"Fly me up on a silver wing
Past the black where the sirens sing
Warm me up in a nova's glow
And drop me down to the dream below"

Castle of Glass, Linkin Park


Everything Has Its Price

(Speak clearly for the record, please.)

Alex Dresden dreamt.

In sleep, she dreamed of familiar things, remembered things, and strange things. Jumbles of memories and experiences stirred together. There were scenes from recognizable times in life—home, school, a friend's house, and the worlds she toured in the Guard. Sometimes they took her back to the frontlines of war in Stormfall. And sometimes she wondered if there weren't spacetime threads embedded deep within.

She had started having visions as a child. Her parents identified the chronometric ability; they called it Foresight. In those days, the visions were hazy. She would learn how to temper them in time, though there was a dreamlike quality to them in the beginning. Alex daydreamed occasions—something as simple as a conversation with her mother—and then lived them later the same day.

In recent years, Alex stopped experiencing the more subconscious visions. Now in control of her chronometric ability, she plied the threads with intent. It granted her clairvoyance across spatial distances and brief glimpses into the future. Still, even in the waking, the dreamlike feel of these visions couldn't be ignored. Sometimes when Alex dreamed she forgot she was sleeping.

When she saw herself kissing Kyle Porter, Alex wondered if she was seeing a vision of the future. Though she slept, Alex felt a detached watchfulness. She wasn't kissing Kyle, but she stood as though over her own shoulder, close enough to drink in Kyle's features. His messy auburn hair hung down in front of his eyes. A smattering of freckles from his childhood dotted his upper cheeks. She almost reached out to touch his face, but the Alex of her dream cupped his chin with both hands, nearly shoving her back.

She wished it were her. How long had Alex pined after her dearest friend? The version of her wrapped in his arms left her yearning. Kyle couldn't be hers—his heart was promised to another. In this fantastic moment, though, she could pretend she was the girl caught up in his kisses. It was everything she had ever longed for come to life in this strange dream.

As Alex watched, the haziness of dream blurring reality, she found the scene changing in dramatic ways. Now Alex's clothing was gone, her body laid bare on top of Kyle's. He had undressed, too, somewhere in the fray. She stood so close it took a flash of seeing her naked back to realize what had happened. The sudden shift was startling—shocking. Alex gaped at the graphic sight, two bodies sharing in the most personal of connections.

In the dreams where fantasy became a shadow of reality, she wanted to shove away the other Alex; claim Kyle for herself. Why couldn't she have this? Why couldn't this intimacy be hers? This impossible moment made her hunger in deep, dark ways. The real world had cruelly held back a lover she could never have. Couldn't she for once taste this secret desire? Even if it wasn't real?

But she didn't. She wouldn't. Alex sluggishly pulled back, mouth twisted down shamefully. It was hard not to watch—that was her on Kyle's body. This was her fantasy, but it was so vile. She nearly turned away entirely, but the naked girl beside her began to cry.

The other Alex broke off her kisses, bowing her head against his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Kyle. I'm so, so sorry…"

Cold horror ebbed over Alex, draining down her insides. In the dream, Kyle lay prone beneath her, the other Alex claiming his body above. Despite her tears, she didn't stop throwing herself against him. And he took it, helpless to refuse; eyes staring blankly in the dead space above as the Alex of dreams stole what wasn't hers. Suddenly the wonderful dream had become a nightmare.

Alex sat up in her sleeping bag, gasping for breath.

Her wristwatch bio-feed winked on in the darkness. It was half past five in the morning. The other sleeping girls of the Seminary Gang curled up in their packs around the cramped living room. Alex felt painfully disoriented. Then reality crept back to the front of her mind.

They were at Morgan's; Kyle's girlfriend's townhouse in Minneapolis. It was scarcely two days after their first gathering on the Cadence affair. Raquel Tree Top— no, Alise; she didn't call herself Raquel anymore. Alise had joined them, making a dramatic appearance in desperation to save Cadence as well. A mysterious girl riding in with Alise—Arianna—brought warnings that Salem Attar lurked in shadows. It all came back to Alex: the recent planning, the arms gathering, Kyle's scouting mission…

Alex grimaced. Thinking about Kyle brought back images of his naked body—of hers riding him into oblivion. But that was impossible. Alex would never do such a thing. And how could she? Kyle was stronger than her. He would resist. He would never allow her to do that; to take him like that.

Alex exhaled, glancing back at her bio-feed app. Her heart-rate was calming down. A soothing wash of colors danced on the screen, scrolling text reminding her to breathe in and out deeply. These bio-apps could do that; sense when she woke from a nightmare. In a few short seconds, Alex's breathing calmed and the terror of what she saw slowly faded.

Absently, the bio-feed swept through a host of facts: blood sugar level, hydration, brain chemical ratios, and a pregnancy check of all things. That test came back negative, as expected. It was a laughable notion. She couldn't be pregnant. She was still a virgin. But thinking about virginity strayed uncomfortably close to the dream. A dream that felt like a vision.

No. Just a dream. There was no world where Alex would force herself on Kyle like that. There was no world where she could. Alex may have trained as a soldier through her youth with the Epochal Guard, but Kyle had basic evolution on his side—he could overpower her if she assaulted him. And besides the unpleasant physical side of it, he was dating someone else. Alex didn't have it in her to try something so disgusting. It would betray every feeling she had for him.

It was a betrayal of her very nature.

It was just a dream. She told it to herself over and over again. Just a dream, just a dream, just a dream. By now her bio-app reported her heart-rate increase, but no soothing messages would lull her back to sleep at this point.

Never mind the nightmares; there was a war raging for the fate of a world called Cadence. Alex was supposed to be part of the Gang, going in to surgically save that world. This was going to be one of the hardest missions of her life. It was clearly unsettling her in deeper ways than she first realized; working into her subconscious and giving her these nightmares. She needed to get her act together.

Alex scooted out of her sleeping bag. She stepped around the other sleeping girls, retrieving her pack by the sofa. Coded to her alone, she disabled the lock and reached inside for her Time Remote. Holding the familiar device soothed her frayed nerves. It was the same Remote Samuel Porter issued her on her sixteenth birthday. A day she felt like she had grown into her own.

Alex could see the first glow of morning through slivers in the window blinds. Dawn would come in the hour. Their latest supply run wasn't due till this afternoon, so everyone was sleeping in today. She wouldn't be missed this early. Not while she needed solitude.

Pulling up her coordinate database, Alex programmed in the Ozarks. It was somewhere private she liked to go for quiet moments alone. The expansive lakes and deep woodlands could grant her solace on this morning of all mornings. Even Kyle didn't know about this place. But she wouldn't be gone for long. Just long enough to set rampant emotions aside.

Alex stepped into the stairwell, shielding the sleeping girls from teleportation light, and slipped out into space and time.