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The vault of dreamers, p.29
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       The Vault of Dreamers, p.29

           Caragh M. O'Brien
 
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  “Where are her parents?” I demanded.

  “Her parents? I’m her parents,” Dean Berg said. “I’m all their parents. You’ll kill her! Stop, please!”

  I gripped the girl tight, but I didn’t pull her free. “Explain. How did you get this girl?” I asked.

  The dean wiped his hands on his Forge sweatshirt and set them lightly on the sleep shell nearest to him. “Her name’s Gracie,” he said. “She was legally dead. She was killed in a car accident a week ago. She had no brain function, period.”

  “Then what’s she doing here?” I asked. “Why wasn’t she buried?”

  “Her hospital moved her to the pre-morgue unit to wait out her demise and finalize her paperwork, but I have contacts there, and when I got the call that she was dead, I was able to bring her here and reignite her basic bodily functions. I saved her.”

  “I don’t believe you,” I said. “Why didn’t you give her back to her parents?”

  Dean Berg spoke with deliberate calm. “She doesn’t have any parents. She was an indigent ward of the state. She was slotted for organ donations and research.”

  “But she never died,” I said.

  “She did die,” he said. “She’s still legally dead, but the minute she wakes up, of course I’ll return her to the state. She’ll be a miracle. She’ll change everything. I’ll change everything.”

  The girl in my arms was still breathing serenely, as if in a deep sleep. She was warm. She smelled like she had been playing recently and wanted her nightly bath. I braced her against the edge of the sleep shell, half in and half out, and glanced around at the room.

  “Have any of the others ever woken up?” I asked.

  “No,” he said. “But I’m close.”

  “Dead people can’t come back to life,” I said. “You’re a sick, sick man.”

  “You don’t understand,” he said. “They’re content now. They’re even dreaming. Isn’t that worth something?”

  “How do you know they’re dreaming?” I asked.

  He smiled. “Dreams are what I do. They’re my specialty.”

  He was creeping me out, but he was also fascinating me.

  “What about this one? What kind of dreams does Gracie have?” I asked.

  His expression softened. “She dreams of swinging on her favorite swing. She pumps her legs to go higher. She’s wearing red party shoes and white anklets.”

  “But how do you know?” I asked.

  “Because I’ve read her brain waves. I reignited her brainstem. That’s what we do here. We give these people a dream life that’s only inches away from reality.”

  “How do you know it’s what they want?”

  “I don’t know that it isn’t,” he said.

  “You know it’s wrong or you wouldn’t keep them hidden,” I said.

  “I’m keeping them hidden to protect them now. I have to. There’s no going back,” he said. “They’re my responsibility. I’ve made a commitment to these people.”

  I shook my head. “We’re in the basement of a school. This is the last place these people should be. How can you possibly take care of them?”

  Dean Berg stepped slowly to the side. I took another glance toward the elevator lobby to see that we were still alone.

  “The school and the dreamers go together,” he said. “Students like you are so young and so creative. Your dreams are incredibly vivid and powerful. They can grow in anything.”

  “You put our dreams in these people?” I asked.

  He nodded. “My dreamers are like a farm. We can put a seed dream from you in them, and it takes root. It grows. Slowly and repetitively, but it grows.”

  “From me, personally?”

  “Yes,” he said, and smiled again. “I believe I’m safe in saying you have, by far, the most fecund dreams I’ve ever mined.”

  I was not flattered. “How many other students have you mined?”

  “Over the past few years? A few dozen. Some only once. Some more often. We’re getting better at it, definitely.” He stroked his hand along the lid of one sleep shell and walked slowly to the next.

  “Do you do the opposite? Do you put their dreams in me and the other students?” I asked.

  He nodded again. “Your young minds are unbelievably receptive,” he said. “Anything we seed into students upstairs takes off like wildfire, and unlike with our dreamers down here, we get to see results once you wake up. We see the effects from the subconscious to the conscious within a day or two, sometimes hours. It’s incredible.”

  “That’s worse than brainwashing,” I said.

  His shoulders straightened. “It’s nothing like brainwashing,” he said. “We ignite your creativity with a spark, just an image or a movement we find especially evocative, but you make the ideas completely your own. You develop them. That’s the beauty of it.”

  “How?” I asked. “How do you see the results?”

  “Henrik took his classical percussion and combined it with dance to set it free. Janice is gender-bending Hamlet. It’s brilliant.”

  “What about me? What did you seed in me?”

  Dean Berg smiled with genuine pleasure. “You don’t even know, do you? It feels completely natural.”

  “Was it something in the observatory?” I said again.

  He lifted a finger to shake wisely. “See, I noticed your interest in the observatory. One of my dreamers down here was perseverating on a hanging. Her father’s hanging. I wanted to see if I could make that resonate in you if I triggered it with Clarence’s death.”

  “How could that possibly be a good thing?”

  “For one thing, it showed me how receptive your mind is, how thin the barrier is between your conscious and your subconscious. The seed also helped you come up with your ghost hunting idea,” Dean Berg said.

  I held still, trying to remember. I had been inspired about the ghost angle when I was down in the shop, with Muzh. But I already knew I wanted to spy on the school before that, and the ghosts were just my cover. “No. The ghost hunting was my idea. I had that earlier, before we went in the observatory.”

  “You sure? How about your idea to spy on the school, which was a very clever reversal, incidentally,” he said. “Where’d you get that idea?”

  I thought back. “I can’t remember when I was inspired for every idea.”

  “I can tell you,” he said. “It was the morning after we gave you a booster sedation intravenously. You noticed that, surely. Jerry is convinced you were fully awake before he sedated you. We seeded you that night. In the morning, your camera was hanging in your wardrobe, facing toward the dorm. I watched your little ‘aha!’”

  I remembered then. My idea to spy on the school had seemed like a fabulous breakthrough. “Wait. Are you saying you wanted me spying on you?” I asked.

  “I wanted you to feel like you were doing something,” Dean Berg explained. “I knew you were suspicious about why we were taking out your friends at night, and I wanted you to feel you were taking action. Then, once you started filming the dorm at night, we just had to be careful to patch your footage. It wasn’t a problem.”

  “You came to my sleep shell. You stole my camera and erased my footage.”

  “I left that to Dr. Ash.”

  “But she messed up,” I said. “Burnham and I saw the splice cut. We saw the light at the bottom of the pit in the clock tower, too.”

  “Those were mistakes,” he admitted. “Burnham was far more astute than I’d expected, but even those mistakes didn’t prove anything. You kept doubting yourself with no concrete evidence of the mining. That’s where I wanted you. That was the sweet spot.”

  “Sweet spot?” I said. “You’ve wanted me to know what you’re doing? What could that possibly do for you?”

  A soft thump came from the far side of the room.

  “Please, keep your voice down!” Dean Berg whispered urgently. “Put the girl back down. You don’t want to hurt her. Come out with me.”

  “Not until y
ou answer my question. Why did you want me to know?” I asked.

  “I wanted you aware of the concept of the dream mining,” Dean Berg said. “I wanted your mind to play around with it, and you did. Your awareness has made your dreams keen like I’ve never seen before. You’re like a magician who knows how the magic is done, or a doctor operating on herself. You’re the dreamer who knows her dreams are mined. Can’t you feel it? Don’t you realize how different you are?”

  I recoiled.

  Does he mean you? I asked.

  She didn’t answer. I needed her and she didn’t answer.

  “You changed me just so you could rip out my dreams,” I said.

  “It’s beautiful, what I’ve done,” he said. “It’s medicine and art, together.”

  I shifted Gracie in my arms and looked down at her rounded cheeks and gently parted lips. A soft breath escaped her. I hugged her harder, glaring back at Dean Berg. One thing I knew: he wasn’t an artist.

  “Those students you mine and seed, they’re the ones who commit suicide later, aren’t they?” I asked.

  “The students who killed themselves were perfectly fine while they were here,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m certain.”

  “How can you say that?” I asked. “They must have been damaged.”

  He hesitated. “We haven’t gotten any of the old students back to do autopsies on them, so I can’t say conclusively what happened to them.”

  “But you know something, don’t you?”

  The dean crossed his arms over his chest. “Very little. Dr. Ash has asked a few discreet questions. Apparently, some of the suicides had problems with dizziness, déjà vus, hallucinations, and hearing voices before they died. That’s not exactly hard evidence of decay.”

  “Decay?” I said. Those were my symptoms. I took a deep breath. “Is that what’s going to happen to me? Am I going to kill myself?”

  “You make it sound like that’s up to me.” He took another slow step nearer. “I watch you all the time, Rosie. You can’t possibly guess how much I’ve grown to care for you. I know you by heart, every minute, but that doesn’t mean I control you. You still make your own choices.”

  “I don’t want you to care for me,” I said, disgusted. “You’re never touching me again.”

  “I’m afraid you’re wrong about that. Your mind, at least, is far too appealing for me to resist.”

  “You’ll have to. I’m going to end this now,” I said. “I don’t care where you put me, what hospital or whatever. I’m going to tell people what you’ve done.”

  “You told people today, remember?” he said. “You told all of your viewers, and you know how many questions we received?”

  “I don’t know. Hundreds?”

  “Four,” he said. “Our viewers think your hallucinations are part of the show. They’re fascinated. You’ve established yourself as a delusional, paranoid girl. In fact, I’ve been fielding calls all day from psychiatric facilities that want to book you in.”

  I darted my gaze toward the elevator, calculating my best way out of here. He’d kept me talking too long, but I was sure I could still outrun him. I just wasn’t sure I could do it with Gracie.

  “I’ll still convince them somehow,” I said. “I won’t stop until the police investigate. I’ll tell them you get bodies from St. Louis. They’ll talk to Huma Fallon.”

  “Huma is going to be very interested to hear about this night,” he said. “Very interested. I clearly have to move my dreamers to be on the safe side. It’s very inconvenient, but it was time to relocate them anyway. We’re ready for a new phase.” An alert, listening expression came to his features. He adjusted his earphone. “You’re sure?” he said. His gaze focused back on me. “No, I didn’t. I suppose bring him here. Can you manage?”

  “What’s going on?” I asked.

  The dean frowned. “Your boyfriend’s arrived.”

  35

  DOLPHIN

  “LINUS?” I SAID, stunned. “But he left for St. Louis.”

  “He must have changed his mind,” Dean Berg said. “Jerry just found him in the pit of the clock tower, with a crowbar, no less. I always pegged him for chivalrous. I half expected this.”

  Linus had stayed to help me! My heart hitched with joy. He must have believed me, at least a little.

  “How did you block the pit?” I asked. “Does it have a false floor?”

  “It’s normally closed,” Dean Berg said. “Jerry left it open after he burned some popcorn a few nights ago. A bad mistake, there. He forgot to close it up again, or you never would have found the vault.”

  At that moment, Jerry appeared in the lobby, on the other side of the glass, carrying Linus’s body awkwardly over his shoulder. Linus’s limbs were limp and his head sagged.

  “Is he okay?” I asked. “Did you hurt him?” I lowered the girl back into her sleep shell and dropped in her bear. “Did you drug him?”

  “He’s fine,” Dean Berg said. “We just can’t have him seeing anything in here.”

  Jerry carried Linus through the vault and into the operating room. I edged forward, trying to keep my distance from Dean Berg and see Linus at the same time.

  When Jerry laid Linus on the table, his head lolled to the side before he held still.

  “Where’s Glyde?” Dean Berg called.

  “She’s coming,” Jerry said, emerging from the operating room. He gave me a polite nod.

  I backed up a step, uneven with one shoe off. The dean circled behind me. I checked anxiously toward the door, but I didn’t want to leave without Linus, either.

  “You can’t hurt Linus,” I said. “He hasn’t done anything.”

  “He should have left for St. Louis like he said,” Dean Berg said. “It’s going to be a nuisance figuring out what to do with him.”

  I wasn’t sure I could evade them both, but if I could get in the operating room and lock the door, maybe I could find an earphone or something I could use to call up to the surface.

  The elevator doors opened in the lobby, and Dr. Ash charged into the vault. “What is all this?” she demanded in a savage hush. “You can’t all be in here.”

  “I know,” Dean Berg said. “We’re getting it under control. Check on Gracie, will you?” Without looking away from me, he waved a hand to indicate the girl in her open sleep shell.

  I scrambled to turn on my video camera again and aimed it across the room at the doctor. She bustled toward Gracie. I swept it around to include Jerry and Dean Berg with the rows of dreamers.

  “You don’t need that,” Dean Berg said to me. “You know we’ll just erase it.”

  “You’re finished,” I said. “With or without footage, I’ll tell my story. Linus will tell, too.”

  “Linus hasn’t seen anything and we’ll make sure he doesn’t,” Dean Berg said. “And you, you broke the rules, Rosie.” He gave a tight smile. “You’ve violated your contract. You can disappear into my custody and no one can legally question where you’ve gone.”

  “You can’t make me disappear,” I said.

  “I hardly let myself hope,” he said quietly. “I thought maybe, sometime, but I never dreamed I’d get you tonight. And now you know everything. You’re actually part of the team now.”

  A thud in the nearest sleep shell made me look down. A young man pressed his hand to the glass of his lid. His face was expressionless and his eyes were still closed under the gel, but the pads of his fingers splayed deliberately against the glass.

  “They’re awake!” I said in hushed awe.

  “They’re not,” the dean said, more softly than before. “It’s reflexes, but it speeds up their metabolisms, which is very bad. We have to get you out of here.”

  I backed up, bumping into another sleep shell, and a moan came from inside. I jumped in alarm.

  “Get her!” Dean Berg said.

  I dodged sideways between the sleep shells, aiming for the operating room. Jerry lunged for me, and I crashed around the corner of a sleep shell. Th
e dean grabbed me from behind. I spun and bashed my left elbow into his gut. Then I dove, scrambling between two more sleep shells, but Jerry leapt to tackle my legs. I fell hard. I writhed and kicked him in the face. Dean Berg crashed onto me. He jerked my right arm behind my back and I screamed at the pain in my elbow. He pinned me down to the floor.

  “You can’t do this!” I yelled.

  I tried to roll and twist free, but both men had me now, and the dean twisted my arm even more sharply up my back. I cried out again.

  “Hold still,” said the dean’s voice beside my ear. “Be quiet.”

  Dr. Ash’s neat shoes came into view. A syringe plunged into my neck, and then a biting fire skimmed through my blood. It peaked as an agony of poison in every nerve ending, and then subsided, leaving me gasping and limp. Dean Berg shifted his grip on my arm. I struggled again, trying to break free, but my limbs went heavy and useless.

  My mind, however, was as sharp as ever, and my heart beat hard.

  Dr. Ash’s face came down into view and I stared at her, panting and full of rage.

  “I don’t understand,” Dr. Ash said. “That should have put her out cold.” She touched cool fingers to my neck. “You can hear me, can’t you?” she asked softly. “Sandy? This is strange.”

  I squinted. I wanted to shout at her, but my voice came out no louder than a whisper. “You’re despicable.”

  The doctor’s eyes lit up. “Very strange, indeed,” she said.

  Unable to resist, I was turned and lifted by strong hands. I couldn’t keep my head from lolling to the side. While my mind was fully awake, my body was fully asleep, trapping me.

  “Let’s take her back,” Dean Berg said. “I have an idea.”

  He and Jerry carried me carefully to the operating room, and I had a brief glimpse of Linus before they lowered me to the next table. The room smelled faintly of vinegar. From the ceiling, an array of probes, pipettes, and surgical instruments hung, dazzling in the light. Beside me, to my left, Dean Berg began working the touch screen of a computer. A bright light came on above me.

  “What is this? You’re not seriously thinking of mining her in this condition,” Dr. Ash said.

 
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