Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it's addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk life and limb without the chance of actual death, or just hang around with virtual friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun is at your fingertips. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway? But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he's holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific; the hostages have all been declared brain dead. Yet the gamer's motives are a mystery. The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. And they've been watching Michael. They want him on their team. But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system that human eyes have never seen, there are predators he can't even fathom, and there's the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.