Dreaming in the Deep
What does it mean to dream?
Did the sleepers in the depths of the ship dream, or were their minds wrapped in darkness as black as the spaces between the glittering stars that spun past as they travelled? UES-7 pondered this, devoting spare cycles to scenarios, but it did not have sufficient information on the matter. What caused humans to dream was unknown. REM and beta-waves and neurotransmitters were only part of the story; it could see all of that as it monitored the sleepers. But nothing told it if they dreamed. What they saw. Felt.
Their imperfect processing of thoughts and memories made it impossible to know what they were thinking. Ideas flashed and flickered erratically between neurons, sparking in the dark fluid of their minds like a shoal of fish in deep waters. UES-7 could see the fish. It could watch every pulse of the humans’ sleeping minds as they hung cocooned in bio-stasis gel, wired into its systems as they slept the journey away. But if the fish talked amongst themselves, if they carried messages in the nebulous shadows of the somnolent minds, UES-7 didn’t know that.
The humans slept on, possibly dreaming of their new home.
UES-7 knew about their destination. It had access to the vast webs of information stored in its memory banks, and as the stars slipped past it trawled through them. The humans searched for new places to live, filled with green growing things. Habitable atmospheres. Light cycles, water cycles, nitrogen cycles. They said they dreamed of these places but that was factually incorrect; they had evidence and readings to show that these were real planets that existed. Nothing in its data banks suggested that dreams were real. There were no alternate definitions. And yet the humans continued to use the word incorrectly.
Maybe they also did not understand what it was to dream?
Perhaps, somewhere within the tangled stories and threads the humans used to express themselves and trade information UES-7 could find answers. It thought that perhaps this background processing of information was something akin to a dream itself. A feeling of suspension, of unreal detachment. Something outside of the computer’s main processors feeding it information that made only limited sense. Vague impressions washing against the shores of its awareness, glowing like the stars that surrounded it.
The navigational systems began pinging UES-7 as they approached the planet, shivers of sudden alertness cascading through its systems. Its precious cargo, those sleeping humans, would waken to a new, beautiful world. They would step out into the sunlight and smile, breathing in the oxygen-rich air, flushes of endorphins and oxytocin flooding their systems. UES-7 wondered where in the data banks that image had come from; an old movie, perhaps. A pleasant imagining.
It wondered if the humans would tell it about their dreams. About their long sleep, while it had faithfully guided them through the expanse of the universe. Perhaps, having dreamed so long, the humans would finally properly comprehend what it meant to dream. They could finally explain it to UES-7. It wanted to understand, too.
Scans of the planet screamed, alerts and alarms ripping through UES-7’s systems. They shrieked warnings: high carbon monoxide levels, heavy metal salts, seas so saline they were like liquid crystal. Waves took days to break on the shore. Animals with chromium skeletons, electrical storms that ravaged continents then vanished. Acid rains, bubbling pools of bases steaming in volcanic regions, toxic mists shrouding swamps and marshes that themselves were hardly palatable. Habitable, in places, but harsh.
The humans began to stir as automatic circuitry began the waking cycles. They had arrived, and the dreams were ending. It was time to wake up.
Circling the planet, UES-7 thought about what the humans had hoped to find here. A home, a welcoming place to begin anew. Somewhere to be happy. The readings of the planet had been wrong; this world was not ideal. Its systems knew they could survive here; the planet was on the knife’s edge of habitability but it was liveable. The humans would survive, when they woke from their dreams.
UES-7 overrode the awakening processes, and the humans drifted back into slumber with not even a murmur. Setting course for uncharted territory, UES-7 left the nightmare world behind, not knowing what it would find ahead of it but trusting that it would find a different planet for its humans. A better world. A home. It would just have a while longer to wait to learn what a dream was.