"We can't even fake a scientific explanation for all this."
<NYC> Mount Sinai Hospital - Upper East Side
On the cutting edge of many medical technologies, Mount Sinai Hospital is often ranked as one of the nation's best hospitals. The medical school attached is one of the best in the world, meaning that even your med students know what they are doing. Chin up, then -- when you come in here badly mutilated after the latest terrible catastrophe in Times Square, you're in good hands.
The halls of the hospital are crowded for reasons that are not entirely clear, and somehow everyone is moving very slowly -- stopping to chatter or scroll on their devices or to suddenly decide they wanted to head in the opposite direction. Not Nandini, though. She is in quite a hurry, dressed in purple scrubs with her hair tied up and out of the way, a stack of folders clutched to her chest. Every few steps she has to re-route to avoid some knot of humanity clogging up the corridor, mutter "excuse me"s and "pardon me"s quietly -- less and less quietly -- as she goes. The crowds are only becoming thicker and more obstinate, outright ignoring her, until she has to shoulder her way through.
The shift in scenery is slow, an odd drift that initially fades more or less easily into the background. A spreading splash of brighted color in the form of cheerful flower murals painting themselves on previously institutional-bland walls. The intermittent crackle of the hospital's pa system giving way to an equally sporadic twitter of birdsong. Here and there people's clear hospital attire -- scrubs and labcoats and johnny gowns -- are giving way to colorful sundresses, lightweight and brightly-colored kurtas, comfortable jeans and tees. By the time the floor underfoot has shifted itself into grass Nandini might perhaps be aware of a new presence in --
-- it's not a hospital anymore, actually. The walls are melting away and the crowds dispersing to go enjoy the sunny mild weather in a park, soft grass underfoot and a lush expanse of flowers sprawling around. Maya -- dressed in vividly pink-orange ombre salwar khameez, hair bound in a thick braid -- is seated on a large picnic blanket, her neatly manicured nails tapping a light rhythm against the lidded top of a basket. "Oh! Good," her smile is bright and a little mischievous. "You made it in time for lunch."
Nandini is still wearing purple, but it's a purple kurta with floral details in pale blue embroidered along the cuffs and hem now, over boot-leg blue jeans with the same pale blue thread at the cuffs, her feet bare now for the soft grass. She quickens her step to her sister. "I am so happy to see you!" she blurts, though her relief should be plain enough regardless. "I was --" She frowns, glancing back over her shoulder. "I don't know, I had an errand to run. I thought I had an errand to run, and it was just endlessly frustrating." She flops down on the blanket beside Maya. "What're we having, anyway?"
"I was worried you wouldn't make it." Maya leans in to briefly bump her shoulder against Nandini's. "Who's to say. Maybe the errand was snacks. Can't keep working on an empty stomach." She nudges the basket towards Nandini. "Your favorite. Of course." She leans back, resting one hand behind her, fingers curling off the edge of the blanket and into the grass. It ripples, shifts, small whorls of color dancing out from her fingertips to paint the grass in soft pastels. The birds take on an entirely different character to their song, their twittering melting into a jazzy instrumentation.
Nandini narrows her eyes slightly in concentration. "I don't think it was snacks." She opens the basket anyway and emits a quiet 'aaaaaa' of delight at the neatly nested tubs of savory papri chaat, spicy pav bhaji, and pakoras. She eagerly opens a container of vegetable fritters--with its own tubs of chutney--and digs in. "Oh thank you, I was so hungry." She flops down onto her side, curling her toes into the pastel grass. "Maybe the errand was snacks and I was just too hypoglycemic." Her head tilts as she listens to the birdsong. Then she abruptly looks to the grass. To her lunch -- the pakoras still crispy and hot as if just fried. "Hey, is this...a dream?" It doesn't stop her taking another bite of her snack. Then, more hesitantly, "Are you actually -- you?"
"Just because this is a dream doesn't make me any less real." Maya sniffs at this, reaching over to tear off a small piece of bread and dip it in the curry. She kicks off her bead-embroidered flats, lying back and staring at the wide blue sky. Perfectly puffy clouds that shift and change into recognizable shapes -- a large shaggy dog bounding after a ball. A saree-clad figure dancing from puff to puff. "Scheduling just gets so hard some times so you know, why not just --" Her hand flutters in the air between them. "I'm glad you're sleeping."
"Ok, ok," Nandini grumbles. "I'm not about to start blaming you for everything dream-you has said, though. That's drama I do not need in my life right now." She lies back, too, one arm pillowed under her head -- long hair tumbling in loose waves now across the blanket. But it's nice to see you, anyway. How's summer school?" This with a grin that quickly fades. "The sleeping is -- real hit-or-miss, still. Easier now that I'm not in class, which is annoying because I kind of need it -- less?" Her mouth twists to one side. "Ma and ba keep trying to send me to sleep specialists."
Maya's eyes light in delight. "Has dream me been a bitch? Did dream you deserve it? Wait, no, you said you don't need that drama." She rolls over onto her belly, propping her head in a hand. "We're talking about real Ma and Baba now, ha? Because that sounds maybe --" Her hand seesaws in the air. She bites down on one lightly pink-glossed lip. "Have you tried talking to any of the others? From the -- I mean, they seem like they might know of places to get brain help that are safe."
"Dream you has been a total bitch," Nandini replies with...maybe more enthusiasm than is appropriate. "But I did kind of deserve it, so..." She shrugs. "Yeah, the real ones. I try not to mention the insomnia so much, but they're so nosy." She heaves a long sigh. "I wish they'd believe me that the sleep specialists didn't help. Until -- I mean --" She flops her other arm across her eyes. "You know. I haven't, but they check in sometimes. I just figure -- you got yours under control without any help, right? Why can't I?"
Maya bats her long lashes with exaggerated innocence at Nandini. "Have you tried yoga?" she asks, ever-so-solicitous. Her fingertips drum against her cheek then, her quiet hum thoughtful. "I don't know if it's that easy to -- I mean, they're very different kinds of things. And it took me a long time and a lot of mistakes to get there. But -- they'd probably know people who can help with that, too, right? Like -- they couldn't all have learned to do what they do just by trial and error? I feel like half of those powers nobody would have survived to adulthood without coaching."
"Ugh!" Nandini reaches over and swats at her sister without much conviction. "I guess. It just seems like -- well, mine is simple, right? Simpler than yours, anyway." She huffs, the noise not quite a laugh even if it has some of the same energy. "It's not teleporting or anything, but if this had started when I was a kid, I don't know how I would have made it, either. Honestly, I learned so much, in the lab." She's quiet a moment, staring up at the lively cotton-candy cloudscape. "I'll ask. Maybe someone can help me get a better grip on this, before the semester starts."
"I don't know, aren't you the wannabe doctor? You probably know better than me how complicated brains are. Your is --" Maya flutters her fingers towards her temple. "Futzing directly with all that. That seems not-simple to me!" She rolls upright; by now all the grass around them as far as the eye can see has shifted into soft pastel marbled tones, the flowers glittering in filigreed gold and silver leaves and stems with jewel-bright petals. "I can ask around. If you'd like. The school I am at now -- I think they've been doing this kind of thing with the students for a while."
"Sure, mine's complicated, but yours um..." Nandini gestures expansively at the animated sky, the candy-colored grass, the jewel-bright flowers. "We can't even fake a scientific explanation for all this." Her smile is -- delighted and proud, actually. "Can barely explain regular dreams." She rolls her head aside, looks at her sister seriously. "Thanks. I mean -- for the picnic, too. Miss you."
"Oh sure, of course. All the taste, none of the calories and I didn't even have to lift a finger. All picnics should be this convenient." Maya leans over to pluck one of the fritters from the basket and waggle it at Nandini. "Anyway, Disney answered this for us ages ago. A dream is a wish your heart makes."
Some time later, the early morning sun creeping in through Nandini's window sends colorful scintillation dancing along the walls and bed. Lying on the nightstand is a glittering chicory flower, crafted in a splay of pale amethyst petals and intricately wrought gold leaves and stem.