It was a hot day within the VirtNet's version of Shanghai. The heat shimmered off the buildings, the roads, and the sky was blue. Unnaturally blue. Shanghai was one of the beginning levels: you were supposed to start up with the city you lived in, because the idea was that you'd start with what you were used to first. But Shanghai was by far the most fun city in the game, so there were people that knew every nook and cranny in Shanghai without ever having set foot in Asia in their lives.

Michael was an excellent coder: he'd gotten an apartment on the top floor, overlooking the elevated highway, laden as traffic as they were on a Monday morning rush hour, and train lines. It took a long waiting list to get an apartment anywhere in the city, but this was different. He'd simply hacked his way to the top and gotten one on his 1st day in town.

As he waited for the train amidst signs in their broken Chinese: Caution the gap. No enter for safety. He always loved those signs. Then, a train slid into the station, and he got on. As he stopped at a station suddenly he heard a ferocious yell. It was in Chinese but nevertheless didn't sound too nice.

Then, Michael saw her. She was an Asian girl: the mandatory disguise to sneak into the crowd. Besides her, was an obvious tourist: A red-head wearing a T-shirt reading "And God said, Let there be light, and there was a big bang." He could easily have been spotted as one redhead among millions of black ones.

"'Get the fuck out of the fucking train' in Chinese, in case you didn't know."

"Who are you and why did you steal a...a... train?"

"Stop complaining. I got us a private train."

The train started up again with its doors tightly shut. "My name's Sarah," said the Asian girl. She then morphed into her original Aura, a tall white girl, looking every bit the tourist as the redhead. "My name's Bryson," said the redhead, who tried to act nonchalant and read a magazine. "Oh...uh... my name's Michael." said Michael, sweating in his palms. "What shall we be called?" asked Sarah, "The Burn-and-Pillage-y Trilogy? The Trifecta to Dissect-ya?"

"Definitely, the second one."

"Three cheers for the Trifecta to Dissect-ya!"

"Hip, hip, hooray!"

They sat on their train, planning their new escapades. "Of course, we had better activate our invisibility hacks." The game itself offered an invisibility mode, but it was no match for the people they'd be facing: police, the authorities, possibly even the VNS. Once kids figured out they could code their own hacks, they were really good at it. There were entire sites on the Internet dedicated to custom hacks.

The three never shared their hacks, so they were surprised when they saw how advanced their hacks were. "You are a talented coder," said Sarah. "Well let's pool all three of our hacks. Triple Invisibility." They all did it as they coded a fusion program.

The train stopped at a station. "Our hack can last 15 minutes at best before the game depletes us of our energy. That said, I can program some free food..."

Crack! The windows shattered spilling broken glass everywhere. "It's the cops! They figured we stole this train!" "Well don't just sit there, do something!" "Sure, I got it," said Michael.

"A war chariot. Holy shit, you did it," said Bryson. It was from a game called Ancient Warfare. It was one of the very first games, right from when the government decided to liberalize the VirtNet from a secret experimental government offshoot of the Internet. It was very popular, at least until the release of Lifeblood, and the Coffin was just developed for that game's purpose. Although Lifeblood had become more popular, the amount of gamers who played Ancient Warfare was still nothing to sneer at, because it came a close second in terms of how fun games were in the VirtNet.

They could all remember playing it: chariots and infantry charging at each other for the glory of kings. Michael climbed on and took the whip, and Sarah took the arrows. "Bryson!" yelled Sarah. "Take those," she said, as she threw him a pair of bow and arrows.

As they charged down the stairs, all the others stared at them wide-eyed and incredulously as they slaughtered cops. They charged onto the street and then charged into a shopping mall. "Hahah! Cop thugsters. You just ain't a match for us!" yelled Bryson as he destroyed all the stands.

The lights switched off as a soft female voice broadcast over in Chinese. The shoppers immediately ran to a central gathering point. "What? This is easier than I thought." There was only one way out! "I'd like to give the network maker a big 'thank you'." said Sarah as she led the chariot into blockading it. "Wow man," said Michael. "Now I'm disconnecting this network from the wider VirtNet. You have nowhere to Lift to, now. In one hour, if the cops don't give us up..." he fired an arrow into the air. It was programmed not to hit anyone, of course.

"I need to program some free food." said Sarah, as she entered a cafe and hacked out some hamburgers. "With cheese, I'd like to mention."

Then, there was a notice on the Bulletin. "The Shanghai network will be force shut down in order to reconnect it to the wider VirtNet in exactly 60 seconds. You will Lift and return to your NerveBox if you are currently linked to it." The message was sent by "Agent Diane Weber, VirtNet Security", and in any case, was nothing to be ignored.

Taking note of the timestamp, they prepared to do a joint Lift. They hit the "Lift" button 10 seconds before it was rebooted, then reconnected just a fraction of a second later.

As the VirtNet would be abuzz and overloaded with people chatting about the incident, they went to the Internet to chat.

The upper-middle-class youth still loved their high-end gaming desktops, despite the rise of the VirtNet. With tax-funded Internet service, going online was easier than ever.

The medium they usually used was called IRC, or Internet Relay Chat. By that time it was the backwater of the backwater, home only to geeks, hackers, and the police, the sworn enemy of the other two. They were regulars to a chat room about codes, especially in the VirtNet, but for this they'd need an invite-only channel. Commands were second nature to all three of them, so they'd set a functional takeover-proof room up in just one minute.

"This was some crazy shit. Let's do more of it. Next meet in Tokyo, after school tomorrow?" typed Michael, as he went to bed, thinking about what a good day it was.

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