Chapter 1: On the Nebuchadnezzar
No one has noticed yet. But they will.
If Trinity were anyone else, they would probably suspect it already. But she isn’t, so they don’t and she is able to get by without suspicion.
The first time Morpheus had mentioned him, she had rolled her eyes.
When she found out his age, she was furious. Damn near crazed as she ranted “he’s nearly thirty! Thirty! We’ve never successfully unplugged anyone over twenty and Morpheus thinks that he’s the One? If we even try to unplug him, we’ll kill him!”
Murmurs of “bullshit,” “thirty,” and “fuck this” were heard under her breath for weeks.
Then Morpheus had made monitoring him mandatory.
The murmurs and attitude stopped.
Within a span of a few days, Trinity became withdrawn-- she avoided her crew, avoided all of us. She threw herself into her work. She hadn’t played cards or goofed around with us since she first started watching him.
And now she sits at the computer, completely engrossed in whatever it is he does. She reads every report twice, criticizing those who leave anything left out. Her head is all over the place. I actually beat her while sparring in the Construct. I haven’t done that since she was seventeen and hungover.
Switch had suggested that maybe she was just burning out. It had been more than ten years since Trinity had joined the Neb and she had never once taken a vacation. Maybe it was catching up to her.
But I knew otherwise. I recognized the signs.
Trinity was in love.
I don’t know when she first fell for him-- the dark-haired coppertop who tripped over his own feet and was the very definition of anti-social.
I’d never even heard her say his name. Neo.
Or Thomas, I suppose, but neither name ever graced her lips.
“I’m going to watch him.” She’d say or “Did he do anything interesting last night?”
It was a miracle no one else had picked up on it.
He was half-asleep at his computer right now and she was watching the green glyphs rain down the screen. One of his hands was lazily typing at his computer while the other ran through his hair.
“It’s midnight.” I said softly so as not to startle Trin.
“Is it?” She asked, not moving her eyes from the screen in front of her.
She nodded, still not looking away. “He’s close. Starting to make some headway. He managed to crack Homeland and found records of Morpheus in New York a few weeks ago and when he was in Capital City half an hour later. He ended up putting all the info on the webs and is running a couple forums trying to figure out how Morpheus traveled a few hundred miles in thirty minutes.”
“He shared the information?”
“Yeah. Didn’t even hesitate to just put it out to the public. Just decided it wasn’t his to keep.”
“An interesting choice.” I looked at her, eyebrows raised, wondering if she would get out of the chair on her own. “Trinity?”
“You should go to bed.”
“I’m really not tired.” She said quickly. “If you want to go back to bed, I can take your shift.”
Really Trin?… I thought with a smile… Have you given up on hiding it?
“I’m all set. You should go get some sleep.”
She didn’t argue anymore, giving a quick nod. “Alright. Keep an eye on the forums and take notes on the conversation, particularly of what he contributes. And don’t forget…”
“This isn’t my first watch, Trinity.” I reminded her gently.
She seemed uncomfortable as she stood up, glancing away from the screen briefly to address me. “Just keep note. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
She stood up from the chair, stretching, as she took a final look at the prospect. Suddenly, I found myself unable to resist the temptation as I said, “Trinity?”
“You might want to be careful.”
“Careful?” She repeated.
I gave her a nod. “Your subtlety is leaving something to be desired.”
She avoided eye contact, if only for a moment, before replying, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Come on, Trin. It’s just me. I’m not here to judge you.” She still said nothing. “You like him.”
“He’s a very interesting person.”
“Switch described him as the most boring coppertop she’s ever been forced to watch.”
“Well, agree to disagree.”
“What?” She asked sharply, completely on the defensive. I sighed, hoping to have avoided defensive Trin.
“You like him.”
We both knew it was more than that but it was a start.
Trinity glared at me for almost thirty seconds before looking over to the screen, her face softening. “Is it that obvious?”
I shrugged. “No one else has noticed yet.”
“Key word being ‘yet.’” She sucked in her lower lip before asking, “You won’t tell anyone?”
I shook my head. “Your secret is safe with me.”
“Thanks Apoc.” And with a final glance at the screen, she whispered, “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” I echoed, although I was almost certain that her last word was not meant for me.
I took my seat in front of the computer, taking up watch on the coppertop. Thomas Anderson. Neo. Maybe he was the One. Maybe not.
But if Trinity cared for him, then he was special. And so I would take extra care when watching over him.
No one has noticed yet, that Trinity is in love with Neo.
But they will.
“Dozer.” Morpheus’ voice sounded on the intercom. “Infirmary. Now.”
That could only mean one thing. Cypher must have been hurt while in the Matrix. Sighing, I pulled myself out of bed, slipping into boots before hurrying to the infirmary.
The door was open already and I could see Morpheus standing, arms folded across his chest and talking to Trinity.
I raised a brow in surprise but didn’t say anything as I walked in. I stepped around Morpheus to assess the damage. There was a cut on her head and she was holding her left wrist at an awkward angle.
“Anything broken?” I asked, going to get antiseptic from the cabinet.
“No.” She bit out. “I’m fine.”
Morpheus sighed, clearly fed up with those two words that seemed to make up half of Trin’s vocabulary these days. “I’ll be back.”
When the door had closed behind him, I approached her. “Wrist?”
“Hurts. Not broken.”
I moved closer, picking up her arm gently. She winced but made no sound.
“Make a fist.”
She did, her face tightening under the pressure.
“Bend it back and forth.”
She moved it a little backwards before hissing in pain.
“Probably a mild sprain. Let me get you some meds.”
“Who are you trying to convince?”
She didn’t answer.
That wasn’t surprising. At least it wasn’t these days. In the past few months, she’d become more and more distant. She rarely would spend any of her free time with us, preferring to spend it at the computer working.
Her choice, I suppose. But I was still worried. Most of us were.
“I’m telling you,” Switch had said the other night when Trinity had backed out of playing a game of cards with the rest of the crew, “She’s burning the candle at both ends. The girl needs a break.”
“Have you suggested that to her?” I had asked.
“Nah. Not like she’d listen. It’s Trin.”
I had to agree there. Trinity did what she wanted to.
“It is worrying.” Tank had put in. “I went to relieve her a few nights ago in the Core… put my hand on her shoulder and she spun around ready to take me down, like I was the enemy.”
“Probably just stress.” I had said. “We all get on edge sometimes.”
“And how do you suggest she deal with the stress, Doctor Dozer?” Switch had asked with a smile.
I had shrugged. “Find a way to make the negative energy productive.”
“What does that mean?” Mouse had piped in.
“It means that she’d take all of the frustration and put it into her work-- spend more time sparring, exercising, get physical to work out all her feelings.”
“Like,” Mouse had lowered his voice, “sex?”
At which point Switch had hit him upside the head while the rest of us rolled our eyes.
“What were you doing in the Matrix?” I asked, setting her arm back in her lap while I went to find bandages.
“I work there.”
“Wasn’t Cypher supposed to do the all-nighter tonight?”
“I felt like taking a shift.”
She’d been doing that a lot lately… taking shifts that weren’t hers. I had started to suspect-- and I was sure that I wasn’t the only one-- that Trinity had feelings for the coppertop that Morpheus claimed was the One.
Were they romantic feelings? I wasn’t sure of that.
Maybe Neo reminded her of someone she had lost to the Matrix. Maybe she believed Morpheus, that Neo was the One, although I had never known Trinity to back up his statements.
I walked back over to her, unwinding the bandage. “How is Neo?”
She inhaled deeply as I picked up her arm. “Fine.”
“Think we’ll be unplugging him anytime soon?” I pushed.
“Don’t know.” She replied, abruptly changing the subject. “Is the bandage really necessary?”
“It’s probably a mild sprain.” I told her. “Wrapping it will control the swelling, help keep it from bruising.”
“So I don’t actually need it?”
I didn’t like where the conversation had turned. “It will help you heal faster.”
“But I don’t need it.” She confirmed. “I’m going to bed.” She hopped off the table and moved towards the door. My legs were longer, allowing me to head her off.
“I need to look at your head. You might have a concussion.”
“I know what concussions feel like. I’m fine.”
“There’s that word again.” I commented. “Want to try a different one?”
She stiffened at that. “I mean what I say.”
“Usually you do. I don’t typically associate you with bullshit but with the way you’ve been acting lately, I might have to rethink that.”
“Please, Dozer.” She said, sounding exhausted. “Let it go.”
It’s him, isn’t it? What’s got your head messed up, what’s got you going crazy. Neo.
But I didn’t say it. She asked me not to.
“Alright.” I said, instead. “But, please, let me look at your head?”
Trin nodded, willingly walking back to the table.
“Can I wrap your wrist?”
Another nod and she lifted her arm. I had just begun wrapping the bandage around her wrist when the door opened and Morpheus stepped in.
“Tank’s monitoring the Matrix. Are you okay?”
I could practically see Trinity restraining herself. For all our sakes, I answered for her. “Trinity seems all right. I’m wrapping her wrist just in case and then I’ll check her for a concussion but her head seems fine.”
“Good.” Morpheus said. “Very good.”
“Do we know how they tapped us?” Trinity asked, “Cypher was sure the line was secure.”
“He must have been wrong. But, no matter. We’ll just need to make contact with him sooner rather than later.”
“H-how much sooner?”
“The sooner the better. In the next few days, for sure. Is that alright with you?” Morpheus asked, aiming the question at me.
I nodded, trying not to focus too much on Trinity’s reaction. “Sure. I’ll start prepping the operating room for him in the morning.”
“How soon can you be ready?”
“Tomorrow.” I answered honestly. “It should only take a few hours.”
“Get it prepped.” Morpheus answered, “I’ll send someone in to make contact with him late tonight. We’ll gauge his reaction as to when we should take him out.”
“I can go.” Trinity volunteered without hesitation.
Interesting. I thought, saying nothing.
“Alright. I was thinking that on the bus home from his work—“
“Too quiet an environment. Someone could over hear. I was thinking drawing him out of his apartment. A bar or a club—loud and with enough people so that he won’t be intimidated. Get his attention. Give him time to think it over. A day, maybe two.”
Morpheus nodded. “Alright. Do you want to take the lead on him?”
“No.” She said quickly. “I’ll just make contact. Bring him to you. The usual.”
“Are you sure? You’re welcome to—“
“No. I’m sure.”
So was I. Trinity was in deep with a coppertop she had yet to meet.
Maybe this bastard really was the One.
We unplugged Him. He’s here, on board this ship-- I’m sure of it. After years and years of searching the billions of individuals still trapped in the Matrix, we found Him.
Trinity was the first to make the connection between the two words: Neo and One. The first day Morpheus told us about the hacker. He hadn’t even told us his thoughts and Trinity had guessed, just from hearing Morpheus say his name.
“Though our next target will still be Labyrinth, I want to start monitoring Neo immediately. He’s a bit older than most of--”
“His name…” Trinity had interrupted, “You think it’s an anagram, don’t you?”
“For what?” Mouse had asked, never knowing when to just stay out of her way.
I wasn’t stupid but I hadn’t even thought about it until she mentioned it. NEO. Rearrange the letters and it suddenly became O-N-E
“Yes. I do think that Neo is the One.”
Trinity had nodded, face impassive but body coiled light a tight spring. “How much older is he, Morpheus?”
A fair question, but even I wasn’t expecting the number to be so high.
Trinity had ranted, insisting that it was impossible to unplug someone nearly thirty.
But now? Now Trinity believed. She hadn’t said so out loud but I knew she did.
I had seen the outfit she chose to meet him in. The tight leather dress, cinched in the back, and so short that it should have been illegal.
I had seen her after he was taken from Metacortex by the Agents. She had been ready to intercept him, to take him to us but he’d gone back in the building.
That was when I started to worry. Why would he go back into the building if he was the One?
But then Trinity volunteered to pick him up under the Adams Street bridge, suggesting he would already be skittish at his age. And if he really was bugged, Switch shouldn’t be the one to deal with him.
I had watched the feed. Switch would have been ready to let him walk but Trinity put her hand on his arm. I knew they were talking but words never showed up on the screen. All I knew was that a moment later, he was back in the car and the door was closed.
Neo had made his choice. And I had to prepare.
It was going to be close, we already knew. The moment I locked onto his signal, I had Dozer making the calls to bring my crew back home.
I pulled out Switch first, giving him Neo’s location so that she could run up to the cockpit to help Mouse get us ready to move. Then Cypher to take over for me in the Core so I could help Dozer move the body as soon as we reached the pods.
Apoc was only seconds behind me, ready to operate the crane. Morpheus and Trinity just behind him.
It was a seamless rescue once we located him. We wrapped him in a blanket and got the hell out of dodge.
No sentinels, thank god.
I wouldn’t say it was easy but damn, we had rescued all the time that didn’t go quite so smoothly. Did the machines not realize what they were giving up? Who they were giving up?
If Morpheus was right…
But that isn’t my job to worry about. No, instead I had to help my brother with the latest redpill, currently floating in the makeshift bathtub.
We had extra hands helping us. We usually did but it was very rarely Trinity.
She held Neo’s head above the water while Dozer washed the red fluids off him so he could operate.
She had quietly murmured something to Dozer that I missed and he was answering her, in an equally quiet voice. “Saw through… trying… swim… not worried. Seems…”
I got the gist of it. He was trying to assure her that, despite Neo’s age, he wasn’t in bad shape. His muscles hadn’t atrophied as much as they could have nor as much as we expected them too. The fact he was able to keep afloat so long was proof of that.
And now they’re done. Trinity wraps her arms around his chest from behind while Dozer grabs his legs and they bring him to the operating table. She tosses a blanket over his crotch, very purposefully not looking while Dozer cranks up the heat in the room.
I know how cold the ship is compared to Zion but the poor red pill just came out of a twenty-something year stasis of being trapped in a heated pool. If we didn’t keep him warm, he could go into shock.
“Hold his arm so that his forearm is upright.” Dozer instructs her and she does, one hand at his elbow, the other on Neo’s hand. His fingers curl, slightly, catching her off-guard and her entire body stiffens.
I nearly drop the tray of tools I was carrying to my brother.
Is that a blush staining her cheeks? The room was still cool, the hot air only just starting to pump its way in.
But why would… No. No fucking way.
But like a puzzle, the pieces started to fit together. Just like that first day when she had said it was an anagram. I never would have made sense of it if I hadn’t seen.
The countless hours in the Construct and the Matrix. She had me plug her in to update her knowledge of first aid. All the time she spent in the Core, how quiet she had become…
Neo was the One.
Trinity wouldn’t fall for anyone less.
I looked at my brother, eyes opened wide but he just shook his head.
He knew? Dozer fucking knew and he didn’t tell me!
He sent me a glance of warning and I kept my mouth shut. For now.
I had a job to do. But as soon as it was over, Dozer was going to talk.
I watched him the rest of the night, hoping he would give something away. Finally, he went to get tea and I followed, hoping that without her presence he would spill.
“What the fuck, man!” I hissed as soon as the door shut behind us.
“Leave it be.” Dozer started walking towards the kitchen.
“Leave it be?” I repeated, incredulously. “Leave it be? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“There is nothing to tell you.” Dozer said. “Frankly, it's none of our business.”
“Did you see how she was looking at him?”
“No. And neither did you.”
“I’m serious. She’s got enough on her plate, she doesn’t need you harassing her.”
“I’m not going to harass her. It’s just… Trinity and Neo?”
Dozer shrugged, filling a mug with hot water. “He’s a smart man. Very capable. Kind. He has a lot of good qualities.”
“He’s the One.”
“He might be. But I don’t think that matters to Trinity.”
Dozer smiled, giving me a pat on the back as he walked past me. “Try not to think about it too much. You don’t want to hurt yourself.”
“Yeah… hey!” I followed Dozer back to the infirmary as he laughed at my expense, sobering only before he entered the warm room.
Trinity hadn’t left Neo’s side.
I had a feeling, she wasn’t going to leave his side for a long time to come.
Everyone falls their first time.
Everyone. Me, Apoc, Trin, Morpheus… I even had the pleasure of watching the first time Mouse plummeted towards the concrete.
Still, my heart sank a little when Neo started to fall.
“Wha-what does that mean?” Mouse asked. For a kid who had been bouncing on his feet not seconds ago, he looked crestfallen.
We all did.
Trinity was looking at the ground, slowly backing up a few feet before turning around and silently moving towards the door.
“It doesn’t mean anything.” I said loudly, hoping that she would know that I was talking to her. She bowed her head, signifying that she heard me but didn’t pause her step.
“Everyone falls the first time. Right, Trin?”
But she was gone.
I’d been putting it off for a while but eventually we were going to need to talk.
Tank pulled Morpheus out first and if he were disappointed, he didn’t show it, crossing the floor to help Neo up.
Neo touched his mouth, blood landing on his fingertips.
“I thought it wasn’t real?”
“The mind makes it real.”
Morpheus kept talking but Neo wasn’t really paying attention. His eyes danced across the room, searching. But they didn’t find her.
I almost felt sorry for the poor bastard.
Most male newbies had a thing for Trin.
Apoc referred to it as some kind of psychological transference bullshit that roughly translated to the idea that the newbies lost their entire lives to the Matrix so they cling to the first piece of reality they get served.
Usually served by Trinity. And even when it wasn’t, the boys would follow her around like a lost puppy. It annoyed her to no end but she was never mean or inconsiderate. She mostly just ignored it.
At first I thought that was what she was doing-- avoiding the hell out of Neo. Crushes from fourteen and fifteen year old boys were harmless but Neo was actually older than her, even if only by a matter of months. That… that could be less than harmless.
“What?” Apoc asked.
“Gotta go talk to Trin.”
“Good. She’s half a glance away from jumping him.”
My head turned to glare at Apoc. “You knew?” Fuck that, of course he knew. “Of course you knew. Goddamn it.” I walked away, knowing that he was smirking at me. “I fucking hate you.”
I stalked out of the Core towards her room.
I really, really didn’t want to deal with this. Still, I knocked on her door.
“You better not be naked.” I muttered, knowing without a doubt that she was in her room. Ignoring the summons, hoping whoever it was would go away.
Too fucking bad.
I turned the wheel and opened the door.
She sat on her bed, back against a wall and knees drawn up to her chest. “I don’t recall inviting you in.”
“Yeah, well…” I closed the door behind me. “Friends aren’t supposed to wait for invitations.”
Trin looked away from me, starting at the tops of her knees. “I’m finally starting to get that.”
I fell back on her bed, scooting so that I was also against the wall. “So you fell for a coppertop. It ain’t the end of the world, babe.”
“He started looking for you as soon as Tank pulled him out.”
I had to work hard not to cringe. Prying was not my specialty. And usually, I would never push. But Trinity seemed lost and Trinity never was lost. She was the voice of reason on the Neb. Arguably, she was the only one who could keep Morpheus sane and undoubtedly, she was the only reason we were all still alive. She had saved our lives countless times.
I owe her. But more than that, Trinity is my best friend.
So I held in a sigh and said, “Just because he fell, doesn’t mean that he isn’t…”
“Doesn’t mean that he isn’t the One.”
“It doesn’t matter if he is.”
“Wow.” I said, nodding slowly. “That might be the first time you’ve ever lied to my face.”
Trinity glared at me. “For the love of god, drop it.”
“No.” I think it surprised me more than it did her that I wouldn’t. “Trin, talk to me.”
“And say what?” She snapped, jumping off the bed. “What do you want me to say? That you’re right? That I do care for him? That him failing the jump doesn’t mean that he isn’t the one? I know all this! So what’s the point of going over it?”
“It might make you feel better.”
“If it it would make me feel better, don’t you think that Iwould have brought it up already?”
“No. I think you’re avoiding anything and everything that has to do with Neo and you have been ever since he panicked after Morpheus took him to the desert. But mostly? I think for the first time since you got pulled out of the Matrix, you’re actually scared.”
A moment passed and Switch wondered if she had gone to far.
“The Oracle…” Trinity stopped. Switch waited for her to continue at her own speed, “The Oracle told me that my life is entwined with the One’s. That I would fall in love with the One.”
“When did she tell you this?”
“The first time I met her.”
Double fuck. The Oracle had told her at fifteen that she was going to fall in love with the One. No wonder she was so reclusive, always shying away from the men that hit on her in Zion.
If the Oracle had told that to me… damn.
“Do you love him? Neo?”
Trinity didn’t respond.
“I know you mean well.” She interrupted. “But I can’t…” Her voice broke, “I can’t deal with this right now.”
“Okay.” I stood up, “But if you need me…”
She nodded in response, facing away from me.
I opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
So, Neo was the One. Even if she wasn’t ready to admit it aloud, Neo was the One. I wanted to scream, fly home to Zion and rub it in Deadbolt’s ugly face that we had done it. We found him! But it wasn’t my place to share that news.
Neo was the One and Trinity was in love with him.
I wondered how long it would take her to admit it, why she was hiding it. Ever since he joined, she’d been avoiding everyone. Avoiding him.
But for what? What was it that she was afraid of? What else had the Oracle put on her shoulders?
Trinity is avoiding everyone and he’s completely lost without her.
It was damn near tragic.
It started with extra shifts. And now she’s bringing him dinner.
Complete and utter bullshit, that’s what it is.
Sure, the bastard was good. Probably the best unplugged I’d ever seen. He learned fast, although that could probably be credited to his age. Unlike most of the kids we unplugged, he wasn’t a chatterbox. Not talkative, not pushy. Nothin’.
Dull as a fucking post.
So what if he beat Morpheus in the Construct on the first day?
He didn’t make the jump.
He’d opened his eyes in the real world, asked a couple questions and then disappeared.
The bastard didn’t even try to socialize. What was he waiting for? An invitation?
Trinity had already disappeared and Switch had followed soon after.
I had followed Dozer and Apoc back to the kitchen and took my seat. Apoc picked up the cards from where they had fallen.
Poker was out with just the three of us so we started a half-hearted game of slap. We were just starting the second game when Trinity came in, not really paying attention to us.
My eyes followed her as she crossed the room to get a tray. She tugged on the handle, pouring goop into one of the compartments.
“Want in?” Dozer asked her.
“No. Thanks.” She had acknowledged, giving him a small smile.
Trinity… she had looked sad. Damn near depressed. Did she really think that Neo could be the One? I never took her gullible but with the way she was acting…
I thought I would ask her about it. When she sat down to eat.
But she hadn’t.
She’d poured a mug of water, set it on the tray, and walked out without another word.
I dropped my hand in the discard pile, making an excuse about needing to use the john, and followed her. She walked down the corridor, past her own quarters and to the end of the hall. Neo’s room.
Even if he was the One, which he certainly wasn’t, he was fucking boring. What could she possibly see in him?
I’d seen her turn guys down in Zion repeatedly. Hell, I’d never seen her accept a drink or a dance from anyone other than a friend or her brother.
What the hell did Neo have that those guys didn’t have? What the hell did he have that I didn’t have?
He was so boring. So dull. There was no passion within him and barely enough thought to get by. So why the hell was she so interested?
And why the hell was she still in his room?
There was silence. So I could only assume he was sleeping off ten plus hours of Construct training. Or maybe he would be fine was saying absolutely nothing to her as she brought him dinner. It wasn’t like he talked unless he was spoken to.
The door pushed open and I walked over, leaning against the wall.
Before she could register my appearance, “I don’t remember you ever bringing me dinner.” She looked at me, her face set in stone. I gave her a small smile, deciding to mess with her head. For all the times she never gave me the time of day. “There is something about him, isn’t there.”
Silence. And then, “Don’t tell me you’re a believer now.”
I gave her a small shrug, “I just keep wondering, if Morpheus is so sure, why doesn’t he take him to see the Oracle?”
She pursed her lips. “Morpheus will take him when he’s ready.”
She pushed past me without another word.
Extra shifts, dinner, and now attitude. All over the world’s most boring unplugged.
But it didn’t matter. She’d be dead in a week.
They both would be.
Neo was eating with us for the first time, I noted excitedly as I walked into the kitchen. Usually, he took meals in his own room after training.
He’d come out of his room only a handful of times since he failed the jump.
The first time, with no prompting from anybody, he had gone straight to Core where he sat down on the chair and told Tank to plug him in and load the jump program.
He made the jump. And then he went back to his room.
The next day, Morpheus had called him out to do more training. The jump program again, the dojo. And then he went back to his room.
That afternoon, he ran through the Agent training program, being interrupted by sentinels. And when we were safe, he went back to his room.
But now, here he was, in the kitchen.
“Good morning!” I said, cheerfully pouring myself a bowl full of goop.
I was met with half-hearted groans from everyone.
Rounding the table, I took a seat between Neo and Trinity. They both moved over to accommodate me.
“Here you go, buddy. Breakfast of champions.” Tank set a tray down in front of Neo. The One regarded it with the most polite look of distaste I’d ever seen.
I smiled, gesturing at my own breakfast. “If you close your eyes it almost feels like you're eating runny eggs.”
Apoc snorted, “Yeah, or a bowl of snot.”
“Do you know what it really reminds me of? Tasty Wheat. Did you ever eat Tasty Wheat?
“No.” Said Switch, “but technically, neither did you.”
I nodded at her, “That's exactly my point. Exactly. Because you have to wonder now. How did the machines really know what Tasty Wheat tasted like, huh? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken for example, maybe they couldn't figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything. Maybe they couldn't figure out…”
“Shut up, Mouse.” Apoc said. It was a common phrase aboard the Neb, usually coming from Switch or Trinity. But I didn’t mind. It felt more like being in a family than anything I had experienced in the Matrix. I got to be the kid brother.
“It's a single cell protein combined with synthetic aminos, vitamins, and minerals.” Dozer said in a no-nonsense voice. “Everything the body needs.”
I grinned, “It doesn't have everything the body needs.” Looking back to Neo, I asked, “So I understand that you've run through the agent training program. You know, I wrote that program.”
Apoc rolled his eyes. He could afford to. He was the only man on this crew getting laid on a regular basis. “Here it comes.”
“So what did you think of her?”
Neo blinked, seemingly confused. “Of who?”
“The woman in the red dress? I designed her. She, uhm, well she doesn't talk very much, but, but if you'd like to meet her, I can arrange a much more personalized meeting.”
“Digital pimp, hard at work.” Switch added, shaking her head.
Again, easy to say for someone getting regularly laid. “Pay no attention to these hypocrites, Neo. To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.”
Neo looked away, almost bashful. I looked around the table. Apoc, Switch and even Dozer were all glaring at me while Tank was looking at Morpheus, standing in the doorway.
“Dozer,” Morpheus said, “when you're done, bring the ship up to broadcast depth. We're going in. Taking Neo to see her.”
Neo looked around as Trinity and Dozer pushed away from the table.
“See who?” He asked, attention on the door as the two of them tossed their trays into the sink.
Tank looked towards Neo, “The Oracle.”
“About time.” Cypher said, rounding the counter. He followed Trinity and Dozer out, the door shutting behind him.
Switch nudged Tank and Tank, too, stood up.
“Neo, you want to learn to hack into the Matrix?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.”
Instantaneously, the room emptied around me until I was alone with Switch and Apoc.
Switch crossed her arms and glared at me. “Mouse, you little fucking shit.”
“What’d I do?” I asked, looking between them.
“You’re an idiot.” Apoc said simply.
“I didn’t do anything!” I defended, thinking over the events that had happened since I sat down. We talked, briefly, about Apoc’s morning shift watching the Matrix. Then Neo’d come in with Tank and Tank had got him breakfast. We’d all talked. There was nothing I’d done.
Switch shook her head, “Will you hold him so I can punch him?”
“I didn’t do anything!” I reiterated.
She slammed her hands down on to the table, “Lay off on the red-dressed whore.”
“Stop pushing your woman in the red dress.” Apoc explained. “Neo’s not interested.”
“Neo wants Trinity.”
I stared at him incredulously. “Who doesn’t?”
“She wants him, too, dumbass.” Switch growled.
“No fucking way.”
“She loves him, he loves her and they’re both too afraid to say anything. So stop pimping out your perverted program.”
I looked between them again. Apoc looked serious; Switch looked pissed. But they couldn’t be serious?
Sure, every newbie had a thing for Trin. It was practically tradition. But she just flashed them a smile and ignored their advances. They were all younger than her but even the guys in Zion who tried to gain her favor were gently rejected.
“Trinity loves him?” I asked.
“Yes. And so you’re going to give them space like the rest of us have been doing.”
“The rest of us?”
"Yes. I thought Dozer was going to kill you when you sat down between them."
"There was space! And neither of them said nothing!"
"Of course they didn't say anything! They're trying to not be obvious!"
"Are you guys shitting with me?"
Switch shook her head at me in disgust. "Jesus fuck, Mouse. Think about it... Trin pushed pretty damn hard to take the lead on Neo. Took more shifts than anyone."
"Holy shit... Trinity and Neo? Together?"
"It's a work in progress." Apoc said with a small smile, "just give them some space."
"Yeah," I repeated, "space."
Switch smirked, coming around the table and ruffling my hair on the way out the door. "clean this shit up. And when we get back from the Oracle, just leave them alone for a bit. There'll be time to bug them later."
“He’s here.” Cassandra, one of my priestesses, announced.
I could feel my lips turn up in a smile.
How long had I waited for this moment? How long since the last One came to me and I set him on the path?
Seraph had, indeed, been promising as the One. That boy had a lot of heart. A genius in his own right, Seraph had lead the armies of Zion like no other. But, in the end, just as his predecessors, had chosen the survival of humanity rather than risking extinction.
I did not yet know what path he would take… this Neo. But I suspected, I hoped that this time things would be different.
“What do you think of him?” I asked my priestess.
She breathed in and out before replying, “He’s searching for his bearings. I don’t think he knows himself yet.”
“Few of us ever do.” I offered Cassandra a smile, “You can send him in.”
Cassandra walked out and, moments later, Neo walked in.
“I know you're Neo.” I told him, “Be right with you.”
“You're the Oracle?” Were I human, I probably would have been offended by his incredulous tone. Instead, I was merely intrigued.
“Bingo. Not quite what you were expecting, right? Almost done. Smell good, don't they?”
“I'd ask you to sit down, but your not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase.”
“What vase?” He asked bumping into it. It shattered to the ground and the poor boy looked mortified.
“I'm sorry.” Neo apologized sincerely. Oh, this boy was simply adorable.
“I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my kids to fix it.”
“How did you know?”
“What's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything.” I scanned his body, paying special attention to his pale face. Big, brown eyes and dark, thick hair. But more than that, he had a genuinely kind face. He truly was the kind of man who would help his landlady carry out her garbage and allow people to cut in front of him in store lines. And the kindness just radiated off of him and I knew, without a doubt, that he would have helped me across the street in an instant if I asked. “You're cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you.
His beautiful, kind face was mussed with confusion. “Who?”
I fought a smile. “Not too bright, though.”
I recalled a similar meeting, twelve years or so earlier, with the girl in question. Trinity. She had no intentions of sitting either. No, she had stood quietly as I told her pieces of her fate.
Her life, inexplicably tied with the One’s. There was no sense to it, no logic. But every single possibility surrounding the life of Neo ended with her.
He could not be the One without her.
And for that reason, maybe things would be different. Maybe, this time, he would take the risk.
The future of the world rested on the heart of this boy.
At least he wasn't alone.
“NOW!” Trinity screamed and I slammed the EMP. Bright light erupted, blinding us all and then the world went dark.
The emergency lights flickered on and I looked to Tank. He nodded, letting me know he was okay.
“Holy shit.” He muttered, surveying the damage.
It was a miracle that we had survived.
I looked around for Neo and Trinity. I knew without a doubt that they were both okay. Everything was okay now. We had found him.
Trinity was still standing over him, unmoving. And then, a hand brushed its way over her neck and into her hair.
Neo sat up and, suddenly, an arm wrapping around Trinity’s back as he clung to her and kissed her.
I felt my jaw drop in surprise, in shock. But sure enough, amidst all the damage upon the Nebuchadnezzar, were the One and my first officer, holding onto each other for dear life.
Trinity threw her arms around Neo’s neck as he moved to his feet. His hand left her hair, tracing the contours of her body before stopping on her thigh so that he could lift her up off of the floor. Trinity hugged her legs against his hips, holding onto him.
Their lips never parted.
I looked to Tank, completely in shock.
He gave me a small smile and a shrug. He was… not surprised.
I looked back to the couple, so completely wrapped up in each other that they were unaware of their audience.
There had been no indication of affection. I wasn’t even aware of them ever interacting. How could it be that they were now making-out like teenagers in the broken Core of my ship?
Trinity had never even indicated that she believed in the One. Every prospect I pointed out to her she vehemently denied it.
“No, Morpheus.” She would say, “That child is not the One.”
And then I had found Neo. Her initial reaction had been furious.
“He’s thirty, Morpheus!” She had screamed at me the first time we were alone after I told her about him. “Thirty!”
“Not quite.” I had replied, understanding her concerns. But I was so sure…
“Practically, then!” She snapped, “There’s a reason we don’t unplug people past a certain age! They can’t handle it. If we try to take him out of the Matrix, we will kill him. Do you understand that? This isn’t a fucking lottery game, this is his life!”
“But he’s not alive, Trinity. Not really. And because he is the One, he will survive and he will destroy the Matrix and save us all.”
“Bullshit!” She had screamed. “Bull-fucking-shit! You don’t know what he’ll do or if he’ll survive. You’re so fucking certain that the Oracle is right that you won’t even pay attention to the consequences of what will happen if you’re wrong!”
“I understand your concerns.” I had told her. “But, Trinity, Neo is the One. I know it.”
“You don’t get to determine who the One is.” And then she had stormed off.
For nearly a week, she avoided me-- a difficult feat on such a small ship. And then, she had conceded.
“Promise me, Morpheus.” She said when I went to take over her shift, watching Neo in the Matrix. “Promise me that he’ll live if we try to unplug him.”
And now, she was in his arms. Her cheeks were wet… was she crying?
Gasping for breath, she and Neo broke apart, resting their foreheads together, breathing in the same air.
She smiled, choking out a sob. “I love you.” She told him, so quietly that I could barely hear.
“I love you.” He replied, punctuating his sentiment with a kiss, “So damn much. Trinity, I love you.”
And she laughed, softly, touching his cheek. “Don’t you ever, ever die on me again.”
“I’m never letting go.” Neo told her.
“You better not.”
“I love you, Trin.”
And she kissed him again.
He loved her.
She loved him.
How was I so blind not to notice? Was I really so focused on finding the One that I failed to acknowledge that Neo and Trinity had fallen in love with each other?
I looked around me, yet again.
The ship was in ruins. We were running on the backup generators which would, if we were lucky, last through the night. Five members of my crew were dead and Tank was wounded.
I cleared my throat and, again, Neo and Trinity broke apart. They appeared truly surprised by the fact that they were not alone.
“We only have the generator for a few hours.” I told them, not able to look either of them in the eyes. “Can you send out a distress call while I tend to Tank?”
Trinity nodded, blushing furiously as she disentangled herself from Neo and set her feet on the ground. She started to walk away but Neo quickly grabbed her hand and pulled her back for one last kiss. Then, pulling back, he whispered to her.
She smiled softly at him before turning and hurrying to the cockpit.
“Come on,” I said to Tank before turning to Neo, “Any damage from the bullets?”
“No, sir.” He said, more controlled or confident than I had ever heard him. “The wounds were only as real as my mind made them.”
“You have blood on your sweater.”
The corner of his lips tipped up in a smile, “My mind made it real. And then I was reminded that it wasn’t. My body healed.”
“I’d still like to check you. Let’s go to the infirmary while we still have light.”
Tank moved past me to head towards the med bay. Neo glanced toward the ladder where Trinity was making the SOS calls and he smiled.
Then he turned and followed Tank, leaving me to trail behind.
Neo and Trinity.
How could I not have noticed?
Chapter 2: Zion
Key Zionnites reacts to the coming of the One
“This is the Nebuchadnezzar requesting immediate clearance for an emergency landing.” Trinity’s voice rang over the intercom and into the Zion Control Center.
It had been nearly two months since the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar last came to Zion to charge their ship. It wasn’t unusual for them. Although most crews came home at least once a month, some every few weeks, the Neb was always testing the limits on their generators.
I pushed away from my desk and walked over to the com system, listening as Zion Control prepped the opening of gate 6.
“Nebuchadnezzar,” I said taking control of the radio, “Do you require medical assistance?”
“Yes.” Trinity’s voice came across clear. “We have one injured.”
I nodded to Flint, one of my lieutenants to make the call for a medic.
I had wondered why she was flying. She was a capable pilot but rarely took position at the helm. Dozer and Tank almost exclusively controlled the Neb. Was one of the siblings hurt? The other standing by?
Her next statement shocked me to my core, making my blood run cold. “And five DOA.”
DOA. Dead on arrival.
Out of a crew of eight, that seemed impossible.
Taking into account that six of the eight members of the Neb’s crew took regular trips into the Matrix, and Trinity was the one at the radio and helm, did that mean that Morpheus was dead? Along with Switch and Apoc, Mouse and Cypher?
How had she survived?
Trinity would never, ever leave her crew behind.
And who was the injured party?
Was it her?
Who else could it be? Tank and Dozer could, theoretically, be injured. A malfunction on the ship could have stunned either one of them. A loose beam could be deadly but the chances were slim.
Five dead and one wounded. I didn’t understand. I wouldn’t understand until I arrived at the scene. “Flint.” I said shortly, “Keep this quiet as long as possible” and with that, I hurried out of the office, rushing to Gate 6.
Five dead, one wounded. The thought echoed in my head as I waited impatiently for the elevator before deciding to take the stairs. Five dead, one wounded. And all I knew that Trinity was one of the three survivors.
I made it to the dock in time to see a full medical team carrying Tank on a stretcher, hooked to an IV and looking pale.
Trinity and Tank had survived.
For Tank to have been injured, that must have meant sentinels. My best guess was that the proximity alert had malfunctioned while a group was still in the Matrix. Dozer and Tank must have been unwilling to use the EMP while others were in the Matrix.
But I was surprised to see not Dozer standing at the foot of the ramp, but Morpheus. Morpheus, Trinity, and Tank.
That meant that Dozer was dead. As was Switch, and Apoc, and Mouse, and Cypher.
Morpheus was not alone, however. Approximately the same height as Morpheus, his hair was barely a centimeter long. He must have only been unplugged a matter of weeks.
I hurried along, desperate for answers. At my wits end trying to figure out what had happened.
As I grew nearer I realized two things. First, the unknown man was actually taller than Morpheus and if he straightened his back, it would be obvious.
The second took thing made me look again.
Thirty. The man had to be at least thirty.
And yet I had never seen him. He was pale, his hair was short. He was fresh. A newbie. I stood by my earlier thought: he couldn’t have been unplugged more than a matter of weeks. But at that age… it was impossible.
No one over the age of twenty had been successfully unplugged.
“Morpheus.” I said, when I came close enough to speak without shouting or causing any more attention to follow the Captain of the Neb. Both men looked up, acknowledging my presence. “What happened?”
Morpheus looked to the man next to him before looking back to me. “Long or short?”
“Short.” I answered, “But thorough. Lock could show up at any time.”
“Cypher.” Morpheus said, shortly. “Cypher sold us out to the Agents.”
My eyes widened. There had been cases, far and in between, of those who regretted ever being unplugged but their regrets did not trigger such violent actions.
“He thought life was better in the Matrix. The Agents told him they’d plug him back in if I gave them the codes to Zion’s mainframe. I didn’t.” He said quickly, noting the look of horror on my face. If we lost our mainframe, we had no way to fight the machines. We would become sitting ducks. “Although I was taken by Agents, I was rescued before I could be cracked.”
“Rescued.” I repeated, sure that I had misunderstood the situation. “Rescued from Agents ?”
Morpheus looked to the newest addition to Zion, something of a smile on his face. The man glanced off, bashfully. “We did it, Toshiro. We found the One.”
My heart stopped although my expression didn’t change. While Morpheus had searched for the One for years, following every lead he could. And while he often left with high hopes, he always came home empty handed.
I didn’t want to disrespect him but I was unable to stop myself from asking: “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Trinity appeared at the top of the ramp, a duffle bag slung around her shoulders. The man, the One, didn’t move but the corner of his mouth twitched. She walked down and stood beside him. She locked eyes with me, “Are we being formally questioned?”
“No, but I thought it best that I find out what’s going on before word gets out.”
She nodded once, looking around to Morpheus. “I’m taking Neo home. I don’t want him going in front of the Council today. If Lock has a problem with that, he can come to me.”
“Lock will probably want to question you both.”
“My address is public information. He wants to talk to me, he can find me.”
“And him?” I gestured at the One.
“Neo will be with me.” The was an undercurrent to her words, as if she was daring me or Morpheus to question her.
Neither of us did.
She held out her hand and Neo took it. If the look in his eyes was any indication, he was willing to follow her anywhere.
“Where are they Morpheus?” I asked as I checked the time.
“They’ll be here soon.” Morpheus said, eyes glancing towards hopefully. It was nearly twenty minutes past the time they had agreed upon.
Agreed upon. It was preposterous. Five dead, one injured to the point of hospitalization, and Trinity had refused questioning. Or, as Morpheus pled her case for her while he submitted to questioning, was not refusing… was simply recuperating her own injuries: physical and emotional.
Neo, the man Morpheus was claiming was the One, had also not shown up to the summons. Instead, a note had come from Trinity, addressed to Councilor Dillard.
The Councilor had read it, handed it to her peers, and had stated formally that Neo and Trinity would submit to questioning the next day.
At least Morpheus had the grace to look a little embarrassed that he seemed to have lost the One along with his First Officer.
The doors to the chambers opened and Trinity walked in, the man Morpheus claimed to be the One following her like a lost puppy. They were holding hands.
“Where have you been?” Morpheus asked lowly, as they approached his table.
“Lost track of time.”
The boy had the audacity to smirk, appearing not the slightest bit remorseful at their lateness.
“Please have a seat.” Dillard said. The supposed One took the middle seat with Trinity and Morpheus on either side of him. He subtly scooched his chair closer to Trinity's and wrapped an arm around her waist.
I looked at Morpheus, who was closing his eyes in exasperation. It appeared he had lost control of his first officer. I wonder if he ever had any control over the boy to begin with. He clearly had no respect for the Council.
“We've heard from Morpheus the events of the day more than half of the Nebuchadnezzar was lost.” Dillard’s steady voice filled the chamber, “We would like to hear your account- starting from when you entered the Matrix that day.”
The boy nodded but stayed silent for a moment. He blinked a few times and I wondered if he was dumb. Finally, he spoke. His voice was soft and low with a no nonsense tone. “Trinity, Morpheus, Cypher and myself left the hotel where Switch, Apoc, and Mouse were waiting. We drove into the city to see the Oracle. Trinity and Cypher stayed in the car, Morpheus and I went upstairs.”
“And during this time,” Dillard directly addressed Trinity, “did anything seem off with Cypher?”
“No. He made small talk about why he believed Neo couldn't be the One but got bored when I was unresponsive.”
Dillard motioned for Neo to continue. “I talked to one of the potentials for a minute, then I got called in to see her.”
“And did she tell you that you were the One?”
“No.” Neo said, “She was very good at twisting her words. She never said that I wasn't the One or that I was. She said I had the gift but I was waiting for something.” his eyes moved to Trinity.
He certainly wasn't the One and he sure as hell wasn't subtle.
“We left and went back to the hotel. As soon as we were back, our exits were cut off. Mouse was ambushed and the rest of us tried to move through the walls but Cypher sneezed, giving us away. Morpheus sacrificed himself so the rest of us could get out. We were separated from Cypher on the way put and he beat us to the exit.
“I don't know what happened on the Neb when we were still in but when we got out, Dozer was dead and Tank was injured, all by Cypher's hand. He pulled the plug on Apoc, and then Switch and then the line went dead.
“Trinity and I went back and decided to go after Morpheus.”
“Why?” I asked, addressing Trinity, “You left Morpheus in the control of agents, leaving all of Zion at risk.”
“I was aware of the risks.”
“And you still lead what should have been a suicide mission? Why?”
“Faith.” she looked over to where I sat. “That we could save Morpheus, that Neo was the One, and that it wasn't over yet.”
“Had you been wrong, you would have been discharged.”
“Had I been wrong, I would have been dead. We staged a two person ambush against two SWAT teams and three Agents.”
Neo smirked at her answer, “Pretty sure we almost did die a couple times. We took out the SWAT teams but then we had an Agent on the roof. He was so concerned with taking out me that Trinity was able to shoot him in the head.”
A few of the councilors looked at each other but the boy continued, “We got to the helicopter on the roof and Trinity piloted down to the floor where Morpheus was. We broke the glass and he was able to escape by jumping out the window.
“Trinity managed to get us low enough on a roof that we could drop down. At some point, the helicopter must have been hit.” he looked at Trinity for confirmation.
She nodded, “it was going down in an uncontrolled descent but Neo had been secured by a safety line. I shot the end attached to the helicopter and jumped out.”
“You knew the helicopter was going down?” Grace asked him.
“Well, it was kind of obvious that it was crashing.”
“And you had planned for that eventuality?”
“No.” Neo said, “But we were able to improvise.”
“From a significant distance, at opposite ends of a safety line?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “How?”
“An absurd amount of trust?” Trinity asked, looking at Neo with a humorous smirk-- an inside joke that the rest of us were not privy to.
“Or the sheer stubbornness of intending to not die.” He countered with a grin.
Joking. They were joking with each other like this was nothing. Like they didn’t sit in front of the Council, being questioned for the death of five of their crewmates.
“Either way,” Said Neo, “The helicopter crashed without Trinity in it. We made our way to an old subway station with an exit. Morpheus got out, then Trinity but as she was being pulled out, an Agent showed up and shot the phone, leaving me in the Matrix without an exit and with Agent Smith.”
“So he did the most rational thing possible.” Trinity smirked, “And decided he’d rather fight the Agent then run.”
“I held my own.”
“I saw your vitals, darling.” I rolled my eyes at her words of affection. This was a Council meeting for christ’s sake. “You weren’t the One just yet.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant but it was hard to take anything seriously when they were staring at each other with that look in their eyes.
He replied to that, keeping his voice low enough that he was not sharing with room. I could barely make out the words “damned phone call” before Neo continued with his accounts.
“I wasn’t able to delete him at that point but he was hit by a subway train and I was able to run and find a phone to call back to the Neb. Tank gave me a new exit and I crossed the city to find it. I successfully avoided the Agents until I reached the room with the phone. Smith was waiting for me when I got there.”
He paused in his recount, his gaze once again falling to Trinity with something akin to adoration in his eyes. Honestly, it was starting to get sickening. They were in a Council meeting for christ sake. And neither seemed to care about anything other then the other.
“I was shot in the chest ten times.” Neo said, his eyes never moving from Trinity, “I died. And then I came back. I could see everything; like looking at the green rain from the computer only it touched everything. Every wall, every being. The Agents shot at me again but the bullets were just code. It barely took a thought to realign the code to make them stop in mid motion.
“Smith charged me. I was able to delete him. Got to the exit. Trinity pulled the plug and Morpheus blew the EMP.”
He had died. I had seen the scans. And not even Morpheus would try to make something like that up. For all of Morpheus’ faults, he really did believe the bullshit that he preached. But something still preyed on me. The puzzle did not fit.
“I’ve seen the results of people being shot in the Matrix.” I said aloud, while the Councilors murmured to themselves, “I believe Trinity has been shot within the Matrix.” I waited for a slight nod from her to continue, “The bullet goes through in the Matrix but it tears the person apart in the real world. You say you took ten to the chest?”
“I did. But they weren’t real. I suffered a bit of blood loss but as soon as my mind recognized that the bullets weren’t real, my body healed itself up.”
“And when did it do this?” I asked, “When you were dead?”
“While I was dead, I think. I remember dying and then nothing and then… I vividly remember hearing Trinity’s voice. Like a beacon.” His gaze strayed back to her, “I followed it and wound up back in my body.”
Neo shrugged, “I had something to live for.”
“So do many that die within the Matrix.” I said with a roll of my eyes, “What made you survive?”
“Her.” He motioned to Trinity with his head. “I was shot. I died. By all rights, I should have stayed dead. But death is no match for Trinity’s stubbornness.”
Trinity had kept him alive. Morpheus had said as much but insisted that he wait for Neo and Trinity to explain the rest. The breath of life, I had guessed, though it still was not enough to stop the blood loss and the damage from ten bullets.
“How?” Dillard asked.
The boy glanced down at Trinity. “You want to field this one?”
“Not particularly.” She said, her tone lazy and apathetic.
“But you tell it so well.”
She rocked sideways so as to allow her body to fall more into his open arm. “You just want to hear me say it.”
“Forever.” He agreed, resting his forehead against hers for a moment.
Trinity gave a small smile, “He was dead.” She confirmed. “I was standing next to his body as he flatlined. So I told him I wasn’t done with him yet.”
“Told him?” Dillard raised an eyebrow.
“Told his corpse. I… I knew he could hear me, although I don’t know how. I told him that I wasn’t done with him because I love him. And I kissed him. And his heart started beating again.”
That was met with silence. I, myself, tried to come up with something to say in response. I mean, it was obvious that she was smitten with him. The cuddling, the lovey-eyes, showing up late together. None of it was subtle-- something Trinity was capable of being, only choosing not to.
This, though, this was ridiculous. Too ridiculous to even imagine Morpheus saying.
But there was Trinity-- a woman with dozens successful missions, years of service, and shocking records that put her high above the majority of her peers-- claiming not only her love for the One but also serving as his own personal savior.
She was an excellent markman, a wise tactician, and had the patience of a saint to put up with Morpheus but this… this was ridiculous. A fairy-tale, truly.
“You’re expecting us to believe that you Sleeping Beautied this man back to life?” I asked.
She looked at me. “I don’t expect you to believe anything. I was asked what had happened. That’s what happened.”
“Morpheus?” Dillard asked.
“If you are looking for a logical explanation, you will not find one. Neo was dead. Trinity kissed him and he was alive.”
The Council sat in silence. I didn't blame them. What could they say to the preposterous idea that Trinity had kissed a dead man to life. I did not doubt for an instant that the trauma experienced by the surviving members of the Neb was valid but could Trinity not hear the words escaping her? Was she truly at her breaking point, making up fairy tales to escape the horrors she had seen?
“When you came back to life, you were still in the Matrix?” Hamann asked curiously.
“Yes.” Neo said with a nod, “Not much time had passed. The Agents had yet to leave the hall.”
“And your injuries?” This came from Dillard, “Shot ten times to the chest before she kissed you. How did you not bleed out?”
My head snapped to the Councilor. She wasn’t actually entertaining the possibility that Neo had indeed been brought back to life with a kiss, was she?
“Again, it was so short a time, even ten bullets wasn’t enough to cause me to bleed out.”
“And I think a part of him recognized his own ability.” Trinity added, “He fought an Agent in the subway, hand to hand, and survived. Whether or not Neo had accepted he was the One, I think somewhere, he knew that the Matrix wasn’t real on a visceral level. I was on the other side. I saw his body shaking with each hit and while there was blood, it was not nearly as much as I would expect to see on someone shot.”
“And you’ve suffered no lasting effects from this?” Councilor West asked, a trace of skepticism in his tone. The Council was made up of a mix of believers and realists. I had always been unsure where West leaned.
“Not even a bruise.” Neo replied. “I had been grazed by a bullet earlier when Trin and I were fighting the SWAT teams. That scratch is gone, too. However, there is a scar on my arm from where I scratched it on sheet metal on the Neb.”
The Councilors hummed between themselves and I realized they did believe it. They actually believed that this fresh poddie was truly the savior of all mankind. That Jesus freaking Christ walked among us.
“We would like to run some tests.”
Neo nodded, as if he had been expecting that. “We have some conditions first.”
Conditions? What the actual fuck.
“Conditions?” Dillard echoed my thoughts.
He looked at Trinity, who spoke up. “He’ll submit to two hours of testing this morning. He will then have two hours off and, only if he feels up to it, will he return for more later in the day. All testing must take place in the construct and we request a full twenty-four hours notice before any sort of medical testing. Both Neo and I retain the power to end it at any time and to veto any test either of us feels is too dangerous or unnecessary. These are non-negotiable.”
“You wish to be present for the tests then?” asked Dillard.
“Yes.” Said Trinity, “That is also non-negotiable. Despite being the One, Neo is still human and has only been awake for a very short time. He’s still learning his own limits.”
“Testing needs to be done to prove the extent of his abilities. You’re saying this man is the One based off one incident that very well could have been a glitch.” I found myself saying, exasperated at the Council’s willingness to believe such fairy-tales.
Trinity turned her gaze to me, “Again, Commander, these are non-negotiable terms. Your disbelief, nor anyone else’s will change that. We have no desire to submit to testing at all but Neo is willing to for the sake of understanding and the possibility of learning something. There is no need or want to prove to you what we already know.”
“Your willingness to submit to testing is appreciated.” Councilor Grace spoke up.
“Do you have any other terms?”
This truly was ridiculous. Absolutely insane. They were citizens of Zion, soldiers of my army. They did not get to make these decisions. I did. The Council did.
But Trinity had a hard glint in her eyes. Her gaze was heavy as it rested on the Council. Neo still had an arm around her. He hadn’t loosened his grip since their arrival. He seemed apathetic to the whole situation, more than willing to let Trinity make the shots.
I wanted to blame him but even I had to admit, with that look in Trinity’s eyes, I would not dare cross her myself.
As several Councilors and Commander Lock and his team filed out, I kept my gaze upon the table of the Neb. Morpheus had stood, stretching a bit while speaking to his crew. Neo still had an arm around Trinity. She rested her head on his shoulder as she listened to whatever Morpheus was saying.
I was never a fan of public displays of attention. Even when I was young and freshly in love, I preferred to keep my touches and kisses to myself and my partners. Even my husband and I rarely kissed outside the comfort of out home.
Part of it is my position, our positions. People look up to us as leader of the Council and head of the Zion school systems. And this boy… people were going to look up to him. It certainly would not do to have his every move accentuate the fact he was with Trinity.
The story they had told… it was beautiful. Harsh, and frightening, and altogether beautiful. Whether or not it was a kiss that brought Neo back to life, it was fantastical. But it would cause distress from the non-believers in Zion. I could see it already in Lock’s eyes when Neo and Trinity had recounted their adventures and Trinity had explained that she told Neo to come back to her and with a kiss, his heart began to beat again.
A beautiful story. But one not to be believed.
The believers would not need more proof than Neo defeating an Agent. His powers alone would be enough to sustain his reputation. Perhaps even convince some non-believers. But to add the how would not allow for any non-believers to escape their suspension of disbelief. It was simply too much.
They would have to be more subtle in their affections, though I was certain neither would appreciate the news.
Even now, Neo was pressing kisses to her face while she laughed in his arms and Morpheus looked on with an amused gaze. Trinity turned her head and met him in a soft kiss.
The pair were in love. There was no way to deny that. It would be difficult to suppress but it might be necessary.
I turned to my left to see Councilor West.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I think…” Said the Councilor, “that we have our work cut out for us, if he proves to be as strong and fast as Morpheus claims.”
He would be. I had read the Matrix readouts from the entire day. He was fast and clever and resourceful. And then he died and was reborn into a god.
I didn’t know what to make of that.
“Shall we begin?” Asked Councilor Kraven from a few seats down.
I nodded, absently. Indeed, it was time to test the boy but what tests did we have that could show anything? Our most advanced programs were supposed to be unbeatable but even they weren’t as strong as the Agent Neo had deleted from the Matrix. Rising to my feet I spoke up, “We’ll adjourn to Construct A.”
The boy looked up, almost surprised that he wasn’t alone with his crew. Like he had forgotten about the rest of us.
Trinity said something to him quietly that made him grin. She stood up and he followed, catching and intertwining thing hands together. I wondered if it was possible for them to be apart. Had they even tried?
He followed her through the chambers and out towards the Construct. Having not been born into the Matrix, I took my place in the observation room. From here out it would up to Plato, our top trainer at the academy, to gauge the boy. Plato took one of the seats in the Construct while Neo gave Trinity a soft kiss before they went to their respective chairs.
I waited as the One, Trinity and Morpheus were jacked in and turned my attention to the screen.
He had fashioned himself a simple outfit. A tight black shirt and black trousers. He assessed the room carefully. I could make out the twitching of his lips. Trinity appeared and he crossed the few steps separating them. Even in the Construct, he slipped his hand into hers. He murmured something into her ear and she grinned back at him.
Hamann got his attention and asked for the Operator to separate Neo from everyone else. He pressed a kiss to Trinity’s head and backed up, allowing a protective barrier between all but Neo.
The Agent simulation ran. Like the Agents, it was unbeatable in combat but possible to run from. A single Agent was programmed into the Construct. It materialized on the screen before us but before it could take a step disappeared. Neo took out his phone, not even paying attention as the Agent began to charge at him, raising a gun that would only tag him with red paint.
The phone rang and the Operator picked up just as the Agent vanished from the program.
“Operator. You’re on speaker phone.”
“Yeah,” Said Neo, “The Construct is almost too basic. The code here is simpler than in the Matrix. The Agent programs don’t even need to be deconstructed so much as simply just eliminated. I can try to fight one if you want but honestly, I can just delete it with a thought.”
I glanced to the Operator. “You’re sure you entered the Agent program?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He said, “Agent program, as instructed. A single agent.”
“Up it to three.” I ordered, though I didn’t think it would make a difference. Neo didn’t flinch nor move from his spot, phone pressed to his ear, as he blinked and vanished three more Agents.
“Construct code is just… very manipulatable.” He sounded almost unsure “There are less boundaries here. It’s almost like a sandbox.”
The tests would prove to be more difficult on all of us than I had intended.
“Send in the three Agents again,” I told the Operator, “This time, Neo, allow them to attack and fight back.”
He nodded and closed the phone shut. Slipping it into his pocket he waited.
Again, three Agents entered. They drew their guns at the unmoving target and began to fire. Neo held up a hand and the bullets stopped midair. Just as he had said happened in the Matrix. He dropped his hand and the bullets fell to the ground. The first Agent charged at Neo. He shot up into the air, levitating as the Agent ran through where he had been standing. He shot back down and allowed the second Agent to run for him. He blocked every hit before going down to one arm.
The Agent continued to strike at him but he decided he had enough and brought the flat of his hand to the Agent’s chest and sent it flying backwards as the first and third Agents approached from opposite sides. Neo, again, appeared bored as he ducked and weaved. He was barely paying attention to the two Agents, allowing them to make potential hits and jumping away at the last moment.
Finally, he got bored of the play. He reached forward and landed a blow to the first Agent, sending it backwards with a loud crunch before fluidly moving into position to take the other Agent down to the ground, his hand on it’s throat.
He stood up and waved his hand. The defeated Agents disappeared.
I had seen Hamann, at his height, fail at this test. Had watched Mifune and Morpheus fall to the pavement as they practiced avoiding Agent blows.
But Neo was not even out of breath. I checked his monitor. His heart rate had not increased since stepping into the Construct.
He looked almost embarrassed that he wasn’t doing more.
“Call Plato.” I said to the Operator and waited for the line to be patched through.
“Ask him to manipulate his surroundings. Place a tree nearby, a bench, a park. Anything, really.”
I could hear Plato relaying my message to Neo.
Neo turned away from the Councilors, Trinity, and Morpheus. He tilted his head to the side and the plain white floor of the construct sprouted grass, then flowers, then trees from the ground. Several benches formed near him and behind him a set of swings arrived. But he didn’t stop there. It expanded further, a pond bubbling up and settling into the fake ground.
A human man showed up in nondescript clothing. He was tossing a frisbee to a dog. A couple on a date picnic by the lake while children ran around the swingset.
Altogether, it would have taken a programmer days to add so much detail. It had taken Neo seconds and he had done it without a computer.
The next two hours flew by as Neo submitted to test after test. Puzzles and mazes, flying around. Creating and demolishing object after object.
Neo was mid-flight when he paused in the air. He looked down towards the others within the Construct and dropped down towards the ground. He landed carefully beside Trinity. She said something to Plato, who frowned but nodded.
Plato took out his phone and a moment later it rang near us.
“Two hours are up. They’re taking their break.”
The Operator began making calls and pulling them out. Neo was out first and I met him by his chair.
“That was quite a display, Neo.” I said.
He glanced from me to the chair that still held Trinity, while the Operator pulled the rest out. A small and awkward smile was on his face. “Thanks.”
“Your abilities are truly extraordinary.” I praised. If he could do even half of what he could do within the Construct in the Matrix… the war was all but won.
He nodded thought his eyes were looking past me, “Can’t claim credit for them, but thanks all the same.”
“We look forward to seeing what else your are capable of.”
“After the break.” Trinity said walking over to Neo. She gave him a once over before allowing him to wrap an arm around her shoulders. He kissed her temple. “How are you feeling?” She asked, her voice softening for the man she so clearly loved.
“Fine.” Said Neo. “Better now.” He pressed another kiss to her head.
He was no longer interested in speaking to me and I walked away. Neither seemed to notice.
So this was the savior of all mankind. This was the One, wrapped up in his one.
Jason was furious after the Council meeting. I had heard the rumors about what had happened on the Nebuchadnezzar. Heard that half their crew was dead, Tank was in the infirmary, and Morpheus was proclaiming loud and clear that the One had been found.
A thousand conflicting stories arose regarding the man I once thought I would spend my life with and the young woman I had helped free from the Matrix all those years ago.
They had docked before us and I knew my first officer, Ghost, would be looking for Trinity. As would Sparks. I knew if I went to her, she would answer me. She would tell me what really happened on the Neb and in the Matrix. She would not lie nor would she let delusions of grandeur get in the way. She was not, by nature, prideful.
But she would be overwhelmed, I knew. By Ghost and Sparks, by Jason and the Council, by hundreds and thousands of Zionites looking for someone to believe in. Whether or not the rumors plaguing Zion’s fleets were true, she was part of the crew that freed the boy the Council had deemed as ‘the One.’
She might never have another moment of peace in her life.
She didn’t need me to add to it, asking more questions that she has probably answered tens of times already.
To make matters worse, the Council was jumping at the remote possibility that the One existed and had been found. Tests were run, various simulations and scenarios to play out and he continued to beat them. Even if Jason didn’t admit it, I knew he was impressed by the man’s abilities, though he was furious when the Council announced a party in his honor.
Zion’s elite were invited. The Council, ranking officials. I wouldn’t have been able to attend if not for my relationship with Jason.
Dressed in a faded red shirt that stopped inches before my hips and dark pants that hung low, I assessed the room.
The Council had certainly gone all out. They had made a room with walls of stone look almost elegant. I listened, idly, to conversations around me. Jason was speaking in hushed tones to Councilor Minerva. He was thrilled to not be the only skeptic around, although I don’t believe Minerva had completely ruled out Neo as the One.
The boy, himself, was across the room cornered by the refreshment table. He held two glasses of wine. Real wine. From bottles that had only just been uncorked, probably saved deep in the safety deposit boxes of the wealthy. It was ridiculous and I would have been furious if the poor kid didn’t look awkward and terrified by Dillard, her husband, Mifune, and Keyes, the head of dining operations.
Neo was dressed like many would in the Matrix. Black pants and a tight dark grey shirt. His eyes were wide and his hair still clipped short. Even at thirty, he looked like a baby and I couldn’t help but smirk. The poor kid was in way over his head.
I looked around a little more. Morpheus was standing tall and looking very proud as he spoke with Hamann and a few other officials. Trinity stood next to him. She looked lovely but she clearly hadn’t been sleeping. She had dark circles under her eyes that I could see from across the room.
She stood to the left of Morpheus, facing the conversation but her eyes on Neo. She was grinning and making faces at him from across the room. I was glad that she was able to find humor in all that had happened to her, even if it was surprising to see her smile in the aftermath.
My eyes slid back to Neo. His eyes were wide and he seemed to be trying to communicate via his brows without actually being rude to the people talking to him. He was so uncomfortable with the attention.
After a moment or so, Trinity took pity on him. She excused herself from the group she was in and crossed the room to where Neo was locked in conversation. She interrupted the conversation and quipped something, making those around Neo laugh. The boy seemed to ease as he handed her the glass of wine he was carrying. Trinity took advantage of the free hand and slipped hers into his.
Neo gave a slight tug and she swayed forward and under his arm carefully. She was just a bit shorter than him. Less than a head but more than a few inches. She fit snugly into his arm. She rested her head in the crook of his neck and eased herself into the conversation.
The boy no longer looked like he wanted to shoot himself. In fact, he joined and laughed along with the others at whatever was being said.
My god. Were they…?
He pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
Oh, they were.
I glanced to Jason and waited for the first lull in the conversation to ask, “Neo is with Trinity?”
He looked back at me. “Oh, yes. I’m sure I told you.”
“You certainly did not.” I retorted, “How? When did it happen?”
“Oh, it’s quite the tale.” Said Minerva with a small smile, “Unbelievable, but romantic.”
“Romantic or ridiculous?” Jason scoffed, “After Neo and Trinity rescued Morpheus from the Agents, Neo got stuck in the Matrix. The Agents cut off his line and he had to fight his way out. He claims he got shot to the chest ten times and died. Apparently, the only thing that can fix ten bullet holes is a kiss from Trinity.”
“The readouts claim he was dead and resuscitated.”
“And the bullet wounds?” Minerva asked.
“The readouts just claim he was dead. Anything could have happened.”
“The bloody sweater? The bruises on his body?”
“Many died on that ship. Blood could belong to any of them. And as for the bruises, the boy fought an Agent. If he didn’t have bruises, they wouldn’t have a case.”
“I’m still not sure.” Said Minerva. “And you have to admit, the affection they show… I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Jason rolled his eyes, “They’re kids in love.”
“And completely in sync. I’m not saying for sure that the boy is the One, but with the things he can do… Come, Jason, do you not even wonder?”
“No.” Jason said, “He’s either fraudulent or an idiot. I lean towards the latter.”
My eyes crossed back over to where Neo and Trinity were standing. I didn’t know Neo and I didn’t trust Morpheus to be level-headed when it came to finding the One. But Trinity… since the day Morpheus and I pulled her out of the Matrix, I knew she was special. All the kids we pulled out of the Matrix were smart; it was a prerequisite but Trinity had drive. Determination. She was the definition of selective ambition.
She wouldn’t fall for an idiot and she would never respect a fraud. It didn’t mean for certain that this boy was the real deal but… if Trinity loved him-- and she did. I could see it in her eyes. If Trinity loved him, then he was special.
I closed my eyes and rubbed at my brow.
Ghost would be heartbroken. My first officer had loved her for so long. He knew it was never going to happen… we all did. But it was different to watch the woman you love live her life and watch the woman you love begin to love another.
Ghost would be a mess but Trinity… she never looked better. Even with the circles under her eyes, it had been so long since I had seen her laugh the way she did when he was wrapped around her. Her eyes sparkled as she looked up at him with a soft smile. She said something to him and Neo smiled back, bending his head to give her a swift kiss.
“They look happy.” I murmured, unable to stop a small smile. It was hard knowing that Ghost would be going through so much pain but a part of me was thankful that Trinity was no longer facing this war alone.
As Neo looked back to the conversation, Trinity’s head leveled. She caught my eye and gave me a small nod before returning to her conversation.
It wasn’t until an hour later that I had the chance to speak with her. She and Neo had tried to escape their conversation only to be pulled into another one. They had remained near the refreshment table and seemed to be in the middle of a competition on who could stealthily drink the most wine.
Trinity was on her fifth glass while Neo paced himself with three. Neither seemed tipsy but Neo’s eyes were glazed and he wore a crooked smile. Other than a slight flush, no one would know that Trinity was even drinking.
I approached them with Minerva. Jason was off talking to a few of the Councilors.
“Niobe.” She greeted me as the Headmistress of the Academy and her husband finally said their goodbyes to Neo.
“Trinity.” I opened my arms and she briefly left Neo’s long enough to hug me. She returned back with an ease you didn’t see on most new couples. “How are you?”
“I’m alright.” She said, “Tank is still in the infirmary. The doctors are worried, but you wouldn’t know it talking to him. Have you met Neo?”
“No, I haven’t had the pleasure.” I smiled at him, “Niobe,” I introduced, “Captain of the Logos.”
Recognition flashed in Neo’s eyes and he looked to Trinity. “Ghost’s ship?”
Trinity beamed, “Yes.”
“Have you met my first officer?” I asked, surprised that I had not heard about it from Ghost or Sparks.
“Not yet.” Neo said, “But it seems I’ve met just about everyone else in Zion. Councilor Minerva.” He gave a nod as the Councilor joined us.
“Neo. How are you settling in?”
“Overall pretty well. I’m looking forward to finishing testing and having a bit more free time. Aside from the Council chambers and our apartment, I haven’t seen much of Zion. But I,” He glanced down at the woman in his arms, “I can’t complain too much.”
They were living together. After nearly ten years with Morpheus and then the four I’ve been with Jason, I’d never considered living with either of them. No matter how many nights I would spend in their apartments, I liked having my own space. I craved it.
But Trinity had opened her apartment to the boy? Was it temporary? A place for him to stay before Trinity and Morpheus could get him settled permanently?
Trinity smiled and leaned back into him. “Testing is pretty much done. After this we’ll have more time.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” He kissed her temple.
“How have you been?” Trinity asked me, “I feel like I haven’t seen you in months. How’re my boys?”
“Well, the Neb has barely docked in months.”
“Yeah, we’ve been busy.”
“But we’ve all been alright. Ghost and Sparks are out enjoying shore leave.”
“Lucky them.” She said with a smirk,
“I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see you.” It was a far grimmer topic and I almost didn’t want to bring it up, but I had to ask, “The funerals…”
Trin nodded and Neo’s grip on her visibly tightened. “In the next few days. At least, Switch, Apoc, and Mouse’s. Cass is waiting on Dozer’s until Tank...”
Gets better. Or doesn’t. I didn’t want to dwell on that here.
“Who’s taking care of the arrangements?”
“Morpheus and I are dividing the work.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
She shook her head, “No, not right now. But thank you.”
“She won’t even let me help.” Neo said, a not unkind edge to his voice.
“You have enough to worry about.” Trinity said leaning to the side so she could look up at him, “You don’t need to take care of this.”
“No, but I do need to take care of you.”
Instead of a harsh response or denial, Trinity reached up on her toes and kissed Neo, gently on the lips. The love radiated between them. It almost hurt my heart to look at. It had been so long since I had felt that kind of love… years. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that cherished.
I looked away and my eyes caught Morpheus’. He inclined his head and I looked away, back to the couple. They were no longer kissing but murmuring to each other.
It was too much.
“Well, it was wonderful to meet you Neo. Trinity, I’m sure I’ll see you soon.”
I walked away, looking for Jason across the crowded room. He was talking with West and Grace, a serious expression on his face. His hands were clasped behind his back. He was not one for public displays of affection. Nor was I. Maybe when I was younger…
I shook my head at the thought as I crossed the room to him and took my place at his side and tried not to concentrate on the pang in my heart.
When we were kids, Tank used to pretend that he was pod-born. He liked to lay back in his bed and tell us he was jacking in to the Matrix and he would be back soon.
While Dozer had been academically-driven, Tank had longed for adventure.
And what had that gotten him?
A series of slow beeps on a ventilator.
I wanted to scream, to shout, to cry. Damn it!
Dozer was gone, already lost before I could even say goodbye. Because of Cypher. That son of a bitch had killed my brother so he could dream about eating fake food and rubbing elbows with other unconscious pricks.
In a moment before falling asleep, Tank had mumbled: “He couldn’t get laid in the real world. Figured his only shot was back in.”
Cypher had failed.
But now, my only surviving brother was hooked up to machines. In a way, it was just like Tank had always wanted.
I held his hand while Link wrapped an arm around me in comfort. It was hard not to shake.
The doctor’s had done their best, so they said. But the burns went too deep. His organs had been badly damaged and they just didn’t have the technology to save him.
It won’t be long now. If anyone wants to say their goodbyes...
Sparks had been in and out since Tank had returned, checking up on his friend. He had joked and cried his way through a farewell as Tank had cracked up at Sparks’ attempt at a goodbye.
Morpheus had also come in, sitting with Tank and talking with him for hours. Lots of promises that I wasn’t sure Morpheus could ever fill. But Tank loved the man like a second father, so I stayed quiet.
Cass had come by, too. She had only managed a few sentences before she completely broke down. Link had ushered the kids to him while I walked Cass outside.
Dozer’s death had hit her hard. In the span of one trip out on the Nebuchadnezzar, Cass was a widow and a single mother.
I couldn’t begin to blame her.
Now, we were just waiting for Neo and Trinity.
I hadn’t met the One yet but Tank had been singing his praises since he returned. It didn’t matter that Tank was burned half to death and was dying, Neo was a hero .
He’d saved Morpheus.
But lost Dozer. And Apoc and Switch and I knew it wasn’t Neo’s fault but why couldn’t he have saved them? Why couldn’t he have stopped Cypher before he attacked my family? Before he left me without my brothers?
It wasn’t fair.
“Do you think there’s anything after this, Zee?” Tank asked, eyes lidded as his head turned towards me.
“I think so.” And I did. Link was pretty certain that once you were dead, you were dead. But I had always believed in something just beyond. A beautiful place, where you can live without pain and see the ones that you love. “Dozer would be there. And mom and dad.”
Our family cat.
I nodded, feeling my throat constrict. Fuck . “Yeah, Sunshine’ll be there, too.”
“Don’t tell Dozer,” He whispered, “But I’m more excited about Sunshine.”
I choked on a laugh and there was a knock at the door.
Trinity, followed closely by Neo. He had a hand on her shoulder as she gazed at Tank.
While I struggled with my anger towards Morpheus and Neo, I couldn’t bring myself to foist it upon Trinity. Trin was family. Dozer’s kids called her “auntie” and she had shared our table for years.
During Tank’s time at the academy, she, Sparks, and my little brother had been thick as thieves.
“Hi.” Trinity said, waiting for a nod from me to enter.
I gave it and she slipped in, the One closely behind her.
The doctors said that Neo and Trin had visited late at night but I had yet to see the man Tank playfully called ‘Messiah.’ He was tall and fair, with cropped, dark hair and warm eyes.
“Hey Mr. Wizard.” The One said.
“Messiah.” Tank gave half a nod to Neo before managing a full smirk at Trinity, “Mary Magdalene.”
“Ha fucking ha.” Trin intoned as Neo fought a grin.
Tank glanced back at me and Link. “Two minutes?”
I squeezed his hand, not wanting to leave but also unable to deny him anything. Not now, in his last hours. Link took my hand and we wandered into the hall. He shut the door behind us and I peered in through the open blinds.
Trinity approached the bed, sitting on the edge of it. Neo followed her, seemingly unable to be more than an arm’s length away.
Tank smiled at something and then let out a laugh, tossing his head back.
Link wrapped his arms around me and kissed my shoulder. “I love you.” He told me and I nodded. It hurt too much to reply.
We had yet to talk about the elephant in the room. Tank and Dozer had once made Link promise that, if ever they were unable to operate on the Neb, Link would take over.
And now, Dozer was dead. Tank would soon join him.
And a promise to a dead man bound my husband to the ship where my brother’s were killed.
I swallowed a sob, keeping the tears and anguish inside me.
Instead, I watched as Trinity leaned back into Neo and Tank gave a little head shake. Trinity seemed to nod at whatever he was saying and I wished I could make out the words.
After another minute, Trinity leaned forward and hugged Tank. His arms, somehow, managed to lift enough to hold her for a moment. He then shook Neo’s hand and smiled at the man who had somehow cheated death.
It’s not fair .
Neo reopened the door, letting us back in.
He returned quickly to Trinity’s side. She stood, wrapping an arm around his back and he draped one across her shoulder.
Trin’s eyes were watery but she had always been good at remaining in control. Far better than I had been, but then, I wasn’t a soldier.
I took my seat by his bedside.
Tank looked so tired all of the sudden. He was leaning back in his pillows, a lazy smile gracing his beautiful face.
“I know you’re pissed, Zee.” He told me, “And I know you’re gonna be mad and angry and said for a long time. But,” Tank exhaled, “Things are going to change.”
I nodded, still upset and broken but I couldn’t pick a fight with him. The little bastard knew it too, and he continued,
“Neo’s going to save Zion and destroy the Matrix and the machines and humanity is going to prevail. A lot of people die for a whole lot less. I’m not in the least bit upset about how I’m going to go.”
I saw Neo shift uncomfortably out of the corner of my eyes but I couldn’t bring myself to look away.
“It’s not fair.” I whispered.
“No, probably not.” Tank reached out for my hand. “But it’s going to be okay. Nah, it’s going to be better than okay.” He looked over to Trin and gave her a wink. “Now, whichever one of my sisters,” He looked back to me, “Happens to get knocked up first, I want you to remember that Tank’s a good, strong name. It did well for me.”
Trin let out a half-laugh and I couldn’t help but join her.
And he smiled and closed his eyes.
“Give ‘em hell, Neo.” He muttered, before opening his eyes a fraction to meet mine. “No regrets, Zee.”
And the slow beeping rolled out into a long line.
I felt my eyes well with unshed tears. I sat back, my vision suddenly skewed but I could make out Trinity, turning into Neo’s side and burying her head in his shoulder. He brought his arms up around her, holding her tightly in his arms.
I had lost another brother.
But I could take peace in the fact that Tank died happy and sure of the fact that Neo was going to destroy the Matrix.
Rumors flooded Zion the moment the Neb docked. Five dead on arrival. Tank injured, possibly fatally. And Trinity walking off the docks, ignoring any and all attempts at questioning, holding hands with a thirty year old newbie.
Of all of them, people found the last one hardest to believe. A perception exists, one which I have argued for years, that Trinity is heartless. At the very least, emotionless. All because she chose not to express her every thought and feeling in public, more than half the fleet saw her as cold.
But Trinity had never been cold.
We were unplugged on the same day; both fifteen. Both scared shitless. Both completely unsure of the new world we were in. Together, we embraced our new reality. We learned together, supped together, spent every spare moment of our time together. From the day we were unplugged, through our days at the academy, until the day she signed on the Nebuchadnezzar.
That was the first time in the years I had known her that Trinity surprised me. We were best friends. I thought I knew everything there was to know about her and because of that, I assumed that she did not believe in the One. she so often rolled her eyes when he was mentioned, even in passing. And she hated how Morpheus spoke about him. But she signed aboard his ship, the ship that everyone knew had one purpose: bringing the One home.
When it came time for me to sign, I chose a smaller ship. A tighter crew, with a less singular purpose. We just wanted to save as many people as we could.
But Trinity had always been larger than life. She was meant for something bigger. I’d known it for years but everything changed when Trinity went to the Oracle.
I remember the first time the Neb docked after she met the Oracle. I had found her, hours after returning home, not out with her crew or celebrating her first voyage, but down by one of the lesser-known lakes. A bottle of Dozer’s brew was in her hand, half-empty.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her, taking a seat by her side.
“ Everything.” She took a sip and her lips quirked in a smile. “And… nothing.” After that, she looked at me. “Do you believe in fate?”
“I don’t. At least, I never have.” She took another drink, a long swig of the craptastic brew. “The Oracle says that the One and I are fated. That we’re to fall in love with each other.”
The One. Whispered about in legends, who we’d heard about since the first day we were unplugged.
I was under no illusions about my relationship with Trinity. She was called my sister because we were unplugged on the same day, but Trinity had always taken that literally. She was excited to have a brother; a friend in this new world. I did my best to honor it but there were days that it was difficult.
Like that night, drinking by the lake.
Or the next night, when we played strip poker with Tank, Kali, and Sparks and the girls made it their mission to get Sparks down to his underwear.
Or the night after, at the temple gathering, when she had let down her hair and danced without a care.
And every night after.
So it didn’t surprise me, when Niobe had shown up at my door, looking sympathetic.
“Niobe. Are we preparing to leave?”
“No, you all have the rest of the week of shore leave.” She told me as she came inside. “I’m just here to talk.”
“Is everything alright?” I asked, although I was sure of where the conversation was going.
“I take it you’ve heard about the Nebuchadnezzar.”
Penny in the air...
She hummed. “Have you talked to Trinity?”
And the penny drops.
“Not since she returned.” I said honestly, “But I’ve known about her and the One for years.”
Niobe’s eyes widened as she stared at me. I almost smiled, for the first time since I heard the Neb had docked with a man they believed was the One. Whatever she had been expecting, it wasn’t that.
“Since she first went to the Oracle.” I clarified. “I’ve known for nearly fifteen years what was waiting for her.”
Niobe opened her mouth then closed it. Disbelief permeated her words, “You’ve known all this time?”
I nodded, “Yes. Have you met him?”
So that was his name. Neo. I resisted a laugh. An anagram. Morpheus must have had a field day with that. My lips twitched and I nodded. “Yes.”
She nodded back, “Yes. Just a few hours ago. The Council hosted a welcome.”
“Bet Trin hated that.”
Niobe was somewhere between shock and disbelief. “She… did.”
“Well,” She paused, “Uh, she and Neo made some sort of game out of it.”
And I smiled.
The Oracle said she would fall in love with the One and even when she doubted fate, I knew from the moment she told me that the Oracle was correct. Who else would be worthy of Trinity but the One fated to save mankind?
Still, she had no information about who the One would be or what he would be like. Only that they would fall in love.
She had said, one night when she had far too many to drink, that her biggest fear was that he would be a moronic hero, solely focused on the Matrix the way Morpheus was.
In a moment of drunken self-doubt, Trinity had whispered, “What if I’m not enough for him? How can I be enough for the One?”
He had told her it was impossible and he knew even then, he was right.
Niobe leaned forward, “You’re happy?”
“If she is.”
My commanding officer nodded. She gave me a small, sad smile, “She is.” Niobe reached out and took my hand, squeezing it tight. “You’re a good man, Ghost.”
Trinity was my best friend, my sister. The love of my life. I just wasn’t hers.
I knew that life is a choice. Our actions determine our consequences. And as sure as I was that Trinity would fall in love with the One, I was sure that she would never love me the way I loved her.
So where did that leave me?
I could declare my love aloud, forcing Trinity to turn me down and simultaneously destroying our relationship. We would never recover. She’d always feel guilty that she couldn’t love me back and I would resent her for the very same.
Or, I stay silent. The only person to resent is myself and, no matter how much it hurts, she is in my life. I still can laugh with her, play poker across from her, and watch as she dances free in Zion.
And in this moment I know, as I have known for nearly fifteen years, that I would rather watch Trinity love another than lose her forever.
And while our friends all know, Trinity has always been too close to see how I really feel. I have never and will never tell her the extent of my feelings.
I’m not a good man.
But I do not want to argue. So instead, I offer Niobe a small smile.
“I try.” I tell her.
I downed a shot of alcohol Dozer had made once upon a time from a flask. The world falls apart but staples remain. For some of us, there will always be a reason to drink.
Ghost needed it more than I did but he had a thing about keeping his body pure. Of alcohol, of smoke, of anything stronger than ginger root.
I don’t know how word got out but it had. Waking up, it had been a fairly normal morning aside from the fact Tank was still in the hospital and half of the Neb’s crew were dead. I spent the morning by Tank’s side even though he was sedated. He had mumbled something to me when I first visited-- they found the One.
I’d grown up with the stories but even I wasn’t convinced the One was real. It was why I operated for Niobe. Tank had always believed, since we were kids. So had Dozer.
Still, his early incoherent thoughts barely preyed on my mind. Until Niobe had sent a message to me and only me. I’d shown up at her apartment to find her sitting at her table, pensive and thoughtful. Her forehead was creased and the stress radiated off of her.
“Morpheus thinks…” She started and shook her head, “The Neb…” She paused again, “They think they’ve found the One.”
I gave a nod. It wasn’t surprising. It was Morpheus’ job to find the One. His purpose. He made that no secret to Zion.
“I met him.” She said, “He’s very kind. Seems intelligent enough. Old though. They unplugged a thirty year old coppertop.”
“And he didn’t die?”
Niobe inclined her head, “Shockingly, no. He… Neo seems like a good man.”
“Well, I would hope the One would.”
I glanced around, still unaware that she had singled me out for a reason. She took a deep breath, “Sparks… he’s in love with Trinity.”
I snorted, “He can join the club. So is half the fleet. I keep telling Ghost they should make buttons that say ‘holding out for what’s never going to happen.’”
“She loves him back.”
I blinked, “You know that?” I asked, “For a fact?”
“It was kind of hard to miss.” her voice was level, “Christ, I could barely believe what I was seeing. But you take one look at them together and you won’t be able to doubt it let alone miss it.”
I nodded, “Does, um, have you told Ghost?”
“Yes.” Niobe said, leaning back in her chair. “And he’s doing as well as can be expected but I’m worried about him. He knows, but he hasn’t seen them together. I’m afraid that it’s going to hit him hard. And in this world, any kind of descent can get you dead.”
That was true, just look at Cypher.
When I left Niobe’s, I was prepared to deal with Ghost. I wasn’t prepared to deal with Zion.
I don’t know how it got out. Whether the Council had made an announcement or whether word of mouth had simply overrun the city. It didn’t make much of a difference. Within hours of leaving Niobe’s, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t know.
It started with the ship. The Neb had gone out almost a month ago with a crew of 8 before returning with 4. Among the survivors were Morpheus, Trinity, and a 30 year old coppertop.
Soon after arriving in Zion, Trinity and the coppertop had, apparently, told Lock to eff off and had disappeared. Few had been invited to the dinner with the council but the ones who had were quick to share and words were quick to fly.
I wondered how that went down with Trinity. She was protective of her friends and possessive of her belongings. I could only imagine how she would be with a boyfriend. God help the man.
I was still trying to figure out how to breach the subject with Ghost when the announcement came. A temple gathering with news about the future of Zion. Drinks and dancing to follow. Well, at least Zion knew how to do things right. And with the amount of buzz going on about the Neb, I was certain that he would be there.
Neo. The One.
I pulled up my computer and sent a message to Ghost.
He never was one for idle chatter.
I’ll walk with you .
I refilled my flask and changed my clothes into something that would be less restrictive for dancing and partying. And then I took off for Ghost’s. He lived just a few floors down, virtually underneath me.
He was dressed for the Temple when I arrived and ready to go.
Neither of us spoke much on the way down. There was too much humdrum around us anyway. People speculating and whispering about the rumors Ghost and I knew to be true.
The One had been found.
We made our way up to the crew member’s entrance. It was one of the very few perks we got for agreeing to spend months and months of our lives in the cold discomfort of the hovercraft. Isolated from nearly everyone, bored out of our minds, and eating shit. But we had the best views at whichever gatherings we were lucky enough to be home for.
I recognized the One the moment we entered. It was hard to miss the poddie, hair barely a centimeter long, with both arms draped around Trinity possessively. His chin rested on her head and Trin was leaning back against him, a small smile on her face.
The One, Neo, was chatting with Morpheus, Ballard, and Kali.
I couldn't make out what they were saying but all of the sudden, they were laughing. Ballard raised his drink in salute as Trin tilted her head to the side, beaming up at Neo. The One. The savior of Zion.
My eyes shifted to Ghost. His face was impassive as ever.
"I bet he's an asshole." I said, at a loss of how to give any sort of comfort in the face of, well, this… there was no manual for what to do when the girl your best friend is in love with falls in love with a modern day Jesus.
"He won't me." Ghost replied, glancing over. "Trin wouldn't fall in love with an asshole."
No. She wouldn't.
And Christ, I love Trin. She's been one of my best friends since the academy. We joke and we play games and we have bonded over Dozer's home brew a hundred times.
And she deserves to be happy. And she looks it. She's utterly glowing, leaning into his embrace.
I didn’t know what to say and was grateful that Hamann chose that moment to begin. As he spoke, I watched Trinity from the corner of my eye. While she and Neo had turned to listen, she was still tangled in his arms. Her hands came up, holding his arm to her.
The One pressed a kiss to her head.
I looked away.
"Sparks," Ghost waited until I met his eyes, "You don't need to pick sides here. You can be happy for Trinity without feeling guilty."
The pressure on my chest left with an exhale. It wasn’t fair that Ghost was the one offering me comfort right now but he was, for all intents and purposes, my best friend. The person in the world I was closest too, save for Tank. One of the two people I spent eighty percent of my life with. I needed his blessing
When Hamann finished his opening prayer and the drums began, I followed Ghost over to the couple. He was a braver man than I was, that was for damn sure.
Trin beamed when she saw us.
She didn't move from Neo's arms as she introduced us.
"This is my brother Ghost and Sparks, who is the Operator on the Logos and has been a pain in my ass since the day we arrived in Zion."
I grinned at that assessment, "looking forward to being a pain in your ass, as well."
It was hard to imagine Trinity in love before seeing it.
Not that she was cold; far from it. Trinity was always a beacon of love and light. She was tough and sure of herself, and sometimes she got a little lost in her own head, but there was no one who cared like she did.
Her love came in two waves, Ghost had once commented.
The first is large and consuming, ready to take you down if you are not ready. It sweeps over us all in an adoration for humanity. Her desperation to give other people the freedom to make our own choices and use her power and privilege to help others was paramount.
But then, there was a small wave. Still strong, but less noticeable. It almost creeps up on you, surprising you and leaving you breathless. In that second wave, Trinity loved you despite your humanity and all its flaws and imperfections.
And all that love, all that adoration, seemed to have condensed itself. Spinning around like a centrifuge, breaking down, and being redirected.
All directed at him.
Shit , I thought. If she looked at me like that, I’d grow some plugs, jack into the Matrix, and become the One, too.