tagSci-Fi & FantasyDream Drive Ch. 06

Dream Drive Ch. 06

byOver_Red©

Author's Note:

All aspects of the story are fictional. All characters that participate in sexual activity are over the age of 18.

Edited by Expoh.


****



Strength - 100 +10 (+10%)

Vitality - 185 +19 (+10%)

Agility - 43 +2 (+5%)

Compulsion - 0

Persuasion - 0

Spirit - 40 +10 (+25%)

Health - 248.00/248.00

Essence - 123

Carry Weight - 28.4/59.0


****



Jackson dozed on the floor of Shaka's tent. He turned over and faced the ceiling.

The tiniest bit of pre-dawn light filtered through the slit at the top of the tipi. If he hadn't had his eyes closed for so long, it might have been hard to tell. The light made a faint sort of haze; it hung about like a mist, clinging to the leather skins that were sewn together to create the patched tent.

The air was calm, and slightly chilled. He basked in the delicious warmth of having a big blanket drawn tight around his legs, sealing in all the heat. He felt like he was wrapped in a cocoon. Nothing bad could happen.

He'd never felt like that at home. Even while alone, in his room, with the door locked. There were always sounds. A gunshot in the night. Muffled shouting. Music, thumping through the thin walls of neighboring apartments. Cars rushing by in the street.

Here, it was quiet. Shaka's tipi didn't have a lock. It didn't need one.

Jackson didn't need to sleep anymore, but he needed rest. He hadn't realized that. Shaka had been right to insist he relax. The old woman had a bad habit of being right all the time.

Shakhan had lifted a physical need of Jackson's body. That was one thing - this was another. The flesh was willing, but the spirit was weak.

Jackson glanced at Chaki. She was stretched out, relaxed, one foot sticking out of her blanket. She breathed softly. The worry on her face - stress built from being watched by cameras and forced onto subway trains back on Earth - had vanished. He felt an urge to hold her in his arms.

She sniffed the air, turned slightly. Her eyes blinked themselves open. She saw him watching her. A slow smile crept up her face. She didn't say anything.

She didn't need to speak. Jackson could feel her; she was her usual bed of coals. That's what she was, inside his head. The image called to mind an earthy fire pit, just like the fires the People-Under-The-Mountain kept for themselves.

She kindled for him. She was a vibrant, calm warmth. He took a deep breath, as if trying to inhale that sensation.

Chaki's smile faded. They kept looking at each other. Their stares weren't awkward; it felt intimate, casual. They could explore one another's faces at their leisure. No hurry. Just understanding.

Jackson smiled suddenly.

Chaki smiled back, but there was curiosity in her eyes. She whispered across the rugs matting the floor. "What is it?"

"Just remembering you in a hoodie," Jackson said.

Chaki glanced at Shaka, then back at him. She scooted a bit closer, drawing her blanket with her, until she rested only two feet from him. "Are you sure you weren't remembering me without a hoodie?"

"Maybe that too."

"You shouldn't just come out and admit that," Chaki said. She was still smiling. "It isn't proper."

Jackson rolled his eyes. "You don't care about that."

"Of course I do."

"Uh-huh."

"More importantly," Chaki said, "it's no fun to tease you if you just let it slide right off."

"Sorry to ruin your fun."

"You should be."

Jackson frowned. He took his hand out of his blanket and scratched his temple. Something was off. Wrong. He'd missed something important. It sat at the back of his mind: a half-remembered thought that couldn't quite collect itself together.

"What is it?"

"I dunno," Jackson said.

"It must be something."

He shrugged under his blanket. "I dunno."

"You have that look," Chaki said. "Do we have to play this game all over again?"

Jackson sighed softly and waved his freed hand. "It's not that. I just feel like I'm missing something. I really don't know what it is."

"It mustn't be all that important, then."

"No, it is." Jackson searched through the folders stuffed in the back of his brain. "Something big."

Chaki scraped her way across the ground until they lay face-to-face. "I'm sure it will come to you. In the meantime, why don't you focus on me?"

"With or without a hoodie?"

"Hmm..." Chaki grinned. "I'll let you decide."

"In that case..." Jackson bolted upright; the blanket fell off him. "The hoodies!"

Chaki gave him an odd look. "I'm not opposed to wearing it, if you'd like that."

"No, the hoodies! The hoodies came with us when we came back into Isis! We brought something back with us! Holy shit. Holy shit!"

Shaka snorted, rolled over. Her voice croaked out. "Boy, if that's you awake, fetch some water. Old bones aren't as good in the morning."

"Yes, Shaka," Jackson said. He stood up and dusted himself off. He'd slept in his buckskin clothing, but it seemed that was typical for the Windseekers. More layers meant more warmth; they didn't care about wrinkles.

"Jackson, what is it about the hoodies, exactly?" Chaki asked.

"I'll tell you in a second," Jackson said. "I've got to think this through." He ducked out of the tent.

Jackson felt like knocking his heels together and dancing. Instead, he jumped, and landed hard on the grass. He snatched one of Shaka's containers from where it hung off the side of her tent, then power walked toward the river. His body was jolted along by the adrenaline of inspiration.

When he'd gone between Isis and Earth, the only thing that had come with him were flecks of rattok blood. He'd woken up on both sides in the clothes he'd been wearing; nothing came except what was on his skin. He'd vaguely thought of trying to hold something in his mouth, or even dig something into his flesh in order to transport it, but the ideas didn't seem worth the risk.

This, though - this was different. If he could transport clothes, what else could he transport? Something he could hold? Computer equipment?

He'd need a power source - that was doable. He had a little mobile solar panel. Low wattage, but enough to power a laptop or charge a foldout. He had a handheld taser and a can of pepper spray. Useful in a pinch.

Getting something serious could be more difficult. He might be able to acquire a shotgun or a rifle, but the only source of ammunition would be Earth. He'd have to make return trips. He wasn't sure how useful guns would be compared to magic, but, in a straight physical contest at range, nothing beat a bullet.

More importantly, he hadn't planned on returning. He had to lay low inside of Isis after those stunts he'd pulled. Charles or even the normal police might be staking out his house. A quick trip was in order, but more than that would have to wait until the heat died down.

It would probably be better to level up his magical abilities, anyway. A gun would make a good backup - like that shiny new cannon he'd discovered in the cavern. Something to fall back on, but not a main weapon. There was also the very real chance he might encounter something that required magic to defeat. A gun would be useless against those kinds of enemies.

But would it? If he could train in spears, and create abilities for his weapons, couldn't he do the same with a gun? Magical guns. The more he thought about it, the more the possibilities expanded.

But oh, the possibilities. The exploits. If he could get a generator over, develop a store of batteries...hell. If Chaki thought he was a magician after hacking a few cars, just wait until she saw a fully powered combat exoskeleton. Not that he'd steal a police model - but he could jury-rig his own version. It wouldn't be as clean, but it would get the job done.

Jackson he had more than his fair share of experience with cybernetic augmentation. And with his video game body, the problems of skin irritation and scar tissue buildup over long-term use were nonexistent. He'd have to find his old scanner.

Jackson reached the creek. He dipped the leather skin into the water, took a few swigs himself, and topped off the container.

He looked down; his reflection swam back into view as the ripples settled. His sand-colored hair was tousled in a bad case of bedhead. He splashed his hands and tried to rub it straight, but that just made it frizz up. I guess Isis can't solve everything.

Jackson looked out over the open plains on the other side of the small river. It had been a long time since he'd done anything with augmentation. He couldn't bring himself to touch it again. Not since what happened with Westley.

Times were changing. He had to use every tool at his disposal. If he didn't, and Chaki got hurt...Jackson nodded to himself. That settled the debate.

He found himself thinking of Rachel.

Rachel would understand the implications immediately. There would be no need for an explanation, no confusion. She'd just get it, and they could spend a healthy hour debating the merits of hyperdense fuel-cell stacks against SMES banks as energy storage solutions in Isis.

He wanted that conversation. He wanted to talk to her again. He could count the number of people in that category on one hand.

Well, two hands, now. The People-Under-The-Mountain were a pretty good bunch.

Rachel was a little nuts, but she was the good kind of nuts. Jackson wasn't an exciting person, but he could rebound off of her energy. He didn't have to do anything; she held a conversation with or without him. It was nice to participate at will, as opposed to feeling obligated to respond. And if she wanted a response, she made it clear. Say something. Anything. It's too quiet.

She was a gamer; she was in Isis. A warrior of Shakhan, as Shaka would say. And now she was gone.

He sighed. Why had she run away?

Jackson felt a shove from behind. He tumbled into the creek face first.

The water was shallow; Jackson's arms and legs struck the muddy bottom. He got his feet under him and pushed his head and shoulders above the water line. He spluttered and coughed as he tried to get air back into his lungs. "What the - the shit?"

He heard laughter. Cold laughter. It was a sound he'd heard many times before.

Jackson wiped his eyes clear of the water. Boonta, Malaki, and a third young man Jackson had seen but didn't know were standing on the riverbank.

"Seriously?" Jackson muttered.

Boonta bent near the shore. His flat face was twisted up in a grin. He stretched out his arm to fish Jackson out. "Here."

Jackson almost reached for it. He squinted, then waded to the side of the shore and climbed up the bank himself.

"Can't take a helping hand?" Boonta asked.

"The same hand that just pushed me in?" Jackson said.

"Don't be sore," said the other guy.

"It was only in fun, Jackson," Malaki said. "You were standing there for so long, just staring at the grass." The tall girl nudged her companion. "Boonta. Say something."

"The look on his face was pretty amusing." Boonta exchanged a glance with his henchman, and they burst into laughter.

Jackson looked at them a moment longer, then turned and started off. He heard footsteps behind him; they were following. "What do you want?" he said.

"Come on, we were just joking."

"I don't have time for your shit."

"I think we made him upset." Boonta's friend skipped around to Jackson's side. Jackson eyeballed him. He was tall - very tall, even more so than Malaki. His hair was cut very short - not to the scalp, like Boonta, but close. Long muscles ran down his arms and legs. He had the sort of beady eyes that Jackson expected to see on a beetle. "Boonta said you're stiff as a board. The water was to soften you up."

"Consider me softened," Jackson said. They entered the lines of tents; this early, the camp was still waking, but in a few minutes people would begin packing their things up for the start of another march across the plains. "Go bother someone else."

"I heard from Hanta you're good with the spear. If he said so, it must be true."

"Whatever," Jackson said. He kept walking.

"Boonta," the man said, "this is Tatanka Ska? Are you sure you didn't confuse him with a rabbit?"

"He seemed a bit more stubborn at the time," Boonta said. "At least on par with a frightened deer."

"Look at him run! I can't believe Chaki has fallen for this coward. I'm sure you'll win her back at the Mountain Meet."

Jackson stopped and looked at the stranger. "Do you actually want something, or are you just trying to piss me off?"

The tall kid halted; Boonta and Malaki stopped at his shoulders. He looked Jackson up and down for a moment. "Are you going to be participating in the games, at the mountain?"

Jackson's ears perked up. "...games?"

"He doesn't know," Boonta said. "He's a stranger. Allow me to enlighten you, Jackson."

"My name is Tatanka Ska."

"A title is a title. Everyone calls you Jackson."

"No," Jackson said. "My friends call me Jackson."

"What are you going to do about it, Jackson?" Boonta asked. "Glare at me?"

Jackson considered rising to the bait, but decided that physically assaulting the elder's son was probably not a good plan. He shrugged instead, and then turned to Boonta's lanky friend. "Who are you, and what do I have to do to make you stop bothering me?"

"My name is Katran," he said. "I'm the most talented warrior in the Windseekers."

"Congratulations."

"Testing my strength against another powerful warrior is a matter of privilege and honor."

"Alright," Jackson said. "You want to spar? I can do that."

"No," Katran said. "Simple sparring isn't enough to decide skill. It's only a game wagered on by children."

"Hanta doesn't seem to think so," Jackson said.

"I respect Hanta's experience, but he is not all-knowing," Katran said. "Amongst men, prowess can only be truly decided in a real fight. Such directness is forbidden amongst those in the same tribe, except in the games, in which both talent and courage is tested. I have won the past two spear-games; I will win the third. My honor will be that much greater if I can defeat a so-called warrior of Shakhan."

"So, you want me to play in these games so you can beat me and make yourself look good."

"Not untrue," Katran said. "Though you use harsh words."

"I'm not really great at words."

"So I hear." Katran gestured to his female companion. "And this year, I will offer the Gem-Flower to Malaki and make her my first wife, with the weight of Shakhan behind it."

Malaki blushed slightly. "Katran. Do not say that so...publically."

"It is how I feel."

Jackson distinctly remembered Malaki trying to get with him after the dance back on his first night at the Windseeker camp. Apparently she wasn't as loyal as she was pretty.

"I wish you all the best," Jackson said, "but I'm not interested."

"What could I do to change your mind?"

"Nothing," Jackson said. "No offense."

"So you're a coward, then?" Katran asked.

"I'm soaking wet from Boonta pushing me in the river," Jackson said. He raised his sleeves; they were still dripping. "And now you want to challenge me to a dick-measuring contest? Did you think that would rile me up or something? I don't care about some flower thing, and I definitely don't care what you think about me." Jackson turned and slogged toward Shaka's tent.

"It's alright, Katran," Boonta said. "Jackson will be back."

Jackson flipped them the bird over his shoulder. He wasn't sure if the tribesmen had any concept of the gesture, but he didn't really care.

"About time." Shaka was standing outside her tent, stretching her limbs. "I thought I asked you to draw water, not jump in it."

Jackson's voice was toneless. "Flat-face thought I could use a morning bath."

Shaka made a sound somewhere between a groan and a growl. "Insufferable, infantile brat."

"He introduced me to Katran. Katran wants to fight me in the Mountain meet. I told them to play games with someone who cares."

"Water," Shaka said. Jackson gave her the container. She drank deeply, then smacked her lips and cleared her throat. "Why did you refuse? That was cowardly."

"You, too? Seriously?"

"You should show more confidence."

"We have other things to do," Jackson said.

"The spirit guides will not go to meet with Shakhan until the seventh day of the Mountain Meet, when the rites are completed and the passage has been opened. You might as well enjoy yourself. Participate in our ways. Learn something of your new family."

Family. Jackson heard the word, but it meant very little to him.

"The guy just wanted to beat me in the games and get some flower thing," Jackson said. "I don't care."

"As you say," Shaka said.

Chaki swept out of Shaka's tent. Her long brown hair was brushed straight and even, sweeping down around tanned shoulders. Jackson took her in for a moment. She smiled at him. "Good morning, Jackson."

"Good morning, Chaki."

"Did I hear you mention the Gem-Flower?"

"Yeah, that's what they called it."

Chaki's eyes widened. "Are you going to compete in the games?"

Shaka chuckled. "Katran honored Jackson with a direct challenge. Jackson has insisted that childish games are beneath him, and rebuffed him."

Chaki's eyes bulged. "He - Jackson rebuffed - what?!"

"I should have liked to have seen Katran's face," Shaka said. "I imagine it would look something like Chaki's does now."

Jackson sighed. He couldn't even get a drink of water without getting into trouble. "I didn't stay to find out. Did I do something wrong?"

"He is the most skilled warrior in the tribe," Shaka said. "This commands respect. He would command more if he did not waste his time with Boonta."

"He didn't seem that respectful to me," Jackson said.

"You might have seen his asking you so bluntly as arrogant - and it was - but in being so forthright, he was granting you another kind of respect. He sees in you a worthy opponent."

"Well, he's a giant asshole," Jackson said. "I won't be bullied into being his fall guy."

"Jackson," Chaki started. She stopped, cocked her head. "Why are you wet?"

Jackson put a hand on the bridge of his nose. "Boonta thought it would be funny to push me into the river from behind."

"Insufferable, juvenile piss-bag," Chaki said.

"...I guess Shaka really is your mentor."

"What?"

"Never mind," Jackson said. "Look, respect stuff aside, I'm not interested in their B-team politics. I don't care about my position in the tribe. I'll help anyone who treats me like a human being, which is most of the people here. The rest can go screw themselves."

"Oh," Chaki said. She scuffed the ground with her foot. "Well, I can understand why you'd feel that way. It's your decision." She looked up. "I had better help my mother with the tipi. Until later."

Chaki walked off into the camp. It was buzzing with activity. A few tipis were already folding themselves up and getting tied down to three-legged wooden sleds.

"...why did she seem disappointed?" Jackson asked.

"You don't have a vow-gift yet," Shaka said.

"I still haven't..."

"What?" Shaka asked.

"What exactly is this Gem-Flower thing?"

"A crystal in the shape of a flower grows on the same spot on the mountain every year," Shaka said. "It is a gift from Shakhan. The warriors of the gathered tribes of the People-Under-The-Mountain compete in games each year. The warrior who performs best is granted the flower. It has potent healing powers; usually it is given by the warrior to the spirit guide of the tribe, who uses it as an ingredient in healing salves and medicines. In the case that a particularly skilled warrior wins multiple times, it is tradition that the Gem-Flower is made into a vow-gift to their bride."

"So basically, it's like the world's best wedding ring."

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