Alone in His Chariot
Vuner was shaking so much as he signed in at the laboratory that
his signature was barely recognisable. A bullet graze on his upper
arm was throbbing, reminding him of how close his escape had been.
Normally he never took a hit at work, but today had to be an
exception. He could not afford to call attention to himself by
dropping glassware all day.
Schilden, the Senior Research Officer in the institute, was already
in, and had just brewed some coffee in the staff room. Vuner
slipped a capsule into his mouth as he sat down at the table,
then accepted a mug from Schilden and gulped a mouthful of coffee.
"Young man, you look terrible, if you will pardon my saying,"
Schilden said in his thick Swiss-German accent.
"I was out in the park with my telescope last night,"
admitted Vuner sheepishly. "I just lost track of the time."
"But the sky was clouded last night."
"Most of the time," agreed Vuner, "but if you wait
long enough there's always a few breaks to see through to the
Schilden poured himself another mug of coffee, shaking his head
and smiling. "Ach, you should have been in a bar, looking
Vuner had no telescope, but having a reputation as an amateur
astronomer was a perfect cover for being up late on most nights.
He fingered the graze that the bullet had left. It was level
with his heart. If the Artery's hit man had been closer . . .
"Piss on the Artery," he muttered under his breath.
He had put a dose of an experimental drug in with the last amphetamine
batch that he had sold to them - just for a joke. Some user probably
died of it. Users had neither identity nor humanity for Vuner
and the thought of possible deaths from his experiments moved
him very little. He would have to sell his drugs directly to
the local pusher cells now, but that was not a problem.
Vuner always smuggled his own chemicals into the laboratory.
Ever since he had been employed as a temporary technician he had
taken it for granted that the place had chemical audits and hidden
cameras, so he never dared to steal his supplies from there.
He had a legally acquired supply of chemical precursors, and needed
only the right equipment to turn them into something marketable.
Originally he had worked in the bedroom of his flat, with improvised
equipment that could be quickly dismantled and hidden. Late one
night he had been making methamphetamine, and was heating hydriotic
acid, ephedrine and red phosphorous. He had heard the siren of
an approaching police car, and by the time it reached his street
he had the lights out and was dismantling his apparatus. While
fumbling with hot glass, he dropped a beaker. The police drove
Presence of mind had saved his life. Holding his breath against
the toxic fumes he switched on the fan above the stove and opened
all the windows. For the next two hours he had cowered in the
bathroom, toilet paper stuffed into the gap under the door.
At 5am he went outside and collected a dozen dead birds in the
street and carpark, the only victims of his toxic cloud. He flushed
the bodies down his toilet, swearing that now he would work only
in proper laboratories.
Vuner was curious about the drugs being tested where he worked,
and followed the experiments with rats as closely as the scientists.
Emily Cottak, Schilden's deputy, suspected him of being an agent
for some animal liberation group. This suited Vuner, as she always
explained to him what the rats were being treated with, and how
it was safe and humane. In her latest experiment they ran a maze
while trailing fine tubes that led from their heads to suspended
"They're not in any pain," she said as Vuner looked
down at the maze. "The wires and tubes in their heads look
terrible, but it's only to get the TEFG-7 directly to their brains."
"I suppose it wouldn't look so bad going into their backs
or something," replied Vuner, who had in fact been wondering
if the rats were getting any sort of high from the drug.
"Yes, we could do that, but by using intercranial dosing
we can get measurable results from very small amounts of TEFG.
The less drug that you use, the less side effects."
For a moment Vuner considered intercranial administration for
himself, but there was the problem of having a hole bored in his
skull. He wondered if an artery in the neck would be as good.
"So what's it they're mainlining into their heads?"
he asked, then cursed his choice of words.
Warming to her specialty, Cottak missed the expression. "They've
had Trophic Enhancement Factor, Group 7. It's a type of memory
enhancement and brain repair drug that affects the way neural
pathways make new connections. Earlier today two control rats
ran this maze in a minute. The rats here were given leupeptin,
which degrades the activity of calpain in the neurons. A bit
"They're very slow," Vuner observed.
"But not as slow as the two rats in the maze on your left.
They were given only leupeptin, no TEFG. After nine minutes
they are still only three levels from the start, and will probably
never make it. The two here are getting TEFG as well as the leupeptin,
and they are right near the end - there goes one now. Nine minutes
and fifty seconds. Almost ten times longer than the controls,
but it should not have been able to get through at all."
Vuner helped as she clamped off the pipes and wrote down the times
and dosages for each rat.
"Er, is TEFG-7 poisonous or anything?" he asked.
"Not any more than asprin. People could take it."
"What's it like to take?"
Cottak laughed. "The rats have said nothing, but if it feels
good someone will ban it," she joked. Vuner was very curious.
"You mean they get a bit high on it?" he ventured, unable
to find more innocent words yet too interested to waste the opportunity.
"Once again, how do you ask a rat? If a rat has TEFG by
itself it becomes less active, it 'ponders', as we call it. The
level of brain activity is very high when they do that, so perhaps
TEFG does give a pleasant feeling as a side effect."
She disconnected the feed tubes from the rats, then took the bottles
down. Vuner was careful to help, and she gave him the tubes to
wash while she took the bottles off to lock in the safe. With
practiced sleight of hand he drained the TEFG into a sample phial
while pretending to wash the tubes.
That evening Vuner lay on his bed turning over the phial of TEFG
in his fingers. Normally he only used the laboratory facilities
to make drugs for sale and to do his own experiments, yet here
was a research drug that was tested and safe. There was so little
of it that he would have to mix it with a sterile base to get
a usable volume for his syringe. He thought about the rats with
needles inserted directly to their brains, then felt for the carotid
artery in his neck. The idea repelled him, yet it seemed the
only way to get an effective dose. It hurt less than he had thought.
Vuner fancied himself as an explorer, and treated his trips on
recreational drugs as exciting odysseys. He was careful not to
let himself become addicted to anything, and always forced himself
to dry out, no matter how bad the withdrawal symptoms were.
Minutes passed, then half an hour. Nothing seemed to have happened.
He got up and went to the window. Wisps of cloud glowed scarlet
in the light of the setting sun. A feeling of nostalgia caressed
him like a puff of warm air. Sunset. Friends going out. Mum
wants him to stay home and study. Become a doctor. She'll show
her husband she can bring up kids. Run off, will he? Sunset.
Time to go out to the cinema, not study! That's what sunset
is all about. He put on a jacket and walked outside to the bus
The sound of a diesel engine approaching, diesel fumes as he boarded,
counting out the right change, flimsy scrap of ticket, roll it
up tight and clean your fingernails with it. Lurch as the bus
starts, swing down into a seat using a handrail.
Big git in the seat behind. Know him. He'll be leaving school
this year, thank God. Vuner had always been shorter than average,
and very thin. Always got bullied. Glad to leave school. Choose
your own company then. No more bullies crowding you. Sting,
sharp and shocking as finger flicks earlobe from behind. Inevitable.
"Don't act like you're two years old." Mistake. Should
have got up and sat near the driver. Stinging slap over the ear.
Arm twisted, face ground into dirty floor. Big kids laugh, nobody
"Who's a two year old?" demands Jason Dodsworth.
"Not you. Leggo!"
"Where's your manners? Say please."
"Hey, don't you go killing anyone on my bus!" shouts
the driver. Nobody helps. Sickeningly hard kick between the
cheeks of the arse. Can't shit without crying for days.
Vuner stepped from the bus, but the memory of the old outrage
remained, clean, raw and strong. Jay-Dod. Big Jason Dodsworth.
How he would like to meet up with him now. He would learn aikido
or something, and beat Jay-Dod until he wished he had never been
He knew where his former tormentor lived. The man was prominent
and successful, a member of the local council, and married to
the mayor's daughter. The memory of that day on the bus burned
bright and clear, though worse things had happened to Vuner at
school, even at the hands of Jay-Dod.
Change buses. Walk. Hide in the garden. Nobody home. Have
to wait. Waited so long, why not wait some more? Wait till he
comes home in his Jaguar. Learned aikido, know how to fight.
Use a fence picket, brain his pretty little wife, hit him in
the guts to knock the noise out of him, then beat, beat, beat.
Beat to hurt, beat to leave scars, beat to humiliate. Start
on his wife. Make him watch.
Vuner awoke the next morning with his bedclothes tangled and drenched
in perspiration. He sat bolt upright with the memory that he
had committed two murders and a rape! He'd been there, he'd done
it himself. His clock-radio delivered the morning news, but there
was nothing about a local councillor being murdered.
He examined his hands. They were scratched and dirty. His clothes
were muddy as well. There were roadworks down the street, and
he remembered stumbling and falling on the rough ground. That
might explain it, but he also remembered hiding in the Dodsworths'
garden, and just as clearly. He showered thoroughly and washed
his clothes. There was another newscast, but still nothing about
any murders. Perhaps they had not been discovered.
On the way to work Vuner stopped at a public telephone and called
Dodsworth's office. His secretary answered.
"Is, ah, Mr Dodsworth in this morning?" he asked.
"No, I'm afraid not," she answered. Vuner's knees buckled.
"Can I get him to return your call?"
"No! No, I'm driving around a lot today."
"Well, he's at a Council meeting until noon. Would you like
to try then?"
"You - you've seen him?" gasped Vuner.
"Yes. He came in about ten minutes ago to check the mail.
Now who shall I tell him to expect a call from?"
Vuner hung up, tears of relief streaming down his face. It was
the TEFG-7. Christ, no wonder the rats were 'pondering', he said
to himself as he got up. It turns dreams into real memories.
Vuner watched Cottak go into the Project Manager's office with
a limp rat. He also noticed that she had left the TEFG drip line
dangling. He waited for a minute. If anyone was watching a security
monitor, they would have seen the fluid dripping into the sawdust
of the staging pen, and come out to stop it.
Deftly he took the TEFG bottle down and ran a little into the
phial while pretending to fumble with the drip tube. By the time
Cottak returned he had sealed the bottle and was washing the tube.
"You left the TEFG solution dripping into the sawdust,"
he said calmly. "I thought I'd better seal it up for you."
"Thanks, thanks," she replied, placing the rat in the
staging pen and reconnecting the encephalograph wires to its head.
A screen trace showed strong, clear brain activity.
"I thought it might be hard to make, or expensive,"
he said with a voice so carefully held in check that it sounded
"No, neither," she said without looking away from the
So TEFG-7 was cheap, and easy to make, thought Vuner. A trace
of hydrochloric acid on the air took him back to a school science
lab many years before. Jay-Dod forcing him to drink from a bottle
labelled 'poison' - which turned out to be distilled water. Fear,
humiliation and rage boiled up in a livid flame. Within the flame
was Jay-Dod's broken, bleeding face, licking Vuner's shoe.
"You dream it real," he said to himself in wonder as
the satisfaction of synthetic revenge soothed the old hurt.
Vuner knew that the police had caught a lot of illicit drug makers
in legal laboratories by noting those who always worked back late
at night. Thus he did his illicit chemistry during the day, but
at times when people would be too busy to notice what he was doing.
Today it was good old PCP. Phencyclidine involved no more than
pouring and stirring, and its manufacture could be disguised as
any number of innocent jobs. Behind the glass of her office Cottak
packed a sheaf of notes and printout into her desk and locked
it. He could wait until the rest had gone and try the lock, but
if the laboratory had a video recorder attached to the security
camera he would be identified. Best to wait until Cottak decided
to make more TEFG-7. He would make sure that he was there to
help - and watch.
That night Vuner made the drop off of his PCP. The girl was a
prostitute who worked for Hooker Cell. Her previous client had
left the money, the next would take Vuner's package.
"Five hundred millis," he said as he put the wrapped
bottle on a bedside table. The girl handed him an envelope.
"We could use a lot more," she told him. "Your
"Couldn't risk it. You know my operation - small but safe."
"So make it small. Ever tried making fenetyl designers?"
"Might have something better. About a tenth milli per hit,
but great. New stuff." To his disappointment she shook
"Don't like it. Bad business if a few of our regulars become
vegies on untried shit. Worse if they died."
"No sweat. I've watched how rats tripped it, then tried
it myself." He pocketed the money.
"We're just being careful. Some big squire in the Artery
tried what he thought was a 'phet cap - Slam! It was some strange
shit that made his fingers and toes permanently numb. It even
killed the nerves in his dick. The Artery keeps tabs on the batches
with a computer, and they traced it to a guy who wears shades
and a yellow coat. Calls himself Einstein. Right now he's also
wearing a 20K tag for whoever delivers him in a sack."
"Stupid fart probably mixed his stuff while on a hit,"
said Vuner as calmly as he could. "See you next time."
She lay back on the bed, legs sprawled. They were shapely legs,
and she wore a black bow at each ankle. "In a hurry?"
she asked. "The next pickup's not due for an hour. Been
on coke all day and I'm open house."
"Don't you get enough customers?" asked Vuner, beginning
to tremble. The TEFG he had taken an hour before seemed to amplify
the sensation of his own hormones.
"Not allowed any on a pickup night. Come on, I can give
you a skin if you're worried about catching AIDS or something."
While returning home Vuner recalled reaching his climax with her
a dozen times, each with the intensity as undiminished as if it
was actually happening. It was the drug of the decade. Perhaps
you could use it to remember a hit of something else as clearly
as if you had taken it again. Once home he tried it with LSD,
and confirmed his theory. Vuner lay on his bed dreaming - of
bashing Jay-Dod, and reliving the most minute details of mounting
the pickup girl earlier that evening. He drifted off to sleep,
and the drug also fixed his REM dreams securely. There were nightmares,
too, but these were not a problem unless he deliberately recalled
them. It was perfect, and it was harmless. That worried him,
and he decided to establish a demand quickly, then sell the formula
for the best offer. Harmless drugs might be declared legal.
Schilden's visitor had an air of suspicion and authority that
branded him as a detective at once, and he suspected that the
man had come about a chemical audit of his laboratory. He decided
to play the innocent scientist until the other stated his business.
To his surprise the man introduced himself as Drake, a Homicide
Branch detective, without a trace of deception.
"About a week ago a councillor and his wife were savagely
bashed when they came home," Drake explained. "The
woman died of a cerebral haemorrhage and the councillor is still
on the critical list."
"Yes, I read about it, Mr Drake," said Schilden, relieved
but puzzled. "Councillor Dodsworth, I think."
"That's right. He's big and strong, he used to play professional
rugby. Our prime suspect is small and scrawny."
"Perhaps he studied karate."
"Our suspect denies that he has," said Drake, searching
Schilden's face for a reaction. "His name is Albert Vuner."
Schilden sat up with a start. "Vuner? From here? The Assistant
Technician Class, er . . ."
"Two," said Drake impassively. "A few nights after
the attack Dodsworth's neighbours noticed someone loitering in
the garden of the house. The police missed him that time, but
decided to station an unmarked patrol car nearby. Last night
he came back. Dr Schilden, did Vuner ever do any martial arts?"
"Not that I know of."
"That's what he told us, yet he threw one of our men around
like a beanbag before his offsider shot him."
"Shot? You mean he's dead?"
"His blood pressure was zero when the ambulance arrived,
but he pulled through. This morning he denied beating up the
Dodsworth couple. He told us he was an old school friend, that
he just went there to look around."
Schilden took off his glasses and began to clean them very slowly.
The world became blurred, less threatening, it allowed him to
retreat until a measure of confidence returned to him.
"A little morbid, of course," he said, "but some
people do that sort of thing."
"He confessed to making illicit drugs in this laboratory."
"Impossible! I keep a video record from our security cameras
for three days past. You may check it for yourself."
"I will. He also said he was using a drug called TEFG-7."
Schilden's glasses slipped from his fingers.
A detailed scan of the security videocassettes showed that Vuner
was as deft as a magician as he mixed the jobs of washing laboratory
apparatus and manufacturing illicit drugs. Schilden had only
ever scanned the tapes quickly, and noticed nothing suspicious
until it was pointed out to him.
Vuner was a prime suspect in the murder case. On the day that
Jason Dodsworth died Drake paid him a visit at the prison hospital.
"We interviewed your teachers and classmates, Vuner,"
said the detective. "They say that Dodsworth gave you a
really hard time at school." Vuner sneered.
"We were just kids," he said. "Who remembers kids'
"Someone fooling about with a powerful new memory drug!"
shouted Drake, slamming his fist down on Vuner's meal tray. "As
you have admitted yourself, the drug allows you to live in pretty
damn clear fantasies, then remember them like they really happened."
Vuner laughed. "A dream's just a dream, even if it's on
"No Vuner, on TEFG-7 it's not. Dr Cottak has a couple of
rats that look dead, except that they still have a brain trace.
She thinks that they dream of having plenty of food, and no mazes,
pain or injections. They just turn off the outside world. TEFG-7
allows users to reprogram synapse connections in their brain.
If you're in a deep enough daydream when it wears off, you lose
the connection to your senses. You could have been locked inside
your own head!"
"Well, I suppose I'm just lucky, Mr Drake, but so what?"
Drake took a deep breath. "Do you know what charges you
"Hell, all I did was struggle with a couple of cops who jumped
me and mix a little speed at the lab. If I mainlined some TEFG,
then think of the advancement to science."
"I have a prima facie case that you sold the TEFG formula
to a drug ring. A few weeks ago thirty thousand pounds turned
up in a bank account that we traced to you."
"You can't prove a thing. I'm good with money -"
"Since then a crude form of TEFG-7 has been turning up on
the drug scene under the name of Nostalgia. Users take another
drug, say Ecstasy, then Nostalgia lets them remember how good
it was whenever they want. The trouble is that some kids don't
like coming back."
"You mean they, er, 'ponder', like Cottak's rats?"
"The users call it dreamout. Already we have twelve kids
whose bodies are as limp as boiled spinach, yet their brains have
a strong, healthy trace. It costs a fortune to keep them in hospital
and feed them intravenously."
"The system screwed them long enough. It's about time they
got something back from it."
"Vuner, we'll pin this and everything else on you. You're
not ever going to see daylight again."
He waited until Drake had gone before he started laughing.
Cottak, Schilden and Drake were called to the coroner's inquest.
It was not an official inquest into Vuner's death, so much as
an attempt to determine just what his legal status was.
"A person or persons unknown smuggled a dose of the substance
known as Trophic Enhancement Factor, Group 7 into Vuner's cell,"
concluded the coroner in his opening address. "With the
aid of a hollow needle and a length of plastic tube he was able
to administer this drug to himself, then induce a state known
as auto-neurosynaptic catalepsy, or dreamout. The following note
was found in his hand:
"Bye pigs, and take good care of my body. Jail it if you
like, but I am free. You should keep all prisoners like this.
I am going to where I can do anything, and will never die. There
will always be hundreds of girls around, and I will always get
it up. It was me who mashed Jay-Dod and his lady. Maybe I thought
about doing it so often that I suddenly did it for real, but never
knew. Piss on you all,
Vudraken the God."
The coroner ceased reading and looked up. Drake cleared his throat
and held up a report.
"We have never been able to keep the prison system totally
free of drugs," he said, waving the folder. "No matter
how careful we are, even someone on death row can always get something
smuggled in. With TEFG only one dose is needed for a prisoner
to . . ."
"Yes?" prompted the coroner.
"I don't know! We may have their bodies behind bars, but
are the prisoners being held? The law says they are, but . .
. look, is Vuner an escapee, legally speaking?" He turned
to the scientists. "Dr Cottak, have you got anywhere with
Emily Cottak looked haggard, and had dark smudges under her eyes.
Schilden, sitting beside her, was no better.
"I have been able to revive one rat, number AT-BETA-16,"
she said listlessly. "In simplified terms, I administered
TEFG-7 to induce a plastic state in the synaptic cleft areas,
then directly stimulated the sensory centres of the brain with
electrodes, bypassing the usual nerve communication boundaries.
The rat felt something good, and wanted more. Being on TEFG-7,
it could open up its sensory connections again. By manipulating
electrode-induced pleasure I kept it out of dreamout until the
TEFG-7 wore off."
"You're saying you can bring them back?" asked Drake.
"I fooled one rat. I might do it with a human, too, but only
once. If they get another dose of TEFG-7 and return to dreamout,
they may ignore further stimulation."
"You could try hitting the pain centres," ventured Drake.
"Not so," Schilden interrupted. "There is evidence
that subjects in this state can re-interpret the sensation - perceive
pain as a colour, perhaps."
"I can't believe that medical science can do nothing."
Schilden snorted. "I thought the AIDS crisis showed what
we can and cannot do. Why worry, though? If prisoners are in
dreamout they need minimal security and care. No bars, no warders,
just rows of boxes with tubes going in and out."
"But they're not being punished!" exclaimed Drake.
"Chrissake, how will the community take to someone committing
murder then spending the rest of his life in heaven? All we will
be doing is putting the criminals where they can do no more harm."
"So what is wrong with that? The role of the law is to protect
"It's not so simple," sighed the coroner. "Look
at history. Early last century Britain had a penal colony in
Australia, at Botany Bay. Did you know that Botany Bay was so
good compared to Britain that people committed crimes just to
be sentenced to transportation there? Once they were released
food and drink was cheap, there was plenty of work, and wages
"Our situation is similar. Nostalgia sells for about ninety
pounds a dose on the drug network, though it costs only 1% of
that to make. Any loser with nothing to look forward to but cheap
rooms and junk food for the rest of his life only has to scrape
up the cost of a dose, and one Conan movie. After that our taxes
pay for the intravenous drip and nursing, while he 'lives' in
palaces. He - or she - can have an improved body too."
"It would never become widespread," said Schilden uncertainly.
"Dreamout is like death. You never come back."
"Dreamout is not like death," said the coroner. He
looked to Drake, who nodded. "The addicts have been doing
experiments that the law forbids to you scientists. A willing
dreamouter can be brought back weeks later by another dose of
TEFG-7. Undercover agents have seen it done. They beat you to
it, Dr Cottak."
"But that's wonderful!" exclaimed Schilden. Cottak
grimaced, either in anger or frustration.
"Not so," said Drake. "Their dreams blend into
their long term memory, become indistinguishable from reality.
Vuner's dream of beating up his old school enemy became so good
that he could not tell when he was really doing it. People who
have been revived often have very low violence thresholds. Spend
a week as Conan or Rambo and that's who you come back as. We
can't afford to have people running loose who have spent much
time on TEFG-7."
Schilden sat back and folded his arms, shaking his head. "Not
everyone is a psychopath," he said. "The problem only
seems serious because criminals are currently the main users."
"No Rolf, remember the work of Hall and Nordby in the early
Seventies?" said Cottak, her face a blank mask.
"Eh? Ach, the statistical work. I only glanced at their
book. I am a neurochemist, after all."
"You should have read it more carefully. The work is The
Individual and His Dreams, Mr Drake. I can lend you my copy.
They took a sample of 1000 young Americans of both sexes and
found that nearly half of their dreams contained aggression -
fights, rapes, murders. The rate of murder among dream-characters
was one in 150. That's about 100 times the real world average.
The figures are similar for other nationalities and cultures.
"Dreams and reality have been separated in nature as a survival
trait. If an Australopithecus dreamed that he could kill sabre-tooth
tigers with his bare hands, then believed the dream . . . well,
he got removed from the gene pool next time he met a real sabre-tooth
tiger. REM dreams, and most daydreams, have inefficient neurological
access to long term memory. That's why we remember them best
if we write them down or talk about them: the act of describing
them 'fixes' them.
"The drug, my drug, frees us from nature, which forces us
to live in the real world. We must isolate those who use TEFG.
Once a person believes he has committed a murder, it is easier
to do it again, but in real life. Worse, they will actually be
stronger if it's part of their dream. Most people have greater
muscular strength than they realise. Alter their self-image and
they can use it all."
As she finished, Schilden took off his glasses to retreat. Drake
scribbled something on the report in front of him, then flung
the pen down. The coroner looked from face to face for a sign
"We may be forced to covertly deal with the drug networks,
and keep files of those who have tried TEFG," he suggested.
"That may not be easy," said Drake. "This morning
we found what the users call a 'time machine'. It was just a
bed in a locked room, but the dreamouter had rigged a gallon of
nutrient drip to hang from the ceiling and run a hose from his
penis to a bucket. A timer was connected to his other arm, and
set to deliver a second dose of Nostalgia after ten days. The
man was middle aged and very successful. His wife said that he'd
watched his 'Neighbours' videos for twelve hours before disappearing.
She hired a detective to find him, she thought he'd run off with
another woman. In a way, he had."
Cottak remained impassive. Schilden laughed without smiling.
"So they can get back by themselves," he observed.
"We can never be sure if someone is secretly affected by
The coroner nodded. "We could even impose the death penalty
for TEFG-7 abuse, but that would only make more people closet
users. Society may soon be in a shambles."
Vuner was creating a world. It was not to be merely an image
of Earth, but totally new, condensed from a swirling dust cloud
by the disembodied spirit of Vuner himself, so that he would literally
be the soul of this world, its gaia. He revelled in the
hot, fine dust, a young, vital god with eternity before him.
Over time, which had grown meaningless for him, he had learned
a great deal about being divine, and had discovered that the worst
problem was boredom. There had been too many enemies effortlessly
blasted to cinders, too many ultimate orgasms, too many familiar
images of Earth-like worlds that arose and dispersed at his will.
He had realised that he had been acting like a deified mortal,
rather than a true god. He would not merely control this new
world and the laws that governed it, he would actually be those
very laws. Vuner the Law moulded a great vortex of dust . . .
Suddenly he sprawled, powerless, and in a human body! The sand
was cold beneath his naked skin, and a pale, scarlet sun lit up
the desert around him. A shadowy form coalesced nearby. It had
a vaguely human shape. Vuner gasped.
"My interface chip recognised a sound from your speech centre,
Vuner," it said in a contralto voice. "Try to speak
He burned it with beams of light from his eyes. Abruptly the
ground heaved, and several suns began to dance in the sky. Then
the world became livid, brilliant pain. As it faded the shadow
"We've made a lot of advances in neural interface methods
over the last thirty years," it explained. "Dreamouters
can no longer avoid the stimulation of pain centres."
"I'm your God!" shrieked Vuner. "In the name of
"Vudraken, eh?" his tormentor laughed. "I'm your
doctor. I suggest that you conjure up a short, blonde woman wearing
a green smock." It was somehow easier for him to cope with
"Are you a prison doctor?" he asked, suddenly mortal
"Hah, there have been no prisons for decades. Those who
can be rehabilitated, are. Hopeless cases, like you, are forced
to dreamout, and your bodies are put to better use. Your arms
went to a shark attack victim from Bermuda, I believe."
Vuner looked down at his arms, then raised them easily.
"Very good, Vuner," said the shape. "I registered
"What do you want? What the hell do you want?"
"Don't shout. It only flashes the overload light on the
ALC. As to what I want . . . maybe I should tell you some history
first. TEFG-7 really changed the place after you went into dreamout.
Seems like half the country started using it. Some said it was
the end of Western Democracy, that the Soviets would march in
and take over. Hah. In two years there were so many Russians
in partial or permanent dreamout that we had to go in and help
"Things settled down though. Dreamouters run factory processes
now, in return for nutrient solution and a bed, but they spend
their free time in fantasies very like yours. The rest of us
live in quite a good world. It has to be, to stop people going
"Go away!" he shouted. "You can't do this. The
Second Jeremy Reston Illustration
He was paralysed. He could not move, speak, or even blink.
"Had to power you down," said the shadow. "Too
much struggling for the automedic to finish working. Vudraken
the God, what a laugh! Vuner, when the ancient Romans had a military
victory they put a slave beside the general as his chariot was
driven through the streets in triumph. Every so often the slave
had to remind the general that they were both only mortal. I'm
sure no slaves did that in your dreamout world, and that you were
alone in your triumphal chariot . . . but you're still mortal."
The sun faded, the sky and landscape glowed with a grey that became
concrete walls and ceiling. One wall had a barred door.
Behind it stood a blonde woman in a green smock. Vuner realised
that his perspective was from only knee height. He swivelled
his lenses to look at himself: his body was squat and cubic, resting
on tractor treads. His arms were like robot manipulators. With
a tinny scream he backed away from the door, his motor whining
with the overload. Pain raked his back as he hit the wall.
"The unit I housed you in is covered with a type of inorganic
skin, used mainly to give industrial robots a sense of touch,"
the woman explained. "I wired the sensor filaments right
down into your brain. Hardwired them. TEFG-7 cannot dissolve
the link and let you dreamout. It took me five years."
"Why did you do this?" wailed Vuner through the voicebox.
To his surprise tears welled from tubes on the rims of his lenses.
"Why? Who, Vuner, who! I'm thirty seven years old: orphaned
at seven, but by hell I became such a good neurophysiologist that
I'm even on first name terms with the great Professor Cottak.
Mind you, she doesn't know that I was christened Jane Dodsworth
His terrified cry overloaded the automatic level control of the
voicebox, and he rolled frantically in circles.
"Society is not vindictive any more, Vuner, but I am! I found
my parents lying in their own blood and, and . . . putting your
brain in a bottle but leaving your mind free to play God is not
my idea of justice! I'm very rich, Vuner: I had this cell built
under my estate especially for you, I falsified the records declaring
you dead, I'll keep you here for the rest of your life, and I
swear I'll outlive you through sheer spite!"
She turned and walked away from the cell. Vuner heard a large,
heavy door boom shut and lugs thump into place, then there was
silence. He gripped the bars, and they were cold and hard beneath
the pads of his manipulators.
Originally appeared pp69-84, Eidolon Issue 04, March 1991.
Copyright © Sean McMullen, 1991. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with kind permission of the author.