Young Adult
Paula Brown
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Dream Wanderers: The Escape

Chapter One
awson had been running for what felt like forever. The fire was gaining on him; there was no way he could outrun it. His only chance for survival was a small lake that he knew was somewhere in the vicinity. With a little bit of luck, the fire wouldn’t be able to spread past the lake. His strength was fading; he wasn’t sure he could make it. The fire was so hot he was certain the hair on the back of his neck had burned off.
“Follow the birds,” a soft, comforting voice instructed. Although he heard Gren’s voice, Lawson couldn’t see her anywhere. He could feel her presence, urging him to go on. “The birds will show you the way to the lake.” Lawson took just a moment to look up and saw a flock of orange and blue striped birds flying in formation. To follow them, he would have to backtrack a bit, right to the fire’s edge, but Gren had never led him wrong in the past. He ran faster, trying hard to keep up with the birds and failing.
“Don’t strive so hard. Just keep your eyes in their direction and you’ll be there soon.” Lawson took a deep breath and, ignoring Gren’s advice, tried to run faster. He fell, ripping the shirt of his blue uniform on a burning bush. Gren gasped. “Are you okay?”
Lawson stood up and pulled on his sleeve, which was still caught in the bush. The sleeve ripped from his shirt and caught on fire. He brushed himself off. “I’m fine, but the birds are gone Which way do I go?” Gren’s voice was calm once again. “The same direction. You’re almost there.”

Lawson started to run again, sure he was about to be consumed by the fire. He had twisted his ankle, but he wasn’t about to admit how badly it hurt...not even to himself. He was suddenly at the top of a hill; at the bottom was the lake. He was going to make it! He started running even faster down the hill, tripped almost immediately, and rolled the rest of the way. He could hear Gren suppress a laugh. She’d have points marked off for that! At the bottom of the hill he tried to stand as gracefully as he could, brushing himself off a second time.
“Swim to the other side of the lake, and you’ll be safe from the fire.”
Lawson walked to the water’s edge, bent down, and stuck his hand in. “The water’s too cold. I’ll die of hypothermia.”
“No, the water’s warm,” Gren’s voice told him. “Try it again.”
Not believing her, he felt the water a second time. It was perfect. He waded into the lake. He glanced around, looking for Gren, even though he knew he wouldn’t see her. He walked slowly, not realizing that the water became deep very quickly. Soon he was over his head.
“Swim!” Gren screamed. “You need to make it across to be safe!”
“I can’t do it!” Lawson managed to say, fighting for each breath. “My strength is gone.” He coughed twice, swallowing water each time. He felt as if he were about to go under.
“Use some of my strength.” Gren’s voice was calm again. “Do it for me.”
Lawson started swimming; suddenly knowing he could make it across. There was no more water in his lungs, his ankle didn’t hurt anymore, and he felt as if he could swim all rotation. Soon, he saw where the birds had landed on the other side. He made them his target; he’d follow the birds, as Gren had originally suggested.
In almost no time at all, he made it safely across the lake, the fire a distant memory. He climbed out of the water and lay on the beach, the nearby birds ignoring him. He breathed in the clear air and closed his eyes.

“There were several major mistakes. Who would like to go first? Lawson? It was your dream, I’ll give you the first pick.”
Lawson sat up and shook his head. He had only been awake for a few seconds; he didn’t even know where to begin. He looked at Hutch, his teacher and mentor. “Can I have a micro to get the water out of my ears?”
“There’s no water in your was a dream,” Hutch reminded him. “No more stalling. You know as well as I do that it’s best to talk about the dream while it’s still fresh in your mind. Now, tell me a mistake.”
“Gren laughed,” Lawson said, glancing at his best friend with an apologetic look.
“You’re right. Laughing isn’t allowed.” Hutch broke a smile. “I almost laughed, too; it was pretty funny watching you tumble down that hill.” He became stern again. “People take having their dreams wandered very seriously. If they think you’re laughing at them, you’ll lose a client. Believe me, you’ll see funnier things than Lawson rolling. You need to maintain you composure. Gren, tell me another mistake. A bigger one.”
“I cared too much,” Gren said quietly.
“Exactly!” Hutch almost screamed the word. “Clients will be depending on you to get them through their dreams. If you sound worried, they’ll be worried, and it will only make their dreams worse. You need to be a smooth, calming voice to help them through their problems. I know you two are it too hard for you to work together?”
“No,” they said in unison.
“Good. I’d hate to be switching around partners this far into the program, but I will do it if I have to.” Hutch took a drink from the mug in front of him. “It’s been a long session, so I’ll bring up my last point, which goes back to what Gren just said. You can’t get personal. Gren, you gave some of your strength to Lawson. You told him to do it for you. That will work for you two, but not for a client. They don’t know you or your strength.”
Hutch started to pack up his equipment. “It was a good effort, both of you. You lost . . . ten points. Take the rest of the rotation off. I’ll see you again the rotation after next. Lawson, it will be your turn to wander.”
A unit later, Lawson and Gren sat under a yellow tree, enjoying its fruit. “That’s the worst part,” Lawson complained. “I hate having my dreams wandered. It’s so embarrassing.”
“At least it’s just me. If Hutch decided we needed to switch partners . . .” Gren shuddered.
“I don’t mind having you wander my dreams,” Lawson said. “Not really. But it’s hard knowing that Hutch is doing it too, even if he’s just a silent observer. Do you think he ever wanders without our permission?”
Gren looked shocked. “That’s against the law!”
“So what’s time in a labor camp to a Dream Wanderer?” Lawson asked. “He could just wander everyone’s dreams until they do what he wants them to. Have you ever thought about how much power we could have?”
“Shhh!” Gren glanced around to make sure no one was listening. “Talking like that will get us both thrown out of the program...and with only one orbit left. My parents would never forgive me! Besides, they’d remove the gift before throwing the criminal into the labor camp.”
Lawson placed his hand right above Gren’s, as close as possible without actually touching it. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t really do it. It’s just that sometimes the whole thing is so overwhelming.”
“Have you given any more thought to what you’re going to do after graduation?” Gren asked, changing the subject. “Where you might want to apprentice?” She carefully moved her hand away; if they were caught almost touching, there would be consequences, and Lawson was too close for comfort. She didn’t know what the consequences were and didn’t want to find out.
“I’ve thought about it a lot. I think maybe that’s why my dreams have been full of danger lately. The fire represents not being able to go back, but I’m scared of going forward. Does that make any sense?”
Gren laughed. “We’re supposed to help people get through their dreams, not interpret them. But I did learn one thing from your dream earlier.”
“What’s that?”
“You’ll never be able to make it without me!” Gren picked a handful of grass and threw it playfully at Lawson. He did the same back at her, and the two of them were soon enjoying the fight.
Little did they know they were being watched.

Chapter Two
ew people on Terra cared much about their own galaxy. They lived happy, peaceful lives. Life on other planets was something for storytellers. It was also for dreamers, and so Dream Wanderers needed to know about the concept.
To Calli, that was one of the hardest things in the Learning Center. Her green uniform represented that she was in her second-to-last orbit before graduation. After that, she would be an apprentice for three orbits before becoming an official Dream Wanderer. Those in their final orbit no longer had to sit through the long, boring classes, like the one Calli sat through now, explaining the different things that might be found in dreams. The Blues had more practice and fewer practical lessons.
Calli glanced at Tayo, her new partner. Tayo was leaning against her arm, her eyes closed. Calli was sure Tayo was asleep. She considered briefly wandering into Tayo’s dream and telling her to awake up, but if she was caught she’d be immediately expelled, the gift of dream wandering permanently removed from her soul. Instead, she gently nudged her partner, who woke with a start.
“Huh?” Tayo said sleepily.
“Shhh,” Calli whispered. “You were asleep. I don’t want to have to change partners again.”
Tayo put her hand over her mouth to hide a yawn. “Sorry,” she whispered back. “How much longer?”
“Not too much,” Calli replied.
As if on cue Charla, the teacher of the front of the room, turned off the galaxy map and turned on the lights. “So you see, Greens other planets, right here in our galaxy, are capable of sustaining human life. Some historians even believe that large ships filled with people left Terra thousands of orbits ago and colonized the planets Abacu and Eden. I personally doubt it.
“Now, I want each of you to come up with a plan for what you would do in a dream situation for someone who believes in life on other planets. You’ll present it when we meet again, rotation after next. Greens, you’re dismissed.”
Later that rotation, Calli and Tayo sat in the dining area. Since they had just become partners, they spent as much time as possible together; being able to work well with your partner was one of the most important aspects of training. Calli was tired of changing partners. One by one, her four previous partners had been dismissed from the program. Tayo’s luck hadn’t been much better; she had watched three partners leave. It was unusual for anyone to make it through the entire program with the same partner, but three or four changes was excessive.
Calli and Tayo both noticed Lawson and Gren entering the room. If they graduated at the end of the orbit, they would be the first male/female partnering ever to make it through without a change. Usually a boy and a girl were partnered only as a last resort, but somehow, with these two, it worked.
“Mind if we sit here?” Gren held a tray of food, which she put on the table. She sat down and Lawson sat next to her. Still picking out their dinners were Titus and Sham, partnered Blues who were Lawson’s roommates.
“The Partnering Ceremony is only four rotations away,” Sham commented. “I can’t believe we’re in our last orbit!”
“Speak for yourself.” Calli threw him a dirty look. She brushed her short, brown hair out of her eyes. Physical contact between genders was strictly prohibited, but if there was anyone she was almost willing to break that rule with, it was Sham. She tried hard not to think about it; one of her biggest fears was that Sham would pop up in a dream of hers that was being wandered.
“I don’t see why they make the Partnering Ceremony such a big deal,” Tayo added. “Nobody stays with the same partner as when they were Whites.” Gren cleared her throat. “Almost nobody. I’ll never understand how you two have made it together for so long.”
“Me neither,” Lawson teased, throwing a playful look at Gren.
“I almost requested to change partners,” Gren said with a serious look on her face.
“When?” Calli asked.
Gren thought for a micro. “Let’s see . . . first when we were Whites, then when we were Browns, then Purples . . .”
Lawson joined her. “Then Reds, then Oranges, then Yellows, then Greens, and finally in our last session with Hutch.”
“You two are amazing,” Titus remarked. “It’s almost like you know each other’s thoughts.”
“I don’t know her thoughts, but I know her dreams,” Lawson joked.
“I thought that’s what you were going to say,” Gren added with a grin.
Later that same rotation, Gren, Calli, and Tayo sat in their dormitory room with Lanna and Macy, also partnered Blues. There was an unused bed in the corner; if Gren had a female partner, it would have been hers. It was unusual for Blues and Greens to share a room, but since Calli and Tayo had recently been partnered, the leader of the Learning Center made an exception to give them the chance to get to know each other, away from the other Greens.
So far, things seemed to be shaky for the new partners. Calli really enjoyed being with the older wandering students, even if they were only older by one color. It somehow made her feel more mature than her fifteen orbits. Tayo liked Gren. She wasn’t thrilled with Lanna or Macy, and she didn’t understand Calli’s fascination with age. Their time would come soon enough.
“So what are you going to do?” Lanna asked Gren. It was a subject that at least one of her roommates seemed to bring up every few rotations. “What if your feelings for Lawson slip into one of your dreams?”
“What feelings for Lawson?” Gren asked innocently. “I’ve told you over and over again...we’re just friends. That’s all we can be if we want to stay in the program, and I’m happy with that.”
“I bet after you graduate the two of you will become joined,” Calli said.
“Joined?” Gren twirled her long, red hair around her finger. “Lawson and I aren’t going to become joined. After we graduate we’ll apprentice...”
“Together,” Macy interrupted.
Gren ignored her. “And then we’ll practice dream wandering somewhere. Together or separate, I don’t know. Lawson has big plans. He’d like to travel, see more of Terra, maybe be a wandering Dream Wanderer!” She laughed at the joke, even though Lawson had told it to her so many times. “But I have my family to think about. I know they’re not going to want me to go too far.”
“Is that why Lawson spends his breaks with you?” Calli asked. “Because you want to be with your family, and he wants to be with you?”
Lanna and Macy each gave Calli a dirty look. “Lawson doesn’t have any family of his own,” Gren explained. “His parents were killed in an explosion right after he entered the program. That’s why it means so much to him. They were incredibly proud to have their only child be a Dream Wandering student. And that’s why he spends breaks with us. He’s a ward of the Learning Center. He has no other place to go.”
The room Lawson shared with Sham and Titus in the boys’ dormitory was quite a bit smaller than the girls’ quarters. There was an empty bed in the corner of their room, as well. “I hear the Greens were getting the ‘life on other planets dream’ lecture this rotation,” Titus informed his roommates. “I sure don’t miss those classes!”
“I don’t know,” Sham said. “Don’t you think there could be life somewhere else out there?”
Lawson laughed. “No I don’t. The whole idea is ridiculous. The chances are against it.”
“I don’t know,” Sham repeated. “I know this guy, Roy, who claims he’s from Abacu.”
“Sounds like he needs his dreams wandered.” Lawson grinned. “I’d be willing to do it for free . . . as soon as I get my license.”