Sally’s sitting on the ground of the Plaza, our mutual favorite jack-in point in the Scape. There are millions, maybe hundreds of millions of VR servers—Scapeheads call them polestars—scattering the Interweb, private run, corporate run, membership only—3-D porn castles, pink universes scattered with kittens, World War 2 reenactment video games, all designed and programmed in varying levels of quality, from the dither-headache to the gorgeous.

I come to the Plaza for two reasons. First, it’s free. Second, it’s clean. It’s an empty field of textured sandstone, buildings near enough in to prevent that sense of uneasy infinity that half the servers suffer from. Traffic is capped at 500, so it never gets too crowded.

Maybe she comes here for the same reason; who knows. Truth is we see each other pretty often here, but we usually just pass each other by. But seeing her now, hunkered down with this quiet terror that her Phantom can’t quite portray, I get this feeling she might need a hand.

I drift past the MetaPhantoms crowding around her. I’m nearly there when I see it—glaring ugly neon in the sky.

She looks up, features displaying an exaggerated recognition. Her model’s crisp—she must have had a new body scan just recently, but making the models respond to brainwaves well enough to emulate expression is still a developing technology.

“Thought the Plaza was supposed to be ad-free,” I say. She glances up at the neon sign, scrolling deep orange against the smooth concrete side of a far-off building.

“Yeah, CyberCorp’s got ads running on every server on the Scape. Fuckin’ party gonna happen, when TRUScape’s revealed.” She gives me a wry smile. “What you looking for, Jack.”

“You know me. Can’t stand seeing a lady in distress.”

She chuckles, but it’s empty. Even with the limitations of her Phantom, I can tell she’s masking some concern.

“What’s up, Sal?”

She’s distracted for a minute, but she gives me the smile again. “It’s nothing man. Can’t jack out.”

“Terminal jam?”

“Maybe. Been stuck here three damn hours, man.”

“Shit. I’ll come by disconnect you, you want.” And who knew where that could lead.

“Thanks man, but no good. Got one of those new TRUScape-ready wireless chips in my head. No wires—no manual disconnect. No worries, man. I’ve got my roomy feeding my body ‘til I can get a CyberCorp techie over to spark me out.”

I nod, unable to fully conceal my disappointment.

“Tell you what , man… come by and check on me? Maybe tomorrow sometime? Just in case, y’know.” Was that a glitch in her Phantom’s model, or did she just wink?

“Sure thing, Sal. You stay frosty.”

She grins. “Frosty? Shit, you’re gettin’ old, man.”

      Go on

I couldn't take it anymore. I called it off.