Dreaming with Elli, Part 3
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Last time on Nexus:
Dreaming with Elli, Teil 2

This time it took longer for the world to consolidate around Elli again.
I'm Chloe!
It was as if something in her mind resisted calling up that dream.
That's not mine!
She was in a small cabin of sorts. The walls, floor and ceiling were unplastered and made of gray metal. All this room had was a door to a tiny bathroom with a shower, a desk on which seemed to float in mid-air a hologram that had the approximate shape of a computer screen and a few keyboard keys, and a bed with a white cover. A worn plush turtle lay on it, neatly decorated.
This was her home. This was where Elli had grown up.
I'm Chloe!
A clock projected on the wall told her she was late. Today was a day of choice. She had to make an appearance!
The sliding door to the cabin opened instantly with a mechanical hiss.
Outside, a long corridor closed in. Lined up along it were doors to other cubicles like Elli's.
She ran down so she could make it in time. Someone from the government was there today. They only took the best.
At the end of the hallway was an elevator. Fortunately, it was on her floor right now.
There were no buttons, you just told the AI where you wanted to go.
The device quickly started moving.
Elli looked at the elevator clock. If she calculated the elevator's speed correctly, she would still make it in time. So far, it had never happened to her that she was late-"
I'M CHLOE!
Chloe became dizzy as her brain seemingly crashed and rebooted. She got down on her knees and breathed heavily.
Just a little more and she would have been gone! The concentration booster from Dean seemed to have almost worn off. She certainly would not survive another dream change.
The only good thing about it was that she was already on her way to Elli. She had no idea where she was here, but probably somewhere in the future. Or on another planet. Or both.
It wasn't until a few minutes later that the elevator stopped at a corridor. It led into a large hall. Inside were several computers and lab tables with equipment for all known and unknown kinds of experiments. It looked a bit like the station operation from gym class.
A line of people in what looked like white pajamas stood facing away from the entrance. Chloe crossed the massive room stuck to the wall and took cover behind some kind of crane, from where she could get a good view of the action.
She thought she saw Elli, but there was a problem. Of what must have been fifty people, at least seven looked like Elli at various stages of adolescence.
There were adult versions, ones that seemed to be Chloe's age, and then Ellis, who looked like little kids.
But all of them had an unnaturally hard expression on their faces.
That wasn't true, she suddenly realized.
One looked more human than the others. She looked curiously at the opposite wall, where another sliding door opened at that moment. In walked a rather burly man whom Chloe would have rather expected to see in a men's underwear catalog, and Lawrence1. Chloe remembered him. He had made Elli tremble with fear the last time they had met.
Both men wore some sort of gray plastic uniforms, made up of segments, though the material behaved like ordinary cloth. The two looked as if they were dressed in fashionable insect cocoons.
"So that's them?" asked Lawrence as he approached.
"Yes, the top fifty from our current batch," said the underwear model, sounding like a vacuum cleaner salesman smelling a good deal. "As promised…"
"How many were in it in total again?"
"Uh, a million and a half."
"Hmm…"
Lawrence stepped in front of a tall boy. He read what was written on his shirt.
"So, A356, right?"
"Yes, sir," came soullessly from the addressed.
"Ah, you have a good eye. A356 is the best of the bunch here when it comes to hyper advanced mathematical calculations, he-"
Lawrence cut him off with a gesture.
"A356, here's the problem. The planet Taunus 778 is twenty-five degrees off its axis of rotation. You have at your disposal a Kronos-class planet-cracker with ectoentropic Kulma propulsion. How do you correct the planet's position with these means without damaging its land masses?"
"I would sink the planet-cracker in one of the seas and then use the thrusters to first immobilize, shift, and then re-accelerate the planet. Should be able to be done within three hours."
Lawrence nodded.
"Good approach… At Taunus 787 and not Taunus 778! That one doesn't have oceans, it's a freaking gas giant, what oceans it has are xenon and frozen. You should have asked if you could use tractor beams."
A356 looked at him blankly.
"I'm sorry about that, my lord. I'll remember that in the future."
Lawrence shook his head and walked down the row.
He stopped in front of a little girl with brown hair tied in a ponytail.
"X367, still pretty young, but one of our best when it comes to engineering," the representative introduced. "She also shows promise in the areas of memetics and kinetology."
Lawrence frowned.
"Well then, pay attention. Unspecified dwarf star, main sequence development stage, eight thousand kilometers across. You are to build a Dyson sphere, explain roughly how you proceed.
"Do you want the surrounding planetary system to remain intact?" the girl asked.
"Assume that the system contains fifteen planets and three asteroid belts. More specifics are not available and never will be because the system is classified as worthless and devoid of life."
"I would have the planets and asteroids broken up and the materials used for the basic framework if available, also clearing transport routes at the same time in case teleport travel becomes impossible. The remaining materials I provide by ectoentropic matter generators. Duration at average planetary distance: thirteen months."
Lawrence shook his head.
"Takes too long, it has already been done in seven months. Besides, trick question, without more detailed information on planetary systems, you're not even starting."
"I'm sorry about that, sir. I'll remember that in the future."
Lawrence gave a suppressed groan and continued walking.
He also asked questions of the others present, if he stopped in front of them at all. In some cases, he moved on when his counterpart took longer than a moment to answer. If he held out satisfactory answers, he drilled on with other questions. But none of the candidates satisfied him. After getting about halfway through the series, he groaned.
"Supposedly, these should be the best, with from the best manufacturer…. I think that's what Mindtech stands for with its name."
The salesman fussed a little.
"To be fair, you're asking pretty specific questions out of the blue. I'm sure you yourself would need preparation time to come up with an appropriate answer, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," Lawrence confirmed. "But these were created with the goal of thinking better than me. Look, we'll make this short. Show me the unit with the best specs of all."
The man was silent for a moment.
"Uh, are you sure? I'm sorry to admit this, but this unit is a little…. peculiar…"
"I'll decide that, my good man," Lawrence retorted, annoyed. "Now get on with it!"
"Okay, um… I773, step forward!"
With a lunge, one of the Elli versions stepped forward. Chloe estimated her to be fourteen years old. She looked at Lawrence with good-humored curiosity.
Lawrence and the representative exchanged a glance. The latter smiled apologetically.
"Give me a detailed customer speech, then," Lawrence demanded "Not as short as the others. A customer of your company is attached to it…" demanded Lawrence.
"Uh… So, if you insist… This is I773, extreme success for our company, product of one of our newest manufacturing facilities. Best mind encryption algorithms and telepathy defenses, god-tested. Copy protected, both mentally and genetically. Retains absolutely everything it once learned correctly in its mind. The only thing where other units are superior is speed in some areas, but I773 likes to come up with some… unconventional solutions. In itself an absolute gem, only… It just barely survives the evaluations, it seems to have developed rudimentary emotions, and is extremely curious as a result. We just haven't disposed of her yet, precisely because she has such unbelievable potential, and actually only showed her today out of principle. She is the only one here who has ever asked for a luxury item…"
"Like what?"
"A stuffed animal. One of our employees sent her a used one."
"Hmm…" made Lawrence. "Curiosity… that might be just what we need…"
He walked toward I773, who eyed him expectantly.
"So, instability in hyperspace, triggered by a spacetime distortion, affects an area three million light years in diame- Do I have something on my face?"
I773 looked at him skeptically.
"You'll excuse me, but what kind of monster of a distortion was that? The last and largest one so far exploded two hundred years ago, and the range was just three hundred thousand light years."
Lawrence gave her an approving look.
"Not bad at all. But take all my data for granted. You're stuck at the center. FTL travel is impossible. How do you notify the nearest planet?"
"Where am I?" asked Elli.
"Small sports spaceship. Say, Kryon BNV-23, in red."
The girl frowned.
"I'd short-circuit its gravitron drive with the dimensional converter. Then if I set the right current, since I can successively try all the settings, I should be able to generate a counter-pulse that will unravel the distortion regardless of the size. Then I can just use the ether."
Lawrence thought hard for a moment, then began to grin.
"That may very well work. Bravo."
Then he turned to the representative.
"I'll take her."
"Are you really sure that-"
"I. Will. Take. Her." repeated Lawrence.
"But what if she disobeys? This is a risk with emotion."
"Oh, I can handle that…"
Out of nowhere, long black spikes shot out of the ground around the girl, all missing her by a hair's breadth.
The expression on I773's face, Chloe was now sure she was Elli, changed from glee to confused horror. But as quickly as the spikes had appeared, they disappeared.
"I hope we understand each other?" inquired Lawrence.
Elli nodded cautiously.
"Uh, if I may, what exactly do you need curiosity for?"
"Are you familiar with the Nexus World Computer Research Project? She would be anything but what they're trying to sell me here if it goes against us in the process."
The representative's expression brightened.
"Oh, I see."
The two shook hands.
"The money will be as usual-"
He turned his head as he saw Gaunt step into the hall.
"Who are you?" the representative asked.
"Don't mind me at all, I just want to talk to that girl," Gaunt said with an apologetic smile and approached Elli.
Chloe looked around frantically and scurried unnoticed behind a table that had a pile of chemicals on it.
Her gaze fell on a bottle of saltpeter….
Elli had shown them in class how smoke grenades worked. And thanks to her special teaching methods, Chloe couldn't forget it.
She grabbed the other necessary ingredients and began to mix frantically.
By now Lawrence had stepped forward.
"I have no idea where you clown came from so suddenly, but if you don't bugger off right now, then the floor is lava."
Indeed, a fissure in the earth opened up in front of Gaunt, with molten rock bubbling away inside.
"Fine with me, then I do it from here," the old man muttered. "Hey, Elli, why don't you tell me how-"
Chloe stuffed the beaker shut, shook vigorously to set off her chemical detonator, and tossed her creation to the group of people.
As mentioned earlier, Chloe was grotty at throwing anything.
She made up for it with her ingenuity, though, as what poured out of the cup when it shattered would have been enough to fog a soccer stadium.
Large-scale coughing set in as the white wall reached Ellis's colleagues and their tormentors. Chloe, for her part, scurried through with only a paper towel from a roll of paper on one of the lab tables in front of her mouth, grabbed Elli's hand and pulled her behind her, eyes watering, toward the exit.
The fog behind them disappeared from one moment to the next.
And immediately reappeared. Behind her, Lawrence was screaming like a banshee, but Elli couldn't see what had happened.
Wordlessly, Elli followed her to the elevator. Chloe slammed her fist on the button for the lowest floor, whereupon the door obediently closed.
"What happened to that Lawrence guy?" coughed Chloe, breathing again.
"He just suffered with his own reality bending what I would have done to him if I had known then what I know now."
Elli left it at that cryptic description and, despite her coughing, teary eyes, and snot rags, broke open the elevator's fuse box and began to reconnect wires.
"And now my question. What are you doing in my dream?"
"Do I really have to explain this to you every time?" sighed Chloe, getting to work.
It was weird talking to her, because Chloe didn't have to look up. This Elli was only a few millimeters taller than her. She asked a few questions in between as she continued to work, but nodded when Chloe finished.
"I understand the problem," she said, "but why are we going down? I may have just removed all elevator restrictions, but still."
Chloe frowned.
"To get out of here, Elli."
"Uh, Chloe, this isn't a skyscraper, it's an underground education camp," Elli pointed out her error in thinking.
"Oh, then we need to go up-"
"No way are we going up!" stipulated Elli. "We'd both be dead faster than you could say 'oops.' This is where potentially dangerous individuals are held. No one gets out of there alive without permission, and the guard cyborgs here move at half the speed of light."
Chloe's eyes widened and she pressed her lips together.
"Uh, what do we do then?"
"Don't worry, they're not allowed in here. And it'll take a while for anyone to realize what happened. Once thanks to Lawrence's interference and also because you somehow managed to make weak mustard gas. It's going to take the guards a few minutes to sort out the situation. And with any luck, we'll be far enough away from Gaunt that he'll fall out of the dream."
"How did I do that with the mustard gas?" asked Chloe, confused.
She only now realized that her skin was burning slightly.
"You mixed a chemical detonator, didn't you?"
"Yes?"
"And you accidentally grabbed the green bottle and poured it in before you realized you needed one of the brown ones?"
"Yeah?"
"And there we have the reason. No wonder you could create smoke like that."
The elevator finally came to a stop and opened.
The room beyond was lit by white light that seemed to come from the floor and ceiling, as if a couple of walls had been drawn between two huge lamps.
Chloe could not estimate the dimensions of the room, but it was populated with numerous identical machines the size of a camper, all neatly lined up. Their gray color and design made them look menacing.
Each of the machines had a sort of cylindrical bulge, about thirty centimeters in diameter and sixty centimeters long. A sliding door was attached to it. Elli fiddled with a panel next to the elevator, apparently entering something like a code. Chloe paid no attention to her. And her curiosity won out.
She pushed open one of the doors.
Underneath, a glass cylinder with a green, translucent liquid appeared.
And floating in that liquid was a human fetus, perhaps eight months old. The umbilical cord disappeared into one of the top surfaces of the glass cylinder. Its eyelids twitched uneasily at the sudden appearance of light.
Deeply disturbed, Chloe closed the door and let her eyes wander over the seemingly endless number of identical machines.
And in each of them is a-
She squeaked in fright when Elli tapped her on the shoulder from behind. She turned around in shock.
"How many are there, Elli?"
"About a thousand, why?" came it quick like a shot.
"Elli! What is this place? And why are you so quiet?"
"It's a brood chamber," Elli explained. "This isn't my first time here, so I'm cool."
Chloe's jaw dropped.
"What were you doing down here? Human experiments!?"
Elli shook her head.
"No, Chloe. I was born here."
Chloe recoiled from this answer and had to hold on to keep her balance. Then she realized what she was holding onto and let go in disgust.
Elli slapped her hand over her mouth in horror.
"Oh, damn it, Chloe, I-"
She broke off fearfully as she saw Chloe looking closely at the machines.
Elli was artificially created….
And yet more human than many she knew….
Her racing pulse calmed after that note. After all, no one could choose which way they were born, could they?
She turned to Elli.
And shrugged her shoulders.
"Ah, what the hell. I got over Dean, your origin doesn't make a difference, does it?"
Elli looked at her, stunned.
There was absolute silence, interrupted only by the low hum of the incubators.
Chloe felt compelled to break the silence.
"Um, I still feel uncomfortable around those things, can we-"
She didn't quite know what she was expecting, though not for Elli to fall into her arms and start crying.
"Thank you, Chloe…" came from her with infinite relief, "You have no idea what this means to me…"
She was shaken by another crying fit.
Elli was right, though. Chloe actually had no idea what this meant to her. But judging from Lawrence, Elli's home had been extremely rough and cold to her…. She patted Elli on the back.
"It's okay. It's not like you've turned into a monster…"
Elli abruptly stiffened.
"That's it!"
Elli broke away from Chloe and returned to the panel.
"I have the perfect memory, even if another one of those old farts followed. There's just one problem… It's my worst… Crap there's nothing sharp here…. I guess I'll have to use my hands…"
Chloe ran after her.
"Wait, Elli!" she shouted, "I don't think I can survive another dream! I barely made it into this one."
She came to a stop behind Elli.
"I know…"
And with those words, Elli turned and grabbed Chloe by the throat. Chloe saw tears streaming down her face.
"I know it hurts, Chloe. But you need to hurry up and get out of here. I can't hold this dream much longer, not since you gave me the idea. Please…"
Chloe didn't try to resist, but she couldn't convince her body to choke. And she could feel Elli starting to let go.
"No! NO! Don't fight it, Chloe!"
Rather involuntarily, she took another breath as Elli couldn't bring herself to strangle Chloe anymore.
And with a huge groan, the dream collapsed in on itself.

Gaunt breathed heavily as the dream consolidated again. He had only managed not to fall out because the dreamer had moved down. Meant he had kept falling through the floor to the floors that followed. He had lots of bruises.
He looked around.
Everything around him was metallic white. He was in a wide corridor. Characters were written on the walls that he could read, although he had never seen them before….
From the distance, shouting sounded to his ears.
He moved toward it, for by now he knew that he always found Elli where it was loudest.
Then he passed a view window….
He could only see blackness behind it, in which some kind of bright light was slowly drawing a huge circle in the infinite distance. Then suddenly this man with a blond ponytail ran toward him, who had to to throw him into lava.
He looked rushed.
Gaunt wanted to turn and run away from him, but the man didn't seem to pay any attention to him, so quickly he sprinted past him and disappeared into some kind of tiny cubicle with a door with window built into the wall.
There was a small flash of light and he was gone.
Angry shouting reached his ears. Gaunt started moving again and could actually make out words.
"I'm so sorry…" he heard Elli cry.
"YOU PATHETIC CLONE! YOU DIDN'T JUST KILL US! YOU WILL ERASE US COMPLETELY! I WILL-"
Suddenly, there was nothing.
Faster than Gaunt would have been able to realize it, a kind of black sun spread from the space in front of him, devouring everything in its path. He did not even notice how he ceased to exist and was consequently thrown out of the dream. But he felt with every fiber of his being how Ellis' mind crushed him.

Dean had raised the telepathy shield a while ago and was now sitting on a stool waiting for things to come.
Suddenly Ellis' error message broke off and she turned onto her side, muttering uneasily.
Dean jumped up and shook Chloe's shoulder.
"Chloe, you did it!" he cheered in his usual temperate manner.
No response.
Chloe also appeared to him less and less asleep and more and more empty.
"Chloe?"

"Come on, fight, Chloe!"
Elli opened her eyes. She didn't know the place she was in. It was a kind of library with white walls. And it seemed to become more and more spatially distorted. Shelves billowed as if viewed through hot air, the floor sagged more and more to engulf the ceiling, and she felt like she was leaning against a wall, even though she was lying on the floor.
Kneeling above her was a slender man with a union beard and eyes so silver it seemed he had two metal balls stuck in his skull.
Elli knew she was dreaming, but she didn't know this memory. She had never been in such a place. Probably it would be erased in a moment….
"Chloe! Wake up!" the man barked.
Elli frowned. Was he mistaking her for someone else? Seemed like it, because when she looked down at herself, she didn't recognize herself.
Her body was too small, more that of a girl than an adult woman, and the hair she could see was white.
But even as she looked she noticed with reassurance that her usual blond was working its way through her hair like ink as it grew in length.
The remnants of the ceiling above them broke away to reveal a black vortex in which all the colors of the rainbow sparkled like shards of glass in a tornado.
The maelstrom gradually reached them.
"CHLOE!" the man yelled.
Who the heck was Chloe?
A girl's face flashed in her mind.
Shelves began to collapse around her as they could no longer withstand the dimensional stress. The books, however, were held in place by some kind of glowing white grid that appeared all of a sudden. It seemed holy.
Oh right, Chloe Winter…. Why didn't she remember her? After al, she was her…
It was unusually difficult for Elli to form a thought. Was she in a drunken coma?
She took her hair between her fingers, which by now was almost completely blond again.
She didn't know this memory…
Because it was not a memory!
And suddenly she knew why…
She was not Elli!
I'm Chloe!
With a huge rumbling, the ceiling repaired itself and Chloe's memory library resumed its usual spatial dimensions.
It took a while, however, for Elli's Chloe's body to return to normal.
She made a suppressed moan. Chloe had a violent headache.
Ku breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh, thank goodness… Do you know much luck you had, Miss!"
"What… What happened?" asked Chloe, sitting up carefully.
"The link wore off far enough that you were able to drop back into your own dream world out of reflex when Ellis' memory switched," the dead god explained. "However, the telepathic link was still there, and Elli would have almost crushed you if she hadn't had such strong memories of you. That was the only way you could even realize you were not her yet."
"What happened to Gaunt?" asked Chloe.
Ku shrugged.
"I don't know. If Elli made good on her threat, she destroyed him herself. But you can't go back, at least not until your mind is consolidated again, or you'll be lost right at the next link. It's a miracle your psyche and memory didn't suffer any permanent damage…"
"Can I please wake up?" moaned Chloe through her migraine.
Ku's face took on the sour expression of a thousand lemons.
"Okay, fine. Don't worry about what I'm about to tell you…"
Chloe woke up.
Dean looked down at her.
And then she suddenly realized what Ku had been trying to tell her.
Her real headache was ten times worse….

Elli grumbled tiredly as she sat up. Something had brought her out of sleep and since she couldn't fall back asleep, she decided to force the process by using port.
Frowning, she looked at the telepathy shield Dean had erected around her. He would have to explain that to her later.
As she was about to go to the kitchen to get a glass, she heard Dean fiddling around in it.
It was a little early for that, though….
He was usually hanging around somewhere in the house, wiping away dust and stains that no one but him would have noticed.
"How many aspirin tablets do you need?" she heard him ask.
And to Ellis's surprise, Chloe answered with a groan.
"All of them…"
"I'll give you two…"
"Chloe?" asked Elli, entering the kitchen. "Morning. How did you get to school? Today's Saturday.
"You didn't notice anything?" asked Dean.
"No, why?" asked Elli, confused. "Did something happen?"
"I think Chloe would have to explain that to you…"
But she only looked at Dean with a piercing gaze for ten seconds.
Then she put her head on the back of her neck and began to grouse loudly….

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