It was the early 2100s and things have changed dramatically over the years. Walking through the rainy streets of San Francisco, Susan Ross made her way towards an appointment she had reserved a month in advance. She walked at a slow, determined pace - knowing what she wanted and yet willingly taking just a sweet while longer before reaching it. The rain didn't really matter to her as it ran down her coat and shin-length chigos. Water was an element that came to her naturally. Became her, some might say. It certainly made the genuine cotton garment fit her trim body in a manner which brought the best out of it.
A few onlookers whistled at her, probably just for that. Looking over her shoulder and casting a smile that was sweet and icy at the same time, the message "hello boys - already taken" made it clear. However, Susan didn't have anyone, though, at least no real, breathing lover of flesh and bone. She didn't have to worry for herself either. Although that was a clear wolf-whistle, by a group of bike-riding gangers to boot, she was confident. Her body was in shape with the martial arts training she had been through since her early years. She'd need nothing else to protect herself with, and her confidence and the way with words she had usually settled problems before they even started.
Technology had advanced by a great leap at the start of 22nd century. No true breakthroughs had been made besides medical advances and fusion power, which basically ended the global war to be fought over resources before any actual claims on foreign land had been made by any party. The advances in entertainment had followed rapidly with the niche left by ever increasing personal wealth and welfare throughout the world. To the better part of the society, at least, though some of it bled down onto the other side of the fences which protected the middle and upper class from the Mass.
Susan had taken up a part-time job to fund her personal interests; this was her hobby and her pastime. Seeking out her dreams. Some of them had actually started out of recurring dreams, like this one, which was clearly her most absorbing challenge. On her way into the nightclub, Luna, she bumped into someone she hadn't seen for a while. Her ex-boyfriend. He was nice, but it didn't work out for them - something was always missing, and they broke up nicely after 7 months of an affair, and neither of them bore hard feelings.
"Heading for the lady's night out, eh?"
"Bet I do. It's been a while, Nick. Are you on duty?"
"Shame. Could've popped by for a few drinks."
"Maybe sometime later. You haven't been doing anything suspicious with that Rinaldo guy, have you? They've been keeping an eye on what he does for a good while now, upstairs."
"Jim? He's an angel for all I know, though he spins drinks like the devil himself."
"Okay, just checking. None of my business, really, but I got to keep an eye on things if I want to keep my job. If you catch my drift."
"Sure do. Don't worry, Mister officer, i'll be safe at home before my bedtime.
Susan gave him a kind smile as she slipped into the club, while the bouncer gave a glance to the cop. He shot one back in return with a smirk, lighting a cigarette and leaning against the wall, sheltering from that rain under the front of the club. Inside Luna, everything was as usual. It was a constant party every time she came or left the place, and the place had no windows in order to maintain that kind of atmosphere. In the beating of bass, amidst the feverish dancers and neon lights, she made her way toward the counter, taking a stool and patiently waiting for her turn. She usually came here to dance the night or day away, but this time was different. No alcohol, light eating and a good rest beforehand, as she had been instructed.
Jim Rinaldo was a barkeeper, and good at it. He was something of an artist, knowing what people wanted even if they couldn't really bring it out into words, and usually taking just a glance to know what kinds of drinks people would order. Sometimes he made a show out of it, entertaining the regulars with this sixth sense he had, bringing out a good laughter every time he just leant a drink into a patron's hand before they had time to even tell what they were coming for.
Susan had been one such case, and Jim had taken time to talk with her at the counter on one less frantic night. He had a flashy smile which was like a cherry on top of his mid-american look, wearing straight black trousers and a shiny club-shirt. They had taken time to discuss what she really might be after when she sought entertainment from places like this, and with a few nights more had come to a conclusion. He had led her on a bit, having more to offer than just the fare served at the bar. He could sell dreams.
He had a REMshaper rig at the basement of his club. It was new tech and still under federal supervision to keep it "in control during commercializing", the methods having been perfected a good while ago but the manufacturers' licensing wanting to maximize their profits out of it. Jim had a degree in psychology, and worked with this sort of equipment to gather information for supporting theories. They had used theirs to just record the dreaming process and the subliminal mechanics of the mind. The project had come to a stop just as he graduated, the sponsors lifting their profits out of the deal.
They left the bar together and went into the back room, Jim telling his right-hand, Gina, to look over the bar while they went about on their business. The basement of the bar was well maintained, not like a basement at all but a private club - and indeed it was one. Jim had put some good time and money into it, and a designer he knew more than personally had done the planning for it. The setup was quite simple, and didn't really need more than just resting somewhere comfortable and attaching a number of small electrode patches onto the subject's forehead.
"Is everything ready, Jim?"
"Of course, my darling. I've spent a good while doing studies on your subject of interest. To make it as real as possible. That's what you wanted?"
"Yes. I want the whole thing to be as close to real as possible without actually going into water and -"
"But you can, and should go into water. I've had a tub brought here." He smiled. "I even have the salt to go with it. Your very own slice of the Antarctic."
"Thank you, Jim. You're a darling, too, but you have someone saying that to you already. I don't really have anyone, and honestly don't even feel like I need someone to say that to me. I'm past nice with those dreams, they just keep on - gosh. The thing I hate most about them is that they're just shadowy feelings about things I should do, and they vanish a mere moment after I wake up..."
"Don't worry. This will be something you'll remember for a long time. And I'm not talking about the experience itself; the way it happens is a simulation of a true experience. It'll be like actually living through it, and then remembering it like just as life. - I was a little frightened at times at this, but I know that this is what you want. I did it just for you, every second and every sensation."
"Muchos gracias, Jim."
Susan gave his curly hair a kiss, taking a look at the vast amount of material he'd been collecting for this. Video discs, books, recordings. It had been quite a job. She'd paid for it in full as an artist should. The thing about REMshaping was that it couldn't be just programmed - if feelings and ideas were to be inserted, they had to be imagined in every vivid detail. It was indeed a work of art.
She stripped herself free of clothing, letting her toes play on the rug of the floor, and then slipped into the briny bath which was so close to human body temperature that it could allow her to stay in the water nearly indefinitely without fear of hypothermia. He helped her lay on the support inside the tub, the scent of saltwater filling her nostrils as he worked the patches accurately onto her forehead. After confirming him that everything was OK, he nodded back to her and started the REMshaping. She drifted off into sleep, and darkness took hold of her vision.
Waves splashed about her as she was lying down on an ice cap as it floated in the sea, and the bright sun brought out the beautiful scene in the bottom of the ocean out into her sight through the dark blue. She was in the Antarctics. She took a dive, and soon noticed that she wasn't cold. Good thing. Everything else was so live, so real - She'd been free diving earlier and knew what to expect, and this was truly it. If this wasn't real life nothing would be. She also noticed a chain-wrapped arm sleeve running from her left wrist up to her shoulder. Excellent, he grinned to herself. Jim had indeed thought of everything.
Back in the basement of the club, Jim heard footsteps from the staircase and the door creaking open.
"What is it, Gina? If the lemons are out, there's nothing I can do. We're out of them."
"No, no, i'm not here for the lemons."
Jim suddenly shook up from his chair and looked to the door. The cop. He knew him from earlier, having been an acquaintance of both. This could ruin everything, he thought. They had a brief conversation about what was going on, the illegality of such methods of entertainment without a license, and came to the subject of her dreams. He knew that she had certain obsessions about the challenge her dreams seemed to give her. They made a deal. He could stay around and follow her dream through the video screen which was used for monitoring the experience, or bring him over for questioning and have her dreams cut off. He chose the former.
.... There is more of this story ...