-By Ari(adne) Penalva-Tena
“Xoc…what do humans do when they sleep?”
MISHA and Xoc were lying in the grass, resting beneath a star-filled sky. In appearance they were just staring quietly, with nothing but the sound of the wind and the occasional chirping of a cri-keet. The early-dark sounds, as MISHA called them.
“S-sorry MISHA JARVIS. Did you say something?” Xoc’s mind-voice replied in an unusually hazed tone.
The cadence of Xoc’s reply confused the android. Slightly concerned, MISHA turned their head towards Xoc, wishing to see what was wrong. Upon doing so, they immediately realized their mistake. Although Xoc’s face was still turned towards the stars, using his hooded cloak as a pillow, his eyes were fully closed and his breathing had considerably slowed down. Both symptoms, as Misha understood it, of the moment when humans were falling towards sleep. The thought of that process heightened their curiosity, and without being able to stop themselves, they spoke again through the mind-link shared with Xoc.
“My apologies, it seems as if I have stopped your fall.”
“I would not be so sure. If Horus could see me, he wouldn’t say the same thing,” came Xoc’s mind-voice again, still distant and monotone.
Misha blinked, even more confused.“I do not understand your response.”
Suddenly, Xoc opened his eyes and turned around, immediately meeting MISHA’s gaze.
“Did I say that out loud?” he said out loud, seemingly forgetting about their usual form of communication.
“Yes. But I believe you had informed me to not do so while we both were awake at late night hours, as our out loud voices could wake up our sleeping companions.”
“No… not….uh..." Xoc blinked a couple of times, his breathing quickening a bit as he struggled to compose himself.“You were asking me something?”
MISHA saw that a slight red-tone had settled upon Xoc’s face again. They decided not to point this out, as they did not want to alter their very-good-friend even more. And besides, tonight was not the time for such discussion. Not when MISHA wanted to know more about human sleep.
“Ah, yes. I wanted to inquire...what do humans do during sleep? I know externally they do not seem to do much, but I do believe internally that is not entirely the case. Do they fall somewhere? I believe I stopped your fall to the sleep just now, for which I do sincerely apologize.”
Xoc smiled a bit as he sat up, extending a hand to help MISHA do so as well.
“No, it’s fine. I wasn’t really asleep,” he lied. “But I may be able to sort of answer your question. It is not the first time a fellow machine has asked me this.” As he spoke, Xoc started looking around the grass-covered landscape, seemingly looking for something specific. MISHA watched Xoc, their curiosity intensifying. Eventually, Xoc’s smile widened as they found what they were looking for and stood up to grab it.
“Here. This will do.”
Xoc came back a second later holding a bunch of fuzzy-looking, unrecognizable flowers.
[Command_started: datasphere_search: “flower with a fluffy white head”. Main_result: dandelyon].
“See this?” asked Xoc, sitting down next to MISHA again. They nodded, confused yet interested. “Imagine the human mind during the day is like this dandelyon, and each one of these seed-petals are like… the things we are thinking about and doing during the day. We for the most part have these held together while we are awake, right?”
MISHA nodded, trying to keep up with the explanation. “I suppose so”
Xoc kept smiling as he proceeded. “Cool so now….now when we fall asleep… it isn’t really like falling-I actually have never gotten why someone named it that way-it’s more like slowly drifting. Like…” Xoc blowed softly on the one dandelyon, whose petal-seeds, at the slightest breeze, started floating away from each other, each slowly dancing in their own separate directions. “It’s a little bit like this.”
MISHA observed, fascinated. “But...where do they go?”
“That’s the fun part of sleeping…or, to be more specific, of dreaming. We don’t really know where they will go. They can go literally anywhere you can think of. And the fun and sometimes scary part is normally humans can’t control this wind.”
“Are humans aware that they are carried by this wind?”
“Sometimes. Depending on the crazy places the wind takes us, we can realize it’s just a dream. Usually when that happens we wake up from it though.”
“Crazy places?” MISHA looked at the petal-seeds in the distance, some already lost from their sight.
“Yeah! It can take you anywhere. For instance, the other day I dreamed we all solved a mystery in the bottom of the ocean. You were there, as well as Hopper Scotch and Elee Badge.”
MISHA frowned. [Command_started: Memory_Search: Err0r_136: file_not_found] “I do not recall … I do not recall this Xoc, did I…did I forget again?”
Xoc was quick to reply. “No! Not at all. I didn’t mean to…it didn’t…it didn’t actually happen, you see. Just where my...um…my wind-dreams took me.”
“But I was there?”
“Yeah…sort of. It wasn’t really you, just a sort of...dream-you. Friends tend to find you, even in your dreams.”
“Oh, I see.” MISHA didn’t entirely understand, but they could grasp some of the general concepts Xoc was explaining. It sounded fun to drift on sleep-wind, not knowing where it would take you. However….
“Xoc…what if there is a current of wind instead? Like a tornado. What happens to humans then?”
As they asked this, their gaze shifted quickly towards the tent where they knew Hopper [retrieval_error:file_corrupted] Simon Scotch slept. No matter how Xoc explained sleep, the sleep of Simon Scotch did not seem to be a slow drift whatsoever.
“Well…sometimes the wind can take you places you do not want. Some of which are scary. But, no matter what, you sooner or later realize it was just a nightmare. And, when you wake up and see your friends there, lying next to you, you realize you were safe all along.”
“Do you...have many of those bad dreams, Xoc?”
“Not that many.” Xoc lied. As if on cue, and without any of them really noticing, MISHA’s scarf extended itself to wrap itself behind Xoc’s shoulders, wishing to provide comfort and warmth to both the android and the human.
“I wish I could experience wind-dreams.“ MISHA said sorrowfully. “The good ones sound quite fun.”
Xoc turned towards MISHA, handing them a few dandelyons. “Would you like to create some with me?”
MISHA smiled. “I would love to.”
They both blew on the dandelyons together, watching their petal-seeds float in the distance quietly as the night proceeded its course.
MISHA stepped up their pace as they followed the floating dandelyon petal-seed, careful to not lose it from their sight. Sometime after midnight, when the early-dark sounds had finally given way to the quieter mid-dark sounds, Xoc had drifted in his own sleep-wind, leaning on MISHA’s shoulder as he did so. After very carefully placing Xoc on the ground, instructing their scarf to take him towards his tent, MISHA decided to try experiencing their own version of human dreams. So, after searching for another nearby dandelyon, they allowed the wind to carry some of the petals away. MISHA then chose to follow the path of one petal-seed at random, following with anticipation of the adventures it might bring.
MISHA always lost track of time at night. Well, they didn’t really lose track - they could consult their internal clock anytime they wanted, after all - but rather they chose to not think about how much time had passed. They enjoyed just living in the moment, truly without a past (forgotten or remembered) and without a future. So they didn’t know how long it had been since they started following the seed, and how long it took for it to, finally, rest upon the ground. As it did, MISHA looked around hopefully and a bit nervously, part of them expecting a great and never seen adventure. Perhaps ending up under an ocean with their friends, as in Xoc’s human-dream.
What they saw, at first, filled them with disappointment. The seed had landed on another patch of grass, similar to the one MISHA had just left. There was nothing new, nothing different. They sighed. At least the mid-dark sounds were somewhat comforting.
As they were turning around to figure out the direction back to the camp, they suddenly noticed the dandelyon seed started moving again. However, oddly enough, the seed was not floating as before, but rather…crawling across the ground? And did it seem to be...glowing? Slightly cocking their head, MISHA carefully leaned closer to the ground. After a few moments MISHA gasped in surprise, understanding what was going on with glee. The seed was not moving on its own. Rather, it was being carried by a very small, very beautiful fire-ant!
As far as they could remember, MISHA loved all animals. However, without really knowing why - did there have to be a reason? - the animal that ranked at the very top of their animal ranking list were ants. Specifically the nocturnal fire-ants who came out at night, with their very characteristic red/orange glow that lit up the ground like tiny flames. They were also quite beautiful up close, with their exoskeleton and their small spiky pincers. Really carefully as to not step on it or deviate its path, MISHA followed their new friend the ant as they carried their dandelyon treasure, continuing their already worth-it adventure.
MISHA watched the ant as it carried the seed seemingly without effort, as if it didn’t weigh at least two or three more times its own weight. So small and yet so strong and fierce. Like Elee B.The ant eventually met up with a procession of other ants, each carrying a variety of very interesting objects: a stick, a big leaf, a flower stem. All headed together towards a certain quest, following a mission MISHA didn’t yet fully understand. They had seen fire-ant parades before of course, but never one of this magnitude. The ants seemed restless, as if preparing for something big.
Behind in the ant procession were some smaller ants, which at times struggled to carry their found treasure. However, there were always a few ants that, in addition to carrying their own leaf or stick, helped the ants staying behind to keep on track, sometimes heading back to assist their ant friends. These helpful ants, willing to risk themselves to assist their friends, reminded MISHA of Simon Scotch. Xoc was right, they thought, delighted. Friends do tend to find you in your wind-dreams.
It didn’t take MISHA too long to find the anthill where their ant-friends were headed. It was in front of a small rock, glowing ever so slightly. MISHA was still puzzled. Normally, they knew, the ants immediately went inside their anthill to display their treasures to the ants staying inside, maybe as an incentive for them to go out and explore. Now, however, none of the ants were going inside. Rather, all of the returning ants stayed outside in a sort of strange square, leaving their treasures proudly in front of them.
[Command_started: datasphere_search: “Fire-ants unusual ritual. ”. Main_result: yearly fire-ants migration]. Of course! It only took a quick datasphere search for MISHA to understand, excitedly, what was going on. They did not know how they knew [you have seen this before retrieval_error:filecorrupted], but the moment they saw the ritual name they were aware of what it was, and what a unique experience it would be to watch it again.
Anthills are usually very populated places, full of ant-chattering and fully organized work. They do not always start that way, however. Every anthill begins as a seemingly unpromising patch of land, a place whose hidden potential can only be seen by the smallest of insects. Once discovered by a handful of ants, they would work and help it slowly grow until it became another beautiful, glowing place.
There is only so much a small anthill can hold, however. And so, MISHA knew, there came a time where some of the ants had to migrate away from their home, go farther than they had ever gone before, to find and populate other hidden paradises, making friends along the way. That event was called the fire-ants yearly migration. What made this more wonderful is that it did not happen just on one anthill. Somehow, fire-ants across many anthills prepared for the same ritual at the same time, resulting in a beautiful spectacle of many flying ants travelling together in search of new homes. The gathering of fire-ants outside this ant-hill, therefore, was not just to share new treasures. It was also to say goodbye.
MISHA also somehow knew this wouldn’t be a fast process. The migration rituals often took hours from beginning to end, meaning that MISHA could be there to watch all of it as it progressed. They smiled expectantly as they sat down in a relatively distant place from the anthill so that MISHA did not scare the gathering ants. They watched more of them arrive and start glowing brighter as they did.
As they sat there, waiting for the moment to occur, MISHA had a [familiar, welcoming] distressing thought. They knew the migration involved hundreds of new ants flying away from their home in search of a new place to live. But what happened if… what happened if they could not? What if they got too tired to fly and then [fell to the ground? that would be a fun sight] got lost, or [eaten by a bird, stuck between a gear-shaped beak? What does the inside of an ant look like? Would it still glow?] couldn’t find their way back home? They stared at the anthill intently. Their head was starting to throb a little. More ants started to gather. So many ants in one single place. How easy it could be to just... [step on them] to just…. [wipe out that glowing light]… MISHA’s head throbbed even more as the wind around them increased in speed. They averted their gaze, closing their eyes as everything around them turned slightly red…
MISHA opened their eyes at the sound of spreading wings. The fire-ants, it seemed, had decided whose turn it was to leave and explore new lands. Hundreds of glowing lights started floating ever higher from the anthill floor, while hundreds more stayed on the ground, illuminating their way. MISHA could feel a warm, comforting sensation grow around them as the flying ant-noises intensified. When looking over their shoulders, they realized their scarf had somehow found them, and was lying reassuringly around their neck.
Sometimes the wind can take you places you do not want. Some that are scary. But, no matter what, you sooner or later realize it was just a nightmare. And, when you wake up and see your friends there, lying next to you, you realize you were safe all along.
MISHA smiled as the ants began flying their way, illuminating the sky like moving, beautiful stars. MISHA then realized something wonderful. All the ants flew together as one. They could protect one another, just as in the ground. At that moment, looking at their scarf, MISHA knew they would be okay. The strong Elee ants would fight, the helpful Simon ants would protect, the comforting Xoc ants would shine the brightest to illuminate the path of the others. Ants from other anthills soon joined their way, enveloping the late-dark sounds with a beautiful cacophony of insect wings moving together in unison, making beautiful patterns in the sky as they did so. Slowly, rhythmically, MISHA began to dance, their scarf following their movements in the wind. They twirled, they turned, they ever so slightly stepped to the rhythm of the flying ants, following their movements in the sky as best they could. Through their dance, MISHA wished them luck. Through their dance, MISHA said goodbye as the fire-ants left their old home. And as they danced, MISHA allowed themselves to lose track of time once more. And so the hours passed, and so MISHA danced, happily and carelessly, through their own android-sleep. They even failed to notice a lone dandetiger seed as it posed itself neatly, on top of a purple scarf.
MISHA walked back to the camp as the early-morning sounds began to slowly appear. The fire-ants had long since flown away, probably meeting new friends and creating adventures along the way. All of them protecting each other. All of them arriving safe to their destination.
From afar, MISHA could hear the early waking noises of their companions, getting ready for a new day of adventures.
“Ugh…. my neck…”
“...Are you all right kid? I thought it was me who was supposed to complain about early-morning pain.”
“No no I’m fine, I just think I slept weird last night or something.”
“Turning your neck hurts? I can help with that.” MISHA could detect an excited glee coming from Elee B’s words, following what they could assume was a cracking of knuckles.
“What? Wait no no no Elee it’s fine really please I’m used to this pain it’s really not that bad wait—“ Another cracking of bones could be heard, followed by a faint response of Simon Scotch. “I—I think you just made it worse.”
MISHA smiled, glad to hear their friends were having fun so early in the morning.
Good morning, MISHA JARVIS. Xoc waved at MISHA as he did his usual morning exercise routine. Did you have a good night?
MISHA waved back, mimicking Xoc. I certainly did. In fact, after we conversed I realized something quite wonderful.
What is it?
MISHA stared at the rising sun, behind where Xoc was standing. I believe androids can dream, too.