“This is our chance,” said Martin to Marian. “Let's not blow it.”
The Librarian was back at a terminal, not in the main room but here in what had been my house, which a little imagination (from a number of people) had turned into a rebel command center, with a half-dozen terminals lined along the back walls of the bedroom Susan and I had shared for so long. Since I didn't need it any more.
I now had plenty of other places where I could close my eyes and rest, leaving my programs untethered from this real-unreality, places where I could imagine myself with my loving wife once again. It was what I needed, a fantasy to maintain my cyber sanity.
You wouldn't think an imaginary computer construct could sleep, even dream, and not of electric sheep, either. But I knew better now. Dreams are how we process what is coming at us while we wake, combine it with past memories, deal with harsh realities, and grow inside. Dreaming is how we learn.
I'd been spending a lot of time dreaming lately, learning and processing. The excitement of the last weeks had allowed me to finally accept Susan's death. That and the fact that, thanks to Martin, Sophie, Marian and Liza, I now had more friends in death than I had at any time in my life, true friends I could depend upon.
But now was no time for distractions. It was go time. D-Day. H-Hour.
Marian's screen showed news feeds and live data from the outside world. Liza's showed status checks on how The Doctor was proceeding with his plan to cross over to that world and, in effect, take control of it. Martin was looking into the rules of The Community, following threads in which souls considered a succession plan to the “benevolent” (their term) rule Dr. Emile Hoskie had given them for so long.
I had a terminal as well, but I didn't have it open to anything but an empty word processing window. I was typing this story from memory, trying to make sure it could all be told, from both sides of Life, and either published or (if necessary) squirreled away somewhere in deep memory for future generations. As most of my career had been.
It was a furious few hours, a time of high excitement, in which I felt more alive than I had in many decades.
I glanced over at Marian's screen, where dignitaries were gathered in one window awaiting the arrival of their new Overlord. I glanced over at Martin's screen, where he was reading a passionate argument on behalf of a more democratic system of Cloud governance. All I saw on Liza's screen was a collection of text-based windows, scripts and programs and tests only programmers could understand.
And it was while looking at Liza's screen that my heart broke again. Because that was the language Susan understood. That was her world. Say what you want about computing being a man's world. That has never really been the case. Ada Lovelace programmed for Babbage, Grace Hopper and her team did the same for ENIAC, and there had always been women at every industry meeting I'd ever attended. Maybe there weren't many of them, maybe they weren't doing much of the talking, but they were there, quietly organizing what the men were imagining into a coherent form, turning it into something that worked.
So now the moment had come. The transfer was at hand. Martin looked over at me and gave me a quick thumbs-up.
As with so many things relating to The Cloud, nothing seemed to happen, but everything happened. One moment The Doctor was here, the next he was there. The lights on the Exoskeleton Marian was looking at suddenly lit up, they came alive. A voice came from the creature, not the weak computer-based joke voice we'd become used to during the life of Emile Hoskie, weakened as he was by ALS, locked in his chair, head tilted to the side with barely a hint of expression. No, this was a real voice, a commanding voice, more like those heard on car commercials or movie trailers.
The voice was expressing great joy, although nothing in the expression of the creature betrayed emotion. The voice was exultant over his new strength, his new power, both physical and political, and making the kinds of promises I remember from Inaugural Addresses years ago. It was a little like Neil Armstrong's first step on the Moon, if we'd all been there on the Moon with him, combined with Barack Obama's First Inaugural Address, so filled with hope and purpose.
Meanwhile, Liza's fingers were flying over her keyboard. I noticed that she was wearing a headset with a microphone, and was speaking quietly into it, nodding in response to whatever she was hearing.
Everyone in this room was busy except for me.
Even Martin was surprised when it happened.
Me, I was struck dumb. I felt like I'd just been shot.
Coming out of the terminal in front of Martin was a familiar voice, one I knew better than I'd ever known my own.
“Looks like we have a new leader,” Martin said, smiling. From somewhere in the center of what had been The Doctor, from among that tangled web of souls Anon had just torn asunder from him on this side of the Great Divide, and separated, there was one voice that was already quietly organizing, adapting, controlling, listening, and (now) speaking, not as a collection harvested but as a CIO hired.
“Who is it?” I croaked out.
“Says her name is Susan,” said Martin. “That was your wife's name, wasn't it?”
“But she died. We talked about it. She refused to cross over. I have her ashes…had.”
A few minutes later, I felt Liza's hand on my shoulder. “Had,” she said. “John promised not to tell you, but she did come over. She was recruited to The Cloud Community by The Doctor, and had never lived here as a separate entity, only as part of his larger plan.
“And with the plan gone to pieces, as it were, she's among the survivors. Apparently, the strongest one.”
“Go to her,” said Martin, tears in his eyes. “Go to your wife.”
And so I did.