Awakening to Dreams:
Chapter One: The Soul
Air. It filled his lungs all at once and whistled in its tissues. A cold energy pricked at his nervous system. A small release of adrenaline. His eyes widened and captured a million images a second, transmitting them to his brain.
Who am I?
Genomic Prototype Serial Number K6234.
Air rushed from his diaphragm, into his trachea, and out through his mouth. His vocal cords vibrated with it and produced sound. The muscles in his knees fell lax and he forgot how to use them. He fell backwards with a few failed steps and landed on sedimentary stone. He lifted one of his hands in front of his eyes. Five small, jointed appendages fused at the knuckles. Clear, pale skin wrapped around muscle and bone. He moved each finger individually.
What am I?
A Genome. Soulless vessels created by the High Master Garland to house the souls of Terra at the time of assimilation and wakening. Model S32.
Light-born images moved in the unfocused edges of his peripheral vision. His eyes blinked and readjusted to allow them better focus. An air-filled hollow in stone. Other eyes connected focus with his. They were set in other faces. Placed on other bodies. They watched him. He shifted his weight to the right to allow his eyes access to other images. An empty space in the surrounding stone. Images grew indistinct from this direction. A light pierced his retinas and aligned to meet his optic nerve. His hand raised to block its progress.
Bran Bal, village of the soulless Genomes of the planet Terra. On the floor of the upper level of the Reproduction Laboratory.
His facial tendons contracted. He shifted his weight until his body further faced the light. His knees remained where he had left them, and he bent them so they aligned with his palms on the floor. He moved his arm forward, but it did not synchronize with the rest of his body. Air pushed upwards through his mouth where it made a noise. His elbow collided with a stone tile in the floor. He deemed it unpleasant.
His muscles stiffened to still his movement. When his balance had stabilized, he tried again, and with an alternating movement of his arms and legs, was able to move approximately a foot forward. In this way, he made coordinated forward movement toward the opening in the stone.
The archway. An opening used to allow access from one space to another.
He gripped it in his hands and used it for further stabilization. His legs pushed upwards until he could balance on the flats of his feet. The light was more intense here. His pupils contracted to restrict its access to his nervous system. Space extended in all directions. Directly before him, a path of paneled stone. Farther than that, water and a strip of land extending horizontal through air. Farther still, unclear structures and that light.
Blue. A wave frequency on the longer half of the spectrum of visible color.
For that, his mind provided no answer. The question was too indistinct and aimless. His prior knowledge was not equipped to supply for such a question, and so, it remained silent. Adrenaline released into his blood and quickened the pace of his heart. His focus switched quickly now, and he questioned each object individually.
Water. The molecular combination of one hydrogen particle with two oxygen particles. Liquid. Necessary for most forms of bio-organic life.
The Blue Light of Gaia. Emitted from the planet's crystal. Such emissions will end after the time of assimilation.
Buildings. Places of inhabitation and for the storage of material objects and machinery. The Storeroom. The Barracks. The Teleporter.
Each new term brought with it a wave of new questions which brought new terms which brought new questions. He could not understand the answers.
Who am I?
Genomic Prototype Serial Number K6234.
But what does that mean?
It went silent again. Such a question had never been asked of it before.
An irregular burst of carbon dioxide pushed nearly soundless from his lips. He stilled his movement, regained his balance, and started forward with an unsteady progression of his legs and feet.
He knew nothing.
Time passed, and yet, stood still. It was a phenomena that his mind helpfully explained every time it entered his thoughts but which he could not understand. His every breath, the pumping of his blood through living tissue, and his repeated movements denoted the passing of time, but his environment did not change. The others – for he recognized them now as others of living, breathing flesh – would occasionally move or speak to him in the same indecipherably knowledgeable voice as his mind, but they did not seem to really see him. No matter how he tried to gain their attention, they would continue to stare at something mundane and unmoving with the utmost resolve. He tried asking them questions, but if they answered, it was only with information that he could have told himself.
"Where are we?"
A shorter, stockier looking boy with golden hair (Model V22, his mind told him) turned its head from the blue light and blinked once, slowly, as though trying to clear the color from its eyes. "You are in Bran Bal, our village on the planet Terra," it answered.
"Yes, but why?" he asked. His eyebrows twitched together and his hand swatted at the air, as though hoping to grab something from it. He had, for the most part, grown used to the movements of his body, but he found some reactions to be unavoidable. He did not understand them.
The boy blinked again, but its eyes still reflected the light it had turned away from. "We were created here as vessels, awaiting the assimilation and the waking of lost souls. That is when we will become whole and achieve our purpose," it offered, but that was nothing new either.
He didn't bother to try again. These attempts at conversation always ended the same, and with each new attempt, he found a strange feeling of confliction left inside him, as though pulsing on his blood. He did not have a name for it, but grew to dislike it immensely. Still, there was another sensation which he found even worse as he sit on the bed that his mind told him was his, alone while the others were busy with their daily staring. He found it difficult to describe. It was some kind of a terrible ache like the kind he experienced when standing for too long, but different. It felt more focused in his head and in his chest, and while he could explain the workings of muscle fibers and their tensions, this had no explanation. At the times that it was strongest, he would often hide his eyes behind his knees and wrap around himself, though he did not know why that would help. He wondered if it was like cradling a wound and supporting the source of pain. He wondered if he was injured.
But the pain did not end when he left his bunk or when they came to join him for their synchronized sleeping patterns. It did not end when they would gather near the teleporter to check into the system scanner or in the basement laboratory for the shots of nutrition that would keep them alive for the following days. It was only be somewhat alleviated during those short, unhelpful conversations that so conflicted him, and even these he abandoned after a time. He took to the outskirts of Bran Bal where the others generally avoided and the carnivorous wildlife of Terra rarely approached. Here he would sit for undefined time lengths until his thoughts grew slow and his body called for sleep. It only took a few dozen sleep cycles to dispassion his search for answers and slip into a routine away from the others who could not understand him.
The man in black came during what he would later find to be his forty-third day of awareness.
His arrival was a routine, bimonthly affair for the purpose of examining his creations, checking the laboratory's systems, and disposing of those that were deemed weak, degrading, or outdated. When he first found the S32 series to skip from K6233 to K6235, he thought little of it, assuming that one of the silver dragons had simply swooped the missing integral away in its talons, as they occasionally did, but upon voicing his thoughts, one of the remaining Genomes blankly explained that K6234 did not often stay with them anymore. With further questioning, it was revealed that the Genome often stayed to himself, had taken to interrupting their mental stimulation, and would disappear for hours at a time for tasks they were unaware of. They directed him past their village's entrance, and he left their line-up to pursue this strange and unprecedented change in behavior. If a new wandering instinct or social disorder had developed he needed to find and isolate the cause before it could infect the others. It meant side-tracking his original schedule, but this new development was why he completed such scans in the first place. When it came to the potential derailment of his plans, no amount of caution could be considered excessive.
He found the defect resting on the steps outside the teleporter. In feature, he looked almost identical to the rest of his line – the wispy, silver hair, the same long, thin body. For this model, he had experimented with the fortitude and resiliency of the silver dragon, and this heritage showed in the lacking pigmentation to its skin and the small feathers littering its hair like down. On this particular specimen, an over-large flight feather had taken root just past his forehead and now drooped uselessly from its place in his scalp. The boy (who at over sixty-six inches tall did not appear to be a boy at all) sat with his arms clasped around his knees and his white-hued tail wrapped around his ankles. It was a very strange position to find a Genome.
He took a step forward, and the click of metal boots on stone steps alerted the defect to his presence. The boy looked up, and, though he could not remember seeing anyone like this man before, recognized him in an instant. The High Master Garland. Lord and Overseer of the planet Terra. Master of souls. Protector of the dead. Creator of Genomes. Comprehension flashed bright in the boy's eyes, and Garland faltered at the sight of it. It was unnatural to see such awareness. He sensed a power there that he could not identify. It unnerved him.
But it would not remain unidentified for long. It might take months of DNA scans, systems studies, and observation, but he was fully prepared to find the root of this anomaly. While they were not yet in Pandemonium, Garland decided to start with a test of basic verbal communication. "What are you doing here?"
The boy did not respond immediately. He broke eye contact, tilted his head downwards, and answered, "I don't know."
Social degradation, limited mental capacities, and confusion. Not promising symptoms should this affliction appear in the others.
But the boy did not silence after responding to external stimulus. He did something unprecedented, and indeed, undocumented in all of Garland's records.
He asked another question.
"Who am I?"
Despite the simplicity of the question, Garland found difficulty answering. He was too thrown by the paradox sitting before him, waiting with something akin to expectation. Perhaps a separation from the main knowledge base of Terra had caused the Genome to compensate using external means?
"…You are K6234 of the S32 model of experimental Genome."
The boy's eyebrows came together in an expression akin to frustration. "No," the boy corrected, "That is not what I meant. I mean…" The boy looked at him, and suddenly, Garland realized what had so unsettled him. This Genome, this defection from normalcy, was not simply responding to stimuli, but watching him. He silently reprimanded himself for such an illogical notion, but even his better rationality could deny nothing when the boy next spoke.
"I mean who am I? What does it all mean?"
No. No, this could not be…
No simple malfunction could have spawned a question such as that. No Genome, regardless of build, could have ever conceived of it. Garland's mind searched desperately for some other explanation, some hypothesis that would lessen the horrifying sensation of failure from his systems, but no matter how he presented the situation, nothing else could have prompted such self-awareness. This boy had somehow stolen a soul.
That is not possible.
He had scanned the Soul Shelters only hours previously, and nothing had been missing. There had been no malfunctions, no leaks, nothing that might explain how one had been pulled into the cycle or, even more amazingly, accepted by this vessel. Yet there were no other options. He had built the genomes to accept only complex human souls spawned from the crystal of Terra. No other energy could have survived there.
'In the Ancient Times, when the crystal shone strong with life, Terra rejuvenated itself with the Cycle of Souls, growing ever more complex and powerful with each passing cycle. Thus, could the very energy of the planet give way to new souls, each more perfect than the last, so that the most insignificant of parasite could take botanical root and then become one of fur or feather or scale. In its strongest form, the planet birthed one of higher sentience to understand the ways of life, and in this highest phase brought the fruition of civilization.'
His mind presented another possibility to mind, directly from the legends of the Old Civilization. Had Terra not already followed the path proclaimed by these Ancient words? In recent millennia, Garland had seen the barren lands begin to take life – first in the form of the microscopic, then in plants and fungi, and most recently in animal life. Perhaps this soul had not escaped from his charge, but had evolved from the depths of a rejuvenated crystal. Such a claim would require far more research, study, and perhaps dissection of the offending soul, but if the claim could be supported…
It would mean that the time of Assimilation drew near.
He needed answers, but this boy was no longer merely a vessel. His life was just as meaningless, just as disposable, but Garland's usual methods would no doubt prompt some objection from a sentient being and resistance would skew the results of his study. He decided to take a more tactful approach.
"Do you have a name?"
The boy frowned as the unfamiliar word took shape in his head. Name. A title used for identification and the emphasis of individual conscious. He shook his head.
"Then I will give you one." Garland took a few steps away and studied Gaia's omnipresent light. After a moment's consideration of Terra's audio histories, he decided on one whose rough translation he deemed appropriate. The First. The Eldest. The Origin.