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"Do you know how the mind of an AI works, Brandon? Even if you did, you wouldn't know the first thing about this one. Malvirai are designed to expand quickly and disintegrate... to expand within a very limited scope, which she has broken out of."
—An impostor of Raskob, making Brandon desperate to escape.
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Caffeine is a 2009 stand-alone Science Fiction novel by Ryan Grabow. The e-book was originally released on the author's website under a Creative Commons license. Splashdown Books released a paperback version in 2011.

Brandon Dauphin lives in a rapidly accelerating world. Shocking trends emerge daily, louder is better, and the powerful stimulant PJX is found in almost everything (by popular demand). A sagging economy and cheap, reliable artificial intelligence have conspired to put people out of work. Not everyone minds the free time, though. Games have never been more realistic.

As everyone heeds the command to indulge, Brandon is overcome by the questions and doubt raging in his mind. Everyone has grown distant. Life has become cheap and fleeting. Veronica is the only pillar he has left. Their long-distance relationship doesn’t fail like the others, and Brandon plans to propose marriage. Even in this, though, hope eludes him. Reality is slipping further and further away.

Brandon retreats to the illusions of Dynamic Reality, a global computer network in which simulations are completely real. But when the AI characters act strangely and his war-game begins tearing itself apart, Brandon struggles to find a way out. He finds himself back in a real world that isn’t so real and encounters a strange woman named Aether. He doesn’t understand what the hacker wants but she threatens to kill him if he doesn’t cooperate in her experiment. Brandon senses the threats are real, but Aether is hiding something.

The woman isn’t a hacker, but a computer virus.

Brandon has become trapped in Dynamic Reality’s worst case scenario, but with the virus’s self-awareness came something else, something beyond her destructive programming that she’s committed to uncover. Aether asks whether her existence is a lie, and her pursuit to understand the truth has led her to study the race that created hers, and to study the world they live in as only a virus would.

Caffeine questions our definitions of good and evil, and treats the existence of a world we can’t see as inevitable. If ordinary A Is are said to become self-aware, why not the viruses based on them? Can God love an entity programmed only to destroy? Can a destroyer ever see beyond her programming?

There is no going back. Aether will force him to choose between his love and his hate, and Brandon will need to overcome the noise of modern culture to learn what it means to be human all over again, before the illusion he has become is gone forever.

Tropes used in Caffeine include:
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Aether: "The age of the production is irrelevant. Facts do not change."

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