Chapter 2
Dreamless - Chapter Two
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Portrait of Kata by James Neff. Graphics by Tobin James Mueller.
The following is a collaborative story in progress.
If you would like to participate, contact ArtsForge.
For a discussion of plot and characters, see D-Plot.

For a list of authors, illustrators and planned illustrations, see Dreamless Team.
Chapter Two appears below. Click here to read Chapter One or Chapter Three.

Illustrated Novel Project:
CHAPTER TWO - Sign of the Times
Crazy. Crazy and cramped and totally spun out.

All I see are lights. Big ones. Little Ones. Reds and whites with long rainbow trails refracting like tortured souls tracing their way to some out-of-focus hell. Or maybe a really oily heaven. Yeah. Snaking down the cluttered streets of Midtown, side-swiping past taxis, careening from near-miss to near-miss, I actually relax, feeling safer than I have in hours.

And a whole load freer. Flying down the street in a customized SUV is as close to freedom as most people are ever gonna feel. My brains are so fried... I don't even flinch when the holographic billboard selling the latest sex-enhancement therapy blocks the road in front of us, desperately trying to get our attention. The ancient 4-wheeler cuts right through the giant spread like a blind rapist slashing his way through his latest victim.

"Fucking perverts," says my ex, Ana, as she swan dives into another pothole. I'm filled with a sense of deja vu. Talking and driving seem like two sides of a powertrip chip animating her forever restless psyche. She keeps up her monologue, "Just what I need: to crash into a huddle of street bums cuz I'm blinded by somebody's 12 foot virtual cock."

"Life in the city," I reply. But I don't really want to go there. Her hatred of the city was one of the things I could never figure. Hating the city yet never moving away. I told her that plenty of times, not that I wanted her to move, just to that suggest she come to terms with some things. Maybe she just needed stuff to complain about, stuff that gave voice to her fundamental, old world alienation. It wasn't easy being a Hawaiian refugee in a place where trees only grew out of concrete buckets.

At least she got out alive, before the fires smoked her hometown.

Chris Mueller
Tobin James Mueller
City Lights
"City Lights" by
George Deep
“Lucky you called me when you did,” Ana says.

Lucky my sat-phone wasn’t damaged in the mix. Lucky Ana's number was still programmed into my speed dial button. Lucky I can't ever quite get her out of my head.

“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing.”

We scrape a small sample of fluorescent paint from another Mercedes, tripping a whole string of sonic alarms, and jag forward. I feel like I’m on a Fast Strike Force amusement park ride, only I don’t have to pay... and it lasts longer... Totally encased in reinforced shielding ripped off some old government issue HMVE, nothing can stop us, except maybe a Tomahawk warhead.

Or a really deep pothole. That last one nearly gives me whiplash. Too bad Ana's taste in new boyfriends doesn't include owners of the latest EX 7 Mitsubishi Flyer. No potholes when you're cruisin' above the smog...

A parade of fire trucks flashes by at each intersection, heading back toward the club on parallel One Way Aves. Wonder what sort of mess we left back there? I still can’t believe we didn’t get caught. The way that catgirl slid from room to room, it was like she had the building’s blueprints memorized, as if she knew exactly where each IntraFed was tracking. Just doesn't add up.

The car slows a bit as Ana sizes up a demonstration blocking the road ahead. Kids in expensive electro-knit wiregarb have set fire to something and are projecting laser-lit demands in the climbing smoke. Must be students. Naked silhouettes blink on and off between a dozen other styles of clothing as their electro-knits display the latest programmed fashions. More of a glamour gig than a demonstration. Nobody notices as Ana drives the SUV over a row of parked cars. Probably blinded by their own light show.

Chris Mueller
Tobin James Mueller
Maybe blindness is the sign of the times. Even when Ana wiped out the whole IntraFed posse by blasting away with her contraband UHF Magnetic Pulse Generator, freezing the metalheads in their tracks and disabling all traffic in a half mile radius, the City's pedestrians never batted an eye.

"Breaking free of the most feared quasi-governmental thugs in all of known 21st Century Capitalism," I say, trying to sound blithe and carefree and a little thankful for her help, "as easy as a walk in the park. Or maybe a brisk jog along the waterfront."

Not able to actually agree with anything I ever say, even if I'm just trying to make her laugh, my beloved ex growls back, "Yeah. A walk in the park. Maybe in daylight, when no shraggers are sifting through the crowd, planting skin-absorbant drugs in your veins as they brush by. When no religion pimps are scooping up recruits in their wake. When no 'temporary' United Nations Occupational Force is there to clean up the mess the local God-fearing vigilantes've made of the rest..."

"Okay, I get your drift." Why does conversation have to be such a contest? "I just thought... it's nice to be the lucky one for a change."

Ana had always said nothing happens without a reason. Always quoted old Hawaiian proverbs. She never believed in luck. Me, well, since I had never experienced it until now, I had never given the nature of luck much thought.

We breeze down the street, no pursuers in sight. But Ana looks pensive, scanning her rear view mirror.

“Maybe too lucky,” she says.

The adrenaline must be wearing off. Suddenly, I stop feeling so safe. She's right. It was just too easy. I'm not this slick. Not enough to escape determined IntraFeds, unless someone wants it that way. But, for the life of me, I can't 'load a who. All I do is feel... like life has suddenly gotten real compressed.

Seems immortality is awfully short-lived.


Chris Mueller
Tobin James Mueller

I look past the bent and rusting headrest into the back seat at this girl whose name I don’t even know yet (man, how many times has that happened lately!) and wipe her drool off the tattered upholstery. Sleeping like a baby. Tremors pulsy through her body with each jerk and turn, like some electrical charge trying to wake her. But nothing does. I wish I could sleep like that.

I wonder, How could this incomprehensible innocent have gotten us out of that NRA rite of passage? She surfed through those halls like a a virgin's fingers on a spirit-enhanced Ouija board. Like a laser guided missile...

Maybe that's exactly what she is, I think to myself. Maybe this barely pubescent catgirl, who’s just spent the better part of her nine lives getting me into (and out of) one serious hairball of an entanglement with the multinational power elite, is a robot, or has some computer sewn inside her head. Maybe she is an android/human hybred.

It's so dumb, it's probably true!

It would explain the flimsy hospital throwaways and the stupid booties. And the lack of coherent speech. And the Wonder Woman muscles. And especially her ability to navigate a downtown high-rise as if possessed by the Patron Saint of Museum Guides and Real Estate Salespeople.

After all, the building was owned by the Nuid-Rama Corporation, only the biggest pharmaceutical conglomerate on the planet...

Of course, a hundred other far more plausible explanations actually make up the real story. But they wouldn't get a tenth as many clicks once I post my version on the Net.

I had come to the club looking to interview Dr. Sumeras Lee and discuss his alleged ties to the Post Human Underground. The interview would’ve made the Sunday Daily Trends section as a follow up to last week’s pictorial on how embedded LCD flexi-screens were supplanting glow-in-the-dark tattoos among the Retro crowd. If I can tie this wild child in with Sumera and the Post Humans, I could maybe channel up to the Hard News links instead...

Wasn't the whole Post Human thing about wiring stuff to your body to enhance whatever you wanted...enhanced? What if wiring stuff into your nervous system had just jumped from the flat frames of old scifi flashbooks into the Daily 3D Holovids?

Tobin James Mueller

I take out my pocket-pc, thinking how productive delusions can be. Human Lab Rat Escapes Torture Chamber. Bionic Waif Humiliates Metalheads! Frankenstein is a Girl!

Front page stuff. Megalinks to every portal on the Net.

Gotta get her to talk a little more, once she wakes up. Course, I could just make up the quotes, as usual...

Ana catches me looking at the kid and presumes the worst. She backhands me across the face, giving me one of those “all you men are alike” looks that’s supposed to make me feel stupid.

I stammer and try to explain what I was thinking, as I look back at the girl, feeling stupid.

She just looks so...nice...sleeping there. My lids get sluggish just watching at her. No worries. Timeless. Completely untouchable.

As my fuming ex chauffeurs us out of danger, I begin to piece together a gut wrenching melodrama about the Midnight Raid at the Nuid-Rama's Wet Cellar Club. It feels good to have the keys under my fingertips again. To see the letters grow across the tiny screen. Not exactly what my publishers expect, but I’m sure the NetRags will eat it up.

And I could really use the cash.
Tobin James Mueller
CHAPTER THREE - Kata's Dream
Click here to read CHAPTER THREE.
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All text edited by Chris & Tobin Mueller.

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