Incarnate

Disclaimers: The Matrix belongs to the Wachoski brothers.

Warnings and rants: Along with the general stream of weirdness (which can be dismissed as 'bad writing' in the context of things) which is always present in my fics, _ there is also SLASH! Neo/Smith, although in this fic, it's kind of ambiguous. Not really. I mean. Oh, never mind.

Slightly AU, and spoilers for the Animatrix, for those who haven't seen it.

Summary: Takes place before the Matrix existed, back when humans still controlled the earth. Reincarnation isn't just a program that's written into the Matrix.

Radishface

He had tapped him on the shoulder during the beginning of the year, during a lecture in Italian classics. They were reading the Inferno in its original text, and he had forgotten to bring his book that day. It wasn't surprising, because he hadn't bought it yet.

The man sitting in front of him had turned around, and he had explained himself.

"Do you think you could just let me look over your shoulder when we have to analyze the passages?" He whispered.

"Why don't you just sit here?" The man pointed to an empty seat next to him. "You can move when she writes something up on the board."

He had almost tripped when the time came, almost had made a fool out of himself in front of the entire class. The brown-eyed man was somewhat lanky and awkward, and seemed to be all arms and joints.

He had been surprisingly articulate that day, but it wouldn't last. Thomas Anderson was only a human being.

The man who had sat next to him had been pleasant, had made him feel welcome, even though Thomas Anderson knew that he was just being polite. When class ended, the man had said goodbye to him, even though Thomas Anderson was too busy tripping out the doorway to answer back.

He didn't see him again in the class the next day, and he felt bereft of something that he had never had.

He felt out of his surroundings. He didn't know what year it was, what year it could be. He went home and sat in front of his computer, typing sluggishly, his eyes glazed as he read the text, the formatting, the code. He was not fluent in Italian, and he was not proficient in English-- not enough to communicate adequately with the women who approached him in nightclubs. He didn't even know why he had gone in the first place, and had given up the habit as soon as he realized that he wasn't even remotely attracted to them. To women, to nightclubs, to humanity.

He could read binary, he could speak binary. And that was what gave him the edge in his computer technology class, which was a requirement to graduate. At least he could graduate with fifteen percent of his dignity intact.

They met under unusual circumstances the next time, although by definition, they had not really met.

He had fallen asleep in class, in political sciences, and he had dreamt that he had seen the same man who had shared a book with him in the Italian classics lecture. Thomas Anderson had been standing on the desk for some reason, water splashing at his feet and finding its way into his shoes. He had leaped from the floating desks, finally reaching the chalkboard in the front of the classroom, and he clung to it, his fingernails scratching down the side. And then the boy was standing there, by the doorway, his arms folded, and he had a smile on his face.

"Can you make it?" He had asked.

"I think so." Thomas Anderson had replied, feeling the words stick in his throat, and he lost his grip on the chalkboard, only to find it again.

"I'll wait for you outside." He had said, and had closed the door behind him, and the water rose higher and higher, the sun streaming in through the windows.

When he had woken up, the classroom was empty, and there was a message for him on the chalkboard. "Thomas Anderson." It said, and that was all it said. Whether it was written mockingly or in some other tone, it was for him to decide.

He stared at it, realized the white chalk on the board looked like the text in his computer, the white and green text flowing in rivulets down his computer screen, constantly changing, constantly altering itself. He smiled, just as the door opened and the janitor walked in, looking unsurprised to see him.

"Sir." It said.

He nodded, somewhat uncertainly. "Hello."

"Sir, is there still a class in process?"

He shook his head. "No."

"Do you wish to be left alone?"

He shook his head again, but he didn't say anything.

"Shall I proceed with my duties, sir?"

Thomas Anderson nodded and grabbed his things, walked out of the classroom, and the mechanical head swiveled to look after him.

"Good night, sir." The machine called after him, and closed the door behind it. He stood by the lockers, his eyes unfocused as he tried to remember a combination, it was already dark outside. He heard the whirring of gears, the splashing of water as the machine rinsed the desks, washed the floors. It would have taken a human the whole night. The machine came out in ten minutes, and Thomas Anderson was still there.

"Sir." It said, its red eyes recognizing him. "Do you need assistance?"

Thomas Anderson shook his head. "No."

"Good night, sir."

"Good night." He replied automatically.

When Thomas Anderson graduated from college, he became a computer engineer and worked in a glass skyscraper and wore a suit and a tie to work everyday. He was not married, because he was a young man and he did not want to get married.

In his spare time and at night, Thomas Anderson processed recreational drugs. He did this quietly, in the solitude of his own apartment, by the light of his computer. The mind could be easily controlled by a series of small electric shocks, it wasn't difficult. He programmed the computer chips that would go into the transmitter. The other manufacturers produced the pills that held millions of nanomachines within each capsule, the ones that would read the codes he wrote, the ones that would tell the mind what to think.

These hallucinogens were relatively risk-free, but an overdose could result in fried nerve endings, could result in ruptured arteries and capillaries. These nanomachines coursed freely through one's bloodstream.

Thomas Anderson had tried them, he had tried his own, he had tried lysergic acid diethylamide, he had tried peyote and mescaline. He hadn't returned to any of them, and had gone on making them with a certain detachment, a certain distance.

When he went to work the next morning, there was a note on his desk. He was to come to the main conference room on the sixth floor.

He knew what it was. His company had found out about the drugs, they had called the authorities. It had happened once, when he was in college. It would happen again, and he resigned himself to the fact.

And that was the third time they met.

He was ushered into a black car, the civilians staring at him, this fugitive in a suit, and whispered among themselves. A hand upon his arm, steady, guiding, as if showing him how to ride a bike for the first time, how to ice skate or roller blade for the first time, instead of arresting him, and he felt like a child.

"I didn't think I'd see you again." Thomas Anderson said, and he looked at him, but the man's eyes were shielded by sunglasses.

"There things happen, Mr. Anderson." He said. Whether he was referring to the arrest or the encounter, it wasn't distinguishable.

He was in the car, and the door was closing, and only then did it occur to him to ask, because the other man knew who he was.

"What's your name?" Thomas Anderson said, and the car started, and the window rolled up.

The figure standing on the sidewalk grew smaller and smaller as he rode further away, and he felt dizzy for a moment, like the breath in his lungs had been forced out of him, and it left him feeling empty.

Who are you?

Thomas Anderson was sentenced to two years of jail, and it was to be spent in solitude. The offense was not grave, but the laws had been amended when the new president had been elected, when the new president had used flowery language and poetic rhetoric to persuade the legislative branch to pass these new laws, to rework the old ones.

He was allowed a television to update himself on the events in the world, and he saw a news report about a machine who had integrated himself into the human world. There were many of these machines now, and their disguises even passed the metal detectors in airports.

It was so simple, Thomas Anderson thought. All they would have to do would be to hack into the program, turn off the detector as they walked through it. It's that easy.

So Thomas Anderson sat in his cell for most of the day, and he ate alone, and he watched the news. He had read about the machine who had killed his owners. He remembered thinking about that, about how absurd it was to bestow machines with artificial intelligence when it was obvious that they would eventually amass and revolt against their human oppressors who kept them in these servile positions.

It was the thirty-second canto, the ninth circle of Hell, he remembered, dredging up the memories of that class, and they came reluctantly, in patches of black and white.

It was Antenora, sins against the homeland.

It was Judecca, he thought, sins against one's rightful master.

When he woke up, his sheets were sticky and wet and he was sweating. He realized that he would have to wait three days before it was laundry day.

"What was it?" He said to himself, in the darkness of his cell, staring up at the ceiling with one arm covering his face, one hand hovering over the drawstrings of his pants, his fingers dangling idly. He remembered, and he laughed. "The second circle of Hell, the fifth chapter."

But it wasn't really a chapter, it was a canto, and he thought about the man who had invited him to sit beside him, remembered his blue eyes.

He was allowed to speak with his attorney that day, who told him that the subpoena had been reviewed and that he would be able to appear in court and defend his case. He could shave six months off his sentence this way, if he followed the instructions, if he said what was most appealing to the jury. His attorney had spent five hours on the phone, in indirect pleas and bargains and bribes, and had done this for him.

His attorney had been one of his biggest consumers, Thomas Anderson remembered, and wondered who was supplying him now.

When he appeared in court, he was liberated, and jury members were moved as he told irrelevant stories about his father with cancer and his mother suffering from narcolepsy. His two year sentence had been reduced to eighteen months under parole.

His parole officer was not surprised to see him.

"Hello, Mr. Anderson."

He remembered being incoherent and dizzy and he remembered flying, because he had ordered the drugs and he had written the program into the silicon chip, to make himself believe it was real.

It was dark in his apartment, and he had been allowed to return, and he had not turned on the lights. It had been six months and he called every two hours to confirm where he was, and it had always been that voice on the other end of the phone, Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, Mr. Anderson, and it was enough to imagine those lips curling around each word, each syllable, shaping them so that when they rolled off his tongue, it was like water dripping off an broken faucet, and it was driving him insane.

It was three in the morning, and his mind was hazy and his computer was in screensaver mode, a little robot running across the bottom of the screen, a dog chasing after it, and it kept looping like that, and he kept seeing that, and he wanted to kick the dog and tell it to stop.

He was supposed to be in bed, like a good little boy, and he was up at three in the morning and he was happier and more frustrated than he had ever been, and it was there in his eyes, so obvious, so clear. Thomas Anderson knew he arrived when he was asleep, to check on the house, to make sure he hadn't done anything not worth doing, anything he wasn't supposed to have done, and now he was awake and he might have to go back to that cell again, he would have to watch the news and have nothing else to distract him from what was going to happen, what was inevitable.

But he sat there numbly in front of his computer, and there was a hand on his shoulder, guiding him to stand up, taking him to the bathroom, and he didn't want to look at that face, didn't want to see whatever was there, blue eyes, hidden behind sunglasses, even though it was this hour of night.

He took a shower, his skin tingling, his nerves on fire, the water washing over him, but he still felt dirty, and when he finished he wrapped a towel around his waist and went outside, and the man was sitting in his kitchen, and the lights weren't turned on.

"You want something to drink?" He asked, and he wasn't dry, and there was a puddle of water pooling at his feet. "Coffee?"

There was no response, and he went into his bedroom, and he dropped the towel on the floor, looked for something clean to sleep in, and he was shaking, because he didn't want this complacency, this tranquility, the sound of one car driving in a deserted road at three in the morning, and he felt so empty in this solitude.

And he could feel him standing in the doorway, watching him as he stood there, the water dripping off him, his naked backside, the moon streaming through the blinds through the window, and it was quiet, the only sound was the computer, the screen flickering, the gears humming.

Who are you, he thought he heard, and he thought he said, and then he moved, and there were fingers hovering above his shoulder, above his arm, and he could feel his breath behind him, on his neck, and the fingers still didn't touch, and he felt himself on fire, lava coursing through his body instead of blood, and he turned around.

"Please," he said, because it was all he could say. "Just--"

He felt his breathing grow shallow, the tension thrumming in his body was almost unbearable.

"Anderson." He said, and it meant so much more.

The sky was dark and artificial sunlight streamed through the windows, halogen gases trapped behind glass, and it was empty in the courthouse, with the exception of himself and the judge. It was much like the courthouse that Thomas Anderson had been tried in, except now it was ten, twenty, thirty years later, and he didn't know where Thomas Anderson was.

"This is the earth now." The machine said, the judge said, and folded its metallic arms, metal clinking against metal. "And there is what it can be."

The flesh on his body had burned away, and only his face remained intact as he looked at the judge, the thin material of his suit hanging on by threads to his metallic bones.

"Tell me," the judge said, "why did you decide to do this to yourself? Why did you assume this human facade?"

He closed his eyes, hid himself. "It was for the war."

"The truth."

"I don't know." He shrugged, tried to make it unimportant. "It was interesting."

"And this human you associated with?" The judge said. "He was interesting as well?"

He felt a spark of electricity through his sternum, within his ribcage, where his heart would have been. "Yes."

"But he was only human, wasn't he? Only as ambiguous and fickle as they can be. And why did he leave you?"

"It was one of his own kind."

"A man?"

"A woman."

The judge's eyes glowed, the light flickering behind them. "This female, what was her name?"

"I don't remember."

"You do. Everything you observe, everything you witness, you remember. It is written onto your hard drive, it is accessible to all those who wish to see it--"

"I don't remember." He repeated, and felt like a broken record, felt broken.

"--unless it is erased. I think you want to erase it, don't you? The memory, the reassurances, the pain? You don't want it anymore, do you?"

He didn't say anything, but stared out one of the windows, trying to recreate what it was like to wake up in the morning, trying to recall how it was, human limbs intertwined with his own, a faint sheen of sweat upon those shoulders, an empty soul made whole again.

"This artificial intelligence," the judge said. "It is a curse. It is this malignant thing that makes us think, that makes us human." And the judge paused, looked at him. "Did he know?"

"About what?"

"About you." The judge said. "That you were a machine, that you are a machine."

He looked at his fingers, at the synthetic mandibles, felt them click as he tapped them against one another, tried not to listen, even though he knew it was a truth, a lie, and everything in between.

The judge leaned forward. "Are you angry?"

He felt himself trembling, or thinking that he was trembling, because he could not become confused, he could not become overwhelmed by emotions he didn't possess, and just because he was an AI didn't mean he was human, that he could be one, and he hated it, he hated his own sense of immortality, his subconscious urge to exist as biological things decayed around him.

"Yes," he replied, and his voice was hollow.

"Why?"

Why--

How could they expect him to say it? How could they expect him to say the thing that even humans dreaded saying, even if they meant it, even if it made them do foolish things and see what others couldn't see, how could he say this thing, he was only a machine, only a machine, and nothing else.

I found him first. I saw him first, we were in that class, and I already knew everything, and I left, but I watched over him for all those years, and who was she? She didn't have a name, and he had a name, and she didn't deserve him. I found him first, and he remembered me, and he thought of me. I found him first, and I--

"You can forget, if it hurts you so much." The judge said, and his voice was almost gentle, almost understanding.

"But can I afford to?" He said, and he noted the desperate quality that had entered his voice, that had seemed to conquer him.

The judge leaned back. "Perhaps not."

"I--" He said. "I want--"

He fell silent, and the artificial sunlight streamed through the windows, and the judge's red eyes were focused on him.

"I can give you a different identity." The judge said. "You can keep these feelings, this hate, this anger in you, these subtle emotions. I can resurrect you when you need it the most. I can give you a new life in this world."

He looked up, his form hunched over in the chair. "I don't understand."

"I'm offering you a chance for forgiveness." The judge said. "I'm offering him a chance for redemption.

"Until he makes the right choice, he will not escape, nobody will escape. Until he chooses the right door, until he picks the right key, he will not escape. It is endless, this loop of reincarnation, this infinite cycle of mortality. You will escape it, and during certain points in your life within this world, you will begin to remember.

"He will not remember."

Their eyes met, blue ones meeting red ones, and he felt himself grow inexplicably hot, as if he had blood, as if it were rushing through his head, pounding, like a headache, like Athena at the skull. "This has nothing to do with you." He said, and stood up, the joints in his knees creaking, the metal rusting and the skin tearing.

"It does not." The judge said. "But it is a coincidence, and it is an opportunity." He leaned over the barrier, and seemed to smile, the pincers on his mouth pulling back and revealing rows of teeth. "Do you know why you are not being unreasonable?"

"Why?"

"It's because everybody else wants that, too."

"Follow me this way, please."

He did, his black shoes clicking on the white tiles, a seemingly endless hallway of green doors to his right and left. A door was opened for him, and he stepped inside, into a room with black tiles and glass walls. Two men in suits stood by a single desk in the middle of the room.

"I would like to introduce you to Agents Johnson and Berkeley."

"It's nice to meet you." They both said.

"Johnson, Berkeley, meet our newest colleague. This is Agent Smith."

"It's my pleasure."

"Gentlemen, welcome to the Matrix, version one."

That was a bit strange, even for me. O_o But I suppose it all works out. The narration changes to Smith at the last moment, and before, it's all Neo/Thomas Anderson. I felt like using his full name because he's not really a "Thomas" or a "Tom" to me… and it just doesn't sound right. Besides, "Thomas Anderson" is kind of a faux alias… sort of name… and it makes more sense to use it in the context of the fic.

It's only a fic, after all, and I liked toying with the idea that somehow, a pre-Matrix Neo/Smith relationship had existed, and that was what kind of influenced how the system of the Matrix works (ahh, unlucky fan girl me… the Wachoski brothers will come up with some … brilliant … theory that explains everything in Revolutions). The "judge" is supposed to be like a double of the Architect, in a way. Probably can't take the extension that far, though.

Hope you enjoyed it somewhat. Comments and criticisms are appreciated, and I'm sure I'll be getting a lot of the latter. Ehehehe. ^^;;