Romantics fear the loss of dreams, but heaven help us all if we lose our grip on reality!

The kinematics software I was writing to control my paralyzed body was proving to be a thousand times more difficult than I could ever have anticipated, yet in a mysterious sense it was constructing itself, as though there were no other way this code could be pieced together. As if there were no other way my universe could be pieced together.

I could move my entire body now, slowly, tortoise like, but I could move. Even my fingers flexed. Oh God, can you even imagine the freedom of spirit that would give someone like me, who otherwise would be shackled by chains of immovable flesh?

Sometimes, late at night after I'd finished my latest additions to the software, I would try out this new motion on the dark balcony of my home. The balcony seemed a disconnected platform suspended in space and time and I would glow and sparkle at its center as the lightsuit created its magic, competing in its dazzling display of fireworks with the pinpoints of light that surrounded San Francisco Bay on the horizon and with the twinkling stars above.

I would move in a deliberate Tai Chi, not too gracefully but with purpose until the software inevitably failed or I became too exhausted to continue. Many were the nights when I would be forced to call for the aid of Emma, my nurse, who I still needed to occasionally pick me up and dust me off despite the success I was having with the lightsuit.

Laura and I hadn't talked for a month since I'd shown her the virtual reality rendition I'd done of her. When she stalked out in a huff, I thought I'd lost her for good. She'd been on my mind the entire time, though, the white angel that contrasted with the evil virtual nightmare of Ell that still played hide and seek in my dreams.

You can imagine my surprise when Laura Silvan came to see me unannounced one evening. Thank God reality was going to help me forget my nightmare. Ell was certainly a half-baked illusion compared to Laura Silvan in the flesh.

"I want to apologize for having reacted hastily," she smiled after Emma had ushered her into my computer den.

I was taken by surprise,

"I didn't think you'd ever come back," I stuttered after coming to my senses; seeing her there threw my software haywire. "I'm glad you came to see me."

"I don't hold grudges," she replied quietly, twisting a curl of hair absentmindedly.

"Listen, I've done a lot of thinking about the virtual reality I created using you as its star attraction," I began apologizing profusely. "I realize now it was an intrusion into your personal life, it was something a mindless hacker does. I am so glad I deleted it."

I was caught in a lie, I hadn't had the heart to destroy the virtual reality simulation of Laura, plus it was interwoven into all my software modules. Now I was digging my way to China and covering myself with shovelfuls of half truths in the process because I loved the woman and didn't want to lose her. She would never understand her virtual reality was now a component of the software that gave me life.

"I've thought a lot about it too, Steve, and I don't think you meant any harm by creating that computer world of yours."

"I really didn't," I agreed perhaps too quickly.

"I'm sorry you had to destroy the program, but sometimes technology can get ahead of our understanding of its consequences," Laura continued to lecture as I twisted uncomfortably in the wind. "It was just a shock that your computer mimics life so well!"

"I don't think it mimicked you very well at all," I tried to compliment Laura as best I could. "No electronic system will ever replace you in my mind."

Yes, I was still in love with Laura Silvan, she was gorgeous that evening and had evidently spent some time putting on makeup to make her apology complete. Of course, she thought I was the one who was apologizing, but that's the way women are.

"Actually, I came by to see how you were doing," Laura changed the subject. "Liddy tells me you've gotten a lot better."

"Better than when you last saw me," I admitted with some pride. "But I'm not half as far as I'd like to be. Probably the easiest way to explain is just to show you; I put on quite a light show in the dark out on the balcony."

"Up!" I gave a voice command to the computer.

I rose slowly from my seat, sometimes using verbal commands to move balky body parts, but mostly with the computer sensing my desired motions through neurophotonic leads to my visor. It was a mechanical process, ungainly and crudely done, but a success.

My God, you have come a long way," Laura was forced to admit as she watched me stand to full height. "After seeing you those first times at the hospital I never expect you to move this well."

And then I began to walk, moving robotically and unsurely but purposefully towards the balcony door. Laura stood shocked in amazement as I first pushed the French door open and then stepped out into the black night, my lightsuit sparking and flaming like a starburst against the darkness.

Laura clapped, the best audience I've had since a third grade play.

"Have you ever done Tai Chi?" I asked when I reached the middle of the wide balcony. I began to execute a Tai Chi movement called the swan, stiffly but precisely, to show my returning grace .

As I finished, a small puff of wind came off the mountainside, or maybe I was just trying too hard to show off, and I began to lose my balance, tottering on feedback circuits none too well calibrated. But as quickly as she saw what was happening, Laura was at my side to brace me by the arm, moving with a surprising athleticism.

"You're quite brave," Laura complimented me after she'd steadied me, trying not to make the near-fall more pathetic than it already was. I blushed so red I must have glowed more brightly in the dark than my lightsuit.

"Thanks, but it's not me, it's the computer doing all this."

"That's baloney and you know it," Laura chided me, giving a look that seemed to imply she viewed me as a hero. You can't stroke a guy's ego much better than that.

Laura and I talked for an hour after that, eventually moving in from under the stars and back into my den. We talked about everything; my computers, her music, the environment, God and morality, baseball and fashion. I think we were both coming under each other's spell.

"What do you want from life," I asked unexpectedly, trying to dig deeper to find out what made Laura tick.

"I want to make a difference," she said simply.

"Through your singing, you mean?"

"Singing is just a means to an end. I want to save the Earth, Gaia, from Global Climate change! I want to save the children of the world from starvation. I want to change the gender inequality that exists. I want to help find a cure for the COVAID virus! You can't do all those things just being a singer."

"Those are pretty lofty goals," I couldn't help but admire the purity of her ambitions, her heart wasn't burnt and cynical like mine. "But you can certainly make a large difference in the world with the power that comes from being the most popular singer."

"Its not enough, Steven. The power that is needed to make a difference on the scale I'm thinking of only resides in the hands of someone the stature of the President. There is so much mis-information and hate that needs to be vanquished."

"So, are you planning to run for office?" I half joked, though I could see she didn't like being teased.

"No, but Steven, we're having a fundraiser for the President's reelection campaign in conjunction with the GreenWorld Federation. You know how much President Williams has meant to the Environmental movement."

"Indeed I do," I understated. It appeared to me that Williams had made the environment a transparent crusade. He'd shut down vast swaths of manufacturing, nationalized whole sectors of the economy and even indulged in a few anti-capitalist bloodbaths, calling in his Presidential Guard to arrest recalcitrant CEOs who hadn't been willing to do the perp walk just for common entertainment. But this was just a flash through my mind lasting a millisecond, I was religiously apolitical.

"A concert doesn't seem like much," Laura continued. "But it might lead to access and a way to lobby in behalf of reforms."

"I'm no politician, but having access to the President has been known to move mountains," I admitted. "Personally, lobbying has such a sordid reputation that . . . ."

"Listen, Steve, I don't know if you could handle the bad memories, but I'm playing at the Palladium next week. It's a benefit concert for the Green World Federation, and the first reelection fundraiser on the West Coast. Maybe if you came to the show, it would be a good way for you to get back up on the horse and into the saddle again."

"I don't know," I thought out loud. "This is still pretty early for me to be venturing out into the real world."

"Well, I won't beg you to come," Laura smiled coyly. "But I think it would be a nice way to celebrate being a human again. If there were any special arrangements that needed to be made, my roadies could help you."

"I think I could manage on my own," I replied defiantly. "Well, maybe with a little help from my friends," I was then forced to add. It was still embarrassing to be treated like an invalid.

She left at one o'clock in the morning, planting a red kiss on my forehead she knew I couldn't and wouldn't wipe off.

"I'll see you at the concert," she smiled as she left. "I'll get Emma to help put you to bed. Poor thing, you keep her up so late."

"You don't need to," I replied. "I'm a big boy now and can put myself to bed." I sounded like a six year old.

Laura left me so keyed up that I worked at my computer for another hour or so until I must have fallen asleep. Or perhaps I never fell asleep, because I don't remember dozing off, only that suddenly I was having my dream about Ell, my nightmare. I awakened the next morning in a sweat as the first light came up. I heard Emma making a light breakfast in the kitchen, but perhaps that was a dream too. All I know is my nightmare was acid etched in my brain.

For the next two days all I could think about was the dream, or Laura, or my program L. Perhaps they were all the same, an hallucination that I should just forget.

But its not like you can ask for a ticket refund once the rollercoaster reaches the top of the hill, can you?

---Chapter 14---