That night I dreamed a dream that I would have for the rest of my life. In my mind’s eye I was in darkness but I could hear or maybe feel what seemed to be a vast ocean in front of me. A sensation like waves pounded some invisible shoreline. A great thunder shook me with each crash. It was terrible and fascinating at the same time. There is no time in dreams, did the waves crash once or a hundred times? I could never tell. I woke deeply disturbed without being able to put my finger on why.
My dream reverberated through me. It didn’t really go away when I woke up. I could still feel the waves. I still knew the ocean was there.
A bright light drowns out other weaker lights. That’s why you don’t see stars in the day. One by one I started to feel it. There was something other than the ocean. I started to feel a finer texture in my dream. They felt like whispers touching my skin at first. They would come and go like swarms. I didn’t like it when the whispers broke my skin. They would come and touch me for a moment and then plunge into my skin.
There is no time in dreams. Did they break into me once or a hundred times? They felt the same to me. I woke shaking and sobbing. I had to stop them.
“My dreams disturb me.” I muttered to Osulo.
She only looked down with pain in her face.
“What do these dreams mean?” I said whispering.
“My, people do not speak of this. It’s usually the end for those that are not strong. I will not be safe with you anymore.” she spoke in a firm voice this time.
“So you will leave me here?” I responded.
“You know the plants now, you know how to find water. You will be able to survive without me.” She said. She reached up and kissed me on the cheek. After that she would not meet my eyes. It hurt her to leave.
“I will miss you.” I said, I wanted to say more but didn’t. Maybe it was the Scourge but it was more likely just my own insecurity.
Most of the time we were silent, we rarely needed to speak. Usually a slight gesture was all that was needed. It wasn’t the stabbing gestures of pointing and pushing that I was used to. These were gentle patient gestures. Childlike in that they did not have the urgency that we Earthers were accustomed to. Now she simply cupped her hands over her heart and I understood. There was no time to pass, it may have been a minute that she stood there, it could have been hours.
That memory was harder for the Scourge to erase, it left too many holes in my mind when it was gone which left the moment disjointed, ragged, torn but still there. I pieced it back together many times. I’m not really sure if what I remember was real but there was something important that I held onto.
I do remember her leaving, walking away for hours and hours. The surface is so flat, there was nothing to block the sight of her. She just got smaller and smaller in the distance until the dot on the horizon blurred out of existence.
There I was, alone in a dessert, literally starving and infected with a poison that was stealing my mind from me.
It’s difficult for me to separate the days that I spent there after Osulo was gone. When I slept I could have slept for a few minutes or ten hours, I had little way to tell. As I wandered, the ground was all the same, flat, dry, barren. The only fixed point of reference I had was the direction of the sun that hung on the horizon. I grew to hate it’s light.
When I walked, I walked with my back to it. This meant I was slowly moving toward the equator. Where the Chezbah were. It didn’t matter to me, what more could they do? Kill me? Why spoil the fun of watching my mind get pealed away layer by layer? No, they wouldn’t kill me but I wished they would.
Every time I closed my eyes, the ocean was there. The invisible shore was now behind me as my program kept me walking while I dozed. The whispers kept coming too. I feared sleeping. I tried to keep the whispers from getting to me but flailing my arms at them did nothing. Screaming did nothing. Then one of the whispers came to my ear.
“The only way to stop them is to listen to them.” It said in English.
“Who are you?” I shouted.
“I help the new ones that come here to learn how to survive. You can call me Path.” The whisper said.
“How do I listen to them? They’re too quiet to hear.” I asked.
“Focus on each one as it gets close, like you were trying to hear it. Focus on it like you would focus on a single voice in a noisy room. It will take time. Don’t give up or they’ll control you. I’ll return when you’ve learned to listen to what they’re saying.” Path said.
“Wait! Don’t go yet!” I cried out but there was no response.
I wondered if it was just a part of my dream or if someone was really talking to me. If someone was talking to me, why were they talking to me? Was this “Path” really a friend or was it a trick. I felt very suspicious of the situation but with the Scourge I couldn’t rely on my feelings, I had to rely on facts.
I decided that I didn’t like the whispers breaking my skin like they did and since I didn’t have a way of keeping them out, I should try learning to listen to them as “Path” suggested. I thought I had already tried listening but from what was said, it would seem to take time to learn how to listen to the whispers. I couldn’t really come up with any options.
I would try and stay awake as much as I could. I was afraid of sleep but eventually my brain would shut down and I would get a chance to try listening to the whispers. It’s very hard to describe hearing them because it isn’t really a sound that I was hearing. It’s like having another sense that’s shoehorned in between the regular five.
Unfortunately, since I was fighting sleep so much, my brain was not functioning well even while I was asleep so it took me a long time to even start to figure out what listening to the whispers meant.
After falling asleep several times and forgetting what I was supposed to be doing, I would finally remember to “listen” to the whispers. In a way, it is like listening but in another, it’s like lining up to catch a ball. I would focus on the whisper and get ready to catch it like a fast flying ball. Once I was able to focus on the whispers in this way I began to feel them and what they were. “Path” was right about that but I still couldn’t listen to them, instead I could feel them like I was wrapping my fingers around them and squeezing. They had different textures and even an emotional quality. I started to identify a few basic types.
The soft whisper was one that I could catch and crush first. These were cold and soft, they had a feeling like a clump of snowflakes in my mind. Once I could catch them in my attention I could tell it was some kind of simple “hello”.
For a time I took delight in catching them and destroying them before they were able to get to me. They seemed to be the majority of the whispers and I could keep most of them from getting to me. I felt this was a great victory!
After some time grew tired of this game. I also began to realize that I was not catching some of them because they were different. They were harder, slipperier that the “hello” whispers. They would slip through my attention but each time I could feel them a little better. When I say “feel” I don’t mean it in a tactile way. I mean it in an emotional sense. Many of them had the feeling of mockery. I would touch them and get the feeling of being ridiculed. My anger grew at this and my resolve doubled to stop and crush them in my mind.
Then it happened, I actually broke one. It took nearly everything I had to do it but I was successful! I woke in a cold sweat exhausted at the effort, my teeth were clenched together so hard that it took a moment to get my jaw to relax.
I still wasn’t stopping all of them, not by a long shot. I drifted in and out of sleep for days, sometimes not being able to tell if I was asleep or awake. My legs would carry me without thought and I would collect whatever plants and water I could. I knew that I was severely malnourished but it didn’t matter much to me.
I fought them endlessly, becoming proficient at stopping most of them. My mind grew more powerful as my body wasted. I slowly realized in my delirium that I was doing this even when I was awake. The dream was not just when I slept but increasingly all the time.
Then I discovered the third kind of whisper. It was only when I was conscious that I would hear them. I was about to eat that horrible plant that Osulo had shown me. As I raised it to my mouth I caught a whisper that felt like I was being scolded for trying to eat it. This whisper was powerful but as it broke my skin I realized what it was. Whenever I would forget something or a foreign thought would pop into my head, it was being carried by this kind of whisper.
I tried to hold it but was unable to. I purposely tried to make more of them appear by thinking things that I had difficulty remembering before. Each time I could not hold onto it. I could not stop this kind of whisper no matter how hard I tried.
Then one of the whispers spoke to me as I caught it, “Excellent! You’ve learned faster than I expected.”
“Who are you?” I answered cautiously.
“I am Path. You’ve learned to listen, now learn to speak. Answer them.” He said.
I asked “How?” but knew that he was gone again. I would be left alone to figure it out.
I determined that since I started catching the hello whispers first, I should start with them. I tried simply replying “hello” to them but knew it required a different kind of response. The hello from the whisper wasn’t just a word, it was an introduction that had an emotional quality to it. I tried to feel the reply but could feel that I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I puzzled over this for some time, trying to find the right kind of response. Then I realized that the introduction was extremely simple. It was almost like a tiny child saying hello. I was trying to respond with too much.
With the next hello whisper, I simply thought of a warm smile. Suddenly the hello whispers became part of me in a way that I cannot fully explain but I could now feel certain things. I could feel that there was pressure along a seam in the ground just a few kilometers away. There was a slight static build up along the ground behind me. Something like a giant artery pulsed in the distance, the feeling was comforting and I knew that it was somehow connected to this sense that had suddenly come into me.
I could also feel the whispers coming from further out now. It was like I had just found an ally to help me in my fight. It was like having a pet dog that picked up it’s ears whenever it heard something coming in the distance. I could sense other childlike “hello” calls but these were already being already being answered. I was giddy from the revelation!
I turned my attention to the mocking whispers I couldn’t grab onto them any sooner but I knew where they were coming from. I could tell that they were not far away. Without anything else to do with my body, I started walking toward them. I still wasn’t able to answer them properly but I took courage in the progress I was making.
Off in the distance I saw something on the ground. At first it was too far to make out. Slowly as I walked towards it I could tell it was a small dead lizard, some insects and some plants piled up. Someone had left them for me. I wondered who could have done this but was determined not to let it go to waste. I was careful to eat very slowly because I did not want it coming back up.
After walking for several hours, I suddenly felt my connection with my surroundings sever and the hello whispers returned. I responded and I once again connected to what was around me. This time, the sensations of what was going on around me was different. I had left one region and connected to another!
I focused my attention on my helper. It was somehow related to the physical space that I was in. It was connected to the ground somehow. I thought about this briefly and remembered my encounter with the Chezbah Warrior when he had been at the mainframe. I was somehow communicating with a computer like that built into the surface! It was reporting to me conditions that it was intended to monitor and I was able to perceive them as physical sensations.
If I was connecting to computers then I had some tricks up my sleeve. I immediately began trying to learn to program the computer I was connected to. There had to be commands it would understand. I felt the insides of it with my mind. I probed it with my emotions all the while fighting off the mocking whispers. Then I reacted, I told the computer to shut itself to the outside and it did. The rest of the whisper went away. I thought I was safe.
I could still feel the ocean in my mind. Pounding away at it’s shore, almost demanding to be let out.
I slept and dreamed of the void and the ocean without the whispers. When I awoke I found more food left for me. This offering was more modest than before, but it was food that I needed. I wondered how it had gotten there and as I thought about it a scolding whisper came in and broke my skin erasing some thought I came up with.
I checked the computer to make sure it was still disconnected. It was as far as I could tell. I tried thinking about the food some more and another scolding whisper came and broke through. This time I was able to tell that it had not come from the computer, it came from the ocean.
The Ocean was something else. It was not part of the rest of what I was perceiving. I had to understand it or I would not make any progress.