Paul Fontana stared at the old man. "You want me to quit my job and move in with you so you can study my dreams?"
Monica Brooks sat next to her husband. She lifted her dress slightly to accommodate crossed legs. Paul stretched his peripheral vision to its limit as he watched her, still maintaining eye contact with her husband. If he could get his eyes to go different directions, he would do it now. Part of him wanted to get up and leave this weird scientist and his bizarre offer; take the money and go--but he was curious to hear more. A stronger part of him hoped this was some strange, marital sex game, an invitation to sleep with the wife and satisfy her in a way the old man could no longer do, that she'd singled him out after an exhaustive search of available men in the city.
Mason looked concerned. "I realize this seems drastic, but you'd be forwarding science more than you can imagine, and paid well."
"Brooks, I don't give a damn about science, and if you think I'm going to quit my job and move in here for a few hundred dollars, you're wrong."
Please, he thought, now tell me I get the girl.
"I'm sorry if I gave the impression the amount would be so small, Paul. I'd pay you two thousand dollars per week for your participation."
Paul's poker face fell to the floor. "Why me?" he said, "What's so important about my dreams?"
"How about that drink now?"
Monica moved toward a glass liquor cabinet. "What would you like, Paul?"
He bit his tongue to keep "screaming orgasm" or "sex on the beach" from coming out. "Scotch, please."
She pressed a drink into Paul's hand. Their fingers touched. It had been years since a woman affected him this way.
Brooks leaned forward and became animated. "Paul, have you ever experienced deja vu?"
"Sure, it's a chemical brain stimulation thing, right?"
Brooks shook his head with a knowing smile. "What if I told you that it's real. The future does exist in the present, and every night each of us witnesses it in the deep state of non-REM sleep. Deja vu is nothing more than a leak from the subconscious mind to the conscious. You suddenly feel the sensation of memory, because you have been there--in your dreams."
"I'd say, 'In your dreams.'"
"How else can you explain clairvoyance or extrasensory perception?"
"I don't try, Brooks, but I guarantee, a few ten-dollar words aren't going to convince me we're all dreaming up the future each night. I saw your name on those books there, so I know you don't have your head wedged too far, but dreaming the future? Come on."
"Not only do we dream the future, we can change it through a technique called lucid dreaming. Are you familiar with the term?"
"Sorry, I must have missed health class that day."
"Lucid dreaming is the ability to become aware that you're dreaming--without waking up--and to control the dream; decide what should happen next, which in turn changes the future."
"And we're really descendants of apes and aliens, too, right?"
"Paul, I've become a millionaire by applying my knowledge of the future to betting at the track and investing in the financial markets."
Now Paul was interested. "Can you teach me that?"
"There's no time. We must not be distracted from studying why you keep appearing in my dreams."
"What's the big deal?
"Each of your appearances in my dreams has resulted in my death. There was the car accident, then the plane crash, and on and on. In my non-REM dreams I see the future: I see my death. Each time, you are there."
"But it doesn't happen."
"Only because I see it coming and take steps to change it. Unfortunately, the dreams are becoming more frequent. It would appear that for whatever reason, you are the harbinger of my death."
Paul shook his head. "This is too weird to take seriously."
"You'd better. Often you get killed too--plane crash, remember?"
"What do you expect to find by studying me?"
"A connection. My life is a living hell. Almost weekly now I dream my death, and then try to avoid it. I don't know how long I can hold it off. I can't go anywhere until I hook myself up each morning and recall the day's major events. I believe we all dream the future. We must all be linked in some ubiquitous pool of time and space. We dip our toes in each night and feel the waters as we dream--but the waters are not calm. There are eddies and changing currents. Our dreams are a sextant, our actions the rudder. You and I are linked together. I must study your dreams to find the correlation. I'm afraid, Mister Fontana, my research is no longer for the benefit of the university or the forwarding of science. I am in a race against death."
They remained silent, their eyes shifting from one to the other, three people trying to gauge the faith the others have in the impossible, the incomprehensible.
Paul felt a strange fear, a fear he'd felt as a child--the fear of the unknown, of a dark and mysterious universe, of questions with no answer, of loneliness deep and profound. Not since he'd matured to the point where men stop torturing themselves with the question of the meaning of the universe had he felt such a fear.
He wasn't about to start again.
Paul broke the silence with a nervous laugh. "You believe what you want, Brooks. You've got a hell of a tale there, but you're not going to get me to believe that if I wake up dead tomorrow it's because I dreamed it the night before."
"What of our agreement, Mister Fontana?"
"We shook on it, didn't we? My word is as good as your money."