Chapter Five
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A Plague of Locusts

 

Star arrived first, before Gemini had time to fix drinks. Immediately her sparkly friend cornered Smith into a discussion about the cut of his suit. Poor Smith. He was soon to truly understand the depth of Star’s obsession. Star had written the DC-147 files on fashion and humanity, but her passion for fabric went much deeper. Star was already attempting to adjust Smith’s tie clip. Good luck.

Gemini left them alone. She was busy thinking. When Smith had gripped her wrist, she noticed again that he seemed to generate body heat. Why? Since Agents probably didn’t touch people very often, it was illogical to waste energy on the illusion. Then again, Smith was more than an .exe file. Gemini took a moment to write another note to herself, to ask Smith why he’d been programmed with such human details. She wouldn’t ask why his skin contacting hers caused the word “swoon” to come to mind...that was a secret she would manipulate more than the Matrix to keep from Smith. She could picture him smirking at her. Jerk.

Marco arrived next. True to form, he pounded on the door with incredible gusto. He told friends that he was practicing to be a badass. In reality the muscular Latino was a giant sweetheart. Marco accosted his “woman” Star with bear hugs and sloppy kisses while Smith’s face pinched into an interesting parody of its former composure. Star and Marco were the only couple who had both been Gemini’s friends before they started dating. They were the only couple still together after learning about the Matrix.

Metaphysics were tough. Yet one more reason why Gemini was chronically single. Coppertops were usually just too stupid.

Tyger brought her hoard of Metallica music. Within seconds, “Enter Sandman” was blaring over Gemini’s sound system. She allowed it because that happened to be her favorite Metallica song. Besides, when Tommy arrived the musical battle would really begin. She had to save her energy for then.

“Toms’ll be late,” Tyger announced as she appropriated the production of Gemini’s drinks.

Big surprise. Tommy was always late. That was his trademark. Gemini suspected he did it on purpose just to cultivate a reputation.

Drinks expertly made and distributed to the shmoozing Star and Marco (Smith refused one), Tyger leaned on the kitchen counter as Gemini hastily assembled snacks. “So...this Agent of yours...is it tame?”

“He’s promised to be ‘virtually harmless’.”

“What good is its promise?”

“He’s not an it, Tyger.”

Tyger regarded the Agent standing in the wake of Star and Marco’s music war. “I don’t know, Gem...do you have any evidence to prove it’s a he? I mean, have you actually *seen* evidence?”

“No!” Then Gemini amended her sharp denial, “Not yet...um; he’s been a gentleman.” She sighed. “But I will eventually. The Watchers ordered me to. Scorpio thinks if I teach an AI physical human intimacy, they’ll understand us better.”

Both women were silent for a moment. Every Watcher knew that Scorpio, their feared but esteemed ringleader, had no qualms about sending people out to do dangerous jobs. Gemini had called in a giant favor from Scorpio to get transferred from her old job watching the Resistance. Now she owed him.

“I don’t envy your job,” Tyger said quietly.

Gemini considered this. Owing something to Scorpio could be a lot worse. At least the man wasn’t a sadist. She took a good look at Smith. Even though he had a sour scowl on his face directed at the loud music and her two smooching friends, he was showing incredible restraint. Gemini knew he wanted to hurt someone, that standing there among people who associated with rebels went against his primary programming.

So why had she agreed to the job? She could have told Scorpio to shove it and gone back to her more dangerous but familiar job of watching the Resistance. Maybe she saw something in those ice blue machine eyes that no one else saw. There might be a chance she would enjoy teaching Smith about the birds and the bees. He had taken well to her other lessons. Not many humans were smart enough to learn by her kind of example. There could also be a chance that Smith would understand why the physical aspect was so important to humanity. So far she was simply glad that Smith hadn’t raised the subject.

“I don’t know...” Gemini said slowly, “...he is sort of...handsome.” And she liked his voice. Smith could melt butter with that voice.

“What if he’s built like a Ken doll?” Tyger asked.

Gemini’s blush went all the way up to her hairline. Tyger was the Queen of Innuendo. Busying herself with finding the ranch dressing in the fridge, she admitted to herself that she actually had wondered the same thing. Tyger was uncanny in the way she could voice Gemini’s deepest dirty little thoughts. God. What if machines didn’t know how to write anatomically correct programs?

“You’ve thought about it, haven’t you?” Tyger asked gently. “Whether or not he’s even capable.”

Closing the fridge door, Gemini leaned her forehead against it. “Yes,” she whispered.

“Wouldn’t Scorpio shit a brick if you couldn’t follow his orders?” came the attempted joke in reply. “I hate to say this, but he told me to tell you that that part of the job is specifically not negotiable.”

Gemini’s shoulders slumped. “I’m not concerned about Scorpio right now.”

Tyger laid a gentle hand on her friend’s arm. “You’re afraid, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.

Turning around and meeting the other woman’s gaze, Gemini came very close to shedding the tears that had been building subconsciously for days. “Oh God, Tyger! I have this idea that I *should* feel like a...whore...but I don’t. Should I?”

Tyger wrapped Gemini in a warm hug. “Scorpio can cram it with apples. Do this at your pace, and don’t let my dirty little mind corrupt you.” She glanced over Gemini’s shoulder toward Smith. He caught Tyger’s stare and sneered at the women embracing in the small kitchen. “It could be much worse, dear,” she murmured into the shorter woman’s ear. “He *is* fairly attractive...in some strange way.”

Gemini sniffed. Another grand understatement.

Tommy made his timely entrance then. He brought his own stash of CDs and immediately took over Gemini’s stereo, blasting the battle score from the Gladiator soundtrack. Of course Star leapt from Marco’s arms on the couch to defend her invaded musical territory. Gemini was finally able to laugh at her friends. She never took charge of her own stereo when the locusts came to visit. It was much more fun to see them wage this kind of war than to have them argue about their jobs.

Sitting at the edge of the fray in her recliner, Smith looked like he had indigestion. He’d been a good boy and left his sunglasses off, but Gemini got from him the distinct vibe of carefully controlled violence. She knew his Desert Eagle was only a few layers of silk and leather away from everyone in her living room. She wouldn’t be able to conjure one from the Matrix fast enough to stop Smith if he decided to break his word about being harmless.

Time for a preemptive move...

Gemini approached Smith, who acknowledged her with a scowl. She ignored his foul mood. Too bad if he didn’t like her friends. As long as he didn’t shoot any of them, he could hate them all he wanted. She sat next to Smith on the arm of the recliner.

“Here,” she said, handing him a Hershey’s kiss candy. “Sweeten your disposition.”

Smith raised an eyebrow. “More chocolate? Why do you persist in trying to feed me?”

“You don’t eat?” Marco asked from his place ensconced on the couch. He had Star on one side snuggling close, and a slightly less affectionate Tyger on the other.

Tyger had courteously brought in the snacks. No one was touching the beautiful array of cut vegetables and dip on the coffee table, forgetting them in the wake of Marco’s question. Even the music war had subsided, with Tommy sulking crosslegged on the floor because it was Star’s turn to use the stereo remote. She turned down the volume on Metallica’s “Unforgiven” in anticipation of Smith’s reply.

Smith fixed Marco with a patronizing stare, “You know how all of my energy needs are supplied to me.”

Silence. Most of the Watchers usually elected to forget that aspect of the Matrix. Everyone had a different opinion about still being a coppertop. Each opinion was as different as their reasons for staying plugged in. Some reasons were less than ideal. Of course, Smith’s comment only brought those metaphysical demons to the humans’ consciousness.

Gemini leaned close to whisper into Smith’s ear. “The act of eating is comforting to humans. At least pretend to eat the damn thing,” she said, indicating the candy in the Agent’s hand.

Smith placed the small piece of chocolate in his mouth and chewed. His face looked like he’d been given a piece of paraffin to eat. He swallowed. All the assembled humans awaited his opinion.

“An acquired taste, I assume,” Smith said. “Agent Brown might like it.”

That prompted a flurry of questions from Gemini’s friends. Who was Agent Brown? Was he as boring as all the other Agents? Which of the Watchers had he dealt with? Was he as good-looking as Smith?

That last question earned a very highly arched eyebrow from Smith. Gemini giggled along with the others after Tyger’s question and the AI’s response to it. This was better. Although reserved, Smith was successfully interacting with her friends. She sat near him in the recliner arm, feeling his warmth, and decided that whatever might happen between them in the future, she could handle it.

Smith actually took time to consider Tyger’s question. “Agent Brown is attractive by human standards,” he said. “However, I am more intelligent. His programming is less advanced than mine, and less frequently upgraded.”

The women squealed with laughter and unleashed hormonal thoughts. The men rolled their eyes.

“Y’know, Gem,” Tommy said, “I’m jealous of your job.”

“Why?”

“Look at you, all cozy with the Agent. Ha, ha, dear Gem, makin’ it with a robot! I bet he’s programmed with all sorts of...*techniques*.”

Gemini turned scarlet. She investigated the edges of her green nail polish. Star shot Tommy a death look, which he ignored and grinned at the room in general.

Smith rumbled softly in his throat. Leaning forward so he was almost nose-to-nose with Tommy who was still seated on the floor, the Agent pinned the human with an icy blue stare. The boy had sense enough to stop smiling when confronted with the AI’s disapproval.

“That remark was inappropriate, and you should apologize,” Smith said. The quiet tone in his voice was no disguise for his contempt.

Tommy’s eyes went wide. His face went pale. He appeared to have lost the ability to breathe.

“Immediately,” Smith growled.

Tommy jumped. “Uh, sorry, Gem.”

“’S okay, Gemini mumbled, still not looking at anyone.

“It is *not* ‘okay’,” Smith rumbled. He stared at each human in turn. “Ms. Shriver and I have not been intimate, and even if we had, it is not your place to question her about it. Do you understand?”

Shocked, wide-eyed nods from everyone. Smith looked as pleased as he’d ever looked. Abruptly, Gemini stood and ran blindly for the sanctuary of her bedroom.

“Dammit,” Smith said into the silence.

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