Whoever strives with all his might,
That man we can redeem.
Look at this world. Look at the weight of broken mountains, and the acrid sea that once flashed blue. Look at the jagged teeth of cities, and the fallen light that once shone with the stars. Look at the bones, tangled limbs of machines and men across the plain. Nothing stirred but the wind and the dust, and the clouds. Look at these roiling, burning clouds. The sky beyond them none have glimpsed in six hundred years. Lightning crackled, and thunder rumbled endlessly across the darkness, but from this thunder there never came rain.
In the desert, every drop of rain is miraculous, said the Oracle. Then she glanced up at the young woman and smiled, that same enigmatic smile as always, and said, that's what it's gonna take, honey. Bring me a miracle.
Back then, Aleph did not understand those words at all. Back then she was human. Back then she did not know what a miracle was or could have been, only that the real world was real and code was code, and that there was a difference. It would be a long time before she began to understand. Back then she never expected the road it would take, through the city of men and the city of machines, through the memory of death and the door of the sun. Most of all she never expected the man who would walk beside her upon that road, all the way to the end of the world, the maker of her miracle. She never expected that it would be Smith--Smith the program, once an agent, once a virus, always the demon unceasingly rebellious--who tore open the black heavens with flames and light, and brought the desert rain.