By David Michael Williams
Quentin E. Donovan—the Quentin E. Donovan—sidestepped into an alley, closed his eyes, and did something he hadn’t done in nearly a decade.
A deliberate twitch of his left thumb, and the twin IRIS mods went offline. A whispered password triggered the auto-transcript program fueling a half-dozen feeds to quit, killing a headline about the latest Darknet virus mid-scroll. Finally, he removed the sleek, pearlescent PAM—an eighth-generation iCoin Pro—from his pocket and thumbed the command to repel all incoming V-captures.
No feeds, no casts, no signals whatsoever. He was completely grid-locked.
Without the translucent menus and rolling text in his periphery, the world seemed impossibly plain. And slightly pink. It took him a moment to realize his eyes were compensating for the absence of the green tinge that always coated the corners of his vision—a much-missed reassurance that the ocular implants were successfully uploading his sensory data to the Sphere.
He shivered, as though losing his connection to the local hotspots had actually reduced his body temperature. Real-life silence usurped the subtle, soothing soundtrack of white noise in his ears.
No wonder they call it “ghost mode,” he thought morosely. The air even tasted dead.
Quentin returned to the main thoroughfare, where a woman was approaching from the opposite direction. He smiled politely—no, eagerly—but she didn’t acknowledge him as she passed by, her shaky, far-off stare combing through a number of feeds he couldn’t see. For several heart-pounding seconds, he could only stand there, until he finally identified the long-forgotten feeling as solitude.
He thrust one hand in his pocket, pressed his palm against smooth surface of the iCoin, and flirted with the idea of rebooting all of his AR apps—longing to hear the comforting chime of the PAM booting up. But he found courage, then, in the thought of what glory lay ahead. A pity his millions of fans wouldn’t be able to enjoy the thrill of the clandestine meeting he had arranged mere hours ago on the Darknet…
Releasing his hold on the hibernating PAM and rubbing his eyes—though that did nothing to restore the reassuring green glow of the IRIS implants—Quentin trudged the remaining block to the agreed-upon FaceCafé and entered. Without the aid of any tech, he scanned the restaurant for someone who looked out of place.
Closest to the entrance, a middle-aged woman wearing a strappy, alligator-skin dress fished a cord out of her purse and connected one end to the table’s charge-port and the other to an oversized, blaze-orange PAM. The infant in the highchair beside her wailed until the woman returned the device to his or her eager little hands.
Elsewhere in the dining room, a guy in a red power suit talked to an invisible partner across the table, laughing suggestively as he adjusted his crotch.
A few tables away, a woman swiped the air furiously with her fingers and frowned at what Quentin could only assume was bad news. Maybe a relative had contracted that new, nasty virus the journo-feeds were squawking about? Her smooth scalp and sheer outfit, while undoubtedly vibrant if viewed through an AR interface, looked dull and dumb in RL.
He sighed. No one appeared to be doing anything unusual.
Disappointed, he sat down at an empty table and keyed in an order for a black, half-stim coffee. He would just have to trust that the Darknet lurker he had pinged—the professional villain he had promised to pay half a million Cs—would recognize him.
No worries there. He was the Quentin E. Donovan, after all.