“Awareness is everything.”

Kaire was kneeling with her hands on her knees. “That’s the heart of the matter.

“Everything that exists is aware, on its deepest level, of existing. That it’s real. These buildings, you, me – everything. From a – a galaxy to a grain of sand on the ocean floor.

“I’m not talking about consciousness. Not ‘Here I am, world’, or anything like that. I’m talking about something that goes further than consciousness ever can. It’s…like…a silent affirmation of being, like pushing back against the void. The foundations of a soul, if you want to get religious – we call it a paradigm. It’s the unconscious essence of self-identity. And they can be powerful; very powerful, especially human ones. Strong paradigms can pass between worlds. They can have a potent influence, even on physical things...”

“Sorry,” she continued wryly, seeing Dax’s quizzical expression. “That got a bit technical… I’m more the ‘doing’ type, I’m not good at explaining things.”

“Well, it sounds like you’ve got some tough material to work with,” he said, faintly.

She smiled. “Just think of it this way – everything has an idea of itself. And that idea can be strong enough to express itself through existing things, even things in other worlds.”

Paradigms – other worlds… His head was spinning. “What does this have to do with me?”

Kaire rubbed the side of her face. “You said that you fell into a river?”

“Yes. The Thames. I was drowning –“

“Your paradigm becomes vulnerable when you’re very close to death. And you were in water - that makes it easier to pass through one world to the next. This place –“ she waved a hand around, “- is pretty much saturated with Gating energy. When there’re fluxes in that energy, it can yank things through from one world to the other. Like someone who’s drowning.” She touched the mark on his skin again. “That’s the scar from what happened to you. It marks you out as a Sundered, someone who got pulled out of their world against their will…”

She seemed to fall into musing. “But why you’d dream about this place before that…how you’d know about Athellus and me….I don’t know. It’s strange…very strange…”

Dax found he was rubbing at his palm, as if he had a smudge of dirt there he wanted to remove. It was the same hand as always, the same fingerprints. Everything about him was the same. Except that mark, standing out like a brand.

Except all this.

“So let me get this straight,” he said eventually. “I found out I had a tumour that was going to kill me and that made me see things, then I was out by the river, and I hallucinated about something chasing me, and I went in the water and almost died, but I didn’t, and instead I got pulled through into this place I keep dreaming about, though it’s not just somewhere I dreamed about, it’s a real place, and someone else I used to dream about just saved me from a pack of monsters that I didn’t dream about...”

Kaire shrugged a little, with a smile. “Crudely, that’s about it, yes.”

“Well,” Dax said, rubbing a hand over his eyes, “thank god we got that cleared up.”



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