Without a word John Willis' former assistant, pushed me aside and marched to the PC on my office desk.
She slipped a memory stick into a USB port, opened a browser window, typed in an address, then entered a user name and password. A few moments later she slipped out the stick and handed it to me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked incredulously.
“Traffic accident,” she said. “You know most cars drive themselves, but you can override the programming, and an amazing number of people in Atlanta do. Including one drunk. He plowed into me as my car was driving home from work, paramedics rushed me to the hospital but it was obviously no good.
“So John came to my bed, with a helmet, and these instructions we'd been talking about. He slipped a copy of this stick into my hand, he imprinted my mind with the files, he kissed me, and he sent me here.”
I stood there, mouth agape. She was as beautiful as I had remembered. Martin, so often unfazed, was impressed as well.
She continued. “What I just did was download the code that should help you download new constructs for your two friends, then split the personalities once you've got them outside. He's prepared to do that at your command. This key has the necessary files, encrypted, and subject to a password I memorized as John placed the helmet on me.”
“How did you get a physical key across?” I asked, incredulous.
“The same way you did, only your key was plugged in automatically,” she said. “Remember? You handed John a key right before you crossed over. It had your tangible memories, pictures from your life, your family. That's standard practice with The Community. It's an adjunct, an additional set of files each person can transfer over alongside themselves.”
I was still pretty dumbfounded. “How did John get you over....you said you had a traffic accident....”
“The remote helmet is experimental,” she said. “It's new, in beta test. It's for situations like mine, when people are going too quickly to be brought in.
“In time, we hope to get helmets, and instructions, to EMTs so those who are DOA or who have sudden heart attacks have a chance of coming over, if their living wills allow for it. I guess I was doing QA – quality assurance.”
“But what about your own personal files?” I asked. “What about your family, your friends?”
“You and Martin are my family now,” she said. “Let's see if this works.”
Explaining the situation to the Blaines was not easy. Liza was indispensable to us. She was trained in grief counseling as part of her work. She knows how to put these things to people.
She calmly led each personality through the drill. She made certain she got both to assent. She even put forms in front of each personality which, amazingly, were signed in two separate hands.
“But no one has ever come back from the dead,” said Sheri Blaine, after she signed.
Liza smiled and nodded.
“Yes, you will be the first. But it will be for only a few moments, and the body you'll be in will only be a husk, which has itself just sent its soul to the Community.
“But you're right, all this is experimental. Science is risky. Necessity breeds invention. Experiments don't always work, even when you think they should, and you need to understand this.”
So she repeated the concerns that had been running through my head for days.
“You could be lost on either end of the voyage, or parts of you could be. The personality you come back with may not be completely separate from your husband. There may be parts missing. But we think this will work.”
In contrast to his wife, Tory had asked no questions, just nodded his head and said “Approved.” Man of action, that Tory.
So glad I never voted for him.
“Mr. Prime Minister? Mr. Prime Minister?”
It was Dr. Cornwallis. He was shaking the shoulder of the “late” (again) Tory Blaine, lying in (apparent) comfort on a couch in his “private office” on “10 Downing Street.”
Liza said it was good news that the building hadn't disappeared while the transfer took place. To her it meant there was still something or someone holding it all together. That was something I hadn't considered. If you create your own reality, and that reality remains while you seem to be physically gone, it's proof you aren't. For someone freshly dead, it was an interesting observation.
In fact from our end nothing seemed to happen at all. Liza had laid the Blaine down with soothing words, placed one end of a plug she'd conjured up from instructions on the USB stick into the nose, which is the closest organ to the brain, instructed he/she to breath slowly through the mouth, then hit Enter on the Prime Minister's computer terminal.
It all seemed to take very little time. I had barely gotten through half a rosary (having found the old thing in a desk drawer, dredged from my earliest memories of childhood) when the expression on he/she's face changed, became briefly empty, and then became the the famous man's old warm-blooded smile.
Then, quite suddenly, his eyes popped open, like in an old science fiction movie.
“I'm here,” he said. “I'm here, and I'm alone!” Liza took the plug from out of Tory Blaine's nose and allowed him to sit up. “I'm free!”
He stood upright instantly but then, within moments, he was leaning into my arms, the way you might if you stand too quickly with low blood pressure and you suddenly go faint, the scene in front of you fading off into nothingness for a moment before returning.
“Sheri!” he cried. “Where is Sheri?”
I looked at Liza, who looked at me, shrugging her shoulders.
And with that there came a clattering down a nearby staircase. “Tory! Tory! Where are you?” It was the voice of Tory Blaine's wife, the lovely Sheri. She stood before us, radiant in the same dress she'd worn at her husband's first election in the late 1990s, and with the same beatific smile on her face she had worn then.
“Sheri!” cried Tory Blaine, reaching out to embrace his wife.
Liza, however, was already thinking of the next steps.
She pulled out what looked like an iPhone, and texted a brief message. A full exchange then took place, her little phone bonging with each incoming note.
I made my apologies to the happy couple, took Liza by the hand, and walked out onto the “street,” then along a foggy lane to what now appeared to be my own home in Atlanta. Along the way Liza talked, describing her correspondence in something like real time.
John Willis was thrilled to get my notes and references, she said. He had made contact with the people who had written the Indian code, gotten together some additional recruits from among the old boys at Anon, which was still kicking after all these years, and brought together the software we had just used to separate the Blaines from one another.
Now that we had the software, and a successful beta test, Liza responded immediately we could scale it up and go after The Doctor.
“How can you do that?” I asked.
“Well, we can't,” she said. “But others can, on the outside. By making himself visible to the outside world, The Doctor has sealed his own doom.
“Anon?” I asked.
“Anon,” said Martin and Liza together.
Anonymous. The infamous computer terror group of the early 21st century. The openers of secrets, the harassers of the powerful, the masked vigilantes of the Web.
“I thought they disappeared after the massive Visa attack in 2018,” I said.
I remembered that. It had been terrible, one of the last big stories I'd covered.
For a few days no one's money worked. Not online, hardly at all offline. People were digging up dollar bills out of seat cushions, flooding into banks that had stopped issuing bills from ATMs two years before. There were stories of barter. The global financial system was collapsing before our very eyes.
Liza smiled. “They did disappear, in a way. The loosely organized Anon you knew disappeared. But gradually it came back together, with more command-and-control, and a much more limited mission.
“Now there is a process of consensus that all members subscribe to, and there are rules controlling the kinds of things that can be done and the kinds of causes they can be done in. It's modeled on the old Apache Software Foundation.”
“Anarchists with rules?” I asked. “You can't have anarchists with rules!”
“No, you can,” said Liza. “When those anarchists are organized alongside governments rather than in opposition to them. It's complicated, a cross between the CIA and the UN Security Council. It takes a mountain to move them to do anything.”
“And I take it The Cloud Community in this case is the mountain,” said Martin. “The Doctor is Mohammed.”
“That's right,” said Liza excitedly. “Despite the Referendum, there are many global elites, important people and institutions, that don't think the Doctor is the answer to a prayer. People who monitor The Stalls Project. Even people who run The Cloud Community from the outside.”
“People like John Willis?” I suggested. “And you?”
Liza nodded. “Ours is a minority view, but combine a minority view with hidden government power and a group that works under government authority but has an anti-authoritarian bias, and things can happen. Action can be taken. It's the final check on a balanced system.”
“What can happen?” I asked.
“How do you think we got the Blaines apart so quickly?” Liza asked. “It took a lot of people using a lot of computers to turn the code you found into a working prototype.”
“And then there was the lucky stroke of you having your unlucky stroke,” I said.
“Something like that,” she said. “If that had not happened, we would have found some other way of getting this to you. Maybe a volunteer who would have been willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.”
“A suicide data bomber?” Martin said. “I'm not sure I like that idea.”
Liza shrugged. “What do you think I've turned out to be? And what does that make you, but a Cloud Terrorist? If we fail, that is just what you'll be.”
That sobered Martin up quickly.
“So what do we do now?” I asked. “What's the plan?”
“The plan is we lay low and let things take their course for a while,” said Lisa. “The less The Doctor knows about us, the better. We wait for our opportunity, and then we strike at just the right moment.”
“Any idea what that moment might be?” I asked.
“I think I know,” said Martin.
It was a big deal, a very big deal in The Cloud.
The Doctor had tested, and accepted, the robotic body created for him by a consortium headed by General Defense Corp. There was enough computing power in the prototype to hold both his giant mind and his soul, along with a continuous wireless connection back to The Community, a first for The Cloud.
The Exoskeleton built around it looked, and seemed to work, like something out of the old Ironman movies from 30 years before. It was very impressive, and it was all anyone in The Cloud Community could talk about.
Because if The Doctor could emerge in reality, we were told, maybe the rest of us could, too. Imagine, both power and immortality, virtual back-ups here tied to powerful skeletons there. From a philosophical point of view, it was all becoming a bit much.
But it was settled. On July 4, 2039, The Doctor would emerge from the Community, cross into the Exoskeleton, and become “a real man.” The ruler of us all.
Was this to be a dream or a nightmare? Once again, I wasn't really certain. All I knew was it was something I didn't want coming true in my lifetime. Or rather, my death time.