Chapter 1

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She didn't understand life until she died.

It was that night when everything changed. That fateful evening when Nena Tacita found herself at her friend's crowded apartment. The occupants of his hovel weren't other people, they were computer parts. Large and small, broken or awaiting a chance at a new life in another tower. He already had six of them set in an old server box in his bedroom.

Nena sat on the short bed with its wrinkled sheets and dirty clothes. She was a young woman of twenty-five with a heart-shaped face ringed by long brown hair that flowed over her shoulders. Her jean-clad legs were crossed and a large t-shirt covered her well-rounded bosom. In her lap was her large purse, and on her lips was a frown.

"There's got to be something else you want to do besides type on that thing," she scolded the pale figure who sat before three computer screens on the wall opposite where she sat.

He was a young man of twenty with a round face and short black hair. Thick, black-framed glasses covered his unblinking eyes as they switched between two of the screens. His fingers moved faster than his eyes as he typed away and occasionally clicked on the nearby black mouse. "Nope."

Nena groaned and fell back onto the sheets. She checked her watch. "Come on, Matt, it's almost seven. How about we go get something to eat and see a movie?"

"Can't. Too busy saving the world."

She rolled her eyes. "Seriously? Out of all the excuses you could give me you choose that one?"

Matt paused and spun around in his chair to face her. He pushed the bridge of his glasses up against his nose and pursed his lips. "I am being serious. What I'm working on is going to save the world. And with this-" He leaned back and tapped a square pin that was attached to his shirt with a picture of thick, black-rimmed glasses on the front, "-I know we can do it. My lucky pin hasn't failed me yet."

Nena sighed and sat up so she could swing her legs over the side of the bed. "Yeah, but who's going to save you and your lucky pin? I told you I was going to come here tonight to drag you out of your cave, and now you're giving me excuses about saving the universe."

"The world, but it might branch out into that, too," he corrected her.

Nena pursed her lips as she stood and shouldered her bag. "You know I only get these nights off once every few weeks from the hospital, and you're still going to stiff me a hamburger and a movie."

He pushed his lips out in a pout. "You don't believe me, do you?"

She grasped the strap of her bag and sighed. "It's not that I don't believe you, Matt, it's just a little hard to believe."

"That's the same thing."

She frowned and marched up to his side. "Fine, show me."

Matt grinned and spun around to face the screens. A couple of taps and a dozen windows opened on two of the screens. He tapped the left-hand screen with its black box of primitive commands. "I spent half the day trying to decipher this code. It's something to do with a Project Endzeit. That means 'end time' in German. Corny name, huh? A few more days and I think I'll have it."

She pursed her lips and her eyes flickered down to him. "Is this paying your rent?"

He grinned up at her. "And then some. Whoever this guy is he's loaded."

Her eyebrows crashed down. "Did you take another job from one of those creepy message boards?"

He frowned. "It's an online job site for professional hackers, but yeah. So what?"

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