Before they arrived at the social housing complex, Dexter recounted his encounter with the strange woman, whose name Dexter and Chen agreed to be “Florene”. Not that Chen didn’t already hear every detail of it; but the appearance of a mysterious message sender was enough to raise much new-found interest in Chen.
“So, what did that woman look like? Was she hot?” Chen asked.
“Dude, she was at least 40.”
“Yeah I know, but Nicole Kidman is what? 45?”
“Right, you have a point,” Dexter smiled. He was glad that Chen was with him; otherwise he would never have dared to come near this part of the city.
“Here it is. What do you think?” Dexter looked up at the old social housing, crumbling with years of abuse. Chen followed Dexter’s gaze.
“What do I think what? Looks like a cheap-ass motel to me.”
“No, I mean who do you think that person is? It’s not too late to go back.”
“Yeah well, I brought these bad boys,” Chen said, and showed Dexter an array of items in his pockets: a pepper spray, an electric zapper, and a whistle. Dexter laughed.
“Did I not tell you that the woman jumped out of a window from the 8th floor?”
“These are all I can manage, alright? What did you bring?”
Dexter sighed. “I don’t know man. These people are not from our world.”
“I’ve set an auto alarm at home. If I don’t go back before 8am to turn it off, the entire police network in the country will be notified,” Chen chuckled proudly.
“So you really want to go up?” Dexter asked.
“Yeah man, what if they turn out to be secret agents working at the Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs? I would have to be dying to miss this.”
Dexter laughed again. At least he wasn’t the only crazy one.
The doors that were busted last time Dexter was here were still lying on the floor. In the middle of the empty area which could be used as a living room, three armchairs were placed around a coffee table, which was supporting a small lamp. A bald man with full sideburns was sitting in one of the chairs, his face unclear in the dim light.
“You made it here,” the man said with a low, hoarse voice. Dexter swallowed. He really wanted to leave now.
“Come on in, don’t be shy,” the man said. “You did a lot better with Florene.”
Chen clutched his hands in his pocket, and entered the room. Dexter followed.
“My name is Nicolas,” the man said after the guests sat down. “The reason why you are here is because you are talented and curious, which is a rarer combination than you may think.”
“The reason why I am here is because I bring with me information that will open the world to my exploit. I have been reading the ‘patterns’ of the Matrix since I was liberated, so my dear friend, I can see the garbage in your pockets, and you would be more comfortable not holding onto them so tightly.”
Chen was turning as pale as Dexter. He murmured something about alien eyes and pulled his hands out of the pockets.
“Now, you have some questions to ask me.”
For a long moment, Dexter and Chen were silently hoping the other would speak. Finally, Dexter gave in: “Who are you, and where is Florene?”
“I was the Operator on Florene’s ship, but I escaped that living hell and came back to the Matrix. Florene is safely back in the human colony.”
“So you are not here to bring us to the real world?” Dexter asked.
“What is the real world? The world that I grew up in, with people, food, entertainment, and civilization, or the living hell where people are restrained to tiny floating ships and a crowded, dirty, underground hole? Real is only a perspective. A faith.”
“But… ‘existence’ is not a vague idea. If we are living in a computer simulation, then nothing here exists in the real world.”
“Existence is not a vague idea? I have yet to hear a concrete definition that everyone subscribes to. My definition is that which I can sense, or have the ability to come to sense. And I sure am more alive and existing in here.”
Dexter did not want to argue with the strange man. He thought for a moment, and remembered: “Who were the ‘agents’? Why were they after Florene?”
Nicolas smiled. “They are the risks of our business. They police the Matrix to keep everything in their order – the anti-virus of the world – and everything that threatens to change their order would be eliminated. If everything is normal, as it is 99.99% of the time, you will never notice them. But when people like us enter the Matrix, they smell us like dogs smell food.”
Dexter looked around nervously.
“Don’t worry, you are safe tonight.”
“Because I am better than they are,” Nicolas smiled again.
Chen suddenly broke his silence: “why did you find us?”
“Right, we are finally getting to the good part,” Nicolas said. “With a little help from a veteran of the real world, you two can start any business you could imagine, and be sure that it would take over the world.”
And they talked about the possibilities into the day.
(To be continued)