November 2, 2028
02:07 a.m.

The crowd in the Tanz looked on the events playing out on the screen in stunned silence. People looked from one face to the other as in a shared dream state, experiencing the uneasy camaraderie of the traumatized herd too shocked to remember the natural distrust they should have of each other. The house lights had been turned on somewhere in the middle of the broadcast, and Bridge’s eyes ached. He’d been going pretty hard lately, a three-day stretch of lost sleep and constant footwork. His body still felt the effects of the hallucinogenic seizure he’d experienced, and the other jacked-in victims appeared equally drained.

Bridge jumped as his cell connection buzzed to a life, a tingly irritating vibration in the back of his skull that signaled an incoming call. "This is Bridge, go," he said by reflex.

"Was that you ghosting through Ars just a minute ago?" It was Bridge’s girlfriend, Angela. He could feel the barely-controlled panic in her voice. "I was cruising the taverns and I swear I saw you in theBlooded Falchion, but then I was in the Tanz with you. And what was that about Boulder?" Angela was one of the operators of the virtual world Ars-Perthnia, spending most of her time in that world dressed as the lich-queen Baroness Eletheia.

"Are you still jacked in?"

"Of course, there’s a tourney tonight."

"Check the news feeds, baby."

"Which one? CNN?"

"Any of them. All of them. It’s all over the place. Boulder just went nuclear or something."