Note - if incomplete work is welcome here, I'm your man.
I think the word "subdream" has been claimed already by some other author somewhere, so I don't what else to use (and for the file name I temporarily picked "Subwork").
I'm having trouble pinning down exactly what this paranormal ability is - so "have at it" as you wish, gang...
[It's not ESP. Not magic.
Not pulling shit -out- of peoples' unconscious minds.
Not altering the material world, or the future.
Mainly it's dropping ideas into people's brains. The suggestions or changes are smoothly incorporated.
A decision to act brings about differences. But only by way of the original actor, and only if they put the decision into motion.
(An architect who spent a year on a black high-rise spent that same year on the same building regardless - even if it was changed in a "subdream" to a silver high-rise...)
One character could refer to it as "The staging platform for reality"... but I'm not sure s/he would be correct.
The first few scenes occur before any of the characters understand what's happening. I'm not sure what the research project focused on - telepathy ??]
. . .
"I ordered you to come here, more or less..."
"Bullshit. It's a coincidence."
Jay thought that was amusing. "Thought you might say that. Have a smoke."
Felix blinked. "You are gorked." The smirking guy perched on the corner of the desk smoked like a fiend.
"Yeah. Probably. But check your pocket."
"Your jacket. Uh, left side."
"Gorked." Felix scowled, and eventually stuck his hand in -
Pulled out an open pack. He just stared for a few beats, turning it over slowly. An immediate reflex of disgust was there - and instantly it was gone. He shivered, without knowing why. It was just his smokes, the same pack he'd opened that morning, his usual brand...
Without thinking about the process Felix got himself a cigarette and lit it.
When he looked back at Jay, the sneer was gone. Instead the smartass looked like he was just beginning to get scared.
. . .
"He's just not a good subject." Emiko didn't budge.
Earl stared right back. "Do you have another? If so, this would be a really good time to br-"
"You know we don't. That doesn't mean we should proceed anyway. Waste our time. Our budget."
"Speaking of which," Earl said, "I can't fend off the wolves forever. October's coming."
"We know," Felix muttered, from the couch.
"It's so hard to hold funding for future use."
"We know!" Emiko and Felix chanted together.
"Okay, okay." Earl turned in his chair, which squeaked its usual protest. "You're with her, right? Pass on Jay?"
Felix looked at the ceiling and moved his jaw around. He did that when he was thinking hard. Everyone but him knew he did it. "I want to say yes. I should say yes. He drives me nuts sometimes." With an effort, he sat up. "He can be difficult -"
"Hah," Emiko barked.
"But damn, he's consistent. He's in control of it. Very smooth."
"More than we suspect," Earl mumbled, scratching his head.
Emiko shook her head. "We have one good shot at this. We may not get another."
Felix made a face. He opened his mouth, but ended up just gesturing. As if weighing stuff in his hands.
Earl tapped a file folder with the fingers on one hand. He was watching Emiko. Any others? Actives?"
"Noooo. A couple of passives. And, uh, us. Here," she said, looking down.
"You're carefully not looking at me, Meek. Isn't that right?"
"I said 'us'. C'mon -"
"All of us," Earl said calmly. "You gotta let that one go. We could never have predicted what Mister Jay can do. You wrote very sound precautions, guys. They still hold up." His chair complained again as he leaned back. Felix winced. "The problem isn't that you underestimated him. He just pulled new tricks out of the bag. Altering spontaneous perception is miles away from memory, and personality."
"If that's even what's he doing," Felix added.
Emiko opened her mouth, thought hard. And snapped her fingers. "Editing reality."
The men just looked at her.
"O-kay," Earl finally said.
"Too much science fiction in her formative years," Felix grinned. "That's what I blame it on." He thought about walking outside after the meeting and lighting a cigarette. The sooner, the better. Emiko was determined to convince him he hated smoking before last week, which was stupid. Clear as anything, Felix remembered getting fidgety in eighth grade English class because he hadn't had a cigarette since lunch... and all those parties all through high school. Why she'd be so set on the idea that he'd always been a total loser nerd - unless that was the kind she went for. Yeah, couple packs a day, the occasional fine cigar, a couple of joints during the weekend... they were all part of who he was -
"Ah!" Having collected her thoughts, Emiko was forging ahead. "Change the past, you change the present. And the future. Attack it at the root. Oh, c'mon. It's so simple, we overlooked it."
"Meek, now really -"
"The victor rewrites history. Maybe he's doing, in actuality, what the press conglomerate only wishes it could. Revise what people remember, and what they don't. Their ideas. That changes the outcome -"
"Are you getting Jungian on us?," Earl said, somewhat amused. "You?"
"Wait," Felix mumbled. "Wait. I get it." He sat up and looked at Earl. "My gut says she's right."
. . .
"This gift, or whatever it is," and Jay frowned then, "it's too big a thing to use on just havin' a good time. You know? If I'm not a witch, and I know I'm not, then God must be involved somewhere. The trick is to figure out what He wants me to do. Put this gift away, 'cause it's too dangerous... or put it to good use. And if I'm supposed to use it, I gotta figure out how - stay put in one place and work it, or go where the need is. The needs. There's other people gettin' hurt. If, and man does it sound bizarre, I'm the best bet to help 'em... well..." He shrugged.
"I've never seen this side of you," Emiko said gently. "Party animal. Maybe a touch of messiah complex."
He chuckled. "I don't know."
"What does power do? Absolute power?"
That took him a few seconds. "Corrupts. Oh."
"Yeah. Oh. You might have good intentions, but you're human. No matter how... righteous your intentions are, you could be trouble."
"Thanks," he said sarcastically.
"Just trying to see all the angles," she said. "If you want, I could find all kinds of cases - people on a mission for God that went sideways - and they meant well, they were so sincere about it, there's this risk of tunnel vision. And the tunnel gets warped so easily."
"Whoa. I get it."
"You've gotta go slow. Cautious. It's hard - this is a hard thing you've brought us. You know that, right?"
He shot her a sneaky look. "Be careful what you wish for."
Emiko had to laugh. "Right. Now we got it, alright... All day long, I go, was that thought really mine? All mine? How about this one?"
"Hey, I'd nev-"
"Shut up. It all comes down to trust, eventually. The past is, uh, more fluid. Especially the recent past. Felix - he's looser, and I'm not saying that's necessarily bad. But yesterday I heard him call one of the computers a 'pigfucker'." She paused, and they both sat there and grinned for a few seconds. "That's quite a change."
"And I've said if you want me to try and put him back the way he was -"
Emiko shook her head immediately. "We've been over this. Reason number one -"
"The Law of Unintended Consequences," Jay said along with her.
"Earl says, leave Felix be. We don't know enough yet - how you're doing this, what exactly you can change. And that's the other reason, goofball. We're trying to salvage the research here. Somehow."
He looked thoughtful. Sad. That wasn't like him. "And if I'm not trustworthy? Just plain evil? Taking over, running a big scam?"
We have no way to prove it," she said carefully. "There's no 'absolute' left. At least not for us mere mortals. I don't know how we're going to prevent a catastrophe, by accident. Or by design. We just can't. If you weren't so candid, by nature..." She sighed. "We have to bet it all on you, Jay. What you let us see, when we can get close enough - the kind of guy you are. Like it or not we're at your mercy, here, and you knew that way before we did. But I think you got a good heart."
"I do," he protested.
"Earl said that about you right off. A wild heart, but a good one..."
. . .
Mike looked like pounded shit.
"Morning, my nerds." He groaned as he pushed off the doorframe and kept walking down the hall. That was not the usual happy-go-lucky Mike.
"What's with him?" Earl asked Felix after the janitor/go-fer left.
"Hit the bars last night," Felix said, preoccupied with his computer display.
"On a Wednesday?"
That made Felix pause. He looked at Earl. Mike was a fairly low-key dude. He didn't get drunk that often, and he never let it affect his work. Mike took the project so seriously that there was never any doubt that he was as much a part of the team as any of them... and this morning he certainly did look sorta green.
Felix checked the clock on his screen. "Should be here in about fifteen minutes."
"Dammit," Earl muttered, fairly stomping out of the room.
There was a serious talk in Earl's office. Closed-door.
Felix was mildly pleased. It never hurt to have Jay get taken down a couple pegs. He got up for more coffee, and decided he could sneak a cigarette.
Jay was out back already.
"You got chewed out," Felix smiled, as much of a guess as anything.
"Oh hell yeah."
"Did you deserve it?"
Jay looked exasperated. "Mike's a good guy. Doesn't have enough fun. So I... helped out. Didn't think it was such a big fuckin' deal."
"Ah. You're a handful."
The other guy grinned. "Guess so. But it's not like the horndog didn't enjoy himself."
"And you made sure of that," Felix said slowly. "A little push. You get some kind of vicarious thrill."
"There's some payoff for you. He's having fun, you're happy. A job well done."
"Wait a minute! Uh..." Jay finished his cigarette to stall for time. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
Felix shook his head in amazement. "What happened to the whole noble, doing-good-for-mankind routine?"
"Sometimes I fall off the wagon. Enjoying that cigarette?"
"Yeah. Hey -"
Jay was sighing. Felix didn't even have to say it. "Old habits die hard. I like it when people have a good time, but I'll leave that up to them from now on. Okay? I get it."
"Having that choice is... important. People have to make their own mistakes."
Felix cocked his head. "You're in a real mood today."
"Just had my ass handed to me for doing something nice," Jay grumbled. "Except I didn't -ask- if Mike wanted to have a good time. I made sure he was safe the whole time. These incredible women buying him drinks, couldn't keep their hands off him - Hell, if I'd pushed him to go out and tear it up on Saturday night instead, nobody would've known."
Jay glared at him. "That's the rub. Right there. Thanks to you bookworms. Mad scientists -"
"Well... good. I don't know how much I'd like you being the dictator of the world."
"Aw," but he cracked up. So did Felix. They were all on thin ice, sometimes, but it sure seemed like Jay was out to do something more with his weird "ability" than just enlist more party pals.
[ As Jay works with them, another person becomes aware - somebody who's been using the same control to really mess people up.
To get Jay to reveal himself, the villain snares Mike. Messes with his head.
I suppose there's a climactic battle. Emiko, Felix and Earl have acquired lesser skills, along the lines of Jay's, simply by enlisting him to use them in the experimental setting.
Perhaps Jay, alone, could not have resisted the urge to join the villain and have some -real- fun making people hedonistic... but together they try to render the villain unconscious. Perhaps they end up killing her/him...]
. . .
Mike yelled like he was on fire. The straps barely held him down.
Jay finally came around and staggered into the room.
"He's gone," Emiko said, distraught. "Fried."
The janitor was all but foaming at the mouth. If he got loose, people were gonna get hurt. Jay's head throbbed. "Get Felix."
"I think he's coming right back. Probably needed another smoke."
Jay laughed bitterly. "And Earl?"
"Dealing with the cops."
"Great. Just... So this is what happens when you do the right thing, huh?"
She looked at him sharply. "Maybe we could sort all that out later. Do something."
"Easy, Meek. Okay, can you just... picture me, in your mind? Strong?"
After a moment she nodded. "I think I see what you're driving at."
Whoosh - there it was. Oh -yeah-, Jay thought. Been through a battle but I'm rarin' to go again, ten feet tall and I got what it takes to put ol' Mikey right...
He looked down.
"Uh. Maybe not so much physical strength."
Emiko followed his stare down, and saw the bulge in his jeans. "Whoops."
He leered at her quickly, and got hold of Mike's head.
Yow. It was chaos in there. Thousands of loose ends, snapped connections. Feral, elemental...
A new rush of energy perked Jay up. "Thanks, Felix," he murmured.
Jay turned back to his task and dove deeper.
After a good twenty minutes he sagged a little. "Whoooh," he exhaled, getting a cigarette.
"His whole past is snarled up. True stuff, false stuff - was he ever in prison?"
"Of course not," Emiko shot back.
"A torturer for the mob?"
Felix stared at Jay. "Holy cow."
"I can't get it out. Pull anywhere, and the whole thing goes. Like the roots of a tree."
"All of the... roots?" Emiko looked as if she was possibly going to cry.
"The real history, and everything else. No more Mike."
"I wonder," Felix said, "does it have to be... It's a shame there's not a backup version. In there."
Jay squinted at him. "You don't get it. Restart him - what's that word you use, about the computers?"
"Yeah. Reboot. He loses stuff he remembers. No getting around that."
"Is there any other choice?"
Jay studied Emiko, then Felix. "Suppose not."
"What - like, everything since he was kidnapped?"
"No, no. There's stuffed chained together. True and false, a few of 'em are twenty years - hey, but if I start cleaning up from the way he was a month ago..." Jay put his hand on Mike's forehead, getting eerie growls as a result.
Thirty seconds later he stepped back. Nodded. "Good idea," he said to Felix. "I can go after the individual rewrites. But not from this point, here and now. The bastard has Mike thinking that he really started to fall apart about... ten months ago."
Nobody responded to that for awhile.
"Ten months," Emiko finally said. "He's gonna lose the past ten months?"
"But all of this psycho shit will be out too. For good." Jay and Felix locked eyes.
Her eyes are big. "Are you serious? There's no other way?"
"Do it," Felix said, reaching out.
Jay handed over his cigarette, exhaled hard and got a good grip on Mike's head again...
Mike groaned a few times, and finally peeked...
He showed no sign of recognition when he studied Jay. That only made sense. They hadn't met until January...
Seeing Emiko and Felix, he grinned. As he sat up - carefully - one hand went to his shirt pocket and dug for a cigarette.
"What's up, my nerds?"
Everybody else fairly staggered with relief. The researchers hugged each other. Closer to Mike, a stranger looked at him real intensely, like he'd just pulled off something great.
"Let me," the unfamiliar man said. He pulled out a lighter. "You know my name?"
Mike lit up and nodded his thanks. "Nope."
"I'm Jay. How about her?"
She smiled. "How do you feel?"
"Like I've been dragged behind a truck or something."
Felix leaned in. He had a pack of cigarettes in his hand - which was really weird, 'cause Felix was forever carping at Mike about that. "What's today's date?" he asked Mike.
"Since when do you smoke?"
"Long story," Felix sighed impatiently. "The date."
"Uh... May 7th. Or the 8th - no, it's the 7th."
His friends stared at each other.
"More like eleven months," Felix said to the grinning stranger.
"So sue me."
"Eleven months?" Mike said, looking from one man to the other.
"Mike, honey," Emiko reassured him, "we've got something really weird to tell you."
- - 0 - -