Occasionally I have dreams that seem to be trying to assemble into the plot of an SF novel – weird and fractured as dreams are, but with something like a long-form narrative struggling to develop.
Occasionally I have nightmares. I don’t know how it goes for anybody else – and one reason I’m posting this is to collect anecdotal data in the comments – but if I wake up from a nightmare and then fall asleep shortly afterwards, it may grab hold of me again.
Yesterday morning I woke up about 5AM remembering one I’d just had. This is how it went, and how it ended…
It’s the near future. Driverless cars and AI-driven robots are ubiquitous. They’re not androids, though, they tend to have wheeled boxy chassis with manipulator arms like a carnival claw machine.
I’m a troubleshooter who’s been called into a scientific research campus to try to work out the reason for some odd anomalies in experimental data. My backstory is clear – I’m a hotshot with a reputation for cracking intractable problems. I’m not me, not a programmer, but something more like a forensic physicist. There’s a lot of money behind whatever research was going on, government or military money, maybe black budget, and the people who have sent me in want answers.
The research team is being surprisingly open and un-defensive, considering that from their point of view I could be a hatchet-man sent to kick butt and take names. I’m not. I’m really a problem-solver. They seem to get this, for which I am thankful.
But I can’t get any clarity about exactly what the data anomalies were. The team scientists and I can understand each other perfectly well most of the time, everybody is speaking English, but when they try to explain their problem they speak words I hear but can’t parse – meaningless blobs of sound. It’s not like a vocabulary failure, but like either they or I have developed some weirdly topic-specific aphasia. Their high-frequency speech formants are missing – all I hear is wa-wa-wa, the way adults talk in Peanuts cartoons.
The research has something to do with war robots. There’s a vivid scene where scaled-down models of weapon-equipped bots are fighting each other. One, looking rather like a skinny tall dalek, fires a blue-green laser. It shouldn’t be visible, there isn’t enough dust or water vapor in the air, but it is. It leaves a small scorch-mark on a wall.
The war robots aren’t behaving quite right. Actually, that’s happening all over the labs. Utility robots are malfing – going catatonic, or falling into logic loops that cause perseveration at useless behaviors. I discover a trick to snap them out of whatever cybernetic funk they’re in, but it only works temporarily. They fall back into fugue at random times.
Whatever derangement affects the robots is spreading. I’m getting very uneasy; this is beginning to feel like enemy action and I still can’t get any sense out of the scientists about the problem I came here to solve.
In the dead of a very dark night, a small group of us go out to examine some glitching sensor equipment near the campus perimeter. Large groups of crickets are chirping…and behind that sound there’s something else. A soft mechanical clattering that stops dead whenever the crickets go silent.
Something is hiding out there in the night. Waiting to touch us.
That’s when I woke up. Remembered the dream. Realized it had been building up to some kind of really dark SF/horror scenario. Hostile aliens? Malevolent AI? I don’t know.
What I do know is that if I fall asleep again too soon I’m likely to find out. This happens sometimes when I wake up from any kind of dream – I can feel it waiting below the edge of consciousness waiting to pull me back in. If the dream was pleasant I may welcome dropping back into it, but not this time. I don’t like horror movies and want no part of this one.
I contemplate going to my office and working for a bit. A bit of hacking and an early breakfast will, I am sure, change my state enough that I can sleep again without falling into the same dream. I’ve applied this fix before.
That’s when I find out my wife Cathy is awake, behind my back as I’m lying there on my left side, because she puts her hand on my side and caresses it gently. And oh what a difference that makes. The nightmare blows away like tatters of fog.
Sometimes a touch in the night is a wonderful thing. I am left wondering, not for the first time…did that dream want to be a novel?