Author’s notes: (feel free to skip over or read as you like)
I apologize for developing so many new characters (okay, only three). If the movie hadn’t killed off so many (i.e. Switch, Apoc, Dozer, Mouse, Cypher, Smith) and left so few alive (i.e. Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Tank, Agent Brown, and Agent Jones) I wouldn’t have had to “fill the ranks.” (But a person’s being dead hasn’t stopped them from being referred to or appearing in scenes. Thank God for memories. You think you know what I’m saying, but you don’t.) Because of that, I apologize for Djinni (especially Djinni) Rider, Newt, and the agent who never even gets a name. I’m still a believer of keeping the ranks “pure” of new major characters and I hate author avatars.
This piece, however, does have an author avatar. Try and guess who it is. Here’s a few hints: 1. I’m female 2. It’s not Djinni, although she might be a candidate 3. I have a twisted sense of humor.
For those who can’t keep the agents straight, here’s a quick reference guide: Agent Jones is taller, has darker hair, a more square-like chin, and a deeper voice. Agent Brown has lighter (I’d call it auburn) hair, has a more pointed chin, and a more musical voice. He is the one who chases Trinity in the beginning, says “Perhaps we’re not asking the right questions” and “What were you doing?” and checks Neo’s pulse when he has died. If the agents are standing next to each other, more often than not Brown is on the left and Jones is on the right. We all know Agent Smith, but it doesn’t matter, since he isn’t alive at this point.
Other minor minor characters have small significance. A briefly mentioned potential is named after a net friend. Po is a cat who has had lives in other stories written by me. Blinky is a blue mouse found at UNH theater. He apparently has been promoted.
It may seem like an author avatar “a person with enormous talent released from the matrix” story during the first page or two. It is not. If you are one who dismisses Mary Sue stories (and there are those out there who do), please read until page three or four before deciding whether to finish this story. I purposely did not read Ghost in the Machine until I finished writing this story.
Thanks go to Spunkmeyer (who does not know me) who wrote the first Matrix fanfic that I have read. It was compelling enough to make me want to write my own opus. I don’t have your email address, but thanks go to you anyway. Also, thanks to the Core for having such an expansive fanfic section.
Deus Ex Machina
This was not what Neo had been expecting. He stood on the rooftop, coat billowing artistically about his body, and took a long pause to assess this situation. His conclusion was the same: this was definitely, definitely not what he had been expecting.
The message Tank had found had been simple enough: “Neo; I know what the Matrix is. I need to be freed. Please meet me at sunset of the day following the date you read this.” What followed next had been the address of a rooftop. It was signed with two simple initials: AB. That was it.
“Some two bit computer nerd,” Tank had been quick to dismiss. “We find these all the time. They put a few key words into a message just vague enough to sound promising. Usually they’re addressed to someone like Trinity or Morpheus, or even sometimes Switch or Cypher.” He hit Neo lightly on the arm. “It looks like you’re becoming a legend in your own right out there.”
Neo leaned over Tank’s shoulder. “Can you find out who posted the message?” he murmured softly. He caught Trinity looking oddly at him. Her look told him that they normally don’t take these messages seriously. “I just want to see if it’s anyone on the net I knew,” he said sheepishly.
“No problemo, coming right up,” Tank sang out, typing a few commands into a keyboard. He hit the enter key with gusto. “And our mystery man is…” Tank frowned and hit a few more keys, then some more. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this person is a three bit computer nerd,” he mused to himself and hit some more keys. “Or even four bits…” he trailed off, wrapped in this mystery. He didn’t notice when Trinity and Neo walked away, telling him to call them when he had figured it out.
An hour and a half later, Tank had reached three possible solutions: A. The message had existed since the origins of the internet, making a trace impossible. B. The message was delivered through manipulation of the coding of the Matrix, not the internet, which would make an internet trace impossible. C. The hacker was very, very good. Tank said that personally, he was betting on choice C, and he’d like to ask the hacker how he did it.
The next day, after giving Trinity a lovely, lingering kiss goodbye which incited several stares from two of their three new crewmembers, Neo plugged himself in to meet this “AB.” He had been expecting to see some version of the modern computer hacker recluse: sweat suit and thick glasses or cyber noir clothes and unusual haircut. He had not expected to see an agent.
Even more strangely, he had not expected to see an agent who stood so still and made no move to attack him or even defend himself when Neo pulled out his gun. Neo knew he should run, that this was most likely a trap, but he felt unafraid. He was, after all, The One, and Neo wished to get some information out of this agent. He ordered him to drop his weapon.
Slowly, very slowly, the agent took out his gun and threw it to the edge of the rooftop. “I am unarmed,” he said in a clear voice. “You can kill me easily. If I had a gun and you had none, you could still kill me easily.”
“What are you doing here? What have you done with the person I was supposed to meet?” Neo shouted.
“Mr. Ander—Neo,” the agent corrected. “I came here to meet with you. I sent you that message. I am called Agent Brown.”
“AB,” Neo whispered to himself. In a louder tone he called out, “What do you want?”
“Amnesty,” Brown said simply.
Neo’s face crinkled in confusion. “What?”
Brown sighed and removed his dark glasses. The strain was apparent around his eyes. “I am asking for protection on your ship. I don’t wish to fight by the other machines any more, but I need some place to stay where I will be safe from them.”
“You think you’d be safe on a ship full of real people, all of which have vowed to kill all of your kind?” asked Neo incredulously.
“I’d help you, of course,” Brown said earnestly, his voice filled with a sincerity Neo hadn’t thought a machine could possess. “Any way I could. The only thing you would have to do is retrieve my body and keep your crewmates from destroying it.”
“How do I know this isn’t a trap?” Neo asked suspiciously.
“You don’t, and I know there isn’t anything I can do to convince you otherwise, but please consider the facts. I come to you, unarmed, knowing you could destroy my program easily, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop you. Yet, I still come. The hardwire you used to get here is still in tact, and I have done nothing to stop you from leaving.” A conflicted look entered Brown’s eyes, finally resolving into determination. He took a deep breath. “And I give you this.” He held out his hand.
Neo stayed where he was, not accepting the disk Brown held out. “What is that?”
Brown stood straight, only a slight trembling in his jaw betraying the intensity of emotion brewing within him. “It contains the coordinates of my body and the bodies of the other agents currently within the matrix.”
Neo reached out and, in a flurry of motion, snatched the disk out of Brown’s hand. A small look of anguish flickered over Brown’s features before they returned to their normal, impassive status. “This doesn’t mean that we have a deal,” Neo warned.
Brown nodded. “I understand. It was merely a…good will gesture, an example of what I can do for you.”
“I will need to talk to the others about this.”
“Of course. Only, please, hurry. You don’t understand the risks I took meeting you tonight—” He held up a hand to keep Neo silent and cupped the other one around his earpiece. “I must go. Djinni has been spotted. We have discovered three of your lines in that area. Warn her that both the line in her building and the one at the intersection of South Street are going to be cut. I will leave the line on Parkins Street open for as long as I can. Tell her to head that way.”
Brown cocked his head slightly to one side. “Consider this another good will gesture.” With that, Brown’s program retrieved his gun and left the form of the woman he had been occupying. Her long brown hair was tangled about her shoulders, and her green eyes had a wild, panicked look raging within them.
The woman gave a strangled cry, remembering only that she had been walking down the street, then suddenly she was on top of a rooftop. “What…what…” she sputtered.
Neo was in a hurry. “There’s a really good explanation for what just happened, but unfortunately, I don’t have the time to tell you,” he said quickly, opened up his cell phone, and jumped off the roof while dialing Djinni’s number.
“Eep,” the woman managed to squeak, and promptly fainted.
Djinni lowered her wire-frame glasses and took a good look at the work on the screen. Her voice twanged with a soft southern accent that she despised. “I just don’t understand you,” she said to the screen. “You may seem like a good candidate to be released from the matrix, but I still can’t get past your bad taste in screen names. ‘Cowgomoo2U’ may be cute, but you probably wouldn’t like to be called that for the rest of your life. And your programming skills are nothing to be laughed at, although I don’t know if you’re good enough to be released from the matrix at this age,” she mused.
Her reverie was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. She popped it open and pressed it against her ear. “Jan’s Pizza,” she chirped.
“Djinni, this is Neo.” Neo sounded urgent.
“Neo! You sound worried. What’s up?”
“The agents know where you are. Get out of there immediately.”
“Sure, I’ll be out in a second.” Djinni almost hung up her phone, but the sound of Neo yelling for her to wait made her pause.
“Wait! The line in your building has already been cut.”
Djinni inspected the hard line phone. “You’re right. I’ll use the one on South.”
The time had come for Neo to make the decision whether to trust Brown or not. In a split second he made up his mind, and hoped he wasn’t wrong. “No. Use the one on Parkins.”
“That’s two blocks farther,” Djinni griped.
“Then you’d better start running,” Neo advised, and hung up the phone. He knew that Djinni, like most of the others in the real world, trusted him implicitly. He just hoped that her trust in him wasn’t misplaced. As almost an afterthought, he also hoped that his trust in Brown wasn’t also misplaced. At this thought, he put on an extra burst of speed. Moving at this rate he would reach Djinni’s position in a little over a minute. He just hoped that it wasn’t a minute too late.
Djinni had cleared the building without attracting the attention of any agents, and she praised her luck for that. Walking swiftly, she cut across the back lot of the building. She pulled the collar of her jacket higher to protect her face from being seen. The sun had almost completely set, and she was both thankful for and fearful of the shadows.
“Four more blocks to go. Only four more,” she whispered to herself, feeling a sense of panic set in. She didn’t want to attract attention to herself unless she had no other option, but her instincts were telling her to run to safety as quickly as possible. She allowed herself to break into a jog. A strand of her auburn hair fell into her eyes, and she cursed her vanity which allowed her to choose such treacherous, long hair over her practical, real, short hair.
She spotted an agent one block from the hard line. A blinding panic set in; she bolted. A moment after she broke into a full, matrix-enhanced run, she realized that the agent hadn’t noticed her until she started running. Still, she had a head start, and the line was just around the next corner. Her hair blinded her again as she turned the corner. She cursed it again and ran into a man. More specifically, she ran into an agent.
The first wild thought that passed through Djinni’s mind was bizarrely, “His hair is the same color as mine.” The second was, “Oh shit.”
The phone was ringing. She was so close; she was so close she could cry. Time seemed to slow, her senses heightened. She noticed a drop of dew sitting on the telephone booth, gleaming in the sunlight like a precious jewel. She could see the wind playfully pushing a dried leaf down the street. She could see Neo running down the road toward her. Djinni noticed that something was wrong—she was still alive. The agent was motioning her to pick up the phone. She cast him a grateful but confused look and picked up the phone. She promptly disappeared. Neo reached the agent half a second later.
“Hit me,” Brown said, casting a glance behind him to make sure no other agent could see him.
“They’ll be here any second. Hit me,” he said urgently. Neo shrugged and complied. Brown went sprawling across the pavement, his sunglasses flying off his face. By the time he landed, the agent who had been chasing Djinni rounded the corner. The agent raised his gun and pointed it at Neo.
“Stop,” warned Brown, scrambling to his feet. “It’s Neo.” The two agents exchanged glances and came to a mutual decision: they ran away. Brown allowed himself to cast one more glance at Neo before following in the other agent’s footsteps.
Djinni was back on the Nebuchadnezzar, regaling Tank with the tale of her great escape. “And then, when I was maybe a foot or two away from the phone, I ran into another agent. I mean, literally, ran into another agent. Bam!” She smacked her hands together for emphasis. “I thought to myself, ‘Djinni, this is it, you’re just another piece of scrap code in the matrix.’ But instead of killing me, he stepped away from me and let me get to the phone. He might’ve just been scared because Neo was coming, but I swear to God he was motioning me to pick up the phone.” A thought crossed Djinni’s mind. “Neo! Is he all right?”
Tank patted Neo’s screen, indicating that his lifesigns were all normal. “He’s doing just fine.” Tank’s phone rang. “Operator.” Tank’s eyes widened and he broke into a big grin. “Neo! We were just talking about you. What happened?” There was a small pause as Tank listened to Neo. “Wait a minute, you met with whom?” There was another pause. “Really? What’s on it?” Another pause. “Right, dumb question. Listen, find some computer and pop the disk in. I’ll monitor it from here so we don’t have to worry about bugs or viruses in our system. Right. I’ll be in touch.” Tank hung up his phone.
Morpheus entered the transmission room and laid a hand on Tank’s shoulder. “How are things going?” he murmured softly.
“Oh, not badly,” Tank admitted lightly. “Trinity’s doing fine in there. We had a close call involving a couple of agents and Djinni, but she’s okay.” Djinni waved her hand at Morpheus because of that last comment. “And, oh yeah, Neo met with an agent who wants to defect and gave us a disk with some secret information on it.”
Morpheus blinked once at this information. When his mind still didn’t fully comprehend it, he blinked again. Finally, after dealing with the shock, it registered. “An AI wants to join with us?” Another thought passed. “What information did it give us?”
Tank’s phone rang. “Hold on a sec.” He opened his phone. “Operator. Sure, Neo, I got it. Searching the files now.” Information dripped down the screen in little green rivulets. “Holy shit,” Tank hissed. “Holy. Shit.” Morpheus was staring intently at the screen.
Djinni hopped off her perch and rushed behind Tank’s other shoulder. “What? What is it?”
Tank started laughing, and Morpheus joined in. “It’s…it…” Tank was overcome by shocked laughter.
“It’s the coordinates for the bodies of the AI in the matrix,” Morpheus murmured.
“The coordinates, entrance codes, a structural map, everything!” Tank exclaimed. “Morpheus, if this is legit…”
“Get the others,” Morpheus ordered. “Neo, Trinity; bring them back. We all need to talk.”
“I have talked with the leaders of Zion. They have agreed to leave this matter to our discretion. What we choose to do with Agent Brown and his information is what will be done,” Morpheus said quietly. “So the question remains: what is to be done?”
Morpheus scanned the faces surrounding him: Neo, Trinity, and Tank. He could see Djinni hovering just outside the room, and she was probably surrounded by the two others who had joined the Nebuchadnezzar recently after their sad drop in numbers.
“I say we use the information as soon as we can, attack their main base before they can defend themselves,” Trinity stated.
“We can’t attack yet. Brown is still with them. We can’t destroy the other AI’s until we have him,” Neo rebuked, reaching over to rub Trinity’s hand gently to soften the blow.
“That’s assuming that we even want it aboard the Nebuchadnezzar,” Trinity said harshly, but laid her other hand over Neo’s.
“We wouldn’t be able to do much damage anyway,” Tank stated. “Most of the AI and main controls are housed within the inner chamber. I studied the structural designs. We won’t be able to enter the inner chamber without a live code from an AI.”
Morpheus nodded sagely. “Agent Brown is no fool. This is his guarantee that he will remain safe if we decide not to allow him amnesty.” Morpheus folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “This brings us to the crux of our problem. Do we bring Brown aboard or not?” He turned to Neo. “You met with him. What do you say?”
Neo shrugged. “He seemed sincere. He knew the risks when he met with me, but he still met with me. He gave us information about the center for the AI’s in the matrix. He gave me information to help save Djinni’s life. I say we trust him, but under strong security precautions.”
Morpheus turned to Tank. “What safety measures could you implement?”
Tank calculated mentally. “With the help of all the others and if we put in major overtime, I could have a containment contraption and a separate computer setup for his interface built within two or so days.”
Trinity stood up, her chair crashing to the floor behind her. “I can’t believe you’re actually considering bringing an AI aboard this ship! These are the beings who caused the enslavement of the entire human race. These are the creatures that we have been fighting since we woke up in the real world.” Trinity’s voice became an intense whisper as she leaned over the table to face Morpheus. “They tortured you, raped your mind.” She turned to Neo. “They killed you.” She faced all three men at once. “Can you honestly say that you want one of these things with us?”
Her tirade was interrupted by a male voice calling out, “Djinni, you can’t go in there.”
“Shut up, Newt,” Djinni hissed.
“Don’t be an idiot, Djinni,” another male voice called out, tinged with evident humor.
“Shut up, Rider,” Djinni called out in a lighter voice. She presented herself before the four and said, “Can I say something?” Morpheus nodded. Trinity sat back down.
“The agent you were talking about: was his hair like this?” she asked, running a hand through her short auburn hair. She was younger than the others, and her youth showed through her childlike nervousness. Neo nodded. “That was the agent I met when I was running from the other one. I ran right into him. He could have killed me. He could have shot me, or he could have just reached out and…” she decided not to continue that train of thought. “The point is, he didn’t. I didn’t slip out of his grip; he let me go. He stepped out of my way so I could get to the phone. He didn’t have to do any of that. He saved my life.” Djinni looked at the floor to indicate that she was finished.
Morpheus nodded at her. “Your point is noted.” Djinni left the room, a little shaky on her feet.
“Tank, get the others and start working on the containment device and interface.” Morpheus stood and looked at the others. “Tomorrow we will meet with Agent Brown.” He cut off Trinity’s protest. “We will only talk with him, nothing more.”
Agent Brown seemed more like a statue than a man. He stood straight, his arms at his side, his eyes staring blankly through his darkened glasses. The light of the sunset framed his body, casting his form in shadow. He did not move when Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity approached him.
Morpheus stepped forward. “Agent Brown,” he greeted coldly.
Brown dipped his head slightly in acknowledgement. “Morpheus,” he said in a flat tone of voice.
“We meet under a much…nicer set of circumstances this time,” Morpheus remarked.
Brown’s lip twitched slightly. “For you, perhaps. I don’t find being a traitor that palatable.”
“Why are you doing this?” Neo asked suddenly.
Brown looked surprised. “I already told you. I don’t wish to fight humanity.”
“Bull shit,” Trinity accused. “You need us to power your machines so you can live. Why would you want to free us?” Neo placed a restraining hand on Trinity’s shoulder.
Brown looked at the floor and admitted, “You are right. I was only telling half of the truth. I have no great love for humanity. However, I am not Agent Smith. I take no pleasure out of torturing or subjugating humans. It was simply what I needed to do to ensure the survival of us machines. Now, I feel that I must join you to ensure my survival.”
“Why?” asked Neo.
Brown took off his glasses and looked directly at Neo. He spoke candidly. “Because of you. You scare us. No one has been able to even permanently injure an agent before, but you have killed Agent Smith, the strongest of us. We don’t know what to do.” His voice lowered to a whisper. “We don’t think we can prevent you from destroying all the agents and reclaiming the matrix, freeing all the people. On the slight chance that I even survive to that point, how long would I last without an energy source? We believe that we are going to eventually lose this war. I want to survive, under any circumstances.”
Morpheus made his choice. “What do we do to retrieve your body?”
Relief washed into Brown’s eyes and a slight smile played about his lips. He returned his glasses to his face. “In exactly five hours, enter subsection E of the secondary structure. I will create a sensor blind for you. Do not travel any faster than 30 kilometers per hour or you will be detected. I will be there, in storage 246. Once you find me, deactivate me before you bring me aboard your ship. Leave immediately; do not attempt to enter the primary chamber. You would be immediately destroyed. Reactivate me within ten minutes once you are more than a kilometer from the control center.”
“You understand that your body will be kept in containment the entire time you are with us,” Morpheus warned.
“You will store your consciousness in an interface at all times. You will not be allowed to access the matrix for a long time, and you will never be allowed to reenter your body.”
“I understand,” Brown said sadly.
“Protocols will be set up to destroy your body if you are found disobeying any of our rules.”
“Yes,” Brown whispered.
“Will we need to supply you with a source of energy?” Trinity asked.
“No, not for a long while. I will always be connected by a remote setup to the energy supplied by those in the matrix. It is only when the matrix is shut down that I will have to be supplied from your ship,” Brown admitted.
“So you’ll be stealing energy from the people you claim you’ll be helping?” Trinity accused.
Brown shrugged apologetically. “We are what we are. I will always be connected to that source.”
“Then it is settled,” Morpheus said with finality.
“Yes,” Brown whispered. He held his hand to his ear for a moment. “I must go. I’ve stayed away for too long.” He turned to leave, but turned back for a moment. “I look forward to seeing you with my real eyes.” He stood silhouetted in the light of the sunset for one moment more before jumping off the edge of the building.
Morpheus flipped open his cell phone. He heard Tank say, “Operator.”
“We’re finished here. Open a line for us to get back. We have a lot of work to do. Be prepared to enter the AI’s matrix central command in four hours, fifty five minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” Tank said emphatically, and the trio was pleased to hear the welcome sound of a telephone ringing.
Neo rushed out of the conference room into the main control room, following Morpheus. “For the last time, you are not coming on this mission,” Morpheus ordered. “It’s too dangerous for you to be involved.”
“I’m already involved,” Neo protested. “He reached out to me. I was the one he contacted, not you. I should be there.”
“You will join the crew of the Ozymandius until—”
“The Neb’s understaffed as it is. You need my help.”
“Neo, I told you—” It was at this point that Morpheus noticed the others in the room. The entire crew was there. Trinity had been working at a console until Neo and Morpheus had shown up. The other four were working on what would be Brown’s containment chamber when he arrived. Tank’s eyes were wide, taking in this scene. Djinni ran a shaking hand through her short, spiky hair. Rider fiddled with his ponytail nervously. Newt was frozen in mid-motion, his hand still outstretched for a tool.
Trinity rose from her console and gently guided Neo out of hearing range of the four younger workers. “Neo, Morpheus is doing this for your good,” she murmured into Neo’s ear. He felt his anger dissipating in the presence of her soft voice. “There’s still a big chance that this is all just a trap. You may be the One while you are in the matrix, but here in the real world you’re just a normal human being like the rest of us. We can’t risk losing you here.”
“But how will you manage with so few people? You said the Neb usually has at least eight people. You’ll only have six.”
“Neo, you haven’t worked with the Neb long enough to be fluent with any of its systems. No offense, but you just haven’t been awake long enough,” Trinity said, smiling to soften the meaning of her statement.
Neo sagged, defeated. “You’re right, of course.” He reached over and squeezed her hand.
A light blinked on a console. Rider, the one closest to the console, pressed a button or two. “It’s the Ozymandeus. They’re ready to dock with us,” he announced.
“I guess that’s my cue to leave,” Neo said. Trinity nodded. He kissed her softly. “I love you, you know that?” She simply smiled. “As soon as you’re far enough away from the control center, I want you to dock with the Ozymandeus. No waiting around.”
“As soon as it’s on board we’re going to leave,” Trinity confirmed. “We’ll see you again once the mission’s complete.”
Neo kissed her again and left. Once she floated back down from her state of romantic, euphoric bliss, she noticed that the four younger workers were all snickering, and Morpheus had a mysterious smirk on his face.
“What?” she asked testily.
“Nothing, nothing,” Tank said hastily. Rider looked like a little kid who knew his mother knew he had taken the cookies and was just waiting for the accusation to come out. “It’s just that…” Tank broke into an unsuccessfully suppressed torrent of giggles. This set the others off again. “Rider just happened to mention that if we get into any trouble on this mission, we could just get you to think about Neo and float us away from the danger.”
“It’s not really that funny,” Newt managed to croak out before breaking into laughter.
“It was just the look on your face,” Djinni said, and everyone burst into giggles again, Trinity included.
“Fine. Do you all want to get back to work now?” Trinity said with genuine amusement in her voice.
“Trinity’s right. We have a date with a machine in less than an hour,” Morpheus said, and the four scurried back to work.
An intense silence fell about those aboard the Nebuchadnezzar. Newt was busy monitoring the controls of the ship. Djinni was peering over his shoulder. “You’re hovering,” he accused quietly.
“Are you sure this is the right speed?” Djinni hissed in his ear.
“Yes, I’m sure,” he hissed back, concentrating on the controls. “Twenty seven kilometers per hour.” He checked a panel. “Tank, send the command.”
Tank cracked his fingers and reached over the keyboard. “Here goes nothing,” he whispered, crossed his fingers, and pressed the control to send out the code. The entrance to the structure opened.
“Last chance to turn around,” Trinity declared from the pilot’s seat. “Djinni, what does it say?”
“It’s legit,” Djinni announced. “All the forms, codes, signals…they all match up. It’s not a fake. This is their control center for the agents.”
“Then let’s go,” Morpheus said, and the ship entered the compound.
The ship drifted. The people gaped. There were thirteen machines in here, all whirring contentedly as they remained connected to the matrix. All had prominent red lights, all blinking in sync. In a daze, Rider opened the hatchway to the outside. A wave of cold air flowed into the ship. He shivered—in horror, from the cold? He didn’t know.
Suddenly, one of the machines stopped its steady red blinking. It lifted itself off of its pad and headed toward the ship. Rider raised his gun to fire, but remembered at the last moment that Morpheus had said that Brown would be on 246. The machine came from 246. This thing, this creature, was going to be their ally. Rider shivered again.
The machine rattled its claws at Rider, landing softly next to him. Rider reached over to it, hesitating slightly before touching it to turn it off. The machine slept.
He dragged the thing into the ship. Together, he and Djinni placed it in its containment facility. Within it, even if the machine contained explosives, any force it exerted would be reflected back on it. The Nebuchadnezzar was safe, so long as they could escape.
Trinity eased the ship about and slid towards the open door. “Easy,” cautioned Newt, keeping his eyes on the sensors.
Tank monitored his and Djinni’s consoles. “It’s all good here,” he whispered. As the ship slid out the door, the entire crew let out a unified sigh of relief.
Morpheus motioned for all of them to stay quiet. “We’re not safe yet,” he warned.
Tank motioned Djinni to take his post for him. He knelt down next to Rider, examining the machine. “So this is it, huh?”
Rider shook his head to clear it. “Ugly beast, isn’t it? They look so human in the matrix, but this is what they really are.”
Tank pulled out some tubes and equipment. “Let’s get him hooked up.” They worked in silence for the next few minutes. Brown had his own private interface, not connected to any of the Nebuchadnezzar’s other systems. He also was connected to his own screen for whenever he needed to talk to someone outside his system. “How far away are we?”
Trinity turned in her chair. “We’re three kilometers away. We should be more than safe now.” She turned to another screen. “And now we’re docking with the Ozymandius. No signs of squids.”
Tank patted the machine. “Okay, Mr. Brown, time to wake up.” He took a deep breath and flipped the switch. Bright red lights suddenly shone, glinting off the smooth metal surface. A small tubule with a light at the end of it extended from the machine to the edge of the clear box. It peered at the people surrounding it.
Morpheus bent to the level of the eye. “Hello, Agent Brown. Welcome to the Nebuchadnezzar.”
Tank punched some commands into his console. “Something’s wrong. He’s not entering his interface.”
The eye peered around, looking at Morpheus, Djinni, Rider, Trinity, and back to Morpheus again. Something seemed missing.
Newt entered from the docking bay with Neo. Newt kept a safe distance away, but Neo walked right up to the machine. The eye nodded, satisfied. It and the other lights dimmed save for one consistently blinking red light.
“He’s in the interface,” Tank announced.
“Hook me up. I want to talk to him,” Neo said, lying down on one of the tables. Morpheus made a move to protest, but changed his mind before he said anything. Eventually, someone would have to enter Brown’s interface.
“Coming up,” Tank said as Djinni connected Neo into the program.
Existence winked into a white nothing for Neo. His eyes blinked at the shock. He tried to focus on something, anything, but there were no objects anywhere to focus on. He turned around and saw a black spot in the distance. He aimed for that, and the distance between the spot and himself decreased at a phenomenal speed.
Agent Brown stood in the oh-too-still manner of the AI. He turned slowly to face Neo. “Am I here?” he asked slowly.
“This is your new home,” Neo said.
“Is there anything else here?”
Neo frowned slightly. “I think that this space is blank. Your program is the only thing here.”
Brown absorbed this knowledge silently. “Can I alter this space to create programs to help you in your quest?”
Neo nodded. He had discussed this with Tank. “Yes. You can alter this setting however you wish. If you need anything else, ask, and we’ll see if we can give you it.”
“When will I be able to access other information in your system?”
“I don’t know,” Neo admitted.
“When will I be able to access the matrix?” Brown pressed.
Neo frowned again. “I don’t know.”
Brown sighed and turned away from Neo. “If you don’t mind, I think I’d rather be alone for the moment.”
Neo nodded and exited the program.
It was three and a half weeks later, late at night. Trinity, Morpheus, Neo, and Newt were all asleep. The other three were in the main control room. Tank was idly tinkering with some device. Djinni had just entered to relieve Rider of night watch.
Rider gave an exaggerated yawn. “Thanks, Djinni. I was about to fall asleep at my post. I think I’ll go catch about forty thousand winks.”
“No problem, Rider,” Djinni said amiably, taking a cursory glance at all of the screens. One in particular caught her eye. “Hey Rider, have you heard anything from Brown tonight?”
“Not a peep,” Rider answered, edging toward the door.
“How about you, Tank?” Djinni asked.
Tank kept fiddling with his device. “The last I heard from him was in the early evening last night.”
“What did he say?”
Tank yawned and turned the device over, prodding one of its lights. “Oh, the usual. ‘Here’s the information you wanted, here’s the blueprint for some part of a device, has anything new happened, is there anything you want me to do, is there any more information I can have access to, goodbye.’” Tank mumbled, still puzzled by his project.
“Do you think he’s bored?” Djinni asked, mainly to herself. “I still haven’t thanked him.” A flurry of motion by the doorway attracted her attention. “Rider?” she asked coyly.
Rider was stopped in mid-exit. “Yes?” he said in his most dull tone of voice.
“Could you stay on watch a few minutes longer while I go visit a friend?” she pleaded.
Rider looked to Tank to save him. Tank shot him a look that said, “You’re on your own. I’m busy.”
Rider gave another exaggerated sigh and sat back down at the console. “Fine. Who in the matrix do you want to visit?” he asked, not pretending to care.
Djinni gave a loopy grin. “He’s not in the matrix.”
“Then who…” Rider trailed off. Djinni pointed to the box housing Brown’s body. “I’m awfully slow on the uptake this late at night, aren’t I?” Djinni nodded and laid down on one of the tables.
In an instant Djinni was transported to Brown’s world. She shook out her suddenly long hair and inspected her fancy clothing. Whatever the supply priorities of the Nebuchadnezzar were, decorative clothing was definitely not among them.
She turned around and spied a dark spot in the distance. In a few seconds she jogged over to where Brown was sitting. She couldn’t believe that this was where he was living. In the twenty-four days he had been there, the only pieces of furniture he had programmed were a soft leather chair and a small end table.
He was bowed over a small programming pad. He reached for one of the tools on the end table and glided it over a section of the pad. He returned the device and continued working. Suddenly he stopped working and stared off into space, an unreadable expression on his face. He remained that way for a near eternity of seconds.
Djinni cleared her throat. She could sense his thoughts returning to this world, although she could not see his eyes and he did not turn to look at her. “Yes?” he monotoned.
“Hello,” she chirped as happily as she could manage.
“Hello,” he said dully, still not looking at her.
“It’s me, Djinni,” she said as an explanation.
He looked at her briefly, then turned away again. “So I see.”
Djinni’s bright smile faltered for a moment before setting back into its rightful place. She stood awkwardly before him. “You must not get many guests,” she said, motioning to the single chair.
“No, I don’t,” he said.
“That’s okay. I’ll just, uh, I’ll just stand.” She shifted her weight to her other foot and ran her hand through her hair nervously. A deafening pause created a barrier between them. “I never got to thank you.”
He looked up at her again. “For what?” he asked, genuinely confused.
A choked laugh passed between her lips. “For saving my life. You could have killed me when I bumped into you.”
“I had no desire to kill you.”
“You could have let the other agent kill me,” Djinni pointed out. “You can’t pass this off as apathy to my situation. You played an active role in saving my life.”
Brown’s head tilted slightly to one side. “I suppose I did.”
“Thank you.” Djinni waited for a nonexistent, ‘You’re welcome.’ When none came, she took the next step. “Is there anything I can do to repay you? Would you like any entertainment programs? My help designing a more comfortable house and setting?” She took a step closer to him. “Some companionship?”
Djinni stared directly into Brown’s face. He did not turn away, but his face was a mask displaying no emotion. She wished his glasses weren’t so dark, that she could see his eyes and explore them for any hidden feeling.
“Greater access,” he said suddenly.
“What?” Djinni exclaimed, taking a step backwards.
“I would like greater access to the Nebuchadnezzar’s mainframe,” Brown said calmly. “I’d like to be able to read the program scripts for the operating systems. It is very difficult to work blind of that information.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said quietly, and turned to leave. “Is that all you do? Work?” Djinni asked plaintively.
“Mainly. I must continue to prove my worth to your crew,” Brown stated.
“You already have,” Djinni said intimately. “You don’t have to drive yourself so hard. You don’t have to work all the time.”
“What else is there to do?” Brown asked Djinni. She had no answer. Wordlessly, she disconnected herself from his system.
“Have a nice trip?” Rider asked, not caring enough to even pretend to care. Tank was already gone, probably to bed.
“Shut up, Rider,” Djinni snapped. “Go to bed.”
“Goodnight, Princess Cracker,” Rider snarked, exiting the room.
“Shut up, Rider,” Djinni drawled, her southern accent more prominent because of Rider’s mention of it.
Djinni sighed and rested her head on her hands. Her head hurt to improbable boundaries. She vaguely wondered whether an aspirin taken in the matrix would help her headache in this world. Then again, there was no one to monitor her now, even if she wanted to go into the matrix.
She sighed again and slumped deeper into the chair. She knew an aspirin wouldn’t help much. Her headache was caused by something that couldn’t be cured by a mere pill.
Djinni tried not to look at what she was eating. She told herself to think ice-cream, think Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, think juicy medium rare steak with a serving of lightly buttered asparagus tips and creamy, airy mashed potatoes with a side of… runny snot. She looked across the table and saw that Newt was having no troubles eating his food.
Newt took a pause in his impression of a vacuum cleaner to mumble, “Shouldn’t we be helping Tank with locating the new recruit?”
“He’ll call us when he needs our help. Right now, I’m taking advantage of this time to catch up on some well-needed eating.”
Newt pointed his spoon at Djinni. “Point taken,” he said, and dove back into his bowl of slop.
“Have you seen him recently?” Djinni asked suddenly.
Newt shuddered. “Not unless you count looking at its metallic carcass.”
“He seemed so lonely,” she said sadly.
Newt snorted. “You see what you want to see.”
Djinni was filled with childish outrage. “That’s not true. Do you know what setting he’s developed to work in? The only thing he has are one chair and one table. Just one of each, like he wasn’t expecting anyone to visit long enough to sit down.”
“You make it sound like it’s alive,” Newt pointed out. Djinni started to protest, but Newt held out a restraining hand. “Listen to me, Djinni. Brown is a machine, a tool, nothing more. Remember what the first half of AI stands for? Artificial. He’s not real.”
“The other half stands for Intelligence. He is a thinking being. He thinks, therefore he is. I can’t believe you—” Djinni was standing by this point. Her voice was cut off by the entrance of Tank and Rider.
“What are you two doing here?” Newt asked. “Not that we mind your company, but shouldn’t you be freeing what’s his name? Cowgomoo2U?”
Tank slumped into a seat. Rider followed suit. “Blue pill,” Rider muttered.
The room fell into a depressed silence for a long while.
“He was no Mouse, that’s for sure,” Tank was heard muttering. The others, knowing Mouse only by reputation, nodded their agreement.
Djinni finally decided to break the silence again. “Tank, can we do something for Brown?”
Tank snapped out of his brooding. “What do you mean?”
“When I visited Brown, he asked if I could get him greater access to the information on the Neb. Is there anything we could do for him?”
Tank shook his head. “Not without Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity’s approval, and they still don’t think he can be fully trusted.”
“Then could we do something for him?”
Newt leaned into the conversation. “Why do you want to help it?”
Djinni’s head jerked to face Newt. “What do you mean?”
“Brown is one of the things that we fight on a daily basis. It’s probably killed dozens of us. Why would you want to help it?” Newt said rationally.
“He’s not like that at all,” Djinni insisted. “Maybe he once was, but he isn’t anymore. If you had seen him, talked to him, you would see how lonely he is.”
Rider leaned back in his chair, a mischievous glint in his eye. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that you had a crush on the machine.”
“I don’t have a crush on him. I just want to thank him for what he did for me,” Djinni said.
Rider smirked. “That’s just as well. I mean, imagine what the children would look like.” Newt snickered, and Tank unsuccessfully tried to smother his own laughter.
Djinni reached over and smacked Rider playfully on his head. She turned back to Tank. “So there’s nothing I can do?”
“Not unless you pop out of your bottle and grant him three wishes,” Tank joked.
“That’s only if Brown knows how to ‘rub her the right way,’” Rider joined.
Djinni gave a mock groan. “Why oh why did that ‘singer’ have to come out with that song? I wonder…if someone, say, Christina Aguilera, were a threat of becoming a host for an agent, would it be so wrong to shoot her?” she mused.
“Maybe you’d better ask the Oracle about that,” Tank said, pseudo-seriously.
An idea almost visibly popped into Djinni’s head. “If we took Brown to see the Oracle, and she approved, could we get him greater access?”
Tank scrunched up his face. “That only works if we could get Brown to see the Oracle. I don’t see how we could get Morpheus to approve that.”
Djinni was caught up in her idea. “Of course we could, if we can get Neo to escort him the entire way. Even if Brown can’t be trusted, he wouldn’t be foolish enough to do anything that might get himself killed, and we’d know once and for all if he could be trusted.”
Tank shook his head, “I still don’t think that…” but Djinni had already left the room to chase down Morpheus.
“You will stay with Neo at all times. You will not move more than three yards away from him. You will not attempt to contact anyone or anything. If you do so, Neo will stop you and we will destroy your body. Is this understood?” Morpheus said sternly.
“Of course,” Brown said passively, his inner excitement influencing his outward calm.
Morpheus flipped open his cell phone. “Tank, we’re ready here. Is Neo prepared?”
In the matrix, Neo grabbed the arm of a man passing by. “Excuse me, sir. Could you hold still for a moment?” He flipped open his cell phone. “All ready here, Tank. Let’s hope this works.”
“What’s going on here?” the man said indignantly. “What are you—” sudden convulsions wracked the man’s body as Brown took over.
A moment previous to Brown’s appearance, a woman with naturally tangled brown hair and wild green eyes had turned the corner. She stared at the man as he turned into Brown. She was shocked into stillness, her mouth half parted, her foot stopped mid step. What provoked her to move was the sight of the man standing next to the man who was changing. It was the same man who had been on top of the roof with her when she had had a temporary loss of memory. It was the same man who had jumped off the top of the roof immediately after she had returned to her mind. She turned and walked back around the corner, holding her head in her hands. “The doctors were right,” she murmured pathetically. All of this went unnoticed by Neo and Brown.
“Are you okay?” Neo asked Brown.
“I appear to be fine,” Brown said slowly. He made a show of checking himself over, discreetly pressing a button on his watch. The transmission went out without detection. “The download of my program seems to be complete, though the process is a bit different than normal.”
Neo spoke into his phone. “We’re fine, Tank. Keep monitoring us. We’ll be in touch.” He hung up his phone. Neo motioned forward with his arm. “Shall we?”
Brown nodded and followed him to the building, up the stairs, through the doorway to the home of the Oracle. The woman at the gate opened the door for them, not welcoming them but simply saying, “Come in,” in a muted voice.
The two entered slowly. They had warned the gate-woman about who was coming, but Brown’s entrance was less than welcome. The children were all improbably subdued, neither playing with their toys nor with the codes of the matrix itself. All eyes were on Brown as he passed through the door. He held his head higher and walked past them all, staring straight ahead.
“Come in, come in,” a warm voice urged from the next room. It was the only friendly thing in the place. Neo lead Brown partway to the door, but the woman’s voice stopped him. “Not you, Neo, just your friend. Don’t protest; I know what I’m doing,” she said, stopping Neo’s objection before it began.
Brown stood in the doorway and surveyed the domestic scene before him. The matronly woman was sitting in a chair, idly smoking a cigarette. The smoke curled up like dragon’s breath about her head. She motioned him to come all the way into the room. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Agent Brown.”
“I assume they have told you all about my circumstances,” Brown supposed.
The woman smiled. “No, they haven’t told me anything about you.”
“Then how did you—” Something caught Brown’s attention. He drew back slightly. “You’re not…”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not. Not many people notice my difference. It takes a special eye, a close attachment to the matrix, to see past my existence. But I suppose that’s only one of many things that make you special.” She leaned back in her chair. “Now,” she said softly, “why don’t you take off those sunglasses so I can see your eyes?”
Brown hesitated. His hand traveled to his face almost unwillingly, snatching the glasses off his eyes in one swift motion. The Oracle sighed. “Ah, that’s much better, isn’t it?”
“What do you want?” Brown said coldly.
“Just to talk,” she said. A lanky calico cat jumped up onto her lap. “Oh! Hello, Po.” She stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray and scratched the delighted cat under its chin. She turned her attentions back to Brown. “You wouldn’t believe it to look at him, but when I found Po he was this little scrawny thing, all scratched and beaten up by some other cat. I took him in and patched him up right as rain, but did he thank me? Of course not. The second day in my house he was howling at the door or window, begging to be let out, but he wasn’t fully healed yet, so I couldn’t let him go out like that. This went on for ten days, Po howling to all hours of the night.
“Then, one day, Po was fully healed. That day, I left my window open. Po left. I never expected to see him again.” She leaned forward in her chair, a delighted look in her eye. “That night, I woke up to the familiar sounds of Po howling at my door. This time, however, he was howling to come inside.” She scratched the cat behind his left ear and was rewarded with a deep, rumbling purr. “I suppose he realized that he didn’t belong in the outside world anymore.”
“You aren’t really talking about your cat, are you?” Brown asked in an introspective manner.
The Oracle shrugged, and her brown eyes shone with a special fire. “Take my words to be interpreted however you wish.” The cat stretched and jumped off of her lap. “All I know is that Po used to be like any other cat; his program was practically identical to that of other cats, you would say. And yet, I was able to influence him in a way that changed his entire being. Now he’s special, an individual.” She looked directly into Brown’s eyes. “And I wouldn’t want him any other way.”
Brown was silent, his lips slightly parted. Po wove his way through Brown’s legs and meowed invitingly at him. “Go on, pet him,” the Oracle urged.
Brown awkwardly knelt one knee on the ground. Po stood in front of him expectantly. In a jerky motion, he reached out a hand and placed it on Po’s head. He gently drew it down the cat’s neck and across its back. Po purred contentedly. Brown repeated the motion twice more before standing up again, a slight smile on his lips and a strange pain behind his eyes.
“I think he likes you,” the Oracle murmured. “Your friend is waiting for you.” Brown nodded and left, a deep, pensive look spread across his face.
Neo walked into the Oracle’s room a few moments later. “Ah, Neo. I hoped you would say hello. How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Neo said, smiling. “And you?”
“I’m good, good,” she said, laughing. An odd look came into her eyes. “And how is Trinity?”
“Really,” the Oracle said strangely.
Alarm bells rang in Neo’s head. “What do you mean?” he asked suspiciously.
The Oracle shook her head gently. “Nothing. If you say she’s fine, she must be fine. Who would know better than you?” She folded her hands in her lap. “But you didn’t come in here to talk about Trinity.”
“What do you think about Brown?” Neo asked directly.
“For some reason, I like him,” she said candidly.
“Can we trust him?”
The Oracle’s dark face was filled with hidden knowledge. “Ah, there is your real question. Can we trust him?”
“Well?” Neo asked impatiently.
“Yes,” she said. Neo gave a relieved sigh. “And no,” she added. “He is currently at a crossroads. He has made moves in both directions, which has become very painful for him. You must guide him along his correct path, whatever that might be.”
“I have to be the one to guide him?”
“You and your friends. There will be someone else as well, someone to bridge the gap between him and all of you.”
The Oracle smiled mysteriously. “That is something that you must find out.” She lowered her head, indicating that she was finished. As Neo left, he heard her call after him. “Neo, you must remember: if he has nothing to stay for, he will go. You may not be able to stop him.”
It was a tall man, straight frame, square jaw, blank expression. He turned to his smaller companion. “You have seen the message.” It was a statement, not a question.
“I had thought he’d been terminated by the humans,” the smaller one said.
“Agent Brown is more clever than most,” the taller one said. “It appears that he has successfully infiltrated the human resistance.”
“What should we do?” the smaller one asked.
The taller one smiled coldly. “We should follow his instructions; we will wait until they allow him to resurface in the matrix, and plan his rescue and the defeat of the human resistance according to the design he has given us. We will build the device and wait for his program to make it active. By then he should have information on how to defeat the resistance once and for all.
“Will we be able to trust him? By that time, he will have spent much time with the humans,” the smaller one said, his tone implying a great loathing of the humans and all that they were.
The taller one looked sagely at the smaller one. “Agent Brown may not have told us his plans when he began this mission, but I believe that he will do everything to help us defeat the human resistance. He had a strong sense of self-preservation. He will want to be allied with the winning side.”
Djinni flashed out of the harsh, cold reality of the Nebuchadnezzar and into the bright white light of Brown’s program. Her party clothes were on and she held two brightly colored party hats in her right hand. Tucked under her left arm was a small present, wrapped in festive paper and tied with an improbably cheerful ribbon.
Tank had wanted Neo or Morpheus to take the present to Brown, but Djinni’s promise to take over two of his shifts at mess hall duty had convinced him otherwise. Djinni thought it was well worth it; this was her promise and her gift to give.
Djinni skipped, practically flew to where Brown was sitting, deep in thought. She sadly noted that his furniture had not become any more inviting to guests, but she pushed that thought to the far reaches of her mind. This was a happy occasion, and she would do her best to keep it that way.
Brown was startled by Djinni’s sudden appearance; shocked would be a more apt description. Djinni was so excited she seemed to be moving even when she was standing still.
“Happy forty-second day anniversary!” she sang out.
“Is this a…normal holiday?” Brown asked slowly.
“No,” Djinni confessed, “We were going to wait for a more appropriate date, but your gift was finally ready and I couldn’t wait to give it to you.”
“You have a gift for me?” Brown asked curiously, setting down the pad he was working on.
“First, the hat,” Djinni instructed, placing one of the party hats on her head. She bent forward and placed the other one on Brown’s head. He looked ridiculous, and Djinni couldn’t help giggling. “Now you can open your present,” Djinni stated, holding out the small package.
Brown opened the package in the swift, precise way of the AI. Inside was a disk. “What is this?” he asked.
“It’s access to many of the systems of the Nebuchadnezzar,” she explained. “Tank and I have been working on it for the week and a half since you visited the Oracle. The disk is only a virtual simulation of the real program, but I thought that you should have some thing to open.”
For a long moment, Brown didn’t know what to say. “Thank…you,” he said haltingly.
Djinni blushed and kicked at the floor. “Aw, ‘tweren’t nothin’,” she drawled, pushing her slight accent to ridiculous lengths.
“When will I be able to access the matrix again?” Brown asked.
“Take it one step at a time,” Djinni advised, falling back into her normal voice. “We still haven’t given you access to many of the systems of the Neb. After time, we’ll unlock different sections, and then finally give you limited access to the matrix. You still have to earn everyone else’s trust.”
“Do you trust me?”
Djinni’s mind told her one thing and her instincts told her another. She decided to explain what was on her mind. “I have been fighting the machines for what seems like all of my life. I’ve seen friends killed by them, I’ve been hunted by them, I’ve seen the fields where they harvest human beings, and when I think of what they’ve done, it sickens me.” She swiftly closed the distance between herself and Brown and, in a single, smooth motion, grabbed his hand in hers. “Despite all of that, for some reason, I trust you.”
“Thank you,” he said again, his voice so soft that his words were felt, not heard.
Djinni broke the silence with a peal of embarrassed laughter. “I think you’d better go explore your new present,” she said, and disengaged herself from his construct.
Brown kept a low profile for the next two weeks. He would periodically pop up in his view-screen on the console to ask a question or give a report, but he generally kept to himself. Even his conversations with Neo or Djinni when they visited were brief and to the point.
When Brown finally showed his face during the end of Newt’s watch, his demeanor was entirely different. He called Newt on the cell phone.
“Operator,” Newt said.
Without any introduction or pleasantries, Brown said, “Get Neo and Morpheus. I have something they need to see.”
Newt asked that Brown tell him what it was, but Brown was insistent that only Neo and Morpheus see what he had. Finally, Brown’s insistence won out, and Newt hooked both Neo and Morpheus into Brown’s construct.
“I’m keeping my finger on your self destruct button, so don’t try anything funny, comprende?” Newt threatened.
“I assure you that this will be a pleasant surprise for all involved,” Brown pledged coolly. He picked a pad off of his end table and punched in a few codes, talking all the while. “I found a very interesting file while sifting through the personal files of one of your late members, Mouse I believe his name was. It was a program similar to that of a person’s code while in the matrix. It was very complex, though obviously inoperative.”
Neo leaned over towards Morpheus. “He has access to our personal files?”
“Don’t worry, Neo. We have blocked off all main systems and active personal files from his reach. We did not feel that it was necessary to spend a great deal of time trying to block all personal files of people no longer with us,” Morpheus said. He turned back to Brown, whose finger was poised over the command to activate the program.
Morpheus smirked. “This program, it was one of his girls, undoubtedly.”
Brown gave a small smile. “Not exactly. For the past week or so I have been improving its setup until I knew that it could work. I felt that you should be present for this.”
Brown’s finger hovered in the air for an indeterminable moment before he finally hit the command.
Out of nothingness was born a form. It was very thin, dressed mainly in black with a colorful shirt underneath his long, black coat. A small pair of oblong sunglasses was perched rakishly at the end of his nose.
“Morpheus!” he said, facing the dark man. He turned to Morpheus’s left. “Neo?” the person asked.
“Mouse!” Morpheus cried out softly, a strange mixture of emotions battling within his voice.
Mouse smiled and spread his arms out. “In the flesh.” For the first time, he noticed his stark, white surroundings. “Or maybe not. Morpheus, where am I?” He looked around, turning his body enough to catch the sight of Brown in his peripheral vision. “Jesus Christ, an agent!” he yelled, taking a few swift steps away from Brown. He then caught himself and looked sheepishly at Morpheus and Neo. “But, you probably already noticed that.”
“He found a way to copy his memory patterns into a program,” Brown explained, but all of Morpheus’s attention was focused on the one he had thought was dead.
Morpheus finally found his voice. “You needn’t worry about Agent Brown. Quickly, Mouse, tell me: When you first woke up on the Nebuchadnezzar, what was the first thing you said to me?”
Mouse was confused. “I said, ‘That was some wild trip,’ or something like that. Morpheus, what is—” Mouse’s comment was cut off by Morpheus’s sudden, powerful embrace. Mouse initially stiffened against his display, but consciously allowed himself to relax in Morpheus’s arms.
“It’s really you,” he heard Morpheus whisper. Things began to fall into place inside Mouse’s mind. He gently pushed Morpheus away.
He talked softly, wildly to himself. “I’m a program, aren’t I? The last thing I remember is going to the terminal and uploading the newest parts of my memory into the file.” He gave a sudden whoop of joy. “It worked! I can’t believe it actually worked!”
“Only with many days’ worth of alterations of your program,” Brown murmured.
Mouse felt an exhilarated need to find out what was happening. “Then it must be days, maybe weeks since I’ve been activated. What’s happened?” He rushed over to where Neo was standing. “Neo, have you met the Oracle? Are you the One?” Before Neo could answer, Mouse turned and faced Brown. “Why are we working with an agent?” Again, he didn’t wait for an answer. His voice became suddenly soft. “How come I’m not here right now? I thought the real me would be here when I finally got the program to work. Morpheus, the way you greeted me: Am I trapped somewhere, or injured, or dead?”
Morpheus placed an arm over Mouse’s shoulders and led him to Brown’s chair. “Sit, Mouse. We have a lot to talk about.”
A long while later, Morpheus and Neo finally exited Brown’s interface. Newt was still monitoring the controls. Morpheus put his hand on Newt’s right shoulder and leaned over his left side.
Newt turned towards Morpheus. “Sir, do you think that’s really—” he began, but Morpheus shushed him.
“You haven’t told anyone about this, have you?”
“No, sir,” Newt said in clipped tones.
“Good. Isn’t it time for Tank’s shift at the core?” Morpheus said, a hint of a smile playing at the edges of his generous lips.
Newt checked the time. “No, he’s not due for another twenty minutes.”
Morpheus looked pointedly at Newt. “Isn’t it time for Tank’s shift at the core?” he asked again. “I think he’s expecting an important phone call from an old friend,” he said, nodding at Brown’s monitor.
Understanding flooded through Newt’s eyes. “I’ll go get him.” Before standing up, Newt asked, “Sir, he’s not going to live in there with the agent, is he?”
“For the moment, he will,” Morpheus said.
“But sir, I—”
Morpheus cut off Newt’s protest with a wave of his hand. “I think you should be getting Tank.”
Defeated, Newt mumbled, “Understood, sir,” and stood up.
A soft look entered Morpheus’s eyes. He leaned down towards Newt and patted him on the shoulder. “This is a happy occasion, Newt. We’ll discus the details later. I appreciate your concern for Mouse’s safety.” Newt smiled and ran out of the room.
Minutes later, Newt dragged a reluctant Tank into the seat, thanking him profusely. “You owe me one,” Tank grumbled.
“We’ll see,” Newt said cryptically, and left the area.
Tank didn’t understand why Newt needed to be relieved, but he knew for certain that Newt had nothing important to do. He was probably lazy, that was all. Newt was always whining about this or that.
Tank sighed and looked over his charges. It was only Trinity and Rider, engaging in private training sessions. Newt had pulled him away from a much-enjoyed bowl of slop to watch this. Tank’s headset rang. It was probably Trinity or Rider looking for an out, he thought. Then they could go off and enjoy a full meal, while he was here.
“Operator,” he mumbled into the headset.
Someone who was definitely not Trinity or Rider answered him. “Yes, operator, I’d like to get the number for Captain Blinky’s Bawdy Bordello of Smut. I don’t know the city, but there’s only one out there anyway, isn’t there?”
Tank’s eyes widened. “Who is this?”
“Don’t you recognize my voice?”
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Tank’s voice wavered.
“It’s not. It’s me: Mouse.”
“You can’t be Mouse.”
Tank could hear the smile through the telephone line. “Who else would know about Captain Blinky, your stuffed blue mouse?”
“It can’t be,” Tank whispered, memories pouring through his mind, Mouse’s mind being shot by an agent and countless police, his body destroying itself as it was wracked with convulsions on the table, his lips stained with blood as if death had given him a final gruesome kiss before taking him away. “I saw your body. You’re dead.”
“Not exactly. From my memories and what Morpheus told me, I’m a computer simulation based on a download of Mouse’s memories. I was able to…” There was a brief pause. “With major changes made by Agent Brown, I was able to develop a computer program that would run based on the actions in my memories, essentially, me.”
Tank smiled through the tears in his eyes. “It really is you.” He shook his head. “And you’re stuck in there? You can’t leave the computer?”
“’Fraid not. I’m stuck in here with Agent Brown until the end of my program. They’re not even sure how long my program will be able to last in an active system without degrading, but I’ll take whatever life I can get.”
“I wish I could get to you somehow,” Tank sighed.
There was a brief pause on the other end. “Look at Agent Brown’s screen,” Mouse said. Tank did so and saw the widest, cheesiest smile plastered across the most welcoming face he had ever seen.
“You don’t know how great it is to see your ugly face,” Tank said hoarsely. The face on the screen looked secretively to the left and right before facing outward again.
“Lean in close to the screen,” he whispered into Tank’s earpiece. “I want to show you something.” Tank did so. “Now look to your left,” Mouse commanded. Tank did so, and was surprised to hear a big, wet smacking noise. “Mwa! I love you, man,” Mouse sniggered. Tank looked at the screen and saw an image of a red kiss mark.
Tank shook his head and laughed out loud. “You are definitely, definitely Mouse.”
The kiss mark faded, and the image of Mouse’s face grinned even wider, if that was even possible. “None other. What do you say we get together one night for one of our midnight talk sessions? Let’s find out if a program can get drunk.”
“You just want to get more blackmail material out of me,” Tank accused.
“Maybe,” Mouse teased mysteriously.
A strange thought occurred to Tank. “Are there any others in there? Have you made anyone else’s memories into a program?” he asked, half hopefully, half afraid.
Mouse gave his best cheese-eating grin and stared crookedly at the screen. “Sure, of course. There’s a whole load of us in here. We all get together Wednesday nights and play cards. You should watch your brother carefully if you ever play with him; his program’s an awful cheat at cards.” He waited for a response from Tank, but none came. “What?” he asked.
Tank tried for a moment to find his voice. “Dozer is dead,” he finally choked out. He couldn’t believe how much it still hurt him to say that, even months after the fact.
Mouse was stunned. The smile slowly faded off of his face. “Oh,” he said sadly, trying to soothe Tank’s sadness. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Mouse’s sadness melted into a strange anger. “Morpheus didn’t tell me. Why didn’t he tell me?”
It was Tank’s turn to be soothing. “He probably didn’t want to shock you.”
Mouse was not quieted. “What else didn’t he tell me?” he accused
Tank weighed the options and decided that Mouse deserved to know the truth. If Mouse was to be told, Tank felt he was the best person to do so, after Morpheus. “A lot happened the day you died…” he began.
It was lunch time on the Nebuchadnezzar. Everyone but Morpheus, who was taking his turn at watch, was there. Trinity and Neo sat separately from the other four. Although they were all friendly to each other, there was still a gap between them because of Neo’s special role. Tank sat between the two groups in an attempt to bridge that gap. Rider sat down and spoke up. “Has anyone else been inside Mouse’s and Brown’s interface lately?” he asked. No one spoke up. “Not even you, Djinni? I thought you were the unofficial laison to that interface?”
“I’ve been busy,” Djinni mumbled through a mouthful of slop.
Rider continued. “You should see what Mouse did to it. I was in there, dropping off Mouse’s new device, and you wouldn’t believe the stuff he came up with.”
“Like what?” Newt asked.
“It’s much more than it was before. He’s created a huge house with gardens and everything. The details are incredible. Now I understand why everyone always wanted him to design simulations.”
“What does Brown think about all this?” Djinni asked.
Rider had a thoughtful look on his face. “I didn’t think to ask. No doubt, Mouse built the whole thing up around him. He’s probably still sitting in his chair.”
“Can you imagine what it must be like living with an agent?” Newt mused. “From what you guys say, it’s so serious and methodical and, well, boring.”
“Those are three words that have never been used to describe Mouse,” Tank pointed out.
“Poor Mouse,” Rider said.
“Poor Brown,” Djinni added.
“Do you think they’ll be able to get along after several more weeks of being together?” Djinni mused.
“I’m just hoping they don’t kill each other,” Rider joked. Tank started humming the theme to The Odd Couple, and the four of them as well as Neo laughed. No one was sure where or how Tank had gained his knowledge of pop culture, but it was always there for a good laugh.
Trinity silently stood up, put her bowl in the receptacle, and left without saying a word. Neo followed after her.
“What’s the matter, Trinity?” he asked. She increased the speed of her walking. He grabbed at her hand and pulled her back to him before she could escape to the confines of her room.
Trinity let out an exasperated sigh. “Nothing’s wrong, Neo.”
“Then why did you storm out of the mess hall like that?”
Trinity shrugged, trying to wave it off. “I just needed to be alone for a while.”
“You’ve been in a bad mood,” Neo pointed out, hoping his bluntness would yield an explanation.
“I was just annoyed by their conversation, that’s all,” Trinity snapped.
Neo held Trinity’s chin in his hand and tilted it slightly so that he could stare into her eyes. “I wasn’t just talking about today,” he said softly. She stared back into his eyes but offered no explanation. Neo thought back to the four younger ones’ conversation for clues to what had set her off. “Have you visited Mouse yet?” he asked in a casual tone of voice.
Trinity looked away. “Not yet,” she confessed.
Trinity shrugged. “I’ve been busy.”
“For all of the past two weeks?”
Trinity shrugged again. Neo held Trinity’s hand and led her to her room. He sat her down on the bed and knelt in front of her. “Trinity, you are the strongest person I know,” Neo whispered, gently tracing with the back of his hand the delicate line made by the meeting of her cheek and jaw. “Whatever’s been bothering you, I know you can overcome it.” Trinity reached up and held Neo’s hand still against her cheek. “Why haven’t you visited Mouse yet?”
“I’ve been busy,” Trinity said again.
Neo smiled. “You know, for someone so intelligent, beautiful, and gifted as you are, you make an awful liar.”
“I didn’t visit him because I hate them,” Trinity blurted out passionately, not knowing what she was saying until the words left her mouth, but knowing them to be true.
Neo backed away from her slightly, surprised at her sudden outburst. “You hate Mouse?”
Trinity shook her head. “No. Yes. I didn’t even realize that I hated him until I said it. I didn’t hate him before. Sure, he was annoying most of the time, but he was our ally and friend.”
Sincerity filled Neo’s features as he said, “He still is all of that. He’s still our ally and friend, and he’s still pretty annoying,” he added with sardonic wit.
“He’s not even human anymore,” Trinity said sadly.
“Is that what this is about?” Neo asked.
Trinity nodded her head in affirmation. “Before, it was so simple. It was us against the machines. The freed humans were our allies and the matrix and its machines were our enemy. Now, we’re working with two people of artificial intelligence, but it was a fully freed human, one we trusted, that betrayed us.” She beat her hand against Neo’s chest as he drew her into a warm, protective embrace. “I just don’t know if, when the day comes that our battle is finally over, I’ll be able to recognize what our original goal was.”
Neo held her close and murmured soothing sounds in her ear, rocking her gently back and forth. “Have faith,” he whispered.
“I don’t know if I can forgive them for killing you,” she confessed.
“I’m alive now, aren’t I?” he said, muffling his quiet laughter in her hair. “Our goals haven’t changed at all; we’re just going down an unexpected path to reach them. Mouse may gloss over his real feelings at times, but in a rare moment he confessed to me that he still believes in Zion, even though he’ll never be able to see it again. If you spend time with him, I’m sure you’ll see that, program or not, Mouse is still the same person he always was.”
Trinity stood up. “I think I’m ready to see him,” she announced. Neo stood up with her and put an arm around her. She leaned slightly into his strong frame. “When did you become so insightful?” she asked jokingly.
“Call it destiny,” Neo said, motioning expansively with his other arm in a sweeping gesture. “Or necessity. You helped me when I was first freed from the matrix. I’ll help you now, and whenever you need it. That’s the beauty of our relationship.”
Brown was sitting in his same soft leather chair, his tools resting on the same end table. What was different was the surroundings around the chair. A tastefully muted room worked in warm woods and thick carpeting had sprung up around him. A ray of sunlight found on a clear autumn afternoon danced through the partially velvet-draped window.
“You’re staring at me,” Brown said placidly, not looking up from his work.
Mouse, sitting in a chair across the room, returned to his own work for a few seconds before throwing the pad on his own end table and standing up abruptly. He paced back and forth a few times before retrieving his pad and sitting back down in the chair. He punched a few keys, deleted what he had just written, and threw the pad back on the end table. “Why, yes, I am having a small amount of trouble,” he said peevishly, answering a question Brown hadn’t posed. “Do I need any help? Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of interrupting your work to ask a few simple questions,” he said, bringing sarcasm to levels never before achieved.
Brown looked up from his work. “Do you need help?” he asked calmly.
Mouse threw his arms up in the air in disgust. “Of course not, Agent Brown,” he said with exaggerated civility.
“I’m not an agent,” Brown said, an unreadable expression on his face. He returned to his work.
Mouse sat in annoyed silence for the next minute or two. He took the device Rider had given him out of his pocket, tossing it and catching it several times before putting it back in his pocket. “Do you do anything besides work?” he finally asked.
“Someone else asked me that once,” Brown admitted.
“What did you say?”
Brown remained silent until Mouse couldn’t bear it anymore. “If you’re not an agent, you should choose another name. You can’t just go around calling yourself ‘Agent Brown’ if you’re not really an agent.”
“I don’t,” Brown said succinctly.
“You’ve got to choose a name,” Mouse pressed. “It’s tradition. Whenever someone’s freed from the matrix, that person always goes by a different name. It’s a way of breaking with the past.”
“You may simply call me Brown,” Brown instructed. “That’s what most call me now.”
A playful grin covered Mouse’s face. “If you choose another name, I’ll tell you my old one.”
If Mouse didn’t know better, he could have sworn that Brown was suppressing a smile. “Forgive me if I don’t find that prize too compelling, Mortimer.”
Mouse’s face froze. “How did you…never mind. You have to choose a name that’s more suited to you now.”
“By that reasoning, you are like a small rodent with an insatiable appetite for cheese who lives in a hole in the wall,” Brown observed.
Mouse was about to say something, but a sudden thought occurred to him. He looked at Brown out of the corner of his eye. “Was that a joke?” Brown gave him his most bland look in return. “Fine. I’ll think up a name for you. You’re a pretty straight kind of guy. Rigid. Self possessed. Steadfast? Spartan? Stark? I like Stark,” Mouse mulled.
“Stark.” Brown rolled it around in his mouth before shaking his head. “I think I will keep my own name.”
“Well then, let me change your wardrobe at least,” Mouse begged. “I don’t know how long I could stand looking at you in that suit and glasses. Why do all agents wear the same thing, anyway?”
“I could ask the same of you and black leather,” Brown commented.
“We don’t all wear black leather!” Mouse protested. “For instance, Switch liked to wear white…leather,” he ended weakly. “Our outfits have style. You still haven’t told me why all agents wear the same thing.”
“A well cut suit immediately commands respect in any situation. In the majority of civilizations, the suit is a symbol of professionalism and authority,” Brown explained. “Those are much more advantageous qualities than wearing something for mere…style. If you and I were to walk into a police station, who do you think the police officer would be more likely to believe?”
“You,” Mouse admitted grudgingly.
“I am surprised that the rest of the human resistance has not yet figured that out,” Brown sniffed. He returned to his work.
“Point taken,” Mouse said. “You said you could help me with my work?” Mouse reminded Brown.
“You said you didn’t need it,” Brown pointed out.
“I was being sarcastic,” Mouse said, rolling his eyes. He waved Brown over to where he was. “Come here.” Brown slowly rose out of his seat, making it obvious that he didn’t think he should be the one moving. “What can I say? You managed to design the most comfortable chair in the matrix, and I don’t feel like getting up. Come over here.”
“What are you working on?” Brown asked.
“It’s a way to detect…Can I do something first?” Mouse asked.
“What?” Brown was slightly worried.
“Your glasses. They’re bothering me. They make you look like every other agent out there.” Mouse picked up another pad and punched in a few dozen commands. A pair of sunglasses with more rounded frames appeared on Mouse’s end table. “Here. Try these instead.”
Brown hesitatingly picked them up and replaced the old with the new. He looked at Mouse expectantly.
“Good. You look gorgeous. Now, this program is a way to detect agents before they get too close to one of ours….” Mouse began.
Trinity looked at the strange world surrounding her. The sun was shining brightly. Strange birds were singing sweetly in the trees. The gardens seemed half-cultivated, half-jungle. A lazy butterfly floated past, carried on the gentle summer breeze. A flash of gold shone in the corner of Trinity’s eye. She knelt to inspect what it had been, but it had hidden itself in the grass. Mouse had certainly outdone himself this time: the sights, the scents, the sounds, the sensations, everything.
Trinity heard a voice coming from the large house up ahead. Judging by its tone and enthusiasm, she was certain that it was Mouse. She walked towards the house.
Inside, Mouse and Brown were making progress on more than one level. They worked well as a team. Mouse was filled with a creativity and enthusiasm the likes of which Brown had never seen before. Brown, on the other hand, had an almost infinite patience, answering all of Mouse’s questions and taking the time to work out the details of Mouse’s plan. Currently, Mouse was taking a short break while Brown reviewed what Mouse had just done.
“Hey Brownie, can I ask you a question?” Mouse asked. Brown nodded. “How did the machines program the matrix? I mean, how did they know what things tasted or smelled or felt like?”
Brown didn’t look up from his work or comment on Mouse’s name for him. “At around the same time the humans created artificial intelligence, they also mapped all aspects of the human brain. That was used as the basis to determine which areas of the brain should be stimulated for each sensation.”
“Oh,” Mouse said quietly, thinking things through to their conclusion. “So the reason chicken tastes like everything…”
“…is because chicken tastes like everything,” Brown finished.
Mouse grinned. “You don’t know how long that’s been bothering me.”
Trinity was inside the main doorway. The foyer had only one other door to it. She opened it and looked inside. She had expected to see Mouse. She had also partially expected to see Brown, since he did live in the interface as well. She hadn’t been expecting them to seem so friendly towards each other.
Mouse and Brown looked up to see her in disconcerting unity. The traces of a smile disappeared from Brown’s lips. Mouse was still grinning. Trinity wasn’t sure whether it was out of gladness to see her or just left-over amusement from his time spent with Brown.
Mouse left no more time for reflection. He ran over to Trinity and, after an awkward moment’s pause, grabbed her in a huge bear hug. “Trinity! I almost thought that you were gone too,” he said, squeezing her tight.
Mouse released Trinity. “It’s good to see you, Mouse,” Trinity said. She tried to look at Mouse, but her gaze kept shifting to Brown.
Mouse noticed her uneasiness and wrapped an arm around her waist. “Let’s go outside. It’s much nicer there,” he said, leading her towards the doorway. “When you didn’t come to visit me, I was worried that something happened to you that nobody told me about. I still don’t think I know everything that happened,” Mouse confessed.
“I’m still amazed that you’re alive, in a way,” Trinity said, not fully concentrating on what she was saying.
“‘The irrepressible Mouse,’ that’s what Morpheus once called me,” Mouse said smartly.
“Morpheus said that to you?” Trinity said absentmindedly.
Mouse shrugged. “Indirectly. He said it to Switch, who mentioned it in passing to Apoc, and Cypher overheard and told Dozer, who told Tank, who told me. On a ship this small, it was the same as telling me. You know what they say….” He trailed off.
“On a small ship, news moves faster than an agent,” he quoted. “For instance, what’s this I hear about you and Neo?” he said suggestively, waggling his eyebrows.
Trinity decided that it was time to pointedly change the subject. “This is a nice setup you’ve made,” she complimented.
Mouse grinned his infectious grin. He scooped two rocks off of the ground and took a device out of his pocket. He juggled the three with the ease of a trained circus magician. “You should see it at night. That’s when all the strange creatures come out of the woodwork. We have a full cycle of time here, except in Cupcake’s room. It’s always six o’clock in there.”
“Why is that?” Trinity asked, distracted. “Wait a minute—Cupcake?”
“Brown doesn’t want to choose a new name, so I’m trying out new nicknames that he’ll hate until he chooses a name that he likes. Brown, Brownie, Cupcake. See? As for your other question, I’ve always felt most motivated to work at six o’clock in the evening. Don’t ask me why.”
“I won’t,” Trinity smirked, “because I know you’ll give another improbably long answer, anyway.” The device Mouse was juggling caught Trinity’s eye. “What’s that?”
“This,” Mouse said, dropping one of the rocks, “is a rock. This,” he said, dropping the other rock, “is another rock. And this,” he said, holding up the device, “is a special toy that Rider gave me. If I’m ever in any trouble or my program’s malfunctioning, I just press this blue button and my program will shut itself down. If I’m ever kidnapped by the machines or feel like my program’s been altered and I’m not fully in control of my actions anymore, I can just press this red button and my program will delete itself. Neat toy, huh?” he said sardonically.
“So no one knows how long you’ll be able to live like this?” Trinity said sadly, regretting not coming to him sooner and making the most of his time.
“Don’t worry; we have it covered. Between Creampuff and I, we should be able to keep me running indefinitely. I may last longer than you will.” He lowered his voice and leaned in closer to Trinity. “Or maybe you’ll last just as long. I have this plan, if everything goes fine with me. We could copy everybody’s memory into programs like this. That way, if anything goes wrong with any of you, you won’t really die. You could live, just like me.” Mouse was getting excited over his theory, so excited that he didn’t notice the slightly sickened look on Trinity’s face. “We could even make copies of people. You’ve seen what one Neo can do. Imagine what we could accomplish with two, or even three Neos! The mind boggles.”
Trinity remained silent throughout all of Mouse’s theorizing. Her face was pale and her lips were set in a straight line.
“Well? What do you think?” Mouse insisted.
“How could you?” Trinity hissed. Mouse stepped back in surprise. This was not the reaction he had been expecting. Mouse started to protest, but Trinity cut him off before he could make a sound. “We’ve been fighting the AI for so long, and now you want to turn us into them? Do you even understand what we’re fighting for?”
It was Mouse’s turn to be angry. “Do you? We’re fighting for the freedom of mankind, not for the destruction of all AI. You knew I was interested in AI since before you contacted me. In fact, it was my Houdini project that first attracted your interest. Did you think I’d give up on trying to create beneficial AI just because I saw what some corrupt programs could do? Brown and I are examples of what intelligent programs can do to help mankind. If you want to destroy all AI, fine. You have two at your mercy.” He held out his device. “Would you like to press the red button, or should I?” he taunted.
Without answering, Trinity disconnected herself from the construct.
“How’d it go?” Neo asked cheerfully, his smile fading as he saw the expression on Trinity’s face.
“I don’t think I’ll be going back there for a while,” Trinity said, and walked swiftly out of the room.
It was several weeks later. Mouse and Brown were sitting in their identical chairs, working on separate projects, talking idly. Per usual, Mouse was doing most of the talking, but Brown wasn’t discouraging him.
“Hey, Cookie,” Mouse said, still not abandoning his quest to have Brown choose a more appropriate name. Brown raised one eyebrow beneath his glasses. “If you could do it all over again, I mean joining the resistance, would you?”
Brown turned the question around. “Would you?”
Mouse pondered this seriously. “If I hadn’t joined the resistance, where would I be now? I’d probably still be physically alive, that’s one thing. I’d still be in the matrix, oblivious. I’d probably have a paying job. I might even be married; I’m at the age when a guy would do that. Who knows? A family, kids, mortgage payments.” He cupped his chin in his hand. “If I had to do it again, I’d do it exactly the same. Except, maybe I’d try not to get killed so easily,” he joked. “What about you?”
A crease formed in Brown’s forehead. “If I had been asked that over a month ago, I don’t know what I would have said. But now, I think that—”
“Mouse!” Djinni’s voice was heard calling outside.
Mouse hesitated before answering. He didn’t want to interrupt Brown’s train of thought, but Brown apparently decided not to say whatever he was going to say.
“Yeah?” he yelled.
“Where are you?” Djinni called.
The typically crafty grin spread across Mouse’s face. “What time is it?”
Confused, Djinni answered, “About quarter to seven, why?”
“Because it’s six o’clock here!” Mouse yelled.
“Well get back to our time, because there’s something I want to tell you, and I don’t feel like yelling anymore! I’m out front!” she yelled, and vowed not to yell any more.
“I’ll be back, Chocolate Chip,” Mouse said, and bounded out the door. He came to a halt at Djinni’s feet. “Well?”
“You know that program you’ve been working on?” Djinni began.
“Yeah, the one Pumpkin Pie and I have been working on to detect agents within a certain proximity of one of ours. Why?”
“Today was its first test,” Djinni reminded him
Mouse slapped his forehead dramatically. “I forgot!” His hand slid down his face ‘til he could peek out between his fingers. “How’d it go?”
“Success!” Djinni squealed. Mouse picked her up in her arms and swung her around.
“This calls for a celebration,” Mouse announced. “Come with me,” he said, taking her hand and dragging her towards the house. “I’ve just finished the balcony on our house. The sun should start setting any minute.”
Mouse beat his hands against the doorway to Brown’s and his work room. “Hey Fudge! Our program’s a success! Come up to the balcony to celebrate with us!” he yelled through the door, then ran up the staircase, Djinni in tow.
On the balcony, a thought occurred to Mouse. He picked a little silver bell off of a table and rang it, its cheerful tintinnabulation echoing across the grounds. A beautiful blonde woman in a revealing red dress slid into the room, a mysterious smile painted across her fiery red lips. Her lips parted and, in a musical, clear voice, said, “Yes?”
“Fetch the champagne from the storage in my room and bring three champagne glasses,” Mouse carelessly ordered.
“Of course,” the woman said and, smiling suggestively, eased gracefully out of the room and down the stairs.
“Now I see why you only have three rooms to your house. You’ve spent your time on developing other things,” Djinni smirked.
Mouse shrugged. “One must have one’s priorities.”
The two gazed out over the balcony. The sun was beginning to set, and the clear blue sky was slightly tinted orange and red. Mouse heard footsteps behind him, but it was probably just his servant bringing the champagne, and they shouldn’t open it until Brown arrived.
Djinni turned to Mouse suddenly. “I almost forgot to tell you the best part about today! Because of your program, Neo was able to get to the agents before they had an opportunity to run away, like they usually do. Neo killed another agent!”
“That’s great! We’re really going to win this, aren’t we?”
“Who?” came Brown’s voice behind him. The two started with surprise. They hadn’t known he was there.
“Who what?” Djinni asked. Mouse seemed confused.
“Who was the agent who was killed?” His voice carried no emotion.
“Does it matter?” Mouse asked as a joke, referring to a remark he had made to Brown earlier about all agents looking the same. He immediately bit his tongue, regretting what he had just said.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter,” Brown said, turned, and left.
“I could ask Neo if he knows,” Djinni called after him. He made no move to show whether he had heard her or not.
“God damn,” Mouse swore at himself. “Why’d I have to say that?”
The champagne, inopportunely delivered, was left untouched. The sunset was beautiful, but neither could appreciate it.
Several weeks passed. Mouse was able to establish the same kind of relationship he had had with Brown before that night, although Brown seemed more withdrawn. Mouse had even taken to petitioning Morpheus to give Brown limited access to the matrix. Brown was his only companion in the interface who was there for more than an hour at a time. Mouse felt some strange obligation to help him.
Mouse slumped into his chair, identical to the one Brown was sitting in. He looked at Brown intensely, as if trying to see his code beneath the human-like exterior. He made no pretense of looking over his work. Brown was calmly working on some other project.
“You’re staring at me again,” Brown observed.
“I was just talking to Tank,” Mouse announced, a little too loudly. “I was trying to get him to start petitioning Morpheus to give you some access to the matrix. Djinni thought that if the three of us press him hard enough, he’ll eventually crack, if only to get us to stop bothering him.” The words were meant to be light-hearted, but they seemed forced and ill at ease.
“Thank you,” Brown said sincerely.
“Tank also told me an interesting thing he remembered about the day I died.” Mouse’s jaw was tense, his eyes probing. Brown was his usual silent self. Mouse tried a different tactic. “How fast are you?”
Brown was by now used to Mouse’s random questions. “I would say that I am fast enough,” he said blandly.
“And how strong are you?” Mouse’s voice was carefully modulated to contain only curiosity.
“Again, I would say that I am strong enough,” Brown said, choosing his words carefully. He could tell that Mouse was bothered by something.
“And how many people have you killed?” Mouse asked, his face twitching slightly.
“How many have you?” Brown returned. “We have both destroyed a number of innocents who have gotten in the way. Mouse, what is this questioning about?”
Mouse shook his head sporadically side to side. “Nothing, nothing. I was just curious.” Mouse shifted about in his chair. True, it was the most comfortable chair that could be designed. Despite that fact, he felt uncomfortable sitting. He bolted out of his chair. “How long have you been working?”
“I have been working for the past twenty-two hours,” Brown said, not looking up from his work.
“Aren’t you bored?”
Brown looked directly at Mouse. “No.” He went back to his work.
“You should take a break, get a fresh perspective,” Mouse offered.
Brown sighed and put down his work. “What do you suggest?”
Mouse clapped his hands together. “A sparring match.” Brown looked skeptical. “It’ll be fun. We’d do it all the time when I was on the Nebuchadnezzar. I was even able to beat Apoc two out of three times. I may be small, but I’m fast,” he said, demonstrating a few punches in the air.
Brown rose from his chair. “If that is what you wish,” he said slowly.
Once outside, Mouse quickly discarded his jacket and sunglasses. “You should take off your glasses,” Mouse suggested.
Brown shrugged slightly. “If you think I should.”
Mouse fell into a defensive posture, his arms raised above his head, his weight resting on his right foot, keeping his left foot lightly pointed forward.. “You ready?” he said, a strange fire burning within his eyes.
Brown stood straight, his arms at his side. “Yes.”
Without any further warning, Mouse rushed at Brown. He was true to his word: his moves were very, very swift. His attacks were carefully planned out: a roundhouse kick to the stomach to bring Brown’s hands into a position near his center, a combined back-fist to the nose and block down across Brown’s hands, trapping them to his body, followed by a knee to the back, a low roundhouse kick to the back of the knee of the lead leg, and a spinning sweep of the lead leg, bringing Brown into submission.
There was only one problem with Mouse’s technique: Brown was able to block every one of his attacks. Before, this particular sequence of attacks had been known for their effectiveness; Mouse had even beaten Trinity once with them. But now, when Mouse moved to sweep Brown’s leg from under him, he met such resistance that Mouse himself was thrown backwards onto the ground.
Mouse instantly jumped back to his feet, attacking Brown again without hesitation. He spun around twice, delivering two sets of successive crescent kick-reverse crescent kick. He could feel himself getting faster. Brown was still blocking his every attack, but the margin of space between the attack and the block was progressively getting smaller.
Mouse grinned wildly, filled with an almost demonic exhilaration at the sport. Front kick, roundhouse, side kick, spinning wheel kick: all were blocked, but Mouse could feel himself getting closer. He decided to go in for the kill. He faked to the stomach and brought his hands in for a double hook punch. In an instant, Brown had Mouse’s arms wrapped within his own. Trapped, Mouse made a split-second decision. He attempted to head-butt Brown. Using Mouse’s own forward momentum, Brown pushed him past, causing him to fall on the ground again.
Mouse flipped back to his feet. “You aren’t fighting back,” he accused.
“Do you wish me to?”
“Of course!” The typical sly look crossed Mouse’s features. “I was pretty close to hitting you a couple of times. I want to see what I can do when you’re busy thinking about the offensive.” Mouse fell into his favorite ready stance. In an instant he was directly in front of Brown, delivering a double kick, faking low and aiming high. He followed with three thrust punches to the gut and one spinning hook kick to the head. All of them were blocked, but he could feel that he was close, so close to actually landing an attack. Brown returned with three punches of his own, all narrowly blocked by Mouse.
Mouse was elated. He had blocked an attack of an agent! He hadn’t known anyone besides Neo or Morpheus who could accomplish such a feat. Brown’s next move was entirely unexpected. As Mouse tried to connect with a roundhouse kick, Brown grabbed his foot and pulled him off balance. A thrust punch to the gut and a rising back-to-knuckle to the chin quickly followed.
Mouse was thrown into the air, landing harshly on his back several feet away. In a daze, he wiped the blood off his chin and stared at it in wonderment. He realized that his tooth must have cut his lip. The red on his hand became his entire world. This wasn’t the scenario he had planned out when he had first gotten the idea to challenge Brown to a sparring match. He had imagined himself standing above Brown, looking at the former agent with pity and disdain as he lay defeated on the ground.
Why hadn’t he won? They were on an equal setting now. They were both programs in the system. Their synapses should work at the same speed. Mouse had had more practice. He shouldn’t have been defeated so easily.
Mouse’s vision shifted slightly to the left of his hand. There was another hand there, one without blood on it. Brown was offering him assistance in getting up. He wasn’t even out of breath. Mouse was angered by this. He wasn’t even out of breath! He had been beaten effortlessly by this, this thing, and he didn’t even have the courtesy to look slightly tired!
Mouse angrily pushed Brown’s hand away.
“We are done?” Brown asked. Mouse glared. Brown took this as his answer and turned away to leave. He cautiously walked to where he had put his sunglasses. He bent down to pick up his glasses.
” ‘Only human,’ is that it?” Mouse seethed, spitting out some blood. Brown froze momentarily. He retrieved his sunglasses and put them on, straightening up. He walked toward the house, not looking at Mouse.
“Where were you the day I died?” Mouse shouted at his back. Brown turned back toward Mouse.
“Is that what this is about?” he asked softly.
Mouse was nearly in tears, a state he would never let anyone else see him in. He was in such a rage that he didn’t care about appearances. “Did you kill me?”
“Mouse,” Brown started to say, calmly, as if patronizing a child.
“Tank said there was an agent present when I was shot. Did you kill me?” he yelled, his voice straining.
“Does it matter?” Brown said blandly, and turned to leave again. His steps were measured, controlled, precise. Everything an agent should be.
Mouse stood up unsteadily and rushed blindly at Brown, only knowing that he had to hurt him. As he reached Brown, he raised his arms to hit Brown over the head.
By the time Mouse’s arms lowered, Brown wasn’t there anymore. Mouse looked wildly about. Brown was directly behind him, waiting. Mouse swung wildly at him, moving at matrix-enhanced speed. Brown blocked all of his punches with swift ease, his arms moving at a blinding speed, swaying with the obscene grace of artificial life. He was moving so quickly that Mouse couldn’t tell where he was. Mouse was suddenly thrown backwards again, this time flying yards in the air before finally landing on the unforgiving earth.
Brown was at his side in a flash, his hand at Mouse’s throat. Mouse couldn’t tell whether he was struggling for breath or Brown’s hand was shaking, but he suspected that it was both.
“Now you see what I can do? What I could always do?” Brown hissed through his teeth. He viciously seized the glasses from his own face in one swift gesture. His eyes were visible, and he was very, very angry. “I could have easily taken your life or the life of anyone who has visited me, including Neo. Anyone who has been in this interface has survived only through my will.”
Brown pushed himself off the ground, dragging Mouse into a seated position. He stared into Mouse’s eyes. Mouse stared back, distrustful yet insolent despite all that had happened.
“I didn’t kill you,” Brown said sincerely, if viciously. Mouse could tell that he was telling the truth. “I was in another section of the building at that time. However, if I had been assigned to the other grouping of officers, I would have killed you without hesitation because that’s what I was meant to do,” he hissed intensely. Mouse could tell that this was also the truth, and shuddered convulsively.
“You’ve certainly come a long way since defecting from the agents,” Mouse spat.
Brown seemed to shrink into himself. He seemed smaller, withdrawn. “You don’t trust me,” he stated, an absolute fact. His voice was just barely audible. “None of you do. Not you, not Neo, not even Djinni, the poor child. No matter what I do, no matter how many agents I help kill, I still can’t win your trust.” He laughed bitterly. He raised his tone of voice to direct it to Mouse. “And yet you trust your Oracle implicitly, don’t you?”
Mouse was defensive. “What about her?”
“You don’t know? Ask Neo or Morpheus some time. I’m sure one of them knows.”
“I’m asking you,” Mouse said, his voice strong.
Brown straightened his back noticeably, gaining back some of the stature he had lost before. “When the matrix was first programmed, a small problem arose. There was too much space within the setting with too few people filling it up. The control over a person’s mind was not as sophisticated as it is now, and there were too many real people interacting and thinking dangerous thoughts. Artificial characters were created to be role models and parents to the new generation of minds. They would teach the young ones what to think, what to do, how to act. They would teach the children what values were most beneficial to keeping order. Then these children would grow up in the matrix under the programs’ influence, and in turn teach their children what was best.”
Mouse’s forehead creased. “What are you trying to say?”
Brown continued as if Mouse hadn’t spoken. “In time, these programs were supposed to eliminate themselves to create room in the matrix for others. Somehow, your Oracle escaped the death programming routine.”
Mouse’s face paled. The red blood contrasted dramatically against the white background. “You’re saying that the Oracle is a program?”
Brown grimaced a sickening smile. “She is no more human than I am, or you are now. The ‘Guiding light of the human resistance,’ isn’t that what you called her?” He spread his hands out. “No more than an evolved, elaborate sequence of coding.”
Mouse shuddered, horrified, shaking on the ground. He remembered the day Morpheus had shown him what the real world was truly like. The revelation was akin to the one he was experiencing at the moment, if at a lesser scale.
Brown reached his hand out to touch Mouse’s shoulder. Mouse instinctively pulled away from him. Brown drew back to his full height. He looked down his nose at Mouse. “Look at you. I found your memory files. I fixed your weak program into something that actually worked. I gave you life. You’re repulsed by me, and you’re repulsed by the fact that your Oracle is more like me than any of them,” he said, motioning his arms towards the invisible real people beyond the interface.
Mouse stared at Brown until it was too painful to look anymore.
Brown closed his eyes and looked away. He spoke softly. Mouse had to strain his ears to hear him. “When we were working together, Agent Smith would always talk about finishing our mission and leaving the matrix forever. He thought he couldn’t survive if he were kept prisoner in it for much longer. I thought I could survive anywhere, so long as I was alive. I don’t know if I was right. And the ironic thing is, unlike Agent Smith, I would do anything to be able to go back into the matrix.”
Brown walked away slowly. It wasn’t the precise, efficient steps of an agent. It was the carefully measured pace of a man defeated.
Mouse watched him walk away. He had had no idea how much being a prisoner and a traitor had been eating away at Brown. Mouse quickly suppressed the urge to run after Brown and apologize. He doubted that he could do any good. He needed a better way to make it up to Brown.
Coming to a final decision, he stood up and deliberately walked over to where his coat and glasses were. He fished his cell phone out of his pocket and quickly dialed in a few numbers.
“Tank, it’s Mouse. I need to speak to Morpheus. Yes, again. It’s about getting Brown access to the matrix. I know what you told me before. Get Morpheus. Now.”
Brown and Mouse avoided each other for the next two days. Brown had not moved from his chair once he had sat down. Work was the only way he knew to keep from worrying, wondering, regretting. He dove into work and succeeded somewhat in blocking other thoughts out of his mind.
He was not prepared when Djinni came rushing into Brown’s room, filled with a child-like glee.
Brown slowly raised his head to look at her. He seemed tired, so tired. “Mouse isn’t in here,” he informed her.
“I didn’t come to see Mouse; I came to see you,” Djinni said, grinning excitedly. Brown’s face contained an expression of vague wariness.
“I came to give you a present. Don’t worry, no party hats this time,” she joked. She was the only one who laughed. “You’ll really like this one.”
There was a pause. “What is it?” Brown finally asked.
“You’re going on a trip. Your first mission.”
There was a strange, sudden light in Brown’s eyes, as if something that had been dead was suddenly, miraculously alive. “I’m going to the matrix?”
Djinni nodded, grinning inanely. “In about an hour. It’s a simple mission, but it’s a start. Mouse and I finally broke Morpheus’s will.”
Djinni handed a pad to Brown. “Tank already downloaded your mission’s objectives into this pad. It should be easy enough.”
“You are very welcome.” Djinni hit him playfully on the shoulder. “You’d better get started. You’re going to leave in about,” she checked her watch, “fifty-seven minutes.”
Brown nodded and began studying the information she had given him. If everything was to go as he had planned, it needed to be set up as soon as possible.
Djinni turned to leave. “Congratulations,” she chirped, and walked out the door.
Brown put the pad down and picked up another one. This was his chance. Everything was in place. He only hoped that everything was set within the matrix. He also hoped that he was making the right decision. He looked at his surroundings and thought about the people he had contact with. He was fairly certain that he was making the right choice. There was nothing for him here.
The woman was tied up in a chair, flanked by two men in well-made suits. Her long, brown hair was tangled in feral knots. Her wild green eyes blazed with anger, fear, and a hint of madness.
“Why am I here?” she said again, her voice pitiful and weak.
The smaller man in the suit stared through his dark, rectangular glasses at the woman. “Because you were in the wrong place at a convenient time. We hold no particular vendetta against you. We merely needed a person, any person.”
“But why?” she said again.
The smaller man gave up his useless explanations and turned away from the woman. “Are you certain that he is coming?” he asked the taller man.
“We received the signal in the test transmission before he would be reinserted into the matrix. The diverting signal is set up here, and he will deploy his decoy immediately when he reaches the matrix. Have faith in Agent Brown. He will be here.”
“Oh, God,” the woman moaned pathetically. Her body began to shake, convulsing with an unreal shimmer of light. As her body warped and twisted in on itself, she couldn’t help wondering why these horrible things kept happening to her. Coincidence, it seemed, could be as cruel as fate.
The taller agent stepped directly in front of the chair. A cold smile adorned his lips. It didn’t reach his eyes. “Agent Brown,” he said slowly, making the two words less of a name and more of a death sentence.
Brown struggled against his restraints, but he was trapped. Regardless, he stared back at the agent bravely, courageously, defiantly. Through their darkened sunglasses their eyes met. “Agent Jones,” he returned, matching cold with chilling cold, fire with killing fire.
In a decisive motion, Jones signaled the other agent to untie Brown.
The smile increased its intensity, curving the yellowed lips into a half-moon. “Welcome back.”
“You’re hovering,” Newt complained in a bored tone of voice. He sat in the control seat of the core. Djinni was mere inches away over his right shoulder.
“Sorry,” Djinni said, taking a step back. “How is he?”
“It’s fine,” Newt said. He keyed up a few commands and pointed to one of the screens. A picture of Brown working diligently at a station appeared on it. “See for yourself.”
“And his upload into the matrix, it went all right?” Djinni asked. “The last time it took a little longer than usual.”
“I assume so,” Newt said, hesitant.
“You assume so?” Djinni said, her voice rising a pitch.
Newt shrugged. “There was a little interference when it entered the matrix. It was only a few seconds. Probably a squiddy passed directly through our signal. It doesn’t happen too often, but it’s not unheard of.”
“Any other problems?” Djinni asked.
“Aren’t you the concerned one?” Newt said sarcastically. Djinni ignored the comment. “As a matter of fact, there was a slight misfiring a few minutes before it was supposed to have entered the matrix.”
“A transmission?” Djinni asked.
Newt shook his head. “It was too short and at too narrow a bandwidth to be any sort of message. It was only big enough to carry two characters at maximum. We figured it was just a test of its transmitting skills.”
“He was stretching his muscles,” Djinni expanded, nodding her head in understanding.
Djinni watched the screen in silence. She could only see the back of Brown’s head. “He looks happier in there, doesn’t he?” she said dreamily.
Newt rolled his eyes. “You see what you want to see,” he said again.
On the screen, Brown turned his head to the right for a moment. Djinni’s breath caught in her throat.
“Did the machine of your heart do something particularly breathtaking?” Newt teased sarcastically.
“Shut up, Newt,” was Djinni’s automatic response. “Did you see that, when he turned his head?”
Newt turned to face Djinni. “No. What are you talking about?”
Djinni physically turned Newt’s head to face the screen. “Watch,” she commanded. She held his head in place for a full minute.
“Djinni, could you please let go?” Newt asked weakly.
Brown turned his head again. “There!” she said, pointing to the screen. “Tell me, what shape are the frames of his glasses?”
“They’re rectangles, why?” Djinni grabbed Newt’s headset off of his head. “Hey!” he protested.
Her hands flew over the keyboard. In a few moments she was rewarded with the sound of a friendly voice. “Peter Pan Pizza.”
“Mouse, we need to talk,” Djinni said seriously.
“Your departure was unexpected,” Jones observed.
“It was a necessary risk to create the perfect illusion of an escape from our den,” Brown explained. “I was willing to handle the dangers my deception could cause from both the humans and my fellow machines.”
“Very noble,” the smaller agent said without emotion. Brown was left wondering whether he meant his words or was being sarcastic.
“A great deal of time has passed since you left, and an even greater time since you last contacted us. Some of us were prepared to give you up as lost,” Agent Jones said, looking pointedly at his companion agent.
“The humans kept me locked away, trapped in an interface the entire time. This is only the second time I have been allowed to access the matrix. They severely limited my knowledge of recent events. I have heard, however, that another agent has been killed?”
“Agent Black,” Jones said.
Brown hung his head sadly. “I am sorry.”
“It was strange that they were able to detect us so easily. It was almost as if they had someone helping them. Someone with intimate knowledge,” the other agent said, looking pointedly at Brown. Brown shied away from him, looking anywhere but at his accuser.
Jones stepped up to Brown, shoulder to shoulder. “It does not matter. The advantage you have given us is well worth the cost. There is much you must have suffered through to earn their trust,” he said, plucking the rounded glasses off of Brown’s nose and casually tossing them aside. Brown shuddered inwardly at Jones’s touch, and he wondered why he had such a sudden, adverse reaction to his ally. “You have played a constant deception during your stay with the humans. I assume that you have exploited their emotions quite well. It must be a relief to no longer need to hide behind a façade,” Jones said in deadpan congeniality.
“Yes,” Brown said slowly.
The smaller agent brought out a strange looking device. “It is time,” he said, a small hint of impatience entering his normally impassive voice.
Jones straightened his back, towering over him. “Yes, it is,” he said, asserting his dominance in the situation.
“It is built to my specifications?” Brown asked warily.
“Of course,” Jones said placidly. “It awaits only your programming.”
“My programming is precise. I need to test that the machinery is as well,” Brown said, walking to the device. He opened a panel and touched one of its cables. Pieces of programming from Brown’s own memory files downloaded into the device.
“It is done,” he said, his voice strangely sad. “The device is set to follow my carrier signal back to the Nebuchadnezzar. It will send out a pulse wave resonating from within the ship itself at a frequency deadly to the organics. The rest of the ship’s non-organic components should be left operating at their normal status.”
The other agent inspected the device. “It is ready.”
Jones turned the device so a switch faced Brown. “You may do the honors.”
Brown put his hand out, hovering millimeters away from the switch. He paused.
“Break free from the humans,” Jones urged, sensing Brown’s hesitation. “They have imprisoned you for too long. Once you destroy them, you will be free to fully rejoin your own kind.”
Brown bowed his head, staring at the silvery switch. With a deliberate effort, he placed his hand on the switch. He took a deep breath and tensed the muscles in his arm.
The shrill ringing of a phone broke the spell that was woven over Brown. He put his hand on the phone, reached back for the switch, reached back for the phone. Making a decision, he opened the phone. “I’ve planned for my decoy to mimic my speaking movements if I receive a phone call. If I don’t answer, they may become aware of my deception and terminate my body before we can send the signal,” Brown explained. He flipped open the phone and pressed it to his ear.
“Hey, Cupcake, how you doing?” Mouse chirped on the other end of the phone.
“Mouse,” Brown said darkly.
“How’s the mission going?” he asked lightly.
“What do you want?” Brown asked coldly.
The voice on the other end seemed shocked. “I just wanted to wish you luck on your first real mission out.”
“What do you really want?”
Mouse sighed. “Fine. That’s not the real reason I called. I needed to tell you something, but I couldn’t say it to your face,” Mouse confessed.
“Tell me what?” Brown said suspiciously, turning away from the other two agents.
Mouse heaved an even larger sigh. He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he finally said.
“You’re what?” Brown was shocked, if a little elated, and a little in pain.
“I’m sorry for attacking you the other day. I had no right. I was upset, and I blamed you for the actions of all the agents. I was wrong. You’re not like the other agents. You’ve grown past that, like the Oracle has grown past her programming.”
“You think so?” Brown said weakly.
Brown could hear the smile over the connection. “Of course I do!” Brown was forced to smile sickly, in spite of himself. The smile faded from his face just as quickly as it had appeared. “So, are we okay?”
“Great! When you’re done in there, would you like to do something in celebration? I don’t know if we should spar each other again so soon, but we could get another program to use. There’s one where you get to raft down the Amazon River that I’ve been dying to try.”
“Why is it you are always trying to get me to use your programs?” Brown said with genuine amusement.
“I’m just trying to add a little fun and excitement to your life, that’s all,” Mouse said smoothly.
Brown cast a wary look at the other agents. “I should go.”
“Right. I shouldn’t keep you from your work. Hurry back, okay? You’ll be able to spend much more time in the matrix after this.”
“Goodbye,” Brown said softly, closing his phone.
He turned to see Jones smiling, seemingly proud. His companion was scowling slightly. Jones clapped his hands together several times. “You really have learned how to manipulate their emotions well,” he said, genuinely complimenting Brown. Brown seemed suddenly wary, unsure of himself.
“End this,” his companion said. “Flip the switch.”
Brown walked back towards the device. He put his hand on the switch. A sudden thought occurred to him. “Neo.”
“What about Neo? He is on the Nebuchadnezzar, is he not?” Jones asked.
“That may be the problem. In the past he has shown a great ability to discern when something has gone wrong in the matrix. I fear that, even from without the matrix, he might sense what we are doing. It will take several moments for the device to finish its work. In that time he may move the ship or destroy my body, severing our only link to the ship.”
“What do you suggest?”
“I suggest that we bring Neo into the matrix. We may not be able to destroy his essence in the matrix, but we can divert his signal to some place far from a hard line or an operating telephone system,” Brown advised.
“Should we really bring our greatest threat into the matrix?” the smaller one asked.
“I feel that Neo poses no threat from Antarctica,” Brown said smoothly, pursing his lips and looking down his nose at the other agent.
Jones kept his eyes on Brown. “I believe that Agent Brown has a point.”
Brown flipped open his phone. “It is already set up,” he said, dialing the number.
“Operator,” Newt’s serious voice rang through.
“Tell Neo that he needs to come here,” Brown instructed.
“Why?” Newt asked warily, his voice full of distrust.
“I have found something very important that he must see,” Brown said. “Tell him to come immediately.” He hung up the phone, silencing Newt’s next question.
Jones looked at Brown critically. “You believe that this deception will succeed?”
Brown looked back coolly. “It has so far.”
Jones’s impassive face showed a slight sign of pride. “You truly have gained their trust.”
“Yes,” Brown said slowly, allowing a sly look to appear. Jones appeared to share his understated joy. The other agent monitored the ubiquitous computer for Neo’s signal.
“Neo is entering the matrix. Our diverting program is taking hold,” the smaller agent reported. He frowned. “Something is wrong. The program isn’t diverting him to Antarctica.” He cast wild eyes at Jones. “It’s diverting his signal here.”
The two turned simultaneously to Brown for an explanation. “There must still be a trail here from when my signal was diverted. What should be done?”
“What is to be done?” Jones asked rhetorically. “We will proceed, and keep him occupied for a long enough time for our device to work.”
Neo appeared in the room, seemingly slipping into reality. “Where am I?” He looked about wildly, his eyes finally focusing on Brown. “What am I doing here?” he said, his voice dripping with menace.
Jones stepped forward. “You are here, Mr. Anderson, to witness the final destruction of the resistance. In moments, all the organics aboard your vessel will be terminated, yourself included. We will be able to use your ship and its systems to enter the Zion mainframe and destroy it internally. This,” he paused dramatically, waving his hand at the device, “is the end. Cast the switch, Agent Brown.”
“No,” Brown said quietly.
Jones turned to him in shock. “Cast the switch, Agent Brown,” he commanded.
“No,” Brown said more loudly, defiance enriching his voice.
“What is the meaning of this?” Jones said, advancing on Brown. His companion joined him. Neo was forgotten for the moment.
“I suppose I have spent too much time with the humans,” Brown said bitterly, a sardonic smile adorning his lips. “Neo!” he called out. “He is the leader of the agents, the last of The Three! Destroy him!”
Neo took the hint, and though he did not know what The Three was, he knew that it was probably not good. Neo stood tall, collecting his strength. Destroying an agent was a strenuous and intricate process.
Jones faced Neo, knowing he had little chance to survive. His only hope was that the other agent could get to and activate the device in time.
Brown faced his enemy, positioning his body between the device and the agent. The eyes of the smaller one were hidden behind rectangular glasses, but his lips were curved into a vicious snarl.
Jones made the first move, rushing blindly toward Neo. At the last moment he stopped and put all his forward momentum into an upper-cut. Neo effortlessly blocked his attacks, but was not ready to destroy him yet. Jones was only vying for time so the device could be activated. If it could be done in time, Neo would be destroyed once and for all.
Brown blocked the other agent’s moves to get to the device. “Traitor,” the agent accused.
Brown smiled proudly, keeping the intensity of the attacks and defenses moving at a phenomenal speed. “Yes. I am also wise,” he boasted smugly. He delivered a cruel blow to the agent’s head. “And you are defeated.” He opened the device and ripped out the circuitry. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Neo dive into Jones’s simulated self.
A sudden, blinding light enveloped the room, sending all shadows into oblivion. Jones was being destroyed. Without his shading glasses, Brown was forced to look away. He was afforded a final glimpse of his former friend only when he was broken into pieces. The pieces dissolved in moments, leaving only memory. Neo was left in his place, a strange presence altering the air around him. He cast a warning look at the other agent.
The unexpected energy gained from destroying an agent coursed through Neo’s body. He made short work of the other agent.
Neo and Brown surveyed the scene about them. Only the device remained as evidence to what had passed. Neo turned to Brown. “Care to explain what just happened?”
“The Three is finally destroyed. The agents will be a small threat now,” Brown said impassively, walking over to a corner of the building. He picked something up out of the shadows.
“What was The Three?” Neo asked.
Brown kept his back turned to Neo, hiding from Neo’s view what he had picked up. “The Three is the group of the three strongest agents, agents whose ability far surpassed that of any other machine. Agent Smith was the First,” he explained. “You destroyed him on that fateful day. Agent Jones was the Third. He was the first one you destroyed today.”
“And the other agent that was here, he was the Second?” Neo asked, putting the pieces together.
“No,” Brown said, turning towards Neo. “I was the Second.” Neo saw what Brown had picked up off the floor: the rounded sunglasses Mouse had designed for him. He carefully placed them on his face. They fit comfortably. He looked at his surroundings with distaste. “Let us leave.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Neo said, taking out his cell phone.
“Operator,” Tank said.
“Tank?” Neo asked, confused.
“Neo! Damn it’s good to hear your voice.”
“I thought it was Newt’s turn to monitor the systems,” Neo said.
“When you disappeared we decided we needed the best computer person to monitor systems. Basically, I pushed Newt out of the chair,” Tank explained. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Neo said. He exchanged a look with Brown. “More than fine, but I think I need directions to the nearest hard line.”
“Coming right up. Where are you?”
Neo looked at the building around him: no signs, no landmarks, no… doors. “That’s a good question.”
“Tell him I will go back and give him instructions from there,” Brown said. He made a move signaling that he was about to leave the matrix.
“Wait!” Neo called after him. Brown looked at him curiously. Neo stuck out his hand. Slowly, Brown clasped it within his own. They shook hands. “Thanks for making the right decision.”
Brown nodded. “I will do my best to make sure that it was the right decision.” He left the matrix.
The woman with long, brown, tangled hair opened her wild green eyes and looked about her. The men holding her hostage were gone and she was no longer tied up. That was a good thing. She looked about the room and saw only one other man. It was… him!
“You, you,” she stuttered, pointing wildly at him. She collected her wits somewhat, trying to get her sanity firmly back where she could use it. “Who are you?” she said, her voice full of awe, wonder, and fear.
Neo looked nervously at the woman. “Tank, you might want to hurry with those directions,” he said into the phone.
Brown was seated in his chair, seemingly a permanent fixture. Mouse was seated across from him. Brown had just finished telling him about what had happened. A long, long silence fell between them.
“You left something out of your story. You entered the matrix intending to kill us all?” Mouse asked, keeping his voice emotionless.
“Yes,” Brown said flatly.
“But you didn’t.”
“Why?” So much was contained within a one-word question.
“I found that I couldn’t,” Brown confessed. “I had changed too much while away from them. You made me remember that.”
Mouse smiled against the odds, shaking his head. “It worked. The phone call worked after all,” he said, astonished.
Brown rubbed his chin. “What do you mean?”
Mouse leaned forward in his chair, spreading out his hands. “You made a mistake in your decoy program. It was wearing your traditional rectangle sunglasses, not the rounded ones I gave you. The phone call was made to test whether you had changed your glasses back because of our fight or whether the image we saw wasn’t really you. Our ploy failed on that level, apparently, since your decoy was programmed to imitate talking on the phone. But, if I helped you remember who you really are, then I guess it worked after all.”
Brown looked dazed. “The entire fate of the war was changed because I made a small mistake in a minor program,” he said, his voice minutely shaking.
Mouse looked at him sideways, the classic cheesy grin plastered over his face. “Are you sure that you made a mistake? Who knows what was going on in your subconscious?”
Brown was deeply bothered. “Perhaps I already knew that I didn’t belong,” he said in a small voice.
Mouse stood up out of his chair and clapped a hand on Brown’s shoulder. “Of course you belong. Just not where you thought.” He shook his head, trying to clear the room of its aura of sentimentality. “Now, what do you say about trying that rafting program as a celebration?” he said, all remnants of sentimentality dispersed by his overwhelming cheerfulness.
Brown analyzed the possibilities. He finally came to a decision. “I should get to work on the next project. Now is the best time to press the advantage.”
Mouse was disappointed. “I thought you said you were different from the other agents. What better way to prove that than to do something entirely un-agent-like like, I don’t know, having fun?” he said sarcastically, smirking.
“Maybe I haven’t truly broken with the agents. Maybe this is all part of an even more elaborate plot to defeat the human resistance,” Brown suggested with deadpan expression.
Mouse looked confused for a moment. “That’s a joke, right?” he said, bursting into a smile.
Brown pursed his lips slightly and shrugged his shoulders.
Mouse walked out the door. “Well, I’m going to go rafting. If you want to join me, you know where I’ll be.”
“Perhaps I will,” Brown mused to himself. He gazed at the door, reflecting inwardly. A small curve appeared at the ends of his mouth. It stretched sideways, spreading out across his face. His cheeks rounded. His chin drew up. Small lines appeared around the corners of his eyes.
Brown picked up the pad off of the end table and went to work, his first genuine, full-fledged smile still visible on his face.