Outside of the virtual network in the real world Dana screams. At first it had been one of joy but now it is of pain, despair, loss. The grey faceless figures around them are aborted, lifeless husks piled about the remains of the small office. The quartet’s restraints are no more, having deactivated during the fracas between Warren and Helena.
“Russ, Lika do something. Get the system back.” Sanjiv demands. He does not want to admit that though the fight is over it might be that Warren has been lost for a second, final, time.
“Fucking do it, dammit.” The middle aged man demands in the aftermath of what was an angry about followed up by grabbing the younger man by the scruff of the neck.
“He can’t. We can’t. The network doesn’t work like that. It’s never gone out. Not offline. We don’t have a way of rebooting it.” Lika explains in a terrified, panicked tone that sees her as scared of Sanjiv as she was of Doctor Helena Tabar and what she was willing to undertake to enact her revenge.
“Dana, do something. You’re the director. You must know a way to…”
The middle aged woman shakes her head slowly from side to side, her head bowed, eyes locked on the screen. No data is coming through from the simulation as well it shouldn’t because Lika is correct, it has shutdown. Warren is lost. This doesn’t feel like a victory. Is this what Helena planned all along? It can’t be. Then how do you explain what’s happened? This does not feel like a win. This is defeat. Dana can feel it in her chest. Just like that day with Bartholomew, except somehow this is worse. She never thought she would ever feel as much hurt as she did that day and yet here it is.
“We can’t give up. We have to keep fighting. This isn’t the end.” The middle aged Sanjiv refuses to let go of the fight but it is over. He knows that but cannot bring himself to accept it. That is until he can keep himself in check no longer, at which point he crumples to his knees, weeping.
Lika descends upon him offering comfort. Forgotten is her fear of the man. Sadly her comforting does not help. The middle aged man continues to weep, head low, eyes pressed tightly shut.
Russ meanwhile doesn’t know what to do and so he stands there, frozen by the misery of the situation. The lives that must have been lost when the simulation went out are… He doesn’t dare to think of them. Instead he thinks of Warren Thewlis. He never met the man but his effects have once again averted disaster for humanity as a whole. Sadly, the aversion will likely only last for a short while. The scale of the deaths and the loss of the simulation will unveil old grievances once more. They’ll boil to the fore bringing forth the pain that was leading the species to ruin before the networks creation and absorption.
Out of the blue a steady beep shatters the almost silence that hangs over the quartet. Dana is the first to react. Her eyes having remained on the monitor watch as lines from the system begin to scroll across its surface. A smile splits her face. The director resists the urge she has to hope. Her fear is that if she does she might not survive if it is not what she believes it might be. What else could it be? Can it be? I dare not dream. I cannot… It’s Warren. You know it to be true.
The simulation returns to operational norm not long after. Yet, it is in some ways different. Russ and Lika run diagnostic checks. Everything is showing optimal, better than optimal. Sanjiv helps Dana to her feet. It is then they spy a line of code which invites them in.
“But how, there aren’t…”
The response is swift. Place your hand upon the monitor and I shall do the rest.
“It could be a trap.”
Dana doesn’t care and isn’t sure if it is Russ Marwen or her old friend Sanjiv Khatri who issues the warning. It sounds right in both their voices and neither, not that it prevents her from stumbling forward, arm outstretched. Her open palm touches the surface of the monitor. A sensation washes over her. She likens it to when she had been a Datastar except without any of the discomfort. Her eyes open. The director finds that she stood in a meadow. The same meadow Warren must have faced off against Helena in. No, it’s more vibrant than that, she thinks.
Sanjiv is alongside her. She looks to him. His avatar is a reflection of his physical form. He looks old. A smile splits her face. The director must look the same she determines and she is right. Sanjiv looking back at her sees her as the older woman that she has become; better weathered than he but undoubtedly older compared to when last they had made frequent entrances and exits to this simulation, this enormous universe of virtual creation.
“Never thought I’d step foot in here again.” He admits.
“Nor did I.”
“Shall we go find him?”
“Find me. You don’t need to find me. I am here, as are you both.” The voice is one Dana and Sanjiv recognise instantly. Their heads snap to face forward. There they find Warren, smiling.
He looks as he did that day they last saw him. He hasn’t aged an ounce. It should not surprise them and yet it does. However, Warren is not surprised by their ages having advanced. You see he is a part of the network now. He had to take up such a mantle in place of Doctor Helena Tabar for she had wormed her way so deep that to leave the network without an overseer would destroy it forever.
Dana and Sanjiv are unaware as they rush forward toward their friend of this. He will let them know in time. For now the trio will be permitted the opportunity to relish in their reunion.
The director reaches Warren first. She throws her arms around his neck and presses her body against his. “I missed you. I love you.” She whispers while simultaneously refusing to lessen her grip upon the man she never thought she would ever get to say that to again. Right after Sanjiv arrives. He throws his arms around them both but says not a word. Warren meanwhile smiles, this is all he ever wanted to feel again.
“What will you do now? You’ve been gone for…”
“How do you…”
“The simulation; it and I are entwined. All it knows I know.”
Warren pulls back to gaze upon the aged faces of his friends. He has missed them so and to think he did not know how much until this exact moment. This is what he was fighting for. It was that day against Bartholomew just as it was today against Doctor Helena Tabar.
“What’s wrong?” The director asks reading the look in Warren’s eyes. “Is Doctor Tabar…?”
“She is gone, for good. But I cannot leave this place.”
“What do you mean?”
Warren had hoped they would have more time before he would need to tell them this. He was wrong. Conversation has led them to this point. To turn away from it would be to lie to his friend, he will not do that and so he admits, “I am the system. I had to replace Helena. She was so deeply rooted. If I did not the network would have remained offline. Every life within it would have been lost. I could not allow that.”
“Then I’m staying too.” The director blurts her reply without a seconds thought.
“Dana, I can’t ask you too…”
“It’s OK. It’s what I want. And I have a replacement lined up to take over as director. If you still require the agency that is. Do you?”
“I wouldn’t hurt. But only if you’re sure.”
“I am.” A huge smile beams across Dana’s face. “We’ve been apart too long. I’m never allowing that to happen ever again.”
“Then I’m staying too.” Sanjiv exclaims having remained silent until this point.
Dana and Warren look at him, all of them burst into a round of laughter that there is no reason for other than it feels right. So the decision is made; Dana and Sanjiv will remain in the simulation with Warren. It is where they belong for it is where they can be together.
As for Dana’s replacement as director, that will fall to Russ and Lika. Lika ultimately will wear the crown, but until she feels she is ready Russ will serve as her aide. And if she needs guidance he can’t give the bright haired woman can always call on Dana, or Sanjiv and Warren.
Humanity has a chance now. Danger is gone. The simulation is safe.