The power of the human mind is not logic.

A computer can generate logic, it can even mimic human logic by becoming an expert neural net. No, it is paradox, not logic, that sets the human mind apart from the machine; our ability to live with decidedly incompatible logical answers residing in the same fractal holographic memory locations, exerting equal forces on our actions, yet not exploding from the inertial forces these incompatibilities create.

I was being pulled apart by paradox, as though two massive neutron stars were orbiting around me with their gravitational fields. The one solar mass was Laura Silvan and the normal physical reality she represented. The other solar mass was Ell and the dream world that seemed to me just as real. Somehow, I was surviving these two competing centrifugal pulls, without knowing quite how or why.

Andy and Eric showed up at the hospital the next day.

"We've got a new lightsuit for you" they chimed, though it wasn't clear why they seemed so elated after I'd ruined their last creation.

It was none too soon. My body had been going into spastic contraction without the influence of the lightsuit to act as my nervous system and I had been afraid I'd curl into a rigid ball before help arrived.

"Thank God you came," I responded dead seriously. "I thought I was going to go nuts."

They both looked at me in a way that said they gave more weight to that statement than they cared to admit. I'd been through a terrible mental strain and right now I looked pathetic, lying on a hospital bed curling into a fetal position.

"Fortunately, we were going to retire the old suit anyway, we've worked hard on this new lightsuit," Eric beamed proudly, ignoring my condition for the moment. "This is my finest creation!"

And you could see that it was. Unlike the previous suit, this one was more streamlined, the fiber mesh was finer and better shaped. Also, the 6G satellite radio-relay and electronic controls package was much smaller.

"There's a low power 128 core chip embedded in there this time," Andy smiled proudly. "My electrical engineering is getting better and I helped. But we also changed the materials too, we've interspersed carbon fibers for strength. The carbon nanotube’s atomic-bonded crystal structure makes it the strongest, stiffest material known to man - 20 times stronger per pound than carbon fiber."

"Yup, you'll be as hardened as a battle tank," Eric beamed. "A lot of this is coming from the Infantryman of the Future project, we could even give you light bending and stealth properties, though what you'd use that for, I don't know."

"Just be happy that the military is backing us, you are one lucky guy," Andy added. "If you weren't the one programming the lightsuit, I don't think you'd be getting a replacement."

Obviously the two of them, along with a number of grad students looking for thesis papers, had spent a lot of time on this and I owed them all my heartfelt thanks.

"You guys are all I have to keep me alive," I confessed sadly. "Now, put on my god damn suit and get me out of this hospital!" I smiled, but it was a serious smile.

Eric and Andy both seemed wary of me but hurried to comply. The nurses from the ward peeked in and you could hear a rush outside as the rumor spread that the crazy man in room 1221 was putting on a strange lightsuit that would make him human again.

It took the better part of three hours to complete the process. I fidgeted nervously asking questions the whole time, causing Eric and Andy endless headaches. It wasn't actually that I was overly anxious to put the new suit on, though I certainly wanted to move like a human being again. Instead, what caused my nervousness was the thought that the suit was the source of my dreams, the source of my hallucinations.

"Do you think this suit is safe?" I asked rather strangely when we were almost done installing me in the fiber optic mesh.

"What do you mean by that?" Andy returned quizzically. "You're the one who programs it."

"I mean, maybe we're playing with fire with this lightsuit business and just don't know it! Some sort of Icarus flying to close to the sun thing??"

"That's a crazy thought," Eric ventured before he could catch himself, giving Andy a knowing look that said they'd discussed my mental state more than once the past few days.

"Just think what we're doing," I continued undeterred. "We're linking a human mind to a computer! I'm being interfaced directly to a SuperGrid supercomputer and the Internet - DarkNet - through the neurophotonic multiplex and I'm not so sure that's good for the human or for the world computer net."

"Do you want us to take the lightsuit off?" Andy asked impatiently. "There are some other patients who could use this technology if you're getting tired of it."

"No," I replied hesitantly. "I'm not giving up yet, it's just that . . . ."

"It's not like you're totally hardwired to the computer," Eric interrupted philosophically, at least thinking about what I'd said. "We might have had feedback problems with the neurophotonic probes in your brain controlling the lightsuit."

"A closed feedback loop that self excites?" I suggested, thinking of my hallucinations of the computer avatar.

"Yes, that's the point." Eric continued. "You could have an unexpected runaway feedback loop creep in if this system got too complex. Information tends to jump the tracks and take unexpected paths in distributed multinode systems. That's why we tried to keep you and the hardware as distinct elements."

"In other words, you purposely kept my brain out of the system loop because you were afraid of unintended feedback?" I pondered.

"That's about right," Eric admitted sheepishly. "We'd had some problems like that with Robby before you and that's why this started as an open loop system. You give a command and the lightsuit executes it. End of story."

I was about to ask what kind of problems Robby had had when Andy spoke up.

"But what about the feedback from the fiber optic position sensors?" Andy asked, mulling it over himself. "Could we be getting an unknown loopback from the sensors that would cause anomalous behavior in Steve himself?"

"Don't go crazy on me too," Eric responded none too subtly. "There's not enough information content in those sensory channels to cause problems, I designed it that way. If you two are trying to tell me Steve took off running like a maniac the other night because a high level feedback loop I haven't nailed down, I'm not buying it. I designed this system, remember, and I ought to know what it is and is not capable of doing."

"So, Eric, you think I was hallucinating the other night," I asked uneasily.

"Let's just say we all have too much invested in this project to let it go down the tubes because you had too much to drink and it reacted with the hormones that have you chasing after that dingy singer."

"Is someone talking about me," I heard from the doorway. Laura was standing there, blushing a deep red.

"Well, yes, Laura," I bluffed. "Eric was just telling me that your hormones and mine don't mix."

"Perhaps he's right," Laura confided abruptly. "I think you and I need to have a talk. In private."

"Well, Eric and Andy can leave if you . . ."

"No, when you have your suit back on I need to take you somewhere else to talk. You haven't seen my place yet."

"I don't think Steve should go anywhere until we've properly tested this suit," Eric protested.

"Laura, this is a new lightsuit," Andy added his objection. "I don't know if Steve would be safe in it."

"I think you'll just have to trust me on this," Laura spoke with determination.

"Listen guys," I caved in like a whipped puppy. "When the lady commands, I follow. I don't think there is much risk if I do my checkout cruise of the new lightsuit with Laura watching, is there? The software I've been writing is adaptive, you know that, so the best way to calibrate the system is to let it work.

"I've got to protest this very strongly," Eric complained bitterly. "This is my research project, not your personal toy! My life is tied up in this project and I can't have you running around with a half a million dollars worth of computerized fiber optic equipment hanging on you waiting to be destroyed if you go on some loony escapade!"

"Look, Eric," I flashed, turning beet red. "I'm a human being, not a crummy robot, and you better start treating me like part of the human race. If Laura needs me right now, then I'm going to follow her, to the ends of the earth if need be, and you can't stop me. I've done everything you've asked of me so far and now I think you owe me the courtesy of letting me have a life."

"All right," Eric said slowly between gritted teeth. "I see I have no choice but to let you follow after this woman. But I think you're playing a pretty raw deal here, Steve. If the suit is in any way damaged, I'm going to request Kevin Armstrong find me another research subject. Go ahead now, Andy. Hook him up."

There were only a few more connections left to make to energize the lightsuit and I fidgeted again waiting for them to be finished. Eric had brought a laptop computer and an Internet connector and called up the supercomputer to initialize the program.

"What's the name of the executable your running under," Eric asked.

"L." I replied. "You know that."

"Well, it's not in your working directory. In fact, I don't see any of your other Java project files either."

"God almighty," I cursed. "Qin Huang's wiped my files again."

"You mean all the work of the last six months is vapor?" Eric asked incredulously, his blood pressure rising.

"No, I'm a professional, I back up religiously." I calmed him down. "I figured someone might try and wipe my programs again, so I hid them using my fractal compression algorithms, they are dispersed throughout the grid. I could survive a nuclear blast."

"That was pretty clever," Laura complimented me.

"Okay, so how do I run the program?" Eric returned, exasperated and I gave him the supervisor access codes to get the code image to reconstitute itself, and my neuronet running again.

Eric executed the code and the SuperGrid made its satellite link to me. It was as if I could feel life surging through me as the lightsuit went through its diagnostic selfcheck, my muscles twitching and fibrillating one by one as there responses were calibrated. Until this moment, I had been a human sack of potatoes, lying on the bed. Now, light began to course through my fiber optic nervous system and I became alive.

"It's scary to watch this," Laura commented truthfully and she was right. It was like being at the birth of Frankenstein's monster.

Slowly, the monster worked the kinks out of its muscles and as the computer began to sense my commands for motion, I began to regain my coordination. I was a cyborg, but I also had a mind that was self aware and in a strange way what I felt was pain.

"I think the new lightsuit is trying to tell me something," I guessed out loud. "As if it's trying to tell me I'm stiff as a board from having been lying her the last two days and after having been sliced up by a knife and chewed on by rats."

I was sitting up now, working my hands and fingers, turning my torso back and forth to loosen the kinks like the Tin Man just oiled.

"Can you walk now," Laura asked. "We need to leave."

"What's all the hurry?" Eric asked, a little worried the woman was pushing too fast.

"I think I can," I took the challenge. I rose to my feet, a little slowly while I got used to the feel I was getting from the new lightsuit. I began to walk, shuffling at first and then pacing back and forth, limbering up tightened muscles and letting the system calibrate itself.

"There we go." Laura encouraged me. "See Eric, he's doing just fine. Now, get him dressed so we can leave!"

"What about checking out from the hospital?" Andy asked pragmatically.

"You're a big boy, you can take care of that, Andy," Laura replied curtly.

What the hell was going on here? I was being pushed along by Laura as though it was life or death and even as love struck as I was I didn't like being manipulated that way.

"I'm sorry to be such a nag," Laura sensed my uneasiness. "But I need to take you to see someone and an opportunity like this only comes along once."

Now I was more intrigued than upset. What could be so important that Laura would nearly kidnap me from my hospital bed? I got dressed and then, to the deep chagrin of Andy and Eric, I left with Laura, getting a lifetimes worth of stares from the ward nurses who'd thought my stories about a lightsuit were a hallucinogenic fantasy.

---Chapter 18---