It was 1:46 am when I logged on to's chat line. I had to get the real story behind those black leather boxes old man Goldstein had tried to wrap me in. One look at those things told me they were definitely not from any intelligence that originated on Planet Earth. But nothing prepared me for what I was about to find out—stuff that made my wildest imagination look like grey-scale home video.

The dude on their tech-support line really knew his stuff. I described what I saw and what my suspicions were and he knew just what I was talking about. He said I was right on track—but missing valuable data. When he started throwing out terms like neurocardiokinetic fields, mind-body interfacing and asymmetric sympathetic response to the infinite power I could see what he meant. There was a lot I needed to know. But how could I get it?

"For that" the techie responded, "you'll have to visit our VR simulation lab. It's not yet open to the public, but for a case like this..."

The first bus to Greenlane County left at 5:30am and I was on it. The driver woke me up at the stop and I clambered off, not really remembering where I was or why I was going there. So it was real weird. Here's this corporate steel-concrete-and-glass building out in the middle of a pasture and people walking in and out like it's perfectly normal. Still rubbing my eyes, I plowed through the front doors and looked for the reception desk. Security frisked me, held on to my camera phone. That's how I knew this was the real thing.

"You must be Jay." The receptionist lady was talking before I even hit the counter. "The young man from Westfield."

"Uh, yeah."

"Have a seat. Your mentor will be down to see you in a minute."


I didn't have time to sit down. There he was, this little guy with a long beard in a lab suit that could have doubled for a Druid gown. His hand was out, so I shook it. It was warm but rough, like the hand of an old man who's been through a lot. But his eyes were bright and from his voice, even though it crackled a bit, you could tell he had a lot of spunk.

"So Jay, I'll be guiding you through the multi-world generating simulation today. It will take about five hours and then you'll need a debriefing. I hope you've brought a lunch with you."

"Lunch? That's not included? How much is this putting me out today, anyways? I got a student card here somewhere."

The little guy laughed. "Jay, we don't charge our beta testers. Okay, we'll throw in a lunch, too."

We were in the elevator already. Nobody else.

"So this is beta?" I had to say something.

"Just about," he chuckled. "Don't worry, everyone's come back so far."


He laughed again. I wasn't worried. I felt I was in good hands.

The doors opened and we were in this wired-up room. Something like one of those planetarium domes with stars all around you.

"Is this like a space-travel simulation? Are those like the multiple worlds I'm going to be flying through?"

"Actually, you'll do more than fly through worlds. You'll be creating one. We use the matrix of those particular galaxies to generate the intelligence needed to format a single new world. You see, this world won't be like those silly sim-worlds you make on your computer. This world will be..."

"Real 3D?"

"...and tangible. But more than that. We've found a way to generate consciousness within these worlds we create."

My mentor and I sat down on padded leather chairs facing each other in the center of the room. I leaned back and was just getting comfortable when these cables started coming out of the arm of my chair.

"Yikes! What are they doing to me?"