Erik is an alpha who has taught himself not to dream. Perhaps that is not so surprising, on the surface, given the general agreement that interest in such phantasms is the purview of elderly omegas and the limited beta priesthood. Alphas, those stewards and protectors of the race, are discouraged from all but the most perfunctory of religious or metaphysical considerations. It is their science and philosophy which has drawn the species from the post-atomic Dark Ages, and it must remain free of all save those proofs established by the most rigorous empiricism. Isis-- the she who pieced together her broken omega husband-- and the great weapon smith Vulcan stood as caryatids in the grand hall of Erik's boarding school, their stern stone faces and full battle dress designed to daily reinforce for the students of Alkali Martial Academy those standards to which all alphas are held. 'Knowledge with application, dedication, respect for authority and loyalty! Only righteous guardians will be able to protect humanity from another Burn and usher the whole towards the pinnacle of evolution. The alpha has no time for the vague notions and softness with which omegas-- by their very nature-- must be insulated.'
Yet, no matter the fiery sermons of Marshall Headmaster Stryker and others of his spartan ilk, Lehnsherr knows the truth is more unbending than a warrior's spine:
To dream, and to remember such upon waking, is the singular curse of humanity. This is as true in the New Imperium as it was on old Earth, and Erik is acquainted with the treachery of slumbering visions more intimately than most. The subconscious mind is an enemy within, whose damage calls as spilt blood to the predators that circle without.
The absolute tyranny of blackness he institutes within his mind has not been achieved without struggle. It began as a war waged both in stern self-preservation and at the urging of the humiliating lash. So much of his life is delineated by the death of his parents that it is almost as though he died then himself, barred from sheol at the last moment by a G-d already mighty in his cruelties. The wraith-like creature who arrived at boarding school two months later was an outwardly stoic creature beset by burning images. The grotesque way his mother's hair curled in the blaze, setting her cover-alls alight until she was only a screaming pillar of flame; the emaciated form of his father who, dead of a broken bond, scarcely looked any different from his alpha's week-old corpse. No condolences or Rabbinical wisdom could dismiss these things-- certainly not the cloying, false sympathy of distant and financially avid relatives. Upon reaching the only possible alternative to their questionable auspices-- the alternative whose truth his mother could never have imagined-- he found solace more lacking still.
At Alkali Academy, he soon learned that that the slightest wavering of reserve bore only the fruit of ridicule and contempt-- from staff and students alike. How many lashes had he received for being so strange and disinclined to participate, so clearly not one of the pack? The Master Teachers (all retired Star Corps alphas) almost seemed pleased when they could break a young buck, make him cry like a pup longing for its omega mother or father. It was the rule of 'stags, blood, and antlers', as Emma called it; everyone jockeying for position on the food chain. She herself had been known as 'freaky Frost', standing on the barest edges of social acceptance. Shadowed always by the strange suicide of her omega brother, her own natural and mocking propensity for the truth did very little to endear her to either colleagues or instructors.
"You must be careful," she'd whispered, unexpectedly shoving him face-first into the wall the very day they were assigned as bunkmates. She was slight but swift, having the added advantages of surprise and a long history of dormitory brawling. Confused, the twelve year old 'new pup' struck back on instinct, bloodying the blond girl's nose and receiving a half-Nelson in return.
'Repeat what they tell you, even if you don't believe it,' had been her whispered parting advice, just before the Dorm Betas made the desultory pretense of breaking up the fight. Erik still doesn't know what it was Emma sensed in him to prompt such clandestine aid and-- no matter his personal gratitude-- the school's unspoken alpha 'code of honor' dictated he launch his own attack in retaliation. Later, they settled into a publicly wary truce that masked tacit understanding. In the cold lightlessness of their spartan barracks, they studiously ignored one another's soft sounds of despair or anxious battles with thin bedding, never once reporting the other's lapse, though the school encouraged such policing.
By the time they reached fourth form, they were acknowledged hypaspistes, having bested enough rivals-- both separately and as a team-- to be largely except from bullying. Frost's advice had not been misplaced. 'Might is Right', blared the maxim of the academy, chiseled into the stone-flesh of both patron idols where their andocite swords were raised high. Erik's own mother always said a true alpha should be confident enough to stand on their own, knowing subordinates would be drawn by their honor and dedication, rather than bombastically demanding respect. He learned to parrot the academic commanders, addressing his silent prayers to her instead of the murderous and Nameless G-d whose worship was, at any rate, forbidden. Both Houses of the Imperium Parliament had passed 'tolerance' legislation; pretty words emblazoned on vid-scrolls, but of little use amongst those raised on the grossest stereotypes of monotheists. He graduated at last at the top of his class, as dreamless and expressionless as the stone gods that had overseen his days. There was little for any prospective atelier to find fault with in his record, which had contained just enough penalties for 'combative damage' to classmates to prove he was virile and assertive without being anti-social or 'deviant'. Let it never be said he fought for show, however; his well of rage was as bottomless as the pits of Gehenna and as cold as the northern snows of his birth. Others met this controlled fury due to some violation of Lehnsherr's internal morality and, since Erik never spoke as to what offended him, they made their own crass assumptions. Only Emma knew-- as he knew of her in turn-- that the great educational kiln had not turned out yet another perfectly standardized citizen-soldier, but a chameleon whose iron armor hid a great deal of difference within. For Isis was tender as she mended her broken bond-mate, and Vulcan built his arsenal that he might forget the constant ache of Aphrodite's indifference.
Ah, as Charles is fond of observing, how inconvenient is the actual text to those who would interpret it for their own purposes!
There is but one glaring exception in Erik's mastery of his dreams-- a weakness as beloved as it is utterly incomprehensible. Had it come in his adolescence, it might have destroyed him in its very attempt to comfort and nourish, for no exile in the desert can afford the burden of hope. It is no mere fleeting impression to disturb the careful riggings of his well-ordered being, but a dear and reoccurring nocturnal vision-- and a gem of imagination the likes of which Lehnsherr usually reserves for his beloved starships. No one would credit it if he were to confide the details. The Lord of Sharks, the whip hand alpha of the R & D staff, whose unimpressed stare or sharp smile can send subordinates scrambling for cover? Surely no such lavish imagery would find welcome in that irascible predator! Certainly, he has never told anyone of the dream, not even Charles. Aside from the sheer impropriety of sharing itself-- it inspires in Erik a possessiveness almost as bizarre as its actual contents. Yet it came during a period of unprecedented freedom, and perhaps that is its source-- the broadened horizons of Atelier, the luxury of privacy in having his own quarters, and the invigorating beginnings of his correspondence with Charles.
Though deeply disconcerted by the dream's advent, Erik was never the less enthralled from the very first, and has long since ceased to really question the root of the vision or its meaning. It comes to him, intervals of absence lengthy and unpredictable, resurfacing at odd times only later recognized as having been of need.
Now, his form little but a heap of exhaustion in his bed while the memory of Charles' voice curls through his brain like tendrils of delicious incense, Lehnsherr senses that the dream is near. Beyond the muffling bed-curtains, the City is alive with the orchestral fugue of night rain and its attendant thunder, but the incipient visitor is more potent and vibrant still. Almost unbearably tender, it seems to both bloom from within Erik's being and kindly invade from without. This visitant is definitely stronger than he, and so frustratingly ephemeral. Unable to clutch it closer, the alpha buries his face in the starry gift of Charles' eiderdown quilt and joyfully, unthinkingly, gives himself over.
While there are slight variations, there is a sameness to the dreams that speaks of solidity and sacrament, making Erik hushed and reverent even before the lines and colors of his surroundings fully coalesce. He stands in a marble threshold with no thought for what might lie behind him, and only peaceful acceptance of the large, arching chamber spread before. There are many shadows in the vast gallery; corners obscured to him, monochrome twists of column and frescos of delicately carven nacre only half-glimpsed. Each of these, whether recalled from other interludes or remaining unseen, is as utterly known to the alpha as every starship that has come to life under his hand. Every sconce and pilaster, every tessellated tile of the milky quartz floor is familiar and… welcoming. Accepting in a fundamental, subconscious way unequaled even by the iron, platinum, niobium, and molybdenum that thrill his artist's heart. To call it 'home' is to miss the fact this place is somehow partly an extension of himself. Organic and, by virtue of that, quite capable of merging with another creative force. The overwhelmingly white pallet of the chamber is warm; a living pearl concealing within all colors, rather than than obdurate silver. Perhaps it is some clever oyster's encasement of light from Earth's lost and storied moon.
Lehnsherr-- nude and as unselfconscious in this regard as in waking life-- steps into the room fully. His advance is slow, but not hesitant. This movement obeys the one command imbued in every line and curve of architecture: 'come forward, come to _me_'. It makes him pleasantly dizzy to follow the compulsion and center his own attention on the architectural focus of the chamber. The place is a vault, windowless save the one great portal situated at the far end-- a towering construction of glass that casts all in a profound, comforting blue light.
Filled though he is with a deep sense of comfort and pervasive, lethargic bliss, Erik still makes the effort to lift his hand. Turning it over in the light, he marvels at the feel of the azure glow-- the weightless lapping of warm water, a carress from a flickering shadow. Palm up, his hand seems to hold an illusory fist-full of jewels. Sapphire, indigo, cerulean, and smalt; each one of a hundred thousand stained-glass shards held together in their great golden frame. The window blazes, serving to both bathe the alpha in its calming light and shield him from the sharper edge inherent in the source of power beyond. The gold of the casement shimmers and pulses with darker ochre veins, palpitations that grow more potent as Lehnsherr draws near. Some feet away, there are steps leading up to a dais under that vibrant masterpiece, but he sinks to his knees at their base with no consideration of ever coming closer. He knows better than that, by now.
The alpha, engineer, and businessman he is in conscious life has little patience for psychology or 'therapeutic deconstruction'. To him, it's all just a different way of dressing up the beads and rattles you find on any priest or shaman-- hardly worth a place on scientific shelves. Still, he's been exposed to enough pop-philosophy to recognize a symbol when he sees one. In any such traditional framework, that would be his blue window in toto, a reductive notion that strikes him as irksome while waking and downright blasphemous in the throes of the dream. The observation is so simple that it's probably true-- and therefore deceptive. He gives it little consideration in any state, for no prosaic prop can explain the feeling associated with that closed portal. The star-strewn glass is beautiful and awful-- awful in the old sense of the word. 'Full of awe'. As Perseus glimpsed Medusa only in the mirror of his shield, as Moses was ordered to turn his back while the Nameless G-d passed behind him, there is something here which must not be seen.
'Er lasst sich nicht lesen'.
Though the truth may be as obvious as the simple quantum forces which hold the universe intact, some instinct within him knows that-- in such an profound situation as this-- ignorance must endure. Any hint, any grasp of the larger design could destroy him and, more importantly, fatally wound the treasured presence which permeates the dream. It is not necessarily an active or operational force despite its seeming authority, since the other feels as content and ensorcelled as Erik himself. It is, however, a consciousness; a stranger intimately known, a precious one gone so long memory has fled all but the very atoms of the alpha's being. Even within the limitless potential of the dream, he can conceive of it only vaguely, understanding for the first time why the strictures of his people forbid any attempt to depict or humanize the Nameless G-d.
Once something is defined, it is also incarnate. A vessel is created for what was once an inchoate wonder; a thing which, unveiled, would have unintentionally burned its worshipful observer to ash. Embodiment, by its very definition, creates the possibility of touch. Hands seek to stroke, to outline, trembling every moment with the desire to grasp. If the blue starlight-- Erik's starlight-- were a living being, the alpha would not be able to help himself. He would seize it with cautious but implacable fervor, tuck it up against his own form to guard it and please himself over the fact of successful possession. Perhaps the entity, or the idea it represents-- for, after all, it may only be some wisp from Lehnsherr's subconscious-- does well to be afraid. Though the alpha would shield it at the expense of all else, he would also make his devotion an offering-- and a lavish cage.
Adored or not, it has no desire to be known by him in full. The connection is tentative, as reluctant as it is necessary and comforting. A thing not of darkness but of light; a kind of anti-silhouette which eludes Erik no matter how indolent the pleasure they share. Further union is impossible, for the Source is beyond the window, which Lehnsherr may not approach.
He has learned that the hard way.
He was foolish enough to attempt it, once. Having experienced the profound vision twice already, Erik's only waking reaction had been to hollow out a place inside of himself for the precious images. The act itself was a concession, a spectacular exception to his natural pragmatism; unaccustomed to tasting any but the fruits of his own labor, he had very little else to give. Happy memories from childhood exist, it's true, but he has always been reluctant to approach them-- doing so infrequently, and with the caution of a man who fears the removal of a single diamond will cause the entire mine to collapse.
Yet when the vision proved its persistence, the dragon of avarice woke at last within Lehnsherr to seek something other than revenge. Though he openly acknowledges his weakness for artistic beauty, Erik found his typical sedate observer's appreciation quenched nothing in this instance. The golden window-- the starlight and what its radiance must conceal-- was not a lovely statue or exhibition in the Artist's Pavilion to be admired with no yearning for nearness. While its loveliness was akin to music, to a well-constructed starship or museum piece, it was not meant for the pleasure of all. Not even could it be likened to some of the rare items Lehnsherr occasionally pursued; books or tools or tapestries to bid upon and be viewed with transient wistfulness if the auctioning became too rich for his blood. Previously content to cut his teeth on academic conquest, the alpha had finally discovered real desire. This treasure, surely, was meant to be his. Had it not made him numerous visits, its very gracefulness and innervation an invitation in and of itself?
The allure was too much. He yearned and lost his mind in that yearning, had moved forward with the inexorable stealth of the soldier/predator to take possession of that which possessed him. Below thought, singing in the rush of atavistic devotion, he crooned:
'Fear me not, _Lior_, my marvel; let me, let me, devour your rapture/ enfold what is mine/ sustain us both, clutch and pleasure you 'til you cry…'
His ardor and all the resplendent affection around him vanished so abruptly it seemed to leave Erik in the void of space itself. The terrible, blank vastness of which explorer alphas spoke, Black beyond the humanity's haven system like pitching over the lip of Hell itself. Adrift in a single catastrophic plane, no dimension or direction to be had, he screamed soundlessly, knowing himself to be cast off. Thrown, as ancient mammals once jerked and strained to be free of a predator's jaws, pursuers they left reeling in their dust as they fled. Later, sheepishly, his mind would conjure old stories of expulsion, that loss of paradise echoed in such dizzying multiplicity by so many cultures. He would think of his own people's first Alpha and Omega, stumbling and benumbed east of Gan'Eden. Yet in his heart, so recently fired to burning not centered on revenge, his initial comparison was one of amputation. As if he had reached inside himself and yanked free some vital organ, thinking in his delirium that he must inspect it in his hand.
He'd woken sweating, choking on apologies he could never articulate.
For three months thereafter, Erik did penance. His nights went unvisited, regaining their surface blankness and order, beyond which something else seemed to stir-- fitful, irregular. While by no means the bleak purgatory that had been his child's grief, his being seemed then overcome by a sort of spiritual frostbite, all for worse for the implication he had turned warmth aside. It mattered not that he discounted these notions utterly in all but the smallest of hours tolled on Clock Tower Hill. He was punctual, erudite in his assignments, assiduous with his responsibilities… and fraying at the seams of self. Lehnsherr found himself sleeping in shallow restlessness or not at all, more than once stalking along the Bridge of Crossings at vespertide, seeking some physical outlet for his agitation. Phil and Maria despaired over his uneaten meals; the undergraduate artisans he supervised tread lightly, and wincingly prayed to a variety of gods for the remaining threads of his patience. Indeed, he felt those braided cords pulled tight in protest, swaying precariously, as though burdened with the sword of mythical Damocles. His inner landscape, always treacherous, seemed fraught with potential ruin he could not clearly see.
The few bucks with which Erik had passing acquaintance might have noticed he joined their carousals a bit more frequently (that is, he did not turn down every invitation), but none were intimate enough to guess anything was amiss beneath that stoic facade. Only Emma, who 'indulged' in such partying with a sparse predictability that spoke of the perfunctory, seemed to notice her hypaspistes' distemper. Yet seeing and speaking have always been two separate things, particularly in alpha friendships. The 'tweeners' (barely legal betas in omega drag) at places like the Turgid Pillar and the Pretty Whistle seemed to Lehnsherr more irksome than ever, their ritualized coquetry sliding from boring to downright depressing despite the fact his colleagues were enthralled. The noise at least served to block out the static of loss in his own mind; preferable to the sound of the clock ticking in his chambers only in the way drowning is preferable to being stabbed. Emma, doggedly buying rounds for all, would instigate games of drunken skill in the open courtyards of such establishments. She soundly tranced his hungover carcass with such smugness that, to this day, Erik still isn't sure if she was actually doing him any favors.
It had been Charles who truly sensed the directionless conflict in the alpha-- Charles, who had only word choice and the cramped flow of handwriting by which to divine his fellow correspondent's distress. Their friendship was in its summer, close enough to allow for more personal subjects but still so new they had not even broached the taboo of speaking wirelessly. The notion of an omega's 'emotional barometer' and natural nurturing response is cliche; too treacly for Lehnsherr's taste, and certainly something he'd never want to foist on the scholar. To be entirely factual, his friend never actually inquired as to the root of the sparse and often laboriously rewritten letters, never made an observation that Erik would have instinctually interpreted as an accusation of some sort. That firm, round hand sent back only intimations of that compassion so particular to Xavier-- concern without pity-- and an equally subtle invitation to commiserate.
'I, too,' Charles wrote, 'find myself very weary of the days. Perhaps this lies in the passing of high publishing season. We scholars get ever so cagey in our communications, each of us trying to cook up something fresh and innovative for next year. I must find some new, unplumbed area of study (suggestions most heartily welcome), for I do loathe this sense of disconnection. Of fraught… _amputation_.'
The metaphor resounded within Lehnsherr like a gong. How much easier was it to wish Charles' melancholy might be eased than to recognize his own! And to have his friend speak for him without wholly knowing, pen the words he could not, was a balm no apothecary could concoct. 'Hypaspistes,' he had thought, another unspoken word with no image paired to it. Instead, he murmured it in conjunction with the syllables of Charles' name, and was satisfied with the sound of the truth.
(Forgetting, of course, that the truth can be as dangerous as a lie. Two sides of the double-edged sword, and of these the truth is sharper. Because it is naked and because, like the city-sized icebergs that stalk slowly in the Northern Seas, there is always more underneath.)
Perhaps the greatest proof of whatever blighted him then is the fact he remembers so few details from that brief period. For a man who has always kept meticulous notes on academic and business events, it makes for a disconcerting blank. Thankfully, it ended up mattering very little. Charles' suggestion of intellectual ennui was as perceptive as ever. Lehnsherr was shortly assigned to a larger project, whose business connections through Atelier donors made the challenge even more enticing. Charles himself discovered a lengthy monograph on linguistic divergence between isolated ships during the Exodus, and Emma began research on theoretical Warp Core design-- which would eventually become the presentation that caused her fate to converge so violently with that of Shaw. Within a matter of days (or so it seemed), the drought was over, be it a true return of the dream or merely the end of some bizarre period of subconscious self-flagellation. Recognition of the light-- such an impossible and almost painful blue-- unfolding in Erik's mind had brought only joy to the alpha. Resentment and anger were rendered obsolete by the contrition which laced that glow, and the happy relief which seemed to slide down the golden casement like summer rain.
Even now, the light thickens about Erik, deliquescent and comforting as a thick fur mantle, consoling and distracting him from the unpleasant memory. The alpha smiles gently, turning his face up as one would towards the sun. He has never felt deliberately hurt by this other. His own instinct had been to pursue; the other's had been to flee. Being able to master such base responses is the quest of every intelligent being.
Not that Lehnsherr is feeling deeply philosophical at the moment. The catechism-- one of his mother's-- floats through his mind and is gone, as one might dreamily remark on some distant noise on a peaceful night. It brings only a half-quirk of the lips, a memory unaccompanied by pain and willingly shared. A rarity, for him. The glow carries with it a blissful tidal warmth he cannot help but sway with slightly. He has the delirious notion the light will not _let_ him fall, intoxicated to the degree he cannot summon alarm at the wistful atmosphere that also comes to permeate the room.
As if time is short.
(and, in the language beneath language, as all things here must be; 'now is the only thing we can allow to matter…')
With both exposure and grace unselfconscious, Erik kneels at the base of the steps, marble warm and incongruously giving beneath his joints. Kissing the light where it falls, he rolls his head to the side-- not merely naked now, but neck bared. The action is as alien as swallowing fire and as natural as breathing, a sign of submission he could never bring himself to give in waking life. No matter what the consequence, he acknowledges no victor. In that way, he is one with the teeming mass of alpha humanity. Death before dishonor. Within the confines of the dream-- the circle of protection in marble that is beginning to feel more and more like soft, warm snow-- such things are beneath his
notice. Erik surrenders gratefully because the reward is not conditional. The strangely familiar affection and acceptance are his whether or not he makes this offering-- but oh! how rapturous in the gentle hand that comes to shield him in return.
He's so hard now that rising would be burdensome, fangs fully unsheathed in his excitement. He keeps his mouth closed, lips gingerly concealing his sharp canines for fear of frightening the other. Always tenacious in his effort to achieve any goal, he has in this one instance come to terms with limitation. The window will be interacted with on its terms, or not at all. As though granting a boon for such respect, the illumination intensifies, gaining the comforting weight of water. The tide is there, stronger, an invitation he obeys as he slips from his kneeling position to lay down, unaware his motions are like those of a large and very satisfied feline. The azure brilliance covers him softly, the fall of plum blossoms in the short Northern summers of his youth. Luxuriating, Lehnsherr stretches so the whole of his naked form is taut, then curls himself into the precise delineations of the shape cast by his mysterious portal. A little moan escapes him as the urgent edge of his arousal is transmuted into the sort of vague, sleepy pleasure that is its own satisfaction. The paradoxically yielding marble contours around him, cradling; he knows he is held safe and temperate in this one moment, sheltered from the cold and mechanized grindings of the mindless and merciless universe.
Loved, content, he falls asleep within his own dream.