Preview: The Nebuchadnezzar crew’s worst nightmare is coming true… Can they work together well enough to have a hope of surviving?
Rated PG: Mild profanity.
Disclaimer: The Matrix, all characters and images therein, as well as story elements put forth in the movie are the property
of Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow Pictures. Several characters appearing in this story are my own creation. Any similarity with anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.
Authors notes: This story is a sequel to “Ghost in the Machine” and takes place approximately seven months after the movie leaves off. Once again, many thanks go out to my fabulous Beta reader, Janet Spruill White. You can drop her a line, at this address: size1 width100 noshade>
“So, Neo, when do we hear the specifics of this master plan you and Morpheus are working on?” Icarus asked. The blond systems expert was trying his best to ignore the slop he was eating. He and most of the crew were taking their afternoon meal and there was a definite undercurrent of anxiety in the mess hall.
They all were itching to learn what their next Matrix incursion would entail.
Neo looked up and nobody missed the quick glance that passed between him and Trinity. “You’ll receive your briefing and individual assignments tomorrow,’ he responded after a slight hesitation. “I know the suspense is wearing you down, but just try to hang in there for one more day.”
Weasel snorted and pushed his food away. The slightly built teenager who had proven invaluable for his programming know-how and uncanny ability to elude Agents, appeared disgusted. “I’ll bet anything that this has something to do with that renegade Agent,” he sneered. “Why else would you take such pains to keep it from us for so long?”
“Weasel…” came Trinity’s warning. The steely gaze she turned on him caused him to drop his eyes and slink down a bit in his chair.
Dink took a pointed look around. “He may have something there,” the huge man grunted. “Glitch and Tank are both missing lunch. I bet they’re baby-sitting the artificial creep again.”
Trinity and Neo exchanged long-suffering looks.
“Lay off Smith, Dink,” Morpheus’ second in command shot back. She stood up and leaned across the table, fixing him with one of her infamous glares. “Just remember that he may be your whipping boy here, but he all but owns your ass in the machine!”
Turning, she left the mess and slammed the hatch shut behind her.
“Come on, try again,” Glitch cajoled, as she indicated the spoon she had placed back on the small table.
Smith’s mouth curved into a tight, down turned frown, even as his eyes remained steadfastly glued to the table before him.
Tank sighed. “Look, let’s just give him a break, Glitch. We can pick this back up a little later on.”
“He has to learn to eat and function in this form,” she huffed. “We can’t keep tube feeding his body. It needs to be USED.”
Turning back to her patient, she dipped the spoon into the bowl and held it out to him. “Come on, one more mouthful. Please?”
His response was to flinch and slap the spoon out of her hand. “Let me go back,” he rasped out, his eyes finally meeting her own.
Glitch felt her patience crumbling. She had spent the better part of the hour trying to get him to eat and all he had managed were two choking swallows. The rest of the food was on his shabby sweater, the table and the floor. He had only spoken twice, once to comment that he would prefer them to leave, and then again just now.
Still, those incredible eyes were fixed upon her, wide and pleading for her understanding.
“Smith…” she began.
His blue eyes quickly became chilly and it was obvious that he was a shrewd judge of human nature, as he had instantly picked up on the fact that she was not going to let him off the hook. “Let me go back!” he interrupted, this time in a louder, almost panicked tone.
“What’s the problem?” Morpheus’ voice caused them all to turn toward the doorway, where their leader now stood.
“Byte boy here needs to spend more time in his body or it’ll waste away,” Tank explained. “Unfortunately, he’s not being very cooperative.”
“He has to eat, Morpheus,” Glitch added, matter-of-factly.
Their leader’s eyes swept over the scene before him, missing nothing. “Both of you go eat lunch. I’ll take over.”
Smith’s sole response was to sigh and close his eyes, but the order was all that Tank had to hear. In a flash, he was out the hatch.
Glitch stood slowly, squeezed Smith’s shoulder and then left.
Morpheus noticed that the ex-Agent flinched away when Glitch touched him.
Removing a rag from his back pocket, he offered it to the humiliated man. After only a brief pause, it was accepted. Pulling up a chair, he sat next to Smith and watched as the misfit slowly wiped himself off with a trembling hand.
He was still recognizably the Agent they had all faced in the Matrix, and yet… different, softer, less harsh. His hair was a slightly longer length and a shade or two lighter, his blue eyes also few shades lighter, his features a bit less angular. He had a mild demeanor about him in this incarnation, one which made it easier to forget what he had once been, but though he rarely spoke, he had a presence which was hard to ignore.
To top it all off, those eyes of his were shrewd and took in everything, giving the Nebuchadnezzar’s Captain the impression that he was in the process of gathering information to be used in weighing some important decision.
Morpheus remembered Trinity’s warnings about underestimating this creature and had resolved to give him the benefit of the doubt while still keeping a watchful eye on him.
“Look, I know that this is hard for you. I know that you feel… humiliated by the difficulties that even simple tasks pose, but you will adapt and things will become easier. I promise you. The key is to keep trying.”
Smith’s eyes closed briefly. “I’m so tired…”
“I can imagine. The form in which you now reside has never moved around very much. Come on, I’ll get you settled in for a nap.
When you awaken, you’ll feel a bit better.”
Standing, he helped Smith to his feet and half supported, half dragged him back to his own chamber, while he mentally reminded himself to have a new chamber prepared for their new member. There, he settled the displaced AI onto his cot, and pulling up a chair, kept watch over him until he slept.
“So what’s the word?” Neo asked, as he caught Morpheus leaving his room. The Nebuchadnezzar captain took care to lock the door behind him.
“He’s overwhelmed, I dare say.”
“Trinity tells me that yesterday Dink cornered him near the bridge,” Neo’s eyes dropped to the floor as he became temporarily too ashamed to continue.
“And?” Morpheus prompted.
He met his mentor’s eyes. “It wasn’t pleasant. He apparently bruised him up a bit. Some of the others were watching too. If Trinity hadn’t arrived…”
“Then Glitch is right. Smith has to start spending more time here with us. Despite the danger, he has to learn to defend himself in the real world.” Morpheus crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. “In the meantime, I think that Dink needs to learn a lesson.”
“And what might that be?”
“That anything he doles out here will be returned to him three fold in the machine.” He grinned unexpectedly. “How fortunate that we have a training session coming up tonight…”
He awoke to find himself curled up on a comfortable pallet with a warm blanket wrapped about him.
Disoriented, he sat up and looked around. He was in Morpheus’ room, a place where not even Dink dared intrude. The ship’s main lights were dimmed so it was already sometime in the evening.
With a groan, he straightened his head and tried to work the crick out of his neck. He still felt stiff and sore all over and though his new superior kept reminding him that it would gradually fade away, he almost couldn’t imagine being in this form and not experiencing some sort of discomfort. Even now, he felt strange – oddly disoriented. Dizzy.
Pulling the IV needle out of a port in his forearm, he rose to his feet, carefully steadying himself by keeping his hands on the furnishings. Now capable of recognizing the signs of certain basic biological needs, he used the hidden urinal and then settled himself back onto the pallet.
His stomach was hurting, not to mention making all sorts of odd noises. The doctor, Glitch, was correct. he did need to eat. If only she and the others could see what Morpheus did; that he found the constant babying embarrassing at best. He knew that at least half the crew wished him well – the other half couldn’t care less if he survived or not. Still, he just could not tolerate constant contact with these creatures.
His stomach rumbled again and he found himself rubbing his face with very shaky hands.
Oh, but he was so hungry!
Before he could decide what to do next, there was a loud clang at the door, the sound of someone knocking.
“Can I come in?” It was Trinity’s voice.
Pulling the blanket close, he clutched it tightly, unnerved by the intrusion of yet another human.
“What is it?” he managed to ask aloud.
The door was pushed slowly open and Morpheus’ second in command peered cautiously around it before entering. She was carrying a bowl of food.
“I thought that you might be hungry, so I brought you some breakfast,” she said softly, offering it to him.
Hesitantly, he reached out and with a great deal of care, took the bowl from her hands. He was shaking badly enough that he feared dropping it, yet somehow he managed to get it to the point that he could rest it on his thighs.
“Thank you,” he murmured, keeping his eyes on the object in his hands. “Is it morning already?”
“Early morning. You must be famished.” She offered him a spoon and then squatted down in front of him, forcing him to look at her.
He found her azure eyes soothing and honest.
“If I leave you alone, do you think you can manage to eat some of this?” she asked.
“I’m certain I can manage some of it, but I fear that Morpheus’ bed will suffer for the effort.”
He was rewarded with a sudden twinkle which appeared in those orbs. The corner of her mouth pulled up in a small smirk at his dry attempt at humor.
“Well, you know – I could help you,” she whispered. “But you’d have to promise not to tell a soul…”
He looked away, uncertain of what he should do. Should he accept? She knew him in his true manifestation. She had seen him, even run from him numerous times within the Matrix. Surely she would not interpret his current lack of coordination as a weakness.
Just then his stomach growled in outrage at the delay, causing both their eyebrows to rise in disbelief at the loudness of it.
“I appreciate your offer,” he replied gravely. “and I assure you that no one shall hear of it from me.”
She nodded then and standing, moved to sit beside him on the bed. To his amazement, she didn’t remain there, but rather, squirmed behind him.
“Pick up the bowl for a second,” she instructed him. When he did so, she arranged the large square piece of stained material she had brought with her on his lap to act as tablecloth. Motioning him to put the bowl back down, she leaned around to his right so that she was looking over his shoulder.
“Now, pick up the spoon.”
When he had done as she instructed, she corrected his grip, steadied his hand with her own and helped him to guide the spoon to the bowl and then to his mouth.
In that manner, he was able to finish the entire contents of the bowl without spilling but a few drops.
“Well? Where is he? We’re all waiting!” Glitch asked, straightening up and placing her hands on her hips as soon as Trinity entered the room alone.
Everyone but Neo, Trinity and Smith were already in their chairs, their minds uploaded into the Matrix simulation.
“Neo is helping him clean up and change. They’ll be in in a minute or two.” Trinity took her place in her chair and leaned her head back as Glitch made ready to connect her.
“Did he eat anything?” she asked.
“Every last bit.”
Glitch couldn’t help but bristle at the annoyingly superior look which she perceived on Trinity’s face and was less than gentle jacking her in. The female warrior grimaced for a second as Glitch slammed the data spike into the back of her skull, but then instantly relaxed as her mind fled her body.
“You better watch it,” Tank commented from behind her. “You’re beginning to piss a lot of people off lately and you don’t want Trin to be one of them.”
She glared at him.
“Look, I don’t know what your problem is…” Tank began and then stopped. “Wait. I lied. We all know what your problem is lately, but you can’t be letting it affect the way you interact with the rest of us. We’re all stuck in tight quarters here.”
She snorted and turned away as she felt her face begin to burn with embarrassment. She didn’t want him to see her blushing or know that he was striking a nerve. “You know nothing about what’s bugging me.”
“Don’t I? Come on Glitch! Everyone knows that you have the hots for Smith. The thing is that the rest of us all know that it can’t ever work out. He is a machine, a program really. He’s not human, despite the form he sometimes takes.”
She felt Tank’s hands on her shoulders only a second before he spun her roughly around to face him.
“He can never feel for you what you want him to, Glitch! He’s incapable of love. Do you really think that he can love you? Love a human?” He shook her then. “Time to wake up! Time to face reality!”
Just then they heard the clanging of approaching footsteps. Tank turned her loose, moved away and folded his arms in front of him.
She glanced up as Neo and Smith entered and by some odd circumstance ended up meeting the program’s eyes. She looked away quickly, upset to the point of tears by Tank’s words. She didn’t want the others, especially Smith, to see her like this. Pretending to be checking some of the readouts, she kept her back to them, but had the odd sensation that AI’s eyes were burning a hole in her back.
“Is everything set?” she heard Neo ask, behind her.
“They’re all waiting for you two,” Tank responded.
“Let’s get to it then.” Neo answered.
She could hear the two of them sliding into their respective chairs and nearly jumped out of her skin when Tank addressed her.
“Glitch? Want to give me a hand here?”
Turning, she found that the operator was assisting Neo. He raised an eyebrow at her and indicated Smith.
Moving to stand beside the program’s chair, she found herself unnerved by the steady stare he was giving her and hurriedly bent to retrieve the data spike, intent on jacking him in as quickly as possible. She froze when his hand came up to grip her arm.
“What’s the matter?” he asked in a steady tone.
Was that a concerned expression on his face, or was he merely curious, she wondered?
“Nothing,” she lied, then fell back on a doctor’s seeming concern for a patient. “Did you eat?”
The concern faded from his face. “Yes.”
“Good.” Without further ado, she plugged him in.
Those gathered in the small alley tensed as Neo rounded the corner. Only when they saw who it was did they relax.
“Are we ready?” Morpheus asked the new arrival.
“Good to go.”
Their leader swung back around to face them. “Today’s exercise is one in survival,” he announced. The scenario is this; Icarus, Weasel and Dink – you have become separated from the rest of us. You have no means of communicating with Tank and only Trinity has a cel phone. If you can join up with her, there’s a good chance you can get out. If you find myself or Neo, you’ll have our protection and experience to fall back on while we try to locate her.”
“This should be fun,” Weasel snorted.
Morpheus instantly pinned him with a stern look. “I doubt it. You see, you have all come to the attention of an Agent.”
Dink rolled his eyes. “What, the little wreck?”
Behind him, Weasel cringed. “It doesn’t matter what he’s like back on the ship, Dink – he’s a goddam Agent!”
“Your young friend is quite right,” Morpheus sniffed, moving closer to Dink and looking him up and down. “The three of you have little experience with Agents, and those you have faced have always been younger, recently generated programs. Neo has fortunately wiped out most of the older, stronger ones, but there is still a high likelihood that you may meet up with one some day.”
“We choose to make that day today,” Neo continued. “Under conditions in which you won’t necessarily die.”
Dink turned to look at his two fellow trainees, his expression one of boredom.
Morpheus suddenly stepped in between them and scowled at the large man. “Dink, your ego is going to be your downfall,” he sighed. “Smith is the oldest of all the Agents, and the most cunning. He is very much like us in many ways and I assure you that nothing you try to do to elude him hasn’t been tried on him before. He has several lifetimes of experience in his favor, not to mention the usual power all Agents wield. In other words… I think that you three are in BIG trouble.”
Stepping back, their Captain smiled in a way which made Dink’s hair stand on end and then contacted Tank. “Tank, set our positions,” he said aloud.
Instantly Neo, Morpheus and Trinity disappeared from the alley.
In the communications room, Tank was busy punching buttons. A few seconds later, Trinity, Neo and Morpheus appeared on different screens, representing different parts of the Matrix simulation.
Glitch leaned closer. “Where’s Smith?” she asked, as she scanned all the screens.
“He hasn’t joined them yet.” Seeing her confused look, he clarified. “He hasn’t entered the program yet.”
“Where is he, then?”
“Somewhere in the ship’s computer systems. He pretty much has access to all the non sensitive areas.”
“So, he just floats around in there?” She looked at him, apparently unable to comprehend what it would be like to do so.
“I know it’s hard to imagine, but you have to understand that he actually originates in the system. Unlike the others, whose consciousness resides within their bodies until they’re uploaded into the system, his resides as data on one of the drives. When he’s with us, he downloads into a small processor in the body we rescued. Of all of them, Smith is the only one with a chance of surviving should his connection to his body, or even our ship be severed.”
She blinked. “If the plug was pulled while he was in the Matrix, he could survive?”
“Yes, because he uploads his entire program to the safest hard drive he can locate in the Matrix system. It’s why he retains his strengths in the Matrix, even now. All he need worry about is keeping his true location hidden from his enemies.”
Glitch looked the monitors over again and then sighed. “I wish I could know what it’s like.”
“Try not to dwell on it,” Tank advised her. “You and I will never be able to experience it. There’s no use longing for the impossible – and I mean that in more ways than one.”
She gave him a nasty look. “It’s really none of your business.”
“If it affects the crew, it is my business,” he snapped back. An instant later, his attention was captured by a flash on his screen.
“Ah! There he goes now!”
“He’s not visible in the image translators yet, but I can see him in the simulation code. He’s choosing a host…”
As soon as the others vanished, Weasel turned and began climbing a fence separating the alley from a vacant lot next door.
“Come on!” he hissed. “We have to get lost and fast.”
Icarus began to follow him. “Come on Dink. He’s right. We can’t let ANYONE see us or Smith will know where we are!”
Weasel dropped over the fence and Dink still showed no sign of following.
“You know, Dink… You really are a stubborn and stupid lummox!” Icarus yelled, as he dropped over the other side as well.
“Caution IS the better part of valour!”
The fence creaked and Dink dropped in. “We can outsmart that little twerp. You two are over reacting.”
“You’ve never met an Agent up close!” Weasel whispered. “I have! I was lucky to escape with my life and it was a young program as Morpheus said! Now either stay with us and keep to the shadows, or you can go off on your own and do your own thing. Maybe you’ll keep Smith busy enough to buy us some time.”
“Have you ever faced him?” Dink asked, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Oh hell no! I wasn’t liberated until after he was put away.” Weasel raised a finger and wagged it in front of the larger man’s face. “Neo, Morpheus and Trinity have all met him in his original incarnation though, and if even half of what I’ve heard from them is true, we don’t want to meet him – not even when it’s just a construct exercise!”
Dink seemed unimpressed, but falling in behind Weasel and Icarus, he, for once, remained silent.
Crossing the dark lot, they came to a dark access way which was used primarily for trash collection and from there slowly headed east. They took great pains to avoid areas where people might be found, but ran out of cover forty minutes later.
Weasel carefully peered over the dilapidated fence at the street beyond and then dropped back down. “I don’t see anyone,” he whispered. “but I still don’t think that this is the way to go. We should backtrack and cut across the railroad tracks.”
“Morpheus is probably hanging out in that dive he calls a club,” Dink replied. “We have no idea where Neo or Trinity would be since none of us bothered to find out where there favorite simulation hangouts are. It’ll take us all night to get to Morpheus your way. That increases our chances of being caught doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, but the subway is pretty dangerous risk,” Icarus answered. “Even at this time of night, there’s bound to be people there.”
“But it’s faster! We could be off the train and near Morpheus before the Agent even reacts to our presence.”
Weasel snorted. “Yeah, and you could end up leading him right to our leader. Once an Agent is on your tail, shaking them is very hard. Smith has no idea where we are now and though he may be actively looking for us, that is our greatest advantage.”
“You can stay here if you like,” the large man sneered. “I’m going! Icarus?”
Their blond companion looked at each of them and then came to a decision. “Someone has to watch his back,” he told Weasel. “If we get to Morpheus first, we’ll wait for you in the old park, near the overpass.”
“Suit yourselves.” Without sparing another word, the youngest of their group turned and headed back into the darkness.
“Come on Dink,” Icarus said, tugging on the large man’s shirt. “Let’s get this over with.”
Together they headed over the fence.
Neo leaned into the bar and then checked his watch. It was nine thirty in the simulation. They had been inside for an hour and he had taken advantage of the time to have a drink and a snack. He didn’t think that any of their new people would make it to him or Morpheus any time soon. In fact – he didn’t think they’d make it at all and he had invited Trinity to join him for a drink or two to help while away the time. Although he knew that what he was eating and drinking could not affect him in any way – his body was not receiving food or drink as it did when he was a copper top – there was no sense in passing up the chance to taste something other than the mush he ate everyday in the real world.
He looked at his watch again. It was unlike Trinity to be late.
Even as the thought crossed his mind, the door opened and she entered the pub. Spotting him at the bar, she headed in his direction and he turned to order her a drink.
“Bartender!” He glanced over his shoulder just as the man turned around.
It was Smith.
“Shit!” He was so startled that his drink flew from his hand as he flinched.
As fast as thought, Smith’s hand shot out and caught it before more than a drop could spill. He returned the glass to its rattled owner.
“Jeez! I hate it when you do that,” Neo muttered. accepting the drink. “How long have you been here?”
“I only just arrived,” the ex-Agent drawled, as he leaned on the bar near Neo.
“Then I must have been the one to give us away,” Trinity grimaced, as she joined them.
“Indeed. I fear that your arrival caught the attention of several of this establishment’s customers,” Smith replied, as he handed her a drink.
“So, how goes the chase?” she asked, trying not to smile at the subtle compliment as she sipped from her glass.
“They’re doing well so far. I haven’t been able to locate them yet.”
“Ten to one that’s Weasel’s doing,” Neo responded. “As soon as Dink gets bored with the skulking, you’ll have something.” He handed his empty glass back to the program, who quickly refilled it. “You know, Smith… I like you better as a bartender,” he smirked.
“I’m sure you do.” Smith poured himself a gin and tonic and then lifted it up to his lips.
“Can he do that?” Neo asked Trinity.
She shrugged. “Now that he has a human form, it’s conceivable that he can interpret taste and smell within the simulation… or the Matrix itself.”
Smith shuddered and put the glass down. A frown twisted his face. “This is awful! How can you stand to drink it?”
“It’s an acquired taste…” Morpheus’ second replied.
Suddenly Smith straightened, his frown replaced with a look Neo had seen only once before – when the Agent had tossed him onto a set of subway tracks. He knew what had happened even before Smith spoke.
“I have to go,” the program announced. “The chase is on.”
His form shimmered and rippled. The original bartender was back, and completely oblivious that anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
“I’ll give Dink five minutes,” Neo wagered.
“I say that he lasts longer,” Trinity replied, raising an eyebrow.
“You’re on! Uh… longer?”
“You don’t think Smith is going to finish him off quickly, do you?”
Trinity downed her drink and headed out, leaving a pensive Neo behind.
Moving down the stairs into the subway station, Dink and Icarus paused in the shadows near the entranceway. There was a guard patrolling the area near the turnstiles – looking for thieves intent upon a free ride, no doubt.
“Please tell me that you have a few tokens,” Icarus whispered.
“Naw – only have change.”
“We can’t use that! It’ll attract everyone’s attention when we use the token machine!”
“Relax. I have a way around it.” As soon as the guard headed away from them, Dink stepped out of the shadows and silently moved in behind him.
Apparently sensing that someone was sneaking up on him, the guard began to turn, but it was too late. Dink boxed his ears, swiveled him around and then head butted him.
The guard crumbled without a sound.
Leaning down, the big man grasped his victim’s ankles and began dragging him towards the shadows.
That’s when the door to the men’s rest room swung inward and a young street tough stepped out. He and Dink stared at each other in shock.
“Shit!” Icarus swore under his breath and came to a decision – he calmly walked away from the shadows and at the last minute hopped the turnstiles. He needed to get out of view before the Agent arrived.
Realizing the seriousness of his predicament, Dink dropped the guard’s legs and straightened up, intent upon dropping the intruder and robbing the Agent of a way in, but the young man read him and pulled a wicked looking switchblade.
“Just try it!” he yelled, his cry lasting just a fraction too long, climbing higher until it became a scream.
Aware of what was occurring, Dink turned and ran for the turnstiles.
Behind him the gang member’s form began to blur green and morph.
Icarus paused on the train platform and then changed his mind. Though the subway could be heard approaching, he didn’t think that it was possible to elude the arriving Agent. All his training had warned of this moment. What he did next would mean the difference between life and death if this were the real thing.
“Shit.” Turning away from the platform, he headed for the stairs which would take him to the other side of the track. Simulation or not – he was not about to get caught.
At the bottom of the stairs, he looped back and hid in the small, black area beneath them. Chances were good that Dink would end up running this way as well. There was no way that he was going to let his crew mate lead the Agent to him.
He would wait until they were both gone before coming out.
Sailing over the turnstiles and running for the platform, Dink prayed that the approaching subway would arrive in time.
“Come on come on come on!” he repeated like a mantra as it’s headlights rounded a bend in the tunnel and became visible.
Despite the noise it made, he could hear the sound of good shoes tapping on the cement floor behind the turnstile barrier wall.
The footsteps were slow, unhurried.
“It’s only the little weasel,” he whispered under his breath, as he stood on the very edge of the platform and tried to dispel the fear which was beginning to overwhelm him. It was actually beginning to work when suddenly the Agent came into view.
He was tall and walked ramrod straight, standing at least six feet one. His hair was impeccably combed, his suit, tie and shoes black and expensive. His shirt and flesh seemed almost washed out under the bright overhead lights. The dark glasses he wore covered his eyes and brows, casting further shadow on his lean face and making him look almost as though he had no eyes – only dark empty sockets.
There was little resemblance to the hunched over, helpless little freak he had been forced to live with on the ship.
This was the bogeyman in all his glory.
Just then the Agent took a tremendous forward leap which carried him cleanly over the turnstiles, so that the top of his head nearly brushed the ceiling high above. He came down lightly on his feet, his hands clenched.
“Jeezus…” Dink mouthed, trying not to wet himself.
“Mr. Callahan,” the Agent called, in a clipped, almost unreal tone. “How very nice to see you again.”
Was he smiling? Dink stifled a whimper as the train pulled in behind him. As Smith began to approach, in a slow, unhurried manner, he plunged into the opening subway car and began to run forward.
Luck, it seemed, was with him. The doors closed and the train began to pull out even as the Agent reached the edge of the platform.
Laughing with relief, he waved to the lone figure on the platform and wondered vaguely why it had not even attempted to force the doors and board.
That’s when he turned around and saw the sole other occupant of the car.
It was a little old woman – a bag lady who rode the cars at night to stay warm.
Even as his heart began to beat erratically, her form shifted to green and started to blur…
With a scream, he began running for the front of the train.
A minute after the subway left the station, Icarus emerged and began cautiously climbing the stairs. At the top he crouched low against the railing and scanned the platform.
There was no one there.
His breath hissing out with relief, he moved forward to wait for the next train.
Dink reached the front car of the train and cursed. It seemed that he was well and truly caught. Glancing behind him, he still saw no sign of his pursuer – it would take Smith a while to catch up at the unhurried pace the Agent was taking. Turning back around, he looked out through the front car’s windows. Another station should be coming into view at any moment.
There it was!
Perhaps he would make it after all!
Then door to the controller’s booth swung open, startling him.
The Agent stepped out. “Next stop is the Nebuchadnezzar,” he deadpanned.
Dink turned and began running back the way he had come. He was in such a panic that he couldn’t speak.
“Mr. Callahan,” Smith called out behind him. “You don’t really want to make me draw my gun, do you?”
The Agent’s words were like a bucket of cold water, cutting through his panicked haze. He stopped in his tracks and raised his hands. “They let you have your gun!” he asked incredulously as he glanced back over his shoulder.
Smith was walking towards him. “Wouldn’t be much of a training exercise if they didn’t.” he drawled. “Besides, they haven’t yet figured out how to deprive me of my teeth, so to speak.”
The train reached its next stop even as the Agent arrived behind his quarry. As the brakes caught, Dink dropped and kicked out behind him, connecting with Smith’s legs.
The combination of the deceleration and the kick were enough to topple his pursuer.
The doors chimed and opened.
He was out of here! Running as he had never run before, he flew over the platform and up the stairs without even a backward glance.
If he had looked, he would have seen Smith rising to his feet as a small, dangerous smile appeared upon his face.
“You let him have his gun?” Glitch tore her gaze from the main monitor and fixed it on Tank instead.
The head programmer looked very uncomfortable. “We didn’t ‘let’ him have it – we never took it away to begin with. None of us is exactly certain what an Agent’s gun is.”
Tank shifted into a more comfortable position and turned back to his monitors. “In the computer guns don’t really exist, Glitch – you know that. So lethal a weapon aimed at a consciousness within the Matrix must be a virus of some sort. It’s something which destroys an engrammed human personality either very quickly or very slowly, just as a bullet would if it produced an abdominal wound verses a head wound. Smith is right – we don’t understand it and we haven’t figured out how to deprive him of it.”
“Seems like Morpheus is taking a big chance then,” Glitch drawled. “That’s not like him.”
“He’s made it clear to Smith that Neo can always destroy him if he decides to back out of the deal.” Suddenly Tank’s eyes began to twinkle. “Speaking of Neo, you probably don’t know this, but during his first battle with Smith, before you joined our group, the two of them had a shoot-out. It came down to them each having their barrel against the other’s head. Smith observed that Neo’s chamber was empty and Neo said the same about Smith’s.”
“So he has a limited number of virtual bullets?”
“That’s the thing – I don’t think he does. When I talked to Neo about the incident, he said that he had simply counted six shots and assumed that Smith was empty. Also, when Smith emerged from the subway car after being hit by the train, he once again had both his glasses and his fully loaded gun. I think that Smith let Neo believe that he was empty. He wanted a hand to hand fight. He wanted to pummel his opponent himself.”
The medic looked around. “Can he hear us?”
“No, I’ve turned the speakers off.”
“I’ve heard all about their final meeting when Neo supposedly destroyed him. How is it that Neo could be shot repeatedly by Smith and still live?” she asked. “This is something I need to know – it may help me to save others.”
“Neo has a unique ability to interpret the Matrix, even while within it,” Tank explained. “If an Agent’s bullets are in fact computer viruses, then they take some time to work. Neo apparently was able to counteract them – to eradicate them, though it did take some time. At one point we thought he was dead. Anyway, he’s only been shot that one time. After that he learned how to keep them from hitting him at all.”
“And Agents can’t be hit because, what? They have good anti-virus protection?”
“Actually, Trin has hit one, but she had to sneak right up on him and hit him in the head.”
Glitch jumped to her feet. “I just don’t understand this!” she nearly yelled in frustration. “You’re a programmer! You’ve given Neo and the others guns to take into the Matrix with them. How could you not know what the damn things are?”
“All I know is that sometime in the past one of our elite Zion programmers was able to ‘copy’ a Matrix data cache which contained a subprogram named ‘Guns’. That does not mean that the guns we use and the guns the Agents use are the same thing.
I know for a fact that the guns I give our members to take with them are subprograms.”
“It’s enough to drive a person mad.”
“And it has, many times, I assure you.” Tank turned back to his monitors and was reaching forward to hit a switch when he was hit with a powerful electrical arc. The energy bolt was intense enough to prevent him from making a sound and in the next instant he tumbled from his chair to land in a limp heap upon the floor.
“Tank!” Glitch jumped and was instantly beside him, checking for a pulse.
That’s when the lights aboard the Nebuchadnezzar flickered and went out.
Dink left the subway station and ran for all he was worth through the deserted streets of this part of the simulation. It was a slightly better neighborhood than the one a few blocks away where he had first entered the subway.
God only knew where Icarus was. The Agent probably already had him.
Slowing as he reached an alleyway, Dink debated entering it. True that it was dark and might help him escape notice, but what if there was a hobo down there?
Standing with his back to the brick building front, he scanned the area around him as he caught his breath. So far, no sign of the enemy or anyone else for that matter. Which was a decidedly good thing.
Making up his mind, he entered the alley and did not see the elderly man peer out the fourth floor window at him.
“Morpheus, we have a problem.”
The team Captain frowned into his phone. “What’s happened?”
“I’m not certain,” Glitch continued. She sounded rattled. “Tank’s been electrocuted. He’s alive but badly hurt. It must have been one hell of a short because the ship’s lights are still flickering. I don’t think it’s a good idea for you guys to continue the exercise – you could be in danger.”
Morpheus’ frown deepened. “The emergency generators will keep us going if the power fails. I’m loathe to pull the plug on this yet. I want you to contact Neo and have him return, he knows the ship’s systems well enough to troubleshoot. He can also take over at the console so that you can see to Tank.”
“I’m on it.” Glitch cut the connection.
Pacing the room, Morpheus began to worry. Was this the Agent’s doing and if so, what was he trying to accomplish?
Somewhere, in a street, in a simulation program, a lone police officer sat within his cruiser and whittled away at the final hours of his shift. He began tapping upon the steering wheel, keeping time to the music which played low on his radio. Though his personality was programmed and following a very unsophisticated pre-set course of action, he still seemed surprised when he began to glow and distort.
In the next instant he was gone.
Ex-Agent Smith sat within the cruiser and frowned. Something was nagging at him. Something just didn’t feel right…
As quickly as the uneasy sensation had come over him it fled, for his quarry had just exited the alleyway up ahead.
He was enjoying his little cat and mouse game with his sometime tormentor and wondered how long he could keep the man running before he finally gave up and turned to face him. His goal was not so much to hurt the human, but rather to drive home the point that there was nowhere in this program or any other in which he could escape from him. He wanted him to look at him when he was flesh and blood and realize that any offense he meted out would be returned to him during his next excursion. In other words, he wanted respect.
Before this exercise was over, he was determined to have it.
Punching the appropriate buttons upon the main console, Glitch began the sequence which would return Neo and then turned and sprinted over to the chair in which his body currently resided. As she watched the displays over his head, the readings began to jump.
He was downloading…
Seconds ticked by, then a minute.
“Too long,” she whispered. “Too long!”
Something was very wrong. Neo should have been back within seconds, and yet, despite the continuous activity at his console, he remained inert. Worse than that – his heart rate had climbed to one hundred twenty and his blood pressure had soared. He was showing all the signs of a body in severe stress.
Running back to the main console, she checked the readouts. It said that he was still downloading, yet the progress indicator wasn’t moving!
Neo was trapped between two worlds.
Thumbing on her headphone, she tried frantically to get up with Morpheus to no avail.
The console was virtually disabled, all communication to her fellow crew members cut off.
Turning in a circle and on the verge of panic, she tried to block out the visions of death which threatened to overwhelm her. She had to remain calm. She had to think it through! Everyone was depending upon her.
Then her eyes lit upon Smith’s mortal form.
Emerging from the shadows outside the Watering Hole Bar, Weasel cautiously peered up and down the street before heading for the establishment’s front door.
He had been fortunate enough to swipe a bike many blocks away and with an oversized raincoat he had snatched from an unconscious drunk cloaking him, had made the journey to Neo’s favorite bar in about half an hour.
Stepping through the doorway, he lowered his hood and looked around. It seemed to be business as usual with all the locals yacking, drinking and playing darts.
He started through the crowd, slowly working his way to the bar. The bartender would know if Neo was or had been there.
“Hey, Macky,” he called out as he reached the man behind the counter. “Seen Neo?”
The bartender spared him only a glance. “He went out back a few minutes ago.”
“Out back?” Weasel frowned. Neo had most likely ducked out back so that he could have Tank jump him to a different location. It would be just his luck to make it out here in one piece only to have arrived minutes too late. Dreading the worst, he ducked through the back hall, passed the rest rooms and pushed open the back door.
Nothing prepared him for what met his eyes.
Neo stood, frozen in the alleyway, a look of sheer terror on his face. His form was transparent, fading in and out.
“Jeezus!” Weasel shouted and reached out in an attempt to touch his fellow crew member. His hand passed right through Neo’s arm, but the frozen man’s eyes followed what he was doing.
Neo was trapped but aware of what was happening around him!
“Neo, what’s happened?” he asked, without much hope of receiving a response.
Neo’s lips moved soundlessly.
After watching carefully as his superior repeated the same phrase several times, Weasel thought he knew what he was being asked to do.
“You want me to get Smith?”
At Neo’s mouthed “YES!”, he nodded.
“I can do that! I’ll be back with him in no time! Don’t you worry – we’ll get you out of there!”
And then he was moving – running as fast as his legs would take him back in the direction of his appropriated bike.
Standing before the main bank of monitors, Glitch flipped on the audio for the microphones and began repeatedly calling out a single word – a name really.
Above her and to the right, one of the larger monitors began to light up.
Dink was a block away from the alley and only a few blocks away from the club where Trinity could usually be contacted when he heard a car door swing open behind him.
Turning, he spotted the Agent emerging from a police cruiser.
“Damn it!” Without a further backward glance, he broke into a run. He couldn’t risk leading the program to Trinity, but he might be able to give him the slip in an abandoned building up ahead.
Only a minute later he reached the derelict’s front door and sprinted inside. There was a shocked blow – a collision with something very solid and the sensation of hitting the ground.
When he groaned and opened his eyes a few seconds later, he could see Smith standing over him, regarding him with some mild amusement.
“You should really watch where you’re going, Mr. Callahan,” the program drawled. “It really is very rude of you to go slamming into your fellow crew members like that.”
Dink spat as he rubbed his bruised ribs. “You’re not a member of my crew!”
Smith squatted down beside him. “Aren’t I though?” he asked with a frown. In the next instant the glasses were off and those wide, blue eyes were pinning him in place. “Don’t we live aboard the same ship, eat the same pathetic sustenance you deign to call food, and work together to ensure our very survival?”
Dink was confused and continued giving the Agent a hostile glare. Why wasn’t the program pulverizing him? It continued to merely squat over him, staring and awaiting an answer. Did it really think it was a part of the crew?
“What the hell is it that you want, freak?” he growled. “You’ve got me, OK? You won! Now drag me off to Morpheus and let’s be done with this.”
The program frowned. “I was going to…” he began and then froze in mid sentence. His eyes shifted to one side and his head tilted as though he were hearing something.
Smith’s face appeared on the largest monitor and Glitch’s legs nearly gave way, she was so relieved to see him.
“I believe that our ship’s computers have been invaded by a hostile program,” she replied. “Tank is out cold and Neo trapped between the simulation and reality – he can’t complete downloading! We may lose him at any time. To top it off, I’ve lost contact with Morpheus and the others.”
On the screen, wrinkles appeared across Smith’s forehead. “When did this begin?”
“Ten minutes ago.”
“Time is against us then,” he drawled. “I’m coming back.”
“Wait! You can’t!” she exclaimed, more frightened than ever. “You may end up like Neo.”
A ghost of a smile tugged at his mouth. “You are forgetting my nature. I can control my own download if need be and I am therefore not at the mercy of our enemy.”
She relaxed, but only slightly. “Shouldn’t you inform Morpheus first?”
“There is little time. We shall leave that to Dink.”
Before Glitch could say anything else, he faded from view. She’d done all she could. It was time to see to Tank as she awaited Smith’s return.
Smith stood, straightening his form with an unnerving crack of the neck and settling his glasses back on his face. Dink found himself flinching when he was unexpectedly offered a hand up. He didn’t accept it, but rather, continued to stare at his nemesis.
“Please, Mr. Callahan,” Smith sighed. “We do not have the time. Things are happening back aboard the Nebuchadnezzar and I must immediately return.”
Dink found himself hoisted suddenly to his feet as though he weighed less than a child. “What’s going on?” he asked, as a thrill of fear ran through him. The Agent was inhumanly strong, with a seemingly unbreakable grip.
“The ship is being taken over by a Hostile,” Smith informed him, releasing his hold on Dink’s shirt.”Neo is trapped in transit and all communication has been severed.”
“And you’re trying to tell me that you had nothing to do with that?”
Smith stared at him in silence for several long seconds. “Believe what you will, Callahan,” he finally snapped. “The facts are that I am the only one who can get back and you must inform Morpheus of Neo’s predicament and my return.”
Dink found himself imagining Smith moving about in the room where all their bodies lay helpless and his fear escalated. How easy it would be for the freak to pull the plug on them!
As though he could guess what he was thinking, Smith snorted. “Best not to think about it,” he responded. “You may have far more to worry about soon. You should find Morpheus and the others… quickly.”
“Because, Mr. Callahan, if the Hostile is an Agent, he may soon decide to bring the fight to you.”
“Oh shit…” Even as Dink’s mouth dropped open at the thought, Smith faded away before him.
Weasel pedaled as fast as his legs would allow and turned his stolen bike right down a street which would take him directly back to the neighborhood where he had last seen Icarus and Dink. By his reckoning, the two of them had to be somewhere nearby and therefore Smith would be as well. He had long since abandoned his raincoat and in an added effort to draw as much attention to himself as possible had begun singing loudly and as obnoxiously as humanly possible.
There! Up ahead – a brief green glow from the entrance to an alleyway! Smith was coming to him!
A second later a figure stepped out of the shadows and began moving on an intercept course towards the center of the street before him. Briefly, an overhead light illuminated his face.
Weasel almost lost control of his bike. It wasn’t Smith! It was an Agent, but not Smith!
Wrenching the handlebars sharply to the left and putting out a foot to keep from overturning, he skidded sideways, low to the ground just as several bullets whizzed by over his head.
Then he was down a side street as a deadly game of cat and mouse began.
The wounded operator let out a noise which was either a groan or an acknowledgment.
“Tank, try to stand up. I need to get you somewhere safe.”
Glitch tugged at him as his eyes opened slightly and he struggled to his feet. Even with her bearing a great deal of his weight, it took long, uncertain minutes to get him to the stasis chamber in the wall. Getting him inside proved almost more than her already exhausted muscles could take, but by gritting her teeth and heaving, she finally managed it.
Making certain that all his limbs were out of the way, she covered him, turned down his IV drip a bit and then closed the glass door. Salvaged from the complex where Smith’s body had been discovered, the chamber was remarkably self sufficient and had no interface to the ship’s computers. It would monitor him and adjust his oxygen and temperature accordingly.
She was just turning back around when Smith stirred in his chair, his arm automatically reaching for the plug in the back of his skull.
“Wait!” she called out, as she lunged for him. “Let me do that!”
Placing one palm firmly against his forehead to keep his head in place, she reached around with the other and deftly unplugged him. Unlike the others, who always sighed in relief when the spike was withdrawn, Smith flinched as was his custom. She had often wondered why and decided to try for an explanation.
“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?” she asked.
“No,” was his clipped response. Reaching out with his left arm, he gently swept her restraining hand away and then used the arm rests to pull himself upright. His gaze swept quickly over the room, pausing on Tank’s form in his old stasis chamber and finally settling on Neo.
With a lurch he left his chair and moved to the trapped human’s side.
For several anxious seconds, Glitch watched as he studied the readouts over Neo’s head.
“Well? Can you help him?” she finally prodded, as her patience began to wear thin.
He turned to look at her and his expression said it all.
She came perilously close to tears. “There must be something you can do for him!” she pleaded.
Smith sighed and turned away.
Suddenly she was furious with him, with his unemotional acceptance of Neo’s fate, with his blatant disregard for her feelings – with his complete and utter failure to acknowledge her in any way, for that matter.
Almost without realizing what she was doing, she shoved him as hard as she could between the shoulder blades, sending him staggering forward. One of his shins connected with a service pipe and down he went, landing in a sprawl on the floor.
In a second, she was squatting beside him and shaking him by the front of his shirt.
“You arrogant son of a bitch!” she screamed. “How dare you write him off so easily? I don’t give a damn what you are, or how hard things have become for you! You’re going to help him or I’m going to pack you back up into the computer and let you duke it out with the Hostile! You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t find your cache and mess you up good!”
She blinked as she had a sudden thought and relaxed her grip on his shirt. “That’s why you came back, isn’t it? So long as you’re in this body, you’re safe! You knew you couldn’t help Neo to begin with!”
His hand closed over her own and forced it off his clothing even as his face twisted in a snarl. With the other arm he shoved her so that she fell back onto her fanny.
She found herself cringing from the sudden anger which transformed him.
He leaned towards her, even as a hand shot out. His fingers raked her scalp and managed to trap her short hair, preventing her from drawing away. His face was right there, a hair’s breath from her own, his eyes glinting a dangerous blue. When he spoke, it was in a low, deadly voice.
“So, you’re like the others after all,” he spat. “You believe the worst of me. Only the senior crew members, Morpheus, Neo, maybe even Trinity, are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. I’m not certain that even they will ever trust me. I often wonder if any of this is even worth my time and effort.” His voice lowered, becoming almost a whisper as he dropped his gaze.
“If it weren’t for the fact that I fear my own death…” Suddenly, he focused on her again and shook her hair viciously, causing her to cry out despite herself. “Well, I’ll have you know that I may be uncoordinated, but I’m not nearly as weak as you think I am – and I AM artificial in origin, but not in feeling.” He released her with a shove which caused her to collapse onto her back. As she lay there, she could see him struggling for control and when he spoke again, his voice was nearly, but not quite normal. “It just so happens that I can save Neo. First, however, I must find a way to wrest the interface controls away from the Hostile.”
Glitch dropped her head back to the decking and stared up at the walkway above as tears began running down her face. She’d lost control and as a result she’d also lost the trust she had begun to build with the program. She was as overwhelmed as she had ever been in all her life and truly wished that the flooring beneath her would open up and swallow her whole.
She didn’t know how long she lay there. It felt like an eternity, and yet only a few minutes might have passed before she heard him slowly getting to his feet.
Rolling away from him as she sat up, she wiped away her tears, unwilling to let him see them and was surprised by the hand he held out to her. After only a momentary hesitation, she grasped it and let him pull her to her feet.
“Come on,” he said softly. “There is much to do and I’ll need your help.”
She followed him as he headed towards the bridge.
Weasel sped away from the Agent as fast as the bike could take him, but didn’t make the mistake of trying to put a lot of distance between them. That was the mistake which got people like him killed. No, running merely drew people’s attention to your plight and enabled an Agent to jump in ahead of you. The correct way to escape was to get out of an Agent’s line of sight and take cover.
That’s precisely what he did. After turning a corner, he ditched the bike behind some trash dumpsters and entered a nearby building. After getting inside, he assumed an unhurried pace and acted as though he lived in the run-down tenement, while he searched for and found a way down into the basement.
There he crouched and prepared to stay for the next half hour. By then the Agent would have given up and moved on.
“I made it!” Icarus exalted under his breath. “I can’t believe this – I made it!”
Emerging from the shadows of the unlit side of the small street, he stood and stared up at the old brownstone. In every way it was a duplicate of the one Morpheus had once used as his headquarters within the Matrix. True, it didn’t contain all the high tech gear which the original simulation did, but it still provided a sort of ‘home base’ when they were training within the simulation program.
Chances were very good that Morpheus was here – maybe even Trinity herself.
Looking carefully around him, Icarus moved forward and began climbing the front stairs. Pausing to check over his shoulder again, he saw that the coast was still clear and punched the entrance sequence into the front door lock.
With a click it opened, admitting him.
Pushing the door firmly shut behind him, he made for the central staircase and began sprinting up the worn old steps.
As soon as Smith entered the main bridge area, he carefully lowered himself into the Captain’s chair and began to quickly tap at the keyboard on the console before him.
“What are you doing?” Glitch asked in confusion. “No one but Morpheus can get into the main system.”
He spared her an incredulous glance and then entered another flurry of keystrokes.
The console lit up.
“Wha? Hey!” she gasped. “How do you know his codes?”
“Please,” he sighed.
Moving closer, she placed an arm on his armrest and the other on the back of his chair, then leaned forward so that she could watch over his shoulder. “OK, I won’t say anything about this – provided any of us is around to care, but WHAT are you trying to do and why here rather than in the main interface room?”
His eyes remained glued on the console before him. “I’m trying to figure out where our new guest is, what he’s up to at the moment, and if I can perhaps lock him out of the main interface controls. Since I don’t want him to guess that I’m the one checking up on him, it makes sense that I would use Morpheus’ console.”
She turned her head to look at him, and found herself admiring his face. “I’m impressed…” was all she managed to say.
His head moved very slightly and she suddenly found herself staring directly into one of his eyes as he glanced sideways at her.
“Thank you,” he answered in a clipped manner before moving slightly away.
Pushing herself upright, Glitch gave him a bit more space and could not help but feel wounded when he visibly relaxed. He was concentrating on the console again and in the absence of direct eye contact she found herself able to think once more. What had she been thinking? She groaned inwardly as she felt herself blush scarlet. They could all die, and here she was swooning over him like some stupid pre-teen!
Forcing herself to concentrate on what he was doing, she found that she couldn’t make sense of it. He was typing in a programming language she couldn’t understand. In fact, she had never seen it before.
“What exactly are you doing?” she prompted.
“I told you – I…”
The console suddenly went black.
They both froze.
When Smith turned to look up at her, his expression said it all before he even spoke. “Well, that’s that. The Hostile figured out what I was up to and shut us down.”
He struggled to his feet in the cramped quarters and began slowly making his way back in the direction of the interface room as she followed close behind.
“And exactly how much have we lost?” she asked.
The ship lurched violently, tossing them about in the tight corridor even as the lights flickered and went out.
Glitch struggled to maintain her footing and might have succeeded, had Smith not lost his own balance and pitched into her. In the next instant she was slammed against the wall and went down hard, her breath knocked out by his heavy form landing atop her.
The emergency lights came on and she found herself staring up at him, his surprised face only inches from her own.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
She could do little more than push weakly at him as she struggled to draw air into her bruised lungs.
Sitting up, he reached out to her and pulled her to a sitting position as well, then surprised her by rubbing her back briskly. “You all right?” he asked.
She nodded and took a few breaths. “I take it that things have gone from bad to worse?”
He shook his head. “Not really. We’re just aware of how much the invader controls. It is merely the difference between ignorance and full knowledge of the situation.”
“What do we do now?”
He looked uncertain. “Perhaps we should attempt to contact the others. We may be able to render some aid.”
“Their best chance – our best chance – is Neo. We have to find a way to free him.”
Smith looked pensive, then turned those eyes on her. “There’s one more thing…”
She raised an eyebrow.
“If this ship begins to move, we’ll have to shut down the computers.”
Her hair stood on end. “We can’t! Everyone in the machine will be killed!”
“I know. It would become the only way to keep this ship and it’s databases out of the hands of our enemies. They would die, but the ship would be salvaged, and with it a chance of starting over with a new crew.”
“Would the shutdown allow you to destroy the Hostile?”
“It would give me the advantage, yes.”
She felt the burden of responsibility weigh her down. It was almost crushing her. Maybe if she got Tank on his feet, he would be the one to have to make that final decision – not her.
“It will be our last resort, understood?” she breathed.
He squared his shoulders and sniffed. “Of course.”
Together, they stood and began moving again.
It was an exhausted Weasel who finally trotted up to Morpheus’ brownstone. He’d been jogging for the better part of an hour and now, at last, was close to completing his mission. Although he had first thought to hook up with Dink, his meeting with the hostile new Agent had sent him trekking away from that particular area and caused him to quickly rethink his priorities. Now he wiped the sweat from his brow and caught his breath as he stood in the shadows and observed the building across the street to be certain that it was safe to proceed.
He was not prepared for what he saw.
Icarus exited the building, moving in his direction and something was definitely wrong. His blond crew mate seemed to be in a daze and was not paying attention to anything around him!
“Icarus!” he hissed and then had to repeat himself.
Finally, his friend looked up and a look of relief spread across his face as he recognized the person calling him. Breaking into a jog, he quickly crossed the street towards Weasel.
“Man, am I glad to see you, Weaz!” he exclaimed, as he grabbed his friend’s shoulders.
Weasel allowed him a moment’s joy before questioning him. “Icarus, did you see Morpheus? What’s the matter?”
The man’s face promptly fell. “He’s not here.”
“There must have been a fight – everything’s busted up, and that’s not all…”
“Tell me what you saw!”
Icarus shuddered. “There were huge holes in the walls – and gouges. Call me crazy, but I get the very strong impression that an Agent was here and that he got to our leader. Smith must have turned on us!”
Weasel felt the hair on his arms stand on end.
“No, Icarus. It’s not Smith. It’s another Agent- I saw him myself. He nearly killed me. If he got to Morpheus, then we’re in serious trouble. Neo has already been taken out of the picture.”
“Please tell me that this is all a part of the training exercise,” the stricken man whispered.
“I wish that I could,” he replied. “We have to find Trinity and more importantly, Smith. With Neo trapped as he is, our new
Agent crew mate may be our only ticket out of here…”
End of Part I