From the files...

Here's one I had a while ago:

I had one of those dreams that leave you confused and blinking, like when you get out of the cinema after one of those deep, weird movies, and you don’t know how you will ever resolve what you just saw with the sun piercing your eyes.

It was in the future, an extreme future, thousands of years ahead. Humankind was still bound to the earth, though whatever history of failed attempts we had made was lost on me, I was just another homeless man, the son of homeless parents.

What had happened, or of which I knew or cared, was that some great sign or prophet had convinced the major religions that a great plague was coming, some pandemic that would finally wipe us out. They had it narrowed down to the year it would happen, and the fear was accepted as fact; the whole world had joined the cult. Anyone who dissented was believed to be a possible carrier, or worse yet, developer of the invisible killer that anyone had yet to witness.

And the world had collapsed, not from the plague, or even the fear of it, but from social stagnation. So many people believed the same thing for so long, with innovation and free thought stopped dead or wasted developing cures for diseases we didn’t have, that the world stumbled to a stop and fell. A post-apocalyptic world, not from a bang, but a whimper.

One of the few technologies to emerge during the fearful days, the weirdest, was “publication.” Computers had gotten good, very good, but for whatever reason, in the future of my dream they were not great outputs of discovery but recorders. Silicon witnesses that remembered everything and reproduced it with loving attention. It made sense for the “publisher’s,” a group of scientists, a company really, that would record who you were into whatever medium you chose. Upon your death you could become a living painting, shifting paint that looked out on the world through your second soul, or a doll that would walk and talk to your descendants for all centuries to come. Why develop A.I. when grandma would make a much more intuitive and loving vacuum cleaner, and one could pick up that postcard from grandpa that was grandpa, the images shifting and the words reflecting his thoughts as he watched the world from his new 2 dimensional prison?

It wasn’t like Mad Max or any of the popular post-apocalyptic movies. The buildings were whole and relatively clean, and some were still wealthy, some were still happy, and some yet led “normal lives,” but the civilization was gone. Militaries were groups of militia men with advanced weapons, but no training. Cities existed entirely indoors, warrens like prairie dog hives, made by each group shutting themselves off from the others, others that would certainly soon carry the plague.

There was no plague.

I lived on the streets with some friends, dusty but not dirty, thanks to whatever hygiene enzymes and nanobots infested my clothing.

The dream was relatively boring at the beginning; even the setting was familiar to my dreamself. I stole food or ate at soup kitchens; I slept in an abandoned warehouse. The only gifts I had to offer my two friends – a fellow my own age, and a girl with some strange beauty – were my ability to read (strange in the time because everything read to you) and a photograph I had of myself, a self-publication I had made in an abandoned hospital in the middle of nowhere. It was a one of a kind for more than one reason. No one had been allowed to be published while alive, the religious fervor at the time. While allowing publication (for even these items would eventually breakdown, freeing the “soul”) duplicating yourself while living was unthinkable, supposedly impossible in much the same way that the earth had once been the center of the universe.

So I had found the equipment, read the laughingly simple directions, and published myself a photo. It came out and there I was, looking at me. I told me it was like looking out through a dream. I kept the photo as an oddity more than for any deep reason. To me it was simply an interesting distraction from the gray and dying world.

Then one of the militant groups made it their mission to destroy all the publishing machines, for some religious sect or businessman, I didn’t know. Freeing souls. My self publication was a secret, one of the last to be made.

I had broken into a house with my friends, and while they collected the food from the kitchens, I was going through an old box of broken toys and keepsakes I found under the sink. Broken or spent publications, a second coffin of second deaths. They were old, first runs, too simple and fragile to be durable. I found one that was still alive, a simple child’s toy with one arm and both legs missing. It couldn’t even move its fingers independently anymore, and its joints apparently had not offered much flexibility to begin with. It was a girl.

She had been young, and, as with my snapshot, her personality was frozen at the point of her death. She was sweet, her voice was beautiful, and when I closed my eyes I could see what she must have looked like. A doll in life as well, surely.

I took her, talked to her constantly over the course of weeks, ignoring my friends, handling her with care, for any moment might have broken her, been her second death.

I had to see what she looked like. I had heard that sometimes couples would publish together, put two minds in one item too spend eternity together. I wanted to find if I could combine my photo with her doll, so that I could see her. It was a last chance for her, I could tell the voice was getting weaker every day, and I would suffer no damage since I was still alive in flesh. In my dream I was ignorant of my potential sacrifice, and even though she was both 14 and 1000 (both ages wrong for me) I loved her, this tiny voice from a children’s toy.

I went to a museum, up to a violently beautiful red and blue cubist painting that was the publication of two of my long dead ancestors. They told me what they knew of their process, told me where to look for more information.

In the end I tried it, and it apparently failed, killed her, but somehow left her still tenuously conscious and my photo, save a slight hole, seemed unaffected.

I made amends with offended friends, and life largely returned to normal. We were planning on sneaking into a large hall where a collector of publications was putting his entire anthology on display, for the food promised extravagance.

We were sitting on the roof of the building, wearing some servant’s clothes we had stolen and preparing to enter the rooftop access when I checked my photo. She was in it. Shyly watching from the corner, tentatively waving hello. My published self was in the other half, trying to get her attention, strangely unable to reach her, but she was looking at me, the real me. Her voice was lost forever, beautiful and pure, but her face was more gorgeous still. My friends impatiently told me to get started, but not before the girl (there are rarely names in my dreams) made it clear that if her parents were in the collection (her mother was in some kind of color-changing rose thing, and her father was a book of law) she wanted to tell them she was okay and that she thought about them. God I loved her in that dream, so I said “okay.”

We broke in, and as we served food to guests and the upper class, we snuck food into garbage bags we brought outside by the dumpsters to be collected later. As I walked around, tidying the collection, I hid the photo in a “rag” to dust the items off, so that she could ask each if they had seen her parents. It took some doing, for it was the biggest collection on earth, a veritable Library of Congress of Souls. I did not get through it all, but she found her father (her mother had been destroyed in a fire), and she seemed happy. I collected my friends, and, sneaking out the back, we gathered our spoils and went back to our warehouse.

I took out the photo. She was no longer huddled in the corner of the frame, but taking up most of it, herself and whatever images she chose to represent her background. My other self was pressed up close to the left hand corner, and looked afraid. She was still sweet and innocent, but seemed oblivious to my published self, who, as I watched, was slowly being obliterated by her. I still loved her, could only think about her, and then I realized what was happening in the photo was happening to me. Yet I did love her, and I think she really loved me, so I did not tell my friends, but left them, so that they would not see me fall.

I went for a walk and noticed an uproar around the gallery that was hosting the collection. I went in, ignored, still dressed in my servant’s guard. In every painting, book, and song played in the great hall was her face, her words, her voice. Even the corners I had not reached in the search for her parents held her form. And she was growing.

The world started looking different to me, I realized I was talking as she did, using the same forgotten phrases. I was almost gone. I could feel her inside, and when I looked into the eyes of strangers, I could see her growing there

The plague had come.

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