We want you to go back. We will put out word across the worlds that they have found you, and these people will come for you, and…" She stopped, pressing her lips together.
"What?" His knuckles were white.
"You kill them," the doctor said harshly.
He stood in front of a ring that flared blue, as faint memories stirred from distant dreams – blue skies, blue water, blue light.
His leg hurt, and his body felt sluggish and heavy from drugs and inactivity. They had brought him here in a carriage and left him here on the bare red rock. Swaying, he closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, people were stepping through the blue ring. "It's him," they said. "It's really him." Guns were pointed at him – "just a precaution, colonel, because you've been gone so long" – but someone else said, "That's stupid. He looks about ready to fall flat on his face," and people flapped around him and fussed around him and talked and talked and talked.
He knew none of them. He had no names to any of these faces, and most of their words meant nothing at all. He blinked; swayed again. Somebody caught him, strong arms around his shoulders. He knew he should shy away, but could not bring himself to do so.
"Somebody get a medical team to the Gate Room."
"What did they do to you, John? Where have you been?"
"Who did this?"
Their hands fell upon him, and they grabbed his arms. They led him to the ring, like the doctors hauling him from the carriage on the mountain. Then blueness surrounded him, like a dream.
The place on the far side was soft blue and gleaming. A woman was rushing down the stairs.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the bomb; uncurled his hand, and showed it to her. "They…" His tongue felt heavy, and words came with difficulty. "They wanted me to use this."
"So why didn't you?" Rodney asked him, a long time later. "Blow us all the kingdom come, I mean?"
He shifted uncomfortably. Memory was still hazy, but he remembered more and more each day, as the drugs slowly left his system. "I don't know," he said, entirely honestly. "I hadn't remembered anything. I still didn't know any of you. I'd dreamed of you all, but I didn't remember your faces, not afterwards, but…"
He remembered that final dream. He remembered the doctor asking him which reality was more likely to be true. He had known the answer that he was supposed to give, but everything inside him had cried out against it. He had known what he had wanted to be true, and he has staked everything on that – gambled everything on a dream.
They had given him a bed near the window, where he could see the sky, and they had consented to open the window, so he could smell the sea. Teyla and Ronon and Rodney came to see him often, and he was seldom alone.
"Do you ever find yourself thinking," he said, "that this – " He gestured with his hand, encompassing the whole room, but meaning so much more. " – is like a dream?"
"More like a nightmare. Space vampires. You going missing for a month. People dying."
"Flying cities." He looked up at the sky, and smiled. "Alien technology."
"Hot alien women. No, hot alien women who always seem to like you. We're in nightmare territory again."
"Exciting new science at every turn."
"And exciting new weapons that go bang. I can see your eyes shining."
And friends, he thought, because it had been the dreams of people that had brought him back, not the dreams of empty places and the solitary freedom of the sky. He had never thought to find friends like this in a place like this, far beyond the stars. He had never thought to find people who understood him. He had never wanted people who understood him. He had wanted the solitude of the skies, not the people who flew beside him.
If this is a dream, he thought, then I never want to wake up.
And perhaps it was because the drugs were still in his system, and perhaps it was because of who these people were and what he had become, but he said as much out loud to all of them, later, as the sun set upon his shining home.
He did not dream that night.
He did not need to.
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