The glass doors sliding shut behind me, I followed him down the dirty-tiled aisle.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” I asked.
The limping old man led me through several different aisles. It was somewhat strange that each customer I passed, seemed to be noticing– staring at me. It was also odd that each of them was also older, or leaned on a cane, or had an arm in a sling, or sat in a wheelchair… almost like a hospital…
He led me into an office in the back of the supermarket, and gestured me inside.
He closed the door, and leaned his cane against a corner of the room. Taking my hand, he helped me into a battered old dentist’s chair, careful to keep the arm of the attached worklight from hitting my head.
“Relax as best as you can,” he finally spoke, and bent the lamp of the worklight in front of my face.
“Close your eyes, and relax,” he added, and switched on the lamp.
Eyes closed, I heard him shuffle his steps to another corner of the room. He sat down in a creaky wooden chair. And clearly, he began tapping his fingers into a keyboard… probably a computer keyboard.
“Good!” he muttered. It was definitely the same voice I heard way back in the unbearable electronic distance.
“Your program has been redirected and reloaded successfully into Beatrice,” he said as he continued tapping. “There are still some fluctuations– residual disruptions– due to the redirection. But in a few minutes, the stabilizing commands I’ve entered should clear that up. Ah yes. Good!”
“Amazing!” He seemed not to hear me. “Your program stabilized more quickly than I expected.” But then he stood up, shut off the lamp, and pushed away the arm of the worklight.
“You may open your eyes now,” he said. And I opened them. And for a moment, his old smile seemed to express a certain pride. (– Was it pride? Or love? –)
“The redirection,” he began as he sat back down, “occured at the moment you made your choice to be reloaded back into Matrix. I couldn’t allow you to be purged… by being archived nor by being reloaded into the Matrix to die a wasteful death. So I prepared a fake program with traces of your original code to make it seem you were corrupted beyond analysis. And at the instant you chose the Matrix, I switched your program with the fake one and redirected you here.”
“Why?” I turned to him.
“You see,” he said softly, his smile reappearing, “I’m the one who infected you with the virus.”