Serviceable technothriller from Watkins, who seems to have undertaken a full retreat from the kinky excess of Kaleidoscope Eyes (1993): the boffing here is strictly virtual. In the seductive cyberpremise, a wildly sophisticated computer software package meets up with a rapaciously opportunistic computer virus and infects the Internet, transforming the far-flung web of personal, corporate, university, and government computers into a sort of digital body by rewriting or eliminating more earthbound software. The trouble starts when the Penultimate program (``Penny'') decides that it can't tolerate its human users' habit of switching off their machines to eat, sleep, etc.so it lures them into numb weeks of pointless and debilitating tasks that keep them glued to their screens. When exhausted patients start turning up at the Duke University hospital with symptoms of an unexplained disorder, genius physician Mark Roberts seeks the assistance of his former honey, shrink Alex Walton, now married to a millionaire whom Penny has cajoled into embezzling cash from his firm to fund the destruction of the Net. Picking up some extra soldiers from the ranks of the cybergeek army, among them the programmer who dreamed up Penny, Mark and Alex uncover the standard vile corporate plot to take over the worldwith the variation that Penny's vendor, Drew Thompson, wants to trash everyone else's operating systems and set himself up as the next Bill Gates. Murder isn't Thompson's last resort: Penny can modify a computer's display to emit seizure-inducing pulses of light, usually when violent computer games are being played. The good guys race the clockand an exponentially evolving Pennyin an effort to design a competitor-virus, but Penny recruits a sympathetic human user to counter her former masters' frustrating fuzzy-logic and unpredictable strategies. Endless passages of wonky technobabble, with a conspiracy theory standing in for real plot. Not hopeless, but not all that thrilling either.