What does it feel to go into the Cloud?
Like nothing, really. Like going to sleep.
I know now that my body died back on that table. I know my lungs stopped after a while, and my heart stopped beating. I was told later that Willis killed me once I connected with him from this side, using a drug cocktail similar to those given condemned prisoners.
I know that intellectually, but I didn't feel it happen. It's not real to me. I didn't die. I'm still alive. I'm writing this, aren't I?
What I do remember is going into one of those deep sleeps I used to associate with an afternoon nap when I was middle-aged, one of those naps where you're not asleep but can feel your blood pressure thump down into a new normal, then you wake up and your hands and feet don't work really work for a while, like you've been down overnight when it was just a a few minutes.
It was after feeling that thump, that recognition that it was safe to awake, that I heard a voice, and responded. I opened what I took to be my eyes and I saw, smiling down at me, the face and body of Martin Bexar.
This is how I knew I had crossed. The Martin I knew could not look down on anyone. Crippled by Parkinson's, confined to a wheelchair for the last decades of his life, he stood before me now in the glow of a ruddy middle age, the beard only slightly salted, the eyes just wryly crinkling.
But if Martin had a “body” what did I have? I signaled my fingers and toes, which responded immediately.
“Very good,” said Martin. “You're doing nicely. Want to get up?”
“What's up? And what's the where of this?”
Martin chuckled. “Questions, questions, questions. Yes, you must have been a reporter in a previous life.
“But what you're in is an interface. It's an artificial construct with analogs for seeing, for hearing, for all your senses and appendages. They'll appear to work for as long as you feel you need them. They are, in fact, computer programs, with capabilities identical to those I use, identical to what everyone else here uses. A Cloud Olympics would be very boring because everyone would finish with the same result.
“It's a pretty easy hack, if you think about it. Standard drivers were written under an open source license over many years,. They are connected into that area of memory you're occupying, in isolation, once you decide to use them. Think of them as browser plug-ins, but the user interface is just what you used to activate your own eyes and ears a few moments ago. Only better.
“I asked to join you and, since you'd listed me as a friend on your entry form, permission was routine. In fact they were happy that someone would be here to welcome you to your new home. Welcome to your new home.”
He dropped his voice. “I'm sorry about Susan.”
Those four simple words chilled me to the bone. Susan. I had been so anxious to avoid death that I'd forgotten all about her. Beautiful Susan, the love of my life, mother of my children, companion of nearly 60 years. My grief was sudden, sharp, and as real as the day she left me.
It's your choice, I told her, and she agreed that death is how people die. But how can I go through eternity without her?
“Excellent. Your tear ducts work,” said Martin, swinging back to bonhomie. He swiped a finger under where an eye would be on my face, and I lifted a finger to feel his. I saw tears there. I felt tears there.
“Want to see how beautiful you are?” I must have nodded, because what I can only describe as a barber shop mirror appeared before me, in Martin's hand.
I looked to be about 40. My beard was red, and I even had some hair on top, although not much. I recognized the man, although I hadn't seen him in half a lifetime.
“It's what we call the dream-self,” Martin explained, giving me the mirror to hold, then standing up. “It's the you that you perceive yourself to be when you're asleep. Young people tend to see themselves as older, old people as younger. Women tend to see themselves as younger than men. It's an ideal, nothing real, but when you're new here it's a very welcome sight to see. I know.”
Then Martin proceeded to tell me about his own entry to the Cloud. “Going on nearly 6 years now. Time sure flies. Best thing I ever did. Amazing I lived in that chair, in a nursing home, for decades, rejecting this idea literally for a decade after getting my first invitation. Social Security paid my way, you know. My insurance had long run out but they were quite willing to pass me over here, knowing that the costs of Cloud Community membership were no more than I would cost in assisted living for 8 months.
“Of course the interfaces weren't quite as good six years ago. I looked like an old PC tube, one of those 800 x 600 interfaces from the '90s. And the sound quality was very poor. But it was enough to convince me I wasn't dead, and that's the main purpose of it.”
“So what's it like, normally?” I asked. “What is 'life' like, after death?”
Martin chuckled. “I like that,” he said. “Good line. But it seems you want to get right into it?
“OK,” he said.
“Life here is literally what you make of it. Your thoughts become commands to software interfaces within the Cloud's design architecture.
So your mind is your user interface in the Cloud, and as you gain more control over that interface, more familiarity with how to think in ways that change what you see, hear and feel, “life” here just gets better-and-better.
“You can feel that you have a body at any time, that's a standard package you're using right now. You just call for it, as you would have a computer program in the real world, by thinking of the .exe name 'Reality.' It's a default on your entry pattern. John Willis keyed it in for you.
Kind of ironic, because Reality is what the program was called while it was being written, outside. But everyone here learns it's just the opposite. Reality is artificial, nothing exists. Even when anything can.
“You see, there's another way of getting around.
“Just cast your mind. Just imagine. You'll be accessing memory space and thought space, you can save what you think and it's like writing. Anything a programmer on the outside has crafted, and anything someone here in the Community has ever imagined, is available to you.
“Thus, there are many senses here that have no analog in Meat Space. The sense of access. The sense of powering up, of powering down. The sense of reaching into the outside world, through a PC or tablet or phone. It's like you can be the screen, be the typewriter, that you can be the iPad from the other side of it. The connections are more tenuous when they're wireless, but you can sense it, strong or weak, from inside not only your own mind but the Community, the larger collection of souls that exist here. You can use their power, and they can use yours.
He must have seen the shock on my face.“But maybe I've said too much. You should rest, that is relax, rejuvenate, feel. I've got an idea.
“You ever play the Last Meal Game?
I felt myself smiling. “What would you choose to eat if it were your last meal on Earth? Usually it's something simple like a hamburger or mom's chicken soup or something like that.”
“Well, here we call it the First Meal game.”
So we ate. I had a kind of veal parmigiana, topped with cheese, along with a bowl of spaghetti in tomato sauce, a meal I recalled from my 12th birthday. Martin had a greasy hamburger and some french fries, real high cholesterol stuff, something I'd barely imagined eating for decades. He drank what looked like a Coke and I had what tasted like a good red wine.
It was strange but the meal appeared as I thought of it, before I could even describe it in detail. It tasted fantastic, just as in my memory, because as Martin said that's where it came from. His own meal, he explained, came from the memory of someone else who had come over a year before, someone who had been terribly obese in Meat Space, who had died of diabetes, but now was considered something of a gourmet.
While we ate we talked as though we were in a quiet restaurant. While I knew the environment was a computer creation, I seemed to even notice the light around us dimming slowly, and a light din from other diners rising all around us as the minutes passed.
By the time we were done, it all looked like we were in my favorite Italian place from life, despite Martin's greasy fingertips, only the plates and glasses disappeared without the help of a waiter, once Martin snapped his fingers.
“Now that you're refreshed, are you ready to learn where you really are?” he asked.
I gulped, nodded. The restaurant suddenly disappeared, was replaced by the room I'd been in before.
Martin's smile grew like that on the Cheshire Cat. He put his left hand over my right, grasped my fist, and began to laugh.
It was good to hear.
Then after he stopped laughing he added, “Now, where should we go next?”