Chapter 1

November 2, 2028
01:39 a.m.

There were ghosts in the club.

The Tanz was full of people both there and not there, a disorienting dance of ghost figures and solid constructs, neither one carrying the visual or physical solidity Bridge’s mind required to surround himself with a coherent reality. His head, his mind was in searing pain, trying to reconcile itself with its warped perceptions. The club itself was the ghost, the dance floor, even the table beneath his hands an immaterial shimmering construct of light. His hands were translucent, their edges fuzzy and glowing with reflected energy yet they did not pass through the ghostly table.

The rest of the club had the same smoky quality, a half-remembered mirage left on the inside of his eyelids. Some of the club’s patrons looked around at themselves as if seeing their bodies for the first time, while others were staring at these lost souls as if snakes were crawling out of their ears. The latter were even less substantial than the former, barely lit phantoms observing an alien landscape.

Overlaid on top of the club’s interior was another world, another series of lights and sounds and smells and things, all of it much more substantial than the actual club. His table was wrapped with another table like the skin of a 3D texture, a rough-hewn wooden table with the knots of the tree’s rings still visible underneath a slick varnish. An ornate flagon of ale rested on the table in the same position as Bridge’s bourbon. It was so real he could smell the ale, see the beads of overflowing liquid tinkling down the side of the metal cup.

Across from him, in the place of Aristotle sat Angela in her virtual disguise as the Baroness Eletheia, the white-haired lich queen of the virtual world Ars-Perthnia. "Angie?" Bridge
stammered, his voice sounding distorted and distant, as if he heard it underwater.

"Artie? What the hell are you doing in… what am I doing in the Tanz? Everything’s going slideways… sideways… losing focus…" She seemed to be struggling with something, something that Bridge could even now hear in his head.

The sound wasn’t even an audible sound, so much as a driving compulsion, a rumbling emotion that crested in waves barely underneath the level of perception. It was a name a place a thought a concept a there a here a thing a people a something he needed to get out of his head. And as it grew he screamed its name.

The club returned to normal, the ghosts gone as quickly as they came. He was on his knees by the table, and he was screaming.

One word. "Boulder!"