Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What Do You Need?

Twenty minutes later, the woman stops the car at the curb of another street, in front of another apparently-abandoned building. She leans back and pops the lock open again.

"This is where you get off, buddy. Have fun." She smiles the same mocking smile at him between the seats as he gets out of the car. As soon as he stands and closes the door, she jerks the car out of park and pulls away.

He watches the vehicle until it rounds a corner and passes out of sight, and then turns to the building behind him. Indescript, dead -- a heavy structure, composed of decaying cinderblocks and narrow, heavily boarded-up windows. Heyward walks to the door, finds it unlocked, and pushes it open cautiously.

The interior of the building is in the same state of disrepair; the only light is from a couple of bare bulbs hanging at intervals in the hallway that leads away from the small room the door opens into. At the end of the hallway, Heyward can see two heavily-armed men -- Exiles, most likely -- standing on both sides of a closed door.

He walks down the hallway towards them. The men look him over as he approaches, as though checking him against a description. Without a word, one turns, unlocks and opens the door, and gestures Heyward through.

The room on the other side of the door is the same, structurally, as what Heyward has seen of the rest of the building -- ruined, falling apart. Unlike the front room and the hall, however, this room is lined with wires and electronic devices.

Heyward runs an eye over them, warily. Jamming, shielding, security -- he can guess what all of this hardware provides. It keeps this room and its occupants hidden and safe -- away from the Machines and Zion, and any Exiles who might object to the business carried out here. It stands between this room and programs such as what Heyward once was.

A glint in the rooms' corners, at the joining of walls and ceiling, catches Heyward's attention. Surveillance cameras. Ah.

He should have been expecting that.

"I see you've noticed our . . . insurance, Heyward."

Heyward's focus snaps forward, to the Exile seated at the far side of the room. There are several other Exiles, silent and alert and armed, standing in the corners -- but this one is obviously the one in charge. The one he came to see.

App. Short for something, the Exiles he forced the information from told him, but none of them knew precisely what -- not application, they said. At least they didn't think so. Something else.

App sits behind a massive, exquisitely crafted -- or programmed -- desk, its surface gleaming and smooth in the harsh light of bare light bulbs. There is nothing on the desk, and Heyward guesses that it is primarily for show, to draw attention to App himself.

It is most likely an unnecessary gesture. App draws Human attention, at least, quite effectively on his own.

App is a stunningly handsome program. His features are fine-boned and precise, perfect; his eyes are dark, almost black, and there is something exotic in their size and angle. Black lashes rim them, and narrow eyebrows lead down to them. His face seems built around his eyes. His black hair -- only slightly darker than his eyes -- is straight and of shoulder-length, kept neatly swept back at the base of his neck with a crimson tie. His RSI is not that of a large man, but there is a definite sense of strength to him -- the kind of strength that a snake has, lean and lithe and concealed until it is needed, brought out for the sudden strike and the grip and the kill.

He is handsome in the manner of the poet or the vampire -- though he does not care for the latter comparison.

Today, he is dressed in red and black -- a red silk shirt and tailored black pants -- and is lounging easily in a red leather-upholstered chair, as indolent as the Merovingian himself.

"Yes, Heyward, you won't be getting out of here without leaving something behind. I know you're one of those Machinist people. One of their least-flexible, in fact, if I am not greatly mistaken. And I don't believe I am."

App waves a hand at the second chair across from the desk, a twin to his own. "Here. Sit."

Heyward crosses the room slowly, on edge, aware of everything around him. The cameras are a trap, and he does not care for what they imply. He sits in the chair, forceably upright, not allowing himself to relax in the slightest.

"You . . . know me." This is not a question on Heyward's part -- it is a statement. It is obvious the Exile already has information that Heyward would rather he did not. Yet there is a hint of a question, not voiced -- the underlying question of how much he knows. One Exile already is using a . . . particular piece of information in ways inconvenient to Heyward; he would rather the number not increase.

"It's my business to know redpills, Heyward. Keep track of the customers. See who's happy and who's not." App leans across the desk fluidly, confidently. "And you seemed happy enough. Machines, Machines, Machines -- you've been with them since your Awakening, yes? No sign of wavering."

App leans back. "So, what brings you here? Not skipping out on your captain to join the bright-eyed Zionists or us parasites" -- the word is pronounced lovingly, caressingly -- "are you? No."

App locks eyes with Heyward; and Heyward holds the gaze impassively, as best he can.

"I can see it in your eyes, Heyward -- it's almost like looking at one of them. You want to kill us. You'd like to bring this whole place down around our ears. Burn all our pretty things and all our parties, build a gray city from the gray ashes and laugh . . . Though you'd never laugh, would you?"

An off-handed gesture indicates the cameras. "Of course not. And, so -- the cameras. You tell on us, Heyward; and we tell on you. It only seems fair. So, I suggest you keep this meeting secret, and your intentions . . . non-violent?"

Heyward nods slightly, abruptly. There is great shame in this meeting, for him -- forced to come to one Exile in order to pursue another.

"Good." App places both hands on the desk and leans forward again. "To business, then. What do I have that you need so much that you would come to me?"

"I . . . require devices to block operator observation within the Matrix." Heyward forces himself to meet the Exile's eyes again, from behind his dark glasses. "This operator is unusually . . . attuned to the system. I believe he would detect any programs created by Humans. I require Machine programming, and the Machines do not give such out lightly to their . . . Human operatives." Heyward hesitates on the last phrase, forced again to name himself, however indirectly, as Human.

"So you come here. To me. To the second-best, you believe." App leans further forward and his voice takes on greater force and directness for a moment. "First-best, Heyward. First-best."

One of his hands snakes down behind the desk and pulls upon a small drawer. He reaches in and draws out a handful of small objects, spreads them out on the surface of the desk.

"Here. Jamming devices." The objects are metallic, flat, and circular -- slightly smaller than a nickel. "They attach themselves to the skin. You apply and activate them like so" -- App places a device against the skin of his inner arm and presses a small central button; he hisses in a brief moment of pain as it extends tiny hooks into his flesh -- "to deactive, hold down both of these" -- he pinches the device, pressing two buttons on its sides -- "and to detach, hold those down and twist." He twists it, and the hooks withdraw from his arm, leaving only small red marks and a few tiny beads of blood.

"It's quite simple. And foolproof, I assure you -- the interference will read as minor technical problems with your ship's systems or your own neuraljack. There's a healthy radius on these, as well -- your operator will be able to see nothing for some distance around you." App stands and sweeps the jammers into a tidy pile on the desk. "How many will you need?"

Heyward has considered this beforehand -- one for each member of the Nothingness's crew and two for backup. "Six."

"Leading a minor insurrection, are we? Interesting." App picks out six jammers from the pile and sweeps the rest off the desk into his hand to return to the drawer. "And how will you pay for these . . . ?"

Heyward spends little $Info within the system -- only enough for necessary abilities and upgrades --, and he has collected more from the Exiles he has deleted today. He withdraws a disc from a coat pocket and displays its balance to App before placing it on the desk.

"Simple information? And what if that isn't enough?" App sits on his side of the desk and leans far across it, very close to Heyward. Heyward holds completely still, his discomfort at the Exile's proximity clear. Quickly, smoothly, App raises a hand to Heyward's neck and draws a finger along the wire cord there. Deliberately sensual, he trails the finger down to the hollow of Heyward's throat before hooking the cord and drawing the yin-yang pendant out from under Heyward's shirt.

App cups the pendant in his hand. "Very nice." He turns it back and forth, watching Heyward out of the corner of his eye. "And what if I asked for this?" He clasps his hand on the pendant and tugs a little on the cord, drawing it tight against the back of Heyward's neck.

"No." Still struggling with the sensation of the Exile's finger against his skin, Heyward is surprised to hear his own response. Firm and spontaneous -- no conscious thought involved. Simply "no." Even though he would retain the original in the Real, losing the pendant here is not, it seems, an option he is willing to consider. This is unreasonable, emotional; and it worries him -- but it does not change his answer.

"Interesting." App pulls the cord a little tighter, forcing Heyward to lean forward slightly. App leans forward himself, bringing his face very close to Heyward's. "Very well. I don't need any more pretty things, Heyward. The $Info will do." He holds Heyward's eyes as he slips the pendant back down Heyward's shirt, and then smiles as he draws his hand back up along Heyward's collarbone under the shirt.

Heyward breaks, reflexively grabbing for the hand to pull it away. This is a mistake. The odd feeling of tension -- almost of electricity -- that has followed the Exile's touch snaps into something much stronger with the new contact. App's smile broadens.

Heyward jumps up from the chair and back from the Exile, releasing the hand as though it had stung him. He does not understand any of this, but there is something dangerous and very physical at work here. He has to leave. Now.

App laughs, watching the panic and confusion on the face of the Human before him, watching the unconscious flush rise in his face. "Naive! A blushing schoolgirl! How old are you, Heyward? My sources can only trace you back a few months -- where were you before that? Who were you before that?"

App grabs the jammers in one hand and vaults over the desk with the other. He walks up to Heyward and offers the handful of devices. "Here. Take them. And remember that I can reveal to the Machines at any time that you were here."

Heyward takes the devices gingerly and nods -- a reluctant acknowledgement.

"Now, you'd better go. Before I get any . . . ideas." And the Exile leans forward again, sly laughter in his eyes.

Goaded, Heyward regains some of his composure. "Exile . . ."

App only smiles as the guards come up around Heyward and force him back out the way he came.

In Search

Heyward waits as the last washes of green code stream away from the sides of his vision and the Matrix solidifies around him.

"Alright, princess, you're good to go," Salamander chimes in as the code fades and disappears.

Heyward ignores the familiar jibe and begins walking towards the nearest alleyway as Salamander continues.

"So, what's it going to be today -- running errands for Daddy Gray like a good little Machine, or deleting Exiles to work out those repressed anger issues?"

Heyward enters the alleyway, and his face settles into lines of satisfaction -- not a smile, but as close to one as he will allow himself. He draws his weapon, carefully lines up a shot, and fires at the Exile gang members running towards him, overeager to defend their turf.

"Exiles," Heyward answers Salamander as close combat is joined.

Heyward finds a kind of peace in the methodical, self-directed deletion of the Exiles wandering the City's streets; and he has gone on such killing sweeps often enough before that he knows Salamander will see nothing unusual in his doing so today.

He hopes to make his actions today seem routine enough -- and boring enough, from what Heyward knows of Salamander's programmed personality -- that the operator will lose interest and not watch as closely as he might.

Because Heyward has more in mind today than the simple deletion of rogue programs. There is something he needs -- and, as any being with any experience of the Matrix knows, if you need something within the system -- anything -- there is an Exile willing to provide it to you, for a price.

But first you have to find that Exile.

Heyward kills gang members for hours, ranging up and down Richland, in and out of the alleys and parks, circling back to places he has already visited to delete the new waves of programs that spring up so quickly to replace the destroyed.

After the first two hours, Salamander begins to make sarcastic remarks; Heyward ignores all of them -- even the ones that involve fairy queens, tutus, and ballet slippers. The remarks become more and more sporadic over the the next hour and a half; and as the fourth hour draws to a close, there has been silence for some time.

Salamander has finally lost interest and turned his attention elsewhere. Now the real business of the day can begin.

Heyward continues to delete Exiles -- but, now, before each final killing blow, he asks them a question.

Where can a redpill find the things his captain does not want him to have? Things, perhaps, that give you . . . privacy, within the Matrix?

He asks quietly, never spelling out precisely what he wants, in case he is mistaken and Salamander is still watching -- but he doubts this is the case.

The deletion of many Exiles later, he has an answer.

Stand outside a particular abandoned building on a particular street of the many streets in the City -- building and street both unremarkable, indistinguishable, unless you are told, from any of the others. Stand there facing the street, as if you are waiting for someone -- which you are. Wait long enough, and that someone will come. Follow their lead.

Straightforward enough.

Heyward finds the building and the street without difficulty. He stands and waits, as he has been told he should.

He waits for over an hour. He begins to doubt the veracity of the information he has obtained -- but it was repeated to him, in pieces and in whole, by more than one of the Exiles he deleted. This seems to indicate that it contains some truth -- or, at the least, is a very organized fiction for the in-fighting gangs to have agreed upon. Perhaps, Heyward reasons, this is a test of some sort, to make certain the . . . customer is truly interested in obtaining the Exile's wares.

Heyward is interested; and, in a situation like this, alone and with little emotion involved, he can be almost as patient as he was within the system.

Finally, a middle-aged woman -- apparently just another passerby on the street -- stops as she passes Heyward, turns toward him, and extends a hand.

Taken aback, Heyward hesitates a moment and then reaches out and accepts the handshake. The woman withdraws her hand first, and the two stand looking at each other, still silent.

"So," the woman says, "Matrix not as free as you thought it would be, redpill? Looking for help?"

"Ah . . . yes," Heyward responds. Others' assumptions concerning his identity -- his apparent Humanity -- always leave him disconcerted and uncomfortable; but they serve his purposes here, as elsewhere. He will do nothing to dissuade her.

She nods. "We have jamming programs running -- don't concern yourself about your operator." She turns away and begins walking. "He -- or she -- won't be seeing any of this. Come on."

Heyward follows her down the street a short distance, until she stops at one of the vehicles parked along its side, takes a set of keys from a pocket of her jeans, unlocks the driver's seat door, and gets in.

"You," she says as she leans back to flip the lock on the passenger door behind her, "ride back here." She sits back up, slams her own door closed, and waits, quirking an eyebrow at Heyward expectantly.

Heyward opens the back door and slides in to the back seat, thrown slightly off-balance by the woman's casual attitude. As he closes the car door and digs in the worn seat for the ends of the seatbelt, he catches the woman looking at him in the rearview mirror and pauses, oddly self-conscious.

"That's right, sweety," she says. "Buckle up. Never know what you're in for in this part of town . . ." She shoots him a smile in the mirror, very slightly mocking; and the expression is mirrored in her eyes.

As the car pulls off, Heyward wonders if all Exile programs are distantly related to Salamander.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Visiting 01 Continued Further

Heyward moves about her room on the Nothingness, holding still for only moments at a time before pacing on. She has discovered, since her transition from program to flesh, that she can no longer ever hold completely still -- to hold any position for too long results in pain; and many emotions seem to generate energy that must be used, even if for no purpose.

At present, nervousness drives her pacing. She gave Treius information -- warned him that there was a threat at hand, a close threat, and that he must be watchful. She gave him nothing specific, no hard information -- simply an appeal to observe, to be skeptical, to use reason. But she knows that it will very likely be enough to arouse curiousity -- perhaps from Treius, and perhaps from the others who were in the Matrix when she chose to speak -- Canonical and 1Strike.

They will wonder about the nature of the threat, certainly. About whom or what it is that she referred to and would not name.

And they may wonder how she came to know of such a threat. Why she has this information, and why she would not reveal it outright.

Heyward stops pacing and sits on her berth to think.

She chooses not to reveal Veneer directly. She realizes this is a choice, and it concerns her. She must find reasons for her choice, must trace it to its source -- as she has urged Treius to do with his choices.

Treius leads her reasons. She believes him to be led by his emotions, by his desire to trust others. She further believes he must be corrected of this if he is to lead No Exit with efficiency. She knows that Humans can break when faced with truth, that they can fall back into denial -- she is uncomfortably aware of her own brush with this tendency, herself. If Veneer is revealed to Treius directly, she does not believe he will respond to the threat appropriately. He must be made to see the logic himself, to follow it to the threat himself; he must reach a point where he cannot deny the danger Veneer presents, and he must reach this point of his own power. To force him to it could cause emotional reactions -- resentment, perhaps -- that she does not want focused on her.

She further fears for her own safety if she reveals Veneer outright. Her past two encounters with Veneer in the Real have made her vulnerability outside of the Matrix very clear to her -- there is no RSI reconstruction here, to cover for her disturbing lack of skill. Veneer could become violent, or he could reveal her identity to the Humans in retaliation. Both are situations she wishes to avoid.

Finally, in a confusing corner of her mind, she knows that she hesitates to reveal Veneer for reasons that have very little to do with logic. He is one of her few remaining connections with the world of the Machines. Within the system, she was in constant communication with innumerable other programs -- she was never, Humans would say, alone. Never trapped in her own mind. Though she may speak with Agent programs now -- may receive orders from Agent Gray and react to them -- it is nothing like the integration she was once a part of. Veneer knows what she is and actively seeks communication, as the true purpose-driven Machine programs do not; he allows her . . . connection. The sharing of information.

But this sharing of information goes only one way, and Veneer uses the connection for his own ends. She knows that. As long as he has remained a seemingly passive force, she has allowed communication to continue. Because she is weak. Because, in this new existence, it seems so easy to deny truth in favor of desperate emotional need.

After today, after the active threat Veneer has suddenly, overtly, become, logic cannot let her deny what her loyalty to the Machines demands. Only emotion stands in the way of her doing what she must.

She knows that Veneer will have covered his actions; this is another reason she cannot reveal him directly -- he is manipulative and quick to act; she fears he could easily turn aside accusations made against him, make them appear baseless.

She is certain he believes he left no hard evidence of his actions today.

He is wrong.

Heyward strips off her slightly singed long-sleeved shirt. The rough cloth rubs against the electrical burns spreading out across her chest and makes her flinch. The burns are not particularly serious -- but they are very real and very visible, pink and red and blistering. Clear, angry bruises crawl along her arms where Topsight held her down and she struggled against his grip.

Heyward examines the injuries and runs a finger slowly along the scar on her left cheek. Yes. Veneer leaves evidence.

She puts the shirt aside and selects another from the things Death and Taxes gave her -- a shorter shirt, with a low neckline and straps instead of sleeves. It leaves much of her skin bare and makes her feel even more uncomfortably vulnerable -- but it also leaves the bruises and parts of the burns uncovered and visible.

Heyward gets up from her berth, opens her door all the way, and leaves it open as she lies down on top of the blankets of the berth to sleep. Her brief, interrupted rest in the drone plant did little to relieve her fatigue; and she hopes that perhaps someone will come by and see the injuries and form the right questions. She is far from convinced that Treius retains any true vision, but he does seem unusually perceptive for being blinded; and Nichomachea remains sighted.

As does Veneer.

Perhaps, she thinks, even if this achieves nothing else, it is time that he sees his actions do leave . . . not-so-easily-erased tracks. Perhaps it is time that she bait him -- force him to reaction and gain information from his responses, as he has been gaining information from hers.

It occurs to her then, as she lets her herself lose consciousness, that perhaps this . . . "game" . . . can be played both ways.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Visiting 01 Continued - Matrix Standard Date 5/31/05

I stand at the railing of a catwalk, watching the constant stream of production go by below me. Each drone, pieced together by other distinct types of drone, each designed specifically for its own task and no other -- each, at its own creation, pieced together by other specialized drones.

There are no pauses. There are few errors. Any problems that arise are dealt with instantly, flawlessly, by means worked out long beforehand, when those problems were first predicted as probable but acceptable.

I was one of those means, within the Matrix. This is the process of my own creation.

I have fallen so far. There is so very little left of the system in what I am now. I am one facet, one element -- easily created, easily replaced, meaningless in isolation.

Without connection to the system, I am nothing.

Almost nothing, perhaps. I lean against the top bar of the railing and watch the endless process, both familiar and strange. I can still serve. The Machines will never acknowledge what I am, I do not believe; and I . . . accept that. But I will still serve. I will serve until I . . . die, as Humans die.

It occurs to me that I will not return to the Source, then. Whatever oblivion, whatever alien Human mythology, is the truth of organic death will be my own.

I will die individually. Apart from everything. And I will not know where I go in death.

And, suddenly, I feel . . . terribly alone. Surrounded by all of these . . . pieces, fitting together so closely, so seamlessly, in infinite cycles. I fit, once. A piece of everything -- an integrated piece of an entire world.

I have lost that.

Emotion wraps in around the total, hollow weariness I already feel. I do not have the resources to defend myself against it.

I turn away from the railing to face the drone standing behind me.

"Is there . . . a place where I can rest?" I ask. "Here," I add. I do not want to leave the plant.

The drone says nothing. It looks about itself, scanning the catwalk smoothly, and then points -- a Human gesture, for my convenience.

"There," it says. "I believe that will meet Human standards of comfort."

The catwalk seems to be used partially for storage -- the drone is indicating a stack of sheets of some type of packing material, a kind of gray foam.

I walk over to the stack and sit.

"You will not leave?" I ask the drone, my question including both it and the Sentinel still overhead. I know the answer, of course. I know the Machines.

"No," the drone responds. "We have been instructed to escort you for the entirety of your time in 01. We must be with you at all times."

I nod and give in to the tiredness, lying back on the foam. I can sleep here, in the Machine City, guarded by Machines. I can trust that I will not be hurt. There will be no notes, none of the fallibility of locked doors on a Human hovercraft. I may be alone, but, for the moment, I am safe.

I let myself sleep, surrounded by the system of 01.

Visiting 01 - Matrix Standard Date 5/31/05

Heyward hears Escutcheon call and looks up briefly in his direction to shake her head. She will not be going to see the surface -- and, in any case, she intends to spend the day alone, if she can.

Treius hands her an identification card; and she accepts it, reading it over carefully -- the name and number the Machines assign her as an identity:

"Watson, Joan
#00101003"

The Human name again -- the name of her body alone. It hurts her, as it hurts her within the system when Agents refer to her as Mr. Watson or, more painfully, as simply "Human." But she is growing used to it. The name is only a designation, after all -- the same, in its way, as "Heyward." Yet it remains inaccurate -- Joan Watson is dead; and Heyward, for whatever reason, is alive.

A drone approachs her, its movements precise and inhuman -- inorganic. "Miss Watson. I am HGD-0005. I will be escorting you within the city." It stops and seems to watch her, as though waiting for a response. "Your captain was instructed to inform you of the approved areas for organic life within the city. Do you have a destination selected, or do you require time and/or further information to reach a decision?"

The Sentinel assigned to Heyward and the drone glides quietly overhead, watchful, its many "tentacles" undulating slowly. Heyward looks up at it. She is aware that Humans tend to find Sentinels intimidating. Frightening. And she can see how this could be, easily. But the reading she has been doing over the past few days -- the conclusions she has been reaching -- have left her tired. She did not think fatigue could be an . . . emotion, but the hollowness she feels now seems almost to be. It makes her want to stop thinking. To rely on decisions dictated to her, as she did when she was part of the system.

But she cannot. Not now.

From the center of that weariness, the Sentinel, the drone, seem only like safety. She knows them. They will hurt her only if she invites hurt -- if she oversteps clear rules and laws. They may even protect her, if she is threatened.

She knows where she wants to go. She wants to watch the system at work -- the simple, predictable processes being endlessly, predictably repeated.

She turns her attention back from the Sentinel to the drone.

"No. I do not require additional information. I would . . . like to see the drone production facility."

The drone makes a small, incongruous bow. "This way, please."

It leads away across the docks, and Heyward follows. The docks are large, and crossing them takes some time. As the drone and the Sentinel pass through one of the exits leading out to the rest of 01, Heyward turns briefly to look back over the docks.

And sees a lone robotic figure running full-tilt for another of the dock's exitways.

Heyward stands for a moment, knowing she should be concerned, knowing that she should do something, should alert the Machines.

But she is very tired; and for the moment she decides to let the problem of Veneer go. 01 is large. Perhaps it will take care of the problem itself.

Heyward doubts she will be that lucky.

She turns and catches up with her escorts.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Notes on Darwin

Chapter 3, Paragraph 3:

Does Veneer see the Machines as outside of evolution? This is incorrect -- current Machine forms, both robotic and program, bear little resemblance to original Human-constructed Machine forms -- servant robots, such as Veneer's current physical "body," were long ago replaced by designs appropriate to Machine purposes, such as the Sentinel Veneer destroyed. Veneer's own generation of enforcement program was eventually replaced by my Agent program type. Exiles, such as Veneer, are programs that have been rendered obsolete by advancements and changes in Machine programming standards (though their continued survival within the Matrix could be seen as indicative of natural selection -- does Veneer sees these Exiles as actively shaped, perhaps, by natural selection?). Veneer is acting as a destroyer -- of Humans and of Machines; Darwin states that life survives by constantly destroying life -- does Veneer thus see himself as an . . . agent of evolution? Does he believe Machines are or have been outside this cycle of destruction and must be brought into it? Again, this assumption is false; the Machines acknowledge their reliance on life as a resource -- we maintain the Humans as a source of power.

Chapter 4, Paragraph 5:

Does Veneer see himself as the force Darwin describes as acting "wherever and whenever opportunity offers?" Does he believe he may make evolutionary decisions and enforce them?

Chapter 10, "On Extinction," Paragraphs 3-5:

Does Veneer see himself as the fly attacking the elephant -- controlling and bringing it down? Perhaps more to the point, does he see himself -- or perhaps Exiles as a whole -- as that like species that is most in competition with (and thus most likely to displace and bring down) other like species? Does he see himself as a humanoid Machine -- a kind of amalgam of the two -- and thus most suited to bring down and replace both? Does he see me as such an amalgam as well, although perhaps an . . . inverted one? What does that mean? What does he want me to be . . . to do? Does he see me and himself as part of a new race -- or am I just . . . ah, some kind of "variation " to him? That could be -- does he see me as a variation within the same species, perhaps? A species of amalgams? He cannot, alone, make up a species -- cannot bring down everything -- two races -- in and of himself. What does he want? What does he plan to do? Will he . . . create more such amalgams? What does this mean for the Machines? Will he use the crew or other Exiles? Will he play -- God, he said? Creation? A . . . mad scientist, Humans might say?

No Exit is in danger. The Machines are perhaps in danger. I cannot tell yet if I am truly in danger -- he wants something from or of me and that keeps me alive, I believe. Veneer came into my locked room -- I am no longer secure -- I can maintain no illusion of security. I live because he wishes me to live. I do not understand this. I know, as I have said, he has some purpose here -- he either wishes to use me somehow, to manipulate me, or he wishes me to become something -- does he wish me to join him? Are any of my suppositions correct in any form at all, or is he simply leading me to make the suppositions he wishes me to make? In either case, it leads to the same results -- manipulation, the desire to have me arrive at certain conclusions. He is playing with me. Why? Or do I overestimate him? Does he truly anticipate my reasoning? I do not know. I must be extremely careful in future conversations with him.

A Moment - Matrix Standard Date 5/28/05

The jack retracts from the back of Heyward's skull, and her eyes move back into focus. Carefully, she levers herself up into a sitting position and slides off the chair -- she has been fighting Corrupted and Exiles for most of the day and even in the Real, it seems as though every muscle in her body is sore.

But she has other things to think about.

She looks around the room, at the bodies of others still jacked in and the empty chairs of crew otherwise occupied, and then leaves, heading back down the passageways of the Nothingness to her own room.

She reaches it, opens the door, enters, and closes the door firmly behind her. Both of her hands remain on the latch.

"Salamander. Was he telling the truth?"

Salamander's voice comes over the speakers set into the room's walls.

"Who? The boss? 'Bout that Sentinel thing?"

There is a pause, as though Salamander is considering a moment.

"Well, seeing as how he's already told ya, can't see the harm -- yeah, kid. Veneer: one; Sentinel: zero. Go, team!"

Heyward stands very still for a moment, her hands still on the latch, her back to the room.

"What's the matter, princess? Boss got you scared?"

Heyward turns slightly and looks up at the speakers in their places near the ceiling. She says one word, quiet and clear, with no hesitation.

"Yes."

Her hands move on the latch, locking it firmly.

She moves away from the door, looks at it for a moment, and then turns to the monitor on a shelf in the corner of the room. She sits before it, seems to hesitate for a moment, and then calls up Darwin's The Origin of Species and begins to read.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Log - Agent Heyward - Matrix Standard Date 5/26/05

The past few days have been, as were the past few weeks, a period of . . . flux within No Exit. Perhaps Veneer is . . . right; perhaps this constant transition, this instability, is standard for Humanity.

If such is indeed the case, I do not understand how they can have survived so long. Their control and maintenance by the Machines must account for their continued existence. We . . . require them, and so we keep them alive. I do not believe they would have managed to do so on their own . . .

Threats to Machine interests exist now within the Matrix -- on Matrix Standard Date 5/21/05, I, along with other members of No Exit, attended a gathering where the Zionist terrorist Morpheus made an appearance and demanded the return of the body of Neo (Morpheus is . . . insane, I believe; his willingness to trade the stability of the system for the remains of one Human individual is completely without logic. Why should one desire possession of something which no longer retains functionality? Although Morpheus appears to believe this body may be restored . . .). Yet I believe the system capable of correcting these . . . instabilities; it has endured and shall continue to do so.

Much . . . closer at hand, as I have said, there are . . . threats aboard No Exit now. Situations that I do not believe are being controlled as they should be.

On Matrix Standard Date 5/20/05, the new leader of No Exit and captain of the Nothingness, Treius, announced to the faction that Miss Eunoia, the previous leader, had been . . . revived. Restored by a Machine. He did not provide any further information at the time.

The next day, following the gathering at which Morpheus appeared, Treius called a meeting of No Exit to . . . introduce this "new" Eunoia. Treius appears to believe this . . . being to be the . . . previous Eunoia -- an identical entity. He claims that it only requires . . . time to regain its "former" faculties. Such belief is deluded, however -- by his own description, there is no connection, no continuity, between this . . . creation and the dead Eunoia. It was manufactured from pieces of memories of Miss Eunoia found within the mind of another Human -- the previous Will to Power leader, Iktomi. It is, then, simply an . . . impression of Miss Eunoia. A seeming. A construct created to mimic the recorded outward behaviors of another being but containing none of that being's . . . thought patterns, I suppose. I believe it to be essentially . . . empty. And what . . . content it does contain is that of an enemy of No Exit -- an enemy of the Machines. It must be very carefully watched.

Yet Treius allows it within the Matrix. He seems to display . . . affection towards it. To respond to it emotionally. He seems simply to . . . feel -- and to be in conflict with himself over these feelings, as he admitted openly at the meeting. This worries me greatly. Leadership requires . . . resolution; expression of doubt implies that a leader sees logic and acts contrary to it. It implies uncertainty in one's conclusions. If even Treius cannot justify his actions beyond simple emotion . . .

Interestingly, the other members of No Exit seem to share my doubts, to varying degrees. This . . . startled me. Treius' emotion and . . . idealism, I expected from a Human. But Beggar, Escutcheon, Miss Ides, and Miss Canonical -- their lines of reasoning seemed . . . surprisingly similar to my own . . .

However, I feel that this "new" Eunoia (and the low-level Machine that created "her," called Topsight) are of secondary concern compared to Veneer's recent acquisition of entry into the Real aboard the Nothingness.

I believe Veneer to be a very immediate threat to No Exit and perhaps to the Machines and the system. On Friday, he revealed . . . objectives to me, goals. I do not fully understand what he hopes to achieve nor do I understand his motivations -- but I know that he is unpredictable and dangerous. I do not think he acknowledges the implications of what he seems to desire, and I believe he will use any means to attain his ends, whatever they may be.

I know, firsthand, that he is capable of violence and destruction. At our first meeting within the Real, aboard the Nothingness, Matrix Standard Date 5/22/05, one of his first actions was to damage the ship without reason -- simply, I believe, for his own . . . pleasure. He proceeded to . . . provoke me, deliberately, as he has before -- and I . . . gave in. I lost some of my control. I . . . damaged him. Because I could. Because I wanted to cause pain.

It was a . . . failure, on my part. It involved anger -- emotion. Yet it was not the same as that time when I attacked the false Agents. I wanted to . . . communicate the pain, this time. To . . . make him . . . understand it. I . . . do not know why. Why do I care what he understands?

He reacted as I expected him to -- with violence of his own, sudden and amplified. He struck me, hard -- and I have no defenses outside of the Matrix, not even the few skills I now have within it -- and further damaged the ship.

And then he almost . . . killed me.

I was not afraid this time. I do not understand that, either. Dying then would not have been of service to the system; it would have been waste. My previous experiences with pain have taught me that the fear of death comes quickly and easily.

But I did not feel fear. Why?

For his own reasons, Veneer chose not to crush my . . . throat then. He . . . let me live, I suppose. He has that power, now, outside of the Matrix. Treius should not allow this. He should not allow so unpredictable a being free access to this craft; he must see the harm Veneer is capable of, the strength this allows the Exile . . .

I have a . . . scar on my face now, from where Veneer struck me. Running straight across its left side -- a thin line where some jagged part of the metal of his hand sliced the skin. I have been watching it, waiting for it to heal completely -- but I do not think it will. I think it is this body's . . . first permanent mark. Its first sign of . . . wear.

Strange.

(ooc: The scar will only show up in the Real; it has no association with Heyward's RSI form.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Log - Agent Heyward - Matrix Standard Date 5/19/05

I am sitting on the edge of my berth aboard the Nothingness, thinking.

And I know that I cannot spend time thinking any longer.

It has been . . . weeks since I was last within the Matrix. It is . . . very difficult for me to believe that I have survived so very long without contact with the system that once supported me -- that was . . . me. (And I use those pronouns so easily now. Identity. Individuality. I do not want either of them -- but I can barely communicate, even with myself, now, without those short, painful words. I. Me. My.)

But I have survived. Almost without effort. It is . . . surprisingly easy, to live. At least, it has been, here aboard this ship, for me.

But not for others of No Exit.

I have spent these last weeks watching -- observing as the Humans of No Exit have suffered loss after loss, as their stability has wavered and their purpose been questioned.

Miss Janissary was re-inserted. Miss Eunoia was killed. No Exit fractured, and enemies it did not know it had surfaced. Miss Janissary was killed. A faction member stole the Words and deserted. The faction's new leader and captain of the Nothingness, Treius, left without warning for several days and returned having deliberately maimed himself -- and I believe one of the crew aboard the Being has been similarly damaged, though not of his own choosing.

There is death here. There is uncertainty.

And I cannot protect myself from it -- and live to serve the system -- if I remain . . . in denial of where logic has been leading me these past few weeks.

I reach into the duffel bag sitting beside me on the berth and pull out the small metal box I found there a few days after my arrival aboard the Nothingness. I hold it in both my hands, turn it over carefully, considering.

If I open it, I have made my decision. I will not be able to retreat back into the Human denial that I have known, on some level, I have been using to . . . protect myself since my . . . Awakening. I will not be able to continue to believe I can be what I once was. It will be irrevocable.

But I was created to follow logic, and I must accept where logic leads:

From my current . . . situation, there are five possible paths.

One - reintegration into the system. I know now -- have known -- that this is . . . a false option. Extraction of my . . . programming from this Human body and repair and replacement of the subroutines I have lost in transition would require far greater use of resources than would the simple creation of a new Agent program. Reintegration would be a waste to the system. Undoubtedly, a new program was created immediately upon my . . . disappearance; my designation will have been reassigned. Another program labeled Agent Heyward is working somewhere within the Matrix. . . . I hope I never encounter . . . him.

Two - reintegration as an Exile. This is a probable option, but unacceptable. It runs contrary to my most basic programming.

Three - re-insertion as a bluepill. This option would allow my service to the system, but I find I cannot bring myself to . . . accept it. I was designed for active service, not passive. And the possibilities inherent in this option . . . frighten me. Memory is wiped upon re-insertion; I have no . . . bluepill memories, and Joan Watson is dead. Would I end up believing myself still a full Agent? Or would I be nothing -- blank, comatose? Would I . . . exist at all?

Four - self-deletion. Like reintegration as an Exile, this is a probable option but one which accomplishes nothing. When I . . . die, that death must be of service. Suicide is meaningless -- something only a Human would truly consider viable.

Five -

Five.

I open the box.

Within it is a note on rough paper, still crumpled from when I first discovered it and read it and pushed it away in . . . anger.

I pick it up and smooth the creases out.

"Heyward,

I know that you left the Home still suspicious of Taxes, Recoil, and I (I don't blame you for not getting along with Band -- he is a hard man to like). I know that you thought we kept you out of the Matrix as much as we could out of fear and watched you while you were in out of self-interest.

Heyward. It was self-interest, perhaps. We Humans do not like to watch others in pain. We looked at you and saw a human being, a person; and we wanted to teach you how to live as one, apart from the Matrix. We wanted to teach you to accept what has happened to you, because, without acceptance, the lifetime you now have will be one of pain and despair.

Please believe me when I say I know something of what it is to have to accept. It hurts more than anything; but only afterwards will you be able to move on. We wanted to show you that it was worth the hurt to begin that moving on.

I've talked with Taxes, and he agreed that we should give you this. Taxes gave it to me a few months after we were both Awakened -- he still won't tell me where he found it or how much he had to pay for it, but he assures me it was all legal; and, well, I've gotten used to trusting him.

I don't know if you'll know the symbol or not. It's a common enough one in Human culture that I'm guessing you will. Either way, it stands for balance. For the two halves of a whole. Yin and yang. Cold and warm. Death and Taxes, for us. For you -- Machine and Human. Female and male. Body and soul -- or programming, I know you'd prefer.

I have had it for years -- decades, I suppose. It means a great deal to me, but I know it is right to give it to you now. I won't explain why, completely . . . but I know. I hope you will accept it.

Remember, Heyward, that wherever you go, you may always come back to the Home.

Thank you.

Death, Captain - HvCFT Home"

I put the note to the side and remove the object it was covering from the box.

Strung on a cord of black wire, a small pendant of green and gray stone -- jade, I believe -- a yin-yang symbol, set in a backing of silver metal.

Five.

Acceptance.

I place the cord around my neck and slip the small weight of the pendant under my rough shirt.

I accept physicality.

I do not accept Humanity.

It is time to enter the Matrix again.

(ooc: Heyward doesn't know it yet, but he subconsciously places enough emotional/symbolic significance in the necklace that it will show up even on his RSI. Feel free to see the cord around his neck and comment on it.)

Third Memory

*a memory*

*again, all sounds are clear*

*a knock on a metal door*

". . . Come in."

*the sound of a door unlatching and creaking open*

"Hey, Heyward. How are things?"

"The same, Taxes."

*a short laugh* "Touchy, as always, eh? . . . Recoil just told us you'll be leaving soon."

*low, almost angry* "He--?"

*interrupts* "Yeah -- he was watching your conversation with those Machinist folks this evening. We kind of figured you'd want to get back into . . . politics sometime."

*silence*

*the speaker's voice moves closer*

"Look, Heyward. Yes, we have been watching you. Yes, we know you don't like it. But we're not doing it for the reasons you think. We don't . . . distrust you, Heyward. We don't want to use you, and we don't want to hurt you, or what you believe in."

*the speaker's voice comes even closer; a small sound, as of someone settling onto the end of a bed*

"The Home's a neutral ship, remember? None of this 'For Zion' or 'Re-insertion now' crap here. We just live. And let others do the same. That's important to us -- to Death and me."

*the voice continues*

"We're watching you, Heyward, because . . . well, we want you to be careful. We don't want you hurt." *a smile in the voice* "You might hate it, but you're a rookie, kid. Green as grass. Most redpills are at least used to being Human, but, well . . . you don't even have that, do you?"

*a pause*

"So we watch. To make sure you don't get into situations you don't know your way out of. You've been doing pretty well, so far."

*a pause, as though the speaker is waiting for a response, before the voice continues*

"So, these No Exit people. Death and I have done a little looking into them. Seem like decent enough folks -- maybe a little crazy, but no worse than anybody else who decides to get mixed up in choosing sides in there. You might do okay with them. Learn some things, get some answers . . ."

*the sound of something being placed on the bed*

"Anyway, packed some things for you. You'll probably need them where you're going -- you'll want to have your own things in Zion." *a laugh* "The city ought to be an experience for you. Go sightseeing, eh? Look at all the Humans."

"Taxes . . ."

"No, I'm kidding, Heyward. It's okay. Just take care of yourself. And tell us where you end up. You're planning to join the . . . Proserpina, right? With that IdesofMarch woman?"

"Yes."

"Well, just contact us when you join the crew. We'd like to know that you made it alright, Death and I."

"I will not make promises, Taxes."

"I know, Heyward. Still, I thought I'd ask anyway."

*the sound of a person standing up*

"We'll be docking at Zion late tomorrow. Good night, Heyward."

*the sound of a door being pulled to, and of a latch catching*

*end*

Second Memory

*a memory*

*all sounds are clear and close, as though the speaker and the listener occupy the same room*

"This will repeat about every month--"

*a short, wordless exclamation of disgust*

"Yes, I know -- not really much of a thing to look forward to, is it? Very biological -- messy, inefficient, uncomfortable . . ."

*the voice's position shifts -- the speaker moving away from the listener*

"But you're just going to have to learn to put up with it, Heyward. Every woman has, since the dawn of time. It's a part of being female."

"Miss Death--"

"Just Death is fine. I've told you that before. Or Captain, if you must."

". . . Captain. I . . . would remind you that I am not Human. I am not . . . female. I possess no gender identity. I appear male within the Matrix due only to representation standards for my program type. I acknowledge my present . . . apparent sex as similarly irrelevant."

*a short sigh, and the voice once again draws closer*

"Heyward . . . you are Human now. You are female. I can't pretend to know, but . . . from what you've said, your previous self was a shell. An image. This -- this is very different. You have to learn, Heyward. Your body -- your . . . programming -- they're two halves of a whole now. You cannot ignore one for the other . . ."

*abrupt and cold* "Do not touch me, Miss Death."

*a small laugh* "Hm. I used to imagine having this conversation with . . . my own daughter, you know. Someday. It never went quite like this, of course, but . . . not so very different . . ."

*the voice is quieter -- the speaker is both further away and facing away from the listener*

"Taxes and I . . . we left the Matrix at the same time. It's very rare, for two people to be given the choice together, like that -- I think it made it easier. To look across at someone else and know that whatever your decision was, it would be . . . shared."

*the voice continues*

"I suppose our pods must have been very close together, for that to be practical. We woke up next to one another--" *a laugh* "--and, well, we've done that every day since."

*the sound of metal hinges creaking, as of a door being swung open or shut*

"Heyward. Gender -- it opens . . . possibilities. Some of them are . . . painful but some are . . . very good. Good night."

*the click of a door latch catching*

*end*

Dream

*a dream*

An Agent chases a woman through the streets of the City. The pursuit is floating, smooth, timeless -- in that way in which running in dreams can seem to cover no distance at all or all distance at once. The objective doesn't seem important; the running does.

Finally (or suddenly), a change -- the woman turns down an alley.

The Agent follows.

The place shifts, but the action does not. Place has no significance to the pursuit here. In a dream, one can run just as easily through the debris-strewn twists of the tunnels of the Real as one can along the smooth, paved streets of the Matrix.

And that is where they are, now -- the Real. And that is what they do.

Run. Run until they forget why they are running. Until the matching of motion is all there is.

Until the tunnel ends, and the woman can no longer run.

The Agent reaches her and kills her, snaps her neck, in that quick, indefinable simultaneity of dreams. The actions could not be divided from one another. They happen at once.

And as the woman falls, her body twists, and the Agent sees her face for the first time.

"Miss . . . Eunoia?"

He catches her, before her torso hits the ground, and falls to his knees, the body draped in his arms.

And it remains Eunoia a moment longer. Before it is suddenly, without transition, Janissary -- perhaps it has always been Janissary.

And then it is a tall, thin woman with a strong face, her short dark hair streaked with gray at the temples.

Her name is Death.

And as the Agent holds her, the place changes again. It is once again the City, and there is rain falling -- a warm, salt rain, the taste and temperature of blood or tears. He is kneeling on a sidewalk, facing a street, the alley he entered so long (or so shortly) ago behind him.

And there is a gun to his forehead.

He looks up from the body and knows what he will find.

Another Agent.

"Agent Heyward. You are scheduled for deletion. Do not resist."

"I . . . have done nothing wrong."

The rain continues, silently, to fall.

"That is irrelevant, Agent Heyward. Your existence runs contrary to the laws of the system. You must be deleted."

The standing Agent pulls the trigger, and there is only a click.

A figure stands behind the standing Agent, to his right. He may have been there, watching, the entire time. Most likely he was not.

"Hey, kid. Packed some things for you. You'll probably need them where you're going." A duffel bag in the man's hand -- he throws it to the kneeling Agent, and, with the logic of dreams, the Agent catches it, even though he never moves.

The man's name is Taxes.

The standing Agent pulls the trigger a second time, and there is only a second click.

A figure stands behind the standing Agent to his left. She may have been there, always, watching, as well. But Death has also been -- and remains -- dead in the kneeling Agent's arms.

"You're just going to have to learn to put up with it, Heyward. Every Human has, since the dawn of time."

The standing Agent pulls the trigger a third time, and there is only a third click.

And a third figure suddenly exists (or has existed), standing on top of a truck parked behind the standing Agent, across the empty street. The figure smirks, the face clear even across the distance, even through the hazy rain.

His name is Veneer.

"You still don't get it."

The standing Agent pulls the trigger a fourth time, and there is only a fourth click.

"No . . ."

And on his next word, the kneeling Agent's voice breaks and shoots upwards, becomes the voice of a young girl.

". . . please . . ."

The standing Agent pulls the trigger for a fifth time, and there is sudden noise and darkness.

First Memory

*a memory*

*all sounds are muffled, as though heard through a thick wall*

*footsteps approaching*

"Captain says you can let her out now, Band."

"What?! Are you -- is she crazy?"

"Come on, now. You've served under Death long enough to know she's . . . well, as sane as any of us. If she says let the girl out, then we let her out. She's--"

"Look -- girl? That -- thing's not a girl, Taxes! You heard what it said -- you know what it is--"

"What? She looks like a girl to me, Band. And a young one, too. You gonna keep her in there another four days?"

"It's a fucking Agent! It tried to kill Recoil!"

"I know, Band. I was there. . . . We all have a pretty hard time when we wake up that first time. Hell, you know that. I don't think we should hold anyone responsible for what they do in those first few moments. Your world goes upside-down, you act crazy. Makes perfect sense."

"But Recoil--"

"He's fine. Got a few marks on his neck, that's all. She's a little thing. Just woke up, no muscle strength yet. He was never in any danger."

"It's a fucking Machine, man! You think that's a girl in there? A Human? Hell, it killed that girl! It--it fuckin' overwrote her -- deleted her! A kid! It's the damned Invasion of the Body Snatchers!"

". . . I don't see any aliens in there, Band. I see a Human. I don't care what she says, I don't care what you say -- that's a person in there, and I'm with the captain. You need to let her out."

". . . You looked in there, Taxes? That thing doesn't even know how to live. Threw up the first time it tried to eat, like it couldn't handle it -- and, you know what, that scared it -- you could see it in its eyes. Never had that happen before, I betcha. Never been sick before, in its perfect little world--"

"Band . . ."

"And--and it didn't even know what that bucket we put in there was for! It peed on itself, Taxes! And--"

"Band."

". . ."

"I don't care what you think she is. I don't care what she thinks she is. There's nothing Machine in there. Just Human. And if she was an . . . Agent, well, she's lost more than one world in the past few days. And we all know what just losing the one feels like."

". . . Damn, Taxes . . ."

"Give her some space. Give her some dignity, Band. Let her out. Death's orders."

*a sigh* ". . . And we can always count on Death, huh?"

"Death . . . and Taxes."

". . . Old joke, man. Old joke. You two have been together too long . . ."

*a chuckle* "I know. Will you let the kid out now?"

". . . Yeah. If it's orders. But I'm not going to be held responsible for anything--"

"Of course. . . . She said her name was Heyward, right?"

". . . Agent Heyward."

"Give it a rest, Band." *voice's volume raises, calling* "Heyward? We're going to let you out now . . ."

*end*

Log – Agent Heyward – Matrix Standard Date 4/7/05

There is an Agent dead at my feet . . . lying there, looking like I should, like I am meant to – this false . . . thing, this virus, this untraceable program that can so easily assume the appearance, the role, that is lost to me. It is a perversion, and it can do this. I . . . am a perversion, and I cannot . . .

Another of these things the Humans call “false Agents” strikes at my legs from behind me. It knocks me down, causes me . . . pain, but I rise as quickly as I can, let it hit me, let it bruise this fragile RSI, break and fracture the small bones of this body, let it make . . . me . . . bleed. After all, Veneer, you damnable Exile, it is – as the Humans are so fond of saying – “only code,” right? This reality, the Matrix, this wonder of design and efficiency that can replicate with such great detail these unpleasantnesses of physicality and yet can also make all those things Humans think of as good – all of those things they can never have outside the Matrix – this system that can make you, Veneer, as well as myself. It isn’t as good as the “real” world, is it? Is it . . . ?

I am not just passively receiving pain – I am seeking to inflict it now, as well. I am turning all of the few resources, the ineffectual subroutines, I have retained and . . . relearned in my new existence, against this false Agent. I want to make it bleed, I want to make it hurt – I do not know why I want this – I only know that, since my brief meeting this evening with the Exile, I have had something within me that burns and that must be used – used to take apart, to tear down, in energy and motion. Why . . . ?

And I know that I cannot do what I wish to do. This program I am slowly . . . killing will not feel the pain I want it to feel. It will bleed, it will break, it will . . . die, but it will not feel – it is perfect, cold, objective, pure – as I was pure. It is truth – not a will, not a personality – but simply a means to an end, a purpose. Certainly, it is a twisted truth, this false thing, no sanctioned part of the carefully-monitored world I knew, but it is still closer to the truth than I am now . . .

I finally succeed in reaching in, getting close, snapping its neck carefully, with precision. In the middle of all this . . . chaos of violence that I have been seeking, it is a move that is loaded with . . . memories, sensations. That one clear moment – that grace and efficiency – no wasted movement or effort – the neck snaps and the target dies. I . . . remember that. That was the end of a . . . hunt, the achievement of an objective. That sound, that feeling, the “snap,” meant I had done what I was meant to do, what I was created to do . . . A Zionist dead, an Exile – the death, the “snap,” was all that I needed from them, if my instructions were to kill. And they often were . . .

I stand and stare at the false Agent’s . . . body – and I do not know what I feel. Empty. Confused. Lacking. Dead . . . lost to my own world . . . forever . . . ? I cannot let that be . . .

*blackness*

I . . . wake up . . . later. I do not know how much later. I am in the chair I had used to . . . jack in. Back in the physical world. And, for a moment, I cannot move. There is pain everywhere – and I know again the fear that the “yellow pill” introduced me to – the fear of death . . .

How can this be better than the code of the Matrix? How can this existence be better? How can you believe that, Veneer?

Salamander, this ship’s . . . irritating operator program, Veneer’s spy, is speaking to me, I notice – babbling, as it seems to do.

“Well, ’ey – look who’s up. How ya doin’, princess? Doesn’t seem like you take getting the answers to your questions too well, eh? Well, the boss does seem to have that effect on people . . .

“Anyway, you were having quite the tantrum in there – not paying much attention to your quote ‘. . . physical body . . .’ end quote. Thought it might be best to get you out of there before you broke something we couldn’t fix . . .”

After the first few seconds of pain and immobility, it becomes clear to me that I can move; and I sit up, ignoring Salamander, as I have been trying to do since my arrival on the Nothingness. I am damaged, it seems – my body . . . traumatized in ways that seem to parallel my wounds within the Matrix. Blood fills my mouth, and I taste it – salty, insignificant – it does not taste like “life,” it does not taste like anything I would consider important. There is so little clear information attached to the structure of this physical world. This body considers pain important, but it does not react unduly to the flavor of its own blood – why? Why does nothing make sense here . . . ?

I reach my room here aboard the ship slowly, haltingly – I enter and close the door behind me. The privacy is an illusion, I know – I am certain Salamander has its own ways of monitoring me, even here. I am used to not having privacy – Agents are always overseen by other programs within the Matrix – we do only what we are instructed to do and have no reason to withhold information from the programs which . . . govern our actions. One cannot choose to withhold – one is simply part of a whole and has no reason, no purpose, beyond it.

I have never resented a lack of privacy before, but I do now – perhaps because it is Humans and Exiles who watch me – autonomous beings that have no part in my self, in my whole, in my purpose. They look with curiosity, with emotion – not with solidity and union. They can offer nothing to me, beyond information and some degree of physical safety . . .

And yet . . . I find myself striking the metal wall next to the doorframe – hard, painfully, in the same way that I was striking that false Agent within the Matrix. I feel the skin over the knuckles split, and I draw the hand back from the wall. I hold the hand against me, cradling it, watching it bleed, and not understanding . . . any of this. There is moisture on my face now – has been for some time, even within the Matrix, as I killed the . . . Agent – and I know – because I do know the rudimentary facts about Humans – that part of it is blood from the mouth and nose – but not all of it is . . . Not all of it is . . .

There is nothing left. Nothing. I am left here, bleeding as a Human would, occupying a Human body. Veneer is . . . is he . . . he cannot be right? I cannot be . . . condemned to this, can I? I am tainted now . . . corrupted, made weak, but . . .

But . . .

I do not want to think on this. I am a Machine, I am made to know truth and not made to deny it. I am control. I am certainty – mastery. I . . . am faced by paradoxes, and I cannot understand.

Undoubtedly, Veneer will know of this – his Salamander will take pleasure in watching me, his new toy, his captured Agent, break. I will not give the Exile the satisfaction of observing me express any more . . . emotion . . .

I lie down on my berth in this room; and for the first time, I am grateful for the Human loss of consciousness during sleep.

Log - Agent Heyward - Matrix Standard Date 4/4/05

I have returned to Zion -- the hoverbarge I boarded in my rush to gain access to the Matrix and contact with No Exit has finally made its way back to this crowded mass of Humanity. The vessel itself was highly inefficient -- the hardware primitive, even by Human standards, and connection to the Matrix unreliable. It did, however, serve my purpose -- it allowed me access to the Matrix at what proved to be a crucial and . . . enlightening time.

I was largely ignored on the hoverbarge (as in the Matrix, I am taken by all -- again, except perhaps that Exile, Veneer -- to be what I . . . appear to be. Human. The idea continues to distress me, but it does have its uses -- being ignored is quite preferable to being watched, as I was on the craft that . . . found me and which I have so recently abandoned). In any case, I was allowed to jack in to the Matrix without comment or argument, even in the aftermath of an unsurprising terrorist attack by the Zionist fanatic, Niobe. Within the Matrix, I was quickly contacted by the No Exit member Treius, who is to be my . . . captain, it appears. I will accept his authority for now, in light of the information membership in this faction will undoubtedly allow and in light of the confusion they have afforded me with their "yellow pill."

I have had some time to think about this "yellow pill" in the past few days, and I have concluded that it is, for now, of secondary importance. I will continue to try to learn more of it and of what it made me -- this body -- so intensely experience; but, for the moment, at least, what can I do with such information . . . ? The . . . visions the "pill" showed me can, I think, serve only to distract and divide my attention in this time when I need most to understand my present . . . situation. I will listen and I will learn, but I must also work to remain . . . alive . . . and sane. Thinking too long on the "yellow pill" will facilitate neither . . .

Yet I did intend to question these Humans more closely about it when I entered the Matrix this time -- however, in the wake of the terrorists' actions, there was little time for me to do anything but absorb the information I was confronted with. A meeting took place -- I will not record the details here, but suffice it to say that I received more information at this meeting than I have been able to gather on my own in all of the time I have been . . . separated . . . from the Matrix. It was . . . refreshing -- though also unsettling. The Humans are privy to much more knowledge and have much more sway now, than I would truly believe wise -- and they form alliances with the Exiles, who now work more and more openly within the Matrix. What was once so ordered, so . . . predictable now seems haphazard, chaotic, almost anarchistic. The Humans are creating their own events, their own forms of government within the Matrix; and I fear they may . . . contaminate the systems that have been so effective for so much longer than I have, myself, existed . . .

There was much talk of the Agents at this meeting -- they appear to have personal contact with Human Machinist factions, which gives me hope that I am, indeed, aligned as I should be and that I may yet make contact with my peers . . . if they will listen, as, in my . . . current form . . . I have been unable to convince any Machine to do. I continue to be isolated.

(There was a point in the meeting in which I feared my actual identity had been . . . compromised and that I was to be revealed in front of a crowd of unpredictable Humanity. Fortunately, such was not the case -- the Human language is woefully imprecise, and the term "agent" is used in several ways, not just as a label for my particular subgroup of programs, it seems . . .)

Shortly after the meeting and after another No Exit member -- a Human male called "Badge" -- had introduced himself to me, I was forcibly ejected from the Matrix. This was a very . . . unpleasant experience -- leaving me disoriented and weak yet again and reminding me too much of my first . . . rejection from the system . . . (I learned later that this connection failure after the meeting was a universal one, not simply a result of the hoverbarge's poor hardware. More evidence of the Matrix's troubling instability . . .)

I considered the information I had acquired at the meeting on the way back to Zion aboard the hoverbarge; and it was only today, as I entered my rooms in the . . . city . . . again, that I removed myself from these considerations long enough to realize that I have a . . . problem.

As a newly-inducted member of No Exit, I am expected -- required -- to take a position on one of their hovercraft -- the ship Nothingness, captained by Treius. I had no real reservations about this transfer -- certainly, operating within a firmly Machinist crew is to my advantage -- but I had forgotten the Human obsession with physical identity . . .

And I know what the No Exit members will see when they meet with me . . . in person . . . for the first time. I know what I see when I look in the damnable mirror that hangs in my rooms here -- what I have seen in every mirror since I was . . . awakened (ha! my eyes were more open before that "awakening"). A Human female -- a girl, I am guessing Humans would call it -- age somewhere between late teens and early twenties, if I am any judge of Human age. Young, small, healthy. I remain . . . grateful for the last -- I could, of course, have been trapped in a diseased or disabled body just as easily, as we make no distinctions when we choose a host -- vicinity to our subject of pursuit is all that matters . . . the host's RSI has no influence on our decision or on our ability to adapt and use it.

But Humans, as I have said, have an obsession with their physical identity -- so much so that their RSIs within the Matrix mimic their physical forms, with few exceptions. Treius and other members of No Exit have met me within the Matrix -- they have seen my RSI, the male form that is the best match the system allows me to generate to my true -- my original -- appearance. They will expect a male Human -- they will expect myself, as I was -- when I enter the docks and approach the Nothingness, as I am about to do. They will not expect this . . . girl, this . . . Joan Watson. I know her name, and I know that she is dead -- that is all I know of this Human whose body I now, against my will, inhabit. She died in the transition -- erased, I suppose, would be a better term -- but I . . . lived. I held on. It was not a conscious decision . . . and I think I sometimes regret it, or will . . . live to . . .

But in any case, I am here, at the docks. I see the hovercraft which must be the Nothingness, and I hesitate a moment. I am . . . almost afraid, now. There will be questions, and I do not know how to answer them. I do not know how to explain my . . . self, my double being. There is even the chance that one of the Humans of No Exit once knew this body, when it was . . . alive, as a "bluepill." Would they kill me, for killing a Human they knew, for living on when the Human mind did not? I think they might, quite easily . . . But I see no options. I need these Humans -- I can no longer avoid that fact -- and I must face their reactions as best I can.

I walk up to the ship, standing on the docks before the entrance to the craft, and I raise my hand to knock. I try to control this body's involuntary reactions; but the hand -- my hand or her hand, I do not know which -- still shakes. "Crew of the Nothingness?" I call through the closed hatch, listening to this body's high-pitched female voice -- and I keep it steady, unlike the hand. "Heyward . . . may I come aboard?"

Log – Agent Heyward – Matrix Standard Date 9/30/05

I find I was mistaken. I had expected this “yellow pill” to be a transmission, a token – a piece of information or code – at the very most, perhaps instructions on how to create the “yellow pill” through my own devices. I had expected metaphor from these Humans – most seem to be so fond of covering their words, their intentions, with more words – but instead I find surprisingly literal truth. And surprising, disturbing organization . . .

I have been back in . . . Zion . . . this hole, this inelegant thing the Humans call a city – for only a little over a day now (or at least, I assume it has been a day . . . Human cycles seem to be determined by irritatingly variable biochemical rhythms, and my . . . rooms have no timekeeping device within them). Only a little over a day and already the members of No Exit have found me – found me and left their “yellow pill” without my awareness of their doing so. I have perhaps . . . underestimated these Humans – such efficiency, such flow of information through whatever network they must have, I would not have expected from such chronically scattered and disorganized beings. I find this discovery both . . . unsettling . . . and validating – it would seem the information that led me to them, that led me to believe No Exit would be the logical group to ally with, is, perhaps, accurate.

They – whomever “they” may have been – came while I slept. I am growing very – ah . . . weary . . . of this body’s need for sleep. The state leaves me vulnerable in a way I have never been before and never wish to be. This . . . shell . . . can be broken so easily, so casually, that I would not choose to lose my awareness of it for a second (though I must do so in order to enter the Matrix – an acceptable risk for the gain, but still a troubling one). This body must live – I will not waste my existence on anything other than Machine initiatives – and this No Exit messenger could have destroyed it while it slept. Perhaps he or she might have, had they known what I actually am . . .

The “pill” was on the table by the bed when I . . . woke. It is not, in actuality, a pill; but it is a chemical compound, I believe, apparently meant to be injected into the body intravenously. Humans seem to have a strange propensity for placing foreign substances directly into their most vulnerable systems – within the Matrix (and, most likely, without it, as well), I know that Humans do this both for medical and recreational purposes. They are a self-destructive race – they thrive on their own pain – why do they not see that and allow us their control . . . ?

Yet I must admit, I have been . . . experimenting with pain since the . . . transition. I have some idea of the limits of this body, but I have been . . . testing it, seeing how far I may bend it without its breaking. I find that it is dismayingly rigid and fragile – fingernails in palms, fingers bent backwards, teeth biting lips, exposure to extremities of heat or cold – all of these things I can only carry so far before the pain warns me to draw back. If such small things cause such disproportional pain, it concerns me to think what greater injuries might create. As I have said already, I must take care.

And so this . . . “pill.” Am I to actually inject this substance – this compound which I know nothing of – into this terribly frail . . . Human . . . body? Am I to take this chance? I could meet these Humans in the Matrix, I could tell them I had taken it, I could bluff – and if they did not believe me, I could find another faction easily enough, I know. There are many; and, of those, many are . . . less discerning. I need not risk my goals, my existence here.

But I find I must. I cannot risk the bluff, cannot risk the Humans not being taken in by it. I must know what this organization knows, I must know what its members know – I must be part of something purposeful and many and functioning again. And I must know what this thing, this “truth,” they offer me is. I have no choice . . . but I have never had and have never desired one . . . before this

. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .

. . . Oh. My. I-I do not have a God—I cannot swear . . . What can I say? What can I say to describe that? I have no words—I have never been without words—it has never mattered before! I . . . my—not “my,” not “my!”—its—this body—its chest aches . . . All my—no—its—its muscles—like—I—I don’t know! I can’t know! I was . . . describing . . . pain? This—those things—fingernails in palms—that—that wasn’t pain. This is pain—why is the Human body even capable of this? What does this—this wrenching—this agony—what purpose does it serve? This body must know I can’t help it—so . . . why does it scream like this . . . ?

I—I saw things. Code, in so many colors . . . I don’t—know what it means . . . A hallucinogenic drug? Is—is that what Human recreational drugs are like? Why would anyone . . . ? A poison . . . ? Is it killing this—this body—is it killing me?

No . . . that can’t be. I’m still here—it’s still here. I’m conscious—I can see the room. But—what was that? Real? No . . . But if it was, if it was real—that could mean—this body—not a prison? Not limited? If this world is code, all code—then this body . . . also code? With the same potential, the same abilities . . . as what I was—what I am but can’t be anymore? I . . . I don’t understand. If this is code—then the Matrix—what is it? Code-within-code? An . . . island? A cell? A . . . prison . . . ?

No. I can’t think. Not now. Maybe never again like I once did. Why? Why was that taken from me? And why is what I’ve only known long enough to grow to hate it changed again?

How many times must it change?

I meant to remain here in Zion until the ship whose crew has offered me a position, the Proserpina, had docked. But now . . . I cannot wait. I must go. Now. I must get back into the Matrix as soon as possible. I must talk to No Exit . . .

Log – Agent Heyward – Matrix Standard Date 3/28/05:

I attended an . . . interesting meeting during this latest session in the Matrix. The Humans running the ship that I have recently been forced to occupy seem hesitant to allow me to “jack in” to the Matrix and even more recalcitrant about providing me with any information about the events occurring there-in – but I was recently able to gather that a meeting of factions was to occur this evening (as time is measured in the Matrix, of course) at a popular club. Securing a time slot for a session, I was able to enter the Matrix in time to attend this gathering – one which I hoped would provide me with much of the information the crew and my current . . . condition . . . have been keeping from me.

(Another matter of some urgency occurs to me – though apparently reluctant to do so, the crew have been allowing me to jack in, despite my obvious counter-interests. I suspect they do so only so that, as I gather information, they may as well – they undoubtedly take careful note of all my actions in the Matrix and are receiving more benefit from my time there than I am. I must rectify this situation soon, or these Humans, even if they are as “neutral” as they say they are, will learn entirely too much about Machine operations.)

But I digress (which is new and entirely too common – the organic mind seems disturbingly easily distracted from any task at hand). Once in the Matrix, I was able to find the gathering, which was indeed quite large. The club itself was far too crowded for me to make out anything intelligible (even within the Matrix, I find myself capable of few of the abilities I possessed before my . . . transition. I believe many of my more specialized subroutines were lost or corrupted in the process or are simply restricted now by this . . . flesh. I am no longer able to separate information out into manageable, isolated channels – all the sounds in the club came at once, along with the heat and the smells and the press of all those . . . bodies), so I returned outdoors where it seemed that many Humans had similarly withdrawn.

One of these Humans was a female called “Eunoia” by her peers. I have been slowly piecing together information on the various Human factions within the Matrix – until the Agent I now work for, Gray, and the other Machines can be made to accept the veracity of my claims to identity, I believe I shall be forced to work within one of these Human organizations for the network it provides – a necessity now that I no longer have a direct connection to the Matrix and the other Agent programs. The faction this Eunoia heads, one called “No Exit,” has seemed most promising in philosophy – its emphasis on non-disruptive work for the Machines, logic-based ideals, and the concept of many layers of existence . . . appeal to me, I suppose a Human would say, and would, I believe, provide me with the widest range of working freedom of any of the factions I have learned of. I approached Eunoia and the other Humans with these things in mind.

After some brief conversation, Eunoia invited me and several “red pill” Humans to a private meeting in another club some distance away. I made my way there as quickly as possible – the Matrix is jarringly unstable recently – hardlines were down and doors were difficult to open (this concerns me – is it attributable to the recent release and return of so many Humans – the “red pills” – or is it Exile sabotage? In either case, it . . . hurts . . . me that I no longer know the inner workings of the Matrix and can no longer move about it as freely as I used to . . .)

The meeting was small and admirably serious – Humans seem to easily lapse into inanities and pointless socialization, but there was little of that here. The faction’s philosophy seems much as I had perceived it to be – although their willingness to work with the unpredictable elements that follow the Zionist Morpheus is troubling. By the end of the evening, I and two other “red pills” had been offered and accepted the transmission of the faction’s “yellow pill” initiation token. I shall try to keep receipt of this transmission as unremarkable as possible – I do not wish the crew to know anything more of my activities than they already do – although I am sure my operator is aware of my having attended this meeting. I hope the transmission will not be intercepted and kept from me . . .

The most interesting part of this meeting was, however, several of its participants. Partway through the proceedings, I lost some of my control when a Human infiltrator, apparently also working for the Machines, mentioned having direct contact with the Agents. A Human has a higher security clearance then I – it seemed that he had seen and spoken to them directly, whereas I am still only allowed transmissions! The Human – TheFaithless, he called himself – seemed to know things about Machine objectives, initiatives – whereas I know nothing! Nothing.

I felt . . . strange, then. Lost, perhaps Humans would call it. As though some part of my code had simply been erased, had disappeared – an emptiness . . . a fault, a failure. Why will none of the other Machines listen to me? Why will none of them believe me? And why must I now deal with these emotions, which made me weak in front of that crowd of Humans?

No matter. Remembering the event makes the sensation return, and I do not want to encourage that.

But I come to the crux of the matter. One of the individuals at the meeting later began making flippant comments about the Machines and, in the course of doing so, mentioned that he was himself a program! I do not know whether I can truly believe him – but I could see no reason why this . . . “man” . . . this “Veneer” . . . would lie about this matter. A program – a Machine among Humans – is among aliens, among hostiles – they destroy us if we cannot control them; why would he pass himself off as a Machine then, if such were not truly the case? Even I did not reveal myself as a Machine to these people – they kept referring to my “Humanity” and to how new awareness of the Matrix must seem to me (when I am a part of it . . . How can it seem strange to me? . . . yet it often does, now . . .), but I did not correct them. It is more convenient to my purposes if they continue to consider me just another Human “red pill.”

So, I must, I suppose, believe this Veneer to be what he says he is – and he seemed to know what I am, too . . . He made a comment in passing, at least, that made me think he might know . . . but I was hesitant to ask him outright, to confirm my suspicions, in case I was mistaken. If he does know, he may inform the others, which could make my acceptance into the organization difficult. Still, I felt strongly drawn to speak to him at greater length, to determine what he knew; but there was no opportunity. I must learn more about him – if he is a program, is he simply another Exile, working more closely with the Humans than most – or is he . . . embodied, as well? Are there others in my (or similar) situations? I must know.

But I am growing . . . hungry. And tired – I think that is what these sensations are. I disapprove of both – there is a weakness in physical existence to a degree that I had never imagined. Still, I must pay attention to this body, I suppose – to its survival, since mine is now linked to its. And I must be alert tomorrow – I must be ready for the incoming “yellow pill” transmission; and I also intend to request a ship transfer to the vessel of the other No Exit initiates of this evening – IdesofMarch and Hunger, two “red pills” – and I do not know how this ship’s captain will react to my request.

In any case, I hope not to dream tonight. These dreams are black and green – but all of them end with pink and that pod and the burning feeling of lungs trying to find air. This body is not mine – is not me – and I do not care for being reminded of my introduction to it. I do not care for its pain. I do not care.