Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them. – John Updike
Roc watched from the window of his unnaturally cool office as the flying machine appeared out of the sky and descended towards the runway of the adjacent flying machine landing place. He swiveled his still-boyish teenaged body in the brown leather soft padded chair he was sitting in – sitting in it or cuddled by it? – away from the window and towards the great mahogany desk to which the chair belonged. On that desk was a large black rectangle. He touched a button on a device next to the rectangle, and suddenly it flashed to life, showing a glowing diagram of a flying machine with letters beside it, the direction it was heading, and the route it had taken.
Yes. This is the machine he had been waiting for. When it left again in a couple of hours, he would be on it.
He reached into a pocket – he marveled briefly at the softness, the close correct fit, and the fresh smell of his clothes, and the pockets in all the right places and the right size for both usefulness and comfort – and pulled out another, smaller, rectangle. He tapped on it, it lit up, and after a moment, he spoke into it.
“Righto”, the rectangle responded. “On my way.” It went dark, and Roc put it back in its pocket.
Almost immediately, a fancy silver box on wheels appeared outside his office. The box looked like it was in headlong motion even when it was standing still. A man, wearing clothes similar to Roc’s, got out of one side, walked around to the other, opened a door. Although it was noon on a sunny day, the man appeared completely unconcerned and seemed ready to wait for as long as it took for Roc to get into the box.
Roc pushed another button, the larger rectangle went dark. He got up, tidied the office briefly, then opened the door and, bowing his head as if in fear of being cooked instantly, he dashed from the unnatural cool of his office to the (surprise!) unnatural cool of the box on wheels, across a clean and tidy swath of smooth rock. It was only after he had settled into his seat that he realized that the outside air had been nowhere near as hot as he thought it should be, the sun not as ferociously burning.
The seat in the box was like the chair in his office: soft, cushy brown leather, and deliciously cool. The other man returned to his seat, took a wheel in his hands, wriggled his feet. The box, with a half whine, half murmur, took off down more of the smooth rock. The green, fresh grass and the green, fresh trees were just a blur as the box and its passengers passed them. It took the box ten minutes to cover a distance that Roc reckoned would have taken two hours on foot – under conditions which Roc could not have expected to survive for more than fifteen minutes.
The box pulled up besides a building. The place where the flying machine was parked. Roc got out, apprehensively. The other man called, “You’re good to go. Have a nice flight!” The doors to the box closed, and the box zoomed away. Roc entered the building, again amazed that he was not burning from the sun’s heat. The inside of the building was unnaturally cool. He blinked.
And he was in a large room with other people, all waiting for the woman at the end of the room to speak to them. She did speak to Roc. “Good morning, Mr. Roc, it’s so good to see you again!” She turned to another woman standing next to her, said “Mr. Roc is one of our regular customers, and a fine gentleman he is.” Then, to Roc, “We’ll be boarding in just a minute, so don’t get comfortable.” He smiled at her, nodded, said nothing. But he wondered just how he could be more comfortable, in this unnaturally cool building with unnaturally clean, cool, close-fitting, intricately designed clothing, waiting to board a flying machine.
Then there was a commotion near the entrance to the flying machine’s waiting room, and a stupendously beautiful teenaged girl, with long blonde hair, lithe, shapely figure, and clothes – what there were of them – to ideally accentuate that figure, dashed into the room. She paused briefly, then, sighting Roc, ran towards him. “Roc, oh Roc, how could you leave without me!” She launched herself, to wrap him in a tight, knockdown embrace. At the last second, the gorgeous face transformed into a hideous, bearded, simian snarl …
… and Roc was rolling naked, in the pitch dark, on the slimy, smelly dirt floor of the dormitory. He sprung up, out of long habit, instantly and desperately, fully awake and facing the overseer who had tossed him out of his rude wooden bed and was preparing to whip him.
The overseer spat in his face. “Gar”, he snarled, “I should whip you bloody anyway. I am so sick of booting your lazy ass out of bed in the morning!” The only sign of morning was the occasional chirp of an insect, a sound that passed unfettered through the open-air walls of the communal sleeping quarters that Roc shared with a dozen others, a sound that welcomed an as-yet unseen dawn. The heat and humidity were nevertheless oppressive.
“Go join your bunkmates, filth”, the overseer barked. “Maybe they’ll beat you up and spare me the trouble.”
“Stop, Thag.” The voice came from behind the overseer, and belonged to one of three grim, torch-bearing, tough-looking men who had appeared while Thag was roughing Roc up. “This slave isn’t joining his work gang. The priest wants to see him.” At this news, Thag hissed, then chuckled maliciously. To Roc, he snarled “Go with them. Now.” And to the three men, he yelled, “And you’d better be getting me a replacement. One that works, like this one never did!” The three men surrounded Roc, prepared to usher him out of the dormitory and to the priest’s quarters. Abruptly, a sodden lump smacked Roc in the small of his back. “And get your ass dressed!”, Thag commanded. The lump was a loincloth, soaked from the damp air and damp ground, and filthy with caked dirt and body wastes. Roc donned it, to his own disgust and the disgust of his escort. They then marched off. The escort was not gentle.
The priest’s residence was a small, thatched hut with (again) a dirt floor, its base circular in outline. The escort brought Roc to the door, opened it, threw Roc inside, closed it, marched off. Roc rolled to the middle of the floor, curled up in the fetal position, stayed there for some time. With his eyes closed, he could see nothing, but he also heard nothing except his own body noises, and smelled nothing except his own stench. After some time and no change, he slowly uncurled himself and opened his eyes, allowing them to adjust to the first faint light of dawn.
“You are awake, and unhurt. Come stand before me.” The words were said quietly, without overt passion, but carried the authority of Command all the same.
Startled, Roc looked in the direction from which the voice came, from a point opposite the door. There, barely visible in the gloom, was a thin, grizzled, wizened man sitting in the lotus position, staring at Roc with too-wide-open eyes. Those eyes followed Roc intently as the young slave scrambled to his feet.
In the same tone, the priest followed up. “You have been dreaming. Speak to me of these dreams.” Roc’s state passed from startled to astounded. The priest answered his “How?” before he could even form the question in his mind. “You have been talking in your sleep. Your words have been heard. They have caused fear and wonder. All things that cause fear and wonder come before me. I ease the fears, explain the wonderment. I await your tale.”
Roc told the priest about the flying machine, and the box on wheels, and the rectangles that did miracles, and the marvelous clothing, and the unnatural clean and cool of the office and the box on wheels and the flying machine parking place, and the noonday sun that did not instantly kill. He did not tell the priest about the girl. Girls were forbidden to slaves, even in dreams. Roc told on, and the priest did nothing, said nothing, just kept those too-large eyes fixed on the tale-teller. Then the tale ended, and for some time the priest sat in his lotus position, unchanged. At last, he lowered his eyes, and muttered something inaudible, a charm against evil perhaps. Abruptly, he scrambled to his feet, with far greater ease and speed than Roc thought possible.
“I will show you your dream”. The priest spoke calmly, as before, but there was something brutally hard underneath. “For this, we will need light.” A thin, shriveled right arm reached to a plate on the wall of the hut, with something like a button in the middle. The index finger stroked the button, which responded with an audible click. Instantly, the hut was bathed in a cool light, a white light, not yellow like the burning sun’s light. Roc gasped, and then gasped again, as he recognized that the light was the same light that, in his dream, lit his office, lit the flying machine’s parking place.
In the light of that light, Roc observed that the walls of the hut were lined with wooden shelves. From one of those shelves, the priest withdrew a bulky rectangular object and placed it on a small table, made of some stuff, of an unusual color and cool to the touch, that Roc knew nothing about. The priest opened the object, and Roc saw that it consisted of a stack of leaf-thin sheets, cream-brown and brittle, connected at one of the long edges, and that each of the sheets was decorated with long lines of black marks, and with … pictures! Pictures of people and … things! Marvelous things!
There! There was the flying machine! The box on wheels, in innumerable shapes and styles! The clothes! The priest turned the sheets, and more and more of the things in Roc’s dream appeared on them, things that Roc had noticed in his remembering the dream, and things that he had not noticed until he saw them in the leaves of the priest’s magical rectangle.
“H-h-h-how”, Roc stammered in his astonishment, “did everything come to be so cool?” At this, the first hint of an ugly anger appeared in the priest’s calm, stoic face. He turned some more pages, and pointed to a box with some sort of grille on it, sticking out from the window of a building. Then, unable to contain himself any longer, he hawked and spat.
“And the sun did not burn“, Roc followed up.
“I will speak of that”. The brutal hardness was now dominant in the priest’s voice. He closed the magical rectangle, replaced it on its shelf, reached up and stroked the button on the wall. The light went out. In the sudden blind darkness, the priest returned to the space where he had been sitting, resumed the lotus position, and fell silent. For the next few minutes, Roc saw and heard nothing, except maybe a faint droning, a sound something like an endlessly repeated ‘om’.
When the priest did speak again, the sound broke into the room like a clap of thunder, though the calm had returned to the priest’s voice. “What you have dreamed has been dreamed before.” Progressively, the priest’s tone became one of contempt. “Dreams of ease, and comfort, and pretty things. The people worshiped these dreams. Cherished them above all things. Worked to make their dreams real. And they became real. They created for themselves a world of bliss, and still they were unsatisfied, still complained bitterly that they had not done enough, that their dreams still went unfulfilled, that their comfort was not perfect.
“And this,” the priest suddenly screamed, “is why we have the world we have now!!” He flung his arms wide, to encompass the world that Roc knew, a barren, blasted landscape of unbearable heat and humidity even in the small hours of the morning, ruled by a sun that killed at noonday, from which humans barely scratched out a living, its unsuccessful bands selling themselves as slaves to those tribes which still had barely enough to sustain themselves. “They dreamed, and spared no thought to the consequences of those dreams. And we are left to suffer through the disaster that they bequeathed us, and meditate on how it came to be.
“It will not happen again”, the priest snarled in conclusion. “If any of us survive, it will be by remembering what dreams cost, by snuffing them out before they grow and become the cause of our final extermination.
“You will go, alone, into the wilderness to dig roots for the pigs. They have not been fed in two days, and if they die, we all die. You will not return to the village unless you can report success in your quest. Your only tools will be your hands. You have about two hours before the sun will be too high in the sky for you to survive, so you had better make haste, especially as all the root stocks near the village were exhausted many moons ago. Perhaps, if you return, and the roots you bring are not enough, the pigs will eat you, and we will have solved two problems. For the moment.
“Go. Get you gone.” The priest grabbed Roc, with far greater strength than the young slave could have anticipated, threw him out of the hut, slammed the door, and returned to his sitting spot in the darkness.