Disclaimer's Note: I own neither the Matrix nor its Agents. The only characters I own are Ian Joaquin Redmount (being me) and Hugo the Husky (being my dog). All the others are more or less owned by reality (Mum, Dad, Steve, Luke and Mia being my family, Andy being my best friend, Flo and Aurel being friends from school), I just changed some names slightly. I also changed some facts. For example, the circumstances of my brother's death are a lot different from how they really were. And I haven't met Smith… yet. :-)
To Tanathir, my long-time message
To my brothers Lukas (don't forget me) and Stefan (I will not forget you).
And, most of all, to Krissy, whom I love. In memory of the child I used to be.
When we first met in the summer of 1998, I was almost fourteen and completely bored. I had never liked big parties with lots of guests, especially not if I had to wear my best clothes, keep still and not dash around please, thank you very much. And exactly this was the case now: It was the biggest party my family had ever been to, and I was wearing the best suit I had ever worn, combined with one of my brother Steve's ties because my own just didn't seem to be good enough.
The banquet was over and almost everybody was dancing by now. My brother Steve was dancing with his girlfriend he had brought along, my brother Luke was dancing with my sister Mia, Mum and Dad were dancing with each other. I was left out.
Well, that's life, I thought. I assume you know what it's like being a kid in his early teens. You evolve. You develop some bitterness, sometimes a good sense of sarcasm. Sometimes a rather bad one, too. You start to see things from a different angle. And sometimes, you just want to be alone.
Like me, right then. I went out through the glass doors into the darkness of a small backyard, inhaling the cool, fresh air deeply. I still recall the sweet scent of flowers, mingled with a hint of cigarette smoke - I was not exactly alone out there, some people had had the same idea as me. And some were smoking. Aimlessly I passed them, both hands in my pockets. There were handkerchiefs in my pockets, I felt them, one on the right side, two on the left. Strange, such details tend to remain stuck in your mind sometimes. Nobody took any notice of me. I didn't know them, and they didn't know me. Their eyes seemed blank to me as they looked past me, through me. Suddenly I wondered if they were real at all or just some kind of illusion.
And then I saw him. He stood right opposite me, tall and dark-haired, in a suit like all the other men around here and despite the dim moonlight he wore sunglasses, which I found weird. He stood facing me, and I could not quite tell if he was looking at me or not. However, I had the strange, uncomfortable feeling that he was. And even though he stood strangely stiff, he somehow seemed to be a lot more real than all those party guests put together.
Who are you? I wondered.
There was some eerie bluish light cast upon his right sleeve, resulting in a complicated pattern of light and shadow. Its source was a laptop on a wooden garden table behind him. Obviously he had been sitting there working. That must be a demanding job, it occurred to me, which forced you to work even if invited to a party. For that he was one of the guests I did not doubt.
Normally I don't poke my nose into other people's business. But a word on the monitor caught my eye. And this word was Matrix.
I looked up at him again, memories raging inside me. Some days ago, at school… What exactly was it Aurel had said while we were sitting in the empty classroom before the afternoon lessons? Imagine, Jo, that the world you live in is not real. Imagine it's just a dream. How could you tell when you don't wake up? I had looked at him in wonder, asked him what he meant by that. It is the Matrix, Jo. The world we live in. It's all a lie.
It's all a lie. How often did I feel that, I wondered. How often did I get the feeling that I was just acting out another man's story, that this was not real.
I had asked him where he had heard that, and what exactly the Matrix was supposed to mean. At that, he had laughed. Irritated you, have I? It's just a story I picked up on the internet, nothing more. But it sounds interesting, don't you think?
For a moment, I had wanted to tell Aurel about that feeling coming over me from time to time, but I had decided against it. It was just too… personal.
Strangely, I was suddenly desiring to tell this man before me.
And somehow I knew that the Matrix had a meaning, was more than some story my buddy had read.
I looked straight up at him, tried to answer his stare without blinking. Should I? Should I really? I didn't even know him! But he was exuding a kind of influence over me; I don't quite know how to explain. Somehow he seemed to dare me to ask him, knowing at the same time that I would never summon up the courage.
However, I did, though with shaking voice and trembling lips. "What is the Matrix?"
And then, with a mental thump, reality had me back. I was crazy, speaking to a stranger like that! What he was working on was none of my business!
I expected him to tell me to shut up and go away, to tell me not to be nosy, maybe even to shout or threaten to hit me. But none of it happened. A shiver crept up my spine, held me frozen to the spot, as the man turned his head slightly to regard me. Suddenly I noticed the translucent wire leading from the back of his shirt collar to his right ear. Was he a security man? Or rather – my heart pounded wildly at that idea – a kind of secret agent?
"You are Ian Joaquin Redmount", the stranger intoned gently, never taking his eyes off me – although I couldn't quite be sure, because he wore his dark glasses. "Son of Henry and Martha Redmount. Younger half-brother of Steve and Luke Redmount. Elder brother of Mia Redmount. Owner of a young male Siberian husky named Hugo. An acceptable hockey and violin player. Top student of your year, but a hopeless dreamer. And with a strange fascination for darkness and death. You believe in Fate. You believe it is out there, looking for you. You are quite certain that you are special. You wait for something to happen, something great." While I stood gaping, hearing him and not understanding, he looked me up and down with an air of thoughtfulness. "In fact, Mr Redmount", he said, "it is going to happen today."
I stared at him. Who the hell was he? "How do you know?" I finally managed to stammer.
With a lazy gesture of his hand he wiped my question away. "I know many things, Mr Redmount. More than you would ever guess."
I drew a deep breath. Calm down. Easy. Relax. That man probably knew who I was from one of my relatives, or maybe he was a distant relative himself. But what about… "What do you mean?" I ventured. "What is going to happen today?"
Was it fear I felt? To be blessed with a rich fantasy may sometimes prove a curse. He was there to abduct me or kill me or sacrifice me to a dark god or…
"Sit", he commanded, pointing to one of the chairs at the table. On the verge of panic, I did what he had told me to, my gaze flickering from him to the people around us. Nobody seemed to notice.
Taking a seat across from me, he shut down the laptop, leaving me to my fretting and grasping for explanations, one more implausible than the other. Finally he looked at me again. When he spoke, his voice was very soft, and at once I knew what it meant to sound silky. "What is the Matrix, Mr Redmount? Many of your kind want to know, and some really find out. However, it is better for them not to. Believe me, Mr Redmount. It may soon become too much to bear for your weak little human soul."
Biting my lips, I was determined to – in the worst case – die heroically. "I admit to being human", I said firmly, although my voice carried an embarrassing little hint of squeakiness in it. "But I am not weak."
He shook his head in what seemed to be amusement. "No. You are stronger than many others. And a lot different from them."
This is the strangest conversation, I've ever had, it shot through my mind. With the strangest man I've ever met. "Who are you?" I asked, my voice barely a whisper.
"Smith. Agent Smith." And with this, he took his dark glasses off, and I looked into a pair of sharp blue eyes. "I doubt you have ever heard of me, Mr Redmount."
Agent? Again a wave of panic rolled over me. Was there anything I had done wrong? No, I couldn't think of any such thing, except stealing a packet of chewing gum from the supermarket many years ago. "FBI?" I tried.
He shook his head in silence.
Again he answered with a headshake.
"There are kinds of agents, Mr Redmount, you might never have heard of."
By now I was getting the idea that I might be sitting in front of one of those rare geniuses you see in films – brilliant, but barking mad. However, that didn't explain his knowledge of me. How should he know my inmost ideas and thoughts?
"What did it feel like when you put the blade to your throat last night?" he whispered, leaning closer to me. "What were you thinking while you did it? What feelings did it produce?"
I must admit that my jaw dropped at that. "How- ?"
"This question is irrelevant, Mr Redmount. You answer mine."
Heavens, how did he know? How could he? "Why do you ask?" I finally managed to say.
"When I put a knife to my throat, it just feels cold. Like metal. Nothing more. But you- It must be a lot different with you. There must be a lot more you feel when you do it. The thing called emotions. I wouldn't know, for I have no such things. And I cannot be close to death, for I cannot die."
This was madness. I was dreaming. Soon the alarm clock would ring and I would have to get up for school. Soon I would be having breakfast with my family. Soon I would take the dog for a walk before I left.
But the stranger still sat opposite me, and his words still hung in the air.
"Answer me, Mr Redmount", he insisted.
What did it feel like? How could you put that into words, the knowledge that you were so close to another world, so very close, that you merely had to press a little bit more and were off to – elsewhere? The pure beauty of that, and at the same time the dread? How should I explain? "You're very near… another stage of life", I tried.
"Is there a life after death?"
I was certain of that, but somehow his cold stare made me falter in that belief. "I don't know."
"Why do you do it? Is it that rumoured thing trapped inside you that makes you do it? Your soul?"
Surprised, I considered that idea, my hand involuntarily wandering up to my throat. "Is there any such thing as a soul?" I finally returned at him.
"Do not ask me, for I have none."
I looked into his eyes. Once, I do not remember when, I had read that the eyes are a mirror of the soul. What was written inside them? I looked and tried to decipher – and realized what it must have been like in those days long ago when I had not learned to read yet.
"Mr Redmount", he said as I turned my head away in frustration, "I suggest a deal. You teach me about humanity, and in return you will learn about the Matrix."
"Why do you want to know about humanity?" I asked. "You speak as if you weren't part of it, although your appearance is human." I still clearly recall my pride in that nice sentence. The Star Wars fan in me taking over, I continued: "Or are you an HRD, you know, a Human Replica Droid? Like Guri in Shadows of the Empire? Or, hey, like Roy Batty in Blade Runner! Are you?"
He watched my juvenile outburst of enthusiasm with mild amusement. "No, Mr Redmount, I am none of that."
"So you're human after all." Well, what else should he be?
"Do not judge me by my appearance, Mr Redmount. For I am much different from you. You are a product of chance, a little mood of nature's. Whereas I was designed to be what I am. I was not born, and I shall not die."
I tried to digest that information and couldn't. "Who are you?" I asked, as if that would help. "Who the hell are you?"
"When I tell you about the Matrix, you will understand. Do we have a deal, Mr Redmount?"
I considered it. That rich tone of his voice was so strangely convincing, but the things he said… But I had stopped wondering by now. So I held out my hand for him, like we do at school in such a situation. "Right. Deal."
The way he looked at my hand made me wish instantly that I had not offered it to him. What was it? Discomfort? Mistrust? Contempt? But it was too late to withdraw it. For a few seconds that elongated into hours, I waited. Then he was bringing up his own right hand slowly. It was clear that he was reluctant to touch me. But finally he did. Strangely, there was nothing unnatural about his handshake. It was quite firm and only too natural. But still, both of us let go very quickly. There was a feeling of wrongness about it that irritated me.
"You might regret your choice later", he said, eyeing me. A hint of that look he had given me before was still lingering around his lips.
What the hell! "Why?" I shot back.
"Because your species is weak, Mr Redmount. Many of your kind have found out the truth and have had their miserable little lives ruined by it."
"I'm not weak", I told him once more.
"No. Indeed not." He was still giving me that strange look, as if eyeing some exotic animal, it seemed. And being glad the animal was caged. "You are an interesting individual, Mr Redmount."
"Would you mind not calling me that? It's irritating. I'm thirteen, you know."
He shrugged, an elegant gesture. "I've never been thirteen, I wouldn't know. At the beginning of adolescence, are you?"
I nodded, fascinated at him using that expression. All the others I know used to speak of puberty.
"So what shall I call you?"
I had to consider it. Generally family members called me Ian while others called me Joaquin or used an abbreviation of that name. Clearly this mysterious stranger belonged to the Joaquin category. However, there was something about him that made me act somewhat strangely, and after I'd said it I kept wondering why. "I'm Ian to you, Mr Smith."
What crossed his features was almost a smile, a knowing little smile it seemed. "I'm just Smith to you, Ian."