Dreams in Ink
Jacob Rander opened his eyes at the sound of water. He felt the cool wall of the canyon on his back where he’d fallen asleep in the shade. He rose, rubble crackling beneath his feet, and hiked down the rocky slope toward a narrow river, flowing fast. More than once his boot slid, a spray of rocks preceding him, so he took a leisurely pace, checking his steps.
Green brush along the river was still wet with morning dew. The rushing water foamed, smelled sweet. He looked down into the shallows and caught a shimmer of silver.
He wished he had brought his rod. Maybe I did, he thought, and glanced up the hill to where he’d been sleeping. But he didn’t see his rod, though one of the long branches on a nearby tree might serve.
There were two trout now, so bright and close to the surface that he could almost reach down and—
His ptenda pinged.
Jacob looked at his wrist, which was bare. All the same, the world began to dissolve. Audio first: he couldn’t hear the water, but the fish still swam.
Jacob pushed his hand into his pocket, burying the ptenda he could not see. He closed his eyes and the sound of the water returned. The smell. Perhaps if he opened his eyes, he’d be back in the canyon.
The ptenda pinged again.
Jacob clenched his fist and pulled his hand from the pocket. He glared at the ptenda. He was alone in the storage room, his makeshift home since losing his castle to roider loans and Ink payments. No river, no striated canyon walls, no fish like gleaming jewels. The stream was gone from his sleep squeeze, and with it his peace.
In his anger and frustration, he pulled the ptenda from his wrist and threw it away. It hit the door and fell to the ground.
Jacob pinched his eyes shut. Marble Canyon. Please! This time, he’d remember to bring a rod. Those trout were the perfect size. One for him and one for Mhau. If I can just concentrate. Hear the river. Smell its dampness mixed with the dry air. He knelt on the floor, rocking back and forth, pleading for the river to return.
But it didn’t. He heard his breathing, not the swift current. He smelled the stale air and not the tangy verge.
He opened his eyes with a sob. Then, because there was nothing else to do, he crawled toward the door and grabbed his ptenda. Its screen blinked: one hour till the clash.
Jacob sighed. He’d promised Mhau, and he’d broken far too many promises. He pulled a mimic jacket from stowage beside the door. The left side of the garment was streaked in shades of gray while the right side periodically flickered through fabric options. Malfunctioning. He didn’t mind. It felt warm and its psychedelic nature suited his wobbly grasp on reality.
The canyon is real, he thought. Bode-6 is the illusion.