"Oh come on," I groaned, resting my forehead against the edge of my desk and banging my fist on its surface. "Don't do this to me now!"
My computer, which had been working without a hitch before two seconds ago, was now glitching out like crazy. I had been hacking into my school's database to "study" for a Spanish test I had tomorrow, but of course, when I really needed it to pull through, my computer just would go and pick up a random virus somewhere. I couldn't even override it.
The screen went blank.
I gripped the sides of the monitor and shook it. "No, no, no!"
I was brought up short when letters started streaming across the black screen. Short, blocky green letters similar to the text of a command prompt, spelled out, "We're watching you."
I narrowed my eyes at the screen, suspecting that my school had customized their firewall to keep kids out with an ominous-sounding message like that.
The next sentence sounded even more like a school-like phrase, but the addition of a name I only used on my computer made me suspect something else. "Free your mind, Nira."
I looked around my small room for any sign of the culprit, but I was alone besides my expansive computer system. I was proud of it; I had put it all together myself, tampering with its durability and memory capabilities and even hooking up an extra monitor.
"They're coming." That doesn't sound like school.
I jumped when a knock at my door reeled me back into reality.
"Yeah?" I called, not taking my eyes from the computer screen.
"Dinner time," said Miss Rachel Calto, the orphanage owner.
"I'll be right down," I said, my voice cracking.
I glanced at the clock on my desk and cursed. I would only be able to make it to the theatre in time to catch a movie with my friends if I powered my way through dinner and sped my way downtown. I shut my computer off and raced downstairs, ignoring the stares of the other orphans, and excused myself, heading outside and hopping into my car. I had saved up for years even before I had my license to buy this piece of decades-old junk.
I didn't make it to the theatre in time. The movie had already started and, though I could see my friends' cars, they were nowhere near where I was. Probably already inside.
"Damn," I breathed, doubling over to catch my breath.
No one was around as far as I could see.
But, as I leaned back against the wall, I heard a bunch of pairs of feet entering the lobby. I looked up, expecting to see another group of movie-watchers. They didn't look like any kind of people looking for a recreational activity.
There were 4 of them. One woman, three men. The bald man, who had on sunglasses with no side frames (incredible balance), appeared to be the leader. He was wearing what looked like a suit, but without the tux jacket. A black tie against a black overshirt were visible under his long, black leather trench coat.
The woman beside him had her hair pulled up into various knob-like formations atop her head, and a pair of sunglasses adorned her face. Actually, all of them were sheathed in some form of leather and a pair of sunglasses.
The two on the outside looked younger than the other two. Both were men, a bit older than me if I had to guess. One had dark brown hair and soft features. The other, slumping forward a bit under the weight of a large pack on his back, had shaggy blond hair.
I quickly came up with the excuse that they were probably coming to check out a sequel to some cult-classic or something and wore costumes, but they stopped a few yards away and just stood there.
I watched them out of the corner of my eyes, trying not to be rude and just stare at them.
I heard another couple of pairs of feet coming from the opposite end of the hall and looked up. Two men in fancy suits, crisp and ironed, were walking toward us.
I felt a bit left out when I noticed that they had sunglasses on, too. I didn't get it; we were indoors and it was nighttime. What was the point?
The additions to the hallway had what looked like wire earpieces. FBI? But what would they be doing in some rinky-dink old theatre?
"Just in time," muttered the woman bitterly.
"We must carry out our programming," one of men in the suits said. Both turned their heads to me and simultaneously spoke. "Destroy the anomaly."
I stood frozen. What the hell was going on here? And what did I have to do with these six strangers?
"You wont touch her," the bald man said, lifting a gun and leveling it at the men.
I cast an alarmed glance at each of them, unable to make sense of anything or even to make my voice work.
The men in the suits ignored the man's threat and began moving toward me. "Good-bye, Miss Anderson."
They must have the wrong person. My last name wasn't Anderson, it was Calto. That was the last name of every child at the orphanage.
I was about to tell them they were mistaken, that I wasn't this Anderson person, when the woman said, "Siren, Zephryos."
The blond and brown-haired men surged forward, appearing on either side of me as though they had appeared out of thin air. They fended off my attackers, lashing out with well-placed blows, in forms I was sure were martial arts techniques.
I pressed myself back up against the wall, frozen with shock. The woman appeared next to me and the bald man sent her a nod and went to assist the other two men.
The woman grabbed my elbow and gently tugged me forward. "Come on, we gotta get you outta here."
I followed her, allowing her to pull me along, staring at her uncomprehendingly as she urged me into the backseat of a sleek black car. I passed out before the engine was even started.
When I woke up, I was being carried up flight after flight of stairs, the even ground covered with cracked checker-patterned marble, encrusted in dirt from years of disuse. I drifted in and out of unconsciousness for a while, never really awake enough to check and see who was carrying me or to make the connection that we were in an abandoned building.
When I finally woke fully, I was sitting in a red leather chair. There was a small table between myself and another red chair, occupied by the bald man.
"Katie Anderson?" the man asked, though it didn't sound as though he thought he could be wrong.
I shook my head, trying to quickly clear the cobwebs from my half-asleep brain. "Katie Calto. How do you know my name?"
He didn't answer, just smiled. "I also know you go by the hacker alias Nira."
My heart rate quickened. Surely I hadn't done anything that bad. "What are you? Government?"
He shook his head. "We're not here to hurt you, or arrest you, Nira. We're here to help you."
I narrowed my eyes at him. We were the only two in the room. "What are you talking about? And how do you know so much about me? And why do people keep calling me 'Anderson'?"
He chuckled. "You remind me of your father. He, too, had that same look in his eyes when we first met."
I started at the mention of a man I had never known.
"The look of someone who accepts what they see because they are expecting to wake up. Ironically this is not far from the truth."
"You… knew my father?" I asked, stumbling over the unfamiliar word.
He hesitated, but I could not see whatever emotion played behind those dark sunglasses. "Do you believe in fate, Nira?"
I shook my head. "No." I never had. It made me feel so… powerless.
"Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my own life."
His grin widened, brightening the room with its glee. "You are your father's daughter. That was his exact answer."
I could see I wasn't going to get any more answers on who this mysterious man was, so I just listened, lest I get more question-answers.
He leaned back in the chair. "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you cant explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but its there. It is this feeling that has brought you to me."
"Really? I thought it was your dominatrix-looking cronies," I grumbled, folding my arms.
He smirked. "Joking will not cover the truth you feel. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
I thought for a moment. Something I had uncovered weeks ago, in some illegal programming about some man named Morpheus, supposed to be a genius (surely this couldn't be him). I had spent a few weeks searching for him in other programs, but had no luck. And something else… "The Matrix?"
"Do you want to know what it is?"
Without pausing to think about what I might be getting myself into, I nodded.
"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room."
I found it hard to doubt everything he was telling me. His tone indicated a wisdom I couldn't question.
"It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."
I leaned forward, intrigued. "What truth?"
He leaned forward as well. "That you are a slave, Nira. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot taste or smell or touch. A prison…. For your mind." He leaned back again and sighed. "Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver tin, opening it and dumping the contents into his hand. He leaned forward again. "This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back."
I felt an anxious sense of urgency settle over my decision. He opened his hand, revealing what looked like Advil. "You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed at the orphanage, and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill-" he opened his hand again "-you come with us. And I can show you what you want to know."
I could see the panicked indecision flicker across my face in my reflection in his shades, but it was replaced by certainty. I reached for the red pill.
"Remember," he said, stopping my hand mid-air. "All I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."
I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but I had some important questions that needed answering. And if this man had known my father, maybe he could show me where he was. I took the pill from his hand and popped it into my mouth, gulping down half of the glass of water he gave me.
He grinned. "Follow me." He stood and walked through a door.
I did as he said, trailing behind him into another dust-coated room.
"Are we on-line?" he asked as we entered.
The brown-haired man replied, "Almost." He was sitting in front of ridiculous amounts of computer screens with all kinds of different things scrolling along them.
"Time is always against us," Morpheus said, walking further into the room near a chair that looked more suited for torture than comfort. "Please, take a seat here."
I let out a sigh and shrugged, settling down into the chair.
The woman began attaching wires to my body, on the crease at my elbows, on my temples, the insides of my wrists. Switches were flipped, buttons were pressed, and for some reason a telephone was picked up off the hook and set on another contraption that looked vaguely like a modified fax machine.
"The pill you took is part of a trace program," Morpheus explained. "Its designed to disrupt your input/output carrier signal so we can pinpoint your location."
"What does that mean?" I asked, panicking a bit more when I realized they were taking my vitals.
Morpheus smiled. "Be prepared for anything."
I nodded and let out a breath.
I sat there for a while before I noticed a cracked mirrored wall next to me. As I watched, something caused it to shimmer, waver and pull the cracks back together so that it was whole once more and my face was no longer distorted in its rifts. I lifted my hand to touch the mirror, but found my fingers sliding through some type of pudding-like silver substance. It stuck to my fingers and shimmered as I watched.
"Have you ever had a dream, Nira, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you be able to tell the difference in the dream world and the real world?"
I looked back down at my fingers. The goo was spreading, as if of its own accord, purposefully inching its way down my hand. "This isn't-"
"Isn't what? Isn't real?"
The silver stuff snaked its way liquidly up my arm, shocking me with its coldness. Soon it had encased my entire arm.
"Replication," the woman called out.
"Still nothing," the brown-haired man replied.
I could feel it spreading, faster and faster, under my shirt, across my shoulders, up my neck. I opened my mouth, gasping in shock.
Morpheus popped open a cell phone and said, "Link, we need a signal. Now."
"Fibrillation," the woman called again.
"Siren, location," Morpheus requested calmly.
"Targeting almost there."
The liquid was reaching my face, sliding up onto my mouth as I gasped for every breath I took.
"Lock. I got her," Siren said.
"Now, Link, now," Morpheus demanded in a firm voice.
I screamed as the silvery goop spilled over my lips and down my throat.
Who missed me? :P So, as always, review and lemme know if I should continue :D Thanks for reading!