Author's Note: If you have been following Ultra Somnium, this chapter used to be chapter 6, but I thought the flow worked better if I moved it to chapter 7 and added a new chapter to the chapter 6 slot.


Chapter 7: That Word Again


WASHINGTON, D.C.

JUNE 11, 2009

1716 HOURS


Vernon Veers had not generated a coherent thought in many years, and his long-shattered mind was not about to start turning them out now.

To the world around him, he easily passed for a mad homeless man. His clothing was artfully tattered, his filth carefully accumulated, his stubbly beard a very precise tangle, his indistinct mutter and rancid smell creating a flawless barrier around him. He walked through crowds as though invisible, which was how his master wanted it.

There was that word again, "master." His mind told him again that there was no master and no Vernon, there was only one entity with one purpose: to make preparations for what was to come.

This is what his mind had told him for many years, even though some part of him knew the truth: that he was just a body, a vessel, being manipulated by some outer entity for its own purposes. But if such a thought were to approach the surface of conscious thought, it would be painfully repressed. As had happened countless times since Antarctica.

What was left of Vernon Veers bitterly regretted ever going to the Antarctic with Cooper Trask. And not merely for the five good friends of his that had gone with but not returned, the eternal ice now their grave. To be most precise, he regretted that he had not died with them. For what had been under the ice would inevitably have resurfaced, but perhaps not in their lifetimes, not for many generations, centuries, millennia – not if he and Trask hadn't brought it back.

There was barely enough of Vernon Veers the acclaimed scientist left to wonder how it was that he was chosen. He had watched two of his friends melt into red sludge before the master had gotten into him, and then he had watched his own hands kill the other three. He had heard some approximation of his voice explain to Trask what had happened: that the five dead explorers had fallen victim to an unstable ice shelf, with Veers left as the only survivor. And who would question the word of one of the world's great scientific minds? Certainly not Trask, not after hearing about and seeing what Veers had recovered from that ancient and untouched place. Such promise, such potential – a cutting-edge discovery that would put Purple Mountain at the forefront and center of the physical sciences. Or at least, that was how Veers had explained it as he carefully cradled the chalky blue crystal that he knew would bear fruit too horrendous to imagine.

But what came back from the Antarctic was not Vernon Veers, not really, not anymore.

And so, the old, decrepit homeless man shambled along the street. His work, his many years at Purple Mountain paving the way for the great cataclysm that was about to swallow humanity, was nearly at an end. All he had left to do was to watch for threats to the master.

No. Not the master. Himself. Itself.

There was no master. There was no Vernon Veers.

There was only The Dreamer.