Case sits in the loft and considers the simstim. He explains that cowboys had seem simstim as a “meat toy,” and had never been interested in it.
As a cowboy, Case loved his mind, which connected to cyberspace, but disdained his body, even ignoring technology that felt too much like “meat toys.”
Case connects to cyberspace, then flips a new simstim switch, which jolts him into “other flesh.” He’s inside of Molly’s head, seeing, hearing, and feeling what she does. At first, Case struggles to control her body, but then learns to settle back and ride along. He can hear Molly, but he can’t speak to her. She touches her breast to tease him, but he is unable to respond.
Although Case is not physically in Molly’s body, the simstim gives the impression of being in her head. He sees what she sees and feels what she feels, a kind of illusion or simulation that nonetheless feels real.
Case switches between cyberspace and Molly’s sensorium. He realizes how little he knows about her—only what she’s like when they’re having sex, that her main passion is also her profession, and that she drinks black coffee.
While Molly has a full profile on Case, Case actually knows nothing about Molly or her personal history. Being inside her mind only highlights how little he knows.
Molly reaches a software shopping district. Most of the clients are young with a carbon socket behind their left ear, into which they can insert microsofts. Molly greets one seller, a young man with several microsofts. Larry adds another as she approaches, which allows him to see that “Molly’s got a rider,” which he dislikes. She tells him she’s looking not for microsofts but for Panther Moderns. He says he’ll help her, but that she can’t have anyone watching on a simstim. Case logs off.
Much of modern society is oriented around technology, and many people have modified their bodies with technology. This technology, like the microsofts, adds layers to a user’s vision or perception, allowing them to essentially run different applications inside their own mind.
Case asks his computer to look up the Panther Moderns, which he assumes are a youth subculture. The Hosaka presents a précis like a slideshow—including a video of a teenager in a mimetic polycarbon suit that blends into his surroundings, and a sociologist defending the Panther Moderns as being different from other terrorist organizations.
Technology makes it easy for Case to do research. In the 1980s, the idea that a computer could create a comprehensive brief on any topic by scouring the internet was cutting edge.
Two days later, Case meets a Modern in person, when one delivers a package from the Finn. Although the boy has a surgically modified face almost like shark, Case recognizes him and his cohort for what they are: “mercenaries, practical jokers, nihilistic technofetishists.”
Case is initially disturbed by the Modern’s face but realizes he’s just a member of a youth subculture, an identity Case recognizes, even if the specifics are unfamiliar.
Over the next several days, Case is sucked into studying the data company Sense/Net’s ice, or digital defense system. He forgets to eat, loses track of time, and resents having to take breaks to go to the bathroom. After nine days, he breaks through Sense/Net’s defenses. Armitage criticizes him for taking longer than the one-week time frame he’d hoped for, but Case insists he did good work.
Although Case has hacked the Sense/Net ice, Molly must go in and grab the physical disk housing Dixie’s construct. They’re working with the Panther Modern’s purchased assistance. Case, back in his loft, needs to link his newly completed intrusion program with Sense/Net’s systems. The Panther Moderns meanwhile, have planned a diversion for Sense/Net’s human security. During the heist, Case switches between the matrix and Molly’s SimStim. He watches her enter the building, disguised as a tourist, and then switches back to the matrix to watch Sense Net’s ice accept his program, which will break through its defenses from the inside.
Molly is working for Armitage because she loves her job, Case is working for Armitage because he has toxin sacs inside of him, and the Moderns are working for Armitage because they are mercenaries who are being paid to help. Although Case’s hacking and the Modern’s distractions will go a long way towards breaking into Sense/Net, their operation still requires an analogue component—even in this digital future, the human body remains useful.
At midnight, the Panther Modern linkman gives a command—nine other Moderns call in emergencies from nine different payphones, posing as Christian fundamentalists who have introduced Blue Nine, a psychoactive agent, into the ventilation of the Sense/Net building.
The Moderns suggest that Sense/Net is the victim of a terrorist attack. Specifically they suggest a psychoactive agent has been released. Although this is not true, the law enforcement response assumes it is, so chaos still ensues.
Case watches Molly’s simstim. She takes an elevator to the basement, where she stuns a security guard and locks the doors open for her return. Meanwhile, the Panther Moderns plays a seizure-inducing strobe on Sense/Net’s internal video system, as well as a video of a disturbing distorted face and then videos of contamination, with audio from a newscast about a biochemical weapon. As chaos begins inside the Sense/Net pyramid, police begin to congregate outside.
Once again, although the Moderns are not actually releasing a psychoactive agent, or chemical weapons, by suggesting that they might, they create the same kind of panicked effect in the population. They use audio and visual information to make people think they’ve been infected, which causes similar psychological reactions as an actual attack would.
Case activates his second program, which attacks the Sense/Net research library. It deactivates several alarms and locks, erases the library’s memory of the theft, and writes in a falsified removal months earlier. Meanwhile, Molly changes into a mimetic polycarbon suit. Case switches between Molly his program, and back, and is dismayed to find she has broken her leg in a fight with several security guards. Case feels her pain, screaming and flipping back to the matrix.
Once again, Molly and Case must work together—technology and the body are both required to pull off this heist. Although Case is not physically there, because of the simstim he feels Molly’s pain. It forces him empathize withher, because he can literally feel her broken leg as if it were his own and understands how hard the mission will be.
Case flips himself back to Molly’s simstim. She places three endorphin dermadisks on her wrist, the chemicals helping her power through the pain. He stays with her as she walks to the library, and he tells the Panther Moderns, who tells the linkman, who tells Molly where to find the construct. He initiates a program that releases the construct from its storage, and Molly takes it. Case then withdraws his program from the matrix, the virtual doors he’s opened in the ice closing behind him.
Molly’s dermadisks inject endorphins into her system, which give her energy and help her ignore her pain. Although her leg is broken, she is committed to her job. Once again, Case completes a digital component of the heist—finding and releasing the construct, while Molly does the physical work—extracting it from the archives.
Molly limps back to the elevator, and takes it up to the lobby. Through her eyes, Case sees panic like he’s never seen before: the Sense/Net employees try to escape as the police barricade them inside, the police convinced the employees are “a horde of potential killers.” Even Molly is shaken. Two Panther Moderns meet her in the lobby and help her out, as she falls unconscious from the pain of her broken leg.
The Moderns’ attack on Sense/Net has fully succeeded. Although they did nothing but suggest that chemicals had been released in the building, everyone believes they really did, and the response is as chaotic as if the employees had in fact been poisoned.
Back in the loft, the Panther Modern leader, Lupus Yonderboy, introduces himself. Armitage chastises him for letting the situation at Sense/Net “get out of control,” but the Modern brushes off the criticism. He calls Armitage “Mr. Who” throughout the exchange, but when Armitage pays him, and wonders if he will check to make sure it’s enough, Yonderboy declines to check if the payment is enough. He understands Armitage pays to stay a “Mr. Who” instead of “Mr. Name.”
Yonderboy knows that Armitage has some kind of secret, and knows that Armitage wants that secret kept. Therefore, Yonderboy knows that Armitage is going to pay him the proper amount of money in order to remain anonymous—both to the Moderns and to society at large.
Jittery, Case leaves the loft. Molly is in surgery, and he’s alone. He thinks about his toxin sacs, which don’t seem real. He thinks of the chaos and pain of the Sense/Net lobby, which doesn’t seem real either. Yonderboy, whose mimetic suit blends into the wall behind him, startles Case. The two duck into an alley. Yonderboy delivers a message, which is just a name: Wintermute.
Case, who spends much of his life in cyberspace, which is an illusion but feels real, is now unable to fully process the events he’s observed in the real world. Although the name means nothing to Case, it is clearly important. Molly will later explain that it belongs to Armitage’s employer.