"Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true."
Lev Andriessen sat up in bed.
Around him, the quiet of night reigned. His room was pitch black, except for the dim starlight that filtered in through the window. He reached over to the bedside table and tapped his clock. The numbers glowed briefly, indicating that there were still several hours before dawn.
He muttered a curse under his breath and lay back down. This was the second night during this week that he had woken in the middle of what should have been a sound sleep. Except for brief periods during his childhood, and when he was ill, he had always been a sound sleeper. The family home, built by his grandfather over fifty years ago, was far from any city or other large congregation of humanity. The only sounds to break the stillness were the wind in the trees and twittering birds. It made for a peaceful life.
Lev was twenty-seven standard years old, the youngest of six children with two brothers and three sisters. All of the sisters and one brother were married, and only the married brother and his family were still living at home along with Lev, his parents and his grandfather, who was still in remarkably good health in spite of his eighty-five years of age.
Lev sat up again, then threw the covers off and climbed out of bed. While I'm awake I might as well use the bathroom, he said to himself. He shambled over to the door and touched the contact. It slid silently open, revealing the hallway dimly lit by a pair of night-lights. The bathroom was the second door on the right.
In spite of being out in the backwoods of the continent of Vostim, the house was fairly modern. True, it had been built from native wood and stone instead of prefabricated plastic and composites, but it had common amenities such as an electric generator and a communication station. There were a couple of skimmers in the garage that Lev and others in the family used to get to Gerson, which was the nearest town of any size.
Life was fairly quiet in this part of the world, and that suited Lev just fine. He was not one to wish for the lights of the big city, or the mad rush of the older colonies or even of Earth itself. Like his brothers and sisters, he had done his elementary education via remote access. Afterward, he had followed his sister Erika's footsteps and gone to Gerson for a couple of years to a general-purpose technical school. Unlike her, he had not come away married. She ended up living there, while he came home.
He had not majored in any particular field of study. Indeed, at the time he wasn't even sure what he wanted to study. He still did not have any clearly defined direction for his life. It hadn't bothered him then and it didn't bother him now. He had always taken it for granted that he would figure it all out someday. So far, that day had not come. He was content to help his parents with the farm work and other things around the homestead. His father had commented a few times on his rather cavalier attitude toward life, in response to which Lev had merely shrugged. In a much earlier age he might have been considered normal. Personally, he rarely thought about it.
Nevertheless, he admitted to himself as he stood in front of the toilet, it's going to have to end some time. His father had inherited the house and the farm from his grandfather. But Lev was not the oldest, and his married brother was making sounds like he wanted to stay on. Somehow, Lev could not see himself working for his brother in the same way as he worked for his parents. He would have to move on. Yet, at the same time, he really didn't want to.
He finished emptying his bladder, and made his way back to his room, where he lay down, pulling the covers back over himself and spreading his arms out in his favorite sleeping position. For a while he just stared at the darkness, wondering why he had suddenly become subject to nightmares. He had never heard of anyone else in the family having that problem. He seemed to recall reading somewhere that stress could cause bad dreams. So could indigestion, drugs, or any of a number of other irrelevant items. None were applicable. It made no sense.
It wasn't that he had never had unpleasant nocturnal experiences. Like any other member of the human race, he had encountered his share of night terrors. But that had been mostly during his childhood. They had diminished during his teen years, and dwindled to practically nothing by the time he was grown up. And, like his more pleasant dreams, they had been disjointed and irrational; natural laws were grossly violated and it seemed perfectly normal, and the memory of them soon faded upon waking. These new nightmares were different. They were vivid, full of bright colors and sounds and smells, and as clear and consistent as reality. And, unlike other dreams, they did not fade.
Furthermore, they were all the same dream. It had disturbed his sleep twice during the previous week, and this was the second time this week.
And, unlike the paltry terrors of his youthful subconscious meanderings, this one frightened him in a way that no ordinary dream ever had.
* * *
Mankind in the twenty-eighth century considered himself to be far less superstitious than his ancestors. He had more knowledge of how things worked and of how the universe was put together than at any other time in history. And he occupied a far larger fraction of it than did those selfsame ancestors. Conservative estimates put the number of colony worlds with a population of over a hundred million at somewhere near two hundred and fifty. And there were innumerable other small colonies and outposts, stretching out nearly twelve hundred parsecs from Earth.
One of those colony worlds was called Eisn. Originally settled by Russians, it had later seen an influx of Swedes and Dutch, with a smattering of other nationalities. The largest continent--called Novaya Rossiya--was still a Russian stronghold. The Eisn General Politburo claimed sovereignty over the whole world, but in practical terms that only meant that they controlled immigration. The capital city, Novaya Moskva, had the only passenger spaceport on the planet, and interstellar liners respected their wishes and would not land passengers anywhere else. There was a spaceport in Gerson, but it was only used for commercial and freight transportation. Beyond immigration, however, the outlying colonies essentially ruled themselves.
The Swedish immigrants had originally settled among the Russians, but after a generation or two many of them began to look for an unoccupied place to move to. Eisn was very Earthlike and was what was referred to as "prime colony material," being only a fraction larger than Earth and having similar gravity and atmosphere. Even the biota were not too dissimilar. So, when the Swedes began to look around, the small southern continent of Vostim presented itself. The small city of Gerson was named after the leader of the original colonizing expedition. The original Andriessens had been a part of that same expedition. Later on, when the Dutch came, they eventually sought a homeland of their own as well. Unlike the rugged wilderness of Vostim, the more placid territory of Platte allowed them to industrialize more quickly.
Fifty years ago, Lev Andriessen's grandfather had built the home that he currently lived in, about thirty kilometers from Gerson on a newly cleared road. The clean forest with the view of the Kalash Mountains to the east had attracted him. The home overlooked a thickly wooded valley that stretched for kilometers in either direction to the north and south. He cleared several hectares nearby and successfully planted wheat and soybeans. Lev's father had been a boy of eleven when his father built their new house. When he reached maturity he went back to Gerson for a while to study, as Lev did later on. While there, he met Lev's mother and married her. But he never forgot the family home, and two years after they married, he took his bride and baby daughter and moved back. He and Lev's grandfather worked to enlarge the house to make it fit for a bigger family when they began having more children.
* * *
Lev recalled once seeing a story in the human-interest section of the news about a woman from Kanneveta who claimed to have had the same dream repeatedly over a seven-year period. He had barely skimmed over the article, and today still couldn't recall any more details. Part of him still didn't want to, as if closing his mind against the subject would make his own dreams go away. It didn't work.
Lev considered himself to be a rational product of his century and culture. He believed in a universe that ran according to well-understood rules, and in a human race that fit into that greater structure as a well-integrated part. Therein lay the other disturbing aspect of his dream. For, no matter how hard he tried, he could not conceive of anything even remotely rational that could account for it. Every time it repeated it was like having his nose rubbed in the mud of irrationality. It was as if the universe itself were mocking him.
I ought to tell someone, he told himself. It was not the first time that he had entertained the idea of opening up about his dream. But it was the first time he had entertained it seriously. The question was, who? For a moment he considered telling his parents, then decided not to. It had been hard enough to convince them to accept him as a grown man when he turned eighteen. If he told them about these dreams he would lose all of the respect he had gained during his adult years. Well, maybe he could tell his brother...
The trouble was that there weren't very many people that he could tell. Living away from the city had its advantages, but it also had its disadvantages. One of the disadvantages was that there were few people to go to when a problem arose. There were the Glicks, who lived fairly close by. In fact, he was going to help Arne fix his skimmer in the morning. Arne was always easy to talk to and willing to listen. Or, if that didn't work out, he could take one of the family skimmers and go into Gerson. His sisters and brothers-in-law lived there, as well as a few other people whom he knew.
Meanwhile, it was useless to just lie in bed without sleeping. He reached over and checked the time again. More than an hour had passed since he had wakened. Well, he thought, I've never had the dream more than once on any given night, so it probably won't come back.
With that comforting thought, he finally managed to drift off to sleep again.