Dreaming with Elli, Part 1
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Last time on Nexus:
The Rage Regulator, Part 3

Elli was tense to the breaking point as she walked the vast halls that towered above her in white and gray. Through windows, one could see the merciless emptiness of space.
She had to do this. There was no other way…
In front of her was a large automatic sliding metal door. Elli used the Nexus to just walk through it. On the other side awaited her: Somebody who looked exactly like her.
"Huh, what the-," escaped the second Elli.
Tears began to run down her cheeks.
"I'm so sorry…"
Angry cries.
A shining light that drew a circle in the void.
A growing, black sun.
Elli startled out of her sleep, breathing heavily.
She hated to sleep. She had nightmares every time she didn't drink herself into a coma or get knocked out. But alas, it was sorely needed. She had tried to get along without sleep using the Nexus. It didn't even take three days before Dean had thought the zombie plague had broken out in the Nexus at the sight of her. For better or worse, she had to submit to this biological function that caused her to rumple her bed and occasionally fall on the floor. And that was an accomplishment, because Ellis's deep red bed measured eight square meters for just those reasons.
The problem now was this: She hated going to bed a lot. Getting up, however, even more so.
Groaning, she stood up with disheveled hair. She was wearing fluffy purple pajamas. She did have nightgowns for other occasions, including ones that required more than one person, but this one was the coziest.
As she shuffled grumpily into the kitchen, her hair combed itself. She conjured up a bottle of gin she'd started to reach an appropriate alcohol level.
Dean stood at the stove in the relatively small kitchen by Ellis's standards.
She sat down at the table, half asleep.
"Pretty early today. Is today a special day?" asked Dean, cranking up the coffee maker.
Elli grumbled something unintelligible and waited for the coffee.
She had made the coffee maker herself. The coffee Dean finally served had the consistency of thick paste and was black as a lump of coal. Elli stirred in milk and two cubes of sugar with some effort and let the brew run down her throat. As the caffeine gradually powered up her body, Dean set before her a raptor omelet and two slices of toast, burnt to a perfect golden brown. Elli didn't settle on quality goods. She took them apart and incorporated "minor improvements." This applied to the coffee maker and the toaster, but also to the stove, the oven, the refrigerator and the bread slicer, which preheated the slices at the same time.
Elli ate space jam, honey from three meters tall bees and Nutella from Mars with her toast.
Meanwhile, Dean stood next to her and took away all the bottles of alcohol she tried to smuggle to the table. Today there were nine.
Today was time for lessons again, or so Elli had resolved. Yesterday she had finished correcting the papers, even though only one third of her had been on the case.
The second part of her brain was occupied with other problems in such cases, such as new devices she wanted to build or get hold of, or what she wanted to put into Dean's new body next. Right now, he only had the one he was currently using. The female one was in tatters1. The third part of her brain, meanwhile, had strolled away, and thought about sex as much as possible.
She entered the school as usual via the chemistry prep room on the second floor, along with Dean, and made her way to the classroom.
The first thing Elli generally did was to have short pop quizzes written. Thanks to the memes she incorporated into her subject matter, it was now something of an accomplishment if you scored lower than a 32 on her. The topic of the day was enthalpy and entropy calculations, but ones that were only taught in universities. Elli, for her part, did not understand the problem of teaching children things that were supposedly still outside their horizons. After all, it obviously worked. She herself had had to be able to do advanced calculations of quantum chemistry at the age of five without consulting collections of formulas, so this seemed pretty merciful to her.
Those who observed the students around her noticed that some of them backed away from Elli when they knew she was near. These were former bullies of Chloe's with whom Elli had had intensive conversations.
Speaking of which, it gradually became apparent that her lifespan was limited. With concern, Elli saw how Chloe, who was not very obese anyway, was increasingly losing weight. She became pale and what she heard from the P.E. lessons did not bode well. She was getting exhausted faster and faster. Elli tried to counteract this by always taking Chloe out to eat, but apparently her body now lacked the strength to fully digest large meals.
She spent some of her thinking capacity on this problem while teaching another fifth-grade class about human reproduction. She knew that a lot of children born during this time were actually just accidents, so she did the next best thing to contraception, explaining the process and the organs involved in the greatest possible detail. She had already been cited twice to the principal's office because she had managed to make somebody throw up during such explanations, however, principal Luft was a very pragmatically minded person who even approved of her course after he himself had attended such a lesson to get an idea of the situation.
Despite such incidents, as well as, among other things, her "accidental" release of butyric acid, as well as her very graphic descriptions of conditions in the German concentration camps during the Nazi regime, she was unfortunately the most popular teacher at the school.
Elli did not like this attention. She was getting commendations for something she wasn't even trying at. It felt… unnatural. When Dean praised a body she'd built, or Chloe grinned widely during her outings for a change, her chest swelled with pride, but this….
The whole thing didn't get any better, because later there was a teacher's meeting and Elli was showered with praise because her students had moved up the average in the PISA study.
She groaned inwardly.
It's hard to imagine, but Elli was suffering from success. All this praise was draining her.
Dean, for his part, took any applause in stride. Since some time now, absolutely everyone called him "Mr Clean", because thanks to him, the school building was probably in better shape than the day it was built. Now, there were also no more grubby urchins at the school. Dean cleaned at their place. He cleaned bicycles from everything, even grease, freed mopeds and other motor vehicles of the offenders from all grease, oil and fat and cleaned them so thoroughly that even the varnish and paint-job disappeared completely3 and washed colored clothes white while they were left in the dressing rooms during gym or swimming lessons. All this without anybody ever being able to prove it was him.
With Dean, people didn't just get clean on the outside, they got clean on the inside when the need arose.
Elli envied his inability to exhaust himself, because she was exhausted by the end of the day. She staggered more than she walked when she finally returned to the Nexus. She realized she had left her Nexus portal open in the prep room while she shuffled to the kitchen to make herself a fifty centimeter sandwich for dinner. What the hell, she thought to herself. It was Friday, so nothing was going to annoy her for at least two days anyway.
She wolfed down her dinner while Dean sat next to her and stuffed Ellis's favorite socks. After that, there was a hot bath.
One who has seen Elli's kitchen utensils can imagine what her bathtub looked like. Or her bathroom in general, because she had several bathtubs and showers for different occasions. And a toilet with heated seat and several cleaning nozzles that immediately broke down all the leftovers into their atomic components.
The largest tub had the dimensions of a swimming pool and was embedded in the floor. It had seats, lighting in various colors, and several hundred high-pressure taps, depending on exactly what kind of bath water Elli wanted to soak in. They were labeled with words like "Freshness of the Alps" "Donkey Milk" "Jungle Feeling," "Herb Bath", "Wine", "Glacier", "Hamster Milk", "For Later Fun for Two", and "Orgy". The second one was designed for several people, and also was a whirlpool and had a built-in radio and cup holders. Then there was a hammock that could be filled with hot water, a disappointingly normal Jacuzzi, if one disregarded the antigravity function that left water untouched, and a bathtub that also was a whirlpool, had water jets, could perform electric massages, and at the push of a button released toothless doctor fish that ate dead skin right off the body.
Elli did without all of these features today and just let herself sink into the warm water (with lavender oil).
Later she arrived back in her bedroom to do what she absolutely disliked, but what unfortunately was absolutely necessary.
She lowered herself onto her memory foam mattress and covered herself with a perfectly normal comforter. She was already working on a replacement that could fly and not shift in her sleep.
Part of her refused to go to sleep, but this aspect of human nature tolerated no opposition in the long run. Elli sank into the realm of dreams.
And through the open portal, something began to pour into the room that had only been waiting for a mind like Elli's to finally lay down to sleep.

Chloe had a bad dream. She was trapped in a dark room. Something was pretty warm in here, but she didn't want to turn around.

Now grayish shadows faded before the holy radiance of the black dark:

The voice was calm and determined. Chloe heart almost stopped when she heard it.

The first day arose. Confusion gives way, and order sprouts up:

She hated that soft voice. But she had nowhere to run. She heard a metallic clang and something hot was approaching her. And when she looked down at herself, she saw the body of a four-year-old girl….

Struck, the infernal spirits flee into the depths of the abyss down to the eternal night.

"FISS!"
A click startled Chloe out of her nightmare. She almost immediately forgot what it had been about.
Then the click came again. It seemed to come from her window.
Tired and confused, she got up and shuffled over as the click sounded one more time. It was apparently coming from a pebble thrown against her window.
This is the fifth floor!
She opened the window and caught sight of the large outline of Dean down in the street.
"Dean?! What are you doing here? It's three in the morning!" she whispered.
Dean seemed to hear her, because he held up a sign.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE, ELLI IS IN DANGER! YOU MUST COME, was written on it.
"Wait a minute…" said Chloe, quickly getting dressed.
Uncombed and tired, she left her apartment and came downstairs. Dean was waiting for her with barely apparent but still present impatience.
"Finally," he said. "I didn't know who else to ask, but this is important. Come on."
He pulled a confused Chloe behind him.
"Dean. What's going on?"
"Something seems to want to get into Ellis's mind while she's sleeping. I have a hunch about it, but I need you to confirm it."
"Why? And how would you know?"
"I'll get to that later. Best to see for yourself…"
Dean ushered Chloe to the school and helped her inside through an open window. She had never thought about it, but her school was creepy at night.
In a chemistry prep room was a Nexus portal that led into Ellis' living room.
From there, Dean took a mind-boggling path through Elli's house, part of which was along the ceiling of rooms, until they reached Elli's bedroom.
The bed was huge. Next to it was a mirror and a dresser labeled "My toys! Hands off!"
Elli lay on the bed. Her eyes rolled around incessantly under her eyelids. And she kept repeating the same sentence in a monotone voice.
"Warning: Mental health attack detected. Error code 38890. Request extraction of foreign mental object."
"What is error code 38890?" asked Chloe, but Dean was gone. It took a moment for him to return with a glass of blue liquid.
"Dean? What's that error code? And what have you got there?"
"I have no idea," Dean said. "I've never seen Elli act like this before. Usually she just has nightmares and tosses and turns in her sleep. But this is totally new."
He set the glass on Elli's nightstand and took a shrink-wrapped swallow tablet from his pocket, handing it to Chloe.
"What's this?"
Dean sighed in anguish.
"Look, there are actually specialists in this sort of thing, but as long as Elli's out of commission, I'm stuck here. That's why I need to send you, so we can at least figure out what's going on. That's why I'm going to send you into her dream."
He took the blue liquid again and poured Elli a cup.
"This is Link," he explained. "Laced with sleeping potion. It allows you to link two people's minds together. Was actually invented so psychiatrists could analyze their patients' dreams, but now some places have regular thinking and dreaming parties where the stuff serves as a party drug. The stuff has a different effect on Elli, though, which is why you get this pill. Now swallow it already!"
"Why? What happens then?", Chloe wanted to know.
Dean fussed a little.
"Elli's thought waves are so strong that, instead of harmonizing with others, they just flatten everything. As a result, every Linker is automatically drawn into her mind."
"That's what we're trying to do, isn't it?"
Dean hesitated briefly to answer.
"Yes, but you have no idea how absolutely titanic Elli's mind is. This is a concentration enhancer, usually the patient whose dreams are to be examined has to take it so the psychiatrist can get into his dreams. You have to take it because otherwise your mind will be like a drop of water falling into the ocean. Wouldn't be the first time. Normally you can't get into her mind at all, and when she's asleep… Well, there are people who lost themselves in Elli. Either they came back with severe mental damage or…. Not at all… Probably some kind of last line of defense or something. In any case, Elli can kill you in her sleep."
Chloe swallowed audibly before finally taking the tablet.
Suddenly, her field of vision gained a new sharpness. She took in more details.
"And what about you? You can't take pills," she inquired.
"I have to stay here, Chloe. I'm a machine. I can't dream."
"Oh… I have to go in there alone?"
"Indeed. And quickly, drink. Half should be enough but please take care. We'll only have one dose of Link left after your sip, and no more pills."
With trembling hands, Chloe took the cup and drank carefully. She gave the container back and then swallowed.
And became drowsy very fast.
She felt how Dean caught her before she fell into a deep sleep.

Chloe suddenly found herself in an evening city. All around her were wooden huts with colorful facades. It took her a moment to classify the architecture and the clothing of the people around her. She had landed in the Wild West.
Her blue skirt and shirt were painfully anachronistic, but other than a few quizzical looks, this fact drew nothing to her. She looked around.
Where could Elli be in a Wild West town?
She took the shortest route to the saloon.
There seemed to be a party going on in the bar, whose walls were papered with the heads of hunted grazing animals. People were busy drinking everywhere, dice were being thrown at one table, and cards were being played at another. In general, there was a cheerful mood in the store.
And in all the joyful chaos, Chloe spotted blonde hair.
Elli was wearing a cowgirl outfit and was in a duel with a tall, beefy, unshaven cowboy wearing a red bandana.
The weapon of choice: whiskey.
Around the two stood several men and women cheering on the two opponents.
"Come on, Big John, finish them off!"
"Come on, Elli! I got ten bucks on you!"
Elli, smiling, emptied another glass and poured herself another.
That seemed to be taken as a provocation, because Big John followed up.
And toppled off his chair.
Elli drank again and threw her fist in the air in triumph, while cheers and wails erupted around her at the same time. Bet money changed hands.
"Elli!" cried Chloe.
She turned to her, startled. A few of the guests did the same.
"Chloe! What are you doing here? You don't belong in here!"
A man gently nudged her shoulder with his elbow.
"Elli, who is that? Your daugh-"
He fell silent at the look Elli gave him.
"Elli, you're in danger!" tried Chloe again.
"I know," Elli countered so quietly that no one could hear her. "In a few minutes, Lieutenant Armstrong from the Union Investigation Unit is going to come through that door and try to arrest me for devastating one of their storage units."
Chloe shook her head in exasperation.
"No, Elli, someone is trying to get inside your head…. Wait, how do you know what's going to happen?"
Elli shrugged her shoulders.
"My brain is wired differently than normal people's. For example, I can't forget and my thought processes are encrypted in a manner so that no one can read them. However, I also don't dream like other people. My brain rewinds old memories and examines them for things I didn't originally notice or noticed only peripherally. Someone is trying to get into my mind, you say?"
"Are you saying this is a memory of yours?" asked Chloe.
"That's all there is in my dreams, Chloe," Elli said succinctly, getting up from her chair to pull Chloe aside. "That's how I always know when someone like you is misplaced. Now focus, what's going on?"
"You keep talking about some attack on your mind and an error code, that's why Dean sent me in here," Chloe reported.
"The mental threat detection system?" wondered Elli, furrowing her eyebrows. "Well, that has never activated before. What kind of error code was it?"
Chloe racked her brain.
"Uh, 38890?" she said uncertainly.
"Hmm, attack by collective consciousness?" wondered Elli. "Could check out."
"What do you mean by 'mental threat detection system' anyway," Chloe wanted to know. "You're not a robot, are you?"
"That's true, but the next best thing, I'm-"
The saloon door flew open.
In walked three men and a woman, all three wearing gray business suits and looking old, very old. They all had white hair and wrinkled faces. Their bodies were scrawny but moved unusually smoothly for their age.
They drew the gaze of everyone present as they themselves surveyed the room and finally walked toward Elli.
"Ah, at last," said the tallest of them, he was broader built than the others and had the face of a corrupt politician. "You change dreams so often, it's hard to keep up with them. I'm Dorian Gaunt, proud citizen of Oneiroi West, these are Tom Jester," a man with a carefully groomed beard nodded, "Elton Pinkerton," a man with the face of a mad grandpa raised his hand. "And Lesley Hills," the woman nodded.
"The Oneiroi Collective?", Elli wondered. "What do you want here? I can't become a member of you, you know that."
"What is that?" asked Chloe."
"A swarm intelligence, consisting of every being that is currently asleep. Even you are part of it when you're not awake," Elli said. "On top of that, there are lots of dream entities."
Before she could elaborate on her explanation, Gaunt took the floor again.
"So, to get right to the point before we switch again, we want to open our realm to your minds for this very reason," he explained. "On our end, we're already done, but your mind remains closed to us. The four of us are the only ones out of a few hundred who have managed to get in here without just fading away."
"That would kill you," Elli noted. "You in Oneiroi West may be a collective, but if you try to make me a part of it, you will all gradually dissolve into me, whether you like it or not. My mind is just too big for that."
"I know," the man declared. "That's what we want. In Oneiroi West, everyone is immortal, but the older ones among us are especially weary of life. But we can't die. Our collective prevents it."
Ellis's expression darkened.
"So you want to commit mass suicide and drag in all those who actually still want to live?" summarized Elli. "If you're so eager to perish, why don't you just gather everyone who's interested and rush into me?"
"Do you know how hard it is to even find an approach to you?" the old man inquired. "We are meeting here for the first time, although we have been trying to penetrate this place for millennia. This is our only chance and among those who tried to reach you were only the bravest, the most desperate. But there are still many who are undecided. And those who can't know any better. Now you still want to live, but give them a few hundred years, then-"
"I won't go along with that," Elli said firmly. "I'm sorry for the sacrifices you had to make to get here, but I refuse to support you in something like this. Even if you think you're doing Oneroi West a favor."
The man sighed sadly.
"All right, then. But at least explain to me how to open her mind as an outsider."
"Oh, that's a bit complicated," Elli answered. "I think I'll have to draw it out for you to understand. Does anyone here have a pencil?"
"Elli, what are you doing?" asked Chloe, confused. "Didn't you just say you didn't want to help them?"
Elli's face fell asleep.
"Oh crap, you're right. Come with me!"
She pulled Chloe behind her, into one of the back parlors of the saloon. The Greys immediately took up pursuit, with the saloon's patrons fearfully moving aside.
"What's going on?" asked Chloe as they meandered between some chairs.
"You're talking to my subconscious here," Elli explained as she opened a window. "Without my conscious mind to block or lie to, I will answer any questions asked truthfully whether I want to or not. It's kind of like mind reading, only I can't resist it as well when I'm asleep as when I'm awake, otherwise we wouldn't have this problem. Thanks for the distraction, by the way. Get out!"
They both climbed through the window, barely escaping Pinkerton's grip. While the four of them were still climbing out the window, Chloe and Elli sprinted away as well.
"Where are we even going?" asked Chloe.
"To the train station," Elli gasped. "Back when the Unit was trying to catch me, I took the same route to catch a train. Unfortunately, it had already left, but now we're five minutes early."
"Can't we take your Nexus?" asked Chloe.
"Not unless the memory does. We're stuck here until I actually use the Nexus in here. There's the train, too!"
Sure enough, a train station appeared between the houses. A shiny black locomotive steamed quietly along behind it. But one could see the coal shoveler already going about his work. The engineer blew the whistle….
"Oh crap, they're heating up the boiler," Elli said. "Hurry, Chloe, we maybe have seconds left."
With a pounding that grew faster, the train slowly began to move. The two ran alongside it to jump on in time and managed to dart onto a cattle car.
But behind them, three of the old people jumped up. The fourth, Pinkerton, grabbed Chloe by the foot and pulled her back off the train, which was quickly moving away.
She could still see Elli jump up and flee from the men through the train.
Then it was gone.
She kicked the man holding her in the face, causing him to howl in pain and let go.
Then he was about to lunge at Chloe again, but apparently noticed in time that she was staring at something that was happening behind him.
The city, the horizon, and the ground gradually dissolved into the evening sky. The earth was disappearing too fast to run away from it, so Chloe and Pinkerton fell screaming into the void of the evening sky.
She saw the old man turn transparent and begin to fade as he screamed.
Then Chloe was startled out of her sleep.
She sat up and looked around.
She was lying on the bed next to Elli, who was still muttering the warning message to herself. Dean was sitting on the edge, looking hurriedly at Chloe.
"Well?" he asked.
Chloe needed a moment to collect herself.
"Some collective, called Oneiroi Collective. Dean, they're trying to destroy an entire dream realm with the help of Elli. They want it to fade away inside her."
"Sounds good for Elli," Dean reflected. "It means she'll wake up again once the realm has passed on. But of course, it's bad news for the realm. What exactly happened?"
Chloe started sputtering. Dean listened intently.
"I see," he then said. "As far as I know, if you fall in a dream, you wake up; for pure thought entities, that must mean they're at least thrown out of the dream, if not worse. I don't know where this Pinkerton is now, but he probably won't be dangerous to you. He's probably been swallowed up by Elli's mind."
"But why did the dream dissipate?" asked Chloe.
"I suppose Elli's subconscious only ever reflects the area she's in. There's no point in representing an entire planet, or even a universe, if the only thing to investigate is what Elli actually saw. Probably most of the environment Elli didn't see was generated from nothing. So if you can manage to get Elli far enough away from the suits…"
"…Then they will be thrown out of the dream," Chloe concluded. "Do you think that's enough to wake her up?"
"Remember, Gaunt said hundreds had tried to enter Ellis' mind. The fact that you only faced four and not a growing army proves that no one else from Oneroi West can or will enter Elli's dream. I think I still have a telepathic shielding device sitting around here. I'll set it up for safety's sake, so that really no one else can follow. Maybe I can use it to cut off all access to the collective as well. But that has to be done before Ellis' mind is opened. That's why I need you back in there until I'm done. Do you think you can do that?"
Instead of answering, Chloe scrambled to the jar with Link and drank it up.
She immediately fell asleep.

Next time on Nexus:
Dreaming with Elli, Part 2

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