Pandemic: Departures

by Cosmic Eclipse

Ch 2 - “A Dream of the Future”

The calming release of sleep had come at last, the one time of the day where Silver truly felt in control of the world around him. Truth be told, the loneliness was starting to really get to him, in time though, that wouldn’t need to be an issue. That is, if his master plan came together how he had hoped it would. So far he hadn’t had much luck with finding other dreamers like himself, but he did meet some interesting ponies along the way, some that had listened to his ideas, but ultimately didn’t see a lot of practical potential in them. Still though he did have potential allies if he ever did start to make some progress.

Silver stood alone in his observatory, carefully scrutinizing each and every detail. He had devised this place as an escape, a place where he could be in control. It admittedly wasn’t a very healthy choice to stay cooped up in here, but Silver didn’t care. He couldn’t bring himself to stop.

He glanced around at the detail throughout, admiring his work. Conjuring this place accurately time and time again had been easy enough to learn over the last few months, but going beyond familiar detail was still a little bit of a challenge. All things considered, mastering the ability to construct his own dreams was one of the greatest discoveries of his life up to this point and all he could think about was the potential that it had for him.

Like the great Captain Nemo in one of his favorite stories, Silver surrounded himself with his many scientific and scholarly pursuits to keep himself distracted from the world he had left behind. The grand library he had fashioned together in the very heart of this observatory even resembling the spectacular Grand Salon of the mighty Nautilus. The walls were lined with books and paintings of some of the best literary minds that had ever walked the earth. All priceless treasures to the young night pony, even if they were only hollow replicas.

Here, in his dream, he felt at home. In a world that had cast him out, this was the place where he could feel whole, a place where he could be in control. He wouldn’t be able to actually work towards his goal of working towards a better world yet, but he was still on the lookout for ponies that could help him. That was fine for the meantime though, he could continue to design a world of his dreams, both literally and figuratively and then venture out and explore other dreams when he felt comfortable.

He reflected on his thoughts for a moment. For the world hadn’t truly cast him out, he knew that overblown fears and perceptions were largely to blame for his friends and family shunning him. He could live with that, though it didn’t help the bitter pain vanish any more than it usually did. He still had his hopes set high, believing that someday his relationships could be mended. But that was a problem for another day, for now he directed his attention back to his observatory, ensuring that every detail was correct.

The Dreamer’s Observatory, as he started calling it, would never make sense in the waking world. Some rooms were underwater, some were among the stars, and many more were situated in different landscapes that could resemble any number of places. This was all perfect for his own desires however. In here he could have peace, as much as he was wary of the vast unknown that the dreamscape consisted of, there was certainly an interesting call to it. That strange feeling continued to nag at him, but he ignored it like he always did.

“You know, you don’t have to keep yourself locked away in here all the time.” Came a voice from behind Silver.

Without even turning to greet the mysterious intruder, Silver sternly replied “And you know you don’t need to check up on me like a child all the time.”

“Well that’s not a very nice way to greet me.” The stranger said flatly, moving around to observe the detail of the library that surrounded him. “Jules Verne, H.G. Wells… some fine authors indeed. You know I’m quite the fan of their work myself?

“You arrived unannounced and uninvited, if you want to know how I’m doing, I’m fine. You can either stay or leave, but I’d rather not argue on the matter. I don’t go meddling with your affairs so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t meddle with mine.”

“I could argue that I’m well within my rights to be here, you know? I’ll just say this though, what you’re experiencing could be considered one of the worst torments for a Night Pony to endure, being cut off from dreamwalking, yet you willingly confine yourself to your own dreams, in a prison of your own making. It’s a marvelous prison, and you certainly show some great talent, but it’s a prison nonetheless which keeps me asking… Why? I’m quite positive that it’s driving you mad so why keep up the act when you have the full power to end your suffering?”

“It’s complicated ok? If you need to know though, I just feel comfortable here. In here I can distract myself from the fear that keeps lurking in the background, the fears that drive me to do what I do. Let’s just say that I have my own reasons and I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure you could piece it together for yourself eventually.”

The intruder walked over to Silver’s desk and sat down, adjusting the glasses that seemed to materialize on their head. “What are you doing Silver? Everytime I see you here you’re just brooding alone in this room, maybe leaving your own dream every couple weeks.” They leaned forward, resting their head on their hooves. “I know you’ve told me all about your ideas, trying to find ponies that think like you do, have the same aspirations, but really, what do you do out there? Please, just help me understand.”

Silver closed his eyes for a moment, sighing as he started to speak in a somber tone. “You know, I used to love history. The past can give us all some valuable knowledge on how to address problems in the future… but that’s just it. We’re not doing anything to address these problems today. There’s so many problems in the world that we can work towards solving, but we’re not even trying! We’ve been told that Judgement Day is coming and we’re just ignoring it entirely, like it isn’t something that we should be concerned about!” Silver walked away from the window, turning to face the intruder. “I want you to think about this for a moment, if you knew what the future had in store, if you knew that something could swoop in at any moment and end everything you’ve ever known and loved, would you be terrified of it? Would you even try to stop it? What reasonable person wouldn’t?! Every day there’s a chance to change the world, to make a better future for ourselves, maybe even discover something new that could help us down the line! We just need to believe that it’s possible but we’re not! We’re fighting about whether this is even going to be a threat, and because we don’t believe it will be we’re not doing anything about it! We’re all sitting here, both humans and ponies alike, squabbling amongst ourselves because we can’t set aside our differences long enough to ensure that we’ll still even be around in the future. The canaries are dropping dead all around us and yet we’re still digging away, ignoring the obvious solutions that are in front of us! Every time I dreamwalk I hope I’ll be able to find somepony who might know where to start, somepony who might be just as afraid of this as I am. It’s a desperate attempt to change the world, I know, but is it really such a bad thing?”

The Intruder considered his words for a moment, sitting up in the chair. “That’s fair enough I suppose… Just please try and leave your dreams more, go out and find these ponies. It’s not healthy to keep to yourself here like you’ve been doing. I know you’re afraid, that’s what makes you a person though. The fact that you’re so concerned about this speaks louder than anything else. You act cold and stoic but these concerns break through the mask, and show me who you really are. You’re compassionate Silver, please share this compassion with others. At the very least we could talk about things from time to time, just so you’re not alone constantly.”

Silver dropped his cold facade for a brief moment, knowing that the intruder only had his best interests in mind.

“Listen, I really appreciate these talks. I really do. I’m sorry if I ever come off as cold, it’s just… so much has changed in such a short amount of time… I don’t always know who I can trust nowadays.”

“It’s understandable, I really appreciate the honesty. The offer still stands, if you should ever need me, I’m sure you know how to find me.”

The intruder seemed to have vanished almost as soon as he had arrived, leaving Silver alone to his thoughts once more.

Most Night Ponies couldn’t stand the feeling of staying in their own dreams, but Silver preferred to run his own ship, attempting to avoid the dreamwardens and their policies entirely, unsure of how to feel about them based on his previous interactions. His instincts gnawed at him to explore the many dreams out there, but he forced that part of him to remain quiet. Perhaps these feelings wouldn’t surface as often once he had found other ponies that shared the same concern about the future as him. That was the next item on his agenda, but he had no idea of where to even start on this task.

Every time he ventured out into other dreams he just found much of the same. Ponies that weren’t concerned about the future, or ponies that were more worried about the humans. Sometimes it was ponies that used their dreams as an escape-- to do what they couldn’t in the waking world anymore, but most of all it was simply ponies that didn’t care to hear what he had to say. That feeling of wanting to just go explore nagged at him again, never giving it a rest. The brief moments of contact would only reignite his instinct to go find a group to stick with. At times this could be both a blessing and a curse.

Silver knew that this dream wouldn’t be easy, likely taking decades to show any real promise… but he could stay content with that. If he always had work to distract him from his instinctual feeling to go be social, he could hopefully ignore that ever present nagging feeling in the back of his head.

Stanley explored the countless dreams as he had been doing for a week now, still looking for any lead that might help him find his oasis. Tonight wasn’t a very fruitful night to say the least... that is until he reached a very curious dream. Stanley was no expert on dreams but he had never entered one that was so lucid and real. He found himself standing in the entrance hall of a grand library the likes of which he’d never seen before. His curiosity got the better of him and he began to explore.

The rooms he found were all strange to say the least. Each room offering something unique and different from the rest. The one he was in now resembled a museum, paintings and sculptures as far as the eye could see. There was so much to take in and so many questions that arose from the strange sights before him. Surely a normal pony couldn’t have envisioned and formed all of this on their own? Or could they?

Stanley wandered to the next room, seeing no other path to take. He came across what looked like a boardroom. Ornate curtains lined the walls, with empty picture frames sat behind each seat… aside from one. Behind the head of the table sat a large painting of an indifferent looking night pony, his eyes seemingly gazing out the nearby window, looking into the empty abyss of space.

Stanley took a moment to gaze out the window, noticing the vibrancy of the stars around him. Stanley had never been an astronomist, but he knew that these stars and constellations were vastly different from any other that he had seen in the waking world. The scene was strange, but fascinating to see at the same time. The longer he stared at the points, the more he noticed the faint lines that seemed to connect the dots, forming both familiar and unfamiliar shapes.

A cheerful smiling dragon looked back at him, but Stanley decided to move on. The following room was unlike the ones that he had encountered this far. A large collection of strange and unusual plants were sitting around the conservatory. A desert scene sat outside these windows, but it was unlike any desert Stanley had ever seen. In the distance a large mountain could be seen, breaking up the vast emptiness that sat beyond the domed structure.

As he continued wandering through the dream, a faint organ tune could be heard playing… It was a calm, relaxing tune, almost familiar sounding but he couldn’t quite place it. It gave him an idea though, surely he could follow the tune and find whoever was at the heart of this mysterious place. He ventured on, finding himself in a strange, crystal filled cavern. The sight was truly breathtaking, but  he couldn’t let himself get distracted, he was on a mission now.

The building was seemingly a labyrinth of information stacked as far as the eye could see, but Stanley continued to push on, following the music until he stumbled into a large but cozy library, with windows overlooking an underwater scene. At the far end of the room was a midnight blue night pony sitting at an ornate desk, a huge pipe organ sitting on the level above, the figure seemingly unaware of his confused guest.

“Hello?” Stanley hesitantly greeted the stranger.

The night pony stirred from his work, glancing over with an almost confused look. “Huh? Who are you? I wasn’t expecting any more guests today.”

“Oh… I’m very sorry, I found this place and was curious so I took a look around, I’m sorry if I intruded on you… I’ll just go find my way out…” Stanley quickly turned and began walking out.

“WAIT!” Yelled Silver, startling the young Night Pony, “Sorry to scare you, but I have to ask, what brought you to my dream? This isn’t exactly a particularly interesting dream, what would possibly compel you to stay here and explore for so long?”

“It’s just… well… I used to be a banker, I dealt with organization every day of my life, I feel like I can’t find a place where I fit in, but this dream feels different, it feels more… comfortable to me, the library and whatnot. And well, you’re the only other male Night Pony that I’ve run across so far, the change of scenery is actually kind of nice for once.”

“You’re not like the others are you? That is, shunning away humanity, following some manufactured visions of perfection, etcetera… you seem to have more to you.”

“Well… like I said, I’ve never really fit in back home, I’ve been too afraid of change to do anything about that… well up until recently that is. I’ve suffered from nightmares as long as I can remember, and one day… well one day that all just stopped. I found something extremely interesting one night… a dream of an oasis, something that was or could be a reality. I just had to find it… It was… a place, where I could fit in for once.”

Intrigued by the stranger’s response, silver reflected on this for a brief moment. “Why don’t you stay a little longer? I could really use someone like you on my team…”

Caught up in the conversation, he realized that he hadn’t even introduced himself.

“Oh, my apologies, I haven’t even introduced myself yet. I’m Silver Eclipse, enterprising researcher. The magnificent grand library that you are currently standing in is what I would like to call… The Dreamer’s Observatory… Kind of a flashy name I know, but it fits nicely. I’ve been trying to set up a team, and all I needed was a few enterprising ponies to join it, and well, a meeting place to meet in. You’re free to join or leave as you wish, however you seem to have talents that I’d hate to see go to waste. Consider the offer, I’m sure you’ll know how to find me again if you so desire.”

“I’ll do it” the stranger interjected suddenly.

Silver was caught off guard by the sudden decision, most others would think it over a longer term, the sudden response both surprised and intrigued him. “I’m sorry?”

“I said I’ll do it… This might be a positive opportunity for me, and besides, I could use someone smart to offer advice along the way.”

“Do you have a name by chance?”

“Oh… my bad… it’s Stanley. Just Stanley.”

“Well just Stanley, welcome aboard, I think we’re going to be fast friends.”

And so, each gained something that they had been missing that night. For Silver, it was a friend, someone he could share his thoughts and ideas with. For Stanley it was someone who thought like he did, and perhaps even someone who could teach him.

“So Silver, was it hard to learn how to create all this?” Stanley said, gesturing at the scene around him.

“At first it was, but like anything, with practice you can refine something down into a practical skill. Have you been dreamwalking for long?”

“I can’t really say that I have, I just learned recently so I’m still learning the ins and outs”

“Who taught you?”

“Well… no one. I’ve kind of just been following my instincts and hoping for the best.”

“Well that works for a start, but there are definitely better ways to go about doing it. Would you like me to show you sometime?”

“Yes!, I mean, that would be wonderful.”

“You mentioned me summoning this place, let’s start there, but with something smaller. Follow me to the table.”

Silver led Stanley over to a large ornate table in the center of the room.

“Now I want you to clear your mind and visualize something you can easily picture in your head. Close your eyes if you need to. I want you to think about it, every part of it, every detail. The clearer the picture the better. Got it?”

“I think so…”

“Perfect. Now keep visualizing it, and when you think you have a clear enough picture, I want you to imagine it sitting on the table in front of you. Take your time, it’s a tough thing to master at first, especially in somepony else’s dream, but as you practice it’ll get easier and easier.”

Stanley focused as hard as he could, imagining the old music box he had kept on his desk back home. He opened his eyes, to see a somewhat misshapen replica sitting on the table. Detail was lacking in most places, but the general shape of it was there.

“I… I did it!”

“You did! Now the important question. How does it compare to the actual object?”

“The general shape is there, but the detail is very far off”

“That’s perfectly fine, you’re just a beginner after all. I believe that you have a great talent for this already Stanley, if you want you can continue practicing this tonight, or we can focus on something else.”

“I think I want to practice this a little more if that’s alright with you.”

“That’s perfectly acceptable to me. I’ll be at my desk if you need me. Just remember to keep it small, it isn’t easy to change another’s dream.”

Stanley sat there practicing for some time, each successive music box he summoned getting closer to the detail he had wanted. They were far from perfect, but it was something he could take time and practice with. As he needed.

Silver on the other hand sat at his desk, reflecting on the events thus far. His thoughts returned to the mysterious intruder that had visited him earlier. He had been right of course, Silver was slowly losing his mind by staying cooped up alone in his dream. The unexpected visitor turned friend that he found in Stanley was a great opportunity for Silver. He finally had a pony that seemingly shared his interests, one that could be a much needed friend.

What was a friend? The question he thought he had an answer to continued to elude him, his thoughts drifting back to those who he had considered friends before all this had happened. He couldn’t fully blame them, he knew that fear was a powerful motivator, his condition serving as an almost constant reminder. He hated to think of his reality as a condition, but to him it was. One that he would never recover from as much as he had hoped he would.

As he sat there left alone to his thoughts, he felt as if he needed to reflect on some old memories, memories that ceased to fade. It was partially from his doing of course, if he was a different pony he could simply act as if his past was unimportant like so many of those around him, but it felt wrong to just denounce that this was exactly who he was meant to be in life. Sure he felt as if he had always been this way, but that thought scared him. He knew very well that he was meant to be a human, but his instincts spoke otherwise.

“Stanley, I’m going to go inspect something in another wing of the observatory, if you should find yourself needing anything don’t hesitate to call into the cone near my desk, the sound will travel throughout and I’ll return.”

“Uh huh, ok. Take your time”

Silver stood up, pulling out one of the ornate books on the shelf behind him, revealing a hidden entrance to one of his favorite rooms in the Observatory, The Gallery. The room before him was simple, but practical. A circular room with a simple recliner in the center, a domed ceiling full of brilliant stars sat over him. Silver approached the chair and sat down, recalling the bitter memory of his friends cutting off all contact with him.

Joshua couldn’t take the isolation any longer. He needed to go find his friends, and he needed that now more than anything. In other towns and cities, the few who had progressed far enough had moved to shelters for support. There was only one shelter in his city, and he knew that it was only a matter of time until some of his peers would wind up there.

Joshua was stubborn though, refusing to go to the shelter until he absolutely couldn’t function on his own any longer. As he wandered through the empty streets, his thoughts kept turning back to his friends.

“Maybe I should go see them, It’s not like they can’t get any sicker than they are already.” He thought to himself. Quickly turning towards his home, he entered his garage, walking towards the simple motorcycle inside. He knew that he shouldn’t be driving, but he didn’t exactly care. There were hardly any cars on the streets, not since the transformations began, so he was sure that there was hardly a risk.

He rode out into town, turning towards one of his friends houses. Mark had always been a close friend, but understandably the revelation that this was no normal flu had scared most of the neighborhood into staying indoors.

Joshua knocked on the door. No answer. He waited for a few, until the door finally opened, revealing his friend Mark.

“Look Josh, I don’t want to talk right now, you’re one of them.”

“One of them?”

“Yeah, one of those… I’m sorry. I… Look man, you’re one of my best friends, but I’ve heard about the transformed out east and you’re obviously becoming one of them, and… well I don’t want to go down that route. I’m sorry.”

And with that the door was unceremoniously closed.

“You know, you’re already showing the signs too, it’s not like it can get any worse!”

His retort was met with silence, so he did what he always did, moved on.

Joshua was met with much the same response with every friend he had tried to contact. He knew that he was fighting a losing battle. A solitary thought told him that maybe he should just give in an accept his fate. He reasoned with himself though, knowing that he couldn’t let this get in the way of his plans. He had only recently applied to his dream school, though he figured that with all the commotion going on, school wouldn’t be in session for quite a while, if ever.

The memory ended, and Silver was left alone in the room again. There was more to the memory of course, but Silver couldn’t bear to continue it. It was just too much of a bitter reminder for him. The intruder was right once again, this wasn’t healthy. It was a bitter substitute for real interaction and he knew it.

He could never go back, so why did he dwell so much on his past? Other ponies had moved on effortlessly, and while the thought of just moving past this was certainly good, Silver couldn’t bear to just completely abandon his humanity. His dreams of research and finding like minded individuals seemed to finally be coming true for the first time in months, so why was he still doing this to himself?

Silver knew the answer to this question, but refused to fully acknowledge it. It was too hard to simply throw away everything he had worked towards in his life up to this point. The solution was right in front of him yet he refused to follow it. His thoughts and emotions conflicted every day that he confined himself here and yet he still did it.

He was still wary to dream walk, knowing that he really had no friends dreams to visit, and he wasn’t very interested in the dreams of those around him. Sure he could explore the countless other dreams that existed, but it was a reminder that his friends had left him. Perhaps with Stanley he could reignite the same feelings that dreamwalking had first given him when he broke the through boundary of his dreams that first time.

That was a lesson for another day however, and Silver knew that he couldn’t just continue to sit alone in silence, he had a new friend that he was just ignoring so he could go live in the past one more time. Silver resolved to change from this day forward, the first step would be cutting back his time in the Gallery until he no longer needed to dwell on those past memories. Friendship it seemed, would be the best solution going forward.

He left the room, heading back into the Grand Salon to check up on his friend’s progress, feeling a little better about his situation.

“So how’s your progress so far?”

“I’m getting there, it’s still not quite perfect but I’m getting close.”

“That’s great… could I ask you something?”

“Of course?”

Silver struggled to word this question, unsure of what his new friend would answer with. “What is a friend to you? It’s a question that I’ve been caught up on for a long while now and I have yet to answer it with any real sense of finality.”

“That’s tough to answer to be completely honest. It depends on your view of the world, what makes up your thoughts, opinions, ideals… For me, a friend is someone who is there for you when you need help, someone you can share your thoughts with, someone that will hear you out.”

Silver thought on this for a moment. He knew that he still needed to come out of his shell and start trusting other ponies, and he knew that it wouldn’t be easy. But with ponies like Stanley, ponies who accepted who they were and what they now were, and still resolved to follow their dreams, it would certainly make it easier.

“Stanley, have you ever had a dream so crazy and so monumental that you’re not even sure if it’s possible?”

Stanley looked over to Silver with a confused look on his face. “Where are you going with this?”

He continued. “Has something ever scared you so much that you can only think of wild solutions to the problem?”

“I… I suppose…”

“What did you want to do in response to those fears?”

Stanley shuffled in place for a moment, hesitantly answering back, “It’s… it’s kind of a crazy idea. I don’t know if you’ll understand it.”

“Please, trust me on this, I’m sure my own ideas are just as, if not more crazy.” Silver assured him.

Stanley thought back to his final encounter with his boss, noting the prejudice that ponies seemed to face in many of the nearby human majority cities. “Ok well… I just want to find something… somewhere where ponies and humans can just live and work together-- as equals.”

Silver smiled. A thought coming into his mind. “That’s a wonderful dream Stanley… there’s a lot of potential in such an idea… you know?”

“What’s... your dream… Silver?”

“My dream? My dream is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to accomplish… but that’s what makes it a dream right?”

“But what is it?”

Silver stared off into the distance. “Fear makes us do crazy things… what if we could inspire others to work towards solving two problems at once?”

“What kind of problems?”

“Why don’t you take a break for now? I have yet to give you a proper tour of the Observatory.”

“But what kind of problems? Where do we even start?”

“Let’s start at the beginning shall we?”

“But you haven’t told me anything yet!”

“Let’s get to know each other a little more first. We can talk about my dream later…”

And the two were off, Silver excited but unsure of the road ahead of him.