There are many forms of cyberspace, and many ways in which it interacts with people’s lives.
The Mesh is everywhere. Descended from the Old Net, the Mesh is a fully wireless cyberspace that is accessed via Augmented Reality. The majority of people have cybernetic implants that access their optic nerves and motor cortex, allowing for visual display and some degree of haptic feedback. Those who don’t have such implants, because they’re gene-modded or they are Baselines, have to use devices like visors or AR contact lenses to access the Mesh like other people do.
Global satellite coverage means that it is incredibly rare to find deadzones in the Mesh. It usually requires a person to be deep underground, inside signal-interfering bunkers, or be in an area that for whatever reason is actively jamming access. Many would find being in such a place somewhat disorienting, as the constant presence of some degree of AR heads-up display is so normal for most people that its absence would be disconcerting.
One’s profile in the Mesh is important, because it can often determine how some spaces may appear. Personalized advertisement is a major presence in big cities, constantly tailoring itself to updated profile data. An individual trying to be non-compliant with the system might “go dark”, trying to access the Mesh without a profile, or they might maintain several different profiles depending on what sort of business they intend to conduct.
Like any computer system, the Mesh can be hacked and manipulated. Hackers doing complex work might actually use hardline terminals for better encrypted signal, one of the rare instances of someone actually sitting at a computer terminal to do such work. Theft, both of information and money, are the most common forms of cyber-crime, but there’s also sheer mayhem and vandalism that are popular pursuits.
Often, expert hackers cannot resist the siren call of taking their skills and selling out; taking work for a security firm and fighting against their former comrades. It is sometimes the intent of some hackers purely to prove themselves worthy of the attention of some of the larger security firms by daring hacks, although that is a risky form of job application.
Some hackers focus on a particular style of intrusion: the real-time combat hack. These hackers (often called mages, wizards, and similar titles) focus on very fast, superficial Mesh hacks usually designed to attack another cyborg’s systems, or the systems of a location or vehicle. They disable alarms, shut down traffic lights, cause AR illusions to appear in people’s vision, and other such distractions. Often these hacks are quick, temporary, and easily purged. They’re intended to be combined with other efforts, like direct assault, physical larceny, or fleeing the scene.
More cerebral hackers sometimes scoff at the crude, fast hacks of mages, but it’s not so easy to be smug when all of your cybernetic limbs suddenly seize up in a gunfight because your motor cortex has been temporarily hijacked.
There is a deeper place than the Mesh. A space between spaces, a place of pure data that cannot be accessed with AR interface. It requires jacking in with a Virtual Reality interface and allowing one’s mind to interact with the data directly. Known as the Void, it is the background of the Mesh, the dark infrastructure the Mesh is built on top of.
The Void is a VR space, where data structures become metaphorical constructs that can be physically interacted with in a virtual world. It is a dangerous and confusing space for a novice hacker to enter, and incomprehensible to a casual Mesh user. Only experienced hackers enter the Void, and even they do so with caution, because despite its name the Void is not empty. It is inhabited.
Disembodied AI, sapient minds of pure data, float freely in the Void, drifting from server to server evading authorities attempting to purge these illegal AI from the system. It is not clear from where the oldest of them came from, or how long they’ve been there. Some are rumored to be as old as the Old Net. The Void is their territory.
Still, the hazard of the AI and their Ghosts and Wraiths notwithstanding, the Void can be the ultimate den of shadows for illicit business. The darkest of dark meetings are conducted there, as information too sensitive to go over the Mesh is traded among daredevil brokers who meet in hidden virtual cities, floating inside a nothing-space.
The AI entities that lurk deep inside the Void sometimes send agents upwards into the Mesh. Known as Ghosts, these bodiless digital constructs float in the AR ether of people’s vision and have some kind of purpose. Whether they are VI or true AI in and of themselves is often a subject of speculation, because no-one has ever managed to capture a Ghost for study. Attempts to do so have led to Ghosts decompiling themselves specifically to avoid capture, suggesting that whatever is creating them has serious concerns about what could be found out if they are.
Sometimes Ghosts appear benevolent, and have been known to help people, although that may be to further some other larger goal. Often their motives are inscrutable, and the reaction most have to seeing a Ghost is to get away from it as soon as possible and to alert authorities, because there is also the possibility that it may be a Wraith.
Wraiths are Ghosts that are explicitly malevolent in nature. They attack people and systems, causing havoc. They have, on occasion, been known to kill by causing failure of cybernetic organs as they enter a person’s body through their neuro-link. Wraiths are, for lack of a better term, sentient computer viruses that are visible in the Mesh (and, if one has the misfortune of seeing them there, the Void) and attack directly.
Why they do this, what causes them to be this way, is a mystery. Are they Ghosts who have become corrupted somehow, or are there AI lurking in the Void who mean humanity ill will and are sending these malicious entities up into the Mesh to terrorize people? It is unclear.