A woman walks along, her hand out as if holding another hand. Plain brown hair is trimmed in a buzz cut against her head, and she wears an off-white tank top and off-white shorts.
She stops, as if she's hit someone
"Ghoster!" She proclaims as she jumps back from the person she just ran into, her face slightly shocked as she looks around and sees no one in her reality.
The woman she ran into stumbles backward to keep her balance. "I hate these virtuals," she mutters as she pulls down at her green dress.
"No regard for the real world around them. Always living in the virtual space." No one hears her or notices her. She plays with the end of her black braid.
"One day I'll run into another ghoster my age, maybe. Then maybe they will appreciate the effort I go through for my appearance."
"Ghoster!" The woman who ran into her calls out again, her eyes blinking as she adjusts her contacts to look for something not accounted for by the virtual adjusters.
"There you are. You should watch out for other people if you aren't going to at least wear a reference chip." She blinks again, looking over the woman in front of her. "You are such a plain little creature. You should join the virtual world. It could make you so much prettier."
She sighs, running her hand through nonexistent hair. "I'm in a hurry, so watch out little ghoster." She walks around the woman in the simple dull green dress, leaving her standing there, playing with the end of her braid.
The woman in the green dress shakes her head, and watches the people carefully as she skirts around the edge of the square. "Why am I the only person my age who doesn't want to be connected to a virtual world all the time?"
An older man in a black suite with a black top hat and gray hair who is also skirting the square tips his hat to her. "Not often I see a pretty young thing these days. Most..." He waves his hat toward the people with their shaved heads and uniformly off-white clothing.
She laughs nervously, "Yeah, the contacts and the chip hardware gave me severe migraines, so I had to have the interfaces removed."
"Well, at least you are a bit of color in a dull world."
A young man stumbles, almost running into her, and his sleek gray, almost human shaped robot grabs his hand and catches him, guiding him away from her.
"I've heard," the old man says, "that even the robots look like fellow humans to them."
The woman nods, "Yeah, I remember them looking like humans. From before."
"Well, young lady, I hope to see you again. It's a rare treat to talk to someone these days, but my wife is expecting me to be buying groceries for dinner tonight."
She smiles, the man seems genuinely kind. "Thank you, and I hope to see you around also," she calls as the man waves and continues off on his mission.
Her parents moved here recently, hoping to make it easier for her. Truthfully, it would probably be easiest to just leave any city environment and go to a farm. Then she wouldn't have to deal with all the virtuals.
She is almost to the turn for her street off the main square when she hears the first cry of "Ghoster!" A multitude of voices take up the cry, and near the middle of the square she can see a guy, his long, floppy blond hair and wild tie die shirt and jeans marking him as different. He is probably close to her age, and purposefully breaking the law by knocking into virtuals.
"Hear my cry!" He shouts to those that he has pulled from the virtual world. "Come back to this world. See the beauty of the space around you. Enjoy what you have."
The guy is going to get himself arrested! She runs toward him, dodging virtuals who haven't noticed the commotion. The awoken ones stare at her as she darts forward, obviously shocked to see a second ghoster in the same day as they were forced to look at reality by a crazy man.
She grabs the guy's hand and takes off toward the edge dragging him along behind her.
"Hey, stop. I'm on a mission to awaken people."
She brushes past people, and all around her she can hear the angry exclamations of the awakening. He is probably also purposefully knocking into them.
"Let go! We have to get them to leave the virtual. They have to wake up."
She pulls him until they are in the ghoster zone, the safe area for those without the implants.
"You idiot!" She yells at him, and he stops talking, staring at her. Brown eyes just looking at her, taking in that she is standing in front of him.
"Hey, you dress like a ghoster! Didn't know any virtuals dressed like that these days." He is still looking at her, as if he can't quite identify what she is.
"You idiot!" She yells again, but no one else notices. "You can get arrested for trespassing in virtual territory."
"I know that, but why do you care? Most virtuals just continue on in their self-absorbed lives after being bumped."
"I..." He is staring at her so intently, and he still seems to think she is a virtual. She pulls at the end of her braid hanging over her left shoulder. "I'm not a virtual!" she yells at him.
She hasn't interacted with people her age outside her family in a while, and the way the guys is intently staring at her makes her fidget and look away. She can look anywhere except at the unique ghoster standing in front of her.
"Really? A pretty girl like you is a ghoster? What are you doing hanging out in the loser's world?" He grabs her shoulders, and she looks back up at him, the joy in his face terrifies her.
"I've found you!" He shouts, not listening to her. "I can't believe it, another person who recognizes the truth. The virtual world has turned us into no better than robots, and someone else has seen this truth!"
"Ummm?" She tries to ask what is going on, but he continues.
"I thought that when I left the office, when I left that place where we develop the worlds to control people, that I would never find someone else who would choose to take off the yoke of the virtual world, but you are here standing in front of me. A dark goddess to join me in dismantling this world's system and raining chaos on the ages!"
She knows she is no such thing, but she can't bring herself to speak the truth. She can't fight the man's intensity, or his hard grip on her shoulders.
"So, my fellow ghoster, what is your name?" He asks while pulling her along the small alleys designated for ghosters to travel on.
"Umm, Kate." She whispers, not quite sure how to respond to the situation.
"My name's Lee. I was a level 115 programmer for Spartan Core Systems world when I realized how the companies were using the system to control the populace."
He pulls her to the side as a police robot drives by. "They are probably looking for me. They've been chasing me since I escaped. I programmed a malfunction into my own hardware so that I can get on and access the virtual worlds, but they cannot access me. I made myself a god power profile that allows me to access their internal code and systems and modify it."
He's insane, she thinks listening to him babble on.
"You have no hardware at all, right Kate?"
"Why is that, by the way?"
She blinks a couple times as she can't figure out the flow of the conversation.
"Uh, well, my body can't accept –"
"It doesn't matter anyway." A black car door swings open, and she notices that they are standing next to a luxury line, self-driving, black Jaguar. He drags her into a roomy interior with leather seats all facing toward the center.
A platform rises out of the center with a bottle of wine on it, and Lee pulls two glasses out from a hidden cabinet next to him.
She can't help but feel like she's been kidnapped into some strange virtual game.
He pours wine into the glasses, and places the bottle back on the platform. He holds out the glass toward her, but she hesitates to take it.
"Don't worry, I wouldn't poison my helper. I need you on this mission."
She takes the glass, looking out the window to notice the city flashing by. "I, uhh –"
"I haven't explained yet have I!?" He makes as if to jump up, but hits his head on the ceiling and sits back down with a slightly stunned look. "I forgot my surroundings again. I get so disoriented sometimes. I'm sorry. Please, excuse my poor behavior. So, Kate, you are the kingpin of my mission to take down the virtual worlds."
"I, but –"
"Don't worry. I will be in the system making sure that even devices looking for physical presences can't see you. I can't go in because I'm not a real ghoster. I actually have hardware in me. The devices would notice my hardware even if I hacked into them it would still leave a trace. The beauty of you, a true ghoster, is that you can get in without worrying about that. Because the hacker won't be the one going through the building, and the one going through will have zero hardware, the building's security won't see you at all."
She listens to the mad man rambling, wondering how she got into this situation. A moment ago, she was walking in a residential virtuals hangout area, on her way home. And now, she is in the car of some rich insane man who apparently wants her to help destroy the world.
"What if I say no?" She asks.
He stops talking; staring at her like she grew another head.
"Well Kate, that would be a bad idea."
"Why? Why can I not say no?"
He leans back and laughs. "You think you saved me today, but I was waiting for you. I often try to break through to the people, but I've been waiting for you, watching for you. I wanted to see what you would think of my attempts to enlighten the people, and you were beautiful, running in to rescue me with that long ghoster hair of yours caught by the wind looking like you stepped out of the virtual world in a dash of color and beauty."
"So you've been stalking me?"
"Kate, I've been searching for someone like you for over a year now. A person who has absolutely no hardware. I accessed all the city scanners, searching for the right person. A full, true ghoster. A person only physical security cameras would pick up. And then I saw you, unseen by city surveillance because you have zero hardware. Only my own physical cameras could catch you. You are a gem Kate! Of course I need you for my plan. You will turn this world on edge!"
"What if I don't want to? What if I wish I could just go into the virtual world with everyone else?"
"But you can't can you, Kate? You are stuck on this plane of existence by yourself. Don't you desire company here? Don't you wish that more people would at least come out of the virtual world when they are walking around? Don't you wish people could see you?"
People, able to see her. Not having to worry about people running into her... It sounds like a dream world. But could she accept that at the cost of destroying the virtual world for everyone?
He sighed. "Ahh, I was hoping to convince you with words alone, but I guess you need more motivation to help me."
He held up an image of her mother staring blankly at a wall. "I've trapped all your family in the virtual world. All of them are being held in total darkness, unable to see, move, hear, smell, or touch. They won't be released until the servers are destroyed."
"WHY!? Why do you want to destroy the virtual world?" A little wine spills out of her glass as she swings her hands in dismay, but she doesn't notice.
"Why? Because I am tired of it. I am tired of watching people follow blindly like sheep wherever the corporation tells them to go. I'm tired of being a person working in a society where most people don't really hold much of a real job anymore. I want to shake up this world."
She stares at the wine glass in her left hand, the wine twirling around in it. She lifts it up, and takes a sip, making a slight face as she downs the sip.
"Don't the virtual worlds have backup servers and servers across the globe?"
He gives a half laugh that sounds closer to a gasp of air. "Oh yes. We aren't the only ones in this mission. The others have had their ghoster ready for months. After I saw you, I told them about you, but I decided not to grab you until the last minute. I hope you enjoyed the extra time I gave you with your family."
This man is past just slightly crazy. She is certain that he is fully insane. She takes another sip of the wine. It leaves her mouth feeling drier than before she took the sip. "So, what is my role in this?"
He smiles, the corners of his mouth lifting his cheeks up into his eyes, and giving him a maniacal insane look to match his personality.
"You, Kate, are going to blow up the servers. I will give you the explosives to carry in and place, and once you are out, I will blow them up."
"How am I supposed to know where to place your bombs?" She asks, staring straight ahead, out the window opposite of her. Her face is devoid of crinkles or even the slight movements that show emotion.
"I drew you a map. I even marked where to place the explosives. You can read a map, right?"
She nods. She has to do this, to free her family.
The vehicle slides up to walkway and the door opens. She takes the map and the bag of explosives Lee is holding out, places her glass of wine on the center platform, and steps out of the car. The front door swings open, and she walks through. There is no one in the hall as she walks in, and no alarms go off.
She follows the path marked on the map, and every door she comes to is open, waiting for her. She places the explosives where the map tells her to, and then she calmly walks back out of the building, walks back to the waiting jaguar, and picks up her glass of wine, dropping the bag and map onto the floor.
"Everything's in place."
He smiles and as the car drives away, she can hear the distant booming echo of explosives going off.
She wonders, are the servers all offline now?