As Case rides in the cart with Maelcum, he observes that he’s “lost his anger again. He missed it.” Eventually, the cart shorts out, and the Braun leads Case and Maelcum into a library. On a screen in the wall, The Finn smiles. Case assumes it is Wintermute and prepares to jack in, even as the Braun climbs his leg in a panic, pinching him. On the screen, the Finn tells Case to ignore it. Case jacks in.
Since Wintermute has often appeared to Case as The Finn, he assumes Wintermute is visiting again. However, he is wrong. As Wintermute warned “one burning bush looks pretty much like another,” and this is not Wintermute, but its sibling, Rio, dressing up in order to trick Case into jacking in.
At first, Case sees nothing—only a gray void. Then he is on a long beach. He walks along the beach towards a city in the distance, but he never gets closer to it. Case calls out to Wintermute, but gets no response. He conjures an image of Ratz in his mind, who speaks to him, joking that in Chiba, he had destruction in his grasp, but instead he’s traveled for thousands of miles just to die in space. Case keeps walking; eventually he finds a shack in the beach, and makes his way inside.
Case understands he’s somehow trapped in the matrix. Although he feels as though he’s walking on a beach, it isn’t quite real because it never ends. Case doesn’t fully know what has happened, but he’s never experienced anything like this before, and suspects it is the end of the road for him—a death he delayed by signing on with Armitage, but didn’t evade.
Inside the shack is a woman, who offers Case food and her blankets. Case rejects her, instead tending the makeshift stove in the corner, because, even though he knows “none of this was real […] cold was cold.”
Case recognizes the woman in the shack as Linda and curses the AI who recreated her for him. He also recognizes that the “burning bush” he saw was not Wintermute—it was the other half of the AI.
Wintermute had warned Case to be cautious, but Case had never considered how easy it would be to mistake one AI wearing a face borrowed from his memories from another.
Case turns towards Linda, telling her, “you aren’t anything.” He recognizes this isn’t real, that he’s flatlining in a library in Straylight. He knows this rival AI wants Wintermute to fail. He also knows that this rival construct has been appearing to him with Linda’s face—in the sky and in the simstim of Jane’s dead clone. Angry now, Case tells the AI he knows it thinks it can hurt him, and although it has won, it hasn’t made him care. From the corner, Linda tries to get him to sleep with her, but he ignores her.
Case believes Linda is only a construct—a shell or replica of the real woman he once loved. He even seems to see her attempts to sleep with him as a way for the AI to further trap and entangle him. Although he believes she isn’t real, she’s a reminder of a real woman, and thus causes Case emotional pain.
In the morning, Case wakes up alone. Inside the bunker, he finds a torn shipping container filled with packets of emergency rations. He cooks two packets in a rusted can he finds by the stove, complaining to the sky that, if this AI is going to make up food for him to eat, it could “lay on some real food,” at least.
Now that almost a day has passed in the matrix, Case feels hungry, even though this is not really his body. Knowing that everything is constructed, he jokes that the AI could construct food that tasted better.
In the afternoon, Case walks down to the water and throws his clothes in to clean them. Linda approaches him and advises him to wash his shirt and jeans in a freshwater pool behind the bunker instead. Case wonders what Linda thinks he’s doing here, on this beach, in this world. She tells him that “he said you would” come, and needed nothing more than that.
This version of Linda Lee seems to have the late Linda’s memories and motivations. She still cares about Case, and in fact, knowing he would arrive has been sustaining her.
That night, Case and Linda talk and eat. This Linda has Linda’s real memories. She tells him about visiting his coffin and meeting Molly. She apologizes for stealing his RAM. She explains her last memory was in Chiba, and then suddenly she was on this beach.
Although Case doesn’t fully understand what’s happened to Linda, it appears that her consciousness was transferred from her human body to the matrix at the moment of her death, allowing her to live on.
As Linda talks, Case draws closer; soon they’re kissing, and then they’re having sex. The sensation he has with her belongs “to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked.” It’s an “infinite intricacy that only the body […] could ever read.”
After rejecting Linda’s advances, Case finally gives in. Ironically, he often complains about the flesh of his body, but this moment of sexual connection gives him more pleasure than almost anything else in the text. However, although this is a moment of physical connection, it happens in the constructed world of cyberspace.