The Ministry of Dreams

A short story I wrote recently, inspired by a dream VintageKeith actually had. It’s about a country that is fully automated and its increasingly paranoid government.


THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

Huh?

It’s still there.

THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

Bit angry… this is weird.

Hold on. Wait.

THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

I’m asleep?

Oh. Right.

THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

This is a dream. Wait, but… what?

THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

I think I’m about to wake up. Why is this happening?

THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

Did I do something wrong?

THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

Maybe I’m just imagining it. Hard to tell with dreams.

THIS DREAM HAS BEEN DISABLED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT. PLEASE CONTINUE SLEEPING NORMALLY. WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED.

Oh. Okay. No. I’m definitely awake now, and… it’s still clearly in my vision. Clearly not very well-made, whatever that was. But certainly real.

Okay. It’s gone now. What time is it? 4 am? Really? Uh, sorry, “0400”.

I guess I’m up now, anyway. I’ll have to file a complaint. What could possibly have been in that dream that was so horrific that I’m not even allowed to see it?

Okay, so, out of bed and into the rest of my module apartment. I don’t really know if I can say it’s mine. It’s probably not even the same apartment as it was last night. It’ll have been switched around with other modules overnight, keeping only my bedroom and storage. You wouldn’t know, though, because they’re all identical.

I elect to get dressed myself, because, frankly, I could do with the exercise. Just because everything can be done automatically doesn’t mean it needs to be.

For breakfast, I’ll concede the hassle of making it myself and get some dispensed cereal. What brand should I pick today? They’re all basically the same, so let’s go with the one with the monkey on it. That one looks least terrifying. A bowl fills up and dispenses at me, and now I can eat some flakey things that clearly have nothing to do with monkeys.

Well, now I’m less hungry, so let’s look into that whole forbidden dream business. Let’s go with the big panel for this one. Maybe I’ll get to video call them. That’d be fun.

Government information… aha! Should be in “Infractions”. Yes, there it is, under “Random incidents”. Today, ten minutes ago, you, Matthew Stinley, have had a dream that has been removed by Your Government lest I, I dunno, resist them or something? Their own paranoia is going to destroy them some day. It’d be nice if they gave a reason, but that’d require them to be nice, and considering what we’re dealing with here, I doubt they’d bother with the convenience.

Oh look, there actually is a Dispute option. I guess I’ll do that, if just so I can find out what the dream that was so infringing actually was. Maybe that was it – my dream contained copyrighted content and so was removed. They’ll get rid of earworms next. Not that I ever listen to music.

I watch the clock and carefully count the seconds. 603. It’s now exactly 0430, and a reply’s come in. They must operate on some sort of half-hour deadline. Sounds like a pain, but it’s probably well-paid. By that I mean that their wage is exactly calculated to give them enough to be better than the averages like me but not quite enough to be rich. High enough to keep them satisfied, but low enough to keep them there.

The reply: “Thank you for submitting your complaint. Please come to the Government building and ask to see the Ministry of Dreams to pursue this matter.”

Half-hour deadlines can’t afford to be personal, I guess.

Well, have I got anything to do today? They’ll tell me if I do, but if I show up at the Government, it should all be automatically rearranged to fit. So let’s go.

I sprint past the rows and columns of blank, oblong modules, mostly because I want to get there quickly and I get little exercise anyway. Crowds of people form as they disembark from their own modules and head towards wherever it is they’re going. For some reason, the Government’s never improved travel by foot. Everyone’s going in different directions and it’s all a mess, which seems unusual when everything is clean and ordered.

I’ll be taking transport that is automated, though. The train station should be just up this featureless road, right at this identically blank road… aha! This one looks different. There’s a big, single building at the end of it with a symbol of a square flying through a circle that’s probably supposed to mean “train”.

I haven’t gone anywhere particularly far for a while, and certainly not using a train. There are lots of doors, most leading to a small, black room. Some of them are open, others are locked tight, with nothing behind them. I pick one of the open ones and enter the little room. The door closes shortly after as it figures out I haven’t got anyone entering with me.

Oh, I get it. It’s a lift.

There’s a panel on the wall of the lift that asks me where I want to go. I choose “YOUR GOVERNMENT BUILDING”. I don’t know why it’s my government building, but I guess that means I can take it. The lift rises (I think) speedily towards whichever of the station’s countless floors is the one that has trains to the Government building. The lift doors open on the opposite side to reveal an empty, grey room, slightly bigger than the lift. After the lift closes and moves down again, this cubicle then moves forward (startlingly) and then stops again. I wonder if I’ll be asked for money. It’s probably a Government thing that maintains itself, or maybe they’ve already taken the money out of my account.

All of a sudden, I’m rocketing forward again. I guess this grey cubicle is now part of the train? It’s going somewhere, at least. I wait.

At last, it stops. There’s a pause. And then the cubicle moves in a different way and its doors open onto another lift, which takes me up. And then I step out onto a completely different street.

I have no idea where I am in relation to my module. It feels like a blindfolded journey. I could be right above my apartment for all I know.

Here, everything is clad in blue and red instead of white and grey. The train station seems to be the sole normality. I’m guessing whoever designed this area was going for “regal”, but it just comes off as tacky. Like those people who get up every morning to paint something on the side of their modules before it’s washed away by the cleansers again. There aren’t really any on my street – we’ve all given up on originality – but you see them around if you walk through the home district early in the morning.

I realise I’ve been stood still outside the train station for a good minute or so, and people are probably wondering if I’m okay or, more likely, angry that I’m not getting out the way. I start heading off towards the largest building here, which, given the addition of yellow to its palette, is probably the Government building. I don’t know what all the other ones are. Probably modules for Government members? Ah, yes, more of them are arriving. They must change their colour and hide out in depths of the home district during the night before transferring here in the morning to go to work.

I stop for a moment because I hear a noise in the wall. Probably some of the machinery moving the modules around, but I can’t help thinking of that story everyone knows. It’s a ghost story, really, but not a very exciting one. It’s a tale of someone who lives behind the walls of the world, clambering over the mechanisms and making dens on top of modules before hurrying off to somewhere else again. Apparently those noises are from whoever that is. Maybe it’s spread by the Government to hide the fact that the System isn’t silent.

This must be the entrance to the Government building. There’s a button next to the large, double doors decorated with a large G. Nothing happens when I go up to the doors, so I press the button. They open.

“Hello. How can we help you today?”

I’ve entered a large hall. It’s coloured in more blue, red, and yellow and stretches far larger than any module I’ve ever seen. In fact, I don’t think it is a module. It’s a static building.

Hold on, I’m getting distracted again. Wait, did someone speak to me?

“Hello. How can we help you today?”

It’s true! There’s a woman there, next to the entrance doors, sitting at a round, enclosing desk and smiling at me. On the wall behind her, there’s another stylistic G like the ones outside. And she’s talking to me?

“Sorry, sir. Did you need anything?”

She’s a bit creepy, but I can’t see any automated way of making an appointment, so I suppose I’ll ask.

“Yeah, I’m h-here to go to the Ministry of D-dreams. I have to speak with them.”

“Ah, right. So you’re a visitor? You don’t work for the Government? You didn’t trigger the detector, in any case.”

“No, no, no. I’m just a citizen. My name is Matthew Stinley.”

I feel like I shouldn’t really be giving this creepy woman my name, but I’m not sure what the Government would do with it that they couldn’t already.

She writes it down on a piece of paper, followed by “VISITOR FOR MINISTRY OF DREAMS”. And then she types it into a panel. How strange.

I have to ask her a question. She just seems so weird.

“Y-you are Disslandic, right?”

The Government doesn’t like us referring to the country by its name. They want us to think Dissland is the whole world. But I don’t know what else to ask.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be? Am I doing something wrong?”

“No, no, no. I just thought you seemed a bit strange.”

“Well, I’m sorry if I was a bit off-putting. We don’t get many citizens here, so I don’t really know how to talk to them.”

“It’s a-alright.”

Why won’t she stop smiling?

“My name’s Anna, by the way. Your appointment with the Dreamers is in twenty minutes.”

“Right.”

I start to move away-

“Now I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with you.”

“Why?”

“People normally laugh when I call the Ministry ‘Dreamers’…”

“Oh.”

I walk off. There are some seats at the far end of the hall. I sit down and wait, watching the large clocks high up on each wall. Above them are weird round things with twelve little marks and some points moving around on them. They make a ticking noise. Tick, tick, tick. I watch them go round until it’s time.

Nothing else has happened since then. The hall is still empty apart from me, Anna, and the ticking. But it’s been enough time now, so I go back to the desk. She’s still smiling.

“Hello. How can we help you today?”

“Don’t you remember me?”

“Of course. I just say that to everyone.”

“So… Which way is it to the Dreamers? Is there a lift?”

“Go up those stairs on the left, see? Then turn right and take the lift to the third floor. You can’t miss it from there.”

I try to remember these instructions. I think I can. I head up the stairs, turn left- no! Right. I turn right, and there are lifts, like at the train station. Except none of them are open. I suppose I’ll have to wait? Wait, there are buttons by the lift doors. I’ll try one.

Aha! After a few seconds, one of the lifts opens. I step in, and press a button for Floor 3. The doors close and the lift goes up. Then I step out, and see a sign for the Ministry of Dreams. I follow it.

Finally. Here is the entrance to the Ministry of Dreams. I enter.

“Hello. Who are you?”

There are people in here, but I was expecting them this time. A woman is greeting me and stopping from going past. I suppose they don’t want intruders, but surely they would be expecting me?

“I-I’m Matthew Stinley.”

“Ah, Stinley. You actually came to us. I’m surprised.”

“Really? You didn’t think interrupting someone’s dream would be a bit shocking?”

“Please, sit down.”

I was allowed into the room. It was a system of chairs, desks, panels, and people sitting at them, working, sometimes with gatherings around a large panel to discuss something. There was an empty gathering area near the doors, and the woman was pointing at it. I sat down there. She continued to stand.

“So what did you want with my dream? Why did you block it? What was so shocking?”

“As you know, the Government… organises what people learn so that there is no rebellion against it. There are some people who would disagree with the Government’s methods, but by making sure that these ideas are never spread, nobody even thinks of them. Everyone is comfortable enough, so there are no uprisings, no rebel groups, and no violence whatsoever.”

I wasn’t sure what an “uprising” was, but it sounded bad, so I decided to continue listening.

“Even though nobody has any reason to want a change – why bother when everything is smooth and easy already? – we would still encounter, from time to time, people who had had a dream about attacking the Government and decided to follow it. Of course, it is not difficult to remove such individuals. Tell me – how many people could you say that you know?”

I can only think of the receptionist, Anna, but I can’t even really remember what she looked like.

“Exactly. Nobody knows anyone, so if someone goes missing, nobody will ever know. That train you took earlier – the Government could remove your cubicle from the train and dispose of it. Nobody would ever know because you’re all isolated.”

Did she just say the Government could have killed me? It makes sense from a peacekeeping perspective, but that seems harsh. Can’t they just put them somewhere else?

“So what’s with the dream blocking? If you can get rid of these rebel people, what’s the point?”

“The Government has long sought a solution to these random incidents. The Ministry’s founder, Steven,” – someone waved from behind a desk – “was a free thinker who realised that the mental perception technology that was being worked on could be used to solve the problem of dreams. He started a small company to develop this and some similarly skilled people were assigned to it. He thought that they would have to prevent all dreams from being seen, but they were soon creating ways of determining what kind of dream a sleeper would see, and could block them based on their content.

“The Government’s attention had already been attracted to the company, and it soon became part of the Government. The Ministry of Dreams. You were one of our first live subjects. As you can tell, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it worked. In the future we hope to be able to replace dreams with animations, Government promotion, and advertisements.”

“’A bit rough around the edges’? You woke me up at four in the morning!”

“We’re doing the best we can. This is important work and, perhaps, a few people will be inconvenienced or displaced along the way.”

“I see.”

I didn’t. But maybe she’d answer my next question if she thought I agreed with her.

“So what was my dream? What was so horrific that you had to block it and wake me up?”

“I cannot tell you that, I’m afraid.”

“Why not?”

“Look, we need to move on. Do you-”

“You say you can work out what type of dream people are going to have. What was my dream?”

“I’m sorry. It obviously defeats the purpose if we tell people what dreams we blocked.”

“Then just get rid of me! I’m here now, why not tell me?”

“Look. There’s a more important matter. Now that you’re here, at the Government building… Do you want to stay here and work for the Government? Or would you rather go back and go on doing whatever it is you’re told to do? You could even work for the Ministry.”

“If I stay here, do I get to find out what my dream was?”

“…perhaps.”

“Then I stay.”

“Right. Welcome to the Government.”

“So what was my dream?”

I think I’m winning. She’s going to just tell me to make me stop asking. Right?

“…alright. Your dream… it was about the Government building, this building, bursting into flame. It was a bomb attack.”

“Bomb?”

“It’s an explosive. Terrorists – uh, people who want to scare people – blew up the building and killed everyone. The country collapsed.”

“You knew that much about my dream?”

“Yes. We have spent most of our effort on seeing dreams; our vision injection technology was already perfected. Now, you were just a bystander in the dream. You were going to work, and was just outside the blast. But we couldn’t rule you out as wanting to enact this kind of violence – or telling someone about the dream and having them do it – so we had to block it.”

“Right.”

“Is that all?”

“I think so. What’s your name?”

“My name? Why would you want to know that?”

“So I can remember who you are.”

“You don’t need to.”

“Can I quit the Government?”

“No.”

“What if I don’t show up?”

“You’ll never be given any other work. It’s not a choice you can make. Remember what we can do to you on trains.”

“So, what now?”

“You go back to your module and we give you a Government task tomorrow. You’ll go by Government train – the blue ones – and we’ll make sure that you don’t use the normal streets.”

“And that’s it? I don’t have to do anything?”

“Nothing is required on your part except the job you are asked to do.”

I head back downstairs, mentally reversing the route Anna gave me. I see her again on the way out.

“Did it go well?”

“Not really.”

“That’s a shame.”
“See you tomorrow.”

“Hopefully.”

I leave the building. I see the blue train station the mystery woman hinted at (maybe I’ll call her Mysti) and head to it. I go through the same process as before to get on the blue train, but the train itself is more different than just being blue. I’m still in an individual cubicle, but there’s clear plastic so I can look through and see the other (empty) cubicles.

Before long I’m back at my module – the train knew who I am and took me straight there. I settle back in, noticing that my former front door no longer opens. It’s just another part in the wall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *