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Disturbing Dreams
by Trisana McGraw

Author's Note: This story was inspired by David Fullam’s "The Persistence of Memory" and AndrAIa’s "Supervirus." Please don’t take offense at any ideas that are similar to yours, guys, you’re both great writers, and I couldn’t resist borrowing an idea or two.

Enzo Matrix couldn’t sleep. Every time he would close his eyes, he would be visited by memories of his horrible past, and thoughts of the disasters he had been through, but different, as if his brain were thinking up new ideas of what could have happened.

AndrAIa lay flickering, and it was all Matrix could do to keep from screaming his despair. The rest of the crew of the Saucy Mare went about their business, but the renegade spent most of his time in the lower cabin, watching over AndrAIa even when Captain Capacitor advised him to take a break.

He did, finally, and tried to relax, but not too much time later Mr. Christopher came running, with a message from Princess Bula that AndrAIa was in a horrible condition, if not already deleted.

Matrix bounded downstairs faster than he ever had before. When he reached the bed his beloved lay on, her body gave a violent jerk, then she disappeared completely. Deleted. Gone forever. His mind numbed as it all hit him.

"AndrAIa! No!"

"NO!" Matrix cried, shooting up out of bed. He took several deep breaths to calm himself, then tried to settle down again.

His movement stirred AndrAIa, who lay next to him, sleeping soundly. The game sprite rolled over on her side, reaching out for Matrix. Instinctively he wrapped a burly arm around her, pulling her against him. He kissed her thick aquamarine hair softly, trying to stop his shaking. Nothing had ever scared him as much as this dream.

"A dream, it was only a dream," he whispered to himself. He lay back down and fell back into sleep, but dark images of the Web still lingered in his mind, and he couldn’t force them back.

* * *

Matrix awoke later than usual the next cycle. Swearing to himself because of his tardiness, he made it to the diner late, where the other sprites already were.

Little Enzo looked up excitedly at the arrival of his older self.

"MATRIX!" he cried, springing forward and launching himself at the renegade. Usually he would have bounced off. But because Matrix was tired, when Enzo hit him, the renegade stumbled back, disoriented, and then slid into a booth with the others.

"Are you okay, Bro?" Dot asked, with a curious frown on her face.

Matrix closed his eyes and shook his head. "Dreams. Nightmares, really. It’s just a one-time thing, probably; I’ll be fine," he added.

Now it was AndrAIa’s turn to frown. "You never said anything about having dreams."

"I’m fine, really," Matrix repeated, his lack of sleep making him irritable.

AndrAIa nodded and took a sip of her energy shake.

* * *

No matter what he said, the dreams did come again. Matrix tried desperately to push the images out of his mind, but they tormented him, taking away his sleep.

The second time when he awoke breathing hard, AndrAIa did too.

"What are they about?" she asked, rubbing his back.

"I don’t know why, but the Web." Matrix tried to spare her the details. "My brain’s been thinking up everything that could’ve happened, and it’s been happening every night."

"Well," AndrAIa smiled, "with me here, things will be all right. I won’t be going anywhere soon."

"Right," Matrix said as they lay down. He held her close, trying not to think that what AndrAIa said might not be true.

* * *

It got worse over the next second. The fifth time the dreams came Matrix ran to the bathroom and splashed water on his face to completely wake him up and bring him back to reality.

"Again?" a husky female voice asked. AndrAIa stood in the doorway, arms crossed over the large tee shirt she wore to bed.

Matrix didn’t look at her but nodded.

AndrAIa came over and put an arm around his shoulders. "You should talk to Phong. Maybe he can help you."

"I don’t need Phong–" Matrix protested, but AndrAIa laid an orange finger on his lips, effectively silencing him.

"Maybe," he said, and AndrAIa knew it was the best she was going to get.

* * *

AndrAIa looked over at her lover’s sleeping form. Matrix wore a frown on his face, and he turned over restlessly.

His behavior over the past cycles had been extremely bothering her, and now she knew there was something she had to do.

She got up, dressed, and zipped to the Principle Office. Upon getting there, she strolled down the corridors until she found Phong.

The sagely old sprite sat by himself, about to sip some cocoa. He looked up when AndrAIa approached.

"Ah, good morning, Young AndrAIa. What can I do for you?"

The game sprite smiled. "Morning, Phong. Sorry to come so early. I didn't mean to - er, interrupt you."

"Not a problem, my child." Phong put down his cocoa and looked at her. "Now, what do you need?"

"It’s Matrix," AndrAIa sighed. "He’s been having bad dreams lately, and they’ve really been bothering him. But he won’t ask for help."

Phong nodded. "Yes. There is a very stubborn streak in the Matrix family. I know something that could help him–I used it for Dot once."

"Excuse me?"

"I will have Matrix come here, and then we can help him. Can you come around 24:50?"

"Sure," she replied, then turned to go. "Bye Phong. Thanks."

The old sprite nodded, then was finally able to drink his cocoa.

* * *

For the first time in cycles Matrix awoke after having a bit of sleep. To get rid of his pent up frustration, he set out to Floating Point Park and tried practicing with Gun.

A VidWindow popped up in the middle of his practice.

"Hi, Phong," Matrix said, staring at the former

"Hello, Young Matrix. Could you come to the Principle Office? I know something to help your sleeping problem."

The renegade cocked a brow. "AndrAIa talked to you about it?"

"Yes. And I know how to relieve you of your burden."

"Fine. I’ll be there." With that Matrix closed the window, hopped on his zip-board, and went to the Principle Office.

* * *

AndrAIa searched for Matrix, but he had left somewhere. She thought it better to let him alone, and visited the diner for a while.

"Time to go," she said after glancing at her watch. "Ray?" she asked the Web Surfr sitting nearby. "Could you give me a lift to the Principle Office?"

"Love to, pretty lady," he said charmingly, and escorted her there. When they got inside, they found Phong and Matrix sitting in a room.

"Ah, hello, AndrAIa, Surfr," Phong said. "Good to see you."

Ray started to leave, but Phong stopped him. "Could you perhaps stay?" he asked the search engine. "We may need you."

Matrix looked ready to protest but didn’t as the other two sat down, and they listened to what Phong had to say.

Phong held up a small disc. "This is an RDE, or Reality Distortion Engineering. It enables one to reach inside a subconscious and see images of the future–or the past in your case, Young Matrix." The renegade nodded. "It will enable us to fix what is bothering you.

"Tell us what your dream is about," Phong told Matrix.

The large sprite narrowed his eyes, glancing for a nano at Ray. "Not with him here," he argued, but both AndrAIa and Phong sent him stern looks, and with a sigh, he relented. "It was when we were in the Web. AndrAIa got bitten by the creature, but instead of Bob saving her, like in reality, she . . . deleted." AndrAIa put a hand on his arm, and he didn’t shrug it off.

"Matrix, the RDE will allow AndrAIa and Surfr enter your subconscious–mainly, that dream of yours. By doing that, they will be able to fix the dream, and if all goes well, you should have easy sleeping."

Matrix nearly jumped up. "What? Let them go into my mind? What is something gets messed up? I–"

He was stopped by AndrAIa, who stared into his eyes. "Enzo, this may be the only way. Do you want to keep waking up from nightmares?"

Dejectedly he shook his head and sat back down. "Fine. Let’s do it."

Phong handed them each the disc, and directed them to place them on their temples. When they had done so, he said, "AndrAIa, Surfr, please sit down. Matrix, lie down on the couch. Now, the most essential part is that you are asleep while we do this."

Matrix obediently closed his eyes and tapped his fingers idly on his leg, until he fell asleep.

AndrAIa and Ray settled in their chairs.

"Ready?" Phong asked. They nodded, and he flipped a switch.

AndrAIa felt a tremendous jerk that almost pulled her out of her seat. Beside her she saw Ray’s mouth open with surprise, then her eyes closed as the system seemed to slow down around her and all grew quiet; her breathing sounded explosive, and her pulse pounded in her ears. A dark mist blinded her vision.

When she opened her eyes, AndrAIa found herself standing in some sort of empty space. Images flitted past from hers and Matrix’s past, and there was still a dark green mist around her.

"Lovely place, ain’t it?" she heard Ray’s voice say. He smiled at AndrAIa, and the game sprite saw that, even in his dream-self, his Baud still accompanied him.

"So, this is the big guy’s mind, eh? What’re we supposed ta do?"

AndrAIa shrugged. "We’ve got to wait until we appear in his dream, and then change it so I’m not deleted."

"Hmm. I’m beginning to wish I was back with Mouse."

"Ray, we need to get inside Matrix’s dream before it’s too late. . . . I can’t believe I just said that."

"How do we do that?" Ray asked.

AndrAIa was about to reply when an opening appeared before them. Through what looked like a door they heard the familiar shouts of the pirates of the Saucy Mare.

"There’s your answer," she said, and the two of them approached the nightmare that had been tormenting Matrix for so long.

* * *

Phong watched Matrix sleep on the couch. The large sprite’s face was screwed tightly in what looked like pain, and Phong knew that his dream had begun. There was no telling how long it would last, so AndrAIa and Ray would have to hurry.

* * *

"Enter the beyond . . ."

AndrAIa rolled her eyes at the Surfr’s remark as they went from the dark mist to the Saucy Mare. Pirates milled around them.

"Ray–" she started, and turned to look at him, but to her surprise the search engine wasn’t there. "Ray? Ray, where are you?"

We must have been separated, she thought. I’ve got to find him.

"Ray?" She looked around, but couldn’t see anyone.

Suddenly a tan-and-blue figure caught her eye. "There you are!" she cried, springing forward.

"AndrAIa?" he asked, stunned, and then fell to the floor in a faint.

In a flash AndrAIa realized her mistake. Oops, she thought, sidestepping Dream-Ray, and continued along her way.

Again she saw the search engine–the right one. Without a word AndrAIa grabbed him and pulled him into a nearby closet.

"Why, AndrAIa, I’m flattered," he grinned. "Alone in a closet with you . . ."

"Log off," she said, fixing him with a glare. "This is what we’ve got to do: you find the Web Riders. Bob will be with them. In the meantime I’ll find Matrix–I mean Dream-Matrix."

"Are you sure? Will he believe you if you’re supposed to be flickering?"

"I’ll make it work. Now go." AndrAIa was about to push Ray out the door when it opened, and Mr. Christopher looked up. AndrAIa quickly hid behind Ray.

"G’day, Mr. Chris," Ray said brightly.

"Hello, Surfr." The binome frowned. "Weren’t you going outside?"

"Uh, yeah, jus’ now." Mr. Christopher nodded and left for the other cabins.

"That was a close one," Ray said as AndrAIa stepped out from behind him and they came out of the closet.

She nodded, then pushed him outside again. "Now, go. My processor’s on the line."

After she saw him leave, AndrAIa started downstairs. She had to flatten herself against the wall again as she saw two pirates walk by, talking in low voices.

"A shame the game sprite’s nearly deleted."

"Got the renegade going random. He’s been by her side for the last cycle."

"I heard he’s been transferring energy just to keep her processing."

AndrAIa smiled, but it was tinged with sadness. This was how her lover had acted when she had been unconscious? Slowly she walked downstairs, afraid of what she might find.

Matrix–or at least his dream-self–sat by the bed where she lay, transparent and flickering every few nanos. The renegade looked like a lost child, pale and tired. He held the other AndrAIa’s hand in his own and stroked her fingers. He closed his eyes in anguish, then opened them to gaze out the porthole at the Web.

Standing in the doorway, AndrAIa followed his gaze to the multicolored atmosphere they sailed through.

"It’s sad how something so beautiful could be so deadly," she said.

At the sound of her voice Matrix jumped up and pulled out Gun faster than her eye could follow and pointed it at her.

"Who–what are you?" he demanded, angry but also perplexed.

AndrAIa held up her hands. "Whoa, easy Sparky. I’m not here to hurt you; I’m from the future."

His eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Really, I’m here to help you," AndrAIa said, moving closer. Matrix kept Gun pointed at her. "Look, I know this sounds weird, but you were having bad dreams about this, so Ray and I went in your mind–" She stopped. "It sounds random, doesn’t it?"

Matrix nodded, but re-holstered Gun. Sitting back down, he shook his head. "I’ve gotta be hallucinating. Must be because I’m losing all that energy."

AndrAIa shook her head as well, a small smile playing on her lips. I forget how embittered he was, she thought. So much has changed since then.

"All right then, I’m a figment of your imagination," she said, and started over, when he stopped her.

"Figment or not, don’t come too close." AndrAIa nodded and took a seat nearby.

Matrix stared at her, long and hard. "You said you and Surfr are here, from the future or whatever?"

"Yes. I sent Ray out to find–" She figured not to tell him and complicate things. "–help. He should be back soon, and we’ll help me."

Matrix shook his head and turned his attention back to Dream-AndrAIa, while the other game sprite watched as well.

Suddenly, the transparent AndrAIa jerked, and both leaned forward, terrified. AndrAIa’s body flickered wildly, then settled back down.

"That was way too close," AndrAIa said, mimicking Ray’s words from a millisecond before.

* * *

Ray slipped unnoticed through the ship’s hatchway and out into the vast Web, changing into his surfing outfit. Once ready, he began searching for the pod of web creatures and the riders.

He looked to the side, and nearly stopped in his flight. There stood him, in the dream. Uh oh. How was he supposed to explain that?

Luckily, he didn’t need to. As soon as he saw the other surfr, Dream-Ray fainted for the second time in that dream.

After gliding around him, Ray continued on his way and his search.

Feels like old times, he quipped to himself, making his way through multicolored clouds that would have burned him if not for his armor. But where exactly’m I supposed ta find the blokes?

A screeching roar cut into his thoughts. Ray whipped his head around, and, lo behold, there was the pod of web creatures. One bunch down, one to go.

Ray reached out a hand toward one of the creatures. The web creature flinched and growled.

Suddenly, he heard a blast of modem speech. Ray spun around on his Baud and saw the Web Riders approaching, brandishing their sharp swords.

The leader, one whose single eye stood on a stalk above its head, screeched in modem again and raised his sword.

Oh, no, Ray thought. A nano later he blacked out.

* * *

Matrix pulled out a large blue box from under the bunk. AndrAIa frowned curiously as the renegade took an armband from the side of the machine and fitted it onto his arm. Frisket sniffed the box and whimpered unhappily.

"What’s that?" AndrAIa asked as Matrix’s finger hovered over the switch.

"Energy transfer machine," he replied. His voice sounded ragged. He flipped the switch, and the small icon started spinning madly as the sides glowed green. Matrix groaned as the armband tightened, drawing energy, and then it flowed through the tube into the transparent Dream-AndrAIa’s arm. She breathed once, and she seemed to grow more solid.

AndrAIa watched with bated breath as Matrix groaned again. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he seemed to be paling by the nano. His skin looked so pale green it was almost white.

"Stop! You’re hurting yourself!" she cried, and grabbed his arm.

Matrix’s eyes snapped open, and he glared at her. "Figments aren’t supposed to tell sprites what to do," he growled. "It’s for AndrAIa, all right?" Indeed, Dream-AndrAIa looked almost completely solid, and she was breathing shallowly.

Matrix turned off the machine and took a breath; the process had left him weaker than he already was.

"That’ll sustain her, but it won’t completely cure. We need to find a way to repair her code." His eyes narrowed, and he pounded a fist against the wall.

AndrAIa put a hand on his arm. "Ray’s going out to find a cure. It’ll be all right."

He shook her hand off, but a moment later his expression softened, and he said, "Thanks. You know, I guess you’re the best thing to comfort me right now."

AndrAIa smiled and scooted a little closer.

There was a knock, and AndrAIa hid behind Matrix as Captain Capacitor hobbled into the room, his peg leg tapping on the wooden floor.

"How’s the lass doing?" he asked Matrix.

"Her energy’s up, but besides that there’s nothing I can do."

Capacitor nodded. "Aye. Lad, you ought to take a rest, relax. I can have my men look over your ladylove. You need it."

Matrix nodded sadly, and Capacitor left.

The renegade pushed himself up and prepared to leave. AndrAIa stood up as well.

"I’m coming with you," she informed him.

A small smile appeared on his face. "You can’t do anything, being a figment, right?"

"Right." This dream is probably going to end soon, anyway, she thought.

* * *

When Ray awoke he found himself standing in the midst of a group of degraded sprites: the Web Riders.

[[He’s awake,]] one of them screeched to another. Although Ray couldn’t speak modem, he could make a disjointed idea of what they were saying.

[[Perhaps we should knock him out again,]] his companion replied.

Ray held up his hands, panicked, and tried to remember a greeting. [[Porter potty!]]

The Riders exchanged puzzled glances.

Ray tried again. [[Cello.]] It was closer.

He sighed. Then, in a flash he remembered that they needed Bob. What did the Riders call him? [[Tea . . . I mean–Interface! Need . . . Interface.]]

This time it registered, and the two Riders hauled him, along with his Baud, to where the rest of the Web Riders hovered or rode on their web creatures. A sprite-sized figure stood on a zip-board. Ray recognized him as Bob.

[[What is it?]] Bob asked the others.

[[This surfr was looking for creatures,]] the Rider, the one who had knocked him out, said.

Bob gazed at Ray. The search engine knew he had only one chance, so he pulled himself free and yelled, [[Bob! Guardian! We need you on the ship!]] He stopped, surprised that he had been able to communicate that well.

Bob lurched back, surprised. [[Who are you?]] he asked.

[[No time. Matrix–Enzo or whatever, he and AndrAIa are on the pirates’ ship; AndrAIa’s gonna delete if you don’t get there. . . . Whoa, I didn’t know my modem speech was that good.]]

Bob ignored the last comment. [[Show me where,]] he commanded.

Both hurried back to the Saucy Mare, the Riders following.

* * *

AndrAIa lounged next to Matrix, leaning against the rail. Matrix, for his part, closed his eyes, trying to relax. AndrAIa could see that he was trembling.

"What?" she asked; he had been mumbling something.

"It’s all my fault," Matrix whispered, eyes still closed. "If I hadn’t been so jealous, I would’ve been there to protect her . . ." His voice failed him.

All of a sudden Mr. Christopher bounded up, panting. "It’s AndrAIa!" he shouted. "We’ve got to help her."

In a flash Matrix ran downstairs. AndrAIa followed, thinking that his nightmare was coming to an end.

When they reached the cabin they found that most of the ship was assembled there, and Dream-AndrAIa was flickering badly again. Matrix ran to her side.

"Why is she flickering?" he asked no one in particular. "I just gave her half my energy."

"Not good. Lose life." It was Princess Bula, standing nearby.

Dream-AndrAIa jerked, and everyone gasped again.

"No, don’t die!" Matrix shouted.

Ray–the real one–burst through the door, not bothering to click out of his surfing outfit. Behind him were the Web Riders, led by Bob.

AndrAIa’s heart rose. Bob would save her! Of course, if he didn’t hurry up, there wouldn’t be any of her to save.

Immediately Matrix sprang up and targeted them, but Ray stopped him. "Matrix, wait. They’re here to help."

Bob sat by Dream-AndrAIa’s side and transferred some energy to her. Quickly he removed his Guardian icon and held it up to her game sprite one. White triangles passed through the two, and her code was restored. Bob replaced her icon and his own.

Dream-AndrAIa stirred, and her other self remembered what happened next.

"Bob," she said, looking at her savior. "We’ve found you."

"AndrAIa!" Matrix cried, sitting by her side. He helped her up, and gazed happily into her eyes.

Ray leaned over to AndrAIa. "Looks like we fixed the problem." He turned to go.

AndrAIa turned to follow, then stopped and looked at the happy couple. She leaned down and gave Matrix a soft kiss on the cheek.

He turned his head and looked back, but all he saw were two figures disappearing out the door.

His girlfriend looked at him. "Enzo, what’s wrong?"

"I–I thought I saw something," he replied. "Never mind."

AndrAIa tilted her head to the side and smiled. "Just how long was I out for?" she asked.

"Too long," he replied with a rarely seen smile.

* * *

AndrAIa opened her eyes and found she was back in the Principle Office. Carefully she took off the RDE on her head. Beside her, Ray did the same.

Handing the small disc to Phong, she asked, "Did it work? Will Matrix be all right?"

"Only time can tell, My Child," he replied. "The renegade needs his rest."

AndrAIa nodded, and she and Ray left.

* * *

AndrAIa looked up to see Matrix come through the doorway.

"Hey, Lover," she greeted him, standing up.

He replied by sweeping her up in his arms and hugging her. AndrAIa smiled in return. "Did it work?" she asked.

He nodded. "I’m a changed man."

AndrAIa smiled warmly at his different attitude and hugged him again.

* * *

Although no dreams disturbed him anymore, Enzo Matrix lay awake that night, thinking over all that had happened in the last few cycles.

AndrAIa rolled over beside him. Sighing, she snuggled deeper under the covers. A nano later, she stirred and opened her eyes.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey," Matrix replied. He closed his eyes, feeling tired from his lack of sleep over the last few cycles.

AndrAIa studied Matrix intently, running her fingers through his layered black hair. Her heart swelled as she thought of how peaceful he must feel now that his dreams were gone.

Matrix was content to share in their silence. It seemed, he reflected, that they were having more quiet, tender moments these cycles, now that their prime troubles were gone.

Finally, AndrAIa whispered, "Enzo?"

"Hmm?" Matrix replied, opening his eyes. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close.

AndrAIa was silent for several nanos; then finally she asked, "How do you feel?"

He smiled down at her. "Alphanumeric. No nightmares tonight," he said as he kissed her deeply. "Just sweet dreams."


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