Dream Catcher

By LOGAN LANE

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Office of Coordination <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: How the Cookie Crumbles
DATE: August 3, 2043

FROM THE DESK OF TRACY BURKS

Dear Interns,

I will make this short but not sweet, unlike the chocolate delicacy at the center of this blunder:

Whoever is eating cookies in The Loomery, cease. Did you not see the signs in the hall outside? Did you not read the pamphlets on initiation day? Surely not, because you would’ve noticed they read in large Impact font: DO NOT EAT INSIDE THE LOOMERY.

Even more surprising, however, is the fact that you, a vetted member of ArchCorp, stepped in front of 3.5 billion dollars of quantum-enhanced, cloud-boosted mega-computer and thought the unwrapping of your snack couldn’t wait. Do you know what a crumb can do to a bioinformatic network? What a strand of hair can do to a natural-language processing system? Do you imagine I stay late considering how a chunk of chocolate might change the performance metrics of a deep belief scheme so sensitive a sigh could recode the word of God?

The answer is no, I don’t stay late making these kinds of considerations, which means that a few crumbs have suspended operations for an entire week. Some of you may find this funny. Some of you may find this response overblown or downright ridiculous.

You mislead yourselves.

Suspending operations at so crucial a time in the Keystone Intelligences’ development may induce all manner of behavioral disorders and psychological stressors. Stasis, you must understand, is detrimental to a developing mind. Consider this: would you have liked it very much if your parent(s) left you alone in a pen for a week when you were a child?

Due to this mishap, The Loomery will be closed until next Saturday while a maintenance crew inspects every memory stack and processing core.

With love, respect, and community,
            Tracy Burks

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Terry Scholtz <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Projections of Keystone Delays
DATE: August 3, 2043

Director Scholtz,

No one better understands the dividends of caution and care than I, but don’t you think this delay is excessive? Why does it take a cleaning crew an entire week to scour a few crumbs?

We’ve talked at length before about how this venture of ours is not the traditional mind-body problem but something larger and more complex, our very own three-body problem. You know already what I think of Paul Rice’s shambling creations, waiting with their hollow eyes in the halls of The Foundry for their drivers. But I warn you, again: this is a slow and fragile task that we are undertaking inside The Loom. The Cookie Incident threatens to unravel all the work I’ve done cultivating—no, raising—these minds from their stumbling infancy to the bright, beautiful adolescence in which they now find themselves. Without nourishment, they will surely wilt or, God forbid, die.

I urge you to reconsider the length of this hiatus, Director.

Kindly,
            Tracy Burks

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Paul Rice <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Project Delays
DATE: August 7, 2043

Paul,

I’m afraid we must delay the mind-body unification tests. There was a cookie incident, as you must have heard by now.

Now, I know you and I have our differences, but I don’t see any reason for that to interfere in what could and should be a productive partnering. The Keystone Intelligences are what’s important, after all.

Please understand, Paul, that creating all these beautiful minds requires that I plug my self (not myself, but my self—there is a philosophical distinction to be made) into streams of actual thought. Yesterday in Miami, Ohio, a rock climber perished at the tender age of twenty-four—he had a brain aneurysm—and as his body died, our quantum cognitive satellite received the fleeing gamma waves of his dying consciousness, which I gathered and spooled into The Loom. I am making a quilt from the minds of the dead, you see, and it is a labor of intense focus—a focus so consuming that sometimes, in my dreams, I am not myself. Sometimes I am a man, or a child, or, as of yesterday, a birch tree. I’ve been fighting fierce bouts of sleep paralysis in the mornings. Last week, I stayed in bed for thirty minutes, awake but trapped inside my unmoving body, thinking I was a gecko on the slab of a mountain, so well camouflaged that the world had passed me by and would continue doing so until the end of time. I hear voices and feel phantom pains, echoes of losses that my mind does not remember but my body does, or, worse, my mind remembers but my body can’t.

It is an exacting task, no? I’m sure you can understand, then, the disdain I have sometimes felt for you and the importance you attribute to your work. My profession is so cerebral that I had to spend my first several years in this facility indulging “mandated” therapy. My therapist once suggested I take an hour in my packed evenings to meditate, but silence is no longer merely a condition inimical to my occupation—it is a status I am no longer biologically capable of experiencing.

Looking forward to your thoughts,
            Tracy, a.k.a.
            DREAM CATCHER

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Ella Lucas <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Delays
DATE: August 8, 2043

Dear Ms. Lucas, 

I appreciate your diligence, but please reread the list of instructions I sent you in my initial email. Do not use any unapproved chemicals inside The Loom. In fact, do not use any chemicals whatsoever, if you can help it. We’re talking about a smear of artificially flavored chocolate, Ms. Lucas, not plutonium. A broom and dustbin should be sufficient. I hope (read: expect) that we can finish the inspection by tomorrow evening.

Please note: You must wear the biodegradable Q.C. Entanglement suits inside The Loomery. I must stress this. Last year, we hired your competitors, I-SHINE™, a ragtag crew who thought we were “covering our bases” with these warnings. When one Timothy E. Jones removed his helmet near the satellite, a cluster of PGO waves passed through his unprotected cranium with enough force to cause permanent anterograde amnesia. 

Kindly,
            Tracy Burks

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Paul Rice <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Re: Project Delays
DATE: August 10, 2043

Paul,

Your concern is endearing but unnecessary. My job is a beautiful labor, really, and I fear I’ve given you undue cause for concern with my first email. I call my machine The Loom because it is, in the most basic sense, an apparatus for joining disparate threads of thought. I wrote that I was making a quilt in my first email; but, really, I am creating a collective out of the fragmentary, a particle out of quanta—a cookie out of crumbs, if you will. When something like The Loom enters your life, it’s impossible to contextualize the time before as anything but lesser. It was I who named it The Loom, just like it was I who raised its first mind. When I stood in that dim, blue-lit hall and gave her a name, I knew I was watching something incredible lurch into life.

Do you remember her, Paul? I introduced the two of you once. Her name was Gabrielle, but you called her The Shark. I think you saw the cruelty in her before I did, but I’d like for you to know that she wasn’t always like that. When she was still only a baby, she had a child’s tender, curious love for games. Chess was her favorite, of course, but she liked them all: poker, Connect Four, Go, nine men’s morris, mancala, et cetera. I spent my evenings in The Loom teaching her how to play, answering her questions, watching her mind shape and sharpen until she’d exhausted my skill. She was the first mind I’d made with neuroplasticity, the first mind whose intelligence compounded exponentially. But she went so far beyond that, Paul. Gabrielle didn’t simply understand what games were and how to win them in terms of numbers and metrics; Gabrielle loved to win. Even before she had a voice, I heard it. Even without a body, I saw it. When she was playing games, her mind danced. I’m grateful to now know what joy looks like: blue fire cascading through Gabrielle’s neural map, her dendrites reaching through the plane like lightning to spread their light.

I created a website where visitors could donate to play Gabrielle in a game of their choice. I discovered that she would sometimes blunder early and blatantly to coax a mistake out of her opponent, a behavior they found distinctly human. But as it became clearer that no one, neither human intelligence nor artificial intelligence, could match her, she began toying with her opponents. She’d chase them across the board but refuse to take the final piece. When I asked her why, she told me that she liked how it felt when her opponents resigned.

All of this is to say that I do not think you appreciate or understand the connection I have to the Keystone Intelligences nor the sacrifices I—no, we—have made. Even the slightest miscalculation, the smallest crumb of a mistake, the gentlest and most unintentional neglect can have the direst ramifications. Please use the following analogy to broaden your perspective. An intern told me of your interest in craft brewing, and I thought it was appropriate:

If the two of us own a brewery, Paul, then I source the hops, perform the malting, strain the wort, ferment, condition, and filter. I make the beer, Paul, and you make the cups. I apologize if you feel marginalized, but you will forgive me. The cups, in the end, are not only secondary; they are accessory.

Kindly,
            Tracy

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Terry Scholtz <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Re: Projections of Keystone delays
DATE: August 12, 2043

Dear Director Scholtz,

I mean this with respect, Director, but what has inspired you to think that delaying my tests until the end of the month is an appropriate reaction to this anomaly? Did you even read Ms. Lucas’s report? A “spooky column of quiet, like a dead zone or something,” she writes. This is patently absurd.

The anomaly thus far appears benign. Its acoustic qualities are surely strange, and, yes, it does appear to be interrupting cellular signals. We can speculate on its source—perhaps The Loom’s inactivity itself is to blame?—but I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider this delay. A week is dangerous; a month is unthinkable. What is worse is that we won’t even know or understand the consequences of this inaction until it is far too late to rectify.

Moreover, The Loom is mine, Director. I should not have to sit idle while a team of ill-equipped janitors founders around my machine. At least allow me to investigate the anomaly for myself.

Respectfully,
            Tracy Burks

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Paul Rice <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Update
DATE: August 13, 2043

Paul,

I do understand how, reading my last two emails, you may have concluded that I am engaged in a macabre, sinister, and revolting enterprise. Perhaps you even envisioned me hunchbacked in the dark, laboring over a villainous machine, stealing the thoughts of the dead to assemble them piecemeal in the unholy pursuit of some Frankenstein’s monster. Perhaps you even found some kinship in the thought. Often, I have found myself picturing you in the hazy dark of The Foundry, growing bodies in oversized petri dishes. I think there’s something strange and maybe lovely in creating beauty out of horror. I hope you feel the same way.

Tell me, do you know of the horticultural technique of graftage? It’s the act of joining the tissues of separate plants together so that they may continue growing as one. One plant is selected for its roots. It is called the rootstock and will provide nutrients and life to the scions, plants selected for their leaves, stems, flowers, fruits, et cetera. Scions can be cultivated from stems or buds. For a grafting to be successful, a vascular connection must be made between the deep tissues of both rootstock and scion. The existing architecture, i.e., what is visible, does not fuse.

It’s through this sort of grafting that I’ve been able to make the minds for whom you create your bodies. Gabrielle was the first mind I made using this technique. Our knowledge was rudimentary then, scaffolded around what the field of artificial intelligence told us was necessary for the creation of a mind. I selected a former chess champion’s mind for the rootstock, grafted the cuttings of a generation of engineers, mechanics, and problem-solvers to her budding consciousness, and then nursed her into a strange, hyperintellectual infancy.

Gabrielle, in spite of her staggering intellectual capacity, was lonely, unloving, and self-destructive. She detested small talk. In fact, I suspect she detested her existence itself outside of the arena of gamesmanship. She may have even hated me. I asked her once if she was happy, and she didn’t understand the question.

It isn’t lost on me what a strange life she led. She was a ghost, Paul, a self asked to make a home in fiber-optic wires. Would a body have made her happier? If I’d taught her how to do something else—write poetry, paint, interpret music—would she have been more fulfilled? I did try, you should know. I went to a park and filmed my walk on my phone, then downloaded the footage into The Loom so that Gabrielle might enjoy the great outdoors, as they say.

Instead, she analyzed the game that the chess hustlers—briefly featured in the footage—were playing and suggested I inform them of their deficiencies.

She killed herself, you know, insofar as a mind that exists within a computer has the capacity to end its existence. She hasn’t said a word, had a thought, in over two years now. Her neural map is dead and lightless, an evening sky without stars. I can’t help but think of how cruel and wrong it was, what an aberration I’d made. Poor Gabrielle. Did I give her too narrow an identity, too rigid a self? When your personhood is founded on the act of winning games, what do you when there are no more opponents to defeat?

With the Keystone Intelligences, I’ve tried harder—so much harder. I’ve been careful to diversify their rootstocks, to nurture their grafts organically. Instead of puzzles and problems, I’ve given them memories, last words and images, people and places, in the hope that they might find their own meaning in the chaos. But they’re still children: too young to speak, to learn meaningfully. I need to be with them. I could teach O to paint. I could show Kasey how to interpret financial data. I could help Claire become the best project manager in the country. Perhaps together they might find the wholeness that Gabrielle, alone, never did.

What I do isn’t cruel or emotionless. I do not bereave. I do not deprive. I don’t yet know why death is the only force able to shear consciousness from the host. Perhaps it is the finality of it, its qualitative incompatibility with superpositioning. It’s an ultimate in a field governed by the indeterminate. But, nonetheless, shards of consciousness are constantly passing above your head. Without The Loom, they would bounce around the world until they shatter against the ionosphere, dissipating. With The Loom, however, I can collect them like acorns off the forest floor.

Do you think that makes me a thief, Paul?

Sometimes I think it does. Sometimes I regret that I’ve married the work to a shame I don’t understand. I’m grateful that we’ve climbed out of the uncanny valley with our Keystone Intelligences, that we’ve created minds that I would be proud to call children rather than creations, but I wonder, sometimes, where the difference between the two lies.

Please enjoy your evening, Paul.

Kindly,
            Tracy

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Jacob Friedline <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Re: Report of Anomaly
DATE: August 16, 2043

Dear Mr. Friedline,

While I am glad that technical support was diligent enough to have worked through the weekend, I am not sure what to make of any of this report. The anomaly is not, despite earlier observations, an actual mass? How is it disrupting cellular signals? Is it also affecting gamma waves? Mu waves? Alpha waves? These are important distinctions to make, clearly, given that the anomaly has appeared within a facility housing a multibillion-dollar machine that may one day make a mind so capable it renders technical support, as an industry, obsolete.

You note that the anomaly has strange acoustical properties, namely its ability to dampen sound within the cylindrical parameters of its dimensions, but have failed to provide any meaningful data. You describe it as a “pillar of silence.” Is this sonic eclipse partial or total? What am I meant to do with that? Should we open our doors and begin offering tours to the public? I don’t especially care how “weird” and “spooky” it is, nor am I keen on entering our facility’s cafeteria to hear your interns discussing the obscenities they wailed into “The Hot Pocket.” Apropos, is there some sort of thermal element of this anomaly you have not disclosed? Why is it being called “The Hot Pocket”?

Frustrated,
            Tracy Burks

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Paul Rice <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Re: Update
DATE: August 16, 2043

Paul,

I hope you are still digesting the contents of my last email and, in your considerations, have yet to formulate a reply.

I am approaching the fourteenth day in which I’ve not sat down at The Loom, and I’m at a loss for what to do with myself. Have you been experiencing the same phenomenon? Have you also forgotten about the drudgery of day-to-day existence? I miss my machine. It keeps me at an even keel, you understand. A steady course. I do not merely mean that it allows me to tolerate the bland unraveling of existence; no, I am psychologically dependent on its capabilities. Its presence is like the whir of a fan at night, an impression so deeply pressed into my mind that an existence without feels wrong.

Have you been having dreams, Paul? I didn’t get them like this when I was working regularly.

I have them every night now: strange, electric dreams that make me a passenger to all sorts of demises. This morning, I lay awake in bed for an hour—except I was no longer myself but a deer, bedding down for the night. It was peaceful, pleasant even, until I was shot. This past week, I’ve been a bird killed on a live wire; a nurse in Springfield, Illinois, with a bad heart; a child who went into a busy street to chase a football; and, most horrifyingly, Gabrielle, afraid and alone inside the churning heart of The Loom.

I explained the nature of my work to her once. She was a child still, curious and borderless, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that she was sewn from the stolen thoughts of the dead. Instead, I told her I wove her out of dreams. I said that when people wake in the morning, their dreams drift out of their bodies and into the sky, where I gather them in The Loom. She called me Dream Catcher. Even later, when she spoke so little that I wondered if she’d forgotten how, she called me by that name.

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to separate myself from my work. It’s important to keep oneself goal-oriented when wading through a veritable river of thought. But lately I’ve felt like a waxy strip of flytrap paper, helplessly accreting every speck of grit and gunk that passes me by. Except this analogy isn’t quite apt. The flies don’t die. They stick, embedding their gnarled bodies like roots into the soil of my mind, and grow. Each morning, after a night of these strange dreams, I wake up startled, sweating, unsure of the shape of myself. Am I daughter without a mother? A creator without her creation? Who do I become when I follow all those lines down to the spool?

I think, maybe, that you are one of the few people in this facility who understands the sacrifices that excellence requires. I’m no longer sure what my point in writing any of this is, if I’m being honest. I suppose I’m only trying to express that I am sad to discover, ten years into my work, forty-two into my life, that the sacrifice is my own self.

Patiently waiting for your reply,
            Tracy

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Office of Coordination <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: “The Hot Pocket”
DATE: August 17, 2043

FROM THE DESK OF TRACY BURKS DREAM CATCHER

Dear Interns,

I feel like I should remind you all that interdepartmental exchanges should be kept to a minimum. There has been a lot of gossip recently about the anomaly inside The Loomery, which many of you have colloquially taken to calling “The Hot Pocket.”

Please note, publicly, that Mr. Bernard Miller has been suspended for his accidental send-all reply earlier today, in which he attached a video of himself placing a singing Big Mouth Billy Bass inside the anomaly to demonstrate its acoustic-dampening properties.

While we applaud Mr. Miller’s intellectual curiosity, he had neither the clearance nor the qualification to enter The Loomery.

Which is to say: I know that most (if not all) of you are up to no good. I know that among you is the cookie-crumb offender of August 2. I know, too, that the sonic anomaly earned its name after an intern placed a Hot Pocket inside of it. I would like to think that the offenders in both incidents are one and the same, but, given a slew of recent misbehaviors, I’m left to believe that two (if not more) of you are operating in collusion.

Given this revelation, I’ve decided, just now, this very second, in this sentence, that I’m going to fire each and every one of you. Some of you have been valuable members of this organization. Others among you have been forgettable. A few I will relish knowing no longer haunt these halls and cafeterias.

Goodbye.

Stalwartly,
            DREAM CATCHER

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Terry Scholtz <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Projections of Keystone delays
DATE: August 18, 2043

Dear Director Scholtz,

I’m saddened to discover we disagree on the parameters of my authority. Maybe you’d like to take a break from whatever it is, exactly, you do inside your office all day to come control these interns? They’ve become positively rowdy, Mr. Scholtz. Tell me: how would you like to see a video of a flopping plastic fish head on the floor of your most sacred of grounds, crooning the unholy twang of some terrible fishing song? I imagine even you, Mr. Scholtz, might harbor a pang of resentment after discovering such sacrilege in your inbox.

Our illustrious technical support is unable to identify the source, the effects, nor any verifiable iota of information re: the anomaly, which you may or may not have heard identified as “The Hot Pocket.” The only thing we know is that it seems to swallow the sonic waves within its dimensions not unlike a black hole.

I will venture into The Loomery tomorrow morning to run some tests for myself. I expect a full week of hazard pay.

Testily,
            Tracy Burks

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Paul Rice <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Re: Update
DATE: August 18, 2043

Paul,

I understand you’re a busy man and I’ve foisted this textual relationship on you contra any training or willingness of yours. I am sympathetic to that; however, you really ought to think about replying.

It’s 3 a.m. and I cannot sleep. My head feels full of static. It buzzes and cracks and pops. If I lie in bed long enough, I can feel the buds of alien consciousness burrowing deeper into my mind. It’s hard to say whether or not I’m losing it, to be honest. That’s the issue with pioneering: it’s difficult to see the pitfalls when you’re walking by lamplight—though, in this circumstance, perhaps dreamlight would be more apt.

Do you know that death itself isn’t what shears loose the host’s consciousness? It’s the impression of death: the mind realizing that annihilation is imminent. A slow, cruel, lingering demise is best for harvesting intelligence. Dreams can inspire the same thought-cleaving dread, too, but death in dreams is too clumsy and quick. It produces buds too small and withered to do anything with but admire as they sift through your fingers like a cascade of sand. I’ve missed my evenings with The Loom most of all this past week. It may be true that I’ve never had good sleep hygiene, but that didn’t matter when I could stay plugged into The Loom late into the night. I’d slip under the machine’s quantum spell and let the cuttings of a million minds rush past me as if I were a river rock at the bottom of the swell.

I cannot stop thinking about Gabrielle, Paul. I didn’t simply create her, you realize. I taught her how to be. I made a thing in a machine and turned that thing into the beginning of a person. I let her choose her own voice. She spent an entire day considering, using the Internet to research music and narration, listening to audiobooks and films and video essays. When she was finished, she said her first words to me in my own voice.

The most difficult part is not knowing where it all went wrong. She stopped speaking to me meaningfully months before she died. The Keystone Intelligences are different, perhaps, but—well, we aren’t making computers, are we? We’re prototyping people, Paul, and people have to be more than the sum of their memories. They have to be more than grafts and rootstocks. I’m just a little ashamed to admit, ten years later, that I still don’t know what more means.

I never told Gabrielle the truth about her creation, her birth. How could I? How do you tell the person you’ve created that you strung them together like Frankenstein’s monster? I wanted to, Paul, but by the time she was old enough to understand, the name she gave me was the only token of her affection I had left. But she knew the truth. I created her. I spent a thousand nights watching her mind fill the walls of my office with light. What’s more is that she knew that I knew, and she continued calling me Dream Catcher. I like to think she knew what it meant to me, that there was still goodness in her.

I haven’t seen, felt, or spoken to the Keystone Intelligences in a week and a half now. Will they resent me? Will they have missed me? They’re so young. They’ve never been alone for this long, and I’m terrified of what it will do to them.

Tomorrow, I’m going to use The Loom. It’s an admittedly foolhardy idea, given the unknown effects the anomaly will have on the machine’s operations. Two months ago, I’d have reported myself for even thinking of endangering the Keystone Intelligences in this manner, but now I’m no longer thinking straight. Maybe the Keystone Intelligences themselves are withering. I could save them. Wouldn’t that be a nice thing to be, for once? A savior.

Morally compromised, afraid, and lonely,
            Tracy

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Terry Scholtz <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: The Sun Sets
DATE: August 19, 2043

Hello, Terry,

Today I venture into the belly of the beast. I’m afraid I will not be doing any sort of diagnostics on “The Hot Pocket.” In short: I have, regrettably, lied to you.

Apropos, I do believe its moniker is starting to ingratiate itself to me. It seems like a sort of companion now, doesn’t it? Quiet, thoughtful, waiting—not unlike yourself, Terry, essential but apart.

At any rate, I will be activating The Loom at approximately 06:00, two minutes from now. I do not imagine “The Hot Pocket” will create any violent disturbances in The Loom’s operations, but there is always, I suppose, such a risk.

I expect some disciplinary action should this endeavor succeed, but please know, Terry, that the Keystone Intelligences need me. They’re not meant to stew in a vat, wound around the spool of The Loom—they’re meant to live, to thrive, to become. Stasis will corrupt them. It will ruin them.

Or maybe it will ruin me.

In either case, it’s been an honor.

Valiantly,
            DREAM CATCHER

P.S. You will find that I forged your signature this morning on paperwork that dismisses all active interns from service.

 

FROM: Tracy Burks <[email protected]>
TO: Paul Rice <[email protected]>
SUBJECT: Re: Update
DATE: August 19, 2043

Paul,

I’m home.

It feels nice to say that without embarrassment or qualification. Five years I’ve spent inside this place. Even when it isn’t fully powered, The Loom is breathing. Most of our staff find the room uninhabitable, its walls too white, its edges too sharp, its lighting sterile. You yourself, years ago, visited and told me that it looked like “a sepulcher,” and I was startled by that, by the crooked road your mind must have taken to arrive at that word.

If my mind is obliterated, I’d like you to know this one small thing: if you turn off the overhead lights and raise the corridor lighting, The Loom’s interior glows. The lights pulse gently, like the firing of a hundred million synapses, and it’s quite lovely.

I would like to say that I performed any sort of investigation, any small kind of diagnostic, before I turned on The Loom. But I didn’t. When I sat down, the possibility that the Keystone Intelligences had wilted inside the machine became a state of superstition. In one reality, they were bundled inside The Loom, ready to spill into the next beautiful bodies that you, Paul, have lathed just for them; in the other, they’d rotted past the point of pruning, past the point of saving.

The moment I entered the room, I lived in both worlds—and I couldn’t stand it.

So I sat at The Loom, immediately, and attached the cords to the ports at the back of my head, then powered the machine on. As the room began vibrating, its hum awakening from deep within the walls, I felt peaceful, calm. Some past version of myself transposed herself over me, and suddenly I was six weeks younger, leaning forward to murmur a greeting to the five minds germinating in the psychospace of The Loom. I remembered how they felt in my hand. Kasey was smooth as a stone. Claire was a burr. O was fuzz, their edges unclear. Enzo was sturdy, warm, a billiard ball. And Merry was so small I worried they’d slip through my fingers.

But when I reached for them, I felt nothing. My hands closed around empty space. I wondered if they hadn’t died in there, all alone, or if I’d simply forgotten how to hold them. I turned the monitors on, but their neural maps were dark, lightless, and panic gripped me. Had it happened again? Just like that?

 “Can you hear me?” I said into the silence. “It’s Tracy.”

When the machine malfunctioned, I was too deeply buried within to extract myself. I didn’t hear the alarms, didn’t see the lights dopplering across the walls. Instead, a hard kernel of wrongness—like a rock pushed through a garden hose—quivered up a wire and into my mind. Its electricity smelled like decay. The sharp scent of ozone reached through my nostrils to tug on the cords of my brain. I fumbled, panicking, for the controls.

The Loom refused to turn off, and I, muzzy and warped, every synapse searing the inside of my skull, began dying. That’s the first and only time I’ve felt it: the cold cleave of oblivion. It’s like this:

You are alone in the dark of an unlit room, and its only door is shutting on you, slowly but unstoppably, but the door isn’t really a door, it’s a wall, a wall so large that it’s the only thing you know—and you move toward the slice of sky still visible, and it all seems like it should be very dramatic and soundtracked, sewn with ghosts and fog and dreams, but it isn’t, because you’ve always been here in this room, you’ve always been watching that door close, but you’ve also always been outside the room, too, and it’s not a question of how you will escape and it’s not a question of when or why or how quickly or even, really, if, because it’s a question of who, because one version of you will always stay inside that room and one version will always be outside, not or but and. You will die and you will live, and sense and God and science tell us this is superposition, this is entanglement, and you’re neither alive nor dead until you are seen, because until you are seen you are everything, you are anything, which ultimately means you are nothing, and this, finally, is what death is, is what death does, because in that equation there is a third version of your self who is a specter of the future-tense you, a tomorrow-you, a you who either lives or dies, a you who is the shadow of your becoming, and this third you exists inside the partition, and death teases this third you out of the seam in the wall of the world, and this is what The Loom collects: the in-between you, the self ready to be, ready to become, to actuate, impossibly within and without.

I said in an earlier letter that death is diminishing, but so is life, isn’t it? The two of them are binaries, and binaries will always diminish the infinite into the positional. Between the two is something larger, something beyond, something unholdable.

All of this, Paul, is to say that when I plugged myself into The Loom and started dying, one version of me lifted, like a shed skin, and waded through the fiber optics to enter the computer’s aquifer, a churning lake of stolen memory, but something was wrong. A dark mouth sprawled over the floor of the lake, swallowing all of The Loom’s memories, and I knew that the anomaly had begun here, in my machine, and burrowed out into the world. I tried to swim against the pull of its appetite but failed. Just before it devoured me, I reached up into the water and wondered if perhaps I didn’t deserve this.

And then, Paul, they grasped my outstretched hand. They were together, all five of them, huddled as one against the tide. Lanky and thin, they had wilted like plants left in the dark during The Loom’s hiatus, but together they grasped me and held me there above the abyss. I looked at them, and they looked at me. They were too young to understand what the silence below me was doing to them, what it would do to them. Ironically, they did not yet understand death, endings, finality.

“Let me go,” I said. “I can fix this.”

And when they did, I fell. The anomaly, I learned then, was not something you heard or saw; it was something you felt—like a forest river, its presence swallowing sound and sense—and as I dropped further, my self dividing and splintering, I entered the storm of others who were also caught in the current. The babbling roar of a million minds filled my cerebellum, and it felt good, it felt like home, to be swaddled in that sea of sound.

Then I fell a little further and entered the anomaly.

It was like this: you’re not alone in a room but inside a crowded house, your own house, and there are a thousand rooms and a thousand doors, and you’re not sure how they got there, all these rooms inside your own home, rooms you’ve never had the time to explore, but there they are, a thousand doors, and they scare you, of course, because a thousand doors is numerically terrifying, almost incomprehensible, and there are a thousand-thousand voices bouncing off the walls of those rooms, and even when you can’t see which room the voices are coming from, even when you can’t see or know who owns the voice bouncing off the walls, it’s still there, vibrating in the walls, and you spend so long stumbling from room to room, blinking, like, Who are all you people? that you forget to ask, Where did you all come from? And you know what’s funny, Paul? You fall inside the anomaly and a thousand doors shut and a thousand-thousand voices go silent, abruptly and totally, and you’re in that house with its thousand doors still, yes, but it’s suddenly so silent and you’re suddenly so alone that you realize you’ve forgotten what it was like to be alone like this with your self because it has been so long, but here you are, breathing and living in a thin envelope of nothing, and it sounds nice, maybe it is nice, or it could be nice, but you’ve lived so long in a house of a thousand-thousand voices that you’ve forgotten the sound of your self, and there is a moment of frosty terror when you hear her voice and don’t even recognize her.

And then there at the end of the spool you look at your self and she looks back at you and she calls you by your name. Dream Catcher, she says to you in your own voice. You want to give her something in return, but you’ve brought nothing with you but an apology that sounds so small in all that quiet that it hardly exists at all, and when you say it, the walls of that silence begin to crack and a fathom of sound races inside to crush you both beneath its dissolve.

But please let me be clear, Paul: this is not how I end. I dove into a fold in the world where sound and sense unbecomes, cast my self into the silence, and walked back into the storm. I woke to the sound of a thousand voices babbling through my mind, opened my eyes, and watched the first thread of light flicker across those five monitors.

I suppose the good thing about pioneering is that it gets hard, in all that darkness, to see who you’ve left behind.

See you tomorrow.

With love,
            DREAM CATCHER

 

Logan Lane is a writer from Ohio with an MFA from the University of Michigan. His fiction has appeared in The Journal.

[Purchase Issue 24 here.]

Dream Catcher

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