The lights switched on in the room.
“Come on, Grace, time to get up,” said a kind, male voice.
Grace opened her eyes. They were a brilliant shade of green. She turned over, swatting away the wires that were strategically glued to her head. She absent-mindedly rubbed her face and one of them popped off.
“Already?” she asked, half-complaining.
“Yeah. Don’t you want to take a look at the monitors and see your dreams?”
Grace’s face lit up.
Grace walked into the monitor room, still in her dolphin pajamas. She’s not older than ten, with short brown hair that bounced whenever she walked.
“Can I see it now, Chex?” she begged excitedly.
“Just a minute.”
Chex leaned over the desk and began pressing several buttons.
Grace eyed the clock. It was 7 in the morning. She glanced from it to Chex and then walked off.
“Hey, where you going?” Chex asked.
“I’ll be right back.”
Chex let her go. He flipped more switches and clicked more buttons. The monitor suddenly sprang to life, colors dancing and fluctuating across the screen. The most that could be pieced together was blurry figures and scenery, like looking at a reflection in a pond when it’s raining. Chex watched, taking measurements and notes.
Grace returned with a coffee mug. Steam rose out and enveloped Grace’s face.
“I got you coffee.”
Chex took it from her gently and patted her head.
“Aw, thank you, Grace.”
Grace propped her elbows up on the desk and stared at the scene playing out on the screen.
“Are those my dreams?” she asked.
“Want to know how it works?”
Grace nodded, eager to know.
“So all those wires we glued to your head? They were reading your brain patterns and wavelengths when you were sleeping. Then it read them and pieced together what you saw. Do you remember this?”
Grace peered closely at the monitor, shaking her head.
“Well, that’s probably because this was towards the beginning of your dream. Let’s go with something you’ll probably remember better.”
Chex shifted some things around. The images mutated. A smile began to creep across Grace’s face.
“I remember this!” she exclaimed. “This was right before you woke me up.”
“That’s right!” Chex congratulated her. “Now, we’re going to do some more tests like these, but we’re going to have you be awake. You up for that?”
Grace nodded emphatically.
Grace sat at a kid’s table in a room, hooked up to monitors that beeped and flashed. Nearby was an adjacent room that served as a viewing station.
Chex carefully dropped tiny beads of glue onto the suction cups of wires and delicately placed them on Grace’s head.
“It’s cold.” Grace complained.
“I’m sorry, Gracie. It’ll warm up soon. Last one.”
Chex placed the wire directly on top of Grace’s head. He stepped back to double check his work, then turned to a monitor.
“Okay, Grace. I’m going to turn it on, and we’re going to take a look. You ready?”
Grace nodded. Chex flipped a switch and a low hum rumbled.
On the monitors, colors flashed in swirling patterns.
“Okay, Grace. You can go ahead and start.”
Grace picked up a crayon from a box and began coloring a picture. The images on the monitors danced with every single action she took.
“Now the book.” Chex said.
Grace picked up a picture book and began reading.
“Try to imagine what it looks like.”
Grace concentrated hard on the book, her brow furrowing. The small picture in the book appeared on the screen, washed out and blurry.
“Grace, could you please read aloud?” Chex asked.
“The lion grabbed the mouse up in his paw. ‘I have you now!’” Grace read.
Chex nodded proudly as the scene played out on the screen. Other charts arced and danced about. Chex turned to his clipboard.
“Okay now, Grace. We’re going to try something different. Instead of trying to make you put an image up on the screen from your mind, we’re going to try and see if we can get the image into your mind.”
Grace stared at Chex, confused.
“So you want to transmit images to my brain?”
“That’s right. We won’t let you see the screens. We want you to concentrate really hard and tell us what you see. Okay?”
Grace thought for a moment.
Chex pulled up an image of an orange cat.
“Go ahead and start.”
Grace squeezed her eyes shut, focusing with all her might.
“I–I see orange.”
“It’s blobby. Wait, it’s got a tail. Ears…legs…is it a cat? An orange cat?”
Chex nearly jumped up in excitement.
“Well done, Grace! What about this?”
Chex pulled up a picture with three people in a park.
“This is harder. There’s more figures.”
Grace concentrated. The harder she thought, the clearer the image was in her mind.
“It’s three people in a park.”
“How many men and women?” Chex asked.
Grace went silent for a moment.
“Two men, one woman.”
“Well done, Grace! What about reading? Can you read this?”
“Let me try.”
Chex pulled up a document with large letters. Grace clutched her head, concentrating harder than she ever had before, trying to block out everything. She clenched her fists and gritted her teeth, but she couldn’t.
It was too noisy: the tapping of the assistant’s foot, the ticking of Chex’s wristwatch, the breathing of the supervisor–it was all too loud. Grace sat up and looked at everyone politely.
“Can you all leave, please?” she asked. “I can’t focus.”
Chex looked at the others.
“Yeah, I think we can let you do that.”
Chex ushered the other employees and assistants out of Grace’s room and into the viewing room. He stood and watched as Grace once again delved into directing her attention towards trying to read words with her mind.
One of the supervisors approached Chex.
“She’s good.” He said.
“She’s better than that. She’s brilliant.” Chex replied.
“Have you had any luck with the adults?” he asked.
Chex shook his head.
“Just the kids, but even then it’s weird. One day, they’ll be able to do it, then they eat the too much cheese for a snack and they lose it forever.”
“But not Grace?”
“No, not Grace.”
“I…” Grace spoke, eyes still shut tight. “The first word is ‘I.’”
Her voice came over the speaker with a robotic echo to it. She doubled over and clutched her head, as if willing the words to appear.
Chex watched intently, silently cheering her on.
The lights fluctuated violently, almost strobing. A flash of light appeared over Grace and then a line of dark energy appeared, splitting right down her body. Grace screamed. She clutched her head until her knuckles were white. The readings on the monitors fluctuated chaotically.
“What the hell is going on?!” Chex shouted. “Turn it off!”
Employees buzzed around, flipping switches. Monitors turned off, one by one.
“It’s not doing anything!” One of the assistants yelled.
The line around Grace became bolder, wider, enveloping her body.
“It hurts!” Grace screamed.
“I’m coming!” Chex shouted.
Immediately, Chex bolted out of the adjacent room. He ran around to Grace’s room and yanked open the door.
A circular portal had cut the girl in half. Beyond, there was nothing clearly visible at all, just swirling darkness.
“It hurts!” Grace screamed again.
She sat up. The two halves of her on either side of the portal began to pull apart.
“Make it stop!”
In a flash of light, the portal expanded. It grew larger and larger, swallowing Grace whole into its darkness. Without warning, it suddenly imploded, leaving Grace nor anything else behind.
Hey, everyone! I’m Tian. I’m one of two additional writers for this expanded universe of Dust.