Chapter 19

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Amit opened his eyes.

The cold wind hissed past his ears as he stood, the grass bending in submission to it. The prairie stretched for a fair while, eventually giving way to a frothy sea, rimmed with a thin strip of gray sand.

Amit turned around and beheld civilization. The double-helix of the Lianhua Tower glowed against the dark sky, shining in colors that rippled down its seven-kilometer sides. Far in the distant, the tiffany black wire of the Wen Zhong space elevator bisected the afternoon light.

Jing-Jin-Ji roared, as all cities did. Apart from the iconic skyscraper that poked out of the rabble like a giant's scepter, the city also looked the same as any other. The sea frothed at the bulkheads and docks in the distance, raising a faint mist of salt. Nothing was rusted. Massive ships thundered through the surf, carrying the products of an interplanetary economy. The sky was devoid of stars, except for the blinking lights of airliners and the occasional shooting star of a returning shuttle.

Amit walked shakily toward his hometown. Before long, he was walking beside the acres of lush suburbia. Then he was in the heart of the city.

A canyon of apartment complexes rose around him. A trickle of vehicles thundered by, accompanied by a flood of people. Amit sat at a bench and watched the yellow headlight blur. He was still disoriented, and was in desperate need for a meal and a bed. The Lianhua scoffed at him and undulated beautifully.

A man walked up to the bench, separating from the general flow of people. Unlike the rest of the crowd, he was dressed formally, with a professional suit. He sported a pale goatee.

"Greetings," said the man, smiling.

Amit stared at him warily.

"I am Somnus Porifiro. Walk with me, Dr. Gabriel."

Amit wordlessly complied.

"Let me introduce myself. I'm a psychologist working for DreamCluster her in Jing-Jin-Ji. I'm the one who makes that chip in your head work its wonders."

Amit nodded in understanding.

"And you, I gather, are a planetary geologist, discovering the buried secrets of the heavenly bodies. How exciting!"

Amit mumbled in the affirmative.

The psychologist seemed to assess him, then spoke. "I notice that you're greatly stressed. I personally find that rest and relaxation are the best cures to a troubled mind, and a short sea voyage is the epitome of such pleasures. I invite you to a day on my little dinghy if you wish. It is the least I can do for a scientist of your stature."

"Certainly, certainly..." responded Amit, somewhat taken aback.

"Very good! I'll meet you at the dock tomorrow morning. Glad to meet you, Dr. Gabriel!"

It took him several hours to find his own apartment. He barely recognized the streets anymore. Amit was still far from calm as he sat in his bed, one that he had thought he left more than six years and seven parsecs distant. The faint, yellow luminescence of the city shone through the window. The noise of traffic rattled it in its frame, beating out a melody that lulled Amit to sleep.

The next morning, Amit found his way to the address sent to him by Dr. Porfirio. The private dock was gleaming white plastic that attempted to mimic wood. The water was calm in the artificial harbor, protected from the raging surf of the Pacific by heavy mountains of cement. The Lianhua Tower gleamed in the sunlight reflecting perfectly on the flat bay, extending its impersonation of a DNA molecule into the water.

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