By Rebekah “Red” Keeder

“Welcome,” said the soft voice of the artificial intelligence made to look like a woman, “The exit is on your left. If you choose to exit, you may do so now but if you choose to stay, you will never get another opportunity to leave. You will spend the rest of your limited days here.” Her voice never fluctuated. Never quivered or changed in pitch. The softness in “her” voice was both effeminate and monotone, but the last few words seemed to bounce around him like little rubber balls connecting with the floor. They hit his ears, his spine, and the inner walls of his brain sending shivers up and down the vertebrae of his back. Those words were cold enough to make the hair on his body stand on end; they created goose bumps and capsuled his insides in a thick coat of frozen honey. His blood ran cold. Peripheral vasoconstriction started with the tips of his fingers making them numb, then traveled to his feet which were now too cold to stand on. He couldn’t get up, he couldn’t leave, couldn’t exit; so, he stayed. With frozen bone marrow and blood that no longer reached his icy hands. He stayed.

         “Welcome,” said the same soft voice of the original artificial intelligence made to look like a woman. “The exit is on your left. If you choose to exit, you may do so now, but if you choose to stay, you will never get another opportunity to leave. You will spend the rest of your limited days here.” To her, those words had the same physical effects as a cow getting branded with a red-hot iron; the burning sensation radiated from her chest. “This brings a whole new meaning to heartburn,” she thought to herself. This felt like hot metal traipsing down the bones in her back making it ache. Biting her ears was a fire-infused serrated blade, burning and stinging as if she was bitten, to the point it needed to be cauterized. Her blood boiled so intensely it looked like maggots crawling underneath her now crimson skin, and her entire body dripped with a salty concoction of water and oils excreted by her human body.

         “Interesting, is it not? Everybody seems to have a different reaction but these two in particular are experiencing the opposite feelings on a physical level, but their brain waves overlap with no outliers.”

         “You’re right. How interesting, Professor. What do you suggest we do with this information? Should we run more tests on their brains after the drug wears off to see if they cope with the after effects the same way? Or should we give them another dose before we scan their brains?”

“That’s up to you, Doctor. What do you think we should be doing with these exquisite people? How does it feel to be called doctor, huh? We have been working with each other for thirteen years and you’re calling me professor? 

         “I’m sorry sir, I was just trying to-”

         “Never mind what you were trying to do. Let’s get back to the study so we can interview these participants and gather much-needed information.”

“As you wish, sir.”

“We just had this talk, Marley!”

They turned their attention back to the two people sitting in adjacent rooms, where they were finally coming down from the electronic high they endured.

 “Were you lucid enough to know what was happening during the process of us changing the chemicals in your brain with artificial intelligence, or did it feel real?” asked the professor.

“It felt real, but it also didn’t evoke any form of pain. It’s like when you dream and you fall but it doesn’t affect you. You still felt that pain, though, just without physically feeling it. It was almost pleasant I think? You knew it was there, but it wasn’t painful, I guess would be the best way to describe it,” replied George.

“Great, now would you please go into the next room on your right and wait for further instruction.” George knew it wasn’t really a question, so he complied.

“When we hooked you up to the artificial intelligence that we created to change the chemistry in your brain, were you lucid enough to know what was happening, or did you think that everything you were experiencing was real?” asked Dr. Marley.

“I knew that it wasn’t reality, but I thought it was real at the same time. The weirdest part is that there was no actual pain, yet it hurt all the same. You could feel it as if it were happening to someone while you were watching but it never physically impacted you. It was almost as if the pain was completely empathetic, yet there was nothing to empathize with. I don’t remember any physical pain, but I remember thinking that it should hurt. That it should burn. I don’t really recall everything, but I remember being immensely surprised by what I felt because it wasn’t painful,” Lindsay said, trying to wrap her mind around the experience of feeling what should be painful, not be numbed, but just not to be in pain.

“Wonderful, now I’m going to have you exit and enter the second door to your right. This interview has been useful.”

When she arrived, she saw someone sitting in a white chair. Everything was white, well, everything besides the mirror that she knew had to be one-way-glass. Why else would they have it here? The only bit of color was leaking from his navy blue eyes. The white fabric she had to wear covered everything on her body but her eyes. It scratched at her skin and made her itch everywhere it touched. She thought it must’ve been made of wool because of how scratchy it was, but it was too light-weight for that to be the case.

 “Hi, my name’s George,” he said while he was getting hooked up to the robot-like mechanism that altered their brain waves to induce an altered state of mind getting them “high” for the second time.

“Lindsay,” she replied.

“So this is fun, huh?” said George.

“Oh yeah, I love getting hooked up to machinery just to make a little extra cash and to help out Big Pharma,” was her retort.

“So I guess you’re just here for the cash?”

“Yeah, I’m running low on funds, and I saw an ad in the newspaper about getting money for getting high, and I thought it was a better idea than working the street corner.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, I’m being one hundred percent serious about selling myself on a disgusting street-corner. Of course I’m kidding!”

Once she was in place and hooked up to the “brain machine,” they embarked on the second journey of what would soon be referred to as “A-High.”