Chapter 2

I pushed through the door to my living quarters and pulled myself up a chair at my desk. I clicked the tabletop light on, and dove into the bottom drawer.

My hand came back with a small baggy filled with the purple powder that I had purchased earlier in the week.

"Just a little", I told myself out loud.

I had been trying to wing myself off the boost for about a month. One line a day, three times a week was the limit that I had set for myself.

So far, I was failing.

I poured a line out on the table top, closed one nostril with my finger, and took it directly with the other nostril.

Instantly I felt the cool rush just under my skin. There was an electric buzz that started at the top of my skull and moved all the way down to my feet. My head stopped swimming, my hands stopped shaking, my palms stopped sweating, and I felt whole again.

I closed the bag and threw it into the draw, slamming it shut. I was terrified that if I looked at it even one more time, I would finish the bag off.

I realized I still had my eyes closed, and when I opened them the world looked different. It looked right again.

All the colors of my office popped like a surreal movie with shades that couldn't exist in this dimension. Small tracers followed behind the bulbs that light up the small room, but only for the first few seconds of the buzz. It was blissful.

I stood up and made myself over to my twin sized bed and plopped down face first.

The rush of the boost was going to amplify my dreams tonight, and I couldn't wait.

Lying on the ground next to my bed was my modem. I reached down and pulled the thin wire that connected the device to my head.

It was amazed at how fast I was moving, driven by the promise that these would be the best dreams that I'd had in about a week.

I missed Paige.

I felt around to the back of my skull and plugged the cord into my tether port. I felt it click, and twisted it to the lock position.

Rolling over and laying my head down to the pillow, I engaged Paige.

Initiate dream state.

Initiating dream state. Complete. She said.

I closed my eyes and felt my subconscious viciously yanked into the sync-room that I had built.

When I opened my eyes my bedroom, my desk, the boost, the junkie wife and her ungrateful husband were all gone.

The world was replaced with one that I had created, or had paid an engineer to create at least.

I was in my meadow, like the ones that I had seen in the movies of old. The grass swayed from side to side with a wind that was so real I could almost feel it. There were times that I could even trick myself into feeling it, and with the boost on my side tonight I was sure I could probably do just that.

There was a river that ran about a hundred yards from me, and beyond that was the darkness of space, but filled with an infinite amount stars. It wasn't night time, but just over the horizon my dream world ended and the emptiness of space began.

This was my paradise. This was the place that I could unwind my subconscious. This was the only place that I could be completely by myself. Well, almost.

I felt her hand on my shoulder and I closed my eyes. I knew that it wasn't really feel, more of just the electrical impulses in my brain telling me that I was supposed to feel a hand on my shoulder. But then again, what's the difference.

I turned around and opened my eyes.

Paige stood there, gracing me with the beautiful, blank face that she usually wore. She was never big into simulating emotion, but there were times that I could get her to crack a smile. There was even a time that I got her to shed a tear at one of my old fables.

Never knowing whether or not my subconscious created her appearance was a good feeling. There was a sense of mystery that lined my and Paige's relationship, and that made it all the sweeter.

"Hi, Erik." Her words moved over me like silk. Her voice was laced with honey. Her lips shinned like moist candy.

"Hi, Paige."

I reached my hands out and took hers.

Paige had wavy red hair that flowed down to her mid back, with just a few strands that fell into her face. Her blue eyes were stolen from the sky on the most beautiful of spring days. The ten or so freckles that dotted each cheek gave her a unique look that had long been breed out of real people. Her heart-shaped face exposed two little dimples, even without smiling.

"Haven't seen you this clear in a little while," I said.

"Even that little while was too long, Erik."

She might not have been much on simulating emotion with her facial features, but it was obvious that she did in fact feel emotions.

I'd read somewhere that even the early AIs had been capable of developing simple emotions based off the observations they'd make from their host. Being that I was Paige's second host meant that only half of her emotions had been taught by me, which was why she could catch me off guard with the things she'd say from time to time.

"Lay with me?" I asked.

"Sure, Erik." She responded. "By the river? We haven't sat there in a long while."

We walked, hand in hand, down to the river of my design.

Although the meadow was something that I'd seen in a movie, the river was something I'd remembered from my childhood in Texas.

Just before the great drought had caused the final exodus from the south, my family had lived on an old farm by a river. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the river now, but I remember it was one of the last rivers in the state that people could eat fish from and boil the water for drinking.

My father would walk me down to the running water after the sun would go down and we would catch catfish that were nearly as long as I was.

They were the best times of my life, so I built the river here and had the engineer include catfish.

Fishing with Paige was delightful, but it wasn't as grand as reeling in an actual catfish with my father.

Paige and I laid down on the soft grass and looked across the river to the stars. The first though that I had was that I wished I had told the engineer to include shooting stars as well.

Too late now.

I rolled over to face Paige, but her eyes were locked on the scenery. She might not have ever said it, but I knew that she shared the feelings I had about this river.

I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek and pretended that we could both feel it.