Laura at the Palladium Sometimes, the worst hell is to get what you wish for.

Sometimes, the luckiest people are those who get what they wish against. Though I had a grade school crush on a rock and roll pop star, I really didn't want to meet her. The notion was absurd, childish. I wished I'd never seen the woman, or heard her sing. And I hoped to God I would never see her again.

But then again, I'd wished I were dead the last few weeks and that wish never came true.

It was just before dinner time that Liddy came by the hospital, wearing a smile as big as a watermelon rind and carrying a contraband pizza under a package. It wasn't the heart clogging nutrition of the pizza that made it taboo on the ward, I think it was the enticing smell that contrasted with the vile pabulum of diced carrots and cardboard soy-protein steak usually served. Liddy replaced the camouflage green dinner on my cart with pizza and we dug in.

"So what's up, Liddy," I slurped between gulps of glutinous cheese, greasy sausage and tomato sauce Liddy baby-fed me.

"Only the best thing that's ever happened to you," she smiled.

"You mean I'm going to be on Wheel of Fortune?" I guessed, incorrectly. I had a guilty crush on the computer generated version of the now mouldering Vannah White.

"Not even close, not with those old geezer holo-actors," Liddy laughed. "Something much better than that."

"I've just won a trip to Tijuana and free silicone breast implants?"

"Better than even that!" Liddy laughed.

"Okay, I give up."

"Laura Silvan is coming to see you tomorrow."

I froze, with a stringy piece of pizza half in my mouth.

"No way, you're lying!" I flashed, as though I'd been electrically shocked. Liddy hadn't expected me to react so severely.

"I thought you'd be excited!"

"Well I am," I confessed sheepishly. "But Liddy, she can't see me like this! I'm a basket case!"

&"Come on, silly. Laura Silvan wanted to come see you at the hospital right after you were hurt, but you were too sick at first and then she went on tour. She doesn't care if you look like hell warmed over. God, you were just shot in the spine stupid! It's the least she could do for her biggest fan; she told me so herself."

"But really, she can't see me like this," I pleaded. "I can't even feed myself. I'd be embarrassed out of my mind."

'Well, Steve, she's coming whether you like it or not," Liddy said forcefully. "After what I went through trying to arrange this, you're going to see this musical goddess of yours whether you like it or not. And you're going to like it too!"

Liddy gave me a stare that would melt ice.

"All right, Liddy, for your sake I'll go through with this, but I'm going to be miserably embarrassed."

Which was true, my shyness was painful. Inwardly though, I was doing somersaults at the thought of meeting the woman who electrified me and whose music I had memorized. Yet, painfully clear was that I now had not the slightest chance of having a relationship with her, given the lower three quarters of my body was paralyzed.

Not that I'd had any chance of a relationship occurring before my accident, female rock stars are notoriously whimsical when it comes to the question of who they might take as lovers. The leading candidates on such lists were certainly not college professors with an obsession for computer networks. Still, every man harbours the fantasy that through some wild ass stroke of luck they might appeal to one of those glorious women who light up the universe under the title of Star. I had no hope of that happening now. No such dreams are available to quadriplegics, despite cheesy movie dramas to the contrary.

"Liddy, thanks for setting me up. You're a real friend." I said cynically, but she knew what I meant.

The next afternoon at physical therapy we took another crack at getting me to stand. It took an hour to meticulously connect the electrodes in their lacy web, linking them to a computer through an umbilicus of cables. After a short lunch we began running my computer controlled muscles through warm-up and calibration routines in anticipation of the main event, Laura Silvan.

"Run the quadriceps one by one," Andy coached Eric and each of the four muscles on both thighs would go through a tightening and relaxation routine as Eric typed commands at the computer terminal.

"I feel like a damn robot," I complained as I watched my body twitch under computer control. "I dream about this stuff you know."

Not exactly dreams. Every night I had screaming nightmares in which I was running, running, hooked by phosphorescent fiberoptic tentacles to a mad machine that never tired. In dreamstate, I'd float a few feet off the ground, trying desperately to touch Mother Earth to regain some tenuous hold on reality. Yet, I always seemed to lose to the dark and nameless mechanical monsters who pursued me.

I shirked off the clammy feelings, there was no place for emotion in the world I now occupied.

"Try the gastrocs now," Andy droned on as if I were an engine block being tuned and blueprinted on an autoshop dyno. The calves of my legs flexed and locked and for once I was glad I couldn't feel the charley horse that had been induced by my inquisitors.

I'd been in a frazzle all morning thinking Laura Silvan would show up well before noon, but noon had passed and subconsciously I figured a rock star is a creature who forgets as much in a day as she remembers. She'd probably crossed me off her appointment list in favor of some slick sleazo agent from L.A. wearing gold Bling and driving a soon to be repossessed 200 MPH Tesla that he'd convinced everyone was ecologically carbon neutral.

"Come on, Steve. Your mind isn't on your work," Eric deflated my mental balloon, knowing full well who was expected that day. Andy had taken West Coast Blue out of the player and replaced it with an ancient retro Rolling Stones DVD at max volume just to taunt me. "Can't get no, Satisfaction!" Jagger bellowed.

"As soon as I get a computer terminal, I'm going to write some software that allows me to kill you both," I promised with a smile.

The thrill of being hooked to a computer terminal that took over my body was long gone, the exhaustion crept up on me. We began to exercise the muscle groups of my limbs in synergy with macro computer commands, getting ready to make another attempt at standing.

It was unsettling, watching a leg that had once been my own go through a walking motion though it no longer answered to my will. Bending, straightening, bending, straightening in a mindless dance, like a crushed and lifeless cockroach whose twitching legs haven't quite learned of their owner's demise.

"It's time to rock and roll!" Andy finally chimed around two o'clock.

"Come on, baby! You can do it," Eric begged from the terminal and as Andy helped with an initial heave, we succeeded in cranking my body upright, a process that to an outsider looked like the exertions of a broken marionette.

I wobbled, jerked and nearly fainted from dizziness. Though at this point in the research the computer controlled my legs and torso, I also had some slight mental control left over my upper arms which proved integral to my balance. I was sweating like a pig as I used what strength there was in my feeble limbs to brace myself against the parallel bars.

I was standing, upright like a human being!

There was a far away clapping sound, as if from an echo chamber and I turned my head unsteadily to the right to follow the sound. Through the sweat dripping off my forehead I saw the applause was coming from Laura Silvan, standing at the doorway with Liddy just behind her.

Kerthump! I fell back into the wheelchair, catching Andy unawares and rattling my teeth with a jar.

"Gee whiz! Watch him Andy!" Eric called out a moment too late.

"Is he all right?" I heard a sweet female voice say and then before I could fully recover, I was face to face with Laura Silvan, who'd rushed across the room.

The woman was gorgeous, there's just no other word for it. She was wearing tight stone washed blue jeans that hugged her slim lines and a blue metallic body-tight top with no bra. I thought Andy was going to gag on his tongue, if I didn't beat him to it.

Her hair was long and whimsical, lustrous in contrast to milk skin. Her refined features gave a glow that complimented her straight, but not too sharp nose and red, but not too pouty lips.

But it was the eyes that floored you, that picked you up and threw you down in a ragged emotional heap. Dark eyes nearly infinite in depth, glowing with an internal fire that flared and flickered, but in the end were controlled by a remarkable exertion of pure will. As I looked in those eyes for the second time again I wasn't sure whether they held the means to my salvation or to an eternal hopeless damnation.

Laura's eyes touched mine for an instant but then she looked away, as though she herself were embarrassed at what those hot glances might reveal to me.

"I really wanted to visit you right after your accident," Laura Silvan said demurely, as though she were actually attracted to me.

It was absurd, I was wired from head to foot like a ghastly cyborg, not even remotely a human being, and here she was treating me as though I'd actually made some kind of impression on her. Perhaps an impression as deep as she'd made on me. But that's absurd.

Listen, an adolescent falling for a rock star is one thing, but a grown man? I'd known all along it was ridiculous, it was just some wild infatuation I'd concocted subconsciously to mask the pain of the shooting. There was nothing here! I'd go back to listening to my classic Celine Deon tapes soon enough. I'd get my SuperGrid computer back and then I wouldn't have to suffer through another one of these embarrassing situations where emotions collided painfully with reality. Virtual reality would be good enough for me.

Eric and Andy were grinning from ear to ear, begging for an invitation. They'd been ignored since Laura Silvan came in the door but had waited patiently.

"I've been damn selfish of myself," I begged their forgiveness. "Andy and Eric are the guys who put this system together. Sally over there is my physical therapist. And of course, you know Liddy."

"Laura and I have had a long talk and know each other quite well," Liddy winked mischievously. "Listen, Steve, Laura knows everything there is to know about you, including the color of your underwear. But you all will have to excuse me, a secretaries work is never done," and she winked again before she headed towards the door.

"Thanks Liddy," I called out as she turned at the doorway to head back towards the university. She knew what I meant.

"I remember you from the concert,"; Laura said kindly, continuing our introduction as Eric and Andy began arguing software in the background. "I'd picked you out from the crowd, even before you were shot."

I blushed a deep red and was glad the techies weren't listening.

"I was completely shocked when Sapphire went crazy like that." Laura added. "She's been a lead act for me two or three times before, but she's never acted strangely any of the other times she headlined for me. She really blew a fuse at the concert!"

"So you know Sapphire James?" I asked, breaking my shy silence and forgetting for the moment I was an imperfect bionic man addressing a woman made of all too perfect flesh and bone and living tissue.

"Not personally. We'd meet before the shows to get our introductions straightened out, but that was it. She seemed sane enough then."

"I guess the SFPDDHS police don't have a clue where she could be right now," I pondered. "God, her face must have been splashed all over the state on the news."

"Yes," Laura agreed. "Sapphire's face and a thousand rumors with it. The fact it happened at my concert and with a gun, though I've been campaigning for gun confiscation, made it front page news."

"My mother kept the clippings as religiously as a nun," I admitted. "She thought I'd been fornicating with Sapphire, like everyone else and I'd be damned to hell."

Laura laughed.

"I tried to give that detective Dillon as much information as I could," Laura added seriously. "But from what the band and stagecrew tells me, Sapphire was. . . . Well let's be nice, Sapphire was a woman of the street without much of a fixed address. She could be anywhere."

We paused, we both had the same limited information about Sapphire and the shooting. I had hoped Laura would know more for my peace of mind.

"This is quite an electronics rig you have here," Laura broke the pregnant silence. She was now walking circumferentially around me, looking with a keen and intelligent eye at the equipment to which I'd been hooked. "My band's all a bunch of synthetic techno junkies, they'd go nuts with this stuff. Do you have an App so we can follow you?"

"I think its all a little surreal," I replied sheepishly. This whole conversation was surreal, I thought to myself. "Sometimes I think I'm the most abnormal of humans wired to a computer. But here I am talking to you, who seems to be one of the most normal of human beings."

Laura blushed slightly, charmingly. "I know some people look at it that way, that technology is strange or weird when it's adapted to human needs" Laura replied sympathetically. "But even though I look like a stupid rock and roller, I finished a degree in biological engineering at UCLA, and I think you're on the edge of the future."

"That's damn impressive!" I sputtered, the mating dance of geekoids is always so uncomfortable. "Well a lot of people would argue that what we are doing here goes against nature and wastes resources," I waxed philosophical. I at least followed some current political trends."

"No, I think what you're doing here is fascinating." Laura set herself aside from the anti-technology Goreans who seemed to be taking over the world.& "I'm sorry you were hurt so badly, but there are silver linings to even the darkest clouds. "

"I don't know," I confessed. "It sometimes seems a little ghoulish to me. And now they want to implant something they call a neurophotonic chip in my brain to connect everything like a cyborg."

"Listen, Steve," Laura lectured. "You're no less a human being in my mind because you're wired to a computer. I don't know if I'd have enough human courage to go through what you're going through! I'm sure you are scared, but are you going ahead with the implant?"

"Sure I am!" I blustered. "Wild horses couldn't stop me!"

That was a lot more bravado than I felt, but how could I fail to try to impress the Goddess? Besides, what choice did I have??

And then the most remarkable thing happened, because Laura Silvan spent the next hour talking to Eric, Andy and me about the technology involved in linking my motions to a computer. We talked neurophotonic brain interfaces until we were giddy.

This was a woman with an intellectual depth neither I nor most of her fans suspected. Instead of a vacuous pop idol whose only claim to fame was an ability to dress in black lace underwear and prance incoherently about a stage, Laura Silvan was a dynamo, conversant in a wide range of subjects and more mysterious than even the bluesy rock and roll she sang.

"Can you try to walk again?" Laura requested after she'd mentally thrashed the three of us.

"I'm game," I volunteered with a renewed sense of life.

Eric and Andy propped me up one more time in sync with the computer software. Trembling like a leaf, somehow I was able to calm the tide of erratic electrical pulses that racked my spine and allowed the computer to send, for only the slightest of delicious moments, the proper signals to my legs and body.

I stood like a man, firm and solid and I looked at Laura Silvan and the power in her eyes seemed to course through me and through the computer and physically willed me to move one leg, one step, one time.

It was at that moment some small sliver of impossible hope was born inside of me, a sliver so thin and so sharp that it pricked me painfully. Perhaps for the sake of Laura Silvan I could overcome this evil that gripped me so tightly in its talons. Perhaps for the sake of her sound, a life sound that vibrated within me like a clear bell, I could conquer all.