Chapter Ten
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Of Cats and Agents

 

Smith discovered the cat grooming furiously in a growing spot of wet on Gemini’s recliner. He righted and repositioned the couch. Slowly, to give the animal some time to grow accustomed to his presence in the room. The grey little creature actually looked fairly normal now. Except for a few wet patches of fur sticking up in odd places, the cat was silky clean and smooth.

Smith watched it for a while. Seeing it from this side of the Matrix was strange. He knew that the programming language used for the Matrix was superb, that he shouldn’t be surprised at the detail this cat was showing. He was impressed nonetheless. The thing showed individuality. It showed life. Smith didn’t expect to see things like bravery or fear or anger in a purely artificial creation.

It was looking at him. Did it know what he was? Did it care? Smith recalled Gemini’s comment about how good cats were at staring. Really. Could a mere snippet of programming be all that good at anything?

It was still staring at him. He stared back. He was an infinitely more advanced piece of programming. He wouldn’t be outdone by a cat...by the digital simulation of a cat.

The sounds of Gemini’s shower filled the otherwise silent apartment.

Smith began to believe his internal chronometer was wrong. The staring had to be going on longer than a few seconds.

Finally, the cat blinked. With a delicate sniff, it returned to its grooming. Smith couldn’t help wondering about its flexibility. Of course he was just as flexible, but seeing the cat contort itself was interesting. Smith was beginning to understand why Gemini would have such an affinity for cats.

He approached it. Apparently it had decided that he wasn’t a threat. It didn’t seem to acknowledge him even when he stood beside the chair. After a while it stood up and sniffed at Smith’s leg. Then it climbed to the back of the chair and rubbed its head against his arm. It was rumbling...purring...again. He supposed that meant it wanted him to pet it. Well, since it was clean now...

Gemini emerged from the bathroom, briskly toweling her hair into submission. She stopped when she saw the scene unfolding in her living room. The cat, now all clean and fluffy silver, was nudging Smith’s hand. The Agent was petting the cat. Gemini’s heart flip-flopped at the sight. Anyone who was nice to cats was okay with her.

Smith stroked underneath the cat’s chin. Obviously he had found a great spot because the cat slid down into the chair, purring like a thing possessed. It flopped over on its back in a position of pure bliss.

“I don’t understand,” Gemini said quietly. “How did you ever learn how to pet a cat?”

Apparently not startled by her sudden appearance, Smith shrugged gracefully. “It appears to be nothing more than stimulating certain nerve endings...”

The cat seemed to agree. When Smith rubbed its belly, it stretched itself full length, the volume of purrs increasing exponentially. Gemini wondered what the cat thought of the Agent. She hoped it wouldn’t like Smith better. Cats tended to play favorites.

She noticed his clothes. Smith hadn’t taken the time to alter his suit back to its usual perfection. That was surprising because Smith’s mannerisms all indicated an incredible fussiness over his clothes.

“You’re still messy,” she said. Before Smith could react, she got an idea. “Wait,” she said. “Let me get some clothes for you.”

Gemini rushed to the linen closet. A former boyfriend had left his things. Actually, he really didn’t know how much of his stuff he’d “left behind” since she had taken it upon herself to liberate him from his superfluous possessions. She found a shirt and slacks for Smith. The pants were nice. Black, silk, and the style looked like the type Smith would find acceptable. The shirt was also nice, but the color was hideous. Pink. Puce. Pepto Bismol. Oh, well. Another opportunity for Agent abuse.

She handed Smith the clothes. He gave her a Look. She reminded him that he still hadn’t explored the aspects of casual wear. Smith frowned, but went to change.

Gemini approached her new companion. The cat hissed at her, its newly clean fur fluffed out until it resembled a small panther with static electricity problems. Gemini gave it credit for its courage. While Smith changed, Gemini tried to ingratiate herself to the cat. She had limited success. When she used to bathe Belle, the kitty would pout for a while, but then realize she felt better and owed thanks to her human. Of course, that kind of understanding had taken years to build. This new cat was still a stray, still uncertain that this human would provide a safe home.

Gemini had managed to coax the frightened stray into letting her give it a nice backrub when Smith returned. He was wearing the clothes she’d given him. His earpiece looked a little strange sticking out of the pink collar, but aside from that, he looked incredible. Trust the Agent to make the color work for him. Gemini fought the urge to think about gawking. How would she explain that behavior to Smith? The fact that he was scowling did nothing to sway her opinion. Even the cat looked impressed.

“This is the height of human fashion?” he asked.

She fought down a smirk. “No, actually it’s the dredges of human fashion. It belonged to an old boyfriend, and believe me, that is one of his better shirts.”

Smith’s scowl darkened. “I’ve lived a long time...but never encountered...this.”

Gemini gawked at him. “You...you consider yourself alive?”

Smith fussed with the shirt’s top button, finally deciding to leave it undone. “Of course I’m alive,” he said. His tone told her he thought her the height of stupid for thinking any different. “Life cannot be defined by the presence of organic material. I‘m sentient...therefore, I’m alive.”

This was a revelation. Gemini blinked mutely for several moments while a smirk grew on Smith’s face. “Well,” she finally said. “That’s something to add to the DC-147 files, I guess.”

“Those are still updated?”

“Of course they are. As long as there are Watchers, we’ll keep contributing to the DC-147 database. My friend Star wrote all the stuff on fashion. Didn’t you recognize her writing style? It’s just like talking to her.”

“Talking to her was vastly less than interesting,” Smith answered. “She insulted my tie clip.”

“Gee, I’m crying a river for you.”

The cat jumped from the recliner and wandered into the kitchen with a plaintive chortle. Gemini remembered that she’d bought cat food along with the tomato juice. The combination led to an interesting conversation at the checkout counter. It turned out the clerk had a cat that routinely came home smelling like all sorts of unearthly things. Following the cat’s cue, Gemini fed it and made a late evening snack for herself. This was her favorite time of day. Dusk. When the day relaxed and slowly let night take over. Time seemed infinite at dusk.

“What have you contributed to the DC-147 database?” Smith asked from his usual place in the kitchen doorway.

“Time,” Gemini answered, distracted by watching the cat eat.

“Elaborate.”

She sighed. No matter how many times she explained it, the words never seemed correct. “This place,” she said, indicating her apartment with a sweep of her arms, “exists outside of time. You could spend a week here, but walk out that door and only have wasted a nanosecond. That’s my control over the Matrix. Time. Most everyone who comes here needs time in some way. I’ve studied how the Matrix manages time, and how the Resistants alter it.”

Smith’s eyes lost focus as they often did when he was accessing some kind of information. It was creepy. But Gemini had long stopped getting upset about the Agent’s rudeness. She’d learned to pick her battles when it came to Smith. If she didn’t, he would simply stare at her as though she was the height of foolish to dare occupy his time. She’d come to realize that dealing with life was not so much a matter of having everlasting patience, as it was knowing what to get upset about. As the saying went, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It was mostly small stuff. Smith was probably only accessing the DC-147 files she’d written, and since they were meant to be read anyway, why worry about it?

“Does you position with the Watchers provide you this ‘time’?”

“That’s...complicated.”

“Explain.”

She didn’t want to. Her position with the Watchers was a very personal topic. Her awakening from the life of Margaret Shriver into the life of Gemini had been fast, and painful. Like ripping off a Band-Aid. She had scars to show for it.

“Your leader...Scorpio...appears quite an outstanding virus,” Smith said. “He would be talented at complicating things.”

“You can say that again.”

“Your...”

“Oh, Smith, don’t!” She was grinning in spite of herself. “Really. I’m not in the mood to laugh right now.” She rested her head in her arms on the table.

For a long moment Smith said nothing. Then he asked the one question she had the most trouble answering.

“Why did you choose to remain in the Matrix?”

Dammit. This was getting to be a bad habit: Smith catching her at vulnerable moments with the toughest questions. His intelligence and adaptability could really be annoying. But, she was obligated to teach him. More annoying.

Gemini raised her eyes to Smith’s. For a long time she couldn’t speak around the lump in her throat. Smith noticed this somehow. He moved to sit across from her at the small yellow table. His eyes never left hers. Mesmerizing. People could write poetry about those eyes. Not that Smith would appreciate any poetry on his behalf.

“Why didn’t you go into the real world?”

She felt the tears in her eyes as she answered; “I’m not strong enough.”

“What do you mean?”

“I...I’m not strong enough to live in the real world.” Her vision grew blurry for an instant. “People have described it to me...the cold, the grime, the terrible food. The endless fields of human beings where we’re grown. I can’t live in that kind of place.”

“You would prefer living an artificially generated lie?”

“That’s what the Resistance says. It isn’t a lie! Are you a lie? Are you any less or any more real than me, in this place?” She gripped Smith’s hands. “You certainly don’t feel fake.”

“Artificial isn’t fake.”

Gemini sensed Smith’s sense of wounded pride in that statement. Well, why not? Why shouldn’t an AI feel proud of his own kind? Just one more thing that hadn’t occurred to her regarding the machines.

“You don’t believe the Matrix is a lie,” she said. “You’re regurgitating Resistant propaganda.”

“You could have joined with them.”

“...Yeah, and I could be Santa Claus, too.”

“Who is Santa Claus?”

“Big fat guy with a beard and a red suit. Rides a sleigh with flying reindeer.”

Smith regarded her. “You’re not Santa Claus.”

“That’s my point.”

Smith sighed. “Sometimes I miss your sarcasm.”

“You never miss my sarcasm. You’re just handicapped by too many logic subroutines.”

Smith scowled. He removed his hands from hers. “Logic is not a handicap. You would do well to practice more of it.”

“Nope. Don’t want to. Hurts my head.”

“Would you stop speaking in sentence fragments?”

She stuck out her tongue. “You are still not the Grammar Agent.”

“Perhaps I need an upgrade.”

She didn’t know whether to roll her eyes or start rolling on the floor with laughter. By way of compromise, she hiccupped. Shit. There couldn’t possibly be sufficient subroutines for humor, yet Smith had a fine sense of it. She laid her head down on the table again.

“Are you still angry with me?”

“No...yes...oh, crap on a crutch, Smith! I’m tired!” She raised a weary face to him. “I’d almost forgotten you were deadly. Almost started to welcome my attraction to you. Then you mixed the two, and...” She stopped talking and massaged her forehead. “I can’t...*won’t* be in another dangerous relationship.”

“It was a dangerous relationship the moment I walked through your door.” Smith made a show of straightening the cuffs on the pink shirt she’d lent him. The image struck her. The duality of the Agent was more evident now. His dangerous nature hung around him like a buzzing aura of contained power, but the pink shirt reminded Gemini of a pimp. Pimps made her giggle, but Desert Eagles didn’t. “Explain how manipulative sex is wrong,” Smith said. “For that matter...explain why sex and violence are so often linked in human culture.”

“I can’t! I just know that physical intimacy should be a sharing of both partners, not a domination of one over the other. At least, ideally it should.” Sighing, she slumped down in her chair. The feasting cat jumped at the sound of wooden chair legs squawking over linoleum. It scooted back into the living room for relative sanctuary.

Gemini sensed Smith grow tense. She knew the signs of preparation for a fight. He exhaled sharply. “You were in a relationship with a domineering individual.” His tone was far from mild.

Gemini got the sudden absurd mental image of actual gears turning inside Smith’s head. He was a machine, so why not? Really, it was surprising that it took him this long to figure it out. “Yes,” she answered, even though Smith hadn’t asked a question. “And I won’t do it again.”

“Then why did you allow Tommy to show aggression toward you?”

So there it was. The Million-dollar question. The source of their disagreement. “That was different,” she said wearily.

“It wasn’t different.” Smith inhaled sharply. “Tommy is not to come back into this house. He is not your friend.”

“What do *you* know about friendship?”

“I know a friend doesn’t find attempted strangulation amusing.”

He had a point, damn him. “Fine. If he comes back, you can chase him away. I’ll stay out of it.”

“Explain your former domineering relationship.”

“Screw you.”

“Are you ready for that now?”

She gaped at him. Smith’s stare was so heated, so filled with implication, it made her womb hurt. She blushed. Smith smirked. “You...arrogant bastard!” she whispered.

“Virus.”

Gemini noticed something in the Agent’s eyes. She heard something in the Agent’s voice. It led her to believe that he’d actually begun to lose his conviction when it came to loathing humanity, or at least when it came to loathing her. Carefully she gripped his hand again. “You don’t believe that about me anymore,” she said. Smith was scowling at their clasped hands. “Look at me, Smith. Please. Honesty is important in an intimate relationship.” When her eyes held his, she asked him, “What do you feel about me?”

If he was human, she would have said Smith was afraid of his own emotions. But since he was a machine...who knew?

Smith looked at her. “You are not like any human I’ve met.”

“Have you taken the time to know any of the humans you’ve met?”

“No.” The answer appeared to pain him. They regarded each other in silence. Then Smith said, “We are at opposite ends of a war. I believe humans should be contained, controlled, because you have squandered your time on this planet. You believe...”

She shook her head. “What I believe isn’t what I used to believe. You’ve changed me, Smith. I’m not sure yet whether it’s for the better.”

He released her hand for a moment and sat back to think. She liked seeing him lounging in the chair. It was a nice contrast from his usual stiff posture. The moment stretched. Gemini wondered about Smith’s assertion that he was alive. She couldn’t imagine how it was when he first came into being. How were AIs born? Did they mature mentally the way humans did, or did their programming awaken them fully adult and ready to perform their job? She couldn’t imagine how confusing it must be to wake up so suddenly and have no idea what the world was about. To simply not know. To have to rely on databases and upgrades for knowledge and context.

It must be terrifying.

Gemini was stunned by her own private revelation. It seemed logical that an Agent program would awaken fully adult, but she hoped against logic that Smith hadn’t awakened into existence so suddenly. Her maternal instinct hurt for him if he had.

Smith sat forward. This time, he took up her hand in his. He was so warm, so present, so...alive. In the Matrix, she supposed, it didn’t matter whether either of them was organic.

“Gemini,” he said. She liked hearing him say her name. It felt intimate. “You...are not a virus.”

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