Hunter and Bain sit quietly outside a 24-hour café on All Saints Road, in Portobello, reflecting the events of the past few days. Hunter’s restless mind seeks through the meta-universe for dissonance, the tell-tale signs of disorder that drive his actions. Bain, a rueful specimen of humanity slumps opposite his fellow traveller, exhaustion sitting heavily behind his eyelids as he gazes out to the emerging dawn, thankful for the respite.
The time does not matter, nor the year.
Bain: Sometimes I wonder if this is all a dream.
Hunter shifts in his seat, rearranging the discomfort of his great coat: What makes you say that?
Bain: Well, with all the adventures, the demons and the gods, when I close my eyes part of me wishes for a more mundane life.
Hunter: I have never forced you to come with me.
Bain: No, but you clearly need me.
Bain: You’ve admitted as much.
Hunter: It’s true that we’ve completed some of the tasks more efficiently with your help. But what’s that to do with dreaming?
Bain: I suppose on a morning like this I can’t imagine anything terrible happening anywhere.
Hunter: Well, we know that’s not true.
Bain: Okay, we can be sure that must be so, but that’s not the same as saying this isn’t a dream, good or bad.
Hunter: I suppose so, but you’re being over-specific, nor is it an exercise in quantum uncertainty
Bain: I’m saying that in this moment, we could be in a dream. I have a memory of the things that have come before, and I know we have been to places that will come after, but here, now, this is a pleasant dream.
Hunter. I think you’re really talking about peace and quiet.
Bain: No, it’s more than that. It’s the air of unreality. What we know has happened, the demons and the gods you’ve returned to the Before, the times we’ve been close to death, seen so many people die, the hybrids here who are slowly taking over the daily functions of life, the AI hordes who wiped out their creators.
Hunter: Stop, stop, you’re making your head spin. Enjoy this moment of calm, whether it’s a dream or not.
Bain: But is it a dream?
Hunter, sighing: Are you asleep?
Bain, defiantly: I might be.
Hunter: So it’s a redundant question. Perhaps you should focus on what you do know: the coffee before you, the sun rising over the broken buildings over there. The lack of trees.
Bain: How can we focus on something that isn’t there?
Hunter: Aha. But we’ve been here before, and there used to be a run of lime trees along that road, I remember the light used to flicker through them onto the road.
Bain: Oh I must be dreaming, that’s almost poetic.
Hunter: Not intentional. Just an observation.
Bain: But do you see the trees now?
Hunter: Of course not, but part of me remembers them along there.
Bain: So you both remember what this place was like as well as how it is now?
Hunter: I suppose so, and all the other times we’ve been here. The Building to our left used to be brick red. Now it sports a shiny new aluminium cladding. The cars in the sky used to be occasionally, larger transporter planes…
Bain shrugs, a rueful smile pulling at his mouth: Yes, yes, I get it. You see all these things at once, laid over each other. It must be hard for you to see things as I do.
Hunter: We know we have different perspectives, that’s what’s helped us through the tasks.
Bain: So this could be a dream, but your prespective is so different you can’t acknowledge it as such.
Hunter: Hypothetically speaking yes, but it’s still a bit of a leap. It depends on your view of the status of memory and stories, truth and reported fact.
Bain exhaled loudly: Oh, that’s an old discussion between us. You always say that memory, stories and dreams are all the same.
Hunter, tapping at his mechanical eyepiece: Not quite, but they intermingle so much it’s hard to differentiate sometimes. I use this to allow me to see the world a little as you do.
Bain: So it could all be a dream.
Hunter: Perhaps. It’s just not the right question.
Bain: Which is?
Hunter: Perhaps you should ask whether in this moment you are in a dream, and I am also in a dream, whose dream are we both in?
Bain: Oh! So we could be a memory, and a story, and a dream of each other’s, or someone else’s?
Hunter allows himself a pause: Why not? Does it change how you feel about this place?
Bain looks out at the sun, its burnt umber hues skimming across the lower reaches of the sky: Not really. I just need to pretend I didn’t ask the question in the first place.
Hunter: I’ve forgotten it already.
Bain smiles, leans back into the chair and allows the sun to lick his face.
More about the SF Fantasy fiction of Jake Jackson