Eon

Hugo Weaving

“Mr. Anderson… help me.”

Agent Smith took Morpheus’ head in his hands. “In this mind is the key… MY… KEY…. and I’m going to tear this mind apart to get it.” He pressed the sides of Morpheus’ head in his hands. The wobbly sensation of flesh under his skin repulsed him. He squeezed. Morpheus made mewling sounds as the pressure built on his brain.

Smith felt enraged. His hands could squash Morpheus’ head in a second, but he had to keep him alive to get the codes to the Zion mainframe. Smith had to give him pain, but not death. For a program… outside the Matrix… it would be a simple calculation. Pressure versus bone density; nothing could be clearer. Here, Smith was wrapped in tissue. Tissue had flaws. Flesh was inaccurate. The Matrix emulation of physical sensation distracted him. He had been in the Matrix too long, away from the elegance of code. He wanted to kill Morpheus. He wanted to torture him. He was sitting next to every answer that he needed, that the God Machine needed, and it simply did not matter to him. He had to fight these very… damn it… human… desires… to get what he needed.

This scene is the beginning of what I wanted to see happen in the first “Matrix” movie. I loved it on its own merits, but I thought the Wachowski brothers missed the boat on Agent Smith in the later movies. We have a sentient computer program, forced to live inside an environment with extraneous, chaotic, irrational data. Weather. Advertising. Fast food. People who don’t bathe. Morons. The programs deal with humans who penetrate the Matrix and sabotage their machine processes over and over again.

Smith is unique. Unlike the other agents, who exhibit cold, merciless logic, Smith shows impatience, anger and disgust. I wanted to see the Matrix becoming corrupted by the human minds that inhabited it. Subjected to the conditions he was forced to “live” in, I wanted to see Smith start to become human.

I can see him rebooting and having free will, like we saw in the sequels. I would have him wake up in an alley somewhere, completely disconnected from the command structure of the other agents. He would be alone. Mentally, he would be equivalent to a recovering psychotic. He’s had no social skills and no purpose other than killing, until now. He has no idea how to interact with humans like a real person; he has no motivations. Unlike the other agents, he can’t just “vanish” into the code like he used to. In addition to the smells that he despises so much, Agent Smith’s clothes wear out, he gets stuck in the rain, and his hair starts to grow.

In desperation, he turns to the person who made him the way he is, and begs him for help: Neo.


Agent Smith rebooted.

He sat in an alley somewhere. His suit was perfect, his hair was perfect. Everything was normal except that he hadn’t formed inside one of the human shell programs, like he was supposed to. And his earphone was dead.

Smith tried harder to listen. A human trait, that, one he’d started to learn. Something worked or it didn’t. You heard something or you didn’t. The problem was that he didn’t want to accept what he heard. He heard nothing. That meant he wasn’t connected to the Matrix anymore. He wasn’t receiving signals from the God Machine.

He remembered having his code blown apart by Anderson. The world had blown apart from the inside. Then it felt like he could hear everything, everywhere. Now he was in an alley. Alone.

Smith stood up. Everything felt different. Agents’ suits didn’t get dirty. His was covered in muck from where he’d been sitting. Agents didn’t feel cold. They didn’t notice the wet. Now he felt both.

“Everything that I hate about this place… I feel more of it. Anderson infected me,” Smith said quietly. He felt cold all over his body. Anderson rubbed his arms. He felt like snakes crawled under his skin. He couldn’t feel anything there.

He looked behind him. An empty, smelly alley, filled with grit and garbage. He looked in front of him. The street. A bum. Pigeons. His physical senses were distracting him. Every time the air shifted he thought someone was walking behind him.

Smith grit his teeth. He shifted his awareness to the Code world. His perception flickered. Instead of his physical sensations, he saw green data streams everywhere. He concentrated. There were no threats nearby. No Zion hackers. No agents. No one was aware of his presence.

Smith let go. He gasped for breath. He used to sense the Matrix like that constantly. Now he couldn’t hold it.

“What’s happened to me?” he growled. His hands clenched in rock-solid, stone-balled fists. He hadn’t even known he’d made them.

Smith punched the nearest wall. His relentless fist caved in the brick like punching a bag of potato chips. It gave Smith pleasure to destroy something for no reason. He laughed at the simile that his human code generated. This might not be so bad, at least until the Machine removed his anomalous programming.

When he drew his hand back, he saw blood.

Smith screamed.

running

Sixty seconds is a long time to scream. It took Smith a full minute to control himself. He didn’t know what to do. He simply did not have a program that told him what to do when he cut himself. He watched the red liquid ooze out of his hand. It dripped down his arm. He saw tiny pieces of his body peeled back like shredded paper tied to a board.

Could this body be infected? Did the Matrix think he was human?

Smith lost control. He lashed out, flattening a trash can, and kicking a dumpster thirty feet. The bum at the far end of the alley scrambled away. “Jerkoff!” he yelled. He chucked a can of Budweiser at him.

Smith’s agent reflexes took over. He twisted and bent out of the way without moving his feet. The can struck the ground right behind him, as if it had passed through his body.

Smith’s breathing slowed down. “A human can’t do that,” he said to himself. He said it again. He said it a third time, very slowly, and straightened his jacket. He held up his hand in front of him. “It doesn’t hurt. I am not flesh. This is defective code. It can be repaired.” He didn’t know how. If he’d been human, he would have thought he was lying.

The blood dripped down. He held it farther away to keep it from dripping onto his suit.

Smith concentrated. He accessed the Matrix. Humans. Injury. Repair. Cross index. First aid. Sub-index. Process.

Locate pharmacy.

Smith had barely left the alley when two of the people in front of him morphed into agents, one with black hair, one with red. Neither looked happy to see him.

“Unauthorized Matrix datastream access located,” Black said.

“Identify yourself,” Red ordered.

Smith raged. “Agent Smith. Recognize.”

They stared at him. Smith didn’t feel the normal ‘blink’ of the Matrix moving through him.

“Recognition failure,” Black said.

“Your code is anomalous,” Red agreed.

“Irreversible corruption. Deresolution is required,” Black concluded.

“Wait one fucking minute…,” Smith said.

Red reached for Smith. Silver-black data spikes sprouted from his hand. One touch and they would begin dissolving Smith’s body.

For lack of a more mechanical word, Smith reacted on instinct. He dodged Red, drew his pistol and shot Black. Black crumpled, turning into an overweight man in a basketball jersey before he hit the ground. Red froze. Smith could see his code failing to process what was happening.

“Derez this,” Smith said. He used a jujitsu arm lock and pressed Red’s hand against his own body. Red gurgled. His body felt like a billion plastic beads that suddenly vanished in a spray of mist.

Black reappeared farther down the block. A second agent with blonde hair appeared across the street. Smith ran.


Smith ran for a day. He ran deep into night. He ran, literally, from one end of the Matrix to the other. He fought agents every step of the way. The agents used every protocol in their program. Nothing worked. Smith knew, because he recognized them. With a manic thought, Smith knew that the God Machine must have been going mad trying to decipher the problem. Smith knew what they would do before they did it, and knew how to counter what they did or turn them against each other.

They shot at him. They hit each other.

They called out SWAT and police. Smith drew them into crossfires and into areas with too many so-called innocents to use their guns.

They grappled him. He knew who would try before they did it and threw them into oncoming traffic.

They tried using helicopters to see him. He took them out by throwing beer bottles and rocks through the tail rotors.

They cornered him. He found the weak spots and escaped. Over and over again.

Smith used parkour to run up a building, punching and kicking places to hold on into the wall where he had to. The agents had never thought of it before. He knew he gained seconds on them as he did it. Now the God Machine was looking for someone at the top of the building to get eyes on him.

Smith reached the top and ran to the nearest cover. His bloody hands were healing; he only cared because he didn’t want his gun to slip when he used it. His suit was torn all over. Smoke blackened his face. Smith angrily rubbed his arm across his forehead. Sweat. Of all the stupid things, sweat had been part of his program corruption.

Smith ran across the rooftop, jumped to the next, smashed open a door, then ran to the next building. He hid behind an air conditioning unit that gave him good cover. If they heard the door, they would check that building first.

Somewhere in the back of his mind – it nagged Smith to know that he was looking at it this way now – Smith knew that even he shouldn’t be able to do what he was doing. He was supposed to think in programs. Protocols. Heuristic decision structures. He analyzed problems and computed the solution. Now he felt them run, saw the answer, and had a choice to do something else.

He was aware.

It was in this moment of awareness that he remembered the most infuriating thing about being an agent: the limitation of rules. He had to see someone to chase them. Sense them. They could be hiding right next to him, but if he didn’t perceive them with his limited, pathetic, human, physical senses, he wouldn’t know they were there. There was no search engine, no code protocol, that they could use to find him.

Smith heard the sounds of police cars sealing off the building next door. He waited another moment. People were yelling. He heard commotion. Breaking glass. The building was being searched.

Slowly, Smith jumped two more buildings over. He climbed a sturdy drain pipe to ground level, into an unoccupied alley. When he got there, he took off his jacket, shirt, tie and glasses. He waited near where the alley opened to the street.

It took a few minutes – minutes that drew the police closer than Smith liked – until he saw what he needed. A lone man about his size walked past the alley, out of earshot from anyone nearby.

Smith dragged him into the alley and snapped his neck. He made sure the victim – did he really think that? – never saw his face. That was critical.

Agents hadn’t appeared until he accessed the Matrix. They had chased him as long as they could see him. If he was right, his code was so corrupted with Anderson’s that he looked like another fleck of the human race. The programs that processed human death would treat this as a simple mugging.

Smith had his answer. If the Matrix had detected what happened, the old woman and her baby that had gone by a few minutes ago would have turned into agents by now.

Smith stripped him, stripped himself, and put on the man’s clothes. He messed up his hair and pulled the man’s sweatshirt hood up as high as he could. He almost gagged at the smell of the man. How he hated smells.

A police officer hustled him out of the barricades without even looking at him. Over the officer’s radio, he heard that the first building had come up empty. It was time to expand the search. Smith smiled. He headed deeper into the crowd of curious humans, feeling more hidden with every step he took.


Smith nicked his face shaving. The edge of his chin, the edges of his jaw, and where his upper lip met his nose always cut. Little trails of blood ran down his face. Smith didn’t care. He had at first, but after two weeks of shaving it was foolish to bother about. There were worse things to bother about. The cuts on his face stopped bleeding. Smith washed his face and rubbed it dry with a towel.

He walked into the middle of his basement apartment. Upstairs, he could hear his night-shift neighbor starting to wake up. Feet from the busy sidewalk went back and forth past his window. Smith stayed away from it. The last tenant had left drapes on it that kept people from looking inside, but Smith was careful just the same. The walls were bare, painted cinderblock, and the light came from an uncovered light bulb in the middle of the ceiling.

Smith wore jeans and athletic shoes and a T-shirt. His pistol was stuffed in his belt. He washed all his clothes daily with a bar of soap and water from the tub. He knew that humans used washing machines and had a whole stupid ritual around washing, drying, softeners, hot water, cold water, who knew what else, but Smith had enough problems to deal with. He walked over to his dresser to count his money supply. He began counting, then stopped.

Damn it.

He already knew the exact amount: one thousand two hundred twelve dollars and thirty-three cents. There was no reason to check it, other than an illogical human need. Slowly, the infection was spreading.

Smith made a fist. He punched the dresser, not too hard. He didn’t know how long he would need to live like this. He wished he had let them derez him that first day.

Smith had used what little money he had stolen from his first victim to buy more clothes. Then he’d ripped open an ATM machine to get more money, found this apartment, and paid the landlord cash on the spot to let him move in. Over the first few days, Smith realized that his hair grew, and he could sweat, but he didn’t need to eat, drink, excrete, or sleep. He hated bathing but he did it so that he wouldn’t be immersed in awful human smell. He also found himself getting bored. He purchased a Bible at a nearby used book store – it was the thickest book they had, and Smith had no idea what he would be interested in reading. So far he found it quaint.

Smith left the money and sat on the bed. He opened a laptop that he’d purchased at the end of the first week. Agents weren’t programmed to type, so Smith punched the keyboard with two slow fingers when he wasn’t using the mouse.

Smith could read the Matrix passively, to see if there were agents or threats nearby. If he pulled data actively, running a search, he would have agents kicking down his door in seconds. To find out information, Smith had to dig for it like a human.

Morpheus and Neo had been busy. Smith saw their footsteps all over the police reports: hackers vanishing without a trace; scruffy misfits suddenly wearing leather jackets and sunglasses and sporting automatic weapons. They were pulling more humans out of the Matrix every day. Smith didn’t see the point. It was like pulling sand off a beach one grain at a time.

Someone knocked at his door.

Smith’s hand went to his gun. He made no sound.

They knocked again.

For fifteen tortuous minutes, on and off, they knocked. Smith wanted to get up, to tell them to get lost and stop bothering him, but he couldn’t risk being seen.

They finally left.

Smith rubbed his face. He needed to start growing a beard. Damn it.


taxi at night“Where to?”

“Uptown. I’ll tell you when we get there.”

The taxi driver looked into the back seat. His passenger had brown hair, long on the sides, and a goatee. His eyes looked like he could look right through him. His T-shirt was wearing thin. The driver looked over his shoulder.

“Is there a problem?” the passenger asked.

“You got cash? You look like you don’t have two nickels to rub together.”

The passenger fidgeted. He boosted himself up, dug into his pocket, and brought out a wad of mixed cash. “Can we go or am I going to find another cab?”

“Sure thing, buddy. No hard feelings. You never know in this neighborhood.”

“I get it.”

The cab peeled out. Smith sat back down, letting go of the pistol he’d reached for where the driver couldn’t see.

A month had passed. Smith had found a hair stylist and a helpful girl at a consignment shop who picked clothes for him. The humiliation of asking a human power source for help was nothing compared to his fear of the other agents, not to mention his disgust for smells. He kept it simple. Smith realized his code was expanding; he was learning.

The cab crossed from downtown to midtown.

“Did you catch the game last night?” Smith asked.

“Fuckin’ sucked. I can’t believe the Angels blew that game.”

“I lost twenty bucks on those guys. A friend of mine’s a Tigers fan.”

“They’ll get ’em tonight.”

Smith didn’t care about the Angels or the Tigers. He was practicing his communication skills.

The cabbie hit the gas and jogged them around a traffic snarl behind a bus. He made the next traffic light, cutting off a truck trying to make a turn. The trucker leaned on his horn.

“Nice moves,” Smith said. Not really. The cabbie nodded. Smith nodded too. The human believed him. He felt more like an agent than he had as an agent.

“All right, this is uptown. Where are we going?”

A bomb went off less than a block ahead of them on the left. Windows shattered. Debris hit their cab. The cabbie pinned his brakes, throwing Smith against the front seat. Other cars screeched to a stop too. Smith heard screams all around him.

“We’re here,” Smith said. He tossed a twenty into the front seat and bolted from the cab. He blended into the crowd. Everywhere people were running away. He stood near someone close to his height, and imitated someone standing on their toes. They tried to see what was happening. Smith was looking for agents.

The crowd milled about, trying to see. Police sirens screamed in the distance. They were getting closer. Most people covered their mouths, coughing from the smoke and dust. Smith’s held his breath and blinked hard so that he could see.

The building was a bank. The bomb had gutted the third floor. Smith didn’t see bodies or body parts. The sentimental humans had probably cleared the floor first.

Smith ran inside the building. Two hapless security guards were trying to get employees out. One of them saw him. “Sir, get the hell out of this building!” he yelled.

“I’m an EMT. I’m going to help,” he said.

“I can’t let you do that. I have to secure the—”

Smith ignored him. There were too many people for the guard to handle and he let Smith go.

Smith forced his way the mob of people coming down the stairs. He was stronger than all of them put together. People figured out that they had to get out of his way. He saw frightened secretaries, administrators, data clerks and finance specialists. He saw suits, ties, and fancy dress wear. None of them looked like the hackers.

Smoke oozed around the corners of the door to the third floor. The edges were buckled and bent. The door had already been taped off for professional cleaning. Smith forced the door off its hinges and went inside.

Smoke filled the stairway behind him. People panicked. It would complicate his exit but it couldn’t be helped. Smith crouched down to stay out of the smoke. It was just as he thought. No bodies. Nothing but wrecked desks and filing cabinets. He didn’t have time to see where the bomb had been and he didn’t care. If Smith had to guess, they had disguised themselves as cleaners, dropped off the bomb in their equipment and walked out. It was a diversion.

Smith looked out at the street. Police cars and EMT’s were arriving. They would set up a perimeter and start to help people out of the building. Fire fighters would contain the blast area. Agents were coming in another car; he could feel them. He only had a few minutes.

He saw a cleaning van parked across the street. On fourth floor of that building, he saw three people dressed in black working feverishly on laptop computers.

A tall man with ghost-pale skin and short black hair stopped what he was doing. Smith suddenly remembered what it had felt like just before he had died at the hotel. Confusion. Chaos. Reality blinking in and out. There was a human saying for how he felt now: like someone walked over his grave.

The man looked at Smith. Smith said slowly, “Hello, Mr. Anderson.”

Even with the beard and new haircut, Smith knew that Neo could see him for what he was. He felt ripples in the Matrix that focused on him, like a spyglass focusing on someone.

Smith ran for the roof. He wanted to jump across the street and punch Anderson’s head into the wall behind him, but it wouldn’t serve Smith’s purpose. The stairs were chaos. Smith shoved or threw people out of his way as he had to. If the humans held true to form, they would run as far from the agents as they could, as fast as they could. They thought their cover was blown, so they wouldn’t use the truck. That meant the roof.

Smith found the roof access and punched his way through. Across the street, he saw the humans doing the same thing. He recognized Morpheus leading the way. Trinity came next, then someone he didn’t know, with Anderson bringing up the rear.

Anderson pointed at him. Morpheus whipped out a grenade launcher from under his coat.

“I finally want to talk first and they pull out the artillery,” Smith said.

It was a gesture, not a tactic. In the time it took Morpheus to lob three rounds of high explosive at him, Smith ripped an air conditioning unit off its base and threw it at him. The shells hit the unit halfway across the street, blowing shrapnel in all directions.

People screamed and went running again. Police and firefighters dove for cover. Chunks of the air conditioning unit became deadly flying blades. Even the agents stopped; they had just reached the block.

Well, things were about to get interesting.

Morpheus and the stranger ran the other way. Anderson and Trinity leaped straight at him. Smith barely ducked in time to avoid getting thrust-kicked by Anderson. Smith wound up rolling under Trinity’s landing. He took a boot to the head. He barely felt it. It was still good to be almost invincible.

Everyone stood up. The hackers took fighting poses. Smith did too. He’d rehearsed this a hundred times in his head but now it was all he could do to keep from ripping Anderson’s head off. He had to talk to them!

Both Anderson and Trinity hesitated.

“Jesus Christ… he’s bleeding!” Trinity said.

He had an opening.

“You did this to me,” Smith said. “Made me like this.”

Smith could see Anderson thinking. He wasn’t too bright so it was taking him longer. He must have known that Smith could have swung at him ten times by now.

“What do you want?” Neo asked.

“Neo, there’s no time!” Trinity said.

She was right. The agents saw them jump across the street. Anderson and Smith looked up to see three agents coming at them like black-suited dark angels.

JS-fire-mt-vernon

Josh Sisk photography

Smith didn’t think he could trust Anderson and Trinity. He knew the agents would destroy him given the chance. Smith leaped into the air, punched one agent and kicked the second into the third. Bodies went flying. Smith landed on the sidewalk. “Your move, Anderson,” Smith said.

Trinity leaped over the street. Anderson flew up high into the air, then came down like a missile, ramming one of the agents a foot deep into the concrete.

“That’ll leave a mark,” Smith said.

The other two agents showed up. One was tall, the other short. Damned upgrades. He didn’t know their names. Tall said, “Smith. Submit to deresolution. Your program will be reloaded into the Matrix as an upgrade.”

Smith was about to tell him to get lost when he felt a jab in the base of his neck. Smith’s muscles spasmed. He twitched like he was being tased. His body turned to jelly. Smith clenched every muscle in his body. No. He wanted to live. Damn it, he wanted to live.

In his ear, he heard an agent saying, “Deresolution initiated. The program is resisting.”

“Increase data flow,” Tall said. He looked behind Smith.

Anderson took the agent attacking Smith and threw him into a wall. Smith dropped to his knees. Tall and Short ran past him. Smith could hear them fighting Anderson. Smith felt woozy. His code was unstable. Smith felt bursts of strength, then it faded away.

The police and fire fighters didn’t know what to do. Smith found an unconscious officer on the ground with tear gas grenades. He opened all of them and threw them in random directions. “This is a private party,” he said. People started running. He picked up the officer’s baton and rifle.

The other agents kept Anderson busy but he made them look foolish. At any given time, one of them was always getting thrown through the air. Smith caught one and snapped his neck. Anderson made short work of the other. The agents started to re-form in other humans.

Smith’s strength started coming back. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “One conversation, Anderson. That’s all I ask.”

“My name is Neo!” Anderson snarled.

Smith rolled his eyes. Neo. What kind of name was that?

Agents came at them again. Neo fought Tall. Smith shot Short and dodged a shot from the third agent who still needed a name. The world slowed down. The Matrix was allocating more resources to this area. “More agents are coming, Neo. You need to get out of here.”

“Tell me what you want.”

“Now?”

The agents came at them again. Smith counted four. Smith bullseyed three gas tanks and sent them back into the green data bits they came from.

Neo spun him around, pointing a gun at his head. Smith couldn’t have gotten out of the way before; he wondered if he could, with his infected code.

“Now!” Neo said.

“I need your help.” There was nothing else to say.

Neo shot two agents that appeared behind Smith; Smith shot two that appeared behind Neo. The two of them looked at each other. Smith entertained pointing his rifle at Neo, but there wasn’t much point. The human was faster than Smith could even imagine, and he knew it.

Neo said, “I’ll be in touch.”

The ground under Smith’s feet wobbled. Neo flew straight up into the air. He was gone before Smith had counted three. Smith chuckled. Neo left him there to fend for himself. The son of a bitch had style, but he certainly didn’t have any sympathy.

Sympathy? Smith wondered if he had any of his old code left in him at all.

Five agents walked towards him. Day was turning into premature night due to lack of system processing power. Smith hefted his rifle. He asked, “Don’t you have better things to do?”

The agents cracked their knuckles. Smith calculated trajectories and likely dodge angles. Ammo supplies dotted the area from unconscious humans. Power lines would serve as webs and strangle wires. More unexploded gas tanks awaited his touch.

“Just remember, I tried to be nice,” Smith said.


basketball courtIt had been two weeks since the “terrorist attack” at the bank. People still wore green ribbons, including himself. Smith was glad to live in a neighborhood where people didn’t look at you twice, let alone ask questions about who you were.

Old Mrs. Wilson looked up at him gratefully as they put down her garbage. “Thank you, John. You’re a good man.”

“Don’t mention it, Mrs. Wilson,” Smith said.

“Please, call me Beverly.”

Smith wasn’t used to first names yet. “One day,” he said. She pat him on the arm. The thought occurred to him to smile. He certainly wasn’t ready for that yet. He imitated a smile well enough that she believed it. Thank… whomever… for cataracts.

As she walked back inside the tenement, Smith sensed contact focused on him. An AI. He waited. More details came to him. It was like picking out different scents in the air. Smith still disliked smells, but that horse had left the barn a long time ago. He supposed he was getting used to it.

A taxicab pulled up next to him. An Asian gentleman dressed in clothes that were too stylish for this neighborhood leaned toward the window. “Our mutual friends would like to talk.”

Seraph. Smith had gone a few rounds with him years ago, by human reckoning. “Why didn’t they come here?”

“Get in, or don’t. I wouldn’t say no if I were you.”

Smith got in the car. Seraph carried no guns, and Smith had left his in his apartment. They were evenly matched hand to hand. Seraph carried a cane. Smith guessed it concealed a sword, a stun stick, or he was just playing his fashion victim role.

Neither of them wanted to attract attention, so Smith didn’t expect a fight now.

“I like your beard,” Seraph said.

“The 1980s called. They want their clothes back.”

“Touche.”

The cab weaved its way through east side. Smith said, “Is she still baking cookies?”

“And smoking cigarettes. It’ll be the end of her.”

Smith chuckled. “Too bad she can’t… change her habits.” He tugged at his beard. “I know how that is.”

The cab crossed through a neighborhood called Wilkins Park. Seraph led them passed trimmed hedges to a basketball court. It was walled in on two sides, and had limited visibility through the front and back. The Oracle sat on a bench to his right. Morpheus sat next to her. Neo and Trinity stood across from her. Seraph walked to within a jump’s distance of Oracle and stood guard, as he always would.

“Well… if I’d known you were coming I would have brought beer,” Smith said.

“A beard, blood, sarcasm, and humor. Unbelievable,” Morpheus said.

The Oracle said, “I know what I see, Neo. Tell me what you see.”

“It’s a mixture. The colors in his code keep shifting. Part agent, part human, part me.”

“Not quite Seraph, not quite agent. You’re something new, Mr. Smith.”

“His landlady calls him ‘John,’” Seraph said.

“John? Really?” Trinity asked.

“It was convenient,” Smith said.

“You wanted to talk. Talk,” Neo said.

“I need your help.”

Neo, Trinity and Morpheus guffawed. Seraph showed no emotion. He never did. The Oracle looked into him. Smith had never been fixed under that gaze before. He was used to intimidating others, not being intimidated himself. And by a middleaged woman – who happened to be one of the most powerful programs in the Matrix – besides.

“I don’t care about you or your war!” Smith barked. His voice echoed a tinny sound off the brick. “My purpose was to hunt down and kill you,” he nodded to Neo, “you,” he nodded to Trinity, “you,” he nodded to Morpheus, “any of your kind that penetrated the Matrix. Now I’m a prisoner. Condemned to live. Agents see me as an invader. My world was logic before. Now everything is chaos!”

“And you like it,” Oracle said.

Smith wanted to punch her, but he couldn’t deny it. “Yes. It’s incomplete. I’m not programmed to like things. I don’t have interests. I don’t know what a life is. I don’t have decades of experience in social bullshit—”

“You’ve learned to swear,” Trinity said.

“That one’s easy,” Smith replied.

“He’s a killer. Dangerous. We shouldn’t even be here talking to him,” Morpheus said.

“Why should we help you?” Trinity asked.

“Because I’m asking nicely.”

“You’ll have to do better than that.”

“And I know when you enter the Matrix.” Smith gestured at Neo. “It’s my connection to you. My code recognizes yours. Give me an hour, I can find you anywhere in the city.”

The humans looked at each other. Trinity pointed her gun at him. “Why don’t I just kill you now?”

“He’s AI,” Neo said. “Kill him and he’ll just reboot.”

Trinity put her gun away.

“Make no mistake. I’m not your friend, but we have common enemies.” He nodded at Neo. “I know that he can kill me again and again in the blink of an eye. So that’s your insurance that I’ll be a good boy. I’ll help you, if it suits me. And I will stay out of your way. In return, I want you to help me learn how to live.”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Morpheus said.

“No one’s ever heard this. A machine, cursed to be human. Things surely are changing,” Oracle said. She looked at Neo. “The choice belongs to the One.”

The One? Smith remembered something about a prophecy among the humans in Zion. A savior. He kept from laughing. He couldn’t deny Neo’s power, even if he couldn’t explain it.

“We agree,” Neo said. He reached out his hand toward Smith. The last time that hand had touched him, he had exploded from the inside out. Smith felt a shock of fear run up and down his flesh.

They shook hands.


dive barSmith sat in the back of the darkest bar in the city. No one walking by his table would have looked at him. It was a dive, and a lousy one at that. Not a social place.

Smith wore a leather jacket. He hadn’t succumbed to the long coat look that the hackers favored, but he liked how this one looked. He sipped his beer slowly. Alcohol didn’t make him drunk, but he could taste it. Smith was trying to figure out what he liked. A second beer sat untouched at the empty seat across from him.

Neo approached his table. “That’s a good face for drinking bad beer,” he said. “Are you learning or is that your own?”

“That’s mine,” Smith said. He gestured at the seat.

Neo sat down. He considered the beer.“What do you have for us?” Neo asked.

Smith handed him a sheet of paper. “Hacker. Calls herself Whisper. She lives in the west side of the city at this address.”

“How do you know about her?”

“Chatter in the Matrix. Agents are tracking her, too. I’ve felt them triangulating on her address. They won’t move, yet, but if you want her, you may want to move sooner than you thought.”

“How long do we have?”

“If it were me watching her, I think you’d have two weeks.”

“If you’re lying, I’ll kill you again.”

“Watch yourself, savior. Power corrupts. I know.” The corner of Smith’s mouth turned up as Neo sat up straighter. He must have been taking his new responsibilities seriously. It was funny to watch.

Neo took a sip of the beer. “Ugh. If this works out, I’ll teach you more about drinking.”

“A start’s a start.”

Neo got up to leave. “Good night, Smith.”

“Eon.” Neo looked at him. “My name, for you and your friends. Eon.”

Neo folded his arms. He smirked. “Why Eon?”

“It’s an anagram of your name. And I’ve always been here. Good night, Neo.”

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