Neo was asleep in the Matrix: almost waiting for the time when he would reappear within the code.
He remembered the feeling of death, cold and lonely, and then something hard and callous against his back brought his awareness from the depths of his sub-conscious mind, letting him feel that code once again. It moved with him, through him, around him, as it once had.
Neo was no longer dead, but alive, laid out on the gravelly earth within the Matrix, his eyes opening to see a purple sky stretching out above him in a meagre welcome.
The code was different, lighter without the heavy presence of Agent Smith, yet he could feel eyes on him, watching and waiting, but why?
He sat up and looked around, taking in every sight and sound as his eyes scanned for somebody lurking in the early-morning shadows. Their feet moved swiftly yet silently through the faintest awareness of his conscious mind, hiding where he couldn’t quite see. The piles of metal to his left were scraps, twisted or faulty machinery being boxed up by a trash compactor in the distance. The diamond mesh fences were tall and topped with razor-wire to keep out scavengers, a practice befitting a junkyard.
Full of the useless junk within the Matrix… old files, unused data, I suppose I’ll find Smith in here somewhere, Neo thought with a smirk.
He walked onward past crushed cars, noting their age and the way they differed only in the slightest of ways, as if the Matrix recognised its own faults and destroyed them to keep order within the programming. It had always been trial and error as that crazy, blonde-haired boy Mouse had said: they don’t know about the taste of food.
They have to search around for the information and copy it to the best of their abilities, being applied to everything from vehicles to infrastructure.
He was right… I hope he didn’t die in vain, Neo reflected as he considered the outside world.
If I’m alive inside the Matrix, something must be wrong. My time is limited for sure; Morpheus said it himself. “The body cannot live without the mind”; the opposite must be true as well.
Neo let his concealed sadness die down, his fist unclenching as he relaxed, his face becoming stoic.
He didn’t even know if Morpheus was still alive.
The person in the shadows was still following him, nearly silent as their feet patted against the metal stacked high around him. Neo finally stopped by a pile of metal beams, realising that it was old framework of some kind, worn and rusted to dark shades of amber. Lightning began to streak the sky, the bright light casting shadows in all directions, toying with his mind. Neo thought he saw something move in his peripheral vision, so he spun on his heels.
Standing atop boxed up, compacted metal was the silhouette of a woman: broad shoulders making her seem far more masculine.
Her clothing had been hidden by the flash of lightning behind her, but the flash dissipated, revealing the usual black regalia of those who’d been released from the Matrix.
However, this woman dressed similarly to Trinity, no capes, cloaks or trench-coats flowing out to the sides. Instead, she was clad in black boots with a light heel, pants made of black leather and a jacket made of the same material that only stretched to her midriff. The rest of her stomach was hidden by a black shirt. Her face was invisible behind the motorcycle helmet she wore, the tint on it so heavy that he couldn’t see any of her defining features.
“Who are you? Why am I here?” Neo called out.
He heard a deep, masculine voice come from the helmet and he knew immediately that the dial he could see on the side was some kind of voice modulator.
“Don’t patronise me Neo. I am the one who brought you here and I could easily put you back where you came from. We will ask questions later, when the time is right. I will take you to the underground base where I and the others hide from the threat you were believed to have destroyed 16 years ago.”
Neo was inwardly excited, knowing it was possible that Morpheus and the others were alive, though they would be older than he remembered.
But as the woman's words sank in, his thoughts were quickly cut off by a realisation that rocked him to the core.
“Smith is alive?” he said incredulously.
The woman nodded once and jumped down from the pile of metal, giving a small gesture to a cube of compressed metal near Neo.
“Would you like to leave?" she asked with what he assumed was politeness "Pick it up and give it to me.”
Neo snacked the cube and saw something sticking out from it, she he took hold of it and pulled hard. In the process of tearing it away, he cut himself deep across the palm, a surprised sound leaving his throat.
The woman shook her head in mild amusement, surprised that Neo was so careless as to hurt himself and drop the scrap on the ground.
“Being over-eager doesn’t help anybody, especially you,” she mocked as she stepped closer to him.
Neo hesitated, wary of her every move.
“Give me the scrap first,” she said with an outstretched hand "Wouldn't want a senior citizen hurting himself."
Neo bent down and picked up the metal from the ground, putting it in the woman’s palm.
She pulled her short jacket to one side and shoved the metal inside, revealing more scrap metal in small pockets and a single handgun.
Using the opportunity he had been presented with, Neo gripped the helmet tightly on both sides - despite the searing pain in his palm – and ripped it from the woman's head. When he threw it to the ground, a web-like crack appeared on the visor.
The woman’s hair flew around her face from the abrupt loss of her helmet, the strands barely able to conceal the anger she was holding back. She looked at Neo, eyes meeting, and he felt his heart both sink and soar. It hadn’t been an Agent in disguise as he’d assumed: instead he saw the features of a teenage girl, her aggression dissipating. The naturally deep tone in her voice was nowhere near as powerful as the voice modulator, but it still shone through as she spoke.
“Why the hell did you do that?" the young woman said with exasperation "I try to heal your wounds and you just manhandle me? That’s a little rude, don't you think?”
Neo stared at her for a moment and asked without hesitation “You can heal this?”
Neo was tempted to take back his bleeding hand, but before he could object, she was motioning for him to let her see how bad it was.
The smirk she would have hidden under her helmet seemed almost mischievous, but she was quick to let it fade as she took Neo's larger hand in hers.
She stepped closer to better inspect it, analysing the code and noting the pain threshold of male humans in their late 20’s.
“This will hurt you, but not as badly as it could have," she said in the most assuring voice she could A few millimetres deeper and this would be dangerously infected.”
Neo watched the girl’s other hand sit on top of the gash, holding back the urge to wrench his hand away.
Though he found it odd to have someone take this much interest in him, he had to see this healing process for himself. The girl pushed her hands together tightly and Neo winced. In a flash of green light, the pain hit a sudden high and he jerked his hand away from the girl’s grasp.
All Neo could do was stare at his hand as lines of code rushed to his wound and healed it, closing the flesh over and sterilising the red area around the open wound that indicated a light infection. The girl was analysing Neo's expression and noted with a smirk that he was shocked by her abilities.
“How did you do that?” he blurted, unable to contain his confusion.
The girl kept her expression calm, trying to think of something casual to say rather than answering his questions; the wrong words could lead to her death at his hands.
“Would it be okay if I start with my name?”
Neo could have slapped himself across the face.
Why didn’t I ask you your name first instead of being reckless?
He nodded, still feeling a little guilty about the helmet. But only a little.
“My name is Ezra," the girl said with a tone akin to pride "I know your name already, Neo. Everybody at the base does.”