Template:PostCatH Post 56 Clear is aboard her dream ship The Clearness where Hope and her crew are having an unusual party. When Clear refuses to join in darkness swallows them and Clear runs. She falls and finds herself being run down a corridor on a gurney by Aellisin Koure who grins at her. Hope gives her a pair of Wakeseers, the dream equivalent of the Dreamviewer she is using. She looks into them and is transported to an unusual series of floating islands where she meets an Old Man. He explains that she is in his home and instantly she is in a study. He shows her tarot cards, one reveals herself and another shows Green to be in her future. Hoping to see her friends she looks at more cards, one showing Aellisin Koure and another showing a mysterious man who has lost his home just like Clear. Clear becomes angry and sees the Old Man as the total sum of humanity trying to govern and control her life. He agrees and apologises to her. She asks to see a final card and there she sees an old woman. Clear is desperate to see more cards that would show her friends of old but he explains the cards only show her future. She then wakes up and she's in the Medical Bay where Mother has allowed Koure to come and treat her for Dreamviewer sickness and addiction. Clear wants to check her old communicator for signs of Green but someone has appeared within the Hangar...
Clear walks through the corridors, aimlessly, floating along until she finds Hope. Hope and her friends are in a room not unlike the Command Centre of The Hopeful. The first thing Clear identifies is the jazz music playing that everyone is show-dancing to. Hope is wearing a frog suit complete with top hat but she seems to have forgotten her trousers. Hope tap-dances over to Clear and asks her to join the fun. Clear refuses and snatches her hand back.
In that instant Hope's face falls and, instead, darkness enshrouds her. Clear turns and runs as the Command Centre is engulfed in darkness. This isn't the inky darkness she saw on Oeurwood. This darkness is a dimming of the lights, and yet to Clear this is all the more terrifying. She runs as fast as she can, but she can't seem to shake the darkness as the lights shut down behind her. Light-by-light.
Clear falls over. She falls down. Down, down, down until she lands softly in a bed. She opens her eyes. She's being wheeled down a corridor, lying on a bed. The ceiling lights are on. She sees the face of Aellisin grin down at her as he's pushing the gurney she's on. Clear struggles but she's been strapped down. She calls out and sees Hope look down at her from the other side of the bed.
Clear: "You went into the darkness, Hope."
Hope: "We all do..."
She reaches out and pats something on Clear's chest. She looks down to see a pair of binoculars there. Then she's stationary. Alone. In darkness. Just Clear, the bed and the binoculars. Clear picks them up and gazes through them. She sees a strange world of floating islands amidst hazy fog that lolled lazily along. She frowns and removes the binoculars.
She reels from the bright light of the sun and shakes from the sudden cold of the floating island she finds herself on. She climbs off of the gurney and puts the Wakeseer binoculars onto it. She looks over the edge of the island and sees nothing but the thick, dreamy fog. Turning around she finds a thin rock-bridge connected her island to the next. She walks carefully along it, avoiding the edges, and finds that it has a slight upward incline. When she reaches the next island she's surprised to see someone new. An old man sitting in a wooden chair. He looks human, but who doesn't these days? As Clear approaches he looks a little surprised and removes his glasses.
Old Man: "Not many people find their way out of a dream to end up in a larger dream, do they?"
Clear: "I don't understand..."
Old Man: "Of course not. It strikes me that you're suffering a mental breakdown related to your dreams... Perhaps we won't get into the details. The whos and whyfores aren't important. Suffice to say, you're here."
Clear: "I... still don't understand. Who are you?"
Old Man: "That would take an eternity to explain. I live here. From time-to-time. I find it pleasant to reside somewhere so far from any civilisation, hence my surprise to see you stumble your way here."
He gets up from his chair with an "old man sigh" and lights a pipe. He's wearing a suit of grey that reminds Clear of Earth, furthering his human appearance. But when he smokes his pipe, it emits a blue plume into the air.
Clear: "And where is this?"
The old man turns from her as he speaks.
Old Man: "I just told you, you're in my home..."
She's no longer on the floating island. She's in a study. She staggers back with surprise. Oak furniture adds comfort to the room while a roaring fire crackles and snaps soothingly. The old man is standing in front of a large circular window that gazes out at the fog she had been standing in a moment ago. Books and books and books adorn the room like decoration. Books are something Clear rarely saw, save for a few being sold on Saffron 5. Usually everything is stored digitally in her experience. This man must have a taste for the old-world.
Clear: "So... nice room..."
The old man turns back to her and nods.
Old Man: "I find it suitable. You have quite a striking presence. But I imagine you've been told that before, am I right?"
It is strange because it's true. She has never thought about it before but others often seem drawn to her presence and she's not understood why, especially since her forcible removal from Mars. Why did Green and Hebedee follow and care for her so much? Why did Ffion and Kokoro come to rely on her? How was it Aurora somehow came, quite inexplicably, into Clear's life? Why did Pully devote every ounce of her loyalty to Clear, despite all that happened? Why was Alexis obsessed with everything Clear and even Kiron couldn't stay away in the end. And now Aellisin has resurrected himself to be in Clear's company.
Clear just shrugs. Admitting such as thing would be quite arrogant, even if she felt it is true. The old man smiles. It's a curious smile that appears heart-warming and yet there's so much age behind it that it feels hollow - he's smiled that way too to many others. He reaches out for something on his desk. A pack of cards. He shuffles them before holding them out to Clear. He takes his pipe from his mouth;
Old Man: "Take one."
She looks dubiously at the pack of cards. She doesn't understand why she should indulge him but in this dream state her mind seems compelled to merely run with things. She tugs at the middle of the pack and a card slips loose without any fuss. She flips it over. There, on the card, is a woman in a white, loose-fitting, clothes and a long plait that blows in the wind. Behind the figure is a broken world - a city, a ship perhaps. A metaphor for the woman's life even. There are also chains, each bound to the woman, that reach to silent, distant figures in the ruins. Some of the chains are broken. The woman's skin, however, is darkness - a silhouette.
Old Man: "The Moderator. Now I'm unsurprised. You have, indeed, come a long way."
Clear looks up from the card.
Clear: "This is me?"
The man doesn't reply, considering the question to be rhetorical. Clear glares at the pack of cards as though they had no right to be dictating anything at her. She snatches them and pulls another card from the pile. The old man just watches.
The card shows a girl, covered in leaves and flowers. Behind her is an ancient forest and, in the sky, clouds with a city atop of them. Clear thinks it must be Green, but hesitates at the strange cloud-city above, not knowing anything about it.
Old Man: "The To-Friend. A past shrouded in layers of mystery but she is a steadfast friend and loyal ally. Dedicated more to her motherland than to the cause she aligned with. Yet, now, separated from both and lost with only her role to hold her true."
Clear growls and then slams the cards to the floor.
Clear: "How can they know this!?"
Old Man: "They're tarot cards. That's what they're supposed to do. Their role is to show us the narrative of our lives. Our role is to fulfil those narratives."
Clear: "Fate is nonsense. I don't believe in such a thing."
Old Man: "That is your right, young lady. By all means. But remember, just because you do not believe in something does not mean that it... does not believe in you..."
She looks down at the scattered cards. Just one is face up. A wicked figure with a white smile against his dark silhouette. Around his shadowy head is a halo. Or mane.
Old Man: "The Monster... Rightly feared and hated by those he seeks to enslave, dominate and eradicate... and yet a twisted need for redemption holds deep within his dark, power-hungry mind."
Clear looks up and snarls at the old man.
Clear: "I didn't ask."
She turns from him and walks to the fire. The last time she saw a fire like this, it was a burning wreckage in Tigor after some of the human settlers had set fire to an old Martian machine. She wasn't sure what the machine had done to offend them but that vision struck her now. The disrespect for what should be considered an artefact. Humans. Always ruining everything. Controlling everything. Dictating everything. Even now this old man is telling her how her life works. Right now he feels like THE human. The cause of everything wrong in her life.
She turns to him and points.
Clear: "Who the Hell do you think you are? You drag me here, show me this... this rubbish! Like you get to dictate my life to me. It's my life, not yours! You don't get to poke your nose in! Stay out of it!"
The old man looks at her as though he understands. Clear can only assume this dream phantom is able to understand her dreams as he is one with them.
Old Man: "You are right. I am responsible for your upset."
He looks down at the fallen cards and bends over to pick them back up again. It's a process she feels he didn't need to do. Maybe he could have willed them to order again or magically made them fly, but instead he chose to perform the task with his own two hands.
Old Man: "I am responsible for much. Me and my... legacy. There is a great debt upon my shoulders. Not in the least the debt I owe to you and yours weighs heavily. One day perhaps my debts must be repaid in full..."
He stands, straight, and shuffles the deck once more.
Old Man: "But I assure you, your life is your own. It is up to you if you care to glimpse at what may be. If you choose not to look, or choose to look, it is still your choice all the same. The deities of the cosmos may be looking down upon you and your actions, manipulating as they desire, yet the outcome will forever be in your hands. That's what it means to be The Moderator. Your story is your own."
He goes to put the deck back onto the desk but sees her looking.
Old Man: "Once more?"
She nods quietly and takes another card. She expects... hopes to see Pully, maybe Thrain or even Kiron. It's an unknown face. A man standing before many cogs intertwined but surrounding them is a great fire - a Great Burning.
Clear: "I don't know him."
Old Man: "Yet. And perhaps you never will, should your path deviate from its current alignment."
Clear quickly flips another card, desperate for a familiar face.
Old Man: "The Lost..."
It is a card of a woman, again one she can't make out as someone she knows. The woman appears old, though cast in shadow like all the others. Around her is a sphere of static and behind her nothing but the blackness of a void.
Old Man: "Cast adrift from her home by events, her mission of rescue evolves into a mission of preservation. Another you have yet to meet, I suppose?"
Clear nods solemnly.
Old Man: "You are searching for the past, it seems. But that is not what tarot cards are for..."
Clear: "I hoped to find the past in my future..."
Clear: "But there was Green. I saw her card... I... I..."
Her brain feels like it's suddenly on fire. She winces, hand to her forehead.
Clear: "I heard her! I heard her call my name!"
Old Man: "I believe it is time for you to awake from this dream state. If there is just one piece of advise to take from me, young one, then please let it be this - find your future."
Clear looks at him through the pain.
Clear: "What does that even mean?"
The old man just smiles at her. That hollow smile he must have smiled to thousands before her. But there is something in it. He understands loss. He understands her clawing at the past, seeking to retain it, the fear of losing it. She feared to leave Mars; it was decaying, broken, dominated by those she hates and yet, she was afraid of leaving. She couldn't leave. It was all she had of her people. Her home. And now she's afraid to leave her friends. They'd loved her and she'd loved them. She couldn't let them go, she needs them... no... she wants them. She wants the past and is afraid of the future...
The world shakes; the study, the old man, everything. She thinks of the word seizure. Then everything falls away from her. She thinks she might be flying, but it feels like she's standing still and watches the study fall below her. Nothing but darkness now. The shaking has stopped. There's a faint sound. Sounds like the beeping of a machine. She feels a sensation on her hand. She looks down but there's nothing there. She wiggles her fingers. She feels the sensation again. Someone's holding her hand.
Clear groans. Her body aches. Her brain aches. Her metaphysical existence aches, she's sure. She knows she's awake because only the real world hurts this much.
Koure: "You were in a coma."
Clear's eyes widen with horror. Aellisin Koure stands over her and fiddles with an IV being pumped into Clear's veins. Clear tries to move, struggles to fight and pull out whatever he's filling her with.
Koure: "Relax or you'll do yourself further damage."
Clear: "What's he doing here!?"
Mother: "You needed help."
Koure: "Your A.I. has but two prerogatives. Keep the ship alive, keep you alive. Interesting really. I don't think that was part of her original programming. Either you put it in there or she's evolved that idea all by her lonesome. Very advanced software."
Clear: "Well, I did pay a fortune."
Her joke feels flat, but it comforts her own racked nerves.
Clear: "Why are you helping me?"
Koure: "I need you. If you die, I'll never be able to get your A.I. to move this bucket. Self-preservation. Oh, and no more Dreamviewer. Doctor's order. Me being the doctor. And I am very good at giving orders."
Clear: "I can't believe this is happening."
Koure: "A fragile mind like yours and you go overdosing on a brain stimulant, I'd say it's very believable."
Clear: "Wait... something important!"
Koure: "More important than me saving your life? I hardly think so..."
Clear: "My communicator!"
She struggles to reach for it. Koure leans over and unfastens the strap holding her arm in place. She grabs the communicator and presses the button.
Clear: "Green! I read you!"
Clear: "Green! Come in!"
Koure: "Maybe... maybe the effects of the dreamviewer haven't worn off yet..."
Clear: "I heard her! Before I fell asleep. I definitely heard her."
Koure: "You were hallucinating before you went to sleep last. You kept talking to someone who wasn't there. Even I saw it."
Clear: "I know. That was Hope."
Koure actually chuckles at this.
Clear: "But I heard Green. I know I did! Mother - I need to run diagnostics on this thing. See if I can find the last communiqué and listen to it again."
Mother: "We can use the workshop in the Engine Room."
Hebedee's Workshop. A ghost's tools to find another ghost.
Mother: "First we should inspect our new arrival."
Clear frowns at Mother then rolls her head to look at Aellisin but he looks just as confused.
Koure: "What new arrival?"
Mother: "Someone has appeared in the hangar."
Clear: "A ghost?"
Mother: "No. They register as digital signatures. This is a living being."
Clear hobbles along the corridor, using crutches to get her there. They're solid plastic except the legs are made of hard light, much like the buckles of the Bug and the straps of the gurney. She passes her old room and watches a ghost go into it, phasing through the door. She scowls at the intrusion but getting to the hangar is more important. She glances down at Icer, trapped behind her door. It's strange to think there's a second Icer running about the place.
Koure: "I advise you allow me to speak to this person. You're not in a fit state--"
Clear: "Tell me what to do again and I'll shove you out of an airlock."
Koure: "You don't have airlocks."
Clear: "I'll make one. Then shove you out of it."
The door to the hangar spirals open like a flower and she steps onto the metal staircase. She looks down at the person standing just below her. The woman looks back and waves...