It 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.”
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.