Chaos was the only way Morpheus could describe the events that were going on in the kitchen when he woke up. Half of the blankets and sheets that belonged to the Neb had to have been up, hanging from every free beam and monitor. It was a monstrous creation that he had not seen since his own childhood days. A carefree past that he barely remembered.
An actual fort that, judging by the height of some of the blankets, had to have been created with help from the adults. Anomaly’s idea or not (and Morpheus realized that the idea truly could have come from one of his crew and not the six year old girl residing with them), the fort was a creation of adults.
Laughter was coming from inside. Link’s he recognized, followed by Trinity voice saying, “No, no, I agree with Anomaly. You could not pull of the blue the way you are working the grey.”
“Bull--” Neo clearly caught himself, “Th-that’s ridiculous! There’s no life to this grey. I’m the One, aren’t I supposed to be vibrant and full of life?”
“I’m fairly certain that the prophecy said nothing about your personality.”
“Not to mention,” Link added, “I remember Tank and Dozer talking about him after you all first started monitoring him and Dozer definitely said something along the lines of, “Seems like a nice guy but the most boring coppertop I’ve ever had to watch.”
“I don’t think you’re boring.” Anomaly said, “You just aren’t as interesting as everyone else.”
Trinity and Link both burst out laughing and Neo made a cry of mock outrage, “Come here, you!”
Morpheus tugged a sheet off to the side so that he could look in. It was tall enough that, though he’d have to duck to get in, he could stand at the very center while clearing all the blankets.
Link and Neo were both sitting on the same bench while Trinity sat on a blanket on top of the table. Sheets were wrapped like togas around Neo and Link. Link’s was a blue that had somehow maintained its vibrancy while Neo’s was an older, more worn white sheet that had turned grey with age.
Anomaly was sitting between Neo and Trinity, leaning against the latter. Her bald head was covered by a small blue hat that was still at least two sizes too big. Neo tugged Anomaly onto his lap, tickling her as she giggled.
“Are you all having fun?” Morpheus asked, finally drawing attention to himself.
Three out of four faces shot up to look at their commanding officer, with Anomaly still laughing.
Trinity tried to stop, mid-laugh. It came out as a snort.
Neo let out a laugh, “Now that was sexy.”
“What’s sexy mean?” Anomaly asked.
Neo tripped over his words a bit, looking at Trinity briefly for help before realizing that none was coming. “It means… that I find Trinity to be very attractive.”
“Oh.” She paused as if filing the new word away for later use. “I think Trinity is very sexy, too.”
Link, Trinity, and Neo all burst into laughter again. Anomaly’s giggles joined them although it was clear that she was just trying to laugh along.
Link wiped at a watery eye, taking a deep breath in. “Whew. Heh. To answer your question, sir,” he looked to Morpheus, “We are, indeed, having fun.”
“Is anyone flying this ship?”
Link looked a bit guilty, “That should be me. I put the ship down in a cave and came to get something to eat. Got a bit distracted.”
“Finish your breakfast and get back to it.” Morpheus said. “We’re still about fifty hours out.” He turned his gaze to Trinity, “Is anyone monitoring the Matrix?”
“It’s actually monitoring itself.” She explained with a smile, gesturing towards Neo and Anomaly, “The two of them actually set up a program that tracks active processes within the Matrix.”
“It’s specific to our needs.” Neo added, “It shows when Agents become active as well as any of the kids we’re tracking. We even have it set up to tell us if another crew goes into the Matrix.”
“Really?” Morpheus looked at Anomaly, “You helped?”
“It was her idea.” Trinity said, smiling at Anomaly.
Anomaly smiled at him, somewhat shyly.
It was then that Morpheus began to understand Neo’s rationale. Neo took his time. He wasn’t lazy nor did he lag but, at the end of the day, Neo needed to make personal connections. Numbers did nothing-- saving a million people would not be worth Anomaly or, god forbid, Trinity.
Neo was looking at the little picture whereas Morpheus saw the big picture. At the end of the day, they would both reach the same conclusion.
“I’m going to go put us in the air. Link, when you finish eating, please head up to the cockpit..” Morpheus smirked, “As for the rest of you, try not to destroy my ship.”
“No guarantees.” Trinity called in response as Morpheus left the room.
“Why is Zion so far away?” Anomaly asked, “It seems inconvenient.”
“Oh, it is.” Link said. “We spend more time on this hovercraft than we do at home with our families.”
“Unfortunately, Zion needed to be built a couple miles underground so that it would be close to the magma and the Earth’s core. Now that the sun is blocked out, it’s the only source of warmth we have. But being so far underground, we can’t hack into the Matrix. There’s too much interference. And even if we could, the pods are still on the surface so any time we had to free somebody, we’d have to do a run.” Trinity explained.
Her eyes widened, “Isn’t that dangerous?”
Neo looked at Trinity, realizing the implications of being so close to the core for the first time, “Yeah, isn’t that dangerous?”
“Zion is very safe.” She assured them, “Much safer than it would be if we were on the surface.”
“Yeah, but like, are volcanos something that could happen?” Neo was suddenly taking over Anomaly’s questions, seeming genuinely concerned.
“Highly unlikely.” Trinity said dryly.
“Pretty much impossible, actually.” Link commented, taking a spoonful of goop before trying to talk, “Volcanos,” he cleared his throat, “Volcanos form as a result of the Earth’s plates shifting or hotspots. We are, luckily, pretty far from any plate boundaries or hotspots.”
Neo blinked, “How do you know that?”
“Zion schooling is much different than anything you’ll find in the Matrix. Our history begins with the Great Machine War. Everything else is usually some kind of science course. Mechanics. Engineering. And seeing as how Zion is underground, geology courses are extremely prevalent.”
Neo hummed in understanding and, not for the first time, regretted the fact he had been pulled out of the Matrix so late in life.
Had he been a kid, a teenager he might have been allowed to study for a few years before the whole world got thrust onto his shoulders.
He glanced at Trinity. They were always meant to be together. They were inevitable, that he was sure of. It didn’t matter when he was unplugged or when she was unplugged. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had both been born as Zionites or if they had both been coppertops for all of their lives-- they were always going to be together. But he had to wonder about what life could have been like if he had found her sooner.
A hundred years waking up next to her would never be enough.
Life was good. Better than good. Life was amazing. Visceral.
Under the draped sheets in the Core, he was sitting with the love of his life, a friend, and a smart kid that made him laugh more than he had quite possibly ever.
Anomaly was rambling at Link and Neo caught a few words about Zion and caverns but his attention was elsewhere. He reached up and took Trinity’s hand.
She glanced up at him, the little half-smile making an appearance before she turned back to the conversation.
“Hands down,” Link was saying, “Is the best place in the whole city.”
“It is not .” Trinity said, shaking her head. “No way. It isn’t even best lake.”
“Lake?” Neo asked, snapping back into the conversation.
“Lake Babylon.” Link said. “Has Trin not taken you there?”
“To Lake Babylon? He’d get mobbed if I took him to Lake Babylon! It’s always too crowded, anyway. I prefer hiking out a bit to some of the more private ponds.”
“But those are always so small! Some of them are barely bigger than a room.”
Trinity shrugged, “You keep the venue small and it doesn’t matter.”
“Can I take swim lessons in Zion?” Anomaly asked.
“Most certainly.” Link told her, “I myself learned at the glorious ,” He sent a pointed look at Trinity, “ Lake Babylon. But, you could also just load a program into your head and become an expert swimmer in seconds.”
“Really really.” Trinity told her. “I can take you to the Core right now if--”
Trinity laughed, hopping off the table and holding her arms outstretched. Neo hoisted Anomaly up so that Trinity could easily just take the girl.
She smiled at him as she settled Anomaly onto her hip, “Would you be a dear and put the blankets away?”
“It’s what I’m here for-- actually, it’s in the prophecy. Savior of the human race and clean-up crew.”
Trinity let out a little laugh and leaned down quickly for a kiss. “I’ll make it up to you. Let’s go, An.” She said as she and Anomaly left the mess behind them.
“What’s a prophecy?”
“It’s when somebody predicts what will happen in the future.”
Anomaly nodded, “I thought it sounded like a fairy-tale word. What does it have to do with Neo?”
“A long time ago there was a newborn inside the Matrix. He could change things, alter reality with just a thought. He freed himself from the Matrix and saved the first Zionites.
“When he died, a very wise, old woman predicted that he would come back. She said that when he returned, he would destroy the Matrix once and for all. And Neo is that man.”
The innocent question made Trinity grimace. “To be honest, I don't really know. Neo doesn't know yet, either. It’s a kind of like… he has to delete all this software but without losing individual programs inside.”
“And it has to be an internal approach.” Anomaly half-asked, half-stated as Trinity sat down at the Core.
“It’s the only way to ensure the safety of everyone still plugged into the system.” She used her free hand, the one that wasn’t holding Anomaly to her side, to access the Construct.
“Is that even possible? To rescue everyone through the system? If you can't even translate the code, how can you use it large scale?”
“Neo… he can't translate the code, exactly-- but he can read it and understand it. When he’s in the Matrix, he can alter it. No one knows how, not even him. But he’s figuring it out. Everyday a little bit more.”
Anomaly’s lips parted in question. She looked up at Trinity, “So he’s the only person who can read the code? In the whole world?”
“That’s so sad.” She whispered and Trinity was overcome by the sorrow in Anomaly’s voice. “It all depends on him. He must feel…”
The weight of Anomaly’s words suffocated her, as the thought of Neo’s burden always did when it entered her mind. No amounts of scrapes or bruises or even the stray gunshot wound hurt like that morose refrain. She felt nauseous, like a knife was being twisted in her chest. Her throat felt swollen and she knew if she relaxed any that the tears would stream.
Trin ran her hand down Anomaly’s back. “So very scared.” She finished the thought. “It’s a lot of pressure but,” and she felt her own lips twitch, “Neo is so very strong. Stronger than he knows, stronger than anyone knows. He’s going to be okay, An.”
“Are you sure?” Came the soft reply.
“Very. You know why?”
Anomaly shook her head.
“Because I’m not going to let anything happen to him. He’s going to protect the world, and I’m going to protect him.”
“I can help.” Anomaly offered tentatively. “I can protect him, too.”
With no words to answer the offer, Trinity wrapped both arms around Anomaly and hugged her close. She pressed a kiss to her face.
In her mind, she saw Ghost. A younger Ghost, whose face was still soft and hairless. The boy, not much older than her, who made even the worst days in the real world special.
Ghost, she smiled. Who linked arms with her in the halls, who let her rest her head on his shoulder when she was exhausted after a long day of classes and training and all the extra works she put in so that she would move through the ranks quicker. Who would hold her through the bad nights when memories of her family, of her sister prevented her from sleep. He would hold her hand all night and never make a move, even jokingly, like Sparks or Tank would have.
“I hate this place!” That’s what she had told him after returning from her first deployment on the Neb. His door had only cracked open when she started yelling. “All of it! I hate the ships, I hate the city, I hate these small rooms that barely give you the space to breathe! I want out but there’s nowhere to go!”
“What happened?” Ghost had asked as she had pushed into his room.
“What happened is that we take kids away from all that they’ve ever known and then we dump them to get on by themselves. It doesn’t matter if they’re nine or fifteen, they’re still kids. We’re still kids! We’re still kids and, it doesn’t matter what situation we were in, they just take us away and then leave us on our own like it doesn’t fucking matter!”
“You know that the Matrix is a lie…”
“Yes, but it’s a lie they know. It’s a lie we all know. It’s a safe lie. And then we pull them out of it and force them to wake up on a tiny, cold, disgusting ship. Then, when we finally get them someplace warm and safe and away from machines trying to kill them, we abandon them. Drop them off, fill out some paperwork and that’s it. How is that okay, Ghost?”
“It has to be done. We can’t just leave people in the Matrix.”
“Bringing them here and abandoning them isn't a solution, Ghost.”
“There isn't a solution, period. Right now, Zion and everyone… They're just trying to save as many people as they can.”
“What's the point of saving them if they're just going to be abandoned?”
“It's the only shot they've got, Trin.” She had open her mouth to argue when Ghost held up a hand and said, “For now. It won't always be like this. You should know; you spend half your free time pouring over that prophesy.”
She had crossed her arms tightly across her chest, still fuming . “I can't support this, Ghost. Good Intentions or not, it's immoral. It's exactly the kind of thing that we are supposed to be fighting; using people. We traded lives as batteries for lives of soldiers but we still aren't free.”
“You can walk away. You have that option. You can do any number of things in Zion; you don't have to be a soldier. But you want to be one. You chose to be; you're good at it. I've seen you in the Construct. Trin, you're amazing. Its why Morpheus and Ballard and Roland all fought over you.”
Trinity had collapsed onto his bed, resting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. “I… I was meant to be a soldier. At least for now but I thought… I thought it would be more fighting in the Matrix and less comforting kids who miss their beds and friends and lives. I didn't think there would be so much pain.”
Ghost had closed his eyes and nodded, suddenly acting as if he understood her, “it isn't your fault,” he had said, “Their pain isn't your fault.”
“I took them out of their homes, away from their lives.”
“To give them a shot at life.”
“To abandon them.”
“Trinity, there's only so much you can do. So you can't ensure that all these kids are going to have perfect lives in the real world but because of you they at least have a legitimate shot.”
“And that’s enough?”
Ghost had sat down next to her. “Of course not. But it’s a start.” His arm had looped over her shoulders, “You’re allowed to take it one day at a time when you’re saving the world.”
And Trinity had let out a humorless laugh and buried her head into Ghost’s shoulder. “I wonder if the One will be offered so much leniency.” And she had sighed, “I feel useless. Helpless, even.”
“You thought you would be doing more.”
“No. Not really. I was a kid in the system; I know how it goes. And I knew that I was going in to help. I just… I didn’t think it would hit me so hard, not being able to help more.”
“You help enough.” When Trinity rolled her eyes, Ghost insisted, “You do. And you’re making a difference, even if it isn’t the difference you’d like to make. You want my advice or the advice of Kant?”
Trinity had snorted in response. “And Kant’s?”
“Look closely. The beautiful may be small.”
A silence fell between them. “I’m sorry, what?”
“What you’re doing for these kids, even if you can’t do everything that you want to do for them, is good. More than that, it’s beautiful. You won’t find perfection in this job but that doesn’t mean that your accomplishments are not remarkable.” He had kissed her forehead. “Maybe one day you’ll even realize that .”
Trinity blinked, Anomaly’s offer still lingering between them.
The beautiful was, indeed, small and Trinity was overwhelmed by it.
She had, of course, known that Ghost was right. She had figured out, on her own, that it was important to save as many people as she could even if she could not give them a perfect life. But Anomaly’s words caused her body to become inexplicably cold, so tense that her skin was almost singing.
And Trinity was overwhelmed. Kindness. It was different from her own brand of kindness-- it wasn’t someone looking at the world and seeing injustice and wanting to fix it. It was on such a smaller scale and yet so much more powerful than her and Morpheus and Link and Tank and Dozer.
Anomaly wasn’t trying to make a better future that would, ultimately, benefit herself.
It was a selfless, sacrificing promise. A promise which wouldn’t create a better future for her; only Neo.
Neo made those kinds of promises.
They were the promises that were meant only for her .
Sure, I’ll save the world. But I’m doing it for you. To make you safe; to make you happy. Because that was just who Neo was.
And it hit her hard; impossibly hard. The man who had been prophesized to save the world And it took realizing what Anomaly was prepared to do for Neo to understand what Neo was prepared to do for her .
“Oh, sweet girl.” Trinity wrapped both arms around the little girl. “My darling girl. You don’t need to protect him-- but I’m sure he would appreciate whatever love you can give him.”
Anomaly snuggled into Trinity’s arms. “I can do that.”