Nightmares and Friendship

Lake finally was asleep.  Eribos’s antics and the whole teleportation, gateway-thing at this critical time and place while Crusader was missing was bad enough.  To know she would be exhausted tomorrow when a big fight was likely to happen was worse.  But, worries aside she finally slipped into slumber.

{Tia was herself, as she was born, in a gossamer, white shift walking along the beaches of Alpha prime, the purple ocean reflecting the twin moons in a dazzling display of color that no place could match. She was at peace. Shimmering unfocused down the beach was a form. Human, she thought, just out of range to be easily identified.}

{Not wishing to disturb the peace that she had so recently discovered, she smiled and walked slowly dow the beach to the surf so that she could feel the violet waves splash over her feet. The strange color, made that way due to the harmless microbes native to these oceans, only made the experience that much more heavenly. The gentle color stained clothes purple no more than the blue seas on earth would stain clothes blue. She lifted her gaze before her again as she made her way down the sandy, surf-lined beach. While she sought to leave the human in peace, she made no special effort to avoid them.}

{The form in the distance took some note of her, as it paused its movement ever so briefly.  As it paused, a voice from within called her name, ‘Tia Hellon’.  The sound fading slowly with the beat of the waves, drawing her toward the ocean, though as yet she had not moved. It was familiar, but slippery and COLD, ever so cold – drawing her in despite that for a certain sense of comfort it gave.  It made no sense, but the form in the distance had stopped, still out of focus, farther down the beach and somewhat away from the tide.  It was looking at her.}

{She blinked and shook her head, wondering why her imagination was playing such tricks. It was disturbing her peaceful center, she thought. She looked out across the ocean to see if there was something out there.}

{And there was.  Something very familiar to Tia was embedded within the depths of the tidewaters, trapped, one would say. Familiar, subjectively comforting…but something cold disturbed the feeling of comfort. It was disconcerting, but yet it tugged at her. ‘Tia Hellon’ the waves said softly in a masculine tone.}

{Curious, she moved further into the sea, hoping to get a better look at what was in there. She didn’t think the water felt cold, but something else was. When she was as deep as she could go and still touch bottom,  she took a deep breath and dove deep beneath the water, seeking out the thing that was trapped below.}

{It was the form a man, both part of the waters, yet distinct from it.  As she swam toward it, it slipped deeper into the sea, yet not so fast as she couldn’t slowly close the distance.  As she closed, the water felt comforting.  The man, both a part of the water, yet not, grew slowly in size, like a dye spilt into water.  But it did not dilute, but slowly began to envelope her as she almost reached it. Part of her still felt nothing but a cold, emotionless husk of a being before her. But something in her WANTED to feel comfort, wanted to turn this cold man who’s essense began to surround her into something human, something warm.

The watery form touched her saying softly, ‘let go, become the sea and join me.’  The compassion in the voice was betrayed by it’s coldness that no empathy could bridge.  But it drew her anyway. Yet two voices echoed through the waters, one, a male voice called out, ‘Tia’ from above the waves toward the shore and a female voice called out ‘Lake’ from beyond all rational perception, softer than the others.}

{Steeling her resolve, she decided that in order to bring warmth to the strange man of the sea, she must reach out and share what she had. She reached for him and smiled, trying to grasp onto him and bring him to the surface with her, toward the light and the other voices that called to her.}

Metatide awoke her host’s lab central communications room, not in her quarters.  She was standing at a computer console, the monitor reading [Log deleted.  Delete anonymous access entry y/n?]. It was as if she has been of the middle of something, but she knew not what. She remembered…swimming.  Being literally water within water, seperate but the same.  The clock read 5:15 am and no one was around.

She blinked, staring around herself with some shock. What have I been doing? she asked herself. Adrenalin rushed her system as the surprise registered. She hadn’t sleepwalked since she was a little girl. She stared at the display again. Log deleted? Why would she do that?

A thought occurred to her. Was she really herself right now? As in not Lake? She squinted at the dark monitor, trying to catch her own reflection.

The image of Tia looked back at Metatide in the monitor, though somehow, subconsciously it slipped away with the familiar Lake Rain taking her place.

Shock again pulsed through her as she realized she must have been walking around as Tia Hellon. She swallowed hard, then looked around the computer room to see if she was alone — and if she was being monitored.

A quick look at the internal monitor logs showed nothing unusual. no record at all of moving through the corridors.  The entry- exit log for her room showed nothing.  All logs showed nothing unusual for the last two hours, the last video item being Eribos being brought back into the facility aroud 1:45 am and the last login by anyone else being Ms Sakura around 3:00 from her study.

Troubled, she nervously wiped her hands, pressed “y” at the terminal, then headed back to her room where she thought she’d try to get some rest again, but knew she probably wouldn’t.

In the corridor leading to her quarters, she heard the ‘swoosh’ of a door opening behind her.  Ms Sakura, exited her quarters, towel in hand and dressed in exercise gear.

Startled at first, Lake covered it with a smile. “You don’t sleep?” She realized too late that it would be difficult to explain how she’d come to that conclusion, other than the fact it was early.

Miho smiled, “Of course I do.  I just get up early. It’s 5:30, time to work out.  But, I could ask the same of you Lake.” she said with a smile, “You still okay?”

“I’m — wait,” she said with a confused frown. “Still okay?”

Sakura seemingly missed the hesitation, “Yeah, from the EPS power surge. Don’t worry, maintenance will check out your ecom [GM Note: Ecom = Entertainment/Communications] and room power system around 7 to figure out the problem.”

“Oh. I must have forgotten,” Lake replied. “What time did the surge happen?”

“About 3:00,” she replied. “Are you sure you are okay?”

Lake frowned. “I’m not sure. I must be just over tired. What’s an EPS? Did it set off an alarm or something?”

“Sorry, tech-speak,” she said reassuringly, “electrical power system. Don’t know what set it off yet.  Around 3:00 there was a power surge from your room.  Nothing big, due to the breakers kicking in, but I was worried it hurt you.  It was odd because nothing unusual was drawing power, but with the air ionization due to the wierd happenings in Oriana’s room earlier tonight, I can’t rule out some kind of heuristic or sypathetic connection.  Anyway, it knocked out your comm system but it didn’t seem to wake you up, I knocked but you didn’t answer for a bit, but soon enough you said you were okay.  You were so tired and frustrated from last night that I didn’t want to push it, so I left it at that.”  She paused, “sorry for waking you, but I had to check.  You certainly sound better.”

“I must have been really out of it. I don’t even remember your knocking.” Lake hesitated. She wanted to tell Miho she must have been sleepwalking, but there was a problem with that. Until Crusader returned, the team depended on her to keep them together. If she failed in that, there’d be no team left for him to come back to. In order to keep them together, she had to keep *herself* together, first.

She thought about her dream. All she remembered now was being in water, being one with water, yet separate. And then finding herself staring a computer terminal with deleted logs. Lake knew it was important to figure out what was going on, but if the other team members thought there was instability in their interim leader… Well. Erabos was already barely manageable. She couldn’t bear to think the trouble she’d have from the team if they didn’t think her stable.

“Miho, I need your help. But we’ve got to keep this quiet. I don’t want the others to think there is anything wrong. Is there some place we can talk that won’t be monitored?”

Miho looked a bit confused, “Most of this section of the facility isn’t monitored.  Mr. Sato knows how much our privacy means to us. Only Eribos’s jaunting around outside the set-aside area set off any real alerts.  But, if you want somewhere with no outside access at all, I’d say we go to the brain room.  We have it in sensory deprevation and all EM in or out is shielded.  It’s just down the access corridor in Area C.,” she said pointing down the corridor. “Shall we go?”

Lake nodded. After the arrived in the brain room, Lake confided in her. “Miho, I’m not sure what’s happened. You say there was some kind of electrical surge in my room and I believe you, but I don’t remember it happening. Nor do I remember you waking me. All I remember is waking up in front of a terminal in the central communications room. Looking at a report of a lot of deleted logs. It’s like I was doing something when I woke up, but I have no idea what. I’m sure it was the nonsense stuff a person dreams of. Obviously, I was sleepwalking the whole time, but I haven’t done that since I was very young and… well I think the stress is getting to me. I don’t want the others to know. I didn’t know myself I was so stressed out, but it’s the only explanation for the sleepwalking. I’m too jittery now to sleep, but I think I need to get sleeping pills. Probably prescription strength. Genesis cannot afford to have its leader, even if only an interim leader, wandering about in her sleep fiddling around with heaven knows what.

“In the meanwhile, I was hoping you might help me quietly look into the whole incident. With all the weirdness going on I can’t overlook the possibility it *wasn’t* just a sleepwalking incident, no matter how unlikely it is. I just need to rule out any other kind of outside influence. We have aliens and mutants and strange portals in time and space all in one spot. It seems like we might have a lot to rule out. I just… I just can’t have the rest of the team freaking out about something that is probably very, very minor on top of everything else.”

Miho nodded a bit and said, “Sure. I’ll help.  First thing is first. Please stay here for a moment.”

Lake nodded.

Miho exited for exactly ten minutes then returned and sealed the door. She had an archaic clipboard in her hand with perhaps 30 leaves of paper on it.

“You say you don’t remember me knocking and you are feeling alright, no cold or sore throat right; no shock after effects either?”

“No. I’m never sick and I regenerate from any injury. I guess you’d know that if I had let the Grey doctor do an exam. I guess I felt at the time it was a moot point since I can change my body — down to the level of DNA.”

Lake looked sheepish and as embarrassed as if she’d just admitted to someone she was gay. “I never told anyone that before. But it’s true. That’s how I can bypass any biometric scanner. I just get a look at someone and my body takes over the rest, even at the molecular level. I literally become that person, no tricks, no illusion, no hologram. It’s real.

“I’ve studied it myself. I’ve had a lot of time to do so, although I gave it up after the first few years. I’m much older than the form you see before you, Miho.”  Lake was looking at the floor. It was easier to admit this stuff if she didn’t have to see Miho’s reaction, she thought.

Lake realized she’d paused for a while as she became lost in thought, so she hurried to finish what she wanted to say. “I’ve run tests using blood and tissue samples. I would rate my recuperative abilities very high. It’s only limited by cellular death. So, I suspect that my ability to recover from injury ends only at the point of metabolic death. That’s a long answer to your simple question, but it means that there is no way we can find out what, if any, injury was done to me by any electrical surge at this point. Since I never actually wear any clothes at all, even what I appear to wear will appear to heal in a few moments.” She blushed at the last admission and kept her eyes glued to the tile floor. It’s one thing to fool people into thinking you wear clothes. Her ability even made it convincing enough she could fool herself. It’s quite another to admit to another person that the little ’emperor’ did in fact wear no clothes.

The entire thing really was very incredible when one thought about it. Her ‘clothes’, merely shape shifted portions of her own body, had the texture and even molecular composition of material similar to or the same as clothing. Lake knew that when she used a lot of her powers, it had a dramatic effect on the humidity level of her environment. It was as if the atoms of one of the most basic molecules in existence — h20, water — simply *agreed* to reorient, recombine, and even merge to become new elements, compounds, and substances in reaction to her subconscious command.

This was why she had ended her own research on it. It simply could not be scientifically explained. The experiment that Doctor Zaris had begun and that she had only managed to compound and complicate — resulting in her beloved Doctor’s dramatic demise — had results that went beyond science, beyond explanation. Ultimately, she’d been forced to simply accept it for what it was and move on with the life she’d adopted. It was why she turned from an introverted lab assistant to an extroverted club-goer by night and mild-mannered pharmacist during the day.

Lake looked up at Miho to see how she was taking the news, and to see if Miho might have thought of something that could explain the current predicament.

Miho had patiently listed to Lake, taking in all she had to say. Her expression was one of interest, perhaps curiosity. Waiting a moment to think on it, she said, “Well, I’m sure there is some kind of scientific explanation for how your power works. Empathic cloaking, molecular mimicry, or perhaps something new.  But what you said about water was very interesting.  I went to your room quickly with a couple of droids and did a quick once-over.”  She paused and said, “don’t worry, I had them wipe their short term memory.”

Then she continued, “When I was awoken by the EPS surge warning, I went to your door, knocked, and asked if you were okay.  You said, “fine’; though your voice was hoarse, deeper. I asked and you said you had a sore throat. Then I said I’d ask Dr. Z to check you out and you said, ‘sure, but I heal quickly.  See you tomorrow.’  You sounded very, very tired, so, like I said before, I felt I should just let you sleep.”

She was paging through the papers as she spoke.  She stopped about halfway through and showed it to Lake.  “The humidity in the room is less than 1 percent and that was due to you opening the door and leaving. But, a brief review of the floor-level EPS power taps and connected equipment, including your ecomm, shows signs of a short circut, likely caused by water immersion.  Of course, I’d have to go over the room thoroughly to be sure.”

She looked worried for a moment, “Lake, could you have lost body cohesion for a moment while under stress and unconscious? Or caught some short term pathogen that had mnemonic and cohesive side effects?  Or both?”

“I can’t rule it out since I don’t remember. But I do know I was dreaming. Something… something about water I think. I think I was completely immersed in water in my dream. That doesn’t disturb me of course. I’m at home in the water and I never seem to need air or to breathe at all. I was trying to do something, reach for something maybe? I’m not sure. The memory mostly slipped away when I came to and found myself in front of the terminal.

“But Miho,” Lake asked, “if I did lose cohesion, then why was the humidity so low? That water went somewhere, was used somehow, or absorbed into me. Also, if I had lost cohesion, how did I end up in another room? It sounds to me like I change my form. That can take a lot depending on what it is. If I was sleepwalking, then maybe I also was sleep-shifting. And that would make sense, too. For one, my abilities are not limited by gender — that could explain the deeper voice you heard. And there is one bit of evidence that would support this idea; when I came to in the comms room, I looked like… well.” She hesitated, thinking better of telling Miho anything about her true identity. “I looked like the person I was in the dream.”

Miho’s eyebrow went up quizzically, “You remember who you were in your dream?  Is it someone you’ve met before?”

“Well, I think that’s who I was in my dream because that’s who I was when I first came to,” Lake replied. “And yes, it was someone I knew. Why, is that odd?”

“No, I don’t think so. But I’m not a psychchologist or a telepath,” she answered. “I’m not technically a forensic scientist, either, but I have enough cross-training to figure out the physical evidence and reconstruct what happened; maybe in a few hours I could proof of a scenario I’m thinking of; but to really get into the motivations and psychology behind what happened, you’d need a psychologist or perhaps a forensic telepath or profiler.”

She looked at her notes, “Do you want to hear my theory?”

Lake blinked. A telepath? Psychologists? She really hoped that wasn’t necessary. “I’m all ears.”

“Here is what I think.  You had a very stressfull day and were awakened constantly with small, but troublesome interruptions.  When you finally were able to sleep, you had some kind of lucid dream that associated with the stress of the day made you want to ‘let go’.  Your psychological desire added to physiological stress manifested this release as a physical effect.  Your body literally lost cohesion and flooded the room briefly, causing the shorts.  The electrical shock snapped you awake and you instinctively reconstituted, drawing all the moisture to yourself. Still in a daze you couldn’t communicate well or even remember what was going on.  Effectively your short-term memory was short-circuted. When your body healed itself, as it is like to do, your awareness kicked in and whatever you had done in the mean time and the reasons behind it were lost and not recorded in long-term memory.  You could have been simply trying to figure out what happened to you in those hours and you constantly, maybe every fifteen minutes or so, lost memory and restarted. This continued until you healed yourself which co-incidentally was when you ran into me.  There is no record of you exiting your room, so you must have done so in a liquid state early on while you suffered first from the shock.”

She looked a concerned a bit, “I just want to check something though, do you remember what I was going to do 20 minutes ago?”

“Yes. You were going to work out,” Lake said distractedly. She was still thinking about the theory. “There’s just one problem with your theory, though. Although I can alter my shape substantially, it must remain in some way humanoid. I can modify even my bone structure, but I can’t necessarily convert my bones to liquid. I can also control water within me to produce various effects such as watery tendrils I can use for a variety of purposes, but again, I can’t alter my shape so much that I am not still roughly humanoid.

“If I de-constitute like that, I’m afraid that might be a permanent condition.” And the look on her face showed that she meant that she was literally afraid of just such a thing happening to her. “My research indicates that this is absolutely true and has already been proven. If I don’t have a rigid structure of some kind — a blueprint you might say — I can’t reform.” The horrible truth, Lake remembered, was that although de-constituted and reduced to a jelly, she might not die. Just like what happened to Dr. Zaris. And that would be a horrible fate, indeed.

Miho looked perplexed, “Hmm, that blows part of my theory.  Your tendrel ability and maybe a general influx of hydrated air could have triggered the surge, I can’t know unless we tested it; and that would hurt. But how does that explain how you exited the door without any record of it. It didn’t surge; its on a seperate system.”

Lake frowned. “The records would have had to have been deleted.” Now she was even more worried.

“Okay, for sure I’m getting sleeping pills so I don’t wake in the night. I have no idea what it was I might have been doing in my sleep, but I definitely can’t be allowed to walk around in my sleep deleting logs. Is there any way we can get hold of some sleeping pills without anyone knowing? This is just a stop-gap measure. When Crusader returns we’ll have to look into this more carefully. And I’ll have to tell him about this.” A very hopeful part of her, however, wanted this to be a one-time event never to be repeated. It was frightening enough that she was walking in her sleep. Doing something to the computer systems around here while asleep was even worse.

Miho gave Lake a reassuring gaze, “Lake, I doubt you are deleting records in your sleep.  Anyway, if you want I can check the system just in case. This is a corporate enterprise level system Mr. Sato has here.  I can do a molecular memory scan and check for any deletions.  It may take awhile, but it might make you feel better.  Meanwhile, it is possible the door malfunctioned, I can have a droid do a diagnositc on the system while they are repairing the ecomm.  As far as sleeping pills; I can get you somthing from my lab that should do the trick; you’ll sleep but not dream – at least not vividly.  It isn’t the most satisfying sleep, but for a short time it shouldn’t effect your performance.”

Lake rubbed her head and closed her eyes. “While we are on the topic of crazy stuff, Miho can you remind me again what was done with that AI brain and where it’s being kept?”

“We still have it,” she said, pointing at a 2 meter square ceramic enclosure isolated from the rest of the lab. “We were holding on to it due to its affinity toward the cause of this whole situation, pending Crusader’s decision.  Did you learn anything about it from the female suspect?”

“I’m not sure we have much yet,” Lake said. “Or at least not all. They seem to believe that Lancing is at fault for the Archeron incident and that they are resuming extremely risky AI development. I still don’t understand why they activated this thing.  Bad move; it cost them one of their own operatives and it doesn’t sound like they can afford to lose people. It may be, though, that they are trying to raise awareness that AI experimentation is dangerous and aim questions at Lansing. Of course, if they are accusations are true then despite the irresponsible and dangerous methods they’ve been using, they might also be right. Nothing worse than terrorists with something to prove.

“I worry about Crusader, though,” Lake confided. “The man he’s negotiating with is described by the terrorists as a mercenary. He’s terribly powerful for someone whose services can be bought. But, however you look at it, he’s an outlaw, too. I hope that Crusader will be able to talk him in. If not, I think we will see him again — in combat.”

Miho nodded, “Most likely. That cybernetic exo-armor is military quality; actually beyond even Colonial Marine assault armor. Whomever this guy’s tech supplier is, I admire their work.  Probably a custom job.”

She continued, “As far as the suspects, I think they want a mix of revenge, vindication, and maybe they do have a real fear of what this Super-AI could do.  They were blaimed rightly or wrongly for something that embarrised LansingCorp and that put them on this course wherein they discovered a bigger secret than they expected.  They might be redeemable though; people often do ill-advised irrational actions when under pressure.”

“That’s true,” Lake replied. “But I wonder. Where is the line, the point of no return? When only a few people get hurt? When some people are killed? Or when a whole population is destroyed? I really don’t know. It just seems to me that when you cross one line, it’s not so hard to cross the next, and the next. But maybe some can pull back from the brink of becoming real sociopaths. If reform works, then they all can. These are questions that are beyond me, though.”

Miho concurred, “Perhaps, don’t sell yourself short; you’ve got great potential.  For my part, I’m glad I don’t have to make such life and death moral judgements; at least not so far.  Marius seems to be pretty centered though; maybe he might know that line.  He’s been like a second conscience for Mr. Sato, Mr. Vance, and others for years now.”

“I really don’t know Marius. But I think I know Crusader and myself. I’ll do whatever is necessary to help this time become the symbol Crusader and I talked about,” Lake stated.

“It’s time we widen our investigation and see if we can verify or disprove what these terrorists claim.”

“Agreed. Can we get their cooperation; and, besides that, how long should we wait on Crusader to return?” asked Miho.

“I doubt Lansing will cooperate. If Crusader isn’t back soon — as in within 36 hours, I’m going after him,” Lake said.

“I’m with you, though finding him could be tricky.  If it comes to that, I’m sure our suspects know where this armored suspect would go.” replied Miho.  “On the other thing, I’ll get you the drug neccessary to prevent this morning from happening again – assuming we are right on the cause. Are you up for a bit of exercise?  Or do shapeshifters need to stay in shape?”  She paused, “Oh, that was a bad pun, sorry.  Unintentional.”

Lake smiled. “Well, you wouldn’t think so, but I have noticed that my shapeshifting ability doesn’t seem to make me much stronger. And it’s really tiring to shift shape. I could probably use some exercise.”

Miho smiled, “Then let’s go!  We have one beast of a day ahead of us.”

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