Read a Sample
For the first time since she’d become a dreamer, Calee hesitated at the entrance to her chamber, her body tense, her stomach tight with anxiety.
This assignment was a mistake, but none of her protests had rectified the error.
She raised her hand to the panel that would open the door in front of her. Her fingers trembled; her palm was damp. For an instant, she wondered if she had the courage to open the door. But only for an instant. At her hesitant touch, the door slid silently open, revealing the chamber beyond.
The room was warm, but not too warm. It was small, slightly longer than it was wide, scarcely large enough to accommodate the massive couch draped with heavy silken throws that occupied the side farthest from the door. Lighting panels, hidden behind the rare, hand-carved wood trim along the ceiling, cast a subdued golden glow down walls covered with a richly textured fabric brought at great cost from a planet half the galaxy away.
Calee stood in the open doorway, letting her eyes wander over the
familiar, precious space that was hers and hers alone. She had chosen the couch, the wall coverings, even the thick, soft carpet with its unusual jade green color.
If she’d wished, she might have had a larger room, one that opened onto the famed gardens of Dreamworld, or a room with a glass ceiling that gave her a view of the night sky and the stars she knew so well.
She hadn’t wanted any of that. After years of living in the streets of Dantares, huddling in empty doorways to escape the constant rains, shivering in the winter cold with little protection besides the coarse, dirty rags that were her only clothing, Calee had wanted warmth, and softness, and a small, safe space that belonged only to her.
She’d achieved that when she’d completed her training as dreamer and gained the right to a room of her own. The right to this chamber where she could spend the hours and days and years of her existence listening to the songs of the stars. Those ancient songs, born in the internal fires of the stars themselves, were what she followed as she mentally guided the pilots of human space ships through the dark of within and back to the physical world.
Without her and other dreamers like her, interstellar travel would have been impossible. The only way for ships to travel faster than light was to go within. Unfortunately, human-made tracking devices didn’t work in the amorphous nothingness that lay somewhere outside the bounds of normal space. Only a dreamer’s ability to sense the tenuous connections that tied within to the physical universe made it possible for humans to travel with safety among the stars.
Dreaming was honored work, work Calee loved. That didn’t mean she wanted this assignment.
She had even gone so far as to protest to the senior administrator, but Dame Kassta had simply looked at her calmly and assured her there was no mistake.
“But this pilot is a scout — and a male! I can’t guide a male!” The words had burst from her before she could stop them, but Calee hadn’t even tried to apologize.
Kassta hadn’t blinked. She’d sat there, her wrinkled old hands calmly clasped in her lap, and nodded slowly. “Yes, you can.”
“You’ve never made me guide a male before!”
“This time we have to, regardless of your fears.”
“But you always assign male dreamers to male scouts!”
Kassta had sighed at the note of panic edging Calee’s voice. “When we can. But this man’s mission is urgent and cannot wait. The planet he seeks is on the far side of galaxy center, beyond the most distant star that humankind has yet reached. Right now he waits at the edge of the Megelen sector, unable to go farther until there is a dreamer to guide him.”
Kassta had grown silent for a moment, studying Calee. “There are few dreamers who can reach him, Calee; even fewer capable of taking him as far as he has to go. You are one of those few, and you are the only one available. You have no more choice in the matter than we did.”
“But... I can’t guide a male, Dame.” Desperation had jostled with the fear inside her, driving Calee to plead with her superior, something she would never have done, otherwise. “It would be bad enough if all I had to do was touch his mind, help him guide his ship...”
The words had caught in Calee’s throat, but before Kassta could stop her, she’d rushed on, heedless of the consequences. “You know what it’s like to be a dreamer. You know what it means to share a pilot’s mind, to see the ship with her eyes, touch it with her hands, to feel her body as if it were your own. You know what it’s like to be her at the same time you are yourself.”
Calee choked, then caught her breath, fighting for control. “Dreaming is hard enough with a woman, but with a man...! Men are so...big...and rough and... I can’t guide a male, Dame. I can’t!”
Calee would have said more, but Kassta had held her hand up in a peremptory demand for silence. “You cannot hide from life forever, Calee,” she’d said. “Not even here on Dreamworld.”
Kassta had hesitated, then continued sadly, “We have tried to protect you from the memories of your past, Calee. We thought that, with time, you would come to accept the emotional costs of the work we do, that you would learn to venture out from behind the mental walls we taught you to build, even if you never again left the safety of these physical walls that surround you.”
Kassta’s steady gaze had fixed on Calee. “Perhaps we were wrong. Right or wrong, however, we cannot protect you any longer. We have no choice but to assign you to this scout, Calee. No choice whatsoever.”
Calee would have protested further, but something in the sad, stern set of her superior’s face had deterred her. Without another word, she had risen and left the room.
Even here, standing at the entrance to her dreaming chamber, Calee wavered. She didn’t want to guide a male. Males were dangerous, violent creatures given to physical excesses and passionate outbursts that threatened the peace of everyone around them. She especially didn’t want to touch the mind of a male who was also a scout.
Calee drew in a deep, unsteady breath at the thought. She’d guided scouts before. They’d all been female, but they’d shared a bravado and a brash unawareness of their own mortality that she’d found both shocking and incomprehensible.
Even older, more seasoned dreamers had a hard time working with scouts. With their dangerous work of exploring the new worlds discovered by robot probes, the pilots of scout ships usually retired very young, or died even younger. Knowing that fact made guiding them emotionally draining for a dreamer.
It had always been even harder for Calee. She’d seen too much death when she was young to understand why anyone would face it so willingly. That’s why she preferred guiding the pilots — the female pilots — of standard trade or transport ships. If they died, at least it was by accident and not because they’d deliberately put their lives at risk.
None of those considerations should matter, Calee told herself sternly. She had her duty, a duty she had never before failed to meet. A duty that she would not fail to meet now, regardless.
Nervously, Calee tossed back her hair. It fell in a heavy black curtain around her shoulders and down to her waist. She adjusted the high collar of her gown, then smoothed the long, full sleeves as carefully as if she were checking invisible armor. The gown was like all her other gowns. She’d chosen it because it provided freedom of movement while allowing her to cover as much as possible of the physical side of her being. Her work — her life — was spent in her mind and Calee wanted no distractions, not even from her own body.
With deliberate resolution, Calee crossed to the couch. The hem of her gown swished softly over the deep, thick carpet. She stood for a moment, forcing the calm she’d been trained to call up at will. When her heartbeat had slowed and some, at least, of the tension in her body had eased, she slid onto the couch and lay back against the soft cushions.
Lying still and quiet helped her concentrate on her dreaming. All her energies had to be focused inward as she mentally reached out to link with the mind of this pilot she’d been assigned to.
It didn’t matter that he was on a ship half a galaxy away and she would never leave her chamber here on Dreamworld. Once they were linked, they would function as one entity. Through her dreaming, her listening to the stars, she would show him the path he had to follow. Though he could not hear the stars as she did, he would be able to share her awareness of them, then translate that awareness into a form his ship could understand and follow, even within.
In the two or three days it would require for Calee to guide the pilot to wherever he was going, she would match her activities to his as much as possible. She would eat when he ate, sleep when he slept, bathe and tend to her personal needs when he did. Mostly, however, she would lie here on her couch, more aware of his body than she was of hers while her mind soared free among the stars.
At a softly spoken command from her, the lights in the room dimmed to an even paler glow. Calee closed her eyes and breathed deep, then deeper still, opening her mind to the music that was never far from her conscious thoughts, the eternal, infinitely varied songs of the stars.
The first voice she heard was the low, grumbling chant of Dreamworld’s own star, Rigeten. Then Rigonan, Rigeten’s sister, added its soft lilt.
Slowly the chorus gained power as Calee reached farther. There was Abarakal and Kaispa and Tras and, farther still, Old Tom and Zacharius. From far away, pure and clear, came the ancient song of Sol, the song that all dreamers heard most clearly because it was that voice which had given humankind birth.
Free among the stars, Calee’s fears of the assignment ahead eased. The pilot was just a man, after all. And what was one man, alone, compared to the vast majesty of the universe about her?
Reassured, Calee reached out to the distant Megelen sector, mentally searching for that spark of energy that told her another human was there, waiting for her.
The unknown scout wasn’t hard to find. Even with the voices of the half dozen stars near him rising in chorus, his silent, human song rose stronger still, pushing against Calee’s mind with a mental force that made her falter.
He was male. Definitely and inescapably male.
Although she had never even touched the mind of a male except in training, Calee had no doubt of that. There was something darker and wilder about his song, something far more intimidatingly potent than anything she had ever experienced with a female pilot.
Calee hesitated, groping for words to describe what she sensed. Words that could protect her against the contact, against his maleness, against his very being.
Halfway across the galaxy, she shuddered, shaken by her doubts. The physical reaction brought a mental shock in its wake...and a sense of shame. She was a dreamer, and dreamers weren’t supposed to allow their emotions to interfere with their dreaming. No matter how little she wanted this assignment, she could not turn back. Not now.
Once more Calee breathed deep, then willed her body to grow still. Cautiously, ignoring the doubts that pressed around her, she reached out to touch the edge of his mind.