“Okay,” Mell spoke up, “this is all a dream. First thing any of you have said that makes sense. What are we supposed to do to wake up?”
“It may not be that sort of dream,” Doctor Cratch said, “especially if we are actually participating in a Dreamscape. If a dream is just the subconscious sorting and processing of individual first-person sensory data and memory, and this is an unquantified dream-construct perhaps originating from one of us, or all of us, or someone else entirely, then that is the subconscious we are dealing with – not necessarily our own.”
“Have you done this before, Doctor Cratch?” Winona asked.
“Me? No,” Doctor Cratch said with a wave of his hand. “No, but I’ve studied it, in my own modest way. And I’ve failed to do it, which is far closer to succeeding than never trying to do it in the first place is.”
“So what did that teach you?” the Drake pressed.
“That you don’t want to wind up in the Gnang,” Doctor Creepy replied firmly. “This slo-time thing. It’s bad.”
“We know that already,” Carla snapped.
“And we’ve been out in it,” I said. “Several times. Kind of. Carl is actually studying it,” Doctor Cratch looked at Carla. “No no, that’s Carla,” I went on. “See, Carl is an associate of ours whose name is actually Ana-Lennox Medianu, her nickname was Lenny but her other nickname was Carl, a few years back she helped us save Christmas, except the entire cultural concept of ‘Christmas’ was actually a parasitic ur-meme sub-universe that-”
“Now you’re just padding it,” Mister C of 9 accused.
“Fine,” I said, “so what do we do?”
“Usually,” Doctor Cratch said, “the best way to find the key to a Dreamscape is to look in its direct centre.”
“The centre of this house?” I asked.
“The centre of our couch?” Creepy added.
“Think a bit bigger,” Doctor Cratch advised.
“Listen Doc, if you’d seen the inside of our couch-”
“I’m talking about the centre of this universe,” he said, spreading his arms grandly. For a moment he looked like a very weird Hawaiian-bellied albino bat.
“The centre of the universe?” I frowned.
“You mean Planet Zero?” Creepy said in despair. “But it’s so boring there! It’s just gift shops and museums, and it’s windy all the time, and there’s no sugar.”
“No, not – okay,” Doctor Cratch was evidently not experienced at dealing with super-sidekick minds. “Maybe Planet, um, Zero was it? Maybe that can be kept in the back pocket for now-”
“That’s where Professor Zero keeps it,” I agreed.
“Can we stay on topic?” Carla pleaded.
“What I mean is, if this slo-time is encroaching on your … environment … then what we should do is outline its inner borders,” Doctor Cratch said. “That way, ideally, we’ll end up with a circle on a map, and the centre of that circle will be the centre of this Dreamscape.”
“Oh, I did that already,” I said.
“You did?” Creepy blinked at me.
“When?” Carla demanded.
“Ages ago. I was actually tracking the growth of the Wasteland,” I said, “but that’s really just, like, a symptom of this slo-time encroachment thing. If you go into the Wasteland far enough, even the nothingness stops,” the Myconet had told me about the phenomenon, but I definitely wasn’t going to mention strange talking mushrooms to anyone in this conversation.
“That sounds like it fits the bill,” Doctor Cratch was saying. “Did you make a circle on a map and find the last place, right in the centre, that the slo-time will overrun?”
“Yeah,” I said, “but you’re not going to like it.”
I put a lot of legwork into that “no sugar” joke. Merry Christmas.
I also amused myself disgracefully.