“I guess we’ve time to kill.”
The emotional tenor of his face darkens.
Emily feels an empathetic shudder. She asks without thinking, “Why don’t you tell me about your dreams?"
"Okay." Phillip widens his stance, centering himself.
Emily finds his transition a little strange, but asks no more questions.
He grabs the strap from which his backpack hangs over his right shoulder. “Ever since we spoke with William, something’s been eating away at me. He said there was a pharmaceutical consultant on the project, and when he said that I couldn’t remember ever having swallowed any pills. But then, when I saw B&J pass through here to get down to you, I had a flashback."
"So this isn’t a dream. It’s a memory?"
"Maybe. But I think you know what I mean when I say it’s hard to tell the difference, at least from the time of the project. I remember swallowing little black pills that looked like licorice but tasted like…" he pauses, searching for the right words, "an overcast sky."
"Like a what?"
"See, that’s what I’m saying. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I’d describe the taste of the pills. You usually don’t taste a pill when you swallow it, but that’s what happened."
Emily reads Phillip’s face carefully. Even though his eyes are somewhat distorted by the vv erasure of his visor, she picks up on something. "There’s more to this, isn’t there?"
Phillip takes a deep breath and holds it in a few seconds. "Yeah. Here’s what happens after I swallow the pill. You’re with me, under this overcast sky. You’re curled up in a ball, holding a doll against your stomach, crying and making noises, because you’re really scared of something, but I don’t know what. I ask what you’re afraid of, and you keep saying, ‘My baby is changing!’"
Emily blinks, inhales sharply, and blinks again. She only realizes what she’s done after the fact.
"Then I see the clouds in the sky change color, and every time they do, the doll you’re clutching changes color the same way. In my dream, this had you absolutely terrified."
Emily does a double-take. Her left hand is pressed against her belly. With a conscious effort, she pulls her hand away. She wonders what this means. She doesn’t like it.
"I try to help, by changing the sky back to normal, which is something I know can do. But, for some reason, I can’t. I’ve no control." Phillip grits his teeth, remembering what he shares next. "Then I lose control over my whole body."
"What do you mean? What happens?"
"My legs go spastic, and I fall. When I hit the ground, I’m as terrified as you are. I try to stand, or just roll over, but I can’t. And all the while I hear you crying out about your changing baby." Clearly agitated, he stops talking.
Emily takes a few steady breaths and imagines the sound of Katherine’s voice counting down for each breath, from five to one. “I don’t remember that particular dream, but most of my dreams have definitely been fear based. Don’t know what happened during the project, but something must have scared the living shit out of me." Emily’s right hand involuntarily tenses and crushes her empty water cup, which she then tosses to the floor.
Phillip lays a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Listen. Whatever it is we have to face tonight, I wouldn’t want to face it with anyone but you. I know we have issues to work out between us, but… I trust you. That flower you’re wearing may be just a symbol, but it stands for something real."
Emily looks down at the rose tucked in her belt. Still unblemished, its white petals are beginning to open. She gazes into Phillip’s eyes. "Yes. And I want you with me. We’ve a lot of history, and it goes much deeper than Condit’s project." She directs her attention to the surrounding crowd of people, conversing under the green glow bathing them from above.
She opens her mouth to say more, when the background music goes silent. Conversations die down, and everyone turns to the obvious center of attention. A beautiful, curvaceous woman, wearing what looks like nothing more than thin lengths of ivy caressing her ivory skin, walks down the stairs and through the crowd of partygoers. They part for her as if instructed to do so. Her long, flowing hair is white like her skin, and the woman carries with both hands a nine-inch tall egg in front of her voluptuous breasts. The egg emits its own pleasant, verdant glow, and her bare feet glide over the carpeted floor as she comes to the center of the room.
Emily leans over and nervously whispers, "Is that Daleth?"
"No." Phillip gives a low chuckle. "I’m sure this’s all vv. Look at the way she’s walking. You can take off your visor, if you need to check."
When this stunning virtual entity stops in the middle of the room, she raises the egg above her head. It then rises from her hands up into the air, ascending until it touches the ceiling. When it does, the egg splits and branches. Glowing, leafy vines of light expand from the egg’s center, slowly spreading out in a horizontal plane. The only sounds are the occasional exclamations of delight from the watchful crowd. The virtual vines stretch out until they turn the ceiling’s smooth expanse into a sky veined with virtual life. Her work done, the beautiful AI sinks down into the floor, out of sight. The music returns, and so do the conversations.
Phillip turns to Emily. He caresses her with his eyes.
She blushes, her heart beating the rhythm of her desire. She’s not sure what to think. He is her lover. He is her best friend. He is also the source of many of her fears. Can they lay those fears to rest? Will they love again? Remembering how things used to be, she reluctantly lets just a little hope into her heart.