display | more...
"I wouldn't be here otherwise," Annette said. "This is your Neo-Morpheus moment. You agree to our summons and you wake up tomorrow like you always do, and go about your life as you would have expected. You throw this away, and we will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Except we won't be quite as friendly as Morpheus."

"What does that mean?"

"It's going to be a trial by fire. You're not going to like it."

"You're not going to tell me much about what I'm in for, are you?" I asked.

"That's going to be part of the test," she said. "How you respond to what they throw at you is going to determine what you're in for next. Your future is going to be entirely determined by your choices in the coming weeks. And we will be the ones sitting in judgment."

"And if I fail?"

"Many have failed before," she said. "Best-case scenario would be that you'd still be able to piece together some semblance of a normal life."

"And the worst-case scenario?"

"You don't want to know about that. And it would expose too much of our internal processes if we told you."

"If I pass the tests?" I asked.

"Not even I know how far the rabbit hole goes," she said. "You'll eventually be handed off to those who take care of the special cases. You know how far Neo went."

"You're telling me this is like the movies?"

"There is much more to the world than you know," Annette said. "If you rely on surface appearances, you will live a life of confusion."

"And you will show me the truth then? That's what you're offering?"

"Not just show you the truth," she said. "But also the extent to which you create your own."

"I create my own truth?"

"That's what the tests are going to determine. If you fail, the results aren't going to be pretty. I hope you consider this fair warning if you continue on the path you've been travelling."

"You haven't warned me about much of anything except vague threats," I said.

"We can't let you see what's behind the curtain unless you're already there. You would not be able to accept your old reality if you did." She backed away from my passenger window. "Hold on for a sec," she said. "I got a call coming in."

She returned to her car while I waited in mine. The minutes ticked by. I didn't know what she was up to. I took in my surroundings. We had stopped under a bridge. The shoulder was narrow. Other cars whizzed by inches from ours. It would not have been safe on the driver's side of our vehicles.

Annette returned just as I was getting bored - or as bored as could be expected under such strange circumstances. "The call was about you," she said. "Sorry I can't say what. That would be information you don't need to know if you return to your old life."

"And if I don't return?"

"I can't tell you anyway, but you'll probably find out indirectly at some point. We already know what your likely answer is going to be, but we wanted to give you another chance to decide, for us to be sure, and for you to be sure as well."

"If you already know what I'm going to do, I don't have to tell you then, do I?"

"No, I suppose not." She sighed. "Here, take the summons. In case you change your mind. Maybe we'll see each other again, though it would probably be easier on you if we didn't."

"I'll be the judge of where my life goes," I said.

"Right, I suppose we all are." She waved goodbye and returned to her car.

I waited for her to leave first, pretending to be preoccupied with the moment. An interesting development to be sure. Not the way I expected things to play out, but there were any number of openings for them to get in.

I noticed handwriting on the back of the summons. I flipped it over. "Your life is no longer your own," it said. "We have taken all the entrances and exits. Your only choices will be ones we present to you. Only the truly extraordinary have been able to create their own exits, but those are also the ones that will most likely destroy you." I folded it up. A reminder of what I was about to get myself into.

I tucked it away. It would become a litmus test. Those who knew more than I told them would be classified among those in contact with her people. I wasn't about to let their test be one-sided. And I definitely wasn't going to let them limit me to solutions of their choosing. Not if I could help it.

On the other hand, I didn't truly know what I was up against. Any apparent escape routes may just lead me deeper into their trap.

A few minutes after she left, I was back on the highway. With a bit more situational awareness.