There's a young student, younger than his fellows and sometimes, often, abashedly brighter, and he's having a problem. He dreams. Not in the cold, lazy hypnogogics of the way people are supposed to dream. No. These dreams are larger and stranger and live and breathe their own breath. They madden and beset him.
He's been taken to me unwillingly. They found him late for classes, late, worse, for an exam. The Second Usher keyed the lock on his room and found him lying on the mat with his eyes wide open and unseeing, his mind crying out so loudly with fanciful images that when she touched him she developed an intense headache and had to be treated for telepathic overload.
Someone explained to him, gently enough I suppose, that this would not do. The Academy put him on mandatory hold for a term, and referred his case to me. They really don't do that very often.
The boy is now in my visiting chamber. He doesn't appear to like being there very much. The gentle gold light and the whsssh of fountains have done little to ease his sullen temperament. His eyes are fierce and pale, and flicker like the sort of gems that contain vast reserves of energy. I remember meeting him before, one time.
"I understand you've been having nightmares, Theta," I say. "Come sit down. Have a cup of tea. It's a habit from this little out-of-the-way planet, Earth -- I find it most endearingly civilized."
"You don't understand anything!" he blurts.
"All right. Tell me what's going on. I've only been filled in by the Academy, and, well -- to put it simply, they can be full of shit sometimes, can't they?" I think I've made it through. I see those harsh crystal eyes taking stock of me for the second time. There's nothing like siding with a youth to get him to speak up; it helps if you're also telling the truth.
"I'm not having nightmares." He turns around and paces around the room a bit, arms crossed over his chest, refusing to look at me.
"Your rest periods are causing you some trouble, then," I venture.
"Maybe causing other people some trouble."
"You missed an exam. If you didn't want to come into the fullness of your being --" He stiffens his shoulders at this, I note, though he tries to hide it; perhaps a clue to the source of his anxiety -- "you wouldn't be at the Academy. Don't tell me otherwise. No one with any sense would put up with all of that for nothing."
"They do," the boy Theta says, and faces me again, from a distance.
"I'm not them. And you're not either." There it is, just a flash, a hint of panic before he conceals it again. As if he fears he's been found out, I think. I press on. "Your rest periods are causing you some trouble. I'd like to hear from you about it in your own terms, if that's all right. I so hate filling out reports with stupid nonsense about disciplinary problems when I could just deal plainly with the truth."
"You can't." He fingers his lip, staring at something else, not seeing me at all.
"Why couldn't I?"
"You'd think I was crazy."
"I don't think people are often crazy," I tell him quite seriously. "Sometimes people fail to integrate the circumstances and data of their lives with their consciousness. That's an unpleasant situation -- but it doesn't make anyone crazy."
"You wouldn't say that if you knew," he says, and leans closer, pinning me with his gaze. "You wouldn't say that if you knew what I was dreaming. My dreams are blasphemy." The force of his regard is almost staggering. From a boy on his first life, to me. I've been taking him relatively seriously already; now I feel shaken, like the situation is no longer of a student with an attitude problem but of life and death.
"Maybe they are," I answer. "I've always felt the due we give Rassilon is equal parts honor and nonsense, anyway. Go on."
Theta looks frustrated by how hard to faze I am. That's why I get these cases. He finally gives up and sits down in the chair. "I still can't tell you. Not because I don't want to. I can't get the words to come out. That's crazy if anything is."
"I already said nothing was, didn't I? At that point, it hardly matters." We look at each other in silence for a minute. I wouldn't normally suggest the plan so early, but -- "As I said, I really don't want to fill out a meaningless discipline report. I hate Academy nonsense as much as you do. I would prefer for you to resolve your difficulties, with whatever help you wind up requiring, so that I can tell them the problem is resolved, and you can go back to whatever you want to be doing. If you can't tell me, perhaps you could show me?"
He looks offended, but he's already been given reason to trust me, and accepted it. "I can't get at them, when I'm awake," he says. Might be the truth, might be a lie; I suspect half-truth.
"They took you off for a term, and I can't have you reinstated any sooner than that, no matter what I report. You can take the room down the corridor, and stay here for a time," I offer.
I can tell by the look on his face that Theta Sigma, stubborn like me, is going to lie around and do his best not to dream. But it's not going to work, I think. If it pulled him in so hard that he couldn't wake up for an important exam, then whatever his subconscious is trying to work out is too urgent. It won't wait for me to go away, either.