The two men stared at the monitors with what could have almost been interest, if they'd been human, and capable of feeling. They studied the girl who lay tied to the bed, her long black hair a tangled mess, and her once bright blue eyes glassy with the drugs that kept her sedated. She did not move now, only slept, as they discussed her as if she were nothing more than an interesting species of animal.
"I don't know about this one. She doesn't look like she'd be of any use" said the first.
"You're wrong" said the second. "She's exactly what we've been looking for"
"What makes you say that?" asked the first.
The second man handed over a file for the first to inspect, and then said "Watch this"
Rena snapped out of her drug-induced sleep to hear the voices again. "Rena" they said. "Rena, we know you hear us. We see you. We've been watching you"
Rena struggled and tried to free her hands so that she could cover her ears and make them stop, but she knew by now it was no use. It wouldn't have helped, anyway. The voices weren't the kind that could be stopped, not by her, and not by the doctors here in this place who told her the voices were all in her head. Rena knew better. She wasn't crazy - she knew she wasn't - but they were all so blind here that they couldn't see it.
They couldn't see what she saw, either. Rena stared at the wall, knowing that if she focused long enough, the walls would disappear into a mass of green numbers and codes, like a computer system. Sometimes she thought that if she really tried hard enough, she could walk right into the glowing numbers and right out of here, if not for the restraints that kept her there. But it was no use, the doctors would catch her. They couldn't help her, so they declared her dangerous and hostile and put here here, in this room, and kept her so drugged that she wouldn't be able to cause any more trouble. They had given up on trying to help her - she was beyond help. And so she stayed there, staring at the ceiling and sleeping, and occasionally hearing the voices that she knew belonged to no doctors. The ones that now discussed her fate.
"You see?" The Agent, whose name was Maxwell, said.
The second Agent, Agent Greene, was still unconvinced.
"So what if she can hear us? We're only a few rooms away from her - maybe she's just got good hearing for a human"
"Read her file" Agent Maxwell countered. "Not only does she hear things she shouldn't, but she sees things, too." He took the file away from Greene and opened it to a page near the middle, and pointed. "Look. See those descriptions? Sound familiar?"
Greene still protested. "Okay, so maybe her brain's wired a little differently than most, and she can see through The Matrix. So what? She's a nutcase, to use a human expression."
Maxwell stared down at Rena with an almost human gleam in his eye. "She's perfect"
"Perfect" was a word that had never been used to describe Rena in the past. She had been an orphan nearly from birth - her mother having died just after giving birth to her, and her father an unknown drifter who would never claim her. A ward of the state, she had been passed on from foster home to foster home, never staying in one place long enough to form any real attachments there. Then, when she turned 16, things changed. She started seeing and hearing strange things, things that began to tell her that this world was not all that it seemed. As a result, she was labelled as "troubled, unstable", and when she nobody believed what she was saying, she went into a rage, threw things at people, trying to make them see that none of it was real. After she nearly missed hitting the school psychologist in the head with a heavy glass paperweight, she was expelled from school, which only made things worse. The last set of foster parents decided that she was too much for them to handle and had her put in this place when she was 17, and where she had stayed for the last 4 years.
And at some point Rena stopped caring. She stopped trying to tell them that what she saw and heard was real, stopped trying to make them understand, and started simply seeing for herself. What used to be only brief visions became longer and more and more real, until the day that Rena climbed up on the roof and simply stepped off, for no apparent reason. When, amazingly, she did not die from the fall, and the doctors asked her why she had done it, she had said only "Because I could" and nothing more. She didn't care, they were going to think what they wanted, anyway, and if they wanted to think she was suicidal, let them. What did they know, after all?
After that, she was placed in solitary confinement and kept restrained, so as not to injure herself or someone else. Although, when Rena thought about it, she wondered why they bothered? Why not just let her die? There wasn't anyone who really took the slightest interest in her any more - except these men who kept talking about her. And, honestly, Rena wished they would just go to hell and leave her alone, too, because she was tired of all this. They'd never help her, for all their talk. When it came right down to it, knowing what she knew wasn't ever going to help Rena in the slightest.
Except, she was wrong about that. The next morning, Rena awoke to find that her arms were free from the restraints, and that her mind was no longer clouded by the usual haze of drugs. She opened her eyes suspiciously, and there, by her bed, sat a man in a black suit. She knew he was one of them the minute he opened his mouth and said "Good morning, Rena."
Rena sat up slowly, and stared at him mutely for a minute. Then, she began to laugh. "It's about time you showed up" she said, still laughing. The man only watched her, expressionless and silent.
"So," she said with a smirk, "Does this mean I'm completely off the deep end for good?"
Then man did not smile, but replied. "We both know you're not crazy, Rena." Rena was a bit surprised at this, because she had half expected even him to tell her she was insane, even though she knew he knew better. Rena waited for him to continue.
"Do you want out of here?" he asked.
Rena laughed again. "They'll never let me out" she replied.
The man smiled. "No, they won't" he said, "But we will"
Rena seemed unimpressed by this. She would not allow herself to hope that finally someone had come to come to get her out of this place. And she knew without even asking that her freedom would have a price. So she simply asked "What do you want from me?"
Maxwell started talking. He told her that it was very simple - her freedom,
in exchange for her cooperation. She would work for him, and he would give
her everything she could ever want in life, and he would finally show her
the whole truth, the truth that had threatened her sanity for years. And
although she had never trusted anyone in her life, and wasn't about to
start with this man, or whatever he was, it sounded better to Rena than
hanging out in an institution for the rest of her life. So, without any
further questions, she agreed.
"I still think this is a mistake" Agent Greene said, after Agent Maxwell's first meeting with Rena. "What makes you think she won't turn against us the moment we show her the truth?"
"It's quite simple, actually" Agent Maxwell replied. "She already has no respect for the human race. They've never given her anything, she's had no kind of life here. She will know from the start who we are, that everything she has comes from us."
Agent Greene shook his head. "And you think that'll be enough? You think you can turn her over to our side by being her friend?" The word was distasteful to him. "We've given people things in the past, given them better lives than they ever could have hoped for, only to have them turn on us simply because they were human. If this one is everything you seem to think she is, and she turns, she'll be more dangerous than any of the others."
"It's a risk I'm willing to take" answered Agent Maxwell.
The next day, Rena awoke not in her hospital room, but in a warm bed in a brand new apartment. She opened her eyes and looked around as if in a dream. What was going on? She remembered her conversation with the man who called himself Agent Maxwell. He had said that he'd get her out, but she didn't realize he meant so soon. She didn't really question the hows and whys, because she had learned by now not to question what she saw. She simply accepted that this was what Agent Maxwell had done for her, and this was confirmed by a note that she found on the table. It said simply "Hope you find everything here to your liking" which she did. In the closet she found an entire wardrobe of clothes, and enough food in the refrigerator so that she wouldn't have to go grocery shopping for a month. It was absolute heaven, and for the next week she was left to do as she pleased. She even started to think that she had always lived in this place, and that everything, from the mental hospital to the strange man in the suit had been a dream. Until one morning, Rena decided she wanted to venture outside for a walk around the neighborhood.
It had occurred to her that she had absolutely no idea where she was, and so she put on some clothes - she was so thrilled not to have to wear the same old hospital pajamas that she'd worn for the last 3 years, and brushed her now clean, shiny black hair, and glanced in the mirror once at this new person that she barely recognized, before heading out the door.
Except, it was locked. Rena frowned, tried again, then checked for any locks on the door. There were none - on the inside. She was locked in. Anger returned and filled Rena's heart. She had been tricked. This Agent Maxwell had tricked her into thinking she was free, but in reality he had only put her in a different kind of prison. Rena tightened her hands into fists, ready to break through that door if she had to, when suddenly, it opened.
There stood Agent Maxwell, in the same black suit. Rena did not wait for him to speak before rushing at him, hands flying, with the intention of clawing his eyes out. She scratched and hit and tried to inflict as much pain as possible on this man whose voice had been haunting her thoughts for years and who now had pulled the cruelest trick of all. Slowly, she realized that she was having no effect on Agent Maxwell. He just stood there, as if made of stone. Her punches had not hurt him, her nails had left not one bloody mark on his face. She calmed down, stood back, and stared at him, waiting for him to speak.
he did. "I see you've found the one thing I couldn't give you - yet." Rena
frowned again. "Yet?" Was this a trick? She waited, as he continued. "You
want your freedom, we know this. And you will have it, I promise. But there
are things you need to see, things you need to know, first, before you're
ready. Patience, Rena, have patience. Your time will come."
Rena puzzled over these words. What did he mean by "her time"? She narrowed her eyes and asked "What are you talking about?. Agent Maxwell did not answer, but instead walked over to Rena's sofa and sat down. "Have a seat" he said to her, and she did. "Are you enjoying everything so far?" he asked.
Rena had to admit that she was enjoying her new life, as much of it as she had been allowed to live without leaving the apartment. It had been so nice that she hadn't even thought to leave for a week. So she relented and said "Yes, it's all very nice."
"That's good" Agent Maxwell said. "Now, Rena, to win your freedom, you are going to have to trust me. Can you do that?"
"I suppose I have to, don't I?" Rena answered.
Agent Maxwell smiled. He could see that they were going to get along just fine, if she kept up her present attitude. "Well then, it's time to show you a few things" he said, and stood up, leaving Rena to watch, eyes wide, as he jumped up and hovered mid-air for what seemed like forever before coming back down.
Rena gasped. "How did you...?" her voice trailed off in amazement as Agent Maxwell calmly walked over to one of the walls and began walking up it. Once he reached the top, he jumped down off it, landing like a cat on his feet.
"You see, Rena, I'm not like other people" he said to the amazed girl. "But you already knew that, you knew that when you heard my voice all those times, didn't you?"
Rena realized that she did. She knew that the voices in her head belonged to people who were different, perhaps not of this world. Agent Maxwell looked human. But deep inside of her she sensed that he was not. There was something strange about him, something in the tone of his voice - the absence of emotion, even when smiling... she stared back up at him and asked "What are you?"
"The question, my dear, is what, or rather who, are you" he replied.
"Okay, who am I, then?" Rena asked, impatient.
Agent Maxwell only smiled that cold smile again. "You tell me." At Rena's puzzled look, he continued. "Don't sit there and pretend you don't understand. You, my dear Rena, understand more than most of the rest of your kind. You know something about this pathetic excuse for a world that you live in. Now come on, tell me, what is it that makes you different? What do you know that others do not?"
Rena met his eyes, and said, without hesitation: "It's not real."
And with that, Rena's training had begun. Agent Maxwell showed her how she, too, could do such "impossible" things as walk up the walls, and jump higher than any normal person could. He only smiled and nodded when she told him of the time that she had jumped off the building because she knew deep inside of her that it was all just an illusion. The real world was something that she couldn't even comprehend yet, and as her training went on, she asked Agent Maxwell almost daily to let her see the truth, the whole truth. He simply told her to be patient.
They began to work with computers. Rena had never touched a computer before in her life, but she seemed to instinctively know what to do with them. She remembered the rows and rows of computer code that had appeared before her in her "visions". She remembered thinking that the whole world was made up of nothing but green flashing numbers. But try as she might, she couldn't find exactly what she wanted. For months, she did nothing but sit in front of the computer all day, looking for what Agent Maxwell seemed to be so sure she would find. As a result, she became nearly an expert at computer programming and then, one day, it came to her like a lightbulb over her head. The answers weren't just going to be lying around waiting for her. She would have to dig for them ,dig deep into the underground maze and hope to find what she sought so desperately. The thing that would finally buy her her freedom.
As Rena was realizing that she needed to enter the world of hacking, Agents Greene and Maxwell stood in a white room, watching her through a computer screen.
"It's time" Agent Maxwell said. "Time to tell her"
Agent Greene, even after all he had seen, was still noncommittal. "I don't know how you're so sure she won't turn against us the minute she learns the truth, just like all the other humans have."
Agent Maxwell sighed. If he were a human, he surely would have strangled Agent Greene by now.
"She will do no such thing - I'm about to tell her something that I've never told any other human. I'm about to open her eyes to a world in which she will be queen!" He slammed his hand down on the table, and grabbed Agent Greene by the collar, pulling him in close so he could whisper the next few words. "SHE will win this war for us, and she'll do it with no help from you, or me. When she's done, there will be no need for us anymore, and the rest of her kind will stay where they belong, forever." He released Agent Greene and disappeared, leaving Greene's words to fall only on the silent air.
that, or she'll destroy us"
Rena did not turn from the computer as Agent Maxwell entered. She was in the process of picking a name for herself, a hacker alias that she would be known by in the world of cyberspace. She had never bothered with such things as chatting and the internet before - she wasn't the kind of person who would actively seek out contact with others, especially not some faceless individual who called themselves by some futuristic sounding name. She had tapped her fingernails in irritation and frustration on the keyboard when she realized that she might actually have to go to one of these chatrooms to gain access to the hacker underworld.
Agent Maxwell's voice cut into her consciousness like a knife. "I have something to tell you.", he said. No warning, no hello, just that. His voice was even flatter than usual, and he did not call her by her name, which was odd for him. She turned to him, raised her eyebrows in interest.
"Yes? What is it?" she asked.
He aimed what looked like a remote control at her computer screen and it went dark. She looked back, frowned, asked again. "What?"
Agent Maxwell walked over to her, slowly, and took her by the hand. He led her over to the sofa, where he indicated for her to sit. He sat on her coffee table, and began speaking.
"It's time you knew the truth, the whole truth. All I ask of you, is that you watch first, and then listen, because this is the most important thing that you will ever be told. The only important thing" he added, narrowing his eyes. He pressed a button on his remote control again, and Rena's tv snapped on. Agent Maxwell stepped out of the way, and opened the door to leave. On his way out, his words came back to Rena's ears - "Watch, and listen".
So Rena watched. She watched as the television showed her the history of artificial intelligence - how it was created to serve human needs, and how its invention was celebrated. She watched as war unfolded - not between countries, but between man and machine. She watched as humans destroyed their own planet in the hopes of destroying a race of machines that had gotten out from under their control. And she watched as the machines, seeking to survive, turned to the only thing they had left - human energy. And so an entire race was imprisoned as a result of their own fatal ambition. She looked at the last lingering image on her screen - a world so dismal and dark that no human in their right mind would want to experience it. And then she looked around her, and realized that her contempt for the rest of the human race was justified. Look at what they had done to themselves. A world in which they could only stand to live under the cover of an elaborate type of virtual reality. Typical, she thought, that they would all simply retreat to the safety of what their minds wanted to be real, all the while ignoring the reality that was right in front of their faces, because it was "too horrible" for them to see.
If Agent Maxwell had possessed emotions, it would have pleased him to see that Rena did not shed a single tear as she watched this.
He walked over and stood in front of the tv again. He looked at Rena, trying to measure her reaction. If she was going to turn against them, now would be the time. But she did not. She only nodded her head, slowly, as if to say, "I understand". She still stared, transfixed, at the final picture of the world that was frozen on her tv screen. Then she looked back up at Agent Maxwell, and asked, her voice made of steel "Where do I fit in?"
Agent Maxwell brought out his remote control again, and switched the channel. The screen flickered for a moment before showing a picture of what appeared to be a ship of some sort. The camera moved in closer and closer until Rena could read the letting on it: The Nebuchadnezzar. Agent Maxwell began to speak as the ship on the screen rotated, allowing for a view of the inside through one of the windows.
"There are those who would destroy what is left of your fragile human world. They would rip this world right out from under your feet, and damn you to a life of the hell that they call "reality", all for the sake of what they think is "true". They would wake every man, woman, and child from their peaceful slumbers and their dreams of a happy life, and engage them in a war that they can never win, all for an ideal that died the minute they created machines to do their thinking for them." Agent Maxwell began to pace back and forth as he talked, tapping the remote against the opposite hand as he spoke.
"And to make things worse, these people will not give up, no matter how many of them die, as long as there is one who still lives." At this, Agent Maxwell aimed the remote at the screen once more, and brought up a picture of a man in his mid-20's, with dark brown hair and eyes. Rena snorted.
"Him?" she asked in disbelief. "He doesn't look as though he could lead a war against anyone"
Agent Maxwell nodded. "Yes, Rena, but looks can be deceiving. Let me tell you a few things about our friend Mr. Anderson, or as he calls himself, "Neo". He's been a threat to us ever since he stuck his adolescent nose into the world of hacking when he was a teenager. Even before he knew what he was looking for, he sensed the truth. Felt it. Like you did, Rena. He knew too much, yet he was able to slip through our fingers time and time again. Until, finally, he was...freed" - The Agent loaded this last word with irony and contempt - "And convinced that he was the only one in the world who could do the things he did." At this point Agent Maxwell smiled that unnerving cold smile of his and said "Yes, they told him all the things same things they tell everyone - that nothing in here is real, that he couldn't be killed as long as he could get that fact through his head. I've had other humans look me straight in the eye and say 'You're not real', but when my bullet goes through their head, it's just as real to them as it would have been back when they still ruled their own world. You wouldn't believe how many others before him had died thinking that they would be 'The One'.
Here Agent Maxwell's smile disappeared. "But this Neo was different. At first I didn't believe it when I heard the reports, that he'd beaten an Agent - he'd actually beaten one of US! One of my kind - a computer program, who couldn't be destroyed even if you killed them a thousand times over! I could not accept it, until I saw what he could do for myself. And I saw. I saw that this insolent fool thinks that just because he happens to be a little smarter than the other millions of his kind, that gives him the right to put an end to the happy lives of those millions - to take away all of this - " Agent Maxwell pushed another button on the remote, and suddenly Rena found herself standing in an empty room, with walls of pure white and no doors. But she heard Agent Maxwell's voice, seemingly out of nowhere, finish his speech. "And leave them with nothing but the world that their ancestors destroyed"
Rena was suddenly back in her apartment again, and Agent Maxwell was silent for a moment, letting her absorb what he had just told her. She thought she was beginning to understand what was expected of her, but she waited for Agent Maxwell to tell her. He seemed to be preparing for the final, most important part of his speech, and Rena found it almost amusing that a computer program could seem so impassioned about something.
Agent Maxwell waited for Rena to sit, again, and then he continued, calmer now.
"Yes, for a while there Neo had beaten us... but there's something that he hadn't counted on. Something that he, and for a long time, we also assumed, that it turns out isn't true. You see, Neo operates under the assumption that he can do what he does because he is the only One. But you and I know something different. Something that is going to take away that certainty of his and his crew. What's our dear friend Neo going to do when he finds himself faced with another, just like him?" Agent Maxwell asked, his voice so low it was almost a whisper.
Rena smiled. She stared at the picture of Neo on the screen. She stood up, took the remote from Agent Maxwell, and turned the tv off.
Agent Maxwell nodded. "That's right, that's exactly right. Maybe he can beat Agents, maybe if we gave him enough time, he could bring down the whole system. But he can't beat another human with the same talents that he possesses. Especially since he'll never see you coming until it's too late."
He turned back to Rena, who still stood with the remote in her hand, and asked "So, what do you think,? Do you want to be the one to do it? To bring him down, and with his death end the war once and for all? Do you want him dead so that you and you alone will hold the power to manipulate this world as you like? Just say the word, and you wake up totally free, and we begin preparing you for that day. So what will it be, Rena?"
Rena did not hesitate. She had seen enough. It was about damn time she had some control over her life, and the offer that was being given to her was too good to refuse. She smiled a smile just as cold as Agent Maxwell's, and said one word: "Yes."
Agent Maxwell wasted no time in getting back to business. "Good." He began dialing some numbers into a cell phone that he pulled from his pocket, and spoke into it. "Everything's in place, we're ready to wake her." Then he turned to Rena. "This waking up thing - I hear it's not entirely pleasant for humans, but it's necessary. We don't want to risk anyone else getting to you." He spoke into the phone again. "Yes, #183593021 - her name is Rena -" he broke off again, and addressed Rena. "We'll have to do something about your name, you'll need to change it, to fit in with the people you'll be silently stalking. You don't have to do it now, but keep it in mind." He spoke back into the phone again. "YES, now. She is ready."
At that moment, Agent Greene burst in through the door, his gun drawn and pointed at Rena. Agent Maxwell whirled around and dropped his phone. "What in the hell are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm going to prove this to you once and for all. She is NOT what you think she is" Agent Greene said, his eyes never leaving Rena's.
Rena stood her ground, remembering all that she had just learned. She was immune to his bullets, just like this Neo character. She stared at the walls, and tried with all her might to see the green code that she had seen so many times before.
Agent Maxwell's voice was as close to panicked as Agent's could be. "Don't do this, Greene. She's not ready for this yet."
Agent Greene was adamant. "She'll never be ready. She's no different from any others- look at her! She's just a crazy little human, and we've wasted enough time on her!" his finger tightened on the trigger, and he stared at Rena, trying to force some fear into her eyes.
Rena tried with all her might to see through Agent Greene, to see the numbers again. She had almost done it when Agent Maxwell's voice rang out "NO!" and she heard a gunshot. Agent Maxwell fell to the floor, and was no longer Agent Maxwell any more. She did not stare into the face of the dead man whose body the Agent had inhabited, only at the gun in Agent Greene's hand.
He pulled the trigger. Rena's leg was hit, and she felt a fiery pain shoot up it as she fell to the ground She wanted to scream in pain, but she would not. He fired again, this time hitting her shoulder, and this time Rena could not help but give out a cry, as she saw flashes of light threaten to take over her vision. Still she stared at Agent Greene, daring him to do it, to pull the trigger and finish her off for real this time.
Rena held his gaze until she thought she would reach out and pull the trigger himself if he did not - and suddenly, the walls behind him began to shimmer and glow as they had before. It was if she could see right through him... and as he pulled the trigger one final time, time seemed to slow down, as Rena forgot her pain and simply reached up her hand, and caught it.
Then reality came rushing back - the walls were walls again, and the pain in her leg and shoulder were almost unbearable - but she had one thing left to do. Rena moved faster than a cat, pulled the gun from Agent Greene's hand and fired several shots at where his head would have been - if he hadn't already disappeared.
She was angry, and she was hurt, but she had won. Rena didn't know if this was the first round, or the last, or even who she was fighting, yet, but she had won. She knew that they would be waking her up in a matter of moments - she wasn't afraid. Waking up in that world couldn't be nearly as bad as the life she had spent half-asleep in this one. She did remember that Agent Maxwell had wanted her to pick a new name for herself. She thought back on a story that she had heard once, a myth, told to her by one of the many, many foster parents she had lived with. She remembered a story of a girl who had been captured, taken to hell, but who had triumphed in the end. Persephone. She who steals the light.
As the Agents watched her through their monitors, just minutes before the machines woke her, they could have sworn she was laughing. Whether at them, or at the rest of the human race, they would soon find out.
THE END.... (For now)