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April 11, 1980, 3:00:00 AM (London time)

At that precise moment, these things were happening around the universe: a teenager in Colorado came up with a plot for a book; unicellular life appeared on a rocky planet circling Tau Ceti; a baby was born who would grow up to solve the Riemann Hypothesis; and former Beatle Paul McCartney, sleeping peacefully with his arm around his wife Linda, began dreaming about sheep grazing in a pink field.

At 3:02:34 a giant hand reached in and brushed the sheep and the grass away. Paul found himself standing in a living room with a brown carpet and two comfy-looking black overstuffed chairs with footrests. Next to one of the chairs was a small, beautifully carved wooden end table with a bowl of potato crisps, a Perrier, and a box of chocolate mints. Both chairs faced a wide-screen TV.

I wouldn't say no to a bit of telly, Paul thought, looking around for a remote, but there wasn't one. He inspected the TV for an ON button, but it didn't have one of those, either. Fully aware that he was dreaming, he grinned wryly. Well, that's daft, dreaming up an un-turn-onable TV. I wonder what it's supposed to symbolize? Oh well, at least there's food, that's something to do. He pinched the fabric of the chair near the snacks to make sure it wasn’t leather (it was vinyl, and man, did it feel real) and settled into it with a sigh from both him and the chair. It was, indeed, one hell of a comfy chair.

As soon as he put his legs up on the footrest, the screen flickered to life. He'd tuned into the middle of a Western; cowboys galloped hell-for-leather on sturdy mustangs, pursued by whooping, painted Indians waving tomahawks. However, after ten seconds of this, the scene shifted to a pair of Roman gladiators whaling away at each other with gladii. Ten seconds later, a knight in chainmail crouched behind his shield as a stream of dragon-flame blasted it. And so on, each scene different, but all showing men having adventure.

The constantly changing scenes bothered Paul, and he got up to take another look around for a way to control the TV (which, he noted, did not turn off when his body left the chair). He searched among the snacks and dug in the crevices of the chairs, inspected every inch of the TV, peered under the furniture in case the remote had fallen on the floor. Nothing. Oh, well. He got comfy in the chair again and munched on a handful of chips, washing them down with Perrier (which was nicely chilled and fizzy) while chiding himself for being unable to dream up a coherent TV program. He also wondered why he had generated such macho imagery in the first place.

Then he sensed a presence and looked at the other chair. A faint blob of light appeared in it and expanded into a glowing humanoid shape sitting with its legs on the footrest. It had no facial features or details of any type.

"Hi," said the figure—at least, a male voice issued from its "head"; no mouth opened. It gestured at the TV with a mitten of a hand. "Enjoying the movie?"

"No," said Paul. "It's a bit too helter-skelter."

"We thought you'd get a kick out of it," the figure began cheerfully. "It's - " The penny dropped. "Oh. You don't?"

Paul smiled tolerantly. "Wrong answer, then? Would it help if I changed it to, ‘Smashing! Couldn't be better!’?"

"Uh, yeah," the figure mumbled, flushing red along the length of its body. "Sorry. Guess I should have written that other script after all. Do you mind if we start over?"

"Not at all. Let's start from ‘Smashing, couldn't be better.’”

"Thanks. We thought you'd get a kick out of it. You've done quite a bit over the years, but you never did these things. Did you ever dream about doing them? I mean, do you ever watch a science fiction movie or read a fantasy novel and go, ‘Boy, I'd like to do that’?"

"Sure, everyone does." Paul gestured at the TV, which now showed a party of men in space suits exploring a deserted space station, lasers out and ready. "Wouldn't mind doing that. By the way, if it isn't too far off the script, who are you?"

"That we thought you might ask. My name's Varx." They shook hands. For Paul it was like clutching a stiff breeze. "I'm an alien."

This dream is really getting interesting, thought Paul. "That's cool. Are you invading Earth, then?"

"Gods, no! Who'd want it? Nasty, primitive, polluted place. Well, some of your music's good, but we don't have to invade to get that. Besides, there are only two—three of us. Be hard, you know?"

"Mmm." Paul cocked his head at the figure. "You don't sound like an alien."

"What does an alien sound like?" Varx shot back.

With a grin and a wink, Paul pointed his finger at the being. "Touché. Anyway, what's up? Am I supposed to pass along a Message from Space?"

"No. Look, I'm running out of time here, so I'll get right to the point: how would you like to go on a great adventure?"

Mingled fear and excitement welled up in Paul—absurd, considering this was just a dream. "Is this one of those alien abductions where you're gonna probe me, then?"

The figure snorted. "Gods, you Eartians are masochists. Believe me, if we really wanted that info, which we don't, we could do a deep scan right from our own universe, and you'd never know it happened. No, when I said adventure, I meant it. You'd be on another planet."

Paul rubbed his chin and started eating chocolate mints one at a time so he could think. Should he resist the call, thus proving that life was satisfactory, or give into it and perhaps acknowledge an underlying discontent? Finally, after another swig of Perrier, he asked, "What planet?"

"Does it make a difference?" Varx said sarcastically. "How many have you been to recently?" Then it cocked its head, listening to something else. "Could you hurry up and decide? I've got three more of these visits to make, and I also have to write that other script."

"Well, now," Paul said with deliberate slowness and a touch of cheerful sadism. "I can't just rush into this, y'know." He steepled his fingers. "I need to know what you've got planned for me, 'cause I wouldn't fancy, say, the Moon. A bit hard to breathe there, y'know."

"Don't worry about that. We've got a nice oxygen planet all picked out. Yes or no?"

"Just me, or the whole family? Wouldn't want the wife and kids falling in a black hole."

"Just you, but you'll have company. We hope. Come on, it'll be fun."

Paul shrugged. "What good's a dream if you don't join in? Count me in. But it had better be fun." He waggled a finger at Varx. "Otherwise I'll be quite put out, and I'll ask for me money back.”

"Great!" Leaning over the sides of the chairs, they shook hands again. Then the glowing figure got to its feet. "After you've gone back to sleep, we'll send you off. Oh, by the way," it added in an elaborately offhand voice, "I probably should've mentioned that this isn't a dream."

Paul's grin faded into puzzlement.

“The technical term for it is hypnagogic telepathic contact. It's a lot less scary and intrusive than waking-mind contact when the subject is not used to telepathy.... Gods!” Varx slapped its forehead with a mitten-hand. “Why am I wasting time on this junk when you'll forget this conversation anyway?” It began to fade away. "Sorry about that, but your remembering it would be bad for us. Bye!"

"Hey, wait!" Paul cried, lunging forward in the chair and grabbing for Varx's arm. But his hand encountered only air.




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