Born To Run: Meeting The Agent
Today Hakuin and Tera led me through the city. It was my first time back into the actual Matrix since I'd been disconnected; it felt like going back to my old high school after graduation.
"The Matrix is a public relations tool," Tera said as we passed a man in a grey suit, talking on a cell phone. "It's a lullaby for our lives." She gestured to an ad on a bus shelter. "Its purpose is to distract us from reality so that we confound its interests with our own."
"Most of the Matrix is a persuasive apparatus," Hakuin said, his hands in his pockets, walking quickly but without hurry. "If you can control peoples' minds, their bodies will follow." He stopped suddenly and held up a hand. "Of course," he said, "the machines cannot rely on persuasion alone, so they have a repressive apparatus for when they need it."
Tera traced his line of sight and smiled. Hakuin pulled us away from the street, into the shadow of a bookstore's awning. "There's a blue sedan at the stoplight three blocks up," he said to me. "Look. Quickly." I put my head out, peered into the distance, and ducked back.
"It's a guy with shades," I said.
"It's an agent," Tera said. "Their job is to find people like us and kill us."
"They are the repressive apparatus," Hakuin said.
"How do we deal with them?" I asked.
Hakuin smiled. "We run," he said.
"Some people say there are ways to kill them," Tera said.
"But so far those are just rumors," Hakuin immediately warned. "We have no defenses against them."
"The point is," Tera said, "everyone in the Matrix is part of this apparatus -- whether persuasive or repressive. And if they suspect you are not part of the problem, then you will be seen as part of the solution."
"In other words," Hakuin said, "we are the disease, and the agents are the cure. All other individuals are part of the warning system -- if they sense something is wrong, the agents will be alerted."
"So," Tera said, "unless we have reason to believe that someone is on our side, they are our enemy."
Suddenly, Hakuin pushed us back into the flow of pedestrian traffic. I looked to the left just in time to see the agent drive past us. "Our first defense is being invisible," Hakuin said. "If we do not attract the attention of the repressive system, we needn't fear it."
"And when we do attract its attention?" I asked.
Hakuin and Tera exchanged a glance, and she began to smile. But Hakuin whipped around and gave a shout. I looked behind us and saw the agent running at top speed in our direction.
"This is it," Tera cried as we tore off down the street. Hakuin slapped a plastic clip onto his ear and pushed a button on his hip.
"Drive," he said. "We need an exit." We ran up two blocks, and I glanced back to see the agent gaining on us. Hakuin broke left and we followed; seconds later we were diving past a series of fruit crates and dodging the angry shopkeeper. We ran toward a door in the distance. I looked back toward the street, slowing down a little.
Tera grabbed my arm. "What the hell are you doing?" she demanded. "Get over here."
I scowled. "This is crazy," I said. "There has to be another way."
"Maybe there is," she said. "But right now we don't know what it is, so we have to run." The agent appeared in the mouth of the alley and, clipping the corner of the building, he smiled and headed toward us.
"Well," I said, "we're not going to find out what it is if we keep running from it." The agent, now less than a hundred feet away, drew a gun. Hakuin came to my side and raised a hand. "Freeze it," he said. Everything -- the traffic, the people, the agent -- slowed and then stopped.
I glanced around. "What the..?"
"This is another simulation," Hakuin said. He looked at Tera and nodded. "I guess you were right," he said. I looked at her with confusion. "The jump was impressive," he continued. "But Tera came to me with a concern, which was evidently quite valid."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"You're two days in," she said. "You've got TNS."
"Total Newbie Syndrome," Hakuin said. "There's a tendency among people who have recently been unplugged to feel as though they are impervious to the constraints of the Matrix." I crossed my arms and studied them. "It seems," he continued, "to be getting more common, but who can tell?"
"So," Tera said, "when you made your first jump, I knew that it would just make things worse. I told him we couldn't trust you inside yet."
"So you thought I would commit some major screw up?" I asked, venom in my words.
Hakuin raised an eyebrow and slowly turned to face the agent. He was frozen in mid-air, his Glock drawn with a monstrous vengeance on his lips. A slow, dense silence passed.
"There has to be another way," I said. "Running away is cowardly."
Tera swung around and clocked me with a boot to the head. I spun and smacked the wall. "Newbie!" she shouted, as I reeled and regained my footing. I turned to face her, but she was just as ready to fight as I. "Do you think you can defeat an agent?" she asked. "You think you can dodge bullets?"
"I don't know," I said. "I never thought I could jump from one skyscraper to another, but apparently I can. Who knows what else we can do? I refuse to accept this idea that we have to live in fear of their shadow." I pointed to the agent. "I thought this was a war."
"It is a war," she spat back. "And you've never set foot on the battlefield." She wiped the sweat from her forehead. "Look around you!" she said. "They run this whole game -- they wrote all the rules. We're trying to figure out how it works, without a map or a manual. So we can't RTFM until we write one of our own."
I drew in a deep breath. "There has to be another way," I repeated.
She turned and slapped the wall, hard enough to leave a mark. "You stupid idiot," she said. "You can't even begin to imagine." She took two quick breaths, then stepped toward me. "Suppose you stand and fight," she said. "Suppose you win. You've got a dead agent at your feet. Then what?"
I clenched my fists but said nothing.
"Then," she said, "the system takes that information and dispatches fifteen more agents to your location. Then what?"
I looked at Hakuin, who levelled a crushing gaze of inquiry at me. I looked at the ground.
Tera spat, just barely to the right of me. "One beat down'll never compare to four hundred thirty-nine years of captivity. Never." She turned toward the door. "You don't know smack," she said. "Freshman."
Silently, Hakuin raised his eyebrows and followed her. I sighed and slowly did the same.