Open your eyes. Sally did. She was uncomfortably damp, her face pushed into the warm, wet asphalt. She blinked at the wheelchair access, where the curb melted into the road and for a moment wondered if she'd been hit by a car.
He legs wobbled slightly as she got to her feet, but they held her weight. A small voice, deep in the back of her mind, urged her to get off the road before she got hit by another car, but she was too busy trying to figure out where she was to pay it much attention.
She was a still in the city, though in what part, she couldn't tell. Wherever she was, it had to be either late night or very early morning, because there weren't any cars on the street. The wheelchair access, if that's what it was, seemed to go the length of the block and the block seemed to go on forever.
Sally stepped onto the sidewalk and looked at the buildings that ran along side it. They were massive, towering things, cartoonish in the way they seemed to lean intimidatingly over the street – and, Sally realized as she looked up at them, wider at the top than at the bottom.
Daisy Chain had definitely put something in her drink. Except, the mere fact that Daisy Chain had shown up suggested that someone else had put something in her drink – but both who could have done so and why were beyond Sally's ability to work out.
The sidewalk was too narrow to walk on comfortably, and Sally moved back to the road after a few steps. The asphalt was almost spongy under her feet. She realized uneasily that the unnatural orange glow which appeared in regular intervals along the length of the street was not the result of street lights; it didn't seem to be the result of anything – it was just there.
Another thing about the buildings: they didn't have doors. They had windows, all of which seemed to have translucent yellow glass, either lit up or blacked out like a checkers board.
And it wasn't just that there weren't any cars driving on the street, there weren't any parked there, either. There weren't any people. There was nothing, except dark skies, impossible buildings and sourceless orange light.
“Morning,” said a voice behind her and Sally froze. “Don't worry,” the voice told her. “It's me.”
Sally didn't feel capable of running. She turned around slowly, praying that it would be someone she actually knew. Daisy Chain. She looked at the giant rabbit, who was watching her with a look of mild concern.
“What happened?” she asked, rubbing her eyes. She still felt groggy, as if she'd been asleep for a week.
“I drugged you.”
She could remember that much, but hearing him admit it made her livid. “You did what?”
“I drugged you,” he repeated. “I had to. You wouldn't listen to me.”
“And you thought that drugging me was a good way to get me to listen? That makes absolutely no sense.”
“I thought that drugging you was a good way to get you here,” Daisy Chain said. “Clearly I was right.”
“And what? You decided to drag me here and then just dump me in the middle of the road and disappear?”
“I didn't dump you anywhere.”
Sally was too angry to form a coherent sentence, and for a minute, she just stammered. When she could speak properly again, she asked, “How did I get here, then?”
Daisy Chain paused.
“What, did you hire someone else to dump my body? It's a simple enough question. You drugged me, brought me here, then what?”
Daisy Chain hesitated again, not sure how to answer. His eyes darted around uneasily.
“Look,” Sally said, through clenched teeth. “I woke up on the ground and—”
“You woke up? Don't often see that.”
So he gave you poison to knock you out. Great. “Was I not supposed to? What did you expect to happen?”
Daisy Chain shrugged. “Normally people sort of fade into existence.”
“Look, Sally, I didn't dump your body anywhere, if that's what you're worried about. I'm sorry I wasn't here when you got here, but I had to take care of some things before I left your apartment.”
“What do you mean before you left? What things? Where the hell are we?”
“You won't believe me,” Daisy Chain said with certainty. “But, look, can we walk and talk? I don't want to stay in one place for too long.” He didn't wait for an answer; he started to walk and Sally was left running to catch up.
“So, where are we?” Sally asked again, when she had matched his stride.
“You've been here before, actually,” Daisy Chain said. He anticipated her objection and added, “You don't remember. I wouldn't expect you to. But this is—well, you know when you dream?”
Sally did her best to look incredulous, while she struggled to keep up. “Dream?”
“Look, you've heard of the dreamworld, alright? This is it.”
“I'm in the dreamworld?”
“You mean I'm dreaming?”
“Yeah. Sure. If you want. Whatever makes it easier for you to wrap your tiny human brain around.”
“So that whole thing with you chasing me,” Sally said, ignoring the insult, “that was a dream too.”
“You were awake,” Daisy Chain told her. He gave her a look which suggested she was being stupid. “You didn't start dreaming until after I drugged you.” There was an implied question mark at the end of the sentence, which accompanied the unspoken question of why she was being such an idiot.
“You're so full of shit,” Sally told him.
“No I'm not.”
“None of what you're saying makes any sense. I mean, I don't really get the whole time-zone thing, but shouldn't roughly half the world's population be asleep at any given time?”
Daisy Chain considered explaining about the population of Asia, but decided against it. “So?”
“So? So where are they all? Look around. There's no one here but us.”
Daisy Chain looked annoyed. He sped up. “You need to stop thinking of this place as an extension of Earth. The rules that apply there don't apply here.”
Sally was nearly jogging to keep up with him now. “I'm not thinking of this place as an extension of anything.”
“Good, because it isn't. Things are different here.”
“Such as I'm giant talking rabbit. Time is layered here. Space is more finite, more like Earth, but you could have a million people standing in the same place at the same time and they'd never know it. It's pretty rare that two people end up in the same place in the same layer and even then, they're usually total strangers—or people close enough that they don't find it odd that they're dreaming about each other.”
“So, how do you know which layer you should be in?”
“For whatever you want to do. Or whoever you want to meet.”
“What? I don't know. You just do.”
Sally sneered. Her voice oozed incredulity. “So you're saying every time I have a dream about someone, they've had a dream about me?”
Daisy Chain sighed. “No.”
Sally couldn't help but feel proud. She had debunked Daisy Chain's arguments enough that they had turned into flat denial. But she couldn't shake the feeling that she'd won the battle but the war was yet to start. “So I'm asleep right now,” Sally said slowly, trying to get a handle on the idea, trying to understand how she could possibly be so tired if it was true.
Daisy Chain sighed. “Yes.”
“So I'm actually... lying on my kitchen floor?” She didn't wait for him to answer. “In a puddle of tea and my own drool. Wonderful.”
“I moved you to your bed,” Daisy Chain said. “I looked after everything. And I fixed your door. That's why I couldn't make it here before you did. I didn't want to leave your body unprotected.” He lowered his voice. “I'm sorry I wasn't here when you woke up.”
Sally looked at her surroundings. They had been walking for a while, but the view hadn't changed. They seemed to be in the exact same spot. “And why are we here, again?”
“There are some guys after you. Bad guys. You remember when I said I had to go away?”
She could remember, almost. Not so much Daisy Chain leaving as crying to her mother about it afterwards. “You said you had to fight the bad guys,” she said finally. “God, I hadn't thought about that for years.”
“It's easier to remember things here than on Earth. You'll be surprised at what bubbles out of the back of your mind. But yeah, that's what I told you.”
“So it's the same bad guys?”
“Near enough. They're all the same. Scum.”
Sally sighed. She didn't want to keep walking. She didn't want to keep asking questions she was afraid to hear the answers to. “And why are they after me?”
“They're trying to get to me through you. I should have expected it.”
“And they're human?”
“No, they're figments, like me.”
“Figments. Like, man-rabbits?”
Daisy Chain sighed. “Damn, this stuff was easier when you were a kid. No, not man-rabbits. Dream creatures, I guess. They've been after you for a long time.”
“On Earth? Really? Because if they look anything like you, I think I would have noticed.” Sally tried to laugh, but it sounded a little hollow.
“They can't go to Earth,” Daisy Chain told her simply.
“Well that's good, I—” Sally stopped walking and stared at Daisy Chain as he was forced to do the same. “They can't go to Earth,” she repeated.
“So, you brought me here.”
“Where they're from.”
“What the Hell?”
“They weren't after you on Earth, they were after you here. They've been chasing you through your dreams.”
“No. I think I would remember dreaming about giant figments chasing me around, trying to kill me.”
“I would have thought so, too,” Daisy Chain said, sounding annoyed and a little disappointed. “Most humans don't, but I had hoped – never mind. It doesn't matter. The majority of humans don't remember most of their dreams, and the ones that do rarely remember them right. I've chased the rat bastards away from you twice now, but you're hard to keep track of, and I don't always know where you're going to end up when you fall asleep. I needed to be able to control the situation. Now keep walking.”
Sally did, if only because, now, she wanted all the answers she could get. “But even if they catch me, what's the worst that can happen? I'll have a nightmare? And don't give me that bullshit about dying in your dreams making you die in real life; I know it isn't true.”
“It depends how you die in the dream. And why.”
“No it doesn't.”
“Yes it does.”
Daisy Chain sighed again. It seemed like he was incapable of starting a sentence with anything other than a sigh. “There are ways they can do it—ways they will do it, so that you don't wake up. Your body wakes up, healthy, fine, but your mind is soup. You'll be a vegetable, forever. Sometimes, the brain stops telling the heart to beat and the lungs to breathe, and the person dies without ever regaining consciousness. Those are the lucky ones.”
“Sometimes? How long has this been going on for?”
“I don't know. A long time.”
Sally thought about it. She was trying hard to be rational. “So why isn't the world full of vegetables? That doesn't make any sense.”
Daisy Chain sighed again, as if it was the eight millionth time he had explained this.
“Humans are more physical than us. Your identities are more strongly connected to your bodies. It's difficult to cause any real harm to a human here because there's nothing to stop you from waking up.”
“Unless we're drugged,” Sally said bitterly.
“Unless you're drugged,” Daisy Chain agreed. “Or the raiders have a Keeper.”
“Raiders? Keeper? Now what are you talking about?”
Sally looked at the buildings, still unchanging on the long street. “So you drugged me, put me in my bed and now what? How long until I wake up?”
“The drugs I gave you will last a long time. You're staying with me until they're dead.”
“You can stay with me until I've killed everyone who is after you. When they're all dead,
I'll go back to Earth and wake you up.”
“And how long is that going to take?”
“Earth time? I don't know. I still don't have a handle on it. You remember when you were little, how pissed off you'd get when I didn't show up for a few days? For me that time was a second, or a year, there's no way to really judge it. Overall, time goes faster here, but I can't put an end date on it.”
“You realize that I'm going to dehydrate and die?” Sally asked.
“You'll be fine for a few days,” Daisy Chain told her. “I put you on a saline drip.”
“And what's to stop the bad guys from going to Earth and killing me in my sleep?”
“I told you: they can't go to Earth. Anyway, you're a lot more useful to them if you die here. If they killed you on Earth, you—this version of you, would turn to Dust and disappear before they got back.”
Sally noticed that the buildings were finally starting to change. They were getting smaller, the spaces between them wider. She noticed a few pale neon signs blinking in the dirty, run-down alleys. In front of them, the strange orange lights faded into nothing and she thought she could make out some weirdly shaped trees, silhouetted against the dark, purplish sky. She was going to ask where they were going, demand that they take a break – but something stopped her.
Lurching toward them, from one of the alleys, was a woman, who, if Sally had had to guess, she would have said belonged to the same half-rabbit species as Daisy Chain. Except. The woman's face, such as it was, was lit from one side by a green light which was embedded in it where her eye should have been. Her other eye, Sally could see, as she pitched forward into the glow of a non-existent street light, had been sewn shut with coarse black thread. Her face was mostly smooth, like china, but had eerie cracks in it, like a plate that had been dropped. She was wearing the tattered remains of an aquamarine cocktail dress, the hem of which had been reduced to knee-length and was trailing tulle down her legs.
Sally moved quickly to the other side of Daisy Chain and grabbed a well-muscled arm.
Daisy Chain stiffened at first but when he followed Sally's silent stare, and saw what was moving toward them, he relaxed. He raised his free arm in the casual wave that men use when greeting acquaintances from across a crowded room.
The other figment – though Sally couldn't be completely sure that's what she was – didn't wave back. She cocked her head slightly to one side, then looked at the trees at the end of the street, ran (though not with any real sense of urgency) toward them and disappeared into the darkness.
Sally waited until the woman was out of earshot before speaking, but she couldn't help the feeling that she was being overheard. “Jesus, that was scary.”
Daisy Chain didn't answer her.
“What was that?”
Daisy Chain frowned slightly. “You mean who.”
“Fine. Who was that? And what was up with its eyes?”
“Her name is Minty. No one knows how she ended up the way she is, not even her.”
“What do you mean, not even her?”
Daisy Chain sighed. “I mean, even she doesn't know how she ended up that way. She can't remember anything.”
“And the mask?”
“She was wearing a china mask. I have no idea how she sees through it, but—”
“She wasn't wearing a mask,” Daisy Chain said simply.
Sally sighed. “Yes she was. I saw it. It was all cracked and—”
“That's her face. She's porcelain.”
“Porcelain,” Daisy Chain repeated tiredly. “The cracks? Like I said, no one knows what
happened to her, how she lost the the eye—”
“Or how she became a cyborg?” Sally laughed.
“Are you talking about her good eye?”
“If you want to call it that.”
“I fitted her with it.”
Sally stared at him, unsure how to answer.
Daisy Chain started to walk again. “I found her, not far from here, curled up in a ball, no one around for miles. She'd been roughed up pretty bad. I couldn't do anything with her left eye, it was completely burned out of the socket. I had to sew it shut.” Sally wanted to ask how he'd managed to sew porcelain, but Daisy Chain didn't give her the opportunity. “The right one,” he went on, “I had a little more luck with. I'd actually just killed a Clonget and—”
“Don't interrupt. A robot. It was—look, it doesn't matter. I'd killed one, I had a spare part. She needed the eye, I put it in her head. End of story.” He sighed and muttered, almost to himself, “Never did catch the bastard who worked her over, though.”
For a long time, the road grew narrower and less well-maintained and the buildings grew shorter and shabbier. Sally didn't talk. She couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't either make her sound like an insensitive idiot or piss Daisy Chain off even more. She found the idea that Minty had ever been anything else, anything other than a monster, hard to believe. Although, she admitted to herself on further consideration that if you took away the cracks, the creepy eyes and her unnerving vacant stare, if you put her in a new dress and taught her not to walk like a reanimated corpse, Minty might well have been beautiful – in a rabbity sort of way.
The trees, Sally realized, in the midst of her silent contemplation, were a lot further away than they had originally appeared, and she began to wonder how Minty had run to them so quickly.
“So,” Sally ventured, after a suitable amount of time had passed.
Daisy Chain looked at her, but didn't answer.
“So... where are we going?”
“I haven't decided yet. For now, we need to keep moving.”
“I thought we had to kill those guys.”
If she thought about it logically, the idea of killing figments herself, or having them killed on her behalf, didn't bother Sally at all. In her mind, she was dreaming and nothing she saw or did here was real, not really. Killing something that she'd dredged up from her own subconscious seemed a small price to pay for waking up.
“We do have to kill them,” Daisy Chain agreed. “But we have to find them first, and in the meantime, it isn't safe to stay in any one place for too long.”
“How long is too long?” Sally asked. “I'm seriously tired.”
“You're sleeping. Stop complaining.”
“Yeah, about that.” Another question Sally didn't want to ask.
“Well, speaking of staying too long in one place.”
“What's going to stop me from—” the fact that she was having this conversation at all was almost worse than the fact that she was having it with a giant talking rabbit. “What's going to stop me from wetting myself?”
Daisy Chain looked confused. “Oh,” he said, after a second.
“I took care of that.”
He shrugged. “I fitted you with a catheter.”
Sally stopped walking. As soon as her voice came back, she fully planned on going completely postal on Daisy Chain. As she opened her mouth to do so, something scuttled past her, crawled around Daisy Chan's feet and stopped, facing her. It was, by its shape, mostly a man. A very small, sheet-white bald man with an extremely prominent brow and a bulldog-like expression. An underfed man with his ribs showing who crawled around on all fours. It opened its mouth and hissed, showing off tiny, needle-sharp teeth.
Daisy Chain kicked at the creature, just missing it with a dangerous-looking claw. It hissed again, this time at him, and crawled sullenly into the shadows.
Sally shuddered. “Are there a lot of things like...” she stopped herself from saying that, but just barely. “him here?”
Daisy Chain looked surprised. “Him? No. That thing climbed off a building in Salisbury and followed me here. It's from Earth."