I vault the hedge in my backyard and stay low until I’m inside, scanning the grounds. Who knows what the corporation’s capable of—they could have my place scoped out and I’d never know. Things seem in order, though—no one’s broken in, anyway.

I grab a beer and sink down into my chair with a sigh. It’s been a hell of a long day. I put some Sinatra on in the background—I’ve still got one of those antique record players that actually spins the disk. People say it speaks to my personality.

I lay back and jack into the Scape. Used to be I let the beer put me out, but now I find it soothing to jack in for a few minutes before I crash. Reminds me I’m still connected, that no matter how pathetic and empty my personal life is, I’m still part of this grand, diverse world of information. Or maybe I’ve just been ingesting too much promotional bullshit from Meta-Ads.

I connect to the Plaza server and I’m standing on white stone, buildings of the same texture towering in the distance. The glowing ads are all over the sky now—apparently CyberCorp decided to override no-ad servers to promote their upgrade. Can’t even walk down the street without seeing a holosign with a countdown timer for its release.

I’m only there a second when I do a double-take—there’s my old friend Sally, sitting on the ground, and she’s not alone. There’s a whole group of them, just sitting there.

It’s a rare thing, seeing someone sit in the Scape. It’s an automatic mode Phantoms go into when they’ve been idle for a long time—someone jacked in on a non-VR terminal, maybe, who left it on by accident. No one live really has a chance to go idle, especially in a crossroads like the Plaza. People stop and talk sometimes, but mostly they use it as a launching point to get to other servers or surf the Interweb.

“Hey, how long you been here?” I ask, gliding over.

She looks up. “Jack! God, am I glad to see you, man. I been stuck here all day—an’ not just me! All these people, they can’t get out!”

“All day?” I raise my eyebrows, incredulous.

“ScapeTechies are all busy—apparently it’s happening all over the place, so the one I called earlier cancelled on me. We can’t get anyone to jack us out manually—we’ve all got the TRUScape chip, and its wireless.”

“Right, no terminal to unplug,” I say. Something wasn’t right about this new implant, and as I listened to her I started getting paranoid. What if I couldn’t jack out…

I cut her off mid-sentence: “Sally, listen to me. Your body still all right?”

“Yeah man, my roomie just jacked in to tell me she fed me dinner. Jack, I—”

“I don’t trust these CyberCorp bastards. Look, you surf around, try not to panic. I’ll check them out tomorrow. Don’t call their techies back, not yet.”

“If you say so.”

“Yeah. Look, Sal, I’m beat. I’m gonna crash, but I’ll swing by to make sure you’re all right once I check them out.”

“Later, man.”

I jack out—it works, thank God, and I’m back in the gray shadows of my living room. I take a swig of beer, but don’t swallow. The events of the day pour through my brain like sewage through a busted dam. Poor Mandy Collins, just trying to get her brother back. Bastards killed her for it. Somehow, when they did that, it became about more than their monopolizing superstructure. I could care less if they owned the world right now—killing that girl crossed the line. Made this personal, or as personal as you can be with a corrupt multi-trillion dollar super-corporation.

The beer sits sourly in my mouth. I’m tired as hell, but the things Sally told me in the Scape have got the hairs on my neck standing up straight as graves. I need to get this implant checked out. I know a tech scientist who owes me a favor and has some real state-of-the-art equipment. But I also want to figure out CyberCorp’s game, and I know just the guy to go to. My head’s starting to pound; I better decide.

      I need sleep. I’ll pick up the trail in the morning.

      I go hit up my contact for information about CyberCorp. Time to learn what they’re really playing at.

      I head over to the scientist’s lab. Before I do anything, I better get this new implant checked out. Who the hell knows what they can do while I’ve got it installed.

     Ehhhh... I go surf porn.

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