Every one of us has nightmares, the counselor was saying, tapping a metal pointer against his thigh. Being mercenaries, you will of course have nightmares of a different and more potent sort than the average person. Now, there is a considerable amount of speculation as to what nightmares are, how they originate, what they mean... all of this is inconsequential. Over the next few days, my job is to teach you methods of coping and controlling your nightmares so that they need not run the risk of encroaching upon your personal or professional lives."
It was ironic, he thought, that this was all going on at night. He had to suppress a yawn the moment he thought of it--it was too late for a lecture class, too late to gather a bunch of students and expect them to gain and retain any information. And yet....
"A nightmare," continued the counselor unmercifully, "can produce an extremely strong effect upon the body. Unlike imagination--what some would term its closest relative--a nightmare can raise levels of adrenaline, increase heart rate and blood pressure, induce sweating--indeed, these are all fairly common occurrences. In fact, nightmares have been known to be such powerful physical cues that--"
He stopped listening as his eyes floated up to the clock on the wall of the lecture room. It read barely three minutes after the last time he had checked--the steady blink of the colon between the hour and minute digits was a predictable monotony that he found fascinating for about ten seconds. After that, the red mark on the second knuckle of his right hand occupied his attention for another half-minute. Finally, though, he had to return his eyes to the speaker.
"...a resurfacing of past trauma, a subconscious reminder of something important, some even believe in premonitions and visions. A full study of the different types of nightmares will allow you to adequately anticipate and prepare for whatever dreams or nightmares you may have...."
His yawn decided to let him know in no uncertain terms that it wasn't going to be suppressed any longer. He clamped his mouth shut, suddenly ashamed, but the counselor's eyes hardly skipped over him.
Reveling in his luck and deciding to push it to its limit, he leaned over and nudged the person sitting next to him--who looked to be watching the speaker with a sort of tired, attentive focus. "Zell," he whispered urgently, flashing a grin. "You actually listening to this guy?"
Zell blinked, and looked over. "Huh?" he asked, then seemed to rouse from a sort of half-slumber. "I--huh. No, not really." He gave a sheepish half-grin, casting a wary glance at the counselor. "It's really boring."
"Yeah, no kidding." He stifled a laugh. "Geez, it sounds as if this guy really knows what he's talking about, too. What a loser. I don't believe Cid really paid for this guy to be brought in! They're dreams, man, we can deal with our big, bad dreams. It's stupid."
"Yeah." Zell shrugged, and turned away to watch the speaker again. Resting his chin on the back of his hand, he tried to become as comfortable as possible in the lecture-hall desks without looking like he was falling asleep.
"I bet you don't even dream, do you? Not nightmares. Not a guy like you, so many missions, so many kills. I bet nothing frightens you any more."
Zell looked at him. It was the strangest look--a tremulous middle ground between confusion and incredulity, with a very light edge of abject terror. The look persisted for less than a second, before Zell answered. "...no. Not really."
"In SeeD, you use GFs. GFs affect several areas of the active mind--memory, precognition, a very few of the fine motor skills, the verbal...."
The counselor's voice had now progressed beyond a monotone and evolved into a full-fledged drone. It was intensely hypnotic, and he couldn't seem to either stop listening or make any sense of the words. He yawned again, and felt the man's eyes fix on him.
"...the bizarre confluence of paramagical energies and the subconscious. Recognizing that, we must then immediately ask if the same techniques developed in recent months used to treat memory loss of GF origin can be applied in similar or modified ways to the new dilemma of...."
The steady blink of the second colon separated two halves of a palindrome. 12:21. Who the hell had class after midnight? What the hell was wrong with this place?
"You know, I never junctioned a GF before," he remarked absently. Zell was nodding with the air of one who wasn't really listening but wanted to pretend that he was. "But it's really funny. They gave me two."
There was something remarkable about the way the pointer in the man's hand kept a perfect beat-a-second rhythm against the speaker's thigh. "...by focusing entirely and exclusively on...."
The world was getting fuzzy around the edges. He looked around for the clock, wondering if he should be getting to bed soon. Of course he should. It was after midnight, and he was tired as all get-out. Besides, he had curfew to worry about. The faculty would be on his case more than ever this time, not to mention that damned Committee....
He yawned again, but it didn't help him wake up. Zell's eyelids were drooping, although he was making a valiant effort to stay awake. But of course he was dropping off--the speaker was as dry as old bones and much less interesting. "...to minimize the direct effects. However, care should be exercised to avoid total suppression of the unconscious functions, as previous research in related psychopathological areas has indicated that such a suppression may have adverse affects...."
Quistis noticed something, and nudged him sharply with an elbow. "Stay awake, Zell," she chided softly.
"I don't get it," he said aloud. The speaker's eyes continued to drill into him.
"...various phobias and manias, heightened anxiety, loss of concentration...."
He inspected the red mark on his knuckle again. It seemed largely unchanged, so he glanced up at the clock. Nine minutes to the half-hour. Weren't these things usually done at the half-hour?
He was beginning to develop a pounding pain in his head.
Squall was beginning to drop off. He reached over and gave him a light shake, which was met with a halfhearted glare. "So, no nightmares at all, then?" he asked in a feeble attempt to make conversation.
Squall gave him that look again. "I don't want to talk about it," he said.
The counselor tapped him on the shoulder, and he jumped. He must not have been paying attention when the man had come up--ooh, he was in trouble now....
"...but only in extreme cases. In most cases the effects are Hyne Doc what did you do to him? Five CC's, not twenty."
"Sorry, sir," Quistis said, sounding pained.
One of the florescent lights in the ceiling began to malfunction, brightening the room. He tried to move a hand to his eyes, but they were too heavy with the weight of the metal studs on the back of his gloves.
"You're going to ruin everything," the counselor droned. He wondered if he should be taking notes.
His head hurt like hell.
"Every one of us has nightmares," the counselor explained carefully. What time was it? Past curfew, probably. Ma was going to be mad, not to mention the Disciplinary Committee....
"I don't know about this one," Quistis said, putting a hand on his arm. "I think this may have gone too far--"
"I feel sick," he announced, stood up, and fell forward. The chair landed on top of him, a comforting pressure on his back. His wrists were trapped under the desk edge, though, and he could barely flex his fingers. He had a vague notion that something might be broken.
"Shit, shit, shit." Quistis was cursing, trying to rub feeling back into his hands. The counselor prodded him once or twice with his toe, increasing an already staggering headache.
"Turn the lights off," he complained, but it came out sounding like "So. No nightmares at all?"
The counselor was tapping his pointer against his thigh, and each hit let out a computerized blip. "Come on, Doc, pull him through."
"No; I feel really, really sick," he protested, and squeezed his eyes shut. A pure, white light got in regardless.
The counselor crouched, tapping the pointer against Zell's forearm. "Yeah," he was saying--yeah, or something like that. "Yeah. No nightmares at all."
He opened his eyes.