Alison arrived late. She had been cursing at herself the whole way to the lecture theatre. A dozen or so heads looked up at her as the hinges on the door announced her arrival better than any PA system.
“Sorry,” she said. “Parking here is a nightmare,” she wanted to sound sheepish, but her anger at herself made her snap the comment out. She went red as she realised. “Sorry,” she said again.
“And I think that makes a full complement,” the youngish man at the front of the room said with no apparent annoyance. “Now that we’re all here, let’s go over the syllabus, shall we?”
Alison had never been in this lecture hall before. She had, in fact, never been on this side of campus before. The hall was the same, more or less, as the ones where she studied on the other side. The decor was slightly dated but it was, without question, just another lecture hall.
She cast her eyes up the seats to where the other people were sitting, mostly separate, and caught them all looking away from her as their eyes met. Unlike her, they didnt seem to want to be here. Most of them seemed to be students, but some of them didn’t look like they belonged. They fidgeted in the uncomfortable lecture chairs and didn’t seem to have the same stuff the others had.
The man at the front of the hall waited for her to find a seat, showing no impatience, and then pushed a button on the controller he held in his hands. The lights throughout the room went dim and the overhead projector showed a ‘welcome!’ slide on the screen.
“Alright, then,” he said. “There are 15 of you here today. By the end of the semester, most of you will be gone. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s not the usual ‘this professor sucks, I dropped out’ reason either. Firstly because I’m not a professor. Not yet. One day, maybe. Right now, I’m just a researcher who happens to be engaging enough to be asked to take this class.”
“Who are you?” someone yelled out. Alison craned her neck and saw a man, about her age, leaning forward on his desk. He looked more upset than the others.
The man at the front of the hall nodded. “I get it,” he said. “You weren’t expecting to get invited here, but no one ever does. It’s kinda the point. But I’ll get to that. My name is Paul Verhoven. I am a researcher for a university that isn't this one. I’m here because certain people who I don't even know want my employers to,” here he paused. “Well, I don't know that either. I just know that I’m paid very well to try and find people like you.”
“People like us?” the angry man wasn't buying what Paul was selling. “What does that mean?”
“Well, I could sit here and answer all your questions. Some of what I say might make sense. But I can say that whatever questions you have now will be answered via these slides,” he motioned with the controller to the screen, accidentally pushing a button and advancing the slides to the next one. This one showed a headline which read ‘statistics’ and nothing else.
“Maths?” one of the women near Alison asked. “I'm an English major.”
“Maths is still useful,” Paul said, sounding a bit hurt. “But no, we aren't here for maths.” He looked around and saw a few people moving in their chairs; Alison knew they were itching to leave. “You can go if you want, of course,” Paul continued. “But if you do leave, that's it. You wont be back. You'll miss out.”
“On what?” the angry man said.
Paul pushed a button on the controller and the first bullet point appeared on the screen behind him. It read ‘98% of the worlds population dreams.’
“We’re going to talk about dreams.”
Everyone, including Alison, stopped moving and focused on the man before them.
Dreams had been the big talking point for over a decade now. Ever since that one hacker group released mounds of information about world governments using dreams as a way to psychologically torture people.
Dreams were a big deal. Investigations had been undertaken to determine how bad the torture had been and it was surprising how deep it had gone and how long it had been going for. Of course, there had been assurances and promises that it would stop, but no one believed it and there were always people coming out of the woodwork trying to get their moment in the sun by claiming they were another victim.
“Ok,” Paul said, sitting on the edge of the table that ran across the front of the hall. “Let’s start from the start. Dreams, we thought, were a sort of by-product of the way our brains sorted information. Random neuron activity in the brain causing random activity in the brain which we perceived as dreams. And that’s where the issues started; that activity between neurons as we slept was always erratic and random. We couldn't catch a dream as it happened. But we definitely learned a lot just from studying people while they slept, specifically for this class, we learned the differences in brain activity between dreamers and non-dreamers.
“Research into dreams was not a growth market. No one knew what they were, or what they really meant. But then came the torture stuff. The hospitals. We aren't going to dive into that, as fascinating and creepy as it might be. That's not the focus of this class.”
“What is?” Alison couldn't help asking.
“Truth,” Paul said. “Sorting through whats real and what isn't. Why is it, do you think,” his hand was waving at the screen, “only 98% of the population dream?”
“Only?” someone scoffed. “98% is only?”
“Sure,” Paul nodded. “Why not 100? We’re all humans, right? We are all, on some level, the same. We’ve evolved in a way such that our brains should have a single way to clean themselves. To wash out whatever gunk accumulates. And during that, as I mentioned, we dream. Random connections between neurons. We’ve seen it in almost everyone. Dreaming happens when random neurons connect,” he shrugged. “So why is it that 2% of people don't get those flashes we call dreams? How do their neurons connect without causing it?”
“Maybe they just don't remember?” the angry man said. He was sitting back now, leaning on the back of his chair. He looked smugly down at Paul and Alison found his demeanour to be both off putting and attractive at the same time.
“Ah,” Paul said triumphantly, pointing the controller at the young man. “What’s your name? I feel like you’re going to be my pin cushion this semester.”
“Your name isn’t Pin Cushion,” Paul said.
“I’m Dane,” the man said. “What do you mean pin cushion?”
“Dane,” Paul repeated, writing it down on a piece of paper on the table. “Don’t worry, I’ll get around to learning the rest of your names. As for you, Dane. There’s always one person in a class who pokes and prods at the lecturer. Tries to catch them off guard or trip them up. I like these people, so I use them. I poke and prod back. I use them as examples. You’re the first person I go to when I have a question. I fill you with the pins you try to throw at me. Pin cushion.”
“Whatever,” Dane said.
“You said,” Paul continued. “Maybe they don’t remember.” Paul picked up a rather thick ream of paper from the table and thumped it back down on to it loudly. “That is five years of research. Just five. It was started after the hackers did their thing. Some of it was gained unethically, sure, but a lot of it was genuine research. Beyond any doubt anyone can provide, it shows that there are three classes of people when it comes to dreams. There are the people who dream and remember their dreams; there are the people who dream and do not remember them and then there are the people who do not dream at all. That third class of people is woefully understudied and it’s why we’re all here. Because, believe it or not, all of you and me, and anyone else who walks through that door is in that class. No one in this room has ever dreamed. Will ever dream. You and me, we are all incapable of dreaming for one reason or another. And that is a very good thing.”
“It is?” Dane replied.
“Because it means that we are safe,” Paul said. “We are safe from what has entered our world through our dreams and it’s why it’s so important that you never remember a single thing about what we discuss in here after you’ve left.”