I think I was supposed to be a superhero.
When I was young, my close group of friends had technologically-based superpowers. To us, it wasn't pretend... We really had them, but they were manifested in another dimension. Our actions here would partially affect the other dimension, and vice versa. So if we jumped off a hill and held out our arm on the playground, we were base jumping off a building and firing our arm-mounted plasma cannons in the other dimension. 'Imagination' to an outside observer, 'Saving to universe' to us. We allowed people to think we were 'pretending' as a cover for the vital missions we were constantly deployed on.
When we were apart, we corresponded with each other by mail (long before the internet), trading documents detailing our recent encounters with the enemy, drafting blueprints for ships and weapons complete with stats and figures, and status reports on our internal systems. "Fuel cells maintaining 80% reserve after encounter yesterday, plasma cannons overheated but repaired. Shields normal." I was the leader of our group, recruiting other close friends to the cause, but I knew instinctively that there were others out there. Adolescent hubris may have gotten in the way sometimes, but deep down I knew I was only in charge of my local regiment.
Obviously we took things very seriously. It took quite a bit of our mental capacity from age 5 to about 15. So much invested thought that for me, it incorporated into my dreams as well.
As I grew up and 'civilian' life took over, we had less and less time for 'documentation' and fewer encounters with 'the enemy'. We were growing up. Fortunately, I found that my dreams picked up right where I left off. Since these powers were completely natural to me and a part of me from almost as far back as I could remember, I almost always had access to them in my dreams. Just like in the 'other dimension', in the majority of my dreams I could fly, had access to energy weapons, and was protected by my shields.
My shields. I can count on one hand how many truly bad dreams I've had in my whole life thanks to my shields. Dreams of regular 'bad guys' on the street, monsters, giant insects, even encounters with 'the enemy' have always been virtually harmless on account of being shielded from them at all times. I could be attacked by a bear, shot at, pretty much anything... and in my dreams I was always protected by the blue glow of my shields that would appear at the moment of attack.
In addition to 'regular' dreams where I would just happen to be able to use my powers, I had 'episodic' dreams, sometimes years apart, that followed the 'main storyline':
Early on I would find myself in 'training missions', where I had to master my abilities of flight (3D obstacle courses, rescue style missions, etc), weapons (target practice of varying kinds), and even one dream where I found myself having to train my judgement (would I save one girl hanging off a cliff or save a building full of people from a giant monster? My decisions determined my 'score' in some unknown way). I even accompanied the military a few times, once soaring in the sky alongside several fighter jets and looking down at the ground for long-range targets, and once on the ground in combat where I protected a group of soldiers by dragging a disabled tank to them to use as cover.
As time went by I never had another training dream, and found myself on real missions, defending our base from attacks by the enemy, invading the enemy's territory by land and by air, and eventually strategizing in a dark room full of higher ranking officers on attacks from afar. Over the years I was apparently increasing in rank.
These dreams have always been a part of my life. That's why it was so unnerving when one day, I became obsolete.
I was in a dream on a seemingly standard mission, fighting a small army of robotic forces. Some small, some large; land based and air. I would take to the skies, soaring at 10,000 feet, twisting and banking and fighting among the clouds as I usually do, then landing to fight a force on the ground, the blue glow of my shields deflecting all attacks as they always did. I could always feel the larger attacks putting pressure against the shields, but I was always safe. I had survived mountains crushing against me; deflected the most powerful lasers with my palm; contained a nuclear explosion within a 2 inch sphere of shield to save a city, and countless other adventures... A small incursion like this was nothing to personally fear; my job was, as always, to protect others. Or so I thought.
He strolled around the corner of a partially destroyed building; a tall, slender man with a high hairline and a grin on his face. I ignored him at first, continuing my fight against the robots. He continued to casually walk towards me however, and I turned my attention to him. "Who are you?" I asked. He was now a foot in front of me, calmly standing there as if he weren't in the middle of a war zone, but relaxing on the street in peacetime. "I'm your replacement", he said with a sly grin. "You're nothing but old tech." He reached out toward me, and although with effort, slowly pushed his hand through the blue glow. I could feel my shields pulling apart as if he were ripping my skin. He grabbed my chest and clenched his hand.
I jolted awake in a cold sweat for the first time in over a decade.
My shields had NEVER failed me in any dream in my entire life. Of course I had had 'normal' dreams where I didn't have any powers, but if they existed in the dream my shields always worked. Flawlessly, and against anything imaginable. I was quite literally shaken to my core.
Worse, I found that I had gone for over a year without a single episodic dream, and without a single 'normal' dream with any powers whatsoever. I would wake up some mornings and immediately go over my dreams in my head to search for any trace of my powers and found nothing. I was genuinely distraught over this for quite some time.
Until one night about six months ago, I had a dream I can only describe as 'The Expendables' for superheros.
A group of old, washed up heroes was recruited for a mission. I was sitting at a bar and was approached by a strange man who's face I couldn't see clearly. He took me into a dimly-lit back room where about a dozen people were sitting. I didn't know them but I could tell immediately they were similar to me and my group of friends, but at the same time different. They were all my age or older, and looked a bit tired. They asked if I had enough juice left for one last mission. "I'm all washed up, guys. I'm... old tech." The strange man pressed me to join them anyway and I finally gave in.
I next found myself in the middle of a ruined city, flooded with robotic enemies. The old heroes were already fanning out to begin their attacks, but we were hugely outnumbered. It was obviously some sort of last-ditch suicide mission. They started to call out what they were going to individually try and attack. 'I'll take this group of infantry', one said. "I'll go after this division, but I'll need help. You three come with me!", etc. While the enemy mostly consisted of infantry and tank-sized units, I looked up to see an enormous, 10-story tall robot-monster hybrid shambling our way. "I'll take this one", I said casually. The entire group stopped in their tracks and stared at me. "Are you insane? We'll have to take that down together, but we can't do it right now! We'll get to that thing later!" "No, I've got this", I said. I walked toward the creature and it locked its eyes on me, letting loose a horrible, half-robotic roar that shook the earth when it did so. It took a deep breath, and let loose a tremendous, earth-shattering beam of energy that vaporized the ground around me, and caused the nearby buildings, already damaged from battle, to collapse to the ground.
As the beam subsided and I could slowly see again, a huge half-sphere had been carved out of the ground around me, the earth having been blasted away by the force of the weapon. I stood unfazed, the blue glow of my shields fading away with the beam.
I was back!
I immediately took to the sky and buzzed around the beast, peppering it with shots from my plasma cannon at full power. The monster was so huge that even with everything I had I was only making small cuts into it, but at least it was effective. Dodging what I could and deflecting the rest, I slowly wore down the monster until it collapsed in a heap, quaking the ground and causing more buildings to topple over.
I flew back down to the group who had now retreated into a circle, fighting in a 360 degree formation against thousands of overwhelming enemies attacking from all angles. Even in this state, they stopped fighting and stared at me. "What do you mean you're old tech?! Help us finish these things off!"
We battled for what seemed like hours, on the ground and in the air, finishing off the rest of the army. Eventually the tides turned and we managed to completely rout the attacking forces, my shields working flawlessly the whole time. I last remember attacking the last of the army as they were retreating, our group cheering and the mood light and happy. Then I woke up.
Since then I've had several 'regular' dreams where my shields work perfectly, and a few where I've been able to fly normally as well. Perhaps my systems just needed time to recover and recharge? They are self-healing and self-upgrading, after all... Perhaps they were able to improve themselves enough to be viable again. I haven't seen the tall man since he attacked me, but I know he's out there still, waiting for another opportunity to meet me in the right dream.
But this time, I'll be ready for him.