“Who is this young cadfly? Shoo! You are shutting out the light!!”
As soon as he entered the threshold of the small and cramped gallery space, an old woman seated near the entry started yelling at him.
“Out, I say! Out!” She was the oldest woman Zerian had ever seen, and he gave pause – her eyes were almost non-existent, swallowed with leathery tanned skin.
“Oh stop, Jahsha, stop!” Another not-quite-as-old woman came out to meet Zerian as he stood on the rug, gaping at the elderly heckler. “Sorry, Sir, don’t mind Jahsha. She is waiting for her escort.”
This other not-as-old woman was tall and on eye-level with Zerian. She had black hair striped with silver, braided carefully down her back, and wore a deep blue robe with black stitching – one of the many colors and styles of robes that were representative of the disciplines studied at the Temple of the Graces.
Zerian knew that the Body Readers were well educated on the nuances of health and how this translated to your field and other bodily systems. Beyond that, nothing else – except that his mother distrusted their practice and did not want him to engage with it. He knew she was somewhat of a traditionalist, and that she had once forayed into discipleship at the temple, but he had never pressed her for more stories. She never seemed to enjoy discussing it.
But suddenly, standing here now in a small dusty gallery with a Body Reader before him, Zerian felt the curiosity of his mother’s past start to rise.
“What is the occasion today, young Sir?”
“I – I came for some consult on my sleep. If you might be able to help and advise?” Zerian kept his voice low as he did not wish to have the unruly elder woman seated nearby hear his personal business.
“Ah yes, sleep diagnostics – you have come to the right place!” She lit up in a warm smile and shook his hand with both of hers. “I can see you right away, if you’d like? Jahsha was my last appointment. What is your name, young Sir?”
“Zerian Ref-Vera. And you, Sira?”
“Please, you can call me Tulla.” Her omittance of her last names immediately made him regret revealing his own.
“Ref-Vera, did you say? You are certainly not from around here! I am not sure I have met anyone from Vera. Do you like Atuva?”
“Yeah, I do. It’s a change of pace, but lots to see for someone like me, I guess.” Zerian managed an awkward smile as Tulla gestured for him to follow her through a back hallway. He hated to give his full name, disclosing his origins and taking him off the table of regular citizen talk. From here on out, everything discussed would be compared in reference to his country roots and Atuva-centric topics avoided.
“Please stand here, on the round rug.” Tulla pointed to the small black and white round rug at the center of the side room she had just led him to. The room was dark, with only two small, narrow windows, shrouded in gauzy midnight-blue curtains that filtered the sunlight. She pulled out a small metal object from a tall stand of drawers once they entered.
“Sorry – I’ve never been to any Reader before. Don’t mind me if I make a mess of it.” Zerian stood on the small rug and made excuses.
“Oh, no issue at all. I’ll talk you through it. We see many levels here – those who have been coming for years, and many more who come only when they need to, when met with dire circumstances,” she glanced up at him with a wink, as she fiddled with the small cylinder in the palm of her hands. She held it up for him to see.
“This is a spinner. It will read your field and take some measurements – then I’ll run the program and get some answers for you – no need to be nervous. With sleep diagnostics, readings usually manifest inside the field itself – no need for direct body readings.” She looked up at Zerian again, who was listening intently. She surveyed his face and space around it. “Your aura appears to be fairly consistent – no visible marks of weakness that I see. What is the sleep issue you are having trouble with specifically? Trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep? Sleep walking?”
“Dreams.” Zerian almost didn’t say it. He almost made up a story about exhaustion and anxiety and working too much, but he blurted it out too quickly.
“Ah – and these are bad dreams I take it?” Tulla didn’t seem fazed.
“Yes, but not really the subject of them.”
“So it’s not about bad dreams?” Tulla paused with adjusting the spinner contraption and searched Zerian with confusion.
“It is. It’s just that – there are none. It’s like…. Nothing. Nothing is there.”
Tulla looked concerned, and furrowed her brow the same as Bess had done earlier that day. “Nothing?” she repeated back.
“Nothing. But it feels like I’m getting pulled around. Or shuffled around. I don’t know how to describe it… I can’t seem to get any rest. I always wake feeling tired. Never rested. But grateful that I’m not sleeping anymore. Does that make sense?”
“Hrmmmmm…” Tulla made a long and low murmur, with no official recognition that she knew what was happening. “How long has this ‘restless’ sleep been occurring?”
“For maybe half of a year. Since coming to the city, actually. At first it was just annoying – every few days. But now it’s every night for the last month. I’m at my wits end.” Zerian gave a half-hearted laugh, as if it was a joke. But it wasn’t.
“And you dreamed plenty back home, in Vera? Did you ever have the same bad dreams there?”
“Yes. Well, no. I mean, I’ve never really dreamed vividly. If I did, I never remembered them fully. They’ve always been vague. But it was never an issue before now. Never like this, where I wake up exhausted.” Zerian recalled Bess telling him about a dream that she had recently during the full moon. He couldn’t believe the monsters she could conjure in her sleep – he had never had such an experience. That he could remember, anyway.
“Well this should set us right,” Tulla said assuredly. “Now, stand straight and hold still.” She adjusted his shoulders a bit, pushing down on one and then the other, and Zerian straightened his neck and looked forward at the masonry wall in front of him, strewn with manuscript shelves and hung with odd instruments. Tulla stood a small distance away, just inside his outer periphery.
“Yes. Just like that. You might sense some uncomfortable buzzing while the spinner takes measurements. It will only take a few seconds.” Tulla clicked the small cylinder in her palm, and threw it up in the air towards Zerian. He winced, but the small device spun to life in a blue glow, and started darting around his auric field like it was connected to it – this way and that, almost too fast for him to track with his eyes.
There was a buzzing he could sense – but very faint. Or maybe it was just the sound vibrations of the machine he was sensing?
Just as the small spinner dashed past his head, it zipped up the crown and flew towards Tulla again. She held out a small metal plate, and the spinner returned to it like a cocoon. She then inserted it upright into the reader on her desk, and a screen of data was projected out from it.
“All done – simple and painless, right?” She smiled and ushered him away from the black and white rug. “Take a seat, I’ll look this over for you.” She motioned to a wooden chair near her small desk and immediately started tilting dials and information on the holographic screen that was waiting for her there. Zerian uneasily sat down.
“Well… the readings look very normal. Robust, actually. And from what I’ve observed, your field isn’t showing the weaknesses that a field would regularly display with the lack of sleep that you’re describing. Usually sleep problems like yours can be seen visually – it is very obvious to the eye, but yours is not… Is this making your everyday routine difficult? Are you falling asleep in the middle of the day?”
“Yes. Well, I am grateful to not be sleeping, really. But I am not feeling myself. I am happy to be awake, though. I feel intoxicated sometimes, or not myself lately – clumsier, not as sharp. But mostly I am just happy to not be asleep.”
Tulla looked quizzical. The data screen in front of her whirred and moved around, apparently betraying the real issue at hand. Zerian didn’t know what else to say. Just make it go away. Please?
“Well, young Zerian Ref-Vera, I think I recommend heading home for a bit. To Vera, in the countryside. See if this episodic dream variance resolves itself. Here,” she collapsed the screen onto a piece of paper and handed it to Zerian. “Take this with you when you go. If there is another Reader in Vera, you can re-test your results and compare. I would be very interested in seeing a comparison.”
Zerian’s heart sank with all his hopes. Running back home was not what he had in mind. He wouldn’t be able to tell his mother about any of this, and especially not this meticulous sheet of magnetic resonance statistics.
“Nothing else?” He managed to request as he stood. “You can’t think of anything else?”
She sighed heavily. “Sorry, no. All the readings looked absolutely normal. Not a strand out of place. Amazing, really. I see a healthy young man before me.” She patted his shoulder and guided him back out to the gallery.
Zerian was in a daze. He was sure this was the solution, he knew it. But nothing. A dead end.
“Is this paid for with your shares then?” Tulla tapped into a holographic screen again when they were in the main gallery.
“Yes, sorry. 0945T,” he recited almost absent-mindedly, and pushed his fingerprint into the screen she presented, which made a blip of recognition.
Tulla seemed to sense his brewing frustration. “You could always try the famous ‘Atuva-tera Tonic.’ Take with honey – you’ll need it! Right before bed. It’s known for it’s soothing properties. Might knock down whatever’s bothering you. You could also try the Luli Chants. I have a dear friend who swears by them, but I’ve never needed to try, you know.”
Zerian sensed her attempt at sympathy. “Thanks. That helps. I’ll try to see about the tonic. Thank you for the recommendation.” He bowed deeply, and she in return.
As he made his way back to the shop, he picked up some of the famous tonic from the apothecary by the canal where it was known to be the best. He walked slowly. He thought of his mother’s promise and wondered what the fuss was all about. A bunch of sophisticated little machines and data lists that were of no help whatsoever.
Maybe this was what she wished to spare him.
If you wish to read this ongoing story project in order, you can follow the following links:
Part 1 – Downed with Despair
Part 2 – Z+B I
Part 3 – Z+B II
Part 4 – Anava
Part 5 – The Promise