"Hey Ms. Kitty."

The familiar message popped up on my screen, startling me. Dark! It's been ages since I saw him online.

"Hi!! Long time, no see! How's it going?"

"Have you got the Net yet?"

"No, not yet. I don't know anybody that has. Is it worth it?"

"It is incredible. I hate using a regular computer now. I only came here to see if you had interfaced yet."

"I'm thinking about it. Should I?"

"Yes. You'll never go back to computers again."

"That good, huh? But is it safe? I mean, really, a thing in your brain..."

"I'm still here."

"Point taken. If I do get it, how do I find you?"

"T-mail me at Darklord.Skywalker@sfLink/BOS. I'll be waiting for you."

"Skywalker again, huh? Cool! Welcome back, cousin! : ) " He'd been using another name for awhile.

"Cousin, hell!"

Then he disappeared. That stinker, always doing that to me. I leaned back from the keyboard and stretched. The Net. It was something bordering on an obsession for me, trying to decide whether to do it or not. Talking to Darklord convinced me to at least go look at the Netplant store tomorrow.

I walked through the double doors into a vision of the future. High ceiling, lots of space- everything was sharp and clean. It reminded me of old sci-fi movies. I wandered around the store, looking at pictures on the wall and waiting for a salesperson to emerge. There had to be one here somewhere.

The posters were all illustrations of Net sites. I found an interactive screen on the wall and started to explore.

What is the Net?

The Net is our future. In today's age of rapidly advancing technology, nothing seems impossible. This is the type of thinking which inspired Japanese national Dr. Hiroshi Hakawa to break all the rules and develop new technology to harness the ultimate computer... the human brain.

"Can I help you?"

Of course. I was just getting into the good stuff, so somebody had to interrupt. "Yes. I'm here to find out about the Net."

"Feel free to explore our interactive database for as long as you like, then I would be happy to show you our Net simulator."

The person disapperaed as suddenly as he had arrived, leaving me staring after him. What had ever happened to personal, friendly service? Manners must be a thing of the past. I shrugged and returned to the screen.

How does the Net work?

Every human on this planet carries within them the potential to be greater than the greatest supercomputer. Our brains are incredibly complex organs, with heretofore misunderstood pathways and connections. The daring research of Dr. Hakawa has not only discovered how the human brain functions, but also clearly mapped out each segment of the brain and carefully detailed each function of the "human computer." Utilizing this information and a minimum of technology, Dr. Hakawa has perfected a technique for controlling brain function. Now, by means of an unobtrusive implant, a person can utilize 100% of their brain capacity.

What powers the Net?

Humans are powered by electric current, just like computers. The power requirements of the Netplant are so low that an average person's bioelectric field will power it for over a hundred years.

Will I still have my own thoughts?

Of course you will! The BOS (Brain Operating System) allows a person to retain their individuality and own thought processes, while increasing use of the brain. BOS is not required to use the Netplant, but it is recommended. The Netplant can be turned off if you have a wish for privacy, but many people find it so useful that they use the Netplant BOS all the time.

What can I do on the Net?

The possibilites are endless. Whether you like to surf the web, learn, or chat with fellow users, you can do it on the Net. Imagine being in a chat room where everything is real, and takes place in quicktime. A friend gives you a hug, and you feel it physically. And while you are chatting or surfing, you can complete real world tasks. Due to the complexity of the human brain, the Netplant interface does not interfere with ordinary actions. Instead, it utilizes dormant brain tissue to allow a multitasking ability that was never even suspected. Now, with the Netplant, it is possible to interface with the Network while still leading a normal life. No one will know that you are using the Net unless you tell them, effectively ending boredom.

I snickered bit at that. Of course, it was true that I often wished for internet access while I worked. I read on, discovering each new fact with a growing desire to experience this wonder for myself. Finally I tracked down the salesman for the promised demo. He was, as I had suspected, reclining at his ease, staring into space and plainly interfacing with the product he was supposed to be selling. I attracted his attention- a polite way of saying I scared the shit out of him by charging into the room- and he set me up with this funky thing on my head. It had wires and things all over it, and looked like it belonged in a mad scientist's lab.


I swallowed nervously. "Ready." He flipped the switch.

Something that looked suspiciously like a browser window appeared in my head. The clarity of the image was incredible. Before I had the time to register more than the clarity, I was swept into a guided tour of the Net. I held my own, sticking firmly to my resolve to "just look," until the tour took me to a Netsite with Netfiction. The story was formatted completely differently from anything I had ever seen. Instead of reading the file, I lived it. I bacame part of the story, seeing it in my head as though it were real life. That did it for me. I had to have the Net.

I emerged from the guided tour ready to get the implant now. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was a three week waiting list for the surgery.

"That long?" I was amazed.

"It is very popular," the salesman replied. "The Net is in very high demand right now."

So I paid my deposit and scheduled my appointment. Three weeks was an awfully long time to wait.

I can't believe I'm doing this, was the last thing I thought before the anesthetic took effect. I woke up a timeless eternity later still thinking the same thing.

First things first. Good thing number one, I woke up. Good thing number two, I still control my body.

I sat up, trying to feel any difference. My head felt a little bit heavier on the right side now. I felt the tiny incision, wondering how in the world they could fit an implant through such a small hole.There was a small icon visible somewhere to the upper left of my left eyeball- inside my head. It was the Netplant emblem, and I stared at it, amazed. I was seeing it with my mind, not my eyes. Weird!

I decided I would wait until I got home before logging on. Somehow I didn't think it would be a good idea to begin exploring the Net while driving.

It was hard, though. Very hard, in fact. But eventually I did get home, and arranged things so I would be comfortable while I explored. And then...

I "clicked" on the icon. Just thinking about it made it click, and the browser window popped back up around my thoughts. I started with the help section for the BOS and worked my way through, learning how to operate my new toy.

It was fairly straightforward, but I quickly found myself wanting to skip all this boring stuff and get on to the Net. So I exited the BOS help and logged on.

For starters, each user of the Net had to select a home community. I read through the list of available communities and was amazed and delighted to find "The SciFiLink." I chose that, and found out that as a member of the SciFiVine, I could transfer my membership information via translink. So I did. I logged in as Kittitu Skywalker, pod racer of Cloud City. That was when things started getting really awesome.

I looked around the page I was seeing, and sure enough there was the People Panel. I clicked on it, and saw Daklord was on.

"Hot damn!" I said, out loud, and sent him a T-mail. It was funky, because it looked just like a proper telegram text box, but there was no typing involved. I just had to think the words, and they appeared.

"Hey, stranger, how's it going?"

I sent the message, then sat back and waited. Tink! I jumped. The T-mail noise startled me. I clicked on the mail icon, and got Dark's message.

"Hey Ms. Kitty, wanna uplink?"


"Go to the Panel, click on my name, then click on uplink."

The uplink button turned out to be in the toolbar inside my forehead. I clicked on it, and almost fell over. Up until now, it had been just like being online, with the screen inside my head. Now I was there. I knew my body was at home, sitting comfortably on the couch wth assorted cats purring nearby, but it felt like I was truly there on the Net. I looked down at myself and grinned. I was wearing buff-colored clothes reminiscent of the outfit a certain farmboy named Skywalker had once worn... Then I looked up and saw him. He was wearing a cloak with a hood.

"So, Ms. Kitty, we meet at last," he said, pushing the hood back so I could see him.

Oooh, you're cute, I thought. Then I saw the look on his face and realized he'd heard that! Oh fuck me. They warned me, I forgot, oh shit fire and save matches will I ever learn to keep my thoughts to myself?

Darklord laughed. You know, my Kitty, this could be very amusing, he thought to me.

"Amazing! I can't believe this! Even if I embarassed myself right off, this is fun!" I grinned. "Where are we, anyway?"

"This is a chat room, an unfurnished one."

"Yuck," I commented, surveying the plain gray cube of a room. Nothing but four gray walls, a ceiling, and a floor met my inquisitive gaze. "So, what have you been up to?"

"Not much, in the real world. I've been spending most of my time here. Wanna see my place?" He held out a hand to me. I took it, smiling.

"Sure." It really did feel like he was touching me, not like two avatars were interfacing. He took me to see his place. "How'd you do that?" I asked, amazed. I hadn't seen him do anything, but we were suddenly in the front room of his homesite.

"This whole place is powered by thoughts," he replied. "Everything you do, everything you see- be careful what you think, it just might happen." He grinned when I blushed. "All the furniture you see here was generated by DTL, Dynamic Thought Language."

I wandered around, looking at things. There was a couch, a comfortable looking chair, a couple tables... "You just thought all this? How?"

"C'mere, I'll show you. Watch-"

A text box appeared in front of him, and I stared. Words appeared, similar to HTML but not quite the same. A list of tags, attributes, and closures filled the box, then Dark clicked on Save and a recliner appeared.

"Wow!" I poked at it. It was solid. I sat on it and reclined, grinning. "I have to learn how to do this shit! This is awesome!"

Dark sat on the arm of the chair, leaning back carefully so he didn't fall off. "So what do you think? Are you glad you got the Net?" He reached for my hand again.

"Very," I said. "This is my first day. I have to learn how to do all this stuff. I don't even know how to get around yet."

"You'll learn," he said. "If you get lost or need help, T-mail me. I'm on almost all the time. Did you have the BOS installed?"

"Yeah. I have to learn that, too."

"It's really kickass. You never forget anything, because it is all saved in retrievable files."

"Cool. I need something like that."

We sat there for quite some time, talking. It was better than real life, because we could send thoughts to each other too. Fortunately I managed to keep a lid on my more hormonal thoughts. On top of the hormones, there also was the leftover emotional baggage from an earlier relationship a while back, to throw some confusion into the mix. It didn't help that Dark was very good looking, or that he was a rather friendly person...

"I think I'd better go now," I said abruptly, finally realizing that the feel of his hand on my arm was making me think of really inappropriate things.


Because if you keep that up, I'm going to do something unforgivable. Jeepers, we just met!!

He grinned unrepentantly and leaned closer. Maybe, just maybe... I'd forgive you. He kissed my cheek lightly and my breath caught. But if you really must go...


He laughed at me.

"Later!" I said in a strangled voice, and downlinked back to the regular Net. I heaved a huge sigh, compounded of equal parts relief and frustration. Damn! I told my emotional confusion to go stuff it and went back to my conquest of the Net.


"Kitti, is that really you?"

"Ki!!!! Where've you been? I missed you!"

"Studying, dammit. I had to take a refresher course on something stupid. Got time to uplink?"

"Yeah. Be right there."

I uplinked swiftly to visit my friend Kiora Kenobi. I'd known her almost as long as I'd known Dark. Even thinking his name sent a tingle through me. Dammit, not now! I told my hormones to take a long hike and gave Ki a hug when she appeared.

I had been on the Net for about two weeks now. I was becoming very skilled with the ways of handling the information now available to my ever-curious brain. I was into advanced DTL already, having discovered that was what it took to make interactive stories. I had also made the amazing discovery that everything on the internet was also available via translink on the Net. Something that struck me as odd was the constancy of my own appearance. I could transform my clothing into whatever fantastic design my mind could come up with, but I could not change the appearance of my body at all. I was having a real blast, though. The best part of it was I could use the Net even while driving and working, although I found out the hard way not to uplink at work.

"You should have seen it." I was telling Ki about my Net adventures. "I was cussing up a storm, and Dark was just staring at me like I'd grown horns or something- then he started laughing his ass off, which made me swear worse 'cause I got the RL giggles. The people at work couldn't hear me swearing or threatening the dog with death 'cause I was thinking it all. All they saw was me get bit, then bust out laughing. So I've got Dark teasing hell out of me in my head, and the people I work with discussing whether I've finally lost it or not, and the damn dog decides to pee on my table... No more uplinking while I'm trying to groom dogs."

"Good idea. I am so glad I can uplink at work. True, sometimes I have to come back to Real Life, but most of the time it is pretty boring. Why did I ever think it would be fun to be a librarian?"

We hung out and BSed for a while, then went our seperate ways. I was decorating my TSFL home. It was so cool- I was a resident of Cloud City, and the view out the front room window showed an image of Cloud City. The swirling, pinkish clouds were very relaxing to watch. Of course, to get the most out of my home, I had to uplink. Otherwise it looked like a webpage. But with the uplink... wow. It was just like a four-room apartment, and I was furnishing it entirely with DTL. The only limit to what could be done was my own imagination.

I had just sat down to test the squishiness of the couch I had made for my chat room when my doorbell rang. "Come on in," I hollered. "I'm in the chat roo- oh, hi Dark."

"I was wondering what you'd been up to," he said, looking around appreciatively. I had colored the walls with a swirly fractal image in different shades of purple and added lots of beanbag chairs, large soft cushions, and a few low tables to put things on. The really cool part about it was that if you watched the walls carefully, you could see the fractal pattern shift. "You really are good at this."

"Thanks," I blushed. I hadn't seen him uplinked since I got bit that time. Messages were okay, T-mail was better, but nothing quite beat having him there in person. "Have a seat," I gestured at the couch. "I'm trying to decide if it is squishy enough. What do you think?"

He flopped bonelessly into the cushions. "I like." He wiggled a bit. "Now you need to make me one. I can never get the cushions softer than a rock."

"Anytime," I grinned. "So, what have you been up to?"

"Raising hell, as usual. How about yourself?"

"Been learning about the Net. I'm surprised how many of my friends from the web are here. I'm having a ball."

"Me too." There was one of those awkward silences, then I was saved by a tink!

"'Scuse me a second," I said, then checked my mail.

"Feel like a party and a pizza? My place, ten minutes."

It was from Kiora. "Wanna go to a party?" I asked Dark, grinning hopefully.

"Where at?"


"You're on!"

We zipped over to Kiora's place and found people already arriving. I was chatting away with TheVampire, another long-lost friend (jeez, was I really the last one out of all my friends to get on the Net?) when Dark appeared out of nowhere and put an arm around my waist in a somewhat possessive manner. "The pizza's here," he said, not quite giving Vamp a dirty look.

Vamp looked from Darklord to me with a raised eyebrow, and I lost the battle to keep from grinning like a fool. "C'mon, then, let's go get some."

After plenty of pizza and soda had been moved into the chat room (virtual food was filling, but of absolutely no nutritional value), everybody got settled on the floor or the couches scattered about and settled down to some serious partying.

We were watching, of all things, the Rocky Horror Picture Show when I got a T-mail. I raised my head from Dark's shoulder and checked the box.

"Is this my desert kitty?"

"Oh holy shit!" I said aloud. "It's Shadow!"

"Yes, it's me. Wanna uplink?"

"I just invited a very good friend of mine here," I said to Darklord. Then he arrived.

"Shadow!" I called, vaulting over some people on the floor. I flew into his arms for a big hug. Where have you been? I really missed you! Why did you never write?

Easy there, desert kitty, he laughed, holding me closer. Who's the young man that looks like he wants to do me some serious damage? A friend?

At the same time I caught a thought from Darklord. Who's this, Ms. Kitty?

Uh-oh. I pulled away from Shadow, who didn't want to let go. Easy, Dark, he's my brother- in spirit, anyway. He's also a high priest, and married. Listen in, if you'd like.

A bit more than a friend, Shadow.

But what about me?

What about you?

I thought you were my desert kitty, and he took my hands. I squeezed gently, then retrieved them again.

Shadow, you're married, I said firmly. You are one of my very best friends, and closer to me than my own brother, but not in that way. And even if you weren't married, ignoring me for over six months is not the way to get me interested in anything of a romantic nature.

He sighed pathetically. And here I was hoping you'd give me an excuse to leave my wife...

Prick, Dark commented. I had to fight back a laugh, especially since the thought echoed my own. "Not this time, my friend. So tell me what you were doing for the last six months." I went back to the couch and sat down next to Dark, who wrapped his arm around me and glared at Shadow. Too many hormones in this room, I thought, careful to keep it to myself. I snuggled closer still, feeling my insides having a war again.

Shadow and I had quite a bit of catching up to do. It seemed he had lost touch with me because he was working on the Net. Fancy that, one of my friends helped develop my new "home!" I forgave him for being so elusive- mostly.

After numerous pizzas and many movies had been consumed, people began to drift away. Dark and I said our farewells and left the chat room. In the entry of Kiora's place, he caught my arm as I was about to leave. "Not so fast," he said aloud, then, We need to talk.

Oh fuck. Here it comes. My insides instantly knotted up, but I went along meekly to his home. He pulled me into the study and shut the door.

"What's going on here, Kitty?" Oh shit, I was shaking like a leaf and he could surely feel it. He held both my hands. I couldn't look away from his intense gaze.

"What do you mean?" Damn, damn, damn- my voice was shaking too.

"I mean, with us. C'mere." He pulled me with him to the overstuffed leather couch and we sat on it. I made a huge effort to relax.

"I like you, Dark," I muttered, blushing furiously and hoping my stomach would settle.

"And I like you too, but every time I try to get a little closer, you pull back. What's wrong? Is it something to do with that Shadow guy?"

I looked up, away from my hand that he was still holding, surprised. "No, of course not. It's something else entirely."

"Then what? What is it that upsets you so badly?"

"Do you remember when we first met?" He nodded. "Did I tell you then that I had just been dumped by my oh-so-lovely husband?" Thoughtful look, then another nod.

"So it's what, then? Do I remind you of him?"

That actually made me laugh a little. "No, Dark, but I'm all messed up inside still. When you touch me, I sometimes remember him, and that makes me ill. I can't stand the thought of him touching me anymore, and I am afraid of what my memory will do to me."

It sounded stupid when I tried to put it into words that way. Dark, I whispered into his mind. This is what I mean... and I sent him the confusion of emotions which scared and upset me so badly when I was with him.

I see what you mean, he replied thoughtfully. But what if you just relax for a moment... Forget about him, he was an asshole anyway. This is me here now, not him. I will not hurt you. As he spoke, he was tracing his fingers lightly, teasingly, up my arm. I started shaking again. Across my shoulder, up my neck, along my jaw to my chin... His touch was leaving goosebumps behind. He turned my face so I had to look at him. How are we ever supposed to be more than friends if you run every time I come near? This is me now, and I will not let a stupid memory take away my Kitty.

Then he kissed me gently. I flinched, but nothing bad happened. He was right, I had to get rid of those old memories somehow. But the physical memories were a part of my body, impossible to forget. Perhaps, whispered an inner part of myself, it is time to reclaim your own body... Hesitantly, I kissed him back. I kept my eyes wide open, to show myself that this was Darklord here, holding me in his arms.

"Look at me," I said, pulling away slightly. "I'm shaking like a virgin. Are you going to hate me if I can't handle much of anything right away?"

"No, of course not. I'm just glad to know, finally, that you care about me."

"I do," I said, closing my eyes and kissing him again. Was my problem simply that I had forgotten how to care? That I could only remember the combination of lust and loathing that my previous relationship had turned into? My hands began to wander, drifting along his strong body. He certainly felt different than...

Omigod. I had to stop and shake for a moment.

My Kitty, my poor sweet kitty... How can I make up for what he has done to you? I'll find a way... He held me gently, not demanding anything, just offering comfort and caring. I relaxed into his arms. This I was comfortable with, something familiar from many long nights of staying up late and talking. When the shaking eased, a warmth spread through me. I felt wanted and secure, for the first time in many years. I must have dozed off, because I woke up with my head on his shoulder and his hand stroking my hair.

"You're okay now, aren't you." It was a statement, not a question. He kissed my forehead and I smiled.

"As okay as I ever am," I laughed a little. And it was true. I seemed to have found some sort of peace inside. I reached up to stroke his face, and the old memories did not paralyze me.

"Maybe you'd better go home now. You're tired, I'm tired..."

"Then again, maybe you'd let me stay right here in your arms and be happy..."

"I wouldn't have a problem with that... Ever wonder how it is that we don't really have to sleep on the Net if we don't want to?"

"Yeah, sometimes. Just don't try it in RL- I did, before I got the hang of putting my body to bed and then coming back. God, was I ever tired! It got so bad that it was affecting me even here."

All the various stresses of he evening were catching up to even my Netself, though, and no amount of willpower would keep me awake. I was aware of Darklord saying something, but I was just kind of drifting in that half-aware state that comes before sleep. My last thought was of wonder, at how warm and safe I felt in Dark's arms.

I can't believe this is happening, I thought very privately. In real life, my body was driving to work. On the Net, I was staring at Darklord while he slept. He had dropped off too, it would seem. I was feeling very mushy inside, and quite emotionaly unstable, but somehow I was dealing with the horrors. Of course, I was still having flashbacks, but the situation was definitely improving. Perhaps there was hope for me yet. The online me drifted back off to sleep, while the rest of me suggested that sleep would be a very sensible thing to do at five am. I told my real body to shut up and reached for some lifesaving caffeine.

Eventually I got to work. I paused in my truck before going in and woke up my Netself.

"Darklord, wake up," I whispered into his ear.


"C'mon, wake up. I need to go away now." I kissed him. That did it. He woke up with a smile on his face.

"Do you have to go?"

"Yes, I have to. I'm sorry, I'm at work. You know how I feel about getting bit..."

"Mmm-hmm, and I don't want you to get bit, but still..." He sighed, then smiled. "See you later. And don't even think of hiding from me."

"Would I do that? T-mail me. I'm not going anywhere." We kissed again, then I went to work.

The day was quite interesting. From about nine to fourish, I was chatting via T-mail with both Shadow and Darklord. I had fun, actually. It was enjoyable to match wits with Shadow again. He and I always managed to challenge each other's thinking. And then, of course, there was Darklord. He was feeling very affectionate today, and being quite sweet. I could hardly wait to get uplinked to see him again.

Life settled into a pleasant routine. T-mailing kept part of my mind occupied during the day, as did writing stories. I had a feeling Shadow was trying to win me away from Darklord, but he just didn't stand a chance. Even if I hadn't had Dark, I would still have a big problem with his willingness to be unfaithful.

Time passed. I can't say it was uneventful, because I was having a wonderful time, but none of it was nearly as exciting as what was in store.

I had popped into a chat room with Dark and Kiora while I ate lunch when the Net froze up and booted me. I landed back in my body with an offended jolt, only to find I couldn't move. I was frozen into position, sitting on my grooming table about to take a bite of my wrap sandwich. Then my body stood up- without me telling it to!!- and I dropped my lunch.

Testing... testing... The test of the experimental Control Program is now in progress. Testing... testing...

The voice was in my head, and very loud. I struggled to move something, anything- to even get off a T-mail to anyone. Nothing happened. Then, eerily, my head turned. Left, right, then forward, my head turned without any help from me.

This test is now concluded.

With that, control returned to me and I sank down on my table, shaking. Tink!

"Are you all right? What the hell was that?" Concerned co-workers began asking me questions, while in my head I got T-mail from almost everyone I knew, all of it saying basically the same thing.

"That's what I would like to know," I replied to my manager grimly. I uplinked again while I cleaned the remains of my lunch off the floor.

"Are you okay, Kitt? What the hell was that?" Kiora looked as shaken up as I felt. Then Dark appeared and latched on to me. So glad you're okay...

"Conspiracy theory, anyone?" All I could think of was one of those damned secret government operations, the kind that the elected officials always denied the existence of. Only the government could be behind this mess.

"I can't fucking believe this," Dark said, letting me go. I grabbed his hand and held on tight.

"Me either. We all are just a bunch of sitting ducks, as long as we're on the Net. How the hell do we get out of this one?" Ki was just as upset as I was.

"I'm gonna find out. I know someone that will tell me what we're up against here. I'm assuming you ladies want to fight this thing?"

"With everything I've got," I replied. "No fucking government bastard is going to take control of my body without a fight."

"Right," Kiora said. "Count me in if there's anything to be done."

Dark kissed me, then left. "This sucks," I commented.

"You can say that again. I can't believe I lost control of my body!"

I shuddered. It was worse than anything I could think of in comparison. I went back to work, and began the long process of answering all those T-mails.


"Come uplink with me and Kiora- it's really important."

Uh-oh, sounds like he found something. I opened my front door, grateful that the message arrived when I got home. "Give me a minute," I replied, taking a few moments to let my pets out to potty and ensure my own comfort. Then I uplinked.

"Took you long enough," Kiora grinned.

"Sorry, dogs had to pee. I couldn't just make them hold it, now could I?"

"In that case, I'll forgive you."

"So what's up, Dark?" I turned to face him. He looked nervous and upset.

"I found out a whole lot of shit that I didn't really want to know." He sat on a beanbag chair and I joined him. His arms went around me, but he was rather distracted.

"Well? Spit it out." Ki was impatient.

"It's the BOS," he said. "They made the BOS with a master override that allows one user ultimate control of up to a million minds. And that one user is in the government- of course. They are planning on taking over all BOS users and using them to create the New World Order. It's not just in this country, either- people all over the world experienced that test today."

"Okay, that's about what I expected," I said. Ki nodded, looking thoughtful. "Now what do we do about it?"

"I've been thinking. The person I talked to said there's no way to get around the BOS once it's installed. She also said that removal of the Netplant causes immediate death."

"Oh fuck. That sure's hell wasn't in the fine print. What about a loophole in the program? Is there a backdoor to get in and make changes?"

"When are they planning to do this?" Kiora asked intently, leaning forward.

"As soon as they get the bugs worked out. Apparently, no one was supposed to hear the voice that we all heard. They expect to run at least three more tests."

"Well, you know how the government works," I joked mournfully. "That means we have about three more years."

"Is your person reliable?"

"Yes, quite," Dark replied, with a slight smile. I knew better than to ask for confirmation, but I thought I knew who his source was. His mother was one of the higher-ups.

"Do you know how to get a copy of the source code for the BOS? I may be able to do something."

"That's right! I forgot, you're hot shit with programs!" I grinned. In comes Kiora to save the day.

"Same here." I blinked in surprise. I hadn't known that Dark was into programming. "I can get the source, but I'll need to work on it IRL, because they can find it anywhere on a computer or the Net. Ki, Kitt, what say we meet somewhere in the real world?"

"I hate to say it," I said reluctantly, "but I would be very little use, unless you need someone with web and Net design skills. I can't program worth shit."

"Damn. Too bad. Ki?"

"I can get away for a while. I'm overdue for a vacation, nobody will think twice if I take it now. Where?"

"The middle of nowhere, by preference."

"That would be my place," I grinned. "Fifty miles away from anything else, and I still have a fully stocked disaster shelter- with escape route."

"Excellent! I'll be out there as soon as I get the code."

"I'll be out in about a week," Ki said. She looked excited. "I have to give notice, or I'll lose my job."

I gave them the appropriate directions, a bit shivery with excitement. This was scary, but thrilling. I could hardly wait to see Darklord in the flesh.


I jumped, straightening from the horse's water bucket. Nobody called me that IRL, which meant he was here. I saw him standing hesitantly by the tack shed. "Dark! You made it!" Then I hurried over- not quite running, but close- and he held out his arms, smiling. I discovered RL hugs were much nicer than Net hugs, because all my attention was in one place.

"Hello, my Kitty," he murmured into my neck, kissing his way up towards my lips.

"Mmmm... Hel-lo," I said, feeling his strong warm body against mine. I was very glad the Net had prepared me for this meeting- I wouldn't have wanted to spoil it by freaking out. "How was the trip?" I said, in between kisses. "No trouble finding the place?"

"None at all, but can we get out of the open now? I'd rather not be seen." He pulled away a little, to look into my eyes. "It is so good to finally see you in person."

"Yeah, it is." Big smile. "Come on." I led him into my house, where the main entrance for my shelter was hidden. I had built it a few years back, for the big Millennium scare, and hadn't needed it. I still kept it stocked, though, since it was a good idea- just in case.

"Too bad this is a business trip," he said, glancing down the hall towards my bedroom with a wicked smile.

"Surely you won't be working all the time?"

"See this backpack?" He pulled it off his back and showed it to me. "This is the code."

"Oh fuck." It was full. "Good luck."


We descended into the shelter. It was a rather dim and depressing room, for all that I had tried to make it as spacious as possible to combat claustrophobia. Cement walls, shelves of supplies, a card table and chairs, a cot with blankets and a pillow folded up on it- all of it was lit by a single bare bulb hanging down from the ceiling, and none of it looked very welcoming. "Here you go," I said. "Home sweet home. But Dark," and I grinned, suddenly realizing something. "You'll have to come up for air now and again. There's only one bed down here, and I ain't sleeping with Kiora!"

"Ooh, tricky Kitty," he said, dropping the backpack and taking my hands. "I promise, whenever I can't stand looking at another line of code, I'll come crawl in your bed. Just remember, you asked for it..." He grinned mischieviously.

I smiled. "Is that a threat, or a promise? Sounds like a little of both."

"Oh, it is, my Kitty, it is indeed."

"Remember, I bite," I said, nibbling on his neck.

"So do I..."

After I recovered from the tingly sensation caused by getting my own neck bitten, I took a deep breath and returned to business. "Is there anything you need?"

"Yes, actually. I left some stuff out in front of your house, before I found you."

So we went to pick up his stuff. It was a suitcase and a box, which proved to contain clothing and an old computer.

"I brought the old one because there's no modem," he said. "It's not networked to anything, never has been, so there's no way to track it."

"Can it handle what you've got to do?"

"It's slow, but it can take it. All I need it for is-"

"Wait," I interrupted. "Don't tell me. It's probably way over my head anyway, and given the nature of what you're doing, I don't really want to know."

"Oh, yeah. Right. I guess I'll get started then."

"I know this is a project of earth-shattering importance, but could I interest you in having dinner with me?"

He smiled, a sweet and loving smile. "Of course, my Kitty," he said, then began to get himself set up.

The next week was a combination of both heaven and hell. During the days, while I was at work, Dark struggled with the immense task of understanding the complexities of the BOS. I worried about him constantly, afraid that someone would figure out where he was and what he was doing. But then at night, I'd lure him out of his lair and we'd spend some time together.

Then Kiora arrived. "They gave me hell," she said, dropping her duffel bag on the ground with an unceremonious thud.

"Who did?"

"Everybody. The airports, the people at work- the security guards even tried to detain me, because somebody thought they saw something that might have been metal in my bag. Turned out to be my space pen. I swear I've been being watched on the Net." She flopped down on the as yet unused cot against the wall. "There's been someone I don't even know asking after both of you. Maybe you'd better be seen on the Net, Kitt."

"I'm a chicken," I said. "I haven't uplinked with anyone lately. Maybe you're right. I'll put in an appearance sometime."

After a while, I got out of their hair. I started something for dinner for all of us, then uplinked and wandered around my usual haunts. I was very disturbed. Most of my friends had been contacted by some stranger that was looking for me.

I downlinked after hearing the same story for what felt like the hundredth time. No one could give any details, beyond the name- Bluebird. I knew no one, anywhere, that used that name. I went down to the shelter.

"Anyone know a Bluebird?" I asked. Dark didn't even look up, just shook his head. Kiora did, surprised.

"That's not the name I got," she said. "It was a Knightstalker that I talked to."

"Oh great, now there's two of them."

Stress and worry, stress and worry. Kiora and Darklord were actually writing something to counteract the BOS override command, but now I scarcely saw either of them. I brought them dinner every night, and kept an eternal supply of caffeine on hand, but both of them were obsessed. I would find them passed out over notes or the keyboard quite often. I became adept at wrestling unconscious bodies onto the cot without waking them. The shelter was beginning to take on the look of a disaster area.

Then Sunday, something unexpected happened. I was out riding my horse when I got a T-mail... an unsigned T-mail. Theoretically, that was impossible. All Net users left behind a signature when they did anything, even sending T-mail.

"Tell your friends they have six hours to leave. They have been located."

"Oh fuck," I said. My horse, Adi, twitched an ear, then snorted with surprise as I whirled him around and booted him. He took off at a full gallop, flying down the dirt road at a speed that made me wonder how he had ever washed out as a racehorse. We pounded into my yard and I vaulted off his back almost before he stopped, ground-tying him and flying into the shelter.

"I just got an anonymous warning, guys," I told the two, with their identical startled looks. "You've been discovered, and you have six hours to get away."

"Fuck me! Now what?" Dark was frozen for a second, then he began collecting his papers. "Dammit, we were really getting close. We need to finish this thing."

"Any suggestions?" Kiora asked, likewise stuffing papers into her duffel. A least they were acting, rather than freaking.

"Take my spare car. It's not much, but it'll get you somewhere. Beyond that, I don't want to know." I went upstairs and found the keys to the little Geo I drove when my Suburban was in the shop or otherwise incapacitated. By the time I got back, they were ready. I was impressed. "That was quick."

"Paranoia has its uses," Dark said. "I've been expecting this, and I know where to go now."

I hugged Kiora. "Stay safe," I said. Then I turned to Darklord.

"Um, I'll be out front." Ki left hastily.


"Not much to say, is there." He held me close. "Why don't you come along?"

"I can't. You know that. Remember? You're the one that pointed it out to me. Somebody's got to get the word out, in case..."

"I know, I know. But that doesn't mean I have to like it." He kissed me, far too briefly for my liking, then started to walk away. "See you."

"Yeah, see you. Good luck."

Then he was out the door.

You know all the stories you hear about the men in black? Well, they came to my house, precisely six hours and eleven minutes after I had received the message without a signature. They went through my house with disturbing thoroughness, looking for traces of Darklord and Kiora. Of course, they found the shelter, but the only damning thing there was a lack of dust, and I brushed that off by saying that I cleaned it periodically. For once, the rest of my house was clean, so that didn't sound too farfetched. By the time they left, I had tension knots everywhere. I hoped Kiora and Darklord were safe. These men were scary.

Apart from staying away from the Net, I went about my life as normally as possible. I tried to ignore the aching hole inside, where Darklord should have been, and realized that I had gotten way too attached to him. The only thing that kept me sane was the comforting presence of my pets, who had held me together through far too many emotional crises to count.


It woke me up. I checked my mail, apprehensive when I saw another unsigned T-mail. I opened it anyway.

"We did it! Uplink and meet us in your home."

Wondering if I was doing something incredibly stupid, I uplinked to my entryway. There were two- things- there. They looked a lot like the Bit from the old movie Tron.

"Hey Ms. Kitty!" one of them said, then shifted and changed into Darklord. But he didn't look like his avatar anymore, he looked like he did in real life- dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, not the fantasy-style clothing of before.

"What happened to you?" I asked, curiously reluctant to approach.

"We're free!" Kiora said, still as a Bit. "We did it!"

"Congratulations! Now what did you do?"

"The BOS was interfaced with an undisclosed biolink, which was in turn linked in to a vast bionetwork. Somewhere there is a database containing the biological signature of every Net user, which is how our physical characteristics translate into the avatars and everything we do leaves a traceable signature. Kiora and I developed a program that circumvents these links, cutting us free of the bionetwork and making us invisible to the Master Control Program."

"Have you been watching Tron again?"

"Not I, sweet Kitty," he said, with a weary smile. Kiora flew around the room.

"Whee! This is fun. I haven't had much time to play with this flying stuff."

"So, do I get to be free too?" I was getting a little worried. He hadn't even come near me. What if he'd changed his mind?

"That's the bad part," he said. My heart plummeted into my computer-generated boots. "You can join us by loading the Renegade program that we wrote, but it's going to hurt like hell."

"Oh, is that all?" I was relieved. "If that's what it takes to be free of these fucking control experiments, then I will be glad to hurt like hell." They had done another one just this morning. The voice could barely be heard this time, but I was still fully conscious of my body obeying someone else's command to stand up, sit down, and lay flat on the ground. What a hideous experience.

"Just remember, you asked for it..." He reached out and took my hands. Kiora settled on my shoulder. "Here, when you get this, click on Run immediately."

"Okay." He sent me a file via T-mail. I opened it, saw that it was encrypted, and found the one comprehensible word- Run. I clicked on it, and was immediately plunged into fire. I gritted my teeth, and gripped Dark's hands so hard that part of me wondered if it was possible to break bones by squeezing. But I didn't scream, and after an eternal time of burning,the fire eased away and I was able to think again.

"What the hell?" I stared around me in amazement, although with what I didn't know. My eyes had vanished, along with the rest of me, and I was a Bit too. "Somebody really was watching too much Tron." The landscape looked just like the movie did, an endless glowing grid stretching through the blackness.

"Yeah, well, you know how flakey programmers get sometimes. This is the Net. Be careful what you think in here, it might happen."

"Thanks for the warning," I said absently, drifting about and looking. It wasn't exactly like the old movie. At the joining of every line, there was a little bump, with tendrils dangling from it. "What are those?"

"Those are people. Every one of those bumps is a Netuser's homesite. Each community is a different color. If you get into the bumps, you can use the connecting lines to contact anyone on the Net."

"Amazing. So, now that we're free, now what?"

"We need to spread the word. Come on, let's go back to your place. Folow me."

He showed me how to pick out my own bump and get into it. My homesite looked just the same as it always did. Weird. "Where's Kiora?" I asked, having just realized she was missing.

"Beats me," Dark said, resuming a human shape. I thought myself back into my body as well, and was suddenly enveloped in his embrace.

"I'm so glad you're okay," he said, kissing me. "That last test had me worried. What if they had done something to you?"

"I don't know what they could have done," I said distractedly, running my hands up his back and pulling him even closer.

"All sorts of nasty things." His hands were making explorations as well.

"I missed you," I said, not wanting to get into the "nasty things" right now.

"I missed you, too. Very badly."

"How badly?"

"Let me show you..."

Life as a Renegade was rather odd. The three of us began recruiting friends to the fight against the MCP, while I continued to live fairly normally. Dark and Kiora were stuck finding new places to live, where they were not known by anybody. Dark refused to live with me, saying that he didn't want them to get both of us. I could agree with that in principle, but I still wished I could have persuaded him otherwise. They charged me with creating a Renegade hideout, and making it safe for all of us. This kept me occupied most of the time. It was harder than I thought it would be, making a secure homesite with defenses. At least now I could make things that had no signature. The hideout was completely invisible to non-Renegades.

People were eager to join our group. Fortunately, there was a thorough selection process that weeded out many potential traitors. Darklord spoke at the weekly meetings, keeping everybody fired up. Then came the fun stuff.

"You want me to do what?"

"You heard me. I want you to build us a stronghold, a safe place where we can hide out."

"Your turn now, Kitt," Ki grinned at me. "After all, you did volunteer- remember?" "Me and my big mouth," I groaned, half serious. This would be an enormous task, I could tell already.

"Come on," Dark wheedled, turning the sad-puppy-dog-eyes on full strength. "Neither one of us knows much about Netdesign. Do you really want to see what would happen if we did it?"

"Okay, okay, I'll do it," I laughed. "But what exactly am I doing?"

Kiora looked at me like I'd grown horns. "We need a safe place, where we can all hide out."

"But how many will there be? What kind of place am I making?"

Darklord got a really thoughtful look on his face. "I think it should be like a permanent home, whatever it is." Something was bothering him. I caught his eye, and he shook his head just slightly. I let it drop- for now.

"Should it be like a military thing? I mean, going up against a worldwide conspiracy, we might need some defenses."

"Yeah, I think so," Dark said.

"And how many should I plan for? Has anybody even bothered to figure out what exactly we're doing here? I mean, it's obvious that we're going up against the MCP, but how? And what happens when we win?"

"When... I like that, Kitt," Dark grinned. "Nice positive attitude."

"Hmm..." I could tell Kiora was already deep in thought. She could tune out the entire world once she got focused on a problem.

"I need to go to bed IRL," I said. "I'll start making a place tomorrow at work. It can always be changed later."

I got up and started to leave. Dark rose also and caught me on my way out. "Meet me at my place after you're settled?"

"Sure thing," I smiled. I loved the fact that my consciousness could remain alert and active on the Net while my body slept. Even if I couldn't manage to navigate my house in the darkness while uplinked... Ah, well. It could go the other way, too- I could sleep on the Net while my body continued whatever it was doing. That was kind of neat, as part of me coud take a nap while I was at work or stuck in traffic.

I downlinked briefly and took care of my physical body. It felt odd to be in flesh again- I had been uplinked almost constantly this weekend. I made a mental note to ride Adi extra long tomorrow- poor guy, hadn't hardly gotten any excercise. Then I returned to Darklord's home at the SciFiLink, to find him there waiting for me. "What's up?"

"I just wanted to talk to you, that's all. I've been thinking about what we're setting out to do here."

"Me too. It's kind of scary." I drifted over to the couch I had made for him, sprawling comfortably across the cushions.

"It is, at that." He settled into the built-in recliner at the end of the couch. "Why are we doing this?"

"Because none of us likes to be controlled."

"Yeah, I guess so. But we're free. Why should we bother to fight for other peoples' freedom?"

"Wait a minute, this realy sucks..." I sat up and turned around, laying so my head was in his lap and I was no longer talking to the couch arm. He smiled and began playing with my hair. "Much better. We're doing it because we all know it is wrong for all those people to be controlled against their will. Sure, you can ask why we should do it, but would you honestly be able to live with yourself if you didn't at least make the effort? I mean, really, we can make a difference here. We know something that can actually influence the entire world, and perhaps do so in a good way."

"Yeah, I know. But what if we fail?"

"We won't," I said, with more confidence than I felt. "There's no way some lousy governement plan is going to defeat us."

"I hope not."

It was ugly. No two ways about it, the shelter I was making was undeniably ugly. I sighed. Ah well, no help for it- Darklord wanted a safe place for Renegades to hide out, not a work of art. I surveyed the large bunker, wondering yet again why Dark insisted it be set up as though we were going to live there.

Dammit! The surface was rippling again. That could only mean one thing... once again, I had gotten the dimensions wrong on something inside. With a resigned sigh, I called up the program yet again.

Surface structure, okay. Main corridor, fine. Meeting hall, just peachy. I worked my way through every aspect of the program, checking sizes and other values. It wasn't until I got to the secondary defensive system that I found the problem- an unspecified perimeter value. Grumbling at myself, I fixed the problem and T-mailed Dark.

"C'mere, you've got to see this..."

"In a minute..." he replied. I sat down on a strand of the Net to wait. Even after a couple weeks of freedom, I still found the reality of the Net somewhat disconcerting. The endless stretches of glowing gridwork made me uncomfortable, and as for the responsiveness of the environment...!! In here, thoughts sometimes became reality, whether the thinker intended them to or not.

"What's up?" Dark appeared beside me.

"This," I said, gesturing at the bunker. "That's it?"

I gritted my teeth and decided to ignore the tone of incredulity in his voice.

"Doesn't look like much- on the outside, anyway. That's good, though. Gonna give me the grand tour?"

"Sure thing." I rose from my strand of Net and showed him into the only entrance. Once inside the squatty brownish-grey bunker, things changed dramatically. I had taken great pains with the inside, since the outside was so unforgivingly ugly. I took him through the whole place, showing him everything from the living quarters (why the hell did he want those, anyway?), to the command center. I was gratified by the amazed look on his face as we toured my construction.

"And this is the defense system," I said, coming to the last part of the tour. "I tried to work in a defense for every single threat I could imagine, and I also put in manual controls for the threats I couldn't imagine. What do you think?"

"I'm impressed. I knew you would do a good job, Kitty. Is everything ready for people to start moving in?"

"Yes, it is. But... moving in? Why do you make it sound so, well, permanent?"

"Tell you later, okay? For now, I want to get in touch with a few friends and bring them here tonight."


"I think we'll start small. Just a few people that we know can be trusted. I was thinking maybe TheVampire, and Ofia... how about Artman, too?"

"Sure. And don't forget about Kaylyn, too. She'd be into this, I know."

"Yeah. Okay, I'll send out the invites. I'll have them meet me at my place, okay?"

"Sounds good. We'll have to lead them here- it's damn near invsible to non-Renegades, unless they know the specific address."

"Renegades, huh? I like the sound of that." And he was off. I wondered what he had in store for our friends tonight.

"Okay, um, I guess you're all wondering what's up." Darklord looked nervous as hell, standing there in front of us. We were all in his chatroom- Vamp, Ofia, Artman, Kaylyn, Kiora, and me. I was the only one with any idea of what was up, and even I didn't know what he had planned to say. "So, I guess the easiest way would be to start at the beginning." He took a deep breath, glanced quickly at each of us, and began. "You all remember the first test of the Experimental Control Program, right? Well, some of us didn't like that, and decided to do something about it. Kitti, Kiora, and I all got together in real life and worked out a way to get out of this mess. See, when we all got the Netplant, there were some things they didn't tell us. Like, this is permanent- removal of the Netplant causes instant death. And like, there is an override system in place which allows one user to control the minds of all BOS users." He paused for a moment to let the outraged muttering die down. "We all loaded the program that Ki and I wrote, and now we're free." He transformed into a Bit and hung there, watching.

"How'd you do that?"

"Holy shit!"

"How do you know about this override?" Ofia's question was audible over the general fuss, and Dark changed back into himself to reply.

"I have a friend in a high place, and she was able to get the information I asked for, along with a copy of the source code for the BOS." Ki groaned, and I grinned at her sympathetically.

"How does the override work?" Artman looked sharp and interested..

"Ki?" Dark looked questioningly at her, then sat down as she took up the challenge.

"Well, it's like this," she began. "All of us have a unique biosignature..."

I tuned out Kiora's explanation, in favor of joining Darklord where he sat. He reached into the mini fridge that served as an end table and pulled out a bottle of water. I began rubbing his shoulders and neck gently. "So, what now?"

He took a drink, then closed his eyes and leaned back into my hands. "Ahh... Now we need to recruit them to our cause." He sat up and grinned at me. "Sounds rather pompous, doesn't it? But we need their help."


"What the hell was that?" Dark asked, looking up from his work.

"That, my dear, was the first line of defense being activated."

I raced through the strings of power, reaching the entrance of the compound I had built in time to see a metallic monster attacking the door. Whump! A heavy laser beam shot out of the hidden cannon, bowling the spidery thing over. I could see another smoking carcass to one side.

"What the hell is that thing?" Dark hollered down at the gate guards. He had appeared right after me.

"I don't know," a guard yelled back. "Whatever it is, it chased three of our people through the grid."

"Fucking grid bugs," I said, half joking.

"They okay?"

"Yeah. They went to your office to report."

He was off before I turned away from the smoking hulks down below. Suddenly I was glad I had insisted on making this place so well-defended.

"What do you mean, you thought it was a good idea?"

I emerged into Darklord's office in time to catch him dressing down three new recruits. He had gone well beyond anger, and was into cold fury now. I shivered at the tone of his voice, glad it wasn't directed at me.

"Isn't that what we're here for?" one of them asked belligerently, then added, "sir?"

"Why don't you tell Kittitu here what you did to bring those things here."

"We pulled off a successful hit on a government establishment." Foolhardy or not, he did have guts.

"What the hell were you thinking?" I asked, taking a slightly different tactic from Dark. "Did you have a plan?" Nod. "Backup?" Blank look. "How about a way to cover your trail?" you dipshit, I added in my head. Slightly shamefaced look. One of the other daredevils hung his head and scuffed his feet, for all the world like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Did you even know the defenses were armed?"

"No, sir." This time the honorific came out unforced.

Your turn, I thought to Dark. I continued to glare at the men- hardly more than boys, really- as Dark picked up smoothly where I had left off.

"Were you successful?"

"Yes, sir!" said the spokesman, looking up from the interesting spot on the floor. "We were able to disable one of the main mind control propaganda generators."

"Did they see you?"

The look of puzzlement on his face was priceless. "Yes, sir."

"Did they follow you and discover the whereabouts of this secret outpost?"

"Yes, sir." He was back to speaking to the spot again.

"Then I would hardly call the raid a success. Report to Kiora Kenobi now. She knows what to do with you."

The three filed out of the office slowly.

"What's going on in that devious brain of yours?" I asked, as the door closed. I recognized that thoughtful look.

"They had the right idea," he said slowly. "We need to start doing something about the foul corruption that the government is spreading through people's minds. But we must be more careful about it. What do you suggest?"

"Don't ask me, ask Vamp. He's a sneaky bastard if I ever saw one. I'll just go back to working on that random location generator."

If I could succeed with that one, it would be my pride and joy. It would move the compound randomly through the Net, making us nearly impossible to find. True, we were invisible to non-Renegades, but someone knew we were in this general area. The government would like nothing better than to get their hands on us. In addition to the extra security of such a measure, it would also cut down on the number of pathetic fools we got presenting themselves at our SciFiLink homesites constantly. New members were selected. They did not just walk up and say "I wanna be a Renegade" and get in.

"You do that," he sad, smiling. I enjoyed it while it lasted. He hadn't smiled much lately. "I'll talk to Vamp."

Taking the hint, I left. I returned to my favorite working place, only to be drawn back to RL by the sound of the dogs barking. Damn, there was somebody at the door.

"Can I help you?" I asked the well-dressed man on my porch.

"Are you Marina Callahan?"

I didn't respond, somewhat shocked.

"Also known as Kittitu Skywalker, Renegade?"

I slammed the door and ran. I was halfway to the shelter and escape when the T-mail caught me. Out of habit, I opened it. I froze, hand on the latch to the door in my floor, when the meaning of the words sunk in.

"Some welcome, desert kitty. I didn't come all this way to get a door slammed in my face."

I slowly replaced the rug and returned to the door. "Shadow?"

"In the flesh," he grinned, hugging me.

"Well, why didn't you say so instead of scaring me half to death? Come in."

He did. We went into the living room and sat down, me in the chair and him on the couch. "I wanted to surprise you," he said, looking around. "Nice place."

"Thanks. You definitely surprised me. How'd you know I'm a Renegade? I haven't seen you on the Net since before I did it."

"I guessed. I knew you were close with the two instigators of that particular piece of nastiness, so I figured you'd be in on it too. Have you heard from them lately?"

Some thread of caution stopped my answer. "No, not since I did it," I said instead. Shadow was acting strangely, and for the first time since I had met him I decided to watch what I said around him.

"Why did you do it?"

"Because, I don't like getting taken over by some government bastard. Did you like it when the tests were conducted?"

"What tests?"

I felt sick. No, it couldn't be- not Shadow! "You know, you really came at a bad time. If you had called ahead, I would have cancelled my plans, but as you can see-" I gestured at my clothing, hoping he wouldn't know that it was the same kind of outfit I wore all the time- "I am on my way to see a movie with a friend. Why don't you come back tomorrow? Or are you in town just for the day?"

"I'm here for as long as it takes," he replied, with a strange look in his eyes. "As long as it takes to save my desert kitty from herself." With that, he stood up and walked out the door. I watched through the window until he was gone, then flew around the house, gathering what I would need. I had planned what to do in this situation, I was-

A sudden pain in my chest doubled me over. "Darklord!" I howled, knowing it had something to do with him.


"It's me, Kitty. Something bad happened, and I had to use my emergency plan. Can you uplink?"

I did. He was there, but kind of wispy looking. "They found me, Kitty. They just killed my body, but I was able to upload-"

"They killed you?!"

"Just my body. See? I'm still here. I never told you about the emergency plan Kiora and I built into the Renegade program. If it looks like all is lost, then go here-" and he showed me a spot I had noticed before, in the back corner of my mind. "Click here, and give the command Upload. Your consciousness will be transfered completely into the Net. Got that?"

"Got it," I replied. "Look, I've been found too. I have to get the hell out of here. Shadow's a traitor."

"Damn him! Get to safety, my Kitty. I'll be here waiting for you."

I launched back into action, preparing to leave. Tears were streaming down my face, because even though Dark was still on the Net, the body that had taught me what it was to be loved again was dead. I headed out to my truck with the first load and froze. Shadow was there. In full uniform. A new uniform, for a New World Order. Damn him.

"Don't move, my desert kitty," he said softly. "I've got men all around your house. You're not going anywhere."

"Damn you! Was it your order that killed him?" I screamed, hiding behind a screen of hysteria so I could prepare the way for the ultimate escape.

"It doesn't matter, desert kitty, he was marked out as soon as he began work on that program. I gave him as much chance as I could-"

"You," I said, dropping my load of bags. "It was you that sent the warning."

"Yes, I did, but I don't know why. I should have pulled the trigger then myself, instead of trying to save the man who took my kitty away. But I didn't want to hurt you, and I still don't. Come with me, be mine, stay with me forever-"

I saw the men coming out of the bushes, weapons trained on me.

"Fuck you, Shadow." I clearly heard the sound of hammers being cocked.

"Don't do it, kitty, it's dangerous!"

"Do what?"

"Don't upload! I don't care what he told you, it's not safe!"

"Like you really care," I said. Then, just before they began to fire, I snarled "Upload!"

My body pitched forward, even before the bullets hit. I remained aware of it long enough to see the look of horror on Shadow's face, then the despair as he caught my body to his chest and sank to the ground. Then I was uploaded onto the Net, to find Darklord there waiting for me.

Even after hundreds of years, the tale of Darklord and Kittitu Skywalker is still told with awe. Their boldness and sacrifice paved the way for the society you see here today. Their organization, the Renegades, was instrumental in destroying the corruption in the old government. The great visionary, Kiora Kenobi, stepped in with the new guidelines for government, which have scarcely changed over the intervening years. The Net... Well, the Net outlasted itself. The technology supporting it eventually collapsed, and two great heroes at last faded away into nothingness. On this day, two hundred years ago, Darklord and Kittitu sent their last message out to their people: Don't let it end. Then they went on to their well-earned rest.