Crusader

ďSorry Drake,Ē I say, and I halfway mean it, ďbut Iíve gotta make my own way. Whether CyberCorp can track me or not, these full-3D maps that I now have access to are just too good to give up.Ē Also, I think, youíre a psychotic cyborg assassin, but I leave that little reason out. No need to stir up more unnecessary trouble. Iím sure Iíll have all the trouble I can handle soon enough.

Drake just stares at me for a second, his eyes locked in place like two burning crystal balls. Then he speaks. ďSuit yourself,Ē he says with a little snarl in his voice. ďYouíll never make it there without me. I donít need you anyway, I know everything I have to to get straight to the heart of it all.Ē He crouches, and the augmented muscles in his legs ripple with power, launching himself upwards in a mighty jump on to the top of a three-story building. Goddamn cyborgs.

Thereís no point in sitting around in the street waiting for a car to hit me, so I make my way through the city towards the CyberCorp headquarters building. The streets are oddly empty. Like everyone is just waiting for the launch of TRUscape or something. It makes the city feel eerie, deserted, like a goddamn ghost town. Iíll be glad when this shit is over. Assuming it is over.

Eventually, the CyberCorp pyramid stretches above me in the almost-dawn half-light like a technological tower of Babel, except this one is finished. Itís poking the gods. Itís the tallest building in the city, which is quite a feat in a city of this size, but what do you expect from the owners of the world? Or at least, the owners of everyone whoís ever touched a microchip. Well, boss, you better watch out now.

I jack into the Metascape and bring up the map system, do a search on access routes to the CyberCorp.

Detail's set at the lowest, I I crank it and every single room, every single stairway and elevator in the pyramid is there, laid out before my like a buffet. I max out the detail--no system slwodown at all--and go flying all over the virtual CyberCorp headquarters. Reconnaissance from afar. This may not be so hard after all.

There are a few ways to enter the building, according to the maps Ė thereís a sewer entrance that would conceivably get me in unnoticed, but it looks like itíd be a bitch getting from the lower basement levels up to the top of the pyramid, the room so conveniently labeled ďBoard of Directors.Ē Could they make my job any easier? Thereís the front door, of course, but thatís bound to have more security in place than my ass could handle, and I donít want to just waltz in and announce my presence. That sounds to me like a damn good way to get killed. There are a couple other doors and a loading dock, all at ground level, but theyíre gonna have the same problems Ė too many people, too many cameras, just way too damn obvious. Then I get an idea. I start looking at the ventilation shafts, and lo and behold, one of the major air ducts begins at the side of the building on the second floor. It doesnít look too difficult to get up to, and it doesnít look like itís near any obvious guard posts or security centers. I follow the length of the vent through various twists and turns around the second floor, rising to the third and then the fourth floor, where thereís an obvious exit point in a small room, probably some sort of climate control machinery center. Letís hope itís unoccupied. I spend another few minutes scanning entrances, but nothing looks as promising. Ventilation shaft it is.

Jacking out of the Metascape is oddly more difficult than usual. It feels . . . sticky, like the Metascape, and the map program especially, doesnít want me to leave. Itís never really felt that way before, and when I pop back into reality it takes me a few seconds to readjust to what Iím seeing. Maybe itís just the high level of detail of the Meta-maps thatís getting to me. I canít imagine how this TRUscape thingíll effect people. Then again, if I pull this off, it wonít be affecting anyone.

I make my way to the perimeter of the building, stopping only once to pick up an abandoned crowbar in an alley. Somethingís odd when I get there, sneaking around the sides of the building, and by the time Iím about halfway around, I realize what it is. I havenít seen a single security guard, either human or mechanized, this whole damn time. Something is really fucked up around here. Eventually, I find the ventilation shaft and pry the grating off with the crowbar I found. Now or never, eh? I shove the crowbar into my belt Ė never know when thatíll come in handy Ė and start shimmying into the duct.

And I make pretty good time. A few spots are pretty tough to navigate, but I find ways around. Havenít been sucked into any giant fans yet. All things told, itís pretty damn dusty, uncomfortable, and dark, but itís definitely going somewhere.

I see a light up ahead. Coming from the floor of the shaft. A grate, maybe? Wonder what I can see.

I make it to the grate and Iím looking down from about thirty feet up into an enormous room, possibly used for banquets or balls sometimes, but now itís filled to the brim with every security enforcer that CyberCorp owns. Hrm. That explains the absence around the perimeter. I try to figure out just whatís drawing all of their attention to the far side of the room, but then I realize Iím plainly visible to anyone who decides to look up, so I keep shimmying through the vent.

A few more minutes of crawling and the vent reaches a three-way fork. Damn, I shouldíve memorized this better. I jack back into the Meta-map system and determine that I need to take the right fork. Quick and easy, the way I like it. Jacking out, though, is anything but. The stickiness grabs hold of me again, like the Metascape doesnít want me to leave or something. Even worse than last time, and again I have to pause and reorient myself after I jack out for nearly a minute, wasting precious seconds. CyberCorp could decide to track me at any time, and Iím struggling with the goddamn Metascape like some luddite grandma. Pull it together man, letís go.

The rest of the trek through the ventilation tube is pretty straightforward, if a little challenging at times. Nothing I canít drag my old body through, though, and eventually I pull myself out through the ventilation opening into a small, deserted room containing only a few large, hissing machines, like giant sleeping snakes. Probably the air conditioner.

And now Iíve gotta jack in again. I bring up the Meta-maps and scan the area around this room. Something odd jumps out at me, just down the hallway from the room Iím in now. An elevator, small, isolated. It doesnít connect to the main lobby, in fact, itís situated exactly in the center of the pyramidal structure. Which may mean . . . I follow the elevator shaft upwards, all the way up, confirming my suspicions. It goes all the way to the top, ending just outside the antechamber labeled ďBoard of Directors.Ē I scroll back down to just outside the elevator. There has to be some kind of catch, some security measure. Some kinda of code. I wonder . . .

I scroll down to the first floor landing of the private elevator, and look around the door. Sure enough, thereís a small keypad with 36 buttons marked with letters from A to Z and numbers from 0 to 9. I make sure the detail on the Meta-maps is cranked to the max Ė it is Ė and then I zoom in on the keypad. On the small screen above the pad is a ten-digit series: B119HSQ57X. Could they have actually programmed the access code into the meta-map program? Why? Itís almost like they want me to find them, but that doesnít make any goddamn sense. Staying in one place for so long is making me nervous, though, and I donít see any other way to get where I need to go, so I figure Iíd better take that chance. I try to jack out, and the feeling hits me again, worse than ever, like Iím being sucked down a hole of electronic quicksand. I donít know how long it takes me to escape, but when I do, Iím lying on the floor of the utility room, sweating and clutching my shirt like delusional plague-infected derelict. What the hell is going on with the Metascape?

Eventually, I drag myself to my feet and down the hallway to the small elevator. Still no one around. Creepy. At the keypad by the door, I punch in the ten digit code from the map, and sure enough the door slides open. Welcoming, like a padded iron maiden. I stuff my survival instincts down my throat and step inside, pressing the button labeled ďD,Ē all the way at the top of the list, above floor 149.

The elevator moves with surprising smoothness and speed to the top of the building, 150 floors above street level, towering above every other man-made structure in the world. Eventually, it emits a short ďdingĒ and the doors slide open to reveal a small room containing nothing. Nothing, that is, but another metal door, set exactly in front of me, with a small golden plaque reading ďBoard of Directors.Ē And of course, the door is fitted with another keypad, just like the one to the entrance of the elevator. Shit. Looks like Iím gonna have to jack in again. Iím beginning to get a little irritated by this Metascape business, but again, Iíve got no fucking choice. I jack in.

The cyberspatial hands of the Metascape pull me in, embracing me, holding me close. I zoom into the control panel in front of me on the Meta-map program and sure enough, a ten digit code is displayed in stark green letters against the black background of the screen Ė 5MIKL62DZ3. I memorize it, and then take a deep breath and try to jack out.

Itís worse than ever this time. Itís like my skin is nailed to a board and I have to rip it out along with all the nails. Physical pain wracks my body and I black out, regaining consciousness seconds later, lying in a pool of my own vomit. Goddamn. Black hatred burns in the depths of my being, all directed at CyberCorp.

Slowly, arduously, I manage to stand up, wiping my face off with my shirt. I take a few seconds to steady myself, and then I enter the code into the console next to the door. The door slides up into the ceiling with a dull whoosh.

The next room is a perfect circle, the diameter no more than twelve feet. The walls are white, only marred by two shiny, unmarked, brown wood doors with polished silver handles, one ahead and to my left, the other ahead and two my right. Goddamnit. I should have checked this before. If I pass out now, Iím dead for sure, but who knows whatís behind the wrong door. For all I know, the battalion of enforcers is already on the way. Fuck. Time to make the most important choice of your life, Jack.

      Jack in and check the Meta-maps

      Open the right door

      Open the left door

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