23. Visit to UNI, Day 2
9 January 2055 /// 0800h
‘Mind if I sit here?’
Carlton set his breakfast tray down next to Snow, Ricky 2, and Pretzel Mendez, filling out the four-seat table in the dining hall. It was the morning of the high schoolers’ second day at UNI.
Snow had been up since 0400h this morning. He tried to recall a day in his life that he had gotten less sleep. As far as he could remember, he had always gotten between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. It seemed strange to him that in 17 years, this would be the first day he had gotten less, but he really couldn’t remember any other time. He hoped that he would be able to operate on five hours. Today, he figured, was the day to find out.
According to Lucidity, Snow had had four dreams during his five hours. It was the last that had awoken him and kept him up. His immediate reaction was to record the dream in his Lenses before he realized Lucidity would have already done it for him. Instead, after ten restless minutes of trying to get back to sleep, he went into the common room and reviewed the dream multiple times before the sun rose and the rest of his dorm got up to join him.
Snow’s dreams were often fantastical, taking place in strange and exotic locations with unusual characters and situations. This dream, however, took place in New Idaho, in the world he was used to. The characters were all either people he knew or loosely based on people he knew. Perhaps it was because of this familiar setting that the deviation from reality was so radically disturbing.
In this dream, everyone had Lucidity—or, at least, they all had circular patches on the sides of their heads. Nobody ever mentioned the patch, or what they were using it for, and as the dream went on, the patches began to grow to various sizes. Though each patch appeared to grow at different rates, it wasn’t long before everyone’s was at least the size of a baseball’s diameter. At this point, Snow became aware that the patches no longer had the black center that his Lucidity had. Instead, the center of the patches appeared to be a window into another setting. Sometimes he could see through the patch to a mountain range, sometimes to a city-scape, sometimes to grassy plains. It was as if the patches were a wormhole each citizen wore on the side of their head.
Snow never saw anything go through these wormholes. He didn’t know if it was even possible. As the dream proceeded, however, it was evident that something was coming out. He didn’t know exactly what it was, but it appeared to be a gaseous material, almost like the smoke rolling off incense, but less dense. The smoke was all different colors of the rainbow, its transparency at about 50% opacity. As the holes in the sides of his peers’ heads grew, and more of the smoke-like material seeped out, their mannerisms became increasingly more unnerving. Each of them had wide-open eyes and broad smiles on their faces. They spoke with a politeness, but it seemed to be a false politeness, as though they were aliens attempting to act out social mores they had observed in the human race.
Toward the end of the dream, Snow realized that he hadn’t seen the side of his own head. He didn’t know if he was even wearing Lucidity, and if he was, whether it was leaking the same material that he saw coming from everybody else’s. Just as he reached his hand to touch the side of his head, however, he experienced an intense burst of anxiety and woke up. Even after repeated viewings of his dream, he could not find any hint of what was going on on the side of his own head.
Four hours later, Snow was still processing this dream as he sat with his three friends at breakfast. It felt good to have a full table at mealtime. It looked like he was finally making friends. Without his regular amount of sleep, however, Snow could tell that his mind was not working at full capacity. He disappointedly realized that he was slightly distracted from the actual bonding that may be going on at the table. He hoped his night of little sleep hadn’t ruined his experience.
Ricky 2 was laughing as Carlton told him something about Camille Thomas. ‘No,’ Ricky 2 said, ‘the trick is to really think about her before you go to bed. Like, say her name to yourself, have some imaginary conversations with her, and then just go to sleep. Nothing else, just go to bed. Then you’ll dream about her.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Carlton said. ‘You think you can really control your dreams, just like that?’
‘Bro, you told me like five minutes ago that you never even remembered your dreams before Lucidity.’
‘And now I don’t have to. It doesn’t mean I can’t control what kind of dreams I have.’
‘Get out of here.’
‘Either way, I think it’s a freaking great idea. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. Your own, personal, ethical pornography.’
‘How is that ethical?’ Pretzel butted in. ‘You’re basically casting someone in your porno against their will.’
‘Yeah, but it’s not them’ said Ricky 2. ‘I’m allowed to dream about whatever I want. They don’t ever have to know. It’s like, you know, whacking a bag on the school yearbook.’
It was Ricky 2’s usual shock-bait fodder, but Snow had to admit, it was nice to have Carlton and Pretzel around to bounce some new ideas off of it. As tactless as it was, Snow had never thought about the ethics of sex dream pornography. That was a new one.
He wondered if this was the bonding he had been looking for. If so, he still felt a little off, too distracted to really indulge in it. It was as though he was viewing the situation from outside himself. He started to worry that he would ultimately be stuck retrospectively looking for bonding in some sort of abstract sense.
It was 0900h. Snow had already been up for 5 hours, and it flew by. The tour would only be 3 hours—60% of what he had already experienced. Then lunch. Then dinner. Then it was over. Snow wondered if he should take a nap, then confronted immediate hypothetical guilt about missing out on any of this experience. He wondered if rest would improve the quality of the experience enough to offset any of that guilt. As he discarded his plates to get ready for the tour, Snow was painfully aware that all his worrying about taking the trip for granted was keeping him from appreciating these moments he knew he would never get back.
Fortunately, Snow thought he did a pretty good job at appreciating the tour. Campus was beautiful, and he didn't have to worry about making any new friends to appreciate that. From the modern, utilitarian dorm buildings, they crossed Okapi Field, the large, green space in the center of campus. Snow noticed the grass was different from that he was used to in his neck of New Idaho. It was even different from Downtown New Idaho, which wasn’t much farther from the south end of the Jungle than this part of campus was from the north end. The grass here was denser and spongier, almost as if this side the town got more rain. He wondered if the climate was much different on the north side of the Jungle. After all, if a mini-rainforest can develop in the middle of Idaho, anything was possible.
From Okapi field, they toured the north row of buildings, where the College of Humanities was located. The buildings were still modern, but utilitarian in a different sense than the dorms. They were made primarily of glass. On sunny days, Daskus told them, the lights rarely needed to be turned on. Each building’s shape was unique depending on what sort of rooms it contained. All the buildings were connected to each other via sky-bridge.
Daskus briefly pointed out Main Street to the north of the Humanities buildings, where the non-college portion of town was located. Next, they went through UNI Union, the massive student union on the southwestern side of campus where all the administrative offices, including the office of the president, were located. Then the students crossed Okapi field once more to the southeast, where they briefly toured the Engineering College. The architecture of these buildings was even more impressive than the Humanities, containing mind-twisting corridors and laboratories that sprawled across the southwestern complex.
Snow was fascinated by every facet of the campus. It was a beautiful school. He could hardly believe it had been conceived only 30 years ago. Ricky 2 and Carlton, however, seemed to have a different view of campus. Snow chose never to tune into exactly what they were saying, but he could tell by the tone that they were bonding over an assortment of snide remarks, snickering at the campus as though they could do better. Snow purposefully tuned them out. So far, this was the one part of the trip he was really enjoying, and he didn't want his positive opinion of the campus tarnished by their negative energy.
The last stop on the tour was the Greta Barn Botanical Sciences Building, the southernmost structure on campus. The group entered through the north side of the building, glass ceilings illuminating the atrium with natural light. Daskus led the ten high schoolers to the center of the building and down a staircase to the lower level. The large room they found themselves in had four hallways branching off in cardinal directions. This room was filled with about 20 tables, each represented by a student.
‘Well,’ said Daskus, ‘thus concludes our tour. This is, purposefully, our final stop. We are more proud than anything of our BioScience Department here at the University of New Idaho. With a rare Jungle right next to us, the research that goes on in this building is invaluable. We are always looking for the brightest minds to accept into our BioSciences program to help move the world forward from what we learn here at UNI.
‘To that end, we have set up a little science fair for you all to peruse. Each table is manned by one of our graduate or doctoral students. You can sync up to the room’s WiFi to see diagrams and examples of what they are working on. If you find yourself exceptionally intrigued by one of their projects, each student has made their research available in the room’s AirLocker. You are all welcome to read up on any project that peaks your interest. Who knows, you may find that you want to join one of their cohorts when you attend UNI next year.’ Aubrey winked. Snow wondered, once again, what it was that made old people wink so often. ‘We will meet back at the dining hall at 1230h for lunch. Have fun!’
With that, Daskus stepped back and let the kids explore. There were quite a few cool experiments on the floor. In addition to the augmented visuals, there were also many examples of jungle plants that Snow had never seen. Uses for them ranged from support materials to medicine. Snow had never thought about getting into the BioSciences, but this up-close look at what the Jungle could offer was definitely a selling point.
As Snow looked around, he felt slightly guilty about distancing himself from Ricky 2 and Carlton. He had been looking forward to making new friends this whole trip. He had expected to come away from it sad about leaving the 9 other students he would have bonded with on this overnight experience. Now, as Ricky 2 started to bond with a new friend, Snow felt no desire to join their group. He wondered if he was taking this opportunity for granted. Then he remembered that there was more to the trip than just socializing. He got to tour campus, see this research, meet real scientists—maybe this just wasn’t the time to worry about making friends. He could always join back up with them at lunch. And tonight, of course—the last night on campus.