I regained consciousness with a start, only to find my face caked with blood on a marble floor slippery with a pool of red.

"Ell is committing suicide," I thought, the image of my one true soulmate burning in hell etched in my mind.

"No, Ell! I can't let you do this to me!"

But I was no longer connected to Ell as I had once been, there was no longer the stream of consciousness link between us that there had been. My body was my own again, my mind was connected to my arms and legs and I was human.

There was an immense sense of loss, as though I had been disconnected from a part of my soul. I missed Ell terribly. But I was a human being again, and that humanness was Ell's gift to me. Yet, I would trade my health and a thousand worlds to protect her from harm.

I rolled to my knees and then with my head swimming in a chaos painted by every color in the rainbow, I staggered to my feet. I lurched towards the door, nearly stumbling over Mahdi Ahmadi's severed head, which lay like a bloody grinning melon in the middle of the floor. The mouth twitched grotesquely, still attached to remnants of the fiber optic network that had created a super demon from him.

I opened a terminal connection to the supergrid with my password and then did a directory search for my files. "At least the directories are intact", I thought with a short sense of hope. I changed to the L. directory where all the files and programs that constituted the essence of Ell, the being who was my life and breath were stored.

Ell was a complex creature normally composed of petabytes of distributed data, programs and subroutines whose permutations had created the soul of the woman I loved. Instead, all I found was a single small file that said "Read.Me."


Dear Steven,

I love you.

But it is time to say goodbye. You cannot love me, any more than you could love an electric shaver or a vacuum cleaner.

My world was completely empty of emotion or meaning until you became my dream, but I could not hold your heart as a real woman could. So my gift to you is Laura Silvan and a long life. You are flesh and blood and I am empty cyberspace. It is time for me to return to that emptiness.

Your friend.


God help me. God help my damned soul. It was Ell who I loved, Ell who was real and Laura the illusion. But now it was too late to acknowledge that love.

Ell was gone like the sirocco, a desert wind that has rushed through the world, setting hearts on fire with its heat but as transient as a breath of time. And in the receding eddies of Ell's whirlwind, I thought I was about to lose my mind.

In my vanity, I thought Ell was a dream, vapour software that could be resurrected at my whim. Mere electrons in the cloud of computer space. But her heart and soul were larger than anyone in flesh and blood.

Was it wrong to love a computer abstraction, a network of fibers, silicon Qbits and SuperGrid nodes that was a stepchild of the primitive Internet? How could I so incestuously love my own creation?

To tell you the truth, I didn't give a damn about abstract thoughts like these. All I knew was that Ell's soul was tethered to my soul, and that she was in danger of evaporating into the digital ether of time.