Flying through the suburbs, our view rests upon the outside of a brightly neon bar. A lonely building, shallow and square, it rests on an intersection of flat concrete road while further away there are paths leading skywards.
We enter through a window, to the softly decorated interior. The illumination of the room has been extensively dimmed.
Two men. A Doctor Xian, whose name we pick up from the man addressing him – a man of non-description who has taken our interest. We wish to read him, to know more.
The only humans in this bar, they are sat in the only booth occupied – how long have they been there? We can only guess. Long enough for them to be the only customers remaining. The sole humans inside the place; behind the scenes, android staff are mumbling their positronic judgements.
The man wears a dark red suit. The doctor is dressed in white. We’ve decided upon the man, though as yet do not know why. But we enter his body and begin to see it all through his perspective: the doctor in white sat opposite and for now the focus is on his uneasy expression. A client to be assessed. What to do with this one?
The man listens patiently while the doctor continues:
“My skin,” says the doctor, lifting a handkerchief to his forehead, “becomes blue. A dense, ugly blue and I realise it’s peeling. My arms,” he says, stopping at a scab upon his forehead. “They are a deep blue. And … and I go to the mirror.” His pupils have begun to dilate. “And my face …”
“Your face?” our man interrupts. “I’m assuming you mean –”
“– All of it, yes,” replies the doctor, with an enthusiasm close to lunacy. Eyes wider, we sense he is pleading for someone, anyone, to understand what he’s experienced.
“And beneath?” we hear from within the man asking.
The doctor frowns back at us.
“You mean you don’t know?”
And we cough, picking at the rough edge of the table with our thumb. “It is the dream, essentially,” we say, “but then again, the commonality … there are inconsistencies which I may need to delve into.”
“You have, I assume, been assigned to …”
“Help. Of course,” says the man and we feel him smile.
“Then tell me,” says the doctor, sitting up straighter. “What does it mean?”
Now exiting the man’s body, for we’ve decide to hover above for a better view, we see the red-suited man take a drink from the metal beaker that is his while a service waitresses scuttles silently around them; a new model we sense he’s never seen before – his expression, his interest. She is wearing a dark uniform and he finds her attractive. Her hair and figure.
“These dreams are a disease, as you well know,” says the man, turning back to the doctor.
“But the message?”
“A mere result of the addiction.”
The man takes another drink. Returning the beaker to the table, a tiny rectangular pill is slipped into the remaining liquid. The doctor has failed to notice.
“Tell me, doctor. Xian,” says the man, as with practised slight of hand he switches the doctor’s drink with his own. “What message have you been …?”
“Receiving?” The doctor’s profile tightens; the arch of his back; he senses danger, though knows not why.
The man laughs coolly, giving nothing away. “An interesting choice of word, I must say.”
“You don’t think …” the doctor stumbles, sweat emerging from his brow, “that these dreams could be some sort of …” But he is silent as the waitress passes their table again.
“This isn’t science fiction,” the man assures him once she has passed from hearing distance. Still smiling, he says, “They are a result of stress. Nothing more.”
“But the message?” asks the doctor, his brows furrowing together.
The man continues to smile. He is overweight, we decide. His teeth are in bad condition and this smile may appear ugly to those who do not like him.
“Which appeared, I assume, in the irises?” the man says.
“I don’t think …”
We watch him sit back heavily. From this red-suited man, we sense patience. Control.
Meanwhile the doctor squirms in his seat and we know that thoughts of this dream have now returned to him with intensity.
The man watches him some more as they sit in silence, and we understand he is deciding that evidence is something he needs no more of.
Flicking out a fresh nicotine stick from his cuff, he asks, “The face beneath, the features … the eyes … can you confirm them for me?”
“Please,” answers the doctor, pointing to the thing in his hand.
“Of course. I’m sorry.”
The stick is returned to the inside of the man’s cuff. He takes another sip from the metal beaker; glances again at the waitress and from where we hover, we partially read his mind.
So lifelike. You’d almost think …
“I mean, it’s not as if I own the place,” interrupts the doctor, waving a hand across the panorama of the bar’s interior. Unoccupied booths and chilling silence while nearby the waitress wipes at an already pristine table.
“No problem,” says the man, returning the stick to his inside pocket. He coughs. “You were about to tell me the details. Of the face and the message you saw …?”
“In the eyes?”
“If you like.” The man coughs again absently while the doctor, wiping a palm across his face, looks worn enough to die.
“The eyes …”
“But of course, if you’d prefer to continue this with a second meeting?”
The doctor looks up. “Yes, yes, I think I’d like that. Another time,” he agrees, now standing suddenly. “I need to think some more, before … I’d like to see again …”
“To dream,” confirms the man having decided to stand too. He puts out a hand for the doctor to shake. “Another meeting can be arranged. When you’re ready …”
“… Yes …”
And for a while they remain stood in the dully lit space; in fact both men appear surprised when the service waitress approaches. Dark and golden, she asks: “May I take your drinks?”
The man is firm in his response. Cold. Professional.
“A toast, I think. To our next meeting?”
“Yes … our next meeting,” agrees the doctor as they each lift their beakers.
When the doctor slumps back down into his chair, he is barely spared a second glance. Picking up the bill, the man scans the barcode across his pad, takes in the time as being two minutes past the hour of ten.
His eyes flick towards the service waitress who is watching him with an innocent expression. So real, he thinks again, before reminding himself that he has another job in less than an hour.