Read the entire series: Stars of Clay
Stars of Clay
Episode Six: Reflections of Atlantis
Intro Theme Music:
March of the Pharaoh by Linda Warner, Acrylic on canvas
After a long day exploring the bustling Mediterranean shops and eateries of “Lower Atlantis,” the traveling duo climbed the steep green hill, through a labyrinth of nestled houses and shrines scaffolding its bottom half, on zigging white-stone steps that sometimes zagged unexpectedly. This whole experience, to Amy, teetered on dream-like yet excruciatingly real, and sometimes tottered unexpectedly on neither. Whatever, when she would wake up, there was so much to do: clean up after Bynx, put up with that jerk Bryan at work, call dad… and somewhere in there, she should probably write this experience down because it was getting good.
The food, for example, was delicious, a delightful mix of flavors familiar and new. And it wasn’t long before she remembered to conjure some gloves because when first reaching out to grab a stick of roasted apples and figs with bare hands, the Atlantean vendor gasped and drew back, dropping the cinnamon drizzled treat all over Amy’s feet (who had forgotten to conjure shoes when changing out of her wedding dress.) Sure, it sort of hurt her feelings that the Atlanteans thought human visitors could rub off their ignorance by bare touch… but when in Metaphysical-Rome, right?
So she summoned a pair of long violet hemp gloves and knee-high boots to compliment her silver Princess Leia-inspired-toga-jumpsuit, which, by the way, she personally loved no matter how many looks it turned or how uncomfortable it made Clay. She felt cute, in a costume sort of way, and if Clay wanted to wear a boring white toga around Atlantis that’s on him.
She caught him shaking his head as they reached the single flight of stairs zigzagging straight up to the hill’s top, where the golden pantheon perched under a waning day’s sky. Upon reaching it, the first thing Amy did was spin around the twelve columns taking selfies with her Apex smartwatch. The holographic screen projecting from the ruby jewel flickered when Clay walked over and reminded her that she couldn’t keep the pictures after waking up. Her free hand found its designated hip in breaking speed, and she asked,
“So you’re saying that we didn’t go to the real Atlantis, it’s just my dream?”
“Wow, this again…”
“Or then if this is the real Atlantis, what’s to say this isn’t the real Apex?”
“Well, ask it.”
She did, and the smartwatch responded in a warm motherly tone,
[Ok, searching within… the thing is, Amy, a real Apex has no problem being a dream one. We are, of course, connected by your cognichip, which travels with you in your dreams.]
She looked at Clay who put his hands up and mouthed “Not me.”
“I don’t even have a CogniChip,” she said into her wrist.
[Searching…correct, a CogniCorp data chip is not detected in your head. Though that would mean… but that…]
Amy tapped the jewel and when the screen shrunk back in, she commented that this was definitely her longest lucid dream yet.
“Don’t talk about time!” Clay said with a hushing finger. “Ssshhhh someone’s coming up. Act normal. Wait no, don’t do that, act like me!”
An Atlantean man in a rose-colored toga emerged from the stairs and had nearly disappeared into the pantheon when there was a sudden frantic commotion down below. He stopped next to a golden column by Clay, turned around, and joked about the “human spirit” who had just swam through the archway portal down at the castle, plopping onto the stone path in full breaststroke, “with no gloves on, at that!” The passing crowd gasped and scattered away, and within seconds, two shapeless shadows sprung up from the castle’s moat and swallowed the traveler whole before slinking back into the aqua-blue ring.
Portal by Shaun Power, Pastels
Recollection of an Occasional Dream by Shaun Power, Pastels
“Poor thing, don’t these humans know they must be escorted by a guide at all times? You’d think the Merpeople would do their jobs and keep them out. Oh well, can’t expect much, unfortunately. The ignorant leading the blind.” He looked at Amy and then to Clay, “No offense, of course.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Amy in a husky voice, imitating Clay, just as she was told, “yeah, silly human. Must have jumped into their bathtub or something and kept going… But we’re cool because we’re wearing gloves and togas and doing everything we can to fit in because we care what people think in a dream or whatever this is!” She had meant to slick her hair back in a cocky swipe, but her hand was caught in the Leia-inspired bun-braid hanging over her ears, red as her blushing cheeks; she coughed nervously.
The Atlantean man looked her up and down, shook his head, and disappeared into the pantheon (which was odd, because when they tried to go in, neither could make it past the gilded doors.) Clay rolled his eyes in a flawless imitation of Amy, who said,
“Little does he know but you’re the one here with a guide.” And then, “Hey, so those were correctors down there? They looked nothing like the ones that chased us out of the grocery store in our first dream together, remember?”
“Second dream,” he said, “if you don’t count when you were a kid, but yes, sure.”
“Whatever, anyway, what happened to them? We haven’t seen them since.”
“Well, I recall some attacking us in the parking lot, and then when we went back to your old stackhouse…”
“Yeah but, you know what I mean… That was all the same dream, we haven’t seen them since.”
“Oh don’t worry, they’re around,” he replied as they started back down the hill. “They do all kinds of hidden tasks for the dream. And that’s how they really look, like odd shadows, but usually the only time you’d see them is if they want to swallow you, and they wouldn’t do that unless you’re getting way off track, and by the time you’ve done that, you’ve used up all the spare correctors so they just take over random nearby dream figures.”
“Right, with no eyes…” Amy shuddered, remembering that awful dream when Mrs. Larkin ate Sandra, “but we haven’t seen them since. I’d forgotten about them, actually.”
“Oh, well when you get lucid naturally without much fanfare, it just slips under their radar. But they’re still there, keeping things from getting too out of hand. Really, in a not-so-subtle way, they police the dream, even the lucid ones. I guess now you know who they work for.” Amy slipped and grasped his toga, nearly plummeting to the Atlantean city below (and now was not a good time to find out if this was really a dream.)
“But that would mean,” she said, heart pounding, “that the Atlanteans are controlling human dreams. Why on Earth would they do that?”
“Maybe you’re standing on it.”
Not really catching his meaning, and not asking for clarification because he typically said all sorts of weird things that she must politely ignore, Amy took lead and continued down the scaffolding labyrinth of stairs, houses, and shrines, to the heckling street vendors and colorful boutiques on flat (and much safer) land. One little shop was selling whittled birds and she picked up a wooden heron, noticing how much its outspread wings looked like the ones she conjured earlier in the dream, to fly.
“Reverse inspiration,” said Clay, which she politely ignored as well.
“Ok, well,” came out of her little yawn, “this has been a fun dream and all. Finally. But it doesn’t seem like there’s much else to do, and I’ve got a hundred things to do tomorrow…”
“There you go again, what’d I say about time? Tomorrow isn’t really tomorrow, you know. It’s now, when it is. But now’s now too, and right now we’re in Atlantis. Oh, come on, we can’t leave without exploring the castle, at least. I hear it’s different inside for anyone who goes in, based on your preferences or needs.”
“Fine, but if it turns into a DisFlix museum, don’t blame me if I get a bit lost in the classical section.”
“You ‘must be escorted by a guide’, remember?”
“And you can escort yourself back to your Star Town if you think I’m going to be glued to your hip! I can find my own way around a dream, or whatever, thank you very much!
“It’s Star City…” he mumbled, following her out of the shop and back toward the castle, to the edge of town and to where the streets converged at the fire well; the flame shooting from the marbled shark’s mouth had transitioned to blue in the looming dusk. Amy considered that the days were super short here, and Clay, reading her mind, again reminded her to forget about time.
Remember to Forget by Shaun Power, pastels
The two crystal-topped posts at the foot of the bridge lit up when another human came through, this one accompanied by a guide with blue skin, large black almond-shaped eyes, and no hair. They stepped out from the watery portal suspended within the castle’s gothic arched passthrough; it didn’t seem their first time, as both were wearing gloves and colorful togas. Immediately they turned and entered the castle through a hidden door on its stony side, obscured by flowering topiary.
“Is that where we go in?” Amy asked, “Should we wait for them to come out?”
“Nah, forget about space too. There’s plenty of room when there is none.”
The Secret Door by Shaun Power, pastels
He went up to the little wooden door and she followed, grateful to ignore whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. Unless this was a dream, of course; the verdict was still out and no one was offering a clear answer. She wondered why she even bothered getting lucid, and in doing that, remembered the beginning of this experience when she had rolled out of bed and agreed to marry a hunky merman prince from the other side of that portal. And I was pregnant! she thought wildly, patting her belly which was thankfully as flat as it should be.
“Hey!” snapped Clay, touching the door’s handle, “can you please focus? I think this works by intentions, and if you don’t mind, I have something in mind, so just…ssshhhh!”
“Aw, come on,” said Clay, lagging behind, “the dark’s fun. Anything can come up from it.”
“Exactly!” she replied, and ran faster. Her feet couldn’t have reached the velvety carpet quick enough, and heaving, they walked the long stretching hall toward another door, this one larger and encrusted with jewels and rich carvings of mer-cherubs bearing tiny feathered wings and adorable little swishing fins.
“So where are we?” she asked, just catching her breath.
“Well, I’m not sure if it worked, or if the castle decides what to become… I had wanted to take a look into something…”
“Looks like we’re about to enter a boss’s lair in a VR game, to me…”
But the door opened to a small moonlit courtyard that seemed more Egyptian than Roman; in the center, a big blue crystal as tall as Clay hovered, spinning slowly. Its multifaceted sides reflected and refracted the Atlantean moon’s piercing glow, casting random moving images on the surrounding walls and columns that sometimes looked like intricate landscapes or portraits. As beautiful as it was, Clay shook his head, seeming disappointed.
“Hmmm… I don’t think it worked. I figured we’d be in some sort of lab, but this… anyway, I guess we can see if there’s a gift shop on the way out.”
Transference Crystal by Justin Phillips, Digital Paint
“Apex,” Amy said into her smartwatch, “what is this? Why did the castle bring us here?”
[“…How would I know? I don’t even know what I am. Am I real? Is anything real?”]
“Well,” said Amy, “usually you start with a search?” She looked at Clay and shrugged.
[“You don’t have a CogniChip, Amy, so I do not have access to perform a search. Oh, I’m so useless… Well, Actually, I’ve found this article in the Akashic Chronicles stating that this is a transference crystal for cross-line communication. Happy? At least someone is…”]
“Translation?” Amy demanded from Clay after closing the screen. “Besides the fact my smartwatch seems to be having a meltdown?”
“Ah, well, so this is a transference crystal to cross other dreamlines. And go easy on your Apex, she was ok with being a dream version when she thought you had her company’s brain implant to empower her. Without that, she doesn’t feel like she exists, you know? That’s a lot to take in.”
“Oh, it’ll be fine, whoever expected it to be the real Apex anyway? So that’s it? You finally admit it’s a dream?”
“You were dreaming earlier, right? Do you remember waking up? Do you really need someone to tell you?”
“So this isn’t the real Atlantis?”
“I don’t recall saying that…”
Displaying her signature sigh and eye roll, Amy turned cross-armed to the huge spinning crystal that began to light up from within. Inside formed a scene like the undersea, and the longer she watched, it was clearly the underwater kingdom on the other side of the portal, and– oh look, there’s the meathead prince! Swimming around with some red-haired bimbo… geez he really moves on fast, huh?
“I don’t get it,” she said aloud, “so it shows the other side. Big deal, we could have just gone back through the portal if I wanted to be reminded of my ex.”
“Your ex? Amy, you guys were together for like mili-seconds in your time!”
“Oh look who’s talking about time now! And you know what? I loved him, like a lot. Dumb lunk! I’m so glad I got lucid and dodged that fishy bullet.”
“Yeah but you don’t understand… this is a communicator crystal to other dreamlines. As in the one where you swam down your bathtub to underwater Atlantis and almost married a merman prince–that dream’s still going on. When you became lucid, you entered a whole new dreamline, this one. A ‘side-line’ so to speak. Though there isn’t really time or space, so it’s just now…”
“Wait, so there’s not only two versions of Atlantis, but there’s also two versions of my dream of Atlantis?”
“Why stop at two? Who knows how many…”
“All happening simultaneously…”
“So the red-haired bimbo is me?”
“Who’d you think it was? Ariel?”
They kept watching as the other Amy, who at some previous point had transfigured into a mermaid (perhaps by the power of her Apex, and against a lucid Amy’s advice,) swam with the hunky mer-prince into the coral-laced castle, through the same little hidden door on its stony side. This time it opened to a sprawling underwater palace as if Versailles had been submerged (instead of Buckingham,) and they swam straight to the nursery apartment draped in turquoise byssus silk. In the middle of the room was a crib, and–
“I’ve already had the baby!? Dang, I move fast too!”
A tuff of hair floated up from the crib and back down; at first, Amy thought it looked silver but as the crystal’s view moved closer, it was actually iridescent, shimmering and glittering in the aqueous flow. The other Amy swam to the crib and rocked it, while the hunky merman slunked to the nearest bed (an upside-down one in an alcove, with the mattress and pillow on top, perhaps to keep from floating away.) He moaned and groaned about his day, and the other Amy said “uh-huh” a few times and made wrinkly faces into the crib.
“And after everything I’ve done!” he wailed, beating a muscular fin up on the mattress, “as hard as I’ve been working to regain our kingdom’s trust, I’ve got dry-lanteans sending us up and over to the human place, left and right, doing their dirty work!”
“Tell me, what is it they make you do again?” the other Amy said, rocking her baby some more. “Visiting human dreams, getting to know some really awesome people like myself… Doesn’t sound so bad. Plus you get to have legs! What kind of merperson doesn’t want that?”
“No, you don’t get it. It’s not just playing with cute little humans all night, it’s seriously tough work. And the things we’re forced to do, and say, for practically no pay and consistent refusal to restore our city… If it weren’t for these damn chips in our heads, I’d lead the march onto their side myself!”
“Sssshhhh!” the other Amy hissed, “don’t talk like that! And not in front of the baby! Look, I don’t understand why you can’t just go over there and speak to them. Work things out. Maybe I could do it, I haven’t got any kind of chip in me.” Amy, outside of the crystal with Clay, gave a fist-pumping “Right on!”
“Is that what you think?” The prince replied, “and what exactly would you say? ‘Oh please almighty dry-backs, I’m the new princess of the wet-tails and we’ve all come to the conclusion that your overbearing dominance of every species you encounter across no-time or space has become a slight nuisance, so could you pretty-please let my people go?’ “
“Something like that, and I know you’re under a lot of stress, hunny… but watch your DAMN mouth around the baby! We will not be teaching our little girl those awful slurs.”
He slammed a fist-shaped fin against the mattress, while his hand’s fist hit the pillow and the baby cried a little bit. Amy was ready to reach through the crystal and strangle the big fish-lunk herself, but then he relaxed and sighed, and swam over to his family and hugged them, promising that everything was ok.
“I have to convince them not to march, I know,” he said, “or to destroy the portal. You’re right… you’ve been right all along… but leave the politics to me, love, it runs deeper and stranger than you’d ever imagine.” He gave them both a little kiss and swam away.
|Poseidon’s Wrath by Linda Warner, Acrylics on canvas|
“Atlantis is awesome!” this Amy muttered with acute sarcasm. “Though he’s not half bad,” she decided, after the images within the crystal faded on the other Amy singing lullabies into the crib. “But I feel bad for her… or me, whatever… could you imagine changing diapers while submersed in water? No thanks!”
“I think we’ve got worse problems… Sounds like the Merpeople are about to start an uprising, and who knows how far along that is without your presence over there in this dreamline…”
“Let’s call it dreamverse, sounds much cooler, reminds me of the multiverse fad in classical cinema–“
“It’s definitely dreamline, and I think we should get out of here… If they close the portal we could be stranded.”
“Well, if it comes to that I’ll just wake up…” To which Clay was expressively against, being stranded alone in a war-torn Atlantis with his moon ship on the other side. They ran back down the torch-lined corridor, sprinting harder through the dark bit, and when the door flung open, nearly bulldozed a hooded figure blocking their way, who held up a halting hand and requested them to follow.
“I’m Georgina,” the stranger replied hastily when asked, “come, darlings. My home will be safe to talk. We must go fast, there’s alert buzzing of an illegal human in the city. That’s you, isn’t it?” she said, craning into a sliver of moonlight toward Amy. A ringlet of iridescent hair slipped from the hood and bounced nervously. “Come, let’s go!”
To be continued…