It's a slow night in the Fairchild basement lab. I'm a novice hack whose access to a foreign site had just been unplugged by an overload of users. I have to try to cough up an article for a two-bit underground net-rag called the Collision. All this, and I think the batteries in my walkman are running low, but it's hard to tell because this part of my XTC tape sounds really weird anyway.
But that's not important. I reach over and try telnet again. No dice. All I'm doing is wasting my time, and at 5:45am, when the streets are empty and cold, and all I have are two nickels to rub together, all there *is* to do is waste time.
About this time, my imagination kicks in, and my tape player shuts off. Just as I switch over to Pink Floyd, in walks this tall, leggy brunette like something out of a 50's detective flick. Something about the look in her eyes chills me to the bone, and she sits down before I can offer her a seat. I put out my cigarette, in the ash tray, lean back in my chair, tilt my fedora back, and realize something: I don't even smoke.
Everything's changed. I'm sitting in a smoke-filled office, looking at a desk so cluttered with papers that the only way I'd clean it is with gasoline and a match. Even my clothes are different, being a nondescript brown suit of some unknown but much-stained material. The only connections with reality are a desk-top computer, a sign on the glass in the door that, when read backwards say simply "Lazarus Smith", and the strains of "Learning to Fly" coming from somewhere inside the room. I'm no longer weiring my headphones. Also, I wish that the desktop was a SparcStation.
"Mr. Smith!" says the gorgeous creature sitting opposite me. I realize that she's been speaking to me all the time, and though I'm paying more attention to my "new" wardrobe and surroundings, I can remnember everything she's said. She had been in a purely platonic relationship with a friend from work, but somehow evidence was being shown to her husband that she and this clerk were more than just friends. In short, she's being framed. Now she's looking at me as though I'm about to split wide open and turn into an Alien. I desperately wish I had a mirror, because I'm not sure I'm even me right now.
Well, I'm stuck where I am, so I might as well play along. I put on my best smile and my worst accent, and say "Mrs. Levitt, I'll be more than happy to take yer case, for five grand, with ten percent up front for insurance. You understand." That glint in her eyes tells me that she doesn't, but still she reaches into her purse with a white-gloved hand and pulls out a roll that would pay off my student loans in a heartbeat. She counts out five C-notes, and all of a sudden I have a job.
I light up a cigarette out of a habit I don't even have, and have Venus tell me all she knows. Her friend, the clerk, is your average Joe Niceguy. Not a lecherous bone in his body (and probably not calcified, either). Her husband is your typical, loving head of the household. Typical in that he's also the jealous type, and liable to believe it when somebody tells him his wife's cheating on him. And whoever is planting the phony clues is someone she's sure she doesn't know. A mysterious third party. Wonderful.
Finally, she leaves, with a hip-swing that makes me dizzy. Now I have *two* mysteries to solve. I reach down and open a desk drawer, and remove a pistol. I get a grip on it and realize, I somehow know how to *use* this thing. I also know what I'm doing when it comes to solving Mrs. Levitt's case. Quite a suprise, considering I'm a lowly college student struggling towards graduation in a field that I haven't even chosen yet.
I reach over to the ancient Wyse sitting on the desk and try raising Telnet again... a habit that *is* mine. The connection gets refused, which tells me that at least *something* is real around here. I suppose that I'd better get up and put in some footwork if I'm going to figure anything else out.
I put on a shoulder holster and pull on a leather longcoat, both actions being strangely familiar, yet totally alien, and I step out into the street...