Dreamless - Chapter One
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Journal from the Streets
Portrait of Kata by James Neff. Graphics by Tobin James Mueller.
The following is a collaborative story in progress.
If you would like to participate, contact ArtsForge.
Submission of additional text as well as rewrites and plot suggestions are accepted.
For a discussion of plot and characters, see D-Plot.
For a list of authors, illustrators and planned illustrations, see Dreamless Team.
Chapter One appears below. Click here to read Chapter Two.
Chapter ThreeChapter FourChapter Five

Illustrated Novel Project:
CHAPTER ONE - The Journalist Enters a Story
Brittle plastic splinters across the floor like radiation from a blackmarket electromag generator. Screams and buzzing audio links shred ears into analog fringe. This dankest of nightclubs suddenly ranks hotter than a suicide vid.

And me without my thumb-cam! I could be getting all this on chip. Would be worth a fortune, or at least an extra gig of hypespace. Another Pulitzer lost.

Cursing my luck, I peer from behind an overturned table as two more uniformed thugs hustle through the doorway. Their enhanced-frequency announcement, blasting from hip-mounted speakers, cuts past the chaos, telling everyone to remain calm, get down on the floor, and shut up.

No one notices. Not until they let loose with their knuckle-bored 258 Gatling fists. Once half the lights in the joint are shot out, people start to quiet down.

That's when I notice this tangle-haired teenager slip out from behind the fried speakers on the edge of the stage. She's wearing some sort of torn nightshirt and disposable slippers. Totally crusted, like some street kid. A couple metalheads I hadn't noticed raise their fist guns, ready to make her into yesterday's software. I'm no Einstein, but this equation scans very wrong. Way too lopsided for my old style math.

In direct violation of the Journalistic Code - which states, most emphatically, that all cynically apathetic and cowardly acts of noninvolvement by any field reporter must be construed as the highminded impartiality required for retaining journalistic objectivity - I decide somebody's gotta do something. So I pick up my table and slam it into the nearest walking woofer, hollering, "They're IntraFeds! Meltdown time!" The room goes nova. Nothing starts a stampede faster than IntraFed agents, specially in a doused joint like this.

My journalistic hand-to-hand training helps me keep my feet as I shove my way toward the mystery kid. Diving to the edge of the stage, I nearly knock her to the floor. Before she can dart away, I yank at her mass of curls and shout in her ear, "I know how to get outta here. Stay low." We snake past the bored musicians and into the muffled catacombs of backstage.

Crouching in the cramped dimness, I say into those wide, silent eyes of hers, "It's ok. I have a pass." The humor escapes her, so I explain dumbly, "I work for a newsvid. I can get backstage anywhere, with anyone..."

That's when the bullets start flying again.
Tobin James Mueller
based on
Fred Simmons' Marine, altered by Tobin James Mueller

The IntraFed metalheads, tired of standard party-crashing etiquette, decide to set a new record for gratuitous waste of ammo. More lights are blown out. Glass rains down from what used to be mirrored ceiling panels. One black-plated moron smashes clean through a wall; amidst the haze I see several cables dancing on toes of white hot sparks. In the millisecond of silence that follows, the only peep comes from the band: unmusical expletives having to do with yet another paycheck going up in smoke.

My only hope is that the goons with the guns go home just as empty-handed.

“Can you see in the dark?” I ask, not expecting any answer. I don't even know if she can hear me through the din. But if she's any kind of street kid, she can read lips.

"Cat," she hisses back to me, grabbing my face. Her eyes are bigger than ever. At least she speaks English. I think.

"Ok," I say, prying her hands loose. "You see like a cat. Then you lead. I'll cover the rear; that's my specialty. I got experience with groupies attacking my rear." My jokes are getting no response. Then again, maybe she knows I'm making all this up. But, hey, I'm a journalist; I make my living lying about stuff I know nothing about. Plus, I got my nose broken once by this transvestite summa wrestler from Maine who was running for president… I've already had my fill of slamming into walls. "Start trippin'," I advise, smiling, savoring language's little ironies…

I fumble down the dark corridors, trying to keep up, aiming for stealth while simultaneously pushing all thrusters to full burn. Our pathway is lit by an occasional flash as the thugs back on stage continue to blow up anything that moves. Not too many screams now. People have either already left, or they’re staying for good.

Chris Mueller
Suddenly catgirl darts through a side door. Silently dodging chairs and hurdling tables, she picks her way through a maze of offices like she knows where she's going. And here I was, afraid she's some starving teenage alley trick with AIDS II that maybe got fingered by a self-inflated cocksucker trying to keep his reputation clean wasting a few more innocent children, and there she is, faultlessly navigating our way through this nightmare labyrinth. Maybe I'm not really the hero here…

I stumble through the blunt side of one more swinging door and nearly knock the kid over. She's just standing there, holding her finger to her lips, like she's been waiting hours for me to catch up. What she juiced on? I wonder. It's my turn to hiss, "Where the hell are we? You trying to get us both killed?"

No response. Her eyes are as vacant as a black hole. I wonder what it's like to grow up on the streets, no school, no parents, no yesterday, no tomorrow. Does her brain even work like mine?

I shake myself for thinking she's a different species or something. After all, I pride myself for not being a bigot.

Tobin James Mueller
“Look,” I say, trying not to sound smack, “you got friends in wrong places. You either gonna tell me what's up, or, in about two vidclips, I'll turn you in myself. 'Load?”

Her eyes widen with some heightened sense just as the prime office space behind us bursts into flame. She streaks past me, plunging right into the heart of the fire, and I see her flimsy clothing crinkle up from the heat, exposing sweaty, defined muscles. I chase after her, feeling a little inadequate. If curiosity kills cats, I hate to think what's in store for me.

What the hell. This is a story I gotta have. As I follow her into the inferno, I notice my shoes beginning to melt.

What am I juiced on?

Chris Mueller
Whatever it is, that, along with some highly unnatural smoke, burn my eyes beyond infrared. With my lids clamped shut against the pain, I bowl into some retread tankman from the club… just in time to throw off his aim. My elusive gold medal gymnist hadn't quite made her vault, it seems: Her ankle is caught in the snare of this guy's formidably reinforced hand. By the way he's cocking his fist, I figured he's not offering her a consolation prize for artistic merit. I excuse myself for the intrusion and try to invoke my journalistic immunity, but all he does is train his barrels in my direction. I figure I'm just about to not record (damn that thumb-cam!) footage of my own erasure. Now we're talking really big bucks…right out the window.

That's when my damsel in distress clambers up the back of Ironman's evil twin, twists his head with one ugly grunt, and, snap, the guy crumples to the floor like a discarded prom dress.

Before she has a chance to return to her track and field display, I grab her by both shoulders. "What the hell was that? Who are you?" I realize I'm shouting, and, not wanting to sound ungrateful, add, "Listen. Enough with the Ms. Indestructible Android impressions. Bullets and chemical fire can actually cause injury, you know. So, maybe, let's go the other direction?"

We have a momentary stare down. Then, this amazing look comes over her face, a look I have never seen before in any nondigital realtime face: Trust. And belief. My brain nearly crashes from shock. Now what?

Not wanting to disappoint, I grasp her tremoring hands and give her a look of total confidence. "You with me?"

She nods.

We run off through the flames, and I'm feeling as close to immortal as a human being can, while still qualifying as sane.
Tobin James Mueller
CHAPTER TWO - Sign of the Times
To read Chapter Two, click here.
To submit additions, edits, or plot twists to this collaborative writing project, please send your text as an email to ArtsForge, identifying your subject as Novella Project/Dreamless. Please say if you do not want your name or email address posted. Also, feel free to exchange ideas on the story line, characters, plot, etc., with the participating authors. Click on their names to reach them.

If you are interested in illustrating any of these story panels, please submit art to us as well as any textual additions or plot ideas.

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All text edited by Tobin James Mueller.

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